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Charles Brantley Bissette oral history interview, July 5, 1998

Date: Jul. 05 1998 | Identifier: OH0173
Charles Brantley Bissette Oral History Interview. Lieutenant Commander Charles Brantley Bissette, Supply Corps U.S. Naval Reserve, comments early life and military service during WWII. Bissette grew up in Wilson, NC and attended Atlantic Christian College. After graduating he taught briefly in Lenoir County and then became the manager of a drugstore in Greenville, NC. After Pearl Harbor Bissette applied for a commission in the Navy and served in the Charlestown Navy Yard (Mass.), at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach, and in Kodiak, Alaska. Interviewer: H.A.I. Sugg. more...



EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #173
Lieutenant Commander Charles Brantley Bissette
Supply Corps U.S. Naval Reserve
by Commander H.A.I. Sugg
July 5, l998

H.A.I. Sugg:

We are at 106 Longmeadow Road, Greenville, North Carolina. The date is July 5, l998. Charles, let's start out with a little background about where you were born, where you went to school, and ultimately, how you wound up in the Navy.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I was born in a small town near Wilson, North Carolina, called Bailey, about twelve miles west. My mother and father split when I was about five and we moved to Wilson, where my grandfather lived. He was a wealthy planter and landowner, and he took us in. We spent one year in the mountains of north Georgia when I was seven years old in order for my mother to get a divorce. In those days, you had to go somewhere for a year, so we went there. When that was accomplished, we went back and my grandfather built us a house.

We were poor, I guess that's the way to describe it. I had a paper route. I had my bicycle stolen, a new one I had just paid for with my paper route. But it all worked out. My older brother, Paul, was in the Marines in World War I, and was in France, and learned to speak pretty good French while he was there. Another one of my brothers joined the Navy at age fifteen and went through the war. After the war--I had three brothers--the other one,



George, was one of the original members of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, when they rode motorcycles. But the draft got him and he was sent off to Miami, where he sent home some pictures of him sweeping the yard.

All that time, I was getting older, but I thought I was beyond the draft age. We were down at my brother's camp across from Cherry Point at Beard's Creek watching a flight of Marine planes (the early days of Cherry Point) circle and dive, coming back up just before they hit the water and then continuing in circles. One of them didn't make it; he went straight in. It was on the way home from that trip the radio told us about Pearl Harbor.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Before we get to that, where did you go to school?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I graduated from Wilson Public Schools and went to Atlantic Christian College, where I had a basketball and swimming scholarship. Atlantic Christian didn't have a swimming pool. I worked in a shoe store and in an A&P store in my spare time. To help pay, my grandmother came through. She was living with us at that time when grandfather had died. So I finally graduated and paid my grandmother back. She lived to be ninety-three. My mother lived to be ninety-nine. They were both very clear up until their deaths. So, I'm supposed to live a long time.

H.A.I. Sugg:

That's right. After all, you're only eighty-seven now.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Eighty-eight!

H.A.I. Sugg:

Gracious! What did you do after you graduated from college?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That, as you will recall, was the time of the Great Depression.

H.A.I. Sugg:

I remember it well.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

When guys who were formally millionaires were selling apples. Well, I was no millionaire, and my mother was an heir to a farm up in Nash County, from her father. She



had to sell that to get enough money for us to live on. It was a good-sized farm, and ultimately became very valuable, but that was too late. Anyway, I had no job, and somebody said they needed a schoolteacher down in Lenoir County. I went down and was interviewed by the superintendent of schools. I had no qualifications for being a teacher, but I was a basketball player and a coach. So the man hired me; and because I had taken no special courses for teaching, I came in at the bottom of the state's list for payment purposes. The superintendent looked that up and said, "Mr. Bissette, your salary will be $59 a month."

H.A.I. Sugg:

A princely sum!

Charles Brantley Bissette:

But it was a job, and it was at the bottom of the Depression. I had no car. This was out at a little community called Moss Hill, very nice school. The chairman of the school board lived down the road, and the principal of the school roomed with him. He also ate there and did his laundry. So he said, "You can come with me and all of that will cost you $20 a month, and we will room together."

H.A.I. Sugg:

So that was room and board?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Room, board, and laundry. He had a car and I could ride back and forth to school, which was a couple of miles down the road. I taught the eighth and ninth grades. After two months, I found that $50 a month with $20 out, didn't leave me much for anything, a little over a dollar a day. But it was pleasant out there, in the fall. My principal was a great hunter--he spent all his spare time hunting. He later became a very famous educator and they named the biggest public school in Fayetteville for him. He was quite well known. But after a couple of months I realized that I wasn't going anywhere there, so I went back home. My brother had just opened a drugstore and he said he'd give me a job at $35 a week, which was considerably better than $59 a month, and I could live at home.



