My Navy Career
Serial No. 677-08-88
Enlisted - January 1943
Active Duty - March 4, 1943
Discharged - December 9, 1945
Ranks: Apprentice Seaman
Seaman 2nd Class
Seaman 1st Class
Torpedoman 3rd Class
Assigned Units: U.S. Navy Training Station - San Diego, Ca.
Navy Torpedo School - Keyport, Wa.
M.T.B. Squadron 19 - P.T. 242 - South Pacific
M.T.B. Squadron 23 - P.T. 242 - South Pacific
Naval Rehabilitation Center - Fargo Building - Boston, Ma.
M.T.B. Base - Samar, Philippine Islands
Foreword: To Sue, Randy, Renee, Elena and Valerie I dedicate this story to
you. Each of you have at sometime expressed an interest in my Navy Career. I
hope this will give you some idea of my duties and experiences as a sailor. I
am proud to have served during World War 11. It was my duty, honor and
love of country. I especially want to thank Sue for her encouragement and
help with writing and recalling many of the events in this story. I love you all
I graduated from high school in May 1942. Most of the boys in my class went
My Navy Career
C. J. Willis
into the military soon after graduation. I was only 17 years old. The Navy
required anyone under 18 to have parental consent but Mom and Dad would
not give me permission to join until after Christmas that year. We went to the
Navy recruiter in Vinita the first week of January 1943 and I joined the
regular Navy. The recruiter looked over my entrance and aptitude test and
asked if I would like to apply for Navy Aviation Cadet training, but I would
have to apply in Dallas. He thought I had a very good chance to get into that
program. I asked if they would pay my way to Dallas; he said "no" so I went
into the regular Navy. Who knows, I could have been a pilot. They told me to
go home and they would notify me when to report for active duty.
March 4, 1943 - I left Vinita, Ok. via Katy Railroad bound for San Diego, Ca.;
went to Kansas City then west through Sante Fe, Reno, on to San Diego. My
first time west of Oklahoma and my first long train ride. Entered the U.S.
Navy Training Station for boot training. We were issued G.I. clothing, towels,
sea bag, ditty bag, toilet articles, etc. Mailed suitcase with all civilian clothes
home to Vinita. We were given our G.I. haircuts, immunization shots, and I
was assigned to Company 43-91 for training.
The Company of about 100 men was assigned to a barracks in an area of the
base called Decatur - we were not allowed outside the base for 8 weeks. The
uniform of the day was dress whites which we learned to wash each night
with a scrub brush and tie on the yard arm with clothes stops. We rolled our
clothes to make creases in our pants and shirts - no irons. Had my 18th
birthday while in boot camp. After 8 weeks we moved to another area of the
base for 4 more weeks - nicer barracks and were allowed outside liberty (5
pm to 11 pm) one day /week. Training consisted of marching as a Company
to everything we did, including meals. We had to pass a swimming test
(swim 50 yds) including removing our clothes in the water and making
flotation devices from our dungarees. We trained on the firing range with the
Springfield rifle but mostly we marched and did calisthenics with our
dummy rifles - had inspection along with all other Companies on Saturday
We were standing inspection one particular Saturday- 2 P-38's were overhead
simulating a dog fight and they collided - both pilots bailed out and we
heard later were O.K. Both planes went into the ocean. I recall the tail boom
of one plane drifting and spinning down like a kite. It seemed to take a long
while to come down.
One night the C.O. heard someone talking in bed after taps. He turned on the
lights and wanted to know who was talking. Of course no one said anything.
He made us all get up - get our gear packed in sea going fashion - put it on
our backs and go on the parade ground and march for about 20 min. carrying
our gear. Needless to say there was no more talking after taps. Toward the
end of our 12 weeks our Company went on a 15 mile hike with pack and rifle
out on the streets of Diego and back on the sandy beach. I finished about ¼ of
the way back from the leader, some guys couldn't finish. It was in Company
43-91 that I met two guys from Texas - Edgar Lyon Williams and Randolph
Nagel Witt - Roll call was always in alphabetical order Williams, Willis and
Witt. We were together for most of my stay in the Navy. Williams was a
guitar player -1 helped him tote the guitar every place we went including the
When we finished boot camp we were advanced to Seaman Second Class and
assigned to torpedo training at Keyport, Washington - a small training facility
located on Puget Sound about 20 miles north of Bremerton. We went by train
up through Northern California, Oregon and Washington. It was a beautiful
trip made around June 1st. We spent the next 10 weeks learning how to
maintain, repair and fire torpedoes. About one day each week we would
practice firing torpedoes in Puget Sound. We would launch them from a dock
- they would run their course - the war head (normally filled with TNT) was
filled with water - at the end of the torpedo's run, air was injected into the war
head and the torpedo would surface. Then we would retrieve it in a small
boat - take it back to the base shop and re-build it for another run.
The weather during my stay was great and this was a really nice base. Food
was good and not much discipline. We had to run an obstacle course out
through the pine woods each day for exercise - over logs, under trees - over a
wall and across a mud moat. We hated it. The P.E. officer we called "Pipeline
Slim". He was about 6'3" weighed about 150# but he was really in shape - led
the pack every day. Keyport was a very small town- one store. We could go
on liberty to Bremerton on Saturday after lunch and could be out over night.
