Tuesday, June 3. 2008
M: ok um where and when were you born?
W: I was born in Campton, New Jersey, April 29 1925
M: ok and what did your parents work as?
W: my parents worked as leather workers in Philadelphia.
M: can you explain to us what a leather worker might do if you know?
W: well like conveyer belts and things like that
M: oh ok and did you have any siblings?
W: I had a brother
M: and was her older or younger?
W: well he was older but he’s past away.
M: oh ok what were you doing before you entered into the service?
W: going to school!
M: ha and uh where did you go to school?
W: I went to school in Campton New Jersey
M: did you have any other family members that served?
M: (repeat) did you have any other family members that served in a war?
W: no just my brother
M: ok and uh which uh force was he in
W: what was that?
M: Which force was he in?
W: oh he was in the navy.
M: um pause how were you entered into the service were you enlisted or was it the draft or….
W: no I was uh I was at sea working on a tugboat during spring break and uh I was only sixteen and I thought Id get some knowledge about navigation and stuff like that and uh of course the war had been on for a while and this is 1941 and I was only sixteen so uh as soon as I turned seventeen I went down and joined the navy ha
M: ok pause um so since you enlisted uh can you tell us why I know you already told us about your interest in navigation but uh was there another reason why you wanted to join
W: you wanted to know why I wanted to join
M: yea other then a learning experience was there another reason why you wanted to join
W: oh no it was wartime and we were we were being challenged and I was over in Virginia and I saw a bunch of navy ships being brought back all damaged and stuff and I just got mad and I just wanted to join the navy so as soon as I got back to Philadelphia I joined up.
M: ok um tell…can you tell us a little about your departure for training camp.
W: about what?
M: your leave for training camp.
W: you have to speak up I’m (points to his ear)
M: your leave for training camp when you left to go train for the navy can you tell us about that
W: awkward pause
M: um when you left to go train for the navy can you tell us around the time period when you left and what it was like to go into camp
W: you mean I went after I signed up for the navy
M: well yea that too. Tell us about when you were leaving and things like that
W: I don’t understand your question
M: your boot camp
M: where did you go to boot camp?
W: oh ok I joined up in Philadelphia and then I went to boot camp in Newport Rhode Island
M: and uh can you tell us about an experience from camp on experience
W: oh boot camp was great I really was uh I was having a great time learning how to march and shoot guns and uh all got row boats and sail boats it was like a vacation and uh from there uh I was assigned to receiving station and in Boston Massachusetts and I was assigned to a destroyer
M: ok while in boot camp did you receive any special training of any sort?
W: well signaling
M: ok and um what was it like adapting to life in the navy like uh your physical conditions or mental conditions or the food or the social life what was it like adapting to the navy the change from civilian life to life in the war
W: I don’t know I thought it was great ha really because I didn’t have much of a life at home and you know how that is and so uh anything different was great
M: ok um where did you serve?
W: I served in the south pacific
M: ok um can you tell us details of you trip to the south pacific when you were sent to the south pacific
W: oh yea you gotta realize I was only seventeen years old and man this was a great adventure I got to go to sea on a brand new destroyer. And next thing I knew I found myself in new Caledonia beautiful tropical island and uh all these native girls and that stuff and next thing you know I’m in “gaudel” canal and then in the Selman islands and then I realize I'm in the Selman island campaign fighting Japanese they’re tryna kill us
M: can you tell us about some of the action that you…
W: yea I was in the battle of cape saint George which was the biggest one where we engaged the Japanese force of destroyers and cruisers on November 25, 1943 thanksgiving day and for thanksgiving dinner I didn’t have anything but we were we engaged the enemy at night time it was very rainy and squall and the Japanese force was very stronger but we were a little bit luckier I guess and we sank three or four of there ships they turned and ran home and we tried to catch them but we never did catch them and then we came back because it was starting to get day light and we figured that we were very close to an island that the Japanese had a big air base and so we figured we better get back to our base and prepare for stay down by “gualdel” canal before day break or these things are going to jump us we didn’t get down there we got about half way we got jumped by a whole bunch of guiros and betty bombers and uh they tried to damage us and they mostly went after the cruisers and uh they came after us later.
M: ok can you tell us a little about your role as a signal man
W: the life of a signal man?
M: yea tell us a little about the everyday perspective of a signal man if you can sum it up
W: well uh I was about eighteen years of age now I was a striker in other words trying to learn to be a signalmen now the in the second year I become a third class petty officer as a signalmen and all of a sudden the responsibilities of a signalman begin to sink in because I'm up on the bridge of a fighting navy ship and the commanding officer expects a lot out of a signalmen the communication the visual communication because you cant use radio cuz they could hear so we used centerfold flashing light and Morse code and flag hoist and it was very important for instance we had to tell our squad and our task force what the maneuvers would be during night time and you’d look up through binoculars trying to read flags then look in the code book and try to think what does that code mean and these are number that change course at 1200 hours and of course 125, 3 hours after that you’d change course to so and so and if you get those number wrong you screw up the whole task force so it was a lot of responsibility for an eighteen year old kid and thank goodness I had a very intelligent and smart first class petty officer that I was standing my watches with otherwise I would have probably screwed up.
