|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW|
|Captain James P. Jamison|
|USNA CLASS OF 1941|
|September 27, 1990|
Tell me about your background.
I'm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During high school, I got the idea that I would like to attend the Naval Academy. There were several routes available to me. I approached my congressmen and senators. I took a competitive examination and got an alternate appointment for the Class of 1941.
Did your family have any Naval background at all?
Once I got started on this, I was deluged with literature from prep schools. I realized one obvious way to not fail an entrance exam was to have one year of college. So I went to the Carnegie Institute of Technology. I completed two years there before I got an appointment to the Academy.
In the meantime, I had enlisted in the Naval Reserves to take their competitive examination. I was in the Naval Reserves for one-and-a-half years. I made one destroyer cruise to Guantanamo Bay, on a four-piper destroyer. It turned out that I spent a lot of my
life on four-piper destroyers. I got an appointment from Senator Davis, from Pennsylvania, so I didn't have to take the entrance exam.
So you went directly into the Academy?
What were your first impressions? It seems to me that the Academy was quite different from what anyone has experienced in prior education. It seems to be a completely different world from prep school or public high school.
My first reaction was, "What have I gotten myself into?" Shortly after I arrived, I got my marks from Carnegie Tech for the second year. I stood eighth in the class. Again I thought, Maybe I have made a mistake. Plebe summer was hard. I guess everyone has told you that. I was lucky to get in at the beginning of June.
What was particularly hard about it?
It was hard work. I arrived in June, so I got the full treatment. By September, I was fully acclimated. They accepted people all through the summer. I thought it was harder for those that came in late, because they were plunged right into the academic year. What I mean by hard is, everywhere we went, we double-timed. We spent all morning at the rifle range in August. Annapolis can be pretty deadly with hot temperatures.
The teaching procedures there are somewhat different than in most colleges. How did you react to the type of instruction used at the Academy?
It wasn't that much different from Carnegie Tech. There was one difference: I had to get a daily mark. That wasn't done at the civilian school, but it was not much of a hardship. I didn't have any trouble with the academics while I was there.
I've heard a great deal about the harassment that some people received from upper
In general, I considered it was pretty good natured.
So, you were not subjected to it?
Nothing cruel. Sometimes it was hard labor and a little difficult, but it was all good natured. I didn't harbor any grudges. Everybody had a first classman. You took care of him, and he took care of you. My first classman was a fellow named Laborde, from Louisiana. He was the editor of the 1938 Lucky Bag. He pressed me into service. As a matter of fact, my picture is in the 1938 Lucky Bag with the staff. Everyone else is from the class of 1938. He was nice enough to put me in there.
So, you got experience early on.
Yes, I was his runner for getting the Lucky Bag out. I enjoyed it.
Did you stay with the Lucky Bag staff throughout your Academy experience?
When our Lucky Bag staff was activated, Sandy Landreth was the editor. He asked me to be an associate editor. He had four associate editors and I was one of the four.
What kind of activities did you involve yourself in while you were at the Academy?
I played plebe soccer and was on the plebe team. After that, rather than be on the second or third team on the varsity, I went out for battalion soccer. I was on the championship team for three years, in two different battalions. I was coerced by my company officer into going out for battalion track. I ran the half-mile. He stood in front of me in formation one day and said, "No one has come out for the half mile."
I said, "All right, I'll be there." But, I never did very well at that.
Did you do much sailing on the Chesapeake?
Yes. I found it fascinating. I became a member of the boat club. If you were in the
boat club, you got to sail on one of the fifty-foot ketches and you could also take it out for the weekend. This was one of the few ways we could get away from the Academy. I was a member of the Fourth Battalion Boat Club. Since then I have continued to sail. My wife and I recently became members in a boat club on the Bay, at West River. We have the use of a twenty-seven-footer. We all enjoy it still, but it seems to be a lot more work than it used to be.
What type of memories do you have of the Academy, aside from the routine that was part of everyone's life. There are always some individual incidences that happen to you or things that you observed. Do any of those come to mind?
I guess, because of the passing years, the memories are all very pleasant. I enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed the cruises, too. Our summer cruises were very good.
There are no particular incidents, either humorous or otherwise, that came out of your stay at the Academy?
It was the first time I ran into people from the South. I was surprised to find that the Civil War had not been laid to rest. We had many unreconstructed Southerners and ran into them a lot in plebe summer.
What parts of the South were they from?
Vance Hudgins was from Spartansburg, S.C., and John Stanley was from Mississippi.
You're talking deep South.
Very deep South. We had a lot of fun with that. As a matter of fact, some nights there would be scuffles after taps. During plebe summer, we managed to flood the whole fourth floor with the fire hoses.
Who was directly involved in that?
Stanley and Hudgins were.
Did that come out of a debate about the Civil War?
Yes, but it was all good natured.
I hear people comment about Southerners and the Civil War and it always takes me by surprise. In North Carolina, the Civil War is not a preoccupation with most people.
I guess it's just in the deep South.
Of course, you graduated early in 1941. Your first assignment was to an old four-stacker.
We drew numbers for ship assignments, and I drew a very poor number. I was very anxious to get a destroyer, so I was pleased with what I got. It was the same destroyer that I had made my second class cruise in. The same skipper was aboard as well as the same gunnery officer. It was in Key West, which I enjoyed very much.
So you reported to it at Key West?
Were you the only member of your class assigned to the DECATUR?
Yes. There were only five officers on her. But the whole squadron was based in Key West at that time. There were nine ships instead of eight as there are now. I had a classmate in every one of those ships. Shortly, four ships left out of one of the divisions. So, I didn't see much of my classmates that were on those. Our job was neutrality patrol. We would steam across the Gulf to Tampico, Mexico, and patrol the Yucatan Straits, between Cuba and Tampico. There were some German ships in Tampico, and we were not to let them out. If they came out, we were supposed to broadcast their position.
You weren't trying to blockade them in, were you?
No, we were just keeping tabs on them.
Just watching to see what they were doing?
Any evidence of any German submarines in the Caribbean at that time?
Apparently not. At least we didn't run across any.
Who was Hewlett Thebaud?
He was our squadron commander. His position at the Academy, while we were there, was first lieutenant. He was the second or third ranking officer in the Executive Department. We had a lot of close contact with Hewlett Thebaud. He was my squadron commander when we were the flagship.
He considered me to be a midshipman still.
I had your biographical sketch that you had given me. You made reference to him in such a way that I thought that there might be something particularly interesting there.
I wondered how you got that name. The classmates all know who he is. In fact, he was very British. He was a Rhodes Scholar. He always wore a little handkerchief in his uniform pocket, which was highly irregular. He had a lot of British mannerisms, one of which was calling a midshipman a "young snotty," which is the British term for a midshipman. I'd be out there, officer of the deck, running the whole ship and he'd say "How's my `young snotty' this morning?"
He didn't mean anything demeaning, did he?
It was just something that he had picked up when he was in England.
As a matter of fact, he had two staff officers on board, and one of them was also a Rhodes Scholar. We had a highly educated wardroom.
Do you remember who that was?
His name was Pablo DeVos. The commodore had his own mess, but the staff ate with us in the wardroom. DeVos always had to have something like kippers and stuff for breakfast.
Charles Merdinger, from your class was also a Rhodes Scholar.
Yes, he was.
Sounds like that was not uncommon among Naval Officers.
It was fairly uncommon. I had never heard of it until Chuck went. It wasn't publicized. It's very publicized now. It seems to be one of those things they shoot for. I didn't even know about it.
But you didn't have any problems with Thebaud?
Oh no, he was a fine old gentleman. It was just funny to run into him so soon after graduation.
Well, the patrol in the Caribbean was pretty routine, I take it.
Yes. It was during the period when they had made a deal with England to give them fifty four-piper destroyers in exchange for a ninety-nine-year lease on some bases in the Caribbean. Commodore Thebaud got permission from the Navy Department to proceed with his flagship and check out these bases. We had a delightful cruise.