We would get a bed at the Y.M.C.A. for 50 cents. I went to Seattle one
weekend - rode the ferry over and back from Bremerton. After graduation
from torpedo school we were promoted to Seaman First Class.
I was given a seven day leave plus 2 days travel time to report to the U.S.
Naval Base at Treasure Island, Calif. I decided to go home to Vinita. Williams
and Witt were going to Texas so we rode the train through ldaho, Montana to
Omaha. Had 8 hr. layover in Omaha to catch train to K. C. I thought I could
beat the 8 hr. layover by hitch hiking but that didn't work out. One farmer
offered me a ride about 10 miles and another about 30 so I went back to the
train station with the other guys. We were walking the streets of Omaha - a
man approached us in front of a barber college and offered us a free haircut
and shave for the students to practice. We accepted and got refreshed from
our long train ride. Had a short layover in K.C. - called Bernice. On to Vinita -
only had 4 days at home - caught train out through Denver, Salt Lake City to
I reported into the Naval Base at Treasure Island and was assigned mess cook
duty. I could go on liberty every night after we cleaned up the chow hall from
supper. That is where I learned to mop. I was again in the same barracks with
W and W. I loaned Williams my new clean neckerchief to go on liberty - He
came in late all bloody and beat up - got into a fight with some Marines. Got
my neckerchief all messed up and had to throw it away. We would go on
liberty to San Francisco. Lots of action on Market Street -tattoo parlors and
etc. - had a U.S.O. club where you could get cokes and snacks - had a dance
floor but I couldn't dance. The base at Treasure Island was a receiving station
for personnel ready to ship out overseas. We were there about 2-3 weeks
when we were told to pack our bags in sea going fashion.
About 60 - 70 of us boarded a Dutch Freighter bearing Dutch Flag. At the time
we did not know our destination but later found out we were bound for
Noumea, New Caledonia. Our quarters were in a cargo hold on the ship.
Temporary bunks 4 beds high. Through experience you always try to get on
the top bunk. We only had fresh water for drinking - bathing and
shampooing was with saltwater. We were given salt water soap. I washed my
hair and it matted up like grease - took a week to get it rinsed out. We were
only served 2 meals per day and the food was bad. The trip lasted 31 days
and we never saw land the whole way. The ship was unescorted all the way.
In New Caledonia we were at another receiving station. Here all personnel
were being assigned to units and ships in the South Pacific. I worked in the
mess hall serving meals and bringing in supplies. The chow lines were 2
blocks long. Guys would eat, then get in line for the next meal. Working in
the mess hall I didn't have to wait in line. Our food supply warehouse was
about ten miles out in the country. Near the warehouse was a leprosy colony
-a big house, like a ranch house, on several acres surrounded by a high fence.
We would talk to the people through the fence. At this base was the detention
center for all the Navy homosexuals in the South Pacific until they were
shipped back to the U.S. for discharge. There were approximately 50 of them
housed in separate barracks under Shore Patrol guard. They were marched to
the mess hall and ate as a group. We had their trays painted on the bottom
"Queer Gear" We were at this base 2-3 weeks and were assigned to Motor
Torpedo Boat Squadrons South Pacific.
We went by ship, the U.S.S. Jamestown to Guadalcanal in the Solomon
Islands - a 2 day trip. The Jamestown had been a luxury yacht before the war
started but was taken over by the Navy and converted into a personnel
carrier. On Guadalcanal, I saw my first Japanese prisoners, about 10 of them.
They were in a barbed wire fence enclosure. The gate was open and they
could have crawled through the fence, but outside were 3 Marines with
Thompson Sub-machine guns daring them to come out. We were only on
Guadalcanal one day. Then we moved to the nearby island of Tulagi. At the
entrance to the harbor on a bluff, was a big billboard sign that read "KILL
JAPS - KILL MORE JAPS" signed ADMIRAL BULL HALSEY. This was a P.T.
Base called Calvertville. There was a sign over the dock. " Calvertville
-through These Portals Pass The Best M.T.B. Flotilla in The World". We spent
a couple of nights in tents, then were assigned to M.T.B. Squadron 19.
Squadron 19 consisted of 10 boats - P.T. 235 through P.T. 244. The squadron
had just moved to Lambu Lambu Cove on Vella La Vella Island - about 150
miles Northwest of Tulagi. P.T. 235, a Squadron 19 boat, was still at Tulagi so
we boarded it for the trip north. Aboard was Lt. Commander Brackett, our
squadron Executive Officer. His brother was a Navy pilot who had been shot
down, killed and was buried on the very small island of Savo off the north
coast of Guadalcanal. We stopped at the island and went ashore. It was
inhabited by natives. We went to their village, composed of a few grass huts -
very clean and neat. Commander Bracket conversed with them and they led
us a few hundred yards into the jungle where they had buried his brother.
They had the grass cut and the brush trimmed around the grave - looked
We loaded back on the boat and went to Rendova Island. It was at that time,
headquarters for Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons, South Pacific. Several boats
were tied at the dock but one boat had a huge hole in the bow approximately
3 feet back from the nose. The hole was clear through both sides of the boat.
They had been on patrol the night before and several torpedo bombers had
attacked them. The torpedo went through the boat and out the other side as it
dropped from the plane. For safety reasons torpedoes are not armed to
detonate until they run through the water for some distance. Apparently that
was the reason it did not explode. They were very lucky. We spent the night
in Rendova and had an air raid during the night. Enemy planes bombed the
air field at Munda just across the bay from the P.T. Base but no bombs were
dropped on us.
