EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #53
Joe W. Stryker, U.S. Navy, Ret.
June 3, 1978
Interviewer is Donald R. Lennon
I was born in Everett, Washington, in 1904. My father was the dentist in the town, but, in addition to his extensive dental work, he became involved in many projects, which had the possibilities of making a great deal of money. But, as a doctor or dentist is not usually much of a businessman, I believe that he lost considerable money and many of his friends who went in with him in these projects also lost money. I mentioned this because our family life went from high to low. The projects that he was in were building a railroad, running a large sheep ranch, having a large timber claim and cutting timber in British Columbia, two apple ranches in eastern Washington (one of which I helped him plant), a talc mine, and a hotel which turned into a house of ill repute.
He later became very successful in that he was the first dentist to introduce acrylic material into dentures. He and a chemist worked this out, and the chemist sold him out. So he started in again on his own having to rework the whole formula and process. He went to Chicago and made a million dollars in one year for a laboratory by making this material and furnishing it to dentists for making dental plates. However, this was during the depression and the laboratory couldn't pay him anything, so they gave him part of the laboratory. He continued to make this material in this laboratory until he foolishly patented it. After he patented it, the DuPont chemical people picked it up and started marketing his material. He approached them, telling them that they were infringing on his patents and he thought that he should at least have a royalty or some sort of arrangement worked out with them because they were selling a lot of it. They absolutely defied him and told him they would give him nothing and if he wanted to sue them to go ahead because they had a legal staff that could keep him in court for the rest of his life and take every penny that he ever had. For that reason he went on his own. My mother died in the meantime, and he married a woman who had worked with him in this process. He made a good living for all but the last few years of his life making this in his kitchen and selling it to his ex-customers.
I tell you this because he was the son of a pioneer who took wagon trains to Oregon. His father was a doctor, a dentist, a bricklayer, a stonemason and a preacher. So my father had many interests, and I have often thanked the Lord that I have inherited a bit of that because I have had more interests than I can take care of all the days of my life.
Living in the Puget Sound area, I couldn't stand the weather. After two years of high school I became sick and the doctor said that the only thing that could help me was a change of climate. One doctor diagnosed me as being tubercular and having a bad heart. I was sent to Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, for my last two years of high school, and to help my lungs and my heart I took track, sprinting and became captain of the track team. The year I graduated I ran a hundred yards faster than any other school boy in America. This helped my health considerably. From Culver Military Academy I was appointed to the Naval Academy and was allowed to enter without an examination because at that time if your grades were high enough at your high school or prep school, you could go in without an examination.
My four years at the Naval Academy were not outstanding. I was the football manager. I got into a lot of trouble my first class year because a yawl with a lot of my classmates and their girls, being chaperoned by then Lieutenant Carney who was later Chief of Naval Operations, became caught in a storm. I saw that a heavy squall had come up and thought that they must have gone aground on Kent Island which was across the bay from Annapolis. I had not gone on this sailing trip as I had to play company football that Sunday afternoon. When the ship did not return after dark and the wind had increased to about sixty knots, I went to the station ship to see if they shouldn't send something after them. I found out that the captain had left the ship, and there was no one who seemed to want to take the responsibility. I didn't ask the duty officer for the Naval Academy at Bancroft Hall for permission to do what I did because I knew that he wouldn't give it to me, but I rounded up a volunteer crew and got a boatswain to help me take out a fire boat to see if we could find this crew and bring them in. We had no compass that we could follow because as we passed the experimental station it seemed to cause the compass to go in all directions from the electrical experiments they were doing there. On the way out of the harbor as we were passing the Greenbury Point Lighthouse, the boatswain and I were on top of the cabin with a searchlight picking up one buoy and running up to it and then trying to pick up another, and we heard what we thought was a seagull off on our starboard beam. Finally he said that it was somebody yelling for help, so we swung our searchlight around and saw an arm coming out of the water and people yelling for help. I thought it was some of the people from our sailing boat who had tried to come back on the dingy. We had picked up a fifty foot motor launch and were towing it astern to get a line to the sailboat when we found it because it was a good size boat; it had forty or fifty people on board. As we turned around our light went out, but the people in the motor launch saw what we had illuminated, and they headed for that direct spot but never could find anything. We cruised around there for a half an hour or so. In the meantime we were passed by the old ship whose name was the Emma Giles, but she was known to all the midshipmen as the Emagules and was the ferry boat that ran across to the eastern shore from Annapolis. In our searching we inadvertently put the searchlight on the pilothouse of the boat which you normally never do.
To make a long story short, we went across to Kent Island and found the old Argo aground with her sails down on deck. I got into the motor launch and took a hawser over, and it was rough enough that the only way I could get on board was that when the sea put the bow up, I jumped and landed up in the rigging of the sailboat. When I came down my date was on board, and she hadn't seen us approach, and she thought that she had gone crazy seeing me arrive with a line around my waist. I went down to the cabin and there was Mick Carney playing his guitar, and they were all having a good time. Some of them were seasick, and he knew that he couldn't do anything and that somebody would take care of them. So we towed them back. By that time the captain of the Reina Mercedes, the station ship had arrived and he had coffee for people.
For some reason they sent me out into town to call the mothers of some of these girls to tell me they were all right, because they could have been home by six o'clock. When I was in the hotel Carver Hall making the call, I heard a discussion in the bar about two people who had been lost in a canoe out near Greenbury Point Lighthouse, and they thought a ship had hit them. So I notified the people in town. I went back to the station ship and saw that everybody got off for town and then went up to my room and found at least fifteen messages for me to report to the duty officer. My roommate said, "Where have you been, for God's sake? Everybody at the Naval Academy has been looking for you."
I went up and reported to the duty officer, and he said, "You are under arrest; come back in the morning and we'll see what we are going to do with you." In the morning I went in and they took me up to the commandant, and he said, "Why the hell did you take a fire tug and leave the Naval Academy without asking any permission and deciding entirely on your own to do this?"
I said, "I did it because I thought that it should be done, and I was afraid that if I asked the duty officer for permission, he wouldn't let me go. I thought that it would be a lot better to go without him refusing than to have a refusal over my head, direct disobedience to his orders." I knew that he was the type who would never think of allowing anything like that.
He said, "All right, you used to be the manager of the football team; you're not the manager anymore. Do you know the story by Jules Verne of the French sailor who forgot to lash his cannon one night? His ship was in a storm and the cannon started charging from one side of the ship to the other and was about ready to sink the ship. The sailor at the risk of his life jumped down and lashed the cannon. The captain called him back up on the quarterdeck and pinned a medal on his chest for lashing the cannon and shot him for not doing it properly beforehand. I'm not going to give you any damned medal, and furthermore, a lieutenant and his fianc�e were drowned last night, and you were out there looking around in circles with lights. You have two trips to take out in Annapolis before we take you to the prison ship; one is to go out and explain to that girl's mother what happened, and the other is to go to the captain of the Emagules and apologize for putting your light on his pilothouse while he was coming in in the storm."
I did this and explained to the girl's mother and sister exactly that they were so far out on our beam that we couldn't have hit them. They had not found their bodies; they were just missing. The captain of the Emagules understood very well what had happened. The sister of this girl upset me very much during this interview because she would point to me and say, "You killed my sister." Her mother would say, "Now keep quiet; he's trying to explain things to us." But she would say, "You killed my sister." She ended up marrying a man who is now one of the senior admirals in the Navy, so I haven't been very fraternal with them. It all turned out that finally Mick Carney found out what had happened to me and went to the superintendent and said, "That guy didn't do anything too wrong; you might have lost fifty people over there in that ship." So they said, "Well, maybe we'll let you be the football manager and maybe we'll take you off the prison ship."
[Were they actually going to put you on a prison ship?]
Yes. That's where you went. It was a like a brig. I never got on there.
[How long was a person normally assigned there?]
You went to classes and everything but you just lived there, and you would be there for maybe a month or something like that. Mick Carney straightened things out for me a little bit, and years later when I was a duty officer at the Naval Academy, I looked it all up and found out that I finally got away with it by only getting twenty demerits for leaving the Naval Academy without permission and being absent from supper formation. Also they never gave me my letter for being the football manager, so I think that had something to do with it.
[How did the girl's family blame you when they were already in the water when you saw them?]
We found out later that they had been on a canoe trip across to Greenbury Point and had come across in a canoe. This storm hit so fast that they were in the canoe and they were just making their own. Their bodies were found a week or so later. A crab had eaten part of her face, and the woman thought that we might have hit them and damaged part of her face. I explained that and I don't believe they ever blamed us for hitting, but the daughter thought we had run them down.
