|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #166|
|Captain Aubrey D. Engle (USN, Ret.)|
|USNA Class of 1941|
|January 23, 1998|
|[Interview conducted by Dr. Fred D. Ragan]|
I was born and raised in the St. Louis area. I graduated in 1937 from the Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois, through which I was able to get a competitive examination for entry into the U.S. Naval Academy. I entered through the Army ROTC route. I spent the usual three years plus at the USNA. I was ordered out to the old cruiser, SALT LAKE CITY, which had quite a wonderful cruise during the war. I left the cruiser, went to anti-submarine training at Key West and Miami; and later, I became the executive officer of a new destroyer escort, RINEHART (DE-196). I served as executive for about a year or so there and went on to command the ship.
After that, I went to the staff of a destroyer squadron. The squadron changed its numbers as it reported back to the Atlantic to Squadron 14. I went from this squadron to Pearl Harbor as the commanding officer of the U.S. Fleet Training Center until 1950, when I was transferred back to the Pentagon. While there, I was on the staff of the Chief
of Naval Operations in the Undersea Warfare Division. After a short time there, I went on down to the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia, for a routine course.
I was ordered then to command a destroyer, STORMES (DD-780). From there, I was ordered over to the staff of the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet in the Operational Planning Division. I was ordered from there to the staff of the U.S. Naval Academy, where I spent four years, and then out to the Pacific again as chief of staff of Cruiser Division 3 and Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla 9. I went back to the East Coast in command of an oiler, NANTAHALA (AD-60). Then I went to Europe as Chief of Staff of Military Sea Transport Service, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean command, from which, I was retired in 1945. I stayed on in Europe for three more years, because we hadn't seen enough of it. I bought a motor home, toured all over Europe, and then came back to the United States to become American again.
I accepted employment in the States in the Marine Architect/Naval Engineer Field, helping design for the new class of people that were coming along. Our designs included the patrol hydrofoil, the TICONDEROGA class cruisers, and--very interesting--two hospital ships. We built one thousand beds on each of the hospital ships, and I wrote the owner's manual for those ships.
If we could, let's go back to the St. Louis period prior to going to the Naval Academy. Just tell us a bit about your family.
Well, my parents were both concert stars with the New York Metropolitan Company. They met and married on the road in Canada. World War I interrupted their tour. My father went to war. When he came back, he did music on the side--coached
choruses and choirs--but basically went into my grandfather's business, which was the street car company in St. Louis. Mother was simply a mother.
I got into the high school in East St. Louis where we lived at that time. It just wasn't quite up to the academic standard I needed to go on to college. We elected to take my college money that my grandparents had given me and use it to put me through the first class private high school, Western Military Academy. It was ranked number two in the country then.
And where was this academy?
It is in Alton, Illinois, which is up the Mississippi about fifteen miles from St. Louis. I spent two years there and graduated. After graduation, I went on to Annapolis.
What happened in your teen and high school years, to make you want to go to the Naval Academy or to some other academy?
It evolved, of course. Our family had friends who had sons who had gone through the Naval Academy. This helped bring the Academy to my attention, but I wasn't able to get a political appointment because we were in the wrong party. That's why we went the competitive route. I was a pretty ordinary teenager. I was involved in music, some sports, and the usual.
For a teenager to be involved in music, that would be different in the area I grew up in, at any rate.
Quite different. Well, of course, with both of my parents being classical musicians, I was trained in classical music. It actually took me a little while to get to enjoy all this modern stuff, like Glenn Miller and all those people.
At the Academy, what are some of the impressions you bring away from it?
The thing that I think is different from our days there and the present is that we had fun. I get the idea that these kids aren't really having fun anymore. They take themselves very seriously as people can do. I never felt I was hazed or anything like that; no dread of the system or people. Certainly, nobody took anything out on me, as people claim now. I had two or three classmates who lived near us all the time and were fairly riotous people. They did it with a sense of humor and everything was just great. One of them will be here tonight at the reunion. I got into a lot of things at the academy: again, music (that paid off later, but we will get into that later), sports, and studying. I decided to study during the appointed study hours and do other things with myself outside the study hours.
What sports were you involved in?
The S's: swimming, sailing, and some lacrosse--intramural lacrosse. Swimming and sailing were the varsity teams. Both of those were great. I had nice chances to travel and everything.
Your class graduated early, of course, in February 1941. Where were you posted to after graduation?
That is when I went to the Pacific Fleet. I was on the cruiser SALT LAKE CITY (CA-25), which later distinguished itself quite a bit. First, I was in the engineering department. Then as the war neared, I was transferred up into the gunnery department as a turret officer.
