TC: “We came back into the United States on the day the Japanese surrendered- VJ day.”

What is your birth year?

1926. 

How old does that make you today?

[92]. 

Where were you born?

Born in Burlington, Iowa. 

What city did you grow up in?

I grew up in Aurora, Illinois, which is 40 miles west of Chicago. 

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

Got tons of them. I have a blog that tells about growing up in Aurora, and what we did as kids growing up during the Depression- some of the things we had to do and didn’t do, and some of the things we didn’t do that we probably should’ve done.

I think the most memorable thing that happened in our family was when our family lost the house we were living in. I guess my dad had a hard time getting a job during the Depression. We had to vacate the house we had bought, and that was a big deal. I was in grade school, and I didn’t want to move from grade school; the superintendent of the school allowed me to continue even though I was out of the district. That was a traumatic thing for a young boy, and my sister also, but she was older than I so she had a different viewpoint on it than I did. That’s a whole different life, during the Depression. 

How did WWI affect your family? 

It did, because I had uncles- my dad was in WWI just briefly, only for a few months. He was in the Navy. But it didn’t have much to do with my life at that time, but he would always tell stories of the Navy. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I joined the Navy. 

When did you first hear of Hitler and the Third Reich? What did you know of them?

We heard a little bit, but it wasn’t a major point of education or anything like that. It was just going on all the time, and various political campaigns would touch on it a little bit. We had a new president coming in- Franklin Roosevelt- and he was a New Deal president. It touched us, but as kids, you didn’t hear a lot. We were not as familiar with the news- they didn’t have news like they do now. They had radio, but that’s it. We knew it was going on, but it was a surprise when the United States got into it. 

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor? 

It was a day like today out- kind of cold- it was December 7th. The kids in the neighborhood had built a basketball court across from my house; that was in early afternoon, and I got done playing and went across the street, and my parents were listening to the radio. They said that the Japanese had attacked. We didn’t know how long it would last, but we probably began to realize that as young kids growing up, if it didn’t get over fairly soon, we were going to be part of it. And, we were. Now, I was probably towards the end of it- I wasn’t as old as the rest, even in my neighborhood- but in the last year, I still got in on it. 

How did you get involved in the military?

In high school, we had people come and talk about various careers. We had gone has a family up from Illinois to Minnesota and Wisconsin on fishing trips; we would go to various forests, and forest lookouts. As a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to that, but I always liked to get out in the woods. When the career person came to our high school, I went up to him and said, “I’m interested in forestry.” I had no idea, basically, what forestry meant- what I wanted to do was get out West. I had thought about it as a kid, but I hadn’t gotten out there. I thought you’d fish and hunt all day- that isn’t what they do. He said, “If you want to go to forestry school, the best school is Cornell, in the East. If you want to stay in the Midwest, Iowa State has a good forestry program. If you want to go out West, Oregon State has the best program.” I’d never heard of Oregon State, much less Oregon, probably. I took that into consideration, and I wanted to join the Navy. You could join the Navy when you were 17 years old. I turned 17 when I graduated from high school, so I was going to go join the Navy right after graduation, in 1944. You have to join the Navy before you turn 18, or you’re going to get drafted. My parents, probably thinking a lot better than I about the war and all that, said, “Why don’t you go out to Oregon State and take a couple terms.” I didn’t necessarily want to do that, because I wanted to join the service like everybody else was. I said, “Okay.” They finally talked me into it, and I came out to Oregon State for the summer term, and then the fall term. Then I realized I had to join, so I went back to Aurora- I was still 17, so I went into Chicago, to the recruiting station there, and joined.

How old were you when you were officially called to duty?

I was 17. They take young ones, because you don’t know much. You don’t know that you’re in serious danger. They know that. I had a cousin who was one year older than I, and he wanted to join the Navy. He went to the Navy recruiting, and they gave him a physical; they said, “You’ve got a heart murmur, we can’t take you.” So he walked down the street, came to the Marine recruiting and went in there and told them that I’d had this heart murmur [diagnosis] from the Navy. They said, “It doesn’t make any difference to the Marines. You’re not going to live long anyway.” That was one of the things he remembered. And he almost didn’t survive- he was critically injured. 

I made a decision to be in the Navy- my dad was in the Navy a little bit, my sister was in the Navy- so I did the same thing. I got out in 1946 when I was 19, so I wasn’t very old.

