Walter Francis Martin, Jr., oral history interview, January 1989


Walter Francis Martin, Jr.
January, 1989

Walter Francis Martin, Jr.:

I was born January 25, 1912, in Zamboanga, Philippine Islands, which is on the island of Jolo. My father was there with the 2nd Cavalry, U.S. Army, engaged in putting down what was known as the Philippine Insurrection. This was primarily the Mohammedans who are raising just as much hell today as they were then. Among the papers I am giving to the Manuscript Collection are requests from my father, and endorsements all the way up the line and back again, denying his request for leave to attend my birth. Subsequently, it was granted. It always occurred to me that the old man must have been pretty good at persuasion to finally get “shook loose” in view of the remarks on the endorsements.

He often told stories about the Moros (which of course is what the Mohammadans are called) who would go "Horo men tado"(?) meaning that they would get themselves up in some bamboo armor and get a kris and see how many infidels they could kill before they went to Heaven. That was why the 45-caliber standard issue sidearm was invented to stop these "Horo men tadoes."(?)

Also among the papers is a clipping about my grandfather, George Mason Grayson, who was an officer in the Confederate Army, and also a description of his experiences and life.

Leading the usual "army brat" existence--from here to there, Vermont to Texas--I followed my father around as far as I could. He eventually wound up as head of G2 in World War I. Prior to that he had military attaché experience in Central America and followed Pershing into Mexico, etc. The discussion among the papers of his being recommended for the Distinguished Service Medal is interesting because it gives a good idea of how the cooperation between industry and finance and the intelligence arms of the armed forces came about. It was his idea. It was the genesis of that connection, which has served us well ever since. I think the citation for the medal is really quite revealing in this respect.

Arriving now at my own so-called military career: In May of 1941, I went on active duty as an IVS Reservist with the District Intelligence Office in New York. I had various investigative duties. At one time, I was sent to the sub base at New London in connection with U-boats--hopefully trying to find out whether the fishermen could spot them from their big trawlers. We worked with the Customs and Immigration fellows on various German nationals, infiltrators, who appeared in rubber boats. They never were much trouble to catch and, I thought, were completely ineffective.

After that, due to a language facility, I was shifted to a boarding detail. I would go down to New York Harbor and board the incoming passenger ships, which were full of refugees. We would board the ship as it came up The Narrows and ride to the anchorage, and, along with the Customs and Immigration officials, attempt to obtain such information as the passengers could give us. I don't think we ever got very much; but the idea was, for instance, to see if the JEANBART, the French battleship, was operative, which way were the guns pointed--what I would call "gleaning crumbs."

The papers in the brown folder contain a series of directives as to how our intelligence efforts were conducted, what the objects were, and the parameters and guidelines. I think the contents of this folder might be interesting because, to my knowledge, very few boarding detail officers have discussed that particular chore.

We did come across some refugees from concentration camps. They were a pretty scruffy lot and were not very anxious to be helpful. Once in a while you could track them down after they had been in the country and the dust had settled a little for them, and they would be more forthcoming. They were all scared to death, however, and not really anxious to be cooperative.

I married my wife, Cynthia, in 1939 and in 1942 we had a daughter, Virginia. My wife retired to Salem, Massachusetts, where she came from. Her mother “scooped” her in, which was very kind. My wife followed me around as far as she could, as long as I was within the continental United States.

During this time, I was detailed to the visiting chiefs of the Central and South American navies as an aide to the Ecuadorian admiral when they were on a visit of inspection and to attend the commissioning of the USS NORTH CAROLINA. The red carpet was laid out for all of these admirals because we were looking forward to cooperating with them in the coming times. The Ecuadorian admiral was a third mate on a tramp freighter and all he wanted to do was get away and visit his brother in the Bronx; but in spite of that, it was an interesting break from the normal routine.

In March of 1942, I was detached from ONI and sent to Northwestern University as a student under instruction. Since I had had Naval ROTC training, the course of instruction

was not too onerous and left some time for exploring the pleasures of Chicago and the vicinity.

At the end of that course, in June of 1942, I received orders to the USS RANGER, which was operating in the Atlantic in support of landings in North Africa. Before I left I was called to be interviewed by Admiral Wilder D. Baker who, it seems, had been given carte blanche to pick out any promising young officers as anti-submarine warfare specialists. For some reason, he picked me along with several others, and we all, forthwith, had our orders canceled and were shipped out under new orders to Sound School in Boston Navy Yard.

