|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW|
|Capt. William W. Jones|
|USNA CLASS OF 1941|
|February 6, 1988|
Were you born in the Panama Canal Zone?
How long did you stay there?
I grew up there. It wasn't until I went to college that I really spent any time away. My parents and I used to go home to the States on vacation, but I lived there until I was about nineteen.
What prompted you to choose the Academy or to get involved in the Navy as a career?
There was a lot of Navy in Panama. Of course, there was even more Army, but I never was attracted to the Army as I was to the Navy. I tell a story that is kind of true and kind of not true. I used to go down to the docks, which was true, and sit on a bollard and watch the ships. I noticed that they showed free movies on the fantail. They would bring out canvas chairs for the officers and they had stewards to serve them coffee; I figured that would be a pretty good life!
Did you go directly from high school to the Academy or did you go to a prep school?
I had one year at the Canal Zone Junior College, which had just started up about the time I attended. Then I went to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh for my second year. During that year, I took a competitive exam from the congressman from my father's district in Texas. He, after much badgering from my mother, had permitted me to take the competitive exam. I became a third alternate, which meant there were three ahead of me. I thought I would not get in. That year, however, was the first year they instituted refraction of eyes and there was a very high rejection rate. Maybe other people have told you about that.
Yes. It was amazing how many people were rejected.
I got in very, very late in the so-called plebe summer, but I did get in. I went to the Academy in September, 1937.
You had a couple of years of academics that probably helped you.
Oh, no question about it. Also, hazing was easier when I didn't have to worry about academic problems at the same time.
Can you share some of your experiences at the Academy, some of your likes and dislikes, some of your memories?
On the whole, I enjoyed the Naval Academy. I didn't find the restrictions onerous. The academics fitted my style perfectly. When I was in college at Carnegie Tech, which was a really tough school, I would postpone studying and then try to learn everything I had to know in the three days before the final. At the Academy, we were required to recite everyday; we were graded everyday; and, that fit my style perfectly. As for athletics, having been born and raised in Panama, it was natural for me to go out for the swim team. Practically all of us that went away to college were on swimming teams. I wasn't the star,
but I was a member of the varsity team. I made some of the best friends of my life while I was there. I enjoyed the Academy.
I guess each personality is different. Some people find the pressure of the hazing more difficult than others.
I didn't get a lot of hazing. They still had the custom of beating people that did things wrong, with brooms, and I found that degrading. When I was in the position to do that to other people, I never did. I believe all that kind of stuff has died out, now. I also hated the Sunday evening meals when the plebes, the freshmen, were required to put on a little skit to entertain the upper classmen. This meant that we had to give up a part of Sunday afternoon to come up with something. I resented that.
I remember one problem I had with a particular first classman. We sat at the same table and he found out that I had been in my second year of chemical engineering at Carnegie Tech. He had come to the Academy fresh out of high school, and he said to me one day, "I bet you think you know more chemistry than I do."
I inadvertantly said, "Yes sir, I think I do." Well, that made life miserable for me until I transferred from his table.
Mostly, the things that I did at the Naval Academy, I thoroughly enjoyed. My first roommate flunked out. Then I chose two people. They were both fellow members of the swim team. One, Alvin Blackman, had been in Panama for several years. He was later killed in operational flight training. The other was Hugh Wager. He was the captain of the swim team and a very fine young man from Pennsylvania. He was later killed on a destroyer in the battle of Guadalcanal in which I was also involved. I lost both of the people that I roomed with at the Naval Academy.
Socially, I was no shining light. I never had too many dates, but I went to the hops and did things like that.
Sometimes one gets the impression that it was all work and no fun at all.
Yes. Speaking quite frankly, my biggest dislike about the Naval Academy was the way we were graded. I had the idea that if you were good at what you did, recognition would come automatically. I was not a politician. My academics went up the four years I was there, but I lost class standing due to lower marks in the grading called "aptitude for the service." These marks were called "grease marks," which was a very apt description. I found that very disturbing because I didn't get good grades in that. I considered myself, naturally, an excellent candidate. Well, I surmounted that but it did bother me a bit. It probably cost me twenty to twenty-five numbers in class standing, which wasn't too consequential, and I don't feel that it affected my career much.
I guess you see that in all ranks of the service and in civilian life. I guess it's just part of life, but it sure is frustrating.
It took me a long time to recognize that it isn't only what you know, but who you know. This is as true of service life as it is everywhere else.
Your class was pushed forward and graduated in February. Where was your first assignment?
I was assigned to the cruiser USS HELENA, CL-50. It was a practically brand new light cruiser. I believe it was of the HONOLULU class. I can't recall whether we were given preference for our assignments on the basis of our class standing or whether it was a lottery type thing. At any rate, I drew a very high number and I practically had my choice. I had heard people say, "Go to a battleship. You'll really learn about the Navy. Go to a
destroyer and you'll get responsibility earlier." Well, I chose the middle, a new light cruiser. I was very, very happy to go to that ship, and I enjoyed my time on board her extremely well. I sailed on the old USS HENDERSON from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor in March or April of 1941 to join the HELENA.
What were your first duties aboard that ship?
Both Earl Luehman, a classmate of mine, and I went to that ship. We were called down to the gunnery officer's cabin. One of us had to go to gunnery and one had to go to engineering. When anything has to be decided by lot in the Naval Academy, they "shake around" for it to see who wins. Well, I won. Naturally, gunnery was the prestigious job, so I took gunnery, and Earl had to go to engineering.
My first job was a turret officer of Turret 4 and a junior division officer of the fourth division. We were ultimately absorbed into the second division with two turrets, 4 and 5. I subsequently became the division officer of the second division and went from the battle station as turret officer to what was called main battery control aft. One would call it a subordinate computer center for the management of the guns in the main battery. In the event that the main control went out or if they chose to split the targets and fire the forward turrets at one target and the after turrets at another, then my station would take control of the after turrets. However, in the battles that I was in, I never was anything but a spectator, a very interested spectator, but I never directly took part in any action.
How long were you aboard the HELENA?
Two years. I left to go to flight training in February, 1943.
So you saw some action.
Yes, right from Pearl Harbor on.
Where was the HELENA during Pearl Harbor?