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

They sent me to Great Lakes, Naval Training Station, just north of Chicago. I got my 18th birthday in Great Lakes, where I was training. That worked out fine, except I got done with that, and they shipped us out by slow troop train to California, where we were going to be assigned ships. That’s where the officers saw that I played the drums, and he assigned me to the Navy troop ship, which is the USS Hersey. That’s how I got onboard that. Some of my friends, they got on other ships- destroyers, and others like that- which were pretty heavily damaged at some battles. In a sense, I was saved by my music skills, my drumming- that’s facetious. 

Do you recall arriving at the ship? What did you expect?

I do. It was kind of mysterious- the ship, the USS Hersey, was in Oakland, California, and it was being refitted with something. I came there in the evening, and it was kind of mysterious- there was all this activity going on in the docks. You went on board and tried to get assimilated a little bit, but it was different than anything I’d been on before- I’d never been on a big ship like that. We did go out on sort of a training exercise, and then we picked up a bunch of soldiers. The smell of the docks, all the lines- it was different. Exciting, too, for an 18-year-old. Had you ever seen the ocean before? I had because I’d been in Oregon, but I hadn’t been on it like that. It didn’t take long before I found out whether I could handle it or not- I didn’t get seasick, but we had thousands of troops on board, and quite often they would get seasick. They were stacked up four high in their compartments; people on the top would get sick and throw up and it would be a mess. You’d hardly want to describe it, but they’d take hoses down there and flush the whole thing out. There were three, four, sometimes five bunks on top of each other; we had capacity of 494 crew and 4,700 to 5,000 troops that we would take over. I didn’t really think about it until much later, but a troop transport was a prime target for enemy submarines because if they sunk that, they’d get over 5,000 people. That would be a tremendous thing; I don’t remember ever hearing that one was sunk, that much loss of life, but when we went out with these troops, we had all kinds of support destroyers. They were always buzzing around us to try and keep us safe- if they saw anything like a submarine, they’d try to scare it off. Did you ever talk with the soldiers going overseas? Yes, but I don’t remember too much about it. Some of them, later on, had come from the European theatre, and they were being sent to the Pacific theatre. They didn’t like that too much. I can see why- you could be in the jungle, and lose your life that way- it didn’t even have to be from enemy action. All the malaria, and all the stuff that went on in the jungle. We brought back a lot of pretty badly injured and sick soldiers, and other people, too. What was that like? What they would do was bring [them] on board ship and lay them out on the deck. They would have to take care of them all the way back. When we got back, it was kind of interesting- they would have these welcome ships for us. They were not necessarily for us, but they were for the soldiers coming back- some of them had been out there for three or four years. Coming into San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles- they’d come out a little bit and have young women singing, and things like that. It was an interesting time, coming back. 

Where in the Pacific did you go?

It was all over, actually. The Philippines, Guam, New Guinea, Admiralty Islands, the Russell Islands, the Soloman Islands- a lot of small islands. Every once in a while, we’d stop outside an island, and they’d say, “The Japanese are still on that island.” We’d just bypass it. I always thought that was interesting. On the last trip, we came back into the United States on the day the Japanese surrendered- VJ day. We came back through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, through Seattle, and we arrived in Seattle Harbor on that very night. They told us that half of the ship could have liberty- that means going out into the city and celebrating- and the other half had to stay on board and take care of the ship. Everybody was disgruntled on that, and finally they relented and said, “Most people can go.” That was one of the high points of my life, really. It was interesting coming up the Straits of Juan de Fuca at night; you’d see these rockets come out from someplace on land, so you knew things were going to happen, and they did. It was very timely, coming in on that day. 

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

One of the interesting things was that we were fairly close to what is considered now [to be] the largest catastrophe of the Navy, which was the sinking of the Indianapolis. We had gone out into the Pacific, going to the Philippines, and there was lots of warnings of submarines. We went to Manila, and we picked up troops and were going to take them back to the United States. We left Manila and were out about a day, and- we didn’t know this at the time, but- a Japanese submarine had sunk the USS Indianapolis. We were probably within several miles of it. There was a big mixup and the Navy didn’t know where it was, and these poor sailors were floating out on the water. A good many of them were killed by sharks- it was really a mess. We were only a day away, or just a few miles, away from them, but we just kept going because we didn’t know. Four days later they were discovered floating in the water. 

