Chapter Seven - The US Navy and World War II

	Speedy was a thorn in the side of the gunnery officer. He always
did what he wanted to and seldom did anything he was told to do. The
gunnery officer had given us a lecture on survival at sea in case our
ship was sunk. He mentioned that a paddle could be carved into a spear
for spearing fish. Several weeks later someone checking the life rafts
discovered every paddle had been carved into a spear. The gunnery
officer headed straight for Speedy and he admitted it, yea bragged about
it. He said it would be hot out there and he thought it would be best to
go ahead and make the spears and we would be ready to spear fish right
away. He also had a plan to burn the raft to cook the fish. The gunnery
officer was also upset with Speedy because he had taken his only pair of
shoes and cut the fronts open and made sandals. Every time Speedy looked
around he had done something the gunnery officer was chewing him out
about. He finally confined Speedy to his quarters and put a guard at the
door to keep him in. Speedy stripped and rubbed himself with hair oil
and managed to get through the port hole. The problem was that there was
just a very narrow ledge and he could not reach the deck above and could
not get back through the port hole. He hung on to the port hole for a
couple of hours before he was found and then they had to lower a line to
pull him on deck. It was almost enough to phase even Speedy but not
quite. The gunnery officer had Speedy stand at attention, naked as he
was. Speedy, determined to be agreeable, brought everything erect.

	The gunnery officer told us we were not to associate with
Speedy, not to talk to him or anything, just ignore him. Boatswain
Johnson was to enforce it. I have always had this thing about the
underdog and openly associated with Speedy. We became even closer
friends and Speedy told me things no one else knew. He was not really
Horace Century Redman; his brother was Horace Century Redman. Speedy had
been in the Army Air Corps under his real name and had begun dating
Jayne, the daughter of his First Sergeant. The First Sergeant had
ordered him to quit dating his daughter and Speedy asked her to marry
him, just for the hell of it. They got married and Jayne told Speedy her
father had been having sex with her since she was six years old. Speedy
beat the Sergeant almost to death and got a dishonorable discharge from
the Army Air Corps. When World War II started he enlisted in the Navy
under his brother's name. I was the only one who knew other than his
wife, her family, and his brother. Speedy was responsible for a nickname
I had throughout my Navy career. We met some girls one night and Speedy
introduced me as "Scardick." The girls kept asking where I got the name
and Speedy finally told them the sad story. He told them our ship had
been bombed by the Japanese and I was hit by scrapnel and had a 13 inch
scar in a very private place. After that, I was always Scardick.

	Johnson threw a lot of garbage jobs my way because I refused to
ostracize Speedy but he threw a lot of garbage assignments to everyone
so it did not make much difference. Speedy and I began to taunt Johnson
openly and before long everyone in the crew had joined in. Johnson did
not have a friend aboard the ship and even the gunnery officer could not
stand him. Everyone knew he was taking money from the crew in return for
not having to perform your duties or to get favored jobs and watch

	We crossed the equator and naturally Johnson was the only one
who had been across it before and we were all polywogs, lower than a
whale's belly. Johnson clipped our hair and shaved our head and that
made us old shells or something. My hair never did grow back on top. I
had a bushy bright red beard and no hair on my head. The Lieutenant said
I was the ugliest sailor on the ship if not in the fleet.

	We arrived at British Samoa and there was no harbor so we
anchored and the cargo was unloaded on barges. There was again much
excitement around hold one and the cargo in that hold was quickly
unloaded. They then unbolted the top of a large tank below hold one, but
it was empty. We learned that British Samoa had been trying to get beer
shipped in but the ships always went to American Samoa first and they
always found their beer. They had arranged to have beer hidden in a tank
below hold one but someone had told American Samoa about it. They were

	There was not much to do in British Samoa either unless you
liked to walk and swim. Speedy and I went ashore and looked around. It
was a beautiful island. We found a small stream of clear, beautiful
water and since it was only a couple of feet deep I decided to go
wading. I stepped in and kept going and going and going. I thought it
was all over but somehow got back to the surface and thrashed around and
got to the bank and just held on to the bank for dear life until Speedy
held out a limb for me to grab. He pulled me to a place where I could
crawl out. The bottom was coral and that little stream was more than
sixty feet deep. It was so clear that the bottom looked less than two
feet away.

