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Walter Seedlock oral history interview, June 7, 1991

Date: Jun. 07 1991 | Identifier: OH0133
Captain Seedlock comments on his background in Ohio and his education at the U.S. Naval Academy prior to assignment to the USS SHAW during the spring of 1941. He describes duty aboard the SHAW prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, details of the attack as he observed them, and the situation aboard the SHAW during and after its explosion. Other commentary pertains to his subsequent work in submarine design, particularly that of torpedo, and missile systems development. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon. more...
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EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #133
Capt. Walter F. Seedlock
USNA CLASS OF 1941
June 7, 1991
Interview #1

Donald R. Lennon:

Captain Seedlock, can you give me a little bit of background of your childhood and of what finally led you to the Academy? We usually start at that point.

Walter Seedlock:

I went to high school in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Cathedral Latin High School. My brother graduated in 1931--before I did--and I in 1936. I kind of followed him around, I guess. He was about six years older that me. He went to Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland for a couple of years and got an appointment to West Point. I went to Case for one year and got an appointment to Annapolis in 1937. On July 14, Bastille Day, I joined the regiment and was sworn in as a midshipman.

Donald R. Lennon:

What were your initial impressions? I know that everyone had to go through plebe year and had different reactions. What was your impression of that first year at the Academy?

Walter Seedlock:

My impression is quite simple. In fact, I am surprised they don't have the same type of hazing nowadays that we had. I didn't think it was bad at all, even the brooms that the first classmen used on us. It made your backside delicate, but still it showed that there was



some necessity to recognizing higher authority. The discipline never bothered me at all. From what I have seen in the Academy on this trip, I am very much impressed with the fact that I think I like the old days better than what they are currently doing today.

Donald R. Lennon:

Any particular incidents stand out between then and now that strike you as far as why you feel that way? I find that an interesting viewpoint.

Walter Seedlock:

One of the things that perhaps bothers me a little bit is the gender issue that we have here and the fact that we have women midshipmen now. I am not too sure that I would be ready for that.

Donald R. Lennon:

That is definitely an issue. Going back to your days at the Academy, are there any particular incidents that stick out in your mind that you might want to share? Some particular story or event that sticks out for you from those years?

Walter Seedlock:

Well, I can think of a kind of humorous one. We put on a musical show once a year and I was a member of the cast of the HMS PINAFORE. It took quite a lot of practicing, of course, in the evenings. As it turned out, I was one of the three little maids; my classmates and I partook in this great production as females. As a matter of fact, I have a couple of pictures that I took backstage when we were getting dressed up.

Donald R. Lennon:

Interesting experience. They pushed up your graduation class and you got out in February of 1941. What was your first assignment?

Walter Seedlock:

My first assignment was to the USS SHAW (DD-373) at Pearl Harbor. I went cross country from Cleveland, where I went after graduation, took a train to San Francisco, and stayed around there for ten days waiting for transportation to Pearl. As a side note . . . since I had to spend ten days in San Francisco, I caught a train down the peninsula and got off at



Palo Alto, home of Stanford University. I looked around and thought it was quite a nice town. I hoped someday that I might be able to live there.

Anyhow, I got back to San Francisco and took a troop transport over to Pearl. The SHAW was in the South Pacific so I was assigned temporarily to the USS PRESTON until the SHAW returned around three or four weeks after I reported over there. Subsequently, I became an assistant gunnery officer on the SHAW where we spent our time doing maneuvers in Hawaiian waters with our squadron and divisions of destroyers.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you have any sense that the war was coming? What was your feeling at that time?

Walter Seedlock:

Not really. During the last portion of my second class year and the early portion of my first class year, I did a little studying about what was happening in the Far East. I went to the library and picked up as many military journals as I could, particularly those that were written by Japanese officers. I came to the conclusion that Japan was, in fact, going to do something in the Pacific because they were hurting economically due to their lack of oil, rubber, and a few things like that. I did write a paper saying that the Japanese were planning to come east and eventually would invade the Hawaiian Islands, and that another group would come down through South America and try to come up to the United States. I came back to the Academy for a post-graduate school, and I went over to the library to see if I could get a copy of the paper. There was no record that I had written such a paper. It kind of surprised me in a way, but perhaps because it was done before the war they didn't want anything like that on record.