300px-USS_Indianapolis_(CA-35)_underway_at_sea_on_27_September_1939_(80-G-425615)
“On July 30th, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese submarine I-58 and sank in 12 minutes. Of 1,195 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 890 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while stranded on the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The Navy only learned of the sinking four days later…” Via Wikipedia 

As a young sailor, I never really thought too much about that, but they did make a lot of mention about submarines, and things that could sink us. Every once in a while, you’d see a big mine, floating in the water, but we’d try to sink that so it didn’t blow somebody else up. We were fairly well protected by the United States Navy destroyers and escorts, so it felt safe. But, they were still out there. In July of 1945, we were coming home, and things were winding down. I was on board ship, and we heard an announcement over the loudspeakers that said that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb. What was your reaction? We didn’t know anything about what it was, but if it shorted the war, we were all for it. The Indianapolis was the ship that had carried over parts of the atomic bomb, so they’re the ones who delivered it, and they were sunk. After that, things happened fairly quickly, and we were assigned to take a whole bunch of occupation troops back to Japan. We were the first occupation force, in the transport area field, to go into Japan. We were the flagship for that; there were a number of ships going in. It was interesting to visit Japan right after, in September. What was that experience like? Lots of cities [were] pretty well destroyed. Looking back on it now, you wonder if people would try to rise up against you [as] an occupation force, but they did not, mainly because the emperor said not to do anything, and they didn’t. I can remember walking around Tokyo, and Japanese would bow to us. 

You mentioned being in the band. What kinds of experiences did you have in the band?

Some of the musicians were very good- they had played in big bands in the United States, and I was a pretty good drummer in Aurora, but that was nothing compared to these guys. I learned a lot from them, in terms of their ability, and we just played. It was just entertainment. You said that you played for the injured troops coming home. Did you ever hear stories about what had happened to them? I really didn’t. We didn’t have a lot of time, and they were separate. You didn’t have a lot of time to talk with them, and I probably did talk with them, but I don’t remember anything. Looking back, one of the interesting things [relating] to the diversity that we hear today- [we had] a number of black sailors. They were mostly waiters for the officers, and they were separate, altogether separate. There was no integration, even with the rest of the white crew. That’s the way the Navy was at the time. They had their gun assignments, and they were very good at it. They were in charge of the kitchens, and that’s the way it was. We just never intermingled. Looking back on it now, it was a strange thing, but that’s the way it was. Had you noticed segregation in Illinois as a child? No, but we’d take family trips every once in a while down South. As a little kid, I was thirsty, and I remember going up to drinking fountains, and everyone was aghast that I was drinking out of the black fountains. They told me that I couldn’t do that. That was the time of the boxer Joe Lewis- Joe Lewis was a heavyweight champion, and they would have these fights on in say, a restaurant that we’d go to. That was in the late 1930s, when we’d go on these trips; we’d go South, and learn a little bit about segregation in those days. Where I was didn’t have a lot of that- I think in southern Illinois, down by Missouri, they did- I’m not sure.  

While in the Pacific, did you ever interact with any of the Native peoples on the islands?

Sometimes we would go to a village [on an island]. We were interested in getting some different food and a beer- something like that. We’d go by boat into the island, and we’d play softball. The Natives were there, but they had been through a lot, too- maybe four years of occupation. Did you ever experience an air raid while on an island? Never experienced an air raid. We thought there would be. At that time, there were these kamikaze attacks, so we practiced a lot of aerial gunning. They told us that if they came towards you, they would usually aim at the smokestack. I looked up at my gunnery station, and I was directly underneath the smokestack. I thought, “Well, if I’m going to shoot a 20 mm gun, I better be accurate!” But, they never came to us. 

Did you ever have any interactions with the Japanese forces?

We didn’t see any. They were supposedly out there, but they stayed mainly on the islands where our troops were invading. They would stay around there and try to attack them as they were bringing in troops. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

I can tell you some funny things that were very trying. I was different as a sailor at the beginning; I learned to be more military. When we were going in for our physicals, there was a big room, and everybody was naked. I was in the back, and I liked to whistle. It was probably a nervous whistle! {Laughs} I must’ve been whistling, and the guy at the table raised his hand and said, “Who’s whistling?” I didn’t want to answer that, but I had to, and he said, “Come here.” In front of all those guys, he said, “I want you to whistle any song I [say].” That was embarrassing, but I learned something from that. 