	They loaded the ship with copra, some kind of coconut product,
and it was a disaster. The copra was loaded with copra bugs and they
came out of the holds and were all over the ship. When you got up for
duty your pillow case would be covered with dead copra bugs where your
head and face had crushed them. Most of us took our hammocks and moved
on deck. We delivered the copra to one island and picked up another
cargo and took it to another island. We were in the Pacific many, many
months before we started home and during this entire time no mail ever
caught up with us. We were sending out mail but never received any.

	Our main responsibility was to watch for submarines, ships and
aircraft. We were divided into two crews and stood watch four hours and
were then off four hours. During the times an hour before sunset and
sunrise both crews stood watch. Each crew was already on duty during
either the sunrise or sunset period in most cases, so you were on watch
12 hours per day plus two hours at either sunrise or sunset. In
addition, we cleaned all guns daily and painted gun decks and other
Naval equipment. This was 14 hours watch plus usually 4 hours of
cleaning and painting. One meal usually took an hour of your off duty
time. This was a nineteen hour day. You had to get up and wear special
goggles to accustom your eyes prior to one shift change per day. That
left four and a half hours per day to sleep. I am a creature of habit
and still sleep four and one half hours per day.

	We went to Tocopilla, Chili to pick up a load of nitrate to take
back to the United States. Chili was still neutral at that time. Their
police force was almost like an army and they were very nice to us and
saluted us when we met on the streets. Chili was very famous for silver
products and had beautiful jewelry for reasonable prices. They were also
famous for their bars and houses of ill repute. Our merchant crew was
making a lot of money and we were making fifty dollars per month. The
merchant crew went to a bar and told the owner the ship would be there
one week and they wanted to buy his bar and his girls for the week, with
the bar closed to all outsiders for that week. They agreed on a price
and the gun crew members were guests of the merchant crew. We had a real
ball, with all the booze and female companionship we wanted at no

	The ship was at anchor and the holds were loaded from barges.
The covers were not taken completely off but a few sections removed and
the sections remaining were placed to form cracks that the nitrate could
be dumped on and allowed to sift through. The reason for this is that
you cannot burn nitrate even with a blow torch but you can place a piece
of burning hemp in it and it will catch fire days later. They were
afraid someone would do just that and the sifting would have disclosed
the burning hemp. A nitrate fire can not be put out with fresh or sea
water, but only with stagnant water. We were provided with one tank of
stagnant water. 

	The loaders worked only with shovels. The merchant crew would
move the boom over the barge and lower a large metal container and the
workers would fill it with shovels and it would be raised and moved over
the hatch and dumped. The workers fastened a heavy twelve inch wide
board to the barge extending out several feet over the ocean. When they
needed to go to the bathroom they would walk out to the very end of the
board and squat and do their business. A rag had been tied to a line and
the line was fastened to the board. They would pull up the rag and
cleanse themselves and then throw the rag back in the ocean, ready for
the next customer. Ground swells kept the barge moving around and up and
down but it never seemed to bother them.

	The ship was finally loaded and we headed to the Panama Canal.
It was February but very hot where we were. When we got to Panama we
docked on the Pacific side. We were given liberty and went out on the
town. We had one gunner who weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds
and he was the first one to get drunk. He passed out in a bar. We wanted
to get him back to the ship but he was more than we could handle. Speedy
said he had an idea and to wait on him. In a few minutes he was back and
said he had a fork lift outside. We grabbed the gunners legs and drug
him outside and dumped him on the fork lift. We got him to the ship and
on the ship with no problem but on the way back the guy Speedy had
stolen the fork lift from spotted us and we had to run for it.

	The rest of the night was hazy but six of us, including Speedy,
decided to stay in Panama. We planned to hide until the ship left and
then head for the hills if there were any. We found a pile of lumber and
slept on it. The next morning we discovered the lumber was railroad
cross ties and we had black and white uniforms instead of white ones. We
waited until about ten AM and decided to go make sure the ship had left
at eight o'clock as scheduled. The ship was still there and we got all
emotional over them waiting on us and went aboard. It developed the ship
was staying another day and all of the crew got liberty another night
except for us and we were restricted.

	Our Gunnery Officer called the ship and said he was in the
hospital and he needed for us to come get him so Speedy and I went to
the hospital. The gunnery officer was in a bed and his entire mid
section was bandaged. We were afraid he had been stabbed in the stomach
but it turned out that it was his butt that was slashed open. He said
that his bowels were loose and he was forced to use a toilet that was
just porcelain with no seat on it. The commode broke and slashed his
rear end open. Later, we talked to two members of the gun crew that had
not been restricted and they said the gunnery officer was being carried
out of a bar they went in and two of the girls of ill repute said that
the gunnery officer had been in a room in back with one of the other
girls and her boy friend had come in and found them and slashed the
portion of the gunnery officer that was showing at the time. Take your
choice of the two stories. I have only an opinion, not the facts.