In the days before December at Pearl Harbor, there was really no indication of the coming war except toward the end of the year. We were put on blackout status when we



were steaming at night, but nothing unusual was done in Pearl or at Hickam or out at Schofield Barracks. Nothing indicated that anything was going to happen.

Donald R. Lennon:

Why don't you go into your reactions to being there on the SHAW during the attack?

Walter Seedlock:

On Saturday, the sixth of December, I saw a classmate of mine off on the LURLINE, he was going back to the States. I went back to the ship because I had duty as officer of the deck [OD] on the four-to-eight watch Sunday morning. Before eight o'clock, as the OD, I was making a cold iron inspection in the forward engine room and came up through the hatch to the deck--it must have been a minute or two before eight o'clock. I saw the first planes come down on Ford Island. The chief, who was with me, said, "Oh my God, the Russians are attacking!" All we could see was a big red or orange insignia on the wings of the planes. We had a front row center seat for the opening of the fireworks, because we were in the marine railway, off Hospital Point, and had a clear view of Ford Island and Battleship Row. We didn't know what to think of it. Awful shock!.

It didn't take long to come to grips with the fact that something was happening that shouldn't have been happening. It really was a total surprise to us. Being the OD, I didn't have to get anybody up, not even the SOP [Senior Officer Present], Lieutenant (jg) Brown at the time. Everybody came up on deck and saw what was happening. I won't go into too much detail, but you have to recognize that we were sitting high and dry in the marine railway at Hospital Point, in the direct line of the torpedo planes' attack as they came over the hospital and down to the water. There was a clear view of the broadside of all the battleships. Of course, they came by us and dropped their torpedoes and wrought havoc on the battleships.



I was up on the bridge and in one of the first planes the rear-seat gunner was firing his machine gun at us as he went by. They were so close I could see his face and see him grinning. Fortunately, his aim wasn't too good, but there was a whole string of bullet holes in the bulkhead over my head. I think they were using twenty-five caliber bullets in some of their small machine guns, and I picked up a couple of them on the deck. One of the things that bothered me--it made me mad--was the fact that I suddenly realized that the guy was trying to hit me. I could see another plane coming in. I pulled out my forty-five caliber pistol, and when the next plane came by, I started shooting at him. I wasn't going to let him get a free ride.

I guess the next event shows what can happen under duress. The NEVADA was the only battleship that we could see at the time that tried to get out and get into the channel. We were right in direct line with the battleships. As the NEVADA started to move, she was coming toward us and looked like she was going to ram us in the marine railway. Somebody yelled, "Everybody aft!" So everybody ran aft because they thought the battleship was going to run into us, but she finally made a turn down the channel and everything was fine.

Later on, we received information that the Japanese were invading so we got all of the BARs that we could from the ready storage lockers and the ammunition storage lockers, and gave them to the crew. They lined up on deck, facing the channel, in case the Japanese came in. I guess another thing that is humorous--in a dry sort of way--was that when things started happening, we knew that we should get some guns shooting but we couldn't fire our ordnance because we were sitting up on the railway. The chief boatswains' mate came around and said, "Mr. Seedlock, I can't get the keys to the ready service locker. What will I



do? How will I get them open?" I said, "Well, get yourself a sledge hammer and just knock the locks off the lockers. We are not going to worry about the locks and the keys to unlock them."

Donald R. Lennon:

You weren't in a position where you could really fire at that point because of your location?

Walter Seedlock:

We couldn't fire five inches because we were sitting up on blocks. The only thing we could fire was fifty-caliber, what we had in the way of handguns, and the BARs, which I don't think did anything. I thought maybe I had hit one of the planes but nothing happened. We saw everything, all the firing, all the dive bombing, and the torpedo bombing. Also, they came in with horizontal bombers. That is well documented.

