Chapter Seven - The US Navy and World War II
We went to the St George Bar on Staten Island and had a few
drinks and after an hour or so the girls walked in and sat down at the
bar. The bartender told them un-escorted ladies had to sit at a table
and they told him they were with us. The bartender asked us if this was
true and Speedy said, "They look like a couple of you-know-whats to me
and I never associate with you-know-whats." He made them move to a table
and Speedy and I got up and left. They followed us out and Florence had
a glass with her. She broke it and tried to stab Speedy and he hit her.
We left and went to Harlem.
The next day we went on liberty again and found the girls in a
booth in a bar. We sat down and Speedy said, "Yesterday was men's day
and today is a new day. What do you girls want to do today?" They wanted
to go to the St George Bar on Staten Island so that was where we went
and the bartender kept staring at us all night. The girls never
mentioned the day before and we didn't either.
After Speedy and I were separated I found Sally and Florence
every time I was in Brooklyn but Florence said she never saw Speedy any
more. On one trip she told me that another sailor said that Speedy went
to England and walked in a pub with a sub machine gun and held it up. He
was caught and sentenced to a long term in the Naval Prison at
Portsmouth. I suppose you might say that there but for the grace of God
go I because if I had stayed with Speedy I would have been with him all
the way. On the other hand it is also possible I might have talked him
out of it.
More on Sally Grenner:
Sally and I at one time talked about getting married when the
war was over. We talked about it several nights and then she said
something that sounded like she expected us to live in Brooklyn. I asked
her and she said that was the only place she would ever live. I
suggested Tuscaloosa and she just laughed. I got up and told her I
guessed this was good-bye. She said she guessed I was right and I walked
out and never heard from her again. I was never really in love with her.
She was just a good guy.
I hope wherever Sally is that it has been a good life for her. I
often think of the many times Sally and I drank until the bar closed at
4 AM and then sat in the doorway until it opened again at 8 AM. I think
sometimes that if I went to Brooklyn and walked down 3rd Avenue between
4 AM and 8 AM I might find Sally sitting there. I hope not.
More on Louise Yorath:
I met Louise Yorath on my first trip to Great Britain. We went
to Cardiff, South Wales. Louise was a tall, thin wonderful girl with
stars in her eyes and Heaven in her smile. I guess I was captivated by
Return to Fireclay Menu
Louise and I had a total of three dates and they consisted
primarily of sitting in a Pub and talking and then riding the bus to
Whitchurch and seeing her home. She was required to be home by 10:30. We
were never sexually involved at all - not even close to it. We were
double dating with a ship mate of mine named Keith and a girl named
Frances. Keith was really quite foul mouthed and Louise did not like him
Louise and I had a definite understanding we were going to get
married. We tried to work it out after the war and my congressman, Ed
DeGraffenried, worked very hard to get the red tape cut.
No one will ever know how much I loved Louise. She was a
wonderful girl and I loved her with all my heart. She was so beautiful
that I had a problem understanding what she saw in me when she obviously
could have any man she wanted. I was not handsome or good looking and
did not even have a job. Anyway, things never worked out for us, no
matter how hard we tried and we finally gave up.
Later in life, (I was not involved) Louise had a baby and she
was born a spastic. She lived for six and a half years and was still a
baby when she died. Louise was a wonderful Mother to her. I never saw
her. I mention this only so I can show what a wonderful person Louise
was. She loved that baby with all her heart and soul and saw to it that
the child always knew she was loved. The baby had a lot of problems but
she received more love than most children ever know in a lifetime.
Many years later I received a phone call from a lady who said
she was in Washington, D.C. and was Louise's traveling companion. I was
at a loss at first and she told me she was Louise Yorath when I knew
her. She said Louise was on a shopping trip. She wanted to verify my
address so she could return the passage money I had sent her years
before. Louise was not there but she asked that I call her back later. I
wanted to call and I even dialled the number several times but always
hung up before there was an answer. I finally got up the nerve to call
and her traveling companion answered and said Louise had gone somewhere.
A few days later I received an envelope with the passage money in it.
It was not to be. It is over. Only the memories of a tall, thin
and beautiful Welsh lass riding the bus from Cardiff to Whitchurch
remain. However, fifty years after I last saw her, I wrote her at her
old address and miracle of miracles, the people there knew of her and
sent word for her to come get my letter. We corresponded awhile but that
has ended. I am destined to leave this world without being loved.
More on Mabel Day:
Mabel Day is the only girl I ever knew for less than three days
who impacted my life. I got a total of four days unofficial port
director's leave during the more than four years I spent in the Navy.
Our ship was in New York and was going to be there ten days and each
half of the crew was given four days leave. It was not enough time to go
home but Speedy was going to Cincinnati to visit his wife and invited me
to go along with him. We got to Cincinnati and went to their house at
1616 Sutter Avenue. Speedy's father in law was there and when we walked
in Speedy looked at him and told him he would be there three or four
days and to get out and not to come back until he was gone. His father
in law was gone in fifteen minutes. I knew the reason because Speedy
told me his wife's father had started having sex with her when she was
six years old. Jayne came in and Speedy asked her if she and her father
had been doing it and she nodded her head that they had. He was very
calm and made a remark like, "Nothing like a man finding his wife just
like he left her - freshly sexed."