I graduated not too high in my class but not too low. I think I was in about the top fourth of the class. I went to the battleship West Virginia for my first duty. You might also be interested in the midshipmen cruises that I went on because I believe that I enjoyed the midshipmen cruises of the Naval Academy as much as any other part of the Navy. It was my first experience of being overseas. You went to see the parts of the world that you dreamed about. My first midshipman cruise was on board the USS North Dakota, and we visited the following ports: the Panama Canal, St. Kitts in the British West Indies, Culebra which was a firing range in Puerto Rica, then north to Halifax and back to the Virginia Capes. The second cruise was on board the old Delaware. She was the same type coal burning, cage-mast battleship. In her we visited Copenhagen; Greenock, Scotland; Cadiz, Spain and Gibraltar. My last cruise was on board the Wyoming. On the Wyoming we went to Torquay, England. From there we made trips to London; then we went to Brest, France; from there we went to Paris, to Rotterdam from which we went all over Belgium and Holland, to Gibraltar, and to the Azores. This gave me a pretty good idea of what the world was like, and I was finally able to match up some of the countries with postage stamps which I had been collecting for many years and didn't know too much about them.
The fleet was in Hawaii when we graduated in June 1925, and most of us joined ships in that fleet. The first fifty in the class were allowed to go overland and allowed to go to San Francisco and sail on board the USS Sonoma, which was a ship that ran between San Francisco and Australia. We had a fine cruise on that ship because they were a nice civilian group to be with, and we were allowed a pint of whiskey a day for seasickness. We also had one big room given to us where we could shoot craps all day long if we wanted to, and there bunks around the edge so you could shoot your dice from your bunk if you got too tired from shooting on your knees. We had an old admiral on board-I believe his name was McDougal-who was going out to the Cavite Navy Yard, and one day he asked us all to assemble. We thought that he was going to cuss us out for going to the evening dance with a little bit of this whiskey that we were issued every day for seasickness. But he told us that he thought he should admonish us and tell us never to smoke in the presence of ladies because at the dance there had been ladies and some of us were smoking. I thought that it was very kind of the old boy.
The whole fleet headed south and my group went to Sydney, Australia, for ten days. The hospitality there was so intense with parties morning, noon and night that on a three or four day trip to Auckland, New Zealand, none of us on that ship have any memory of that passage because we were sleeping and resting and getting ready for ten days more in Auckland.
[I've heard a great deal about the hospitality of the Australians during World War II.]
We were in touch with everybody in Sydney. The minute you stepped off the boat at a landing somebody would try to grab you to take you to buy a drink or to take you to a party, and then you would come back to the ship and have to dress and go to a formal party in the evening. And after that party was over somebody would try to take you to another one. One man that got control of two or three of us was an old fellow who had come from the outback. He was a sheep rancher and he only had one drink in that metal hook and keep right up with us for anything. The only thing that we had to learn to do was that when he started telling wild stories of west Australia and started swinging that hook around, we had to learn to duck a little bit and do a little shadow boxing with him. When we went to Auckland we met an entirely different type of people. They were much more formal but just as friendly and just as insistent that we keep up with them at all times, morning, noon, and night. We had ten days there and then had to rest up.
My ship was the flagship, and our admiral had been in Apia, which his in British Samoa, as a midshipman on board a sailing ship. He had been there in a typhoon in earlier days when several ships had been driven aground or forced back into the harbor, and he had to live there because we couldn't send for them with another ship for a matter of a month or so. They lived with native families and he knew many of these people. When we arrived with him in Apia, he was just taken up as one of their sons. He put our two little planes at their disposal in the harbor, and we took people up in the air. It was the first time they had ever seen an airplane. We had a wonderful time there, and they had a horse race for us. They had a lot of horses and named them all after the officers on the ship; so you would naturally have to bet on yourself or one of your friends, but a horse with a native name would usually come in and win all the money.
We met a native family in the afternoon at the horse race, and when we went to pick them up that night in the brother-in-law's car, the wife, who had been with us all afternoon, asked us to come in and see the baby that she had just after she came home. She couldn't come to the dance with us and she asked us to name the baby. So naturally we had to name her Virginia after the West Virginia. For many years we sent the little girl clothing and things that we could to help her along. This carried on for about five years, but I don't know what's become of her since.
All the time I was on board the ship in engineering duty, I wanted to get my engineering duty service out of my way because I hated it. I never was inclined mechanically, but I knew that I would have to have some of it sometime. So I was assistant boiler officer on the West Virginia for one year. All that time I wanted to go to China. So after a year which consisted of battle practices out of San Pedro, operating up in short overhaul in Bremerton, and a couple of trips to Panama, I was ordered to join the Pittsburgh on her way to the Asiatic station. That was my one trip to Bremerton, and the next one was many years later during the war. One reason I wanted to go into the Navy was because I thought that nearly every ship came into Bremerton at least once a year, and I'd near my home. I only got there two times in thirty years.
[Why did you want to go to the Asiatic station?]
I wanted to go to the Asiatic station because I always thought the Orient was a part of the world that was the most fascinating and was a part that I knew nothing about. It was just pure adventure. I knew that I would retrogress professionally because they had nothing out there that was modern, but I just wanted to go to China, Japan, and the Philippines to see that part of the world.
When I came back from China, I wanted to get into submarine school because at that time I was planning on marrying a girl I had met in Manila. As part of my sickness while living in the state of Washington, I had had trouble with my nose, and in China I had lost my sense of smell. I had a condition in my nose that would have prevented me from ever going into the Navy if it had been discovered. But I found out a way to irrigate it and treat it before all physical examinations so no doctor even up to today has ever discovered it. I went to Washington from Norfolk, which was our first United States port after coming back from China, to have a physical exam to put in for submarines. This doctor did find out what was wrong with my nose and he said, "You can't smell, can you?"
I said, "No."
He said, "Well, it's dangerous for you to be in a submarine; you couldn't smell the hydrogen gas or the things that have connection with the storage batteries, and that might endanger the ship. So you are not qualified."
I couldn't get married if I didn't get into the submarines because I needed the twenty-five percent increase in pay, so I routed my leave, which was to go out to the west coast and come back through towns on the railroad where we had naval recruiting offices. The first one I hit was Louisville, Kentucky. I fixed my nose up on the sleeper that night and went up to call on the recruiting officer whom I had known in China, just to pay my respects. He immediately took me over to a hotel where we had a few mint juleps and he said, "Well, what can I do for you?"
I said, "You've got a doctor here, haven't you? I'd like a physical exam for submarine school. I have to get it in a hurry."
He got on the phone and got the doctor over to the hotel. We had a couple more mint juleps and the doctor said, "Now you wanted a physical exam for submarine school?"
I said, "Yes."
He said, "See that white line on the rug over there? You've been in here quite a while enjoying those mint juleps. You walk over that line and if you don't fall off, I'll qualify you for submarine school." Which I did and which he did.
At that time it was awfully hard to get into submarine school. Previous to that time when I was on board the West Virginia, word would come around once a year for each battleship to detail one officer to submarine school. This was done because duty at the New London Submarine School was considered temporary duty, so if you were married you couldn't take your wife there for six months. You didn't get any extra pay and everybody fought it. Submarines were uncomfortable and nasty and nobody liked them. The way they settled it on the West Virginia was that all of the J.O.'s went to the J.O. mess room, and they dealt everyone nine cold hands of poker. The man who had the absolutely lowest poker hand was detailed to submarine school. I told that to officers recently up at the New London Submarine School, and they said, "Oh, that's how that son-of-a-bitch got in here." That's why some of the senior submarine officers were such dopes.
This whole thing changed when a submarine was sunk off of Martha's Vineyard. The Navy took Congressman LaGuardia up to the rescue operations, and he asked to go up on a submarine and live on a submarine. They made things just as hard for him as they could. If they had any heat on board, they did turn it on, and he came back and got us a twenty-five percent increase in pay and permanent duty at the submarine school. From then on people fought for it. Aviators got a fifty percent increase in pay and they were known as the "supermen," and we were known as the "semi-supermen" with a twenty-five percent increase in pay.
I got married, went to New London, went through school, and one of my classmates was then Lieutenant Hyman Rickover. I never liked him much then because he was so standoffish. I would say, "Good morning, sir" to him because he was a couple of years senior to me. He would kind of turn around and look at me and never even grunt. I've always had a great deal of respect for Admiral Rickover as being the greatest driver in the Navy but the worst leader. I don't know of any officer in the world who would do one thing for Admiral Rickover because Admiral Rickover was a man he admired and respected and would go beyond himself just because of his personality. I know every officer that worked for Admiral Rickover that I have ever met does it because Rickover is a driver, and this officer would get a kick in the stern sheets if he didn't do what he did. I personally think that he's done as much harm to the submarine service as he has good for it in inventing and promoting the nuclear propulsion. What he has done is that he has driven these officers beyond human endurance, and I know of two, and have heard of many others, who had to resort to psychiatric treatment to recover from his leadership, and that goes from him all the way down.