We proceeded on to Lambu Lambu Cove on Vella La Vella. It was a small
cove about ½ mile deep -200 yds. wide. The base was just a few native grass
huts and some tents back in the woods. There was an abandoned Japanese
barge on the beach. A small dock where we tied up was used for refueling
the boats. The other boats of Squadron 19 were tied up around the cove to
trees that grew out in the water. We went ashore and spent the night in a tent
on the base. We were told that there were Japanese still on the island and to
stay close to the base. The next day I was assigned to P.T. 242 - nicknamed
"Celeste." This was about November 10,1943. I met the men I would be with
for the next year. I was the first addition to the original crew. These guys had
all gone through P.T. Boat training in Melville, R.I. and were assigned to pick
up P.T. 242 from the Higgins Plant in New Orleans. They took the boat from
New Orleans to Miami, Cuba, Mexico, Central America and through the
Panama Canal. The boats were then loaded on oil tankers - taken to New
Hebrides Islands - unloaded, then under their own power to Tulagi, Rendova
and Vella La Vella. They had only been in Vella La Vella 3-4 days. The crew
consisted of 9 men and 2 officers when I joined them. The oldest was 23 and I
was the youngest at 18. Both officers were 21. Attached is a picture and a list
of the crew. The other crew members in the picture were added some time
later when we added more guns and needed more men. Williams was
assigned to P.T 236 and Witt to P.T. 235. We didn't see each other much after
we were assigned to separate boats.
Some information about P.T. Boats. The U. S. Navy used three types of P.T.
Boats in WWII combat. The 77 foot and the 80 foot Elcos built by Electric Boat
Works in Bayonne, N. J. and the 78 foot Higgins built by Higgins Industries
in New Orleans. The boats had a 21 foot beam and a draft of 4 ½ feet. The hull
was 5/8 inch mahogany plywood held together with glue and more than
400,000 screws. They were powered by 3- 1500 horsepower Packard engines
with 3 propellers and 3 rudders which made them very maneuverable. They
could accelerate from 8 knots to 40 knots in about 11 seconds. They had a fuel
capacity of 3000 gallons of 100 octane aviation fuel. Each engine burned 185
gal. per hour at running speed. The armament of P.T. 242 consisted of 40 mm
cannon aft, twin 50 caliber turret guns port and starboard, 20 mm automatic
mid ship and a 37 mm aircraft type automatic on the bow. We later added 2
twin 50's port and starboard on the bow just in front of the charthouse. We
carried 2 depth charges, 4 torpedoes and a smoke generator. We had a locker
below deck with small arms and grenades. The boats were equipped with
radar, 2 way radio, and VHF radio, and blinker light. The boats weighed
about 55 tons. The squadron consisted of a base force which did not go out on
patrols. They did the repairs, helped with engine and armament
maintenance, refueling and etc. We had a sick bay with a medical officer and
corpsmen. All meals were cooked and served on the base, however we had a
cook on board our boat who prepared sandwiches and light meals when on
patrol. There were 43 P.T. Squadrons commissioned and approximately
12,000 men served in P.T. Boats during WWII.
On board P.T. 242, I was assigned the port twin 50 turret gun which was my
battle station. I was given the front starboard bunk in the crews quarters. I
had never fired a twin 50 machine gun before but was given instruction by
Bill Metcalf our 1st class gunners mate and I was a quick learner. The boats
were tied up in Lambu Cove to trees that grew out in the water. We had a
tent on land where we tied up. Some of the guys slept in the tent but I slept
on the boat. P.T. 59 tied up next to us. This was John Kennedy's boat after the
109 was sunk. It was armed with 40 mm cannons front and aft and had no
torpedoes. It was equipped for hunting barges. It was a 77 foot Elco boat and
was really fast because of the lighter weight. I knew some of the crew
members. The Quartermaster gave me a 45 automatic pistol which I had until
I came home. I did not know Kennedy but saw him on the boat several times.
The officers of the boats stayed on the beach in tents and the crew stayed with
the boats. A small landing craft type boat would come around to the boats at
meal time to pick us up. The mess hall was in a tent on the base. The food
was really bad - no fresh meat or vegetables - pancakes were served with
marmalade, no syrup. We would hold the slices of bread up to the light to
check for weevils but we quit that because there wouldn't be anything left of
the bread. Anyway cooked weevils were not bad. It was not the cooks’ fault,
they just didn't have the supplies to work with.
From Vella La Vella we patrolled the coasts of Bougainville and Choiseul
looking for barges or ships of any kind that might be trying to bring supplies
into these islands. They were Japanese held, but had been leap frogged by
the U.S. as they invaded islands farther up the chain. We would go out about
every other night, leaving before dark to get to our patrol area at dark. One
night we spotted what we thought was a barge on radar. We approached
rather cautiously only to find a big tree floating in the water. We fired a few
rounds into it anyway for practice. We would see lights on the beach - idle in
real close to the beach - then open up with all our guns - open the throttles
and "get the hell out of there". Occasionally there would be some return fire
but we would be out of range.