And SALT LAKE CITY was out of Honolulu?
Yes. I picked her up in yard overhaul on the West Coast and rode her out to Honolulu. We were based in what was called the “Pineapple Squadron.” We made a
very interesting trip to Southwest Pacific, including Australia. Our captain was an old DNI type (Naval Intelligence) and we went to a lot of places that the Japanese occupied very shortly thereafter, just taking a look at all these places. Then we finally ended up in Brisbane, Australia, for a while.
And this was in the spring, summer 1941?
Mostly summer of 1941.
Summer of 1941.
The captain came back later. I don't know if you remember, but he did a bunch of television shows, very early on, called “Secret Missions.”
I don't recall that.
Well, it was right after the war. You might not have got tuned in on it yet. We went on to all the routine battles in the Pacific until the Second Battle of Cape Esperance, Savo Islands. We got blasted out of there, so we went back to Pearl for repair.
In the fall of 1941, then you were on the SALT LAKE CITY at Pearl Harbor?
We were coming in from Wake Island when the attack began. We had just gone out there with a small task group--a carrier, two cruisers, and a division of destroyers-- and had given a dozen fighter planes to the Marines on Wake Island. We were just coming back in to fuel, which we did. In the meantime, the battle was going on as we started.
You came in on that morning of December 7th, that Sunday morning?
We saw a Japanese plane. However, we were not in the attack zone. Of course, every one of those planes was dedicated to do something. We were not hit or bothered. Our boats had been left in port, and they were peppered. It was a terrible scene, as you
know, going in. We really had to go in and fuel to get back out, to try to give chase. We had been out there a long time; we were getting a little low on “gas.” They had a five- hundred-mile head start just to begin with, before we fueled. The fueling time pretty well took care of that.
Then after December 7th, you were sent back for a search operation. How long?
It took a week or so, and then we came back. That was the same task group, Task Force 8 with Admiral Halsey commanding. We stuck together quite a while and carried out some of the first raids in the war. Our ship hit the Japanese territory with gunfire, sank the first Japanese ships, and a bunch of stuff like that. It was a raid.
Could you tell us about the raid?
We did several raids. Wotje Island, which is out in the Marshall Islands, was the first one. We did raid others. I guess we did the first bombardment of Wake Island, which later became a routine shelling practice for ships going by. I had relatives out there on the island, but luckily they were not hit.
The ships would go by and test their guns.
Yes, sure. It would be good practice.
Tell us about that first operation.
Our cruiser had the Wotje bombardment. The other cruiser had a different island. The carrier covered both cruisers with strike aircraft. We went in, and not much happened. They shot a little bit, and we shot quite a bit. A couple of their ships tried to get out but didn't make it. Then we broke off and left. Our bombardment had its effect. It was the first one of the war, so it affected them psychologically more than materially.
It let them know that you were going to take the battle to them.
Right, and so we did. You may remember that the HORNET and a couple of other ships came from the East Coast with Jimmy Doolittle embarked with the B-25's. We joined and escorted them in to launch.
You were with that Doolittle raid group.
We were sitting there watching them. The first bombers had an awful time getting off since they were very heavily loaded. They would go off the flight deck and down towards the water and so on. Those are big airplanes for a little carrier. They were little carriers in those days.
We came back from that raid and eventually went down to the Coral Sea. Our ship went back to Brisbane for a little operating time. MacArthur was there by then. With all the Army present, the liberty wasn't as good for the boys as it had been when we were alone. But we went from Brisbane over to New Zealand and picked up the First Marine Division. We were no longer with the carriers. Actually, we were under an Australian admiral. We picked up the First Marine Division, performed some rehearsals in Fiji, and brought them into Guadalcanal for that landing.
You were in Guadalcanal. You were in as part of the escort for the Marines?
Yes. We took them up there. We stayed down in that area through the Second Battle of Savo Island, which was called the Battle of Cape Esperance. This is where we gained our big glory. But we suffered damage and were sent back. Two ships went back: the SALT LAKE CITY and the BOISE went back. We went to Pearl, and nobody had ever heard of us. The BOISE went back to Philadelphia, where they needed heroes. They got the write ups, but that is all right.
Well, what happened in the battle?
We had radar, not the kind they have now. One ship had an actual search radar on it. They kept us posted. We had a gun-laying radar on the anti-aircraft battery; but when you knew where to look, you could eventually pick them up and track them in. The skipper decided not to fire until he could see them, which means that was the first time they knew that we were there. Of course we were loaded and ready, so we got the drop on them at about three thousand yards. We were really in close. We had to raise the guns to load them at five degrees and then drop them back to shoot. We were credited with sinking two heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, and a couple of destroyers that night as well as a transport ship. I wasn't conscious of the transport. At the time I left the ship, it had sunk more enemy ships than any ship in naval history.