[He was an individual who had few personal friends.]
That's right. But Admiral Rickover of course has always had the story told of him as the story was told of MacArthur that he had his aide make preparations for his coffin. He said that he wanted nothing but a plain pine box, and the aide asked why. He said, "Well, of course, you know, I'll only be in it for three days."
In those days submarine duty was very simple. I had my training at submarine school on the O-boats which were so small and so short that when you were in the control room and gave an order to open A-vent, which was the forward vent in the boat, that you didn't have to look at an indicator to see if a man had opened it; you could look right up and watch him open it. We had a drill on the torpedo tubes one day and got under way and went out onto Long Island Sound, but there was so much fog in the torpedo rooms that we couldn't see the tubes, so we had to turn around and come back in. They had no heat on them and they were simple to operate, but you didn't learn too much. From there I was ordered to Pearl Harbor for duty on board the R-7, which was the type of boat operating there. About six or eight months after I arrived, the R-boats were ordered back to the states to be put out of commission, and the S-boats replaced them, and I was ordered to the S-45.
[When was this?]
I graduated from submarine school in June 1930, and this was all between 1930 and 1934 because I went ashore in 1934. The R-boats all left Pearl Harbor as one group. I think there were fifteen or twenty of them, and they hit a storm right after they rounded Diamond Head and got off toward Molokai. Someone told me later on he could see the Molokai lights for three days. The storm was so heavy that they couldn't get away from it. I was on board the S-45 until we went to San Diego where they took me to the hospital and took out my appendix because I had been seasick all the way over. I had never been too seasick before, and they thought it was my appendix. It turned out not to be. But the ship did a little operating while I was in the hospital, and then I went back to Pearl.
Then I was ordered to the post graduate school at Annapolis. I took two courses there and stayed two years. The first course was a general line course, and the second year was applied communications, which was communications for the officer who knew very little about the electronic end of naval communications. We knew how to be a flag lieutenant or a staff officer and how to handle the communications.
So when I went to sea again after two years, I was ordered back to Pearl Harbor as communication officer for Submarine Squadron 4, which was all of the submarines attached to Pearl Harbor at that time.
Before I reported to the post graduate school, the Depression came along, and there were no more promotions in the Navy. If you took over a month's leave, you lost pay for that time. I had two months leave coming, and my wife had gone to the Philippines for a visit, as things were nothing working out too well between us. I volunteered to go back to Culver and help them run their summer naval school for one month of this period. I was going to lose pay for it so I might as go out there. They didn't pay me but the paid for my room and board. Out there I met Admiral Hugh Rodman who was in charge of the whole summer naval, cavalry, and woodcraft unit of Culver. He and I worked with the Navy end of it a lot and ended up by getting a ship, the Wilmette, which was a reserve cruiser in Chicago.
The Wilmette was the old Eastland, which had been an old ferry boat and had capsized and sunk in Chicago some years before, so they gave it to the Navy as a reserve cruiser. She was safe then, so we took these couple of hundred naval midshipmen on her for a cruise up to Sault Ste. Marie in the Great Lakes. It was a great experience because we had reserve officers in command of the ship. I stood junior officer of the deck watches with them because I was junior to them, but I was also trying to teach them a few things.
We had an experience at Mackinac Island. We pulled in there for a few days liberty. It was an island and no automobiles were allowed on there. They had only horse drawn vehicles and they asked us to have a parade. We had our band on board, and the midshipmen could march through the town. I think I led the parade, being that I was the senior one with that group. We started up the road up through the main part of town, and when the band started up, all hell broke loose. None of these horses had ever heard a band before, and they all started running in different directions, so we had to quiet down the band to finish our parade.
When we came back to the ship, we found out that a yacht, the Mizpah, owned by Gene MacDonald who owned Zenith Radio at that time, had anchored. He had two guests on board that we thought our midshipmen should hear. One of them was Count Felix Von Luckner, the German sea devil, and the other was Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Rushmore Mountain. We asked them to come over and talk to the midshipmen and both were kind enough to accept. My admiral, Admiral Hugh Rodman, had been in command of the American Fleet during World War I which joined the British Fleet at Scapa Flow. Hugh Rodman felt like many of us did that no goddamn German was any good because they were the Huns. We had been brought up under this propaganda. He didn't like von Luckner; I could tell the minute he came on board. Admiral Rodman had told me a lot of stories about our submarines and the British submarines in World War I that I had never heard before. I had my submarine qualification pin and two campaign bars that I could wear on my uniform, so while von Luckner was telling this fascinating story to the midshipmen, Rodman told me to go down and put on my submarine pin and badges. For some reason I had left them off my uniform that day. Von Luckner was the commander of the pseudo-merchant ship that sank a lot of shipping all during the war all over the world. After his talk we went to the captain's cabin, and Admiral Rodman turned to the German and said, "I enjoyed hearing your talk very much, but I would like to introduce to you someone who has had no publicity; very few people know what he did, but I want you to meet our American Sea Devil, Lieutenant Joe Stryker, who was in submarines in World War I." He then told these stories. I was only fifteen then, but von Luckner couldn't say that he was a damned liar. He would just say, "Oh, I've heard that story many times; I've often wondered about it." Then he would ask me a couple of questions about it. Finally as he was leaving the ship, everyone was around asking him for his autograph on their cards or his card, and I asked him for one. Just before he left the ship, he walked over to me and said, "Sir, may I have your autograph?" I gave him one with great pleasure.
[Where was Admiral Rodman from?]
I believe he was from Kentucky, because I believe he wrote this book called Tales of a Kentucky Admiral. I had met him first on board the West Virginia going to Australia because he was retired and traveling down there as a retired officer on a pleasure cruise. He was living in the J.O. mess, so we got to know him a little bit that way. The thing that I will never forget was that one time right before breakfast about eight of us were lined up waiting for the one or two stalls in the head, and Admiral Rodman appeared at the door in his bathrobe. We all backed up and said, "Admiral, please step up to the head of the line."
He said, "No, young men, I might as well tell you now, and it's a lesson you've got to learn-there's no rank between backsides and Navy wives."
While we were talking one day he said, "Joe do you know the Navy regulations very well?"
I said, "Yes. I'm quite sure I know them well enough to get along."
He said, "I want to give you a bit of advice. If you ever come to a point in your career in the Navy where Navy regulations do not coincide with common sense, to hell with the Navy regulations. Do what you think is right."
That gave me a great deal of freedom throughout the rest of my life because later on when I got passed over for lieutenant commander and was later picked up, I did what I thought was right. I may have violated many Navy regulations, but I never got caught, so I never gained too many points, but I lived a more free life.
After this was finished, I had time to go to the Chemical Warfare School before post graduate school started. This was at Edgewood Arsenal, and I think the course was about three weeks. I had somewhat of a problem there as I was not able to smell. They would give us little sniff bottles to be able to smell and recognize mustard gas and different poisonous war gases. The object was to take a slight sniff in your nose and as soon as you smelled anything to blow it out as hard as you could. Well, I would keep sniffing and sniffing and I never did smell any of them. They soon found out that I would have killed myself because I couldn't smell, so they let me skip that part of the course. Post graduate school was interesting. I worked hard and enjoyed it and learned a lot.
Then I went back to Pearl Harbor as I said before as communication officer of Submarine Squadron 4. During that period we had a strange situation in submarines. We had a flag ship called the Bushnell, and it cruised from the east coast to the west coast and Hawaii where all of our submarines were except for a few in China, and they did not come under this command. An admiral was on board and his title was Commander of Submarines United States Fleet, and he had a staff and administered all of the submarines. In two cases when I finally went to this staff, neither of the admirals had had a day of submarine duty. The first was Admiral Joe Defrees and the next was Admiral H. S. Freeman. The reason that the commander of submarines had had no submarine duty was because we had nobody that senior who had had a chance to have submarine duty. I was ordered there from my job at Pearl Harbor because Admiral Defrees kind of liked me. He ordered me to his staff as flag lieutenant and personnel officer. Shortly after I got on board with those jobs, the communication officer had to be detached for some reason, so I was also communication officer for all of the submarines that we had. Right now communications and personnel are probably run by several hundred officers, but we had such primitive equipment and operations and procedures that I could do it all without much trouble at all. One of my favorite duties for each of these admirals was at a cocktail party to pin the submarine qualification badge on the admiral himself qualifying him for command of a submarine and also pinning a miniature on his wife. They both appreciated that, but I don't think it ever went in the record that they were qualified in submarines.