We took off, by ourselves, and went to places the British had turned over for bases. We usually anchored in some remote bay. The commodore would have an appointment with the governor or whoever was in charge. The rest of us would get in small boats and go ashore on the beach. I remember St. Lucia was one. These were all unspoiled, no tourists. Tourists had no way to get to those islands in those days.
At one point, we got our first introduction of what the war was actually like. We went into one of the bays and anchored overnight. I had the day's duty and the
quartermaster was on the bridge on watch. In the middle of the night he came down and said, "There's a darkened ship cruising back and forth across the entrance of this harbor."
So, I went on up to check and sure enough there he was. I woke the captain. I was concerned. The captain acknowledged it and went back to sleep. I thought, we've got a problem here and nobody cares but me. As it turned out, there was a French carrier in Martinique, Vichy French. The British were steaming by to make sure that she stayed there. I think the French were also checking on the British. What we were seeing was all the traffic going back and forth across the entrance to this harbor. The captain knew it; he had been briefed previously, but didn't think we needed to know it. The next day we ran across the British ship and exchanged recognition signals for the first time.
Afterward, we went to San Juan to work out of there. There was no naval base in San Juan at that time. I guess the Navy had a contract at the Bull Line Pier, because that was where we tied up. We were the only Naval presence in San Juan for a couple of months.
About once a week, a ship came in from the States and we would see maybe one-hundred or two-hundred tourists get off. They put them in a bus, took them to the rum factory, and then gave them a free drink. That was "tourism." Now, they have five-hundred tourists every ten minutes by plane.
Cruise ships are constantly coming in.
Cruise ships and airplanes, it's unbelievable. It was an entirely different world.
Well, those old World War I four-stackers were kind of antiquated already at that point. How efficient did they operate?
They had an adequate sonar gear. For its time, it was as good as you could get. They could go about twenty-seven to thirty knots. The bridge was built for the tropics. It
had big windows that worked like a streetcar window. There was a strap that lowered the window down and the whole bridge would open up. They had to be modified for the North Atlantic. They enclosed the bridge and put in nine or ten big portholes. They cut the stacks down for a lower silhouette. This was very uncomfortable, as we got all the stack gas on the bridge. The first trip we made in the North Atlantic, the heavy seas blew those portholes right out.
Was that a shoddy design?
No, it was just the force of the water. Water is heavy. We had to come back for further modifications. We ended up with the whole bridge made out of steel with three little peepholes. We could barely see out. Traditionally, the captain had a sea cabin on the bridge, but the sonar equipment had to be installed in there. To accommodate the captain, they built him something like a pullman bunk on the side of the bridge, with a hatch he had to climb into and "dog" himself in. He had a voice-tube to communicate with the bridge. An unfortunate thing happened one night in the North Atlantic. I had the deck and was wandering around, idly closing things, and accidentally closed his voice tube. I guess someone else, being efficient, had dogged his door down pretty good, and he couldn't get out. I don't know how long he was in there.
He couldn't communicate?
Oh, was he mad!
Did he find out who had closed his voice tube?
Yes, I was standing there, with my bare face hanging out, when he got out.
The ship's steering gear worked on wires and pulleys. When the wheel was turned, there was a cable that ran the whole length of the ship back to the steering engine room. It worked valves on the steam-driven steering engine. These two wires ran down the length of
the ship in a gutter. Every now and then, the captain, who was always trying to keep people on their toes, would go down on the quarterdeck and stand on those wires. He wanted to see how long it took the helmsman to realize that he'd lost steerage control of the ship. When he would lose steering control, he was supposed to announce, "I've lost steering control." The officer of the deck was supposed to run back to the after steering station and take control locally. He would come tearing down off the bridge, hollering that he had lost steering control and the captain would be standing there, with his stopwatch out.
The cables from the engine-room telegraph went right across the captain's bunk, and they would scrape on his ceiling when a change of spped was ordered. At night, if you were a little bit out of station or tried to change the speed he'd pop up on the bridge, "What's going on?"
The switchboard for the fire control system was in the captain's sea cabin. We had four four-inch guns. They operated on a non-synchronized, step-by-step, fire-control system. When the director was moved, an indicator on each gun would follow it. The man on the gun would hand-crank to keep the indicators matched up. The captain would designate a target and the gunnery officer would put the guns on the target. We would be tracking with the director and the guns would be following, when the captain would step into his cabin and pull the switches to one or two guns. Those guns would stop. Then he'd put them all back on. He'd then call the gunnery officer, and would ask him, "Why are they all pointing in different directions? You are supposed to be alert."
Well, that's one way to keep the crew on their toes all the time.
He was the best skipper I had ever had. He had a tremendous sense of relative motion. He was a short man and the gyro compass repeater was sort of tall. He would tip that thing over, look at it, and give courses to intercept things, to pass through formations,
etc., that were more precise than someone working it out on a maneuvering board. I learned a lot from watching him.
When the ship was redesigned, before it went to the North Atlantic, they didn't pull any of the boilers out, they just cut the stacks. Is that correct?
They cut the stacks and changed the armament completely.
They left all the boilers?
Oh, yes. We kept our four boilers; so we still had our thirty-one knots. They took the four-inch guns off, which at least had an elementary-fire-control-system and gave us 6 three-inch 50s, predominantly anti-aircraft guns. The old guns were strictly surface guns. The new ones were anti-aircraft guns, without a fire-control system. They gave me a little suitcase, put out by a company called Librascope, that had a bunch of dials. You were supposed to be able to come up manually with a lead angle for the guns. I figured out if you knew what the answer was, you could put that in there.
Without your four-inch guns, what defense did you have against other surface ships?
We would use the same three-inch guns, but the ammunition would explode on contact. We had anti-aircraft ammunition. Since we didn't have a fire-control system, we used barrage control. We set the fuses at three separate ranges. If an airplane came in, we would track them and shoot those fuses. As he moved through one zone, we would switch to the shorter fuses. Aircraft were never our problem.
I was thinking when you said that you had changed to anti-aircraft, that the Germans weren't using aircraft that much in the North Atlantic, were they?
No, some of the ships ended up going to Murmansk. They had that problem.
In the North Atlantic, you were involved in convoy duty and you had some problem
with German subs.
We went to Iceland first. Our convoys were from Argentia, Newfoundland, to Iceland. We were neutral until we reached a certain longitude. We flew our flag with a spotlight on it until we passed that point, and then we would turn the light off. We started escorted convoys in September, 1941. In October, we lost about twelve ships in our convoy. One of our escorts was hit.
By this time Commodore Thebaud had left us. He was now commander of the escort unit and one of the escorts was a new destroyer. So he went aboard the new destroyer. We had a small convoy heading toward Argentia. We didn't have any radar. A ship appeared close to us one night and flashed a light, "Follow me." We followed it. It turned out to be the commodore's new flagship. He gathered all the escorts from our convoy. He had been ordered to go help another convoy. We joined up with that convoy the next morning. It had a motley collection of free French and British corvettes, big escorts and little escorts. There were about six all together. They had been under attack before and we were hit again, that night. The Germans were using "Wolfpacks." Since we had no radar, they would come in on the surface--make a destroyer torpedo attack--shoot their torpedoes and then submerge. They would do that all night. I don't know how many there were.
And sonar wouldn't help out when they were making their run?
Oh, yes. If they were close enough you would get them. It enabled them to get in position over and over again. Sometime in 1943, when our surface radar became effective, the Germans were caught unaware. All they knew was a lot of submarines didn't come back. That's when the tide turned in the North Atlantic. They pulled their subs out for several months to evaluate what was going on.
Were you having any success at all with depth charging?
