|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW|
|Omar Christian Keller|
|USNA CLASS OF 1941|
|September 26, 1988|
I was born near the little village of Arlington, Nebraska, in October 1917. My father was a farm hand. My mother had been an elementary school teacher. When I was about three months of age, we moved to Kimball County, Nebraska, which is a far western county. We were there for about two years. Then we moved back to Fremont County, Iowa, to the town of Tabor so that my mother could be with my grandparents. She was about to have my younger sister. I started school in Tabor, and also attended schools in Thurman, and Bartlett, Iowa. Then we moved back to Arlington, Nebraska, where I attended a country school near there for a year. Then we moved into town and I finished my high school education in the Arlington public schools.
What year did you finish?
I graduated from high school in 1934. I was awarded a regent scholarship to the University of Nebraska, which was a beautiful thing, except that I was only sixteen years old and had no financial background. I couldn't pay my own room and board and people wouldn't hire a sixteen year old for room and board either. I entered the Navy with the intention of trying to get into the Naval Academy. I went through recruit training at San
Diego in the Second Company, Company35-2, and completed training in April. I went aboard the battleship OKLAHOMA around the first of May.
Were you seventeen at this time?
I was seventeen by this time. I couldn't get into the Navy until I was seventeen. I got in in January 1935. On the OKLAHOMA, I was assigned to the deck force. Everybody was assigned to the deck force when they first went abroad ship. After a few months, I was transferred to the boiler division. We went to the Navy yard in Bremerton, Washington, for repairs, and during that time, I took the preliminary physical to see if I was physically able to go to the Naval Academy. I was immediately sent to the Naval hospital at Bremerton to have an operation on my nose so that I could breathe properly. During the period that I was in the hospital, the OKLAHOMA left port and I was reassigned as a passenger on the battleship ARIZONA. The Navy did not furnish tickets on public transportation in those days.
As a matter of curiosity, you were a seventeen-year-old from the heart of the midland of America, had you even seen the ocean before enlisting in the Navy?
I had never been away from home more than a week in my life. I had never been out of the states of Iowa and Nebraska.
It was kind of a traumatic experience, wasn't it?
I seemed to haved absorbed it quite well. It didn't seem to bother me a great deal. I wasn't homesick. I was ready to break away.
What was your impression when you first came aboard the OKLAHOMA and put to sea?
It wasn't too bad because there were three fellows from my hometown on the ship. I was with them. One of them was a high school classmate who was a little older than I. I had it pretty decent.
After I left the OKLAHOMA and went aboard the ARIZONA, I didn't see the OKLAHOMA for about six weeks. When we pulled into San Francisco she was there, so I was transferred back. Some of the junior officers on the ship were very kind to me and helped me get ready for the test for the prep school. Meanwhile, we were sent back to the East Coast through Panama and picked up the mids (midshipmen) at the Naval Academy for the youngster and first class cruise. We went to England, Sweden, and France. We were in Cherbourg when the Spanish Revolution broke out. The OKLAHOMA was ordered to discharge the midshipmen to the WYOMING and the ARKANSAS and to proceed to Spain to rescue the people who wanted to get out, the refugees. So we were involved in the Spanish Revolution in 1936.
How large a contingent did you pick up? Were these all American National or civilians?
Principally, they were American civilians. We did pick up one Naval officer who was in mufti. We were warned in advance not to recognize him. But he had served on the ship previously, so the guys knew him. He was on a spy mission, you might say. We also picked up some German Jews. At that time, Hitler was getting rough on the Jews, so the German battleship that was taking out refugees wouldn't pick up any of them. We had liberty in Gilbraltar and in Marseille. We saw a couple of battles where a Spanish cruiser coming into Gilbraltar was attacked by a shore battery and proceeded to return the fire and destroy the shore battery. There was a very ineffective bombing raid on the city of Palma
on the island of Majorca. It was all a very, very interesting period.
This was your first experience in seeing any type of hostility?
Yes, any type of military hostility. We took an examination for promotion while we were over there, and I was promoted to fireman second class, which is the same as a seaman as far as rank is concerned. When we returned to Norfolk, I was detached to attend prep school. I had successfully passed the exam for prep school, which at that time was at the Naval Operating Base in Norfolk. I spent the winter there. We had four Naval officers for instructors; we had class everyday and study hall every evening. We were in World War I barracks so everybody caught a cold. The wind blew harder inside than it did outside. Most of us managed to survive but we did lose one to pneumonia. We must have been fairly good physically.
We went on leave after we took the entrance exams in April. Those of us who were selected to enter the Academy had an extended leave until about the first of July when we had to report back to Norfolk. We were sent by ship overnight up to Baltimore and then bused down to the Naval Academy by the old Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis railway. It no longer exists.
Why did they not just drop you off at Annapolis rather than carrying you to Baltimore and back down?
It was cheaper to send us up by boat and then down to Annapolis by train than it was to send us by train all the way up to Annapolis. They would have had to have sent us to Washington, D.C., and that would have meant two train rides. It was cheaper to send us by boat. It was an overnight boat with bunks that they called staterooms; however, they were not very stately.
