MY DAD’S STORY
The following is my dad’s story he wrote about his life. He was in his 80s (87 when he last updated it). Much of it is about his time spent in the Navy during WW2. It is a very long read, but for some I think it will be interesting.
After many attempts where I was never able to re-write the first story that I wrote and do it to please me, I’ve decided to try once more. A little at a time, some each day, this is just in plain and simple words, some going back in my memory bank over the span of my 85 years. The part about the time in the Navy is not the “blood and guts” stuff that some people write about, I did see it and I was there, that’s for sure! I tell it like I remember it! Probably half or more I left out because of my memory not being as good as it should be. Since Bonnie is not with me any more I find that my memories of her are more precious than anyone can imagine. I also seem to have the desire to bring them back as much as possible, sort of hard to explain, like you have to go through it to see how I feel.
About my Navy time, there are a lot of mixed feelings … I didn’t really like the Navy life, the routine and the ever present feeling of not doing what I was supposed to be doing at all times. Really we didn’t have good teachers or instructors in most cases. I didn’t think that I did too much in the war until I thought about it many years later, I suppose being halfway around the world and apart from Bonnie and Deann was sacrificing enough. My fabulous salary didn’t pay the bills so Bonnie went to work, somehow we got by.
If I had been more “outgoing’ I would have had different thoughts about the life on board ship, I know I was as smart as most of the people I was around, I just didn’t flaunt it, mostly I just sat back and watched things happening.
Now I go back many years before the Navy part of my story, my childhood years were not too noteworthy, we were a poor family, my dad drank a lot and some- times we didn’t get the best of food or clothes, we did get a little of both. We rented all of the places that we lived in, we moved a lot and usually had to fix up the houses to make them livable. We were not the “closest” family, I noticed this in most of the families that I remember. My sister and I seemed to have friends, we always had playmates, these were mostly from Altona and we were about on the same “poverty” level, a few of the dads had jobs and some were on the B&O payroll. My friends and I made a lot of our own toys from items that we found or reworked because they were tossed out. We did a lot of alley searching in Garrett. I didn’t have a bicycle until I was about twelve years old, an uncle gave his discarded bike to me.
We didn’t have a car for a lot of years, a couple model “T”s, that I remember, not all that dependable, mostly for local trips. My Mom was working at this time, she did mostly house work and sitting for people in Garrett. A few places hired women, a lot of them from Altona, they were the Garrett Laundry, a place called Nature’s Rival, they made women’s undergarments, etc. A canning factory in Auburn Junction hired but it was seasonal work. The Indiana Railroad had rails from Fort Wayne to Garrett then forked off to go to Avilla and Kendallville to the West and to Auburn and Waterloo to the East. The fares were very low, like $.05 to Altona and the others were around $.15, I can’t recall how many cars ran a day, not more than four or five, they stopped about anywhere to pick up passengers, sometimes in front of their homes. The onion fields hired a lot of people during the season, not much other work was available for women.
We went to Church and Sunday School for a lot of years, mom played the piano in the Altona Methodist Church. Dorothy and I were baptized by one of the many preachers that held services there. I wasn’t the worst kid around, I used to pray a lot to keep the family together, none of my prayers were answered. I never connected being good meant going to church and trying to act real virtuous like some people did and do today. Very few kids went to church in Altona, these were nice kids too, not the other extreme. The church just didn’t seem to be a need nor an attraction for a lot of us.
Mom and Dad didn’t “get along” very well, lots of arguing and a lot of actual fist battles occurred. They were separated many times and divorced twice, remarried, but the scenario continued as long as I can remember. Many years later they divorced for good, Mom remarried but Dad just kept on with the drinking and becoming the “town drunk”. My Dad continued his drinking until the day he died, he was murdered in a remote area where he had been sleeping most nights. This is a small cabin that was used by the maintenance crew of the “Interurban Railway” that went from Garrett to Avilla and on to Kendallville. My sister and I know who killed him but we kept quiet about it, we were content that it was over with. We buried him at Christian Union Cemetary, he had no insurance. (Mom was buried beside him when we found out we had paid for a double lot when Dad was buried.) I was able to get a monument and that part of my memories was forgotten. My Mom had remarried and lived in Warren Ohio, she came to the funeral. Later, she and “Brownie”, her husband, my step-dad, moved to Garrett. Another part of the family story will follow.
I could write many pages about my childhood and growing up, these were not the happiest times of my life, school was easy for me except when in high school. The kids I was around were very “snooty”, Garrett was a town that had railroad employees, merchants and people that were self employed. My dad was one of the latter when there was work to do, usually not a lot of that. I found most people to be very stuck up and they seemed to look down their noses at us.
My first years of school were attending the Altona School. It was a two room school at the west end of town, a third room served as a “gym” and activities room, a lot of suppers and other type of evening entertainment were held there. We had a folding stage for plays we put on, mostly for the holidays, Christmas, especially. We did a lot of singing, I played the harmonica in a few stage shows, didn’t know too many tunes then. In the time I was in the fifth grade,we moved to Warren, Ohio, my Dad got a job at Youngstown Pressed Steel and we made the move to Warren because my Mom had close relatives there. I went two years to McKinley School, which was up to the sixth grade. We lived there two years and moved back to Garrett, I had a couple years there in the City schools. We ended up back in Altona again, seems the poorer families would end up there.
I went to Garrett High School, over two miles from our home, I don’t remember any school buses although people tell me there were some at that time. The depression had hit us very hard and books and clothing were hard to come by. I wore a lot of used clothing, shoes and jackets, our lunches were made at home and eaten in one of the empty class rooms. I ate a lot of egg sandwiches and home made bread, it wasn’t a treat in those days like it is today. Many banks were forced to close because of the depression, the people that had managed to save a little were paid a few cents on the dollar. If there was a dime available it would buy a form of beef manhatten at a small diner on north Cowen street in Garrett. Most of the kids in school looked down on the poorer kids, their dads were usually railroaders or merchants and they had a better quality life.
I can relate to the getting food, clothing and fuel from the Government Subsidy Programs, I made many trips from our home in the West end of Altona to the various places in Garrett where the free items were stored. In the summer I pulled a wagon and a sled in the winter. I got the usual stares from the “more fortunate” along the way. They didn’t realize that these precious items meant a few more meals could be had and we couldn’t turn that down. At times we would get a slip of paper to get a half ton of coal from the county, we got some green wood at times, this was cut by the WPA workers as they cleaned the roadsides of brush and trees that were in the way. We also received some coupons to pick up shoes or clothing, mostly outer wear, plus food items from the grocery stores, all but two of them got rid of their oldest foods. I recall the brown sugar was one solid hard chunk and had to be broken up with a hammer to use it. They also had little respect for the poorer people. The worst one was on the North side of Garrett, these people were very mean and sarcastic to us. I think this was the Keen or Keene family. The two nicer storekeepers were Andrei Simon and George Denes, both Romanian and very nice people. They would put a bag of candy in with the free items. Somehow we made it through the toughest times, the families of today couldn’t handle it-they would attempt group suicide about half way through the hard time years.
My dad had several brothers and sisters, this isn’t about them so I won’t spend too much time telling of our relationships and doings with aunts and uncles. Two of his brothers, John and Mike were a couple of time wasters as far as I could see. They were both drunks too, but as they had no families it didn’t seem too bad. John always seemed to hang around us and usually had some sort of a junky apartment or a shack later on, the last one was in Altona, and of course, near us. He did a lot of mooching meals and sometimes food to take home. Sometimes John would find a little work and although a lot of his pay went for booze he did get a few things that he needed in his life. He fished a lot and caught turtles which he sold to people in Garrett and to the local hotel. He spent a lot of his life outdoors and I believe that is how he got the health condition, similar to asthma, which he died from in the late 40’s. The oldest brother was an engineer on the railroad, he had lost a leg and was able to walk and get around good with an artificial leg. He always acted like he was so much better than our family, probably true, but the impression he made on me was the worst it could be. The relationship that we kids had was not too good, it never seemed to improve through the years, even now.
I played (at) basketball and the other sports we had in grade and high school, we were able to get to the other schools and compete, usually one of the parents would have a car and haul a bunch of us. In High School I did go to Ft. Wayne to a couple track meets. ( I once high-jumped 5′ 10 1/2″ at South Side in Ft. Wayne.) Lots of garages and sheds in Altona had some form of a basket, sometimes a metal bucket or a real “basket” to shoot baskets in. Our basketball was a sponge ball as basketballs cost too much money! The driveway was the court, with imaginary sidelines. We played a lot of football too when I was a teenager.
In those High School years I can remember when we did not have one penny in the house and no way of getting any work to earn some pennies! I recall how I collected metal and about any thing that would sell at the area junk dealers. I lived at the west end of Altona and the city “dump” was about a half mile from our house, I visited it often and did manage to find a little of the stuff that would sell, mostly for pennies. Most of these years we had kerosene lamps, burned some coal, also from the county. For a few years my dad and a few other men from Altona would hop slow moving freight trains and throw off chunks of coal, they would roll down the banks along the tracks, to be picked up later by the families and kids. My dad was arrested once for doing this, he spent a couple days in the County Jail, but that didn’t stop the practice. (Some one else got the coal!)
The area around Garrett was mostly black muck soil, very good for most crops, especially onions. This was a source of income for a lot of people if they could stand the work. It paid an average of 10 cents an hour, the days were 10 hours long. We worked in very hot temperatures, lots of 100 degree days, I would be as dark as the negros I knew, this was for about seven or eight years. Most of the younger kids had a try at this, some of us did this work all summer long, right up until the onions were harvested and crated, then put in storage. I did a lot of this, some- times going to other towns, such as LaOtto and Huntertown. These were long days, the B&O gravel pit was our bath tub each evening, a little swimming and home to bed so we could work the following day. Some one would have a Model “T” truck and would haul a bunch of us to these fields. (We looked like a jitney vehicle from the islands with everyone hanging on.)
When I reached my Junior year I was pretty much fed up with the overall school picture, I actually hated school. I knew that I should go on and get a diploma, I thought it over hundreds of times but the future couldn’t be much worse than my days in school and I just gave up. At this time some Government Pro- grams were opening up, one was the W.P.A., my Dad worked with that, made a little money and I quit school and joined the C.C.C. Program. I was sent to Pok- agon Park, near Angola, I was in it for a year. I got lucky and was assigned to the Surveyors crew. (Some one must have liked me!) The small amount I made helped the family, I ate good and liked the life in the camp. I met some nice guys and I got to come home on alternate week ends, better than being out in the West some- where! We could afford some meat on the weekends and a new oil stove to cook it on. My second month I bought an oven that fit on the oilstove, really new tech- nology! (Later in life I attended several reunions of the company that I was in at Pokagon Park, these were held in the Park and in the area that we cleared and built buildings for the public to use. I don’t go any more as most of the men were in after I was and I don’t know them.)
“Duke” was my German shepherd dog, he “followed” me home when I was about thirteen years old, no-one claimed him so he became my good friend. He loved to go hiking with anybody that would take him, he would literally dive into the gravel pit and look around for some one to follow him into the water. He was a good companion, all the kids liked him. When I went to the C.C.C.’s he was very lonesome and would sit in the road and look for me to come walking home. Soon he wouldn’t eat and seemed to age fast, my Dad and uncle John took him out to the city dump and shot him. (They were drinking quite a bit at the time.) Thank you Duke for the good times.
The economy was improving some and my sister got a job at the Auburn Rubber Co., they had started to make toys. Not the best of products to be making so soon after the hard times we just had, but they did sell and the company did real good. Soon, with my sister’s help, I was able to hire in, I quit the C.C.C,’s and went to work there. My sister married Stan Rathert, he was also an employee of the Auburn Rubber Company, we worked in the same area. Their marriage didn’t last too long, they had two sons.