We had not had fresh meat since being in the Solomons. The night before
Thanksgiving a small ship anchored outside the cove and brought fresh
frozen turkeys. For Thanksgiving the cooks prepared a great turkey dinner.
The medical officer brought out gallons of grade A alcohol and poured into a
big pot with grapefruit juice. We filled our metal canteen cups and had a
wonderful Thanksgiving. All patrols were called off for the night.
About once a week aviation fuel would be brought in by L.C.T. barge loaded
with 55 gallon drums. All hands were called out to help unload. The barge
opened in front with a ramp into the water. We would roll the drums off the
barge into the water - then push them onto the beach - sit them upright. We
would load the empty drums back onto the barge. The refueling crew used a
small gasoline engine mounted to a pump to refuel the boats. They would set
the engine on a barrel - pump it empty - then move to the next barrel.
On December 14, 1943 about the middle of the afternoon, we heard
explosions coming from the fuel dock. There was a tremendous fire raging.
There were 2 native grass huts where ammunition and other supplies were
stored, they were completely in flames. Two boats were tied to the dock -
side by side- the inside boat was being refueled and fire was all around it.
We saw two guys jump on the outside boat - started it up and tried to pull
away from the other boat but it was still tied. One of the guys grabbed an axe
which all boats carried and chopped the lines and were able to pull away and
saved the boat. By this time the inside boat was completely in flames. The
two men were Foley and Ollsen, they later received citations for their
bravery. We watched from a distance of 200 - 300 yards. Ammunition was
exploding in the grass huts and tracers were shooting out but not far. The 55
gallon drums would explode and split along the seams forming floating
gasoline torches. Several were floating in the cove - drifting back toward our
boat. We got the carbine rifles out and shot holes in the barrels but that was
not a good idea because the burning gasoline spread out over the water. We
finally started the boat and went past the dock out to the mouth of the cove to
get away from the burning barrels. We lost our Chief Gunners Mate and 1st
Class Boatswain Mate - They were base crew working in the grass huts and
were trapped before they could get out. P.T. 239 was burned and sunk at the
dock. We lost all our fuel and food supplies. It was determined that the small
gasoline engine used in the refueling back fired - which ignited the gasoline.
The next day we loaded up what was left of the base and joined Squadron 9
further up the line at Treasury Island. Here we tied the boats up to huge trees
that overhung the water. The water was clear and you could see beautiful
coral 30-40 feet deep. It was a beautiful island. We used Squadron 9 base and
We continued to patrol Bougainville and Choiseul. One night off the coast of
Bougainville we picked up on radar three barges. They were some distance
off the beach. We moved in close and commenced firing. They returned our
fire but we continued firing as we moved slowly by them. It is a very eerie
feeling to see tracer bullets coming toward you. I remember hunkering up in
my gun turret - pulling my shoulders and legs together to make the least
possible target, however I continued to fire my twin 50's and could tell we
were making direct hits on the barges. Finally the one I was concentrating on
caught fire and I saw someone jump overboard - the firing from that barge
ceased. By then we were out of range and the next boat was broadside firing
at the barges. The procedure for P.T. boats to attack barges was to go in a
circle- with one boat firing while the other two boats circled around - we
would reload our ammunition belts- check for damage- then be ready to
attack again. As we quit firing someone noticed the port front torpedo head
was smoking and smoldering- it was only about 3 feet from my turret - I
jumped out of my turret and ran back to the lazzerette storage to get a bucket
with a rope. On the way back the other torpedoman on the boat John Grace
was preparing to launch the torpedo to get it off the boat so I helped him and
we fired the air charge to launch but it was wedged in the tube and wouldn't
move so we started dipping water from over the side and put the fire out
Needless to say we were very very lucky that the T.N.T. warhead did not
explode. It had been hit by an explosive bullet and split the casing holding
the T.N.T. which was burning. Torpedo warheads are detonated by first
exploding a small charge which in turn detonates the T.N.T. so evidently the
explosive bullet was not big enough charge to set off the warhead. Having
been trained as a torpedoman I was well aware of just how lucky we were.
Our boat and the other two boats we were out with that night were credited
with sinking all three of the Jap barges. The next day we checked our boat for
damage - the line of bullets had gone about 12 inches below my feet in the
gun turret - then hit the torpedo and on back into the engine room and did
some small damage there. The torpedo tube and torpedo was damaged
beyond repair. Since the torpedo could not be repaired at Treasury, we were
sent back to the larger base at Rendova. Our boat was outfitted with new
Mark 14 torpedoes. They were aircraft type that were launched by merely
rolling off racks mounted on the side of the boat. They were smaller and
weighed considerably less. Eventually all boats were outfitted with this new
I wrote Mom and Dad regularly on V-mail. V-Mail was letter forms on which
the letter was written - it was Photostatted then reduced in size for
transporting - then back to size but was white on black when received. I also
wrote to Sue. She and I had dated most of our senior year and she was still
my high school sweetheart. I wrote them about our encounter with the
Japanese barges but I later found out that most of it was censored (cut-out).
Our officers censored all our outgoing mail. We were not allowed to write
anything about our location or any of our military activities.