The SALT LAKE CITY had a sterling record.
It had a very sterling record. They put Navy crosses on three skippers in a row. There were Navy Unit commendations and things like that for the ship, and a few medals here and there for the people. That engagement we were hit. One hit was right under the turret I was in, and it didn't go off. Another went into the supply office/boiler room area there and did a bunch of mischief in there.
By that time also, the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard had received surface-search radar equipment to put on our ship. We went back, got all fitted up with the new equipment, and traveled up to the Aleutians.
You were involved in the Aleutians?
Yes. If you have seen that book, Battle of the Komandorskis Islands by John A. Lorreli, I was quoted here and there in it. The book, which was written recently,
describes a very long, long range battle that lasted maybe three hours or so. It involved turrets running out of ammunition.
For this record, would you like to recount some of that?
The battle you were just speaking about--the Aleutians.
Well, we routinely went to General Quarters for sunrise at morning twilight. We were at General Quarters, and along comes this enormous bunch of Japanese ships. We just had our one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser, and four destroyers. The Japanese had ships all over the place. Again, we engaged. We were between the Japanese force and the Japanese islands. We had to do an end run so we could get out of there. We did not have enough ships to wade in after them. Later, we found an awful lot of damage to our ships. Our gunnery was quite good. Theirs was a little too good. They shot everything in a clump, and our skipper could dodge the salvos. If they had a little more spread in the salvo, they would have probably hit us a lot more often. Eventually, we broke off.
We had been radioing in for Army air support, which as far as I know never got there. At the time, we were running out of ordinary ammunition. We found a bunch of high explosive shells that the Australians had lent us for eight-inch guns. We started pulling those out. It was a completely different burst. It actually looked, with all the flame and smoke, like bombs hitting. I surmise though, that the Japanese thought our aircraft had arrived. We pulled out of there, went back to the Aleutians, and unfortunately we had a burial service for two or three people. It was pretty rough since the tundra was frozen.
Then we went from there to the Navy yard again in Mare Island. This time we had our repairs done and went back up to the Aleutians. By that time, there were a lot of ships on the Aleutian patrol. We old ones were placed on the awkward squad and went up north of the islands, while the other ones were to the south. At this point, I got transferred off.
And this would have been 19?
August 1943. And you were transferred to?
SCTC, which stands for Sub-Chasing Training Center at Miami, which was the anti-submarine school. I had never been exposed to antisubmarine warfare, being a cruiser sailor. After I finished the school, I went on and joined the crew of RINEHART, which was standing by to go into commission. I went to Norfolk as executive officer with most of the crew. The prospective commanding officer went to New York, where it was being built, with a few people. The rest of the crew joined him up there, of course.
And you were the executive officer?
The commissioning executive officer.
And then where was the RINEHART?
First, we were ordered into the slow convoy service to North Africa. Eight or nine knots was the speed of the slowest ship. It took us two and a half months to go over and back.
They were perfect pickings for the “wolfpacks,” weren't they?
We were very lucky indeed. We never lost a ship. Of course, by 1943 into early 1944, we were beginning to figure out the routine. We had some better weapons. I don't
know how many “wolfpacks” were in the vicinity or how many we attacked. We just attacked and kept going. We may or may not have sunk any; I don't know. There was no debris or any of that good stuff.
The attacks were enough to either scare them off or deter them for some reason.
We sure couldn't outrun them. But after two or three of those runs, we were transferred up to the North Atlantic in the fast convoy service. These went about seventeen or eighteen knots. It was ten days over, four in, and ten to come back, which is a lot quicker than the old trip.
Was there much submarine activity in that area?
It had reduced by this time. It was still there, but it was reduced. Running seventeen knot convoys was much more to our liking, and we had loaded troop transports--stuff like that. The newest freighters were able to make that kind of speed, the Victory Ships. We did that right up through the end of the war.
In April 1945, I took command of the ship from the original captain. I was telling Don last night, "My executive officer was much better known than I was." It was Woody Hayes, the football coach who was an historian. He loved history, was very deep in it, and taught it at Ohio State later. He was a great guy, who knew his business. He had been skipper of a smaller ship out in the Philippines. All he had to do was find out where things were. The RINEHART was in the Pacific through VJ day, plus a week or so. We occupied Wake Island. At that point, I was ordered off to the East Coast (Texas actually) to take over a new ship coming out of the builders' yard. We don't even have it listed on the sheet, do we? Oh, yes . ROBERT I. PAINE (DER-578).
And that was 19?