A really beautiful natural blonde girl walked in and Speedy
looked at her and said, "Your papa been doing you, too?" She told him
her father knew better than to fool with her and he never had. The
blonde looked at me and told me her name was Mabel in case I wondered
and that she did not put out in case Speedy had told me she did.
Mabel had crooked teeth but the teeth really made her look cute.
Not that she was not cute anyway, but they really added to her beauty.
She and Jayne had a younger sister named Doris. Doris was about 13 and
the first time I saw her she said, "I am Doris and my father does not
fool with me, I would kill him if he did." The family was well aware of
what the father was doing to Jayne. Mabel told me that Jayne did not
want to have sex with their father but she was the type person who did
what her parents told her to do and had never had the strength to
challenge him. She said her father tried to fool with her once and she
bit him on the most sensitive part of his anatomy and told him if he
ever tried again she would bite it off.
We had a lot of fun and when we left after three days there I
had a semi-crush on Mabel and she seemed to like me, too. We wrote one
another for a few months and one day I got a letter from her with
pictures. She had her teeth straightened and although she was the same
beautiful and dizzy blonde something seemed too different and our
correspondence gradually died away.
More on Paul Gomez:
When I got back to the ship I let the other half of the crew go
on port directors leave. I made watch assignments and checked to see
that everyone got back. Paul Gomez (not his real name), from Pittsburgh,
was older than most of us. He was in his thirties and most of us were in
our early twenties. Paul had just returned from four days in Pittsburgh.
I put him on watch in the aft gun tub. I really did not notice anything
unusual about Paul. Some of the crew came in and told me Paul acted
unusual and was drinking. He had told several of them good bye. I had
given Paul a 38 revolver and it was loaded so I decided to stop by the
other two posts and get their guns and then go back and get Paul's. By
having the other two guns I could tell him I was going to clean all of
them without making him suspicious.
When I got aft I did not see Paul and I climbed in the gun tub
and found him laying on the deck. I was angry because I thought he had
passed out on duty and I kicked him and told him to get up. He did not
move and then I saw a small hole in his jacket. I checked and he had a
pulse so I thought it might not be too bad. I turned him over and he had
a hole in the back you could stick your fist in. I yelled for someone to
call an ambulance and took off my shirt and undershirt. I stuffed the
undershirt in the hole and tied the shirt around him, not knowing if
that was bad or good. The ambulance was there quickly and hauled Paul
The Navy decided I may have been at fault in letting Paul have a
gun when he was drinking and they had a hearing. It was messy awhile but
the gun crew members testified it was very hard to tell Paul was
drinking and the only way they knew was he had offered them a drink. I
was exonerated. It developed that Paul got home and his wife was not
there and he found some pictures made of her and another sailor in a
hotel room. When she got home he handed her the pictures and left. He
was deeply in love with her and told the doctor he would finish the job
when he got a gun. The Navy brought his wife to Brooklyn and got her a
room. She was still in love with Paul and Paul said he would not kill
himself if they let him out of the Navy. They gave him an honorable
discharge and several years later someone told me she and Paul were
doing fine and still in love.
The war in Europe was winding down and gunners mates were in
demand in the Pacific. There was a requirement in Guam for 400 of us and
when I got off my last ship I was put on a troop train with
approximately 400 gunners mates, heading for Bakersfield, California.
The troop train was filthy and there was no drinking water or wash
water. The engine was a coal burner and we were covered with soot and
cinders. The seats were the most uncomfortable I had ever sat on and we
were sore and aching. The train stopped in Chicago and there was a water
hose laying there. We got off the train and drank and washed our faces.
A train pulled in on the next track and did not have pullman cars but
did have mattresses. It was loaded with Italian prisoners of war. We
went aboard the train and got the mattresses and took them to our train.
We kicked the seat backs off and spread out the mattresses. The
conductor came in and opened his mouth. I pushed him against the wall
and said, "Don't!", and he didn't. Nothing was said and we were more
comfortable than before.
We got to Bakersfield and it was the most miserable place I saw
during the war. There were 40,000 Naval personnel there, most waiting
for a new assignment. Permanent party personnel had authority and seaman
second class were bossing first class gunners mates, chief cooks, and
others with high ratings. I was a gunners mate second class and was
assigned to mess cook duty and not even allowed to change from my dress
uniform. There were four serving lines at the mess hall and it took so
long to get through the line that it was time to get in line for the
next meal when you finished eating. Seaman second class, with their
little permanent party badges, had authority to pull you out of the line
and assign you to mess cook duty. I had never seen anything like it.
