It was never easy 3

It was never easy

On the day I retired from the Navy, my crew presented me with a shadow box. That box sits on my desk and I look at it from time to time when I am not typing stories or checking out the latest on the Internet. It’s a nice box with beveled edges, a glass cover that has kept the dirt at bay for many years and a deep blue velvet background. The display is a chronology of my service from the time I enlisted until the day I retired. All of the achievements of my career are visible and each remind me about the one thing that all military people know and understand. It was never easy.

The Oath

I took my first oath at the age of seventeen with my proud parents standing by. Like my father before me and his father too, I chose the Navy. I wanted adventure and travel and the recruiter had promised me that and much more. The Navy would give me the chance to grow and learn many things. I would get to travel to exotic parts around the world and experience so many things that I would never find in the Monongahela Valley where I grew up. He said that many sailors found time to achieve a college degree and if they worked hard, they could someday be a leader and maybe even an officer. But he was an honest man and added this stern warning: “It won’t be easy”.

Taking the oath of enlistment at such an early age was actually very easy. I guess in retrospect, the oath was just a step you had to take on the journey to where you wanted to be. Up until the moment I took it, I will confess that I did not think about what I was doing too much. But in the moments leading up to raising my hand and repeating it, the gravity of it came over me. For the next six years, I was going to be committed to doing whatever it was the Officers and Chiefs appointed over me would tell me to do. There were no half measures in making that commitment. If I failed, I would disappoint my parents, my friends, and myself. I remember a small moment of panic as I realize that I didn’t really know what was ahead. What seemed like such a simple step became a really big thing in that moment.

They lined us up in that room in the Federal Building in Pittsburgh. Stand at attention and raise your right hand.

“I, (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

And just like that, I took an oath that would change my life forever.

On either side of the shadow box are little brass plaques that say when and where I was stationed. Looking at them now, they seem pretty cold and sterile. There are twelve of them that represent the twenty plus years of active and reserve service. Interestingly enough, one of my commands is missing. When I look at them, I see something more than just brass. I see the sacrifices, the endless days at sea, the loneliness and the danger that many of them represented. A number of training commands, five submarines, one drydock and one submarine tender. They all have one thing in common: none of them ended up being very easy.

The ranks and awards make up the middle section of the box. Candidly, some took longer to achieve than I would have liked. For the longest time, I was convinced that the Navy would come to its senses and do things my way. Then, after a series of faltering steps, a wise Chief let me know in no uncertain terms that the Navy had done quite well for over two hundred years and if I really learned to accept that, I might make progress a little faster.

Starting over is never easy

I am lucky that I was able to completely reboot my career but as I have probably already indicated, it wasn’t easy. I learned that the oath really meant what it said. I also learned that in addition to the oath, there needed to be a strong willingness to sacrifice. I looked at those around me and saw many people who were giving their all to the service they chose. Don’t get me wrong. There were others who bitched, moaned and whined (BMW) every field day and duty day. The difference was, I decided not to be one of them. I took ever collateral duty I could, worked more hours than ever before in my life, learned new skills and polished up the old ones. No challenge was too great and I humbled myself as much as I could to achieve them.

During all of that time and ever since, I learned something about the men and women I served with. They all took the same oath. They learned what sacrifice was and learned to work together to achieve common goals. These are my brothers and sisters who share a devotion to their country and to the promises they made. Some fell along the way and some could not live up to their pledge. But on the whole, the people who I look back on now in my life with the most respect are the ones who discovered that even though it was not easy, you lived up to your oath. Even when the storms at sea knocked you about, you stayed the course. Even when it meant a ton of self-sacrifice, you honored your promise.

It is fitting that shadow box reflects the ranks in an ascending order to show the progression of growth. The ribbons are not as plentiful as some I have seen on current sailors and officers chests. But each one is a testament to the teamwork and shared sacrifices of my many shipmates. The dolphins represent membership in a unique brotherhood (that now includes a sisterhood).

The most dominant feature is the folded flag at the base.

This particular flag flew on a summer’s day over my last ship, the USS Hunley. If any of my previous commands had ever given me a hope that this one would be easy, that hope was dashed immediately. But with the help of my many shipmates (Chiefs, Officers and Sailors), we overcame some very large challenges together.

The flag at the base is a constant reminder that when you take that oath, there is something much bigger at stake than the temporary loss of some of your personal freedoms. It is the flag we all sailed under, protected with our service, and still honor today. I see the world around me now and worry that many people do not understand what it means to be counted upon. I see people too easily taking oaths or promises and just walking away with little to no remorse. I watch people who don’t get their way rioting in the street and refusing to commit any form of self-sacrifice.

But there is still time. We as a country can still turn the ship around. There are still many young men and women who have already raised their hands and taken that same oath. They need our prayers and our support. If you are not already a member of one of the many organizations that veterans have open to them, time to step up and do so.

I would just offer one word of advice:

It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.

Mister Mac

A little respect… 42 years later, its still not that big of a deal 10

Recently I was following a post on one of my submarine Facebook pages. The original guy had posted about a lack of recognition. To be fair, he had a lot of supporters and frankly I can’t give him a hard time since I have seen some of this through the years myself.

“Okay I have somewhat of a bitch to air:I  have been looking for a new career however when I get the part of the application for Veteran Status I find that I do not fit any of the categories!!!! It simply appears to me that the time I spent on the XXXXXXX does not matter since it was only the Cold War and I didn’t get some little medal for doing what I so proudly volunteered to do – Serve My Country!!! Apparently those of us that served in the 70s – 80s are not a protected status.

Okay I am done bitching – just had to air my frustration with the lack of respect we receive as veterans of that era.”

 

That got me thinking about why I joined. The passing years have probably clouded what I was thinking about on that Monday when my parents drove their seventeen year old son to the recruiters office in McKeesport Pennsylvania.

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 I joined the Navy 42 years ago today for one very selfish reason.

I wanted the adventure that my very convincing recruiter promised me was around every bend. He did not lie. I certainly did not join for the recognition since I was aware that the service was looked down upon by my generation (that whole Vietnam hangover thing).

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Now to be fair, there were a few girls who thought I cut a nice figure in my dress blues. Seeing a certain girl’s eyes the first time she saw the newly minted sailor was worth the endless push ups and grinder runs in boot camp. But once you return to base and are surrounded by other sailors similarly dressed, the magic wore off a bit.

After doing one four year tour on active duty I came home (like many other vets) to a population that was in recession. Jobs were non-existent and the economy was spiraling out of control. Being a vet meant shit to a war weary country so after struggling in the reserves for a few years doing less than minimum wage jobs I went back on active duty and never looked back. The Navy provided me with the best adventures of all from that point on. In fact, April 24, 1981 marked the commissioning of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) and that started the most memorable part of the journey.

Within six years I made Chief then Warrant and got my education. There were a lot of sacrifices along the way with my wife in tow and we only did one shore duty (5 boats, a tender and a drydock) I retired in 94 and have been working in business and industry almost non-stop since then. Its nice when people remember to say thanks but I have long since figured out that we are subject to the whims of the nation and its “leadership” No one owes me a thing. I went for the adventure and can truly say I got what I went for. Anything else is gravy and as tenuous as the daffodils in my garden – here today and gone tomorrow with every change in the weather and the wind.

There is an old saying in the Navy that we picked our rates and certainly that had a lot to do with our fates. But for any submariner, you can be proud of yourself if you wear the dolphins of a qualified man. Expecting much else from non-submariners is a fools errand. No one but a fellow submariner can understand the sacrifices, the challenges, the personal nature of the business and the real hardships we often suffered. No real submariner will ever reveal all of the times we did things we knew were not supposed to do. The Cold War was a lot hotter than many people will ever know. I don’t ever remember anybody ever telling me their life was worth the $55.00 a month sub pay we were so generously given. But as so many of my shipmates have said over the years, I would gladly do it all over again.

I am a blest man for the friendships and relationships developed over those many years. It does touch me when a younger person sees “Navy” on my hat or jacket and remembers to say thanks. I’d like to think they know what they are thanking people like me for but in the end, all that matters is that when my country needed me, I was able to meet the test and answer her needs.

To all those who served, Thanks again for what you did.

To those who waited on the pier for their sailor to come home, thanks to you as well.

Indianapolis Commisioning

I wonder if I’ll make it to Fifty years. I don’t have enough room on my Sub vest for a Holland Club stitching but I suppose I can always buy a hat.

About the title of the post: A little respect goes a long way to an old guy whose health is failing now (probably accelerated by living in a steel can under the water). While I personally am okay living on my memories of the great adventures, it wouldn’t hurt for you to thank one of those guys from time to time, just to remind him that he did something most men never did.

Mister Mac

Dolphins

The Measure of a Man 6

McHales Navy

I have been infatuated with the United States Navy since I was a small boy.

Wearing my Dad’s old Navy uniforms while pretending to be part of McHale’s Navy was a routine part of growing up. I think I read every book in the school’s library that was even remotely related to the Navy and still get excited every time I know an old Navy movie will be showing up on my TV. When you think about the pictures in a young boy’s mind about what sailors and naval officers look like, they are always appropriate to the combat role they are playing at the time. Even in the heat of battle, John Wayne shows up in his crisp khakis ready to deal with the enemy in short shrift.

I was not particularly athletic growing up. Like most kids, I played backyard sports (soccer, football, basketball on the hoop hanging from the garage). But as I got older, I was always a bit too slow, not as well coordinated and certainly not as big as I needed to be for organized sports. So after getting picked later and later in each successive season, I decided a life of music was my better path. It had an unexpected benefit in high school when I discovered that the busses for away games were segregated for the football team but not for the band. I made this fortunate discovery the same year I discovered girls were not filled with cooties after all.

But at seventeen, I could no longer resist the urge for the adventures I dreamed about while studying those books about the Navy. The Vietnam War was still not resolved so the thought of getting in the action before it was over certainly added to the pressure to sign up. So in April, 1972, I joined the delayed entry program and started counting down the days until I went away. I did make some efforts to get in better physical condition since my father’s stories of the trials of boot camp suddenly became part of our conversations. I will admit to having a certain amount of fear since the movies showed men being pushed to their limits by grizzled and hardened combat veterans with a particular hatred of new men.

Take all you want, eat all you take

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Entering boot camp in June of 1972, I discovered that I really had not prepared well enough. It wasn’t all that harsh in the sense that I had anticipated emotionally, but the physical training was just enough to make a person sore. Like most guys I am sure, I discovered I had muscles and pains I didn’t know existed. By August of that year (it was a long summer), my body was more toned and fit than it had ever been. Miraculously, I also discovered that I could eat as much as I wanted and my waist still measured out at about 28 inches. The old sign above the galley window said, take all you want but eat all you take was the most pleasant sign I can ever remember seeing. What a wonderful thing for a young man with a really active metabolism. You could even have seconds.

August 1972

I really enjoyed Boot Camp leave (especially the attention from my girlfriend and the looks from her girlfriends). That dress blue uniform fit like a glove and I was the very picture of a modern naval man. Dad and Mom took us dancing to one of their clubs and every veteran in the place looked at us with a certain look of envy. It was either that or the very low cut pink clinging dress that I had bought for her. My Mom had to pin the dress a few strategic places before they would take us but that’s another story for another day.

Through the next year of schools around the country, I discovered the Navy’s seemingly endless generosity with their food offerings. A school, Sub School, FBMSTC in Charleston and finally the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor had great galleys filled with men whose only purpose in the world was to see that the Navy was fed well. The price was exactly right (free back in those days with a meal card) and that wonderful welcoming sign still showed up no matter where you went “Take all you want, eat all you take”. Fortunately my age and metabolism still protected me and the uniforms provided held up fairly well throughout the journey.

When I finally arrived at my first submarine, it was a happy discovery to find out that all the rumors about boat food being the best were true.

MMFN MacPherson

Mess cooking had the added benefit of offering the first and last shot at the great meals on board. Back in those days, the meals were planned and prepared by the CS in charge and the Georgefish was blessed with a few really great cooks and bakers. In many ways it was like being on a floating restaurant that also happened to carry nuclear weapons and torpedoes.

The first time I had a Maine Lobster tail with drawn butter, I thought I was going to pass out. Steamship rounds of beef, New York Strip steaks, fresh milk (as long as it lasted anyway), endless pounds of better and cheese, sausage gravy on biscuits, grilled hotcakes by the dozen, deep fried shrimp and on and on. That smell of fresh baked bread was an intoxicant that most men will never forget. It was even better if the smell was mixed with cinnamon. When food is all you have to look forward to, every smell and taste is important.

Some guys didn’t do so well. Big John Grant could barely make it out of the escape trunk at the end of the patrol. But I was blessed with a very busy job as an A ganger and a still youthful metabolism.

Nothing good lasts forever I suppose

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Things really started to change in the eighties. After years of larding up the force, someone must have discovered that as a group, we were no longer portraying the image of those sleek young sailors. I suppose you can blame it on a number of things. Liquid lunches for the crews on Friday were more common that I care to admit. And I do not ever remember seeing light beer involved with those lunches. The public in general became more health conscious as things like aerobics and fitness programs became more prevalent. The Navy’s food distribution system was still mired in generations old thinking. Truly, if you were cooped up for months at a time in a submarine, comfort food was the only thing you could look forward to.

The single worst thing that happened to the Navy was the changing back and forth to the various types of uniforms. Looking back on the pictures from that time, it is obvious that the introduction of CNT was the worst detractor of a Navy person’s appearance of any other material at any time in the Navy’s history. It was the straw that broke the fitness camel’s back.

Submarine design was also not geared for the new fitness trend. While some of the boomers could carry a limited amount of fitness equipment, the average fast boat was designed for fastness not fitness and little room existed for luxuries. I can’t remember when the new PRT standards evolved but suddenly deciding that sub sailors should be able to run a mile and a half for any reasons seemed as ludicrous as anything ever planned by people who were not submariners. Seriously? Where do we ever get the chance to run a mile and a half on a normal basis? Push up, sit ups, and that God awful torture called stretching were all just added to make the torture worse. Shouldn’t it have been enough that I could see my toes under normal circumstances?

I am not overweight, I am undertall

It got worse. Even if you survived the semi-annual barf fest, you still had to make it past the PRT Gestapo holding the tape measure standing next to the scale. I generally liked and respected most of the Navy Corpsman that served on boats as independent duty guys. They had a particularly rough job since any number of things could happen they needed to be prepared for. But I noticed a subtle change in a few when they discovered the hidden power of being the PRT goon. Suddenly, all the old hurts came out about their role being picked on in the past.  Some discovered an inner darkness that they only suspected was there.

I had spent four years on one of the best submarines ever built (USS San Francisco) and at the end wanted to have one tour on a Trident. Captain Previty made some phone calls and I had orders to the USS Ohio. I have to tell you that I was pretty excited since it would be a nice cap to my boat career. One very old boomer, one projects boat and a hot running fast attack. Now I would be going to serve on the largest submarine in the fleet. For a kid that grew up dreaming about big things in the Navy, this was the biggest.

Debbie and I headed home to western Pennsylvania first for a three week Christmas leave. We had been in Hawaii for some time and the family welcomed us with parties and food and more parties. We dined and we drank and then we dined some more. It was bitterly cold so covering up with lots of clothes after living in Hawaii for three years seemed like a natural thing to do. Underneath those clothes was a thirty year old man whose metabolism was no longer as active as it had once been. A sedentary lifestyle as a fast boat chief of the watch hadn’t helped either. New Years was exciting as we headed to Bangor and my first step on board a T-hull boat.

Who’s your daddy?

The boat was already in port when I arrived and the first few days were a blur of turnovers and meeting the crew I would work with. Getting Debbie settled into a temporary house was stressful since patrol was only a few weeks away. Plus, the boat was huge and I went from being a part of a great crew to being an unknown newcomer. Even being a freshly minted new First Class didn’t seem to hold much sway in a crew that had too many first class petty officers. The first day we got underway, the Senior Chief told me to report to the Corpsman’s shack. When I got there, the evil bastard was standing there next to his scale holding his measuring tape.

I do not remember his name. I do not even remember his face. All I remember is that he delighted in telling me that I was completely out of standards and an official notation would be made on my permanent record. Any further advancements (Chief) or even being allowed to remain in the Navy would be entirely dependent on my ability to regain standards. He also let me know that I would be seeing him weekly until this matter was resolved.

I was crushed. I had already noted that the friendly little sign in the galley welcoming all to the bounty of the Navy was not there. Instead, I could almost see a sign that said “Are you sure you want to eat that, Mac?” The next few weeks were a blur with learning a new type of boat and taking over my jobs for the division. But I quickly discovered that if I ate little to nothing, I could make my belt grow. Week over week on that miserable patrol, I pushed myself more and more. There is an actual gym on board Tridents in the Missile Compartment and I found myself there more often than in my rack. Gone were the days of unlimited sticky buns and endless platters of sliders. Pizza Night was nothing more than a tormenting smell that could only be vanquished by venting sanitary’s. Silas Hines famous double chocolate chocolate cake was a dream that I tried not to have. Butter and syrup were like poison elements that attacked my opportunities to ever wear khaki. They could not win!

Forty pounds later, the patrol from hell finally ended

Most of the clothes I had hung on me. When we pulled into the EHW, the families were waiting for us under the covered pier. Debbie told me afterwards that when I walked up to her, she didn’t recognize me and was still looking at the brow for my arrival. To be honest, when we finally did make it home, she … well, this is a family blog so I will leave it up to your imagination.