It was just about January 1946, by the time we got it out of the yard. We occupied ourselves with the usual. This was a radar picket ship, so it got us a couple of very interesting jobs. It was listed as DER. It had a wonderful, big three-dimensional radar on it, so it looked like a little cruiser with an extra mast. But we were sent out to the Azores for quite awhile as flight catchers for this “Magic Carpet,” bringing back all the soldiers; they had ships all along the line just in case. We were stationed with the Portuguese destroyer, and eventually one of the Spanish ships came over.
You stayed on that duty, I guess, that picket line from Iceland.
There was one up there, and the Azores were in the line coming in from Italy, Spain, and North Africa. That was a very idyllic job.
In what way?
Of course the weather was perfect, and my orders were to go anyplace I wanted; but just to stay in the Azores. We could cruise all over the place. We got to know the Portuguese people very well. There was a commander of the Portuguese destroyer, who was sort of the Mahan of the Portuguese Navy. He wrote a wide variety of books. I have a couple of his books in Portuguese, unfortunately. He had enough pull in the Portuguese Navy to get a band of musicians of his choice. We were well entertained.
He would be the modern Prince Henry the Navigator?
And you were in that duty until 1947?
That is what I am trying to remember. I think it was until mid 1948. I went from there to Pearl Harbor to take command of the Fleet Training Center. It was sort of an assortment of training facilities. They took the old Pacific Fleet radar school, gunnery
schools, and swept them up into a nice, neat little pile. We taught fifty-one courses there and put it together off-the-record at no expense to the government, which was part of the mission. My father-in-law was chief quarterman at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard at the time. He was very helpful when we needed things.
How did you put together fifty-one courses at no expense to the government? Usually, you think of the government bearing these costs and other groups riding on the back of the government.
We took these forty people, and I became Ali Baba and his forty thieves. We appropriated a lot of stuff, not for private use. As part of it, we ended up with a plant account of two or three million when I was relieved. Every time a ship came in from the Pacific, our guys were out at the dock to meet them, asking, "Can you spare this? Can you spare that?" All they wanted to do was to get rid of things. We stocked the school pretty well. We had plenty of these firefighting canisters for the firefighting school with breathing apparatus. We had one for all the students that came through. We bummed a big chunk of uranium and buried it for Geiger Counter school. I taught all of that.
The Air Force, at that time, had very few people that actually knew anything about electronics. However, they gave us a lieutenant with six or eight Philco tech reps and a couple of NCOs. Using them as staff, we put together pretty elaborate basic electronics courses and put both Air Force and Navy men through them. There was a certain amount of gunnery courses, non-firing. Also, we had an emergency ship handling course, which I put together and taught. But that was a wonderful two years. I also got into the civilian side of things out there. I played first violin in the symphony and sang in a group--things along those lines.
You got back to your music.
My wife is from there, so we had loads of friends outside the service circles. I met her out there when the SALT LAKE CITY went out.
And you were married out there?
At Pearl Harbor, April 1942. Gee, that was a long time ago. Of course, we were both “child brides.”
About your music activity out there, you said you played the violin?
That was the last time I played it. If I can't play it well, I don't like to play it. I just haven't gone back. I bought myself an electronic organ, which you can fake a lot on, so I have fun with that.
What is it they say about a musician? You don't practice one week, you know it. You don't practice for a week and a half, everybody knows it. Something like that.
When I was later transferred back to the Naval Academy, there was at least one officer and a couple of others who knew I had a musical background. I was “fingered” on arrival. I was put at collateral duty as officer in charge of all the musical activities: three big choirs, a band, a jazz band, a marching band, and the like. That was wonderful, because we got ourselves into the television business.
And how did that happen?
I mean, we went on various shows. We went on "The Ed Sullivan Show" about three times. We did two shows with Pat Boone and one with Burl Ives. We did the "1960 Miss America" at Atlantic City with all the girls. That was idyllic duty. Where did we leave off?
In Hawaii, 1948 to 1950.
1950. That is when I got ordered back to Washington, my only tour of duty in Washington, with CNO staff. It was the Undersea Warfare Division. You may have heard of the Momsen Lung. Admiral Momsen was heading the division at that time. There were six branches. It was all undersea warfare: submarine warfare, Navy anti-submarine warfare, mines and harbor defense, administration, and the sixth one came in later under Jack McCain with research and development. I headed the administrative branch. I stayed there (as I said) not very long, because I was home in St. Louis for Thanksgiving when the admiral called me up and said, "I have potential orders for you at Armed Forces Staff College. Do you want to go?" The idea was that if I didn't want it, he'd kill it. But I did want to go. He was very gracious about it.