I was on a parade ground out in California, and I had a crew cut, of course, in those days. I liked to chew gum- I was chewing gum, and the person who was leading us in our drills said, “What are you chewing?” I said, “Gum.” He said, “Come here.” So again, I had to get up in front of everybody. He said, “Take the gum out of your mouth,” which of course I did, and he said, “Now put it in your hair.” I didn’t put it in too hard, because I knew I’d have to take it out later, and then I had to run around the parade ground. I was a happy-go-lucky kid. 

Were you injured at any point during your service?

I wasn’t injured, but- I was on a deck crew, and we did a lot of bringing supplies onboard and putting them in the hold, and doing the physical labor. I also had to practice with the band, so that occupied time. When we were out in the Pacific, we had to do 4-hour watches. Things like that just occupied your time, and I wasn’t injured in any way, thank goodness, but there was physical activity where I suppose I could’ve been. 

What was your reaction when you learned that President Roosevelt had died?

We were in Pearl Harbor at the time, and everybody in the Navy got a telegram from the Secretary of the Navy, who was named Forrestal, that President Roosevelt had died and that we were supposed to have a memorial service for him. We had one on board ship; everybody lined up, and the band played the appropriate song. You visited Pearl Harbor three years after the attack there. Could you tell that they had been attacked? Oh, yeah. We weren’t there that much, but there were remnants of ships, and things like that. We probably saw more in Europe when we went through the Suez Canal. There were a lot of sunken ships in that. 

Were you kept updated about the status of the war in Europe? Did you hear about recent events and battles?

We did. It’s kind of interesting- I collected more stuff that I probably needed to, but I collected newspapers from the troops going over. They would communicate over the radio about what was happening in other war zones, and they would print that and hand [it] out to everybody on ship. We kept up to date about everything that was going on; most of it had to do with things happening in Europe. They didn’t really have much clue what was going on in the South Pacific, where they were going. 

What was your reaction when you found out the war was over in Europe- VE day?

It didn’t mean a lot, because we were out on the other side. We had a feeling that now they could supply more attention to the Pacific area, which we thought we needed; we thought that after the European war was over, there’d be shifting, and they did. Everybody knew it was going to be the end of the war eventually because we were so strong; a lot of people died, but it was kind of the end of it. I think I thought more about the help we were going to get than what was going on. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

One of the last trips I made on the Hersey was going to India, and we went to Calcutta to pick up people. The Hooghly River goes up past Calcutta- it’s like the Mississippi River, [because] you can go up in big boats and be fairly close to the shore. We went up there and picked up a load of people, and we were bringing them back to New York City. We left Calcutta and got in the Bay of India, and something happened to our ship, mechanically. We were fairly close to Sri Lanka, so we had to stop there for four or five days while we got fixed. We went out there and saw that island. From there, we went through the Suez Canal to New York City. The ship Hersey was decommissioned in Bayonne, New Jersey. I left there in the summer of 1946, and then I went back home in Aurora. I didn’t have time to do much before I went back to college, so I just kind of played it cool. 

What was your job or career after your service?

There were three or four of us in the fraternity [who] decided that after we graduated, we’d like to go to Europe. Two of us were veterans and two of us were not. We made arrangements to go on a studentship sailing from Quebec. We drove back to the East Coast and got on board ship, and that’s where I met my wife-to-be. In the middle of the ocean! She was going on a student tour, and the whole ship was students going someplace. It was kind of wild! It took us about twelve days to get there from Quebec, but that was alright. We went to England- we got bicycles because we were going to bicycle through Europe. We decided to send our bicycles over to the flat country, in Holland, where we thought we could ride a little easier. We hitchhiked the rest of the way- we went all through Norway and Sweden. We sold our bicycles and just kept hitchhiking. That was one of the interesting things, when you talk about money today- we left Corvallis, Oregon, had a car, went to the East Coast, went to Quebec and bought bicycles and went all through Europe- it cost a little over $1,000. It was something else, but we stayed in hostels, we didn’t eat very well- we were kind of bumming around. When we came back, I stopped in St. Louis, which was the home of the girl I’d met aboard the ship. I stopped to see her, and that cemented a little bit more. I came out to Oregon on a bus- it took me three days, four days- and then I had to find a job. I’d been very involved with journalism at Oregon State, so I went up to see a fellow student I knew, and he was with United Press in Portland. I asked him, “Do you know any jobs that are open?” He said, “I heard one down in Coos Bay, Oregon.” So I contacted them and went down, and I got the job. I was a reporter and a photographer down there- that was only for 6 or 7 months, and then I got married at the same time; we got a little apartment down there. Then I got a call from Oregon State University, and they wanted me to edit the alumni magazine. I interviewed in Portland during a football game here, and I was editor of the alumni magazine and also assistant alumni director. I [also] taught journalism for 27 years. 