Right alongside 10-10 dock, just aft of the dry dock where the CASSIN and DOWNES were bombed and the ship we were in got hit. I'm glad you asked this. I am mentioned in Morison's book, Pearl Harbor to the Coral Sea as probably the first one to sound the alarm aboard ship in Pearl Harbor. I think I was the first.
I was officer of the deck from the four to eight watch that Sunday morning. There was a signalman named Flood, who was an old China-hand. He had the duty up on the signal bridge. I was standing on the quarter-deck talking to my relief, on the port side, which was the side adjacent to the dock. He called down and said that there were Japanese planes overhead. He could see the "meatball" and he recognized them because he had seen them bomb Shanghai. I watched and as the first plane went into a dive, my first thought was that he was pulling a mock attack. Then I saw a bomb come off, going toward Ford Island.
The control booth for the ship's P.A. system was in a closet-like space in the passageway that went between the sides on the same deck. I ran in there and announced something to the effect that "Japanese planes are bombing Pearl Harbor! Man your battle stations!" I didn't say, "This is no drill." But I did say, "Break out service ammunition."
In those days, service ammunition was treated like the crown jewels. We never touched it. We used practice ammunition.
Immediately after I made the announcement, a torpedo hit. The passageway was immediately filled with smoke. I was somewhat confused as to what had hit us and where
we had been hit. I ran out on the port side and I could see nothing forward or aft, and I ran out on the starboard side and I could see nothing. About this time, people who were injured began to come up from the lower decks. At that point, I recognized that we had been hit by a torpedo.
Where had it gotten you?
In the forward engine room. There was an old tender called the OGLALA moored along our starboard side. This air-dropped torpedo had run under the OGLALA and struck us in the starboard side of the forward engine room. It destroyed the forward engine room and one fire room. We lost power because that fire room was the one that was providing the steam for the generators. Our diesel-generators and so forth cut in almost immediately, however, so we were without power only for a very short time. That basically started the battle.
Could you describe some of the events after you were hit?
One thing I distinctly remember was seeing a torpedo plane go across our ship towards battleship row. The cockpit in the plane was open and the pilot was leaning out first one side and then the other, sighting-up. He couldn't have been over fifty feet in the air. My recollection is that I fired my forty-five automatic at him, but that might be colored by what I wished I had done.
By this time, there were a lot of burned people coming up on deck. But I also saw some people that were hale and hearty running out on the prow and onto the dock. I did pull my gun on that and ordered them back on board. I don't think I would have shot at anybody. I was trying to show my authority.
About this time, I said to my relief who had been there all the time, "You go ahead
and take over." Actually, the battle-stations plan called for the navigator to become officer of the deck. Whether he ever showed up or not, I'm not sure. The other fellow was there and he had no immediate job in the gunnery department to take care of. I said, "I"m going to my turret." I ran back and I spent the rest of the battle in Turret 4. I was very happy to get there, incidentally, because at least I was surrounded by armor. It was the main battery turret and we never fired a shot. I had an excellent view of the battle, however, through the periscope that was mounted for the turret officer. I distinctly recall the ARIZONA rolling over. I had trained on her and then I trained around the harbor, and when I got back, she had rolled over and all I could see was the bottom of her hull. It was something else to watch.
Did the HELENA take anymore direct hits?
No. We had some scattered shrapnel hits that were primarily, I think, gunfire falling from other ships. I was the junior division officer. My division officer, Tommy Thompson, who was outside the turret, was struck in the leg. As I was climbing the vertical ladder to the hatch into my turret, the man right behind me, who was an ordnance man second class, was struck by a projectile of some kind and killed instantly. He was right behind me on the ladder.
I think the final count was eighty-five casualties of which thirty to thirty-five were dead. Most of the initial casualties were people who were killed on watch in the engine and fire rooms or people who were so badly burned that they subsequently died. Nothing was closed up when the torpedo hit, and in a flash, flames went through all the lower decks. Those people who were wearing what in those days was called a tropical uniform--shorts and skivvy shirts--had a lot of exposed skin. The flash did an awful lot of damage to
personnel. The ship itself just settled down in the water a little bit, and then the generator came on. We were shooting within a matter of minutes after the initial hit by the torpedo.
At that point did you stay in the turret?
All day long.
You ended up watching the whole thing.
Yes, I watched from the periscope.
You saw battleship row get hit.
All those things. I was trying to describe to the people in the turret what I was seeing. Of course, by this time, we were hearing things over the intercom phone system. To show you the extent of the confusion, word came down that there were Japanese troops advancing over the hills behind Pearl Harbor and that we should load up in the event we were called upon to make gunfire support with the main battery against those troops. I discounted this and did something that I've been told since could have resulted in a court martial.
They put out the word to send the ammunition up to the guns. This meant taking the ammunition out of the magazines, which were already open, placing it in a hoist, and running it up to the gun faces, the breeches. I knew very well that if the turret were hit by a bomb at this critical point, it would result in the loss of the ship. I thoughtit was a very bad order. I didn't follow it. I didn't send the ammunition up to the breeches.
Did you hear about it afterwards?
No, because I never told anyone at the time. I told some friends later and they said, "Well, you probably could have been court martialed." It took on the average of thirty seconds to take ammunition out of the magazines and put it into the guns. It wouldn't have made any difference.
If you had gotten hit by it with it sitting there. . . .
It would have blown up the whole ship, because it would have gone down the hoist and then ignited the magazines, and that would have been the end of it.
Are there any other remembrances of that day or the days afterward?
I slept out on the deck. Under battle conditions, the wardroom is converted into a hospital, and we had a number of people in it. It smelled so terrible below deck because of these burned people that I just couldn't stand it. Plus, somehow or another, I didn't want to go down in my stateroom at that point. I slept on deck, I guess, for two nights. Things had begun to quieten down by then.
How soon afterwards were you able to get repairs?
They put the ship into a floating drydock and placed a temporary patch on her side. In about four weeks we were able to get underway with two propellors rather than four. One engine room and one fire room were still working so we could still make twelve or fifteen knots. As soon as they had a water-tight patch on the side where the torpedo had gone in, we went back independently to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California. We were put into dry dock and completely repaired. I guess it wasn't until the fall of 1942 that we went back out to the Pacific.