After it looked like the fighting was finished, we saw that the ARIZONA was sunk and the PENNSYLVANIA was in the 10-10 dock with the CASSIN and DOWNES and a couple of bombs had been dropped in there. I think both the CASSIN and the DOWNES were scorched quite a bit. We thought everything was over and here we were lucky and high and dry, when a couple of bombs from what must have been a horizontal bomber were dropped. We didn't see any dive bombing at the end. I think, when everything was over, two of them hit us--one came through the aft bridge structure and the one after that hit forward. Of course, the forward magazine was full of ammunition. The after magazine was empty because that was where we were doing some welding up in the railway. The quartermaster was standing on my left side when the bomb came through. It must have been close to ten feet on his left. It cut his whole left side open from his chest down to his abdomen. I took some shrapnel, which I didn't find out about until later.



A fire started and, of course, as people will react under a stressful situation like that, our immediate reaction was to try to alleviate the situation. We got all the sand buckets we could and started throwing sand on the fire. We did not realize that the bomb had gone through and started a fire down by the magazine. We kept throwing sand on the fire and it was getting worse.

Finally, Lieutenant Brown came up to me and said, "I think we ought to abandon ship."

I said, "I agree with you."

So we started throwing all the wounded overboard into the water. I was one of several that stripped down to our skivvies and jumped into the water. We swam the wounded ashore to get them to the hospital. That was when I found out I was wounded. I didn't realize it, but one of the enlisted men came up to me and said, "Mr. Seedlock, you have blood on your chest." I said, "No. That is from swimming the wounded ashore." He said, "No, I think you have something." So I took off my t-shirt and sure enough I had a hole on the left side just above the heart. I walked over to the hospital and turned myself in. Shortly after that the ship blew up.

The doctors could see the hole, so they probed. I passed out two or three times, but they would give me a Coke and wake me up. They decided they better not try anymore and they turned me in. After a couple of days, with all of the stench of the maimed bodies around, they got around to me again. I was sitting right in the corner as they checked the wound again. They determined it was too close to the heart to do any kind of operation. They thought they might see what would happen if they left it in. They patched me up and I stayed there for about a week until they finally determined that there wasn't anything they



could do. Then I got orders to go over to PATWING 1 in Kaneohe on the operations staff and help them out. Since the SHAW was a complete mess with the whole bow blown off, they weren't going to go anyplace where they could use me, so I went to Kaneohe.

Donald R. Lennon:

The SHAW took a lot of casualties, I imagine?

Walter Seedlock:

Yes. I think the count was thirty-three, dead and wounded. I don't know how many were dead, just a couple, but casualties reached a total of thirty-three.

Donald R. Lennon:

How long did you stay over there--at PATWING 1--detached?

Walter Seedlock:

I stayed at PATWING 1, a patrol squadron of PBYs, until May of 1942, when I got orders to submarine school. About the thirtieth of May or the first of June or something like that, I got on the ALCOA PENANT to go back to the States. I went to San Francisco and then flew to Cleveland. I was met at the airport by my family and my then best girl--wasn't even my fiancée at that time. I must have arrived in Cleveland about the fifth of June 1942. I became affianced and our engagement was announced on the fourteenth of June. On the twenty-seventh of June we were married. I had three whole days for a honeymoon in New York before I reported to the submarine school on the fifth of July. I did a three-month duty there.

Donald R. Lennon:

Where were you assigned after you got out of submarine school on September 1942?

Walter Seedlock:

They sent me to Key West to a training detachment down there. I spent a couple of years there. It was a COMSUBLANT operation and I tried to get transferred to a COMSUBPAC operation. Before they could get transfer papers in, I had received orders to go to post graduate school in ordnance engineering.



Donald R. Lennon:

While you were there for those couple of years, was it primarily training? What were your duties there?

Walter Seedlock:

We were training reserve officers. It was a ninety-day-wonder course for Reserve officers for submarine duty.

Donald R. Lennon:

Then you got orders for post grad in what field?

Walter Seedlock:

I was put in the torpedo design unit. There were four of us: Lieutenant Commander Bob McNitt out of '38, Lieutenant Tom Eddy out of '39, Lieutenant Dick Cochran out of '40, and myself, a lieutenant out of '41. The four of us constituted the torpedo design section of Post Graduate School.

Donald R. Lennon:

So was your responsibility there research, design, and education? How did that work?