During this time, Sue was attending Northeastern Oklahoma State University
and upon completion she accepted a high school teaching job, teaching
Shorthand, Typing, Bookkeeping and English. She later became an Executive
Secretary at the Goodrich Tire Plant in Miami, Ok. We were at Rendova only
a couple of days. Our boat was ordered to tow an open type personnel boat
about 20 ft. long with inboard engine back to Treasury. It really slowed us
down. We towed it about halfway when we hit rough seas. It filled up with
water but still floated with the kapok flotation but it was impossible to tow.
The skipper said "cut it loose" so we abandoned a new $15,000 boat in mid
We continued patrols and were at Treasury for Christmas 1943. Like
Thanksgiving there were no patrols and we had turkey dinner and grade A
alcohol was brought out by the medical officer.
On January 15 the squadron was ordered back to Rendova for rest, new guns
and new engines. Soon after arriving at Rendova, plans were made for half of
the crew to go on leave to Wellington, New Zealand for two weeks. They
drew names from a hat and my name was not drawn. So we stayed behind -
put the boat in dry dock - scraped, cleaned and repainted the bottom. Also
added two more twin 50 guns on the bow. They had a chaplain and regular
church services so I went to church there. The guys that went to N.Z. had a
great time - someone brought back a pair of ladies panties which we hung on
the radar mast with our flag.
In early March the squadron was ordered to Green Island - the northern most
island in the Solomon chain. This island had been taken from the Japs while
we were in Rendova.
On the way to Green Island we stopped at the P.T. base in Empress Augusta
Bay on Bougainville. The Army had just taken the Bay area a few days before
and they were still fighting up on the slopes. We could see and hear artillery
fire after dark. There was an active volcano on top of the mountain with
clouds of smoke and steam.
Green Island is a circular island with a cove on the inside approximately 2
miles across - like a lake. The P.T. Base was on a small island at the narrow
entrance to the cove, and directly across they were building a B-24 air strip.
We had a refueling dock at the end of the air strip. We moored our boats at
buoys out in the cove - too shallow to tie up at the beach. It was a great place
to swim off the boat. We swam almost every day. From Green we patrolled
Northern Bougainville, Buka and the islands of New Britain and New
Ireland. On New Britain the Japanese had a large air field at Rabaul. We
encountered more aircraft when we patrolled that area. Our radar could pick
up aircraft but was not advanced enough to use for gunnery fire control. We
were attacked several times. It is impossible to see planes in the sky at night
unless they are directly between you and the moon so our guns were useless.
The best defense was to go full speed and zigzag and hope for the best. One
night we were bombed three times as we raced about 5 miles to get inside a
rain cloud where the plane could not see us. Other times we would zig-zag
and they would miss. One Morning just before daylight, we had completed
our patrol and were just getting underway back to Green. I had laid down on
the bow to get some shut-eye. All of a sudden a bomb exploded no more than
100 feet off the starboard bow. It sprayed water all over the boat - got me wet.
We were really caught by surprise. We never did see the plane and of course
could not hear it over our own engines. I never did get back to my nap that
We would see barges on radar but by the time we could get close enough to
fire at them, they would get in a cove on the beach out of sight. We continued
to strafe the beaches when we saw lights or any kind of activity. We had a
mortar launcher on board and our gunners mate could get 5 shots off in the
air before the first shot would hit the beach. Then we would take out fast.
When we went to New Britain or New Ireland it was about 100 miles, a 2 ½-3
hour trip each way. We would leave about 4.00 P.M. to be on station at dark.
Traveling west we saw many beautiful South Pacific sunsets as we would
approach our patrol area. When the seas were calm I would sometimes set on
the bow of the boat straddling the bull nose with my 45 automatic pistol and
shoot at flying fish as they were scared out of the water. We were young,
adventurous and did a lot of crazy things but we felt we were doing our duty
for our country and trained to handle about any situation.
When underway we always had a look-out on duty watching for floating logs
or other debris, also for any planes or other ships. Occasionally we would see
floating mines and we would stop and fire a burst of our twin 50's to blow
Coming back, as we would approach Green and could see land - the boats
would all pull in line - then open full throttle for a race to the entrance to the
cove. We seldom lost a race because our motor machinist had a secret which
we never shared. They would remove the air mesh covers on the carburetors,
giving more air to the gasoline mixture which would give us about 3-5 more
mph. Only Elco boats could beat us, they were a little faster than the Higgins
boats especially the 77 foot Elcos.
We were patrolling the island of Buka one night when the officers got the
idea to go through Buka Passage which is a narrow body of water separating
Buka and Bougainville. No boats had ever tried it. There were three boats
and we were the lead boat. It was not a dark night and the beaches were
visible and I am sure we were very visible out in the water. We idled in very
quietly and had reach about the narrowest portion of the passage when shore
batteries opened up on us. Mr. McLane, our skipper, immediately opened
the throttles and turned to get the hell out of there. He opened them too
quickly and one engine conked out. Shells were exploding all around us.
These were big guns, 3" or 5" projectiles and they were out of range for us to
fire back. McLane told John Grace to open the smoke generator and we were
almost immediately hid by the smoke. That is probably what saved us. By
then the motor mac down in the engine room had the engine started and we
zig-zagged out of the passage. They fired at us for at least 2 miles before we
got out of range. I can still hear the whirring sound of those shells going just
over our heads and exploding in front of us. I don't know how we escaped
without being blown out of the water. Needless to say we never tried that
again. As far as I know no boats ever made it through Buka Passage.