Oh yes, we made many attacks. In fact, after turning that convoy over to somebody else, we headed back to Argentia and went through that area looking for any damage that we could see. We found what appeared to be a capsized submarine. Our group sank it, just to remove it as a hazard to navigation.
Now if twelve ships were lost out of that convoy, how many ships were in the convoy initially?
Oh, probably thirty or forty. They were big convoys.
That is a fairly high percentage.
You are talking about more than a third.
They had been attacked the night before and then they had sent for help. Under those conditions, the "wolfpacks" were deadly.
These were supply convoys, not convoys with troops?
That's right. Some of the tankers in the convoy had a track built from the bridge all the way forward. They had a Spitfire or a Hurricane, one of the British fighters, without wheels, mounted on there. I guess the idea was, if they ran into air trouble as they got closer to the coast of England, the fighters would protect them. In the panic that night, one of them was launched near us and flew overhead.
Was there anyone in it?
Oh, yes. It either took off to defend them or to make his getaway. I don't know which.
They couldn't refuel on the tanker could they?
They'd have to find land.
They'd have to go to England or somewhere, if they could make it. I doubt they could make it. I guess the pilot decided he was better off in the air than he was on the tanker, under those conditions. The KEARNY was torpedoed that night. One of our classmates was the assistant engineer, Bill Daly (William J.).
Were the subs trying to target the escort ships at all or were they strictly after the transports?
They were after the transports, the big ships. The KEARNY was a new destroyer and they probably thought it was a cruiser. They thought it was worthwhile. We always felt that we were not a target. Why would anyone waste a torpedo on us?
After we were officially at war with Germany, wouldn't they have targeted the Naval ships?
I don't know. I always doubted it, even with the Japanese. I think it's a losing battle for submarines to get involved with destroyers. Some of our submarine officers were brave about tackling Japanese destroyers, but pretty soon some didn't come back. I think in the long run they were better off working on the merchant ships.
We were based up in Iceland for about six months. While there we experienced one of the worst storms I've ever been in. We were in Reykjavik, assembling a convoy. We were preparing to leave the next morning when this terrible storm came up. A lot of the ships that we were to escort ended up blowing ashore. I think the anemometer at the base carried away at 200 mph. We got everyship we could out of the harbor and underway that night.
Normally, we took a convoy from Iceland to a place called the "Mid-Ocean Meeting Point." Once we were there, we would steam around in a circle until another group, on their
way to Iceland, would meet us. We would trade convoys and take them back with us to Iceland, while other groups went to England and Newfoundland. Of course, circling in some well-known rendevous point in the middle of the Atlantic made those merchant ships extremely edgy.
I would have thought the subs would have zeroed in on them.
Well, they kept changing the meeting point.
You stayed with the North Atlantic convoy throughout 1942, did you not?
Well, we got a break about May or June. We went back to the States and were based out of Staten Island. Our job was to escort fast transports. The technique was to take them out about four hundred miles and turn them loose. They could then trust their speed to protect them. When one was due back, we would go out four hundred miles, and bring them in.
So from four hundred miles out to Europe, they were on their own.
Yes. These included the QUEEN MARY, the QUEEN ELIZABETH, and the WEST POINT. There were about five of them that fell into that category due to being able to make thirty knots.
We never knew their sailing dates; so every afternoon about five o'clock, our executive officer would call headquarters in New York and request permission for us to grant liberty. If they said, "No," we knew to be prepared about midnight to get underway. Sure enough, here would come a great monster steaming out of New York harbor. There were usually two of us four-pipers to take him out. On one of those trips, the sea was extremely rough. The QUEEN MARY was going thirty knots and the captain said, "We can't take this anymore." We dropped out of it. The other ship decided to stick with them. Their entire bridge structure was shifted back a foot on their main deck. That ship suffered
some terrible damage, due to the sea.
Were two destroyers sufficient to really protect against a "Wolfpack?"
We had indication of a submarine only once. At that speed, your sonar gear doesn't work. The sonar man said that he heard screw noises and they just rapidly passed alongside of us.
How fast did the subs go?
Submerged, on batteries, they went seven or eight knots.
They had no way to attack unless they were positioned directly in front and had a lucky torpedo.
We figured the submarine skipper was wondering what all that commotion was that went by. All he knew was that three things went by at some terrible speed.
There was no one, on the other side, to pick them up as they were coming?
Yes, somebody picked them up on the other side.
They were on their own in the mid-Atlantic only.
They zigzagged. If the submarine happened to be in the right position and if they zigzagged, he would be out of position again. It was a good technique.
Well, now those had been commercial vessels before the war. When they were used as transports, were they commanded by Naval personnel or by merchant marines?
I think they were commanded by the same skippers, which would have been merchant marines.
When we started this job, we went up to Boston to escort the QUEEN MARY back to New York. She had been in a drydock up there. It was apparently the only drydock on the East Coast that could accommodate her. She had rammed her escort, a cruiser named DORCHESTER, and sunk it. There were few survivors. Somehow the cruiser got in front
of the QUEEN MARY at night and she cut it in two. Eighty-thousand tons, going thirty knots is unstoppable. If the QUEEN MARY hit the pier at one knot, it would crunch it right up. As we were coming from Boston, it started to get dark and we were out in front patrolling. A message came from the QUEEN MARY, "Get behind me." The captain sent back, "I can't protect you from submarines from behind." The QUEEN MARY's captain replied, "I'm never going to have anybody out in front of me that I can't see." On that basis, we went behind her.
You weren't doing a bit of good behind her.
He was still punchy from the previous incident. I didn't ever meet the skipper of the QUEEN MARY, but our skipper did. I'm sure that it was still the civilian skipper. Our skipper said that he went over there and there were two of them. One of the them was the figurehead who dined at the captain's table, and the other skipper was confined to the bridge. The QUEEN MARY had a "party skipper" and a "sailing skipper."
That's amazing. It looks like you would have done the most good standing off on each side of the ship.
That's what we did when we took them out from New York. Then we did some coastal convoys: New York to Key West and back, and New York to Trinidad and back.
Were these personnel carriers?
No, these were all freighters and tankers. They were very slow convoys, which was excruciating when you are trying to go south against the Gulf Stream. It took forever. I never saw such a conglomeration of run-down ships.
Did they go through the canal or just stand there?
I don't know. They were just carrying freight. They would make smoke and break down. We'd have to decide whether or not to leave them to their own devices. Our escort
group was a motley one. The four-pipers stood out as men-of-war in this group. There was a PC boat, a corvette, and a couple of subchasers of different kinds.
My first classman from the Academy, Al Laborde had left the Navy after two years, because of failing eyesight. He came back in the Navy as a reserve officer. He was skipper of one of the PC boats in our escort group. He was from Louisiana and a gourmet cook. One afternoon, our skipper said, "We're going to throw some boxes over and have a little target practice, everybody take a turn." Laborde sent back that he was unable to participate in the afternoon's firing exercise. Our skipper was annoyed, but he let it go. We got in port and I asked him, "What happened, why wouldn't you do the gunnery exercise?" He said, "I had a cake in the oven."
It was a matter of priorities. You mentioned the one storm in the North Atlantic, but were the weather conditions in that area usually rough on the individual?
They were miserable. I've always said, "Thank heavens I was young." I don't know how the ship survived. If I had known better, I would have been terrified.
Our chief quartermaster was an experienced man. He was checking the bridge one day and discovered that one of the stays that held the mast up was starting to pull out from the deck. It had not been noticed because there was a searchlight platform over the area. Not until he had crawled under the platform did he find this problem. Assuming that all the ships were more or less in the same fix, our skipper informed all the other C.O.'s in the division that this condition existed. We put big heavy chains on the stay and pulled it back down on the deck. Before that trip was over, however, the mast fell out of one of the other ships, the BADGER, and the yardarm poked a hole in the side of the ship. They were in great danger of sinking. They had not taken our chief quartermaster's advise to check it out. I don't see how they all survived.
