RVP & DLP: “They had an alarm; everybody [would] go to their shelter…You’d wait for it, and then all the sudden you’d hear BOOM.”

What is your birth year?

RVP: 1920, for [DLP]. I’m 1921- I like older women. 

How old does that make you today?

RVP: {Laughs} [We’re] both 96. 

What branch of the United States armed forces did you serve in?

DLP: Medical. 

RVP: [She] was medical, of course. She was a physical therapist. I was a line officer in the Navy. 

What was your rank?

RVP: I came out as a Lieutenant Senior Grade, which is [like] to being a major in the Army. 

Where did you serve?

DLP: I served in England and Fort Lewis. (RVP: She was in the hospital in England, and she was a physical therapist. They were very rare in those days.) It was the beginning of physical therapy. I mean, I only went to school for a year; now it’s about four years. {Laughs} It’s so different- everything’s computer[s] now. I remember Sister Kenny with her polio- we used to pack hot packs on [her] to help relieve the muscle spasms. It was so different.

RVP: I served in the South Pacific. (DLP: He was in the thick of everything.) 

Where were you born?

RVP: [We were both born in] Portland, Oregon.

What are your parent’s names?

RVP: My dad was Max, and my mother was Borneta. 

DLP: My maiden name was Light. My dad was David, [and] my mother was Regina. 

Do you have any siblings?

RVP: Yes. Deceased sister. 

DLP: I had a brother and a sister- both gone. 

RVP: It’s kind of lonesome at this age. But you have each other? 71 years- not bad. That’s quite an accomplishment! Yes, it is. 

What city did you grow up in?

RVP: Portland. 

What schools did you attend?

RVP: I attended a lot of them. I graduated from Sunnyside, I went to some grammar schools in the inter-league, then I went to Washington High School. [I] graduated from Washington High [and] went to Oregon in 1939. [I] graduated there in ’43. Then I went off to the B7 program for the Navy division at school. I was commissioned from there.

DLP: Laurelhurst Grade School, and Grant High. Then I went to University of Washington for 2 years- they didn’t have the science courses I needed for physical therapy, so I went to UCLA. I [had] an internship there, in the children’s hospital. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood?

RVP: Mine was one in the middle of the Depression, and we were really tight on money. Made us appreciate what we had, later in life. That’s it. 

Did you play any sports growing up?

RVP: I was on the freshman football team at Washington, but I went to work my sophomore year. 

DLP: I played tennis. 

Tell me about high school.

RVP: It was a good four years. I enjoyed it- the friendships I made. 

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

RVP: I enlisted. 

Why did you enlist?

RVP: I wanted to go. I definitely wanted to be in this Naval program, [but] I was rejected at first. I went to an optometrist everyday and got everything straightened out. 

Did you know much about WWII before you enlisted?

RVP: Yes. I didn’t go to the big ship school until 1943, so I followed what you would see in the news report, so I did. I knew what to expect. 

DLP: Not really. I went over on an English ship. There were about 80 ships, and they would zig-zag. They would flash to each other. It was kinda interesting. 

How old were you when you enlisted?

RVP: I must’ve been 21. 

DLP: Same. 

What was your family and friends reactions to the enlistment?

RVP: My mother was [a] very sensitive woman. For example, [when] I went overseas, I didn’t tell her I was going. She didn’t get it- my dad kissed me, and we [went] to the train. 

DLP: Tell her about your ‘personal belongings.’ {Laughs} It’s funny. 

RVP: I thought I was going to the Alaska- area, [but that wasn’t the case, so someone] sent them back. He made the mistake of labelling it, “The Personal Effects of RVP”. When she got that- (DLP: She was very emotional.) The Red Cross found me out there. That’s where D was. 

Where were you living at the time?

RVP: We lived in the Laurelhurst area. Were you already married at that time? No, we got married after. 

How did you meet each other?

RVP: Well, I knew her for years, because she was a friend of my sister’s. (Laughs) I ran into her at a friend’s wedding, and dated her since then. 

Why did you pick the service branch you served in?

RVP: I was very much interested in the ships- all of that. 

Do you remember your first days in service? What was it like?

RVP: Yes. The first ship [I was on] was a sub-chaser. The highlight was when we picked up a ping on sonar of a school of Red Snappers. My ship was a patrol boat from WWI that they brought over. From there I went overseas, and the ships that I was one were rescue ships- we had steady fire-men aboard, and divers, so it gave us kind of a front-row seat. 