For a whole year, until May 1943, I was in a student status, first at Boston, then at Key West, and finally at San Diego. At Boston, we were told how to tend and instruct on the “attack teacher,” which was a simulated affair showing how to make a depth-charge attack. Although, it was helpful, I'm sure, it was pretty dull because, in a way, it was sort of like a pinball machine. Then they sent us on down to Key West where we went out on Eagle boats, which were left over from World War I--flat-bottomed scows--that's the only way I could describe them. They crabbed more than they went forward. But we who worked with the S-Boats, the “tame” subs, did more practical application of what we had learned on the simulator.

Then I went on to San Diego, where we learned more of the technicalities of the sound gear, where it might go wrong most. We worked mostly on a QBE, which was the forerunner of the sonar systems that are on the modern destroyers. They instructed us on the duties of the vacuum tube and what caused a magnetostriction to shoot the sound waves

into the water. For a classics student from Yale University, all of this required a good deal of transformation of one's mental approach.

Having now become "experts" in ASW warfare, we were detached and sent to Pearl Harbor to report to the staff of ComDesPac. I took passage on a brand new AM. As we went out of San Francisco Harbor, right near the Farralones, we had a sound contact. I was whistled to the bridge and told to make a sound attack. First we evaluated the contact--sounded awful mushy to me and also to the sonar man--but the skipper was brand new with a brand new ship and he seemed to think that we should press on. The more we pinged on it, the mushier it got. Finally, we seemed to have a pretty good bearing on the “whale”, which I'm sure it was, and we fired depth charges and made a very satisfactory splash and explosion, and I sure hope the whale got away!

At ComDesPac in Pearl Harbor, we had some more instruction. This time on combat information center procedures.From January to May 1943, I was engaged as an underway instructor in ASW out of Pearl Harbor. The idea was you'd sortie, embark on the flagship, request everybody to form "dog", and take turns making runs on the “tame” submarine. The only trouble with all of this was that generally we had destroyers, and destroyers don't like to go at ten knots. They like to travel at the highest speed possible, all of which they did, forming knuckles in the water, and the result was completely unsatisfactory. There was no way to stop this because the destroyer skippers were all senior and, obviously, there was certainly nothing I could do about it.

I, along with the other graduates of this extensive schooling, were then detached and detailed to various parts and places of the Pacific Theater of war. In my case I was sent to

Espirito Santo, which is now known as Vanuatu. It's now an independent republic, but at that time it was part of the French-British condominium.

There I was shore-based along with some staff, a couple of jo's (junior officers), and some enlisted sonar men, with an “attack teacher” and a picket boat that had an attachment called a transponder. The picket boat would travel along and the school ships would make runs on the picket boat, blindly, with the idea being to get a return echo similar to that of a submarine. The “attack teacher” was the same as the simulator we'd had everywhere else and was an effort to keep at least the sonar operator's skills from getting completely rusty.

Eventually, we got an old S-boat for a “tame” submarine and it got to be somewhat of a full-fledged ASW training operation. About that time I was detailed to start riding ships as an ASW underway instructor, meaning that I would try to bring up to date the doctrine with the sonar operators and the sound officer who was generally a junior communicator. My official position was that of Officer in Charge of the ASW training unit, so, periodically, I would return to the beach at Espirito Santo and see how the boys were doing with the “tame” submarine, etc. It wasn't altogether unpleasant duty. The islands were beautiful. It's the place Richard Rodgers wrote about in “South Pacific”. The French planters were still there, and as far as I could see completely oblivious that there was anything much going on, except that the whole harbor, which, incidentally, is a magnificent one, was full of ships coming and going all the time.

After having completed some time on the beach I was off again as an underway instructor. This time I found myself on the USS RADFORD, which was heading west-northwest past Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Kula Gulf, Vella Gulf, and Vella Lavella. I found myself at midnight up the Slot with a lot of gunfire and charging around generally

going on. Apparently, we'd had the “good luck” or “misfortune” to encounter the Tokyo Express. We lost two destroyers, the STRONG and one other. The Japanese lost the destroyer JINTSU. As we were returning the next morning, we picked up a sailor off the JINTSU, who I don't think was much help to anybody, as he appeared to be just a deck hand, a peasant from Hokkaido or someplace.During the night I watched the cruiser BROOKLYN's main batteries firing, and I swear to you that those eight-inch guns were firing like machine guns. They were pouring the bullets out!