Because of the temperature of the water, that is one area that you don't want to sink in.
Fuel was always a problem, too. Destroyers were always having fuel trouble. We had to leave a convoy once, because we were low on fuel. We were coming into Newfoundland and had to turn them loose; we couldn't make it to Argentia, which is on the western side of Newfoundland. The skipper did think we could make it to St. John's. It was after dark when we arrived, and they had the boom across the harbor, but they let us in. One of the other ships in our group had run out of fuel. They were off Newfoundland, with no fuel, and had to be towed in. I became a great believer in nuclear power when it became available.
They never used tanker ships to refuel?
We never refueled the four-pipers at sea in the North Atlantic. We couldn't fuel from the civilian tankers, it had to be a Naval oiler. They just never made them available. I never saw an underway fueling until I got on a newer ship.
As rough as the water was up there much of the time, it would have been pretty difficult to have refueled at sea.
Right. We had an unusual experience in Argentia. Even though we were supposed to be in Argentia recuperating, one of the ships in port had to patrol at the harbor entrance. It was for anti-submarine protection. One night, when it was our turn, we were out there. We anchored for awhile. (We had the big, old-fashioned four-piper anchors.) When we pulled up our anchor, we discovered it was fouled; there was something caught in it. As it came into view, we found we had another four-piper anchor. Our boatswain's mate managed to land it. When we came in port to tie up alongside the other destroyers, they were amazed. There we sat with three anchors up on our bow. Apparently, somebody on a
previous patrol had lost theirs and gone off without it.
We had a doctor on that ship. Destroyers usually had a division doctor, but during the war they gave every ship a doctor, just in case. Our doctor was more interested in the cause of an incident than the result. If somebody fell down a ladder, he would go check to see what was wrong with the ladder. He also fancied himself a communications officer. Normally, we wanted the doctor to do the decoding because it was an onerous job. It took a lot of time. Well, this man couldn't wait to do the decoding. He was on that coding machine at the drop of a hat, to the point that he annoyed the communications officer. They devised a scheme to fool the doctor. They put a message into the system that said: "Regarding any ship returning from extended duty outside the United States. No one is allowed to go ashore until he has been circumcised." When the doctor decoded the message, he bit. It was an official order; it even had a number from the Secretary of the Navy's file. We were on our way back to the States; so, the doctor got geared up.
He was getting ready to circumcise the entire ship?
He was going to do it. He lined up the entire crew and checked them. He made a list of who hadn't been circumcised and he was going to do it before they went ashore. Boy, we had a lot of hate and discontent on that ship. On the way back, we stopped at Argentia for fuel. There was another destroyer coming back with us. She was docked alongside. We were having lunch, and had forgotten all about the doctor's problem, because it was just a continuing problem! All of a sudden, the wardroom door burst open and there was the commanding officer from the ship next door. He said, "What's this I hear? We didn't get that message!"
Finally, our skipper figured out the trouble. The rumor had gotten to the other ship and to the captain, who hadn't been circumcised. The doctor was there, and our captain had
to confess to the other captain that this was a hoax.
Who had initiated this?
The communications officer, but we were all in on it. Every once in awhile, one of us would he'd get a set of phony orders, like being transferred to Key West, and we would know that the communications officer was playing tricks again.
That's a good story.
We got another doctor who was a character, too. He was from Brooklyn. We had just started to wear khaki uniforms; previously we had worn whites or blues all the time. We had started wearing khaki uniforms, with black neckties and black shoes. We happened to be going through Guantanamo and the doctor went ashore. He saw the Marines over there wearing khaki neckties. He said, "Man, that looks a lot better than a black necktie." So, the doctor went and bought himself a khaki necktie. He and the captain had a shouting match before the captain could get that necktie off the doctor. The doctor said, "It is ridiculous to wear a black necktie with this uniform." He was always on a campaign. The ventilation on the ship became one of his pet peeves. It was pretty bad, I guess. We went to New York and up to Bethlehem Steel Co. for an overhaul. The doctor took leave. It was completely unauthorized. He got on a train and went down to the Bureau of Ships in Washington and explained that the ship was unsanitary and unsafe because of the improper ventilation.
He was probably right, wasn't he?
He probably was, but there was a better way to do it. He should have written a letter for the captain to sign. The next thing we knew, we were being descended upon by experts from BuShips.
The doctor had told me he was going to do this. I said, "While you're down there,
how about going by BuPers and tell them that they've forgotten me. I've been on here two years now." He came back and he said that they had forgotten. They were going to give me orders to a new construction destroyer. I got orders to gunnery school in Washington, which was a good idea because of the primitive equipment we had on the four-piper.
So, you managed to leave before they ever resolved the issue.
The issue of the ventilation, yes.My orders were to the gunnery school for future assignment to a destroyer. I went over to BuPers and the detail officer pulled a file out. He had a destroyer commissioning every week, I guess. He said, "Which one do you want?" I had a couple to choose from, but it was December and Charleston sounded like a pleasant place to spend the winter; so I picked the BURNS in Charleston. It's the happiest choice I ever made. It was a tremendous ship.
I went to fire control school and gunnery school simultaneously. In those days, the gunnery school was at the gun factory in D.C., and the fire control school was across the bridge in Anacostia. I only had orders to the gunnery school, but I walked across the bridge in my spare time and took the fire control course, too. I got a lot of good information. Then I went down to Charleston and put the ship in commission. It was a 2,100-ton destroyer. It still went the same speed as the four-piper, but in every other respect it was completely different.
Was it larger and more powerful?
Oh yes, it was a beauty. It had five 5-inch guns with a radar-controlled fire-control system.
So you became gunnery officer on the BURNS. That was in spring of 1943.
Yes, April 1943. We did our shakedown in Guantanamo and took one trip down to
Trinidad. Trinidad's geography is such that there is a narrow strait that could be closed off with a submarine net. It would leave a tremendous expanse of sea inside there, large enough for carriers to conduct flight operations without escorts. So when the carriers were being shaken-down or had new air groups or were doing training, they would go to Trinidad and not have to tie up a bunch of escorts. We escorted a carrier down there, left it, and came back. That was our only trip on the East Coast. Then we went to the Pacific.
By that time, was it the summer of 1943?
Yes. After shakedown, we got a little "yard period" to correct any of the deficiencies we found; and then took two battleships to the Pacific. We took them through the canal and then on down to the neighborhood of Samoa. We didn't go ashore; we just took them down there. We went back to Pearl and joined the fast carrier task group. At that point, they were still experimenting with what the carrier task group was supposed to look like, was to do, and so forth. They called it the Central Pacific Force and our first operation was avaid on Wake Island.
Now who was commanding the carrier task group at that point?
I don't remember. We went up there and had just one operation. Unfortunately, we wiped out a bearing on one of our shafts. The ship had been doing good up until then. The task group left us at that point, because we had to come back on one screw. It took forever.
You had to go back to Pearl to get repairs. Where did the task group proceed to?
Well, they went back to Pearl, too.
Okay, but they didn't wait around?
No, they didn't wait for us. As I recall, we thought we had a submarine contact during that period. It either got away or it was a false alarm, I'm not sure. That was a long
trip back to Pearl.
Well now, what did you do at Wake?
That was just an air attack. There was no landing involved.
Once you were repaired at Pearl, you rejoined the task group at the Gilberts?
Yes, that's right, the Gilberts. We were at Makin. One of the jobs we got there was to be the fighter-control/air-control ship. Before we went to Makin, when we were still in Pearl, they called the gunnery officers over to a conference. They said, "Take your shore bombardment charts, which are really the navigational charts, and rotate the islands 10 degrees because they are not exactly the way they are shown on the chart." All the Pacific charts were suspect in those days. We didn't know too much about those places. When we arrived at Makin, they told us to go inside and anchor in the middle of the lagoon. The Marines were still there. We could see tanks going up the beach and all that. The skipper put one of our young officers up on the radar platform. He looked for the green spots and he told us where we could go. We found our way in, anchored in a deep spot, and stayed there two or three days. The carriers launched their planes from over the horizon. They were on combat patrol over us, available for anything the troops needed them for on the beach. After four or five days, we were relieved by another ship. We went out the same way. The destroyer that relieved us came in and promptly ran aground.