And that was 1951?
In January 1951, I ended up down there. No, wait a minute. No, that was late 1953. I was in Washington in 1ate 1950 and early 1951 and stayed there a year and a half or so. I went to Norfolk for some years.
And you were at the War College?
It was a six-month course. I came out as commanding officer of the STORMES (DD-780). It should be on the list there somewhere.
That turned out to be an Atlantic ship, basically; but we went all the way to Korea for our tour of duty. The Navy made the tour worth our while by sending us back around the other way. We got a world circumnavigation out of it and our own choice of liberty ports. It worked out great.
Were you involved at all in the Korean War?
Not in any shooting. My particular ship was paired up with a duty aircraft carrier, SAIPAN and another carrier. We just followed them everywhere. The banging was pretty well over by the time we were there. I get credit for being out there, I guess.
You are right.
We came back around the other way and just entered the Fleet. For some reason, we never got deployed to the Mediterranean, I guess, because we had been to Korea. We never did get into the old rotation after we got back from Korea.
After you completed your trip around the world, where did you come back for duty then?
The ship came back into Norfolk and I was aboard until early 1956. Then, I went to the staff of Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet from which I was subdetailed up to Williamsburg, Virginia, as the Fleet representative to the Jamestown Festival of 1957; that is how I can pin that down. It was well before the festival.
And what was your duty there?
I worked mostly as a liaison. The Jamestown Festival 1907 was the 350th. The Great White Fleet had put on a great naval parade and all this business. They wanted a naval review on the 1957 festival, which indeed they got. We had fifty odd ships from seventeen countries and put on a nice show for them, except that there wasn't enough water left around Norfolk to steam the Fleet by. The Fleet anchored and the spectators went by. It was great. There was a reception aboard all these ships. Having been on The Commission, we were invited to all of the receptions. I didn't make them all. Our friends, the Cuban Navy, were up there serving the most delicious roast pork you can imagine. It was on one of our old ships, but they were good sailors.
Yes. This was obviously long before Castro.
Did you have any duties, say, at Guantanamo, Cuba?
I haven't on shore. I mean I've been in and out of there under training in every ship I was aboard. We knew the place very well.
What was your impression of the Naval facility there?
It was delightful. It wasn't a Navy yard. They had some repair ability and great people. It was a pleasure to go in there.
Was it a wonderful training center?
Well, there was underway training there. They did not have a formal training center ashore. The staff would come aboard the ships, take us out and train us. Of course, the ocean was gridded and you would go to your own grid to commence firing exercises as well as others. It was always fun to go down there.
After Jamestown, then what was the next?
I came back to the Fleet Staff. After awhile, I was sent down or went as a member of a group to Puerto Rico to the Roosevelt Roads area, which was a very old Army fort with a huge dry dock and a German submarine in it. The idea was to make that the big training base, which they did. I think they reconditioned the dry dock and got a big operation going there now. I haven't been back since it was put in commission; so I haven't seen it at work, but I was in on the planning of it.
Again, I stayed on the Atlantic Fleet Staff until I was transferred up to the Naval Academy in the summer of 1957.
And your responsibilities there?
Initially, I was the first battalion officer. They had then six battalions. The battalion officer is the commander. He has four companies each with a junior officer as company officer, and they just live with their men. We were to teach them how to fly; it had and nothing to do with classroom work at all; it was all executive.
In the spring of the next year, they sent me up to head the Administrative Division in Bancroft Hall, which is right under the commandant. We were kind of the hub of pleasant and unpleasant things. We got discipline and stuff like that which is never any fun, but a lot of other things.
Any stories that you recall or experiences?
Well, one. I had to put an All-American football player on a class A report for going AWOL. He didn't quite understand what was happening to him, I don't think.
Was he there to play football?
Sure, and he did.
That was pretty much it.
There were all kinds of wonderful things, they say. There were all these trips with the musical organizations. Well, it was just great working with these guys--some of the kids I worked with. The midshipman officers would come in before formation; we would talk to them and brief them. That included some of the guys you have heard of: John Poindexter and Chuck Larson, who is now the superintendent for a second time. Class of 1958 was one of the originals. Of course, we met a lot of people. I met the future King of Spain when he came visiting. My wife was in charge of the Naval Academy Chapel flowers. She was up there arranging things with her posterior sticking out one time. The admiral called her by name, “Shirley, come on down here. I want you to meet King
Hussein.” My wife got to meet the King of Jordan. Little things like that happened all the time. It was a wonderful tour of duty.
At the end of three years, I was transferred across the river in command of the U.S. Naval Station, Annapolis, because the then commanding officer retired on the spur of the moment. I was qualified, so they sent me across. I was frocked, as they call it, to four stripes, drawing the pay of a commander. My personal promotion came along in the spring. I mean, I had been selected. It was just a matter of getting there.
