Chapter Seven - The US Navy and World War II

	If I had to summarize my feelings at the beginning of World War
II, I would probably say, "I am immortal and will never age." Somewhere
along the line, I had to admit the immortality may be a figment of my
imagination. Fortunately, I was right to feel I will never age. I am now
in my 70's but in my heart, I am the same 20 year old I always have
been. Everything I say here is based on memory. I have made every
attempt to be completely honest, even when it makes me look bad. I was
no angel during World War II, as you will soon see. I do have an
excellent memory and I feel I have depicted events as they happened.

	The Navy Recruiting Office in Tuscaloosa, Alabama processed
several of us and took us to Birmingham where we became part of a larger
group. A navy petty officer took us to the train station and handed me a
large envelope filled with train tickets and meal tickets. We were on
the way and I was already in charge. I assumed I would be at least a
Chief Petty Officer by the end of the year.

	My enthusiasm soon wore off while trying to keep up with those
new sailors, most of whom had already developed sea legs and kept
looking for a tattoo parlor every time the train stopped for more than
half an hour. It was even worse when we went to the diner and I was the
one who had to tell the waiter we were using meal tickets instead of
cash. We were recognized on our second trip to the diner and it is
amazing how a five foot six waiter can stare over the heads of a bunch
of six foot non-tippers. To make things worse, we rode coach all the
way. There were no pullman's for America's finest that trip.
Tom Bowerman
Tom Bowerman

I managed to get my motley crew to San Diego and into a waiting bus, but no commendation was forthcoming. In fact, they were rather rude when I explained what a good job I had done and one swabby in charge made a comment that, "If I want any crud out of you I will scrape it off your teeth." I had collected a few gems in the CCC and popped back, "Your sister is not so picky. She loved me when we got up this morning." He got very polite and asked me for my name and number and wrote it down in a little book. I knew I had impressed him. Our bus pulled in to the San Diego Naval Training Center and we were immediately taken to the supply room and issued uniforms, under wear, socks, shoes, handkerchiefs, a mattress, a hammock, sea bag, ditty bag, a Blue Jacket's Manual and a coupon book. We dressed and threw our civilian clothes away. We were then shown how to pack everything in the sea bag and lash the hammock around the sea bag. We were then shown how to march with the hammock and sea bag on one shoulder. And we were shown how to dump it all out and do it all over again. We were then shown how to keep doing it until everyone got it right. Finally we were taken to a barracks and introduced to our company commander. I was fortunate as the company commander was the one who had written my name down in his little book. He told me, "My sister and I asked for you in this company." Gene Tunney was over all Navy training and he had selected football players from colleges all over the country and given them Chief Petty Officer status, no matter how dumb they were. Most of them were really smart kids but they expected you to do things like chin yourself 20 times with one arm just because they could. They never hit you, they made you do it to yourself. Overall, the training was excellent. Our Company Commander told us that until recently boot camp had been sixteen weeks but was now condensed into four weeks. He said that our coupon books were designed for sixteen weeks but the Navy, in its infinite wisdom, had not printed new ones yet. The main problem was that we had sixteen hair cut coupons and would have to use them in four weeks. We had to get our hair cut four times per week. The Blue Jacket Manual was in the coupon book and he took our coupons for it and then marched us to the barber shop. I had a real nice barber and he asked me if I wanted to keep my sideburns. I said that I sure did and he told me to hold my hands right here and put them right in my hands. The hair cut took one minute but the Navy did not want the civilian barbers to take advantage of us. There was a sign "Customer must remain in chair six minutes", so we chatted five minutes.