In 1939, I was detached from the submarine force and ordered to the Naval Academy for duty. While in Pearl Harbor I had been divorced and remarried and by this time had a son about a year old that we took to Annapolis. Prior to this time it is interesting whether you are in the Navy or a civilian to realize that when a person bought a house and had a mortgage on it, most mortgages were for one year and they could be called on demand. My father had lost our home one time during a period of depression in Everett because the doctor that held his mortgage came over one day and told my sister to have my father pay off the whole mortgage by the first of the moth or get out. So I was never very interested in owning a home until I got to Annapolis this time for duty at the Naval Academy. The FHA had just come through where a mortgage could be amortized, and when you were building a house, it was inspected by FHA inspectors to see that it was built right. I built a house there and I know of only one other naval officer who had ever built a house or bought a house prior to that time. I built it with the money I saved in China. I drew $143 a month, but my expenses were so cheap and were mostly taken care of by the Chinese compradors without my knowledge that I dealt with that I was able to save a $100 a month.
I came up for selection for lieutenant commander and the results came out March 1, 1939. I remember the date very much because it was ten days before our second son was born, and I was horrified to be notified over the telephone that I had been passed over for lieutenant commander. I immediately tried to see what the problem was, and as quite a few of the officers on the selection board were captains on duty at the Naval Academy, I went around to them to see if they could recollect why I had been passed over because I had had a pretty good record. One of them said that he didn't vote for me because I had had so much staff duty. He said that my classmates were out on line duty where they were taking a chance of making a mistake and getting a court martial, and there I had been working for an admiral who would take the buck for us. I didn't tell the captain that I never asked for a day's staff duty but that I had been selected for it four different times and didn't quite see how that could be held against me. But then I found out that what really got me was that fact that when I had been ordered to the Hulbert, a destroyer, from the Pittsburgh, the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, the flag secretary called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to a destroyer. I told him that I did. He told me to pack my bags because he was going to send me to the Hulbert out at Saddle Islands. He said they needed a relief for a man named Dal Emory. Well, I packed up and went out there and reported on board. The skipper was an old instructor that I had had at the Naval Academy when I was a midshipman, named Bolivar Meade. He said, "What are you doing on board?"
I said, "I have been sent here as relief for Dal Emory."
He said, "Those dopes on the flagship don't know what they are talking about; I got a relief for Dal Emory three weeks ago sent to me from the states. He's a classmate of yours. You are an excess officer on board, and I'm not going to change my organization. I haven't got another department to give you. We're making a fine cruise down to Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, and the South Seas. Just ride along and stand watches and when they find their mistake, they will order you somewhere else."
So I did that for about seven or eight months. All I did was stand watches. I was officially detailed but later on I found out that it went in on my fitness report as librarian and assistant torpedo officer. Nobody had ever been assigned to librarian on any ship that I had ever heard of, and when they saw that on the selection board, they said that that guy can't be worth anything because he was only a librarian and an assistant to a head of a department. Meade hadn't explained at all why he did this. I wrote to him and told him what had happened, and he immediately put in an augmenting fitness report telling why he had done this and that it had been no fault of mine. So the next year I was selected, but if you had been passed over once and had been selected again, you came in a category as Fitted and they either retained you or dropped you. The people who were being selected for the first time were called Best Fitted. I was selected as Fitted and Retained. The Best Fitted officers could serve on combatant ships, but the Fitted and Retained officers could not serve on a combatant ship. So I was restricted from then on to auxiliaries. I went up to Washington. The detail officer was Sunshine Murray, an old submariner, and I told him my problem. He said that he would put me on board the best auxiliary that we had, a brand new minesweeper, the Raven. He said that he was sorry that they did this to me and that my explanation showed that it wasn't my fault.
I went on board the Raven and had a wonderful time putting her in commission, because being the first ship, she was designed by some excellent ship designers but people with no practical experience. For instance, the compass was reversed on the bridge so if you wanted to adjust it, you had to take it out and turn it around and adjust it and put it back, and then it would be out of adjustment again. I would report things like this to the ship ward, and they would call Washington. Then Washington would authorize them to make the change that I recommended, which they did. I guess we changed a dozen things on that ship.
The first trial run we took her out and we were headed down the channel from the Navy yard to where we went out to the Hampton Roads operating base. The Norfolk night boat was coming in; this was about ten o'clock in the morning. All of a sudden my ship started to go hard left, and all the rudder we put on her to go right would not stop it. Luckily we cut right under her stern. I dropped the anchor, and we fooled around with the steering engine so we thought we could operate enough to steer by hand which you could do from the steering engine room but not from the bridge. Then we couldn't hoist the anchor. We had tested all of these things before we had gone out. We finally got the anchor up by using a lot of jury rig. We went out and when we were going ahead at normal speed, I would stop the engines and back, but the engines wouldn't back. I would try to send a message into the Navy yard to report these things, and our radio wouldn't work. On the way in we opened up a pump where we had trouble and found a bunch of nuts and bolts that had been thrown in there when it was fastened up and secured. So when we went in I got permission to take corrective action.
The first thing we did was to work on the steering gear. It was so over-designed and over-developed that we just kept taking parts off of it. It had a follow-up gear for this and a follow-up for the follow-up. When you build a new ship when you bring anything on board for the ship, it has to be weighed so they can tell what you should weigh and then see what she displaces. When we got about twenty pounds off the steering engine, had them weighed and taken off, we tested it out and never had any more trouble with it.
But I went up to the admiral because when I got home that night I picked up the Norfolk Virginia Pilot and read in there-I still have the clipping somewhere-an article that said that sabotage had been discovered in the Navy yard and that workmen were throwing nuts and bolts into the machinery of some of the ships that were being built there. So I went up and said, "For God's sake, Admiral, that happened to me yesterday. Can I go over to see the editor of the paper and find out where they got that information so they can stop this, because this yard is starting to build a battleship?"
He said, "You're not dry behind the ears yet, young man. Do you think any editor would tell you where he got a story like that?"
He said, "You can do any damn thing you want to."
I did go over to the editor of that paper and said, "That's going on and you printed a story. Obviously somebody knows who is doing it. Can't you tell us so we can stop it before we start building this battleship?"
He laughed at me, and for that reason I've never had too much of a kind feeling toward anybody in the media field. But I see their point; I know why they did it, but it didn't help me too much on my ship.
[So you think it was sabotage?]
Yes, I'm sure it was. Well, anyway we got the ship running and we operated up and down the east coast. Before long I was assigned to convoy the Washington and the North Carolina when they went from Norfolk up and down the east coast shaking down. It turned out that I worked with the North Carolina mostly, and I got to have a very fine relationship with Captain Oscar Badger, who was the captain of the ship at that time, because I was intelligent enough to help him when I saw he was having problems. I offered to plant a few buoys in the Chesapeake Bay when they had to operate in there where there were no aids to navigation. I was able to help him in quite a few ways.
We came into port on the day before Christmas 1941. War had been declared, and I believe we had come down from New York. On the way into the channel just shortly before dark, fog set in and the North Carolina anchored. I sneaked around her. I was astern of her, and I could work my way up the channel. I went in, tied up, and went home. I also did a little shopping. By that time the fog had lifted, and the North Carolina had come up and anchored. As I walked into our apartment, my wife was in tears. She had a letter from the executive officer of the North Carolina that had been delivered by a marine that said, "If Lt. Commander Stryker is within a hundred miles of Norfolk, this message will be delivered to him personally." She said, "There's the letter." I opened it up, and it was from Andy Shepard, the exec of the ship, and it said to stand by for orders and that it was a boost and not a kick. I didn't know what he meant. But by midnight I got orders detaching me from the Raven, ordering me as navigator to the North Carolina, to report the next day, which was Christmas Day. So I stayed home until we had our family Christmas the next day and then went down and was relieved on the Raven. I was dumb struck by the fact that they had been able to buy me a radio, some suitcases and pens, and things that they gave me as parting gifts.
I went over on the North Carolina, and there was a very disgruntled navigator who had been kicked off the ship waiting for me to relieve him. I found out that he was not satisfied Badger as a navigator or pilot; and when the ship had anchored in the channel coming up the afternoon before, the captain had asked him what buoy they were anchored near; and this guy didn't know. He asked the quartermaster, and the quartermaster gave him the wrong number. So when the fog lifted, the captain saw that he didn't know where he was and he said, "Pack your bag; I'm putting you ashore." He called up the Navy Department and said that he was detaching the man who served as navigator and that he wanted me ordered to the ship as his navigator. They said, "Well, we are very sorry, but Lt. Commander Stryker is only a Fitted Officer, and he is not allowed to serve on a combatant ship."