One day while moored in the cove, we received a radio call to go across the
cove at the air base near our fuel dock. A SBD Navy dive bomber was in
trouble and was going to have to ditch in the cove. We got there in time to see
him come in and land - wheels up on the water. The water splashed two
stories high completely hiding the plane. When the water settled - the plane
was floating and the two guys in the plane already had the canopy back and
were standing up in the plane. They got out on the wing then into the water.
By then we were alongside to pick them up. Neither was hurt - we took them
to the fuel dock and they went to the air base. The plane floated for probably
The base at Green developed and became much larger. I recall the Seabees
clearing the coconut trees and brush with a bulldozer around the camp at
Green, Floating dry docks were brought in for under water repairs to the
boats. Tents were set up on the beach. Our boat crew had a tent on the beach.
Motor generators were brought in and the base had lights. Buildings were
erected for maintenance. Movies were started - had coconut logs for seats - sat
in the rain. A repair ship, the U.S.S. Varuna was brought in to help with
repairs. The Varuna made ice cream and occasionally we would get a gallon
for our boat. We were still patrolling about every other night.
Bob Hope, Francis Langford and Patty Thomas (a dancer) came for a U.S.O.
show. It was a great show - held in the afternoon. Jack Benny and Carol
Landis came later on but I did not see their show.
On May 15, 1944 we received word that Squadron 19 was to be
decommissioned. PT's 235 through 240 would join Squadron 20 and PT's 241
through 244 would join Squadron 23. Nothing changed but our mailing
address and we had a new Squadron Commander.
Our boat was scheduled to have new and bigger (1550 horsepower) engines
installed. This was the duties of our 3 motor machinist mates and the base
force. The rest of us didn't have much to do for a couple of days so we went
to our tent on the beach. Earlier we had confiscated some dried apples and
sugar from the chow hall. We mixed them with water and yeast in the 5
gallon wooden keg from our life raft. It had been brewing 2 weeks or more.
We had 5 gallons of good apple jack. We spent the night on the beach
drinking apple jack and certainly had a heavy head the next day. The skipper
gave us a good talking to about not informing him of our whereabouts,
however I think he understood our needs.
Sometime in the summer of 1944,1 took a proficiency test and was promoted
to Torpedoman 3rd Class. The pay was $78 per month.
We continued patrols but activity waned. Our patrols dropped to every third
night most of the time. Our routine when coming in from patrol was to go
directly to the fuel dock - the boat was always kept full. We would clean our
guns while refueling - load ammunition belts and put on the gun covers. We
had a tarp which was mounted on tent poles. It covered the bow area in front
of the chart house. Cots were set up under the tarp, then we would sleep
most of the day. It was too hot to sleep in the bunks below deck. We were
allowed a 10 quart bucket of fresh water per day for shower and shave. Fresh
water came from a desalination plant on the base. Our uniform of the day for
most guys was under shorts however as the base progressed we were
ordered not to wear them to the mess hall. We could go without shirts but
had to wear dungarees or army green pants. We were not pleased with that
order. We liked comfort. To make our new dungarees look "salty" we would
drag them behind the boat tied on a rope, sure would take out the color.
When on patrol we wore long pants and shirt - sometimes a jacket. It would
get cool at night and rained a lot. Anytime under general quarters had to
wear life jackets and helmets.
Around November 1st our boat crew was relieved of our duties on P.T. 242.
We bid it goodbye and a new crew took over. Our guys moved into tents on
the beach awaiting orders to be sent back to the U.S. for rehabilitation leave.
There were 5 guys in our tent and we played hearts all day long for a penny
/point. The tent had a center pole where a lizard lived. I guess it was a gecko
from Hawaii. We would catch bugs and give to him. Guys on the boat started
receiving their orders to go home - finally after about 10 days Bob Pratt and I
were called over the loud speaker to report to the base office. This was about
Our orders read - 30 days leave plus travel time from Port of Embarkation
U.S.A. to P.T. Training Station at Melville, R.I. No transportation was
provided and we were free to find our own way back to the U.S. I was boiling
clothes in a cut-off steel drum with a wood fire. I guess they are still over
there boiling as far as I know. We gathered our belongings and caught a boat
to the fuel dock at the Air Base. We reported in at the Air Base and they put
us on a B-25 going to the Admiralty Islands where there was a bigger air base.
Upon arriving we tried to get a flight to Hawaii - they couldn't promise us
anything so Pratt and I went across the bay to the Naval Base. They put us on
a baby flattop Aircraft Carrier, which was loaded on the flight and hanger
decks with damaged airplanes bound for San Francisco. On board we were
given cots which Pratt and I set up on the hanger deck, under the wing of an
airplane. We were the only passengers and had the whole hanger deck as our
quarters. We had no duties and ate with the crew - sunbathed on the flight
deck - did nothing. The ship stopped at Pearl Harbor a couple of days - we
wanted to go on liberty in Honolulu but had no white uniforms, all we had
were dungarees and army greens - our other clothes had all mildewed in the
tropics. The ship officers gave us new white uniforms. We went to Honolulu
and were not on the streets 15 minutes before we were arrested by the Navy
Shore Patrol for not having rating badges on our uniforms. We told them our
circumstances - they released us to go buy badges. Pratt was 1st class
Quartermaster but couldn't find that badge so he became a 1st class Cook.