On the USS Hersey reunions:

We had a number of reunions after the war; I was going to college, and getting married, and getting a job, so I didn’t hear about it for a long time, but I finally found that they were having reunions all over the United States. We had reunions every year- I went to about three of them, and the last one we decided would be held at Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg, Texas, is an old German town, and it’s a small town north of San Antonio about 80 miles. One of the head admirals of WWII, Admiral Nimitz- it was his hometown, and he grew up there. My wife and I went with another couple, and they took us around Texas on a trip. We stopped at Fredericksburg and stopped at this hotel; they had a little display area about Admiral Nimitz- how he grew up and joined the military, how he got to be the Supreme Commander. From that little start, they had a museum of the Pacific War. Right now, it’s quite an establishment- a lot of people don’t know it exists. It’s one of the best places for learning about the Pacific War. We [had] decided that this would probably be our last reunion, so we should hold it at this museum, which we did. Most of the ships in the Navy have plaques dedicated to themselves, and other memorabilia, so we organized a plaque for the USS Hersey and we had kind of a somber ceremony. 

Do you think your military service impacted the way you think about wars today?

It does, quite a bit. I have arguments still, to this day, with family members- we go around and around, and I think I got a lot of my thoughts and ideas from seeing the world during that time, and growing up during the Depression. When I got here [at the retirement home], the first thing I did was see if they had a flag- they still don’t but I’m working on it! {Laughs} I’ve organized the veteran’s group, and have some 30 members. It’s impacted my philosophy of life. I saw a lot of things go on; I think people who have gone through those different experiences, it’s impacted them- they can’t help it. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about WWII from books, TV, or movies?

I think a lot of movies that were done were not very good movies. I suppose some of the documentary things that have been done, people don’t believe because they are so horrible. I think that some of the events that occurred have been portrayed pretty well- people are having discussions about the Holocaust now. It boggles my mind that people don’t know a lot of things that go on. My son is a history teacher in Newburg, Oregon, and one of his favorite subjects was WWII. His students are getting a good shot at that, but somebody else? Who knows. 

You are very involved with the veterans in your community. Do you think there is anything more we need to be doing for veterans?

I think we’re doing quite a bit. They have veteran’s homes, hospitals. When I came here, we have Veteran’s Day in November, and I helped organize it. One of the questions was, “Did you earn any medals or any citations?” I thought to myself, “I don’t really know!” I found out that there’s a place- [that has] government personnel records- in St. Louis. They said that they’d send [me] a list of any medals or citations I [earned], and three or four days ago I got a package, and in it was a whole bunch of medals. There are probably programs out there that help veterans that I don’t know of, but I’ve not really had any connection with them at all, so I don’t know how good they are. I think they’ve been trying to improve the veteran’s affairs. 

How did your service affect your life?

I think it made it more meaningful, just to be alive. A lot of us almost didn’t make it back, and a lot didn’t make it back. I think you’re more thankful for what has been offered in this country, and a lot of things that are going on- you wonder, how can it be? It’s just the way it is. It just depends on your philosophy, and how you’re brought up. You talk about socialism now- my parents were involved with some of those aspects back in Illinois. There was a man named Norman Thomas- he ran for president with the socialist party maybe 10 times, and he was very prominent during the Depression years. Of course, during the Depression years there were plenty of things that were wrong, too. img_4094-1.jpg

img_4095.jpg
TC’s father in Navy Uniform, sister as a Navy Wave, and TC. 

Author’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, 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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