Muster on SS Chalres M. Hall
Muster on SS Charles M. Hall

There were four companies in our battalion. The Battalion Commander was a Warrant Officer and he was about five foot six inches and weighed around two hundred and fifty pounds. He was a real contrast to the Company Commanders. He always rode a bicycle and frequently rode along side of us when we marched, calling cadence and yelling that every man in the battalion was out of step but him. He decided to impress us and gave a nice speech in which he said he was a great judge of men. He said he could look at a man and determine what he could do best. He looked at me and said, "This man will make a perfect right guide for the battalion." I hated to disappoint him but I never could walk a straight line and the concrete drill field was painted with weird wavy lines and I was having trouble in the middle of my company, much less at the head of the battalion. He would not listen to me and I got the job. I led those poor devils a merry chase, wobbling as I went. The battalion commander was furious and began yelling commands like, "Battalion right, guide toward that damn telephone pole, march!", and "Battalion left, guide toward that damn fire plug, march!" He refused to give up on me as that would indicate he was not a perfect judge of men. The drill field was extremely hot and the sun was blistering. I reported that my neck was blistered badly two or three times and was told to shut up. It finally got so bad they had to let a doctor look at it. It was scabbed over and re-burned and scabbed again. The doctor had to take a knife and cut it off. He gave me a permit to tuck that Navy collar under my cap. That was all the battalion commander needed. He gave another speech and said that I had mastered the job of right guide and he had never seen a better one after I got the hang of it but he could not have his right guide marching with that collar under his cap and was forced to select a new one. He let the company commander of my company make the selection to give him the experience. We marched and scrubbed decks and washed clothes and scrubbed decks and got hair cuts and scrubbed decks and read the Blue Jacket Manual and scrubbed decks and exercised and scrubbed decks. The company commander left us one day with instructions to scrub the deck "clean enough to eat off of." When he came back he asked one boot if the deck was clean enough to eat off of and he assured him it was. He stepped outside and came back in with a large plate of beans and dumped them on the deck. He handed him a spoon and told him to eat. The guy just sits down and eats the beans and asked for seconds. The commander looked at the deck and ran his fingers through the juice from the beans and yelled that the deck was filthy and we had to scrub it all over again. One thing that finally soaked in was that you could make cute remarks but only at a cost. You might be ten times smarter than the person in charge but the person in charge was still the person in charge. I recognized that and learned to live with it with no problem. However, it was also true that if the person in charge was corrupt, he was still the person in charge. I did not ever learn to live with that and that has given me many serious problems throughout my life.
SS Esso Providence
SS Esso Providence

I became very good friends in boot camp with Grover Cleveland Redding from Schulenburg, Texas. Grover was the All American good guy. You could not find anything about him to dislike so you had to like him. We were very close. We went to San Diego together on our first liberty in boot camp. We looked the town over good and drank a few beers. Neither of us had drank before and we got a little silly. We were walking along the sidewalk and I told Grover I had to pee. He looked all around and said, "There aren't any cars coming, just a guy on a motorcycle, go ahead." I walked up to a lamp pole and went ahead. The guy on a motorcycle was a policeman and he came over and said, "Only dogs are allowed to do that", so I started barking and Grover joined in. The policeman laughed and looked at both of us real close, shook his head and said, "One of you dogs get the other one back to the training center." Grover walked off and whistled and said, "Good boy, come on now." We found the bus and went back to the center. They checked us as we got off the bus and told Grover and I to wait. They found a couple more drunks and took all of us to a large area that had a pole with a lot of ropes (okay, lines) tied to it. They put the end of a line in our left hand and a bucket of water in our right hand and made us walk round and round the pole. We had to keep the line tight and not spill any water for 30 minutes. If someone spilled any water their time started over. Grover and I smelled worse than we were and finished in thirty minutes. We were given a lot of tests and told that our assignments would depend on our test scores, with the best assignments available to those with the highest scores. Grover and I had very high scores. They had more than a thousand of us in a large auditorium and announced the first assignment and said there were twenty openings and the score required was one hundred sixty. Those with 160 or higher who wanted the assignment were told to stand up. Grover whispered, "Don't volunteer. The best assignment will be saved until last." There were only fifteen that wanted the assignment so they lowered the score to 159, 158, etc until they had twenty. The next one was