This is where I met Bonnie, we really “hit it off” and in a short time we were married, she was well liked by my family and we got along good. Her Mom and Dad were divorced and I didn’t meet him until after we were married. He was a big waste of time and also a drunk. We had them on both sides! I worked at the Rubber Company for five years, I was aware of what was happening in Europe, our country didn’t seem to do much to help except doing war work and the “Lend Lease” program went into effect. We made almost anything pertaining to war, ships, guns, ammunition and medical supplies. Until we declared war on Germany I don’t think we did too much for the war effort at all. Soon after we were really into the war the shortage of items used in our everyday lives was apparent, shoes, sugar, other household items, groceries, some clothing, tires, gas, oil, ration cards were issued to buy some of the things I’ve mentioned. Auto making for people stopped for a few years, only military vehicles were made. We had stickers on our windshields to purchase gas so we could drive to work, we carpooled so that gas was saved. Gas at this time, even with the shortages, was twenty cents a gallon or less. I’ve seen the price as low as seven gallons for a dollar and you got a dish, cup or bowl! Smokers didn’t always get the brand or the amount of cigarettes they wanted. (Unless they knew the storekeeper real well!) Cigarettes were $1.50 a carton, today they are over $35.00 a carton. (And they are full of poison.)
I worked about five years at the Auburn Rubber Company and I learned that the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Company was looking for someone to work in the machine shop division of their facility, I knew a few guys that worked there and I felt that if they could do the work, I surely could. I fell right in to a good job, I met and worked for Pete Gailey, a member of the S.A.E. International, and we got along very well. I did the jobs he needed done, I made pistons from raw castings, the single machine did every operation needed to complete the piston, including the finish grinding to size. Often I had to set up to make oversize pistons, no problem. I worked by myself and in an area away from the large machine shop. I learned to bore and finish worn engine block cylinders to oversize dimensions, thus the oversize pistons. This was done with a sophisticated Quickway boring machine that mounted on the top of the block, centered itself and did a good job boring a smooth finish through the cylinder. This company stocked parts for some of the older autos, including total engines and transmissions, some were built up from the block, all the parts were in storage in the building. We were a subsidiary to Franklin, Graham, Hupmobile and of course the many Auburn Models. The Cords and Duesenbergs were well supplied, I built up a Duesenberg crankshaft assembly, that is connecting rods and pistons, the rods fit to the crank- shaft and the rings on the pistons. Pete tutored me and was very pleased with my work, I had a good start and learned to appreciate dimensions and why this was so important in this line of work.
I had begun my search to procure tools of all sorts pertaining to my work. This never stopped as I loved good tools. I learned to make about anything that was required, I soon had the tools to do it. I could bend or straighten, machine round configurations and mill flats, squares and other shapes, cut keyways, make keys and soon the more difficult jobs such as jigs and fixtures, many dies and molds became easy for me to do. At the time I wasn’t aware that this talent was to be my life’s work. There was always a job open for me, I didn’t need to look very hard for work.
This was about the time we entered the war in the Pacific, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Long after this we found out that our favorite President was aware of the situation in the Pacific and did nothing to stop the attack. We declared war on Japan, the war effort accelerated, most of the people we knew got into some sort of job doing defense work. I can’t recall how we felt about the situation at that time, probably figured our Armed Forces would handle the problem, we just went on and did a little better with our lifestyle. (I didn’t realize then that if the Japanese would have kept coming this direction we would be speaking their language today!) I worked at a couple places that did defense work, Wayne Pump for one. They made 40mm solid projectiles, I did a variety of jobs there, it was a trial type of procedure, lots of hand finesse. I did all right because the final operation on these projectiles was a hand fed tool to remove the lathe center part and make the point on the end. I took a test and passed, only a few guys could do this, I was one of them. (I actually was one of the few people in this factory that could “sculpture” with a mill file on a lathe!) In just 89 days the line was closed as the solid projectiles were replaced with the explosive type and new machines were to be set up. We were laid off but were told that we would all have our jobs back in a few weeks, with the new line in operation. I don’t remember what my feelings about staying on were at that time, I heard that G.E. was hiring, I went to the main office to file an application and the place was crowded. I was given an application and filled it out. I took it to the counter to hand it in and the girl at the counter was a friend of Bonnie’s, I hardly had time to sit down and I heard my name called! I was interviewed, it seemed to take very little time and I was hired on the spot. The apprentice school was training some hold-overs and was also hiring people to become specialists and with some basic training, were put out in the many departments of the G.E. I began showing people about the mach- hines and how to actually make the items on the orders, this didn’t go unnoticed, I was told that I had a way to get the point across to the students, about how to machine the many items we made, even from some of the people that had moved on out into the factory to work. I seemed to do all right, I did this for a couple years. I taught engine lathes, bench lathes and small turret lathes. I had several deferrments because we were teaching many specialists to go into the shop and make tooling for the Defense jobs. Bonnie worked at a couple places in Ft. Wayne, we both worked but ended up on different shifts. I don’t think the people that changed jobs did it for the purpose of not being drafted, I know in my case it wasn’t, it was a chance to make more money and get some of the things we couldn’t afford from our other wages. I was about as patriotic as the average guy, at least I never thought of going to Canada to keep from being drafted, I know of some that did. Bonnie and I never talked too much about how we felt about my leaving at this time, we were always in love and really didn’t want to be apart.
Now, somewhere at this point in my story, I’ve neglected to mention a very important happening— we had a baby girl, Deann Kay, she is a major part of this story from 1941! This also had a part in my classification, no one seemed to know if or when I might be called up for the armed forces. A phone call to the office of Gen. Hershey in Washington drew a blank. I was offered a choice where I could become a Selective Volunteer and pick the branch of the service I would want to get into. I was ready to go and do whatever I could do to help my country, I was a little bit patriotic at that time, and I chose the Navy. This was to be for the duration plus! (I found out later what the plus was, also that I wouldn’t have been drafted!)
I have read numerous stories about people’s time in the Armed Forces, a lot of them are very long and well told. Most of them tell a lot more about their wartime experiences than I do in my story, sometimes every foot-step is mentioned, all the cuss words, every minute of the day and the story is almost resembling a daily log. I leave out page after page in my story as I don’t feel they will add anything to it to make it any better to read. I believe I leave out about half of it, I am the only one to know this.
A physical examination in Auburn and some paper-work to sign in then a trip to Indianapolis to have Navy physicals, back to Auburn for a few days, then finally to Great Lakes for Boot Camp. We ran around naked for most of our first day, getting our navy uniforms and work clothes. I wore glasses at this time and while putting on a blouse I dropped my glasses and they broke up into pieces. I didn’t wear any glasses for the rest of my time in the Navy. I was in a six week company and these days and nights I didn’t like at all. The drilling and calisthenics about did a job on this soft body. After a few weeks I began to get toughened up and soon I began to almost enjoy the stuff thrown at us. We had to box a lot, some- times in one of the drill halls where hundreds of sailors were in the audience, some times a bunch of us were put in a room and we had free for alls. You could beat up any one who had fouled up and made all of us suffer for it. I boxed with Dick Mow quite often, we were good friends. I liked the activities in the water a lot, I swam and was a fair diver at that time. (At the gravel pit, West of Altona, the banks on three sides were 15′ and we ran and dove off into the water below.) I was on a drill team, we marched daily in the surrounding streets in N. Chicago Junction. A couple times Bonnie and Deann came to Chicago to visit me. We had some good times, but the bad times began catching up and I was soon to be shipped out. I went on to Service School and Basic Engineering and was soon to be sent to the East Coast for more schooling. This didn’t happen as a storm destroyed several buildings and the group I was in got broken up and some of us were sent to Camp Shoemaker, Ca. This was a three day train trip, I enjoyed the trip, lots of fun with good buddies. Shoemaker seemed to be a “holding pen”, type of assignment, we mustered twice a day and had several hours of rough physical training each week. We stayed ” tough”, like we were from the Great Lakes training. The days were in the 100’s and the nights in the 40’s at this place. I was usually in a group of guys that had a tool or machining background, this I liked, we talked the same language! We sang a lot too! I’d like to be with those guys again somehow!
One night we were ordered to a stockade type building and with all our gear along it had to be another move somewhere. While in this pen I was told that I had package at the Post Office, a few blocks away and that I could go pick it up if I hurried. It was a wrist watch from Bonnie, she wasn’t aware that I could get the same thing on the Base for about half of what she had paid for it! A bus picked us up and we were driven to a wharf along San Francisco Bay, on the Oakland side. There she was, the U.S.S. Pres Jackson, all camouflaged, guns and boats all over, very impressive. (More-so because it was my first look at any sort of Navy craft.)
In very short order we were taken aboard, there were no welcoming people, just a First Class Petty Officer to show us where we would be berthed for a few days, this was a little forward of the mess hall and one deck up. (I can picture it but can’t give directions.) We lived out of our seabags once more for a few days. We were taken to our assigned stations where we would stand our watches, mine was in the boiler room. Later I was able to have my permanent rack and locker, in the aft part of the ship, one deck down. In a few days I learned the routine and was able to stand my watch almost without supervision, of course we had only one boiler lit off and only three burners in use. This was only to supply steam for the ship as it was sitting idle, moving out was a whole new experience!
My first order was to go topside and estimate how far we were from the shore, this being the rows of piers and wharves along the way to Hunters Point. We were to tie up once more for a few days to have some steam lines worked on and something about the radar system fixed or installed. My guessing the distance must have been accurate as the steam we had built up seemed to last and so we went back on the condition that was in effect when I came back to my watch. The commanding officer in this division was Ensign Brislen, or Bryslyn, he was a horses butt sort of a man. While in this environment I developed a bad rash on my entire body, the sick bay couldn’t do anything with it so the doctors ordered me topside, my being a fireman meant I went into small boats as an engineer. Also it meant that I would learn the ” ropes” very fast and the hard way! This part of my life aboard ship I almost enjoyed, the boats and related tasks to perform, much better than the boiler room!
While at Hunters Point I made a couple trips into San Francisco, my idea of liberty wasn’t like a lot of the sailors I was with. Most of them would see how drunk they could get, I more or less toured the city and ate some of Frisco’s fine food.
As we left on our trip across the Pacific, we met up with the Pres. Adams, a sister ship and one of the “Unholy Four”, and left the harbor. A couple of destroyer escorts joined us as screeners and stayed for the voyage, they were hidden in the swells most of the time. Keep in mind, we are at war and there are many Jap submarines around, general quarters day and night, all people on deck are on the lookout for any moving object or periscope as far out as we could see. We had gunnery practice every day, I was a “talker” on a 40mm gun, I wore the sound powered phone and the large helmet that covered the phones and speaker, and I relayed orders to the gun crew, and the immediate area wherever there were people. We fired at a sleeve towed by a plane, tried to “lead” the sleeve so as not to shoot it down, we aimed at the cable instead. This was for a few days only then it was just the watches and general quarters 24 hours a day. We zig-zagged day and night, in several days we were at Finschaven, New Guinea. Underway the ship cruised at about 12-13 knots altho it could do about 18 or more. (Faster speed would use more fuel.) After a few days at Finschaven we moved to Oro Bay, more unloading and loading of supplies, then back to Finschaven, we re- fueled and moved out to go to Noumea, New Caledonia. We were anchored out of Noumea for a few weeks, I don’t recall the number of days but the ship’s log states we were there about three weeks. (In my memory I had us going to Noumea first but the ship’s log states that we went to New Guinea.) I was now in an L.C.V.P. as a boat engineer, full time. (L.C.V.P. stands for Landing Craft Vehicle Personal. It is a small boat designed to carry troops and small vehicles and land them on shore. It is the most common of the various landing craft seen in movies and documentaries where the bow door lowers and the marines and army personel scramble up on the beach.) This sounds strange but I never got to know the other two guys in the crew. We just did our jobs and didn’t talk too much. I don’t think they were the same each time, this would add to the memory loss.
