|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW|
|Capt. John E. Greenbacker|
|USNA Class of 1940 (DECO)|
|November 8, 1995|
Captain, I'd like to begin with your background in Connecticut, what led you to want to become a Naval officer and go to the Naval Academy and something about your early background in education.
You want me to go ahead and start with that?
I grew up on a diary farm in Connecticut. My father always thought that his son was going to stay there on the farm, but I was determined to go to the Naval Academy from the time I was in seventh grade and my friends in Junior High School used to refer to me as “Annapolis.” I can't remember what it was that led me to that. I've always had this yearning to sail off to high adventure. As a matter of fact, when we used to go into town at noon hour, I would go down to the train station and watch the trains come in. That was like an adventure to me also, but I did not, like people in the south, get an opportunity to get an appointment to the Academy, because they required competitive exams up there, whereas all my friends in the south, if they flunked out, they'd just go see
the Congressman and he'd appoint them. There was a sort of favoritism if you came from the right family. We didn't have that up in Connecticut. The man that became the U.S. Senator, Mallony was the mayor and he gave me a third alternate appointment when I was still in high school. That enabled me to take the entrance exam, so then after that, in order to be sure of getting in all I had to do was to get an appointment. I went a year to what is now the University of Connecticut--was then, Connecticut State--and during that year, I took competitive exams from the U.S. Senator and then from the Congressman who was from New Haven. These were all democrats. My father was a Republican, but they went along with the results and I got a first alternate appointment from the U.S. Senator and a principal appointment from the Congressman.
Where you were located, in Connecticut, was not close enough to Long Island Sound for you to have grown up sailing?
No. I had never had a thing and I tell people that the only Naval vessel that I saw before I entered the Naval Academy was the USS CONSTITUTION which came to New London back in the thirties when they had a tour all the way around the country. That was my association with the afloat Navy, so I really have no idea how it was that I wanted to go.
I know a lot of DE officers that were not Academy graduates, were reserve officers, came from the Long Island Sound area there.
Indeed, there were an awful lot of them that were active in yachting and as a matter of fact, we used to have our reunions up in New York, because so many of them were there on Wallstreet. When the former Secretary of the Navy, one of the skippers, after he became the executive secretary of defense, we used to make arrangements with
the Navy and get a day at sea, so we always had a big ______. He's the one that was head of Amtrak who's now dead.
Oh yes, I knew him. When you arrived at the Academy in 1936, tell us a little bit about that, what your first experience with the Academy was. Was it what you had anticipated it would be?
Well, I had no problem with it at all. I went in there on the first day. On those days, they used to take them and give them their physical exam. They don't do this anymore. You go elsewhere and get your physical exam. So it took them all summer long to get their class in final shape, but I went in there, because I already passed the entrance exam, they signed me up to go there on the eleventh of June. In fact, it was early enough, that I didn't even take many of my final exams from my first year up at Connecticut. It was the first time I had been south of New York. There was a little local train that went from Baltimore to Annapolis and I got a taxi and it wasn't very far, but he started from 25 cents and that's what I gave him. The drilling(?) at the Naval Academy didn't bother me. As a matter of fact, life was a lot easier than it was on the farm. On a dairy farm, you have to leave whatever you're doing on Sunday afternoon and do the milking.
You were accustomed to getting up early, too, for the same reason I presume.
After the first year, we had a midshipmen cruise and went through the Keyhoe(?) Canal in Germany and that was very enjoyable. This was on the Battleship WYOMING which was built in 1913. Then the second summer was the destroyer summer and the third summer, was again a cruise, but we were scheduled to go into the Mediterranean, but the war was starting in 1939. So, we went to Canada instead.
You lost out on that as far as a major adventure is concerned.
Well, after World War II where I did all my sea duty on the East Coast and went to the sixth fleet, so I think the Mediterranean is a lot more interesting. There were far apart places out in the far east.
The coursework at the Academy is quite different from how is taught at Connecticut state is it not?
The system there was quite different than what it is now. Everybody took the same courses, except for foreign language. You could take Spanish, Italian, German, or French. That's one way that was different, but it was all the same thing. Most of the instructors were officers. We used to make the joke that if they failed their math course at the Naval Academy, they sent them back to learn. Looking back on it academically it was not very good. We had a few very good professors. Some of them were officers, but most of them were just ordinary types and further more, it used to take... They had a system where they had to get a daily grade every day you went to class. For example, in math, he'd send you up to the board and work all these things and I used to try to derive my formulas, so I didn't get very good daily grades, but on the exam, I did very well. On a 4.0 system, I'd be down something like a 2.7 and 3.6 on the exam, but the daily grades counted for a great deal more, so my standing was not as high as it might have been. We were always very good at exams anyhow and at law school the exam is the whole thing. I didn't have any difficulty at the Academy and I'd have to say that I enjoyed it.
How did you relate to the harassment that the plebes always seemed to get from the upperclassmen in that first year?
We never got bothered a great deal. The class of 1939 which was ahead of us, were a very unruly class. They caught all the hell. We sort of drifted along in their shadow, so I don't recall getting very much in the way of hazing on a regular basis. Once in a while someone would come in, but somehow we were the beneficiaries of changing ideas of how they ought to handle the plebes and so we benefited from that, but the previous classes had a much tougher time. We did have to walk down the center of the passageway and square corners.
Did you have to sit on your imagination in the meals?
I never had to shove the chair around. We sat at the second class end the table and we used to have to put on little skits for them, but there was no real disciplinary action taken down there and I don't think I ever had to put my chair under the table.
What about extra-curricular activities, did you do much in the way of athletics or sailing?
I was on the outdoor rifle team and got my letter in rifle and was able to go to the _____ dance my last year down there in the boathouse and I did a little boxing, but I was never good enough... I finally got to the point that I could keep people from clubbing me, but I could never hit hard enough and I was on the boxing squad, but I was never really on the team.
Was Uncle Beanie on the staff when you were there?
He's one that made an impression on a lot...
He was character, but I don't know that he was all that tough.
That was what I hear stories about, pranks that he... Apparently he was a real softy once you got past that shell.
I once got put on report. We were over firing the pistol. That forty-five was a terrible weapon. We've had a lot of people injured aboard ship and you can't tell whether there is a shell in the chamber or not and it was so hard to hold if somebody would fire it, it could go anywhere from down right in the ground ahead of you or straight up. I did get to be expert in the pistol, but only after I got out to the YORKTOWN, but this submarine officer, as a matter of fact, he's the one that had to be relieved, because he was a tough character, but responsibility in war time apparently broke him down, because he had to be relieved from command of a submarine. I was on the firing line and I was throwing clips back and I would turn to ______ the clip back and he accused me of deliberately pointing the pistol at everybody and I didn't get into any great trouble, but it annoyed me, because he was exaggerating what actually happened.
Any other recollections of experiences at the Academy or anecdotes about personal things that happened?
No. All my friends were from the south. I don't know why that was, but Haywood Smith, here in Raleigh was one of them; one from Chattanooga and a couple from Mississippi. We were a close group and I have a picture in there showing the five of us _________ who came from here and he flunked out the second time and he said that he did not know what a poor education he had as a background. He did not know, when it came to the Naval Academy that the sum of the squares of the sides of the right triangle equals the square of the hypotenuse. I had a much better educational background than a lot of these people did and the reason that so many of them seem to flunk out is that they
didn't have to take the entrance exam if they were of satisfactory status in college. In those days, Southern colleges were not flunking many people out. They may not get a degree, but they'd keep them on there.
With the class of 1940, did very many of them go to the prep school, such as the one in Washington. I know the Class of 1941, quite a few of them went to he prep school there in Washington to prepare them for the Academy.
There were a bunch of those, people that had gone to the prep school and I don't remember the exact number, but there was also these personal prep schools and the Navy had one and I did not realize that if I had enlisted, the enlisted quota for each Naval Academy class was one hundred and fifty. They never filled it and they had a prep school up in Bambridge, Maryland, I believe and that would have been a sure way of getting in. Although, maybe if I had enlisted, I would have gotten trouble and wouldn't have made it.
The other thing interesting was I didn't have a date before I went to the Naval Academy and the plebes weren't allowed to date, except they could go to the shows of students, plays, musicals. I took a couple of fourteen year old girls and that was my start at dating, but then they also had and I don't believe they have them anymore, the stagline hops(?). The stagline would take up about half the floor and it was an easy way for me to get started dancing, by just putting my dress uniform on and going over to the hop and cutting in on somebody and making them put up with me for a few minutes. Then, I had my... My first roommate had flunked out and he came back in two years later. He had enlisted and came back in that way. He was from Massachusetts. He flunked out again, but he was trying to sever his relationship with my wife and so I got a blind date, because
I could take her to the hop and he couldn't as a plebe. She said that she went home and told her best friend that, “I've met the man that I'm going to marry.” I tell everybody that had I known she'd said that, I might have run. We were finally married after the YORKTOWN was sunk in 1942, three years later. I dated her a great deal once the YORKTOWN came to the east coast to participate in Mr. Roosevelt's secret war. I can't think of any other things. If I go back and look at the Lucky Bag perhaps I could remember some of the anecdotes, but it's the only thing that comes to mind at the moment.
Now, when the class graduated, you were appointed directly to the YORKTOWN, were you not?
How did you rate a carrier for your first assignment?
Well, carriers were not considered number one. Most of them went to Battleships where they were so far down they really didn't have anything. I was first ordered to a cruiser, but then because of my eyes... I was having problems with my eyes and had to take an exam to see if I could get a regular commission two years later, as a matter of fact, after the war started, I went to the hospital to get my eyes checked out. I was the assistant navigator and by this time, because I wasn't doing so much studying, the eyes had recovered and my eyes were dilated and the doctor didn't believe that... He thought I had memorized the chart. He said, “You couldn't possibly see that well.” So, I was ordered to come on back a couple days later and they had a great big chart with all these small letters on it. I went down on the left to the thirteen line and go across. There's no way to memorize that one, so he had to O.K. me and I got a regular commission. My eyes
generally ________ went down hill rather steadily. A sort of interesting thing that I learned is that if you're eyesight is not too good and you're trying to identify a ship, you look for different things that you can see readily. Most people with good eye sight would just read the hull number.
I went to the YORKTOWN and we were very fortunate in that the Navy was expanding, so generally ensigns get the job of being assistant this and assistant that and I was given the job of assistant navigator, which generally didn't go to someone who had less than two years or more services. So, I had very good jobs, first year as assistant navigator and then as the ship's secretary, but the Navy didn't believe in aircraft carriers. There were some influential people who saw that. I remember going over to Hayword Smith over in the COLORADO, telling me that, “You ought to be over here in the real Navy.” The surface Navy was obsessed with the Battle of Jutland(?) and it was always my idea that when they didn't have any battleships, when we lost all those cruisers in 1942, rather than casting loose the destroyers as they would if they had cruisers, the battleships would be the main battle line and the cruisers ______, but because they didn't have any battleships, the cruisers took their place and they lined the destroyers up. The Japanese with those long lance torpedo's just picked them off. It wasn't until ______ Burke got out there that they really started using destroyers properly, but I was impressed with the, for example, our torpedo plans. I said, “You know, if they came in on both sides, how would you escape them an attack?” When I went to the YORKTOWN, two of the four squadrons were _______ and on reflection here in recent years, I think we have to thank Roosevelt for expanding the Navy as he did, we did not get _______ fighters until May of 1941. We know that was roughly six months before the war started.