On my return, I was in the USS DIXIE, the destroyer tender on which our C.O. was located, when I had the pleasure of receiving a padding from one of the cable traffic messages. The padding read "LC Martin, son." I gathered this to mean that I now had a son, which was later confirmed. The LC was something I didn't understand until I learned that an ALNAV had made me a lieutenant commander!

In October I was detached and returned to Pearl Harbor where I found orders to go to the North Pacific and report to another destroyer tender to continue my underway ASW training activities. I took passage on the USS STANLEY, and I brought with me a kind of gray barrel, which was lashed amidships. When we got to NorPac, it was offloaded and placed in the water where it served the same transponder use as the picket boat in Espirito Santo.

There was little hope to use it because the seas were mountainous and the winds normally fifty to sixty knots so I repaired to the beach where I found no attack teacher. Being at loose ends, I finally turned up on Desron 49's staff and Captain Hilyer Gearing was kind enough to obtain orders attaching me to the staff. My classification was then changed

from intelligence volunteer to deck. And as a member of the staff, I became more and more involved in screening duties and the usual preparation of orders that go with a "staffee's" job. The first sortie that occurred while I was embarked was a raid on the island of Hokkaido which is the northern most island of Japan, and the object was to shell the naval base of Ominato. To get there we had to sail across the Sea of Okhotsk, down inside between the mainland and Hokkaido, to get within range of Ominato. Unfortunately, we encountered violent weather and when we got within range of Ominato, the ships were rolling so violently that we couldn't lay the guns. The stable element would only take maybe 27 or 28 degrees up or down and the ships were rolling a good 40. Therefore, in spite of the fact we did manage to lob a few shells onto the beach, one could hardly call the expedition a great success. It must be noted, on the other hand, that this was the first time a hostile shell had landed on a Japanese island during Word War II, and, for that matter, ever before. On our way back, one of the ships lost suction and we were very much afraid that he was going to be swept on the beach at Vladivostok, but fortunately they got it going and we all finally returned safely to Adak.

In May of 1944, the squadron was returned to San Francisco and I never enjoyed anything quite so much as the first beer that I consumed on the first bar I found! Also, it was interesting to go up to the Top of the Mark and look down into San Francisco Bay and see all the destroyers of Squadron 49 out there.

I was walking down Main Street in San Francisco one day and a pretty girl came from the other direction. As she came abreast of me, she saluted! I was completely taken aback. I didn't know what it was all about. Finally, I got a good look at her and she had on a blue

uniform and a white cap, and I said to myself, “My goodness that must be a WAVE!” Believe me, I hadn't seen a white woman, much less a WAVE, for all those many months.

I was granted a thirty-day leave, which was very welcome indeed, and I went home to Salem, Massachusetts, to see my dear wife and make the acquaintance of the latest addition to the family. Certainly, I didn't have much acquaintance with the first addition, but it was great fun. We went down to Cape Cod and went swimming and enjoyed ourselves before returning to San Francisco.

When I arrived in San Francisco, I began to realize that as far as I was concerned, this was the third time out and an awful lot of enlisted men, particularly, weren't very enthusiastic. The shore patrol was having a lot of fun and there were a lot of AWOLs. I found that I had orders cut to take passage on a converted liner to New Guinea, which would take about forty-five to sixty days. It was a troop ship and on the way I was to conduct courts martial because I would be the senior naval officer aboard. You can appreciate that none of this appealed to me very much, but there I was, stuck. Fortunately, on the way out, under the Golden Bridge, the ship broke down and was towed back in. The troops and I were disembarked, and I hot-footed it over to Com 13 and found a friend of mine who had command of a destroyer that was leaving the next day for Pearl Harbor. He said, "Sure come along. You can have my cabin, I've got to be in the sea cabin anyway."

Well, this was May 1944, just to put it in a time frame. On my arrival to Pearl Harbor, I reported to ComDesPac who presented me with orders to proceed and report to Commander Destroyer Squadron 2, wherever he might be. It was indicated that he was in the general vicinity of New Guinea and I was told to report as a passenger--again--aboard a destroyer headed in that direction. We crossed the equator. For me it was the second time,

but I had no proof I had gone over it the first time, so I had to go through the usual with Davy Jones and King Neptune and so forth. It wasn't all that bad but it got a little boring the second time around. We finally arrived in Hollandia, Manus, or someplace. I saw right away that we were in the MacArthur Navy and nobody was all that happy, but that's the way it was. And ComDesRon 2 was somewhere around and eventually I found him aboard the USS MORRIS. We found ourselves engaged in convoy duty to the Philippines where we eventually officiated at the landings in Leyte Gulf which were made famous--or notorious--by the picture of MacArthur landing with his corncob pipe and wet to the knees. I didn't believe it and nobody else did.