Leaving Noumea with the troops and cargo we took on, we went to Guadal- canal for a few days. We spent Christmas anchored at Purvis Bay, had our mail call with a lot of gifts from the States. One of my gifts from home was a diary, which we couldn’t have and the other was a can of “sea foam” candy, which was all powder, after several weeks in transit! A compartment off the main deck was full of packages from the States addressed to guys that were no longer on board , for some reason. This was declared open and we could help ourselves to at least one package! Soon we left for Manus atoll, while there we had a few beach parties, going ashore on small islands, took along some 3.2 beer and had some sandwiches, I don’t recall what they were. We played softball and did some walking on the many trails through the jungles, some across the island, to see the other coast and the huge swells, these could be heard from the other side.
Leaving Seeadler Harbor, Manus, we went North to make a landing at Lingay- en Gulf, on Luzon. We were there about eight days and were under fire the total time, there were air raids all day long. We made our landings, this took three days, all under fire from the mountains farther inland. Many boat loads of supplies were put on the beach in the days we were anchored. Lots of air raids each day,several suicide planes and I don’t remember how many ships sunk, I did see a few get hit. Some of the shells went overhead, we were lucky and never got hit. The shells bursting at night made the 4th of July fireworks presentations we have now look small. I don’t know how a plane could get through this but some of them did! Soon we pulled out to go South and around many islands to get to Suragao Strait and into Leyte Gulf. During this time I had my turn at KP duty, I had some of it before and was “galley and mess hall wise”, I was made head mess cook and was put in charge of the men working in the mess hall. I had to learn where they were berthed and see that they were in the mess hall on time. This I didn’t care for but it worked out after a couple days. This is an all day job, very little sleep and free time.
While in the convoy in the China Sea, several Japanese planes attacked the ships. A twin-engine patrol bomber in trouble became a suicide plane and made a dive down to the convoy, it was very high and it was difficult to tell which ship it was going to hit, a few people have told me that the plane had the Jackson as it’s target. Some 20mm guns from the Zielin opened fire and the plane followed their tracers down. The Jackson was 600 yards to the port of the P.A.-3, the Zielin. It hit on the starboard quarter taking the gun mount and killing nine of the crew. The plane’s one bomb exploded below decks. There were two Japanese in the plane, not much left of them. (The Zielin was once the Pres. Jackson.) The Zielin pulled out of the convoy and “deep-sixed” the dead sailors. I have been in contact with a couple guys from her for several years. We had several submarine alerts and dropped a lot of “ash cans” off the stern, later we were told that one large sub had been sunk, lots of oil slick and other floating items.
We continued on into Leyte Gulf and anchored for four days, had a few boats in the water, once we made smoke off the fantail. This covers the area with a smog that makes the ships difficult to see from overhead. We didn’t make landings at Leyte.
We left to go to Ulithi Atoll, about 900 miles distance, anchored there about two weeks, loading supplies, refueling and then to Guam, about 360 miles North. We took Marines and cargo on for the next landing. We got underway and headed North, we learned underway that the landing was to be Iwo Jima, about 750 miles North of Guam. The boat crews were called to the promenade deck and were shown a large topo map of the island, nice gesture but not any help in my case, I found out later. (I urge you, the reader, to check out some of the many articles written about the taking of this island. Very harrowing experiences, no matter how miniscule the duty was.)
This was to be one of the bloodiest beaches that we had ever landed on, we found out soon that it was really bloody. After several days we neared the island of Iwo Jima, it is about two miles wide and four miles long, a huge volcano on the Southwest end, this had formed the island out of the sea. As we neared the area we had become one of several hundred ships that surrounded the fortress, we moved in to about a thousand yards and anchored. (There were bodies floating nearby, one I remember had no head or upper shoulder, he would never write home again!) This wasn’t a good idea as we were hit by several projectiles which contained phosphorus, a few Marines topside were injured and all people on deck were ordered to cover. We moved out of range and anchored once more. The ships all around the island were firing every sort of gun and rocket that they had. (This had been going on for several weeks, but not as many ships.) This island was fortified so well that all of the previous bombing and ships barrages did little harm. The planes are diving on the island, rocketing, strafing, finally in the same dive, dropping it’s bomb where the Japs are holed up.
The initial landing was to be on the 19th of Feb., the beach was very rough to land on, the amtracks that the Marines were in for the first several waves did a fair job but were pinned down as soon as they got on land. The Japs had the advantage as they were below the surface in huge caves and bunkers and snipers in the many layers of caves had their sights on several thousand people attempting to get ashore. In two days we had lost over 3000 men, this is not an error in typing, this is true! If you were walking along the beach you would need to keep changing course because of bodies! The beach was littered with all types of equipment that mired down or was put out of commission plus enemy craft disabled along the shoreline. There was hardly any space to make a landing and have it be effective.
The Pres. Jackson had her boats in the water on the 20th, the day following the initial landing, they circled most of the day in the very rough seas, only to be taken back on board the same evening. (Many hundreds of very sick Marines.) I was still an Engineer on an L.C.V.P., we remained in the water and soon we were called to the starboard bow to have a Jeep loaded in our boat, this was a JASCO group that was a Fire Control team to be in contact with the ships doing the firing out farther in the sea. There were hundreds of them too! The Jeep was lowered with a winch and cables to the boom and it was outboard to the rail. The swells were 15 feet, we were very scared from the swells and the enemy firing making many water spouts all around the area, very dangerous duty. While being lowered the Jeep hit our starboard gun’l and upset in the boat! It also knocked a machine gun over the side, we now have only shark knives as weapons! With luck we got the Jeep lashed and it was taken topside to be lowered once more. This time we were in unison with the swells and the loading was picture perfect! Now, while all of this is going on we are still very much under fire and we don’t know it but we have “bad orders“, we weren’t told what to do or where to go with our load. We are the “orphans” that are out there bobbing around, probably wishing it was overwith, one way or another. (I forgot these thoughts for a lot of years and now they slowly are returning.) We have a couple Marines and a whole lot of “JASCO” radio equipment to put somewhere! We started to the beach, I recall a huge rock along the shore, it’s still there in a pictures that I have, we headed for it. Some Japs who owned that rock came from behind it and fired at us with rifles, we got away from there and headed down the beach, in a South-Westerly direction. The beach is already cluttered with wrecked equipment, boats, and many bodies, no place to make a landing. We are out there alone, no beach party to assist our landing or order us in, we went as far as we could along the beach, just below Suribachi was a small opening and we put the bow on the shore, not much of it to cling to. We were under fire at this time, snipers picked a lot of Marines off and Navy people as well. With the screw turning at top speed and the rudder into a hard left, we were able to hold the boat stable. (No beach party here.) The swells are still about six feet but the Jeep and crew got off, to where I don’t know. Our screw picked up a line and it wrapped around the shaft in such a way that it burned out our reverse gear, no power at all. In a few seconds we broached and the side of the boat was stove in! We were pushed out about forty feet and were bouncing around in the sea. ( I have found a few pictures of a similar LCVP and stranded Jeep that didn’t make it, this could very well have been the boat I was on.) I can’t recall to this day what happened to the two crew members, I half swam, (half walked on the water) to get on the beach, then I got behind the bow doors of an L.S.M. that was beached to unload the Marines it had on board and to take on casualties. (As I’ve said, I didn’t know the two other crew members, we talked very little, I don’t remember seeing them after the landing, on the beach or on board ship!) The war picture was quite evident and very graphic! I saw anything you can imagine, the huge six foot mortars that took hundreds of lives at the base of Suribachi. I stayed there all night and the next afternoon an L.C.M., I don’t remember what ship it was from, offered to tow our boat out and find the Jackson. Many L.C.M.’s were “borrowed” from other ships that didn’t need to land their cargo until later. (The people I have talked to since I did my first story do not agree with me or each other about which boats were used to do the landing. The ship’s log says the L.C.M.’s were used as the sea was too rough to use the smaller L.C.V.P.’s.) We found our boat and tied up alongside with cables, I had to ride it out to find the Jackson, cables snapped twice on the way out. We found it and as we approached the starboard quarter I saw Larry Pabst, a friend and ship’s carpenter, at the rail. He yelled out, ” There’s old Bill, we heard you were dead!”
I cannot recall how I got aboard, probably remained in the the boat as it was hoisted with cables and winches. (Some happenings I just can’t remember, I envision myself at one location then that void happens and I’m somewhere else!) I was able to get some sleep, a hot fresh water shower and some food, plus some uneasy rest. We are beginning to get a lot of casualties on board, this changes one’s plan for the day for sure. Help was needed everywhere.
On board ship your day is as follows, stand your watch and when properly relieved, report to the first class petty officer for next assignments, usually a work detail. At night this doesn’t apply, usually you can get some sleep. The watches are four hours on and eight hours off, this allows you time to handle laundry and showers, any thing else that needs done. The mess call is mostly on time each day, if you are on watch you are relieved so you can go and eat but that is all unless you are given permission to something else. You are kept busy, especially when there are casualties aboard.
The same day I was taken back aboard, I was assigned to a salvage boat, this turned out to be more hazardous duty. We were to aid any boats in trouble along the half mile or more beach and to tow out any craft that is wrecked on the beach then let it sink. We didn’t look for people in or on the boats. The swells were very rough and a rip tide didn’t help much. The next several days seems like a night- mare to me now, I can remember only the highlites, food was lowered down to us and fuel was from a hose with a valve and handle on the end. Our toilet was a bucket, better than nothing! The nights seemed so long, we just cruised along the beach, moving very slow and listening for voices, the three of us took our turn at the wheel. Our Marines were not too far in on the island, it was a dangerous and slow moving landing! The Jackson had moved out to sea to “stove”, a place to stay over night and be out of range for suicide planes, returning to the same area in the morning, this happened several nights. This battle went on all day and all night, the noise was constant, very little let-up at night.
While in the water the salvage boat that I was on happened to be near the cargo net on the starboard side and a Marine was hanging on to the cargo net and in trouble. He was a B.A.R. rifleman, had it on his back using the sling, this is a heavy rifle. Some how he lost his footing and slid down the net, there was no boat near, so he may have been boarding the Jackson, I never found out. He was under water below the curvature of the hull and then the next swell would put him almost to the rail. A marine Chaplain came over the rail and down the net to get the Marine between his legs, this was not a smart move as the guy was still under water most of the time, the Chaplain couldn’t climb up or do anything to help the man. He finally let him go and got out of the way, this is where we also made a wrong attempt to save the man. We moved our boat in as close as we could, I lowered the ramp just low enough to be able to stand on it and still grasp the hull of our boat, hoping to reach out and grab the man. We found out we were too close and could hurt the man so we backed out. The ship has a “feel” and pulled the bow of our boat toward it, this happened very fast and as I’m in this area I became a “fender” between the ship’s hull and the part of the boat that the ramp seals against and I got two broken ribs the slow and painful way. Again I was very fortunate as I could have been crushed in two. While in the boats we wore the “Mae West” type of life vest, the smaller belt type was available but wasn’t as dependable as the larger type. The Marine was finally rescued by a sailor that put on an extra lifejacket and was tied to a line so that his boat crew could pull him and the Marine out very fast. This worked very well, I don’t think the Marine had to “go in” that day! (More about the hero sailor later.) My upper body was taped up topside, it wasn’t recorded as the sick bay had too much to do with the ongoing work with casualties. More of the casualties were brought aboard each day, we soon had several hundred, the final count was just over 500. All of the other ships were taking on casualties too, probably the same amount.