Suppose we had to go out and fight the Japanese arrows with those modified World War I type aircrafts. Furthermore, Roosevelt was always misleading people to get his way. The YORKTOWN, they called, the WPA ship. It was built down at Newport News and it was not built with a Navy appropriation. It was built under the Works Progress Administration.
Of course, he got three carriers built down there, the YORKTOWN, the ENTERPRISE, and the HORNET and we were fortunate that we had those ships and the new aircraft, because there was no way that we could delay getting out there and facing the Japanese.
Of course, Roosevelt had an identity with the Navy.
That's correct. As a matter of fact, they used to say when the flag selection list came over, he used to get out the Navy register and go down, remembering a great number of those people. He just saved the American people and we're fortunate that he did. Also, we were out there in the Pacific and then we were brought around to the Atlantic to conduct Mr. Roosevelt's secret war which he did by extending out the neutrality zone and supposivley we were on neutrality patrol. Actually, in the fall of 1941, we participated in an escort. The 5th Canadian Armored Division was coming up, being rotated home and so this was a troop convoy and we went out to MOP, the mid-ocean meeting point which was sort of south of Iceland and here came this pitiful looking set of escorts that the British had and half a dozen little small things and we had a battleship, two cruisers, an aircraft carrier, about a dozen destroyers and we brought them back to Halifax and we didn't have any contact with. The country as a whole... There
was so much sense of Roosevelt had to face. It was the man from Chicago who was an isolationist father, somebody. Anyhow, he had to contend with those people and as a practical politician, he couldn't just push them aside and as a result, although there was a lot of talk about our going to war along the east coast, but it didn't extend very far into the country and what we were doing there did not extend to the fleet out in Pearl Harbor. As a matter of fact, there was an assumption among the staff of the Commander Aircraft Battleforce that we'd spent all the time in the yard. He said, “Well, let's see your new bridge?” My classmate over on the ENTERPRISE was telling me that it would do us some good to work with the Battleforce and get ourselves straightened out. Actually, we were in much better shape because of our work in the Atlantic and working with the British on fighter direction. This is something that those people weren't up on and we had a very good fighter direction organization. Also we were fortunate that our gunnery officer was Ernie Davis(?) who comes from North Carolina. He would get twenty millimeters... That was another thing.
When the war started, they taxied the air group down and loaded aboard--this was the Monday following that Sunday--loaded them aboard. All the wives were out there weeping and everybody was so nervous and the _____ pulled the ship out before the brows came down and they went crashing down on the deck and we went out to the anchors. The next day, came right back in, unloaded the air group and put us in a shipyard for four days and we got, instead of the fifty caliber machine guns, we got twenty millimeters, which had an explosive bullet in it and really made the difference. Jocko Clarke was our exec. and he was so down on everybody aboard the ship and there's a professor up at Annapolis that sort of took his side and I wrote a couple letters to
the editor(?). Well, I wrote a letter to the professor saying that the ship wasn't all that bad. Dixie Keifer(?) became the executive officer after Jocko left. Jocko would sit playing cards in the board room talking about how he didn't have anything to do with all these fine department heads he had and of course, morale just soared and Jocko went stomping around the ship when we were in the shipyard and said, “What the hell are we wasting our time in here for. Let's go out and get those bastards.” If we hadn't gotten those twenty millimeters, I don't think we would have survived the Battle of the Coral Sea. Fortunately for the Navy, by the time that Jocko made Admiral, we had such a superiority of force that being aggressive paid off.
Ernie Davis delegated the responsibility right down to the gun of making sure that no attacking aircraft came in without being shot at and we didn't have the problem that they had over at the ENTERPRISE when we first made those island raids in the beginning of the war. One of their one point one mouths didn't not open fire at all, even though they were being attacked by a Japanese aircraft, because they didn't get the word to open fire. We used to do a lot of training, teaching these people how to lead the target and at the Battle of the Coral Sea, it really paid off, because we had so many aircraft, dive-bombers coming after us. We shot down thirteen of them. They were very unfortunate, because we had to come down and there was at least one place where the bomb hit the walkway around the flight deck and of course, it went off and we had some near misses. Half the ship was being shaken up so, I thought our stern was being torn to pieces, but it wasn't. It was just things exploding in the water. Over on the LEXINGTON, the ship that was lost, the captain in his report said that anti-aircraft fire, as usual, was ineffective. It wasn't ineffective with us and it really made the difference.
Now the Coral Sea was the first engagement that the YORKTOWN was involved in, was it not?
Do you think that the experience in convoy duty and being up in the North Atlantic was a worthwhile training... What it amounted to was a training and acclamation type of thing.
Our air group really became part of the ship. The airgroups really tended to be rotated on and off during the war. Those people worked with us for over a year and they felt part of the ship and I think the sense of being in combat was important and we certainly had that. We used to tease the chaplain, Chaplain Hamilton, he went around with a gray face all the time. Apparently he hadn't made peace with the lord. We would sit down at a table with them and we'd start talking. I said, “Well up there in the North Atlantic, the water is so cold that if the ship had sunk, should you take your clothes off and freeze or should you keep your clothes on and be dragged down to drown.” He would say, “Gentlemen, I don't think that is a proper subject to talk about at the dinner table.” But, that sense, and also the fact that we had developed, as I said before, the fighter direction. Now, unfortunately because there was an aviation admiral over on the LEXINGTON, Frank Jack Fletcher gave them control of fighter of direction and as a matter of fact, we could see that they just weren't doing a good job. They'd send fighters out in the wrong direction and also the station of combat air patrol at twenty thousand feet and they wanted to know at what altitude this incoming attack was and they never got an answer. The incoming attack came in at thirty thousand feet and of course, there's no
way that our fighters could get to them as they wiz by and that's why we had so many dive-bombers coming after us.
Was the YORKTOWN equipped with radar this early?
Yes. We got our radar. It looks like a bed spring and we got ours the first time they had them, about the time I joined the ship when we were out in Pearl. We learned to use ours properly and a lot of these people didn't. Based on that learning, we had a combat information center later on when I had command of the DE, we built ourselves a combat information center. This was before the Navy put them on. I did that based on my experience on the YORKTOWN of our airwing commander or airgroup commander, I think they called them in those days. We didn't give him flying job. He was in our flight control, which was a combat information center, directing the fighters just as the British did, over in the Battle of Britain.
When did the YORKTOWN leave Norfolk for the South Pacific?
We left Norfolk... You see the seventh was on a Sunday. I think we went out the following Saturday or Sunday. It was probably the following Sunday.
So as soon as they changed those guns.
Four days. Four days they took those fifty caliber off and put the twenty millimeter on. The twenty millimeter was really a great weapon.
So the ship was ready to... Had December the seventh not happened when it did and we'd not gone to war at that part, was the YORKTOWN already under orders to go to the Pacific or anything or was that just a reaction?
No. We would have continued in the Atlantic. It is my impression that German submarines were trying to avoid Americans and the group __________, a destroyer that
was sunk, Roosevelt said here it was carrying mail to our troops in Iceland. Actually, it got contact with a German submarine and just maintained contact, just REUBEN JAMES(?) and calling in British aircrafts. They probably would have avoided him had the REUBEN JAMES(?) stuck so closely to them, because British aircrafts were going to be coming in on them. So, they sank it. I think that Hitler wanted to keep United States out of the war and the Navy called it lend-lease(?) which is what came on one of his speeches. He says, “Just imagine that suppose your neighbor had a fire and lost some of his equipment. You would let him yours.”
We had reverse lend-lease(?). I'll get to that when I get to the sub-chaser.
You were not up in the North Atlantic at the time when the REUBEN JAMES was torpedoed, were you?
Yes, we were. That was in the fall, September or something like that of 1941. As a matter of fact, it was earlier than that, because the captain and the exec., Jocko got very upset, because some enlisted men wrote a little poem that said, “There will be a plaque on the Thames(?) for the REUBEN JAMES.” Of course, he didn't account for the fact that we call it the Thames up in Connecticut. They were very upset about this attitude and nothing ever came of it, but you know, that was fairly early on, but we were in the Atlantic by this time. We came in February or something like that. We had an exercise off of Pearl Harbor and then we refueled and headed for the canal. I don't remember whether the people with wives out there were told that we were leaving. Of course, I didn't have one, so I didn't have anybody to notify. We headed for the canal and we went with a bunch of destroyers and the division of battleships that came later, but we went
there in the early spring and then they put us up... I guess to conceal our presence, we were sent three weeks in Bermuda and then finally we went up to anchor up in the southern coast of Labrador, I guess it was. I forget the name of the place, but that was major base and then during that fall, we had our destroyers were actually right with the British escorts. They were really escorting. We only had that one experience of being in an escort group when we brought the Canadian armored division back. I think he would have kept them there. Now, how he would have maneuvered us to get in the war in case they looked like they were going to invade, I don't know. It was never quite clear to me why when the Japanese attacked and we went to war against Japan, Germany and Italy felt that they had to declare war against the United States. Suppose they hadn't. I don't know what they would have done, but they declared war before we declared war against them.
They knew it was inevitable.
Then of course, since we had no convoys of our troops, we really lost the newspaper clipping I had, the recollection the German ______. There was no defense at all. At least when we got convoys organized, but that first six months was a real disaster along the east coast.
Once the YORKTOWN departed for the Pacific, did it go into Pearl initially or did it go directly into the war zone?
No, we went to Pearl and then we made one or two raids out there on those islands and then we went to South Pacific. As a matter of fact, I learned to type and was a fine secretary. I learned to type, because we went over a month without getting any mail at all.
What kind of raids?
These were just on their island, on their bases, go out there and... The ship itself never got involved in any kind of combat at all. It was all the air group. We were down there just patrolling and they were concerned about the fact that the Japanese invaded New Guinea and that's how the Battle of the Coral Sea got started and there was so much confusion the night before the main battle day and I was the battle day officer on deck, because everybody was on battle stations and I got the job of flag secretary, but I said I wanted to qualify as an officer of the deck. At night, three Japanese aircrafts approached. We were recovering our air group and I think that this is the day that they did sink that little tiny Japanese carrier and they kept flying around. They were lost, obviously and they kept circling around. What we should have done is called off the recovery of the aircraft and tell our fighters to go after those. Finally, it was over the YORKTOWN and it passed over the YORKTOWN and headed right for us, the three of them. Ernie Davis, the gunnery officer, says, “Tell the captain that I want to shoot if they come.”
I said, “Nobody open fire until we open fire.” ...tracers all over the place and they did get shot down by one of our fighters or at least one of them did and maybe the others got away, but when an aircraft took a wave off, they always went off to the left. This time, it was getting dark and one of them went to the right and one of our twenty millimeters on the starboard side, since he didn't expect to see one of our own planes coming by, he opened fire, but the change of angle was so fast that he really couldn't get a hit, although he got one bullet and it went right through the canopy. There was a lot of hard feeling down there in the ward room. They almost had some fist fights. However, the next day when they came back from their attack on the two Japanese aircraft carriers,
they saw that we were still operating and the LEXINGTON wasn't. That changed their attitude considerably. We downgraded in the Battle of the Coral Sea, because we didn't think they hit anything and also Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Admiral King was down on him. You know, somebody in the Naval History wrote an article about how Frank Jack Fletcher got a bum deal and he did. It wasn't until many years later when we started learning stuff from Japanese history, that those two big aircraft carriers, one of them was so crippled that it almost capsized on the way back to Japan and they lost very heavily in their air group and so those two ships were supposed to participate in Midway and they didn't because of the fact that we put them out of action at Coral Sea. We were never given much credit for that until recent years, but had their been six carriers at Midway instead of four, the odds that we were able to sink all six of them are pretty much lower. One of them probably could have come, but didn't have an effective air wing and the other one was crippled.
