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The Greatest Generation

World War II (1941-1945)
War in the Pacific

The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces -- with the unbounded determination of our people -- we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.

And so, Roosevelt called on those who would later become known as The Greatest Generation to defend the nation and defeat the threat against us. One of those, my dad, wrote the following letter to his grandson in response to his questions about World War II. The letter is undated, but postmarked 8 November 1999.

I received your letter requesting an interview. So here goes. I will try to answer your questions.

World War II started on 1 Sept 1939. At that time I was 16 years old and living with my parents in Los Angeles. I was attending high school. However that day I was on summer vacation, we were staying in a cabin on the beach on Coronado, in San Diego. As I recall people did not seem to be too concerned as the U.S. was not directly involved.

I had always wanted to be in the Navy, so in June of 1941 I went to summer school and received enough credits to get my high school diploma early. Then on 18 Aug 1941 I reported for duty. I was sent to the U.S. Navy Training Station in San Diego. There I received 8 weeks of “boot training.”  Early in November I went aboard the USS Aldebaran, and left for Hawaii. The “boots” were passengers and not crew members. However we were “working” passengers. I spent most of the trip, cleaning bilges in the engine room. Was not a pleasure cruise.

We arrived at Pearl Harbor before sunrise. It was here we realized there could be problems in the near future. We had to wait until the submarine nets were pulled aside by tugs. It was this same area on Dec 7 that a Jap sub was sunk, but other midget subs did get into the harbor after sunrise, and did cause problems. P.H. was a beehive of activity. Many ships & boats moving about. Many of the ships that were sunk on Dec. 7 were in port. The USS Arizona included.

We were transported by a very large truck over a very narrow and curvy mountain road called Pali. We went to the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station. It was a newly rebuilt station and only about 400 personnel. We were there to await the arrival of the USS Saratoga. Kaneohe was a seaplane base for PBY’s. So while we waited, we did odd jobs everyday.

Dec. 7 started right after breakfast with a bang and was all downhill from there. They attacked at 5 minutes to eight, bombing and strafing the base. There were 2 attacks. All of our planes were destroyed, along with the 2 hangers, shops & other building. Only planes not damaged were 4 PBY’s out on “dawn patrol”. But they were all flying to the South. The Japs came from the North. Three Jap planes were shot down on the base. That night several of us were sent up on a low hill overlooking the station and air strip. We were all armed with rifles. The Japs were rumored to be landing on the Northern beaches. About midnight we watched as Carrier planes from the Lexington carrier attempted to land on the air strip in the dark. Trucks & cars had been parked there to keep Jap planes from landing. It was a bad sight but most actually were able to land ok. Some other Lexington planes tried to land at Pearl Harbor and were shot down. The next 3 weeks I was on beach patrol at night patrolling on foot. 3 miles of dark beach. In the daytime I was on a gun crew guarding the landing strip with a World War I, one pounder cannon. Luckily we never had to fire it.

As the Saratoga didn’t come in, I was transferred on 1 Jan 1942 to the USS Wright at P.H. It was a aircraft tender for tending seaplanes (PBY’s). It was an old ship commissioned in 1919. We were taken out to the Wright in a motor launch and it was my first good look of the sunken and damaged ships. Even though we were all at Kaneohe, this sight was unbelievable. I was put in the deck force but didn’t care for it and transferred to the engineers force. Changed my rate from Seaman 2nd class to Fireman 3rd class. And assigned to the firerooms.

Shortly there after we left P.H. to take a PBY squadron to Fremantle Australia. We steamed on a Zig Zag course. That makes it more difficult for subs to torpedo the ship. Also the ship would be completely blacked out at night (no lights). During the trip we stopped at Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, We crossed the equator and all of us “pollywogs” were initiated into “shellbacks” by King Neptune. As we got closer to Aust. The Coral sea battle was going on but it was over the horizon. I experienced my first typhoon at sea. It did damage to the ship and aircraft on deck. We then went to Sydney & Melbourne and all the way round to Fremantle.

During my 2½ years on the Wright we were always on the move. We were in the war zones a good part of the time. Sometimes carrying troops, supplies and supporting a PBY squadron that was patrolling & bombing the Japanese, and doing rescue work. Some of the places we went were Midway Isle, New Hebrides (now Vanutu.) Marshal & Gilberts, Solomon Islands, Hilo, Hawaii, Samoa, Australia, San Diego, San Francisco and many other places I have forgotten the names of.