As the seas were somewhat calmer on one of the days that we were anchored, some of the boats were hoisted aboard, they are cradled and tied down or worked on, repairing any damage, and made ready for getting underway. One boat, another salvage boat but with a conventional bow and a canopy forward, was being hoisted, two men were in the canopy and one was standing on the sternsheets. The boom was outboard so the cable and sling cleared the rail of the ship The boat was hoisted about fifty feet or more, the cable that moved the boom inward passed through a pulley on a large pad eye welded to a bulkhead above the main deck. The ship was rocking quite a bit and the boat was swinging, suddenly the welded pad eye plate tore off the bulkhead and the boom swung out until the cable with the plate and pulley assembly, became taut. This rocked the ship enough that the people in the boiler room felt it and thought we had been hit by another ship. It had enough slack that the boat came down on the rail, the boat snapped in two, the heavy stern side being outboard of the rail, pulled the rest of the boat into the sea. The man standing on the sternsheets either jumped or was thrown off, the two in the canopy may have been knocked unconscious, we never learned, the boat sank and the two men were not found even after a search was made by other craft. (One of the men had earlier rescued the B.A.R. Marine from the cargo net incident!) I was about 50 feet from this accident, I have my memory of it and know what I saw! I saw the plate with the very jagged edge go through the air, the cable still around the pulley, (sheave), and it went across the upper legs of a man sitting on the gun’l of a landing craft stacked two high and I remem- ber seeing his eyes get very large and then he passed out. I was very close to this part of the accident and someone yelled for a “basket”. Soon he was pulled down and taken to sick-bay, I heard from some people I corresponded with a few years ago, that the man died, it was a very bad accident.
While on the salvage boat we were not able to get hoisted for four days, the sea was too rough! At times the ship would move out to a place called “Stove”, I mentioned this before, this was several miles out, it would drag anchor and wait out the night, away from Japanese planes. We lived on our boat and did what we were able to do to help any one in trouble, we all had our time at the wheel. Late one night we decided we had had enough of this duty, we couldn’t be hoisted, too rough, so we pulled alongside and tied up, fore and aft, to the cable that stretched the length of the ship, we called it a sea painter, perhaps not the proper name, this was below the 40mm #3 gun tub. The two other crewmen climbed up the cargo net over the rail and they disappeared, not getting any help or notifying any one of our plight. I had to stay on the boat, still very high and rough seas, and it was sliding forward on the cable. The lines reached a bracket that the cable passed through and stopped below the promenade deck and the boat continued it’s wild ride up and down in the swells. Directly above was a fender, the barrel size, it was hung on two lines, one on each end, these were from the rail area. I decided to try and grab one as the boat was at it’s highest position, I wasn’t the best rope climber but I hoped I could improve that night! I grabbed the line on the forward end of the barrel, the boat dropped down fifteen or more feet and I hung there for a couple seconds then the surge of strength hit me and I scrambled topside and over the rail. I laid on the deck for a few minutes and then got up and went to find someone to report to. The master-at-arms on the Jackson was a very nice guy, his name was Walt Pfyle, he told the first class in charge of the landing boats aft, about what had happened. I never saw the other two guys again, they must have just collapsed somewhere in the troop’s berthing area. The M.A. took me to sick-bay and I was checked out, no big problems, I had stopped shaking, then I hit my rack. I still had my helmet and life-jacket on, but I still fell asleep. I was awakened by Walt, he told me that the galley had saved some warm food for me, about the same treatment that I had the last time coming back aboard. I rested most of the day and was assigned a watch on the gun deck, this is the highest deck and abaft the stack, I could see the battle going on about 1500 yards away. Usually there is an officer on watch too, some were very nice to be around, some are heels, mean and hard to please. We had one that even the other officers disliked, he had a problem with a seaman that had a small phonograph and would play it over the sound powered phones, one record was Dinah Washington singing “What A Difference A Day Makes”, the flip side I don’t recall now. Could have been “September In The Rain”, don’t recall. It ended up with the phonograph in the crow’s nest, the officer knew that but wouldn’t climb up to check it out. One night I was on my watch and he had the duty too. I was crouched beside the stack, it had some residual heat and soon I was nearly asleep when I sensed some movement and looked up to see him covering me with a blanket! He sat on a deck chair beside me and we even chatted a bit!
The ship was in a “Rendezvous” position at this time, we had taken on over 500 casualties and all hands were busy helping care for them when not on watch. The Doctors aboard were very busy, every type of wound was taken care of. Some of the men died and some were ambulatory, they still had to be fed and taken care of night and day. We all were busy, one Marine that I remember had very bad back wounds, he was on a table in the mess hall, the overflow sick bay, the plasma that was being put in him and his life’s blood dripped down and along the deck and out the scuppers. I hung a sheet around him, (I’m not new in the mess hall ) at least he had some dignity, he died in a couple days. I saw and assisted guys with about any sort of wound you can imagine. I kept the syringe needles from this Marine, I had them for years.
The following are some afterthoughts from my original story, which was mostly Navy. I’ll include them in this version of my story. These are just random happenings that I recalled after the first part was composed. They “jump” around a lot, but they are important to the whole story.
The rows and piles of ammo, mortars and any type of explosive devices were stacked along the shore, in about to the first rise on the beach. They are several feet apart so that if one pile got hit the others wouldn’t blow up too. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t, I saw a couple get hit and then disappear along with some people working in the area.
After broaching at the beach under Suribachi, I took shelter on the starboard bow of a L.S.M. The bow doors were open and the ramp was down as they had just unloaded Marines and some supplies and were standing by to receive casualties. I got behind the bow door and was standing in sea water to my knees, sometimes to my hips.
I don’t remember why I didn’t pick up a rifle in the nearby area, I thought afterward that I would maybe be a Marine for a while and if I would get “it” I would be fighting back taking the place of those guys lying about the beach. My job was what the Navy decided, try and get back and get orders to continue my part in the small boat division, the beach scenario I will never forget!
The spectacle of war was going on all around me, not much ground was taken in the first few days. The loading of casualties and unloading of supplies went on at the same time the fighting was in progress, all of this under heavy fire. One of the groups that were unloading was taking a rest in a crater that one of the huge mortars had made. Soon another mortar came tumbling in and hit in the crater, the men flew all directions, what was left of them. No one survived that blast. These mortars are six feet long and do a lot of damage! Advances were made mostly at night when the Japs couldn’t see too well, unless they came out of their caves and tunnels.
The bodies of our people were beginning to be placed in rows and would be identified later, much later. It seemed to this trembling sailor that the landing should have been farther up the coast instead of directly under Suribachi and within rifle range. Our boat didn’t have much choice as the beach was all plugged with no place to land. A lot of friendly fire was going on too, lots of ships and craft firing across the island, it is narrow at this place.
Now, once more back on the Jackson, the lines from the promenade decks stretched to the farthest point forward, I think a gun structure kept them from going to the bow, These lines were to guide a person and especially at night, to get from one place to another. This was a busy place all the time. When underway the bow was a good place to be when there were any swells at all, you would be very high and then the bottom would drop away and the feeling beats most park rides! At times the white water came over the bow and down the deck until it went over the side. With casualties aboard the lines were a favorite place for the walking wounded to “hang out”. They seemed to come alive and back to life as they enjoyed this, of course usually with some one with them to see that they didn’t get hurt more. I saw one Marine walking along tossing grenades, he was still on the island in his mind!
The boiler room is the hottest place on the ship, sometimes reaching 130 degrees. There is air forced down from topside, it helps a little but it is 100 degrees or more, still feels cool down there. Our shirt sleeves had to be down and buttoned and the collar buttoned up as well, this was in case of flash fires. One time I had to enter a boiler through a small opening and wipe down the fire bricks and repaint them with a special silicone paint, glass-like finish. This takes the heat and the smoke soot doesn’t adhere to it. This job is quite an experience, even with a blower forcing air in the small opening.
At night when there are some clouds the boilers and flues are cleaned out with a blast of air, the residue inside is blown out through the stack and you had better not make excess smoke or any sparks of any kind. Lots of subs out there just waiting to see some sign of a ship! While on watch the burners need to be removed and the tips replaced with clean ones. They are removed one at a time and there is a routine that has to be followed to not waste any time or flame from this part of the boiler. When this is done the dirty burners are cleaned and ready for the next change, this is done once in each watch. While underway a man stands with his back to a rail and a hand behind him to open or close a valve that allows more or less heated fuel oil into the burners. ( This varies from ship to ship boiler/engine rooms) He watches the heat and pressure gauges across the work area and also the periscope-like device to see if there is any smoke being made, that is a no-no! There is a pressure gauge to monitor the oil being pumped with electric pumps, also a steam pump to back it up. This pump is a pulsating type and sometimes some one would turn the steam pump on and the oil pressure would go from a good steady rate to a high and low and scare the watertender out of his wits.
Refueling under-way is another exciting experience, the ship pulls along side the tanker or oiler and some exchanging of lines occurs and soon one heavy enough to hold the transfer hose is stretched between the ships, which are moving along at the same speed and about forty yards apart. The hose is sent over and screwed into one of the many pipes that lead to the tanks below. The tanker pumps the heated oil across and when all finished, takes the hose back, the lines are returned and the ships move away once more and it’s done. If the disconnection is too quick the oil is sprayed all over the decks and bulkheads, big job for the firemen and with no help from the rated men!
One of the worst duties on a ship is the old K.P. job, all of the non-rated men have a few weeks of it. My time was one of the better ones, I went in alone and as the head mess cook was leaving after serving his few weeks in the mess hall, I got his job and it seemed to work out good. I didn’t work as hard unless I wanted to and mostly I was in charge of the other men. I had to get them up and after I found their berthing area, that worked out.
Every night there was a coffee watch and some one had to take a full urn of coffee to all of the men on their stations topside. With all the cables and various tie down devices on the deck, this was a shin chopper! Even with the night vision you get, the objects are hard to see, easy to feel!
Some one had made a bread slicer in the galley, it was like a reciprocating saw, (perhaps it was at one time), but with many blades and it would slice one loaf at a time, it worked but made a lot of crumbs! The big coffee urns were at the end of the serving tables, these held the steam heated water to keep the food warm as it’s container was dropped down in a close fitting hole over the water. The coffee urns were atop a frame made with angle iron, one time I saw the water boiling over and I started to run to shut it off, the deck was sloping in this part of the mess hall and I slipped and skidded to the frame and caught my arm on a sharp corner of the frame. It dug in, actually stopped my slide and, of course, I ended up in sick bay with a few stitches. (No purple heart!)
We had several negros on board, they had their own quarters and we didn’t mingle too much. They were mostly servants for the officers and chiefs, I guess they got treated all right. I remember only one of them as he had red hair and was the one that squirted me with oil in the initiation ceremonies. (I had my dress blues on too, I often thought I’d like to meet this guy on the beach sometime!)
Those exotic islands in the Pacific were all bombed out jungles and not as pretty as they were a few years before. We had several beach parties and did some hiking on the trails and playing some softball or climbing trees for coconuts, anything to get some exercise. We had some 3.2 beer along, most guys enjoyed that. I had a few and gave most of mine to anyone that wanted it.
WW2 wasn’t fought only on the beaches of Normandy, Europe and Africa, many islands had to be taken from the Japanese and the war was also in the far East, all through Asia, we all had our part to do all over the Pacific area. These wars differed because we had to be at sea most of the time and each island was a seperate war.
