Proud of His Service

Raymond Bourque’s daughter shares his World War II experiences

By Craig Reed

Photos courtesy of Beverly Mendoza

The late Raymond Bourque, a World War II veteran, spent his final years living alongside the Umpqua River west of Sutherlin.

For 18 months, Raymond Bourque didn’t feel solid ground under his feet. He spent those long days and months on the USS Healy, a U.S. Navy destroyer ship that spent time in the South Pacific combat area during World War II.

Ray was a boatswain mate who helped with maintenance on the ship and with 5-inch, 38-caliber guns during combat. He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946.

After serving his country, Ray had a long career as a residential and commercial construction carpenter in Maine. He spent some retirement years in Florida, then moved west to live with his daughter, Beverly Mendoza, and her husband, Terry, alongside the Umpqua River west of Sutherlin.

The veteran was looking forward to sharing some of his World War II and Navy experiences for a Ruralite story prior to Veterans Day on November 11. Ray, however, died August 6 at age 95—about a month shy of a scheduled interview.

“He was so looking forward to that talk,” Beverly says. “But he passed away as all of us wish we could—at home, in very little pain and surrounded by love.”

The number of surviving World War II veterans is quickly decreasing. Of the 16 million people who served in the armed forces during the WWII years—1939 to 1945—the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates about 174,000 are still living.

Raymond spent most of his time in the U.S. Navy serving on the USS Healy.

Ray, who was born and raised in Massachusetts, joined the Navy “at a very young age,” Beverly says.

The USS Healy saw plenty of action as a member of carrier task forces. The ship was involved in the neutralization of Truk, a major Japanese naval base in the Pacific; helped deliver strikes against Saipan, Tinian and Guam; participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the largest carrier battle in history; provided support for the Peleliu invasion; helped launch strikes against Okinawa and Formosa; and was involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf when the Japanese fleet was heavily damaged.

In battles against Japanese land-based air attacks, the Healy brought down one bomber and helped down other planes.

He and his daughter, Beverly Mendoza, enjoyed many activities together before he died in August.

Beverly says Ray described one of these situations as “the worst incident.”

“He said the Japanese pilots would usually go down with their damaged planes, but in one case, the pilot bailed out and was in the water, injured,” Beverly recalls. “When a crew member went into the water to rescue the pilot, the pilot stabbed the sailor. Dad helped pull the American sailor, who died, from the water and helped prepare him for burial at sea.

“There were other things going on, but Dad often talked about that incident. It always felt like it was good for him to talk about it. I don’t think it devastated him, but it was pretty hard for him because he was part of it.”

Another experience Ray frequently talked about was when the USS Healy and other ships rode out what became known as Halsey’s Typhoon, a severe storm that sank 3 ships.

In early 1945, the Healy supported battleships that bombarded Iwo Jima. Shortly after, when it was announced the war was over, the Healy and other ships went to Japan and acted as harbor control at Tokyo Bay until after the surrender ceremonies.

“I think, like many people at that time, Dad was incredibly young and probably naïve as to what was happening, but he was very proud and very honored to serve,” Beverly says. “But he did talk about being scared at times.”

Raymond was selected to make an Honor Flight trip to view the national monuments in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

After being discharged in 1946, Ray returned to Massachusetts and began his career in carpentry. He and his wife, Toni, had 8 children: Lee, Gerry, Beverly, Diane, Michael, David, Joan and Kenny. There are 9 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Ray and Toni divorced in 1969 after 22 years of marriage. Five years later in 1974, Ray married Gail. The two spent 44 years together before she died in 2018. A year later, Ray came to live with Beverly and Terry alongside the Umpqua River. “Ray was very, very easygoing,” Terry says. “He was a great listener, a caring person. It was easy to talk to him. He shared a lot with me about his service. He was proud to serve in the Navy.”

Terry says Ray loved car rides, cooking and grilling, riding the lawnmower, and playing poker and cribbage. He was a longtime bowler. At age 95, he rolled a score of 167 with a new 13-pound ball—just one pound lighter than what he had been using.

“Dad loved being here,” Beverly says. “Every time he would meet somebody new, he would say, ‘I’ve died and gone to heaven, and this is it.’”

After living through the devastation of war as a young man, Ray was able to enjoy a peaceful ending in his senior years.