The boat wouldn't stop off at Annapolis and just drop you off directly?
No. Annapolis is two or three miles inland off the bay on the Severn river. How well I know--having sailed a boat out of the channel there. We got there and they put us on the old REINA MERCEDES which was the Spanish-American War captive. It was also the midshipmen's jail--brig. The midshipmen who were sentenced to brig-time were sent to the ship.
I haven't heard about that before.
If a person had too many demerits and walking the time off in the area around Bancroft Hall didn't seem to solve the problem, they would send him to the ship for a number of days. He would eat general mess with the crew and stay on the ship and march back and forth to his classes. In fact, one of our classmate's wife's father, who later became the Chief of Naval Operations, graduated from the ship.
One member of the Class of 1941 told me that his father or uncle was the one who brought it down to the Academy.
That was a long time ago. It was back in the very early 1900s. The ship was captured from Spain in 1898. It was quite an article. They also had the old USS CUMBERLAND. All the stewards and mess attendants lived on that. This was before the days of equality of the races. The stewards were almost all black and they would march back and forth from the CUMBERLAND to the dining hall. We were the only college that had its own dairy, by the way. The Naval Academy had its own dairy farm.
It still does?
Oh, yes. It has its own dairy farm up near Laurel, Maryland, I think. In fact, I served
one place with a gentleman who had been the commanding officer of the dairy farm.
That's unusual. I think of the agricultural schools like N.C. State having a dairy farm, but I would never think of the Academy as being a likely place for one.
They have pride in the quality of their dairy stuff. I entered the Academy and stayed for three semesters. I made some friends who I still remember and they still remember me. For some reason or another, I didn't feel right. I didn't feel that I fit in.
What didn't you really like about it? Why didn't you adjust to it?
I have no idea. I was in the top fifth of my class academically. I had no demerits. I was one of the few in my class who did not have demerits at the time. I was busy and I was doing fine. Of course, I lost my father while I was on leave before entering the Academy, and I was a little shaky. My mother and three sisters were in a very dependent situation and I couldn't help them, so I was worried about that. But it was one of the things that I had on my mind. I resigned and went to Baltimore and worked for an insurance company for awhile. I ran a gas station for a year. Then I decided that I was going back to Nebraska. I went back there and got a job boiler tending for a power company.
Had you become disillusioned with the Navy or the instruction at the Academy?
No. It was a kind of lock-step curriculum in those days. There was no choice in majors or things like that. Everybody took the same course with the exception of language. We had a choice of four languages.
It was all engineering and . . .
That and ordnance and navigation. It was a professional course, I've never heard of a graduate who was turned down for a job anywhere. They had enough of the common
sciences, English, history, and government to cover a pretty broad education. In fact, I was never turned down for a job even after only three semesters.
Then, it started to look like there was going to be a big draft. I found out that although they were not supposed to draft in that original draft anybody who had four years of military service, those were the guys they were grabbing first.
They needed the experience.
They wanted to get the experienced men back in. Also, they wanted to save their own kids. Rather than get drafted into the Army, I went down and joined the Navy. I went back in my old enlisted rating. First, I went to the destroyer base in San Diego for an assignment. I think that it was due to the fact that my class had just graduated from the Academy--I rejoined in April and they graduated in February--that they wouldn't assign me to a warship right away, because that's where the class went. There was to be no buddy-buddy stuff between a fireman and an ensign. They put me on the transport WHARTON. When I left the WHARTON, I was a second class boiler maker. The WHARTON did quite a bit of cruising in the Pacific right after the war broke out. We took a trip down to New Zealand via the Tonga Islands and the Fiji Islands and American Samoa. We dropped off ten thousand cases of Pabst's Blue Ribbon in American Samoa. We dropped off a portable hospital in New Caledonia. It was quite a trip. I had just been married before we took that trip. I got married April 5, 1942.
After you had enlisted?
Oh, yes. I reenlisted on Aril 4, 1941. I had been in one year and one day when I got married. I still have the same wife. We're doing quite well.
About the time we got back from that cruise, I was sent to San Pedro, California, to
put a new destroyer in commission, the KENDRICK DD 612. I put her in commission as the ship's boilermaker and "oil king." The "oil king" is the fellow who takes charge of all the fuel oil, and water on the ship. He sees that the ship stays trimmed, both fore and aft, and athwartships. I had the pleasure of trimming the first ship in the new dry dock at the new Naval base at Long Beach, California. I got her in very successfully. We made a movie off the KENDRICK while we were shaking her down. I think Destroyers was the name of the movie.
What class of destroyer was this?
She was about a fifteen-hundred-tonner, but I can't remember the name of the class. When I left her, I went to Bremerton to be the boilermaker on the battleship CALIFORNIA when she was brought back from Pearl Harbor. She was towed in. My division officer happened to be one of my fellow classmates, C.C. Wright. I made first class boilermaker while I was aboard the CALIFORNIA. Then I was reassigned to put another new destroyer into commission, the THOMPSON.
