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John E. Bennett oral history interview, February 5, 1994 and February 6, 1994

Date: Feb. 05 1994 - Feb. 06 1994 | Identifier: OH0138
Captain Bennett recounts his early background in Ohio, his experiences at the U.S. Naval Academy, and his service during World War II. Of particular importance is his description of duty on the USS SAN FRANCISCO during the naval battle of Guadalcanal, action for which he was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart. He also relates the details of five war patrols in the USS QUEENFISH, rescue of Australian and British prisoners-of-war from the South China Sea, and the deep sea evasion of depth charges. Captain Bennett details postwar duties as commander of a submarine division and a flotilla and his involvement with the Navy's deep submergence programs and the bathyscaph TRIESTE. The interviews conclude with a synopsis of Captain Bennett's postnaval career in oceanography. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon. more...



EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #138
Capt. John E. Bennett
USNA Class of 1941
February 5, 1994
Interview 1

Donald R. Lennon:

If you will, tell us a little bit about your early background, your childhood, your education before the Naval Academy, and what led you to the Naval Academy. I usually jot notes to myself as you're talking and I may interrupt you with a question about a particular aspect.

John E. Bennett:

I was born John Edward Bennett, April 9, 1918, in Montpelier, Ohio. I've been called Jack all my life. My father was a railroad man at the time and we soon moved to Riverside, Illinois. He and my mother were both from Peru, Indiana, and that was sort of the focus of my growing years--going there for vacations and so forth. My mother was one of four girls in her family, all of them beauties, and they drew a lot of friends and relatives there, so it was always a rather exciting place to go, growing up.

My dad had been an enlisted Marine. He did not reveal to me until after I graduated from the Naval Academy that his ambition was, if he had a son, for the son to go to the Naval Academy. He never mentioned it. So it was just by chance that after seeing the movie, Navy Blue and Gold, while a high school student, starring Dick Powell and Ruby



Keeler, the tap dancer, with some great songs--"Shipmates, Stand Together, Don't Give Up the Ship," and all that--that I was inspired to try and get in the Naval Academy. So, to that end, on my 17th birthday, April 9, 1935, I joined the Naval Reserves as a seaman second, actually seaman third, which rate no longer exists. It was absolutely the lowest you could get in the military services. We were living in Riverside, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and I drilled every Tuesday night, marched around with a rifle down at the Naval Armory on the lake front at the foot of Randolph Street in Chicago.

I was then eligible to take a competitive exam for entrance into the Naval Academy. They took twenty-five out of the Naval Reserve each year and over five thousand took the exam that year. I stood twenty-eight. I should say that of the five thousand, most of them weren't prepared at all to take the exam. This was before the college boards. We had six subjects and we went down to the post office building in Chicago two days in a row to take exams in three subjects each day. I did very well; I got a 3.9 in math and in something else, physics, I guess it was. On the second day, I forgot my fountain pen and I had to use a post office pen, which had an old, old point and on almost every up-stroke, it blotted a whole series of blots on my English exam. I had to use asterisks and invent new symbols to show the word that had been blotted out; and it was the messiest paper you could imagine; but the content was there. It should have been--I knew that subject--almost a 4.0. I got a 2.6 in it; and after meeting the professors in the English Department at the Naval Academy, who graded it, I realized why they went more by neatness than by content. So, anyway, I stood twenty-eight and they only took twenty-five.

At the last minute my uncle, who was head coach of the Washington Redskins at the time, got an appointment for me from Senator Dieterich of Illinois, whose principal and all



three alternates had failed the exam, so he had a vacancy. I should have started out by saying that the reason I didn't have a chance to get a congressional appointment was that my parents were both active Republican volunteers, and everybody elected from Illinois was a Democrat. The whole population was swayed by F.D.R. and they fawned at his feet, so there wasn't a chance if you bore the Republican label. Anyway, I got the appointment through my own Senator Dieterich, and, of course, I had already passed the exams handily. More than three of those twenty-eight Naval Reservists failed the physical at the Naval Academy, so I would have made it through the Naval Reserve after all. Our class was the first to have our eyes refracted when we entered. It used to be you could just memorize the eye chart. By refracting our eyes, fewer passed than they expected and we had a very small class to enter. Strangely, some people failed the color-blind test and everybody had taken preliminary tests in the field. How in the world you could pass the color-blind test in the field and then fail it at the Naval Academy is beyond me, but some did.

When I entered June 15, 1937, as a plebe, we had our choice of four languages and I chose French, which was the international diplomatic language and that put me in the second battalion. The roommate assigned to me for plebe summer bilged out at the end of the summer--Edgar Allan Jack. Then I was able to get together with a classmate of mine from Bullis Prep, Ray Hastings. He was a great guy, all-state football player from New Hampshire, but his knee was injured plebe year and he got water on the knee and he missed classes because he was in a lot of pain. He bilged out plebe year.

Going through the Naval Academy . . . I guess I can just whisk through that. When we came back from First Class Cruise, the war in Europe had heated up. They decided to expand the Navy and so they cut our first class year in half, to four months. So all the



departments brought the professors back; and they revised the course and so forth, except the ordnance department which didn't bother with that. The duty professor, or whatever you'd call him, simply doubled the lessons. So on the first night, we had lessons one and two, the second night three and four, and so forth.

Donald R. Lennon:

You were covering the same material; it was just in double time.

John E. Bennett:

Exactly, so you know there wasn't a possibility of reading the entire two lessons during the study hour assigned, unless you stayed up all night and put a blanket over the lamp at the desk, and I didn't do that. Well, we quickly found that the questions were either to “sketch and describe something” or a bunch of individual questions, “the bull,” we called it. So you really had an automatic choice of either studying the sketches and drawing a slip that said “sketch and describe something,” or skipping that totally and reading the “bull.” The “sketch and describe” slips were narrow and the "bull" questions were on wider slips, all on the corner of the professor's desk. As you'd go into class, the slips would be there. I happened to be a section leader and I would report the section and he'd say, "Gentlemen, draw slips." I was up front and so I was able to take my choice. If I had studied “sketch and describe,” I'd pick a narrow slip.

Donald R. Lennon:

So, you had the choice there, but only if you knew which size slip had which kinds of questions on it.

John E. Bennett:

That is right. If you were in the back row, you had to hope that one of the slips for whichever you had studied was left. Well, somebody spilled the beans. They caught onto it and they made all the slips the same size. I remember one time, I had studied “the bull” the night before and the slip I drew was a wide slip, but instead of having bull questions it was just one thing: “sketch and describe the Ford Range Keeper Mark 1, Mod. 1.” I had never



heard of a Ford Range Keeper. Does it keep ranges, why, what is it? And Ford, what's that got to do with the car? And I hadn't the vaguest idea what it was, because I had not looked at the sketches, I'd spent my allotted time on “the bull.” So, I went to the blackboard and spent half the time just writing my name, and then I drew a sketch of some Rube Goldberg thing just for fun because I had no idea what a Ford Range Keeper was, and I got a zero, naturally, for that day. We were graded everyday in every subject.

Donald R. Lennon:

What did the instructor say? Did he make any comments or was he accustomed to that?

John E. Bennett:

It was a naval officer and they barely knew the subject to begin with and they were more understanding. He probably got a kick out of it, but there was no disciplinary action taken against me.

Then we graduated early, on February 7, 1941. We had a preference of ships and you couldn't put in for submarines or aviation for two years, or get married, supposedly, for two years after graduation. So, I put in for heavy cruisers and my first choice was the HOUSTON, because she was out on China Station and I thought that would be exciting. My second choice was the SAN FRANCISCO, a heavy cruiser of a different class, with armored turrets instead of mounts for her eight-inch guns. She was of the newest heavy cruiser class. She was based at Pearl Harbor. Well, fortunately I got the SAN FRANCISCO instead of the HOUSTON, which was sunk within a year.

Donald R. Lennon:

Before we leave the Naval Academy, what about any recollections of extra-curricular activities? What sports were you involved in?

John E. Bennett:

Well, I played football in high school and plebe year at the Naval Academy and then youngster . . . . I broke my collarbone senior year in high school, just before the



championship game. We won the Chicago West Suburban Football Conference and we were co-champs in basketball. To regress a moment, I went back for my only high school reunion, which was the fiftieth, and it was also the homecoming football game. The coach asked a couple of us to come down to the locker room before the game to inspire the football team. Well, I had found out by this time that we were the first RBHS class to win the Chicago West Suburban Conference and they had not won it since. So, we were the only ones that had ever won that thing. We got outside the locker room; the door was closed. We had watched their warm-ups and they had cheerleaders in the middle of the practice field, which used to be our game field, and they had a record player blasting some kind of acid rock. The cheerleaders were going through all sorts of gyrations, and the squad was in a big circle around them and they were lazily doing calisthenics. They weren't doing the right warm-up exercises in the first place. So then when my teammate and I got outside the locker room, we could hear music blaring forth from inside. It was the worst, the loudest music; it must have been acid rock. I'm not sure what that was, but it was even worse than what we had heard on that practice field during the warm-ups. And so I said, "Bob, what in the hell can we say to these people? They won't even know what we're talking about." So, we just turned and left. We didn't even go in there and they lost the game, of course.

So then, back to the Naval Academy. . . . At spring football practice youngster year I broke the same collarbone again and was advised by two doctors and two coaches to lay off contact sports. The doctors were the team doc and the orthopedist at the hospital; one coach was assistant football coach Keith Molesworth and the other was head basketball coach Johnny Wilson, who had his own motives. I was better in basketball then football as I was



pretty light for this level play and when football coach advises you to choose another sport, that's a message to listen to-so I quit football, my first love, and concentrated on the round ball where I quickly made the training table.

Donald R. Lennon:

Any scrapes, or particular episodes that you remember? I know that some of the class members have in the past had some stories of Uncle Beanie or things of that nature that were interesting asides.

John E. Bennett:

Uncle Beanie. You have all the stories on Uncle Beanie, I guess. We admired him. We tried to beat him and we never won. He was a good man. He wasn't like those people, somebody called the Woose, I think it was Wessell, who was gone before we got there (thank God), who was just plain mean with a five-cell flashlight and so forth. I stood next to anchor in conduct plebe year, and the reason was, I had a lot of fun, and I did things for laughs, and I'd get caught frequently.

Plebes couldn't go to the hop. It was an upper class event. White cap covers had just come back; we wore blue cap covers in the winter and white in the spring and fall. So, traditionally, when white cap covers came back, the youngsters would come back from a hop and they'd throw the plebes in the practice pool, the instruction pool. My plebe year after a hop, a guy burst into the room who was a first classman, Punchy Daunis. He was in his cups and he had his full dress on, and he was on the boxing team. I tried to explain to him that this was a youngster rate, not a first-class rate, and he wanted to put us in the shower instead of the pool, because he was too lazy to walk back to the pool with us, I guess. I don't know what possessed me, but while he was pushing me in the shower, I got him in instead. Here was Punchy Daunis, in the shower in his full dress, and he's a first classman. Ray Hastings, my roommate--he was a big guy--was yelling, "What the hell are



you doing Jack? My God!" So, here we were in this situation and I kept pushing him down when he'd try to get up. Finally, we let him up and slid him out the door and he was very slippery; that heavy full dress when it's soaking wet is just like it's covered with soap. He slid across the main corridor into the door across the hall, and almost broke the glass on that door. Then we had to hold our door shut, and there was no lock on it, just a little doorstopper. We would take turns, Ray and myself, with our foot on that door stopper and then holding the door knob while Punchy was trying to get in, and hollering threats and so forth. Then he'd be quiet for a while and then try to get in again. We took turns; we were up practically all night. Well, needless to say, I was a marked man.

Donald R. Lennon:

You aren't supposed to resist upperclassmen at all, are you?

John E. Bennett:

No. Why, he didn't go after Ray, I don't know; but I'm the guy that put him in the shower. First I'll tell you what he did to me, and then what I tried to do to him again in retribution. Every time he had the Midshipman Officer-of-the-Watch duty, he would find out where I was and he'd send his messenger over to put me on the report for “conduct unbecoming a midshipman,” “unseaman-like conduct,” “unmilitary conduct,” and the like.

Donald R. Lennon:

Whether you do anything or not, they'd just write you up.

John E. Bennett:

There was always something, like allowing section to make catcalls in ranks one time. I was a section leader marching my section along and I saw him off at a distance. And here came the messenger running and I figured "Oh-oh. Allowing section to make cat calls.” Well, he couldn't hear anything and what is a catcall anyway? “Unmilitary conduct third and fourth offense” and all this kind of stuff, and so I was marching extra duty. I think I was on a training table then for basketball. So, after that ended, then it was just extra duty with a rifle almost every night. So, Hundredth Night came up. The Hundredth Night before



graduation is when the plebes were able to turn the tables on the first class in the mess hall. Punchy was down in the fourth platoon. I went down there and went behind him and said “Brace up, Mr. Daunis,” and brought my hands down hard on his shoulders and he collapsed. He had been drinking and he was just out; he was practically out on his feet. So, we had to drag him into a nearby room and leave him in the room while everybody marched off to the mess hall, and so he escaped the whole thing. Well, I knew Punchy Daunis was going to have it in for me as long as both of us were in the Navy. When I reported to my first ship in Pearl Harbor, I knew he'd gone to a battleship out there. So when I got out there, I inquired about him and I found that he had absconded with the ship's service funds from this battleship and had been apprehended in San Francisco by Naval Intelligence. He had been given a general court martial, was convicted and was sent to Portsmouth Naval Prison, as a seaman second class.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, that got rid of him.

John E. Bennett:

Right. So, that took care of any fear I had from Punchy. That was the sum total of that incident and why I stood so low in conduct. I had a great time there and didn't really study very hard. I didn't stand very high. I was down in the fourth quarter of the class, but I really enjoyed it. Of course, I made friends in our small class that exists today.