In the fall of 1942, where did you head?
We went with a convoy to the South Pacific to join the Pacific Fleet. At that time, it was operating out of Espiritu Santo and another base called Efate and Noumea, New Caledonia, and made forays into the Guadalcanal area. We were part of the task force in the battle of the Coral Sea. Of course, we didn't do anything because that was an air battle. Our first engagement basically was the second battle of Savo Island as it is known in the history
books. It was in November of 1942. We also had a daytime engagement of some planes. I wasn't aware of it until some time later, but we had a group of high-ranking scientists and naval officers on board, including then Commander Parsons [William S.], later of fame in the atomic bomb business; and we fired the first radar-fused proximity shells in battle. That was in the antiaircraft batteries; it had nothing to do with the main battery.
Then we got into the battle of Guadalcanal, which I believe was about December tenth or eleventh. That was another night battle. Both the November and December ones were major night-surface engagements. In both of these battles, I was a spectator in the sense that I was in the main battery control aft. I could look out of the slots of the armor but could do little but run around and wonder what was going to happen next.
Can you describe the battle from your viewpoint?
In the first battle, the admiral got credit for having made the classic maneuver of "crossing the T." We came in Indian file like a bunch of Indians. We had four cruisers, I think, and eight destroyers: four in the front and four in the rear. We came in past Savo Island, in towards "the slot" as they called it. The senior officers knew already that the Japanese were coming, but I didn't know nor did anyone else at my battle station. We made a 180-degree turn and started back out of the "iron-bottom bay."
At the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, we had been given what was then the most advanced surface-search radar that the Navy had. Nobody else had one nearly as good. We were the first ship ever to go out there with the capability of not only telling you the distance and direction to a target but to have it accurate enough to lay the guns without a visual point of aim. That was a big change in gunfire. At any rate, we picked the enemy up at about twenty-eight thousand yards. That's about fourteen miles. That's way out there!
We began reporting this to the admiral who was in an antiquated heavy cruiser. We had no admiral on ours. He should have been aboard ours, but he wasn't. They kept saying, "Keep us advised." The range steadily closed and we had them in a perfect position. We had a gunfire solution on them at twenty thousand yards. It wasn't a gunfire computer, it was called a gunfire control. Beyond eighteen thousand yards, the six-inch gun had to elevate very high to shoot that far. To get the loading tray into the breech, we had to drop the guns on down. After every time it fired, the gun had to be lowered, loaded, and up again. At eighteen thousand yards, we went into automatic. We still set the elevation, all things considered, based on the target distance; but the guns compensated for the roll of the ship automatically and the loading trays could move with them, so there was no need to depress the guns to load them.
We began to ask for permission to open fire. Our answer always was, "Not granted"; because the flagship did not see the enemy. At four thousand yards--this is two miles, jet black night, can't see a thing, (this is my version and a lot of it is heresay)--the admiral picked up the TBS which is voice radio--incorrect procedure to begin with--to make a slight turn to make it even more perfect. By this time he recognized he was "crossing the T" (by our reports) and was going to say, "Commence change of course by a few degrees."
Well, in the lexicon of battle control, there was only one thing one did when one said, "Commence," that was to commence firing. When he got the word "commence" out, our gunnery officer pulled the trigger and fired fifteen six-inch guns and four five-inch guns which were loaded with starshells. When the starshells burst--I've never forgotten this sight, and this is true--our target was the lead destroyer.
We would call it in those days, "a large destroyer." It had a bow wave standing
almost as high as the bow. It was doing at least thirty-three to thirty-four knots. They didn't even know we were there. The guns were perfectly fore and aft. Nothing. Then that salvo hit her. (Remember, we'd had a solution for all this time.) It must have blown the whole side of the ship out. It was like, when in a submarine, someone says "Dive." The bow went down and a big wave broke over the bow, over the bridge, and over the stacks. All was gone and there was nothing but water. It was just gone.
By this time, we had maybe eight or ten salvos in the air because of the flight time of the projectile. We were firing on the average of every five or six seconds. The guns fired independently. They were supposed to have a max rate of fire of seven or eight seconds between, but we were way exceeding that.
At any rate, we shifted fire to other targets. By this time, the melee had started and the shells were coming back from the other direction. I had heard the expression about one's knees shaking and I had never believed it until then, but mine shook when I saw those shells coming in. We were hit, but not badly. We were hit between the stacks in the searchlight platform, killing a few people and knocking out the searchlights, but we weren't going to turn those on because we didn't need them. The moral of the battle was as plain as the nose on your face. Everytime the other ships would turn on their searchlights--they still needed that visual point of aim--every Jap in the fleet would fire at them. They would get beat up. We, running black, didn't get much fire. That was the night we got it in the searchlights.
In the next battle, we got a shot through the aviation crane. We also got hit on the fo'c'sle up forward that tore up a lot of the deck. I think that was all it did. We had no casualties in the second battle. The first battle is in the history books as a resounding
victory, which it was. The admiral on the scene was killed, so he was automatically a hero and given credit as a masterful tactician, having "crossed the T"; and, really, it was all pure dumb luck.
That's the way history goes sometimes.
That is the way history goes. If you happen to be there, you sometimes have a different view.
Unfortunately, although the first battle went beautifully, the ship that got hit the worst was one of our own destroyers. During the battle, our destroyers had left the formation to make a torpedo attack and had gotten between the Japanese ships and their own ships. I saw one of our destroyers get very badly hit by shells from other U.S. ships. We didn't do it. Some of the others did. Those destroyers were the ones that sustained the highest casualties.
The battle of Guadalcanal was a much different affair. We were off Guadalcanal, in "the slot," having spent the previous day providing gunfire support for the Marines ashore and for the ships that were unloading ammunition and supplies. At nightfall, there were rumors that the Japanese were coming in, which the captains and admirals knew, but we didn't.
You have to remember, the United States Navy was grossly unprepared to fight night battles. We had never practiced them until after the war started. The first night practice we were involved in, a destroyer came out of the black and ran into the side of one of our own ships. Nobody had seen him. That gives you an idea of how we were. The Japs, on the other hand, had trained, trained, trained at night. They had marvelous optics and they knew how to fight at night. Our radar is what saved us.