Did anything happen while you were on the CALIFORNIA?
You were not in any war zones?
No, we were right there alongside the pier at Bremerton. In fact, we even got moved into the barracks so that they could work on the ship at night.
You were only on there for a short time?
Just for the length of time that it was being restored to useability. We put the THOMPSON, DD 627, into commission and again I was the ship's boilermaker and the oil
and water king. We took her to the East Coast. During the time I was on the THOMPSON, we made four convoy trips to North Africa, two to Casablanca, and two to Oran.
What happened on these convoys?
They were uneventful.
They were completely uneventful? There were no German U-boats stalking you?
No. We probably bombed a few whales with depth charges, but we had no attacks. We lost no ships. These convoys were limited to a speed nine knots.
Were they troop convoys or supplies?
Mostly they were rusty old freighters. We did have a troopship with one convoy that we pulled into Casablanca. When we got into Casablanca, the JEAN BART, the old French battleship that wasn't quite completed, was still burning. There were still fires on her. Other than that, the only interesting thing that happened was that we ran into a storm and we were blown back eighty miles in twenty-four hours. We lost eighty miles instead of gaining.
When I left the THOMPSON, I was transferred to another new destroyer being commissioned. In fact, I went to Norfolk to train forprecommissioning. I went up to Staten Island to put the USS CONE, DD 866, into commission. Just about the time we were ready to go into commission, the war was over. I made chief on the CONE in November 1945. Then I was transferred to a new aircraft carrier, the TARAWA. I took her on her shakedown cruise down to Guantanamo Bay. It was the first time I had seen Guantanamo.
What was the aircraft carrier?
The TARAWA. She was a full-sized carrier CVS 40. We got her broken in. We
took her down to the West Coast and made a WesPac tour on her. The longest I was away from home was on that WesPac trip; we were gone nine months.
Was that in 1946?
It was in 1946. While I was on the TARAWA I decided that with two youngsters at home, it was about time that Daddy got home to keep them in line. They were both boys. I went to apply for shore duty. They said, "Go away." There was no shore duty for a water tender. When I made chief, I went from boilermaker to water tender. It was the same job. The senior chief water tender on shore duty had had twenty-three years of continuous sea duty. I went and had a little chat with the paymaster and they ended up changing my rating from chief water tender to chief storekeeper disbursing. To prove that I was able to hold a job, they got the Bureau of Naval Personnel to okay my rate change.
With the enlisted personnel, you did not have as much of an opportunity to move back and forth between sea duty and shore duty as the officers.
An officer generally had a routine. He's so long at sea and then so long ashore. An enlisted man doesn't necessarily have that. It depends on the need for his rating in both places. They didn't need many water tenders ashore, and when they finally got shore duty they often found themselves as a master of arms some place or "pushing boots"--training recruits--and that sort of thing. There weren't many boilers ashore, and what there were, were probably attended by civilian employees. The opportunities were limited. Every shore station has a paymaster, however, so this worked out fine. A week after I got my rate changed from the Bureau, I was ordered to shore duty to Ream Field, San Ysidro, California. I didn't even have to move because the ship was working out of San Diego and I had my family in Chula Vista. It was a perfect set-up.
In 1949, they decided to start having station ships in the Persian Gulf. The first station ship that they sent over there was the USS DUXBURY BAY, which was a light seaplane tender. Lo and behold, they only rated a second class disbursing clerk on board, but since they were going to have a so-called commodore--a captain acting as a commodore onboard--they decided they had better have a chief in the finance office. I was still under the control of the Commander Air Force Pacific, so I was immediately ordered to the DUXBURY BAY as the only available person. We made an around-the-world cruise with a one month's stop in the Persian Gulf.
What kind of ship was the DUXBURY BAY?
She was a light seaplane tender. I had quite a nice little trip in the Persian Gulf. We had a few incidents. We were in Muscat and having a party aboard for the local British officials and a couple of missionaries when the movie shack caught fire during the movies. Other than that, there was nothing of any consequence.
Did it catch fire accidentally?
Oh, yes. The inflammable film got too warm. They don't use that anymore.
No. It's been outlawed.
It was hot and sitting on top of eighty thousand gallons of aviation gasoline.
It made quite a fire?
There was quite a fuss around there for awhile. I left the DUXBURY BAY and went to Carrier Air Group One and was temporarily assigned to the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Oceana, Virginia. When I was there, my third son was born at Portsmouth. (Less than a year ago, his son was born at the Naval hospital in Portsmouth.) Portsmouth is quite an
important town for us.
After going down to Guantanamo in the TARAWA, I had always wanted to get a tour of duty down there. I went over and talked to the assignment officer, Commander Air Force Atlantic Fleet, and found that I could get a position down there.
When was this?