Oscar Badger let loose some sailor talk and said, "What the hell do I give a damn about that? I worked with him; I know him; I want him. And if you don't order him tomorrow, I'm throwing my navigator off the ship; and the North Carolina is going to sea the day after Christmas without a navigator."
That little Raven that I left was one of the finest ships I ever saw. I think I had thirty-five enlisted men on board, and thirty-three of them were commissioned during the war. Everybody worked together. We had an old chief boatswain, Bill Brown, who was the exec who was the salt of the earth. We got a commendation from Admiral King one time up in Newport because he was riding the flagship up there, and we used to have to get underway and do things for them around the harbor and act as a target when they were simulating gunfire at sea. One day somebody came to me and said, "We get orders to get underway a lot here in Newport; let's try something." There was a boat gong which you rang and could be heard all over the ship, and it signaled that a boat was going ashore and different signals. He said, "When the quartermaster or the signalman gets a message for us to get underway or when a flag hoist is hoisted for us to get underway, let's ring five gongs on the boat gong and that will mean everybody takes his station for getting underway, heave short with the anchor and haul down the flag and get under way." Admiral King saw us do that one day, and he thought that was the slickest thing he had ever seen, and he sent us a nice commendation on it. That showed the type of men that we had.
We were on the east coast for another five or six months running up and down to Casco Bay for some of our gunnery practice. We went down to the Gulf of Mexico for some work in gunnery practice and up to New York to the Navy yard for some extra work. But it was pleasant work; I loved the ship and it was a challenge because the captain immediately let me handle the ship whenever we went in and out of port. I think I sold myself to Captain Badger on a trip from Norfolk to Casco Bay, Maine, when they had taken in all the buoys, shut down all the radio direction finders; there were no aids to navigation because we were afraid the German submarines out there would be using them. So all we had was what we could observe from the skies and soundings. So we got underway from Norfolk, and the fog set in, and I didn't get a sight. I didn't know if I knew how fast that ship was running exactly, how good the compass was or anything, but I took a sounding every five minutes. I kept a running record of our soundings and I could slip it up and down on the chart to see about where we were. I was headed for a point out off Martha's Vineyard called Hydrographer's Bank. The shelf of the ocean up there is a depth of about forty fathoms, maybe fifty in some places. But this Hydrographer's Bank was only about a half mile wide and two miles long, but the depths went down to eighty fathoms. When we got in there, the fog was thicker than hell, and I finally hit eighty fathoms. I called the captain in and I said, "Turn north and we can get right between those two islands, and we'll fetch up in Portland, Maine, tomorrow morning."
He said, "My God, are you sure of what you are talking about?"
I said, "Captain, we're right there."
So he called in the executive officer and said, "Stryker says we're here and that if we go up there, we have to go between these two islands." We didn't have radar direction finders; we didn't have any good radar at all. We did have a radar on board so we could tell there was land but we didn't know if it was ten miles or a hundred miles. The captain said, "Commander, what would you do?"
He said, "I'd head for sea and wait for the fog to raise."
The captain said to me, "Do you know where you are?"
I said, "Captain, we are right there."
About that time the more shallow sounding came back again. I said, "We've crossed this thing; I've got a record of it."
He said, "All right, but if we don't make it, we're all in the soup." But we made it, and I never had any more trouble with Captain Badger after that. He would introduce me to somebody by saying, "I want you to meet my navigator who puts his finger on the chart and says, 'We're here,' and I don't argue with him." From there on until the end of the war you have a pretty good record in that journal which is on board the North Carolina. I only kept that journal while I was navigator. While I was executive officer, I believe I have covered everything on tape that would be of interest to you.
When I left the ship in Ulithi in December 1944, which was six months before the war was over, I had been on board for just about three years. I had four days leave during that time to go from Pearl to see my family in Palo Alto one time. I was ordered as district communication officer for the Third Naval District which is in New York. I went there by troop train. We got a compartment for my wife, my two boys, and myself. There was one Pullman, one dining car, and the rest was for troops. We ran out of food about the second day but we scrounged around and we had a porter who would rush for food whenever we stopped in a town. They finally got some food for the diner so we weren't hungry. I'll always remember a town called Streator, Illinois, that we stopped in. They found out that trains were coming through all the time with problems like that so everybody in town was down there with cakes, cookies, and food for us. The porter said, "You just get off and take everything you can carry, and I'll get off and get everything I can carry, and have your wife do the same thing." On the way across I taught my oldest boy how to make a highball and I taught both of them how to play chess. They were six and eight then, and before we got to New York they both had beat me at one game of chess. I don't know if teaching them how to make highballs at the same time had anything to do with that or not.
We got to New York and tried to find an apartment. There were actually only two apartments that were available that I could find out about. One of them was up near Harlem, and it consisted of an apartment with a corridor down the middle with about eight rooms off the side. In the rooms were just coat hangers and nails to put your clothes on. I'm sure that at one time it had been a bawdy house or something. It had been designed for that. The other was on East 57th Street. It was a six story walk-up and it was full of antiques. We had to look at it flashlight as the lights were off, and the woman who rented it to us that there were two beds in one room where the two boys were going to sleep. We rented it and moved in the next day and found out that the beds were two chests that had been covered, and there weren't even mattresses on them. So I checked in and went out to Long Island to look for a house to buy; I wasn't going to raise my children in a place like that. It snowed, and they had a sled, and the only place they could slide was in a little place about twelve by twelve in the interior of the apartment court. The snow was about the color of coal dust. When I saw that I decided that I was going to get them out. We moved out to Garden City. I bought a nice house and was very disgruntled because I had to pay two thousand dollars more for it than the one I built in Annapolis several years before that was very similar.
When I left the North Carolina, I don't know if I ever put it in the record, but I'd been on board so long and knew the crew so well and we got along so well that I got on the loud speaker to say good-bye to them. They called a destroyer alongside and put me over on a coal bag to the destroyer. After I was in the bag, the master-at-arms came running up and he said, "I haven't had a chance to tell you and you've left before we got this all settled, but the crew wanted to do something for you when you got home." Let me tell you, I didn't know what was coming, and I had a brand new skipper who had just taken over a couple of days before standing there listening to all of this. They started hauling me away from the ship, and he said, "They decided to send your wife a little present, so we have sent money orders for $1,280 for her to buy you something." Well, my face dropped; I had never heard of anything quite that high. I don't know what Captain Fahrion thought. I insisted on putting this as the down payment on the house I bought in Garden City. I lived in it eighteen months and made an $8,000 profit on it, so I always figured that the North Carolina gave me about $10,000.
From there I went to the Naval War College which was headed by Admiral Spruance. The first year I was a student. I enjoyed the work very much. We had war games up there; they were making plans to have a mechanical war board and war games, but we had to do it all by hand. They would give each student a problem like we were having a war with Russia in the Pacific or something like that, and half of you would be one side and half of you would be on the other. I've always been known to be quick and wrong; I'm not thorough and I'm not slow and sure; I'm quick and wrong. On board the North Carolina I found out after I left that they used to call me "Hurry up, Joe." So I was the first one to finish my operation order for the command-I've forgotten whether it was the Russian or American fleet for this war-and when the staff found out that I had finished it, they picked me for the commander for the games because we always played out one of these plans. I was glad to go that because I could run a whole war there on my own. Admiral Spruance followed these things quite carefully. After this was over-I don't even remember how it came out because there was never a very definite decision one way or the other-he called me in one day and said that he would like to have me stay another year in the Strategy and Tactics Department. After I knew that I was going to be on the staff the next year, I went up to him one day and said, "Admiral, the Navy is wasting a hell of a lot of time and money by sending people like me to the Naval War College, and there are an awful lot of others like me here. We've been passed over once; and once you've been passed over, you are never going to get any rank in this Navy and you're never going to be in a position to put into effect what you are teaching us here. You have to get people ordered up here who are going to get to the top."
He said, "All right, you've got a new job. They are going to select a class for next year here in two weeks; you go to Washington and you select them. You get on that board, and I'll give you the authority to accept or reject any officer that comes before them."
I did that and I had a hell of a lot of fun, and I got some good people up there. But I'll say right now that I did things like that where I could have shut up and not worried about it. But I always remembered my dear old friend from the Culver days, Admiral Rodman, saying that if the naval regulations said one thing and common sense another, the hell with the Navy regulation. Having been passed over once, I knew that I would never get anywhere, so why not enjoy life and do what I thought was best and try to do some good? Before Admiral Spruance left he called me in one day and said that he wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed having me there, and he said, "Always remember, you are a fighter." That gave me a lot of confidence.