Back at Iwo Jima, the skies were filled with planes, all sorts of explosives and flak, this from the enemy and at times the Japs had planes in the air so the ships put a lot of it up there too. I don’t know how a plane could possibly get through all of that but some actually did. One of our TBF Avenger’s got hit and had to crash in the sea near us, the pilot seemed to really try to not hit any ships and he was burning as he came towards our bow. One of the crew bailed out, you could see his face plainly, he was trying to get his body so that he could hit the water with his feet, this didn’t work and he hit very hard and was killed. The plane hit on our port bow area and our crew topside got the hoses out to spray the flames. The plane sunk, two men would not get to go home!
While I witnessed these happenings, the picture seemed to slow up and I could see them more clearly. The many planes that were in the air were usually in a string with the first ones making their rocket run, then the machine guns, finally the bombs it had on board-then a graceful climb and roll and the next one did the same thing, on down the line. They were from carriers farther out to sea, with this many planes in the air it was amazing how they were all routed around and found their mother ship! Two cruisers beside us were firing at Iwo day and night, one was the Tuscaloosa and the other was a cruiser that later was torpedoed and sunk. You could see these projectiles going through the air some passed over the island!
After a few days the edges of the island began to look like a junkyard, hardly any place to get through. The machines were damaged and of no use any more. Mostly they were pulled or pushed to the shore and sunk if possible. We pulled a few disabled landing craft that were partly afloat, and let them sink.
The Jackson was taking on a lot of casualties at this time, they were put in the mess hall as they overflowed from the sick bay. This is where we all volunteered, couldn’t hardly keep from it, tending to those that needed help and if we could handle it we did it! We were almost like corpsmen, I even pulled out a couple syringes from guys, they were still taped on from the beach! I told about the Marine that was on a table in the mess hall, this was the scenario for a few weeks on the Jackson. Lots of memories, I wish they could be better ones.
Another very controversial happening at this time, some how the reduction gears were torn up and they had to be replaced. All of the stories I was able to get were different, I don’t recall this incident while I was aboard. New gears were to be put in but the bore of one of them was too small. It was corrected, supposedly Stateside, and a hole was cut through the hull to get them into the engine room. I do not recall any of this. The one story claims that the problem happened at Iwo Jima, another says it was a month or so later, I don’t know what to write! Chuck Laurie, a friend and a watertender at the time says it was after Saipan and Guam, the area where I got off the ship! (I wouldn’t have been able to witness any of it!)
After about eighteen days at Iwo Jima we left with our many wounded to go to Saipan to put them in the large hospitals there, they would get better care than we could give them. In about three days we made Saipan and tied up to a wharf, this was to unload the casualties we had aboard. Saipan had huge hospital facilities and soon all of our injured troops were taken to them for more advanced care. We unloaded almost 500 casualties, some had laid on the beach for a few days be- fore we took them aboard. All hands helped as much as they could, this was a rewarding experience!
We started down to Guam, not too far from Saipan, and enroute the Engineering Officer, Jules Lorio, called all of the firemen first class to his compartment and told us of some orders that he had received that day. The Jackson had two too many firemen first class and two of us would have to leave the ship! There was no chance to advance as the third class petty officers couldn’t advance to their next rate, definitely, two of us had to leave! To where they didn’t know, another ship, shore duty, go to any of the numerous islands and get on an L.S.T.and ship out! The Navy method of picking the two guys would be to cut cards! We were in line, the deck of cards was passed down and then we were asked what we had. Paul Robbins, from Detroit, had a king, no-one had anything between that and my ten of diamonds, I was the second one to be booted off. I got my gear together and said a few goodbyes, stood by to go down the gangway and into a boat that was alongside the small deck at the bottom. ( At this time the engine room was oper- ating properly and the gearbox problem had not happened. It had to be after Paul and I were off the ship and on Guam. )(?) As we were slowed and approaching Guam, Paul, the other man and I got off while underway. We were taken to the beach, on the ramp that the Pan American Clipper Planes from the 30’s era, landed near and with their wheels down, went right up the ramp to a large hotel. The ship continued on around the island, this was the last of my time on the Jackson, never saw it again! My only regrets are that I’m sorry I didn’t meet and become closer friends with what was no doubt a wonderful bunch of guys. (I found the guys that I was around each day to be very unfriendly and hard to get to know. On the other ships I was on it wasn’t the same.)
Paul and I were put in a large tent with netting over the cots, just the two of us. We mustered twice a day, more or less buddied with others that were being grouped together to form a “draft” which was a group of people to ship somewhere with a first class in charge. In a couple weeks we were mustered in and put on a L.C.V.P. and taken out a ways to an old beat-up Liberty ship, the Mormactern. We climbed up the net and our gear was hoisted aboard, the cargo net opened up and we took out our gear. This was still the mattress deal, the big kidney shaped load to carry. Also they packed hard and as I pulled mine out and slammed it down on the deck, it bounced back and pushed my thumb about half way to my elbow! What a way to start a trip! We lived aboard for a few days and was told that we were going Stateside, but nothing else was offered as our orders were still sealed. The galley gave us some cereal in a box with a little milk and all the coffee we wanted for breakfast, at noon we had some watered down soup, like Mrs. Grass’, and some Flavor Aid, like Kool Aid, but we still had our supper to look forward to, except there was no supper! We got under way, a whole 9-10 knots and headed to the States. I began feeling sick and found out I had malaria real bad! No doctor aboard, but the first class in charge of us took good care of me. Malaria can be treated like flu and that’s what he did! I soon felt better and was once more active, this trip took over three weeks and I began to feel undernourished. One night I felt my way down a dark passageway until I found a door and I opened it and felt around inside, I felt a lot of boxes and took three of them and put them inside my shirt. I had no idea what it was, could have been soap — I could trade it for some food! I climbed up to my rack, about five high, and in the dim red light I opened one box. I had three boxes of Oreo type cookies! I was very popular for a while! Later I talked with a crew member and asked if I could stand a watch and maybe eat with the crew. He arranged it so I could stand a lookout watch, four on and eight off. I did get to eat with the crew, but I kept it very quiet!
After three weeks we pulled into Frisco Bay and tied up to a large wharf, got off, mustered and went down the wharf to a Red Cross stand where we got a doughnut and coffee for a quarter. Down a little farther the Salvation Army had the same for free! We were on Yerba Buena and on my birthday, Pres. Roosevelt died and there was a lot of standing at attention throughout the day! We stayed in one of the nearby barracks until our orders were opened and processed, mine was to report to San Diego Naval Repair Base with 18 days delay enroute! Don’t know where Paul went, but he went to the Detroit area and I never saw him after that.
The trains took about four days to get to Chicago, took a siding to allow freights to pass, which was good, they carried war supplies! I made it to Chicago and got a train to Waterloo, five miles north of Auburn where we lived. Some people let me ride with them to Auburn and I walked three blocks to our street. I was “walking in the clouds”, as I approached our house I saw Deann playing with a neighbor girl. I walked towards her and I could tell that she didn’t know me. She had some flowers in her hand and held them up to my face and asked me to smell them. We got acquainted more and walked to our house and Bonnie was taking a bath! Of course, we got acquainted more too! We were all very excited!
I had filled out a form in the depot in Chicago to have my gear and luggage sent to Auburn, I was concerned about it as it seemed to be lost. In a couple days it was delivered to the door … good service! This was the huge bundle that contained the canvas hammock and the mattress, weighed in at almost 100 pounds. On the train from the West coast my stuff was tossed in the area between the cars, some guys were sleeping on the pile of seabags. I didn’t see mine until I had been home a few days, but they delivered it!
We got around quite a bit while I was home. One of our trips was to Woodburn near Fort Wayne. This is where Larry Pabst was from. His wife was working in a small diner and she had two of their children with her, one in a crib in the back room. We visited with her for a short while and that was about all of our contacting people that had someone in the Navy and that I had been close to. I don’t recall visiting Dick Mow’s family, we did after we were all home for good. The time went very fast and soon it was time to leave for San Diego, this would take at least four days on these trains. I can’t recall how I got around to the depots and stations, but we still had our car so probably Bonnie took me. I always had to go to Chicago and find the station where I was to get my train. I asked a lot of questions and the “hacks” (taxi cab drivers) were very nice to me!
Finally on my way and it was one long trip, not too many good seats, the older pullman cars were in use most of the time. These cars had the old mohair type seats and were not comfortable at all. If the car I was in didn’t have a lot of servicemen the civilians would buy stuff for me, pillows, drinks and snacks. I got treated good. The train finally got close to San Diego, it went down into Mexico and back up below San Diego. From the station I took a cab to the Base, went to the Main Gate and reported in. A couple of Gung Ho Marines took my papers and looked at my orders and saw that I was four hours late, they pointed to a busy set of buildings diagonally across the large drill field (grinder) and told me to walk over there, gear and all, still the big kidney shaped load. They drove over in a Jeep and met me. They then took me in a nearby building and up to a window. An old chief was seated behind it, looked at my papers and then at a form from the conductor of the train stating that we were four hours late because of rerouting. He said, “We get a lot of these.” He then asked, “Do you want to go out on liberty tonight?” He tossed the papers in a waste basket and told me to go in the next building and they would take care of me. This was one of many new barracks along the front of the Base where the submarine crews stayed. I was told to pick out a rack, just relax and take it easy. I met a few guys, all very nice to talk to and be around. A First Class came over and explained the activities on the Base and the chow hours, etc. Also said that the penalty for being late was to wear work clothes with a “P” stencilled on the back of the shirt and with a civilian woman in charge, do clean-up on the Base! (Also you got your hair cut off again!)
The Navy answer to this was, ” No way, do you see those orders? This man is here for FURTHER TRAINING and REHABILITATION … he’s done his thing, get off his back!” That did it, I was once more a human being, this is a wonderful place to have duty, it showed in the people all around me. The food was the best, soup or stew twice a day, seafood aplenty, oysters at least twice a week and the boots that had duty there seemed to enjoy the work, helped us get more if we wanted it! We were awakened by some boots to get our breakfast and go to work or we could sleep another half hour and they (the boots) would wake us up to go to work. There were lots of food machines around!
I was assigned to a Balance Shop, the best place I’ve ever had duty in the Navy. We balanced anything from a small armature to a 14′ ship’s screw (propeller)! I had the best Chief I ever met and the officers were the best too. A couple tried to to be rough, but they just couldn’t do it! I liked the work, we took our time, sometimes it was a little harder work than others, we had a lot of help. I did some work on a ship’s screw in the huge dry dock, it was loaded with troops and had hit something in the harbor, enough damage to cause a vibration. We repaired it with bronze alloy and balanced it without putting it through two criticals like we usually did when the screw was off the shaft and in our huge balancing machines. I suppose the officers thought we were good enough that we could estimate the shape and dimensions of the blades, we did! The ship pulled out and no shake or rattle in the outer bearings, just a “Shave and a Haircut” from the ship’s whistle as it left the harbor! I met some of the best guys while at this Base, I don’t know how or why I lost their friendship, forgot their names through the years, but I did, dammit!
After a couple days at San Diego I called Bonnie, (we had a phone installed after I was in the Navy for a short while.), I said it would be nice if she and Deann could come out and be with me during my time at the Base. The next day she quit her job and sold our ’35 Ford and was on the train that night. We had several apartments, each newer one being closer to the Main Gate. I had every other night off, so I could be with them, we had a good time, looked the area over, saw a lot of big bands, (Spike Jones patted Deann on the head one night.), and saw a lot of movies and ate out a lot. Deann was three years old and seemed to have a good time, she could read the “no vacancy” signs! I still had that sick feeling from knowing that I was soon to leave and go out to sea again. They stayed for a few months and as I was assigned to new construction, the U.S.S. Avery Island, we had to get them ready to go back to Auburn. This was a ship load of men, mostly machinist’s and construction workers, we were to put up towers and antennas on or near Okinawa. I stayed on board for a couple weeks and Bonnie and Deann soon left for home. They didn’t have any problems traveling, not as much as I did.