Aboard my first ship, the SAN FRANCISCO, we were operating out of Pearl. I was in the anti-aircraft division. Two of us from '41 reported aboard. Dick Marquardt was the other, and we were roommates. He was in the fourth division, I was in the fifth. I was assistant division officer, then they divided that into 5 and 5-A; 5-A being the automatic weapons when we got 1.1 mounts, and I became the division officer of 5-A. So, we were there on December seventh of '41 when the Japs struck. We had just entered the Navy yard.



We were alongside the dock. We were supposed to go on dry dock as soon as the PENNSYLVANIA came out, so in anticipation of that, we had off-loaded our ammunition. Well, the PENNSYLVANIA was delayed getting out; so when the Japs hit, Sunday morning, the seventh, we had no ammo. I was in my bunk; I had been out on a date in Honolulu until about three o'clock in the morning actually. I woke up because of an explosion. I jumped out of my bunk and ran to the port--we had portholes then--and I looked out and here was a Jap Val dive bomber with fixed landing gear and a big meatball just strafing the dock. He picked off a sailor on the dock, so I turned to my roommate and said, "This is it," as if I'd been expecting a problem with Japan, or anybody! I didn't at all. I was just vaguely aware of the negotiations going on and all the problems because I was just having a ball. It was a total surprise.

Donald R. Lennon:

So, at your level, there was not the information that they had at the higher command levels.

John E. Bennett:

That is right. I shared not one, but two apartments on the beach, “snake ranches,” we called them. One was in Waikiki. It was a converted garage on Ohua Street and four of us JO's paid forty dollars; ten dollars each, a month for that thing. It was equipped with cots and a pull down bunk and a kitchen. Everybody had an old heap or shared an old car with somebody else, and it was just very enjoyable living. It wasn't too crowded out there at all and the double hibiscus and the climate are still that great today, but the rest of the environment, of course, is totally changed for the worse.

So, back to December seventh. Since we had no ammo, I ran across the dock to the NEW ORLEANS, a sister ship, which was also starting her yard period. Both of her anti-aircraft directors were in the shop, so her anti-aircraft 5-inch twenty-fives were in local



control. I took over number seven, which was the last one on the starboard side. I got there about the time the gun crew showed up, and it was mostly NEW ORLEAN's men. Now my own division was pouring aboard and they were milling about on the well deck. I looked at the flag and the stack gasses and so forth, to see where the wind was, and I set the deflection properly--estimated that is--on this gun and then started shooting at the Japs who were, at this point, making a horizontal run.

I was shooting at the Japs making a horizontal run over Battleship Row. It was impossible to spot my burst among all the other bursts in the sky and so really, in effect, we were just putting up a barrage fire hoping somebody would fly into it. At one point, I was aware that the gun did not fire. I had the gun captain try to fire it electrically and mechanically, by hand, from the different ways--pulling the toggle, using the finger key and the foot pedal key. For four years at the Naval Academy, we'd been taught if the gun does not fire, to consider it a hang fire, wait thirty minutes, then consider it a misfire, and open the breach.

Donald R. Lennon:

You didn't have thirty minutes to spare.

John E. Bennett:

All of a sudden, you know here I am, a red-tailed ensign, and it's obvious to me that this rule is ridiculous; it doesn't apply to this situation. So I cleared the gun tub and had the gun captain open the breach, and the shell did in fact eject into my arms, and I threw it over the side. It was a dud. It was indeed a misfire; obviously not a hang fire, or I wouldn't be here to tell you this. Then we fired some more. Then I became aware that we'd had another misfire, and he didn't even bother to ask me. He just opened the breach and tossed another one over the side. So, alongside the dock there, in addition to whiskey bottles and sailors'



wallets and all that, down in the silt, there is some unexploded ammunition that is just sinking deeper and deeper into the Earth.

The NEW ORLEANS tried to get underway and they cut shore power and we lost power to the electric hoists. I looked down on the well deck and here was Shorty Tailor(?), gunner's mate in my division. So I said, "Shorty, take the men around you, start an ammunition party bringing the ammunition up from the forward 5-inch magazine, through the crew's mess hall, through the well deck, and up this ladder to this battery."

I am sure NEW ORLEANS officers or somebody must have been saying the same thing, because it was the obvious thing to do. Anyway, they did it. Pretty soon the ammo was coming up. The NEW ORLEANS had a chaplain named Forgy. He was a big, former football tackle. Forgy observed this and uttered the phrase, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." I thought he composed the song, too, but it turns out he didn't. But it was his phrase, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition," that was so catching you know, that Kay Kyser made the recording of it.

Donald R. Lennon:

Oh, OK, so that was original with him.

John E. Bennett:

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”--that's where it came from.

Donald R. Lennon:

Really, OK.

John E. Bennett:

It was one of the best songs that came out of the war. Thank God, I didn't hear some of the songs, because I was at sea almost the entire period. There was one called, "Slap the Jap Cause He's a Sap," and there was another, "Hitler's a Piddler and He'll Play Second Fiddler." Can you imagine people actually composing and singing things like that? Then there were some other great songs of World War II that I did hear.



I found out much later why the NEW ORLEANS never restored power to the electric hoists. When they told this electrician's mate to cut shore power, he cut it literally with an axe. He cut the cable with an axe, so they could never reconnect. The ship failed to get underway. I don't know why. I mean they were trying to light off the boilers and all that, but we remained alongside.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, was the NEW ORLEANS or the SAN FRANCISCO hit?

John E. Bennett:

Well, the NEW ORLEANS got some shrapnel through a stack. In fact, I got a little thing on my thumb. I was just raising my hand to my World War I tin hat. The strap was broken and every time I'd turn my head, it would wiggle around. I was just raising my hand, and this piece of white hot metal started bouncing around in the gun tub, and at first it just nicked my thumb. It could easily have gone through the palm of my hand. It could have gone through my nose, or anything, so it was just by chance that while I was raising my hand, it did that. I watched this thing bounce around and turn from white to red and then, you know, I forgot about it. I didn't pick it up any place. I don't remember dressing this. I know I didn't use a first-aid kit and Band-Aids weren't invented yet. So, I don't know what I did--maybe a handkerchief�and, of course, I didn't even report it.

Donald R. Lennon:

You probably ignored it.

John E. Bennett:

Probably. I'd get blood on me here and there from it. I probably washed it off when I got back to my own ship; maybe put a handkerchief around it. Kleenex wasn't invented either, or sliced bread, or ballpoint pens; all those wonderful things that are so necessary that we take for granted. That night in the wardroom of the SAN FRANCISCO, I remember turning my head from right to left, when the voice of the fellow across the table to my left suddenly cut in. I had not heard him and he had been asking me to pass the sandwiches, and



I hadn't heard him. It was just like I had a blind spot in my ear, which is understandable with the eye, you know you could have a finite barrier where you cannot see. But how is it possible with an ear? I turned my head back and forth and his voice would cut in and out. I had had all these 5-inch twenty-five guns with the starboard battery of the NEW ORLEANS, the loudest guns in the Navy, and the sharpest crack, all going off to my immediate left, and I didn't have any cotton in my ears and that must have been it. I got over that, except every annual physical I had, practically my whole naval career, the doctor would say, "Do you ever have any trouble with this ear?"

I'd always say “no,” because I wanted to pass the physical. Finally on my retirement physical, I asked the doc, "What's the matter with my left ear? They're always asking this question."And he said, "Well, it's inflamed, you must have an infection or something."

Donald R. Lennon:

You mean it stayed inflamed your entire career?

John E. Bennett:

I don't know, but that is what the guy said. Now, due to advancing old age and so forth, I have lost the higher frequencies, which is normal, but I've lost more than normal, just in hearing. I find myself, when somebody's talking, turning my head so I can hear. I hear better out of the right ear than the left. That's just a little minor thing.

I had another injury off Guadalcanal, as long as we're talking about wounds. Of course, I never even reported this thing. Jumping ahead, I'll quickly say the SAN FRANCISCO got underway as soon as we could--about a week after December seventh. We joined the LEXINGTON and the tanker NEOSHO and another cruiser and about four destroyers. The LEX was carrying aircraft, fighter planes, and F-2A Brewster Buffaloes (the pilots hated them) to the Marines at Wake Island. We would cross the international date



line and then there would be a report of a Jap carrier off Wake Island and we'd turn back and we'd go back and forth across the international date line. We never knew what day it was.

Donald R. Lennon:

Didn't you want to engage the Japanese carrier?

John E. Bennett:

No, I guess not. Well, all of them from the attack on Pearl Harbor were reported there! Four carriers.

Donald R. Lennon:

And the United States couldn't muster up enough of a force to . . ..

John E. Bennett:

We only had the one carrier that could get underway at that point. The ENTERPRISE had returned, but she probably was being readied up to go out on other ops and the LEXINGTON . . .. Well, now, where was the SARATOGA? I think she was back in the States, I'm not sure. But the LEX was the only carrier in our group that went out to ferry these aircraft.

I don't have a definitive answer to the situation at that point, but the fact is that we kept going back and forth across the international date line, and the supply officer, Count DeKay composed words to the tune of Jingle Bells. I wish I could recall right now, but the essence was, "We never know the date. We never know the time, crossing back and forth across the international line." We had a lot of little limericks about it

Donald R. Lennon:

So, you never made it to Wake at all and of course, as a result, the United States sacrificed Wake, instead of trying to rescue the forces that were there.

John E. Bennett:

That is right. We never launched that air group of F-2A Brewster Buffaloes to fly in. They were afraid, I guess, that they would lose the LEXINGTON and we had very few to begin with and we had lost all the battleships, so that must have been the decision. Of



course, everyone wanted to go directly to Japan, you know, instantly, for revenge. We probably all would have been sunk.

Then we joined the YORKTOWN or the LEX, down to the South Pacific for raids on the Marshalls and the Gilberts and then whatever carrier it was went back, and we switched to the other one; so we were out seventy-seven days. Well, I had always wanted to be a fighter pilot, and coming back in, we had a message that said the classes of such and such, such and such, and nineteen forty-one are eligible for flight training. You were supposed to wait two years. So, I went over to Ford Island the next day, when we got in, to take a flight physical and I scored very high on the Snyder test. I had a hangover. I had gone ashore, of course, the night we got in and went to the club. Then I took the spinning chair test; ten turns in each direction and you're supposed to sit upright. Well, the deck seemed to be coming up at me, so I would reach out to hold the deck down and I'd fail that for the corpsman. Then the chief would have me do it; another ten each direction.

Donald R. Lennon:

The alcohol didn't help, did it?

John E. Bennett:

I was doing it worse each time and then I did it for the warrant officer. Now there were thirty turns, sixty turns altogether, and he said, "How do you feel?"

And I said, "About one more turn, I think I'm gonna lose it." I was just getting sick to my stomach, and so they didn't. They quit and sent me in to see Doctor Dickinson, who used to be at Misery Hall at the Naval Academy, where he took care of athletes in season. He said, "Well, Bennett, you know you didn't really pass this part of the test, but I'm going to go ahead and pass you.” “But,” he said, “you've got to think of the guy in the rear seat behind you."

And I said, "There isn't any seat behind me. I'm in a fighter plane."



He said, "Maybe." Then he was filling things out and he said, "Weren't you in the Class of forty-one?"

I said, "Yes, sir."

He said, as he threw his pen down, "Hell, you're not even eligible." The dispatch was garbled and it should have said 1940. It probably was '38, '39, and '40. I wasn't even eligible, so I obviously didn't go to flight training.

Donald R. Lennon:

You had spun around in that chair for nothing.

John E. Bennett:

That's right. So, I went back to the ship and on the boat going back across Pearl Harbor, I almost got seasick. So, then I stayed aboard the SAN FRANCISCO and we went on down to the South Pacific and we were with the Marines in the initial landings at Guadalcanal. This was after more raids here and there on different islands, and we were in the support group for the Marines. We lost two due to accidents; two of our four SOCs, scout observation float planes, biplanes. Rather than sending two from the QUINCY or VINCENNES, one of the two that were with the WASP, twenty miles south of Guadalcanal, they interchanged the two ships. So we were with the WASP, and either the QUINCY or the VINCENNES were in the group that was patrolling at night after the Marines had landed in Guadalcanal. So it was the QUINCY, VINCENNES, ASTORIA and CHICAGO and the Australian cruiser CANBERRA and some destroyers. The U.S. forces had radar, but most of it was very rudimentary: bed springs, early warning, airborne. The Japs didn't have any. Well, that was August ninth approximately, 1942, and the Japs came down the slot and they surprised the exhausted Americans who were not at General Quarters and they went through the destroyer screen. There was one destroyer patrolling in the area that they came through, undetected. They had terrific torpedoes, Long, Lance, oxygen-driven torpedoes. The



American torpedoes--destroyer-fired, airborne launch and submarine torpedoes--were all terrible through the first half of the war; just an absolute disgrace. They would bounce off the sides of ships or run deep under them. The Japs had great torpedoes. They got a lot of hits and sank the QUINCY, VINCENNES, and ASTORIA, and the CHICAGO was badly damaged and they sank the CANBERRA. It was a major disaster and the SAN FRANCISCO would have fared no better if we'd been there. What we learned from that incident, tragically, was first of all, stay alert all night, stay at “General Quarters” all night in the Solomons and from then on we were at “General Quarters” all night, every night.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, did you all go in to try to pick up survivors?

John E. Bennett:

No. That was impossible to do. There were some survivors, and the Marines sent Higgins boats out to pick them up and there were still transports in the loading area off Lunga Point. The Marines landed in the eastern half of Guadalcanal. I remember when we were first approaching Guadalcanal, from Auckland, New Zealand, we didn't know what was up. There was a meeting in the wardroom, and the captain, Sock McMorris, came down. A chart had been put there, and he pulled the chart down and here was a map of Guadalcanal. He said, "Gentlemen, this is Guadal-can-al," and we called it “Guadal-Can-al” until we got ashore some place and found everybody else was calling it Guadalcanal.

So, we learned the two things from losing the QUINCY, VINCENNES, ASTORIA, and CANBERRA. One was, you had to be alert, and so we were at “General Quarters” all night, every night, and the other thing was chip paint, because there were all kinds of fires ranging on those ships. During our waking hours, we were chipping paint for the rest of the war.