H.A.I. Sugg:

A much improved situation.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes. So, I resigned and a lot of guys were looking for jobs in schools. He hired a man with a master's degree to take my place. He made $79 a month. Well, I came home. I hadn't been home but about three weeks and I had a letter from Moss Hill. The ninth grade had written me a letter. It said, "Mr. Bissette, we want you to come back. We don't like mister whatever his name was. And we have made a deal with the eighth grade, and they're going to kill him, and the ninth grade is going to 'berry' him." Spelled b-e-r-r-y. I was very flattered by that, but I didn't want to take part in a homicide.

H.A.I. Sugg:

I hope you were able to head them off.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I never heard of him getting killed, so I guess he made it. Surprisingly enough, a couple of years ago when my family was down at the beach, my son Chuck said, "I have a good friend from Lenoir County, and he thinks he might know you. He has a place here on the sound, he's a great fisherman, and he will take his son-in-law, Pete Vella, fishing." Which he did, and Chuck brought him to the cottage.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Chuck is your son?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes. And I went out to meet him. He was in the ninth grade at Moss Hill School. He had told Chuck, "The only Bissette I ever heard of taught me in the ninth grade."

H.A.I. Sugg:

Well, you certainly made an impression on at least one student.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That was after some fifty years or more.

H.A.I. Sugg:

What did you do when you were at the drug store with Paul?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, I started out behind the soda fountain. The store served lunch, and my brother's wife would make a big thing of soup at home and bring it down every day, and we had a sandwich bar. So I started at that and I ended up doing all of the advertising. I had a



little print shop and would make signs. I enjoyed it. One of my customers at the fountain turned out to be Ava Gardner, a high school girl from nearby Rock Ridge. She came in with a group of Rock Ridge High School girls and she was just the gem among that group. A nice looking girl, she just stood out completely. I can understand how she became a movie star.

H.A.I. Sugg:

How long did you stay with Paul in the drugstore?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, I stayed there in Wilson at the store. Then we opened up a store in Greenville, in partnership with a pharmacist. That didn't last, because he wanted his own store; so he moved to New Bern and opened his own store. Then in '39, I was married. Shortly thereafter, we moved over to Greenville to manage that store, where I stayed for fifty-some years.

H.A.I. Sugg:

No more job-hopping?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

No.

H.A.I. Sugg:

How did you happen to get into the Navy?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, that day coming back from the camp, when I saw that plane at Cherry Point ditch, and heard on the radio about Pearl Harbor, I told my wife, "That means I'll go." I was thirty-two years old then and I guess draftees were getting a little scarce. I had a one-year-old child, so up until then I thought I was safe.

H.A.I. Sugg:

By the way, what was your wife's name before you married her?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

She was Ola Day Uzzle, from the Smithfield area--a little town called Wilson Mills. Her brother, Jim, was a fellow student at Atlantic Christian, and we played on the basketball team. I also played one year of football with him at 135 lbs.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Heavyweight player, obviously.



Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes. And, of course, I was coach of the non-existent swimming team.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Well, you were married and had one child. That was Donna Day. What did you do then?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

In the spring of '43, sure enough I got a notice from the local draft board that I was 1A, or whatever it is, that you are eligible. Ola Day had a job with the draft board. The money came out real good. I thought, "If I'm going to be drafted"--I saw a notice in the paper that they maybe wanted some people to come to Raleigh and apply for commission in the Navy. So a friend of mine, a newspaper editor and publisher, Dave Mosier and I decided we would go up and apply. So, we drove up one day and applied and took the test. The only thing I remember from the test was one question, which said, "If you're going downstream on a river, and you want to tie up on the right side, how do you do it?"

H.A.I. Sugg:

That's an interesting question.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, I had no problem with that. I said that you turn around and come back against the stream. But that's the only question I remember, so I must have made some of them right. Well, they found out Dave was a newspaper editor and publisher, and his newspaper was on the rocks. Anyway, we came back home and they called Dave immediately. He was just what they wanted, a publicist. They wanted to send him to Atlanta. So he and his wife Mary Taylor moved to Atlanta, quickly. A little time went by, and I thought, "Well, they must not want me." Then the draft board called and said, "We do."

H.A.I. Sugg:

Uncle Sam wants you.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

So I went around to Mr. Ficklen, who was head of the draft board. We had two draft boards, Ola Day worked for the other one. So, I went down and bled on his doorstep. And



he said, "Nope. Charlie said you'll have to go. If the Navy wants you, they'll get you. Don't worry."

So the Army got me. They said, "Come down."

So I talked to Ola Day's older sister. She said, "Our mailman was in the National Guard and he has been put in command of Fort Bragg, the induction center."

He was a colonel. He said, "Let's go down there and see if he can't do something about some extra time to get in the Navy."