At any rate, with the rumors flying that the Japanese were headed for us, once again, we were ordered to form in Indian file. Fortunately, by this time, we had some ships that had some pretty good radar, and we picked up the ships way out and relayed the word. The Japanese were coming in three columns. They had battleships this time. The other time they had had cruisers and destroyers. Their objective this time, however, was to bombard Henderson Field, which was the air field on Guadalcanal. They had instantaneous fuse projectiles in their hoists. These were used for bombardment because they would explode on contact as opposed to a delayed fuse that was used in the armor-piercing shell. Armor-piercing shells wouldn't go off until they had penetrated the skin of the ship, blowing up inside, and therefore causing much more damage. When the battle started, the battleships were loaded with bombardment ammunition.
Once again, we couldn't get any authorization to open fire, so the battle degenerated. We were practically steaming between two columns of Japanese ships when the shooting finally started. It instantly became a gross melee. I remember in the midst of it all, I was looking out of the armor trying to find a target to shoot at. We had to identify it first to make sure it wasn't one of our own. I looked out of the port quarter and saw a Japanese battleship three-hundred yards away.
Japanese battleships were famous for their foremasts. We called them "pagoda-masts." It seemed like they put a different sized bridge going up on the mast for anybody that was of any importance on the ship. They had these structures that just seemed to go up into the sky, jutting out at various distances.
When I spotted this battleship, I picked up the voice phone and called the bridge. I said, "We've got a Japanese battleship on our port quarter for God's sake."
They said, "We know it."
The Japanese battleship never fired a shot at us and we never fired a shot at them. By the time we swung our guns around, they were gone into the darkness, engaging other targets.
That battle resulted in very heavy casualties amongst the other ships. That was the night that the HONOLULU was so badly beaten up. My former roommate at the Academy, the one that I mentioned was the captain of the swim team, was on a destroyer that was very badly hit and he was killed. Several other ships were sunk. We, however, suffered minimal damage. We did an awful lot of shooting. We claimed, of course, a great many hits.
We used six-inch guns with a base tracer for night action. When fifteen guns were firing every five or six seconds, it was like somebody had turned on a fire hose of light. We could see it arch, hit into a target, and then start to blow-up. Of course, you can't do much with six-inch guns against battleships. It was an uneven match. However, our ships were saved because the Japanese ships were loaded with those instantaneous fused projectiles that burst when they hit, causing immense personnel casualties, but very little below-the-waterline damage. They didn't sink many, but they disabled several and they killed an awful lot of people. In this battle, a different admiral got himself killed, so he's in the history books as a hero, too. I didn't think too much of his tactics at the time.
At this time, was our radar much superior to any devices that the Japanese had?
Oh, yes. As far as I know, they didn't have any in that first battle. If they had it in the second battle, it was rudimentary. I believe they had started putting airborne radar in some planes, but they really didn't have any fire control radar.
Basically, you knew where they were, but they didn't know where you were, so the
element of surprise was always on your side.
Also, we knew from intelligence that they were coming. They knew we were there because they had troops ashore on Guadalcanal and they could look out and see us. If we had needed to turn on our searchlights at night, in order to have a visual point-of-aim, we would have furnished a point-of-aim for them. With our radar, however, we didn't have to have a visual point-of-aim and that was a fantastic advantage at that particular time in the war. That's one of the reasons that I think we escaped a lot of damage and were so successful.
Our six-inch guns, however, were not a match for the battleships sixteen-inch guns. The faceplate of a turret, where the gun retracted when it was fired (the recoil slide), was under constant positive pressure to keep the gases from the gun from blowing back into the turret and asphyxiating people. It was under constant positive pressure to blow these gases out the muzzle. The seal was obtained with elephant hide that was wrapped around the barrel of the gun on the recoil slide forming a big hoop that went around an opening in the faceplate of the turret. It was an air-tight seal. Those gun barrels would get so hot during those firings that not only was the paint burned off them, but those elephant hides would catch on fire. During the height of a battle, there would be people with wash-deck hoses on the deck, spraying our turret faces with water to keep the elephant hide from burning. At one point, theoretically, we had fired more shots at the enemy in a shorter time than any ship in the entire history of the U.S. Navy. We were all very, very proud of that ship. It did a hell of a job, in spite of the mistakes of the admirals in charge who did not capitalize on our unique capability. If we were to fight that battle again, we would have the big ships, our cruisers, hang back while sending the destroyers on in for a torpedo attack (they have to get
close for a torpedo attack). We would try to keep distance between ourselves and them and maneuver to shoot at them and not let them shoot at us very much.
Stay out of their range.
Don't get into a melee. Know where they are so you can pick them out. That's how to do it. They were in restricted waters and didn't have much sea room for maneuvering. Unfortunately, it was poorly handled, I think. The history books have it differently.
Of course, at that point, the Navy was hanging on because they suffered all those casualties in Pearl Harbor.
We went in one night around Savo Island. That particular night, we were in the company of some of the new battleships that had come out. That was quite a sight to see. That was one time when I would have been glad to have seen them show up, because those battleships could have done a number on them that none of us cruisers had ever been able to do. That particular night, however, there was no battle.
An incident that happened the next day after the battle of Guadalcanal [involved] the captain of our ship, a man named Gilbert C. Hoover, who was a very, very fine gentleman, greatly respected and admired by the crew and officers. We were retiring from the scene of the battle and we were basically the only ship that still was in battle condition. The HONOLULU was a charnel house. She was able to steam, but the senior officer alive was a lieutenant commander. We sent our doctors over and they were treating people who were shot to pieces. One other cruiser was dead in the water, left back at Guadalcanal. Out of the original six or eight destroyers, I think we had three with us, only one of which was still combat ready except in the sense that it could not use its sonar to detect submarines. One of the cruisers with us was the JUNEAU, an anti-aircraft cruiser that never should have been
called a cruiser. Its main battery was composed of dual-purpose five-inch guns, primarily designed to shoot against airplanes, but used for surface fire in those night battles. We were steaming along, retreating from Guadalcanal, and a Japanese submarine that had gone undetected by our destroyers, torpedoed the JUNEAU. We were in what was called "Condition II," which meant that half of the crew were in battle stations. My regular battle station was main battery control aft, but in this condition I stood my watch in main battery control forward. I didn't have to stay in there all the time, so I was standing out on the wing when I saw the JUNEAU blow. The torpedo hit a magazine and it instantly blew, sort of like the pictures you see of an atomic bomb blast. There was an immense column of water and smoke going in the air. When it cleared, there was nothing on the ocean. We didn't see anything. We kept going.