They depended on the charts.
There's an old joke in the Pacific about these young officers who didn't know much about navigation. They were told, "Just avoid the light green spots." They would do fine, until it got to be dark. At that time a young officer asked, "What am I going to do?" He was told, "Put a guy up in the bow with a bucket. When it gets dark, dip the bucket down and see what color the water is!"
Those coral reefs are all through the South Pacific. We had a standard procedure on leaving an atoll when the whole task group was there. The destroyers would go out first, forming a line of destroyers that would go in circles. They would leave a channel in the middle for the carriers and battleships to come out. If we ever got the inside spot it was hair-raising, because the water is so clear we could see the coral down maybe forty or fifty feet.
You can tear the bottom out of a ship with that, can't you?
Yes, but we could see it so well. I knew it was safe, but it was awful just to see it. By this time, I was navigator.
But seriously, running aground on that coral, couldn't that be hazardous?
Oh, yeah they are like razors. If nothing else, they can demolish your sonar equipment.
The destroyers have a shallower draft than the carriers, cruisers, and battleships, so they could form the perimeter a lot safer than bigger ships?
Yes. We had a fourteen-foot draft and they had about a thirty-foot draft. On one occasion we had to go into a floating dry dock to repair the short fin on the side of our ship. It's supposed to be an anti-roll device to give some stabilization. One of them had carried loose on our ship. When we went into the dry dock to have it repaired, our draft was actually thirty feet. The thing was hanging down that far. We were a deep draft there for a while. We got that put back on.
Well now, from the Gilberts you moved on to the Marshalls?
The Marshalls, yes. The landing of Majuro was first. The battles for the Marshalls was when the BURNS distinguished herself. We were with our task group when a plane went in the water. We were sent to pick up the pilots. By the time we picked them up, we
were far removed from our task group. In the process of rejoining them that night, we came across a radar contact. It turned out to be four ships. Our captain called them on the radio, "I have you bearing so and so, distance so and so. Identify yourself." There was no response. They were Japanese ships. When they got within firing range, about 10,000 yards, we started shooting and we sunk all four of them. When we started shooting, it lit up the whole area. We were close enough so that the task group commander could see and he sent a message, "Do you need any help?".The captain's famous statement was, "Anymore ships would only confuse the issue!"
Who was your captain?
His name was Commander (later Rear Admiral) Donald T. Eller.
Did you identify what kind of ships these were?
Apparently they included one cargo ship, a small tanker, and two escorts.
So, you took out the escorts as well?
The escorts didn't try to counterattack?
There was a lot of shooting going on, but we were never hit. We used flashless powder in those days. The Navy went to a lot of trouble to invent smokeless powder, but for night firing we had to put smoke back in it.
It didn't have a flash.
No, it didn't have a flash. It was very important to keep the two separate. One night we were shooting the gun under the bridge. The powderman got hold of a smokeless powder instead of flashless, and when it was fired the captain was night-blind for two hours.
By using the flashless powder, there is nothing visible?
Right. As a matter of fact, we had a case where a plane came directly over us and never realized we were shooting at him. By using flashless powder, we avoided a lot of
retaliation; the enemy couldn't locate us.
You didn't pick up any survivors?
We didn't make an effort to locate survivors.
That wasn't part of standard procedure then?
No. Later on we did sink a subchaser down at Truk, and the task group commander said he wanted some prisoners. We put a boat in the water and they swam away. The Japanese had been taught not to surrender. I understand, however, they were very good people to interrogate, because all their training had been not to surrender, not what to do after you surrender. Our boat crew had to take five or six of them by force and drag them into the boat.
They would rather drown than surrender?
Yes. The only ones we got were the guys they dragged into the boat.
There is a funny story about the destroyer, MONSSEN, at the landings on Guam. They came across a bunch of Japanese trying to escape from Guam on a big raft. The crew on the MONSSEN were told to take a certain number of these Japanese. They didn't want the whole bunch of them, they just wanted a few to question--to find out what they knew. The raft ended up alongside the stern of the MONSSEN. The crew was supposed to separate as many survivors as they needed. It turned out, they were coming on board on one side and the boatswain mate was on the other side throwing them back in the water. When the mess got cleared up, there were no Japanese on board. They had all crossed the deck. They lost count somewhere and had thrown the whole bunch back in the water. They didn't have any prisoners.
Goodness, gracious. It was standard procedure to let them drown?
There really was no procedure at the time we sunk those four ships--at least none that we were aware of. All we could see were four burning ships.
You received the Silver Star as a result of the four ships that you sunk in the convoy.
Yes. The captain got the Navy Cross and the radarman who made contact and the executive officer (who was in charge of CIC) received the Silver Star as well.
From the Marshalls you went to Ocean Island?
Yes. That was strictly a shore bombardment. There were two little barren islands: Ocean Island and Nauru. They harvested and made fertilizer. The only visible thing on this island was a big crane, a loading crane. We were told not to hit the crane because it belonged to the Australians and they wanted it when the war was over. So, we didn't. There was an airstrip there. The idea was to knock out the airstrip.
So, it was occupied?
Yes. There was an air attack and one of our aviators got shot down. He was in a rubber boat. One of our ships, the BOYD, moved in close to the shore to rescue this aviator. The enemy opened up with a shore battery and put a five-inch into the engine room on the BOYD. It killed a lot of people including one of our classmates, "Spud" Malone (Thomas Francis), from Nebraska. It was sort of a wasted operation. These islands were way out of the way and there was not much going on there.
We went to Truk and made a sweep with our heavy surface ships. Among us, we sank a cruiser and an ammunition ship. It was spectacular. At the end of the day, we got a subchaser by ourselves. We did end up with four or five prisoners.
You were more or less island hopping, weren't you?
Yes. Our base was Ulithi. We spent a lot of our time in Ulithi.
Weren't the ships refueling and resupplying at sea? You didn't have to go back to Ulithi everytime, did you?
It was easier in Ulithi. Especially when we were resupplying ammunition . . .
Wouldn't it have been constant running back and forth?
Yes. We got provisions, fuel, and ammunition underway. I'm just saying that it was easier to resupply while at Ulithi.
When you resupplied at sea, did the ships accompany you or did they meet you at specific points?
They met us. We got most of our fuel, however, from the carriers and the battleships. We had to get the fuel from them because we needed that every third or fourth day.
How often did they have to replenish the food and ammunition?
We would do that whenever those supply ships showed up. We could have gone a long time without replenishing the food. We wouldn't have had anything fresh or frozen, but we would have had something to eat. Food never became a problem. I think we probably resupplied most of our food in port, in Ulithi, or someplace like that.
The logistical aspect of planning for your support, I would think, would be a pretty complicated affair.
That was someone else's problem. We always got our ice cream from the carriers by returning their aviators. We got something like twenty-five gallons per aviator.
One of your classmates was on a particular ship that the commander of the carrier wasn't too hep on sharing his ice cream.
He should have kept his aviators.
Then you went down to Peleliu.
That was a funny area. The Japanese, as far as I know, were still on Peleliu, the big island, but there was a large reef offshore. We were using the reef as an anchorage. We had no shore base there, but there was a protected anchorage on the reef.
At that point, for the first time, the BURNS left the fast carriers and went with the jeep carriers up to the landing at Lingayen. We went up the eastern side of the Philippines, through the San Bernardino Strait, and out the west side.
