During the great typhoon that hit Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet on 18-19 December 1944, three destroyers and more than 800 men were lost. One young man was nearly lost when his ship—the aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26)—rolled 25 degrees in the horrific storm, causing him to lose his footing and slide down the careening deck toward the raging sea. Fortunately, a two-inch steel ridge around the deck's edge gave him enough of a purchase to allow him to twist himself into the narrow catwalk, saving him from certain death. In his typical midwestern fashion, he later described the harrowing moment as simply, "I was lucky."
The young man had received offers to play professional football for the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions but chose to go to law school instead. When World War II erupted, he did not wait for the draft but joined the Navy, earning a commission in April 1942. Promoted to lieutenant (j.g.) less than two months later and lieutenant in another ten months, he served his first year as an instructor at the Navy Preflight School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.