I think that what the captain thought was, If I send any of my cripples back, they're going to get it, too. We had no means of detecting a submarine. Only one destroyer had that capability and its sonar wasn't working. The captain made the decision to keep on going.
A B-17 flew over and we signaled to him with the signal lamp, and they signaled they would notify the proper people and drop rafts if there were survivors. I didn't think there were any survivors. Subsequently, it turned out that there were. Admiral Halsey then had two black marks against our captain. He faulted him for not pursuing the Japanese battleships the night before when we could still fight, but we had been busy trying to get together the people who had survived the battle and retreat out. That was number one, I'm told. Number two was that we didn't try to go back and rescue the survivors of the JUNEAU.
It turned out that initially, there were almost a hundred people in the water in various stages of injury. I don't think over three or four survived. The airplane is the mystery. The Army Air Corps has no record of a B-17 reporting the sinking in the area. It's one of those wartime mysteries. We didn't break radio silence to tell anybody. It was a very, very sad episode.
We got back to Noumea, New Caledonia, and the captain was promptly relieved for cause. We didn't know about it as junior officers. I was a lieutenant by this time. I was an ensign for a year and a half and a jg for six months, just like all the other members of our class. I never got a jg uniform stripe because I was at sea the whole time. At any rate, he was relieved. This is when I put in for aviation.
What would be the date of that?
Late December of 1942. I put in for aviation not because I had a deep-seated desire to be a flyer, but I decided that rather than get killed by the mistakes of others, I might as well do it myself. Besides, most of us had decided that the future of the Navy was in the air. At least it was so amongst most of my contemporaries on that ship. I left the ship when we were in Espiritu Santo in late January or early February and came back on a supply ship to Long Beach. My parents, at that time, were living in Los Angeles. I had a few weeks off and then I went to flight training in April 1943.
How long was flight training?
I claim the record. George Bush, I guess, says he was the youngest and also the fastest through flight training. I got my wings in five months and three weeks from the day I checked in.
After you got your wings in September 1943, where was your next assignment?
I went to a place called Lake City, Florida, which is sixty miles west of here. The reason that I went there is that at a certain point in my flight training, I got the only "down" that I got. They give you a test in a certain flight procedure and you are either given an "up" and you go on to the next stage, or a "down" and you have to take another test. If you miss two or three of them, then you are out. This was aerobatics, going upside down, making loops, doing rolls in a little old biplane. I was not very good at this and, I didn't know the word then, but I never did have good spatial orientation, which most of the true fighter pilots have. I was good in everything but that one aspect.
I thought it over and decided I already knew how to navigate--I had been the assistant navigator on this cruiser before the war--so I said, "Well, I'll go into the next best thing. I'll go fly the PV Ventura, which is the highest performance land-based plane that they have." I actually wrote a letter to the assignment board suggesting that as where I would probably fit best. They honored it and I was sent to Lake City, Florida, where I learned to fly the Ventura.
Remember, we were practically senior grade lieutenants because we were all going up so fast. If I had gone to a squadron, as most of us were faced with, I would have been at least an operations officer or maybe the exec, but I would have had very little flight time. So my contemporaries from the Naval Academy and I were kept on as assistant instructors. I did that from late 1943 to the spring of 1945. Just before I was to put a crew together and go back out, I had an accident. I got pretty badly burned.
Was this a flight accident?
Yes. It was in connection with training. Basically, I was demonstrating a single-
engine procedure in a twin-engine airplane when the other engine quit, and I was left with no engines. I crash landed on the field but the plane caught on fire. The next two years I spent in the hospital. For most of the time, I was in a completely ambulatory situation, getting reconstruction surgery and things like this. I ended up in the Naval hospital in San Diego because that's where the plastic surgeons were.
I finally recovered from my accident, but my return to active duty was precipitated by the creation of a new rule concerning people who had had an extensive hospital confinement. The new rule indicated that any person with a hospital stay of longer than a year who was requesting a return to active duty would have to appear before a review board. He would either be kept on and brought back to active duty or be discharged to the disability retired list. Subsequent to learning of this, I quickly did a number of things. I located a squadron with the same type of airplane that I flew. It was operating outside of San Diego at a base called Miramar. I went out there and flew with one of the pilots that I knew and had him write in my logbook all the things I had done with the airplane to show that I could fly it. Then, I went over and took a flight physical from a board headed up by an admiral, a medical officer, over at North Island. He pronounced me fit for flying.
Armed with this new data, I went before the retiring board. It could have gone either way. If I had said that I wanted to retire, they would have retired me. But I said that I wanted to return to duty, so they returned me to duty. I was ordered to go to refresher flight training in the summer of 1947. I finished the training in the fall of 1947 and then went as executive officer of a dive bomber squadron (VA-25) at Oceana in Virginia Beach. I remained in that squadron for the next two years.
Although I fleeted up to temporary commanding officer during a period where they relieved the commanding officer and were waiting for the new one to arrive, I was never ordered to the squadron as commanding officer. It was during this period that I began to have some doubts about where my career pattern was going to take me. I felt I was behind my contemporaries, and I was, in some ways, mostly in contacts. I decided to apply then for post graduate training. I was past the period when most of my class had gone to aeronautical engineering, but they had opened up a new one called radiological defense. By this time I was a lieutenant commander and the grade of the individual was not an issue. The idea was to train a cadre of officers who would understand the physics and biology of atomic weapons so they would be able to serve as staff advisors and intermediaries between doctors and scientists, primarily on the effects of atomic weapons. It was a three-year course. It started with one year at the Naval post graduate school, which at that time was still at Annapolis, and then, subsequently, you either went to Ohio State or the University of California at Berkeley, which is what I did.
At the end of my year of post graduate school at Annapolis, I got married. My wife and I then went to Berkeley and stayed the next two years at which I graduated with an M.S. in Bioradiology. It was more nuclear physics than it was biology, but that's what they called it.