	We went through the canal and headed North for home. It would be
a long, long trip by the time we got there and still no mail from home.
The ship had no foul weather gear as it had been anticipated we would
stay in the Pacific. The Red Cross had brought several boxes of heavy
jackets and coats aboard at Panama but Johnson shipped all of them to
his home address and not one member of the crew got one. When we got far
enough North to expect cold weather our captain followed the gulf stream
and avoided cold weather a few more days. Finally we headed Northwest
and left the gulf stream and it was below freezing in a matter of hours.
We stood some rough watches. All of us had dumped our Navy coats months
before and many of us stood watch in very low temperatures in shirt

	We got to New York during a blizzard and an ambulance took the
gunnery officer to the hospital. Johnson was in charge and gave himself
leave and left. We never saw him again. That left a Signalman Third
Class in charge and he gave himself leave. There were now 26 of us left.
Twenty five of us were apprentice seamen. The other one was a seaman
second class, one notch above the apprentice seaman. He was a signalman
striker and the rest of us were gunner strikers. The seaman second class
was a Cajun, Pierre Bellaire (not his real name), and he said, "I,
Pierre Bellaire, am in command and I say we need whiskey and mail. I
appoint you three to commandeer a truck and get mail and I appoint you
three to commandeer a truck and get whiskey. Everyone is to put forth
money to pay for the whiskey. I will remain aboard and be lavished by my
adoring subjects. I, Pierre Bellaire have spoken."

	The two crews went on their appointed rounds and the whiskey
crew returned with an average of two quarts of bourbon per man. We were
at the half quart mark (on the average) when the mail crew returned and
it was obvious they had imbibed en route. The fleet post office had
sorted mail by name due to the amount of it and I had two mail bags of
mail and packages. Most members of the crew had two or three bags of
mail. We took Johnson's mail and everyone cheered as Speedy opened his
bag and dumped it over the side. We then retired to our quarters with
our mail and our bourbon and sat on the floor and began opening packages
and reading mail. I had to make one trip outside with a package of fried
chicken my Mother had mailed me the Christmas before, marked "RUSH."

	We were laughing and drinking and reading mail when three
officers came aboard to inspect our guns. They wanted to know who in the
hell was in charge and Pierre staggered to his feet and gave a salute
that knocked his cap off and said, "I, Pierre Bellaire, seaman second
class, am in charge, sirs, have a drink." The officers stepped outside
and then came back and said they would return in one hour and expected
us to have ourselves, our quarters and our guns ready for inspection.
They did return as they said they would and we were on the floor
drinking and reading our mail. They talked about court martial and
similar things and Pierre told them we were without mail for many, many
months and we were now without leadership and we were going to read our
mail and drink our whiskey and pass out and that tomorrow we would be
sailors again. They had another huddle and came back and told Pierre
they would see us the next day at 1000 hours. They did not come back the
next day but we did sober up and clean the guns. We got our official
visit in the afternoon in the form of a truck to take all of us to the
Brooklyn Armed Guard Center. We were to be assigned to other ships.

	The gunnery officer had been mailing in results of tests we took
aboard the Charles M. Hall and all of us were Seaman First Class. I did
not know it but I was a Gunner's Mate Third Class. We stayed in the
Armed Guard Center a couple of weeks while paper work was processed.
Speedy and I hung together and we were assigned to a tanker, the Esso
Nashville. I still did not know I was a Gunners Mate Third Class and the
gunnery officer did not know it. I was assigned as a Seaman First Class.
I met a girl named Sally Grenner on my first liberty in Brooklyn and she
was my girl friend during most of the war.


	The gunnery officer on the Nashville was a complete idiot and
tyrant. His idea of punishment was to have you wash his underwear and
socks and I refused. I had done something he did not like and he threw
me a pile of his underwear and told me to wash them and I threw them in
his face and told him to court martial me. The ship left the next day
for a trial run to Bay Town, Texas. Fuel oil was leaking into the
drinking water tank and it was terrible. Seems like a water fountain in
the Navy is called a scuttlebutt as well as I can remember and we had
contests to see who could take a long drink of water and go the longest
time without burping. The water ruined the coffee and tea also, as well
as the food. We did not drink water the last few days and when we docked
at Bay Town everyone ran off the ship with pitchers and jugs to get
fresh water. The water in Bay Town was not terrific so people probably
thought we were crazy.