At “General Quarters,” you couldn't have one officer of the deck all night, so Bruce McCandless and I alternated every two hours. I was a good officer of the deck and I guess they recognized that, so I was on two hours, off two hours, as officer of the deck all night. Rather than waste time during my two hours off by going all the way down to my bunk and back up to the nav bridge, I dragged a mattress up and put it on the deck of the radio direction finder shack at the after end of the bridge. I'll get back to the significance of that in a minute.

On the matter of chipping paint, I recalled the sailors commented on how many layers of paint that they were chipping off. Ever since the ship had been commissioned, they had just painted and painted and painted. Before the war started, at Pearl Harbor, I was officer of the deck in port and a PBY-5A took off from Ford Island with wheels and didn't gain altitude and crashed in the Aiea area, some place between the water's edge and Kamehameha highway. I called away the fire and rescue party and called away number three motor launch, which was the shallowest draft motor launch. As the people were going over the side, down the accommodation ladder into the boat, I took the life ring on the quarter deck, that was hanging on the bulkhead, and I tossed that to a sailor who was just standing there ready to go over, and he missed it. It went over the side and it sank. There were so many layers of paint on it that it wouldn't even float. It was a life preserver and it sank. I thought of that, how much paint there was on that ship and its appurtenances.

Donald R. Lennon:

During peacetime the only interest is keeping them spic-and-span and looking sharp.



John E. Bennett:

That is right. And of course the peacetime procedure of considering that if the gun doesn't fire, it is a misfire or a hang fire, and wait thirty minutes. So we learned a lot, very fast.

We had a number of false actions, where people were seeing periscopes all the time that didn't exist. Later in submarines, I discovered how easy it was to make an approach on a surface ship; that we really had the advantage--the submarine did. In those days, with the crude sonar equipment and tactics being used--well, strategy, too, because our task force was going in a square, in a box, south of Guadalcanal when the WASP was sunk . . . I was looking right at her when she was hit by a torpedo--two torpedoes--and she sank.

Donald R. Lennon:

In a very quick time too, wasn't it?

John E. Bennett:

Yes, and it was after that I think--we had lost three or four carriers--that Halsey relieved Ghormley as COMSOPAC. They wanted more aggressive action taken by the commander of the South Pacific Forces. Halsey came out to relieve Ghormley, who was a fine guy. I don't know what orders Ghormley had, and maybe his orders limited him to being cautious, but having the task force going in this one little box was just an invitation, waving a red flag to Japanese submarines, “They're right here, and just get on the track and if you can't catch them the first time, they'll be around again,” and sure enough . . ..

Donald R. Lennon:

How did it feel the first time you saw a sister ship be hit and sunk like that?

John E. Bennett:

Well, having seen the battleships sink at Pearl Harbor, I already had . . ..

Donald R. Lennon:

You had already kind of hardened to it?

John E. Bennett:

The worst of that, at Pearl Harbor, was the ARIZONA blowing up when a converted projectile, being used as a bomb, went right through and hit her forward magazine. That might have been the most spectacular, but the most awe-inspiring was the OKLAHOMA



capsizing and rolling over, with sailors climbing over the rail and then down over the bilge keel and so forth, until she was almost bottoms up.

Donald R. Lennon:

So, by the time you got out to the South Pacific, you'd seen enough that it was . . . .

John E. Bennett:

Yeah, we'd seen a few ships hit, and of course the WASP sink. We were about two thousand yards; I guess, from her, twenty-five hundred. My recollection of the OKLAHOMA slowly capsizing was vivid during the Battle of Cape Esperance on October 11, 1942. The SAN FRANCISCO, BOISE, SALT LAKE CITY, and the HELENA, and four destroyers in the “van” and four destroyers astern. We had the destroyers in a battle line instead of on a screen, primarily, I believe, to more easily navigate the channels, Sealark Channel and whatever that other one was, between Guadalcanal and Tulagi. We were off Savo Island and all of the night battles in the Guadalcanal area originally were called the first, second, third, and fourth battles of Savo Island. Then they changed it, so the first battle of Savo Island was when the QUINCY, VINCENNES, and ASTORIA were sunk and the second battle of Savo Island was this October 11th, which later became the Battle of Cape Esperance. Norman Scott was the admiral on board; Sock McMorris was our skipper. Scott tried to cross the T. We had radar. The HELENA had the best radar. We picked up the Japs. I was a catapult officer also and I had launched an SOC. It was already dark. Tommy Thomas was the pilot and senior aviator out of '37. He radioed back reporting another force--another Jap force--and apparently nobody believed him. It turns out there was another force. We had this Jap column coming down this way towards the southeast, I believe. To cross the T more properly, Scott ordered a column left, almost a complete reversal of course, almost a 180 with the SAN FRANCISCO as the guide. So on execute, we made the turn to port. That meant the four destroyers up ahead of us had to pass up our



starboard side to get ahead again. Well, we commenced firing at the Japs before they had all cleared, in fact, the fourth one, the DUNCAN, had veered off to her starboard to launch a torpedo attack. We opened fire at the lead ship, the AOBA, a Jap cruiser. A Jap admiral was aboard and was killed. Admiral Scott said, "Do not, repeat, not, illuminate by search light." The word barely died out before the BOISE, astern of us, illuminated by searchlight. Not only that, she illuminated our target, the first ship. So, we are shooting at the AOBA; the BOISE is illuminating her; and I watch her turn turtle, to port with her guns trained centerline.

So the SAN FRANCISCO was being straddled by the Japs. It was not the AOBA, because her turrets were center-lined, but somebody was straddling us. We had two salvos that we knew about--one short and one over--meaning they had the range. When the BOISE illuminated, they walked their point-of-aim back to the BOISE and hit her. We received only minor damage from near-misses sometime during that engagement, but the BOISE really got it. Her forward magazine blew up and she was on fire--the forward part of the ship--and she veered out to port, and the SALT LAKE CITY closed up, and the HELENA closed up. The BOISE was out of the action then. In the meantime, the DUNCAN . . . .

Oh, I am on automatic weapons aft. I am on the boat deck out in the open. I had a view of all of this, unobstructed. We had a contact nine hundred yards on our starboard beam. I was hearing this over my circuit, my headset. They thought it might be the DUNCAN, the fourth destroyer that had been ahead of us and was supposedly coming up on our starboard side to get ahead again after we'd made that reversal of course. But that ship, that contact, was showing fighting (recognition) lights. We had fighting lights--red, green, and white--in different combinations in a vertical line, probably twenty feet apart. They had



different colors (red, blue, white) and also there was somebody apparently on the port wing of the bridge flashing a white light down into the water in code--very rapid flashes, I could see. So, we trained the main battery and the secondary battery on her, and illuminated with a thirty-six-inch searchlight and there were two white stripes around the stack. It was Jap. So we opened fire. We were already trained on her. The first salvo from the main battery at nine hundred yards, unbelievably, was short; big splashes went up, and the destroyer turned and made knots. You could see the smoke pouring out. The second salvo made a flush decker out of her and the third one just blew her up completely. That was the FUBUKI, it turns out; the Japanese destroyer FUBUKI was the leader of the class of new destroyers. She probably was looking for this other Jap force that had been reported by our airplane that nobody believed, and this is why she was closing us that way.

Donald R. Lennon:

And also signaling.

John E. Bennett:

Yeah. I didn't know it at the time, but I had just gotten revenge for an Aussi that I picked up later in submarines. He was on the HMAS PERTH that was sunk along with the HOUSTON in the Java Sea, actually Sunda Strait, earlier in the war when the war just started. The FUBUKI caused much of the damage with the torpedoes to the HOUSTON and the PERTH; and now we had just sank the FUBUKI. When I rescued Arthur Bancroft later, which is a story I'll tell later when I'm in submarines, I was able to tell him that we had already gotten revenge for him. So, that was the battle of Cape Esperance and it was a brilliant tactical maneuver by Norman Scott, who successfully did cross the T. “Crossing the T” was invented by Nelson at Trafalgar, and there is no need to explain what that is. He did it; it was not exactly a ninety track. It was more like a sixty-five, I'd say, but it had the same effect. And we won that battle.



Then November 12th, the next month, we were up there again, meeting the Tokyo Express that had been coming down the slot with high speed transports landing reinforcements at the west end of Guadalcanal. The Marines just barely had a toehold, and they were getting air attacks. They were down to half a dozen drums of avgas and the situation was in extremis for them. The Japs were making a major effort to re-take Guadalcanal and if they'd done that, they would have gone on, ultimately, to Australia. So strategically, it was vital that we hang on. Therefore, when the good old Aussie coast watchers reported an air attack; that there were so many Mitsubishi type ninety-nine or later type o-one, land based bombers, Bettys, we knew their altitude and we knew what their cruising speed was. We knew when they would arrive and on the afternoon of the twelfth, half an hour before they were expected, we went to air defense stations. Mine was aft, on the boat deck with a headset on, automatic weapons aft. These twenty-two, as I remember, airplanes fanned out and went down to just above the deck. They had been converted to carry torpedoes, and they launched a torpedo attack. Well, these were Army pilots and they weren't properly trained and the torpedoes would tumble. Our force shot down all but one of them, and nobody was damaged except one of those that was already in flames; not the one that got away. Before the kamikaze corps had been invented, this pilot banked over and deliberately attacked us. First he launched his torpedo, then he went up our starboard side and crashed into our after superstructure on purpose. Well, that wiped out all my gun crews on there and on the machine gun platform. We had twenty millimeters there. It burned up the people in Battle Two and in ship control aft, including the exec. They weren't all burned up, but they were badly burned.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now this was the first time the SAN FRANCISCO had been hit, wasn't it?



John E. Bennett:

Right, except at Pearl Harbor, where we found some little holes in the stack and so forth, but there wasn't really damage. This killed about twenty or some sailors, and that evening we off-loaded them to one of the transports that had medical facilities. The exec, Mark Crouter, refused to leave the ship, and so he was in his stateroom--in his cabin--because he knew that there were battleships in the Tokyo Express coming down the slot that night. That is what I alluded to earlier, that it was suicide for us to stay there--cruisers and destroyers. But, we absolutely had to do everything we could to prevent them from bombarding Henderson Field. And we stopped them, at great sacrifice.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now, you had the loss of firepower on the SAN FRANCISCO as a result . . . .

John E. Bennett:

We lost ship control aft. Turret three was in local control. The two five-inch batteries could be controlled from sky forward, but only one at a time. As it turns out, that night we were firing on both sides simultaneously.

Donald R. Lennon:

But you were still able to raise enough firepower to be effective, even with the damage.

John E. Bennett:

The officers we had lost in control stations were the most important. The wing tip came off that airplane and went through the air and hit my wing tip, hit my elbow. I had just gotten a report of dive-bombers. I was looking up with my binoculars, my elbows spread, looking for dive bombers coming out of the edge of a cloud, when a Betty came up the starboard quarter and crashed into us and a wing tip came off and it hit my elbow and spun me around. I didn't know what it was. Then, of course, all of his avgas exploded and it was just an inferno back there, just astern of me about twenty, thirty feet. Almost everybody there was in my division. We were still at air defense stations and the air battle was not over. The Marine fighters had taken off from Guadalcanal. The attacking airplanes



had split into two groups; one went directly over Henderson Field and they were intercepted by the F-4Fs . There were no F-4Us there at this point. The other group--the twenty-two carrying torpedoes--were the ones that attacked us. Also, there were some Zeros with them, and they were all engaged by the Marines. So that was all going on. There was still air action, and I think they shot down everybody.

Donald R. Lennon:

How difficult was it to get the fire out?

John E. Bennett:

Oh, not too difficult.

Donald R. Lennon:

That was going on simultaneously with everything. It just burned itself out?

John E. Bennett:

That's all that happened. The avgas just burned up. That is what gave me a little piece of metal fuselage.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was your purple heart from the wound on your elbow?

John E. Bennett:

Yeah, but I didn't get it then. I will go ahead and tell you how I happened to get it. I was, in fact, wounded and I wondered if my phone would stretch over to the first aid kit on the rail. With one hand, I got something out of there and put it on my elbow. It was bleeding a lot, but Mother Nature takes care of it when you have something more important going on; I don't remember the pain at all, that was minor. But I had to stop that blood, so I did that and somebody is hollering down from sky aft for me to “Go to sick bay, go to sick bay.” Joe Tucker, a reserve lieutenant, was doing that, but we were still fighting. He kept on hollerin' down. Finally I told him, "Damn it, Joe, shut up!" So, when we secured from air defense stations, then I went down to sick bay. They x-rayed it and they properly dressed it and so forth, and I went back up since it was time to stand my regular officer-of-the-deck watch. I did, two hours, first dog watch. I stood the officer-of-the-deck watch with my arm in a sling. No problem. I held my binoculars with one hand. I overheard the



captain and the admiral on the wing of the bridge--the wind had carried their voices--talking about how there were battleships in the Tokyo Express coming down the slot that night and that it was suicidal for us to be there, but of course, we had to be there. So, I was privy to this information. There were six people that knew that.

Donald R. Lennon:

You didn't have any battleships in your group at all.

John E. Bennett:

Oh no, just the two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, two anti-aircraft light cruisers, and eight destroyers.

Bruce McCandless held gunnery school exactly one year earlier. It was November the thirteenth, nineteen forty-one. I still have his notes, the lesson plan: SAN FRANCISCO v. MOGAMI class cruiser. It touches on such questions as the best range for us, the best range for them, where their shells would least penetrate our armor and ours would best penetrate theirs. It turned out that we should seek a range of eighteen thousand five hundred yards, let's say. Regarding battleships, it says, "Not a likely encounter, but mentioned here just to show the disparity of fighting strength."

One year later, to the day, we were against Jap battleships, and Bruce McCandless who held this school and signed this lesson plan was key in getting our ship through it. He and I alternated as officer-of-the-deck and he had the deck then. It always started with him. When I stood my first dogwatch as officer of the deck, we had not gone to battle stations. Then we went to battle stations and he relieved me. Then I would have two hours off and then I would relieve him. So, I went in the chart house for a cup of coffee and a cigarette before going back to the radio direction finder shack in the after end of the bridge to lie down on that mattress for two hours.