That was an interesting trip. She called and made an arrangement to go down there in time to have lunch. So we went down, and it was too late to go to the regular mess hall; so he called over there and said, "Fix lunch for four." The mess hall was empty except for us and we had a very nice lunch. He showed us around. He said, "Come on down. You can take all the tests. If you don't make high enough score to make officer, don't think about getting out of here."

So I went down and was sworn in as "Private Bissette." I got all the shots and I watched those guys--it was outdoors and they had two guys, one on each side with a huge syringe. As the guys walked up, one guy whammed him from each side. Just beyond on either side stood a man, and I said, "What does he do?"

They said, "He's the catcher. About one out of four faint."

Those guys were there to lay them out on the grass, and it was covered with guys. So that was my introduction to the Army after our nice lunchtime. I took the tests, and I apparently did all right on them. I was lying in my bunk one day, and a man right next to me said his name was Mayo and he was from Greenville. I told him about my commission



in the Navy, which had come, by the way, to my home in Greenville. He said, "I have one of those things."

I said, "Well, aren't you trying to get out?"

"No," he said, "If they want me, they'll come and get me." The same guy was one of the famous Mayo family in Pitt County, all of whom are terrific scholars. He later became president of Westinghouse--my bunkmate who wasn't worried. The Navy came and got him. I think he was in Louisiana by then. I saw him later.

So I was waiting around to get word from Washington about my situation. I had to be discharged under Title 10, I think they call it, "for the convenience of the service," or something like that. So, that seemed mighty slow so I called up my old buddy Dave Mosier in Atlanta. I had tracked that thing down, and it goes from Raleigh to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Washington. I told him to watch out for it and when it got to him, to zoom it on up to Washington, which actually happened. Washington told me to go to Raleigh and get my physical, uniforms, and report to Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts where the Navy had taken over Babson Institute and sent the school over from Harvard Business School for us. Well, I went to Raleigh and carried Ola Day and my six-month-old baby to see me sworn in. There was a thirty-five mile per hour speed limit then--I don't know whether you had that where you were or not. That was to conserve gas. On my way to Wilson en route to Raleigh, I was stopped by a highway patrolman--I was going forty miles per hour. He gave me a ticket. I said, "Look, I have to be in Raleigh by two o'clock to get sworn into the Navy. How do I get there if I have this ticket?"

He said, "Well, you can see a lawyer in Wilson who is the judge for this area. He ought to be helpful."



It happened I knew the guy so I stopped and went in his office. He looked at it, and I told him what I wanted, but he said, "Get the hell out of here and on the road!"

And I did. We got up there. Ola Day and the baby were waiting to see me at the swearing in. The doctor came in and said, "We have found a pilonidal cyst at the base of your spine, and that is disqualifying."

H.A.I. Sugg:

That must have been a real shocker.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

You can imagine the effect on me. But he said, as I understood it, that there had been no problem with that. He said, "I'm communicating with Washington today to see if we can get a waiver. You go home and I'll call you."

I went home and had a tremendous fever. I'm sure it came from that. The next day he called up and said, "The waiver was granted. Come up here and get your uniform."

At that time, I only had about five days to report according to my orders, all of which would be if my fever went away. They carried me to Rocky Mount, I got on a train, got up with my new uniform. I thought, "Well, I suppose something happens here. As an officer, I'm supposed to take action. I wonder what I'm supposed to do!"

H.A.I. Sugg:

So you went in as lieutenant junior grade?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That's right. The school that they sent me to had several hundred JG's and older. There were a few who were over forty and they were commissioned as lieutenants. That was at Wellesley Hills, where we took over all the facilities of this going school. Nice place--ran into my first skunk up there. I'll never forget that smell. I didn't know what it was. You could smell it all over the dormitory. But the worst thing, of course, I had to do was to take shots. I said, "Well, I just had all those shots a couple of months before." It makes no difference. They said I could take them again. So, I was well shot.



H.A.I. Sugg:

Those were just Army shots--you had to have Navy shots!

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That's right. We had excellent meals. We had educational officers, who were Navy lieutenants and very, very tough. They were really hard on us. When some of us brought it up, they said, "If you can't take orders, you've got no business giving orders." So they made it so tough that we wanted to slam them. And I think I was good at fights. We had some good weekends over in Boston. I learned how to eat a Maine lobster while I was there, something I found that very few people knew how to do.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Well, it has its problems. By the way, this was at the Babson Institute.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Roger Babson was the owner and chief man and he would come down every Sunday to have Sunday evening meal with us. He'd sit at a different table each time. So we'd say, "Well, what's for dinner tonight?" On Sundays, it was Roger Babson and cold cuts. That was our standard Sunday meal. He would ask us where we were from. When he got to me I told him Greenville, North Carolina. He said, "That's in the coastal plains, isn't it?" I said, "Yes." He said, "I'd never heard of a prominent man coming from the coastal plains area!" I had no answer to that.