Honolulu was great because we could buy Coca Cola and a lot of things that
were not available in the U.S. because of war rationing and restrictions.
The ship proceeded on to San Francisco. Upon arriving at the Navy Pier in
Oakland, we were issued new blue uniforms and other items we had lost.
They issued us our proper leave papers and gave us train tickets - Pratt to
Portland, Maine and Melville and my ticket to Vinita, Oklahoma and
Melville. We were not on the same trains. While in Oakland I bought a nice
set of tailormade blues. At the Navy Pier, I had drawn some money from my
payroll account, since we had been paid very little while in the islands and
had about $1500.00 in my account which by today's inflation would be
When I arrived at Vinita, December 10, 1944, Mom and Dad were very happy
to have me home. Since Otis, my brother, was with the Army in France
fighting the Germans, they had one less son to worry about. It was nice to
sleep upstairs in my good old bed again. Mattie, my 15 year old collie dog,
was glad to see me and I was so happy that she lived until I returned home
because she died about a year later. She was an excellent "cow dog" bringing
the cows in twice a day. Mom and Dad had been running the dairy and farm
with very little help since Otis and I left for the service. Mom didn't drive a
car but she could sure drive a John Deere tractor.
The next evening I went to see Sue in Miami and we were together every
evening. After being apart for so long and now happily together again we
knew we truly loved each other. There was no doubt in our minds that we
were destined to get married while I was home on leave. Since my orders
were to be stationed on the East coast, Sue could meet me and we could be
together for 2-3 months. We planned a small church wedding in Kansas City
where my sister Bernice lived. We were married December 31, 1944.
Gasoline rationing was in effect while I was home on leave. I was lucky - Dad
had a "B" ration card which entitled him to 8 gal/week, and he had
accumulated several weeks. I went to the ration board and they gave me an
"A" card which was good for 4 gal/week so we had plenty to go to K.C.
Around home we used tractor gas from the farm which was not rationed. I
also got meat and sugar ration stamps at the ration board.
I had orders to leave on January 10th for Melville, R.I. There were rumors I
would be there 2-3 months, so we made plans for Sue to come up as soon as I
could find a place to live. I rode the train to New York Central Station then to
Melville. As soon as I arrived they put me on a train to Boston. The Navy had
a receiving station in the Fargo Building in south Boston. It was 6-7 story
building- similar to a hotel. When I checked in I saw Bob Pratt, our
quartermaster and traveling buddy- he had gotten married while home on
leave and he was having Charlotte come to Boston. I called Sue and asked her
to make arrangements to meet me in Boston with the probability of being
there 2 months. Next day she caught the train to Boston.
One evening after Sue arrived, 5 guys from my boat crew had a celebration
dinner for us at a very nice restaurant in one of the downtown hotels. It was
white table cloth, crystal glasses and place settings of seven pieces of
silverware. John Cawley, our radioman from Pennsylvania, handed the
waiter all of his silverware but the knife, fork and spoon and said "that's all I
need to eat with". Sue made a hit with the guys and was really honored to be
the only girl. They welcomed her into our crew.
During my 2 months stay in Boston I had liberty every night, Sundays and
sometimes Saturdays. We went out for dinner every night. Boston had
fabulous cafeterias and a new Howard Johnson restaurant near Copley
Square where we were living. We had a room in a row house on
Commonwealth Ave. It belonged to a Dentist and he had his office on the first
floor. On our days off we did much walking and riding the subways, touring
historic landmarks, Paul Revere statue, and many others. We enjoyed
walking down to the Charles River Park which was only a few blocks from
where we lived. We attended church services once at the Old North Church -
it was small - the names of family members were engraved on brass plates
attached to the back of the pews. We found a seat in a pew without a name
plate. One Sunday we crossed the Charles River over to Harvard and toured
the University and one of their famous museums. Bob and Charlotte invited
us to spend one weekend at her parents’ beautiful new two story Cape Cod
home in the country just outside Portland, Maine. We traveled by bus, 120
miles, through the beautiful snowy countryside of New England. Her father
was in the lumber business. We drove to a small ski slope with a rope tow
and skied for our first time. We had never heard of snow skiing much less
seen a ski slope. They were good skiers. Sue wore Charlotte's sister's clothes
and I wore Pratt's.
We enjoyed going to the movies downtown but the ticket lines were always a
block long. One evening we went to see the Ice Follies at the Boston Garden.
As expected, all good things would end. On March 12, I received my orders
to report to the Navy Base at Stockton, Ca. leaving in four days. For both of us
it was heart breaking facing the dreaded reality of parting. I knew I was
headed back to the Pacific and for how long no one knew - probably for the
invasion of Japan.
Sue stayed until the day before I was to leave and left on the train late in the
evening. It was the saddest day of our lives for both of us. I took her to the
train on the subway - carried her suitcase onto the rail car- gave the porter 50
cents to find her the best seat - walked outside the car to the window where
she was seated. We waved goodbye to each other through the window with
tears streaming down our faces. As the train pulled away, Sue was sobbing
and we were smiling at each other happy for our great time being together in
Boston. We knew without a doubt that I would be back and we would be
together again someday.