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

RVP: They had a Midshipman’s School, which was four months. The one I went to was in Chicago. It was a nice bunch of guys. 

DLP: I was in Fort Lewis- civil service. They made a rule; either you go into the service, or you find another job. I was young then, and I thought maybe the service would be exciting. That’s how I got in. {Laughs}

Do you recall your trainers or instructors? 

RVP: Not really. They did a nice job, picking instructors. Did you find that they had high expectations of you? Yes, indeed. Particularly after four months. 

Do you remember hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

RVP: It’s amazing. When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, it was on a Sunday morning- the day before Oregon had played Texas and had got murdered about 70-7. I thought that was the end of the world, that Sunday morning. Pearl Harbor- I’d never heard of it, I didn’t know where it was. I volunteered for service in the city of Eugene. 

DLP: Everybody was around the radio. I was a senior in college then, and we all stood around the radio, listening to what was going on. 

RVP: We then found out about Pearl Harbor, and that’s where I started overseas, on a ship called the San Francisco. 

Did hearing about Pearl Harbor inspire you to join the service?

RVP: Well, it’s defense of the country- I felt very strong about that. That’s why I joined the service, and did my part. 

Where exactly did you go during the war?

RVP: Primarily South Pacific. I’ve been to just about every spot that they have out there. The big action was actually towards the end, when we went into the Philippines. We went in into Leyte Gulf three days before D-day, with the minelayers. We had a destroyer- the USS Ross was there. [It was a piece] of the action. The mine-sweepers had made a clean sweep; Ross went into a mine and lost power, then went into another one. At [this] point we went in through this minefield, fortunately without getting hit, took off the casualties, [and] got a line on the Ross to get it out of there. I was in Guam, Saipan, the Atolls- my last one was Okinawa. 

DLP: Mine wasn’t as exciting as his. (RVP: Tell her about the bombs they dropped on London.) Oh, the buzz bombs in London. Well, they would have blackout- everything was blackout. They had an alarm; everybody [would] go to their shelter. I was in the Red Cross building, because the nurses, the PTs, and the dietitians were all in this one building. You’d wait for it, and then all the sudden you’d hear BOOM. {Laughs} It was kind of nerve-wracking. (RVP: She was on leave, up South of England to London. She met our brother-in-law there!) Yeah, I had dinner with him. (RVP: Small world.) 

What was the weather like?

RVP: Very hot. Once in a while, we’d get a bad storm, and the sea would be rough. It was hot and humid. (DLP: He was on watch, and a plane came down-) The Kamikaze pilots. (DLP: [It] went right down- they go with. He says, “Look, something’s happening!”) I said, “Hey, this is amazing. The [pilot’s] lost control of his plane!” And I look around and say, “My God, they’re all losing control!” They didn’t teach them how to land, just how to take off and dive. Give them a shot of Sake before they left, and they were happy. Very dedicated.

DLP: Just like Oregon- raining. [We had shows to] entertain the patients. Horse shows. That was kind of fun. We met one of the owners of a horse, and we traded him with our bicycle. They let us ride their horse. 

Do you recall arriving to your assigned locations? What did you expect?

RVP: Well, when I got there, it was Pearl Harbor. They had a big gym with a bunch of bunk beds for the officer’s quarters, and I was there until I finally got assigned to a ship. I had a chance to stay in Pearl Harbor, and it’s funny, because I insulted the gentlemen that was in charge of personnel. He came in there one day and said, “P, I’ve got a job for you. We need someone to handle a desk for officers from the forward area going back to the States.” I didn’t think- I said, “I didn’t come here to write at a desk.” [Who] could I insult more than the guy working the desk during the war. I was gone the next day. That took care of me- I’m glad it did. It was a horrible experience.

DLP: [The hospital] was all Nissen huts; that was our hospital. {Laughs} We were in the barracks [that] held four women in each section. I was with three nurses; we had the same uniform, except the caduceus. Nurse has the ‘N’, and we had ‘PT’.  

What was your job or assignment there? Did it change over time?