This was in 1950. I found that I could get a position down there in the finance office as a representative of the Naval Air Station in Guantanamo. I went down there in December and applied for housing for my family. In the meantime, they decided that maybe they didn't need me there after all and they were going to transfer me back to the States. I went to see an old shipmate who happened to be the admiral's writer, and he said, "Well, we could use you here in the supply depot." So I stayed there. My wife and family came down here in April of 1951. My daughter was born there in February 1952. In the fall of 1952, I got transferred back.
It was pleasant duty down there at that point in time.
We could save money. It was not bad at all. In fact, I was quite active in the Masonic Lodge and we would go over to the Cuban Lodge in the town of Caimanera. We enjoyed ourselves down there. We had our car there. It generally was good living. The quarters were extremely crowded with our four children and my mother who was dependent upon us and stayed with us.
What kind of quarters did they have available?
We had low-cost defense housing. It was a two-bedroom cottage. It consisted of two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen-dining area, and a front porch that was screened in for our maid. We had a full-time maid for twenty-six dollars a month. She lived in our
screened-in front porch. My mother had a room with two of the kids and we had two cribs in our room. It was a little crowded but we liked it. We enjoyed ourselves.
When we came back to the States, I went to the Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia. This was in 1952. I was the first chief petty officer ever assigned to the finance office there. I also was the only chief petty officer in the whole supply department. I was busy. I was also the base Boy Scout Master and I ran a bicycle shop in the garage of my quarters. I had a lot of young friends. We stayed there for about two and a half years. I was just about to finish my twenty years and the skipper was all ready to hire me as a civilian employee to run the base housing. Then I found out I had a year and a half to go before I could retire. So I missed out on that job.
About that time, the Navy Department decided that I had been on the East Coast for too long. They sent me to Japan. That was in 1955. I was assigned to the USS ESSEX, another carrier. They needed me out there so bad that they sent me out with a class two priority, on aircraft. Unless you have a couple of stars on your flag, you don't get class one priority. I got out there and found out that they had a chief in the pay office senior to me. He was still there when I got transferred off! Why they wanted me out there, I don't know.
I had taken my family back to Nebraska and set them up. I bought a little house for them because I was getting ready to retire. We went back to Bremerton to work on the ship and I got a phone call from my family. They said, "Come and get us. The house burned down." I got emergency leave and went back home. The house hadn't burned that bad, but the insurance company was tearing it down to build another one. I took the family out to Bremerton and got emergency quarters. They stayed out there until about December.
At that time, they came out with a deal that we could reenlist for either coast--West Coast or East Coast. Having been a little unhappy about having been arbitrarily transferred to the West Coast, I reenlisted for the East Coast. I was sent to the Naval Air Station in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, for duty with the anti-submarine squadron there. Immediately upon getting there, I was informed that I would be on temporary duty at the base pay office. Although I was assigned to the staff of the squadron and was officially on sea duty, I would not be deployed to sea. Instead, I was to be on temporary duty at the base pay office to manage the payroll for the squadron. When I checked into the base pay office, I was senior to the base chief. Immediately, I was the head honcho of the base pay office even though I was on sea duty. Things went along quite nicely there.
I had several of the first class petty officers apply to take the examination for chief that year. We rated forty-two chief disbursing clerks, I think, in the entire fleet that year, and I got three of them in my office. I was not a guy that liked a lot of nonsense in the office. I doubled up my fists and ran the office. There were no special privileges. These guys were to serve their shipmates. One of them came around afterwards and said, "You're the worst S.O.B. I've ever worked for. Thanks." I got three chiefs out of the whole forty-two in the whole fleet.
I retired in October 1956. I actually had nineteen years, six months, and ten days. I was able to use my midshipman time as credit towards retirement. An officer can't do that but an enlisted man can. So I used my year and a half as a midshipman to help make me eligible to retire from twenty years of service.
Were you ready, after twenty years, to retire?
I was. My family seems to have regretted it, but they didn't make it known until after
I had done it. I went back to Nebraska and moved the tenants out of our new little house and we moved in. I was going to go to college there and teach school. I checked into the college, and they did not have one book in any of the courses I needed in the bookstore. It would take six weeks to get the books. That would waste the whole semester. In the meantime I was working on the newspaper. The newspaper was going to let me have a half a day's work while I was going to college. Well, they put me on full time, selling advertising. It didn't pay a great deal, however, so I started looking around. I only received $152 a month for pension and with four kids in school, house payments, and car payments, I needed a little bit more. I went to the state employment office and the only thing the guy there would send me to was the Army Reserve center, where they wanted an Army Reserve technician, an administrative-type. I later learned that he was a Reserve Air Force officer. I hemmed and hawed and kept working full time on the paper for a while. Finally, I said, "Well, I'll give it a whirl." So I went to work for the Army as a Reserve technician.
That was quite a turn about wasn't it, after twenty years of Naval experience to be working for the Army?