Well now, Coral Sea was your first encounter with actual hostilities. How did you react to...?
I suppose I was scared, but the story I tell... We had these kids up in the loft, people controlling gunnery and these bombs would come down and they would be over there looking at the bomb coming down and run over there and look at the bomb hit the water. I don't think I would have done that. We didn't have an open bridge. The captain was out on the wing maneuvering around. Of course, we didn't have signals in those days. The destroyers were just supposed to keep out our way. I peeked out the window of the pilot house and I could see this long line of Japanese aircrafts coming down. So, I pulled back in and I said that it's really not my job to look at those damn things. My job
is to watch out for others and make sure we don't run into our own ships. The captain had the job of maneuvering and the gunnery people had the job...END OF SIDE 1
What kind of actual hits did the YORKTOWN actually suffer at Coral Sea?
We had a near miss back aft that had ruptured an oil tank. As a matter of fact, they reported that we could have been tracked by people going up that ____ wake. That got repaired up in Pearl, but they brought us in... We did not go out to Midway with the other two carriers, because we were in the yard getting those emergency repairs. I supplied a considerable amount of information to Walter Lord(?) in his book. I've probably got a copy of it some place in these papers, nineteen single spaced pages reporting that. That was the only damage we had. It was a near miss and it was close enough to rupture that tank. As I told you, we were really bouncing around and I was convinced that we were being hit back aft. I couldn't see back aft, but I could see forward and we weren't being hit up there.
Had you not had those heavier guns, the twenty millimeters, you probably would have had less protection.
That's correct. I think that twenty millimeters was a key to our being able to shoot those people down and of course you know, that kind of fire coming at you, the pilot is likely to be a little bit fast and a little bit higher when he releases his bomb. I think that was essential to our being able to survive the Coral Sea and of course, those aircrafts coming in, those dive bombers were not intercepted by our fighter patrol, as a I pointed out earlier, because the LEXINGTON's air control didn't identify the altitude.
We did not have at that time, height-finding radar. There was a chart you used to show how your radar contact would fade in and out. We determined altitude from that.
Was the YORKTOWN within visual proximity of the LEXINGTON when it got hit?
Yes, but as we maneuvered during that attack, I think we gradually got out of sight. There was a lot of argument in those days about whether you should keep them in formation. Later on they did. They'd have three carriers in a task force and a screen around it and when they maneuvered it under attack, it was by signal and they all turned together, but we didn't have that then, so all of our maneuvering was just by individual ship and we did get further separated, but before that, when we steamed, we'd steam within a few thousand yards, but during the action, of course, we drifted apart.
So, you were not observer to the ship sinking.
No. I think we saw her in the distance dead in the water and of course, since that was a battle cruiser originally, the fuel system... There was no way that they could clear it before an action. With ours, we could clear all the pipes that carried gasoline and put CO² in them. They not only were hit, but then they had a lot of explosions later on and they couldn't recover their air group.
You know, one of the things I had to recall here recently, you know all this noise about friendly fire? Well, we started the Battle of Coral Sea shooting at our own aircraft and we ended the action shooting at our own aircraft. It wasn't really so dangerous the second time, but after the battle was over, we had a squadron and the Japanese torpedo planes came in a shallow 'v' all spread out. Approaching were all these planes coming in and you couldn't see from ahead, they had turned and showed us a silhouette and the
gunnery officer was saying he wanted to shoot at him and the air officer came out to the bridge and here he is, an aviator with some twenty years experience. He had been one of the squadron commanders before he became the air officer of the ship and he got to borrow some binoculars and he looked at the aircraft and he says, captain, those are not our aircrafts. So, the captain said, “Open fire.” They were out of range when we started open firing and so they called back to the LEXINGTON and he said so and so, “call them off.” Then they turned and we could see that they were ours.
That's an inevitable part of warfare though, isn't it?
That's correct, but they made such a big deal over this sort of thing now and of course, we had so few casualties. If you had the kind of casualties that the ground troops had in World War II, people being hit by friendly fire, it wouldn't have been so significant on a percentage basis.
Identifying which ones were killed by friendly fire would be relatively difficult. In a situation like that, with the LEXINGTON and then with the YORKTOWN at Midway, what happens to the air group when they are not able to return to the carrier?
I think at Midway... I don't know what happened to those... Well, they landed aboard... You see, the LEXINGTON didn't realize that they... Most of their air group went down with the ship, but at Midway when we were hit a bunch of our aircrafts went over to the other carriers.
There is sufficient space on a carrier for additional planes?
Well, you probably had so many aircrafts that were damaged and just pushed them over the side.
So, after the Coral Sea, you were sent back to Pearl for repairs.
We were sent back to take part in Midway. They knew the Japs were coming. As a matter of fact, I, ship secretary, I was the one that had to pick up the operation order and I was up on the bridge telling the captain that it was just amazing how much we knew about them. The captain said, “Don't even talk about it.” We knew everything they were doing, but we were sent back there to participate.
Was the battle already underway when you arrived?
No. We were late getting out there, but maybe we were a day ahead of time or something like that, not very much. Meanwhile, the other two carriers were already there and we never saw them. Admiral Spruance(?) was controlling them and Frank Jack Fletcher came under criticism for turning everything over to him and I pointed out in one of my letters that he went to the cruiser after we were put out of action and the cruiser did not have the facilities, communication facilities to really continue controlling them, so he turned all of tactical command over the Admiral Spruance(?) and then of course, after the ship was sunk, we didn't have information on whether the Japs were still coming or not and we were told on our operation order that under no circumstances risk surface contact with their battle line. As a matter of fact, admiral Spruance did a great thing when he pursued them. Admiral Yamamoto(?) lined up his battleships with the idea that if they came close enough, he was going to get them. Fortunately, Admiral Spruance turned around in time to avoid that, but once we were out of action, the admiral left ad went over to the cruiser.
You said that you were not in proximity at all to the other carriers in this. Were you operating with just destroy escort, operating independently or were you just physically out of sight of them?
We had a group there. We had our destroyers screened(?) and then we had a cruiser too. I think they sailed with us. They went ______ screen(?) and meanwhile, the LEXINGTON and the HORNET were operating together in one group.
Tell us, if you will, something of what transpired with you personally when the YORKTOWN began to suffer hits during the battle.
We were dead in the water. The first attack... I'm convinced that the reason anti-aircraft wasn't as obviously effective as it was at Coral Sea is that I think these Japanese pilots knew that they weren't going to go home. As a matter of fact, one of the dive bombers came down and was being hit and it lost its wings and toppled over and the bomb came loose and they had armored piercing bombs and they always went deep, but this one must have landed on its side, because it exploded right on the flight deck. Of course their planks out there, their metal planks, so we could still operate the aircraft. The thing that stopped us was one went down the smoke stack shaft and disrupted the air supply and that is why we were dead in the water and we finally got up only to twenty knots by the time that the torpedo planes came in.
You said the planes attacked with a vengeance that hadn't been the case at Coral Sea. They were operating then almost as Kamikazes?
Very close to it. A great determination there. We're going to get them, because they've got us. I think that's the case that they survived all the fire and when the torpedo planes came in I had to admire our fighter pilots. They hadn't refueled. They took off and turned and came in on the port side. They took off, made a sharp turn and went right down our line of fire. We were shooting and they were close to our line of fire. So, I had
to admire those pilots for having that kind of determination. We got hit by two torpedoes. Of the dozen or so that came in, there were only two of them that got hits.
The destroyers and cruisers you had with you were not effective in ______ the bombers or the torpedoes.
I suspect that they weren't as good as our gunners were, because they didn't... I think we were very fortunate in having Ernie Davis from Beaufort.
Of course, Earnest Davis. I knew of him. I knew his brother very well, James Davis. He was also Rear Admiral.
Ernie Davis was a genius at getting that air defense organized and that's why we survived the Coral Sea. He said that our gunnery wasn't as effective, but I think we were fighting against pilots that came very close to having a kamikaze attitude. You know, if you expect to go home and see your family, when that fire starts getting heavy, you drop the torpedo and turn away.
A little more conservative.
Right. They flew right by the ship. The ones that hit us actually flew right by. The pilot was waving his fist at us.
What was your feeling during this time?
I really didn't have time to reflect on anything. I think our experience in Coral Sea probably gave us a little more self confidence than we deserved to have. I think we were calmer about it, because we'd been through something like that before. Of course, it was just momentary. This attack came in and then we became dead in the water and the fact that we could only get up to twenty knots rather than thirty knots had a considerable thing to do with the fact that they got the hits that they did with the torpedoes. The first
lieutenant called up to the bridge and said, “Tell the captain that I can't do anything to take the list off the ship.” People have written articles criticizing that, but we did not have... There was no way that we could get power to do to the pumps and we didn't have all the portable equipment that we have and we didn't have the cables, electric cables that you plug in the bulkhead and you ________ with that cable. They had that later on in the war. There wasn't anything he could do. They hit the forward distribution board. It flooded and killed everybody there. They could not keep the circuit breakers closed in the ______ board, so.
There were no emergency generators that could be operated independently, huh?
That's right. So, there wasn't anything could be done and of course, the ship had capsized with everybody aboard. One of the things that they did learn from that battle is to disembark or abandon ship of people that they didn't need for damage control and that's something that they did later in the war. They had a partial abandon of ship, all the air group for example or people with the guns. The damage control people stayed on board and tried to work on the thing.
Did that happen on the YORKTOWN?
No. That was later.
Everyone abandoned. We didn't have any. As a matter of fact, we didn't even practice abandoning ship, because Captain Buckmaster thought that that was bad for morale to even think about abandoning ship. People didn't know... For example, my roommate went down there in the boat and his battleship station was in a motor launch. They went down there and sat in the boat and wondered where the crane operator was.
There was no way that under abandoned ship that we'd do anything except go down those lines. They didn't teach the people how to abandon by going down those knotted lines and some of these people that would slide down were people that got burns on their hands, but the knots would rip up the strings on their lifejackets. Ernie Davis was damaged after that week when we abandoned the second time. For some reason he got in the water. The underwater explosions gave him a lot of intestinal damage. I didn't want to get wet, so I was one of the last off and I went down to the quarter deck and up in the racks underneath the flight deck were spare aircrafts and I went up there and got one of these two-man life rafts, inflated it, put it in the water, got ready to go down and by the time I got down there, some other people had gotten it and were paddling away. I was afraid that I had too much. I had my binoculars and my pistol. I had a flight jacket that I had picked up on the flight dock. Actually, it had fifteen hundred dollars of fighting forty-two's money in it. Had I known that, I could have stuck it in my shirt. They panicked also. I got to the raft and was pushing it along and I put all my stuff in it and then the destroyer nearby started sounding its alarm and there was an air attack coming in and they wanted to recall their boat. So, I left the life raft and went over and climbed in the motor whale boat. Then, aboard that ship, somebody brought the binoculars and the pistol, but not the flight jacket. When we were on our way back, the salvage party was on its way back. The pilot said, “Look outside the _______ because I've got my flight jacket there and its got the fighting forty-two's welfare money in it.”