The invasion of Leyte was a fairly messy operation. There was the beginning of the suiciders. We started ducking them along about that time. The landings at Ormoc and Mindoro were stoutly resisted by the Japanese. Samar was just as bad. All of this time I kept remembering that I was born right around here.The Japanese Fleet was in the area and we had continual indications that there would be some kind of effort at repulsing the U.S. invasion, but nothing much definite outside of Halsey being reported to be chasing a so-called fleet that he couldn't seem to find to the north and that Oldendorf and his battleships and everybody but the LSTs were lined up in Surigao Strait. On that famous night the Japanese fleet was caught, at least the one that came through Surigao Strait. It was quite an extensive array and just about completely sunk. The next morning, after trying to pick up survivors and generally try to figure out what was going on, we went back to Leyte Gulf to our anchorage. As we were recuperating and trying to catch our breath, over the horizon, we saw the pagoda masts of the Japanese ships.

At that stage we had no ammunition except starshells in the magazines. Obviously this caused us perturbation, one might say. For some reason however, the Japanese fleet turned and left! Later it was explained in the definitive works of Morison that the Japanese admiral was apparently confused, had been many nights without sleep and didn't realize he could have just sailed right in and decimated the entire operation.

One thing that might have encouraged him to turn away was the activities of destroyer escorts and one destroyer who were caught screening a CVE, a jeep carrier, and made a torpedo run on, of all things, the eighteen-inch YAMAMOTO and assorted other battleships and cruisers. They made smoke and they went in so close that the Japs couldn't depress their rifles and apparently harassed them enough so that helped the Jap admiral to think, maybe, there were other forces behind this little fleet of tin cans.

There ensued further convoy duty back and forth to Manus, Hollandia, Sensapor(?), Morotai, god-forsaken places on the coast of New Guinea, all of which looked like the other side of the moon. Eventually the beach of Leyte was considered secure and we were sent back, of all places, to Guadalcanal for refit and practice for the next operation.

Guadalcanal was just about the quietest place I ever saw, including Tulagi, and all of the ridges and so forth were all grown all over again. There was no indication that there had been any enormous battles waged there. Henderson Field didn't even seem to be in any kind of active status.

The next operation appeared to be called "Lingayen Gulf." Here we go again boys. We sortied up through the Inland Sea past Ormoc Mindoro, Samar, and Mindoro and around to the western side of the archipelago, again convoying. We were attacked occasionally by snoopers and in due course we arrived in Lingayen Gulf which is the

northern end of the island of Luzon the main island, about, a hundred miles north of Manila. It's an enormous open harbor, open to the north, but it had lots of room and we again entertained quite a few kamikazes. I saw one Jap pilot jump out of his Betty and when he was picked up he was obviously just a bag of bones.

We landed the troops, and engaged in a couple more convoys to bring in supplies, then we were called off for the next caper which turned out to be starting out at Ulithi.

About this time it was the fall of '44. When we arrived at Ulithi, I never saw a more enormous concentration of naval strength. Battleship Row went on forever, there were shoals of cruisers, thousands of destroyers, it was a sight to remember.

Some time had passed so that this Ulithi congregation was well into the winter of 1945. After a considerable amount of milling around and gathering everything together and sorties for “playing boats and soldiers,” and supplies and this and that, along about March 20, we sortied from Ulithi. Our little squadron of "cans" were all together for the first time and made a brave show as we formed “dog”, that is, in line ahead, and with flags snapping, started off in direction of the west. That's all we knew, we were going west. Generally, as usual we were going in that direction. We kept on moving along, and after a while, it became clear that the operation order was to capture and secure the island of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands.

This has all been described much better than I can by Admiral Samuel Elliot Morison, Ernie Pyle, all of the reporters who were in on it, so I'll try to just touch the highlights insofar as it concerned me.