[What did you think of Admiral Spruance?]
I thought he was the smartest man we ever had. He had command at the battle of Midway because Admiral Halsey had a bad case of shingles or itch or something, and I don't know if we would have done as well if Halsey had had command. I don't think we would have. But I thought that Spruance was the finest man I ever knew. He had one failing that nobody could ever talk him out of. He would never go out and get into an automobile and drive off. He would always warm that engine for at least fifteen minutes. He probably learned that from the first car he ever owned when you had to do that. That was probably when he did a lot of his thinking too.
When I left the War College at the end of the second year after I had been on the staff, I was ordered to command the Fremont, and attack transport in Norfolk. From then on I had no duty except in the amphibious force. It's very strange; I have a story now that they are holding up for publication in the Shipmate about some old amphibious stories.
When I had command of the Raven, one of the jobs that I had, I was in Newport doing a little escort duty and running up to Iona Island on the Hudson to get depth charges for destroyers. I got a dispatch one day that I was to command a control and salvage group and was to land the 1st Marine Division at New River Inlet and that the other ship in my division, the Osprey, which was commanded by then Lt. Commander Blackwell, a classmate of mine, was to land an army division, all under my command. I had never heard of the amphibious force. I went into the confidential library and found a book, less than half an inch thick. That was our amphibious warfare manual. I saw that as commander Control and Salvage Group, I was to go in and establish a line of departure, I was to get some portable radios from the flagship because I didn't have enough radios to control the thing, and I was report the time of departure of each wave as it left the line of departure and when it landed. I had control of the landing of that division. The amphibious landing craft were known as Higgins boats because they were built by a Mr. Higgins from New Orleans. He was on board the flagship to see how they worked. In addition to being commander Control and Salvage Group, to show you how primitive they were then, I also had command of naval gunfire support; and if we had had airplanes, I'd have had the air support. I had five officers on board the ship, all of them being warrant officers but one. And I had one boat to do all of this with. We could do it all by flag hoist. They would come into the line of departure and we would hoist a flag, and they would go in. Pretty soon they started losing a few of them in on the beach, broaching; and I got a message that I was also commander of the salvage group and I had to get those boats off of the beach. We had a landing party in there commanded by Red Jamison who was doing what he could. These were among the first boats that had ramps that you lowered, and I remember they came in equipped with a stern anchor that they were supposed to drop just before they hit the surf, go in and then have themselves out on this stern anchor. Well, it wasn't ten minutes until they started fouling their propellers on the anchor line or else they dropped the anchors so far out that they couldn't get through the surf. That was one of the first things that was stopped. Then they got ashore and they had to put a bridge across the Inland Waterway which stopped all boat traffic for a while. We soon started getting many casualties back from the beach from heat exhaustion and snakebite because they were in there where they're built Camp Lejeune now, but then it was just mostly a swamp. So that was my only experience with amphibious warfare. All during the war I was vitally interested in it. I got all of their dispatches, and several times we operated with them. But after the war I got command of the Fremont and stayed in amphibious business until I retired.
Unfortunately, I relieved an officer who had been a good friend of mine, and he had married a woman with some money and had become an alcoholic. That ship was in the most horrible condition that I've ever seen in my life. He asked me to ride up with him from Hampton Roads to the Navy yard because the ship was going in for an overhaul when I took command. We nearly had two collisions on the way up. We both left the ship about one o'clock on Saturday afternoon. I went home for lunch and later on in the afternoon, I got a call from his wife and she was wondering where he was. I didn't know where he was. He had invited me to the ship for dinner on Wednesday. I went up to the ship and went on board and said that the captain had invited me for lunch. The officer of the deck said, "This is very embarrassing, but haven't seen him since Saturday, sir. We haven't even had our arrival conference with the Navy yard because the captain is not around."
So I finally located him at home and I think he staggered on board a little later. I had lunch in his cabin. I said, "Okay, I was supposed to relieve you about three weeks from now. I'm going to the school down at the amphibious base. I just called Admiral Briscoe and told him that I want him to change my orders, and I'm relieving you tomorrow morning at ten o'clock."
He said, "It's okay with me."
So I went down the next day at ten o'clock and read my orders. He asked me if I wanted to look over the books or anything. The first book I looked at was the wardroom mess account. It's an unwritten law in the Navy that you pay your wardroom mess bill on the first of the month. He didn't do that. He just let them go to the end of the month and then they all chipped in what they needed for the thing. He had a terrible list of confidential publications; and after about ten minutes, I said, "Let's just forget this; I'll relieve you right now. Good luck to you and goodbye."
Well, the morale of that ship was lower than anything I've ever seen. He had decided that rather than have people scrub the paintwork all over, he had had the entire interior of that ship painted black, the crew's compartments and everything. The first thing I did was to go up and make a call on the master painter in the shipyard and ask him to come down and look at my ship. I told him that I had only so much money for the overhaul and asked him to see how much he could paint. He came down and looked at it and said, "For God's sake, I've never seen anything that color. You get a job order approved to paint one compartment, and I'll paint your whole damn ship for you."
Which he did. Unfortunately we had an executive officer who was not a strong man, and this skipper had beaten him down or he had given up in disgust, but he was quite a problem too. The first day we got underway after the Navy yard trials, I told one of the officers, "You are the officer of the deck; take her down the river."
He said, "Well, sire, I think I'd better tell you that no officer on this ship has ever handled her. The captain brought her in and out of port. He would never trust us, and none of us has ever backed the engine."
I said, "Well, you are going to learn right now, boys."
So I never did anything from then on. I watched and stood over them. But they loved it. We got out and threw a box over the side, and I would tell them to go alongside the box and stop. I had them take her up the channel. To tell you what you can do if you get people behind you like that, that year at the end of one year, we won what they called the "Meatball," the battle efficiency pennant. We could do anything better than any other amphibious transport, and it was just because those officers pitched in there and the men saw that I was trying to work with them and help them. They were damned near as good a crew as I had on the Raven and on the North Carolina. I would like to repeat that the Captain I had to relieve later joined the AA and is a fine, upstanding man now. As a result of getting the "Meatball," I was ordered to Chief of Staff, Amphibious Group II, which was commanded by an admiral who had all of the amphibious ships in the Atlantic. That was a nice year with a nice guy, Admiral Harold Baker.
I had three years of sea duty and I was ordered ashore at Norfolk as the district communication officer. Admiral Jerry Wright was then commander of the amphibious forces in the Atlantic; and he saw me at a cocktail party just after we had moved into government quarters, the first government quarters I had ever been in. We had been in there about three weeks. He said, "Joe, would you like to go back to sea again?"
I said, "The Navy won't let me go back to sea; I've been to sea for three years, and the normal tour is two years."
The next day he called up and said, "They decided up in Washington that they will let you go back to sea again. I want you to take command of what they call AOTE, amphibious operational training element, which will train all of the amphibious small craft on the east coast for the Korean War. In addition, I'm going to give you a transport division so you can be breaking that in while you are training these small ones."
I did that, and the ironic part, the thing that I had a lot of fun with was that when I built this house in Annapolis, I waited several years and then wrote an article for the Naval Institute Proceedings called "Keep out of Government Quarters." It said, "Don't live in government quarters; don't rent; put the money in your own pocket; buy your own house." I told them how much I paid for it and that I had rented it for a number of years and sold it for three times what I had paid for it and that you just couldn't go wrong. Well, I had just gotten into government quarters for the first time in Norfolk, and the damned New York Times or the Herald Tribune got hold of that thing and printed the whole thing is their real estate section and gave my address as Norfolk. Well, I got a letter from every real estate broker in the United States wanting copes of it, and I had to buy 10,000 copies from the Naval Institute and sell them to these people for a nickel a piece to pay expenses and to get rid of them. All the time I was being kicked out of government quarters because when I went back to sea, I had to vacate my nice quarters. They were right on a hole at the golf course. I had to buy a house in Norfolk. Everybody said, "Well, if you write something like that and have it come out in the New York Times, the Navy throws you right out and you keep out of government quarters."
To follow up on that story, I later had to buy a house in Alexandria, Va. I went to settle on this house and the broker asked me if I had ever written an article called "Keep out of Government Quarters." I said that I had, and he said that they had been discussing it at a board meeting that morning. He asked me to sell real estate for him. I said, "Hell, I couldn't sell real estate; I have never had any experience or thought about it. I just like houses. I built that one; I own another one now." But he kept after me and by God I went down and for two years before I retired, I moonlighted and sold real estate in the evenings and weekends and was going to carry it out when I retired, but I got a better offer and went into trade association work.