RVP: My job was standing watch, and commanding the ship for a four- hour time. Depending were you were whether you had watch; four on and four off, or four on and eight off. It was good. It was a small ship, so you had a close relationship with all the officers. I first had to be trained to learn what to do while standing watch. (DLP: Tell her about the blacks.) That was so unfair. (DLP: That was something.) The blacks were officers’ stewards, and the battle station they had was where the ammunitions were. If you got hit, there was not a chance of getting out of there. It’s so much better now. Still got a way to go; it sure does. If you don’t believe it, ask the people in Charleston what they feel. I was on a small ship, and it was one belly. The officers had their own menu of what they want, and they’d bring out steaks so big you couldn’t them on a plate. (DLP: Their treatment was just awful.) They had beans and cornbread. A little unfair. 

Did you see any combat at these locations?

RVP: Oh, yeah. Yes. 16 months of it. It just went from one to another. (DLP: That’s because you didn’t want the desk job.) Evidently, I wanted this. It was a great experience. (DLP: They were more patriotic [in] WWII then they have been in Vietnam and the others.) It’s a matter of getting in- not trying to stay out.

DLP: I saw plenty of wounded. One of them had to be hypnotized, because he said he couldn’t raise his arm up. The doctor let me watch. {Laughs} I swear, he got it all the way up. That was an experience for me. (RVP: He could’ve been faking that for a reason to get home.) I don’t know, but he had his arm up, and I’d been working with him- all the exercises and stuff. Do you remember any patients specifically? I had one amputee that was kind of tough. [He] lost a leg, and I kept massaging the stump. It was awful. They have to get it good and solid so [for] the prosthetics. (RVP: You do what you have to do.) 

Were there casualties in your unit?

RVP: Not on my ship. They threw them over the side before I came aboard. Along the side, we brought lots of casualties aboard. We were in general quarters, and my station was on the bridge. I look out, and here’s this [guy]. He had his arm off, and he was in shock, so he wasn’t bleeding. I guess we had to make the decision to get him out of shock. He was out on the wing, and he vomited. I went out, took my handkerchief, and got right over him to wipe his face off- (DLP: He leaned over to see him and he vomited right in his face!) I said, “Do it to the side!” I’ve been having trouble with creamed corn since. {Laughs} 

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out. 

RVP: When we went into Guam, Agana Bay, we had flies that were the size of bumblebees on the deck. You’d just crunch them as you walk. There were still bodies floating in there. Other thing we had over there- I came off watch at four o’clock; we were along off the ship that was bringing fuel for an air field there, and my watch was over. Two Japanese were swimming out to board the other ship, and one of our guys- his name was Thompson- killed one and captured the other. I slept through the whole thing. I was dead tired; I’d been on watch from twelve midnight to four in the morning, so I remember that. Of course, I remember Okinawa. We’d made smoke at night so the planes could move. At dawn and at dusk, everybody would make smoke. That pretty well covers it. Do you remember hearing about the events taking place in Europe and Japan, just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Yeah! We pretty much kept up with it. Mail was few and far between. 

DLP: Going to London, and riding the bicycles was nice. We had infrared currents, so that’s what we used to test the muscles. It’s way different now. Now, everything’s computer. {Laughs}

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

RVP: Probably when we were in an area where there was active things going on. Pretty much in general quarters a good portion of the time. 

DLP: I got kind of lonesome for my family.

What were the best memories of service?

RVP: Probably when I was in Okinawa. We had one officer that had been aboard for 25 months- I’d only been aboard for 16 months. He wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, and also to Washington, to the artillery headquarters for the Pacific. Both of them sent out a replacement for him, and they advised the captain, when they found out, to send the officer most senior who was aboard [home]. I got home in 16 months. We were in Okinawa; they were still making small ground. At that point, we’d defeated the Japanese fleet, and what they had left were these planes. That probably was it. 

DLP: I had great roommates. They were fun to be with, especially one- Andi. The two of us would take turns riding the horse. {Laughs} It was a beautiful animal. 

Were you awarded any medals or citations? What for?

RVP: I got a bronze star. I gave them all away [to my grandchildren]. We were in Tinian a few years back, and the governor awarded medals to those that had served at that island. I gave that to a guy from Comcast, because he was from Tinian. I thought, “This will mean more to you than it does to me.” That’s so generous of you! That’s me.

Were you injured during the war? How, and any after effects?

RVP: Negative. No. Stayed healthy. 