Ohio LPO 2 Ohio on surface

The Corpsman transferred during off crew to be replaced by a pretty good guy. I spent the rest of my career alternately praising or cursing the PRT guys (and later girls). The whole Navy is changing so fast and I don’t recognize some of it today. It’s hard to believe we actually won World War 2 and the Cold War with our bad behaviors and habits. Smoking, drinking and eating to our hearts content would get anyone of us in trouble in this day and age. You will notice I have not added anything about port calls either.

Today’s sailors face a lot more challenges than we ever did. In the long run, eating healthier and being in better shape will probably help some of them to have a longer life. I am eternally grateful that while mine may not be as long, I had a life worth remembering (as well as some I am glad I have forgotten).

So what is the measure of a man? I would like to think its the sum total of what they have done and not just the way they appear. Today at lunch, I will be with my Brothers of the Phin at our March USSVI meeting. I would be willing to bet than none present would be able to run the 1.5 miles anymore and if a tape measure suddenly appeared, you could except that at least one or two of the old boys would find their inner Kanye if you know what I mean. Yet by any measure, every one of them raised their hand when it was needed most and to hear them talk, would do so again. That is the finest measurement I can imagine.

Mister Mac

In memory of Silas Hines, one of the best cooks I ever knew. Fire up the grill Silas, I’ll see you soon.

Miscellaneous… 1940 2

Miscellaneous…

The Bluejackets Manual has been the mainstay for educating sailors since 1902. Prior to that time, the sailors were considered to be too illiterate to merit having a manual with instructions on how to be an American Bluejacket. For a hundred and twelve years, the manual has undergone a number of revisions to reflect changes in the fleet and in tactics. I have talked many times before about the interwar attitudes concerning the pride of the fleet – the Battleships. To be fair, I have had a lifelong affair with the idea of big ships ranging the ocean and pounding it out in epic battles.

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The very first manual I ever held in my hands belonged to my Grandfather, Robert W. Parkins (the man I was named after). His Tenth Edition was published in June of 1940, over a year before the American Navy was savaged at Pearl Harbor. Grandfather served as a River Patrol leader in Western Pennsylvania and although I never asked him, I am sure the book was used to train his Coast Guard crew (and maybe himself) in the arts of seamanship.

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The book is divided into Seven Parts marked by 59 Chapters.

Part 1 is for the new recruits and discusses the merits of a career in the Navy. Rules, regulations and basic skills in all things nautical round out the section. The remaining Six Parts go into more specific detail on everything from health care to marlinspike seamanship. This how to book was critical for each sailor in developing the mental, moral and physical attributes that would help them become American Bluejackets.

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In 1940, submarines were still considered a minor part of the fleet.  There had been many advances since the First World War and the Sugar Boats (S Boats) of the Asiatic fleet had proven that squadrons of submarines could operate far from America’s shores supported by a minimum of resources. Fleet type submarines were being built to replace the older boats, but they were still considered an extension of the real fleet. Events over the next five years would build a path that would change that view forever. But in 1940, Submarine life as a career was not high on anyone’s priority list.

In the ship description section, whole pages of information are provided praising the attributes of the monstrous capital ships of the line. There is a picture of the Skipjack on page 195 but little more than a brief description of what a submarine does accompanies the picture.

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The last section of the book is called Miscellaneous. Here is where the Bluejacket finally learns about submarines and life on board the boats.

From the Manual:

Submarine Service

“The modern type submarines, which are now named after fishes, are about 310 feet in length, displace 1500 tons when on the surface, and carry a crew of 5 officers and 55 men. They are equipped with torpedo tubes in both the bow and the stern, and mount a three inch gun which may be used against either surface targets or aircraft. Their maximum speed on the surface is about 21 knots, using Diesel engine electric drive, and about 8 knots submerged, using storage batteries and motors.”

The book then describes where submarines are located (leaving out about 90 percent of their actual home ports) and talks about training and opportunities to learn modern advances in electricity, storage batteries, and Diesel engines.

Enlisted men who serve on board submarines receive additional pay for service on actively commissioned submarines at the rate of $10.00 a month for a non-qualified man, $25.00 per month for qualified men, and $30.00 per month for Chief Petty Officers and Frist Class Petty officers one year after qualifying. This rate remained the same throughout World War 2.

Even in 1973, Hazardous Duty pay was a whopping $55.00 per month for all submariners which is proof that we did not do it for the money.

Qualifications were described in short detail and the opportunity to learn more about technical matters is the way the paragraph ends. A page and a half of very generic information in a section called Miscellaneous seems like a very short tribute to the boats that would prove to be an overwhelming force in the war to come.

The cost was very high.

“To those whose contribution meant the loss of sons, brothers or husbands in this war, I pay my most humble respect and extend by deepest sympathy. As to the 374 officers and 3131 men of the Submarine Force who gave their lives in the winning of this war, I can assure you that they went down fighting and that their brothers who survived them took a grim toll of our savage enemy to avenge their deaths. “

MAY GOD REST THEIR GALLANT SOULS.

From a speech given in Cleveland, Navy Day 1945, by Vice Admiral C.A. Lockwood, Jr., Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet January 1943-January 1946.

But the cost was much higher for the enemy

The Japanese Merchant Marine lost 8.1 million tons of vessels during the war, with submarines accounting for 4.9 million tons (60%) of the losses. Additionally, U.S. submarines sank 700,000 tons of naval ships (about 30% of the total lost) including 8 aircraft carriers, 1 battleship and 11 cruisers. Of the total 288 U.S. submarines deployed throughout the war (including those stationed in the Atlantic), 52 submarines were lost with 48 destroyed in the war zones of the Pacific. American submariners, who comprised only 1.6% of the Navy, suffered the highest loss rate in the U.S. Armed Forces, with 22% killed.

Considering the achievements of the submarine force, “Miscellaneous” seems a bit of an understatement.

As the men of the Silent Service continue to approach the gang plank for their last liberty call, never miss a chance to say thanks for their courageous service.

Mister Mac

SUBMARINE PAY

Teddy Roosevelt was the first American president to go aboard a submarine and participate in a dive. The USS Plunger dove beneath the surface of Long Island Sound on March 25th 1905 with the President on board.

President Roosevelt not only achieved this historical first but was the man directly responsible for establishing submarine pay. The naval Admirals and bureaucracy of the day thought that submarine duty was neither unusual nor dangerous, and classified it as shore duty. For that reason, submariners received twenty-five percent less pay than sailors going to sea in destroyers, cruisers and similar surface ships.

From a story researched by Robert Loys Sminkey, Commander, United States Navy, Retired:

“Roosevelt’s two hour trip on Plunger convinced him that this discrimination was unfair. He described submarine duty as hazardous and difficult, and he found that submariners “have to be trained to the highest possible point as well as to show iron nerve in order to be of any use in their positions…”

Roosevelt directed that officer service on submarines be equated with duty on surface ships. Enlisted men qualified in submarines were to receive ten dollars per month in addition to the pay of their rating. They were also to be paid a dollar for every day in which they were submerged while underway. Enlisted men assigned to submarines but not yet qualified received an additional five dollars per month.

Roosevelt did not dilly-dally once he made a decision. He issued an executive order directing the extra pay for enlisted personnel. This was the beginning of submarine pay!”

“Love, Your Son Butch” – Chapter 2 Reply

Just a short note before I return to the book.

Today (April 27 2013) is the twentieth anniversary of the day John C. MacPherson met Jesus face to face. I’m not sure what time of day it was and frankly at this point it doesn’t matter. On the morning, I was up well before the crack of dawn preparing the engine rooms and auxiliary equipment on the USS Hunley for a departure from Miami Florida. As one of only two people qualified to run the propulsion plant on board, I had many things on my mind.

I only allowed myself one happy thought that morning. One of my kids came and told me they saw the outgoing chief engineer Paul Lachance leaving the ship with all of his bags. After making my life a living hell for two years I really was ready to see the bastard fall into the deepest part of the dark ocean. Just knowing he was gone was enough for a small bit of joy. In the back of my mind I knew I had outlasted the jerk and that was a mighty nice thing to think about between getting the main engines warmed and on line.

Hunley 1993 001

Class Photo from the Hunley (Minus the worlds smallest man)

The Hunley set sail and a few hours after we had passed the breakwater the Captain called me to his stateroom to inform me of my Dad’s death. The ship was past the point of being able to send me back and besides, with Lachance gone there really only were two of us who had qualified as EOOW. The ironic thing is that we were the ones he made life most miserable for and his golden children never did quite get the hang of running the ship. Sadly, that old bastard killed more careers than I can count including his buddies. I later learned that karma finally caught up with him but that story is for another day.

We did get home a few days later and I made it in time for the funeral. Before they closed the coffin I slipped in my Hunley ball cap. Dad had lasted just long enough to see me through the hardest times. Believe me, he earned the hat even though he never saw my last ship.

Thanks Dad. I wish I could have told you that in person but know that I will get the chance someday.

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Chapter Two – Boot Camp

April 1945

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Dear Theo,
Sunday the 8th of April, 1945 marked the beginning of the fifth week John C. MacPherson was at Naval Training Station Sampson in Seneca New York. During this week, he was experiencing what was politely known as “Hell Week” a term never officially recognized by the US Navy but certainly recognized by the hundreds of thousands of Navy men who went through boot camp. This week was designed to start testing and bringing the men up to a fighting edge. It was intentionally hard so that they could find out where there true strengths lay. Most of them would end up on fighting ships or in far away locations with none of the comforts of home. So even though the Navy did care about morale, it cared a lot more about survival. Stories of men languishing on lifeboats or in the open seas with just their personal flotation device were testimonies to the difficulties of a life at sea. Most of the recruits had never really faced difficulty before so the training they would receive would mean the difference between survival and not surviving.
Meanwhile, on Okinawa, the Army and Marines had arrived at the first of three defense lines established by the Japanese. It was here that some of the bloodiest fighting of the Pacific occurred in terms of US and Japanese lives. The Japanese, far from defeated, launched attack after attack at the fleet that was supporting the invasion. From the archives:

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 326, APRIL 8, 1945

On the afternoon of April 7 (East Longitude Date) the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps drove into heavily defended terrain in the southern sector of Okinawa and captured the villages of Uchitomari and Kaniku. The enemy resisted stubbornly from numerous pillboxes and blockhouses which are em­placed to take full advantage of the broken terrain. In the north, Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps continued to move northward rapidly against negligible opposition. Four enemy aircraft appeared in the Okinawa area on April 7 and all were shot down.

On the following day Twenty‑Fourth Corps troops made small gains against heavy opposition in the south. By 1800 of that date the front line on their right had moved forward about 200 yards and on the left about 400 yards. Heavy artillery was used by the enemy throughout the night and day. Our troops are being supported by ships’ gunfire, carrier aircraft and field artillery. In the northern sector of the island on April 8, Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps had moved 3,000 to 4,800 yards westward along Motobu peninsula by nightfall.

Fighters of the Second Marine Aircraft Wing have begun to use the captured air fields on Okinawa. Major General F. P. Mulcahy, USMC, is present in command of the tactical air forces on shore at Okinawa. Nine enemy aircraft were destroyed on April 8 by various forces.

By the end of April 7, 30,000 civilians were under care of the U. S. Mili­tary Government on Okinawa. Native housing is being utilized fully.

Letter from Joe Kreta to the MacPherson family in Boston PA April 8 1945
Dear folkses,
I saw Foo today and he’s on his workweeks so he asked me to drop a line to you. He doesn’t have time to write, and I doubt if he has time to take a smoke. He’s looking swell and as dumb as ever (maybe I shouldn’t have said that.)
Well, Navy life as far as I am concerned is swell. It’s a little tough, but it’s a great life. They believe in keeping you busy, but you have Sunday afternoon off except when you are on work week.
How’s Cal take it about Foo being gone? I haven’t seen him after Foo left so I wouldn’t know.
Well I have to get ready for church, so I guess I better close. Take care of yourself and write to Foo. Be seeing you in a few weeks.
As ever,
Joe

 

From the Sampson USNTC Bulletin, “WHILE THE CHURCH PENNANT FLIES” for Sunday, 8 April, 1945

“Send this home to your folks:

“What does it mean to be a Christian?”

A good many people seem to feel that it is just a matter of trying to be good and courteous. To them, Christianity is the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. “The man who has enough willpower to live by these teachings most of the time is the true Christian”, they say, “and whether he goes to Church or stays away is not too important. Of course a good sermon and good church music help one to be good and courteous during the week, but often the sermon is weak and the music is sour, so church going shouldn’t be relied on too heavily. After all, a man worthy of the name should be able to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and not depend too much on outside help.”

The man who holds this very common point of view may think that he is being practical and respectable – and Christian. Actually, he is worshipping himself and his own will power, not Almighty God, and no matter how good he may be in most respects, he is still breaking the greatest of all commandments, which is to love God with heart and mind and soul. An old catechism says that “the whole duty of man is to know God and to enjoy him forever”. But a man cannot know and enjoy the companionship of God when he is busy surrounding himself with barriers of spiritual isolationism, when he is intent on building graven images to his own determination and strength of character. No man can serve two masters lest he will learn to hate the one and love the other. That is the whole point of “deciding for Christ” as against deciding for oneself.

This is the heart of Christianity, the opening of one’s heart of Christ the King. Wherever Christ our Lord is allowed to enter in to human hearts and human relationships, there is the Kingdom of God. When Christ enters and reigns, evil departs; to be replaced by the flowers of good works and the fragrance of holy living.

C. F. Minnick

Chaplain, USNR

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Royce Chapel, Camp Sampson

Royce Memorial Chapel (named after a Spanish-American War chaplain), a unique worship center at the station, built to seat 1000, equipped for interchangeable use by Protestant, Catholic or Jewish worshippers, was dedicated August 15, 1943. A cathedral-size altar, on a turntable, with three complete altar faces and screen arrangements of walnut and oak, manually operated, was used by any religious group. At no other house of worship in the nation was such a manner and speed of change possible.

The chapel was designed under the supervision of Chaplain Captain William W. Edel, USN (senior chaplain of the 13 Protestant Chaplains) who had built more Navy chapels than any other man. He also was responsible later for the Roman Catholic Chadwick Chapel, named for the Chaplain on the Maine.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 327, APRIL 9, 1945

About half of Motobu Peninsula was brought under U. S. control by Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps on Okinawa on April 9 (East Longi­tude Date). A general advance of 3,000 to 4,000 yards was made during the day against opposition which continued to be scattered and ineffective. Ad­vance element of the Third Corps on Ishikawa Isthmus were reported in the vicinity of Kushibaru Town.

The Twenty Fourth Army Corps made small local gains in the southern sector against enemy opposition which continued to be heavy. The volume of enemy small arms and machine gun fire on the southern front increased during the day of April 9, and mortar and artillery fire continued to be heavy. Heavy gunfire from fleet units was concentrated on enemy installations in southern Okinawa during the day resulting in destruction of guns, emplace­ments, barracks, and small craft. Carrier air craft from the Pacific Fleet and both Army and Marine artillery supported the attacking U. S. Army troops. During the evening of April 9 about 10 enemy aircraft attacked our forces in the area of Okinawa. Seven were destroyed.

CINCPOA PRESS RELEASE NO. 65, APRIL 9, 1945

During the heaviest aerial attacks on our forces around Okinawa on 8 April (East Longitude Date), Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, U. S. Navy, received the following report via. voice radio from a minesweeper under his command

"We have been hit twice in attacks by two aircraft but we splashed the third one. Six wounded in action. We are now taking a damaged destroyer in tow."

Letter from John to his parents April 9th, 1945 3:15 PM (Company 510 Barracks G5L Postmarked April 10 1945 9AM

Dear Mom and Pop

I’m terribly sorry about my writing. I can imagine how you feel about me not writing, but I’m busier that ever now. I’m a life guard at the swimming pool and its pretty hard work. It kind of makes you a little nervous. We pull out a lot of kids in one day, no kidding. I have to wash officer’s towels on this job. Next Thursday we start our second work week. They told us we were doing so good that we are going to another swimming pool over in H unit. We start at 7:30 in the morning and quit at 10:30 sometimes later at night. That’s a long day. Besides that you stand watch at the barracks every other day 11-3 or 3-7 at night. It doesn’t bother me very much, I mean not much sleep because we are used to it. The weather is swell. I didn’t have time to go to chow today but I’m hoping for the better tonight. I wish you would send me a box for I am very hungry and they don’t seem to feed us much to eat.

There is no classes in the pool now so I thought I better catch up on my writing. I do have more time to read my letters now so I wish you would tell some of the kids to write. About my birthday present, if you can’t get a radio forget about it because jewelry and junk like that don’t agree much with the Navy. You can sell my portable and maybe that means a little more money towards a radio for pop’s car. There is a crew of twelve here in the pool. Bill Dietz and I are together. He is from McKeesport too.

Some skin heads came in for their first swim test and darned if I didn’t see a couple of kids from school. Boy we were happy to see each other. I hear a lot from Eleanor Hector and I think its pretty swell of her because she keeps me up to date with the chatter about the kids. I got to go to church yesterday morning but I didn’t get much out of it because I was dead tired. I’m getting to be a good swimmer now. I have to be to pull kids out of the pool.