	They repaired the fresh water tank and we had no problem with
the drinking water on the return trip. We passed a burning tanker eleven
miles off the Florida coast on the return trip that had been shelled by
a submarine and was sinking. Survivors had been picked up by the Coast
Guard. We knew the submarine was in the area but we did not see it. The
trip back to New York was uneventful except for the erratic behavior of
the gunnery officer. He was a real nuisance.

	We made one more trip, this time to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland
and then on to England. Speedy and I went on liberty in England. We went
in a pub and ordered two beers. We had been told the glasses were not
always sterilized so we were drinking out of the bottle. A group of
British sailors kept staring at our table and finally one came over and
pointed at Speedy's glass, which was upside down, and asked him if he
would turn it right side up. Speedy looked at him and just said no. A
little later another sailor came over and said, "Look Mate, will you
turn the glass up?" Speedy just said no. Finally, this huge British
sailor comes over to the table and says to Speedy, "I'm sorry mate, but
you probably are not aware that it is an old British custom that if you
think you can whip any man in the house you turn your glass upside down.
Now be a good lad and turn your glass over." Speedy got up and looked
all around the room. He stood on the seat of his chair and looked again,
slowly, and then looked one more time. He sat down and reached over and
got my glass and turned it upside down and said, "I think I can whip any
two of you limeys and my friend and I can whip any five of you, we just
do not have enough glasses."

	Speedy was hit by the time he finished and in less time than it
takes to tell about it we were both beat up by about a dozen of them and
thrown through the door. Speedy says, "I guess we showed them." Speedy
was forever getting both of us in fights. When we were in New York we
were sitting at the end of the bar nearest the window and he decided to
go to the bathroom. He gets up on his chair and steps up on the bar and
walked down the bar with glasses, drinks, bottles and money flying
everywhere and jumped off the other end and went to the bathroom. People
were so shocked they did not know what to say or do. By the time they
had recovered he came back from the bathroom, climbed to the bar and
walked back and jumped off at the window end. Someone asked why he did
that and he said he did it because he wanted to. Three or four men asked
him to step outside and he counted them and said "Get one more guy, my
buddy is coming with me." Another one runs over and Speedy looked at
them and asked if that was all of them. One guy said it was and Speedy
opened the door and motioned them outside. When they got out he pushed
me out and yelled, "My buddy does all the light stuff for me", and
slammed the door. Those guys kicked the hell out of me and then went
inside and ten minutes later they were laughing with Speedy about it and
buying us drinks. I needed the drinks; I was hurting.

	When we got back to New York the gunnery officer had to go to
the port director to get us cleared from quarantine before we could go
ashore. He said he would be back in four hours, which is about twice the
time it usually takes, but we did not quibble about it. Twenty four
hours passed and then forty eight hours went by and he had not returned.
Some of us talked to the merchant marine captain and he said we would be
in port about 36 more hours. The entire gun crew met and we decided that
we would divide into two crews and one crew would take 12 hours liberty
and then the other half would take 12 hours liberty and that would put
us all back on board 12 hours before sailing time. We drew numbers and
all those drawing a one went on liberty.

	When we got back from liberty the gunnery officer was waiting
and wrote our names down and confined us to our quarters. Later he had a
meeting with the entire crew and said he had personal business to take
care of in Maryland and did not get back when he thought he would but it
gave us no right to leave the ship. He said a problem had developed on
the ship that morning and the half of the crew that stayed on board
would be given 20 hours liberty every day for the next seven days and
the deserters would stay on board and keep his underwear clean and stand
watch. The guys in the other half of the crew told him they had every
intention of leaving and if he had returned a couple of hours later they
would have been the ones missing. He refused to listen to them.

	The other half went on liberty and he put all of us on watch and
told us if we had to leave our station we would have to come immediately
to his room and report where we would be and why. Ten minutes later I
went to his room and told him I had loose bowels and would be in the
bath room. The next member of the crew did the same thing and it
continued until we were all in the bath room, where we stayed. He came
in and told us to return to our stations and we did. Ten minutes later
we started the same cycle. This continued through the day and night.

Return to Fireclay Menu
Chapter Seven Continues

Back to Six