While we were sailing among those Philippine Islands--something like seven thousand of them--we were attacked by kamikazes. One of our carriers, the OMMANEY BAY, was hit and burned. We went alongside to take off survivors. We got about seventy or eighty people on board. Some of them were severely injured. The wardroom became the operating room. The doctor earned his keep that day. I looked in on him. It was a mess, they had about three inches of blood-soaked sand on the wardroom deck.
The BURNS wasn't the only ship taking survivors, was it?
No. Afterwards, we were told to sink the carrier, because it was a hazard to navigation. When everybody left, we sank it with a torpedo.
Were there any kamikaze attacks on the BURNS the day the OMMANEY BAY was hit?
Not that day. One morning, we had gone to general quarters. An enemy plane came up behind us, so low and so slow, that the skipper thought it was one of our planes making a message drop. It got overhead and the pilot changed his mind about being a kamikaze. He dropped a bomb instead, but missed. It could have been a disaster. We were just standing there looking at him. It wasn't a distinctive airplane and it was difficult to see because it was just dawn. I don't know where we got the idea that this guy was going to make a message drop.
I guess we confused him, too. He just kept on going.
We were at the landings on Saipan and Guam. Again, I think we were a charmed ship. Every ship during the Guam plannings was assigned one day to be the close, in-shore fire supporter, air patrol, and so forth. We were the plane guard. We were close in-shore one day and the captain got the idea to shore-bombard this peninsula. I was in CIC and laid out the plot. We came down at five-inch gun range and did some shooting. I thought he would turn out, but instead he turned in. We kept going in and in and in. Finally, we were raking this peninsula with machine-gun fire. Finally, he thought that was enough and left. After they captured Guam, it turned out there were eight-inch guns on that peninsula. The Japanese thought that we were trying to trick them into disclosing their location.
They thought you were willing to sacrifice your ship.
That was the Japanese mentality.
A "kamikaze destroyer." Goodness gracious!
We had a nice day there, shooting them up. Nobody shot back,. thank heavens.
While we were in the Philippines we were involved in the second battle of the Philippine Sea. We were picking people out the water all night and the next day. Every ship in the formation had its searchlights turned on straight up to help the pilots find their way back. The next day, the ships formed a single line that swept through the area, looking for anybody that happened to be in a rubber boat.
I guess there wasn't much that went on up at Lingayen after that kamikaze attack. Actually, that was an uneventful beach landing. One Marine died. He stepped out of the boat, his backpack pulled him down. That was the only casualty.
Did you have a contingent of Marines on the BURNS?
Did the BURNS suffer any casualties?
Not from the enemy. We got shot up twice by friendly fire and one man was killed.
Where did you take the friendly fire?
It must have been on that operation, because the fire was from an old battleship. We were shooting at the diving kamikazes. Somebody had a solution on a plane and just continued it on down to the water's edge. We just happened to be in its line of fire.
The shell hit our forty-millimeter gun, killing one of the men, and injuring several others.
It's probably amazing that you didn't have more of that.
Yes. Sometimes, people shooting anti-aircraft guns can get carried away with tracking a target.
One of the favorite exercises of the task-group commanders was to exercise destroyers in torpedo tactics. We would go out and make a torpedo run-in on the carriers or battleships--pick the target. The other ships would shoot at us using star shells, which off-set above and behind us. These shells would do little damage if they hit, but they were messy things. They would, however, give us an indication of how accurate their fire was. They would be shooting at us as we came in.
One morning, the destroyer KIDD was coming in when she was hit with one of these star shells. Fortunately, no one was hurt. It went into the captain's cabin, through his clothes closet, and ruined all of his uniforms. Of course, every gunnery officer in the formation was suspect. Every captain assumed that his knuckle-head gunnery officer had done it. I was down there on the carpet explaining to our captain that it wasn't possible. I told him that we had such good people in our fire control switchboard that we couldn't
possibly have done this. He wasn't convinced until midmorning, when the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA confessed. It turned out that I knew the fire control officer.
He had come from a destroyer where that couldn't possibly have been done. The switches on the battleships, however, were different. On a destroyer the offset was automatic, but on a battleship it had to be introduced. Because he had come from a destroyer to a battleship, he had missed this detail. So, as an apology, they sent the skipper a big cake.
He would have probably rather have had some new uniforms. You were also in New Guinea.
Oh yes, that was at Hollandia. That was a shore bombardment. We arrived there after dark, shot up the air strip, and left during the dark. I was the navigator and executive officer. I worked all day refining my position, to make sure we had some reference when we got there. As far as we know we hit the air strip. The idea was to set the runway direction as an enemy target course in our computer and let our shots walk down the runway. That is the sort of thing we did there. I was occupied all day getting the best possible positions so we would have some place to shoot from at night. As far as we know it went all right. No one bothered us.
The last landing or raid I have on my list is one I'm not familiar with. It was on the Bonin Islands.
Yes; we were at ChiChi Jima. We also hit Iwo Jima a couple of times. We went there on the fourth of July, 1944, which was well before the landings. We were with a couple of cruisers and we were told to go shoot up Iwo Jima, as a sort of celebration. The cruisers had a couple of scout planes on board. They went up to spot the gunfire. We were supposed to shoot up the airstrip and we did. Whatever Zeros were on there, scurried up
into the air. One of those scout planes (float plane) from our cruiser came screaming toward us with a Zero on his tail and crash-landed right beside us.
He was probably hoping you would take the Zero out.
Well, we shot at him. We picked the pilot and his radio man up and rammed the plane to safely get it out of the way. We had the aviators on board for about a week. The more they thought of it, the more they talked themselves into thinking that they had destroyed that Zero. They convinced each other that the radio man had shot down the Zero. It was funny to watch them.
There was no evidence?
I don't know, but it was funny to see it develop. By the time we got them back to the SANTE FE, the remaining scout plane on the launcher had a Japanese flag painted on the cockpit. They had taken the credit.
That Zero was probably safe and sound on another island. When the scout planes on the cruisers or the Kingfishers on the battleships were shot down, how long did it take and what was involved in getting a replacement? Where did they have to bring those in from?
I would be surprised if they ever got any.
So if it was lost, that was it until they went back to Pearl or somewhere.
Yes. When a carrier went back, she would transfer her airplanes to the carriers that were left out there.
Were planes in that short a supply?
It was just logistics. Ulithi lagoon is about forty miles long, from one end to the other, and there were ships anchored in different parts. When we left Ulithi, we ran back and forth, giving stuff away. We gave away an anchor, our searchlights, and all of our
torpedoes. I had orders to be detached, but I had to keep extremely accurate records of what we gave away. Everybody in that fleet came over and took what he wanted off our ship. As long as he signed a chit for it, he could have it.
Was that when the ship was coming back stateside entirely?
We were going back for an overhaul to the States. On our way back, every torpedo on our ship was inoperable. They had taken all our good torpedoes and given us their bad torpedoes.
There was no danger of running into Japanese?
It was unlikely and we still had our depth charges and our anti-submarine stuff.
There were no Japanese surface ships out in the area at all?
I'd feel kind of uncomfortable.
That was a real giveaway.
You gave away your boats, too?
Just one. We had two. We kept one and gave them the other. When our first skipper, Captain Eller, got detached, there were a lot of people from the task group going back to the States. Because we had the senior passenger leaving, we went around that whole formation and picked up everybody that was going to leave the force. We ended up with about thirty people and all their luggage. We were told to put them aboard a carrier that was going back. Our new skipper had come from the Bureau of Personnel and he didn't feel comfortable about going alongside the carrier. I was the exec and I had to take the ship alongside the carrier. (I made the pickups, too.) I got alongside the carrier and they put over three transfer high lines. We had luggage going on two of them and people going on one! We had to hold this position while they were shooting airplanes off a catapult right in
my face. It was awful.
It was just a routine operation for them.