I left Berkeley with orders to command a squadron. I went to San Diego and then was sent out to the Pacific. This was right at the end of the Korean War. Most of the major fighting in Korea was already over. By the time I got out there, the truce was on.
You arrived in Korea at the time of the truce?
Yes, but I was not put in command of a squadron. I got shanghaied. In those days, they would order you to the type commander, which was ComAirPac, for duty as commanding officer of a squadron, not specifying what squadron or anything else.
Incidentally, if it had not been for Bob Windsor, a Class of '41 classmate, I would never have qualified as a commander of a jet squadron. When I started graduate school, I had no jet time, which career-wise was not good. So, contrary to what you might call good sense, Windsor, while I was in the university, let me fly one of his jet planes by just reading the handbook and going. I often have wondered whether I would have done the same if the situation had been reversed. Nevertheless, that's how I "big dealed" ten hours of jet time.
That's how you got some flight time.
In jets. As I said, when I went down to San Diego, I was shanghaied off to be the air operations and atomic weapons officer for a carrier division staff. I was sent immediately out to the Pacific where I spent nine months as a special weapons and air operations officer on a carrier division staff. I came back and then they more or less gave me the squadron of my choice, which was a twin jet "Banshee" squadron F2H-3. It was called VF-141, which was a split-mission squadron--atomic weapons delivery and night fighters. I kept that squadron for two years.
Approximately what date was that when you assumed command of the squadron?
That would have been June 1954.
What were your duties when you served in that carrier division?
In those days, we were in the post-Korea phase and we were keeping four carriers out there. We would operate with a minimum of two and sometimes as high as three or four. The carrier division staff made a coordinated schedule for the aircraft flights of these
carriers. We didn't tell them in detail what to do, but we told them when they were going to do it and with how many airplanes. My job was like the editor of a paper--I had a deadline. I had to come out with a flight schedule everyday for the ships that were in the formation. It was a demanding job. The admiral liked to have me up on the flight bridge during air operations, which meant that I was up before the first launch and hardly ever got to bed before the last recovery. In between time, I would be running up and down the ship's ladders trying to get the next day's schedule out.
There was one thing that went on then concerning atomic weapons. It had to do with the fear in Washington that the North Koreans were going to break the truce. There was some consideration about the possibility of using atomic weapons and we were the only ones on the scene that had the capability. We were the first to go out there with weapons on our ships, which was then a very, very secret thing. It's not so much, anymore. It was my responsibility to plan atomic weapon strikes in case that became a reality.
The Korea thing was over, but it was a busy time for me. They made it a one-year tour because they recognized that it was a strenuous tour.
Then I got the squadron of my choice, VF-141, which was based at Miramar in San Diego, and subsequently, I had a very happy two years. One of the reasons I was happy was that the squadron, which had been a day-attack squadron, was changed to a split-mission, and a whole new training cycle had to start; so, out of the two years, I only went on one cruise of six months, and that was nice. During the first cruise on the carrier division staff, I had been a newlywed, practically; my wife had been pregnant; and I had been gone nine months. This squadron, however, was great duty and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We operated in the Pacific around Japan and the Philippines.
At the end of that duty, they called me back to Washington to give my first pound of flesh for the nuclear weapons training. I came back to what was known as OP-36 in the office of CNO, which was the atomic energy division. Basically, I was in charge of nuclear weapons logistics. I kept track of where they were, where they were going, what the supply rate was, and who was getting them. I would regularly brief the Chief of Naval Operations on where all our weapons were.
When did this assignment take place?
It was about July of 1956. That lasted for two years.
So you were in Washington for two years.
Yes. It was an illuminating experience. It did not require much of the technical training that I had previously had because it was a logistics type of thing. I did have one interesting experience while I was there. By this time, the atomic weapons were getting old, and we were shifting to the nuclear weapons, the hydrogen weapons. The old weapons required that a capsule be inserted before the weapon was loaded. Otherwise, it would be just a bunch of high explosives. The capsule was the radioactive material that would ultimately cause fission to occur and cause the atomic bomb to detonate. In the nuclear bomb, there was a miniature atomic bomb inside that would send out great clouds of neutrons that would cause a fusion of lightweight particles of hydrogen atoms. This tremendous power in a small package was the hydrogen bomb. These bombs had to be filled with a gas that augmented the number of neutrons available. This gas was radioactive, thus making it toxic to the crew if it leaked. It posed an additional hazard for the crew because it couldn't be smelled. That was the one time I payed for my post-graduate career.
The Bureau of Ships designed an assembly room where the bombs were checked when coming out of storage. Naturally, there were people in and out of there all the time. They were going to buy a permanent sniffer for that area which would sniff the atmosphere all the time and would ring out all sorts of alarms if it detected the presence of this gas. It cost a bundle--about half a million a copy. They were also designing magazines for the bombs and were going to put one of these in each of these magazines. Magazines are dead spaces; you don't go in there unless you're going to take something out. There were portable sniffers that were much cheaper.
They came over and said they planned to put permanent sniffers in the magazines of the new carriers.
I said, "We don't need the permanent sniffer in the magazines. That's fine for the assembly room where there are people in and out all the time, but not in the magazines."
They could pick up a portable one, open the door of the hatch, and stick it in there to see if anything had leaked.
They said, "Well, can you get your admiral to sign a piece of paper that says this is right?"
I said, "Sure."
I wrote it and he signed it. I think I saved the Navy around a hundred million dollars.
Because it wouldn't be one of the big things for each ship.
For each "space" on board ship. That is where my technical training paid off. The admiral believed me because I knew what I was talking about. He didn't know. That's what I was being paid for. All the technical training, in that one stroke of the pen, was paid for.
That was one of the highlights. I enjoyed the job--knowing the secrets. I always kept hoping that some beautiful Russian spy would approach me and offer to trade her body for what I knew, but that never happened!
That causes lots of trouble as we learn later.