DLP: No, I wasn’t injured. (RVP: Nothing on the horse would bother you.) {Both laugh}

What were your friends and family’s reaction to the war?

RVP: I would say that my folks were proud that I was in [the service]. My mother was very fearful. 

DLP: My dad cried. I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back!” {Laughs} I never thought he cared that much. (RVP: You found out, kiddo.) That was something for me to remember. 

How did you stay in touch with your family?

RVP: We wrote. It was all that we had- no telephones, out where I was. Letters were censored; [they] cut out parts they thought gave them information they shouldn’t have. 

DLP: By mail. 

What was the food like?

RVP: [The food for] officers in the ward room was great. As I told you, I was a kid of out the Depression. I had never eaten that well, really. It was great, it really was. And then when you’re on watch- once again, [you’d] have officers’ stewardess down in the ward room- you’d call down and get a chicken sandwich. The food was excellent. Good cook.

DLP: We had hospital food. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. {Laughs}

Did you feel stress or pressure about the war and its effects?

RVP: I think that you feel stress because of what you’re exposed to. I remember one ship got hit; [since] I was [a] communications officer on my ship, they had me go over and get the codes, and secret stuff you’d pick up from the flagship on change. Order was, “Kill them.” So I went aboard that. It still had a piece of the kamikaze pilot’s stuff on there. (DLP: When did you see your cousin at the dentist?) Oh, yeah. I had a cousin who was a dentist on the Arbella. I think it was in Edward’s Islands. So we had all the officers get dental care while we were there for a few days. Small world. Were you grateful to see him? Absolutely. Subsequently, he was one of the ushers at our wedding.

DLP: No, I didn’t even know about the horrible Holocaust. I didn’t know anything about it until way after it happened. (RVP: One of the best kept secrets, incidentally.) 

Do you remember finding out about the Holocaust?

RVP: Not really. It was overwhelming. Subsequently, when I got home, it was one of the best kept secrets.

DLP: I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe people could do such things.

Did you do anything for good luck before an assignment?

RVP: I don’t think so. 

Did you have a lot of free time?

RVP: Yes. The first ship I was on, we had a poker game going. We’d come off watch and go down and take a seat. They’d keep track of it on paper, because we didn’t get paid very often. Small ship- we didn’t have a paymaster aboard. Then, when we got paid, we’d settle up whatever we owed, or whatever we had coming. That was free time. Outside of that, I did a lot of reading. 

DLP: I don’t remember. You must’ve been very busy, with all the soldiers to take care of. Oh, yes. It was heartbreaking. There was one guy- when an airplane would go over, he’d get off the plint and hide. He was just mentally- it was sad. 

What did you think of your fellow soldiers?

RVP: They were very capable, very well trained. They were all great. I respected them all for their ability, and everything about them. Everything. My captain was a merger Marine. We tied up alongside one of the ships out there, and they knew the captain. They invited the captain and an officer over for dinner. They’d take over everything- a box of good liquor and beef- and they’re all talking about how the war was being won without the merge Marines. [The captain] grabbed the tablecloth and threw him out. The captain knocked him down; then the captain came aboard. I was officer of the deck, unfortunately- he wants [someone] to go over to the flagship and report the captain. That’s pretty tough. I remember one more that was really sad. We were tied up alongside a [ship] just before an invasion; one of my friends from college was aboard. I had him come over, and [took] him down to the chief’s quarters. We were getting the alcohol out of the compasses in ships. It was a delicious experience; we got feeling pretty good. A week and a half later, he got killed. 

Are there any people you met that you specifically remember?

RVP: [At] diving school, there was one guy, Austin Cable, that I became very friendly with over the years. He came out to Oregon on his honeymoon. (DLP: With his bride. We went up to Mt. Hood.) They skied across the country. We stayed friends over the years. 

Do you remember any patients specifically?

DLP: Not really. (RVP: Probably more of the staff.) We were in a general hospital- from there, they sent them home. (RVP: Your gals, you remember. We saw some afterwards.) [One] lived in Seattle; she married a patient. {Laughs} Nice gal, but we just kind of lost [touch]. 

Did you keep in touch with any of these people? If so, for how long?

RVP: With a few of them, I did. The officer that trained me on the first ship I was on, I stayed in touch with. (DLP: You gradually wean away from it.) 