I said, “Sorry, I tried to get it. It didn't make it.” Everybody was very enthusiastic about going back. We had to station guards at the little thing you ride in when you go from ship to ship. One of the funnier things. The destroyers were still out there and they
were terrified of course, being left there with a carrier. They were just circling. Our ASW, particularly in the Pacific was not what it was in the Atlantic. We got a lot a better in the Atlantic against he German submarines. They sent some people over to get the coding machines and then all this excitement, because we'd never practiced at it. All those coding machines were just left. They should have been thrown overboard. The signal bridge did throw their books overboard, but down there in our communications center, they didn't and so this destroyer did that and then this destroyer picked up a lot of damage control equipment, a bunch more than they were entitled to. So, when they came along side down there, the _____ deck was almost in the water. They came along side and they stored all that stuff aboard.
Then, another destroyer sent some people over and their instructions were to see what they could do to try to take that list off the ship. So, the first thing they got to was all this damage control equipment. They threw it all in the sea.
Although the YORKTOWN was listing at twenty-two, four, five degrees, was it still taking on water or had the compartments sealed and stabilized?
I think it was stabilized at that point. With that stabilization, if they had known they could depend on, they could have hooked a cruiser to it and towed it out of there. As it was, by the time we got back, there was a fleet towed that had a line. It was only making one or two knots, something like that. My job was to go around to all the ready rooms and pick up the flight pads with the flight codes and lock them up in the safe and I also picked up some of those leather flight jackets and put them in the safe also. Then, we had an alarm system going to alert everybody in case it was an attack. We had the destroyer along side. There were fires going on and destroyers put their hoses over and
that's the _________. Somebody said, “torpedoes.” A twenty millimeter alarm gun is sounding off and the HAMMON(?), which is the ship along side, sank and then when she went underneath, I thought she took more casualties then they did. This is one of things that I said saved me. I should have sold my story to Coca-Cola, because I was supposed to take all the flag files and I had them in big mail bags and I got down to the quarter deck and they had some snacks there and all these Coca-Colas and I was standing there when the alarm went off. I was supposed to cross over to that destroyer and then get in their boat to go to a destroyer that was scheduled to go inland.
Instead, you took a Coke break.
That's right. Now, if I hadn't, I would have been over there aboard the HAMMOND(?), but she went down and all the depth charges exploded and before they exploded, you could look out there and see all these people in the water and after that explosion, you just see a ring of people around the edge. I thought they must have lost almost all of them, but that wasn't the case. They did have pretty heavy casualties about a third It would seem to be to be so long before those torpedoes hit and they sit on our starboard side, which is a high side. Then, I went all the way down to the port side which was right on the boarder of the hanger deck. I said, “Suppose there's a submarine over there,” so I worked my way back up _______. I didn't think about the fact that the aircraft might fall on me and I took the bags and wrapped them with cable, so that they wouldn't go floating around and just waited for the thing to strike. The captain... Everybody was so stunned at this point that nobody knew what to do, but finally the first lieutenant sort of gathered everybody together and said, “Let's get up on the ______. We don't have anymore life rafts. Let's get up on the _____ and be up there to follow the
ship in case she were to roll over,” and then we got up there and they said, “Let's go back into the officer's quarters, since it's right aft of the _____ and get mattresses out of the officer's quarters.” So, we went back and the farther you went back inside the ship, you're in a narrow passageway and the number of the people going back got smaller and smaller and finally all the way down, almost to the end before you get to the hanger, there was only one sailor with me. So, I got him the silver star.
That was kind of an erie feeling, was it not, to go back deep inside a dead ship?
Yes, it was. It was very scary, but I did go all the way back. I didn't have anybody to recommend me for a metal, but I got him one. After all, it my responsibility and sense of duty was supposed to be better than the enlisted man, and he was remarkable. Then the tug came along side. A couple of our officers had gone down below earlier that morning and packed up their bags and they were throwing suitcases over to the tug. The tug's crew which was very nervous, because that's exactly where that destroyer was, they didn't appreciate this. Then, the exec. Dixie Kiefer(?) had broken his ankle going over the first time and so the navigator was the acting exec. and the captain says, “Is everybody off?”
He said, “Yes.” Then, the captain got off and onto the... Then chief engineer and two of his people showed up. The captain was there with tears in his eyes and he said, “You told me everybody was off the ship,” and then he tried to take a line and swing back and touch the ship and again, the skipper of the tug didn't care for this bit of protocol, so he never succeeded and he never forgave the navigator and gave him a bum fitness report. I don't know how he would have told that everybody... I don't think we had a close count.
The attitude was changed. The captain was going to go back the next day. Remember I said that there was great enthusiasm of going back and saving our ship, but after those torpedoes hit and the destroyer went down, we always had the feeling aboard ship that enemy will attack the ship and they may get us, but the destroyers will always be there. When the HAMMOND sank in five minutes...
That gave you a really futile feeling.
Yeah. They looked very vulnerable. There were five or six destroyers out there, but they didn't look like they could save us. Then, all the junior officers are saying, “well, of course if the captain wants us to go, I'll go, but I don't see that I can do any good over there.” Then, we got transferred to a destroyer and the next morning, the ship rolled over.
Initially, before that second hit by the torpedoes the next day when the HAMMOND sunk, they could not have intentionally flooded compartments on the opposite side from the sides ______ on to try to ______ it?
They didn't have the equipment to do it. There was a diesel pump, but they only pumped the main drain, which was the main engine spaces. If they got flooded, they could use those to pump that out, but they couldn't pump a flood in on the other side at all.
That could have balanced it, could it not?
Yes. That could have. They had a little fire to put out, but I think they were doing some flooding from the destroyer HAMMOND, but we had to use their hoses, because we didn't have any power. A lot of the criticism of the YORKTOWN... We never got the Navy citation. Actually, I learned from Ernie Davis that the _____ when they were
reviewing everything after the war that they wanted to give the YORKTOWN a unit citation, but the skipper of the LEXINGTON was then commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet and they knew that they couldn't get away politically with giving the YORKTOWN one and not giving one to the LEXINGTON and they didn't want to give one the LEXINGTON, because they'd performed so poorly, so we didn't get one either. That was that story and a lot of people felt that the YORKTOWN didn't deserve to get one, but that wasn't the reason they didn't.
So, after it sunk, you were transported back to Pearl on one of the other destroyers?
Yeah. Then we sat there and because they did not have the organization going for survivors of ships that got sunk, later on in the war, you got a new pay record, a new health record, a new service jacket given thirty days leave, and you're on your way. We didn't get that stuff. They finally sent us to San Francisco and we sat there for about a month. We got there on the fourth of July and it was early August... In fact, everybody was getting married and I finally called my wife and told her to come on out and my mother in law got on the phone and said, “What are you going to do when she gets out there?”
I said, “Well, I sort of thought we'd get married.” We got married on the twenty-fifth of July in a cathedral up there and then we sat for a couple of weeks more.
One question that I meant ask you before we got entirely away from Midway, was the battle of Midway still going on at the time you were trying to salvage the YORKTOWN or had the battle itself...
The battle had ended. I think they were still attacking. I remember there is a picture of a cruiser, a heavy cruiser that they attacked and it looks like the guns were _____. They lost ______, so they were still running after... Admiral Spruance was pursuing them. They had turned around and lost all their carriers. They knew they weren't going to be able to take capture of Midway, so they were retreating, but he did form a defensive line of his heavy ships and I think under Admiral Spruance those two other carriers, of course, didn't suffer any attack at all. They were continuing to go after them, but after a couple of days, I think, Admiral Spruance saw fit to turn around and that was the end of it.
Of course, you still had the danger of Japanese submarines in the area, even though the battle itself was over. Those torpedoes that sunk the HAMMOND, were they submarine torpedoes or torpedo planes?
No, those were submarine torpedoes. They had a longer range than our torpedoes. This is why when we lost those cruisers they couldn't understand where those torpedoes were coming from, because they didn't believe that they could fire those torpedoes at such a long range, so they had a longer than we did and they probably packed a bigger wallop anyhow. In the submarine force in the beginning of the war, we didn't even have good control of the depth at which the torpedoes were going.
The HAMMOND's depth charges that exploded, that was due to the fact that the ship had sunk to the depths that ignites them?
The skipper of the HAMMOND was not sure why those things got set. They were supposed to be set on safe when you were in that situation, but they saw one of the gunner's _____ back aft among those depth charges as the Japanese torpedoes were
approaching and he was probably working automatically. There was a submarine out there and he got set to drop depth charges, so he was probably acting automatically, but they had been set on safe when they were alongside. I think they took one hit directly and one went underneath them, because when the ship rolled over the next morning, you could see this big hole in the side toward the bottom of the ship. Of course, getting hit on the starboard side, it sort of took some of the list off, but undoubtedly the next morning, the bulkhead broke or something of that sort, that had been weakened and took on more water and sank.
That's an awesome sight, I would think, seeing something that large slip under the water.
Was the YORKTOWN still being towed at the time that it sunk?
No. After they got that torpedo hit, the tug had cast off and the tug came around and got along side to take the... We had about one hundred and twenty five people in that salvage party.
So, they did not reconnect?
Well, with those torpedo hits, you never know what's going to happen. The ship
was probably stable enough to have been towed by a cruiser and gotten out of there, but one of the reasons was that the instructions were to not risk any contact with the Japanese surface force and so all of our force, including the ENTERPRISE and the HORNET retreated eastward that night. Then they turned around later, of course, there were signals picking up their radio messages, so we knew that they were retreating. They called off the invasion.
I didn't mean to jump back, but I realized that there was a point that I had been interested in knowing more about. So, after your wedding, you said you stayed for two weeks waiting on assignment?
Right. Then, I came back. My wife was living in Washington. We came back to Washington and I went up and visited my family in Connecticut and I never had to tell them a lie. They did not announce that the ship had sunk until September and my family would say, “Well how long is she going to be out of action?”
I'd say, “A pretty long time.” My mother in law knew exactly what had happened. She was so perceptive. As a matter of fact, my wife was going out on a date when I called to call her to come to San Francisco and she says, “What shall I tell John when he calls tonight?” She _____ to something and then she got nervous about it, because my mother in law was able to call those things and I did call, but she knew the ship had been sunk. She never asked me any questions, but I knew she knew that we were down.
My next assignment then was I was ordered to submarine training center. I went there in September. I had tonsillitis, chronic and on my honeymoon I had to call it off and go down to sick bay and I had a fever of one hundred and four, so they put me in the hospital and I was furious about that, but then I went from the hospital down to Miami and went through their school down there and I wasn't too impressed with it, because as a ship's secretary, I thought we had a very good filing system, but they said it was too complicated, can't learn it. I went from there to the sub-chaser 1472, which was a British fair mile(?).
This is quite a drastic change from an aircraft carrier to a sub-chaser. Did you request sub-chasers or did it come up in the normal routine of business that they need officers for the sub-chasers?
I think that the people were trying, up in Washington, to put a few regular officers in there, for example Sheldon Kinney(?). He was the exec. when I was exec. of the STUART and he went through there and I think they were a little bit concerned about the amateurism of the people that were running the sub-chasers.
As we said, they were primarily yachtsmen.
They used to call it the Harvard of the south. I remember later on, some of them graduated up into Destroyer escorts and Admiral Holloway, then Captain Holloway, running the shakedown group at Bermuda. At a conference one morning, he said that he didn't want to see any boy scout manuals like the sub-chaser manual. He said, “you've got standard publications. You're a major ship of war and you'll use these standard publications.” I think that they wanted a certain number of regular officers. People in Washington were a little bit leery of that crowd down there anyhow. I think that's probably the reason that I got assigned to down there.