[When you were in command of that amphibious division, you were not at sea for any length of time, were you?]
Well, we were in and out except that I took five ships with a marine battalion to the Mediterranean for four months. We made several landings over there to show the Greeks and Italians how we did it. I was detached in Cannes harbor and came back for my final shore duty here in Washington. To my great horror when I was forming this transport division, one ship had to come from the west coast. I took a look at the name of the commanding officer, and it was the guy I had relieved on the Fremont. He had still survived, but fortunately his orders were changed and he never came to serve under me.
[How great a problem has alcoholism been in the Navy?]
Well, strangely enough this man lost his wife. She divorced him shortly after I relieved him.
When I first went to submarines in Pearl Harbor, nearly every officer had a little still that was built for him at the machine shop at Pearl Harbor and that was to distill denatured alcohol. This was all during Prohibition. If you had a party, you would distill a couple of quarts of it at home before your party. I had a lot to do with building the Bachelor Officers Quarters, and I ran the food mess of the Officers Club. One day a doctor came to me and said, "You know everybody is wasting all of their time distilling this denatured alcohol. We've got grain alcohol and we put the stuff in it to make it wood alcohol, so you can't drink it. If you will come over and work with me, we'll set aside a few five-gallon cans of it, and instead of putting the pink stuff in-they always called it pink lady-we'll put beet juice in it so you won't have to distill it."
That word got around, and I gave beet juice alcohol to all of my friends. When they could come to my house I would pour them out a red drink of alcohol and they would say, "For God's sake, aren't you going to distill it?"
I said, "No, I've got this all fixed up; it won't bother you." That went on for quite a while, but later on I knew of one officer who was killed when his still exploded, so I think they kind of quit that sort of work.
Talking about the time I took the Amphibious Force for the 6th Fleet over, we got a lot of flack from Commander 6th Fleet about how we had to instill in every man and officer that came to Europe that they had to be right on their toes, that there would be no problems or trouble; they could not step out of line or they were going to be picked up and we were going to have a lot of trouble. So we had little cards that they carried; we had little lectures on it. We steamed into Cannes harbor just before the 4th of July; and I knew from having been in French places that from the 4th of July until the 14th of July, the French holiday, it's a great big holiday for the French. Well, we landed those people after having steamed through breakwaters with big signs painted, "Yank, go home." I didn't know how it was going but that I couldn't do anything but go ashore and have a good time. So I got back the next morning and got a report that there hadn't been any problem with any of the men from my ships. But there was a little admiral who had command of a cruiser. I can't remember his name, but he was about five feet tall, and he called me over on board his flagship. I went on board and he said, "I want to tell you Commodore Stryker that the conduct of your men yesterday was unacceptable."
I said, "What are you talking about? I didn't get a report of one single arrest by shore patrol, not anything."
He said, "There was no arrest; but one warrant officer was ashore in civilian clothes, and he looked tipsy; so they suggested that he go back to the ship. I consider that unacceptable."
I was so dumb struck that I saluted him and turned around said, "Can you get my boat; I'd like to go back to my ship." I've never gotten over that. This was in 1950.
I had a little problem about an hour or so after that. Three Frenchmen came on board and said that they wanted to see me. They said that they were jewelers, and that some marines had gone into their jewelry store, and one of them had gone back with the owners in the rear of the store, and the others were left out in the front. When they left they found out they had stolen four watches, or they thought they had stolen four watches. They wondered if I could help get them back because they were rather valuable. I remembered an experience on a midshipman cruise in Rotterdam when we were all invited to the Lord Mayor's ball. The next day the word got out the Americans being souvenir hunters, the American midshipmen had lifted four solid gold ashtrays and the Seal of the City of Rotterdam during the party. The admiral had enough sense to pass the word around that they would be returned. There would be a mess table set up in a gun compartment all night that night, and they would be left on that table and no questions would be asked and nothing would happen. The next morning they were all there. I got the marine colonel who was in command and told him that we would try that, that we would put a mess table in a certain compartment and that we wanted all of those watches returned. He came up to me the next morning and said, "I've got a problem. They turned in five watches." We returned the four to the jewelers, and I think we gave the colonel the other one for a souvenir. But that was the last disciplinary problem we had.
I left that command over in Europe and came back here and was ordered to the Amphibious Warfare Office for the Chief of Naval Operations. I was number two in it. We were supposed to get the lessons that had been learned during World War II codified and get them into some sort of shape and get amphibious warfare manuals. So instead of having one this thick, we ended up with a bookcase full of them, a big one for each ship-to-shore movement. One would be gunfire support and air support and all that. My superior retired after I got there, so the last year I had the office myself. I found that between me and the Chief of Naval Operations were three admirals, none of which had had one day of amphibious experience. They paid no attention to me at all. One of them said, "Oh, there's nothing to that stuff. I made a landing during the war. I cruised into here with my flagship. The transports were ready to anchor. They anchored and I hoisted 'land the landing force' and that was it." He didn't think about the planning that had gone into it and the loading. I soon found out that I had to go to the Commander Amphibious Force Atlantic or Pacific and say that this was something I wanted to do; and if they approved it, they would submit it to the Chief of Naval Operations. So it would come in from them and buzz right on up the hill.
I thought that we had a lousy bunch of people in the amphibious force; and all of the time that I had been in Phib Group 2 and been in Europe, we had only one flag officer who had any war experience in the amphibious business. So I wrote a letter to Chief of Naval Operations, who was Admiral Fechteler, and I said that I thought we should start building up the amphibious force and make it more of a prestige outfit, because it was the back alley of the Navy and we were getting poor people in it and were getting no training for flag officers. I turned it in, and it got through one of the admirals in the chain of command, and it finally got up to the assistant CNO. I was home sick in bed with the flu, and they called up from my office and said that a certain admiral just had walked in and had thrown my request on a table and wanted to see me. When told I was home sick, he told them to call me and say that if I ever tried to start another club in the Navy like the submarine club and the gun club that he would not only throw me out of the Pentagon but that he would follow me to the door and throw my seabag out after me. He turned out to be the head of the submarine club, and he was a man for whom everybody has a great deal of respect, and I do too; but he hated my guts because when I was a flag lieutenant on the submarine five flagship, he had command of one of the numerous submarine divisions. We went to Panama and found out that we had enlisted men on those ships there that had been there fifteen years and had married native women and were more Panamanian than American. So my admiral made me swap a lot of these people with Jimmy Fife's men in San Diego, and he came over and just raised hell with me for doing it, he said that he knew it was my idea and not the admiral's. I couldn't talk him out of it. Then one of these surface admirals that we had commanding submarines made me take all of our submarines out one day when we were in San Diego and maneuver them in formation like they were combat ships of the destroyer, cruiser, or battleship type. I told him that you couldn't do that because a lot of them were diesel boats and had critical speeds in which they could not cruise and could not keep formation. He said, "We're going out and do it; the officers will learn something anyway." Well, this one admiral who turned me down, I know did it because he saw my name on there because there were a couple of things that happened after that that I always accused him of. Unfortunately he's dead now and he's the hero of the submarine force, and you can't say a word against him. But he didn't like me and I didn't like him.
After two years at an amphibious desk, they knew I was going to retire in two years; I had finished my thirty years. I said that I would like to stay in Washington if I could. So one day I got orders to go over and be the deputy in the Office of Armed Forces Information and Education in the Department of Defense. It was known as OAFIE and part of it was the correspondence course school that we had at that time at Madison, Wisconsin. USAFE was the name of that. While I was there we registered our three millionth student. We handled the overseas education that was run through the University of Maryland. We handled the armed forces radios in Europe and Asia and we were starting the armed forces television circuits and stations at isolated stations. We supervised Stars and Stripes publications in Europe. We did practically all of the educational work for the armed forces. They said, "We're sending you over there; there is an army colonel in command, and we think he's insane." They asked me if I knew anything about this office, and I said that I had never heard of it. They said, "Well, when you had command of the ships did you get every week a thing called Armed Forces Talks where you were supposed to get your crew together on Saturday morning and go over this paper and discuss it?"
I said, "Yes. But I did what every other captain did; I threw it over the side. I saw one day that they were going to discuss the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and I wasn't going to waste any man's time on the goddamned Dalai Lama of Tibet."
I told them that I had never heard of it and that I didn't want to have anything to do with it. They said that they were sending me over there to combat this colonel who was running it because he was so hipped up on the education of the armed forces that he wanted people to work to noon on military duties and then have everybody quit and go to school all afternoon. They said, "If you can't knock him out and get him out of that system, we'll drag you back and send somebody else to do it." I found out that he was a reasonable guy and we got together. He soon forgot about that.