The Avery Island took a short shakedown cruise, some cargo was re-arranged and the ship rode a little better and in a couple days we were underway for Hawaii. En route to Hawaii the war ended, Japan surrendered and I was soon booted around again. I was assigned to the Piedmont, a destroyer tender. I went in with the surrender fleet and tied up at Yokosuka Repair Base. This lasted several months, but the duty wasn’t all that bad, I was in refrigeration and had easy duty. The people were good to be with. We made ice and furnished steam and electricity for several ships tied up alongside us and, of course, kept their cooling areas working to keep the food and supplies fresh. The Piedmont is a huge ship, it has a very large machine shop, can handle about any thing needed. It had a foundry, hospital, dental facilities, bakery, enough electrical power generated to supply the city of Ft. Wayne, … and also had a lot of good people in the crew. I worked for a Chief Hotchkiss, from North Chicago, a very good guy! Several destroyers could tie up alongside and have the necessary work done. We could watch about three movies from our deck on the destroyers along side.
I was asked what I would like to do, had a choice of several duties, and I chose refrigeration, this was good duty, I had the normal watches to stand. In fact, the ice machines compartments were a sort of hangout for the guys when not on duty. When I was first shown the area I was asked if I liked eggs and, if so, how I wanted them prepared. We had our own illegal galley! We had a lot of steaks, potatoes and any thing we could get our mitts on. Some times other guys from other places on the ship would bring food, like fresh baked goods and canned fruit and they would spend time with us and play cards or just talk a lot. (I had never seen anything like this on the Jackson!) Some how a gung ho officer stopped all of this when he found some dust in the area while conducting an inspection. It was good for a few months anyhow!
The crew at this time was a skeleton crew, a couple hundred or so, we are tied up at a wharf at Yokosuka, just below a huge gantry and near a lot of Japanese machining facilities, in caves and buildings. I never went in to town, just the edge. There were many huge barracks type buildings and brick dormlike structures in the area. These were for training officers and homes for higher ranking Japanese. In the harbor was a sunken battleship, sunk to the rail and main deck, lots of one and two man submarines, (Kaitens). I sat in a few tanks that were disabled along the road leading into town, I had no camera while I was in the Navy. I was in a small wardroom with a couple guys, both nice and friendly. One was a commercial artist, Don Greer, brother to Betty Jane Greer who was an actress. Don designed the ship’s logo that was on all the stationary and papers used on the ship. Also Walt Disney people designed the later logo and pictures of the Seven Dwarfs “Doc”, which the Piedmont was called (even though she was a “she”!) Through the years I have heard from a few guys that were on the Piedmont, mostly after I was on board.
The months rolled by and soon I had enough points to come home. I was called up to officers country and got all of my “chits” signed to show that I didn’t have any Navy property or tools that I needed to turn in. The next morning I was all ready, this time no mattress to lug around, and it was so much easier. An L.C.V.P. took me to a smaller ship anchored in the harbor. It was the U.S.S. Lumen, an A.K.A. I met with some other guys that were going home. Our quarters were on the main deck, but within the cabin-like structure amidships. The guys were all like me, on their way home, very happy. We all talked a lot and had a good time. We left in a couple days, this was an electric motor driven ship, twin screw and fairly fast. A day or so out we were allowed to fire the guns, the 3″ gun scared a lot of the men, some of them had never been around anything like this! We were moving along and made good time, this was short lived as we lost all power from the boilers to the generators. We’re northwest of Hawaii several hundred miles, drifting up into the Japanese current, wallowing in the swells. There were a lot of sick sailors for a few days! The sea came into our compartment, no shoes on deck when in bed. A diesel generator was used to radio for a couple sea-going tugs to come and take us in-tow. Soon the problem was found and, in another day or so, it was remedied. (A filter in the seawater intake area was partly plugged.) We once more got power, but couldn’t make a good cruising speed, probably 9-10 knots all of the way to the northwest coast. The tugs were sent back, of course. We came down the coast to San Diego once more. I can’t recall much about the next week or so, I know I didn’t get lost or do anything that would get me into any trouble. I wanted to get home as soon as I could! I lived on the base, it wasn’t the place I was at before. Had I been more outgoing then, I would have gone to visit the places where I was stationed earlier. San Diego was such a good place to be a sailor!.
Soon I was on a train, I was lucky and was put with some chiefs in one of the nicer type troop cars. We talked a lot and as we were underway the head cook, a first class, came through and asked all of the firemen and seamen first class to come to the mess car and there they would be assigned a duty to perform. No heavy stuff like on a base, this one was like, cut up fruit and open other cans of various foodstuff. This once more was a nicer group of guys to work with and I was about to go down later in the day when one of the chiefs said, “No way, you’re with us!” I had a nice trip to Chicago!
Moving across the country the train stopped several times to take on water and coal and this allowed us to get off and run to the stores in the small towns, and the taverns, if open. We would get what we wanted and while in line to pay for it the train’s engineer would whistle and call in the crew. This meant us too so we would just leave money on the counter and run for the train. I think the merchants were well paid, if not, they were patriotic! When en-route on the various trains across the country all sorts of people, kids and groups would come alongside with box lunches, fruit and other treats for us. We handed money down to them whether it was free or not. Some “moms” would have huge dinners for us in buildings, depots and out in the open, along the tracks, this was all free and appreciated. (I still get tears when I remember these nice people!)
The complete “draft” took a train to the main gate at the Navy facility at North Chicago Junction and we were there for a few days getting discharged, what a strange feeling to be out of the Navy! When this was all over I went into Chicago, probably mid-afternoon and, as soon as I could, I got to the Grand Central station as I didn’t know when the trains left to go east. The railway system in and around Chicago is about the most fantastic layout any one can imagine. Every thing seems to work as it should and people and luggage get where they are supposed to. (Back in the nights that we would be returning to the base we would stick our ticket in the fold in our hat and the conductor would remove it, punch it and put it back, if we were asleep we didn’t even wake up!) I lucked out once more, about an hour wait then home! I don’t recall who I called but I know my mom, dad, sister and, of course, Bonnie and Deann were at the station in Garrett to meet me. My sister was the only one that had a car. There were busses but not at night, so my sister loaned us her car to get us home and I would take it to her the next day.
Our money picture didn’t look too good and I decided to start the rest of my life very quick! I’m beginning the stretch of years where I forgot the time I was in the Navy, this lasted 56 years! I went to work at Thomas Machine Shop in Auburn, I signed up to finish my apprentice training and was able to get a very basic tool assortment, from the government. The shop furnished the precision tools so that helped. I always liked to work and learn as much as possible about my job. I gave all of my employers a good days work for the money they paid me. I just forgot all about my Navy time, most people were not interested enough to talk about it. I entered this new life and adjusted very quickly to it.
I walked to work and when I could find one, I bought a bicycle. This was for the summer though as in the winter it was by foot again. I bought a” Whizzer” unit to put on my bike, that was our wheels for a couple years. I hauled Deann in the basket in the front of the bike. We took chances, didn’t we? Our second child, Steve, was born in Auburn, we lived on East 16th street. A short while later we moved to South Jackson Street, we bought our first home with a G.I. loan.
I had always worked two jobs in my early years. Some times I would quit one of them and go full time to the other. This happened at American Model Toys. I worked for Jack Ferris for about a year part time while working at Auburn Clutch and ended up with him for three years full time. I liked this job, made a lot of plastic molds for model trains and related items. More about the job later.
During the first few months home, I helped a neighbor on weekends and some evenings do floor covering, linoleum and carpet. He had been in the Army for just a few weeks but was weeded out. I don’t know why … never found out except I remember that he was an alcoholic. Of course, he belonged to the American Legion, he asked me to join, I felt it would be the thing to do so I joined. I was never around so many common drunks in my life! Seems that was what it was all about, I did attend the meetings, one night the commander announced they had a surplus of money and asked for some input as what to do with it. I suggested some sort of a family room where our wives and kids could come in, or even a small pool for our kids. You know what they did with it? They built another bar, this one upstairs! So much for the Legion, someone paid my dues the next year, probably, Ralph, my neighbor. (Years later in New Haven, I thought I’d try and join once more. I walked in and the bar was very busy, two bartenders and about twenty gulpers, all winning WW2 by themselves once more.) (Is this all there is to it?)
In a year or so we bought our first car, it was an older Plymouth, I had to do some work on the transmission, put new bearings inside. It worked out pretty good, soon I updated to a Chevy business coupe and then a Chevy four door, this was a ’51, it lasted until we were living in Angola.
I worked at the Thomas Shop for about five years and during that time our first son, Steve , was born. The two brothers that owned the shop started to feud and did not get along too well. This was bad for me, I’m in between them and it was not easy for me to come to work any more. I quit this job and went to Auburn Clutch, hired in as tool inspector and tool and die maker.( At this time I was working part time at American Model toys, I liked this place, they had taken on some Govern- ment work and hired a few guys like me, to do it.) At Auburn Clutch I worked for Jim Benson, one of the biggest phonies I’ve ever been around. I still worked part time at American Model Toys. I worked there for a couple years and I got “bumped” by a guy that wanted on days so I was put on nights. Usually I was alone, sometimes had a partner to work with. I was tool inspector and when I was caught up with that duty I did the tool and die repair work. Also I made several new dies, I liked this sort of work. I didn’t care much for the night shift so I left there after a few months and went to American Model Toys, full time. I did mold work, I liked this real well. I could write several pages about mold making, what I was fortunate enough to learn and apply at this shop! We made model trains, “O”gage and “HO”gage, we were as good or better than Lionel. We made switches and rail parts, ties and several types of cars, freight as well as passenger, flat cars, a
very good caboose and stock cars. The company went bankrupt from some alcohol problems the owner had and, of course, the work force was laid off.
We had bought a home in the south side of Auburn, nearby was a tool/die shop, Neco, and as it was close, I just hired in there, not a bad place to work. I got along real good. We made dies and some plastic molds and soon Overmyer Mold, from Winchester, In., bought Neco out, they wanted to get into plastic containers and heard we had some experienced mold-makers as a nucleus. (Overmyer made glass molds, made CocaCola bottles for years.) The shop moved to Fremont, In.. we moved to Angola, near Fremont. We had our other son in Angola, Jon Michael, he had a few years in Angola. After about five years we were told that the plant would close in a few months and if we wanted we could leave whenever we cared to. I looked for a job all over that part of the State, could have had several in the plastic mold line of work. I didn’t care for Angola and wanted to move at least once more, the two Thomas brothers had become closer and when their parents both died they got along better. They asked me to come work for them again and I decided to give it another try, Bonnie didn’t think much of the change. Deann was married in Angola at about this time and had moved to an apartment in Angola.
While still at Omco Plastic Molds I did a lot of fishing, mostly spinning, and as Angola is located close to over a hundred lakes I did catch the fishing fever, a friend and I were on a lot of these lakes! Steve was along most of the times. We spincast for bass and we caught a lot of them, I had led a few guys in making a machine that molded the first vinyl nightcrawlers, first one unit then soon three more in line. We pioneered that type of bait! I could still design and make one of these machines from memory, this was 50+ years ago. Some of the mold parts were made on a Deckel pantograph engraver, made in Germany, and the main model was a frozen nightcrawler, it was enlarged 10 times in plaster of Paris to copy off into the final cavity. The firm that we made the machine for gave almost a bushel of them to me to give to all the employees. We learned the proper method of putting them on a harness and how to spin in such a way that they enticed a lot of bass. They were made in a multitude of colors, with scents to match, very effective. I would challenge any bait today with one of those!