I got up to Boston and found out that the sub-chasers were not going to be ready for some time, so I went over and got my tonsils out. It was reverse lend-lease. The 1472 was a fair mile, a beautiful thing. I didn't look like a war ship. Our sub-chasers had _____ in them and cables out there. This thing looked more like a real yacht. Down in our little ward room it was Mahogany, tape decks. It was built up in ______, Nova Scotia and it was a reverse lend-lease thing. ______ on gasoline. It was faster than our sub-chasers. We had a better sonar. The people that proceeded me didn't want get in action
and in every place they went, including Boston, they took all the British equipment off and then we got down to New York and found that the four ships that proceeded us had said--there was a nice power steering system--that would break down and so put in hand steering, so they had to have a bigger wheel, because the cables went down to the edge of the deck and I got down to New York and I took the beautiful spoked wheel, I put it in ______ and shipped it to Washington. It sits in my office now. I now tell everybody the way I got the thing was there I was with nothing, but the wheel. My associate _____ Dixon, there was somebody that wanted that wheel and he kept bugging us for it and he also wanted some towels. A lot of that stuff was hard to get for personal use and my friend ____ Dixon was a big operator from South Carolina and as a matter of fact, it's his son that is the Director of Athletics at the University of South Carolina. They got fired. He gave him this big bundle of towels and said, “Here, take these towels and let's not hear another damn word about that wheel.”
Did the ship run better being stripped of its power steering and things of that nature?
No. They were terrified of the fact that it was gasoline driven. In fact, when we got down to Miami, they isolated us all in one place, so that if we had a fire, it wouldn't eat up everything. They first four stopped at Norfolk and we didn't. We went all the way from New York down to Savannah.
What was the length of the ship?
A hundred and twelve feet. It was almost the same length as our sub-chasers. They had a peculiar sonar system on them. The sonar system didn't retract all the way and one of them lost it by running aground, but we went on, stopped in Savannah to
refuel and then went on to Miami. I went to Houston to be the executive officer of the STUART.
[End of Part 1]
|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW|
|Capt. John E. Greenbacker|
|USNA Class of 1940 (DECO)|
|May 2, 1996|
I don't know whether I told you about it. I had the job of taking the flags message file. When they left in such a hurry, they left a lot of things behind. I had it in a mail bag and the destroyer HAMMOND was along side and I got the bag ready and I was going to go over to the HAMMOND and then get their boat because one of the destroyers was going back to Pearl Harbor that night. Somebody had brought a whole bunch of Coca-Cola up on the quarter deck and I stopped and had a Coke. While I was drinking my Coke, the twenty millimeter alarm gun went off and people are on the destroyer yelling, “Torpedoes!” Had I not had the Coca-Cola, I would have been over on the HAMMOND. It caught two of the torpedoes, sank it almost immediately and then our depth charges exploded. So, I always thought that maybe I should have gotten a hold of the Coca-Cola Company and...
They should have paid you royalties.
You asked me last time whether I was scared. It told you that I wasn't particularly scared on the YORKTOWN, but when I got to sub-chaser, twelve people aboard and we
went from Nova Scotia to Boston and that's when I got nervous. I felt that if I ran across a German submarine, it'd be just the submarine skipper and me. That kept me on edge.
Those sub-chasers were not quite as formidable than an aircraft carrier.
Also, speaking of the HAMMOND going down, we always thought that they may get the carrier, but there will always be all these destroyers out there and then we saw the HAMMOND sink in about two minutes, so we no longer had that confidence. This was a British Fairmile(?) with all sorts of Mahogany and Teek. It was built like a yacht. Our sub-chasers had all sorts of ventilation ducts and heavy cables, but not the British. Their sonar was peculiar. It didn't rotate. When you were searching, it went out port to starboard, ninety degrees, so if she got a contact, you didn't know which side it was on and you'd turn forty-five degrees and if you picked it up again, it was on say, portside and if you didn't pick it up within two minutes or three minutes then you'd turn and go down and try to find it.
Isn't every minute pretty important when you're dealing with a sub?
That's right and I don't know why they had that kind of a sonar. Then you'd switch it. Once you knew were it was, you'd switch it and it went dead ahead. Generally if a submarine is making any kind of speed, you take a lead. If you take a lead with that equipment, you lose contact.
You said in the last session that most of the Americans were afraid of the 1472, because of the gasoline engines. Do you know whether the British had had any major problems using that type of a vessel?
I don't think they got much use out of it as an ASW vessel. They used it when there was a raid that was made on breast, special forces. They'd use one of those
fairmiles or two or three of those fairmiles to take them in. They were speedy. They were faster than ours, but when we got down to Miami where I was detached, they had us in a special ______ place and there were guards around, because they were so scared of gasoline driven vessels. They weren't as effective as our sub-chasers as anti-submarine... One of the biggest things you can do in anti-submarine warfare is just be there to keep that submarine down. So, if you have enough of these small vessels, they do serve a purpose even though they're not very effective the way a destroyer escort would be.
Your stay on it was rather brief, I believe, was it not, just a few months?
Just a few months. The people that preceded us, I think we got a total of six of those. We got down to Boston and found out they were going to take off the two-pounder which was a much better gun than our three-inch twenty three, which had so slow a speed that if you wanted to fire a star shell, it took something like forty-five seconds for it to get out where the star shell would light up. They got down to New York and they were going to take our sterns. We had this nice electric steering system. They took that off and put cables on, going down the side _______. That's when I took the beautiful steering wheel that we had and put in a cruise box and shipped it off home. Then they came around and wanted it. Somebody wanted to have it, but I still have that in the office. I didn't stop at Norfolk. One of the first ones that went into Norfolk had cut off their sonar gear running it aground. I went straight to Charleston, South Carolina and then from there to Miami. When I got to Miami, I was detached and sent to the STEWART, which was the first destroyer escort built by the Brown Bros., who had not been in the ship building business at all. The Brown Brothers that put concrete capping on the locks of the Panama Canal.
That's the sort of work they did. They opened up... twice as many man hours...at least in their initial as it did over in the one over on the border of Louisiana.
Lack of experience, huh?
Yeah. Well, they'd never done anything like this before.
With the 1472, I presume that they stripped it of its power steering and everything as a precaution against the power steering going out or the ship being damaged or something.
That was the argument these people made. My reaction was these skippers really didn't want to go to sea. As a matter of fact, when they were in New York, one of the tricks they pulled was to say they needed people and they couldn't go to sea safely with the crew that they had. They didn't succeed with that. Somebody told them to get the hell out of here. They were always finding reasons for not operating.
I went to Houston and got there in February of 1943 and that ship didn't go into commission until something like the first of June. It took it that long to build it. We didn't have anything operational. I was the executive officer. We went through refresher training, shake down training in Bermuda and I guess I left there sometime in August or the first in September and went to the ship building over there... I can't think of it. They were professional ship builders. They built ships on the west coast. I was only there for four weeks before we went in commission. My executive officer was Virgil J. _____ who is one of our skippers. He and I and I think the chief engineer were the only ones that had ever been to sea at all. I know that in some of those cases, the captain and the exec. would stand off and on watches. I didn't do that. I said, “You get on out there, you be officer of the deck. Call me if there are any questions. Call me if you sight anything.”
Is this the STEWART or had you left the STEWART?
I left the STEWART. This was the _______.
With the STEWART, you were just there while it was being constructed.
And went through shakedown training at Bermuda. At that point... There was a little bit more to that, why I didn't stay with the STEWART. Ordinarily, when the skipper went off to put a new ship in commission, the exec. fleeted up. We were down in Miami and the skipper of the sub-chasing training center decided he didn't want to have a lieutenant as commanding officer of a school ship. We thought I was going to be down there with the school ship and she was so pregnant with our first child that the doctor wasn't too enthusiastic about her having a long train ride. As it turned out, she was down there by herself. He wanted the skipper to stay on and wanted me to go off to another ship. Some of the students were fairly senior, up to the grade of commander. My skipper was a lieutenant commander so he went along with that. I got sent off to Texas again.
Why would they be sending men with that rank to DE school?
When do they somebody more senior?
I guess its because with these senior people aboard, if something came up, he felt that there would be an awkwardness in whether or not a senior student could...
I mean, why were these senior students in school.... This was a training school for DE's?
Well, it was a training school for sub-chasers and they continued to send then through, and DE's.
Normal rank for a sub-chaser commander was what?
The normal rank for a sub-chaser would be lieutenant, but a lieutenant commander for the destroyer escorts. Captain Holloway, later Admiral Holloway, ran an outfit in Bermuda and he said, “You people are now in major war vessels and I don't want to see anyone with a sub-chaser manual out here.” He didn't care for a lot of the things they were teaching. For one thing, most of the people that were instructors down there also didn't have any experience. They went through a lot of basic stuff, trying to teach them how to go to sea.
After I left the STEWART, I went off to Texas and picked up the NUNSER(?) DE-150. I made these people go up to stand their watches even though they hadn't been at sea before and told them to just call me and I think that's the best way to train people rather to have the skipper and exec. The exec., as I said, was Virgil J.(?) and he relieved me... It was about May.
Then I went back to sub-chaser school again and went down to the sonar school or anti-submarine school in Key West.
On the NUNSER, primarily what was it's function? What was the NUNSER doing?
The NUNSER, during this time I was there, we were assigned to... First thing we did after shakedown, they sent us up to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, crossed over at the air station. The problem that they were having was that the Germans had developed a honing torpedo that would hone on the sound of the propellers. They were trying to develop something to trail behind the ship. The problem was that they didn't know what frequency the German's honing torpedoes would do. We were up there experimenting with all sorts of things. As a matter of fact, Dick Snow wrote a sketch showing trailing
this organ(?) behind and somebody sitting back in the fan tail ______ and all these torpedoes were dancing up and down back on the... That got published as a matter of fact in the anti-submarine newsletter, whatever they called it. Then we were assigned to escort a regular convoy, about seventy-five ships. We went as far as Gilbraltar and then broke off and went down to Casablanca. I thought I had a submarine contact at one point, but apparently there was nothing there, so it was uneventful.
One of the most amusing things that happened was, the night before we got to Gilbraltar, the sea was just absolutely flat and I don't know if you've ever seen the porpoises at night, because they're fluorescent and here were these two porpoises heading for us and we looked out.... They could have very easily have been a couple of torpedoes.
I wonder how many porpoises were torpedoed during World War II.
There was a lot of activity with whales. You'd get a contact on a whale. The porpoises were a little bit on the small side, but the whales took a lot of beating, I'm sure.
Then, I got assigned... I didn't come back with that convoy. The convoys were very well run, unlike the Pacific, which I'll get to. They were very well organized, kept closed up and if anybody straggled, which we didn't have anybody straggle, they were told to get away, so German submarines couldn't detect them and find out how to get up to the convoy.
How many ships usually made up your convoys as far as DE's and Destroyers...?