We arrived off Okinawa and were immediately dispatched by the Commodore, whose job it was to deploy the screen, to the north of the island in order to interdict the

attacks of primarily suiciders. He was called “High Jinks”. His name was Commodore Moosebrugger, after whom a destroyer has been named and on which we recently went riding on one of our Destroyer Escort Commanding Officer junkets.

Our station in the picket line was number six which, being numbered in counter clockwise order, put us the nearest to the island of Kyushu, which is the southern most Japanese island, and was only about a hundred miles away or so. It was from here that the kamikazes were launching their attacks. The object of this interdiction effort obviously was to distract the kamikazes by, well, if I may say so, holding us out as bait, rather than having them after the capital ships, the carriers and so forth. We would steam along and turn in circles back and forth on our station, listening to the TBS and hearing about all of the other ships and how they were doing--not too well, I might add. One day, a fellow showed up on the radar screen in the direction of Kyushu. We turned around to present our main battery to him and he kept coming until he came in sight. It was a fighter plane with the big red meatballs showing. He was jinking, that is pulling up and down until he was right on the water and then up again and then right and left, in an effort, obviously, to throw off our aim. We took him under fire with our five-inch at about four and a half miles. Tried to splash him down or hit him, but he kept coming and finally he got in range of the 40-millimeters and they started and when the 20- millimeters started we all knew that things were getting a little tense. Unfortunately, they did get tense, because he crashed just forward of the bridge into the number two mount and killed all the men there. We were without water for the damage control people and we were all afraid that the magazine would go up which was directly below the number two mount!

This was all very hard on the nerves as you can gather. But finally we limped into what was called the "Boneyard." The name of it is Karama Retto. It's on the opposite side of Naha or Buckner Bay where the landings were going forward. There were repair ships and troop ships and all the cripples in there. The Boneyard was just that. You would never want to see anything so awful as the way the ships that came in were damaged. They had stacks hanging over the side; they might have a fantail blown off; it was shambles.

The suiciders kept coming, particularly at night, and it was an awesome sight to see the tracers that covered the sky--much better than any Fourth of July fireworks. At this stage the commodore or squadron commander and his staff, including me, the operations officer, were embarked on a troopship, and we were completely defenseless depending on whatever AA armament that the troopship had. One night a suicider hit a DMS alongside us that was ready to get underway first thing in the morning with wounded, and it was just awful because the wounded were mostly all killed.

About June, I was detached as operations officer of Destroyer Squadron Number 2, and told to report to Commander of the Destroyers Pacific, Pearl Harbor which I did again as a passenger aboard some ship or other. When I arrived at Pearl Harbor I was told that orders were there for me to report to the USS ST. PAUL as chief staff officer and operations officer of a cruiser division of which the ST. PAUL was the flagship. ST. PAUL was in the harbor at that time so I got onto a boat and went over to take a look. As we came alongside the ST. PAUL I looked up and up and up some more! I never saw such an enormous craft. Remember I'm used to little ships. Well, anyway, I got over the gangway and after duly saluting everything in sight, got to looking around. Good Lord, there was a Marine band, there were Marine sentries, the CIC was as big as our whole ship, the quarters were

magnificent, but it wasn't for me. I took a good hard look at the point system under which you accumulated points, depending on how long you had been at sea and how long you had been in active duty, and I discovered I was eligible to retire to inactive duty. It occurred to me that that might be a desirable thing to do, so I requested it. After considerable traveling, I arrived in New York where I was retired and I'm still retired. That sounds to me like the end of my little story.

There's a lot of material with the contents of the box here that has to do with a Reserve cruise that we took to Puerto Rico along about 1950. It's all well described so I won't belabor it, but it sure was a beat-up old can that they handed us.

[End of Interview]

Walter Francis Martin, Jr., oral history interview, January 1989
Mr. Martin primarily provides background for his personal papers which are included in the Destroyer Escort Commanding Officers Collection. He relates his childhood memories of growing up in an Army family with a father who served with the 5th Cavalry in the Philippine insurrection and with General Pershing on the Mexican border. Concerning his own service, he discusses duty beginning in 1941 as a reserve intelligence officer operating initially in the New York area. Subsequent duty pertained to a trip to Ecuador, training in anti-submarine warfare, assignment to instructional duty in the South Pacific, encounters with the Japanese, the battle of Leyte Gulf and other Philippine engagements, the capture of Okinawa, and kamikaze experiences.
January 1989
Original Format
oral histories
Local Identifier
Location of Original
East Carolina Manuscript Collection
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