We moved to Garrett, about five miles from the Thomas shop where I worked, it was a good place to live at the time. While in Garrett I bought a small Suzuki motorcycle for Bonnie, she fell in love with it, she was very good with a bicycle and the transition was so easy for her. She remarked that it was like flying, she really got around on it. Through the years she had two more, slightly larger. She rode for several years, I usually had a cycle too, the boys had their share of them too.
It was in Garrett that I found out that I had Angina. This was chest and lower left arm pains, very unpleasant to put up with. Dr. Carpenter, our family doctor, pre-scribed Metamin and a tranquilizer in one tablet and this did a good job for me. It was for sustained dilation of the arteries near the heart and I have been using similar medications since that time, over forty years!
In the partial basement in Garrett, I was able to have an Atlas lathe, a drill press, a vertical milling machine, a couple benches and ” Mikes tools”, we did a lot of work in that little shop. I made a lot of hydraulic pump parts, many types of gaskets and seals for gear pumps and valves. I was fortunate in getting a lot of work from Warner Motive, having done some while working at Thomas Machine Shop. I hired one of the engineers to help me, this was some evenings and Saturdays, we did real good. Bonnie did some work for the White Brothers in Ft. Wayne, after I started working at Wayne Tool/Design, also in Ft. Wayne. The White brothers made the checks out to Bonnie! I rode my Kawasaki to work, if the weather was fit, this I liked. The differentials followed me there too, same thing with the tooling, I had to make new ones once more. For a long time my job was in my basement, this was after I left Wayne Tool/Design. After a while I was offered the job at Warner and as I was getting tired of working at home with no benefits and too much work to do, I decided to hire in at Warner full time.
My Mom died at this time in my life, she had had several surgeries and finally couldn’t hang on any longer. My sister and I had a serious fall-out at this time, I never found out why but it had something to do with Mom’s death and as Brownie, our step-dad, passed away one month after Mom died, the settlement of the property and the reading of the will came about. Dorothy and I were the heirs, I was the executer. I had a man come and give us a price on the entire lot of furniture and outdoor equipment, Dorothy was against this and she became very bitter towards us. This money was to pay the huge bills that were owed to hospitals and the other expenses to a lot of people we never heard of. She hadn’t been happy at all through the years because of a couple bad marriages and I was told by one of her sons that she envied us and our good marriage. She ordered me out of her yard one day as I was asking her if she wanted the usual condi-ments and supplies from Mom’s kitchen. She said that I should just keep them along with the other “stuff” that I had stolen! She said she never wanted to see us again, I left and we didn’t act like “family” for a lot of years. We did get back to- gether later and I will tell about those days farther along in my story.
While in Garrett, Steve joined the Navy, he was in eight years, and got married during that time. While in Garrett I worked for DeKalb Engineering part time, then full, I worked for Wayne Tool and Design in Ft Wayne for a couple years, the limited slip differentials that I made back at Thomas Machine Shop seemed to follow me around wherever I worked. I had to make the necessary tooling each place as the former employer wouldn’t give up the tooling, that I had made. I was there two and a half years, finally back to Thomas Brothers for another seven years and as I was making the differentials for Warner Automotive, along with the hydraulic parts, I had a chance to go work for them in their factory and get their benefits, I jumped at that! They started a lab/toolroom and only Fred Lennon and I worked in it. I liked it there, learned gear cutting and all about gears with hands-on experience. In a couple years I was offered a position in Corpus Christi in one of their plants doing the same type of work, Warner asked me if I would be interested in making the move. The Garrett neighborhood was closing in on us and we took the chance and sold out and went to Texas. We couldn’t adjust to it, there was steady wind from the Gulf and Jon picked up a chronic cough from it. I could have had several jobs down there, some very interesting. The wages were not that good, we had picked out a couple houses and even though the rent wasn’t too high, we wouldn’t have a lot to live on. The family came first and we decided to come back up north, more jobs along the way. We came back to Indiana and I remembered that a big plant in Albion, called Auto-Machine, had advertised for moldmakers while I was looking around for a job earlier. We probably should have done this back then, I stopped in and was hired on the spot!
I had no problem fitting in and started the next day, got along with all the people and it worked out very well. We bought a new Buddy mobile home and settled down in Albion. I worked with and for engineers, we developed many machines and tooling to make wire producing products, lots of molds for controls, switches and the machines that actually drew the wire from the big bundles that come in on a flatbed semi. It was drawn down to as small as .013″, stranded to all gauges and supplied the industry with their products.
In all of these moves and changes Bonnie was right there with me and the family, she met a lot of people and she found a lot of friends. We both liked the couples that we met, some probably didn’t care for us but we had so many that did. She never complained and liked the mobile home life, it was handy. We both had motorcycles and did a lot of riding at the Chain’o Lakes State Park, where Bonnie loved to trail ride, I liked it too! Son, Mike, had his own cycle now and he was along most of the time. Steve was in the Navy most of this time but he too joined us in motorcycling when he was back home. We all had a lot of fun doing this. We eventually bought another double style mobile home and with five lots, surrounded by woods. We soon had a mile and a half of cycle trails, gulleys, hills and jumps! We had it very nice for cycle riding. My son, Mike, and I put porch additions, skirtings and patio roofs on the mobile homes as we bought them. We had many autos in these times, a few trucks and even a three wheeler that we rode all year long. I accumulated many tools and small shop machines through the years, these were my happiest times. We had a very good family Doctor, Terry Gaff, and through the years he helped us out as a Doctor and a friend.
While living in Albion we went to the New Haven area to visit our daughter and some of our grandchildren, this was not too often as Bonnie was beginning to worsen healthwise and sometimes the trip was too much strain on her. When returning to Albion from one of these trips, I stopped to see Larry Pabst, one of the Jackson’s carpenters, he lived on Till Road on the North side of Ft. Wayne. We had not seen each other for a lot of years, I don’t recall why, this time we got re-acquainted and talked up a storm, he was not very happy, just had a second divorce and a favorite dog had died. We were going to get together soon, he would ride his motorcycle to Albion and then we would go to Topeka and eat at a nice restaurant,Tiffany’s. This didn’t happen, the next time we were down that way I stopped at his house again and pulled into a parking place. A few cars were in the drive and a woman came over to our car and asked if she could help us. I asked, “Is Larry still kicking?” She said,”Who the hell are you?” I told her all about Larry and I being on the same ship and all, she backed off a little and said that Larry had shot himself that morning. Nice choice of words, Bill!
I worked five years at the Auto Machine plant, I put out a lot of work for them. I worked with the engineers and the tool room was pretty well equipped. Soon after I was there they bought a bigger engine lathe, the one they had was powerful enough to satisfy the maintenance people but as I “grew up” with lathes I would keep tripping circuit breakers, I didn’t peel off twine sized shavings, I used the tools and machines to do what they were meant to do. Soon I was showing a lot of the people there how to machine and produce parts. This was done by example and not by lecturing, one of my performance reviews stated that “Bill can remove more metal with more accuracy than any one I’ve ever seen”. (This was not just removing metal, it was making a quality part that was used for production in all of the plants owned by Dekko.) I was proud of that, and the guys that were bluffing their way soon disappeared. A new friend, Carl McKeever and I made a lot of equipment that worked well and I was fitting in pretty good. Plant managers come and go and in the Dekko structure they really did that! In the five years that I worked for Auto-machine I saw four of them come and go. Two were exceptionally good as I saw them. This action makes the “help” only as good as the manager, I found that I had a rougher time with some of them. A tool/die maker is always aware of other jobs being offered, if they are better than his present job and, if he wants to, give it a try. A big mold was on order and the delivery date was just over the horizon. We, in the shop were busy every day and didn’t pay any attention to this. One morning President Chet Dekko asked me how we were coming on it and then the fire flew, I leveled with him and told him that we hadn’t been told anything about it and that some one had sat on the thing too long! I didn’t make any friends that day but I did influence a couple people! Things mellowed and the steel was ordered, we didn’t have a cut-off saw, the steel pieces should have been cut to length and weren’t, it came in in one big chunk! Of course it was evident that we needed a saw, we got it the next day! Chet said I should have told the manager of all the things he was doing wrong, like it was my fault! I told him he was his “boy” and a good “Mason”, which was what Chet liked in a man! (Probably wrong for me to say it.) Well we got the mold done on time and everything smoothed out, I was not the most contented guy in the place. Chet sent a manager from another one of their twenty or more plants to me to do a machine job on an engraved part to go in a mold that was being made in another toolshop. The outside of the part was, of course, larger than the necessary size to fit in the mold. I had done this many times, no problem, except the guy said to me, “Now don’t screw this up, I’ve got $300 in it!” I could do nothing else but to reply to him, ” You damned hillbilly, you’ve never seen $300!” I got called up front but not for long, the guy had already left and Carl was telling the people up front that being a graduate apprentice doesn’t necessarily mean that I graduated from a “Charm School” too, and that some of Dekko’s managers had a way of bringing out the worst in people. I probably could have worked there forever but their methods and I didn’t see eye to eye any longer. I was still friends with everyone but I couldn’t look some of them in the face without my face showing what I had on my mind. A lot of men were hired and fired while I was there, I had the lead-man job and I interviewed them to hire in and pleaded for their job, plus getting them their first raise. I pondered my plight long and hard and decided to leave Automachine.
I was offered a job in Kendallville at King Seeley, I would work in a lab/ toolroom and be on salary. I would work for and with the engineers, there were 36 of them at one time. I fit in real good but after a couple years the company merged with a place in Baltimore and that plant was moved to be with this one in Kendallville. The tool room was enlarged and I was made a lead man, some one never did under-
stand that I worked for the engineers, soon to be 50 or more, and assigning work to the men in the tool room just didn’t work out.
In the interim, Carl, the chief engineer and my friend for several years at Auto Machine, was fired, he had had open heart surgery and they didn’t like the picture of the future, with his time off and losing a lot of his talent, they fired him. He couldn’t drive to other towns and couldn’t seem to find a job locally. On two occ- asions Bonnie and I went to find him along a highway where he had stopped because he developed ” tunnel vision” and couldn’t drive any more. We took him home and saw that he was all right before we left for Albion. I suggested that he come to King Seeley to work and I set up an appointment for an interview with the Chief Engineer, which he honored, and he was hired in. I gave up my job as lead man and was still making prototypes so I was automatically working with the new man.
In a year he had the title of Chief Engineer and had the office of the man that had interviewed him! At this time the plant was bought by Eaton and so some of their jobs were moved in. This was a lot of new machines, some plastic presses and one machine in particular. It was a machine that made bourdon tubes, a copper/brass alloy, curved and semi flattened and cut to length. I had the job of sharpening the saw blades, this was at my shop at home. These blades were six inches in diameter when new with 200 teeth, and .018: thick. They had to cut burr-free, the saw tooth form was changed from the usual tooth’s form, it was a mutation to allow more metal behind the cutting edge to transfer heat and provide a stronger tooth. I used a special machine from Germany, then it cost $7000, now over twice that. With all the cam operated movements I was able to grind the tooth so it worked very well and cut the tubes burr-free. The motor was three phase and I bought a convertor, I still have it, can’t seem to sell it. My 62nd birthday was coming up, as was my anniversary date, after seven years, so I decided to retire and just do some work at home. I had been doing lawnmower work and small engine repair for over thirty years and I would continue with that. Carl knew of my plans and tried to talk me into staying with him, he said that we would be running the place in a couple years. About this time over twenty five of the engineers were fired and only a few were still doing research and development, I don’t know if that would change my future there or not. I finally left and had no regrets, I worked at my shop and did all right, many lawnmowers in the area to be repaired and I got into chain saws and sharpened chains and sold new ones. Lots of repair work out there, I was really busy. We had five lots, now in nice condition and well groomed. These were surrounded on three sides by woods and berry bushes, these were my favorite sides of the field to mow!