H.A.I. Sugg:

It occurs to me that George Washington came from the coastal plain if you get right down to it.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, I guess he was talking about North and South Carolina. I learned a lot of humility there. In Greenville, I was president of the Chamber of Commerce, vestryman in the church, head of the Community Chest, and in charge of the fundraising for it. I thought I was pretty smart. I had never been out of this area, and when I got to Massachusetts and mixed in with over 300 guys selected from every state in the union, all thirty and older, I was out of my depth. A great lesson in humility--best thing that could have happened to me.



We all had to study. They would turn the lights out at eleven o'clock so we wouldn't keep studying. We were doing a six-month course in six weeks. They told us continually, "Things are slow in your department and we want you to speed them up. Do whatever you think should be done and we will take care of it." I'm not sure how much they took care of us, but they told us what they expected of us. Of course, they got us up at dawn, and out on the frozen grass doing push-ups, and running a mile, or two miles--got us in good shape. I came out, about where I belonged in the middle of the class and was real happy to be that.

For graduation we had a final dinner and get-together, where we had some alcoholic drinks that weren't supposed to be there. Prior to that, we'd had to go across the road where they'd set up a little building with beer. But this time we actually had it on the campus. All these tough guys who started out being our instructors turned out to be great guys. We ended up being pals with all of them--had a marvelous evening! One of them was named Palmer who I ran into later when I had some training duty in Charleston. He was commanding officer down there, and he later became an Admiral. So we had some tough people and they all turned out to be good guys.

My first assignment was temporary over at the Charles Town Navy Yard, along with several other guys. We got a room in Boston, a third-floor walk-up in the old historic district. The owner had whitewash wall-to-wall, and he had three apartments. We were in the top and we shared the expense. It was winter then. We'd walk across the Boston Commons to a Maxwell House coffee shop, which was the finest sight in the world after walking across the Commons. Here was a coffee shop, just as cheery and warm inside, and the minute you opened that door, there was a fragrant coffee smell.



Then we got on the subway and, by George, it became the elevator! That was a surprise to me. We popped out of the ground and ran around the rest of the way on the elevator. If you've been to Boston, you're probably familiar with that.

I was assigned to this supply officer over there--they had a nice dining room and a lot of people. I became friends with an Englishman, who had just come over to take command of a destroyer escort. They had just finished it and he was taking it out for trials. They had a hedgehog, which I did not know what it was. They tested that and out came this whole gang of shells. My friend was very nice, he explained everything to me. We had lunch together. I made some good friends like that--very interesting.

The supply officer said one day, "We've got a project going out here on the edge of the bay, so I want you to go out and check on it." I went out and there were three guys out there--two of them were working and the third wasn't doing anything, just standing around. I thought, "Well, that guy ought to be working," but I didn't say anything to him. When I got back, I reported that. He said, "Yes, these are union men. That man is there to see that the other two men work. It's a good thing you didn't say anything to him!" He was called a "pusher." Well, it was a great learning experience for me. I hadn't had any experience with unions.

H.A.I. Sugg:

That was an interesting story.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I went back to look at John Roosevelt, who was in the Supply Corps and had a desk right down the hall from me. He had a lot of visitors walking by to look at him. So I went by to look at him, and he was just an ordinary nice looking guy. We said "Hi," and I went back to work. That was the end of the Roosevelt connection, but he had a lot of the company looking at him.



H.A.I. Sugg:

I bet he did. How long were you in Charles Town?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I guess about two months.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Then you got your orders?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes, I didn't know how long I would be there. Neither did the other guys. One of my roommates went to Brazil--Recife. I was always sorry that I never got any orders. We got orders alphabetically. The four boys in my room, all of our names began with a "B." I figured if I was going down there I would learn how to speak Spanish, but I got Little Creek, Virginia, which was a small boat base, cleaning training boats for landings. They would take these folk--we had about 12,000 of them--and ran three galleys, which was part of my responsibility. Luckily, we had three veteran chiefs, one to each galley.

The supply officer had just come back from the African invasion. I remember when I walked in, he was sitting in his office with the guy I was relieving, who was really happy to see me. He wanted to get to Europe. So I walked in--I had read the book--and saluted, "Lieutenant jg Bissette reporting for duty, sir."

"Did you say Bissette?"

I said, "Yes."

"Well, we thought there was an Italian named "Bissétte" coming in here. You sound like you're from the South." He was from Alabama. I said, "Yes, I'm from North Carolina." So that was my introduction to that. But I felt so sorry for those small boatmen out there in freezing weather. Every now and then, one of them pulling out and making landings. That was up near the Virginia Beach area, where there were beaches. They would come in wet, sometimes the boat would broach and throw them overboard--some of them drowned. That was something. Part of my education.