Now we're back up to 1958. I was selected to captain from that job. As a captain selectee, I went up to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and was given the command of a squadron that had night attack and atomic weapons delivery missions. Once again I was in that business. I sort of stayed in the bomb business off and on from then on. This outfit was a large composite squadron. We sent specialized detachments of three airplanes to each carrier. It was back to a propeller-driven squadron. It was going back to my old days in the forties. They were ADs, but they carried three people. I stayed in that squadron for a year and I was basically home-based. I got qualified aboard ship again and all that stuff.
Then I came back to Washington. There was an outfit in Washington called the Joint Atomic Information Exchange Group, JAIEG. Its mission was to determine what secrets about the atomic weapons we were providing our NATO allies that they needed to know to be able to deliver them and that could be told them under the terms of the National Security Act. For instance, we would take a delivery manual for one of the earlier weapons, a Mark-8, for a certain class of airplane. We would go through that and look for Restricted Data--anything in there that they didn't need to know that might pertain to the design of atomic or nuclear weapons. That is what we did. There was a general nominally in charge who came from the Defense Atomic and Support Agency. The two action officers were a Civilian Civil Service GS-16, who represented the AEC, and myself, who represented the Department of Defense. It was a nothing job. I thoroughly detested it. It was a
bookkeeper's job. I kept my mouth shut and did it, but it was one job that I never wanted, protested against, and got it anyhow.
How long were you doing that?
Two years. In those days, aviator captains had to make a "ship command list." The first step towards any chance of making admiral was to get selected for what was called a "deep-draft," which was a big ship, but not an aircraft carrier. It was to qualify one as a shiphandler, so to speak. Then one could take command of a carrier. I missed the first time around, which, for me, was a very bad blow. That was a bad indicator for a career pattern. But I made it for the second time and got selected for a "deep draft." I went to command of a ship called the VALCOUR, which was a small seaplane tender. It was stationed, more or less, permanently in the Persian Gulf. There were three of them. They rotated. Their only mission was to provide a flagship for the Commander Middle East Force in the Persian Gulf. They mostly operated out of Bahrain, which is very much in the news these days. They were basically communication ships with the capability of servicing seaplanes. We carried ammunition that the seaplanes could use as well as fuel and repairs. They were lovely little ships of three hundred and some feet long, fully air-conditioned and painted white; it was like having your own private yacht. We always had independent duty. We never went with anybody; we steamed all around. It was a very, very interesting tour. I got in on some of the things such as feasts with sheiks where they sat on a rug on the ground and ate with their hands and all those fun things. That lasted for a year.
Then I was sent from there to SAC (Strategic Air Command) Valhalla out at Offutt Air Force Base, in Omaha, Nebraska. I was the Navy member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Liaison Group to the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff. Out there at the Joint Strategic
Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) is where they laid the SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan), which blows up all the world.
The Joint Chiefs didn't trust the Chief of SAC; that's the truth of it. He did show partisanship for the Air Force. The number two man at the JSTPS was an aviation vice-admiral but mainly his responsibility was oriented towards the submariners. By this time, we had missile submarines capable of delivering nuclear weapons as well as airplanes. Our job was to look over their shoulders and report back to the Joint Chiefs as to what was going on in the SIOP and what the arguments and decisions were. There are always arguments when there are competing ways of doing things: Is it better to send a carrier plane in or to send a bomber or do you program a missile? (That's a for instance.)
This job was an interesting job which I thoroughly hated! I had a marvelous man, an Army general, that was my immediate boss. He later headed up the My Lai trials. I can't think of his name, but he was a fine man. I liked him. I was the Navy member and I could watch SAC in operation. What happened was that we were continually being by-passed by the Chief of SAC who would go directly to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Theoretically, his channel was supposed to be through us. Our general was continually finding out that information was feeding back to the Joint Chiefs that we didn't have direct knowledge of yet. He told the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, an Army general with whom he had a good relationship, that we were "superfluous, redundant," that, "he didn't need us."
The chairman took him at his word and said, "All right, we'll make it an item on the next meeting of the Joint Chiefs as to whether to continue this outfit."
We were always flying back and forth to Washington, and I happened to be in Washington at the time, as the Deputy CNO called me in an said, "What about it? Are you
doing any good out there?"
I said, "No. They have ways of getting around us. If they don't want to tell us, they don't; if they want to tell us, they tell us."
He said, "Well, I'll vote to abolish it."
Well, I went back out to Omaha and then once again I was on my way back to Washington for some kind of a meeting, and I was on one of those little Air Force jets at thirty-thousand feet. (The Air Force has marvelous communications.) They called me from SAC headquarters and said I was fired. As I always say, "I got fired at thirty-thousand feet."
They said, "Go around to the Bureau of Personnel and find out where you are going."
I went to what was then just being re-organized as the office of the Chief of Naval Material. It has since been abolished. It was a layering thing, and I won't bore you with the details. I was the Director of Research and Development. This was a nothing job in the sense that I don't think we did much good. As evidence of that, the whole organization that we worked so hard to establish has since been dis-established. The idea was that all of the Naval Bureaus--Ships, Aeronautics, Weapons, Yards and Docks, etc.--would have one organization to funnel into, to make sure that everybody was talking to each other. We would look at certain things that proprietary interests, such as the people who designed them, might not take too seriously such as: "Is it easy to maintain? Is it reliable? Is it safe?" We had so-called experts to review those things, but it ended up being a bureaucratic paper-shuffling thing.
Now, we're up to 1965. It was the time when I was either going to get an aircraft carrier or a major Naval air station. (They had just expanded the list of so-called major commands for aviators to include not only aircraft carriers, which had sort of a totem-pole
priority, but also major Naval jet bases.) I was given my choice of several air stations to go to. Essentially, I was one of the first ones to go as commanding officer of a major Naval air station instead of command of a carrier. Naturally, it was a disappointment to me that I didn't get an aircraft carrier because that's the goal of every naval aviator. But, as a second choice, it wasn't so damn bad.
I chose Miramar, San Diego . . . so it was back to San Diego again! I was there from 1965 to 1967 as the commanding officer. It was a marvelous, marvelous job. Nowadays, the commanding officer has a superior admiral on base, but in those days I was the big muckamuck and it was a marvelous two years.