The military is the military. There wasn't that much difference. Of course, I had no military authority there. I was a civilian employee. I worked up to staff administrative assistant to a battalion commander. I was responsible for the operation of nine Army Reserve centers. I ended up as a GS-9, in a position that called for an Army major. I wasn't too unhappy about that. The Army doesn't pay as well as the Navy. The Navy probably would have had a GS-12 on that job. I enjoyed my work. There was a lot of running around from hither to yon, because there were nine centers that covered parts of three states. I stayed with that for sixteen years.
The doctor took my blood pressure one day and he asked me, "Are you eligible to retire?"
I said, "Yes."
He said, "Well, I think I would."
I did. I retired at fifty-five. We got along fine. I did a few odd jobs for a few years. I managed to scrape together enough to get a travel trailer and we've been traveling ever since.
You've been on the road a lot?
We've been on the road a whole lot. We go to Corpus Christi for the winter. We live in north central Arkansas now, near a forty-thousand-acre lake. I'm active in the Coast Guard Auxiliary there as a vessel operator, instructor, and examiner.
Did you realize that we had become the repository for the Coast Guard Auxiliary records?
Oh, you have? Great!
It's the national repository.
You've got a Coast Guard Auxiliarist sitting right here.
They shipped all the records they had in St. Louis to us this summer.
St. Louis is our headquarters. It's over in the Second West District.
That's where they shipped the records from.
That's the whole military record building there.
They didn't have them stored in the military building. They had them stored in the auxiliary store in St. Louis.
That's also the headquarters for the Second District. We're in the Second West, the Fifteenth District, the First Flotilla. I've been an active member of it now for over two years. We patrol the lake down there, giving boating skills and seamanship classes.
I bet you enjoy that?
I like it. I've got a twenty-four-foot party barge and I patrol the lake. We go out on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Of course, we don't have any enforcement authority but we do whatever is necessary to take care of the emergencies. We caution people about unsafe practices. We stopped twenty barges one day. People were riding out on front, which would be automatic death if they fell off. There is no way they could avoid the prop.
Then we spend the winter in Corpus Christi. I even fall in with the flotilla down there in some things, like manning the booth at the boat show, any banquets that they have, and that sort of thing.
After going back to the enlisted ranks, during or after the war, did you ever have any regrets that you had not remained at the Academy and gotten your commission?
Oh, I think I had a certain number of regrets, yes. Some of my best friends are former classmates. I don't remember too many of the enlisted people that I worked with because there was so much change all the time. We changed from one place to another. But I was always ready for transfers. By getting transferred, I worked my way up the ladder to chief. I think I could have had warrant officer but everything was temporary at the time, and I figured I had a better chance by remaining chief. It worked out that way. I took chief in November of 1945. In February of 1946, they made all of them permanent. All the temporary chiefs became permanent. I know a lot of warrant officers that went back to first
class; so I think I chose the best route. I don't have any really deep regrets. I've had a good life.
I didn't mean after you'd retired or anything. I was thinking about during the war when you were fairly low in the enlisted ranks.
I just did my job and went on about it. It didn't bother me, really. I ran into some of my old roommates during my service. Back on the TARAWA I had a couple of squadron commanders that were classmates. I had classmates to come in to Guantanamo while I was in the pay office there. In fact, one of my youngster summer roommates came in. He was the senior submarine commander of the bay there. He came up, thumped on the desk, and said, "How can I get my crew paid?"
I turned around and recognized him. I said, "Mac, would an hour and a half be too long?" I had his crew paid in an hour and a half.
Gus Macri came in one day. He wanted a little advance on his per diem. He was on orders. It's up to the paymaster as to whether he gives an advance on per diem. Gus had come in and called me by my first name and we had stood there and talked for a few minutes. The paymaster had overheard us, and he was a little on the jealous side; so when I took the request in to him, he said, "No."
I went out and told Gus, "Hey, he don't have to pay you and he won't."
He said, "Who does that pea-brain think he is?"
That, of course, didn't make me very popular with the paymaster. But, we survived.
A guy out of the Class of 1940, "Early" [Leigh] Winters, who is now the Class Secretary of 1940, was the head of the Naval mission to Haiti. Of course, he was an agent cashier for our pay office in Guantanamo Bay. He came over once a month to pick up
money for his payroll. I had known him at the academy. He would come in and we would have a chat. Maybe we would even go out for a cup of coffee or something. The paymaster wasn't too crazy about that either. He was a mustang. He had made his commission through ranks. He didn't think I should get along with the officers. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I did.
He possibly was jealous that you had had a year at the academy.
This could have been, I suppose. When I went up to visit him in Indian Head, Maryland, after we both were transferred back to the States, we got along fine. There were no problems. Since I've been out, I've had a real good life. I still enjoy it. I'll be seventy-one next month. I'm one of the older members of the class. Twenty was the limit at that time. I got in in July and I was twenty in October.
There were several of you who had enlisted service before entering.
There were a hundred of us, I think.
Were there that many?
Well, maybe not that many. That was the limit. That was the legal limit. We had quite a big bunch from prep school. I stood third in the fleet that year on the entrance exams. The guy that was second wasn't at the prep school. The guy that was first was a guy named Carr. He died a couple of years ago. We've lost a lot of our class since the war was over. I've lost some very good friends.
