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After shooting down kamikazes in WWII, vet soared as foot doctor

Sherwood Sarles remembers walking out of a downtown Buffalo movie theater into the drama of World War II.

The streets were filled with soldiers and citizens who appeared to be celebrating a battle that had been won by the Allies.

"A special edition of The Buffalo News was being sold on a street corner and I still can hear the shouting, 'Extra! Extra! Extra! Read all about it!'" Sarles said.

He can't recall the details of the victory, but he was so inspired at the time that he immediately headed for the Navy recruiting office in the nearby U.S. District Courthouse. "They were so busy that they asked me to come back."

Sarles, who had played hooky from Bennett High School to go to the movies, went home and informed his Russian immigrant parents of his plan to enlist in the Navy.

"They told me 'Oh no you're not. You're going to finish high school.' Well I fixed that. I got myself kicked out of school and my parents signed the early enlistment papers," said Sarles, who was 17 at the time.

He described himself as a natural born "wheeler and dealer," accustomed to getting and making his own way in the world.

"I was already going door to door selling pots and pans and encyclopedias," he said. "I also worked as a roofer."

At this point, it should be noted that doing things his way has never stopped. The 92-year-old war veteran is also a veteran of marriage. He's been married three times and has four children. The youngest are two daughters, 21 and 23 years old.

And while sailors are known to be legendary lovers, Sarles' adventures with the Navy left very little time for anything but to fight a raging war.

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Sherwood Sarles, 92

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Amherst and Largo, Florida

Branch: Navy

Rank: seaman 1st class

War zone: World War II, South Pacific Theater

Years of service:  April 18, 1943 – Dec.  2, 1945

Most prominent honors: Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, 11 battle stars; Philippine Liberation Ribbon, 2 bronze stars, China-Burma-India Medal

Specialty:  deckhand for 40 mm quad anti-aircraft gun

*******

Following boot camp at Sampson Naval Training Station on Seneca Lake, he hopped a train to the West Coast and boarded the USS Minneapolis, a heavily armed cruiser.

The ship had returned to the states for extensive repairs after a chunk of its bow had been blown apart by a Japanese torpedo in 1942.

Upon returning to the South Pacific with Sarles on board , the Minneapolis went from one battle to the next.

They included Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Saipan, Guam, western New Guinea and Hollandia, the western Carolines and Palau, Luzon-Lingayen Gulf and Leyte in the Philippines, and finally Okinawa.

A loader on a 40 mm quad anti-aircraft gun, Sarles said they fired aerial barrages to knock down the kamikaze planes that sought to sink U.S. warships.

"Picture the Fourth of July. The sky was just full of tracers and puffs of bombs exploding in the air from the big guns," he said.

Sometimes the defensive tactic worked; sometimes it didn't as the suicidal Japanese pilots survived. But the Minneapolis was spared direct hits.

"I was 18 years old and I didn't have time to think. I just did what I was trained to do," Sarles said of the battles. "We had a lot of close calls."

Many nearby ships were not as fortunate.

Aboard the Minneapolis were two whale boats used for rescues and Sarles was assigned to one of them.

"We would be lowered into the water and go over to other ships that were on fire from kamikaze hits and rescue injured sailors. My job was to use a bow hook to steady our boat while the sailors were lowered in on wire stretchers. We'd take them back to the Minneapolis where we had doctors," he recalled.

He downplayed his work, saying everyone else was doing their part to help save lives.

"I came out of the war without a scratch," he said.

When he returned to civilian life, the young man who had gotten himself kicked out of high school by misbehaving was now ready to embrace education. His three older brothers were podiatric physicians and he followed in their footsteps.

Sarles' first office was at the corner of Tonawanda and Ontario streets in Riverside. At the time, he never imagined how fortuitous that location would prove to be.

But the "wheeler and dealer" soon realized he was a short distance from the Chevy plant and forge off River Road in the Town of Tonawanda.

"By accident I ended up running one of the largest podiatry practices in Western New York. I became the unofficial union podiatrist to the UAW, the Buffalo PBA, United Steelworkers and the locals of many other national unions," Sarles said of the deals he made with various  unions to provide foot care.

Unashamedly, he adds, other podiatrists were more than jealous of him.

"I also became the most hated podiatrist in Western New York because of all the patients I had."

He retired from podiatry a wealthy man in 1991 after suffering a second heart attack, but he never slowed down.

Now single, Sarles splits his time between Amherst and Florida, but don't mistake him for a snowbird.

"I get back to Buffalo often, and in the winter because I'm a downhill skier."

Sarles also quips that he is prone to investing in businesses that end up losing money.

"But some of my investments have been super successful."

His greatest asset, he says, is his youthfulness.

"I don't sound 92. I don't look 92. I don't act 92. I look great. I feel great. I'm a show-off."

What he enjoys most, he says, is going out wearing one of his nine WWII veteran baseball caps.

"When people see me in it, they can't believe I'm a World War II veteran. I have to carry my discharge papers to prove it."

 

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