another good school and they started it the same way and then dropped the score until they met the quota. They finally had to start the bidding with a lower score and if they got too many, they went up and if not enough they went down. Grover kept saying to just wait and the real assignments would come up. Finally, there were only fifteen or twenty of us left and they had us all come to the front. The swabby running the show said, "Well, all that you dummies qualify for is The Armed Guard, and you got it." I asked what the Armed Guard was and he said, "You are gunners on merchant ships and you are going to the San Diego Destroyer Base for gunnery training; have fun dummy." We could have had submarine duty, high tech training schools or anything we wanted and we were going aboard ships not even run by the Navy, and in some cases not even run by the United States. I looked at Grover and told him I was going to kill him. He grinned and told me I was going to love the Armed Guard. He was right. I am the fair skinned, easy to blister type of person. I can and have blistered with blisters containing fluid by the pint. San Diego was not a fun place for me. Everyone in the battalion had been talking about nothing except where they wanted to go and where they were going. Grover and I went to temporary quarters in Balboa Park in San Diego. Gunnery training was normally eight weeks but it had been reduced to three weeks recently. Grover said we could stand on our heads for three weeks. We needed to hang by our tails as we were housed in a zoo. I gave Grover a hard time but I really did not care where I went if I had a chance to kill a few Japanese. I was just afraid it would be the other way around on a merchant ship. The only gun they had available to train us with was a four inch fifty shell gun. We had to learn the name of every part on the gun and were given manuals that had some pages in it clear enough to read. We took turns pointing (vertical movement) and training (horizontal movement) and putting in dummy rounds until we were sick of it. One day we were taken down to the dock where the gun was mounted and the head swabby said each of us would name all the parts of the gun as our final test. The first one missed a part and was told to put his billfold on the dock. He was then pushed into the water. This got my attention as I could not swim. They claimed that you might not know how to swim when you got in the Navy but you would know when you got out. I have no body flotation at all and it is impossible for me to swim. I nearly drowned in boot camp. They had finally told me I had to get from one end of the pool to the other and I just held my breath and walked on the bottom. Now he was pushing people in the bay. I started studying that manual and edging to the back of the group. When my turn came I reeled off every name of every part, right down to the Whelen Interruptive screw plug rotating shaft retaining pin locking nut (I was never able to forget). When that part was over we had to go aboard a ship for actual firing practice. The ship was a very old Destroyer and the gun was a three inch 23.5. I soon learned two things. One was that I was very susceptible to sea sickness. The other was that the shorter the barrel the sharper the shock. The three inch 23.5 was actually what was known as a mule gun as it was designed to be disassembled and packed on mules for transport across land. It was a very, very old gun. I found I was also susceptible to nose bleed as my nose bled every time my crew fired it. It was just like being hit in the face with a boxing glove traveling at full speed. The gunnery officer reported that I flinched when the gun was fired but I do not call wiping the blood off your face flinching and told him so. I was not the only one who got nose bleeds and his comment was taken off my record. The crew of the destroyer had a ball with us. The cook got in on the act by cooking the greasiest pork chops he could find. I did not get sick but three times in one day and Grover said I did good. When the destroyer returned us to the dock we were full fledged sailors and half assed gunners. We were shipped to the Armed Guard Center on Treasure Island in San Francisco to wait for an assignment to a ship. Treasure Island was a great place but not if you were assigned to the Armed Guard Center. It was one heck of a place to be. We were in a large building with no duty to perform other than to wait for a ship. We were not allowed to sit down and were not allowed to stand still. We had to keep moving and look like we had duties we were performing. Idleness is the hardest work in the world, or maybe I should say looking busy when you are not is the hardest work in the world. We would find some papers and walk up and down the hall like we were on the way to deliver them to someone. Grover and I finally gave up and sat down in the hall with our backs against the wall. That lasted two minutes when a Boatswain's Mate first class (I will refer to him as Johnson - not his real name) rode up on a bicycle and said we were to follow him. We went to the other end of the hall with him and he opened a closet door and reached in and got two shovels. We were happy we were going to do some digging but it was not to be. We were instructed to hold the shovels on our shoulders like they were rifles and march up and down the hall calling cadence until he told us to stop. Every few minutes Johnson would bring us one or two more members of Johnson's Shovel Brigade. The