Walter Seedlock:

We had a year long refresher course at PG School at the Academy. Then we spent two years up at MIT getting a master's degree in mechanical engineering. Then Commander McNitt formed a team with Lieutenant Commander Seedlock, and we devised a sight for firing torpedoes using sound bearings only. In other words, the submarines didn't have to come to the surface and use periscopes, they could stay below and track the enemy just on sound, and acquire the proper bearing to set the torpedo firing direction. We worked under Dr. Stark Draper, the inventor of the Mark XIV anti-aircraft sight, which was the basis for our success at the Marianas “Turkey Shoot.”

Donald R. Lennon:

You were involved in research while you were at MIT?

Walter Seedlock:

Yes.

Donald R. Lennon:

While you were working on your engineering at MIT, were you working on any other projects?



Walter Seedlock:

We spent the summer of 1946 at Newport Torpedo Station. They were having trouble determining the advance and transfer of torpedoes. When you set an angle on a torpedo, it takes off like that. In order to get on that course, it is moving in this direction and it is moving in that direction, but it is not on the proper course until it gets out. Your advance and your transfer have to be taken into account when you set a torpedo at a gyro angle. They weren't doing it properly down there, which we found out shortly after we arrived, so we proposed to the captain of the torpedo station that we take a look at the problem and try to correct all of the data they had that was incorrect for the Mark XIV and XVI torpedoes. He said, "Go ahead." We spent the summer working up that information for him and he appreciated it very much. It was quite a shocker to us to arrive and discover they had all the incorrect data.

Donald R. Lennon:

Had that just been an error in passing data along or lack of experience? What would have caused it?

Walter Seedlock:

Well, as far as we could determine--and this is my own personal view--they just goofed when they tried to solve the problem. They made incorrect assumptions. It is very easy to do something like that.

Donald R. Lennon:

Is there anything else about MIT and your research days that you would like to share? Any other research or incidents?

Walter Seedlock:

The four of us were given a laboratory in the south quarter of the main complex. It was in the building where they had a Van de Graaff generator. You know what a Van de Graaff generator is? It is a static generator--two big balls of lightning go between the two arms and charge it. When they let it go it sounds like they are firing off a sixteen- inch gun. One half of this little building was given to us and we had desks in there and our own



library and what not. The other half of the building was the Van de Graaff. When we weren't in class, we would go over there and do our studying and working and whatnot. Every time they got ready to shoot off the Van de Graaff, they were very kind and would let us know. Then we would sit there like this.

Donald R. Lennon:

How long did it last?

Walter Seedlock:

Oh, just like a gun going off. Just like that. They would come over and they would say, "We are going to fire in about ten minutes, so beware."

Donald R. Lennon:

That would interrupt your studies. Is there anything else you want to share before we move on to your next assignment, which was to the USS SPERRY?

Walter Seedlock:

No. The SPERRY was a submarine tender in San Diego. That was quite interesting. I was the ordnance and gunnery officer and the navigator. I navigated at sea once a year and the rest of the year I would navigate around a buoy tied up in a bay. That wasn't too bad. In the ordnance area, we were responsible for our squadron of submarines, giving them OrdAlt information and helping them out in the gunnery area as much as we could.

One of the biggest problems that came when I took over on the SPERRY was the fact that we had a major OrdAlt on the TDC (Torpedo Data Computer). I had a chief fire-control officer under me who was one of the few chaps in SUBPAC who was familiar with the TDC OrdAlt that we had to perform. We performed it on one submarine and had, I think, seven more to go. He had put in for a transfer to Mare Island because he had family up there. I did all I could to discourage him from going to Mare Island, but I could never change his mind. He left for Mare Island, and there I was high and dry without a knowledgeable chief. I had to fend as best I could, but we were able to get a couple more done properly.



Donald R. Lennon:

What did this involve?

Walter Seedlock:

The Torpedo Data Computer is used when you try to solve the ordnance problem. You are firing torpedoes at a target, so you set in the range and the course and the speed and whatnot on a big black box with all these dials and everything. The ordnance alteration was akin to what I had mentioned in the advance and transfer problem with the torpedo at the Newport Torpedo Station. This OrdAlt had to do with bringing some of the data internal to the TDC up to date, correcting some errors and making it more reliable. It is just an alteration to adjust the equipment.