In June of 1943 we went Oakland, Calif. for ship overhaul. I went on leave and it was at this time I met your Grandmother.

While on the Wright I progressed from fireman 3rd class, fireman 2nd class, fireman 1st class and then to Water Tender 2/c. I was transferred to the receiving station in the New Hebrides for further transfer. While there I got Ptomaine poisoning, along with 800 other sailors. It was quite a sight, seeing all these sick sailors converging on one Hospital Corpsman in his little on room shack. If I hadn’t been so sick I would have thought it was really a funny sight.

I then flew to Pearl Harbor after spending the night in a Quonset hut hospital. While there 8 LST’s caught fire and were blowing up in the West Loch of PH. They were loaded with troops  Several of us were sent over to help fight the fire, But there was little we could do. Several hundred died some called it a second P.H. disaster.

Unable to get air transport from P.H. I boarded a merchant marine transport called the SS Henry Bergh bound for San Francisco. A long, slow, hot trip. On the last day the ship went aground on the rocks of the Farralon Islands, 30 miles west of San Francisco. The ship started to break up, so we abandoned it. We landed on the island which was a light house manned by the Coast Guard. We were rescued by a navy sub chaser.

After a 30 day leave, in July 44’ I reported to Philadelphia Navy Yard. I attended a 4 week course for Water Tenders. Then after a period of shore patrol duty I was sent back to the Long Beach Naval shipyard to get a new ship, the USS Beckham APA 133. It was commissioned on 10 Dec. 1944 a assault troop transport. It carried 26 landing craft. During this time I was seeing your Grandmother frequently and on 25 Jan. 1945 we became engaged. We completed the ship shakedown & sea trials and left for San Francisco about 1 Feb 1945. In the following months we went to many places in the Pacific. We went to Iwo Jima but not to take troops in. We went to take out the many wounded. Took the most serious cases to Guam and the rest to Maui, Hawaii

We eventually went to Okinawa. Not a nice place!  Nothing there but Kamikazes & typhoons But we survived.

The day the war was over we were at Ulithi in the Western Carolines getting the ship ready for the invasion of Japan. There was no celebration to speak of. We stopped working long enough for a cup of coffee and that was it. It seemed as though nobody really believed the war was over.

Early Sept 45” we went to Jensen, (now Inchon) Korea. Traveled through a typhoon & Japanese floating mines to get there. We went there to participate in the occupation force of Korea. We were the first transport in to the harbor. After we anchored and shut down the engine the ships got the word that the harbor had 30 foot tides and the tide was starting to go out. All the ships in the force had to move to another anchorage or they would all have been high & dry on a mud flat. We left Korea and went back to Okinawa in time for another typhoon. We then went to Tientsin, & Tsingtao, China (Both names now changed). More mines, more bad weather. The ship was then assigned to the “Magic Carpet” fleet (transporting veterans to the U.S.)  Went to Manila, P.I. picked up troops and went to San Francisco. I got a 5 day leave and flew to Los Angeles, I married your Grandmother on 30 Nov. 45’. We went to San Francisco and stayed in a hotel, then I sailed for Samar, P.I. on 10 Dec. I arrived back in S.F. on 10 Feb., and was transferred to other duty. After leave I reported aboard the USS Arkansas BB33, a battleship apr. 46. It was due to go to Bikini, Marshal Islands to be a target ship in "“Operation Crossroads”, an atomic bomb test along with many other old and no longer needed ships. Test “Able” was conducted In June with a atom bomb dropped from a plane. There was much damage to ships, some sank, but the Arkansas survived although damaged. Test “Baker” was conducted In July with an underwater atomic bomb submerged about 100 yards from the Arkansas. When the bomb went off, the Arkansas disappeared in a large column of water and not seen again. And more ships were sunk. There were no people on the target ships during the tests. I observed the tests from a transport a few miles away.

I returned to the U.S. and finished my time in the navy aboard 3 other ships. USS Pickaway, USS Bronx, USS Mt. McKinley. I was discharged in Aug 47” as a Water Tender 1st class (achieved on the Beckham.)  Discharged in Seattle, Wash.