The thing that got me interested was that we were getting going on the GED, the General Educational Development tests. We decided in that office that if a boy had gone to high school for a year or so and then went in the Army, Air Force, Marine, or Navy and served four years that he probably came out with a better education than if he stayed in the high school. So we got every high school in the United States to agree that if we gave that boy a test that would be made up by educators that they would give him a certificate of equivalency if he passed and he could go on to college or anything else. I thought that was the greatest idea that had ever come along. When this colonel left and I was running the place until they could send an admiral to take it over, one of my jobs was every six months to get a dozen of the top educators in the United States to come up to Madison, Wisconsin, where USAFE was located; and we would tell them what we were doing, and they would tell us what we were doing wrong, and they would suggest things that we should do that we weren't doing. I never enjoyed anything as much in my life as working with those people because I was an uneducated person. I had had nothing but a naval education, but those people were of the caliber of, for example, Roger Revelle who ran the Scripps Institute in California. They were so fine and they helped us so much, but they had different views; and my greatest pleasure, I think, was to find two of the top educators in the United States who did not agree with each other and sometimes did not like each other and see them talk to each other for an hour at a time in-to me-what was very stilted language and very polite language without calling each other a lousy son-of-a-bitch. But there wasn't anything but the finest wordage going on all the time. I think we did that three or four times, and I think it was about as much of a pleasure as anything I've ever had.
When the war was over, they started this office. Some congressman got the idea it was communistic and that some of the things we were teaching were going to be communistic. There was quite a little rumpus over it at one time. One day I noticed an old gray haired man who came up to me and said, "I've been ordered by the staff of a congressional committee to make a study of your office, and I may be here as long as two or three months; and I would like the freedom of the office to look into anything." I said, "Go ahead. They're paying you $100 a day, aren't they?" He said, "Yes." And I said, "Well, I know you won't work too hard and won't bother us much, so go right ahead." Right before then I had gotten a letter from a congressman saying that one of his constituents had seen a course that we put out of this institute which he thought was communistic; it was in arithmetic. He wanted me to take steps to get it out the course.
[How could an arithmetic course be communistic?]
Well, he said, "You have a question in one of your arithmetic course that if farmer A has six pigs and farmer B has twelve pigs and farmer C has fourteen, how many pigs would each farmer have if they all had the same number?"
[Was this during the McCarthy era?]
Yes, it was about that time. Finally this old guy went over to make his report to this congressional committee, and I went also, on my own. I wanted to sit there and hear what he had found. He droned along and didn't have a thing to tell them and finally he said, "Now this is something. They sent out one of these armed forces talks on the Declaration of Independence. Here's a copy right here in my hand, and they didn't even quite the entire Declaration of Independence." There were a lot of newspaper reporters there scribbling, so I went around to the head of the staff of the committee and told him that I wanted to refute that statement. He went to the congressman and the chairman called me as a witness. I said, "I've seen this man around my office for about two months, and what he has told you so far today is nothing that isn't open to the public, and I've seen nothing wrong with it. But that statement he made about not quoting the entire Declaration of Impendence, if he had only read it a little closer, it was only the instructions to the officer who was going to conduct the discussion; naturally we didn't have to quote the whole thing because we had quoted it in what the crew held." They asked him to look at the copy and see if that was right. It was, and they thanked me and excused me and told this man that he was excused too and that his report would go on the record. He said, "Do you mean that I'm not going to be able to go through this report; I have more to report." They told him to just put it in the record and they would get it. So I went back to the office, and Dr. John Hanna, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for personnel, was the man who was later president of the University of Michigan and head of TWA, and I think he ran American Machine and Foundry (AMF) for a while, but I got him on the phone and said, "You may see this in paper tomorrow that this old buzzard has gotten us for not teaching the troops." I told him what I had done and how I had cut it right off and that I thought I saw the reporters scratching everything out. When I retired he gave me one of the nicest letters for doing something on my own that helped.
The end of this job was when I retired in June 1955. I went into trade association work and I represented the brick and tile manufactures of the U.S. and Canada. I was the executive director of the headquarters in Washington. I had seventeen offices throughout the U.S. and Canada. I enjoyed the work very much although it was quite foreign to Navy work. We were a trade association and tried to get depletion through Congress. It was a job that I liked very much, but I got tired of traveling and working in so many diverse places that I gave it up and came back to my real estate work, which I did until the last two or three years when my eyesight started going to pot and a few other pieces started conking out.
[Did you enjoy being a realtor?]
Yes. I enjoyed that very much. As a matter of fact, I have a request right here now and I'm thinking about whether I should continue my license for another year and go back to work. But I don't think I will because I'm having too much fun doing other things.
This brings me to the thing that I have the greatest interest in now which is what I call my "Chick Farm." I have gathered together, in the name of my Naval Academy class, the names and addresses of one hundred and twenty-two unremarried widows of my classmates. I have about twenty-five or thirty, who have remarried, and I have forty to fifty who have died, and I have lost about ten that we have never located. I call them chicks. They are my "Chick Farm" and I'm the "Chick Farmer." Every once in a while I send them what I call "Chick Feed," which is an information bulletin. I also send them "Your Retirement Widowhood Guide" which I get from the AARP. It's about how to survive widowhood. I also send a Reader's Digest reprint and a booklet called "Now Is The Time To Prepare A Guide For Your Survivor." I send them that when their husbands die, and I send them a copy of Shipmate for a year. Then I check into their financial situations to see if they are getting their pensions and if they are having any trouble settling their estate. I am their contact. I send them a Christmas card from the class and I correspond with a great many of them. As I said, I have a hundred and twenty-two now. I am their contact, and they know that if they have a problem they can write to me and that although I probably can't solve it myself, I know where I can get help for them. I've gotten five or six pensions for them. I've gone through the VA and I know how to do that pretty well. I get more pleasure out of doing that I think than anything I've ever done in my life.
[Have you ever had any negative reaction from any of them when you first approach them?]
No, but I've had one officer who thought it was deplorable to call them "Chicks." He said that a "Chick" was something that sits around a bar waiting to be picked up. But I asked them if they wanted to change the name. I said, "This guy doesn't know the difference between a city chick and a country chick, and you people are country chicks. You live on a farm." A lot of them just write to me "Chick Farm," and I've often wondered what the postman thinks I'm running in the basement. I've had one or two of them object to it; they would say they didn't feel like a chick but an old hen or something like that. But sooner or later they say that it gives them a lift. And they are a group. There's no other group like them in the Navy. They have an esprit de corps that is something to behold and they are proud of it. When I mail out my "Chick Feeds," some of them have friends who are widows from other classes who want to see it immediately because it will have a tip that will be of value to them. The reason I called them "Chicks" was because when there was a storm over in Delaware in 1962 and I nearly lost a beach cottage I have, I got an old farmer to help me prop it up until I could get some piles driven and save it. I was going to live with him while I was over there. They speak sort of a strange language in Delaware that I can't understand unless I've had a few drinks, and they love to drink, so I took plenty of whiskey over. The first day after we had worked all day on my house and went back and had dinner, we had a few drinks and sat around and talked a little while. He said, "Now Admiral (he always called me that), I've been doing a little work for you; you've got to do some work for me tonight. You know these hatcheries over here are just pouring out these chickens, and a lot of chicken farms have been ruined by this storm, so they have to get rid of them. I just bought seven thousand day-old chicks for a penny apiece. I've got the heaters, food, and straw in the brooder house. You are going to come out and help me empty those seven thousand day-old chicks out of the boxes because we have to work on them or they won't live." So we went out and at fifty a box, there were an awful lot of boxes of day-old chickens. We would scoot them out on the straw and some of them would pop right up and go over and eat and drink; and if they did they were all right, but the others would just lie there. We would take them up and blow on them and put them under and arm or in your shirt to try to warm them up. Finally if you got them to wiggling around a little bit you would put them down and go onto the next ones. We were still working at midnight, and I was thinking that maybe he let me go home and go to bed, but he would say, "Let's look at them little biddies just once more." I decided then that when people lose their spouses, they start an entirely different life and they are like a day-old chick. Sometimes they step right up and start eating and drinking and going on with life, and sometimes they need a little help and a little push to keep them going. So that's why I call them my "Chicks."
[You only send this out about two or three times a year.]
Yes, I only sent out two last year because they are all getting in such good shape. We've stabilized at about one hundred and twenty; I started out with about fifty, but for some reason husbands are getting healthier or the wives are dying at the same rate at the husbands are.
[How many were there in the class of 1925?]
We graduated 448, I think. That is just about the end of my story. What my wife and I do now is travel whenever we can. I work in the yard, at the beach place and visit our children.
[End of Recording]
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