'They were firing on us as we cleared out mines'
Like many, Dunton joined World War II effort after Pearl Harbor
Roy Dunton finishes breakfast at Mr. D'z Diner, asks someone to read the check and tell him how much he owes, pays the bill and then climbs on his electric scooter to return to his office at Dunton Motors.
The 93-year-old World War II veteran still gets around by himself and tries to keep his mind active by going through daily mail at the business he founded in 1946.
It's mostly junk mail. That much he knows.
Dunton can't remember a lot of details about serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Harrison destroyer, though he has pictures, plaques and certificates hanging on every wall in his office commemorating those days.
"I think my brain's withering away and I don't know how to stop it," Dunton said in a slow, hushed tone. "My wife was a big help."
Peggy Dunton died in February and the loss has dashed some of the sparkle in Roy's crystal blue eyes.
He joined the Navy with five of his high school chums from Spokane, Wash., following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and all but one returned from the war. That one died when his oxygen mask failed during flight training.
Dunton was trained in sonar school in San Diego and was assigned to the USS Harrison, ordered to Orange, Texas, for training exercises in the Caribbean Sea up to New York. The ship was commissioned in January 1943 and sailed to Pearl Harbor to join the Pacific Fleet in the summer of that year.
Dunton said the USS Harrison took him all over the South Pacific for a year and a half. He made two escort trips to Australia, but never landed there. Occasionally the destroyer would escort merchant ships, and he once landed in New Zealand.
"We never knew where we were going to be," Dunton said. "Our mine sweeps weren't very big, probably 120 feet. We ended up clearing mines in the Yellow Sea. We cleared the Yangtze River. We cut loose a hell of a lot of mines."
One memory that sticks with Dunton to this day is all of the bodies floating down the Yangtze. They were mostly opium dealers who had been shot execution-style by the Chinese and tossed over the bridges.
"We got to go ashore on several spots. To see the way they lived ... you talk about poor people. The way they farmed and so forth was really medieval. That was way back away from the cities," Dunton said. "I got to see a part of the world I probably never would have seen."
Then there was the time the USS Harrison almost lost one of its crew. The guy fell asleep on a side railing deck and fell into the sea.
"Everybody thought he was a goner," Dunton said. "Our captain said, 'Hell no. We're going to get him.' We dropped a line and he grabbed hold and guess who we had for company? Hammerhead sharks. We had sharpshooters on both sides to shoot the sharks. You never saw a guy who loved the ship as much as this guy."
The USS Harrison was somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when the war ended and the crew never got to celebrate, the veteran said.
"We were 150 miles out of Shanghai," Dunton said. "Some of the enemy didn't get the word that the war was over and they were firing on us as we cleared out mines."
The only actual fighting Dunton did in World War II was in a bar in San Francisco that was for blacks only. He got clocked on the chin as soon as he walked in, he said.
Dunton said World War II taught him to control his anger and to appreciate America.
"I think it was a necessary war," he said. "If we hadn't knocked out Hitler ... most people then didn't realize there were Muslims fighting with Hitler and when the war was over they just faded into the background. I don't remember anybody ever talking about the Muslims until after the Armistice. They lived to fight again as they are now."
Dunton came to Kingman after the war to work for his uncle, N.R. Dunton, who owned the local Ford dealership. He met Peggy in Los Angeles, where she worked for an auto parts company that did business with his uncle.
They had two children, Scott and Debra Jo, and bought the Ford dealership from Dunton's uncle. They established Roy Dunton Motors and other various business ventures in Kingman, including Mr. D'z Diner.