When I went in the chart house, Admiral Dan Callaghan, who had been skipper before the war, had just come aboard as admiral. I had been player coach of the basketball team and we were tied for first place in the Hawaiian detachment of the U.S. Fleet, which became the Pacific Fleet. We were tied with the WEST VIRGINIA, which always got the Iron Man Trophy because they controlled the Bureau of Navigation, which was the Bureau of Personnel later and all the athletes got siphoned out to the battleship WEST VIRGINIA. So, anyway, we were lucky to have done so well and our number one fan was Dan Callaghan and sometimes he was the only spectator. I remember playing in Aiea High School gym against the INDIANAPOLIS, and there was one spectator there. It was Dan Callaghan, our skipper. I knew Mike Hanley, who was playing for the INDIANAPOLIS and I was giving him hell, you know, "Where's your skipper, Mike? There's mine." There was one damn spectator, plus a couple of kids that drifted in. They beat us anyway. One of our few losses.We also lost to Oahu Prison. It was a home game for them and the officials and the scorekeeper and so forth were all convicts. I had just made two baskets and there was no change in the score since before, so I took myself out to complain about that. Then I had to put a substitute right behind the official scorekeeper, who was a convict, probably for embezzlement, to see that he recorded our points. So, we lost to them and we lost to the Hickam Field all-stars.

But, back to this night. Dan Callaghan saw me come into the chart house and he recognized me. He said, "Well, hello there, Bennett. Good to see you." He put his hand out and I walked over to shake his hand. Cassin Young, our new skipper, was standing there. He had already received the medal of honor from Pearl Harbor. He had been skipper



of the VESTAL and had been blown off and swam back to his ship through burning oil and climbed back aboard and took over a three-inch gun and got the medal of honor. Cassin Young turned and saw me and my arm was in a sling and it was bleeding through the bandage and it was bleeding through the sling. I didn't know that, but there was a growing dark spot at the elbow. He said, "You're in no condition to stand a watch. Go below."

I said, "Captain, I just stood a watch. No problem at all. It doesn't hurt." And I don't think it did; or if it did, it was just very minor. Since I knew we were against battleships that night, there was no way I wanted to be down in my bunk or in sick bay. Thank God it wasn't sick bay, because they were wiped out by a fourteen-inch shell a couple hours later. He insisted that I go below and he had McCandless get a replacement for me, who was Stan Kerkering, an aviator out of thirty-nine, who had qualified as officer of the deck on a carrier. Poor old Stan got up there and he was rather severely wounded that night. And of course, McCandless was, too. I went below and I took one lap around the ward room table and went back up to the gun boss, Willy Wilbourne.

Donald R. Lennon:

You didn't even have them check your elbow to try to stop the bleeding or anything to see how bad it was?

John E. Bennett:

No, I think it had just dribbled through. No problem, compared to what was going on. But the captain didn't tell me to STAY below, he just told me to GO below. I mean, that was very important; I carried out his orders, and I went below. Now what do I do? Well, we're going to be shooting battleships pretty soon. So, I went back up to the gun boss and asked for a new battle station and I said I had been relieved as officer-of-the-deck and of course, I had. I didn't give him the details that the captain told me to go below. He sent me back to the fantail to take over automatic weapons aft in local control, since the AA



director had been wiped out by the plane crash. So, that is where I was that night, and we only had 30 percent casualties there. We had 98 percent on the bridge. So, the fact that Callaghan recognized me which caused the skipper to turn around, and the fact that I'd been slightly wounded that afternoon, and the fact that the sling was bloody--all that is what saved my life!

It saved my life, because if I had either been on watch instead of McCandless or if I had been lying in that mattress on the RDF shack, it would have been curtains. I looked at the RDF shack later and a six-inch shell had detonated in there, and it had blown out or puffed out all the four bulkheads. It looked like Swiss cheese; there were holes every place in the mattress, all kinds of holes, I mean, with shrapnel in them. So I would have been just decimated there. So, I was on the fantail and on my gunnery circuit, I didn't get all of the information. We also had communication problems; things that had been shot up and lost. I knew we had contact, and I didn't know what we were doing.

It turns out, we were trying to cross the T and messed it up and wound up going between Jap columns. They were coming down in four groups. We only knew three of them then: the center group and then two more. Both battleships were in this group, and there was a possibility there was a third battleship in another group, because we cannot explain how a fourteen-inch shell hit us at a certain location coming in from the starboard bow. It went through an eye beam, hit number two turret barbette, and split all four seams. It was a dud. The base plug lit at the foot of the armory, the doorway of the armory, at the feet of gunner Swede Hansen. There was all this noise and he looked down and here was the base plug of a fourteen-inch shell that had come to rest at his feet. In the meantime, part of it, as it broke up, went through the flood control panel of turret two and started flooding



the magazine and the lower handling room. The people in turret two thought the ship was sinking, and they started abandoning the turret and coming out the top through the overhang hatch and they were being killed as they came out in the open.

Donald R. Lennon:

What time of night was this?

John E. Bennett:

About one o'clock in the morning. It was Friday the thirteenth by this time. The afternoon of the twelfth was this air attack. So, then that night, we had thirteen ships in formation. It was Friday the thirteenth. One of the destroyer's hull numbers added up to thirteen and it was Task Force 67, which added to thirteen. That was all sorts of supposed bad luck.

I was facing aft; I was looking off to the port quarter, when a Jap ship coming down our port side illuminated the HELENA, which was just coming to a point to make a turn to follow us. Everybody was confused because the ATLANTA had gotten out of position and the destroyers--the CUSHING--were already running into the Japs and were trying to avoid collision with them. Our radar was this early warning bed springs, and the only other radar was on top of turret two and turret three. That was fire control and it would go out on the first salvo every time. The HELENA had good radar, comparatively speaking, and she picked the force up at twenty-eight thousand yards. The flag actually should have been aboard the HELENA, but we had better flag quarters, and also Callaghan had been skipper once on the SAN FRANCISCO. There were a lot of mistakes made, and we learned the hard way about communications: jamming the circuits, everybody talking at once, while they were trying to get the word out. We saw the ATLANTA veer off and I watched her coming down in the Jap battle line. You could see the turrets were stepped up. She had eight twin five-inch, thirty-eight gun mounts; three forward, three aft and one on each quarter.



Donald R. Lennon:

Did she realize where she was?

John E. Bennett:

Well, she had a rudder casualty. She also took a torpedo and she was coming down. The first thing I figured was, “My God they've got AA cruisers, too.” She was silhouetted. She was hit from both sides and their gunnery officer Pat MacEntee came aboard us later as a survivor. He was our anti-aircraft defense officer and I stood watches with him at night up in the Aleutians. He told about how they found green dye on their starboard side, the U.S. side, and we used green dye in our main battery. See in gunnery practice you had different color dyes, so that you could tell which were your shells, and ours was green. So, I'm sure we hit the ATLANTA.

I was looking at the HELENA when it was illuminated by a Jap ship. The HELENA had her fifteen six-inch guns trained out. She had five triple turrets, and fast-firing--accurately firing in her case--six-inch guns. She was trained on this ship. First you saw the HELENA fully illuminated and a salvo from fifteen-inch guns and the light went out and there was a big explosion. Just by chance, she sank the ship that had illuminated her. The people were firing star shells. We had three out of four that were duds during my time aboard the SAN FRANCISCO. First you would fire the star shells to illuminate the enemy a thousand feet above and a thousand yards beyond. Only one of them worked. The magnesium flare would usually go off on all of them, but the parachutes would be ripped and they would just plummet down. That tips off the enemy, and you don't have the advantage of illuminating him properly; so you are worse off than by just firing without them. Our ordnance department was just miserable before the war. When the chips were down, this is what their product did.



The Japs used searchlights. So, it was alternately day and night with their star shells, when they were burning, or a searchlight; they all seemed to be pointed between my eyes. Well, the Marines ashore called it spectacular. They stopped fighting on Guadalcanal and watched this fireworks display; and when a shell would hit a ship, it was like a giant grindstone with sparks going out.

As I said before, our ordnance was terrible. On the fantail, both of my 1.1 mounts were terrible guns, quadruple mounts. You could get a pinprick in a circulating water hose and the mount would freeze. Also, the ammunition was unstable; sometimes it would go off when you would load it, sometimes it would go off as soon as it was ejected from the barrel. A sailor was killed in a gunnery practice because they were such terrible guns.

Both of my mounts were wiped out, and not by pinpricks in the circulating water hose; but by direct hits from a Jap cruiser. This was on the starboard side, and a destroyer did unbelievable damage coming down the port side. The gun barrels were twisted and all that. I mean, they were totally out of commission, almost at once. Many sailors were in pain. I tried to pull one guy out from under a mount and his legs came out and that was it. I know somebody was blown over the side; he might have jumped over. Every officer had a six-pack of morphine syrettes on his belt and I think the chiefs also had it. Since my guns were out I was in a first aid situation then, and I was using my morphine syrettes on the people who were hollering the loudest. I had just kneeled down to give somebody a shot, when turret three fired. I had already discovered that when that turret was trained 1-8-0, if I stood up, the center barrel would be directly even with my head. I had previously gone into that turret and tried to talk Rosie Rozinski into painting a red arc there, which he did, but I had tried to get him to do something so it just wouldn't fire. Well, he wouldn't do that. So, it



was in the red arc but it fired anyway, and I had just knelt down to give this guy morphine and the blast just flattened me out. If I had been standing, it would have decapitated me. You talk about coincidences. When I ran out of morphine, I took a six-pack from a dead chief or officer and I used most of that up.

The ship was going in a lazy circle. There was a lull in the fighting. I was normally supposed to be on the bridge, so I wanted to go up and see if anybody was alive and if anybody was in charge. The hangar was ablaze and I asked for three volunteers to lead a hose around turret three--this was while she was still firing to starboard--to put the hose into the ship's hanger because we had some airplanes with their wings folded in there. There were four-hundred pound depth charges for aerial use in the hanger instead of in the magazine plus all kinds of inflammables, and that hanger was really on fire. So, after leading that hose in there, I went on up forward to the bridge. The first person I saw on the signal bridge, which was the flag bridge just below the navigation bridge, was Rodney Lair, the chief engineer. He had come up from the engine room. He had lost communications and he wanted the same thing as me. He wanted to see if anybody was alive and what was going on. The engine spaces had not been damaged. We still had full power, but they were full of smoke until they shut the flappers. He was night-blinded, so I think the two of us found McCandless in the conning tower, which is on the flag bridge level. The nav bridge was a shambles, everybody killed up there. I don't know what happened to Rodney Lair. He probably went back down, but I stayed with McCandless and we re-established ship control.

Donald R. Lennon:

At that point, the ship was completely out of control. There was no one navigating it at all.



John E. Bennett:

That is right and the primary steering control on the navigation bridge was wiped out. The secondary was ship control aft. That was wiped out. The tertiary was in the conning tower.

Donald R. Lennon:

Were the captain and admiral both dead?

John E. Bennett:

The captain was supposed to be in the conning tower, but he never was. That is the purpose of the conning tower, but they never did that. They stayed up on the nav bridge where they could see. The conning tower had these little slots. The admiral was supposed to be there on the signal bridge, which was the flag bridge when we had a flag aboard. So, we had steering control by telephone, from a wheel that was back in the shaft alley, way down below. That was called steering aft, as opposed to ship control aft, which was up in the after superstructure that had been all burned out by that airplane crash. We had a quartermaster in a station adjacent to central station, the damage control station, down below the Marine compartment, which was flooded. His name was Higdon and he was on the wheel there. I have never been able to determine when that wheel had steering control of the ship and when the one back aft did. Just recently I talked to Radioman Rogers, who is a hermit up in Oregon. He won't come to any meetings or anything, he's bitter. But he was in the conning tower this whole time, and he said that it was always steering aft; but I know that Higdon had it at one point. When I was alone in the conning tower, I determined that Higdon, in central station, sounded dopey and was sleepy, because he had gotten smoke in there until they had shut the flappers. He had this “drip, drip” from the flooded compartment coming down the closed hatch, and it was vital that he remain alert because telephone communication to him was our last link to steering the ship. I told the talker to keep talking to him to keep him alert. At one point, McCandless went out to see who was



alive and then he came back. Then somebody, a JG, was sent down to help me from somewhere.

The HELENA came up our starboard quarter with her fifteen six-inch guns trained on us, thinking that they had passed us earlier, upside down, capsized in the water. How in the hell they could recognize the SAN FRANCISCO, upside down--I could never do it--but a HELENA officer told me, "We thought we'd already passed you." There was this burning hulk that they were coming up on. They thought it was a Jap and they sent us the major war ship first challenge, which was three letters. Well, we should have sent back the first reply, but we didn't know what it was. It was up in the nav bridge all burned out. So Bruce McCandless had his flashlight, because two signalman from signals aft had drifted up and brought this flashlight, and he had them send “CA38, CA38,” our number, to the HELENA and they accepted that, thank God, instead of opening fire. They had already given the “Stand by to commence firing” and like, “beep, beep” and there was one more beep and they would have blasted us, but they accepted it. Then McCandless told them, “You are senior surviving officer, please take command of the task force” and, of course, what was left? So anyway, the HELENA then, a little bit later, sent a rendezvous. I've got that piece of paper. I'll send you a copy of it. It says latitude, longitude. It's written on lined paper.

Donald R. Lennon:

So at this point the HELENA had not been damaged herself, severely.

John E. Bennett:

No, she never was. She got about as much damage from the JUNEAU blowing up the next day; a piece of the JUNEAU fell on HELENA and fell on us, too.