Gee, we don’t hear too much news cause there is no paper or radios around here. The kids that joined the Seabees left last Saturday morning. It won’t be to long till I’ll be leaving the old son of a gun place “Gestapo Unit” Boy what a place. The rest of the kids in our barracks are on regimental guard and they guard the unit. Boy those poor kids have it tough. They walk in their sleep. Well, I hope you share this letter with Ixxy and Jack and my little niece Nancy because I know they realize that I am a little busy. Well, old Goofer has to get back on his little chair so be good. So long for a while,

God keep you all safe and strong. Mom, Pop, Ixxy, Jack, Nancy

Your sailor boy Goofer Butch

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Swimming pool at Camp Sampson

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Gilmore (Fifth Regiment) Opened 10 November, 1942. Named after Commander Howard S. Gilmore, USN, Commander of the submarine Growler. He was wounded on the deck during action in the Pacific and ordered the crew to "take her down" rather than jeopardize his ship and crew. He was liked.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 328, APRIL 10, 1945
After beating off two small counterattacks on Motobu Peninsula on the evening of April 9 (East Longitude Date), Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps on Okinawa continued their advance on April 10, moving their lines generally about 2500 yards westward to the Manna river on the south and Unten Bay on the north. Enemy submarine pens at Unten Bay and other in­stallations were captured. On Ishikawa Isthmus, Marines moved northward to the vicinity of Tsuwa Village.
The Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps in the southern sector of the Okinawa battle continued to meet stubborn enemy resistance along its entire front. At 1800 on April 10 there were no substantial changes in the lines. Backed by heavy artillery fire, the enemy made several unsuccessful counterattacks against our positions. Army troops were supported by intense Marine and Army artillery fire by carrier aircraft and by Naval gunfire from major units of the Pacific Fleet.
Elements of the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps landed on Tsugen Island about ten miles off the east coast of Okinawa on the morning of April 10 en. countering some enemy resistance..
At the end of April 8 our forces on Okinawa had killed 5,009 of the enemy and had taken 222 prisoners of war. At that time 43,378 civilians were under care of the U. S. Military Government.

From the World War II Chronicles:

Apr 10, 1945 The Allies liberated their first Nazi concentration camp, Buchenwald, north of Weimar, Germany.

Apr 10, 1945 German Me 262 jet fighters shot down ten U.S. bombers near Berlin.

Apr 10, 1945 In their second attempt to take the Seelow Heights, near Berlin, the Red Army launched numerous attacks against the defending Germans. The Soviets gain one mile at the cost of 3,000 men killed and 368 tanks destroyed.

Letter from John to his parents in Boston PA, Wednesday April 11, 1945 Postmarked 5PM

Dear Mom and Pop,

Well, today’s another day, and boy what a day. I haven’t been feeling so well the last three days. I have a sore throat. The day before yesterday I got two hours of sleep out of 37 hours and that’s not very much, is it? We leave the swimming pool tomorrow and go to another unit to work for another week. Time passes very fast. I can hardly talk, and the other night I had watch form 11-3 and Lieutenant Truman came in for barracks inspection and he asked me to give my general orders and I couldn’t talk, I was too horse. I guess he thought I was trying to pull something because he gave me heck anyway. Boy what I wouldn’t like to do to some of those brass hats. The weather out is pretty nice. This week went by pretty fast. I’d write more letters but I haven’t had time – that’s tough I know but I can’t help it. Boy, I’m pretty sleepy. Tell the kids I said hello. I got a letter from Filson and I don’t know whether he likes it or not. I wish I could get home pretty soon. I need a good nights sleep. You can’t get your picture taken unless you stand in line for about 2 days and I haven’t time to do that. Well, I think I’ll quit for now.

Be good and God Bless you both Mom and Pop

Your Son

I got a letter from Russ Weicher. It was interesting. I’ll send it home if I find it

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 329, APRIL 11, 1945

No substantial changes were made in the lines on Okinawa on April 11 (East Longitude Date). In the south the enemy continued to resist attacks of the Twenty Fourth Army Corps with artillery, mortar and small arms fire. In the north Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps met some organized resistance on Motobu Peninsula but continued to advance northward on Ishi­kawa Isthmus.

Army troops of the Twenty‑Fourth Corps reduced enemy points of re­sistance on Tsugen Island off the east coast of Okinawa and occupied the island on April 11.

Direct support was provided for our forces by carrier aircraft, Naval gun­fire and Marine and Army artillery. Our forces in the Okinawa area were attacked sporadically by enemy aircraft, four of which were destroyed.

United States forces on Okinawa had lost 432 killed at the end of April 9. Our wounded for the same period were 2,103. A total of 180 were missing.

N. D. COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 592, APRIL 12, 1945 Pacific Area.

1. The submarine USS Scamp is overdue from patrol and presumed lost.

2. The LCS (L) (S)‑49 was lost in the Philippine area as the result of enemy action.

3. The next of kin of casualties have been informed in both cases.

APRIL 12, 1945

DEATH OF PRESIDENT TOLD TO NAVAL SERVICE IN MESSAGE FROM SECRETARY OF THE NAVY FORRESTAL

News of the death of President Roosevelt was dispatched to all ships and stations of the United States Navy tonight in a message by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who called upon the Nation’s sea forces to pay tribute to the memory of the Nation’s leader by carrying on "in the tradition of which he was so proud."

The Secretary’s message follows:

"I have the sad duty of announcing to the naval service the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States, which occurred on twelve April.

"The world has lost a champion of democracy who can Ill be spared by our country and the Allied cause. The Navy which he so dearly loved can pay no better tribute to his memory than to carry on in the tradition of which he was so proud.

"Colors shall be displayed at half-mast for thirty days beginning 0800 thirteen April West Longitude Date insofar as war operations permit. Memorial services shall be held on the day of the funeral to be announced later at all yards and stations and on board all vessels of the Navy, war operations permitting.

"Wearing of mourning badges and firing of salutes will be dispensed with in view of war conditions."

 
 
Apr 12, 1945 Robert Daniell (1901-1996), British tank commander, entered with his tank crew into Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He found some 10,000 corpses killed by the guards as the allies approached. Of the remaining 38,500 prisoners, barely a third survived.

 

 

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 330, APRIL 12, 1945
The Sixth Marine Division on Okinawa moved forward against sporadic resistance by the enemy on Motobu Peninsula on April 12 (East Longitude Date). On Ishikawa Isthmus our troops continued to press northward over rugged terrain and extremely poor roads. The First Marine Division continued mopping up in its zone of action.
There was virtually no change in the lines in the Southern sector of Okinawa where the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps, including elements of the Twenty‑Seventh and Ninety‑Sixth Divisions, continued to meet strong enemy resistance on April 12.
On April 12, large numbers of enemy aircraft made desperate suicidal attacks on our forces in the Okinawa Area. Early in the morning, seven enemy aircraft were shot down in the vicinity of the Hagushi beaches. During the afternoon, ships’ guns, carrier aircraft and shore‑based antiaircraft shot down 111 of the attackers. One of our destroyers was sunk during these attacks and several other surface units were damaged but remained in operation.

 

Letter from John MacPherson a/s to Mr. and Mrs. J.C. MacPherson Smithfield Street, Boston, PA postmarked April 12th, 1945 3 PM

Dear Mom and Pop,

Well, today ends our first week of work and I do mean work. I thought the National Tube used to work me too much but I found different. I got the pen and thanks a lot, it sure writes swell. Boy, just think after next Thursday only four more weeks to go. Boy that will be swell. The Chaplains up here are trying to get 14 days leave instead of 7. If it goes through, it goes in effect May 1. Boy that would be wonderful. There is not much to talk about working in the swimming pool so I can’t think of much to say. Tell everybody I said hello and I would like to call you up but I can’t seem to find the time. That surprise I had, I can’t get yet. It is navy pins for Mom and Ixxy but every time I go to buy them they are sold out, but maybe I can find them someplace. I hope Jack doesn’t have to go. Tell auntie and Nancy I say hello but I can’t find hardly time to write you. Well, I’ll close for now. God be with you all and keep you all safe Mom and Pop.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 331, APRIL 13, 1945

During the early morning of April 13, the enemy in the Southern sector of Okinawa counterattacked in battalion strength but was beaten back with numerous losses by the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps, supported by Naval gun fire and artillery. No substantial change was made in the lines in the South during the day.

On Motobu Peninsula in the North, Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps continued to engage groups of the enemy in sporadic fighting. Third Corps troops on Ishikawa Isthmus continued to press northward against In­effective resistance.

Aircraft from fast carriers of the U. S. Pacific Fleet shot down over 100 enemy planes in the area of the Ryukyus on April 11‑12, in addition to those reported destroyed in communiqué No. 330. At Tokuno and Kikai Islands, eight more planes were destroyed on the ground and fuel dumps and ware­houses were damaged or set afire.

On April 12, Shinchiku and Kiirun airfields on Formosa were attacked by Seafire and Hellcat fighters of the British Pacific Fleet. Sixteen enemy planes were shot out of the air, one was destroyed on the ground, and five were damaged.

On the following day, U. S. carrier aircraft shot one plane down and des­troyed 12 others on the ground in the Northern Ryukyus. Attacking shipping end ground installations in and around the Ryukyus our planes destroyed 23 Barges and small craft, damaged airfields and set buildings afire.

During the period March 18 to April 12, inclusive, U. S. Fast Carrier Task Forces under command of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, U. S. Navy, shot down 841 enemy planes in combat, destroyed 73 by gunfire and destroyed 363 on the ground.

CINCPOA PRESS RELEASE NO. 72, APRIL 13, 1945

The Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, has authorized the following, statement:

For some months the Japanese have been employing aircraft on a gradually increasing scale in suicidal attacks upon our forces in the Western Pacific. These aircraft were initially piloted by a group of pilots who were known as the "Kamikaze Corps" by the Japanese. The enemy has made much in his propaganda of this "sure death‑sure hit" suicide technique which is simply an attempt to crash planes on the decks of our ships.

The enemy has expended a large number of planes and personnel on missions of this nature with negligible effect on the continuing success of our operations. Some major units of the fleet have been damaged, but no battle­ship, fast carrier or cruiser has been sunk. Some smaller ships have been sunk, but in the great majority of cases they have remained in operation after being struck by one of these suicide planes. This reflects considerable credit on our officers and men and also on the designers and builders of our ships.

Effective methods of meeting and destroying suicidal attacks have been developed and will continue to be employed to increase the toll of Japanese aircraft shot down by our aircraft and by our antiaircraft guns.

The "suicide attack" and the so‑called "Kamikaze Corps" are the products of an enemy trapped in an increasingly desperate situation. Pushed back upon heir own inner defenses the Japanese have resorted to fanatical methods which, from a purely military viewpoint, are of doubtful value.

The "Kamikaze Corps" is apparently being used not only to attempt to damage our ships but also to stir the lagging spirits of the Japanese people. Although these "sure death‑sure hit" pilots are reported to be volunteers, many have very willingly become survivors of "suicide" missions and are now prisoners of war.

The enemy claims for the accomplishments of "suicide swimmers, human torpedoes and suicide speed boats" hardly need comment. In the majority of such attacks up to this date these personnel have failed completely in their missions but have been successful in committing suicide.

The "suicide" technique is continuing at the present time. Although it is always considered and prepared for as a factor in estimating the enemy’s capabilities it cannot prevent our continuing success in the war in the Pacific.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 332, APRIL 14, 1945

Elements of the Marine Third Amphibious Corps on Okinawa Island on April 14 advanced northward to the vicinity of Momubaru Town on the west coast and Arakawa Town on the east coast. Resistance was negligible. The Marines on Motobu Peninsula are now in possession of most of that area and are attacking small concentrations of enemy troops which continue to resist.

In the southern sector during the early morning hours of April 14, the enemy mounted a small counterattack which was immediately beaten off by troops of the Ninety Sixth Army Division. Enemy positions were brought under fire of field artillery, ships’ guns, and carrier and land‑based aircraft.

A few enemy aircraft appeared in the area off Okinawa during the day and nine were shot down by our combat air patrols.

Well, that ends the fifth week of Dad’s boot camp. I hope you are doing well. I talked with your mom today and she is very proud of you, as we all are.

Uncle Bob

September 5, 2005

Dear Theo,

Week 6 15-21 April

John C. MacPherson, from Boston PA, has been in boot camp now for six weeks. His letters are starting to show how he is beginning to adapt to the new life. In the rest of the world, President Roosevelt has just died and President Harry S. Truman has just been elevated to the position of Commander in Chief. While he adapts to his new role, he hears for the first time about a project called Manhattan which will change the world and the way major wars will be viewed forever. In the Pacific theater however, the threat of the day is still the kamikaze attacks. Navy officials are watching with horror as more and more ships are targeted by this new type of weapon and they realize that an invasion of the homeland of Japan will result in massive attacks never seen before.

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USS Missouri 003

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 333, APRIL 15, 1945

Three enemy counterattacks in the Southern sector of Okinawa were broken up by Marine and Army artillery on the night of April 14‑15 (East Longitude Date). At noon on April 15, the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps lines were unchanged.

In the north, Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps continued to mop up small units of the enemy. In the Western area of Motobu Peninsula one isolated group of the enemy was offering stiff resistance.

Ground forces continued to receive effective support from Naval guns, carrier and land-based aircraft, and field artillery.

CINCPOA ADVANCE HEADQUARTERS, GUAM, APRIL 15, 1945

1. Elements of the Marine Third Amphibious Corps on Okinawa Island on April 14 advanced northward to the vicinity of Momubaru town on the west coast and Arakawa town on the east coast. Resistance was negligible. The Marines on Motobu Peninsula are now in possession of most of that area and are attacking small concentrations of enemy troops which continue to resist.

2. In the southern sector during the early morning hours of April 14 the enemy mounted a small counterattack which was immediately beaten off by troops of the Ninety Sixth Army Division. Enemy positions were brought under fire of field artillery, ships’ guns and carrier and land‑based aircraft.

3. A few enemy aircraft appeared in the area off Okinawa during the day and nine were shot down by our combat air patrols.

April 16, 1945 Letter from John C. MacPherson to his parents in Boston PA (postmarked April 17 at 9 AM)

April 16 1945

Monday evening

Dear Mom and Pop

Well, our work weeks are about over only 2 more days. We were taken off swimming pool last Thursday and put on regimental guard over in H unit. Boy, you don’t get much sleep. That is why I don’t write more often, because when I get a chance, I sleep. My sore throat is all gone and I am glad. I am glad to hear you are both feeling better. I slept all afternoon in the library at ships service. On Sunday, the whole unit went into the drill hall at 10:00 o’clock and they had a prayer and played taps. They sang one verse of America and boy that was a big thrill to hear that many fellows singing at one time. You couldn’t hear yourself. Well, a week tomorrow we get our first liberty to go to Geneva NY. Its not much of a place but it will be a break away from this place. It sounds as though Nancy is growing up. Boy, I would like to see her. I’ll bet she’s as cute as a picture. You forget about my birthday present because I know how hard things are to get. That guard duty I have is at night from 2:00 till 8 and boy is it spooky. Most of H unit is deserted and it makes it worse.

We always go in ships service about 20 times a night to eat. The only one there is a guard and most of the time he is our good friend. Daddy, you know how it is when a sailor is hungry on guard. He eats everything in sight. Anyhow, we are allowed (I think). Another boy and I have this beat we walk – its about a mile. We just try doors and stuff like that. On Saturday afternoon, everyone on the base went out on the drill field and stood at attention for five minutes in honor of our Commander in Chief. We had inspection Saturday and it was very, very good. Well, tell Jack and Ixxy to be good and I intend to write them soon. God keep you all strong and safe, your son and brother,

Sonny

PS. That bag was wonderful; I really enjoyed it very much. It was packed wonderful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart

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CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 334, APRIL 16, 1945

Supported by carrier aircraft and by naval gunfire, elements of the Twenty Fourth Army Corps landed on le Shima, an island west of Okinawa, on the morning of April 16 (East Longitude Date). Advancing inland rapidly against resistance which was initially light but later stiffened, our troops captured the enemy airfield and secured most of the area west of that point. The greater part of the enemy defense force has been driven back to defensive positions in the pinnacles southeast of the airfield.

Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps continued to attack groups of the enemy on Motobu Peninsula, Okinawa, on April 16. Marine forces con­tinued to advance northward in the rugged terrain of the island north of the peninsula.

There was little change in the lines of the Twenty Fourth Army Corps in the southern sector of Okinawa. Naval guns and carrier planes attacked enemy positions in the south.

At the end of April 13 our forces on Okinawa had killed 9,108 of the enemy and captured 391 prisoners of war. About 85,000 civilians had come under jurisdiction of the U. S. Military Government on the island by the end of April 15. Our Military Government authorities have constructed one large camp and have taken over thirteen villages for use of civilians. Civilian food­stuffs are being salvaged and used. Our medical facilities have proved ade­quate for treatment of civilians thus far.

Fast carrier task forces of the U. S. Pacific Fleet attacked aircraft, air­fields and other military installations in the northern Ryukyus and on the island of Kyushu during the period April 12 to 15 (East Longitude Dates). In sweeps over airfields on Kikai and Tanega our planes shot down 77 enemy aircraft from April 12 to 14. Attacking major air bases at Kanoya and Kushira on Kyushu on April 15, U. S. carrier planes shot down 29 aircraft, destroyed 58 on the ground and damaged 60 more.