And this was in 1960 or there about?
I left Christmas of 1960. There was a big snowstorm and away we went for the West Coast. I was ordered out then.
Let's go back to the Naval Station, because it had some wonderful aspects. One of the reasons I got command was because I had been a yachtsman. Yachting was the hub of the Navy Sail Training Program there. We had all these wonderful boats, and my responsibility was to take these guys to sea and train them. We cosponsored with the New York Yacht Club on a couple of races: Annapolis-Newport and Newport-Bermuda races. We made them all, of course. Those races were very delightful.
There were other little functions around the station. We were hosts for such people as Decorsey Fales, who was the New York Yacht Club commodore, and George Hinman. It was just wonderful. For serving and hosting, I got elected to the New York Yacht Club and stayed in it for about thirty-one years. I finally decided that I am never going to get back to New York. But that was a lot of fun.
Did you participate in the races?
Yes. I participated as well as was in charge of all these rascals that were midshipmen and were sailing. We had eleven boats in the 1960 Bermuda race. Well, we went over with eleven and came back with ten. One of the boats sprang a leak. Coming back, we had another boat lose a big rudder. It was from a sixty-eight foot boat. We got them into port.
How did your boat do? The one you were on.
It fared so-so. I had won a bunch of other races independently while I was building my reputation, which is what got me the job, as it happened. I had been racing in the Chesapeake. Some of those races were very successful. I had a reasonable amount of hardware to show for it.
What race in particular stands out?
My favorites were always the ones that went from Annapolis to Hampton, 125 miles down the Chesapeake Bay. It was always such a combination of circumstances, weather, and everything else. It was very enjoyable, and I have made the race since, but not quite as successfully. There again, I had quite a few Navy boats. Now, these races were all in the summertime. There were few if any midshipmen. We made our crews up of staff and kids, which was fun too. My own son learned his trade on those races. He has been racing ever since.
From the Annapolis area, where were you posted?
Well, I was sent to the Pacific Fleet as chief of staff of Cruiser Division 3, and later for Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla 9. This was about the same as the cruiser division,
except they gave us a squadron of destroyers too. We rotated back and forth in the Pacific, to the Far East, and back a couple of times.
Any events that stand out in that tour?
Not especially. It was very pleasant, but nothing spectacular happened; except that we found, when we first got to Japan, the Japanese had slated and set up a time for the admiral and me to play golf with them because they thought all Americans play golf. In fact, neither of us did. We skipped that round. Not much else happened. I was in that for a couple of years and then came back to the Atlantic Fleet again to command an oiler. Again, we had some interesting trips with the oiler. We never did go to the Mediterranean. I was given a division of destroyers. We went over off the northwest coast of Africa as a flight catcher for Scott Carpenter on his orbit. Of course he didn't need it.
Later on, we were sent to the Caribbean as the Caribbean oiler. We were available for any ships going through that wanted to train. We putted around some very interesting places like Grenada. About that time, a Venezuelan passenger ship was hijacked on the high seas. They gave me another division of destroyers and some airplanes. We chased this guy up the mouth of the Amazon where the Brazilians picked him up. That is a very shallow estuary there. We couldn't go any closer than one hundred and twenty miles with my ship, which drew thirty-four feet. Destroyers could go in a little bit farther. This guy just ran the boat up there. We didn't go in since we were not charged with picking him up. The Brazilian Navy took care of the whole thing. That was the end of the episode. We also did some other interesting things around.
Mainly, we just performed routine operations with various services, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, some of the Canadian Navy, and so on. That was about the size of it.
Were you involved in the Bay of Pigs or any of that? Cuban Missile Crisis?
No. None of that at all.
That came. . . .
Earlier, I would think.
That was in the early sixties.
I was transferred off in 1963 and that was the year Kennedy was shot.
I was then sent over to London as chief of staff of the Military Sea Transport Service for Europe, Eastern Atlantic, and the Mediterranean based in London. We had a big operation. Are you familiar with what is now called military Sea Lift Command?
Sea Lift Command? Yes.
Yes. SLC previously was just a big shipping line. We lost our passenger ships since they eventually went out to Vietnam as troop ships. We were out of the passenger business, but we were still big in freight.
You lost the passenger part then; it would have been sometime after 1965 or so.
This was in 1963.
They detached these ships and sent them all out to the Pacific to carry troops. That was very interesting. I traveled a lot, officially and unofficially.
Well, London must have been a really hard and terrible duty.