Considering how long it's been, it's probably amazing that the class is as much intact as it is and as much in contact as the members are with one another. They have pretty accurate addresses on all except a very few members.
Most of the ones that we don't have addresses on seem to have been the ones that dropped out. We lost quite a number by non-graduation out of that class. I've got a register of alumni up at the trailer, so I could tell you exactly how many we lost.
I have a current roster.
Many of the ones that dropped out got commissions later on.
You had quite a few who were rejected when they did the eye test.
Some of them got reserve commissions and then went active and transferred back to the regular Navy. I was selected for the V-7 program to become a commissioned officer. My commanding officer on the WHARTON would not release me to go. I had had a special order of discharge from the Navy to enter the Naval Academy, and he said, "One special order of discharge is all you're going to get." He would have had to have discharged me from the Navy for me to accept the appointment to the V-7 course. Had I gotten that, I probably would have retained my commission at the end of the war. It's one of those things that happens.
Looking back to your year at the academy, you indicated that you had gotten no demerits at all and had gotten along fine that year. I have heard some members complain about the harrassment during the plebe year from the upper classmen and things of that nature. Did you experience much of that?
No. Everybody had a first classman. I got a good one. His name was Snowden Arthur. He's now a retired school teacher and a retired Navy captain up in Washington, D.C. He's the correspondent for the Class of 1938 for the Shipmate magazine. Snowden was the editor of the Naval Academy magazine, so he immediately put me on the magazine
staff and gave me a clipboard. When I wanted to go any place in the corridor, even in my bathrobe and slippers, as long as I had that clipboard, I was on Log business and nobody bothered me. I was allowed to carry on when I was on Log business. I was what you might call a real ratey plebe. I did a few push-ups plebe summer and I had a few brooms worn out on my tail but nothing serious. I lived through it fine. It didn't bother me a great deal at all.
I have heard the comment that it depended on who you had as your senior classman as to how well you did.
I just lucked out. That was all there was to it. Arthur took care of me.
Concerning that first assignment after you reenlisted, before you went to the KENDRICK in 1941, your transport duty, could you discuss that?
It was just good duty. We would be in San Francisco for awhile, then load up and go to Honolulu, unload, come back to San Diego, unload there, and go back to "Frisco." The old ship was in pretty bad shape, mechanically, so we would have to go into the Navy yard at Mare Island, periodically. After the war started, we made that one long cruise out to New Zealand.
That was before the Japanese had really put much in the way of an offensive force that far into the Pacific?
They were pretty well in. We stopped in Noumea, New Caledonia, on the way up and dropped off a field hospital, and the harbor was still smoking. They had had the battle of New Caledonia already, which we had apparently won because otherwise we wouldn't have gone in there. We dropped off provisions at Tongatabu and the Fiji Islands. We dropped off ten thousand cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon at American Samoa and refueled the
ship there. We crossed the equator and had a regular old equator ceremony. It was more or less like a pleasure cruise really. We could cruise at eighteen knots so we didn't get a convoy. When we got within a certain distance of a port, we'd be met by a seaplane and escorted in. We did get hit by a torpedo off the Farallon Islands out of San Francisco but the torpedo was a dud. It didn't explode.
You were not equipped for depth charging at all.
Oh, no. We had no weaponry.
You had no offensive potential at all?
No. The only thing offensive about the ship was the chow. No, we had pretty decent chow, too.
Not being convoyed, the only thing you could do was try to run.
We would be convoyed out of Frisco for a little ways and then we'd drop off and speed up.
You never even saw the ship that torpedoed you?
No. But a blimp did and killed it. We had blimps escorting us out. It was only twenty-seven miles off of "Frisco" to the Farallon Islands and that's where we got torpedoed. I never really saw any horrible action during the war at all. I was in all the theatres. I was in the Pacific, Atlantic and the Med.
You were on almost every kind of craft one could think of. Of course, with the CALIFORNIA, you were just there in Bremerton, Washington, you weren't at sea.
I enjoyed my battleship sailing though. Even though I wasn't an assigned crew member on the ARIZONA, I did serve on her for about six weeks. My youngster cruise
was on the WYOMING which had been a battleship until they stripped her of her armor. Those things are all razor blades now except the "OKIE" [OKLAHOMA]. I was certainly glad to see her sink. She went to the deepest part of the Pacific between Pearl Harbor and the States. She had been sold for scrap but on the tow coming back she sank. Nobody knows why. In just about the deepest spot between Pearl Harbor and the United States, the "OKIE" decided she had had enough and she sank.
Nobody knows why?
She was being towed back.
Was there a storm or anything at all?
No. She just sank.
I'm a past president of the OKLAHOMA Reunion Association and of the WHARTON Reunion Association. I have a tendency to get elected to these thankless jobs. We enjoy these reunions quite a bit.
Are there any other specific incidents? I know that you probably have a lot of them either during the war or in peacetime that really reflect Naval life.