The enemy launched heavy air attacks against our forces in and around Okinawa on the morning of April 16. Strong combat air patrols from the fast carrier task forces of the U. S. Pacific Fleet met the attacking enemy aircraft and preliminary reports indicate that our planes shot down 62 enemy aircraft over the Okinawa area. Fighters, sweeping Kyushu, shot down 22 more, anti­aircraft guns of the fast carrier forces shot down 15, and 67 more were shot out of the air by combat air patrols in the Ryukyus area.

Ship’s antiaircraft fire off the Okinawa beaches destroyed 38 Japanese planes on April 16. Land‑based aircraft shot down an unreported number.

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CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 335, APRIL 17, 1945

About two thirds of the area of le Shima was brought under the control of the Tenth Army on April 17 (East Longitude Date) as our attacking forces wheeled eastward to occupy a line running from the northeast corner of the airfield along the base of the island’s central pinnacle and through the town of Iegusugu to the southern coast. Resistance was moderate throughout the day.

Small pockets of the enemy continued to resist attacks of Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps on Motobu Peninsula and in northern Okinawa.

In the south there was no change in the lines of the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps.

Our troops in both the northern and southern sectors were supported throughout the day by heavy Naval gunfire, carrier aircraft and Army and Marine artillery. A few enemy reconnaissance planes were in the Okinawa area during the day.

United States forces attacking the home islands of Japan and the island groups of the Ryukyus since initiation of the Ryukyus campaign on March 18 to April 17, inclusive, have, destroyed more than 2200 Japanese aircraft in the air and on the ground. Aircraft from the fast carriers of the Pacific Fleet have destroyed more than 1600 of this total. In addition, units of the British Pacific Fleet operating in waters off the Sakishimas and Formosa have destroyed more than 80 enemy planes.

Mopping up operations on Iwo Island continued during the month of April as our forces developed that island as an air base. A total of 22,731 of the enemy were killed on Iwo from February 19 to April 14, inclusive, and 624 were captured.

CINCPOA PRESS RELEASE NO. 79, APRIL 17, 1945

On the morning of April 16 large numbers of enemy aircraft attacked one of our destroyers for more than two hours off the coast of Okinawa. The ship took two bomb hits and four suicide hits.

But she shot down 6 dive bombers and proceeded to operate as ordered.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 336, APRIL 18, 1945

Tenth Army Troops in Ie Shima made substantial gains in the North­eastern area of the Island on April 18 (East Longitude Date). The enemy in the area of Iegusugu Peak gave stiff resistance from dug in positions and pillboxes. On the third day of the action, preliminary reports show that 388 of the enemy have been killed and one prisoner taken. In the same period our forces lost 15 killed and 73 wounded. Five are listed as missing.

Elements of the Marine Third Amphibious Corps have reached the north­ern end of Okinawa Island. The Marines on Motobu Peninsula continued operations on April 18 against isolated groups of the enemy in that sector.

There were no changes in the lines of the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps In the Southern Sector of Okinawa. Naval guns and carrier aircraft continued to attack enemy strong points in the south. As of April 18, according to the most recent reports available, 989 officers and men of the U. S. Pacific Fleet had been killed in the Okinawa operation and associated attacks on Japan, 2,220 were wounded in action, and 1,491 were missing in action. At last re­port the soldiers and Marines of the Tenth Army had lost 478 officers and men killed, 2,457 had been wounded and 260 were missing.

Letter from John C. MacPherson to his parents Wednesday Morning April 18th

Dear Mom and Pop

Well, today’s another day. Last night was another night of guard duty. I’m getting used to it now. Well, I’ll be eighteen years old tomorrow, boy I feel older already. It’s a swell morning. The sun is shining like a million dollars. Tuesday we go to Geneva. Boy, big time. My shipmate and I though we saw a prowler last night, and chased him but we were disappointed there wasn’t anybody. We are wearing white hats now. Some of the kids look like salts that have been in the Navy for about twenty years including myself. (Squared white hats you know Pop). Boy are we salty. We have a jazz session every night about nine o’clock and everybody in the unit moons. Boy, what singing. Well, I can’t think of much more to say. I’m glad you both are feeling better and I feel good too so everything s hunky-dory.

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Letter from John to his Aunt Miss Elizabeth MacPherson on Smithfield Street in Boston Pennsylvania dated April 18 1945 (postmarked on April 19 at 9 AM)

Dear Aunti

Well, I’ve finally got around to writing. I hope you forgive me. I really have been very busy. I know you are keeping up the old school (ha-ha) How’s that principals job anyway? Gee, that candy was swell, boy I really enjoyed it very much. In fact it kept me awake all night. I was on guard duty from 0230 till 0800 or 8 o’clock and we got about two hours of sleep last night. Well Aunti, it won’t be long before I am home for a couple of days (hot days) The food is better and I am feeling great I hope the same for you.

Love your nephew,

Sonny

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 337, APRIL 19, 1945

The Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps launched an offensive of substantial force against enemy defense lines in the southern sector of Okinawa on April 19 (East Longitude Date). In the early morning hours, powerful concentra­tions of Army and Marine artillery joined with battleships, cruisers, and lighter units of the Pacific Fleet to deliver one of the largest bombardments ever made in support of amphibious troops. Under cover of this fire and supported by great flights of carrier aircraft, Army Infantrymen of the Seventh, Twenty‑Seventh and Ninety‑Sixth Infantry Divisions moved off to the attack between 0600 and 0800. By noon the left and right flanks of our lines were reported to have moved forward from 500 to 800 yards and our forces captured the village of Machinato. The enemy was resisting our ad­vance stubbornly with artillery, mortars, and light weapons. Our troops are now striking at a fortified line which is organized in great depth and developed to exploit the defensive value of the terrain which is dissected by ravines and terraced by escarpments. These fortifications whose northern perimeter follows an uneven line across the island at a point where it is about 8,000 yards wide are about four and a half miles north of Naha on the west coast and three and a half miles north of Yonabaru on the east coast. They include interlocking trench and pillbox systems, blockhouses, caves and the con­ventional Japanese dug‑in positions. During the forenoon, U. S. Army In­fantrymen were engaged in knocking out strong points and penetrating and destroying segments of the outer lines.

Tenth Army troops in Ie Shima continued to advance on April 19 moving their lines forward south of the Iegusugu Peak. The enemy continued to resist from concealed fixed positions. Some of our observation planes have landed on the island airstrip.

Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps continued to extend their control over the northern areas of Okinawa. On Motobu Peninsula, mopping up operations were still in progress.

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From the Naval Historical Archives, another ship recovers from a kamikaze attack

The Birthday Poem (From Jack and Isabel Patrick)

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CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 338, APRIL 20, 1945

After a day of heavy attacks on the enemy’s fortified positions in the Southern Okinawa Sector, the Twenty Fourth Army Corps had advanced about 1,000 yards generally by the morning of April 20 (East Longitude Date). The Seventh Infantry Division penetrated enemy defenses up to 1,400 yards in its zone of action near the east coast. Heavy Naval guns continued to bom­bard enemy strong points and Marine and Army artillery supported the ad­vancing infantry with carrier aircraft delivering close support. Most of Yonabaru Town was destroyed. The enemy resisted our attacks bitterly in all sectors of the fighting in the south.

On Ie Shima, Tenth Army troops continued to drive eastward against strong resistance from isolated enemy positions on April 20. Simultaneously, operations were began to destroy enemy forces holding Iegusugu Peak. At the end of April 18, 736 of the enemy had been killed on the island.

Patrols of the Marine Third Amphibious Corps continued to cover the rugged country in Northern Okinawa on April 20 while operations against small groups of the enemy in Motobu Peninsula were continued.

In the early morning hours of April 20 several small groups of enemy aircraft approached our forces in the Okinawa Area and retired without causing damage.

The following is the complete list of ships sunk by enemy action in the Okinawa operation and the associated attacks on Japan from March 18 to April 18:

Destroyers:

Halligan, Bush, Colhoun, Mannert L. Abele, Pringle

Minecraft:

Emmons, Skylark

Destroyer Transport:.

Dickerson

During the same period the following Japanese ships and aircraft were destroyed by our forces participating in the same operations:

2,569 Aircraft destroyed

One Yamato class battleship

Two light cruisers

Five destroyers

Five destroyer escorts

Four large cargo ships

One medium cargo ship

28 small cargo ships

54 small craft

Numerous enemy torpedo boats, speed boats and other types of small craft.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 339, APRIL 21, 1945

The Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps pressed its attack against the enemy in the southern sector of Okinawa on April 20 and 21 (East Longitude Dates) making small gains through heavily defended areas. On the approaches to Hill 178, the high ground changed hands several times on April 21 in the bitterest kind of fighting. Small gains were made by our forces in other seg­ments of the lines. Naval guns and Army and Marine artillery continued to bombard enemy emplacements with heavy fire and carrier aircraft attacked troop concentrations in the southern part of the island.

Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps reduced the remaining pockets of enemy resistance on Motobu Peninsula on the afternoon of April 20 and brought the entire area under their control.

Tenth Army troops placed the United States Flag on the summit of Iegusugu Peak on Ie Shima on the morning of April 21 after overcoming bitter resistance from caves, pillboxes and other strong points. Our forces are engaged in mopping up operations on the island which is now in our possession.

On the night of April 20‑21, enemy aircraft attacked Yontan and Kadena airfields causing minor damage. Carrier aircraft from the U. S. Pacific Fleet attacked air installations in the Sakishima group on April 19 and 21, shooting down one plane and strafing several others on the ground.

Hellcat and Corsair fighters of Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing bombed targets in the Palaus on April 21.

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That’s all for this week Theo. I hope you are doing well and look forward to seeing you soon.

Uncle Bob

 

Next Chapter: Boot Camp May 1945

 

John Boot Camp Liberty

Love, Your Son Butch, Chapter One Reply

Twenty years ago this month, my Dad finally lost his battle with heart disease and went to be with his Lord. The week after his death, I found a box in the basement of our old house that had all of his letters home from World War 2. Over the next ten years, I plugged away and tried to craft them into a story format. That work resulted in the project I called “Love Your Son Butch” named after the way he signed many of those letters to his Mom and Dad.

He was born on April 19, 1927 and died on April 27 1993.

This is his story…

Chapter 1 Boot Camp – Life 1945

August 1 2005

Dear Theo,

I got the address from your Mom today so I decided to drop you a short note. How are things in Great Lakes? Is it what you had imagined (harder or easier)? I remember my first week in boot camp. I was with a rifle company when I first arrived, but they asked for volunteers that could play musical instruments and I volunteered. What I did not realize at the time is that it would add a few weeks to my boot camp time since the band required extra time to get you through the musical portion of your training. But I had a lot of fun with it and it gave me another experience to put in my life folder.

One thing I wish I had access to was some of my letters home during boot camp. I don’t know if I told you or not, but I have all of grandpa Mac’s letters to his parents from the whole time he was in the Navy. There are some really interesting insights into who he was as a person in those letters. I have been working on a project for a number of years to try and get the letters into a format that would be readable for your generation. I am going to send you some of the work over the next six weeks. He had an interesting time in Boot Camp and the letters show some of the struggles he went through.

John C. MacPherson JR. High School Picture

 

John C. MacPherson, Jr.

John Charles MacPherson, Jr. was inducted into the Navy on March 8, 1945 (more than a month before he turned 18). He did not have a great time in school and was not known as a strong student. But I think from reading his notes, he did not want to miss out on the chance to be in World War 2. The news in the winter of 1945 was heavily filled with stories of advances in Europe and the Pacific. Our forces had survived the Battle of the Bulge and were rapidly advancing into Germany. The famous battle at the Bridge at Remagen occurred on March 7th and the American armor forces were racing into Germany over the undestroyed bridge. The McKeesport Daily news carried stories of many home town boys who were serving America in places as far away as the South Pacific and young John (as well as many boys his age) probably thought the whole thing would be over before he could get his turn.

So on the afternoon of March 8, he departed on a very long train ride from Pittsburgh to the US Naval Training Center at Sampson New York. The camp had been built specifically for the purpose of training large quantities of men for the massive build up that was required to fight a truly world war. The camp was constructed on the shores of Lake Seneca and could train up to 20,000 men at a time in its 300 acre facility. John and many other weary travelers arrived on March 11 1945 to start his journey. There are two postcards and a short note that he somehow managed to get off the train on his way there postmarked March 9.

March 9 Letter to mother Helen:

What say Mom and Pop

Well we are laying over and nobody knows where but some place. Its 5:30 and I didn’t sleep all night. There were three cars of sailors and OH BOY whats left of those cars wouldn’t make a good cattle car. Everybodys been seasick on the train. I certainly had a good time last night. We’re in for a big day and I can’t think of much more to say

As ever,

Foo

(John’s nicknames during high school were Butch, Foo, Goofer and Sonny)

Of course in WW2, there was no airline that was capable of moving large quantities of men around the country so the train systems were tasked with delivering new recruits to the training facilities and graduates to the various ports of embarkation to join the war effort. In addition, the factories were building tanks and trucks and airplanes at a tremendous rate to help our troops already in the fight. Between the raw materials and the finished goods requiring shipment to the seaports, troops trains often slipped to the lower end of the priority scale. That explains why a train leaving Pittsburgh would take three days to travel 250 miles (a trip that would only take 3-4 hours in today’s travel environment.)

On March 11th, an official Navy Department post card was sent to Boston PA informing the MacPherson family that their son, AS John C. MacPherson had arrived safely and a letter would follow. That letter was from Commodore H.A. Badt, the Center’s Commander. Here is what he had to say to my grandparents:

US Naval Training Center

Sampson New York

My dear Madam or Sir:

We are happy to inform you that a member of your family has reported to this center to begin training for the United States Navy. The Navy has gladly accepted the responsibility for his welfare and security.

When a man enlists in the Navy, he is assigned to a Naval Training center for fundamental recruit training. During this period, the Navy endeavors to produce a future leader of men, a man of whom his family, his community and the Service will be proud. The Navy guarantees you that the recruit will receive the best medical and dental care possible, and his metal and moral welfare is assured. Religious counsel and opportunities for worship are ever present. Men of all faiths are under the constant supervision of the Chaplain Corps, and services are conducted on the Center on a weekly basis.

The first twenty-one days at the Training Center are spent in detention, which is necessary as a health measure. Good health, a Navy tradition, is furthered by prohibiting visitors during the detention period. Entertainment, recreation, library and store facilities are all available to the recruit through his training to help overcome homesickness.

While visiting is not prohibited after this detention period, it is restricted. Your attention is particularly invited to the total lack of hotel and restaurant accommodations, as well as transportation facilities in this vicinity. Recruits are here for a comparatively short period, and will ordinarily be granted leave at the end of their recruit training. You can save rubber, oil and gasoline, or space on a train vitally needed for troop movements, thereby contributing your part to the war effort, by remaining at home with positive assurance that he is busy, healthy and happy.

If you desire to visit a member of your family at this Center, it will be necessary to have him request a pass, which he will mail to you. Each pass is good for the date specified only. Passes are available during his sixth, seventh and eighth weeks of training. Since visiting is restricted to immediate members of the family, this pass is necessary to identify you as an authorized visitor. Visiting under these conditions is limited to Sundays from 1:00 P.M. until 4:30 P.M. Patients at the Naval Hospital may receive visitors on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday between 2:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M.

Cheerful letters from home are of real benefit to the recruit, and are the best means of encouraging him to correspond frequently. Although the recruit is instructed to write home often, he sometimes fails to do so. This should not be cause for alarm, however, for you will be notified immediately in case of serious illness. Letters addressed to him at “U.S. Naval Training Center, Sampson, N.Y. Company 510 will be delivered promptly to him while he is in training. You should instruct him to keep you informed of any change in his address, so that his incoming mail will not be delayed.

In the event of serious emergencies arising at home, the recruit should be notified by telegraph as incoming telephone lines are required for official use. If a return call is requested, public telephones are available.

Inquiries regarding recruits should e addressed to:

Commanding Officer

Recruit Training Command

U.S. Naval Training Center

Sampson, N.Y.

Sincerely Yours,

H. A. BADT

Commodore, U.S.N.

Center Commander.

“Stay in Line and March inside”

From Frederick W. Box, Company 115, Sampson Naval Training Center:

“That was the first of many orders we received upon arrival at the Sampson Naval training Station receiving center on a cold winter afternoon… Several hundred recruits from New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey followed their first order that day and formed lines against the wall on the main deck of the large building. A number of Petty Officers and seamen were in charge of the detail.

A chief petty officer bawled out our names and assigned each man a number. With that number in ink on our wrist, we lost our civilian identity. In a short time we had changed from civilians to “Bluejackets” at least in appearance.

Most of the men traveled long distances and had been without food since breakfast. So the receiving routine was momentarily halted while the recruits were given their first Navy meal. The meal consisted of ham loaf sandwiches, with no butter on the bread, a hot cup of coffee and an apple.

Fifteen minutes later we started filling out clothing, express and dental examination “chits” the Navy term for slips (of paper). Then the Yeoman’s section filled out our medical examination forms. A seaman guide took our medical and clothing forms and ordered us topside (second floor).

After we climbed the “ladder” to the top deck, the men with singing or instrumental experience were interviewed by two chaplains. Later, we learned that men with choral experience were assigned to a “choir company,” the second to be established on the station.