shovel brigade continued the rest of the week we were there. The only consolation was that Johnson was a Boatswain's Mate and the armed guard did not use them on board ship. We were on his shovel brigade every day. Finally, a Lieutenant Junior Grade called 28 of us together and told us we were boarding the SS Charles M. Hall, a Henry Kaiser Liberty ship, and that he was our gunnery officer. We were so happy we were getting away from Johnson at long last and patting ourselves on the back when he introduced Johnson and said he would be in charge of the gun crew. It developed that there was a shortage of gunners mates and they were using Johnson as he had gunnery training a few years before. THE S.S.CHARLES M. HALL The Charles M. Hall was new and this was the maiden voyage for her. They were already loading the holds when we boarded. It only took another day or two to finish. They then loaded a deck cargo of lumber and several light airplanes. Everything was ready to go and we were ready to leave when a barge pulled along side and they had a 75 ton crash boat to load on the port side. They loaded it over protests of the captain and suddenly we had a serious list to port. The captain was furious. The SS Charles M. Hall had a five inch 51 bag gun on the stern and a three inch 50 anti aircraft gun on the bow. There were also four 20 MM anti-aircraft cannons and we had a few small hand guns like the British Thompson and Lewis machine guns. We were miserably under gunned. Johnson had never seen a bag gun before and we had to learn how to use it. There was a tub of water under the gun and you pushed the projectile in and dipped a brush on the end of a long rod into the water and then rammed the projectile home. You then put a silk bag of powder behind the projectile while the gun captain put a primer in the breech and closed and locked it. The pointer controlled the vertical movement and the trainer controlled the horizontal movement. When the gun captain said ready and the gun was on target the pointer fired. Johnson developed into a greater monster than we thought he would be and was only happy when he had made someone else unhappy. We were always in trouble with him and he loved every minute of it. He would accept money or cigarettes to get you out of trouble. He was a royal pain in the rear. Our first stop was Palmyra Island to deliver the crash boat. We had been told the Japanese may have taken the island and to be cautious. We pulled up close to the island and there was no sign of activity. We did not understand how we could get so close without being challenged. The captain finally sounded the whistle on the ship. It was like a volcano then with planes taking off and small boats headed our way. An Army crew arrived and a Second Lieutenant came aboard and rigged up our five ton boom. The Captain told him his crew would set the crash boat over but the Second Lieutenant insisted the Army would do it. The Captain quit arguing and went back to the bridge to watch. The crash boat was lifted a couple of feet and the five ton boom broke and a rope tore off one finger of the Second Lieutenant's right hand. The Captain continued to watch in silence. After awhile an Army delegation asked the Captain to set the boat over the side. The merchant Boatswain had his crew replace the broken boom and then rigged up a combination of larger booms and set the boat in the water. We left Palmyra and went to Apia, Samoa, known as American Samoa. There was a natural harbor and we pulled up to the docks and tied up. They set the aircraft off first and we wondered what they would do as there was no way they could get them through the palm trees and then before we knew where they were, they were gone through the palm trees. There was a lot of excitement around hold number one, which was the hold they unloaded first. The top half of each hold was for Apia and the bottom half was for British Samoa. They unloaded the top half of hold one and then set everything in the bottom half off the ship and had a long discussion and after a long time started unloading beer from hold one. They then reloaded the bottom half of hold one. We were told to wear shoes at all times as many Samoan's had a disease called Elephantisis and it was contagious. It caused one leg to swell several times the size of the other leg. The Samoan's were all over the ship. It had to be sterilized after we left port. We were allowed to go ashore in denims but there was very little to do there. I met a marine from Tuscaloosa and promised to call his father when I got back to the states and let him know his son was there and doing ok. I had a new friend named Horace Century Redman (not his real name), a full blooded Cherokee Indian, who insisted on being called Speedy. Speedy and I went ashore and walked around. There was little to see or do but Speedy spotted four upright 2 by 4's with a water pipe on top and a shower head on the end of it. He asked what it was for and it was a public shower where nearly everyone showered. We hung around and quite a few people came and hung their garment on a nail and took a shower. Speedy gave each one his assessment of their anatomy. Some really great looking girls came up and giggled and showered and Speedy compared them for their benefit. They finally started taunting Speedy and he took a shower. Then a Samoan Marine motioned for us to leave. Speedy ignored him and got a little nick on the butt from a bayonet and we left.
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