But I could see the handwriting on the wall. I found out, for instance, that one of the reasons that I didn't get on a deep-draft list the first time, in spite of a good service record, was that I needed a champion--someone who was willing to stand up and say, "Look, I'll vote for your man if you'll vote for mine." I didn't have anyone on the board to stand up for me. I asked one admiral why I wasn't selected the first time around, and he said, "You didn't get enough votes." Well, that was true, but he didn't tell me why. I pre-judged that my chances to make admiral were slim to none. Subsequently, I got information that that was probably wrong, but that's water under the bridge now.
I decided to get out and make use of my technical training. General Atomic in San Diego was making a lot of noises about hiring me as a liaison between their technical laboratories and the outfits in Washington that had a lot of money to spend like the Defense Atomic Research Laboratories. Primarily, it was in the field of high-altitude effects of atomic weapons.
I said, "Look, I'll put in my chit and retire from the Navy if you'll write me a letter
saying that you'll hire me at this job. I'm not going to give up the Navy unless you do this. I can't afford to do it."
They hemmed and hawed and didn't do it. I subsequently found out that Gulf Oil was buying them out, and all of the hierarchy had been told to put all personnel plans on hold. They were not to commit to anything. So, then what? I probably would have been ordered back to Washington. This is where people always say that I might have made it. But I was already on the far side of the "power curve." My classmates were already making it.
My wife said, "Couldn't we go to Europe?"
I had a friend over there who was in a bomb job with NATO in the southern command at Naples. I said, "All right, I'll go over there for two years and then I'm getting out." We went over there and I relieved this friend of mine. I was the atomic weapons staff officer on the staff of CinCSouth. CinCSouth was a U.S. four-star admiral, but it had a multi-national staff. I had Turks and Greeks and Italians working for me.
Where were you stationed?
In Naples, Italy.
It was basically combined NATO?
Yes. They maintain a permanent NATO defense structure. They provide the nucleus. The idea is that in time of war, the combatant forces are assigned to the command of these staffs. They prosecute the war as a NATO entity rather than as individual countries. Of course, being the bomb guy, I was of tremendous interest to the foreign nationals who didn't know much about it. It was kind of old stuff to me. But it was a great tour. "What the hell!"
I still wanted to get out. I would have been normally in that tour for three years. I was given credit for doing a lot of Machiavellian maneuvering but it really wasn't true. That would have left me one year to go before a forced retirement. I thought, "I want to get into something." Actually, I was thinking I'd get out. I wrote and said, "Rather than leave me here three years, in which case I would have only one year left and you would just have to keep me on, cut my tour to two years and give me a good job at the end--another two year tour."
Yes, they went with that. So I came up for rotation in two years instead of the normal three for a NATO job. A friend of mine, an admiral came out there. He was the local aviation admiral in charge of everything in the Italian area, ashore, not at sea. The Sixth Fleet, of course, was at sea.
He said, "Well, how would you like to be my chief of staff?"
Well, I knew this guy very well, so I said, "No thanks."
He said, "Well, how about being the commanding officer of the Naval Support Activity?" That is sort of like the mayor of the American military community. We supported the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel assigned to NATO. We had commissary exchanges, hospitals, found them quarters, held their hand, paid them, all this stuff--and a lot of perks.
I talked to my wife, and she said, "Oh my God, yes, let's do it." So it was done; I changed jobs from a NATO job to a U.S. unilateral job. At the same time, I picked up very fancy quarters, which I picked out myself and which the U.S. Navy was paying for, and a boat, a crew, a car and a driver, and stewards (in the house.)
Where was this?
It was in Naples, again.
You were still in Naples, then.
Yes, I spent four years in Naples and then I retired and went to work in a bank in San Diego.
The technical aspect didn't come into play.
It never materialized.
By that time, I was too much out of step to really hope to get a technical job. I realized it. I was not worth much to them in terms of being a contact man because I was too long out of Washington. I wanted to live in the San Diego area where I already owned a house. A friend offered me a job as a trust officer in a bank so I took it. I became a trust new business officer. Are you interestd in the non-military end of it?
Yes, we like to follow through.
I worked for them about six years and then I went with a developer. I used to peddle limited partnerships in real estate developments and I made some money. Then I went out and did a little bit on my own, sort of free-lancing. Somebody would have something they wanted to get investors in and they would get in touch with me and I would see if I could raise some money for them. That sort of petered out and I have done virtually nothing in the last four years. I own a little group of apartments that I manage, but I do essentially zilch now.
Now you just have fun.
I loved the Navy and really, I owe the Navy a tremendous debt. I often say that the Naval Academy, which is a much maligned place, although not so much now as it was for a
while, can take a young man--a raw young guy--from many, many different walks of life and in four years, convince him that he has the inherent right to tell people, sailors, often older than himself, what to do. It specifically trains him to do that. It is done with confidence and, generally speaking, with pretty good ability. That's a lot to ask of a young man. That confidence that we had in ourselves, when we were young, continues to amaze me now that I'm older and look back.
There was one little episode that I should tell you. When the HELENA was laid up in Mare Island, being patched up, they detached me to take a bunch of fishing boats, that they had taken away from the Italian-Americans in San Francisco harbor, down to Panama where I grew up. These were sixty-five-foot purse-seiners, as they were called. Off I went with these boats to Panama. I was twenty-three years old at the time. I never gave it a second thought. I thought, what the hell, I can navigate. I've got sailors on board that are thirty-nine years old. They do what I tell them. Off I went.
I arrived in Panama in command of my own ship--sixty-five-feet long and with a crew of nine. A canal pilot was sent out to meet us. We had twelve boats. Being a typical snotty ensign, I said, "Look, I was born and raised here. I know every foot of this harbor. I don't need any pilot to go in there and tie up."
He looked at me and said, "Well, do you know where the mine fields are?"
I said, "No, sir."
That's about it. I liked aviation. When I went through refresher flight training, I was given the opportunity of selecting the kind of branch of Naval aviation I desired. I had realized that land-based aviation was a career dead end for a Naval aviator. Very few land-based aviators make admiral, very few. I switched over to carrier aviation. Subsequently,
I've flown them all: land-based, dive-bombers, fighters, night fighters, atomic-weapons delivery planes, the whole bit, and I loved it. But I don't claim and never thought of myself as a natural hot-shot aviator. I was very good, but I never considered myself as tops as an aviator.
[End of Interview]