Examinations and Inspections:

After the dental examination, the men disrobed preparatory to moving through the line of medical experts. Clothes were packed in boxes for shipment home, and only watches, rings, toilet articles, pocketbooks and money belts were retained. These few items were placed in a pillow cover and carried during the physical examination.

A station system is used for the physical. Specialist examine the eyes, ears, throat, chest, heart, legs and arms, and every other part of the body. The doubtful cases received an ink questions mark or cross mark on their chest and are given a re-examination before being fully accepted for Naval duty. Few if any men “flunked’ that day.

Every man will remember the first day in the Navy for many reasons. One is the typhoid and tetanus injections, the cowpox inoculations, and the blood test. Several of the less hearty, who let their imaginations run away from them keeled over after receiving their shots. For the most part, however, the men took it in stride. Full effect of the shots were to come later in the day, we were to learn.”

Letter from John, March 12th 1945

Dear Mom Pop

Jack and Ixxy

I’m sorry I can’t write more but we are awfully busy. I got my shots and my arms pretty sore. I got my haircut and head shaved. This isn’t what I call a good life but it will only be for a little while. Tell everyone hello and I’m feeling fine. I’m a little tired from that train ride but we slept well last night. Ben and I got separated. I don’t know any kids except Moser whose bunk is right next to mine. Well, I’ll write later.

Your son and brother

Sonny

Mose says hello Mom and Pop

Say Hello to Nancy

After the shots and medical examinations, the recruits were issued their clothing. The cost of a full sea bag at that time was $113.95. If you put it into comparison with today’s dollars, that was an enormous amount of money. The men walked down long lines and had their clothing thrown at them by the issuing storekeepers. Then the items were placed in their mattress covers. Included in the issue were: undress blues, dungarees and complete accessories, winter and summer underwear, a “pea” coat, gloves, wool blankets, pillow and mattress covers, swimming trunks and a ditty bag. Everything was provided with the exception of a razor, shaving soap or cream and needles. (Uncle Bob Note: in the summer of 1972, recruits were given a chit book that allowed them to purchase the toilet items they would need. Of course that amount was deducted from the pay we would later receive. I still have that chit book since I was never able to spend all of the money in it).

Second Letter from John to his Dad dated Monday March 12, 1945

Dear Pop,

I’m sorry about that letter. I didn’t have a chance to open it but I hope you will send it right away. We weren’t allowed to keep anything but our shoes and they give you about two minutes to have that box packed so I hope you understand. The Navy’s swell Pop. I feel like a million bucks. Don’t let Mom worry because this is really good for me. I would like some pictures of the tornado some of my mates don’t believe me about anything. So be good and take care of Mom.

Lots of love Pops, God will be with us always

Sonny

After outfitting, the men were photographed and loaded into a truck for delivery to their new home. The first real Navy meal would happen that evening. The dining hall had room for 5,000 men in one hour (1700 at a time) so you can imagine the size of the place. A typical menu would include some kind of soup meat, potatoes or rice, one other vegetable, a green salad, plenty of bread with butter and jam, beverage and desert. The old saying was, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.” Lord help the recruit that wasted anything. After chow, it was back to the barracks for instruction on how to make a Navy “rack” (bunk). Lights out were at 2130 (9:30 P.M. to all you civilians) but most of the guys went to bed as soon as they were able.

From Frederick W. Box Company 115:

“We were all exhausted. Our arms were beginning to ache from the injections and the inoculations. With our arms somewhat sore from all of the shots the men had difficulty finding a comfortable sleeping position. Those who slept 4 or 5 hours were lucky it was restful sleep at best… After what seemed to be an eternity, the dormitory guard shouted “Hit the Deck” which meant it was 5:30 A.M. and time to climb out of the sack, beginning our second day in the Navy.”

Day 2, Letter to Mom and Pop Tuesday March 13 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Well, we just returned from chow. It was bad today, It never really is bad. We’re going swimming today and we drilled this morning. Its pretty tough marching at first. I guess we will get used to it though. I haven’t received any letters as yet and its pretty hard writing without anything to answer. We had classes this morning too about swimming and physical training calisthenics you know. Our C.O. is a really square guy. Lots of patience and everything. If somebody gets out of step he just talks not yells like some of the C.O.s I only had detail once. I must live right. Well, be good. God will be with us all

Love your son

Sonny

Each barracks held about 224 sailors. From this group, lifetime friendships would be formed. The wooden structures were not insulated well and were probably drafty in the winters of New York. Every morning at 0600, all of the sailors would come streaming out of their barracks onto the broad parade ground for inspection and calisthenics. The parade grounds were 1200 by 600 feet and were the predominant landscaping feature of each unit.

In the huge gymnasium and drill hall, 600 feet long and 120 feet across, with high wooden arched roof, the men would have formations in bad weather and learn lessons about becoming a sailor. Climbing ropes, working in rigging, or learning close order drill were the order of the day. Each drill hall also had a large concrete pool (60 by 70 feet) where instructions were given to every sailor. No sailor would leave Sampson without at least a basic understanding of how to swim. During what leisure hours they would get, the large hall also provided a place for recreation such as basketball and other indoor games.

In the Pacific, Marines from the Fifth Amphibious Corps on Iwo Jima have confined the remaining Japanese defenders to a small area on the northwest part of the island. More than 800 Naval vessels manned by 220,000 personnel and carrying 60,000 marines had participated in the invasion of Iwo on February 19. Bloody fighting raged on until March 16 when organized fighting came to an end. The Marines had lost 4,189 officers and men killed, 441 missing and 15,308 wounded. Many Navy men were killed and wounded by the Japanese air attacks on the fleet as it supported the Marines. Despite the fact that the war was coming to its inevitable conclusions in both Europe and the South Pacific, the sailors in boot camp had nothing to worry about… their turn to fight was still secured.

Letter to Mom and Pop March 15 1945 (postmarked 11:00 AM)

Dear Mom and Pop

I just thought I would write. We just got up and that time is 5 o’clock. I like it a lot but its getting more busyier now. Boy, do you haft to do what they tell you. Like for example, if you go through a door and step on a door jam you just might have to stand watch 12-4 in the morning. When you stand watch you lose sleep on your own time. We got all of our names stenciled on our clothes and stored away in our lockers. Or if you are marching and whisper to someone you get guard duty. Nobody knows whats on the schedule for today but we’ll find out very soon. Well, tell hello to everybody. Mom don’t worry about me because I am really learning discipline up here And I hope Daddys cold gets better fast and please don’t forget my birthday present. I won’t be home for ten weeks at the least. A few kids around camp have scarlet fever and if everyone gets it its gonna be bad. We will be quarantined and I won’t get home for maybe 15 weeks more. Well, I hope I get home in 9 more weeks. Well, so long Mom and Pop. I’ll write again tomorrow,

Love your son

Foo

From the Official History of Sampson:

Besides medical and dental care to insure physical condition, the Navy took special pains in another department to make sure its “boots” were strong, healthy and happy – and that was the food. At Sampson, the job of feeding 30,000 trainees had been dropped into the lap of Commander James Fellis, Supply Corps USN who was recalled from retirement just before the war.
Cooking would be accomplished in a state of the art electric galley with labor saving devises on all sides to speed the work of 289 cooks and 80 bakers who will dish up chow for the station.

Letter to Mom and Pop March 16, 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Its about 7:00 and we finished supper. The food up here is lousy. I hate to think of going to the mess hall. We had eggs this morning and was it super lousy. It must have been synthetic or something. We stored our gear in our lockers this afternoon and is that a job. My are they particular. You get to smoke about three times a day and then only in a real small room. You really can’t breathe. My baggage will be home in a couple of days. How about sending me something to eat. All the kids up here are pretty nice. They come from everywhere. Mass, R.I. Conn. For example. They call us skin heads, moth balls, needle bait. I just came back from the drill hall and Joe Louis was there. He was about two feet away from me. Can he hit that bag! Well, I’ll write again. Its time to clean the barracks

So be good, Your son

Apprentice Seaman Foo

Letter to the Family March 17th 1945

Dear Family,

Well, I got another 5 minutes to write. We drilled all day long – I mean drilled well. We got another shot today and my arm is starting to feel it now. I’m really sorry I didn’t have time to write but there’s a war on. Boy was I disappointed today. I got no mail from no one tell somebody to please write. Letters mean more than anything up here. It almost makes you cry when the mail call is sounded and you have no mail. Tell some of the kids to write that I don’t have time to write. I write a nice letter on Sunday to all of you but at the present I can’t. I washed last night and again tonight as we have a Commanders Inspection tomorrow morning and everything has to be just write. I get a lot of letters from your family but I would like more people to write. We all got our uniforms the first day and haircuts the first day. I’ve been so tired I sometimes don’t know what I write. I didn’t sleep last night at all. That standing watch is some job – not for me. I really like it though, its swell. Our Chief is the best in the unit. That ”G” in my address stands for Gilmore. The food I’m getting used to. Ben, that kid from Pittsburgh got separated He’s over in “F” unit right across the creek about 20 feet away but we are not allowed over there for about 8 more weeks. Things are going real smooth and good. I got the dumbest bunkmate a sailor can have. I had my locker stored up and that censored took out my blues and messed them up. Well its about 5 o’clock and time for chow. Be Good.

As always

Goofer

August 9, 2005

Dear Theo,

Well, you are well into your second week of boot camp and I am sure you are starting to feel like a real old-timer now. The fun part will be as you watch all of the other “newer” boots coming in behind you. Of course your boot camp is pretty different than the ones just twenty years ago. Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that many of the activities you do are co-ed. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. Boot camp was difficult enough without the presence of women, but I am sure that all of you look at things much differently now.

CINCPOA PRESS RELEASE NO. 39, MARCH 17, 1945

For twenty‑six days on Iwo Island, the United States Marines fought under conditions which have had no parallel in the war against Japan. Our troops have now defeated the enemy despite every natural advantage of his defenses.

This accomplishment was made against concentrated fortifications which approached, as closely as it is possible to do so, impregnability against attack by mobile forces employing every useful weapon available in modern warfare.

From the opening day, when at H‑hour the pre‑invasion bombardment successfully beat down the island defenses long enough for the troops to gain a foothold which they were never to lose, our forces met and solved problems which could have been insuperable for men less resolute in mind, heart and purpose.

Volcanic ash which immobilized even tracked vehicles and made them motionless targets; artillery long since registered on every possible landing place; interlocking and mutually supporting pillboxes and strong points; underground labyrinths extending a total of many miles and the result of many years of military planning and construction; defenses whose depth was limited only by the coastlines of the island; a garrison which was made up of units of the enemy forces especially trained to utilize the defensive ad­vantages of this island; a terrain that was characterized by a high volcanic cone, cliffs, deep gulleys, several commanding hills and a series of terraces rising from the beach to the prominences and plateaus which had to be taken these were the problems of Iwo Island.

That it was taken was the direct result of the fortitude of our officers and men who, by 14 March, had killed more than 21,000 of the enemy.

In achieving this victory, the forces involved lost 4,189 officers and men killed, according to reports from the front line units at 1700 on 16 March.

The wounded, a very considerable number of whom suffered slight wounds or combat fatigue and have already been returned to action in the Iwo opera­tion, numbered 15,308. Missing in action are 441 officers and men.

The majority of our seriously wounded have been evacuated from the island by hospital ship and by evacuation aircraft. Complete medical facili­ties are operating to provide the best possible care for those wounded on Iwo Island.

Letter from John to his parents, Sunday, March 18, 1945

Sunday 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Well, I thought I was going to have an easy day but it turned out different. I went to church this morning and that bulletin enclosed is our church bulletin. We have church in the drill hall and to tell you how big the drill hall is, well, I can’t really explain it if. You can play about 25 or so games of basketball on the basketball floor. I washed clothes all day and had detail this afternoon to clean up the wash room. We saw a movie last night “Lost in a Harem” with Abbott and Costello.

We get our blue uniforms tomorrow and we will be allowed around our unit at night. The weather up here is really great. It is sure hard to write. There are guys yelling around here and you get all mixed up. I was lucky with those shots. Boy about ten guys passed out and was terribly sick Friday night but I got over it fast. The shots are a double typhoid shots and everybody gets a light case of typhoid.

Its 5 o’clock and we eat at 5:30 and I’m ready to eat. We had steak for diner. Boy the food is improving here. I guess I’m getting used to it.

We mopped the barracks up and down Friday night and then we didn’t have inspection. Boy just think, I’ll be starting my third week on Friday> We get to go to Geneva NY on our 6th or 7th week for one night. We don’t expect to break camp for 8, 9 or 10 weeks – we’re not sure. You have to watch your step up here or you’ll get set back a week for the least little things.

Tell everybody to write. I love to read letters. Well, I better get washed for chow now. I might write another letter later tonight. Be good Mom and Pop and quit getting colds. Don’t forget about my birthday present Mom, please.

God keep you both in good health and happiness.

Your loving son always, apprentice Seaman

Sonny.

N. D. COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 585, MARCH 19, 1945

Pacific Area.

1. U. S. submarines operating in Far Eastern waters have sunk 15 enemy vessels, including two escort vessels and three destroyers. The vessels sunk were:

3 destroyers

2 escort vessels 1 large tanker

1 large cargo transport

6 medium cargo vessels

1 medium transport

1 small cargo vessel

2. These actions have not been announced in any previous Navy Depart­ment communiqué.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 304, MARCH 19, 1945

Carrier aircraft of the Pacific Fleet continued their attacks on Japan on March 19 (East Longitude Date). They attacked Kobe Kure and other ob­jectives in and around the Inland Sea.

The Marines on Iwo Island continued to search out snipers and isolated remnants of the enemy garrison on March 19.

On the same date Army fighters from Iwo bombed and strafed the airfield and radio stations on Chichi Jima in the Bonins.

Letter from John to his parents on Monday March 19, 1945

Dear Mom and Pop,

Well we just got our blues on today. Me and Ed went to ship’s service tonight and heard some real hot jazz, boy was that hot stuff. We had classes today and I filled out an allotment for you. 15 bucks a month and took war bonds later. We have recognition practice every day – today we had ships of all different kinds. I’m really beginning to like the Navy a lot now. They can’t call us skin heads anymore or needlebait or bloomer girls. We had a General Order test and inspection today and I passed them both and tonight I have no detail for once. Did Auntie get her letter yet? Its funny I haven’t heard from her. How about finding Murt’s and Kredo’s address and I’ll try and look them up if there in our unit. And call Sue Wood up Ixxy and ask her if she got any letter from me and if she didn’t tell her to write. Tell Jack to get rid of that old car and take a good car in hand. Tell Nancy I’ll remember her everyday like the rest of you. Mom, get rid of that cold or I’ll come over the hill. Tell everybody to write. I don’t have much time yet, but maybe later.

As always, your son and brother

Goofer

Second Letter from John to his parents on Monday March 19, 1945

Dear Mom and Pop,

Well yesterday was supposed to be our day off but we worked harder than we have since we got here. I went to church yesterday and we had communion and it was real nice to see all the fellas taking communion. You go to the alter and kneel and they give you a disk or cake of bread and dip it in the wine. Then he gives it to you. Our C.O. and assistant C.O. had the weekend off and are they going to be surprised when they see the barracks. I went to a show last night only because I had to. It’s a muster in the Navy. It was a radio broadcast in Sullivan Auditorium. Sampson has an orchestra and they put on a show every Sunday afternoon at 2:30. So if you can get Sampson on Sunday afternoon you’ll hear my yelling because it’s a muster to go every Sunday. We have a radio in the barracks now and it plays morning til night. I don’t know how long its going to last. I can’t eat the eggs they give us because they are powdered and they taste awful. I am getting to like it much better even though it is getting tougher every day. You say you can’t figure out the clue, well I can’t tell you – it’s a military secret. Even if you guess what it is I can’t tell you if you’re right. Well, God Bless you both Mom and Pop.

So long, lots of love, your son,

Butch

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 305, MARCH 20, 1945

After a day of destructive attacks on the enemy air force in Kyushu the Fast Carrier Task Force commanded by Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, moved northeast and on March 19 (East Longitude Date) attacked the prin­cipal units of the Japanese Fleet in its home bases in the Inland Sea. During these attacks crippling damage was inflicted on the Japanese Fleet and many Japanese aircraft were destroyed.

A preliminary report from Admiral R. A. Spruance, Commander Fifth Fleet, who was present in tactical command of the Fleet forces engaged shows that the following damage was inflicted on the enemy during the two days fighting

Aircraft:

200 shot out of the air

275 destroyed on the ground

More than 100 damaged in the first day’s attacks, and a large number

damaged in the second day’s attacks.

Ships sunk:

Six small freighters

Ships damaged

One or two battleships

Two or three aircraft carriers

Two light aircraft carriers or escort carriers

Two escort carriers

One heavy cruiser

One light cruiser

Four destroyers

One submarine

One destroyer escort

Seven freighters

Ground installations:

A large number of installations including hangars, shops, arsenals and oil storage facilities were destroyed.

Our aircraft losses in combat were extremely light.

The enemy made many air attacks on our forces. None of our ships was lost. One of our ships was seriously damaged and is returning to port under her own power. A few others received minor damage but are fully operational.

Mopping up operations were continued by the Marines in Iwo on March 20.