No, these were the planes they were giving to the other carriers. We were giving them all these people; they were getting rid of these planes: It was a three-ring circus. The new captain was so impressed with the competent job I had done, I had to do all the "coming alongside" from then on. He never touched it.
We showed a movie in the wardroom every Sunday afternoon. That was our recreation for the whole week. Invariably, about the time the movie would start, the task group commander would send over a message to deliver the mail to the whole formation. The captain would say, "Go do it." So, I would miss the movie.
I was the "alongside expert."
Captain Bullen was our new skipper. When he arrived, our old skipper took him ashore to the officers club that was set up on one of the little islands. They came back in time for dinner and our new skipper had another person with him. We couldn't tell which one was our skipper. There were two of them, they both looked alike. All the officers in the wardroom sat through dinner studying these two. It turned out that our skipper was a twin. His brother was gunnery officer on the cruiser SANTE FE, which was in the same harbor. They had been classmates and roommates at the Naval Academy and they had been shipmates on the same battleship when they graduated. They were identical twins.
They both wound up there on the same day?
Yes, they were both in Ulithi on the same day. His brother was gunnery officer on the SANTA FE.
He had a lot of stories about when they were ensigns. The protocol on a battleship was to report to your department head in uniform to request permission to leave the ship.
His brother was in the engineering department and he was in gunnery. One day his brother couldn't find the chief engineer and he had something urgent to do ashore. He finally decided to just go. He was about to leave the ship when he saw the chief engineer. He didn't want to change back to his uniform so he had his brother go down to the engineering office to request permission to leave the ship. The chief said, "Yes."
He was another great guy. We still see him periodically.
That isn't always the case. Do you have any other thoughts or any other accounts from the Pacific campaigns?
I recall we put about 90,000 miles on the ship. That right shaft bearing was the only time we had any trouble.
That was a new ship. Was there any particular reason the bearing went or was it just one of those things that sometimes will happen?
I think it was just statistical. There was a little inquiry when we got into Pearl, but I kept out of it because I didn't have to get involved. I don't know if anyone pointed fingers or not. The captain, the chief engineer, and somebody from the base were involved in trying to figure out what happened. There were never any more problems.
There was one thing about our gunnery department. We had an officer, an ex-enlisted man, an ex-fire-controlman, Neil Lindhjem. He was then a lieutenant and he could repair anything in that fire-control system. The Ford Instrument Company built this complicated Mark I computer. They had a few technical representatives in the Pacific, but it would be hard to come upon one when you needed him. Neil could fix the Mark I computer. These were all analog computers in those days, and they were a complicated series of gears, wheels, and chains. There was a weekly test done to make sure that everything was right. When it didn't come in within the test limits, he could fix it.
We also had some anti-aircraft directors for forty-millimeter guns. Nine out of ten ships had one or more of them out of commission all the time, but Neil always had ours operating. The only problem he had was he was always head first, down inside the director, with his feet sticking out and he got severe sunburn on his legs one time. We had good gunnery because we had good equipment. That was another lucky thing; that ship was lucky.
You never took an enemy's shelling at all?
No. We were with an Australian cruiser one time and we were shooting so well that I think the kamikazes went up and piled into the cruiser. We were just going pop, pop, pop. Even people bent on suicide were reluctant to fly into it. I think that was the best defense, because it was rapid fire.
Jack (John W.) Gilpin, one of our classmates, lost a leg in a destroyer. He said that looking kamikaze pilots in the eye can be hazardous to your health. He saw the pilot as he hit them. It's a frightening thing.
I can imagine. You departed from the BURNS in early 1945?
February, 1945. They went to Seattle for overhaul. My relief came aboard in Ulithi.
So you didn't have to bring the ship back?
I went as far as Pearl. The captain said I could get detached in Pearl if I completed the Navy yard job orders. I had my relief do the navigating and I applied myself to the paperwork and had the job orders all ready by the time the ship got to Pearl. We had two passengers, a doctor and another officer, from other ships. All three of us got off in Pearl and flew back after spending a week at the Moana Hotel.
The war in the Pacific was not over in February 1945. You assumed that you
would be right back out there, probably with another ship.
Yes. I put the BORDELON (DDR881) in commission in Orange, Texas. That was configured as a radar picket ship which is a frightening thing, too. Pickets were the ships who stood between the carriers and the kamikazes.
It was still a regular destroyer though, was it not?
It was a configuration of a destroyer. The space that was normally the captain's cabin, on the 01 level on the destroyer, had been converted into a large CIC. There was a tripod mast aft. The ship had the silhouette of a cruiser and had this extra mast aft with a three-dimensional radar that would give altitude as well as range and bearing. Air search with normal radar didn't give you altitude in those days.
Between the time they first started putting bedsprings on ships, and 1945, there had been quite a transformation in radar technology.
Yes. With this 3-D radar, we could point right at the planes. The great big CIC with all the latest plotting facilities and the three-dimensional radar are what made it a radar picket. It was obvious that we were going to be a radar picket. All our training and preparation was along those lines. The ship was commissioned in June. We went down to Guantanamo for a shakedown and came back to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a post-shakedown upkeep. After the upkeep, we were scheduled to go back to the Pacific. Fortunately, the war ended.
I was on leave. I had gone home for a couple of days. When I came back, the ship was littered with tools, hammers, and everything. When they announced the war was over, the yard workers had dropped what they had and walked away. Since the ship was specially configured, they assigned us for a short time to the Operational Development Force. We did some tracking exercises at high altitude for some project. On Navy day, to show the
flag, we were sent to Portland, Maine, for open house. While we were all there for Navy Day, I got orders to command the destroyer escort, FOGG, which was tied up at the same pier we were. I just picked up my bag and walked down to the other end of the pier.
Was the FOGG a new ship, also?
No. It was #57. It was one of the early DEs, but it had been torpedoed and lost its stern. The front half had returned to the States. In the process of rebuilding it, they configured it as a radar picket. It had the same three-dimensional radar as the BORDELON.
Just a smaller ship.
Yes. It looked like a little cruiser. It was really nice. We also had a big CIC. As a result, the captain (me) had no sea cabin. When I did want to be handy to the bridge, I tried to put a cot in the sonar room, which was forward of the bridge, but the cot had to be athwartship and on a DE that didn't work too well.
I can't believe it didn't have a sea cabin.
It didn't. It had been used for the radar equipment. So, again being a picket, I would get special jobs. In 1945 many destroyers and smaller ships became immobile, because the only people available for these ships were chief petty officers and newly recruited seamen. It was very sparse in between. Ships would announce they couldn't steam and the Type Commander would tell them to tie up. They would miss their commitments. It came to the point we probably should have said that, but decided not to and stumbled through, making a few mistakes, but kept the ship going. The net result was the Type Commander took some people away from these other ones and sent them to us. Before long, we were all right. The officers sent to us were not very experienced. I had three from the same class at the Merchant Marine Academy. They were good seaman, but they didn't know gunnery or communications or things like that. They were a cheerful bunch and we got along fine.
The first job we got was with OpDeFor, the Operational Development Force. We tracked targets for them and picked up a lot of aerial targets that got shot down. We were a hunting dog for the MISSISSIPPI, the big gunnery test ship. Then OpDeFor sent us down to Key West for a directional sonar-buoy project. I don't know if directional sonar-buoys ever became operational or not. Sonar-buoys would be dropped in the water and they would listen for submarines. By dropping a pattern, aviators could tell more or less where the submarines were by how strong the relative sound was. These new sonar-buoys had a way to determine the direction. With our tracking equipment, we would position the submarine, put the buoys in the water, direct the aircraft, and then plot the whole thing.
Was this more effective than just regular sonar off the ship?
This was only for aircraft. It was used if a contact was sighted and a plane was sent out.
It wasn't used at all by surface ships?