H.A.I. Sugg:

How long were you there?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

The Navy had a group of homes out toward Ocean View for officers to bring their families if they wanted to. They were filled, but some guy moved. The idea was to buy the other guy's furniture so that he could move on, which is what we did, and filled it in with things from a second-hand store. I brought Ola Day and Donna Day up there. We had very interesting neighbors from all over. Peggy, right across the street, would lie out on her lawn suntanning--naked! All the officers, when they came home would ride by to see if Peggy was out there. The wives would say, "Don't go that way, come this way!"

H.A.I. Sugg:

You have to check out the local scenery.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Right behind us lived a Navy commander who was in charge of aircraft over the Atlantic coast. Well, every week, he would send a plane up to Maine to bring back a load of lobster. He always brought us some. His wife thought our baby was wonderful; so she would baby-sit for us; so that worked out very well.

We had a hurricane while I was there. We had to throw lines over the roof of the main supply building--one story. The whole division was out there holding the roof down, expecting it to blow off and lift them off the ground like a balloon. But it didn't. I got home and a huge tree had just missed the house. Ola Day was over there with the commander's wife and the baby. They were scared to death.

I was there for about a year. I bought me a bridge coat, which I would wear over to the Officer's Club at the NOB. We would go over there for dinner. We'd also go to the Chamberlain across the bay. We'd get a ferry over there for officers. Except for those poor guys training in the small boats, we didn't know there was a war going on.



Then I got my orders to Kodiak, Alaska. That was interesting. So I ran into a guy who had just come back from there. He said, "You may as well sell that bridge coat. It's pretty rough out there. Everybody wears foul weather gear all the time.

H.A.I. Sugg:

You sold your bridge coat, and bought foul weather gear?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, I didn't have to buy foul weather gear--they issued that to me. I had to go to Seattle for transportation. They were going to fly me up there, but the weather was too bad. I stayed around Seattle. They had a house with dormitory beds, and downstairs a kind of a nightclub operated by some ladies' group, which served to pass the time very well. I ran into a good friend from Little Creek. He was out there waiting for transportation to the South Pacific. Eventually they called and said, "Come out here and spend the night at the airport. We'll take off before day light." We did and started up the coast, just off shore where we could look down and see the glaciers and all that sort of stuff when the sun came up. All of a sudden, I began to get very cold. It turned out that the heating had given out. One of the pilots looked back and saw me with my black dress shoes on, shivering, and he said, "You see those boots over there, they are fur lined. For goodness sake, put them on." That saved my feet from freezing. We made it into Anchorage, where the airport was covered with ice. Looking down, it was just a sheet of ice.

H.A.I. Sugg:

What month was this?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That was in December of '44. So they put me in this barracks thing. Steam heat was just as hot as it could be in there. There was a PX just down the block. I thought I better go down there and buy some heavy socks--my feet were still freezing. So I went down there, and I put on my regular raincoat because it's all I had. It turned out I went there in forty degrees below zero weather. I had to walk backwards. I got back to the super-



heated room and had a miserable night because it was too hot. The next morning at breakfast, I went to one of the mess halls. There were some Navy people. They said, "Navy has a house over here. You can stay there. It's a little more comfortable, you'll have your own bedroom, and it's not too far from the mess hall." He called transportation and carried me over there and got me set up with the Navy. He said, "We don't know when you will you get down to Kodiak, but this will be more comfortable than that super-heated room." And it was. I guess I had to go into downtown Anchorage, which then was pretty primitive. Every other building was a saloon on the main street. I think I counted twenty. It had only one main street. Now, I think it's a thriving metropolis.

H.A.I. Sugg:

But probably still plenty of saloons.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That's right, no doubt. But after I was there about two weeks, they called and said a plane was going down to Kodiak. I got my bags--I had already shipped everything to Kodiak--and we flew down there. The good ole Supply Corp had somebody there at the airport to meet me and take me down to my room in a BOQ. There were a lot of apartments there in Kodiak, and the officers that were permanently stationed were assigned apartments, which were complete with bedrooms, a kitchen, and furniture. As a new man, I had to wait a little to pass inspection to see if they wanted me as a roommate. That was commonly done.

Right across the street in the BOQ was the Catholic priest, who taught me how to play pool. He was an Irishman. We had our drinks laying on the edge and if I made a good shot, he would say, "Damn good shot, man!" He was a nice guy. I knew nothing about the Catholic religion, but I learned. One woman who was trying to climb Old Woman Mountain fell off into a ravine and died. She was lost a few days, but her dog came back



and they found her. So they buried her up on top of a little mountain where they had a graveyard. I went to the service in the church on the base, then walked up on the mountain for that service. It was beautiful--the Catholic burial service. I was so impressed. I guess she's still there. Within a month they invited me over into one of the apartments. From then on I lived and I worked my way up. I began to invite people in to stay with me. Do you want me to tell you about Commander Ray, the Annapolis graduate who was a supply officer?