On Sept 2, 1947 I started working for the So. Calif Edison Co. at the Terminal Island Steam Station as an apprentice Operator. The apprenticeship was supposed to be for 12 months, but they were so short of help, it only lasted 2 days. In Feb 48’ I transferred to a new plant for the start up in Redondo Bch, as an auxiliary operator. Became a Boiler Operator in 1950. Transferred to El Segundo in 55’ to start up another new plant, as a plant equipt. oper. 1956 I became a Assist Control Oper, and in 1960 became Control Oper. In 1977 I transferred back to the newly reconstructed plant on Terminal Is. for the start up. I worked there until 1 June 1985 when I retired after about 38 years with Edison.

Backing up a little I should say that your Grandmother and I lived in a little apartment in Los Angeles from 1947 to 1950. We had a house built in Westchester and moved there in 2 Dec. 1950. Your father was born a week later on 9 Dec. Followed later by [names deleted]. On 1 Nov. 77’ we moved to a new home in Irvine, Calif where we still reside.

Well [name deleted] this has turned out a lot longer than I expected. Even at that I left out a lot. I hope this will answer your questions.

Would you please show this to your Dad so he can maybe copy it. He has asked several time for information such as this, but it has taken a long time to get around to it.

You didn’t say when you had to have this information so I hope you get it in time. I hope you do well on your assignment.

With love

Grandad

Some notes:

The letter mentions service aboard several ships. The Navy has a web site with the history (and some pictures) of every ship they've ever owned. In order, here are links to the specific pages:

USS Aldebaran
USS Wright
USS Beckam
USS Arkansas
USS Banner
USS Pickaway
USS Bronx
USS Mt. McKinley

Also, the after-action report for Kaneohe Naval Air Station, Hawaii (December 7, 1941) can be found here. The links are in the lower right of the page. Be sure to see all three pages. When my dad saw it, he commented (email dtd 12/16/2005):

It was very factual, but somewhat lacking in detail. The Commander was quite laid back in the report. He was probably still in shock. I can't remember his name, but he said on Dec. 6 during inspection, we should be on our toes, anything can happen! And it did! He mentioned civilian contractors, but I don't remember any except the telephone opers. All contractors had Sunday off. The commander was later promoted to Capt. He was the Capt. of the carrier Geo.Bush flew from. He mentioned it was necessary to dye all the white uniforms to a tan color. It was coffee they were soaked in. Except for a few of us up on the hill he mentioned, we had to roll around in red clay puddles and were wet the rest of the night. What a mess! I looked down from that hill when the Enterprise fighters came in to land quite late in the dark and had only their planes lights to see. It must have been quite a shock to see all the cars and trucks on the landing pad, but as far as I know they didn't hit anything. A miracle! The navigational lights he referred to must have been the lights in the bay for the returning PBYs (seaplanes). Many of the Enterprise planes tried to land at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor and were shot down. Nobody knew they were friendly. The Enterprise was many miles at sea. Nobody fired on them at Kaneohe, inspite of the itchy fingered Marines that were there. I remained at Kaneohe until Jan 1st, on Beach patrol all night, and on a gun crew on the landing strip all day.

Another interesting story recently came to light, this one from Operation Crossroads (email dtd 2 Jun 2011)

The crew of the Ark. were living on a transport tied up to the Ark. The transport was so hot and miserable at night that almost everybody slept on deck. It was very crowded as there were three or four crews there. We spent the daytime on the Ark, radiation and all. There was a gangway between the two ships. I was selected one night as the Petty Officer of the watch along with a seaman as my ass't. I wasn't supposed to let anybody board the Ark. That is were I made a mistake. Some of my buddies begged me to let them go aboard to sleep in a cooler place. I guess I didn't see any good reason why they shouldn't. That night someone broke into the armory and stole 3 45's. The next day I was questioned but I didn't have any idea who did it. But as I was in charge at the time they more or less blamed me. There were several more inspections but no guns were located. Several days later after the second bomb test the Ark. was sunk and the crew broken up. I was transferred to the crew of the Banner. Just as I was to leave the transport I was given a complete bag inspection. Because of that I'm sure they never found any guns. I never boarded the Banner. It was so heavily radiated it was a real hazard. A few days later I sailed away. I have no idea what they meant "sent to corrections". Nothing else was ever said to me or done to me about this situation.

[the reference to "corrections" is to the last muster roll of the Arkansas, 6 Aug 1946].