M: um can you tell us about some of the emotions you felt while in combat:
W: well of course I felt scared and uh I felt scared but at the same time I was excited and boy I wanted to ..and I got really excited one night in the battle of new Georgia uh we were attacked by a group of ships and we were torpedoed and I looking out here and I sere this torpedo coming phosphorus in the water and it came right ….I’m on the bridge looking down and it hit right down below me but didn’t go off it hit the bottom of the ship but glanced down and that was a scary moment, another time during the wartime aircrafts don’t go with running lights on so this one time it was kinda getting dark and I see this airplane coming and I told my buddy I said look at this crazy guy he’s flying here with running lights on well the next thing I know I here bullets hitting all around the bridge and it wasn’t running lights they were machine guns shooting at my bridge and so I fell down below and covered up. And that was a scary moment
M: um can you tell us about some of the friendships you formed
M: tell us about some of the friendships you formed and if you’re still in contact with those people. Your buddies.
W: well we had two hundred and two hundred and some men on board my destroyer the name of my ship was u.s.s. converse and it was in the squad it was in the beaver squad (points to his hat) and it was the commanding officer of that squad was admin Arley Burke he was known as 31 Knott Burke and alls I can say is it was a great adventure and we had a great bunch of men and officers and crew on all the ships and we were a lucky bunch of ships we still have reunions every year somewhere In the united states and there’s not too many of us left but we still manage to get there and drink some beer.
M: ha that’s always good hahaha not that I would know or anything um while you were wartime how did you stay in touch with family and friends.
W: we had a thing called v mail and it was ah you wrote your letter on this v mail thing and then it was photographed and it was sent after they marked everything out in black that censored what they didn’t want you to know but what I did…I'm an artist so I drew a lot of pictures of different things and I don’t know how much of those got blacked out but I had so pretty good artwork on those things and that’s when I decided I wanted to be an artists.
M: um can you tell me about some of the recreation that you…so of the fun times you experienced while being in the war
W: yea we had I think every two weeks we would get together to get two beers or two cokes whatever and that was it and while we were getting our two beers or two cokes the other crew were loading in new ammunition, torpedoes, food for our next patrol of the Selman islands and that went on for probably a year.
M: where were you when the war ended?
W: I was in Japan on our way to Japan we were preparing for the invasion of Japan and at that time I was on a mine sweep and the idea was on a mine sweep we were supposed to go and sweep the mines along the coast of Japan do the occupation forced could go to shore
M: and by sweeping mines you mean…..
M: and by sweeping mines that was ….checking for mines basically….tell us about sweeping mines.
W: sweeping mines was uh…we had a squadron of mine sweeper and each mine sweeper
has a gear that they tow behind on cables and on the cables they have cutters and they have a power man that goes out and keep the cables under water at angles like this as a ship goes up and each ship overlaps each others cables as they’re sweeping down the coast and when they run into a mine it goes along and it cuts the cable of the mine and the mine pops up and the other ships behind come along with 20mm deck guns and blows those mines up. Its dangerous because (telephone rings) the Japanese preparing for the invasion hat they thought was gonna come and dropped mines all along the Japanese coasts and some of those mines had been there for a couple years well you know what happens when you’re under water for a couple of years they grow mussels and seaweed and so when we cut the mines it would take along time for that mine to come up and sometimes it would come up underneath the ship behind you. So we had to be very careful and the spotters would have to spot those mines and steer the ships away from them uh it was dangerous. But fortunately they war came to an end before we had to go in and invade Japan and so that was a big relief but I still went to Japan at the end of the war and sweep mine along the coast in the area of “rockiall” “Nagoya” and several other areas “Osaka” and I got to know the people in jap….in that area and I found that they were not much different then we were. They were just as scared as we were and uh ionno I was glad the war was over.
M: um how did you return home? Was it by ship or….
W: I came home on the mine sweep and I came into San Francisco went to pearl harbor first and then to san Francisco and I was discharged we put the ship in mothballs then I was shipped back to San Pedro and then I was discharged at San Pedro and at that time I had been accepted at the art school in Pasadena in Los Angeles the art center college of design so I spent four years at the art school for my degree in art.
M: and uh when you came home how were you perceived by your family and society? What kind of reaction did you get?
W: I had ….one my father didn’t know where I had been for four years and I didn’t have anybody else I had no mother she’s gone my grandmother is gone my brother was gone and I had an uncle out here and they were all glad to see me but I don’t think they really realized you know what the soldiers and sailors had gone through they were more concerned that had to go without and that they had to have rationing and things like that but they didn’t realize that when I was over seas because of the lack of food because of the strikes in this country the only food we got was from Australia and I got so sick of eating mutton that I was so glad when we were able to eat good American food again.