N. D. COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 586, MARCH 21, 1945

The submarine USS Barbell is overdue from patrol and is presumed lost. Next of kin of officers and crew have been notified.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 306, MARCH 21, 1945

On March 20 (East Longitude Date) Army Liberators of the Strategic Air Force bombed the airfield on Chichi Jima in the Bonins. Army Mustang Fighters based on Iwo dive bombed barracks, a radio station and other in­stallations on Chichi on the following day.

FM2 wildcat

Letter to Mom and Pop on Thursday March 22nd 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Well, I just returned from chow which wasn’t so bad for a change. I saw a movie last night “Laura”. It was pretty good. We have movies on Saturday and Wednesday night if you have all your washing done. I might call home on Sunday at 5 o’clock so please be home. I might not get a chance but I will sometime. Those cookies were really swell. I didn’t have any time hardly at all yesterday so I couldn’t write. I can read letters on the double but I can’t write them that way even though I try. I got a letter from Auntie the other day. Mom please get that birthday present for me. That’s all I ask. Take the money from Goffer or hock something of mine. Daddy tell Curt to write a letter, tell him he isn’t that busy. Tell Sue Wood I would like to hear from her. I don’t know if I have the right address for her or not. Tell Tom Mansfield not to enlist – he’s crazy if he does because this is no place for a kid like him. The time flies fast here. Tomorrow we start out third week Navy time. Well, be good Mom and Pops, God keep you both safe and healthy.

Your son Butch

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Well Theo, that is the end of week two in 1945. It was a different time but it did have a lot of similarities. There was a war on and after four very hard years, many Americans were ready for it to be over. But the major difference is that in those days, the enemy was easier to identify and everyone knew that we could not quit. I hope our fellow Americans will wake up to the fact that honorable men and women will always have to step up to defend their fellow mankind from evil. It has always been that way and it probably always will be.

We both hope you are doing well and look forward to hearing about your adventures someday.

Take care, Uncle Bob

August 15, 2005

Dear Theo,

If my estimates are correct, you should be in your third week now. Each day means another day behind you and a day closer to becoming a full-fledged sailor. There have been a lot of stories on the news the past few days about the ending of WW2. This is the 60th anniversary of the end of that great victory. The next section covers the time frame from March 23rd to March 31.

From Sampson Naval Training Center History:

With war priorities creating shortages in almost every kind of construction materials, the task of seeing that the Sampson Station was rushed to completion on schedule was formidable. With combat needs monopolizing steel for example, it was necessary to use only the absolute minimum of this material. The Sampson Station, when completed, would have less steel in its 392 buildings than any other project of its magnitude built since the beginning of reinforced steel construction. A total of 41,000,000 board feet of lumber went into the frame structures that made up the station.

In his leisure time, the trainees may head for the ship’s service building. Here are a barber shop, short order cooking restaurant, soda fountain, shoe repair, laundry and tailoring facilities, post office, bowling alleys, card tables, and upstairs the study rooms and library, along with a porch looking out over the hill-crowned surface of Lake Seneca. With movies in the evening at the drill hall, taps by 11:00 PM and a full days schedule facing him beginning before 6:00 AM the next morning, is it any wonder that the average young Bluejacket is counted on to spend most of his time in the barracks?

Letter from John to his parents Friday March 23rd 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Boy, yesterday was a busy day. Last night we went to Sullivan auditorium and saw a 15 “girl” band. They were very good. We were picked to go as “Navy Volunteers” (in other words, drafted). The weather up here is anything but spring. It rains every day and then gets cold at night. The last day it didn’t rain was Sunday. I got a letter from Ed’s parents thanking me for that letter. I can’t find Kreta or Murtha. They must not be in G unit. The auditorium we were in last night seats between 5-8 thousand. It’s really a big place. There are about 80,000 in this camp and its all barracks every place you look is barracks. I’m on the 12-4 watch again tonight and I’m going to try and get a little rest tonight. Well today starts our third week Navy time here. It will possibly be only 7 more weeks. I hope the next 3 go as fast as the last two. I have to shave every morning. We have inspection tomorrow morning and nobody has any clean clothes because the clothes room won’t dry in the rain. I’m gonna try and write a letter to Aunt Ruth now so I’ll sign off for today. Be good and get rid of that cold Mom. And Pop don’t worry about that car, I’ll fix it good when I get home.

God keep you both in good health, your son,

Butch

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 307, MARCH 23, 1945

Further reports by the Fifth Fleet of attacks by carrier aircraft on Japan during the period of March 18 to 21 (East Longitude Dates) reveal damage inflicted on the enemy air force in addition to that reported in communiqué No. 305 making the total:

281 aircraft shot out of the air.

275 aircraft destroyed on the ground.

175 aircraft probably destroyed or damaged on the ground.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 308, MARCH 24, 1945

Following the destructive attacks on objectives in the Inland Sea on March 19 (East Longitude Date), fighting between the carrier‑based aircraft of the Fifth Fleet operating in Japanese home waters and the enemy air force based on Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu continued on March 20 and 21. Although complete details are not yet available reports show that large numbers of Japanese aircraft were shot down both by the fire of the Hellcat and Corsair fighters of the Fleet and by its antiaircraft guns. On the afternoon of March 21 approximately fifty enemy aircraft were shot down in one encounter with a loss of three of our fighters. During this fighting one of our destroyers was seriously damaged and one larger unit received minor damage.

On March 23 and 24, in bad weather, units of the U. S. Pacific Fleet struck objectives in the Ryukyus including aircraft, shipping, airdromes and installations in the Kerama‑Retto at Okinawa, at le Shima and at Minami Daito Shima. Carrier aircraft destroyed some enemy shipping and damaged numerous small craft. Fast battleships attacked coastal objectives with their heavy guns.

11

Letter from John to his Parents Saturday March 24, 1945

Dear Mom and Pop,

I got bad news for me. We had commodore’s inspection today and our barracks failed. I was okay and my locker was okay. The floor wasn’t clean enough and some crazy half-wits didn’t square their lockers away. It’s the first nice day we have had in about a week and now we are restricted or not allowed out. Gee, I wanted to call you up tomorrow but we’re not allowed out of the barracks at all. I stood watch last night from 2 to 4 and the barracks got up at 4:15 to start work for the inspection. So you can realize how tired I am from not having any sleep. We saw a stage show last night, an all girl band, the same show I saw on Thursday. When they need men to fill up an auditorium or something they call on us. I got a letter from Sue, Jo Pleasant and Helen Kasbury. It makes me feel good they didn’t forget me. And I certainly enjoyed that box Mom, it was real good. Well, I will have more time to write now that I am not allowed out. Keep writing, I like your letters very much.

God be with you both Mom and Pop,

your son Butch.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 310, MARCH 26, 1945

Carrier aircraft of the U. S. Pacific Fleet attacked airfield and other installations on Okinawa in the Ryukyus on March 26, (East Longitude Date).

Shore installations on the island were brought under fire by fast battle­ships.

During these operations our forces were attacked by a small group of enemy aircraft of which six were destroyed. One of our light units suffered some damage.

An enemy air attack was broken up and a number of enemy bombers were destroyed off Iwo Island by Army Black Widow night fighters during the night of March 25-26. No hostile planes reached the island.

N. D. COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 587, MARCH 27, 1945

The submarine USS Albacore is overdue from patrol and is presumed lost. The next of kin of officers and crew have been informed.

The activities of Pacific Fleet and Seventh Fleet submarines grew more extensive and varied after 1 March 1944. As previously, they operated aggressively against enemy combat ships and commerce. No waters of the Pacific were too remote for their operations and their patrols carried them to the interior lines of Japanese sea communication, where they have littered the bottom of the ocean with the sunken wrecks of a large part of Japan’s once great merchant fleet, as well as many naval vessels. Their contribution to the success of our advance in the Pacific is noteworthy. Besides their combat patrols, the submarines have rendered invaluable service on reconnaissance missions and have rescued many aviators shot down during strikes against various Japanese bases.

25

Letter from John to his parents, Tuesday March 27th, 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Gee I feel great. I feel better now than I have ever been. We cleaned the barracks this morning, and I cleaned the heating pipes and I look like that little dark boy himself. There is not much news this morning. Do we have fun!. When you eat chow, if you turn your head, somebody steal half your food… no kidding. When you take a shower somebody drops the soap look out, that means you get whacked where it hurts the most. It looks as though Nancy is getting badder every day. I hope she recognizes me when I get home. If you haven’t figured the clue, well, I’ll write it again: 1M7. More than I want of anything is the radio in the car for my birthday. It will mean so much to me. I know where you can get one real cheap. See Legs and buy the one he bought for his father. The kid who was buying my car is here someplace at Sampson so Pop, find another buyer and get what you can for it. Kreta is in G10 so he is only five barracks from me. That’s swell. I have only seen him once but I might get permission to go see him tonight. Well, be good and God Bless you both Mom and Pop. Say hello to everybody

Your son Butch

Nancy Patrick as a baby (circa 1945)

Nancy Patrick Spring 1945

 

 

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 312, MARCH 28, 1945

During the period of March 25 to March 27 inclusive (East Longitude Dates) carrier aircraft of the U. S. Pacific Fleet ranged over the Ryukyu Islands from the Niyako group to Tanega Island, attacking aircraft, shipping and installations. Preliminary reports of damage inflicted on the enemy, in addition to that previously reported, include

Ships:

Three destroyers or destroyer escorts damaged

One large cargo ship damaged

Two medium cargo ships damaged

Two small cargo ships damaged

Many small craft wrecked

Eight to ten luggers burned

One whaler beached and burned

Aircraft:

Twenty‑five aircraft shot out of the air

Thirteen aircraft burned on the ground

Ground installations:

Submarine pens at Unten Bay on the west coast of Okinawa heavily hit

Gun positions, landing craft, airfields, warehouses, barracks, trucks, and other targets heavily hit at Amami, Tokuno, Okinawa and Kikai Islands.

Some of our units suffered damage under enemy air attacks.

Hellcat and Corsair fighters, Avenger torpedo planes, and Helldiver bombers, continued their attacks on enemy positions in the Ryukyus and battleships continued to shell shore installations on March 28.

Letter from John to his parents dated Wednesday March 28th 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Well, I’m taking life easy today. Our C.O. said we could have a rest as I told Izzy. I go on guard at dinner tonight so I can’t say too much. That box was swell Mom. Thanks a lot. Daddy, I got that letter and thanks a lot and I promise I’ll do what it says for my own good. You shouldn’t have put that 5 bucks in it. I don’t need much money. We took storm windows off the barracks around here yesterday from regimental headquarters to G-6. That doesn’t mean much to you, but it really doesn’t matter. We have only one radio and I am lucky, I’m only two bunks away from it. I went to ships service last night and I ate 8 candy bars one after another. I almost looked like a candy bar. I don’t have to worry tomorrow about my teeth because I’m only having one pulled. Boy, remember how I waited for a haircut? Well, here you stand up and wait. There is a great change in me though. I don’t delay anything anymore. I do things on the double. We start our work week Thursday and there are rumors that we will have boiler watch. Off 2 hours and work 4 hours, that’s not so bad. In a mess hall you start at about 3 in the morning and quit sometimes about 10 or 10:30 at night. That’s not much time to clean barracks and sleep. Boy, those poor kids.

Well, God Bless you both Mom and Pop. Your son,

Butch

From Sampson Naval Base History:

Starting in the third week of training, each boot receives six tests which help the Navy to determine his aptitudes. The tests are in mathematics, English, spelling, radio ability, mechanical ability and general intelligence. Occasionally when a recruit does particularly well, he is allowed to enter a service school at once. After the tests, a squad of forty interviews… deliver work lectures in the units and conducts private fifteen minute talks with each Blue Jacket. By and large, the Navy considers, first, what it needs of the moment are and secondly a man’s preference.

After a sixteen week course in service school, the men can qualify as third class petty officers at $78.00 per month. Second class seamen earn $54 per month and have to earn their crow after they reach the fleet.

Letter from John to his parents on Friday March 30th 1945

Dear Mom and Pop,

I’m sorry I didn’t write yesterday but I know you understand. We didn’t have much spare time. It’s a little cold this morning. Yesterday it was really hot. We had our interviews yesterday. My first choice is basic engineering and second choice is Motor Machinist Mate. They wanted me to go to gunnery school or Armed Guard. Armed Guard is on Merchant vessels and I didn’t want either one. They wanted me to go to the Sea-Bees but I said no. My chance of going to school are pretty slim but that is better than the sea bees. I’ll probably get stationed on a ship. My ship will be a destroyer. Well, we are ready to go on drilling and gun practice this morning. We had anti-aircraft practice yesterday with a 50 caliber machine gun. You get so many live shots and about twice as many tracer bullets. I did very good. I got about 25 hits out of 50 live shots and 100 tracers. Well, I’m beginning to be a real sailor now. Moser went to sick bay yesterday and isn’t back yet. He has a very sore foot. I’m afraid he’s going to get set back. You are allowed to miss only so many days and you get set back from your company. I saw Kreta twice. He is still restricted to his barracks because he is a skinhead. Well, I’ll try and write this afternoon.

God keep you both safe and happy Mom and Pop.

Your son Butch

Uncle Bob Note:

Dad ended up as a seaman apprentice and eventually became a Storekeeper striker while he was in the Philippines. I never knew until after he passed away that he was almost a Machinist Mate – a rate that both of his sons served as during their careers as Navy men.

Saturday March 31st 1945

Dear Mom and Pop

Happy Easter. I hope you enjoyed your present Mom. Well, I got some real good news. Our barracks passed inspection today. Boy we cleaned this place last night. I opened Izzy’s box and it was swell. I haven’t opened yours yet, but I know it will be swell. I’m saving it for tomorrow afternoon because we have tomorrow off. It’s the first day that we’ve had off since we got here. So you are all guessing about 1M7? Well I didn’t want to tell you. It means 17th of May – that’s the day we break camp. Stoken just told me I go on guard at 4 o’clock to 8 so that’s not good. I’ll miss the movie tonight. Well I think its about time to fall out for chow so I’ll write later.

God be with you both Mom and Pop,

Your son,

Butch

Please forgive the writing because I am laying down and I am very tired. Long days, you know. Hey Pop, I’ll teach you manual of arms when I get home. Don’t forget.

John C. MacPherson (my grandfather/your great grand-father) was a Navy man during the First World War. He was a Coxswain and served from 1917 – 1921. The only thing I know for sure about his service was that he went to Boot Camp in Cape May New Jersey (at a place that now serves as the Boot Camp for the Coast Guard) and that he served on the collier Anthracite. Here is a picture of him after he came home from Boot Camp:

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Charles after Boot Camp 1918  Grandpa Mac Boston PA Navy Picture

Well, that’s all for now Theo, hope this is at least somewhat interesting to you.
Uncle Bob

August 22, 2005

Dear Theo,

Greetings from the other side of Lake Michigan. I am watching the History channel right now (big surprise) and they are showing the Navy’s LCACs in action. (Landing Craft Air Cushioned) They are pretty cool and are the air cushioned vehicles that the Navy uses to ferry the Marines to shore. Your Mom recently told me about your grandfather on her side. He was a Navy man also and participated in many of the invasions we have been discussing over the past four weeks. Apparently, he was a Coxswain on a landing craft and saw a lot of action. You will have to get your Mom to tell you some of the stories before she gets to “mature” to remember them. We never say the O word when it comes to Mom’s and Sister in Laws – or for that matter wives and girlfriends. If for some reason you already know those stories, please write them down. Better yet, wait until you have access to a computer. I have lost my secret decoder ring and can’t always understand the secret code you write in. You are writing in code, right >: ?

April 1, 1945 was Easter and all around the world, people were celebrating Christ’s resurrection. All around the world except where dictators and tyrants still reigned. At Camp Sampson, men were gathered in their respective unit’s Chapels to worship the Risen Lord. Word of the new Japanese weapon called Kamikaze or Divine Wind had already entered the Navy’s language. The Navy men who were training were reminded over and over again that the Japs still had a lot of fight left in them.

The American armada was waiting off the coast at the end of March and on April first, started one of the bloodiest campaigns in American history. The night before, Tokyo Rose (an American educated Japanese woman who regularly broadcast propaganda to the US troops) sent this chilling warning to the waiting soldiers, sailors and marines.

“This is Zero hour, boys. It is broadcast for all of you American fighting men in the Pacific, particularly those of you waiting off the shores of Okinawa… because many of you will never hear another program… here’s a good number ‘Going Home’ … it’s nice work if you can get it… You boys off Okinawa listen while you can, because when you are dead, you’re a long time dead… Let’s have a little juke box music for the boys and make it hot… The boys are going to catch hell pretty soon, and they might as well get used to the heat.” She lost her audience as April first opened to the invasion of thousands of America’s best.