Frequently, when you lined up to get a liberty pass you were put on mess
One day I walked as far away from the center of activity as
possible and found a hill of red dirt. I went to the top and sat down
and sat there all day and until noon the next day, trying not to think
at all. My uniform was red with dust and dirt. I finally got up and went
back to the hell hole. I quit speaking to anyone and quit shaving. No
one even noticed. In a few more days they posted a notice with a list of
the four hundred going to Guam. My name was not on it. I checked and
there were 407 gunners mates and the seven with the most sea duty were
being assigned shore duty. I was number one for shore duty. I was afraid
it meant shore duty there and was prepared to fight to go to Guam. I was
being sent to New Orleans.
When I arrived in New Orleans I was told there were no available
quarters and I would be paid an allowance. They said I would be there a
minimum of one year and could lease a room or apartment for a year if I
wanted to. I knew the Navy better than that so I found an apartment and
rented it for a week and talked the landlord into writing me a fake
lease for one year. One week later I was called in and vold I was being
assigned to Galveston, Texas. I laid the lease on the desk and asked how
I was supposed to handle that. They said they would pay me temporary
duty for Galveston.
I arrived in Galveston and was assigned to work on a small
island there. My job was to go aboard merchant ships and remove all
small items of Navy property and tag the larger items, like guns, and
get serial numbers. I then typed bills of lading and contractors removed
and shipped the items. It took two hours work per day to stay current.
I shared a room in a local home with another sailor. The owner
of the home was a close relative of a professional football quarterback.
His sister, Bennie Andrus, was very attractive. I had another room in
another house by myself and no one but me knew where it was. I also
shared a house with six other sailors. We rented it complete with
furniture, cooking utensils, towels, linens, etc. So I had three places
to hide out and I planned on a lot of fun.
Galveston was a great place to be and such a contrast with the
hell of Bakersfield. I loved it. I made a lot of friends. The Naval
officers I was associated with were all mavericks, having been enlisted
at one time. They just looked at whether we were getting the work done
or not. It was not important what time we got there or how long we took
for lunch or when we left, if we got all the work done.
One of the boys who shared the house with me had been in
numerous battles in the Pacific and during one of those battles his
turret had gone out. The gunnery officer kept screaming at him over the
phone to get back in action and had finally told him he was coming down
and shoot him if he did not get it going at once. He was working as hard
as he could and when the gunnery officer did actually come to the turret
he hit him in the head with a ball peen hammer and killed him. He had
been tried and found not guilty of murder. He always had a ball peen
hammer by the side of his bed and we walked on egg shells around him. No
one wanted to upset him and if we voted on something about the house we
always asked him to vote first and then it was unanimous. I do not
really think he would have hurt any of us but what the heck.
Some nights I would stay at the house and some nights I would
stay at the apartment. When I wanted to be secluded from the world I
would stay at my unlisted room. It was a good life. I did miss sea duty
but not badly enough to volunteer for it again. If I never got sea sick
I might have but when I was aboard ship I was sea sick around half the
time; maybe even more if you included the times I just had a vague
One of the boys was living with a woman in her sixties. She
bought him anything he wanted and gave him money all the time. He always
had around a thousand dollars in his billfold and sent a lot of money to
his wife. He said he would have plenty of money to start a business when
the war was over.
The war did end and the VJ (Victory over Japan) celebration in
Galveston was something to see.
The war ended after the atomic bombs were dropped over Japan.
The VJ celebration was spectacular in Galveston. Kissing was the order
of the day and we shy people had to be extremely careful to prevent the
girls from taking advantage of us. Girls that would not normally give
you the time of the day would run you down and lay one on you.
I thought it meant I would go home the next day, surely within a
week. They told us about the point system where you got a point for each
month of service and another point for each month of sea duty and the
ones with the most points got out first. I came out near the top and it
was not too long before I was on the way to a separation center in
The guardhouse lawyer types stayed at the separation center
longer, trying to get disability pensions. I just wanted out and told
them I had suffered no disabilities. They found a shadow on my x-rays
and kept me several extra days anyway, but finally said it was just a
childhood tuberculosis scar and nothing significant. They finally let me
Fifteen of us went to a restaurant across from the bus station
and had a beer while we were waiting on our bus. The waitress was a real
cute girl but had an awful frown and we wanted to see her smile. Each of
us gave a dollar tip and one of us handed it to her. She looked at it
and put it in her pocket but her expression did not change. We talked
about that and each one put in five dollars more and gave that to her.
She looked at it and put it in her pocket but her expression did not
change. I suggested we go all the way and each of us put in twenty
dollars and I handed it to her and told her it was our final installment
on the tip for the day. She gave us a smile that lit up the room. Boy,
$390.00 to get a smile. Life was great and all should smile. Many of us
found little to smile about when we got home.
I often think about the productive things I could have done with
my free time during World War II if I had been a non-drinker. But then I
also remember that I got it all out of my system then and have been a
non drinker for more than 40 years, so maybe it was worth it.
Now I look at the list of World War II Armed Guards and see all
the deceased indicators and it tears at my heart to think of those strong
and vibrant young men growing old and in some cases infirm or deceased.
The Armed Guard is something not ever likely to be seen again. Enemies
now have all the high tech equipment enabling them to not only know
exactly where the ships are, but of destroying them instantly with
little chance of resistance. We are truly a dying breed, never to be
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