I had a good one here in Norfolk, Virginia. I was sent out, as a first classman, on fleet shore patrol. They paired me off with what we called a "diamond back." He was a second class petty officer, a shore patrol specialist. They took these fellows who had civilian jobs, like policemen, and made them shore patrol specialists. They had a diamond-shaped thing inside their rating badge and in that were the letters SP. So we called them "diamond backs." We were patrolling down East Main Street in Norfolk, which at that time was all bawdy houses and bars and that sort of thing. There was a young sailor there with his
sleeves rolled up.
The second class "diamond back" said, "You are under arrest and you are on report for being out of uniform. I'll take your I.D. and you will go to the brig and will be transported back to the ship."
I said, "No, you won't. You're out here to help your shipmates, not to get them in trouble." I told the sailor, "Young man, roll your sleeves down, and I suggest you get off East Main Street and go to the downtown business section and very shortly catch a streetcar back to the base."
The diamond back said, "You can't do that. I'm the shore patrol here."
I said, "Let's stop and count stripes."
He said, "Well, I'll get you for that."
Several months later, I had my car there. My family was living in a little trailer out in East Ocean View. I was training to put a new destroyer in commission. I had gotten off work at the base and headed for home when a motorcycle came up alongside and pulled me over. It was this guy.
He said, "I've got you."
I said, "What have you got me for?"
He said, "You're doing forty-five miles per hour in a twenty-mile zone."
I said, "I was doing twenty-five miles per hour in a thirty-five-mile zone."
He said, "I don't care what you think you were doing. I've got you down here for doing forty miles an hour in a twenty-five-mile zone."
He put me on report and I never got to mast until I got clear up to New York on a pre-commissioning detail. The commanding officer at the receiving barracks at New York
decided that I was lying and told me that I was going to get two weeks in the brig. The personnel officer was standing there and he said, "No, Captain, this man can't go to the brig. He's the only boilermaker assigned to this new construction at Staten Island. His prospective commanding officer had already called me and asked to please not tie him up. We need him."
The commanding officer said, "Well, all right, put two weeks in the brig on his record and give him twenty hours of extra duty."
I went back over to Staten Island and reported to the prospective executive officer, who happened to be a classmate, Kenneth Steen. He said, "Well, what happened?"
I said, "I've got two weeks in the brig on my record and twenty hours of extra duty."
He said, "Well, don't worry about your record. That's already been taken care of. Well, with twenty hours of extra duty, and you've been gone for three hours, you must be exhausted. Why don't you go home for three days."
These were the kind of guys I'm talking about when I say that some of the best friends I have are my classmates.
You never did see the "diamond back" again, did you?
No, by the time we got the ship in commission, the war was over and he was discharged. Those guys were duty-bound. The first thing a policeman is trained to do is to arrest the guilty S.O.B. Well, that's not what the shore patrol is there for. Yes, you do arrest the man if he's doing something really heinous. But this young fellow just had his sleeves rolled up and his hat on the back of his head. He was just having a ball walking down East Main Street. The proper thing to do is to tell him to put his hat on the front of his head
where it belongs, roll his sleeves down, and straighten up and fly right.
You have enough of them in the midst of brawls and things like that to worry about.
Oh, yes. I ran into that in San Francisco. I was on shore patrol in Chinatown. Some of the Chinamen there knew me because we had some Chinese friends, family friends. They wouldn't call a shore patrol officer, they would get me. I had to come in and take care of a drunken officer. Well, what do you do? An enlisted man, even on shore patrol, can't arrest an officer. I talked the guy out of the place. I told him in no uncertain terms that if I couldn't talk him out of the place that I was going to call the shore patrol officer. He sobered up real fast.
In a case where it is an officer, you have to call a shore patrol officer to do the arresting?
If there's going to be an arrest, retention, or restraint of the person, yes. Unless it's an emergency. There wasn't any emergency. This guy was just raising hell in a Chinese restuarant. I quieted him down and got him out of there.
Was it common practice for you to have shore patrol duty like that?
Certain people are selected for shore patrol as part of their duties. There's no special rating. It's the same thing with officers. They get shore patrol duties, too.
It's kind of like in the Army when we had guard duty every so often as part of our normal assignment.
You were sent out as MPs. Of course, the Army now has its own MP branch. The Navy has a master-at-arms branch now, too. Then, they didn't. When I was in Casablanca, I did shore patrol wearing a loaded forty-five.
This is when you were doing convoy duty to Casablanca?
Yes. I was the assistant shore patrol officer and I was with a jg. We were running around checking on all the shore patrol people. There was a war on and that was a war zone. We were armed. There were no problems. It was a pretty good war as far as I saw. I didn't have any problems at all. Some of my classmates got into the thick of it. McIntrye, who I talked about, was a prisoner of war in Japan for three years. He was one of the few submarine officers that made prisoner of war instead of the bottom of the ocean. Not much went on, but I think I had a pretty good time of it.