I think there were about six or eight plus a Coast Guard Cutter which was the Flag Ship. The convoy COMMODORE(?) was. I was assigned to bring back six Italian submarines and bring them to ______ Bermuda. There they all were. Some of them were German U-boats and some were the older ones and because they weren't making very
much speed. I put one down at three o'clock, get back of the other boats and practice anti-submarine runs. It was very revealing, because the training that we got, was never a change of speed. Actually, a change of submarine speed is one of the most evasive tactics they have, but these things were backed down in their own wake. There was so much water around there, you weren't sure where the contact was. But, when we were in Bermuda, they had two knot submarines for preliminary work and then six knot submarine, no change of speed at all. We were not experienced with changes of speed. So, I wrote a letter recommending that our training had been insufficient and recommended a bunch of changes. The man in Bermuda took offense at the criticism and recommended that I believe relieved of my command for not following safety precautions with those Italian submarines. Fortunately, the type(?) commander, commander of destroyers Atlantic, agreed with my recommendations.
The other thing we did, which was different, we were only underway a couple days and they said that they had to slow down, because they didn't have enough fuel. So, I think Virgil J... I've got an article that got published in the alumni bulletin and put Virgil's name on it. He was the one that said, “Well, why don't we fuel them?” So, what we did was to break the safety connections and fill the fire maine with fuel oil--e were diesel driven, so we had plenty of fuel for them--and then put a fire hose over when they came along side. It was sort of scary in a way, because their bow fins on some of those submarines, did not go up and it wouldn't take much to tear a long hole in you. We had no problem, but that was sort of a unique experience.
With the Italian submarines, are these ones that had been captured when the forces had moved into Southern Italy.
Yes, Italy had surrendered and these submarines were sitting in Bermuda; they'd been sitting there a long time.
They were manned by American crews?
No, we found as many people as we could that could speak Italian and put one sailor aboard.
So, it was still the Italian crews that were operating them.
That's right. There was always the question of if one of them wanted to escape, he could have escaped.
They were actually prisoners of war operating their own submarines.
They were happy to get out of r, because the British held them in complete contempt. I'm sure they enjoyed themselves once they got to... We had a liaison officer who rode my ship, but some of those sailors were scared to death, because the submarine would go down... They all wanted to test dive at first to get their submarine's balance. This sailor was terrified, because all these Italians were yelling and screaming.
That's the way Italians communicate.
That is correct.
Except when you were doing training, the subs remained on the surface?
Yes, they remained on the surface.
Were they slower than American submarines or are all submarines that slow on the surface?
I would say the German submarines would be fast, but those Italian submarines were pretty sluggish and as a matter of fact, they weren't very good at evasive tactics either, but our submarines would make twenty-some odd knots I think. Basically, a
submarine had to operate on the surface. Of course, now with the nuclear propulsion, they've got to stay submerged, but they've got to come up and look around, but the idea of once they found out where there was a convoy, they would stay on the surface at night trying to get up forward of the convoy. Once we all had radar, that became more difficult for them to do. They couldn't' make much being submerged.
Virgil J. had an alarming experience. I was relieved in Norfolk just before the group was getting underway for another convoy escort and an old World War II destroyer, a four-stacker backed out of the piers and a cargo ship cut it in two, so that alarmed everybody that Virg., put somebody up on the crows nest to see over the building and they had those buildings there and you couldn't see, particularly as low as those bridges were on the four stickers. Well, they got cut in two. That was Virgil J.'s first experience as commanding officer.
From there, I went back to Texas, the same place I got the NUNSER and picked up the _________. Now, I had a great deal of difficulty with those officers on the ______. Unlike the NUNSER, they were all experienced and their experience in mine sweepers and sub-chasers, developed what I consider to be some very poor ship handling habits and whereas that this group here on the NUNSER was the finest group of officers I've ever served with. None of them had been to sea. I didn't have to break them of what I consider to be bad habits. They had all gone to college in the depression, got jobs in the depressions. They were very serious workers, whereas the younger generation weren't that energetic, nor did they agree with me.
That's what we say about the young people today.
That depression generation really grew up in hard times. As a matter of fact, on the ________, I got so mad at one of the officers who was officer of the deck and it's the only time I've ever done it in my entire career, I told him to send for his relief.
We went through shakedown training and I almost ran the ship aground, because I learned don't get your mind set to do something when the circumstances change. When we calibrated the radio direction finder, I had circled around, because I did not want to scrape the ship with the anchor chain and they have to chip and paint(?), but I went out there with three other ships and Murray's anchorage in Bermuda's triangle and I was up on the northern tip and there's an awful lot of coral. The boy that was doing the navigating, he could only take his bearings when we were doing the direction finding, he says, “We're getting awfully close up here.” I look around and here were these bubbles all over the place. So, I backed down. I was traveling _______ with my starboard engine and backed down or I stopped the starboard engine and backed down and got out of there. However, the starboard propeller had one blade that was bent over about that much.
So, he actually struck the coral with the propeller.
Yeah, had that been spinning around, I probably would have been relieved, but we were able to operate it. It would make a banging noise, but we could keep going with it.
You had to do a report on it, I presume?
We did not report it. The man that ran and succeeded Admiral Holloway, was very concerned about the number of groundings he was having with these ships. He had some six ships that over a period of several months that had run aground. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but you come out of the long channel, by the British dock yard and then turn and go down another channel into the harbor where we were lured and one
skipper said that he didn't keep track exactly where he was. He knew that when he came out of there, if he put his rudder over a certain amount, he'd hit that channel automatically. Well, he didn't.
Doesn't sound like very good navigation.
That's right. We had the job of escorting a British liner, one of the big ones. These were people that had been evacuating from Gibraltar and they were in Jamaica and so we escorted them part way. Generally, those big liners could travel so fast that they traveled most of time without escorts.
They could outrun the DE, couldn't they?
Yeah, they could outrun the DE's and of course, you know, a German submarine would have to be right there and ready to go in front of them, because there was no way the German submarine... I think they made about thirty knots or so. Then we were assigned or we were going to do convoy work... The advanced Halsey reported that there didn't seem to be much in the way of Japanese forces in the Philippines, so they advanced the invasion to the Philippines by two months, so our squadron got diverted to the Pacific. As a matter of fact, I had a commodore that I didn't think very highly of, but I was hearing we were going to the Pacific and we were in Norfolk and I wanted to go and see my wife. So, I figured we've got this hurricane and if it came in there, we'd be safer alongside the pier anyhow. To show you the kind of attention we got from airlines, I flew this airline to Washington National Airport and when I got off, they said, “We've got a report that there's a storm there. Did you want to return?” I said, “No, I'll return tomorrow.” Then they waved to another plane that was sitting there for me had I decided to go back. They waved and it took off.
Times have changed.
These were steam driving ships and five inch ships. I particularly wanted to get a five inch ship, because it had a lot more fire power than those little three inch things. We went and made our way out there to the South Pacific. We went to the Galapagos for fuel and of course, compared to the diesel driven ship, we would make this convoy run that would tank three in the Atlantic and the convoy would run about six knots and we'd patrol at about ten or twelve. By the time we got over there to Casablanca, we'd only used a third of the fuel. Steamships can't do that, so we had to fuel at the Galapagos and then at Bora Bora.
Bora Bora is the most spectacular tropical island that I've ever seen, with a vertical peak in the center of it, lagoons all around it and as a matter of fact, all these naked girls wearing hibiscuses had the foulest language, because we had an army out there and they taught them all of the bad language. Of course, they didn't know what they were saying. The skipper that was stationed there, the commodore wanted to have a Hula show and the skipper of the station was an expert in closing up bases. He wouldn't let us do that. He said, “Get on your way and get going. Get out of here.”
And then we went to Spirito Santo(?) where the big Naval base was and from there we went up to Helandia(?). We stayed at Helandia(?) quite a while. There must have been a fundraising thing. The sailors would come in and the Army would have all these booths down there for trinkets and souvenirs to sell. General MacArthur was back up in the mountains and in sort of a mountain resort, I think. We did some training with a submarine and one of my classmates, Al Bergner(?) was the skipper of one of them and he was shooting his mouth off about how if we had the American submarines to fight
instead of the Germans, we wouldn't do very well and he said for example, “You lost contact with us for two hours.” He said, “No, wait a minute, go get the log,” and the water was so clear that you could look over the side and see that submarine down below and that was one of our runs when he said we'd lost contact. If he thought he'd lost contact, he wouldn't have been doing an invasion if this were a real case.
Then we took a convoy to the Philippines to Lady Gulf(?). We got there the day after the last Kamikaze hit and this was a completely undisciplined convoy. They straggled all over the place. You couldn't keep them closed up.
Who was commanding the convoy?
I don't remember, but generally there was a civilian convoy commodore, but the escort commander was the boss. Those people weren't disciplined, because they didn't think they had anything worry about. The Japanese did not make good use out of their submarines. By this stage of the war, they were using it to supply some of those bases. Although, remember the INDIANAPOLIS, was a case where everybody got careless. Now, had they been German submarines out there, everything would have been tightened up. We got up to the Philippines and then we made a trip or two back and we finally went around to Manila. I never fired a shot in anger aboard the ________ and never had a contact. I was escorting on one of those fast troop carriers at one point and I thought I had a contact, but had I stopped to... We were going over twenty knots and if I'd pulled back to run down the contact, I wouldn't have been able to catch up with the... We were faster than the other ones, but we only made about twenty knots. Then, I didn't go quite that fast, because we had a bearing on the reduction gear that overheated, so we could never fix it, so we just didn't go that fast. We patrolled off the Philippines and made two
trips up to Okinawa. One was, we escorted a tug that was towing... What's the thing that picks up the soil and clears the channel?
Dredge, dredge. Well, we'd come back and put somebody aboard and pump the motor up, because the dredge leaked. This was after was over, when this happened and I'd lost all my best people and we got into bad weather and the tug wouldn't go back there anymore and I considered taking the ship right along side, but I didn't want to put a boat in the water, because I didn't think we could recover it, but before we could carry out that plan, the dredge rolled over one night and sank. So, we were able to make more speed with just the tug.
It seems like the tug would have kept someone on the dredge all the time, manning the pumps.
Yeah, you would have thought they would have done that.
That would be the sensible thing
But, they didn't do it. The problem in the Pacific was they didn't run into rough water, until they got up there toward Okinawa. There's that wind that comes down from the northeast, I guess, but all the time down in the Southern Pacific, you didn't have to worry about sea conditions. Again, they didn't put somebody aboard, because they figured it would be very easy for the tug to come back there. By this time, the war was over. We got assigned out--this was worse weather than we'd had before--to weather patrol off Lady Gulf(?) and we were supposed to return to the states in November of 1945 and they kept delaying it and delaying it.
Finally, they sent us up to China. We went to Singtao(?). Even at that time--this was the beginning of 1946--we were warned. The sixth Marine division was out there and that was gradually being reduced down to a brigade and then to a regiment. We were warned not to wander around or hike around outside the city, because the communists were controlling the countryside and they could have been captured. So, it was very interesting. We managed to get down to Shanghai where I had another collision with a small Chinese craft. I didn't take a pilot, because I thought that would slow us down too much and we went up the Yangzee River without a pilot and down coming in the other direction was a small boat. What I learned later was that the bigger ships never paid any attention to the rules of the road, so when I turned right, the other one turned left instead of turning right, because I would have expected under the rules of the road and ran into him and smashed in his bow.
The practice had been to just let the smaller ship get out of the way?
The small ship gets out of the way. That was the way things ran in the Yangzee.
The Yangzee is an interesting river, is it not?
We used to have the Yangzee patrol that went way up the river and it would have been very interesting to see some of those other places. Shanghai itself, was a remarkable city. They had a lot of what they call white Russians who were refugees from the communists that lived in Shanghai. They were all hoping to get to the United States. I don't know how many of them did.