Donald R. Lennon:

That would give you an unsettling feeling.

Walter Seedlock:

It did.

Donald R. Lennon:

You were there for about five months. At that point, did you go for detachment?

Walter Seedlock:

We had a daughter who was born on January 4, 1944. She had a congenital heart disease, an interventricular defect, and she was in the hospital half of her life. When I was at MIT in 1946, my father-in-law died a couple of days before Christmas. We all went back for the funeral and our eldest daughter became sick in Cleveland with pneumonia. They couldn't do anything with her and finally the doctors said, "You have to go out to a dry climate." They went out to Phoenix. I finished up at MIT and then went on the SPERRY.

Even in Phoenix, she was in the hospital constantly. It looked to me that the only thing I could do was to resign. Eddie Bell, who had the submarine desk in Bupers at the time, came out on one of his annual visits and we talked. I said, "I have a problem. I think I am going to have to resign." I went into the details with him.

He said, "Gee, we are going to open up a Naval Training Center in Phoenix. How would you like duty there?"



I said, "That would be perfect." My wife and I went out and bought a house. I got orders there and stuck it out as long as I could, but I finally resigned anyhow, because it was just a hopeless case with her. I knew I was going to have to leave anyhow, so I thought I might as well resign. I resigned in 1949 and took a Reserve commission.

In 1951, almost two years to the day after I was discharged from the regular Navy, I got orders back in because of Korea. I was ordered to the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia in Albuquerque. I spent three years there.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was that primarily research?

Walter Seedlock:

No. I was in charge of what they called the assembly facilities branch. I was in charge of making the Navy conversion on carriers and cruisers compatible with the requirements of the special weapons. The Navy specification and the Atomic Energy specification had to match so they could carry the special weapons properly. We converted a number of aircraft carriers, and also the USS LOS ANGELES, the cruiser which had the Regulus weapon. That was a very interesting experience. We also worked on the submarine conversion, mainly the TUNNY, for the Regulus weapon, too. They had the Regulus in a hangar up on the outer hull. I was the responsible officer for the Navy special weapons, making sure that the conversions on the cruiser, the submarine, and the aircraft carriers were done properly. That was pretty interesting work.

Donald R. Lennon:

That must have been. From there you went on to do some other interesting things.

Walter Seedlock:

After I served my Reserve tour I went to work with Sandia Corporation in 1956. I was offered a job with Lockheed in California. They were in Van Nuys at the time and just starting up a missile division. I took that. Subsequently, we got the first research contract with the Navy for the FBM, the Fleet Ballistic Missile System. Originally it was configured



for the Jupiter missile, what we called the “Six Plus One”--six missiles wrapped around one internally. Six rockets were the first stage and the internal one was the second stage. It was supposed to carry the Mark V warhead, which was used in the Regulus system. Chrysler had the initial contract with the Navy, but they were using a liquid propellant, which everybody knew wasn't going to be compatible with submarine usage. You couldn't take a missile with all that liquid propellant in it in a submarine. We got the contract to explore the solid propellant version, which we did. It eventually turned into the Polaris Configuration. That was the start of the Polaris program in 1956. I was on the special projects submarine design committee and also the launching and handling committee. We conceived the program starting in 1956 and became operational in July of 1960. It was quite a feat.

Donald R. Lennon:

Not many years to get something up and running--something that complex.

Walter Seedlock:

Well, they kept condensing the schedule as it became more urgent to get the program going. The initial operational date was supposed to be a 1964 launch from a surfaced submarine and a 1965 launch from a submerged submarine, but we made our first launch from a surfaced submarine in 1959 and from a submerged submarine in 1960. We were operational five years before the original schedule.

Donald R. Lennon:

That is unheard of in the military, isn't it?

Walter Seedlock:

Well, it took working seven days a week to get everything going, but we did it. Even today, the greatest deterrent in the world is the D-5 weapon and the Trident submarines. That is when it all started.

Donald R. Lennon:

The forerunner or the follower of the Polaris.

Walter Seedlock:

The pamphlet I gave you goes through a lot of that.



Donald R. Lennon:

I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me this morning and for the materials. Thank you.

[End of Interview]

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