Letter from John to his Parents Easter Sunday April 1, 1945

Dear Mom and Pop,

Well, I’ve just returned from church services and our chaplain had a very good sermon this morning. It was about “Christ has risen” Our Chaplain is a very nice man. I am enclosing our bulleting for today. It is real nice weather out today and I ‘m going down to Kreta’s this afternoon. I got a letter from Aunt Ruth, Gale, a card from Aunt Letty, Jean and Dick, Helen Kasburg, a letter from Sue, Eleanor Hector, Jo Desaunt and May Lou McCrackin and Auntie. Tell Auntie that I don’t have much time to write but thanks for that candy although it got me into some trouble. You see, a sailor is never supposed to chew anything and we fell out on the double and I had a piece of that taffy. You dare not throw anything on the ground in Gilmore Unit, that is as much as dereliction. Well, I put it in my pocket and you know what happened. Boy what a mess. Daddy, we have boat practice every once in a while, you know what I mean. Standby and give way, etc. Last night I had that watch outside and Sampson had one of its daily windstorms. Only yesterday it was one of the worst ones since we’ve been here. It blew wires down, shingles off the huts, and everybody’s clothes all over the campus. And lucky me had to stand in that stuff for four hours. We aren’t getting very many cigarettes either Pop so don’t think you are the only ones not getting them. Stokens, Dietz and I are going to get our picture taken together sometime, maybe today but Stokens Mother and Dad are going to be here this afternoon.

Boy it would be swell if you could come up. You would be proud of G-unit. Its noted as Gestapo Unit because it is so strict. When kids sneak into G from F they think they are in a bad nightmare. But all the visitors think G is wonderful. Everything shines like glass, even the sidewalks. I’m getting pretty good at manual of arms. Mr. Pope, our C.O. thinks he’s got a pretty swell company. Everybody snaps when Mr. Pope says anything because nobody would ever want to hurt his feelings. He’s just like a Dad to every one of us kids. Pop, that’s the Captain of the Head is everybody’s second Dad at our barracks. You ought to see the shower room and the sinks shine at night. Everybody works hard just to please ole Pop. He’s an older man from Boston Mass. And he’s everybody’s friend. He has a PX or ships service but it is nothing to talk about. Mr. Pope told us he would get us what we needed most because he said those jews robbers were out for money, nothing else. Well, you all be good and I’ll write again tomorrow. God Bless you both Mom and Pop.

Your Son,

Butch

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Bulletin from Camp Gilmore Unit Chapel

The men who came ashore on the first day at Okinawa were amazed at the ease of their landing. As the soldiers started moving inland, 50,000 men were ultimately landed to begin the real battle to take the island. Okinawa was important for its airfields but also because it was a real psychological target for the Japanese and Americans. Whoever could ultimately claim victory would be able to see true victory in the final push to the Japanese mainland.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 317, APRIL 1, 1945

The United States Tenth Army, whose principal ground elements include the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps and the Marine Third Amphibious Corps, invaded the west coast of the island of Okinawa in the Ryukyus in great force on the morning of April 1 (East Longitude Date). This landing is the largest amphibious operation of the war in the Pacific to date.

Admiral R. A. Spruance, USN, Commander Fifth Fleet, is in overall tactical command of the operation. The amphibious phase of the operation is under command of Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, USN, Com­mander Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet. The Tenth Army is under com­mand of Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., U.S.A.

The landings were made by ships and landing craft of the United States Fifth Fleet supported by the guns and aircraft of that fleet.

The attack on Okinawa has also been covered and supported by attacks of a strong British carrier task force under Vice Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings against enemy positions in the Sakishima group.

Troops of the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps are commanded by Major General John R. Hodge, U.S.A., and the Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps are commanded by Major General Roy S. Geiger, USMC

The attack on Okinawa was preceded by the capture of the islands of the Kerama group west of the southern tip of Okinawa which commenced on March 26. The amphibious phases of this preliminary operation were com­manded by Rear Admiral I. N. Kiland, USN The troops consisted of the Seventy‑Seventh Army Division under command of Major General Andrew D. Bruce, U.S.A. The capture of these outposts was completed prior to the main landings on Okinawa and heavy artillery is now emplaced there and in sup­port of the Okinawa attack.

The amphibious support force is under command of Rear Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, USN, who was also present at the capture of the Kerama group of islands and in general charge of those operations. The battleships which form the principal gunfire support element are commanded by Rear Admiral M. L. Deyo, USN.

Fast Carrier Task Forces of the U. S. Pacific Fleet which are participating in the attack are under command of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, USN The escort carriers which are supporting the attack are under command of Rear Admiral C. T. Durgin, USN.

More than 1,400 ships are involved in the operation. The landings were preceded by and are being covered by heavy gunfire from battleships, cruisers and light units of the U. S. Pacific Fleet. U. S. carrier aircraft are providing close support for the ground troops. Strategic support is being given by the shore‑based air forces of the Southwest Pacific Area, the Pacific Ocean Areas, and by the Twentieth Air Force.

The operation is proceeding according to plan. The troops who went ashore at (1830, Tokyo time, advanced inland rapidly and by 1100 had cap­tured the Yontan and Kadena airports with light losses.

The capture of Iwo Island gave us an air base only 660 miles from Tokyo and greatly intensified our air attacks on Japan. The capture of Okinawa will give us bases only 325 miles from Japan which will greatly intensify the attacks by our fleet and air forces against Japanese communications and against Japan Itself. As our sea and air blockade cuts the enemy off from the world and as our bombing increases in strength and proficiency our final decisive victory is assured.

ma-nov1942

April 2nd Letter from John to his parents

Dear Mom and Pop,

Well yesterday was a very busy day. It rained nearly all day. We ran the grinder twice. Its about a mile long. They darned near worked us to death yesterday in the gym. We had manual of arms for about 2 hours. I’m getting plane recognition very well. This morning at 5 o’clock we ran the grinder twice. We got out in the lake for boat drill this morning. I don’t remember whether I told you we had an abandon ship drill or not. You wear your white uniform and swim across the pool, climb up the cargo net on a fake ship and jump off it about 15 feet or more. A lot of the kids were scared to jump. It’s getting tougher every day. That is because we start our work week Thursday then get a liberty to go to Geneva. I was down to see Joe Kreta last night. He hasn’t got his double typhoid needle yet, that poor boy. That is a bugger I know. Well, Bill Mose is in the hospital with pneumonia and I can’t see him because it is out of our unit. I can’t locate Murt. Chow was pretty lousy this morning. I haven’t received a box yet that wasn’t too smashed. That’s too bad. Tell Bess and Jer thanks and I don’t have time to write. I am getting you (Mom) and Isabel a present.

God Bless you both Mom and Pop

Butch

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Target practice became an important part of the regimen of every sailor. In the Pacific, the Japanese kamikaze units were taking a horrendous toll on men and ships involved with the invasions. Ships were refitted with everything from 30 caliber machine guns on welded posts to state of the art 20 and 40 mm cannons. 5 inch gun mounts which were radar directed and equipped with the secret proximity fused shells designed to explode near incoming aircraft were still unable to stop the dedicated suicide planes from reaching the slow moving ships. The training received at places like Sampson was deadly serious.

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CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 323, APRIL 6, 1945

By late afternoon on April 6 (East Longitude Date), Hellcat and Corsair fighters from two fast carrier task groups of the U. S. Pacific Fleet com­manded by Rear Admirals Frederick C. Sherman and J. J. Clark, USN, had shot down about 150 enemy aircraft which were attempting to attack fleet surface units in the area of the Ryukyus. This tally of damage is preliminary and incomplete. Some ships of our forces received minor damage but all remain fully operational.

United States troops on Okinawa continued to attack in both the northern and southern sectors. At midday the Marine Third Amphibious Corps had advanced 3,000 to 5,000 yards against small scattered groups of the enemy on Ishikawa Isthmus. In the south, the Twenty Fourth Army Corps was encountering stiffened enemy resistance in areas organized by the enemy for defense and supported by enemy artillery. Our forces were being supported continuously by ships’ gunfire and by carrier aircraft. During the night of April 5‑6, nine enemy planes were shot down near our forces around Okinawa.

In capturing the Kerama group of islands preliminary to the attack on Okinawa, U. S. forces killed 539 of the enemy and captured 166 prisoners of war.

Search aircraft of Fleet Wing One shot down two enemy aircraft in the Ryukyus area on April 6.

CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 324, APRIL 7, 1945

On April 6 and 7 (East Longitude Dates) the enemy attempted strong counterattacks against our forces operating in the vicinity of Okinawa.

During the late afternoon and evening of April 6, a large force of enemy aircraft attacked our ships and shore installations in the vicinity of Okinawa. One hundred sixteen of these enemy aircraft were destroyed‑55 by our fighters and the remainder by our antiaircraft fire. The attacking enemy aircraft pressed their attacks in with desperation and succeeded in sinking three of our destroyers and damaging several destroyers and smaller craft. No larger fleet units were hit.

Early on April 7, Navy Search Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing One sighted an enemy surface force which had left the Inland Sea and passing south of Kyushu had headed into the East China Sea. The force included the large battleship Yamato, the most powerful ship left in the Japanese Navy, an Agano class light cruiser, one other small light cruiser or large destroyer, and a number of destroyers. A fast carrier task force commanded by Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher steamed toward the enemy at high speed and dur­ing the middle of the day brought the Japanese Force under air attack.

Our carrier aircraft which had destroyed 245 enemy aircraft on April 6, met no opposition over the Japanese ships but did meet heavy antiaircraft fire. At a point about 50 miles southwest of Kyushu they sank the Yamato, the light Agano class cruiser, the small cruiser and three destroyers. Three other destroyers were left burning. About three destroyers escaped from this attack.

The Yamato was hit by at least eight torpedoes and eight heavy bombs. All the enemy ships were heavily strafed with rockets and machine guns.

Our carriers lost seven aircraft in this action. During minor contacts on April 7, they and their aircraft shot down 30 enemy aircraft. The task groups participating were commanded by Rear Admirals F. C. Sherman, U. S. Navy, A. W. Radford, U. S. Navy, G. F. Bogan, U. S. Navy, and J. J. Clark, U. S. Navy.

The Marine Third Amphibious Corps on Okinawa moved forward steadily in the northern sector throughout the afternoon of April 6. By 1800, it had made advances which placed its front lines across Ishikawa Isthmus from Chuda on the west coast to the mouth of the Kinbaru River on the east coast. In the south, strong enemy resistance developed during the day. From its’ strong defensive positions the enemy employed machine gun, small arms, mortar and artillery fire against the Twenty‑Fourth Army Corps throughout April 6, and the following night. Army troops along the East Coast in the southern sector advanced about 2,000 yards during the afternoon of April 6, and occupied the town of Tsuwa. The enemy in the south was brought under heavy fire by our artillery throughout the day.

The Americans were about to find out that there was a lot of fight left in the Japanese. Before it was all over, the largest amount of American fighting men in any single engagement would pay the ultimate price for freedom.

 

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Letter to John C MacPherson a/s Co. 510 Barracks G5L form his sister Isabel Patrick from Boston PA (Postmarked April 6 1945, 6 PM)

Friday Afternoon

Dear Brother,

Well, it’s a busy week and I haven’t had much time but I have thought about you often.

The Cleveland folks left this morning and that gives us a chance to rest up before the Sharon folks come.

I had a letter from Harriet saying that Chuck is 1A and had his pre-induction physical. They are waiting further developments. I guess the war will be over and the next one started before they start taking men.

Nancy is in her crib singing at this moment. I can’t tell what song but it sounds like Bob Rhodes Theme song. It sure was good to hear your voice. Of course I didn’t say much and don’t remember what you said, but we sure had some excitement. Jack and I took the steps four at a time and sat with our ears practically glued to the phone.

Walter looks thin but looks alright other than that. Ralph isn’t sure what he wants to do. I think he’d like to go to the Merchant Marine, but Uncle Alex won’t sign.

There was quite an Army Navy discussion last night and I sure hate to think what its going to be like when you all get home. With 2 in the army and 2 in the Navy and Ralph will be the deciding vote.

Well, I’ve lots to do so bye for now

Love Sis

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Well, that’s all for the Fourth week in the life of a sailor back in 1945. I hope your experiences are going well and you are doing okay. Aunt Debbie says hello and we are both looking forward to seeing you in your uniform.

Uncle Bob

Theo 2005

“Theo”

“Love, Your Son Butch” – Introduction (April 2013) 3

John C. MacPherson Jr. Boot camp picture

Introduction

John C. MacPherson, Jr. was seventeen years old when he joined the United States Navy. Over the next seventeen months, he wrote a number of letters to his family. The letters were signed with John’s many names: Sonny, Foo, Butch, and Goofer. But in most cases they ended with two common phrases: “God be with us always” and “Love, Your Son Butch”. These simple phrases emphasized the deep love of God and family that he not only carried for his whole life, but passed on to his children.

Helen MacPherson, John’s mother kept many of the letters and when she passed away, John came into possession of the collection. This collection included many pictures taken before and during his service as well as bulletins and newsletters from various commands he served at. Shortly after John died, I found the letters and asked my Mom if I could borrow them. In looking through the letters, I learned a lot of things about him that I had never known before. One of the most surprising things I discovered while transcribing them was how much we were alike at that age. I have tried to remain neutral in any opinions or judgments while writing this because I felt like I wanted to give every individual reader the opportunity to frame things in their own way. My epiphany was how his experiences related to my own and those of my brother Tom. The chapter that has yet to be written will be how the newest member of MacPherson’s Navy will someday view his own experience.

This project has taken several years and incorporates some additional background history to try and place things into context. The saddest part of this project is the realization that there were probably several thousand letters from his Mother, Father, Sister and others that did not survive. The only letters to him that survived were those that were returned to Boston. Each of those letters are clearly identified. Several of them were from John’s father. Other than stories from Mom and Dad growing up, this is the only glimpse I have ever had of the man who was my Grandfather.

There are also letters from others in John’s life. Those letters help to complete the picture of the family and friends from that period. Budd Rupp is particularly featured in several chapters since he played a key role in the MacPherson family life. Budd’s life touched three generations of MacPherson Navy men and his witness to the power of God is both inspiring and motivational.

John’s letters have been transcribed as close to the originals as possible. In some cases, I have had to guess not only words but names. I inherited one of John’s strongest traits: we both have a very unique style of spelling and handwriting. Since I have done most of the work on a word processing computer, there may be a few times where spell check beat my efforts to remain true to the original. Half way through the project I switched over to a newer software version and found that some words were automatically correcting themselves after I had tried the original spelling. While I apologize for any inconsistency, I also recognize that it is not so important how a word is spelled as how it is meant. In that arena, I believe that I have stayed as close to the true path as humanly possible.

In my eyes, John was a hero in every sense of the word.

When his country needed him, he went. To understand the nature of his service, it is important to understand the nature of the world around him when he enlisted. In order to do this, I have focused on three different stages: “Boot Camp Life”, “Going to War”, and the “On the Frontier” his service and experiences during the postwar period while serving in the Philippine Sea Frontier..

On March 7, 1945 the Allies established a bridgehead at the Bridge at Remagen. The bridge was still intact despite the German’s attempts to stop the unceasing flow of men and materials towards the Third Reich. The headlines from that day were: “Troops are across the Rhine!” On March 8, John started his own journey to become an American Blue jacket, a journey that his own father had taken during the Great War and his sons and grandson would take in years to come during the Viet Nam conflict, the Cold War and in both Gulf Wars. To the best of my knowledge, no one in any of the four generations ever fired a shot in anger, but each played a role in conflicts that stretched over the greater part of a century.

The first part of the book, “Boot Camp Life” is about his time at Camp Sampson in upstate New York.

I wrote most of these words in letters to Theodore MacPherson while he was in his own Boot Camp at Great Lakes Illinois in 2005. The second phase, “Going to War” is about John’s journey to the Philippines and the surrender of the Japanese forces. This portion was written as a journal and focuses on the activities that were occurring around him as he left for the Pacific. Finally, the third part of the project “On the Frontier” is about his service while part of the Philippine Sea Frontier and the events that were happening back in the states (particularly Pittsburgh and its suburbs) that would affect his future.

I have listed the references for the supporting material in the last part of this project. Although this version will be printed as is, it comes with a warning to future “editors”. Many of the pictures come from sources that appeared to be open and without identifiable copyright. But I made a decision to include them anyway since I felt they would be educational in nature and because I was not sure how long I would have to finish. One of the things I share with John and Helen is a heart that is not as reliable as it once was due to a heart attack and open heart surgery. But I assure you that that same heart is really in the right place and I wanted to share this story with you while I still had time.

Here is a biography of John that he completed late in his life. While it included many notable achievements, it was not all inclusive of the many organizations and people he touched in his life. First and foremost, John remained a lifelong volunteer who never hesitated to help his fellow man.

 

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5S Boot Camp 1

In the many lean implementations I have been involved with, establishing a discipline of 5S has always been one of the foundations sought after.

The term “5S” of course comes from the Toyota system of lean but for anyone who ever went through boot camp or basic training, it has a number of other descriptions.

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I think the polite term was having your “Stuff” together (substitute a four letter word starting with S that is often used to describe excrement).

One of the first lessons you learn after getting a sea bag full of gear is that it doesn’t stay in the sea bag during your stay in boot camp. You are given a small space that is similar to what you will get on board your first ship or submarine and everything you own must fit into that space.

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Space on board any ship is incredibly limited since a large number of people are often assigned to an area that Superman would find hard to change out of his civilian clothes into his uniform. Gear adrift can actually kill if a man is trying to get out of a burning compartment or trips and falls down a ladder on his way to a lifeboat drill. So the minute you get your issued gear, the thought of it being in the wrong place is pounded right out of you.

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Since you are going to be limited in space, you quickly learn that there is no place for unauthorized stuff. Possession of unauthorized stuff is not only discouraged, it can be a bit painful if the Chief finds it.