Terrible duty!? You find out how many friends you have, I tell you. We were very fortunate in meeting people over there. Things just happened. When Kennedy was
assassinated, they put a memorial service on in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, where the Queen was in residence and expecting at that time. They didn't want her going down to London. I was invited up there amongst a lot of people. My wife and I sat right behind the Queen and the Queen Mother. We got in a conversation with them there. It was quite a nice break. She asked us if we would like to see the castle. Being of sound mind, we of course said we did. They have a bunch of gorgeous gentlemen in scarlet called the Military Knights of the Garter. This is the base of the Order of the Garter. Retired military people are the ones who get this very nice position; it is very ceremonial with little quarters in the wall of the castle. We became very close friends with the man she had take us around. We entertained back and forth two or three times with him. He was a retired Grenadier. That was fun. My wife was on a trip with a classmate's wife and met a very interesting duchess and princess. We were invited out to this baronial mansion. I guess, it was the largest house built in the 1800's, huge.
Where was it?
In Nottingham. John and I didn't make this trip. We were elsewhere. The women were just talking. Shirley is kind of a romantic, and they started talking about Sherwood Forest. The duchess said, “My dear, you must come up and see us. I own it,” which she did, and so we did. We had cocktails with the Sheriff of Nottingham. We walked into the Major Oak. You may remember they had eleven people hidden in it, or something like that. It was a huge tree.
They had taken a lot of her beautiful land over from forests and made it into tank training for the Second World War. They messed the place up, but she put it back
together pretty well. She had two very nice villages in the forest. We went to church service at one. It was wonderful.
We lived across the street from what I think was Britain's greatest entertainer, singer, dancer, and everything else: Max Bigraves. He has not been very well known in this country, but he traveled the world. He was a great connoisseur of the American martini, so we became hosts quite often. We just kept having little breaks like that all the time. Professionally, we didn't do anything very exciting except keep the ships running. We decided at the end of that time that we had just not seen enough of Europe. I retired in the Third Naval District and came back over, retired from the Navy.
You retired in what?
April 1965. We bought a little motor home and spent about three more years over there.
Just traveling around Europe?
Mostly. We put forty thousand miles on the motor home in free Europe. I was never behind the Iron Curtain, because I guess they had a dossier on me. My wife went over with a regular tour company. I really had no great desire to go to modern Berlin. I would rather see the old medieval sites, which we did. We had a very interesting little group in London. This included the admiral, who had been my admiral in the Cruiser Division 3 and was the number two man on the big staff over in Europe, and his wife; along with a communications officer and his wife. The six of us were kind of a catalyst for one another.
We would meet every Sunday morning in my little motor home. We would carry a picnic basket, to which everybody contributed, and go out and see a stately home, a
cathedral, and something else everytime. But each time, somebody different had to make the plans, so we really saw the place based on that person's interest.
Did you have a central place that you worked out of, or did you stay near Paris?
Oh, you mean during the traveling? No. We went all over. We went on a second trip to Scotland, then proceeded to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to take a ferry to Trondheim, Norway. We also fetched up in the southern end of Italy, made all of the wine country, (thank you), and all the way around Spain. We had a delightful time.
In Spain, we wondered why they were cool towards us at first. Then I had figured it out. We had bought this motor home in England and, of course, it had English license plates. I figured, “I don't think the Spanish like the English very well." So, we stopped in the next village, bought a couple of American flags, and stuck them up in the corners of the motor home. Everybody was wonderful then. We enjoyed the big cities of Europe a lot. We did not find the Parisians cold or unhospitable. All you have to do is impale them with a smile, and they respond. But we loved the little towns most, of course.
That is where you find the good bakers, too. Good pastry chefs.
We were out in the middle of Bordeaux and I broke off my corkscrew, so it was a catastrophe. What I could get out of the French-English dictionary didn't convey to the people what I wanted: that I wanted to buy a corkscrew. They very kindly kept offering to open the bottle for me. We finally found out how to say it and we bought one.
I did some official traveling in the motor home. We had various people to cocktail in it. One was a former crown prince of Sweden and another was a U.S. consul general up in northern England. As for official calls, we all ended up doing some. But it
was a delightful life. Finally, we had to come back or become a permanent expatriot. We elected to come back. We joined our friends around Washington, but our son had moved away by this point. We stayed nineteen years in McLean, Virginia. We moved from there ten years ago.
Tell us a little bit about your family. You have a son?