By the way, I was one of the charter members of the OMAHA Alumni Association. I started out as the reporter for the Shipmate magazine, then they elected me as the secretary/treasurer of the Association. I was the secretary/treasurer for two or three years. Then all of a sudden, I found out that I was president of the darn thing. I've been a blue-and-gold officer since 1977. A blue-and-gold officer is a Naval Academy information officer. I go back to the Academy every third year for a week of training. I don't know of any of the other classmates that are blue-and-gold. I suppose some of them have been. Most blue-and-gold officers are reserve officers doing it for retirement points. Those I don't need. I'm retired.
I'm sure it's enjoyable to get back occasionally.
Oh, yes. I enjoy it. They've got a little trailer park up there at the Academy and I pull the trailer in there. The wife goes with me and we just set up housekeeping there for a week. We have four children, three boys and a girl. The oldest boy is working for an outfit down here in North Carolina, but he works in the Nebraska headquarters. It's a trucking company that hauls furniture.
Do you have one in the Navy?
The third boy is in the Navy. He's first class C.T.A. He's also a Naval Academy drop-out, by the way.
It's a family tradition.
He was kind of harrassed out by his classmates. He has a syndrome whereby his eyes twitch and he's red headed. They called him "blinky-pinky" and teased him. They made life miserable for him, so he joined the Air Force for four years and then finished college. He got his degree in business administration. He looked around at the jobs that were available and then went down to the recruiting office and enlisted in the Navy. He went to a C.T. [Communications Technician] school down here at Pensacola. While he was waiting for his clearance, they had him teaching in the school. Now he's first class and he's on the MISSISSIPPI. He's a C.T. administrative type. He has his masters in business administration now. The darn rating is so tight that he can't make chief. Even with a master's degree, he hasn't made chief.
It takes a war to loosen up the ranks, unfortunately.
I was one of the first ones rated after the war and one of the last ones rated aboard ship. I made chief in November of 1945. I retired October 9, 1956, on my thirty-ninth birthday. I turned my hat around and went to work for the Army. I had trouble speaking civilian after all that time.
I can imagine that it was quite an adjustment getting back to civilian life. I imagine also that after spending twenty years on or around the water it was difficult to go back to Nebraska where there is none.
I certainly enjoy my winters down in Corpus Christi. We've got a big travel trailer
and we go down there for the winter. We stay right near the water and three miles from the Naval Air Station. I do a little ConFab with the Navy junior R.O.T.C. people down there.
When you were in the Persian Gulf with the DUXBURY BAY, other than that one incident where that movie film caught on fire, was there anything going on at that time? Why did they decide to put up a station ship?
I suppose, more or less, to show that we had interests in the area.
Just a presence?
Yes. DUXBURY BAY wasn't a heck of a lot of a presence really, but it served to say that the Navy knew that the Persian Gulf was there and it was a valuable source of oil and that the federal government was aware of it.
So you were primarily showing the flag.
That's right. We enjoyed it a great deal. It was not a bad deal. The oil hadn't gotten that big over there in 1949, yet. It was hot and there were a lot of flies. The towns looked just like the pictures in the Bible. You've seen those old tan-colored pictures in the Bible of those villages. The towns still looked like that, except once in a while you'd see someone riding a bicycle or there would be a light bulb hanging from a twisted wire from the ceiling. That's about the only difference.
In the Trucial Oman area, in the town of Muscat, we saw the whole town stand there while the gate was opened for this guy who drove up in an old desert buggy. He had rifles with him that had the curved-out butts. He had his knives on him and his robes. He had his four wives with him and they were all veiled. It was quite an experience.
It was a different culture entirely.
Oh, entirely. It was the old desert culture just exactly like you read about in the stories. Of course, everybody was trying to find bargains for oriental rugs and that sort of thing. Not me. I didn't even try to buy a camel.
There was a real steep rock wall on one side of the entry to the harbor, and they asked every ship that came in there to paint the name of the ship and the year on that rock wall. The DUXBURY BAY's name and 1949 were painted up there. By the way, my number two son was there on the USS CONY in 1969.
Did he see the DUXBURY BAY still there?
I don't know. After he was in the Persian Gulf, he got out of the Navy and went to the Army and ended up as chief warrant officer pilot. He got out and went to college and then he couldn't get back in. They had too many pilots, so his wilfe joined the Air Force. She's a captain in the Medical Service Corps in the Air Force. She's a physical therapist. She's going to school in Lexington, Kentucky, now, getting her master's degree at the Air Force's expense. He's a pilot for Evergreen International.
Part of the family stays on the water and part in the air.
My daughter married an Air Force sergeant. He's out now. He's a computer specialist is Houston. She was in the Army nurses training program for awile. My oldest son spent time in the Army Reserve. They're all military, all four of them.
I would suppose that growing up in a military environment would be a very natural determinate. It would be almost second nature.
I think it's appropriate that if we enjoy living in this country, why don't we pay some back?! Why don't we do our share, too? This is what we choose to do as our contribution to our country. It makes sense to me.
[End of Interview]