The HELENA sent “0425 rendezvous, latitude, longitude, HELENA speed 1-8,” I believe. I have that. So, we were just following the HELENA. All we could do was tell the helmsman right and left rudder; and the rudder angle indicator was fifteen degrees out, too,



we discovered. So, we were following her out Sealark Channel and it was dark as hell, but we saw her wake. I could see this black shape. After a while my roommate, Dick Marquardt, who was in sky forward called down. He said, "You're about to run aground on Malaita," and so I put the rudder right full. It turns out that in following the HELENA, the island had come up and it had loomed bigger and bigger and had hidden the HELENA. The HELENA had kind of slipped out and made a turn and I was following the island. I was going to run aground there and Marquardt said, "You're about to run aground Malaita." I put the rudder right full; and then the damage control people forward sent word, “You're ripping out the shoring,” from the waterline hits--they put shoring up, you know, plates and pieces of wood.

It was starting to get daylight and HELENA told all ships “Stand by to commence zigzagging, plan eight.” Would you believe that I had memorized a zig plan, zigzag plan eight. We used eight all the time. It probably had the fastest speed of advance. In a zig plan, where you've got a base course, then in eight minutes you turn right twenty degrees at twelve minutes, left at 15; that kind of stuff. I didn't realize that I had memorized it. The officer that was sent to assist me, Lieutenant J. G. Tazewell Shephard--God knows where he had been--arrived in a state of shock. I wanted to find McCandless and also I was exhausted. I wrote down the zig plan in chalk on the bulkhead; and, where did I find a piece of chalk? I don't know. I asked Rogers later, "Did we have chalk in the conning tower?" It came from somewhere and there it was written in chalk. My watch was smashed and Taz wasn't wearing a watch. The admiral and his staff were lying there dead, without any signs of any violent wounds. In fact, there was water sloshing all around. That was because the midship's repair party led a fire hose up the superstructure and they were wiped out to a man



but there wasn't a pinprick in the fire hose, so the water was cascading down. I picked this pocket watch off Jack Wintle, who was the aide to Admiral Dan Callaghan, who was lying right beside him, and I gave that to Shephard. Shephard was qualified as officer of the deck, so he could handle it. I went to find McCandless.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was McCandless senior officer at that time?

John E. Bennett:

No, the senior was LCDR Herbert Schonland, who had been passed over twice for commander. He was assistant first lieutenant. He was down in damage control and he was the senior surviving officer. When McCandless had determined that, Rocky Schonland told him, "You keep the conn, you're the guy that knows what's going on up there." He said, "I'll stay down here in damage control," which he did. McCandless was a sharp guy. A good man. He got the medal of honor. Anyway, I found him in the captain's sea cabin sitting on the edge of the bunk and he had blood coming down from little shrapnel wounds in his forehead. Also, I didn't realize at the time his ear was practically shot off. With my grubby fingers, I picked little pieces of shrapnel out of his forehead.

A fire hose that was left unattended was significant to the ship's navigator, Rae Arison, who was also task group navigator. When the firing commenced, we got our first hits in the pilothouse. He was in the chart house, just astern of the pilothouse. He went through the light lock into the pilothouse and was night-blinded, so he went back into the chart house. While he had stepped out, they took a direct hit, a six-inch hit, in the chart house. So, his charts were gone. There was no reason to stay in there, so he went back into the pilothouse. They were getting hit some more. He went over to the port wing of the bridge. We got another hit from the starboard bow. At one point, we had a battleship on our starboard bow coming down. We opened fire at twenty-eight hundred yards, which



passed at point blank range, and there was another one astern of her almost dead ahead, sharp on the starboard bow. We had this destroyer coming down, close aboard the port bow; just absolutely every bullet he fired hit a vital place and then we had cruisers over here. They had no heavy cruisers. They were light cruisers, it turns out, in this group, but Arison was blown off the bridge. He landed on number two five-inch gun on the deck below draped over the barrel. The gun fired at a destroyer coming down our port side. He was blown off the barrel. He wound up face down in a scooped out portion of the teakwood deck that was full of water from this hose. He was unconscious and he was about to lose his life by drowning after all of that. A black mess attendant named Leonard Harmon--they are called stewards now--was a loader on the gun and the gun was shot up, so he was taking care of the wounded. He spotted Arison when a star shell or searchlight illuminated him, it was alternately bright day and black night, and he pulled him around to safety. He saved his life. Let me divert to Harmon. He was killed. He saved another fellow's life later, giving up his own. He got a Navy Cross posthumously. His grandson, Leonard Roy Harmon II, was an apprentice aviation mechanic striker, in a helicopter squadron on North Island, San Diego. He was on a cleaning detail in a building and he looked up and here was a bronze plaque to his grandfather. It was in the enlisted quarters, BEQ--Bachelor Enlisted Quarters--called Harmon Hall. I tracked him down in Texas and also his father. It took forever, too; he was out of the Navy. I wrote a long letter about Leonard Roy Harmon, a very fine man. He was the first black to have a Navy ship named after him, too. It was the destroyer escort, the HARMON.

So, back to the SAN FRANCISCO.



Donald R. Lennon:

At this point in time, you all were just trying to get out of there, weren't you?

John E. Bennett:

Yeah, at this point, we were trying to get out and we were following . . ..

Donald R. Lennon:

What was left; the HELENA and the SAN FRANCISCO, and what other ships were left?

John E. Bennett:

OK, the HELENA was in charge at this point and the SAN FRANCISCO was on her port quarter, after we cleared Indispensable Strait. The ATLANTA was left dead in the water and had to be scuttled at Guadalcanal. The PORTLAND was left off Guadalcanal. Her rudder jammed due to a torpedo hit and she was going in a circle. When it got light enough, the PORTLAND spotted a Jap destroyer dead in the water and sank her.

Donald R. Lennon:

I would have thought that the PORTLAND and the ATLANTA both would have been perfect targets for the Japanese.

John E. Bennett:

Well, they were running away, and we left the battleship HIYEI dead in the water.

Donald R. Lennon:

You fought them to a standstill then.

John E. Bennett:

Yeah, we left her dead in the water and she was so low in the water, that the next day, the air group from the ENTERPRISE and Henderson Field had a difficult time finishing her off. They got the ENTERPRISE underway from Noumea. One of her elevators, number three elevator, was still out of commission from bomb damage. They had yardbirds trying to fix that. They got underway and they launched their air group or a squadron, at least, as soon as they were within range of Henderson Field. They landed there and refueled and they had torpedoes, but the torpedoes were set for ships at the normal condition. The battleship HIYEI was very low in the water, and all these torpedoes were hitting her armor belt, which had been lowered, and they weren't sinking her. God, I can't tell you how many torpedoes it took to sink her and she's just sitting there dead in the water. But, she finally



sank. We had left her that way and the KIRISHIMA came back the next night. Those people must have been ready to desert, but it was so important to the Japs that the next night they came back. In the meantime, we had our battleships WASHINGTON and SOUTH DAKOTA that had just gotten out to the area. When they came up for the second phase of this, the SOUTH DAKOTA was damaged. It was battleship to battleship, at night, surface to surface, the first engagement of that type and the last in the history of anybody's Navy, and the U.S. won.

Donald R. Lennon:

You didn't participate in that second night, did you?

John E. Bennett:

No. I didn't think they would be coming back, and of course, we were out of it anyway.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, what about the JUNEAU. You said that she got hit.

John E. Bennett:

OK. The JUNEAU was over here. We had three destroyers. All but one had jettisoned their depth charges the night before, which was tactics standard policy, I guess. The one that still had depth charges either had a jammed rack or for some reason didn't do it, but her sonar was out. So, two had sonar, but no depth charges and one had depth charges, but no sonar, so we did not have a single effective ASW ship. Captain Hooper, the skipper of the HELENA, had asked COM SOPAC for air support. By the way, there had been a Jap carrier two hundred miles north of us the day before. So, when we were burying people at sea, coming out of there, we were putting one five-inch shell in each canvas; one body, one shell in canvas sewed up, and we just rolled them over the side. We didn't have a chaplain. There was no military burial at sea. I don't want that to get out until all the survivors of all the people are dead. I had to tell some that their sons were buried at sea with full military honors.



Donald R. Lennon:

In a situation like that, you really don't have the time nor the wherewithal to accomplish . . . .

John E. Bennett:

One guy was blown through a ladder and later I went to his house near Chicago where they kept his room just as it was, and they had a flagpole with a gold star base. I had to tell that family what the military burial at sea was like with the chaplain, the flag, and all that. Of course, the poor guy was just in pieces.

And so, here we were. Captain Hooper asked Halsey for air support. All Halsey had was the ENTERPRISE. The SARATOGA was just leaving Pearl after repairs. All the other carriers were sunk. We were expecting the WOLVERINE to come up over the horizon any day. She was a side-wheeler converted steamship that was used for aviation training in Lake Michigan, off Glenview. So, Halsey asked MacArthur for air support. He had twelve B-17's at Townsville, Australia. He sent one and we saw a B-17, obviously it was a B-17, coming towards us. We were watching and all of a sudden he opened his bomb bays. “Christ!,” you know, everybody was flashing the recognition challenge at him. Hooper called the destroyers in from the ASW circle, the four thousand-yard circle, to the anti-aircraft circle--the two thousand-yard circle. I guess he thought, we'll have to shoot the guy down if he was going to bomb us. Of course, he wouldn't hit anything anyway, and finally he veered off. He kept his bomb bays open for a couple of orbits until finally he thought to close the bomb bays. Hooper then sent the destroyers back out to the four thousand yard ASW circle. They had to make twenty-eight knots or something to get out there, because we were doing seventeen or eighteen all this time. It turns out that one tin can passed directly over a Jap sub without being able to hear him. This sub fired three fish that we saw the wakes of. One went astern of the HELENA. One went ahead of our bow. One broached



on our port bow, went under us, broached on our starboard beam, started down, and hit the JUNEAU. The JUNEAU just disintegrated. I watched--a bunch of people who saw the same thing can verify this--a gun mount, a twin mount that had sailors in it, of course, tumble lazily out of the top of this cloud of white smoke. The AA cruiser was a magazine bow to stern, with all those guns. She just had shells everywhere. She had already caught a torpedo hit the night before but this time she just disintegrated. Everybody figured there wasn't a chance that there could be a survivor from all that. Doctor O'Neill and three corpsman had been sent over to us at our request a few hours earlier to help with our wounded.

The HELENA signaled the airplane to send a message about the loss of the JUNEAU, such and such a position, and to go off a certain distance before sending it. Well, the airplane went back to Townsville, Australia, and there are two versions to this. I don't know which is correct. One version is that the pilot landed and he went to the officers club. He told his story and so forth, and then he thought about this message and he got it sent from Townsville; and the other version is that he just forgot about it completely. At any rate, Halsey never received the message about the JUNEAU.

Donald R. Lennon:

How do you forget something like that?

John E. Bennett:

I don't know, but it's totally inexcusable. He did drop life rafts. The guy on the B-17 dropped rafts, and there were survivors. I talked to the sole officer survivor, Lieutenant Wang. He said there were one hundred and twenty survivors. Well, his leg was shot up and he was flat on his back in one of these rafts. How in the hell could he tell how many survivors there were? As it turns out, six made it; one of whom was a red-haired signalman



named Zook, whose daughter Linda played with one of my daughters in Navy housing in Pearl Harbor after the war. So, I got his story, too.

There was a group of six survivors on this raft. It started out with more than that, but the sharks were pulling them off and one delirious sailor said, "I can see the ship. It's directly below us and I've got an apple in my locker. I'm going to go down and get it." He dived down and, of course, that was the end of him. They were hallucinating since they went for days without food or water. Anyway, they drifted very close to San Cristobal and the German plantation owner there rescued them. He had a short-wave radio and he was tuned to Radio Cactus, Guadalcanal, so he reports in English, with a heavy German accent, "We have got the American survivors." They had to make a decision. Do we believe this guy or not? But, they sent a PBY who taxied in; and a boat came out with one of the survivors who verified it all; and so they got these guys out on that PBY to safety.

Hooper was relieved of his command for not stopping to pick up survivors. Well, if we learned anything at the Battle of Jutland, it was don't ever do that.

Donald R. Lennon:

Not when there was a sub in the area.

John E. Bennett:

Do you remember that a British cruiser was hit by a U-boat and sank? The next cruiser stopped to pick up survivors. The submarine sank it. The third cruiser stopped. The submarine skipper could hardly believe it and he was able to reload in time to fire and sink that one, too. So, the one thing you didn't want to do, if you knew there was a submarine there, was to stop dead in the water, especially if you thought there weren't any survivors. Halsey acted in haste, I think, and also because he probably figured at that time that Hooper never reported this. That was because the Army Air Corps failed to pass on the message. So, he was relieved of his command.



Donald R. Lennon:

Well, that torpedo that took them out was intended for the SAN FRANCISCO, wasn't it? You say it went underneath the SAN FRANCISCO?

John E. Bennett:

Oh yeah, it passed just about under our bridge. That would have been all we would need. We took fifteen major caliber hits and the senior surviving officer was the assistant first lieutenant. We got back, first to Espiritu Santo, and we had some temporary repairs. We went into there to make us a little more seaworthy so we could get down to Noumea, and we were hoping we'd go to Australia. They had a dry dock at Sydney, but they couldn't handle this kind of work. So we went back to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor checked us over and they said it would require four and a half months to repair the electrical damage alone. So, we were sent back to Mare Island. Dan Callaghan had been F.D.R.'s Naval Aide as a captain. FDR made a speech in which he revealed the name of the ship, “the gallant USS SAN FRANCISCO.”I should give you excerpts of that speech--where they went right through the Japanese, through the enemy fleet, her guns blazing and firing on both sides, point-blank range and all that. It included a message from General Vandergrift, CG of the Marines on Guadalcanal who said, "We lift our battered helmets in admiration for those who so gallantly gave their lives and may our country continue to be worthy of such men as these." It was pretty awe-inspiring, but I'll tell you what was the most emotional for me. That was when we pulled in Espiritu Santo where four cruisers, the MINNEAPOLIS-- classmate Ross Spencer was on the MINNEAPOLIS at the time-- NEW ORLEANS, PENSACOLA, and NORTHAMPTON were anchored in a line and we were following the HELENA in. Of course, we couldn't navigate or anything, but the key was a black buoy. Why it was black, I don't know, but if you found that, it marked the minefield. You were required to make a ninety left at the buoy. We saw the HELENA turn so we knew they just



passed that thing. Everybody topside was looking for it. So we made the turn and then we go past, port to port, these four cruisers. They had manned the rail and the sailors were out there with their blue hats, white hats that had been dyed blue, and they manned the rail and went, "Hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray!" Three times--that was something emotional. The greatest accolade you can get is from your comrades in arms.