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I am not a big fan of push ups and neither are the shipmates who have to do them because some knucklehead has decided to try and test the Chief on this principle.

Since you are only given the small amount of space you are, you quickly find out that if it is not folded in a certain way, it will not fit.

This lesson is reinforced time and time again so that all of the men in the company are completely squared away. Squared away is some oblique reference to every corner being “squared” I suppose. What I found out rather quickly was that those who failed to achieve the square found themselves in a world of stuff.

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Knowing where everything belongs is critical on board a submarine. When the lights go out for one reason or another, having a clear knowledge of where the gear is that will sustain or save your butt suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. Everyone must have the same understanding and knowledge or things can go chaotic very quickly. In a casualty or combat, you want to know where every single piece of gear is stowed and you need to have the confidence that it is there. That also starts in boot camp.

Now that you have your “stuff” together, you need for it to be ready to use.

The starting place is to know that it is clean and ready to use. I happened to be in boot camp in the dark ages where washing machines apparently had not been invented yet. We would spend hours with buckets, brushes and boxes of Tide soap making sure our whites were white and our blues were nice and clean. Then we would tie the clothes to outdoor hanging lines with little pieces of white line and wait for the weather to do its thing. The final step was that this required someone to stand guard over the whole lot.

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The Chief was the “helper” to make sure you mastered this “clean” phase. He handed out gentle reminders to those who were not proficient enough to follow his careful instructions. Did you know that a 1903 A3 Springfield rifle carried over your head while running around the grinder actually has the capability of increasing in weight from about 9.5 pounds to about a hundred? Magic!

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Orderliness and cleanliness are nothing if you don’t have some standardization? Yes, everyone doing things the same way every time and making sure their tools are ready for the next time is an important step as well. The Japanese call this one:

Seiketsu

Finally, the order of the day is maintaining what you have done.

Shining up an area once and then moving on is actually counterproductive. The lesson is that if we just clean it good enough for today we will be left alone. The hardest lesson for most people is to remember that tomorrow is a new day and dirt loves new days. It used to amaze me that we would work for hours and hours cleaning the submarine and within a few days the dirt had returned. Holy crap!?!  How did the dirt find us if the Russians couldn’t?

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As I sit here typing this blog, I can still imagine myself learning these lessons in a long, shiny compartment in Great Lakes Illinois.

Camp Barry Boot Camp

Even after more than forty years, the smell of freshly lain wax and sun baked white cotton fills my memory.

What would the world be like if we could make everybody go through their own 5S boot camp? I know for a fact it would make my job as a lean facilitator a lot easier.

Mister Mac

Our company commander is missing, Sir 20

June of 1972 was a pivotal month and year for many people.

Watergate, Hurricane Agnes, Vietnam bombings, Nixon’s reelection, and the month I entered the Navy. Through all the years since then, I have managed to hang onto “The Keel” which is the graduation cruise book they gave out back in the day.

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It smells a bit musty and the bindings are starting to give after forty years, but it still serves as a reminder of my days becoming a sailor.

Grandpa Mac went to boot camp in the Navy’s old training center in Cape May New Jersey. Dad went to his World War 2 boot camp at Naval Training Center Sampson New York. He left a great legacy of memories with the letters his Mom saved and they appear in my book “Love Your Son Butch”. I had requested to attend boot camp in San Diego or Orlando Florida so of course I was sent to Great Lakes Illinois, just north of Chicago.

The Keel has some great pictures of the structure and discipline of boot camp

You open it up and the inside cover has a spread showing the Flags Battalion in their crisp dress blues and white leggings.

Every foot is perfectly aligned with every other marching foot. The recruit commander of the flag corps is a sharp looking young man with a sword who reflects the new diversity of the Navy.

I like the dedication page too. It reads:

“The time spent undergoing recruit training is not easy – nor is it intended to be. Rather it is a serious and formative experience for anyone preparing for life as a sailor.

In years to come, this book will hopefully recall the pleasant and not so pleasant, the exciting and the routine, the humorous and the gravely important moments spent at Recruit Training Command, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes Illinois.

The keel is the backbone of the ship. This cruise book – The Keel – is dedicated, therefor, to every Navy-man who has completed training at Great Lakes and become the enlisted man, the sailor, the backbone of the United States Navy.”

We arrived in the middle of the night from the airports of America and looked forward to a restful sleep. Camp Barry was the receiving unit and the bunks were probably leftovers from the second world war.

That restful sleep amounted to about an hour when the young recruit petty officers came shouting and banging into our lives. These guys were on their service week and they took a special delight in welcoming us to their Navy. We had no idea that they were a mere six or seven weeks ahead of us. They all seemed very salty.

Over the next few days, we would be clipped, stripped and ripped of our hair, clothes and dignity. There was a war on after all and any one of us could still have been sent straight to Vietnam (a fact that was repeated often by the recruit petty officers keeping us in line. We were given new gear, taught how to stand (nuts to butts) and found out that speaking was a rare and special privilege not to be abused.

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Finally, we were assigned to our first company. I was assigned to company 201, a rifle company, and spent the first week with them on the grinder drilling with our ancient 1903 A3 rifles.

 

I think they weighed about 9 pounds but they had a magical way of gaining weight throughout the day. By nightfall, they weighed over ninety five pounds but in the darkness, reverted to their original weight. By morning, they were back to normal again until we were ready to start our twenty one count manual of arms again. Wisely, the firing pins had long ago been removed and there was no danger of any of my shipmates playing that guy from the movie Full Metal Jacket.

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Somewhere along the way, we had been asked if we had any interest in music or being on a drill team. Vague promises about special duties and avoidance of harsher things like mess cooking during service week were used as bait for the uninformed. Being uninformed myself, I had let it be known that I like to play brass instruments. Truth be told, I was already starting to see that life in a rifle company was going to give me limited opportunities for individualism and I was already bristling about that. (This disturbing trend would follow me throughout my career and I blame the people who encouraged it in my formative years.)

And so it was on or about June 26th 1972, I was ordered by my less than happy company commander to pack up my gear and proceed to the Special Band Unit a few buildings away. With a few other shipmates, we packed up our bags and marched to the building at the far end of the camp near the giant drill halls.

The recruit at the quarter deck of the service unit building directed us to the top floor (three flights up) and told us to select an empty rack and wait for instructions. More and more boots like us arrived until the entire top floor was full. By this time, our training kicked in and without being told, we all put our gear into the small storage lockers next to our racks and as the day ended, we were ready to find out what was up next. At the end of the first day, we had still not seen our Company Commander (the all important person who is your momma and your poppa according to the first guy we had met).

I think we were too frightened of the specter of being shipped off to Nam in the first hours after graduation so when the bugle called taps, we all went to our racks. As I remember it, no one thought to assign any sentries and lacking leadership of any kind, most of us got the first real night sleep in ten days.

The next day, we discovered the error of our ways

The man who was our Company Commander dropped by and was less than amused at our lack of security. I don’t remember his specific words, but will never forget their meaning. We had entered a world of shit, his particular world of shit, and we were going to make up for embarrassing him in front of the Battalion Commander who had actually arrived at 0430 to welcome us to his battalion.

I will never know the true story of his role prior to that day but in later years surmised that a typical SNAFU had occurred and we were all either early or he was not properly informed that we had arrived. I do remember wishing I was back in Company 201 as we spent a long period of time doing pushups that were designed to recover his honor.

I do remember his face. He was a large black Chief Petty Officer (Commissary-man) who looked like he had spent a lot of time sampling his own work. His belly draped over his belt like one of those Sunset awnings on a hot summer’s day.

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By our third or fourth hour together, he tired of watching us go up and down and vomiting in the passageway. His tension never did leave him that day and he continued to discover our failure to meet his current or future expectations. The veins in his temples almost took on mythical proportions. We did eventually march to chow, but even this simple evolution was distasteful to him as he continued to question our ability to exist on his planet as human life forms.

We stood at  attention a lot that day. His time in Vietnam must not have been kind to him because he had a lot of anger pent up for one person (even one with his stately girth). Sweat poured out of his body as he tried his best that first day to impress upon us that we had not escaped our fate as boots just because we could play a horn or twirl a rifle. He assured us that by the time he was done with us, we would be begging to go back to our rifle company. He assigned double the amount of sentries for the night, gave us one last searing glance, and promptly left before taps.

 

We never saw him again.

Rumor has it that our actions had caused him so much internal stress that he went home that night and had a heart attack. That is just a rumor since no one actually told us anything. In fact, for most of the next week, we did not have any adult supervision at all.

The Navy can be a complex organization and oftentimes assumes that the mechanisms are working just as they were designed. This has led to some very painful memories like the loss of the Indianapolis at the end of WW2. While our situation was nowhere as dramatic in comparison, we were certainly an example of how things can go wrong if the system fails.

We did wake up with the bugle calls the next morning and the lights came on at the appropriate time. I was rather sore from the previous day since I was not really a physical fitness guy before boot camp. I assumed they would toughen me up when I got there and it made sense to leave that to the professionals. Each of us showered as quickly as we could and waited for the Chief to return. We waited all the way up until breakfast. At that point, two of the guys took charge and said that they would rather take the hit for eating than take hits for something else and not have chow. Sailors do have their priorities after all.

We formed up, marched to the chow hall line, ate and returned and waited some more. That routine lasted for another four days until the Battalion Commander made another surprise visit. He seemed pleased at the fact that we had a sentry this time and that the place seemed rather nicely organized.

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None of us had wanted another day like our first with the Chief so we were on auto pilot. Sure we wondered where he was but we also thought he was playing a giant head game with us. So we pretended he was going to be there at any time.

The Battalion Commander went up to one of the guys (who was standing at attention at his bunk like the rest of us) and asked him where his company commander was. Crap. How do you answer that since we hadn’t seen him for days? Is this part of the game? How many pushups will this result in?

“Our company commander is missing, Sir.”

“What did you say lad?”

“Sir, he hasn’t been here since Monday night.”

“So who has been watching you for the past four days?”

“Sir, we figured he was coming back at any moment so we have been watching ourselves.”

His face was as white as a ghost as he recognized the situation. This group of recruits had been operating on their own without any supervision at all and worse still, he did not know about it. The realization that the Chief was MIA probably also crossed his mind but he did not share that with us. He picked the two tallest guys and told them they were in charge until further notice. If anybody screwed up until this was all sorted out, their asses were his. Then he left.

You know that feeling you get when you realize you just dodged a bullet?

Multiply that by a hundred guys on both sides of the third deck and you will know how we felt. We retired to the smoking lounge and decided to try and make the best of this until the next shoe fell.

Surely that dreaded Chief would show up again and we would be back in his world of shit. But for now, it was smoking and joking and coking. The weekend was a blast as we found a blank pass book and decided to give ourselves a reward for our new circumstances. I was anointed as the recruit company clerk and kept the passes from becoming too out of hand. I can’t watch Bill Murray’s movie Stripes without smiling a bit.

The Battalion Adjutant and Commander came back on Monday morning

They quietly interviewed a few of us about the previous week. To this day I will never understand why, but they assigned all of us to different rifle companies for drill and instruction. We would still remain as a unit for the band, the choir and the drill teams. No new Chief or Company Commander would be assigned to us but we would be monitored by the Adjutant for the remainder of our time. We would march to meet our drilling company after chow each day and spend our day with them up until we went to our various service units. Then we were trusted to return to our barracks each evening after show and do our routines.

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DSCF1348  Bob Boot Camp Band

My suspicion was that they didn’t want the world to know that we had been running amuck by ourselves for those days

They probably also wanted to hide the fact that the Chief was missing for almost a week and no one was aware of his absence. Is it just a coincidence that it happened in the exact same week that the Watergate cover up started? We will probably never know.

I kept my recruit stripes for the remainder of my time at Great Lakes.

Bob at desk 1972

Our company never had a discipline problem and we helped each other to make sure we stayed below the radar. The rifle company I was assigned to (Company 215) ended up as the honor company that August. I’ll write more about them on another day.

I have waited forty years to tell this story

My hopes are that the statute of limitations have finally run out. I’m really sorry for that Chief (whatever his name was). But I will never forget that he gave his all for a whole day to make us the great bunch of sailors we were.

Mister Mac

This picture is at the Base Chapel. I guess it explains why we were never really alone when the Company Commander left us. In my mind and heart,

I still believe that holds true today.

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WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY HAVE BEEN TYPICALLY HEARD BACK IN THE DAY WHEN WE WERE MUCH LESS SENSITIVE. IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED OR ABOUT TO TESTIFY BEFORE ANY CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE ABOUT HOW UNFAIR LIFE IS, PLEASE STOP READING NOW AND GO ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS. THANK YOU.

What’s in a name?

This story probably has more relevance for those of you who served in uniform but is probably not exclusive to service members. Somewhere along the way, you probably had a nickname. Whether it was because your name was difficult to remember or because there was someone else there that had the same name, you were assigned a moniker which became stuck like glue to you.

I had a number of them from early in my career. I am not sure if Bob or Robert threw most people off, but somehow Mac was easier to remember. I went from Mac to Petty Officer Mac to Big Mac to Chief Mac to Mister Mac. Even after the service, Mac stuck around for a long time. Its only been recently that I have become “Bob” again. I will not share some of the more fragrant nicknames I probably had along the way. Old age has helped me to sublimate them in my brain.

SERIOUSLY, IF YOU ARE TROUBLED BY LANGUAGE THAT MAY BE DEEMED INAPPROPRIATE IN A HEARING BEFORE  LIBERAL LEGISLATURES THAT IS BEING HELD TO MERELY SHOWCASE A NON-HEALTH CARE RELATED ISSUE AND EMBARRASS OUTSPOKEN PUBLIC FIGURES, GO BACK TO READING YOUR ENTERTAINMENT PAGES ON YAHOO.

LAST WARNING

In the beginning (boot camp or basic) the nicknames were “group focused”.  I always remember the first wake up call I had in Camp Barry as we were blissfully slumbering on our finely prepared beds.

“Reveille reveille up all bunks… hit the deck shitheads. Get your sorry asses out on the grinder in three minutes or you’ll be doing pushups until Christmas.” Of course this was accentuated to a broken broom handle banging on the sides of what we would later learn was a “Shit-can”. I am not sure why they called it that since I never saw anyone actually use it for that purpose. But for the remainder of my career, any object that was used for waste collection was most commonly referred to as a shit can.

The words “shit can” have many uses in the Navy. When you are about to get rid of a disruptive sailor, you are ready to “shit can” them for instance. Shit can’s are not very smart either since anytime someone does something stupid things, they are “as dumb as a shit can”.

Back to the first thought though: shitheads. The Petty Officer who was assigned to greet us that first morning had probably practiced his wording before he got us up at 4:30 that first morning. For a long time, I wondered why he would be so snarly at 4:30 in the morning to a bunch of complete strangers he didn’t know. It finally occurred to me at one point that if he was waking us up at that early hour, he had to have been awoken much earlier. Maybe even before the first pot of coffee was brewed, No wonder he thought we were shitheads.

As we moved through the orientation system, we were treated to many more colorful invectives. Many were family terms of course. Sons of … and Mother… were widely used in a number of circumstances to make a point. I have to admit that after 14 weeks, I not only became numb to it all, I probably added most of the terms to my somewhat limited vocabulary. Whether it was humor or anger, you could always find just the right word for any situation. This was to prepare you for the fleet.

After going through A school and Sub school, I headed to Charleston to pick up the boat. It had already left and I was assigned to Auxiliary Package Course for another few months. During package course, I had my first exposure to the DBF sailors. Since the diesel boats were being decommissioned at a rapid rate, most of my classmates were previous enginemen being converted to A Gangers. Many were much older (late twenties) and had developed their language skills to a fine art form, I had never heard the F word used in so many creative ways. This new training prepared me for my time on my first boat.

I did learn fairly early however that there were some times when the language was not appreciated. Mainly it was with young  officers fresh from the academy. They were still fairly naïve and the typical sailor talk was deemed by many to be too crude (until after their first stop in Subic of course). I also saw a transformative change the first time they were monitoring the TDU operations and rotten eggs were being loaded into the chute.

The other time you had to be pretty judicious about your speech habits was around Chiefs. I believe with all of my heart that the saying “It is better to give than to receive” was created by a Chief. You could always tell how good a day it was going to be (or bad for that matter) by how quickly the Chief got to his first curse during morning quarters. I observed this carefully among my early mentors and relished the skills that I would use someday when I became a Chief.

Here’s the interesting thing. While some of the names were probably meant to be attention grabbing, most were not really meant to be hurtful. They were just words that culturally set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Obviously there were some exceptions (I can’t think of any redeeming characteristics about the words dumb-fuck). We just knew that we were going to have to endure a few harsh words form time to time.

Society is maturing I suppose. Nowadays, I almost never use any of the words that once flew easily from my mouth. That seems to be the right thing to do. I do appreciate the education those sailors and Chiefs gave me along the way. Occasionally I am made aware that some people I have been associated with may have said something that could be considered insulting. I just smile to myself and say:

Is that the best you can do slut?

“Fuckin A”

Mister Mac

Disclaimer: No one living or dead or soon to be born was directly or indirectly referenced in any of the above comments. Particularly excluded are any female law students in well known Universities in and around Washington DC or other major North American Cities. Reproduction of this article in any way shape or form would be just plain rude so don’t do it or I will find my old Chief’s hat and level you with my vocabulary.
This is a No shitter.