Finally, they sent us home and we got home in May and we had transferred off that ship.... The ship had a crew of about two hundred and ten and twelve officers. I think from the time the war was over until the we got back to the states, we had
transferred off some two hundred and seventy-five people. We got new ones in some cases, but we only had a crew, by the time we got back, of less that a hundred. So, I took all the twenty millimeter guns off and put them down below, the only way of keeping our work load down.
Again, a sort of amusing experience... She was out there in the hotel in San Diego waiting for me. We came into San Diego around North Island and then the lead ship stopped and said, “We're in the wrong port, we're supposed to go to Long Beach.” What had happened was we were diverted, because they were overloaded to San Diego and we were diverted to Long Beach, but because of the fact that everybody was just establishing themselves, the message that went out directing us to do that was low priority and we never got it until after we got there. I was relieved in Long Beach and came back.
Before we leave, a couple questions came to my mind. You mentioned the crew when you came aboard was not of the quality that you'd been expected to have. Were you able to whip them into shape, or did you live with this lack of discipline?
I worked on them and gradually, most of them came around. Now one of my officers, a gunnery officer, I believe, I asked to have relieved, because he had never even read the rules of the road; know what you're supposed to do when you're meeting another ship and how buoys are marked and yet he'd been at sea. He was a lieutenant. I told the bureau that I'd train him, but it they'd bust him back to ensign....END OF SIDE 1
...any particular incidents of insubordination or any of them really creating a major problem?
No, other than that one that was arguing with me up on the bridge that I asked to call his relief. I got along with them all right, but they just weren't of the quality of people, aside from their experience or inexperience.
The other question came to mind... You were talking about the steam driven ships as opposed to the diesel driven. How many ships were there during World War II that were steam driven as opposed to diesel driven? I was under the assumption that basically what we were fighting with were generally all diesel ships.
They did start having those steam driven ships until fairly late in the war.
That's a throw back to the nineteenth century.
No, all of our destroyers, for example, were all steam driven. With the destroyer escorts, because they were building so many and the shortage of diesel engines for example, originally they were going to put in eight diesel engines and they put in only four, because they just didn't have enough. There were diesel electrics and then there was another class also, but the majority of the destroyer escorts were, indeed, diesel driven. There may have been a steam electric, but I'm not sure. There was one of those ships that you had the single stack there, but then ducts leading up to it, but the class that I had was late in the war. It was the only one with five inch guns. It was straight turbine. We were faster than they were. If they ever put eight diesels in there, they would have a fairly fast ship. Our destroyers would make speeds well into the thirties, such as thirty-one knot ______. That ended my war-time sea going.
From there you were assigned to the __________ Generals?
Yes, I went to JAG as a student. Actually they made us go to a law school in Washington. You could work in the JAG's office in the afternoon and you would have thought that we would have, my last year there, you would have thought that we would do legal research in the afternoon. Instead I was in the general court-martial section and all we did was to fill out file cards.
Not a very good educational experience. Is that why you didn't stay in JAG?
No. Prior to World War II, all of the uniformed lawyers were sea-going types and generally they went to law school on their second shore tour, which was much later than the engineers did. When the war was over, it was realized that we couldn't operate that long. The uniform code had come into effect and were going to have to be more lawyers and court-martials than in the past, so they set up the JAG corps, pure specialists. Those people, of course, always resented us sea-going types, because they could see that thin blue line all the way right up to the top job, so we didn't get assigned to legal billets(?).
When you were assigned as a student, it was with he intention that you would probably go into law and stay with the...?
I don't know.
So, it wasn't something you had asked for.
No. Actually, my boss aboard the STEWART who was the skipper, was a lawyer and so I was impressed with him and so that's why I asked for law school. The senior people in JAG at that time were all unrestricted _____ sea-going types, so there was no pressure on us to convert to law specialists. In the job that I got when I left there, was well designed for a law post-graduate. I was a flag secretary to commander cruiser force,
which later became commander battleship cruiser, when we reactivated the battleships. I was the staff legal officer. Any legal matter that came up, I was there to handle it.
You remained in that assignment for three years, didn't you?
Yes. However, when I was returning, I had to go to Military Sea Transportation Service to relieve one of my colleagues and what they did, he was a personnel officer and the problem was that the JAG people went to Congress to ask for more people. They were told that they weren't using the people that they had, pointing to the people in my category. Over at the Military Sea Transportation Service, in order to keep Hugh Robinson(?) there, they declared his billet(?) to staff legal officer. We had a civilian lawyer, but this was the staff legal officer, so he didn't get transferred. The reason I had to go there was that they had to have... Since, they'd established that billet as a legal billet, I had to go to Military Sea Transportation Service.
One very interesting experience, we'd taken over for the Army's transportation corp. The Army's transportation corp.'s background was in railroads, so the one who was in charge of the passengers was the conductor and then one up on the bridge was the engineer. He was subordinate, a civilian, subordinate to the Colonial in the transportation corps. When the Navy got it, the Navy was horrified at this and so we made the captain of the ship was in charge of everybody including and we put a lieutenant commander in to handle the passengers. I heard an interesting argument from somebody that thought that the Navy's approach was not right either, because we put the captain on the bridge in charge of the engineers. On civilian shipping the chief engineer is sort of independent. They said that unlike the Naval vessels, the knowledge of those people up on the bridge had on engineering was not adequate, but you could see the difference of approach.
Commanding officers as far as the Navy was concerned was the one who was on the bridge running the ship.
Actually, there are plenty of line officers who are highly qualified engineers.
That would just be ________ assignment for one of them to be appointed.
They don't all get... You learn a lot of engineering as a junior officer, because they used to try to rotate them around, so they got some experience in the engineering department. Even without that, you're always going around as an executive officer or as a skipper you have to get down in that engine room when they have problems. As a matter of fact, whenever they wiped the bearing on the shaft, I'd go down there and this whole group would be standing around, they'd have the thing covered with cloth, with all very serious faces and they'd take the cloth and these people would be rubbing their hands over the place where its supposed to have wiped. So, I put my hand there and I couldn't feel anything. I said...
They probably didn't feel a thing.
This may be the _______ the trip I had starting in 1955 when I left Military Sea Transportation Service.
Any particular incidents take place during that 1946 to 1955 period when you were basically either in law school or in staff positions?
I went to the sixth fleet on Admiral Holloway's staff. On the cruiser ALBANY which was our regular flag ship and then we went on a couple mid-shipmen cruises and the one that I found most interesting was when we went to Norway on the battleship MISSOURI. This was in June, the land of the midnight sun. We had two weeks at sea
between Norway and the English Channel ports. I suggested to the midshipmen that this is a good opportunity to see the midnight sun and why don't we sail north. The Admiral wouldn't do it. He always felt that when you're doing something like that, that's when you get in trouble. Whether he was worried about icebergs, I don't know. I did make a joke of it. I said, you know, you look at your maps and generally the map comes to an end before you get to the north pole. Maybe he thought he would fall over the edge. I didn't tell him that.
I think we made a second midshipmen cruise and then one deployment to the Mediterranean. All of my post-war deployments were to the Mediterranean and it's a very interesting place. You don't have such a great distance to go and there are more interesting ports and so much history over there.
There wasn't a great deal of hostility going on in the Mediterranean during those particular years? This hadn't heated up in Lebanon yet.
No. On one of my tours over there, I guess it's when I had a squadron commander, a Russian submarine was following us and staying right with the force. In fact, the lady tried to shove the thing out of there and then the carrier skipper said, “Don't bother my wing man.” Joking. They did follow us around in the later years. The first of them we didn't have any problem. We kept two carriers over there all those years. I think today or even before the Soviet Union fell apart, we went to periods with no carrier in there at all, because they'd been sent around to the Middle East.
What could the Soviets have hope to pick up in the way of intelligence just following a fleet around on port calls?
I don't know what they would have learned, but It was obvious...
I can't imagine any military secrets that they would have been able to get.
Our operating practices, I guess. I was there as skipper of the FREEMONT, the amphibious ship and we didn't have anything like that, but an aircraft carrier, of course was the main threat.
In 1955 is when you became CO of the CORRY.
The CORRY, a radar picket destroyer. It was a very fine division. I had an executive officer that left a lot to be desired. He was what they used to call a Tunnyfish(?). World War II, Gene Tunny(?) had all these people as physical instructors. This one had been a basketball player at the University of Boston and if I wanted the word passed to the crew by him when they fill in the morning quarters--the executive officer runs that--I'd have to write it out. Otherwise, he'd get it fouled up. I was preceded that everything they came into port, automatically, the stewardsmate would bring up a great big tray with coffee on it, set it down. They didn't have much place to set it down. They probably set it down where the chart was. I said, “You know, you don't have to do that. If we're standing out there in the cold and being held up, we can send for it.” So, I didn't realize what he had told these people. Dick Zimmerman, who relieved me and relieved me when we went to Scotland, because he said he couldn't relieve me until we left port, because he had to go through every item on the administrative inspection and the officers were wearing out. We were on our way over there and the officer of the deck asked it would be all right if he had some coffee sent up. I said yes. You know, he told me later, “You acted to surprised. Are you aware that coffee was not allowed on the bridge?”
I told the exec. that when we came into port we'd get coffee sent up there if we wanted it. The exec. told all the officers, “No more coffee on the bridge.”
How did he get it that convoluted?
It really scared me. Think of all the time I was _______ and those people were going to sleep up there.
There would be no rational reason for not allowing coffee on the bridge, was there?
No. It was pretty standard, but that's what he told them. That's how he changed the intent on what I'd told him that we'd be doing.
Was that due to his _______ or was he intentionally muddling?
No, it wasn't intentional. He never got very much straight. That's why I say that if I wanted word passed on, I had to write it out or otherwise he'd get it wrong. I guess he got a degree, but he was really a professional ball player.
Between 1955 and 1957, when you were commanding the CORRY(?), where were you operating? Where was your home port?
It was Norfolk. All my sea-going, except for the destroyer squadron was in Norfolk. As a matter of fact, my daughter Susan here, somebody said to her, “you're Navy junior, you must have lived in a lot of interesting places.” She said, “Yes, Washington and Norfolk.”
I didn't move my family to Charleston, because those were the days of, what I call, the college panic and it was hard to get into college and I have one daughter that went four years to high school in four different schools. If you spent most of your high
school time..., that school wasn't going to make any effort to get you placed, so that's the reason they stayed up in Norfolk when I went to Charleston.
The CORRY was just routine training duty?
Yes. It was in the shipyard when I arrived and shortly after I took over and then we went to Guantanamo and then, of course, all of our deployments were to the sixth fleet. As a matter of fact, that's true of all of my commands, the destroyer division and with the FREEMONT, amphibious ship and the destroyer squadron.
Any other anecdote or thoughts for this period of you carrier, late 1950s? I know from 1957 to 1961, you were with the Bureau of Navy Personnel, so I presume you were operating out of the Pentagon during those years.
The Navy annex over by the cemetery. We used to look out the window there. They were still burying them, still burying them right there in front of the building, so we'd stand there and watch the processional and say that did we want the brown team or the gray team for your funeral.
(Mrs. Greenbacker: Another thing he wrote and told me not to stop dating in case something happened to him.)
This was during the war. I still don't' know whether I should be buried in Arlington. My thing about being buried in Arlington is that there's no point in having that--its a grand processional, I don't know if you've ever seen one of these--unless you get a lot of people there, relatives and so forth, there's nobody to put the show on for.