H.A.I. Sugg:

Oh yes.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

He was a nice guy. He was the one I told you about that said that he didn't belong in the Navy because he didn't drink. He was a good fellow--well met, and he taught Sunday school. He was sincere in that feeling. His duty had been on a tanker before he came there and before that he was a commissary officer. A very nice guy, a frustrated engineer. So he looked around while he was supply officer and saw these thousands of oil barrels they had shipped up there, all empty, the oil had been used. He said they ought to be cleaned and returned to the States so they can be used again. So that was an engineering project. He sat down and drew out a complete system of cleaning those barrels. It looked good on paper. I think he sent it in. Back came a quick message, "We don't want those barrels." But he was a nice guy. I liked him.

COM 17 was out at Adak, and we had considerable traffic. When Ray got his orders, COM 17's supply captain had been to Kodiak, and he turned out to be from Charleston, South Carolina. There I was from North Carolina, we spoke the same language. I drove him around and showed him the base. We got to be real buddies. They transferred



Ray and made me supply officer. Some of the guys under me didn't think that was quite right.

H.A.I. Sugg:

That's the advantages of being from the ole North State!

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That's right! So I signed for about $l20 million worth of supplies, I said, "Gee, I'm rich!" But he came down, and I had the corner office of course, being supply officer. He moved me right out of that into the one right next to him and he took the corner office! But we were still good friends. On my way home after the war, I stopped by to see him in Washington. He was having wife trouble--he had a younger, redheaded wife. I think she had some other friend. He was an older man.

H.A.I. Sugg:

What all did your duties involve up there?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

In Kodiak? Well, general supply duties of all kinds. We handled and shipped a lot of stuff out on the chain to Cold Bay and even as far as to Adak. We supplied them, and we had a lot of orders from correspondents. Some of them we had to have special orders for, but we were supposed to look after the chain.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Did we have any installations on Attu at that time?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes. Attu was the last one out.

H.A.I. Sugg:

I know, I was there.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I had an officer transferred back from there. I've got his picture downstairs. I had another one from the island—the one you may have blasted. It turned out that there were no Japanese there. They had all gone.

H.A.I. Sugg:

That was the one where the Marine General said that we ought to have just a reconnaissance party, but they said, "No, let 's all go!"



Charles Brantley Bissette:

I don't remember the name of that island, but I know it was bigger than Attu. We were the transfer point for airplanes to the Russians. The Russians sent us a group of about 150. They had what I would call a "peasant colonel" in charge of their group and a personality guy who spoke perfect English. He was a contact man. The Russian peasant would come to the office every evening, and sit down and drink himself drunk. The next morning he would be up swimming in the bay, naked! The personality guy made friends with everybody. He circulated around, buying drinks--we figured he was the spy. A beautiful "spy" girl came over from Kodiak to visit him. We don't know how she got to Kodiak, but she made friends with all the officers at the bar.

We had trouble with the Russians accepting the planes because if one screwdriver was on the list, and it was not there, they wouldn't accept the plane until we supplied that screwdriver. These were the PBY-5's, which flew to us, by the way, from Elizabeth City, N.C. All these Russians then, if we supplied this last screwdriver, would fly them off to Russia.

H.A.I. Sugg:

I expect a lot of the aviators were in no great hurry to get back to Russia.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I don't know. We had there a real character, one of the oldest lieutenants in the Navy. He was PBY-5 pilot, who flew by the seat of his pants. When nobody else would go out on a flight to rescue a boat in distress, he would. A terrible storm came up in the Gulf of Alaska, and one of our boats was in trouble. He took off in that storm and landed in seas like that. He took the men aboard, managed to take off again, and flew them back. I don't know how in the world he did it. I saw some of those--I came back on a destroyer across the Gulf, and it was that rough nearly all the time. Five destroyers in our group, and you never could see more than one. The rest were all down below the waves.



H.A.I. Sugg:

Did you ever get to go hunting up there?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

No, some of my buddies did. They went bear hunting. A professional guide over in Kodiak, who had a large boat, volunteered to take five of us on a hunt. But that was when things were slowing down, and we were looking forward to getting home, so we didn't go. Some of my friends went. One of my roommates went on that. They got the thirty-aught- six and went out and laid down on the side of a mountain to wait for the bears to come by. Sure enough, one stood up out of a bunch of low plantings, and my roommate said he froze. The bear just towered. He said it was one of the two thousand-pound giants, and he was sniffing around because they have very poor eyesight. He apparently smelled Bill, and Bill finally broke loose to wave for the others to come up. They were all scattered around. They all came running with their rifles, and blew fire power at this poor bear who took off down the mountain. They had been told that the bear would run down the mountain. They found blood and followed him through the alders.