M: um what steps did you take to readjust to civilian life
W: well I don’t know I just… number one I got a five hundred and some dollars when I was discharged and you know like all twenty one year old kid you want a car right? So I bought myself a 1936 ford faken and I had that thing lowered stoked and lowered prime all re chromed beautiful car and I think getting involved with a car and wanting to get it painted and re chromed and all that I think that took my mind off a lot of things and I related with my cousins up in San Francisco and uh which we were all building cars at that time and motorcycles and stuff like that and you know all that kind of stuff was good for us, drag racing where we weren’t supposed to but uh we had a good time and I learned to drive in san Francisco and that’s a hard place to learn to drive its all up hill
M: and that driving a manual
W: yea a manual on a 36 ford
M: um so you’re saying having a hobby made it a lot easier for you to…..
W: oh yea art was my hobby and fixing up cars as you notice my truck
M: do you still keep in contact with fellow veterans at all
W: yea like I say we have reunions every year and uh then there’s a lot of veteran in our neighborhoods and you know we all like in church every veterans days or memorial day or something the minister always asks that we be recognized so that’s kinda nice.
M: um how did the wartime experience affect your life?
W: well I think it made me be a better American citizen it made me appreciate our freedoms and made me proud of our young kids that are growing up and are gonna take my place I think they’re great I look at these kids that were in Vietnam and Korea and some of the kids that uh the battle of cape saint George was a big battle for me and several years ago they put they commissioned and built a new age destroyer or uh cruiser and they named it the u.s.s. cap saint George. And they invited me back their for its christening and uh so in Norfolk Virginia I went back there all these young kids that were manning that ship it made me think of me you know fifty years earlier you know doing the same thing but you know these kids are much smarter then we were they’re well educated well dedicated to this country and there’s no I have no fear in the future of America because of our young kids today.
M: what life lessons did you learn?
W: just enjoy life and have a good wife and have a great and just do the best you can be honest make an honest living that’s it?
M: ok um one question going back o the sparks of the war where were you when Pearl Harbor occurred?
W: I was on a tugboat working between Philadelphia and Norfolk Virginia and north Carolina hauling paper pulp up to Philadelphia.
M: paper pulp is….?
W: paper pulp we would get from Carolinas and then they would come in big bails and they put them in there barges and we would tow those barges from north Carolina up the inland water way to Norfolk Virginia and then from Norfolk Virginia up to Cheswick bay to Philadelphia where the mills are he paper mills and uh that went on all that summer of 1940 that was a great adventure. I could take my tug all the down the inland waterway from Norfolk Virginia at night wed pull against the bay wed jump over board and tie up around a couple of trees grab our shotguns and go off and shoot our dinner it was great and I was sixteen.
M: did you have any nicknames?
W: just mac
M: they just called you mac
W: they just called me mac yea
W: (shows scrapbook)
M: um did you receive any mnetals or awards for your services?
W: yea I have a few here (pulls out hat) I have a presidential citation from President Roosevelt and that mainly for the battle of cape saint George. I have a eleven battle stars that I was in I have pacific theater campaign ribbon and metal and the American victory metals occupation metal good conduct metal and I don’t know just like most guys that served over seas got the same thing. But my ship got eleven battle stars and they really did a great job. And this is my scrapbook (opens) um I’ll show it to you. You won’t believe this next picture this is a picture of me in the navy haha. That’s me. You get a picture of that. And then this …that’s me and this is my ship when it was being built. And this is the new ship the “Arley Burke” named after Admiral Arley Burke. The difference what took us years to do during world war two this ship took hours that’s the technology of today. And this is….what is this? Oh this is the history of my ship. This is a commendation letters from my commanding officer for gallantry during battle. This is an order for my presidential citation from Franklin Roosevelt by James Farstle. These are notes from a log from the battle of cape saint George. This is my military record. Now when you’re in the navy sometimes you get to go across the equator. Well I went across the equator and this is a summonsed that they give me for the high court of king Neptune’s rights and they claimed that I ran up the wrong kind of flags. Trying to foul up king Neptune so they held me a court marshal and of course you know what they do with navy court marshals when you cross the equator, they shave me they rub my belly with grease hahaha they did all kind of things. This is more history of my ship some of my buddies, that’s me. These are the battle stars of my ship that they won. That’s a painting of the battle of cape saint George.
M: did you paint that?
W: this was done by another artist I painted one that is very similar to this and I think I have a picture of it somewhere I don’t think that’s my painting I think that is Jones’s painting. Yea this is mine this is my ship yea I told you about the day after the battle of cape saint george and we got attacked by bombers and this shows the… my destroyer being bombed by betty bombers and we got three near misses and they were five hundred pound bombs and they lift the ship out of the water and just shuck it and it so hard to bust a bunch of the cables and stuff like that and it came down and hit me on the head on the helmet and I thought I was hit, shot and I grabbed my shipmate and said we’re hit! Hahah and then we look at each other and start laughing we were wrapped up in cable and this is at nighttime but this is just mementos and stuff but this is copy of a song we used to sing. And this is our leader admiral Arley Burke. He was a great guy I cant say enough about him he brought all of us home, just about all of us at least he brought most of the ships home. We started out with eight ships in my squadron and we ended up with five and that’s the price of freedom and I’d do it all over again.