I started to catch the subway, then realized I had given the porter my only
money. (We had pooled all our cash for her trip back home - I could get some
cash at the base the next day). So I walked the longest and loneliest two miles
of my life back to the Fargo Building in the dark dreading the trip back
Reflecting on our "Newly Married Life" in Boston, we realized it was a
springboard to our many years of commitment to a wonderful marriage. We
became so close in our devotion to each other with the reality that we were
facing a long and difficult separation not knowing when I would return
The next day we loaded on a troop train - my only trip on a troop train. The
cars had bunk beds 4 high in the central part of the car and seats on the ends.
The train had a box car equipped like a cafeteria for our meals - we ate all our
meals on the train. There was a crap game going continuously the whole trip.
Four days and nights later we were in Stockton, Ca.
Stockton was a receiving station for personnel awaiting transportation
overseas. We had liberty every night so I got a part time job with a trucking
company in Oakland - worked on the dock - loading and unloading trucks. I
was only in Stockton about 10 days, then had orders to go to Samar,
Philippine Islands. We were loaded on a troop ship - my first experience with
a troop ship - they were just one big mass of humanity of about 1500 sailors. I
hated to leave the States and was really depressed. I became sea sick barely
out of sight of the Golden Gate and was sick for 4 days - had never been sick
riding a P.T. Boat. The trip took about 16 days. I had bought some barber
scissors and hand clippers while back in Oakland - remembering that it was
hard to get a haircut when we were in the Solomons. I gave my first hair cut
on the troop ship. It was a really botched up job. I later got much better.
Twenty five cents was the going rate for haircuts in the Navy.
We unloaded off the ship on the North end of Samar, took Army personnel
trucks to the M.T.B. base at Samar. It was a big base, being staged with
equipment and personnel for the invasion of Japan. I was assigned to a work
party which unloaded equipment and supplies from cargo ships onto barges
then to the dock and warehouse buildings - worked nights. Had that job for a
while then drove an Army dump truck hauling gravel for filling in the
swamp around the base. I wrote Sue every day and she wrote to me every
day - sometimes I might get 10 letters at one time. We lived in permanent
tents with wood floors. Slept on cots with mosquito nets. The Filipinos were
allowed on the base - they would do our laundry and bring it back the next
day for 10 cents. They sold rice whiskey in beer bottles with a wadded
newspaper for a cork. We had a guy in our tent go blind from drinking this
stuff. He was drunk all the time. I tasted it but never drank any. Tasted like
kerosene. We were given 2 cans of beer per week but it had to be drunk in a
fenced in compound - couldn't be brought back to the tent I always sold mine
for 50 cents a can - guys would be lined up as you went through the line
wanting to buy them. I was never assigned to another P.T. Boat.
I was on Samar when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and their
surrender on August 14, 1945. Sue remembers the day of the wonderful news
that we had won the war. The joyous celebration was indescribable. At
Goodrich everyone stopped working. It was most exciting knowing all the
husbands, fathers, sons, daughters and sweethearts would be coming home
soon. Everywhere people were honking horns and yelling.
The Navy started sending men back home for discharge. It was a point
system based on longevity, overseas duty and number of dependents. About
September 15th I was sent up to Subic Bay which is on the island of Luzon.
Subic was a very large Navy base where they were gathering personnel from
the Pacific to be sent back to the U.S. for discharge. From correspondence
with Sue I knew that Wilbert was in the Subic Bay area with a Navy oxygen
making unit. I went to see him and had lunch at his unit. He was really
surprised to see me - he didn't know that I was at Subic. He came to my
barracks a couple of times before he came home. He left for discharge before
me because of his 4 dependents. The only duty I had at Subic Bay was
guarding the head (toilet)- some duty.
About November 15th,1 received my orders back to the U.S. Boarded another
troop ship - destination Portland, Or. Took about 16 days, we were delayed
one day coming up the Columbia river because of fog. Upon arrival in
Portland I called Sue to let her know I was in the States and wired her a dozen
Talisman Roses. I was in Portland only a couple of days and caught the train
to the Norman Navy Base which was the nearest discharge center to Vinita. I
was processed through the normal channels and was given my Honorable
Discharge from the Navy on the morning of December 9,1945. Two years and
10 months service. They gave me a train ticket to Vinita. Mom and Dad met
me at the train. I borrowed their car and called Sue and told her I was on my
way to Miami. She had rented a nice studio apartment on the second floor.
When I came in the front door of the apartment building, she was sitting at
the top of the stairs watching for me. She ran down the stairs to meet me
jumping down the last three steps into my arms, where we met on the
landing. It was one of the happiest times of our lives.. We hugged and we
kissed and we cried because it was such a momentous occasion. M.G.M.
couldn't have filmed a better love scene. Nine months is a long time to be
away from someone whom you love so much.
We had a great Christmas together. I bought some civilian clothes and began
getting adjusted to civilian life again. We stayed in the apartment until
January 10th when Sue quit her job and we had made plans to move to
Kansas City. Sue encouraged me to go to college on the G.I Bill. Congress
passed the G.I. Bill (Government Issue) giving veterans the opportunity to
attend college. It entitled me to four years college tuition and books plus $90
per month while enrolled in school. Since this was our Number 1 Priority,
Sue wanted to work and help us financially to realize our goal for me to earn
a college degree. I enrolled at the University of Kansas and graduated with a
B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1950. After these extraordinary times, we
began the task of rebuilding our lives together with great enthusiasm for the
future. We are truly a part of the "Greatest Generation".