The next day, a rancher down in the valley came over wanting to see those guys who went hunting yesterday. So, I got Bill to come out and a couple of others. He said, "Let me tell you something. You were in deadly peril. Those bears go down and lie beside the trail, waiting for you to come. I had my glasses on and I was watching the whole time. Fortunately, that bear kept going, or you would be dead men." So the base officials said that nobody could go hunting again, except with a professional guide. I never did go. The guides charged $3,000, and guaranteed you a bear. Most of them had boats. The man who invited us had a big Chriscraft. He would zoom along the coast, and spot bears along the mountainside, then run in and land. Then you'd go up and shoot. Then there's the question of, what do you do with a two-thousand pound bear? Well, if you wanted to have the hide



tanned, or make a rug or whatever, the professional would strip it off, take it back, and ship it to Denver, Colorado, where he had a man who would do that for you, if you had occasion to do it.

H.A.I. Sugg:

What about the bear meat? Did you ever have any bear burgers?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I don't know what they did with the meat. Some of them would have a hard time getting the carcass down. The bear would usually fall over in a creek or a kind of ravine. Then they would have to find some way to get him in the water so as to get him on a flat boat, and get him back to Kodiak. That was a real problem for them.

H.A.I. Sugg:

How long were you up there all together?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

A little over a year.

H.A.I. Sugg:

So you were up there until after the end of the war?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

The war ended, and Japan surrendered while I was there. My brother wrote a letter to my friend, the captain, that said he sure did need me back home. Most of the help was in the service, and he wasn't in very good health, and it would be a real help if they would let me come home. So, they finally did. I was no brave soldier in the trenches, so I was very fortunate in my personal fight. I really enjoyed being in the Navy and I was very proud of my participation, such as it was.

H.A.I. Sugg:

That's great. So, when did you get home?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I got home for Christmas.

H.A.I. Sugg:

This was in '45. Well, that must have been a great Christmas.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I reported back to the other Little Creek--the first Little Creek was down there where the ferry took off. They had the big outfit go down toward Virginia Beach, where it is now.



I stayed around there until I went through all of the retiring process. I think that came sometime in early January.

When I left for Kodiak, Ola Day and the baby went back to Wilson Mills to stay with the family. They stayed there a year. Donna Day became two or three years old there. We rented our house in Greenville to the commanding officer, Major Grey of the local Marine unit, which had moved in on our airport, built it up, and used it as training quarters. As a matter of fact, the major told me when I was in Norfolk, “Anytime you can get to Cherry Point, I can get you home." So, I hopped a ride down to Cherry Point on a B-25. That was the noisiest plane I ever heard. But it got me there. I went in to ask about the plane going to Greenville. He said that one had just left and it was the last one for the day. I said, "How about calling up there and telling Major Grey that Lieutenant Bissette is down here and wants a ride home." So he did, and pretty soon, here came a plane--open cockpit two-seater. I forget what it was called.

H.A.I. Sugg:

But it went?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes. So he took me in the backseat and took me back to Greenville. Ola Day was out there. I had called her and told her I was coming. The Marines looked out for me.

H.A.I. Sugg:

You stayed on in the Naval Reserve then.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes. There were a number of us coming back then--Tom Rivers and Jim Cheatham. There were enough to form a Reserve unit, so we all got together and requested that. At that time, we came under COM 6 in Charleston. They later put us in COM 5 at Norfolk headquarters. They organized us--we were Unit 626. We met weekly, and got a point for each meeting. We met in various places--wherever we found room, most of it over in the university in a classroom. Part of the time it was out at the television station there.



We had a nice group. We had men come over from Goldsboro, Wilson, and Rocky Mount. You had to actually belong to a unit to get credit. We met one man from Goldsboro, whom we usually saw in the dining room. He came over with several others. We had a nice group with regular programs, regular visits from Charleston, and it turned out the admiral down there was a good friend of Mr. Little, who ran Carolina Sales. They were both in Annapolis together. I never knew him then. Mr. Little was too old to be in the war, but he was in Annapolis. The admiral would come up and visit him at his home. We would always have a big dinner out at the Country Club when he was here. Mr. Little also would sometimes invite some of us out to his home. We had a good friend there. He'd give us about anything we'd ask for.

H.A.I. Sugg:

How long did the unit remain here?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

A long time.

H.A.I. Sugg:

How long did you continue with your active training with the Naval Reserve?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, until I retired. Of course, you had to accumulate so many points per year. You got one point for each meeting, and one point for each day of active duty for training, and you were supposed to do two weeks per year. I kept that up after our company folded. I had some good training duty in various places; Alameda, Charleston twice, Washington, Norfolk twice, Jacksonville, Mayport, and New Orleans.

