Tony Ybarra: 'I Was Welcomed As If I Was Family'

Posted by We'll Meet Again Editor on
Tony Ybarra with T.J. Wilkes' family.
PBS/Blink Films

Tony Ybarra recalls his last day on the USS Consolation and meeting T.J. Wilke's family.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the interviewee. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

PBS: Through this journey, we learn that you remained on the USS Consolation until the last day of the war. Can you take us through the events that unfolded that day and how you spent your last moments with T.J. before returning home?

The USS ConsolationThe USS ConsolationCourtesy Photo

Tony Ybarra: The very first thing I did, was to request a transfer to a United States Naval Base on the West Coast. T.J. was going to make a similar request. As it turned out, the Navy already had other plans for each of us. I received orders to report for duty on the Marine Serpent, a troop carrier, when it arrived in Inchon, Korea, where the Consolation was based. When the troop ship arrived at the end of the month, I went aboard it. The Marine Serpent returned to San Diego, California, picked up 2,000 marines, and returned to Inchon, Korea, where the Consolation remained.  

I do not know where T.J. was transferred. When I left the Consolation, I said goodbye to all the corpsmen I knew. That was the last time I saw T.J., Jack Miller, Ted Wilkins, Don Knowles, and Bob Baker. Almost 40 years later l heard from Ted Wilkins, Bob Baker, and others I knew at a Consolation reunion, but unfortunately, not T.J. 

I was unable to recognize my shipmates at the three reunions I attended, because of how much we had changed in appearance. We wore name tags to identify ourselves. I asked those at the reunions about T.J. Finally Ted Wilkins said he heard that T.J. had died but was not sure. I did not know how to find out if T.J. was living.

I finally found out when "We’ll Meet Again" took me to San Diego, where a genealogist informed me of his death.

Tony with fellow cadets.Tony with fellow cadets.Courtesy Photo

PBS: Your search takes you to Columbus, GA where you visit T.J.’s final resting place for an emotional goodbye. What did this visit mean for you?

Tony: I spoke to T.J. at his grave site as if he was still living. I explained to him how I searched for all these years. I wanted to thank him again for his help in times of stress and emotion that I experienced while working in surgery. The traumatic injuries we worked on have stayed with me throughout all these years. He helped keep my sanity with his explanations of how we helped the severely injured marines. We were doing very important work in saving lives. 

PBS: Though you first connect with T.J.’s wife during your search, at the conclusion of your journey you are able to meet his entire family, including children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren.

What was it like for you to be able to share this experience with them and to reminisce on your friendship with T.J.?

Exercise aboard the USS Consolation.Exercise aboard the USS Consolation.Courtesy Photo

Tony: When I met T.J.’s wife, Carolyn, and family, I was welcomed as if I was family. I felt at home with them. I appreciate very much that I was able to meet with them all. It was meant to be. It just took a long time. What a wonderful family! I felt that T.J. was also present. We are still in touch by phone and email. We will continue to stay in touch indefinitely.

Carolyn expressed that we both knew the same person, a younger person in the Navy and an older person to his family. T.J. did not talk much about the Navy, so I explained what we did, and showed them my photos of our hospital ships, the Haven and the Consolation. They were impressed.

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