Two weeks later, they were in the Battle of Tassafaronga. The MINNEAPOLIS lost turret one and turret two to torpedoes, these great Jap torpedoes. The NEW ORLEANS lost one turret--I mean the bow was blown off. I don't know what happened to the PENSACOLA. One of the ships was sunk, either the MINNEAPOLIS or PENSACOLA, all due to destroyer attacks with torpedoes. Those four ships went up there and were blasted to beat hell. We were losing the war at this point. Actually, Halsey or Nimitz said, I think Nimitz said, our staying there off Guadalcanal and preventing them from bombarding Henderson Field that night was the turning point.

The battleships had point-detonating bombardment ammunition in their upper handing rooms, for bombarding Henderson Field. They didn't expect us. In fact, they had already had the report that we had left. Well, we did leave as a ploy, but we came back and it worked. If they had had their armor-piercing shells up there, which is normal you know, they would have penetrated the ship, instead of instant detonation on the superstructure. So they caused a lot of personnel casualties, but the ship stayed afloat; and as I said, the engineering plant was untouched. So, that was just a wild chance. The naval battle of Guadalcanal was called a great naval victory. Admiral Ernest J. King said that it was "the most furious sea battle fought in history." Point-blank range, middle of the night. We lost more ships than the Japs did, it turns out, but it accomplished something.



Donald R. Lennon:

They lost enough to take them out of their battle plan.

John E. Bennett:

Yup. So, then, as we were going back through the South Pacific, headed up towards Pearl, we were listening to Tokyo Rose and she was reporting the SAN FRANCISCO, by name, was sunk, because they'd gotten the name from Roosevelt's radio speech. So, we got back to Mare Island. We were pulling under the Golden Gate and the PR people had a field day because the name of the ship had been revealed. We were going back to the city after which we were named; we were built at Mare Island in thirty-six or seven. So, they had a parade down Market Street, two heroes per Jeep, and we were given little composition--plastic wasn't invented yet--red things, tokens that would get you in any theater free. You couldn't buy a drink. In fact, any sailor, even Coast Guard people, couldn't buy a drink. They'd all say they were on the SAN FRANCISCO. I went in the Press Club to make a short speech, that was unclassified. I went in the bar and here was a bunch of reporters and all down at the end of the bar around some guy. As I approached, I could see in the mirror that he was a Coast Guard lieutenant, for Christ's sakes, and he was saying he was off the USS SAN FRANCISCO and he's a Coast Guard lieutenant. I start going through and he saw me coming, in the mirror, and he ducked out of there. By the time I got up to where he was, he was gone. But, that son-of-a-bitch, I wish I'd caught him.

The yard at Mare Island had a testimonial luncheon, and all the quartermen, the leading people at the shipyard, pledged to get that gallant ship back to the fighting front as soon as possible. Well, we didn't applaud them on that. We didn't want to get back there as soon as possible. They got us out in three months, I think it was, three-and-a-half months, and met their pledge, but of course, things weren't working. If they kept blowing a fuse,



they bypassed the fuse box and so on. But when we were seaworthy, back to the Southwest Pacific we went.

[End of Part 1]



EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #138
Capt. John E. Bennett
USNA Class of 1941
February 6, 1994
Interview #2

John E. Bennett:

This is Jack Bennett continuing. So, the SAN FRANCISCO was repaired hurriedly, and only partially, at Mare Island and we were back out at the fighting front. We were down in the Solomons and we were headed up, following the WICHITA and others to bombard Munda. I was up in sky forward on watch and I noticed a flag hoist on the flagship that read, “Column right to a certain course. Then their signal flashed and I just picked up little bits of that message, but enough to realize that we were headed for Pearl Harbor. We took on heavy weather clothing and space heaters and so forth at Pearl, and then we headed up to the Aleutians. The reason was, it turned out much later, after the war, that Intelligence had learned that the Japs were going to strike up there. So, the SAN FRANCISCO was now in the Aleutians, where our suntans from the South Pacific quickly wore off. We participated in the infamous Battle of the Sitkin Pip (false sonar echo), off Sitka Island, with the old battleships that had just come out from San Francisco, mostly. We called them the “Market Street Commandos.” They had been out of the war ever since Pearl Harbor. These



were the old battleships. So, they were there with a few cruisers, the SAN FRANCISCO and the SANTA FE being two of them, and destroyers. One night a battleship had a radar contact towards Sitka Island; and since the Japs were ultimately expected, everybody else seemed to be picking up that thing and they opened fire. The Admiral on a battleship asked the SAN FRANCISCO and SANTA FE, "Why are you not firing?"

I don't know what SANTA FE's response was, but ours was, "Because we have no target," and in fact, we did not have a target. There were no targets. This was a round trip land echo on Sitka Island, which was not a legitimate target. There was no ship there; there was nothing there. The splashes of the battleships' big bullets did form radar returns, and then people were shooting at each other's splashes. The SAN FRANCISCO didn't fire a round.

An interesting incident occurred when I was standing an officer of the deck watch one night in the Aleutians. I began to hear radio voice transmissions, and it was evident that there was a battle going on someplace. I recognized some of the voice calls; and one of them was of the HELENA, which had been with us all through the war in the South Pacific, Guadalcanal and so forth, and I recognized a couple of destroyers, too. The admiral of this group, when the fighting appeared to have stopped, had all ships report. The HELENA did not report, so he kept calling the HELENA. There was no response. One of the ships whose voice call I did not recognize, said, "I have one more target," and the admiral told all the ships to train on that bearing and told the first ship to illuminate and report. Then here came the sad report back over the air from the South Pacific, that I heard in the Aleutian Islands due to the phenomena of skipped distances with that high frequency, bridge to bridge, and



the report was, "My target is the bow of a ship with the number fifty on it." So here I am, realizing that the HELENA has just been sunk down in the South Pacific. I woke up the captain and told him, “The HELENA's just been sunk in some night engagement in the Southwest Pacific.” He believed me, and it was true. It turned out to be the battle of Kula Gulf. So, that was kind of remarkable.

Donald R. Lennon:

Yes, it is.

John E. Bennett:

I was standing officer of the deck watches on the open flying bridge, and also sky control watches--anti-aircraft--on the open bridge above and behind the navigation bridge. It was cold and the willy-was would pick up and it would freeze me down to the bone marrow. I would wear every article of clothing I owned and the Red Cross had provided us with ski masks. My nose would run and turn to ice and I would have a sheet of ice on my face; it was miserable. At that point, an ALL NAV message came out saying that submariners once qualified in submarines--that is qualified to wear dolphins--could now wear dolphins at all times instead of just while serving on board a submarine. They could wear them all the time, just like fliers could. Half the wardroom broke out in dolphins, and so the submarine stories were transpiring and very interesting. I had always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but now I shifted my sights.

I was a red-blooded, typical, young American boy with no ties really, and this war was actually supported by the country. I wanted to sink a Jap carrier and I thought I had a pretty good chance with submarines. They were having some luck in that regard. So, I volunteered for submarine duty--put in my request. The first request, the gunnery officer laughed and tore it up. The second time--these were just days apart--it got through him, to the executive officer, who returned it with some kind of a disapproval written across the top



of it. Then I enlisted the help of the yeoman who was in charge of the athletic gear locker--who worked in the captain's office. I don't know what he did; but it actually got to the captain and was signed by the captain, and forwarded off the ship, strongly recommending disapproval. “Lieutenant Bennett is the most experienced anti-aircraft officer in this ship and his detachment would adversely affect the combat efficiency of this vessel." Almost those exact words. So, my heart sunk. I figured there was no possible way that they would ever approve that. Well, lo and behold, I got my dispatch orders to sub school. They were looking for warm bodies in submarines, because the submarines had started dropping like rocks; and I had requested to be transferred directly to a submarine. I didn't even want to go back to the States, to submarine school, which I thought was six months. Well, it turns out they had cut it to three months, and I was sent back there in August '43. So, I went back to New London for three months of sub school. That was the second time since the war started in Pearl Harbor that I had been to the States. The first time being for the hasty repairs for our major battle damage in the Battle of Guadalcanal.

There was three months of sub school and I had a lot of fun. I went to New York each weekend and then was ordered to put the QUEENFISH in commission in Portsmouth. The QUEENFISH was commanded by Elliott Loughlin. He had had command of an S-boat in Panama before; and since he did not have combat experience yet, they gave him an experienced wardroom. We had the best wardroom that I ever ran into in submarines. There was an experienced executive officer; then I was number three and, of course, right out of sub school; and the next couple of guys and an ex-enlisted man who'd been “promoted through the hawsepipe,” as we called it, who was commissioned, all with war patrols. We had a good wardroom and also a good enlisted crew, and that showed in our



training and when we made our first war patrol. We had a sensationally good stroke of luck and sank a bunch of ships, and were highly commended for it. The captain got a Navy Cross. [C.E.] Elliott Loughlin was an All-American basketball player three years in a row. The first year he was second team and the next two years he was the unanimous first team. He was also nationally ranked in tennis. So, he was an outstanding athlete. He was smart as a whip and a good leader and became a very close friend.

We made four more war patrols--very successful. Let's see, to pick out specific things, we sank a Jap carrier on our third run--in the Yellow Sea--an aircraft carrier. It was small and it was ferrying aircraft to the Philippines. Her decks were loaded with airplanes. She was ferrying aircraft across the Yellow Sea, which is shallow. This day the sea was flat calm; and there were six or seven escorts for this carrier, plus at least two airplanes conducting an inner air patrol. We had four fish left aft, so it was a little more difficult to get into a position where we could then turn and bring our stern tubes to bear. But we did it, and just as the stern was swinging around, the captain raised the scope for “final observation and shoot,” as we would say in the terminology then used. He swung the scope around for a quick look all the way around and said something like, "Jesus."

Of course, we went on and shot and then I asked him what that was all about. He said, "Well, there are two destroyers, each one with a zero angle” (meaning pointing directly at us), and there was a smoke float that was dropped right on us. He was looking through the smoke. So, the airplane had spotted the periscope and dropped the smoke float. The tin cans were headed for the smoke float and presumably us, and so we were quite vulnerable. We were still at periscope depth. The sea was only one hundred and twenty feet in depth, and so we couldn't take her deep. All we could do was go down to maybe a hundred feet



and hope there wasn't a pinnacle. Well, they did attack, and it sounded like a couple of freight trains roaring overhead, but nobody dropped anything. Of course, we never knew for sure what happened there. I think they were playing chicken and neither destroyer--with such a perfect setup--wanted to give way to the other. At the last minute, they both finally turned off, but then, of course, they came around and they raked us over real good for six or eight hours. We were using full speed from time to time and as close to the bottom as we could get. The bottom, as I recall, was rocky; and with all the depth charge reverberations, etc., this fouled up the destroyers' ability to track us by sonar. The depth charges were getting further away all the time and we finally pulled clear. Our battery was almost shot at that point and we had to almost drift along until it was safe to surface at night to recharge the batteries.

That was a long way from the toughest depth charging we received during the war.

Donald R. Lennon:

Can you tell me the date of that particular patrol and the time period you're talking about when you made that attack on the carrier?

John E. Bennett:

That's not going to be on any notes I have here.

Donald R. Lennon:

Just an approximate date would be fine.

John E. Bennett:

Maybe that was May '45, possibly.

Donald R. Lennon:

Was this on a patrol after the first patrol?

John E. Bennett:

Yes.

Donald R. Lennon:

OK, and so when were you assigned to the QUEENFISH?

John E. Bennett:

I reported aboard the QUEENFISH pre-commissioning detail right after sub school, January '44. I reported up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and then the QUEENFISH went into commission. I stayed aboard for a little over three years, almost all the time as



executive officer. I had been on the SAN FRANCISCO from graduation. We graduated early, February 7, 1941; and I got to Pearl Harbor in March '41 to the SAN FRANCISCO. I was aboard her until I went to sub school in August '43. So, that was two and a half years, I think. I was on two ships during the war. The first half of the war, I was on the cruiser, SAN FRANCISCO, and the last half, on the submarine QUEENFISH.

The SAN FRANCISCO was the first ship in the Navy to be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. The HOUSTON later got one for an earlier action in the Battle of the Java Sea, actually Sunda Strait. Of course, she was sunk. They really invented the citation for the SAN FRANCISCO, because we had received such laudits for our action off Guadalcanal, in which almost everybody was killed. We had stopped the Japs from bombarding Henderson Field, which would have been the end of Gaudalcanal.

Donald R. Lennon:

You're talking about depth charging again and you were saying that that experience--the sinking of the carrier--didn't compare to some of the later.

John E. Bennett:

Yeah, the worst one was probably in Bashi Channel on maybe . . . the second war patrol. We would start on it with a wolfpack and Elliott Loughlin was usually the senior skipper, being from the class of '33. We usually lost one of the three boats about the first week on station, and so it wound up most of the time with the BARB and the QUEENFISH. Gene Fluckey, the most successful skipper of World War II, was the skipper of the BARB, and we were really a good team. Fluckey and Loughlin were good friends, and we would work as a team or we'd divide the area up depending on the situation. We were given good areas where the action was, because we were so successful; and of course with the action, along with the targets, came the ASW forces.