(Mrs. Greenbacker: My mother was psychic. He told me to keep dating in case anything happened to him and I was kind of a flippant type person and my mother, she was psychic and she said, “What should I tell John when he calls tonight?)
I was in San Francisco.
That was the time when the YORKTOWN was sunk and you had just gotten back into the states.
As I told you, we just sat there and sat there. The Navy did not have its machinery organized for taking care of survivors.
That is a good story.
It was a month and half that we sat in San Francisco.
(Mrs. Greenbacker: He told me to keep dating and I was dating an FBI man.)
Let see, I was in the Bureau of Navy Personnel and Plans from 1957 to the beginning of 1961. I became the expert on the promotions systems in the Army and the Air Force. I got started on that, because the Navy had a tombstone promotion for anyone that had a combat decoration. When Eisenhower was in the White House, he had all those Army types over there. They wanted that terminated. I came up with the idea we'd consider that, but since there were advantages and disadvantages to each services' officer promotion system, let's do that in the context of a uniform promotion law. That caused the Army to back away and then I developed a dirty little show where I took say, the class of 1922 at West Point, some seventy percent retired as general officers as opposed to the Naval Academy. I said this was a tombstone promotion with pay. In the Navy, you got promoted, but you didn't get any higher pay. The Army and the Air Force had a dual promotion system and you really were promoted temporarily and then your term of service would depend on your permanent promotion system. So, they'd promote somebody in the twenty-ninth year to Brigadier General and then fail to promote him to permanent Brigadier General, so he left his age thirty year, just like a Navy captain, but he
was being paid at the general grade. The Army particularly didn't like that. We did form a task force of retired flag officers and we developed a uniform law, but the Army told Congress they couldn't live with it, so it was another ten or fifteen years before one was actually enacted.
Was it based on all the work you had done in preparing it?
Yes. I think the basic thing came from the work we had done.
I know you have got some extensive files on that. Why did the Army want to do away with tombstone promotions if they were the ones who provided the stumbling block...
I don't know why they wanted to do it. It was somebody's idea over in the White House and that's where the instruction came from. Of course, the Navy was aghast that they were being gone after.
It was right at the end of Eisenhower's term.
I thought the Navy had traditionally dug their heels in instead of coming up with something innovative whenever they wanted to oppose.
So you proposed something innovative and the Army dug their heels in.
They were so dug in with their dual promotion system, they couldn't think of any way to handle it. Of course, they had a lot of ups and downs. We called the __________
_____________ and so many officers on active duty originated right during that period.
Your period of the sixties, you mentioned the FREEMONT. You were back with the sixth fleet.
First, I had two commands there. It was the same destroyer division that I was with in the CORRY when I became the unit commander. I had a terrible commanding
officer of the flagship. He'd run aground. He got one of his admiral friends to cancel the letter of reprimand. When he was told to take a station on the task force, he wouldn't come up here, so his relative motion was to bring them right in. Instead he'd come way back behind and come up here. His officers referred to him as Captain Tuna, Chicken of the Sea. It was sort of frustrating to have someone like that in the division. \
The FREEMONT was a more interesting job, because it was so brand new to me. This is where I learned... We were getting along with seeing the real Marines, whereas aboard battleships or the cruisers, we saw those people all dressed up, but they weren't the real grunts. I've also tried to convince my aviator friends... The FREEMONT was a deep draft command and the aviators, before they could get a carrier, had to get command of either a tanker or an amphibious ship. I told them, but they all went to tankers. I said, “Aboard that carrier, you know exactly what a tanker does, but you've never seen an amphibious force. Yet, the amphibious force is always the first ones in some emergency. That's where you ought to go.” I never talked any of them into it. It was very interesting to learn how the amphibious force worked. I used to go through the ship everyday and of course, those Marines didn't have anything to do and they'd lie around all over the place and if you weren't a Marine, they didn't think you amounted to much as an officer. Aboard a destroyer, I used to wander around through the ship and I'd go by myself, but on the FREEMONT, in order to get through this space, I had to take the chief ________ to get everybody out of the way, so I could walk instead of having to step over everybody. The Marines somehow felt that if you weren't a Marine, you didn't amount to very much. That was their training. You know, in order to get them to go to sea, they used to have what they called Sea School for Marines being assigned to major ships.
Then I went to Naval War College. That was fairly interesting, but nothing outstanding. When I had the destroyer division, I was over at the commodore's house, the squadron commander's house with a guy a year a head of me who was skipper of a destroyer tender. He got started about the Bay of Pigs. He talked about how all of these pulling of air cover off. They found out later there were only eight airplanes. It wasn't' just a mistake, it was these smart 'commies.' They told the president to pull that air cover. So, I said, “Come on, that's ridiculous. That's a conspiracy theory, just like the conspiracy theory of Pearl Harbor.” I think that Bob Clarke(?) turned me into the Navy department as being a communist sympathizer, because when I left in February I went down to Washington to see where I'd be going when I left and I wasn't on the major command list. The guy said, “Well, do you want to go to Europe?” I was so upset by that, I wrote Admiral Smith a letter. He had been my boss in the Bureau of Naval Personnel and was now Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet. I asked for a job and I got a job. They weren't going to put me in administration, but something got pulled around and I turned up as Fleet Operations Officer. The detailer in the bureau said, You're one of those people that are signing yourself. If you'd just waited to work out ______ in June, you would have gotten your major command then. I think that was under investigation and that's why I wasn't on the list.
Did you ever see what they had put in your file?
No, because I think it was destroyed. I think the Chief of Naval Intelligence realized that they didn't have anything. When I was at the War College, I used to get the London Economist and it was wrapped in paper and you could see where it had been sliced up and tied with a string.
To see what you were reading?
They were reading all of my mail.
(Daughter: Even my mail came opened, foreign mail. I had a subscription to the French Magazine Realité and that always came opened that year.)
I think they were doing that and then finally _____ my guesses. I asked for all my records under that law that lets you get them.
Freedom of Information Act.
I think that the people in charge of Naval Intelligence decided that it was an absolutely baseless charge and had the file destroyed.
Do you have any idea who let the claim to begin with.
Yes, Bob Clarke, Class of 1939 was skipper of the _____. We were over there at my boss's house and the host and hostess were out getting coffee ready and desert in the kitchen and here we were shouting at each other.
But, do they just listen to someone like that?
That was a period when a lot of that was going on.
It sounds more like the MacCarthy era of the early 1950's rather than the early 1960s.
MacCarthy wasn't there at that time, but there was that sort of attitude.
You could ruin a person's career in a hurry.
I was impressed with something that I learned about World War II and the Italians. The Italian Partisans were very active against the Germans, but then when the Germans were on the run, they wanted to surface in uniform. As soon as they did that, the Germans wiped them out. I think in Cuba, they somehow had the feeling that there
was a lot of sympathy toward the Anti-Castro people and I think there was, but these people weren't going to surface and help out the invaders until they could see that they were clearly going to win. That's why that invasion was a disaster for them.
Anything from the period that you were with the _____ Atlantic Fleet?
No. We never had any problems down there and remember we were running the nuclear submarines. I was in on everything. It was very interesting to see what was going on in the Navy that most of us sea-going people didn't know about when I was down there. The Admiral had a NATO job and NATO had a unified command hat and we ran the invasion of Dominican Republic. With all this noise about where you're going to invade. This was a very successful invasion.
I remember it.
We put the eighty-second airborne in. One of the problems that we had, this was back in the Macnamara Era where you'd want to know how many troops we had down there. With people coming and going all the time, we'd give a figure and they'd give have a different figure up in the Pentagon and a different figure from the general who was commanding down there and that upset him very much. Every little thing had to be just so with him. So, we decided that nobody would provide a figure, a number, other than the general down there. That would be the official one. It was a very successful invasion and nobody ever hears about it anymore. We diposed somebody that had been a dictator down there and replaced him and then we pulled out. Before we pulled out, we thought it was important to get all the South American, Pan American..... As they were phasing it down, the command was turned over to either a Brazilian or a Argentine Field Marshall. We got all that support.
In __________, you spent a year there.
Aside from what I learned at _________ Fleet, it made me senior enough to be the commodore. It was brand new ships including the _____, which was a guided missile destroyer and they... The poor skipper thought it was a deep draft command when he got it and then they decided to make that a major command. So, here was me as somebody in the major command writing a fitness report for somebody else who was in a major command. They thought I would be unfair, so I had to turn the fitness reports for review over to the _____ Commander. These were all brand new ships, all missiles. Of course, that was 1965 when most of them had been decommissioned. There was the ________, which was a fairly bigger one and then there were four DDG's(?). They finally took the ________ out of the squadrons and treated them like cruisers which is what they should have done in the first place. It was the admiral's contingency flagship... It wasn't the regular flagship of the squadron, but I decided, since it was by far the biggest ship, when we went to the Mediterranean, I was going to shift my flag and be a staff member in the Admiral's staff down there. The skipper of the ______ tried hard to keep me from moving over there, but it was much more accommodating, particularly when you're going to entertain people in the Mediterranean. For example, in my cabin on the _____, I could seat twelve people at the dinner people. That's pretty luxurious. We didn't have any particular incident on that squadron.
From there back to Navy Personnel again.
Yes, because they thought they were going to... My tour was supposed to be eighteen months. They cut it short to get me back there, because they thought they were going to produce another uniform promotion law. By the time I got up there, the schedule
had been delayed for three years. I didn't really have a job. In fact, the Admiral asked if I had a job. The man who'd been my operational commander when I had destroyer squadron, Fred Bennett, wanted me to come over to the Pentagon. Had I gone over to the Pentagon, I probably would have made Admiral, but I went back to law school at night. I figured that from my fitness report I got in the sixth fleet and the one I got from Admiral Colbert down in Charleston weren't very favorable than I probably wouldn't make it, but I now realize that the number of people selected for flag rank is so small that the fitness reports don't make so much difference and it depends on who was on the selection board.
I had to two children in college for a ten year period, so I had to have a job. I went and got a tax degree and it was really as a result of that tax degree that I got a job at Baltimore Gas & Electric. Had I not gotten a job--I retired at the end of twenty-nine years--I was going to retirement papers and keep looking for a job for another year. I worked for seven years up in Baltimore and then came down to Halifax County where I was going to stay on the farm, but my son came down and made me go into work with him, so I practiced law down there for sixteen years. He left first, because he became the Commonwealth Attorney, so I was left practicing law myself, but I shut down in 1984.
You were primarily practicing tax law.
Yes. It worked very well when he was there. I didn't take many trial cases anyhow. My son enjoyed trial work and I rather preferred office work, so I did the deeds, the wills, taxes, estate planning, that sort of thing.
Any last thoughts about your career? Any anecdotes that we've missed?
No. I'm very happy with my career. I had ten years in command at sea, so for ten years, I was always the boss. That's unusual. Of course when the war came along, we all
got promoted rapidly. It used to be fifteen years before they made lieutenant commander. I was a lieutenant commander in three and a half, so I could support my family and children. I had a lot of fun. I got to see a lot of interesting places, sailing off to high adventure. Who was it who accused me of dining with royalty? I did have dinner... One of the people in support of the sixth fleet was a woman who's husband was one of the _________. So, when I went back over there, I went to call on her. She invited me to dinner and we were sitting there kind of stupid and ignorant to what was going on. They said, “Their Majesties have arrived.” It turned out it was Peter and Alexander of Yugoslavia, but only _______. Something I didn't know I looked up in the book on protocol that the king sits at the head of the table and the hostess sat over on the left side...
[End of Interview]