Why, or when, did your service end?

RVP: It ended in December of ’45. I guess I had enough to get out. My last ship was after diving school, and it was at a pleasure yacht in Philadelphia- about four officers aboard. That was good. I went to Washington, D.C. with them, enjoyed Philadelphia- traveled cross- country. It was on [a] train, in those days. Took a few days. 

DLP: After the war was over. It’s funny- on the troop train my group was on, we were all together. We went on a troop train all the way to Fort Dix. (RVP: New Jersey.) 

Were trains your main form of transportation?

DLP: Planes- look what happened to Pearl Harbor.

Do you remember hearing that the war was over?

DLP: Yes. Glad we were going home. 

RVP: I was in Portland, on leave. I remember the war being over, and I had met with friends [from] pre-war. One of them just died a week ago. 

DLP: Years later, we went to Japan- Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Felt so guilty for those people. 

How did you get home? 

RVP: That’s interesting- I was at Okinawa, and the going-back state side ship was a cargo ship. I got home on this cargo ship; it was a long trip. Bunch of nice guys on there; made some good friends- got to San Francisco and partied together. 

DLP: I just came home on a ship. (RVP: From there you took a train cross-country.) Yes, a slow train. Now they just whizz. Quite a difference. 

How did you meet after the war?

RVP: I was going with a girl, at the time. We went to a wedding, and [DLP] was there with her folks. I asked her out for the next day, and never took the other gal out again. (DLP: He had a date with them. {Laughs}) You must’ve been a special lady, then. You got it. 

Did you have a family after the war?

RVP: Big family- four kids. We had four in the first five years of our marriage; we were 25 when we got married.

DLP: Now we have 15 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. It’s only because I had one son that had 9 kids. The rest of them are bikers. {Laughs} Two of them just had one child, and two had two and three. We have five great-grandchildren in Portland. Our two daughters live here. One daughter has a boy and a girl, and the parents are both doctors. The other one is a social worker; she has two sons and a darling little girl. Congratulations! That’s quite a family- and life. Married for 71 years, grandchildren- that’s all you can ever hope for.

RVP: We’ve been so blessed. 

DLP: And, it’s getting better. The vacations are better. {Laughs} 

RVP: We are very fortunate. My business was successful, and I retired early. We’ve pretty much traveled the world [for] over 30 years. 

What was your job or career after the war?

RVP: I had an insurance agency. 

DLP: I was taking care of kids! {Laughs} I had them right together; four kids in five years! 

Do you think the military effected your marriage?

RVP: I don’t think so. 

DLP: I don’t think it had anything to do with anything.

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

RVP: Naturally, I wish there were no more wars, but it seems impossible for that to come to fruition. 

DLP: I am very against war. I get so tired of seeing these movies- they’re all on war, and violence. I don’t like what’s going on in our country. It’s scary. Terrible. 

Has serving in the military affected any decision making today?

RVP: Well, I think so. It matured me a lot. I would be very apprehensive at having the kind of responsibility I had there as a deck officer in the formative years. You just fit in, and do what you have to do. You’ve got the responsibility for the lives aboard. It’s a lot of responsibility. 

What do you think the general public should know about war?

RVP: She can answer even better, seeing all those people whose lives were so much changed by injury, plus the lives of those who didn’t come back. 

DLP: It’s all heartache. The money could go to better things than ammunition. 

Have you learned anything about war from that experience? 

DLP: I’m sure I have. One of our doctors was sent home, because he was burned from the radiation. 

RVP: I just think that people being over there after the surprise attack, and how we responded and won the war, was such a limited force. 

DLP: Look what it took to win the war- how people got killed from the atomic bomb. (RVP: [The casualty rate for WWII] was in the 500,000s, last time I checked it on Google.)

How has living in Portland now shaped your veteran experience? Have you found adequate resources and connections in Portland?

RVP: We haven’t been exposed to it- we don’t go to the vets. The only thing that we did do was the mortgages on our house. We did have that benefit, but that’s all. 

DLP: And Veteran’s Day. Every year, they give us a free meal. Big deal.  

How did your service affect your life?

RVP: I think it matured me. I was a boy when I went in, and a man when I came out, for damn sure. 

DLP: Kind of the same. I grew up. 

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RPL and DLP with their family

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This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran[s], content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

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