In Bashi Channel, north of the Philippines, the BARB reported two small AKs, that is, two small cargo ships. We had divided the area up so we joined them on the surface. Submarines operated on the surface most of the time, night and day. We didn't even have a snorkel and we could run much faster on the surface with our diesel engines than we could submerged on the battery. Pretty soon, it turns out, there was phosphorescence in the sea and as I remember, gentle swells. The waves would break over the bow and big globs of phosphorescence would bounce around and it was very revealing and we could be seen. Of course, we had the targets on radar, but they had picked up the BARB and they were chasing her on the surface. So, here was the BARB and the first ship and the second ship in column and the QUEENFISH astern trying to catch up with that second ship. By this time, we had discovered that they were not two small Aks. They were two ASW vessels, and it was a hunter killer group looking for us.

Here we were attacking them, except the tables were turned and they were chasing the BARB. We had the Mark Eighteen electric torpedoes then and you had to slow to no more than ten knots before you opened the outer doors. We figured we had to get up to a maximum of six hundred yards from that ship, in order to slow to where we could open the outer doors, shoot the fish, and still have the target at an appropriate range. We were in the process of doing that when they discovered us, and they started shooting at us with their stern guns. They could see the phosphorescence bouncing around off our bow. We dived and started to turn right, because this target was turning right to make a circle and we were going to hit him when he was just about broadside on his circle. As we were doing that--the ship was just barely submerged--there was the sound of a railroad train going right over us. The guy had turned on a dime. It turned out to be the new Shidori class ASW vessel,



smaller than a full size destroyer; and they were good. It was the first team. They went over us and they dropped charges. The charges were actually below us and we suffered some damage from that first drop of about four to six charges: a couple of fuel lines, the lube oil lines broke in the engine spaces, and the sheath cork in the conning tower. We wore goggles in the conning tower, because during depth charging, little bits of cork--little grains --would be propelled through the air; and it was just like a porcupine was attacking you. By this time they had invented depth charge light bulbs. It used to be the light bulbs would all be shattered because they were brittle; but by then they had a kind of a rubber base connection so that the light bulbs, most of the time, survived depth charges.

We were in deep water, fortunately, and this particular Shidori's friend broke off from chasing the BARB and helped him attack us. The BARB got away. We went right on all the way down to five hundred and fifty feet. Our test depth was four hundred and twelve feet for that class submarine, a thick-skinned boat. The battle station bow planesman named Zangrilli had been on a thin-skinned boat, the BLOWER or the BUMPER--something like that--that had been blown down to six hundred feet. He figured that if he could survive that on a thin skin, he wasn't worried about going beyond test depth on a thick skin. So, when we passed the ordered depth, which was probably four hundred and fifty feet, he knew there was a safety factor below test depth. He still had the bow planes on full dive; and the diving officer, Ray Pitts, had to pull him off of the stool and get the bow planes off dive. We leveled off at about five fifty, five seventy-five feet, and the hull was cracking and so forth. The thick skin boats had thicker, but more brittle, hulls. The thin skin was thinner but more pliable, malleable metal, and it was a controversy as to which was the better. I was glad to be on a thick skinner. I did not anticipate that we were going to be down to that depth, of



course. So, these guys were very good and they were very close, and that is probably as close as we came to losing the boat that I can think of right now.

We had another depth charging that lasted all day; one was off Nagasaki. Two little spit kit ASW patrol vessels. We had been detected. It turns out we had an oil leak, too, and we were caught in a current that was going on shore and we couldn't get off shore. We hadn't been able to complete our battery charge during the night and we had almost a flat can; that is, running out of juice. We were trying to get away, but we couldn't use much power. These people were always dropping just astern of us and they would drop two at a time. Finally, we heard one of them go away and then after maybe an hour, he came back. Well, I think they were going into Nagasaki to reload depth charges. We had been looking at the entrance to the harbor. That went on all day from dawn to dusk. We secured from battle stations and everybody turned into their bunks and we stood regular watches, but it was a little harrowing to suddenly have a couple of depth charges close aboard the stern. We figured out the reason for them always dropping astern. It had to be an oil leak, and I was hoping that they weren't careless and missed what they were aiming at. I hoped they would always hit where they were aiming, which was where the oil was coming up from the stern. If we could go deeper, the oil would come up further astern, but we were having a lot of trouble getting out to deeper water. That was about maybe the fourth war patrol.

Donald R. Lennon:

So that would have been roughly, sometime in '45?

John E. Bennett:

Forty-five. The fifth patrol ended in Midway in the summer of '45 and we were preparing for the sixth one. We had had our two weeks of so-called rest, which consisted mostly of drinking beer at the Gooneyville Lodge, the old Pan-American Hotel. We were in our training period to work up to go out again. We had loaded provisions, etc., and had just



fired a practice torpedo at a target off Midway and the torpedo was still running. We were surfacing and the antennae broke the surface just as the radioman was reporting, he was saying, “hot, straight and normal.” The exercise torpedo was running hot and straight and normal. A radio message started coming in from the squadron administration at Midway saying, "The war is officially over, but remain alert." So, we might have fired the last torpedo of the war, which was just an exercise torpedo, but it was still running.

So, the war was over. We stayed in Midway for a while and then came back to Pearl Harbor and the States and finally got our overdue overhaul. The QUEENFISH was selected as one of the relatively few submarines to stay in commission. The others--just scads of them--were decommissioned. The crews of the submarine force were mostly reserves. Of course, most of the Navy was by this time, because it expanded so rapidly. We had our pick of the regulars plus the reserves who went regular in the Mare Island, San Francisco, area from all the boats going out of commission. So, we built a pretty good crew from that to go back out again. We went out to Pearl Harbor and then Subic Bay for operations. We were heading up to Tsingtao when our orders were changed and we went to Guam and then back to Pearl Harbor and then we were based there. Our peacetime operating became a little better organized and we were made flagship of the Submarine Force Pacific because of our record.

In February of '47, having been aboard three years, almost entirely as exec, I was due for shore duty but I didn't even want to go back to shore duty because they were having strikes in the U.S. Before the war ended, we had gotten a hold of a newspaper from Seattle, and there was a union with workers at an Army plant that went on a sympathy strike with a grocery clerks union. That was one of the strikes. According to the newspapers, this was an



Army ordnance plant, and these civilians were on wartime strike in sympathy with a grocery clerks union. There was another one at a Boeing plant, where they went on strike because they wanted to be able to smoke on the production line. It seems that the frequent breaks when they would stop production, get off the line, and go to some place where it was safer to smoke, were not enough for them. I figured, that is not what I fought the war for, and I don't even want to go back to the States. For sea duty, “Any ship, any station,” is the traditional thing, but for shore duty, I said specifically, “I do not want to return to the continental U.S.” Of the various shore stations that I knew of, the only one I could think of that sounded halfway palatable was Sub Base San Juan--caretaker status. I happened to know that it was caretaker status. Well, I figured, I am too senior for that, I am a lieutenant commander now. At least, that is all I could think of. Well, of course, it didn't make any difference. I got orders back to the Bureau of Ordnance in Washington.

While this was going on, the BUSHNELL submarine tender in Pearl Harbor had to return to the States and she didn't have a navigator. The captain, Ollie Kirk, was the only one who could navigate and, of course, he didn't want to have to do that, too. Since I was leaving anyway, they transferred me over from the QUEENFISH to the BUSHNELL and I navigated her back to the States. I was aboard four or five months before going onto Washington and the Bureau of Ordnance, where I was assistant section head RE-6A, which is Torpedo Research and Development. I put in a little less than two years there on shore duty, and went back out to Pearl Harbor to be exec of the TILEFISH. The man who was about to be ordered in as skipper of the TILEFISH had been a POW, and they wanted an experienced exec assigned to him to help him reacclimate himself to the submarine force and catch up on all the stuff he had missed.



Donald R. Lennon:

Do you recall his name?

John E. Bennett:

Yeah, that was Jake Vandergrift, J. J. Vandergrift, a fine officer. When I reported aboard, Ben Jarvis was still the skipper, who was highly experienced and a good old friend. Jake Vandergrift had gone down on the PERCH, the first submarine lost at sea to enemy action. He spent all that time in prison camp, was repatriated, and was brought back to the submarine force. Due to his seniority, he was given command with me as his exec and I enjoyed that even though I was looking forward to getting my own command.

After a year, I got off the TILEFISH and they gave me command of the CAIMAN and I took the CAIMAN out to West PAC. This, of course, was peacetime, and we had good luck playing footsie with the Russians and doing some intelligence work and all that. Then I was sent back to Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk for their course of instruction of about five months.

From there I went to CINCLANT Fleet staff, also in Norfolk, as aide and flag secretary to Admiral Lynde McCormick, who was Commander Chief of the Atlantic fleet and SACLANT. He was relieved by Jerauld Wright. I was there two years and a couple of months and then got orders back to Pearl Harbor to be operations officer for ComSubron ONE.

That was July '55 and a little less than a year later, I got command of Submarine Division 12 there. I had that a year, and then I headed back to the Naval Academy as Assistant Athletic Director. I was there for three years, from June '57 to August '60. At that point, I was sent to the National War College in Washington which was our highest institution of learning: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and State Department personnel, and then a few odds and ends like a CIA guy and somebody else from the Bureau of the



Budget, or it's predecessor. That was a-ten month course. It was very interesting, and I learned a lot and made some good friends.

After that, I went back to San Diego as chief of staff to Commander Submarine Flotilla One. I was extended a year, but I can't remember why. So I was there almost two years. All Naval officers, before attaining higher command, must have command of a deep-draft ship, which would be an oiler, an ammunition ship, or a cargo ship. In July '63, I got the absolute choice command: the PONCHATOULA, which was the newest, largest, and fastest oiler we had; and so I went back to operating with the fleet again. We went out to West PAC and the Vietnam War was in its early stages. This was late '63. I would replenish carriers and other ships underway. They would come alongside the PONCHATOULA; carriers on the port side, and the cruisers and destroyers, one after another, on the starboard side. We would pass hose's over and transfer oil to them and some other products while underway and frequently at night. It was good training and we set some records out there.

After that, in August '64, I went back to Washington to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, where I was head of the Submarine Programs Branch. That was Research and Development again on submarine systems, and I had collateral duty as Chairman of the Submarine Systems Panel of the Technical Tripartite “something” commission. It was made up of the U.S., U.K., and Canada, in an effort to come up with the commonality of measurements and sizes of nuts and bolts and all of that, in this particular field of submarine systems. Also, I became the first program director of the Navy's large and complex Deep Submergence Program. It fell to me to get the thing organized and get it



through the budgetary process and get it approved by the Armed Forces Committee in Congress.

That would be '64. The THRESHER was lost, I think, late '63--I'm not sure--off Cape Cod. Then there was a highly classified program that I invented. There was an existing need for it and we needed the bathyscaph TRIESTE for it, and she was in San Diego at the Naval Electronics Lab. She would go out and dive maybe once a month; and some civilian oceanographer would take color photos through the port to illustrate a paper he was publishing; and so it was not being used fully, by any stretch of the imagination. This program was to recover Russian nose cones from their practice firings. These were intercontinental ballistic missiles that were being fired over the Pacific and dropping in the Central Pacific where they sank to twelve thousand or sixteen thousand feet. Our object would be to get the nose cones. All the telemetry had been copied. The Air Force had airplanes up in the Aleutians and they kept one airborne all the time just to tape all the telemetry. Of course, nobody could decipher it. They had a warehouse full of tapes up there, “Project Daisy Mae,” and I found out about that and I figured out how we could get the answer. If we could recover a nose cone, we could decipher all the tapes.

In OPNAV, I was instrumental in getting the bathyscaph TRIESTE taken away from the shore establishment, Naval Electronics Lab, and transferred to Submarine Squadron Three, much to the consternation of the so-called scientists. Nobody was a technician. They were always all scientists. I couldn't explain why we needed the TRIESTE. Then I went out and took command of Submarine Squadron Three and we started to put this project into effect. It took a lot of training and reconfiguration to begin with and we got some special people ordered in.



I retired early on August 1, 1966. The reason I retired early was that I was all wrapped up in deep submergence and submersibles and I dove on every submersible of significance in the world, even the Jap YOMIURI off Okinawa, and, of course, all the U.S. and the French ones. I had a lot of experience. I had been in charge of the Navy's Deep Submergence Program and I was bored with the routine prospects I would face in the Navy, especially going back to the Pentagon again, which I detested. Also Lockheed dangled a check twice what I was making as a submarine squadron commander, if I would take charge of their new laboratory, Lockheed Ocean Laboratory in San Diego. My wife wanted to stay there and live in San Diego, so it wasn't a very tough decision to make. Although I felt so guilty retiring early from the Navy, like I'd deserted them. How were they going to survive and what would they possibly do without me? That stupid feeling. Of course, the next day, they just went on merrily, better than ever.

The Flag Selection Board was going to meet on Monday in Washington and I didn't know who was on it and never did. I wasn't in the zone yet for flag rank, for selection to admiral, but they could dip five percent. I had a good record and who knows, they might have thrown darts and I'd have been selected, and I didn't want to be in a position of being selected and then retiring. It would be a real slap in the face. So, I ill-advisedly sent a message before I went ashore on a Friday night from my cabin on the submarine tender to the President of the Flag Selection Board about to meet on Monday. It stated that I was, "Respectfully requesting my name be removed from any possible consideration for selection to rear admiral, as I am requesting retirement from the Navy in the immediate future." There was a question of the letter officially requesting retirement. It was still in the mail to them. They wouldn't get it until maybe Tuesday. So, I sent a copy to my boss, ComSubPac



in Pearl Harbor. I went ashore and when I got home I thought, "How presumptuous of me to say, don't select me for admiral!"

They will say, "Bennett, who the hell is he?" or "He's over here in this first discard pile," or something.

So, I called back the tender and said, "Belay that. Don't send the message."

And they said, "Commodore, it's already gone." So, it was gone and I wanted to keep it private, but I'd made a mistake. The copy going to ComSubPac was not marked “personal” like the original was, going to the flag selection board.

The people out in Pearl Harbor, on the Admiral's staff, saw this message, the copy to ComSubPac, and of course, the cat was out of the bag. I started getting telephone calls and the word spread rapidly because nobody expected me ever to pull a trick like this and retire early. Some people tried to persuade me to change my mind, but I didn't and I have never regretted it. If I had stayed in, I might have made admiral; I might not. It doesn't make any difference now.