H.A.I. Sugg:

So you got around the country then?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Yes. Very interesting.

H.A.I. Sugg:

You remained active there in the Naval Reserve until retirement age?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

That's right.



H.A.I. Sugg:

Well, this has been a very interesting session, Charles. I'm glad that you could take the time to do it.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

I tried to tell the things that I enjoyed. Of course, there's a lot of things about it you probably didn't enjoy, but you tend to forget those, and think of the good things. Don't you find that?

H.A.I. Sugg:

Yes. Which is fortunate for most us.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

And the humorous things. I think I told you the night Japan surrendered I had sheriff's duty at the Officer's Club. In came a whole company of enlisted men who said, "We were told that the Officer's Club had dinner for us up there." They just busted in. Well, being sheriff, I had to tell them to get out, and I didn't know how to do that; I didn't know what mood they were in. But fortunately, their own officer was in the club, so he went over to talk to them.

Then there was the night, one snowy night, a couple of officers went out together. One of them slipped on the icy steps and fell against one of the other officers who had a submarine pin on, and that gashed his cheek. He was bleeding profusely. Several of us took him right across the street to his apartment, and two of them had him leaning over his sink washing the blood off. His roommate came in, and said, "What the hell are you doing to him!" He grabbed the two guys and slung them out into the room, and took his roommate. It was about that time that the rest of them told him what had happened. But he had already hit one of them.

We were each given the privilege of buying three bottles of liquor a month for our rooms. You could always buy it at the club. We had slot machines--sometimes for a nickel a drink. But if you wanted some in your room, you could only get three bottles for a dollar a



bottle, regardless of what it was. My embarrassing moment came when an admiral came in with a group on their way back from the surrender. He came on the great circle course, which was the nearest way, of course, to Seattle. We had a VIP house, and we had to fix that up for the admiral. But, the Supply Corp captain, who later became the Supply Corp officer, asked me to go with them to the club and take the admiral for drinks. We lined up there and they played something called "A Horse on You." I've forgotten how you played, but it was a new game to me, and you had to pay for the drinks. After two or three drinks, they would all toss them down and yell, "Another game!" Two or three drinks, and I was beginning to "reel" a little, and it didn't seem to affect them at all. The admiral and the captain would just throw it down. Nearby was a palm tree, I spotted that and started to walk over to it and dump my drink into the palm tree, and come back, "Take another!" You should have seen me! I managed to stagger home after that--I'm not sure whether they got home or not. "A Horse on You." I can't remember how to play that.

H.A.I. Sugg:

I don't know. I've never heard of that. I've heard of "Rock, Scissors, Paper."

Charles Brantley Bissette:

It was something like that.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Okay, Charles. I think this will make a good interview.

Charles Brantley Bissette:

Well, I have one good word for the citizens of Boston. In looking for a home to bring my wife and child to, thinking I might be stationed there for a while, another officer and I went out looking for homes. We went to one address, a huge house, and the owner was one of the Sears family, who started Sears-Roebuck. He, in the meantime, had moved out of this house. He had a trophy room--a huge room with animal skins from everywhere. It was a big enough house for both of our families. He had built an apartment house next door and had a rooftop house. He came over and said, "I know exactly what you two



officers make: I know what your housing allowance is; I know what your salary is; and believe me, you can't afford to heat this house. Come and look at this furnace," which was about the size of this room. He said, "It takes that furnace to heat the house. You can't afford to buy fuel for it on what you get as a housing allowance. I wouldn't charge you much rent, but I want you to know the facts."

We didn't take it. But while we were walking around, it was a Sunday, a car pulled up and a man leaned out and said, "Can I give you officers a ride?" We said, "Well, we're out looking for a house to move our families." It was about lunchtime, so he said, "Come and get in and come to my house for lunch. I have a son in the service." So we accepted. We went in the dining room; he had help and a little button. Apparently a very wealthy man, he mashed the button and a servant came in with a roast chicken. He sliced off the white meat, pressed the button again, and she came back with another roast chicken and took away the rest of the old one. He sliced off the white meat, and that was enough for us. He was the perfect host. He was a Bostonian. He couldn't have been nicer, and both of us were hungry by that time. It was Sunday lunch, and his wife was just as nice as she could be. They were nice people.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Did he help you find a house?

Charles Brantley Bissette:

He offered to, but we had no more addresses in that part of town. We looked at a few more; and it was a good thing we didn't make any, because a week after that, we both got orders. But the citizens of Boston . . . the ladies also operated a place of temporary housing, with a bar and a dining room, and I stayed there when I first got to Boston for a few nights. Cheer, merriment, pretty girls!

H.A.I. Sugg:

Hard to beat the life of a sailor, isn't it?



Charles Brantley Bissette:

That's right.

H.A.I. Sugg:

Okay, Charles, thank you.

[End of Interview]

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