One son who works in the federal government. He is in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He went into the Naval Academy for two years, but decided it wasn't the Navy he was brought up in. He came out, went to the Police Academy, and ended up with the Virginia State Police. Then he was wooed over by Fairfax County Police, who sent him through American University where he picked up two degrees. After this, the federal government grabbed him. My son had been on loan because of injuries from an auto accident. He had been running a project called ASAP, Alcoholic Safety Action Project. He had a couple of mobile labs and stuff. They worked accidents and collected data. He ended up, without anybody knowing who he was, rather unpopular because he was the one running the fifty-five mile speed limit, the police radar, and all those different programs for the government. He is still with the government. He is just over fifty now with a lovely wife and three children. That is the family.
Oh, not much. Except . . . I mentioned this hospital ship I worked on.
Yes. Tell us something about that.
They were needing hospital ships and we narrowed it down to two choices. One was to take the SS UNITED STATES and make a two-thousand-bed hospital out of it. The other was to take two supertankers and make two thousand-bed hospitals. We opted
for the latter and put one in each Fleet. We were just putting in things like our x-ray facilities and along come the Israelis, who had been playing with CAT scans. Well, we found out what a wonderful tool it is for locating shrapnel, so we had to convert some of the x-ray facilities to a CAT scan. That was all set in concrete and just about to be built, when along comes MRI, but it was too late. The CAT scan did the job, though. We didn't want to convert any more tankers. They built the two ships. One was sent to the Philippines in a kind of training/peace mission. It went into the little islands with a whole bunch of doctors, of course. Then, during the Persian Gulf war, one of them was there. That's quite a concept. It was about a thousand-foot, one-hundred-six-thousand-ton ship. It was huge. The main concept of getting casualties aboard was all by helicopter by then. They could accommodate boats, but it was not the number one way since they brought the casualties in high and worked them down.
And your working role in working in this was?
Non-engineering. I worked on studies, personnel studies and things like that. Eventually, I ended up writing the owner's manual, the operating book: How to Run a Hospital Ship. That was a little fun. Actually, I finished that. It went into review, and I came down here. We bought our house down here. Eventually, we went back up after the review had been finished and put the final edition together. This happened in 1986.
Where you working for the government on this or for one of the private corporations?
I worked for a private corporation, which of course was under contract of the government for design support.
What corporation was it?
This was called Designers and Planners. A couple of very well known naval architects had bought this company from Todd Shipbuilding when Todd wanted to get out of the design business. Then the naval architects renamed it. It is doing very nicely. It is not an ideal life for the ship design companies anymore, because we aren't building that many ships. It is quite competitive. It was a good life. Down here, I can't retire. I went to work for Walt Disney Corporation.
Someone told me I should ask you about Walt Disney.
I am back in the boats again. At that time, we worked all weekends, holidays, and the like that nobody else wanted to. We keep an airstream trailer there. We would drive up and use the trailer as a home base until we were done working. Then we would drive back in the little car to the West Coast again. I was first operating the various boats. You may have been there and seen some of them. I was running from a six-hundred-passenger ferry down to a little launch. Later I trained new pilots for them. My wife, having worked in a “Fairly Tony Gifty Shoppe” in McLean, went into retail business with them up there, so we were both working with them. A little later, two or maybe three years ago, we decided to scale way back; but we were affiliated, and they would call us when they wanted us.
Last summer and fall, they called us to work various conventions they were having. It was more or less a public relations deal, and I was also in the crowd control business, which Disney is very good at. It is quite an operation. One convention had teddy bears, dolls, and all kind of Disney things being sold by collectors. One doll, a teddy bear doll, was auctioned at $38,000. I was then working with one of the artists, and one of his pieces went for $17,000 at an auction. These people would come in for the
convention. Most are certifiable. You wouldn't believe the prices they'd pay. They know they are high because they have to pay $900 to get in the door. They have to then enter a lottery to see which one of all these people are going to lucky enough to be able to buy these limited editions: one of fifty, one of hundred, and some things like that. The final day of the convention, the door opens and in they come--everybody for themselves, and that sort of thing.
We did put on one of these February 1941 reunions over at Disney for them when I was there, almost constantly. That was fun, except for the final night. I had chartered this huge ferry boat and had them cater a Texas barbecue on board. Boy, it turned wet and nasty. Everybody was huddling down on the lower deck. It was fun.
We are not retired from Disney yet. We are going to stop by on the way back and pick up our new admission passes for the cars. Our personal ID is through 1998, so we are all set in that manner. That is very nice because these two things get you in the parking lots and all the gates with all the nice extras, including merchandise discounts.
That can be quite a money saver at Disney.
At one time, before we scaled back, we had a 35% merchandise discount. Disney was getting rid of a lot of stuff we were interested in, so we got 35% off the reduced prices. It was wonderful. We picked up a lot of model railroads at that time when they were selling those out. That is about the size of it, I think.
[End of Interview]