I began a career then, in San Diego, on August 1, 1966, as a manager of the Lockheed Ocean Laboratory and Senior Corporate Representative of the five Lockheed companies that were based in San Diego. I was living pretty high on the hog. I had an exceptionally good salary, a lot more than I was making in the Navy as a submarine squadron commander with sub pay and I had access to a corporate jet. I could call one down from Sunnyvale or Burbank to fly me to Washington or some place.

Incidentally, I told the Lockheed management at the start, "Do not count on me to market. I'm not going to lean on my friends in Washington and whoever is running the program that I initiated or anything like that because first of all, it's illegal for a USN officer



to do it and I consider it unethical.” Strangely, it was not illegal for a reserve officer, but more importantly, it was unethical. I wanted it clearly understood now that, "I'm not going to do it and also I'm not going to take some marketeer back there and introduce him to people and then stand back and pretend that I'm not marketing. I consider that marketing.” I went into great detail. They left me alone for two years. They were straining at the leash, I knew. But I was not going to do it.

Well, we had a lot of interesting programs. I saw lots of ways that Lockheed had the capability to meet requirements in the Navy, in the submarine force in particular, but I couldn't even tell them about what the requirements were. I'd just say, "This capability is important. Develop this capability, fine-tune it, and I will tell somebody about it." After a couple of years and some changes in management, I had two hats: not only manager of the Lockheed Ocean Laboratory in San Diego, but assistant director of the Ocean Systems Division in Sunnyvale. So, I was flying up to San Francisco or San Jose, and renting a car and going to Sunnyvale about once a week. There they had wall-to-wall flip charts and it was just a bureaucracy that was smothering. It was like being in the Pentagon again, and so I asked to be relieved of that title and not have to go up and participate in that idiocy anymore. That was fine, but it made me more vulnerable to people who were jealous of me for my rapid rise--this stranger coming in from outside and being placed above all these other people and also the ones that never gave up on trying to get me to market.

It was soon after two years that I resigned, and I did it in a way that was financially beneficial to me. I was “surplused” because surplused means the same as being laid off. By being “surplused,” I would get the full amount of money that had been laid aside--my contributions to a retirement plan. I would get the full amount, plus the Lockheed matching



amount. Anyway, it meant it was financially beneficial to be surplused, which was supposedly a disgrace, you know, being laid off. Well, I was doing this voluntarily, and so that is what happened.

The word spread that I was supposedly available, and I don't remember, I probably spread it myself, but a fellow came down from Sacramento whom I had never met. Bob Walker was his name and he was a Republican political type on Ronald Reagan's staff--“the palace guard,” as we later called it in Sacramento--and Reagan was in about his second year as governor. I was a lifelong Republican conservative but I had never politicked or done anything along those lines, and he didn't owe me a thing. Reagan was trying to cut the fat, trim the bureaucracy, and return control of government to the lowest elective level, where somebody was accountable and not an anonymous bureaucrat, like it is in Washington, for example. He combined two departments into one and he took parts of a third department and put it in there and called it Navigation and Ocean Development and asked me to be director of it. On the day that he appointed me, he appointed a Democrat, Bill Gianelli, to head the State Water Project. He was the best qualified hydraulic engineer in the state of California, maybe the country. The State Water Project was to bring the water down from the Sacramento and American rivers up north, across the Tehachapi Mountains, and into the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego. It was a gigantic project. Pumps had not yet been developed with the capacity to raise the water over the mountains, and Gianelli took that one on and he did it. A second Democrat--I can't remember who it was--I think was named to Parks and Recreation. There were two Democrats and a Republican appointed at the same time. I had an immediate deep respect for Ronald Reagan when I saw that far from political patronage, he was trying to get the right man for the job. He drew people to government



who would in no way ever go up and live in Sacramento and be in a political organization. Some of these men were self-made millionaires and people who were willing to serve Ronald Reagan. I got to know him pretty well during my time up there and admired and respected him very much.

Then we found that my wife, Gerry, had cancer, and she wanted to return to San Diego, and so I resigned up there and came back to San Diego, without a job. Bill Neurenburg, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, had actually tried to hire me away from Lockheed once before to run a project. It involved development of a stable platform of vertical cylinders, patterned after the “flip,” which was a long tube that has buoyancy compartments. One end of it would go down and the other end would be up; and the furniture in the living compartment at one end was on swivels, so it would then be upright again and this thing would be extremely stable in the rough seas. It was about three hundred feet long. They gained a lot of research data from that, and to build a platform with a series of baby flips of this nature was something Nurenburg wanted to do. He had asked me to run that project, but I didn't want to leave Lockheed. This was soon after I got to Lockheed and this would have been for an offshore airport, for example. It still has great potential.

When I did go to Scripps, the job he gave me was to run the Scripps Industrial Associates. My job was to solicit twenty thousand-dollar donations from industry, unrestricted, to go to the director's office. They had money at Scripps, but everything had restrictions tied to it. You could send students on oceanographic cruises, but if the cruise was seven months long, they couldn't stay aboard that long. They would have to get off at Pago Pago, for example, and then fly back. There were no funds that could be used for



flying them back and then flying another group out, so this was a typical situation where they desperately needed money just to handle these necessary tasks. I went to the nine oil companies--major oil companies that do business in California--and got twenty thousand each from them. That is annually in perpetuity supposedly in return for them having access to all of our research data, which was gained at the public trough anyway. I mean it was in the public domain, except the scientists would hoard it and plan to write a book later or publish a paper. Well, I took it away from them.

I was not very popular at Scripps, but it was in the common good to do this and make it available for a practical purpose right then. For example, somebody would conduct research on the dynamics of breaking waves and run tests in the North Sea on the Phillips Platform, or whatever that was called, and find that this affected not only fixed structures on the sea floor that go up through the air--sea interface--but also even ship hull design. He found that the size or the height of a breaking wave was not as important, as far as the force dynamics were concerned, as the frequency of the breaking waves. Nobody would ever guess that, but this was his surprise conclusion--his research finding. I peddled that to the offshore development companies down in Houston and New Orleans and it was very valuable to them. It was sure as hell worth a twenty thousand dollars unrestricted donation, and they got a tax write-off anyway. So, that was a very successful program and everybody profited from it. The public, the taxpayer that was supporting Scripps, and the oil companies all benefited! It made the oil company operations more efficient and they were able to do things at lower prices, so the public, as a consumer, also profited. There were other chemical companies and other fields that had nothing to do with oil that I solicited



donations from and gave them good information that was in the public domain. I can't even think of an example now. The field of agriculture was one. So, that was Scripps.

Then I got bored with that after something like three years and I was asked to join Gulf Maritime. It was a company that existed to exploit the large civilian submarine, AUGUSTE PICCARD, which used to carry twenty-some passengers on Lake Leman in Switzerland. John Horton, who had been the CEO of Chicago Bridge and Iron and was eased out of that company by his brother-in-law (it was privately owned), formed Horton Maritime in Vancouver. They bought the AUGUSTE PICCARD, had her shipped there, reconfigured her for sub-bottom profiling and taking the sensors down to the sea floor instead of the sub bouncing around on the surface, which is what had to be done before; and he asked me to run it. Then he formed Gulf Maritime, which was the American counterpart; and I was vice-president of that. They owned a facility in Mobile. I said, “There's no way I'm going to move there. I'm staying in San Diego." So, he established an office for me in San Diego.

We had some exciting times with that. It was a unique submarine that could dive to twenty-three hundred feet, and we had a crew of mostly ex Navy submariners. In fact, there was one non-Navy submariner in there, but he was a civilian diver. So, I was able to stay in the deep submergence business and I was, you know, just getting more and more experienced in it all the time. Then, I quit that due to . . . I don't know. I can't say I was bored. I think I was mad at Horton and I think he owed me money. In fact, I know he still owes me about seven thousand dollars. There was something in there that escapes me now, but it was more of a personality business, and also it was going nowhere.



So, I quit that and formed my own company to recover offshore sand, California Marine.

Donald R. Lennon:

What time period was that?

John E. Bennett:

That was probably 1981 or '83, someplace in there. I can find the exact date in these papers, but God knows. . . . So, a fellow named Dick Timme, became my partner in this endeavor. He was an oceanographer of note, an ocean engineer and a very smart guy who was with a large oceanographic firm in the greater Los Angeles area, and I had known him for a long time. We respected each other and so we formed this company as partners and I had the time on my hand and he had the knowledge. This granddaddy of all sand piles existed off the California coast, and theoretically, it would be replenished naturally, almost as fast as you remove the sand. The sand came from the beaches to begin with, so you would be putting the same kind of sand back. There was quite a difference, I learned, between the different types of sand. What they were doing to replenish beaches, was bring a different kind of sand in, at great expense, from the desert and places like that. Well, it turns out that we had to prepare environmental impact statements on putting the sand that had been swept from the beaches, back onto the beaches which you would think would be an absolutely obviously good thing to do. It would cost us time, money, and all sorts of frustration to go through the entire environmental process to get permission with the new hierarchy of bureaucracy, state and federal, to get permission to do this and I'd have to do it all because Dick didn't have the time. He really had a full-time job. So I said, "To hell with it. Let them keep on bringing the sand in from the desert, at great expense," which is what they are doing today. The sand pile is still right out there, and until the EPA ceases to exist, it's gonna just stay there.



So I bought out Dick Timme and converted California Marine into a consulting firm. I actually became the sole authorized consultant to the London Insurance Market for underwater projects, headed principally by a retired British Royal Navy captain, Jumbo Bruin, who was an old friend. I taught him about underwater projects and he would call me or telex me when insurance was to be issued or had been requested on a project. I would analyze it from the aspect of the operational and technical risks of the project for insurance purposes. I kept trying to get the London Insurance Market, especially the Boworing Group, to let me give them a figure on a scale of one to ten for technical and for operational risks, before they assigned the rate; but for two hundred years, they had been doing it the other way and they weren't about to change. They thought that it was a straight-line function: the deeper you went, the riskier it was. Of course, the air-sea interface itself is a huge risk for certain projects, so they would just assign it on their old system. They were not knowledgeable, nor did they want to become knowledgeable, in the realities of risks at sea, underwater, that is. Then, I would have to write what were called warranties, which were restrictions on what the company being insured could do. So, it was just bass-ackwards. It wasn't the way to do it at all; and so, that lasted a few years. I still get calls from London, asking my advice on something along these lines and I tell them that I am further and further away from it. I am not up to date: I just happen to learn about some things, by osmosis. I could provide something of use to them; I never charged them for it. As years pass, I am further away from that scene. It was something that was a big part of my life that is gone.

I still enjoy going to the monthly meetings of the Deep Submergence Pilots Association, which I helped found, and talking to all these guys that have been diving on the wrecks such as the TITANIC and those in Iron Bottom Bay. Bob Ballard has just put a new



book out with some great pictures of the Iron Bottom Sound, where I fought alongside many of those ships that were sunk there off Guadalcanal.

Looking at this collection of biographical sketches that I have before me that were prepared by various people at various times, I see the summary of my education was a BSEE from the Naval Academy and then the National War College (the Armed Forces' highest institute of knowledge), and of course, the Armed Forces Staff College before that. Then I did graduate work at George Washington University in International Relations. I had twenty-four credits, I think, before I went to sea again. I took a course in Market Economics at the University of Hawaii and Ocean Engineering at UCLA, but no advanced degree.

I served as national vice-president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. I have been a member of the National Boating Safety Advisory Council to the Coast Guard, the University of California Sea Grant Advisory Council, first chairman of the Oceanics Committee of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and a Fellow of the Explorer's Club. Not on here is the fact that when Reagan became president, I was offered a position in Washington--no use to mention it--but I didn't want to move to Washington, and politely turned it down. It would have been in the field of my expertise and it was not a political pay off, because I did absolutely no campaigning whatsoever.

Then I was asked to be chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. I was interested in the committee and I accepted membership. It advises the president and the Congress in those two fields, but I did not want to be chairman because I didn't have the credentials for it. All the predecessors had been college presidents or had been Ph.D. scientists, something like that, or oceanographers. I had no advanced degree, but I had a lot of experience in ocean engineering. Practically speaking, I could have handled



the job, but the part that I didn't like was that I would have to deal with the congressional committees and sub-committees and the people who really run this country, the anonymous staffies that work for them. You know, "Sign here Mr. Senator," and so forth. I didn't want to deal with them because I had little respect for them. They were involved in the political in-fighting and so forth, and I figured I just didn't need that. So I turned down the chairmanship of that committee, and here in the mail comes a commission from the White House, as vice-chairman, which we hadn't even discussed. I told them, "I'll get you a chairman." I got them Jack Flipse, who was a pioneer in deep ocean mining, who was Dean of Engineering at Texas A&M. I had known him and respected him professionally, and after I had sounded him out, I asked him, "If you don't mind, are you a Republican or Democrat?"

I was going to recommend him in any case, and he said, "I am a Republican and not only that, I am a Reagan supporter. I was instrumental in converting Phil Gramm from Democrat to Republican senator." So that was frosting on the cake. I knew he would get it and he did. I was glad to serve under him, just as he said he would be glad to serve under me.

Before that, the answer to every question was to throw money at it. Of course, that is not the right answer. We were meeting monthly and I got that changed to bi-monthly right off the bat, so I cut the meetings in half, and then I changed them to quarterly and then ultimately, was largely responsible, with a lot of help, for getting the thing abolished. I actually abolished a committee. In Sacramento, I tried to abolish my department. I was there four years. At the end of the first year, I cut it ten percent, the second year ten percent, the third year fifteen percent, and the fourth year, I tried to abolish it, or fold it into another



larger department, but I failed in that. But here in this job, I was able to abolish the commission and go home and turn out the light. So, that all happened and I have a dozen balls in the air all the time now, doing things--luncheons and groups. I think I've covered all of it.

[End of Interview]

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