No. From there, we went to Boston where they had a CIC school. The South Boston Navy Yard had been more or less closed, but the piers were still intact. We tied up there and operated as a training ship for the school. We did team training. A team would be taken from another ship and sent down to us. Every morning at 9:00 we would take the team and have them navigate in and out of the harbor, and then train them in air-control. We'd do a day's work at CIC and bring them back at 5:00. We did this for about six months. We had bankers' hours, really. It was very good living. I think I saw every weekend ballgame the Red Sox played that year. They won the pennant.
This was the end of 1945 and most of 1946?
I think you went to the FOGG in October 1945?
I stayed until the Christmas of 1946. I don't know if it was before the end of the year or not.
Then I went down to CincLant Fleet. Staff Admiral Mitscher was the commander in chief and Arleigh Burke was the chief of staff. I was proud to be associated with these men.
You had had sea duty completely from the time you graduated through 1946, without any shore assignments at all other than commissioning ships.
Yes. CincLant Fleet was on a ship, too. We were on an AGC. It looked like a LIBERTY ship. We had a small staff. CincLant Fleet staff today has probably hundreds of officers. We had about twenty-five or thirty officers, and we did the same job.
Admiral Mitscher died and Admiral Blandy (William H. P.) replaced him. I had orders to post-graduate school (ordnance). Normally, it was difficult to get off of a staff after only six months. The admiral would usually hold you there. Admiral Blandy, however, was an ordnance PG, and he didn't think twice. He said, "You go ahead."
How was Admiral Burke to work with?
Oh, great. The staff officers all worked in one big room on the flagship. There was a big leather chair in the middle, against the front wall. Every morning about 10:00, Admiral Burke would come in and sit down in that chair and go around the room asking everybody what they were working on. Then he would give advice. The whole time he would be sitting there burning matches into his pipe. He knew what everybody on his staff was doing. There was only one characteristic that I found annoying. He would sometimes call us to his cabin, give us something to do, and want it done by tomorrow morning. I was a bachelor and I did not mind, but most of the senior officers were married and their wives were living in Norfolk. We would work all night to get this thing polished up. In the
morning we would give it to Burke. He'd look at it, think a minute, and then he would say, "Oh yes, I got worried about that and did it last night myself." That was a little annoying. But he was a wonderful guy and the Navy was lucky to have him.
That was before you left and went to guided missile school?
Yes. When I was with CincLant, the only time we got underway was to go on a cruise to the Caribbean. We had a landing in Vieques, in Puerto Rico. I was the fleet operations officer for the Amphibious Force. President Truman was supposed to be down there as an observer. Burke said he was going to put me in the boat with Truman; the Marine general, General Rockey [Keller E.], who had landed in Iwo Jima; and the Commander First Fleet, VAdm. Radford.
What rank were you at this particular time?
I was a lieutenant commander. It scared me to death; it ruined my cruise. I was studying the operation order night and day, getting it all straight. Then I had to go brief General Rockey. By the time Truman cancelled out and the whole thing fell through, I was a nervous wreck.
You had put in a lot of time and frustration.
I was an expert by then! That was an interesting time.
Then I went to pg (post graduate) school. The problem was that the school was in Annapolis, and it was August, and this was before the days of air conditioning! We had a one-month refresher course to try to remember what we had learned in our four years at the Naval Academy. I recognized our calculus professor. He was the same one I had had at the Academy. He swore up and down that our calculus book was the same textbook we had had before. I swore I had never seen it before in my life.
When you stop and think about it, that was seven years after you had departed from
the Academy and they had been memorable years.
After my year of post graduate work at the Academy, I had two years at Johns Hopkins, which the Navy considered guided missile guidance but the dean considered electrical engineering. There were five of us.
You were in school for three years in that period?
Yes. There were three Marines and two Naval officers. We had a meeting with the dean of engineering one day to discuss what we would like to do and our views on this and that. He said, "I don't want anyone ever to speak to me about the military mind again. I talk to you five guys and I get five different answers."
It was during this time that your status changed rather dramatically.
Yes, for the better. I was married. Before I started at Hopkins in the fall, I went to Ruth's graduation from Hopkins in June.
Did you meet her while you were in post graduate school at Annapolis?
Yes. At the time, our class was scheduled to go either to MIT or Hopkins. I would have been disappointed had we gone to MIT. I wanted to go to Baltimore since Ruth lived there. Apparently there had been some trouble with the previous Navy class at MIT. The class had either goofed it up or MIT had become hard to get along with, but the net result was the Navy decided not to send another group there.
So Johns Hopkins became the ultimate site.
Yes. When you go to civilian college you get a long summer break, so that first summer they sent us on temporary duty to all the ordnance installations on the East Coast. The second summer, we went to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory as working hands in the laboratory.
The first year, you said you travelled around. What were you doing, just observing
the style or the situations at the various installations?
Temporary duty; we would get briefings about what they were doing.
Were you advising or inspecting what they were doing?
No. We went to Dahlgren, Chincoteague, and BuOrd. We were in BuOrd for so long, they must have had us working. I don't remember exactly what we did. I do remember there was a problem commuting from Baltimore to BuOrd, because we couldn't find places to park.
You mean there were problems with parking that far back?
Oh yes. My chief engineer at BuOrd had gone to work there in 1935. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and got a job in the Navy Department in BuOrd. He said, "I drove down Constitution Avenue and parked in front of the Navy Department, walked in, and went to work." Can you imagine that?
Not very well. Any other thoughts concerning this period of your education?
My thesis was on magnetic amplifiers. In those days tubes were the big problem in electronics. Anything that looked like a way to get away from tubes was a good thing. I hit upon this magnetic amplifier business. By scouting around, I found there was a magnetic laboratory down at the Navy yard. I went down there and met a German scientist, Dr. Geiger, who was an expert in his field and had built such devices in Germany. They had a technique for putting magnetic coils on magnetic material shaped like a doughnut. I was lucky enough to get two cores made out of this special material. The Navy yard had a winding machine and they let me go to work down there winding my own cores. I made a deal with APL, Applied Physics Laboratory. I would go down to the Navy yard in the mornings and work at the lab in the afternoon. So all summer, I wound cores and put them on a big board with a bunch of terminals so I could get different combinations. By the time
the summer was over, I had a device that I could base my thesis on. When I finished, my advisor was glad to keep it and use it as a training device at Hopkins. Later came transistors, and magnetic amplifiers were no longer the magic word. For a while, however, they looked like they were going to be a good thing.
Things have changed so dramatically in the communications field.
When I was working on my thesis, one of my advisors was a Swiss electronics professor and another one was a Norwegian electrical engineering professor. I was a little annoyed when the only comment I got on my thesis was there were two split infinitives. These two foreigners had the nerve to criticize my English. I did think it was a good course, however, and I enjoyed living in Baltimore.
Once you finished that, you were constantly on the move for about seventeen years.
Yes. After pg school (with a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University), I reported to the NORTON SOUND (AVM1), the Navy's guided missile test ship, where I was missile officer while we tested the early TERRIER missile. After that I commanded the USS R. H. McCARD (DD822) in the Atlantic Fleet, and then returned to the West Coast for duty on the staff of Commander Destroyers Pacific Fleet.
My first shore duty in BUORD followed, with assignment as TALOS Missile System Project Officer. I had two later assignments there - one when BUORD merged with BUAER to become BUWEPS, and then when BUWEPS split up into the Naval Ordance Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, and Naval Electronics Industrial College of the Armed Forces and the Senior course at the Naval War College. While at the Industrial College I received an MBA degree from George Washington University.
Other duties included assignment as executive officer of the heavy cruiser
ROCHESTER (CA 124), which served as the flagship of Commander Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific; command of the AJAX (AR6), homeported in Sasebo, Japan; and Commander Fleet Training Group, Western Pacific, based in Yokosuka, Japan.
I retired in 1968 from the Naval Ordance Systems Command as assistant commander for Systems Engineering.
[End of Interview]