About a month down the line I was in my shop and a car pulled in the drive way, it was Carl and another engineer, Bob Rife. They came in my shop to talk with me about working for them in my shop, I would need some machines, just enough to do the type of jobs they wanted done. I could talk for another hour about the work, I did so much more than one could imagine, new products, pilot models and prototypes of a lot of new products. I had the copper welding electrodes “con-
signment” with them for seventeen more years and the other work for almost as long. The plant eventually moved to Mexico and most of the employees lost their jobs, I still did some electrode work and with the help of the Postal Priority Mail, sent it to Mexico. I didn’t do this too long. I finally quit the work for them and gave them my tooling, which is what they wanted, and just settled down and did my mower and small engine jobs.
Carl and I remained friends for many more years, I made thousands of dollars worth of gun parts for him, he had applied for a gunsmith’s license and got it. I also made a lot of tools for that trade and as he was a model train enthusiast, my past experience fit in to this phase of our friendship. I made numerous train related tools and dies to make what he wanted in the rolling stock. I made things like huge mortars mounted on railway cars, he would make background scenery, length of railroad and take pictures of the whole thing and box it up and store it! ( At this rural home I once amazed Carl by installing a vinyl floor covering in an upstairs bedroom in one piece including an adjoining closet!) I amazed myself too, it had been several years!
A sidenote … nothing to do with the previous story, but when I was in isolation in the hospital in Kendallville with very bad infectious hepatitis I almost died. I was out of my mind for awhile during which time I also had a lot of dreams and one of them, very lifelike, was that I was riding my cycle (what else) up in the clouds with people on each side with big bonnets on, looking straight ahead I saw wifts of smoke coming up from Carl’s fireplace, naturally I peeled off and went down to visit with him. I don’t know if I made it or not, end of dream. I never could land a cycle very well.
As I still had the machines, two lathes, a vertical mill, a band saw, a cut off saw and the very handy radial type drill press, I decided to put them to work. I adver- tised for some sort of work to supplement my retirement income, I had a few replies, one of them was from a man that headed up a group of guys and gals that formed the “‘Midwest Battle Group”, they made scale model radio controlled ships from the world war two era and they had battles on ponds that some of them owned. This gentleman was Phil Sensibaugh, he owns a plant in Green Township that makes fertilizer … makes and sells a lot of it. He has a beautiful home in the wooded area near Green Center, and a large pond, a natural for holding the battles. He asked me if I would be interested in making the cannons that they used in their battles. After a few more chats I decided to give it a try. Phil would get the material and deliver it to me and I would do the work. We hit it off real good and soon I was in the “cannon” business. I had a warm shop, burned wood and had enough benches and chairs so we could sit around and design new approaches on the guns. Phil and I came up with some ideas, Phil was always agreeable and we would try them, and fortunately they usually worked. I made the barrels. filled them with hot “Cerro Bend” and with tooling I made, I bent them as needed . This went on for a few years and Phil found a place to buy them already bent, although a thinner wall thickness. We got the price of a gun down to almost half of the original price. Overall the gun became popular and was called Indiana Guns and Newbauer Cannons, they ended up in other countries almost world wide. I always repaired guns that were damaged by accident and added new features free to the owners. They were a nice group of people to be with. Phil was a “Nam” veteran, he saw a lot of action while in “choppers”. We had a lot to talk about. He visited with Bonnie and me quite often, Bonnie is in a wheelchair at this time .I would help her into a recliner, she watched some TV, I took good care of her, Phil’s visits were always welcome. Sometimes he would bring a hot chocolate or a milkshake. Before he left he would slip an envelope into my hand and I would give it to Bonnie, then I would go out to the driveway and we talked some more. When I returned to the house Bonnie said to me, “Look at what Phil gave us” It was $1000 or more, in cash, once $1500, all tax free! I liked this guy!
Back through the years Bonnie found out that she had diabetes, she took pills for a few years and as it got worse she took insulin with the “needle”, small dosages at first, then large double doses twice a day. I gave her the “shots”, thousands of them. She probably didn’t watch her diet as well as she should have, we ate out but not all that much food. It was probably the small amount of sweets that made her get worse. Her legs began to fail and soon they were very painful, through those early years she went from a cane to a walker then a wheelchair, finally to the sickbed. We used about every kind of pain pill that could be purchased, had special types made up, many lotions and salves, two years the cost was over $7000 per year! I was her caretaker, I did all I could do for her for over many years. I had all sorts of signal and alarm systems near her so she could call me when I was needed. Finally it got to the point where I had to be indoors all of the time and I decided to sell my machines and retire once more! This was easy as a member of the club wanted to buy most of them, he would continue making the guns! He still makes them and probably other items as the machines were capable of doing so much. I had the best and the handiest mach- hines at that time.
The last meeting with my sister occured at about the time I retired, 1980, she drove to Albion from Auburn and came to the door, both Bonnie and I were home. I asked her in and we just talked like we did several years before, had a fairly good visit. We went back to her mobile home and picked up her oldest son, Ron, and we went to eat, I don’t remember where. Dorothy and Bonnie were in the back seat and talking up a storm, Dorothy told Bonnie that she had some bad feelings about her life, that someone was out to “get her”. She said at one time that she felt like the top of her head was coming off. Ron, the son was a career college student, also a very bad alcoholic, both of her sons were. She was making another visit to Albion about a week later and about three miles outside of town a truck pulling a lowboy trailer with a backhoe and front scoop full of large rocks, was going east and approaching her. The scoop full of rocks was lowering because of the hydraulic system leaking and the rocks were falling off on the road, propelling them like footballs. A large rock passed through her windshield and took the top of her head off! A month later her son, Ron, died from suffocating in his vomit in a place he was staying in Ft Wayne near the college he was attending. Dorothy was buried in a “Potters” grave with no marker, she was cremated and the spot was very small. I went to see it one day and the temporary marker had been all smashed to pieces and scattered about. I still have the pieces and I suppose I’m the only one that knows where she is buried. I made a brass plate and stamped the name. etc., and buried it below the sod so that I could locate it with my metal detector, if I need to. The other son has stopped drinking and lives in Ft. Wayne. We are not close at all, I tried to get friendly with him but it didn’t work out.
A few years ago we decided to move down in the New Haven area so we could be near our daughter, Deann and some of the grandkids. Our son, Steve had moved to Georgia and Jon lives in Florida. We put our property up for sale and although we had a few lookers, it didn’t seem to sell. We found a furnished mobile home in a nice court near New Haven and one day on the spur of the moment we loaded Bonnie in her wheelchair, gathered a few necessary belongings and moved in! We had our furniture plus the furniture that was in our new home, finally placed it around to the relatives and settled down. I had been fortunate enough to accumulate about $49,000 in the savings, etc., then we made the moves that followed and with some gifts and the expenses incurred with the price of the mobile home and new little car, I think at the time of the move I had about a fifth of the original amount. We were here one week and Bonnie got worse and was taken to Parkview Hospital, then she was admitted to Golden Years Homestead, a nice nursing home north of New Haven a few miles. Joan, our youngest grand- daughter, was a “head nurse” on the floor that Bonnie was on. Bonnie got good care, no doubt about it! The next three months was a busy time for me, I tried to be with her most of the day and every evening. She had a lot of bad days and on the 24th of October, five days before our 63rd anniversary, she left us. Bonnie is buried in Christian Union Cemetery, Northwest of Garrett, I’ll be beside her some day. No body can ever take her place with me, she was the best! I always said that Bonnie had many, many friends, they just didn’t know it!
I’ve had a very rough time since she is gone, I did a job on myself through the years of caretaking and, of course, I would do it ten more times if I could. I have problems with my legs, I fall a lot and a year ago I fell off the front porch and fractured my tail bone, very painful for many months. I am better healthwise in the last few months, still not too agile, but I get around easier than I did a year ago. I fell at a Midwest Battle at Phil’s pond and I was lucky, I had my hands in front of me to stop some of the fall. ( Just yesterday I fell at Mr. Coney’s parking lot, again no damage.) This is a nerve problem that delays the signal from my brain to my legs, by a tenth of a second, at one time it was the left leg, now both. Recently my son, Steve and his wife, Lucy, moved back to Indiana from Georgia to be near me and other family members. He visits often and tries to spend time with me. He helps me on my computer, learning how to do a lot of tasks.
In my lifetime I have been lucky, I was probably closer to death in the Navy than I can imagine, lots of “stuff” flying around out there. You could hold up a cigarette at Iwo Jima and it would be lit for you! I’ve been near death with infectious hepatitis and had shingles so bad I had to wear a “Tens” unit for pain. The luckiest part of my life was being able to have Bonnie all those years! Having the three children and raising them was very challenging, but mostly I enjoyed it. I probably put some of the ideals I tried to teach them, behind the more important ones. I’ve had the best work experience that any one would want, worked with some of the best people in the business, learned from them and was able to actually teach them a few things! I learned that less than half of the engineers were as good as they tried to be, they used guys like me to push them up the ladder! I didn’t mind, I used them too, perhaps not so far up that ladder! I machined the first Tucker automobile transfer cases while in the old Thomas Machine shop at Auburn, I made over 150 limited slip differentials in that era, the only two one piece models ever made. (Even had one in my Rambler.) I lost count of the cannons that I made, close to one thousand, plus other battle related items that I made for Phil.
Some of “my” guns have made it to Africa and Austrailia, lots of write-ups about them. A lot of this is on the internet too, under Newbauer Cannons or Indiana Guns, and can be found on any good search engine on the internet.
I forgot about the Navy for 56 years and my grandkids got me back in by having a dinner in New Haven and there they presented me with a large shadow box with the medals and ribbons that they had researched and found I had earned. I didn’t kill any of the enemy, I helped in a lot of ways, and I didn’t get all butchered up, maybe in the head, but I saw a lot of real bad stuff happen. They started me on on this monster (my computer) that I’m using now to write this and print it out. I’ve contacted a lot of people that I wish I would have known back in WW2, lots of them on the same ship! Most people could care less about what any one did back in those days, if you are reading this you obviously are not one of them!
My first experiences on the computer were photo related, I learned to do pictures and the associated tasks involved. Grandson, scotty says that is the most difficult of all the things that can be done on the computer. Between Scotty and my son, Steve, I’m learning new things every day, some say this is amazing for an 86 year old sailor!
Since I’m “back in” the Navy I have been video taped and interviewed twice and what I could remember was put on tape. One was at the WW2 Museum in Auburn, this was by Marti Wright, the first was by Channel 33 in Ft. Wayne. Mark Evans did the interview. Marti would like to interview me again soon, I was told.
In my 86 years I’ve learned that there are three kinds of people: some make things happen … some watch things happen … some wonder what’s happening! You, the reader, have no doubt put me into one of those categories already!
I hope some of you that read this are somebody I knew through the years, from my childhood, somebody I worked with or hopefully someone I should have been a good buddy to while in the Navy. Please forgive me for not being more outgoing!
Some how I want to thank all those nice people that appeared along the tracks and offered us food and treats, what were they thinking when they baked all of the goodies in their kitchens and to offer them to us, where ever we were bound? Most people are definitely not like that today!
I am so fortunate that I was able to come home and have all those years with Bonnie and have the family we had. They all were a part of a very good life for me.
I will now close this story, I won’t recall anything more to add to it. I’m just coasting along and I really don’t want any more life to go through, it won’t be worth writing about anyhow! All of you that helped me, thank you. I think I’ve done my share in helping others. Put my ashes beside Bonnie, the best person I know!
Bill Newbauer, 2005
Pingback: HONORING MY DAD | Steve's Mixed Bag