Rutgers Oral History Archives

The # 15 Oral History Website in the World

Home

Articles

Montgomery, John

Shaun Illingworth:  This begins an interview with John L. Montgomery on September 22, 2006, at Navesink House in Red Bank, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth, and also in attendance is Borden Hance, who was interviewed on a previous occasion.  He may jump in on this interview. 

Borden Hance:  This is the Harbor.

SI:  This is the Harbor. 

BH:  Navesink Harbor.  We've changed, I think. 

SI:  Okay, it is no longer Navesink House.  That is why I could not find it on the Internet.  [Editor's Note: The Navesink House was purchased by Springpoint Communities in 2006 and renamed Navesink Harbor, later the Atrium at Navesink Harbor.]  Thank you both for meeting with me today.  To begin, could you please tell me when and where you were born?

John L. Montgomery:  Jack Montgomery, I was born October 1, 1922, in Ann May [Memorial] Hospital, Spring Lake, New Jersey.

SI:  Could you tell me your parents' names?

JM:  My father's name was John L. Montgomery, my mother's name was Gladys Montgomery and we lived in Red Bank and I was brought up in Red Bank.  I first lived in a small apartment, when I was just a baby, over the Cadillac showroom on the corner of Maple Avenue and West Front Street.  Then, we moved down to a few rooms in the (Chippanee?) House, which is down by the (Tuller?) Building on East Front Street.  In 1929, when the apartments were built, Riverside Gardens Apartments, at 50 West Front Street, we were the first ones to move in there and it's right on the river and I was then, of course, seven years old or eight.  ... That's how I met, over a relatively short period of time, Ed Rullman, Red Lippincott [Raymond B. Lippincott, Jr.] and [Borden] "Brub" Hance and we just sort of--I don't really recall what we did, whether we just sort of played around the room, later on, the river.  ... These were all single homes with large lawns that ran down to the river, but Brub's house, fortunately, had a spar shed, which was right on the river, no dock, or a very small dock, as I recall, and we just started gathering friends.  We all went to the public schools here.  I did, at Mechanic Street in Red Bank, and we just became interested in everything that had to do with the river, whether it was frozen or whether it was summertime.  We did sail boating and ice boating and skating and swimming and we built sailboats over a period of time.  I'm jumping back and forth a little, but, after a short time in the public school systems, all through the ninth grade, I left the public system here in Red Bank and went to a private school in Wallingford, Connecticut, the Choate School, and sort of lost track with all the Barefooters and the various activities that, you know, took place.  [Editor's Note:  Both Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Hance are members of the "Barefoot Yacht Club," an amateur sailing club they co-founded with other Red Bank, New Jersey teenagers on the banks of the Navesink River in 1933.  During World War II, the "Barefooters" stayed in touch with each other and their families through a newsletter called The Barefoot Bulletin.]  ... As far as the war is concerned, I remember very distinctly, on that Sunday, we were leaving chapel and people were coming down from the Hill House, which is the main house at the Choate School.  Choate School was a school then of about nine hundred boys and they told us, on the way down, that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  [Editor's Note: Japanese forces attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, thrusting the United States into the Second World War.]  Well, I just had never heard of Pearl Harbor, right.  [laughter] I knew briefly something about Hawaii, and it developed and ... we were all very chagrined.  We all turned around, the whole school, and went back into the chapel and the Headmaster, George Claire St. John, spoke to us a little of the seriousness of it and recounted what President Roosevelt had said when he first learned about it.  ... Then, school life took on, resumed, rather, in a natural way, but, during spring vacation, I decided I'd like to get into the Navy.  So, I found out that if you went to 90 Church Street in New York City and get in line, you have a chance to get into a Navy program.  So, I did that and it was a twenty-three-hour stint, but we'd get breaks and go up and have lunch or something to eat.  Anyway, finally, you have a physical exam, rather cursory, and just an interview, to see how you stacked up and what kinds of people they were looking for.  ... Apparently, I passed the tests, because, a few weeks later, after [I was] back at school, I received correspondence from the US Navy saying that I was a candidate for officers' training school.  So, at the end of June, I went directly from the Choate School to Princeton, where I'd planned to go anyway, but the Navy hadn't taken over yet and I continued my studies at Princeton, and then, the V-12 Program was put in place and I became a part of the V-12 Program.  ... Those were all naval studies and it lasted about a year-and-a-half.  [Editor's Note: The V-12 Navy College Training Program was initiated by the US Navy in 1943 and instituted at universities across the nation to increase the number of college-educated officers called to duty during World War II.]  I didn't stay, wasn't at Princeton to graduation, but, when I finished the V-12 Program, I went directly to Notre Dame, to Midshipmen's School.

SI:  Before we continue with Midshipmen's School, I wanted to ask a quick question.  You said you lost your association with the Barefoot Yacht Club when you went to the Choate School.  Did you maintain communications at all when you would visit Red Bank?

JM:  Hardly ever, because there were very few opportunities, between the responsibilities that you had with the Navy and going to Princeton.  ... Of course, when I came home, I saw my friends, but those were usually a week interval, maybe, and then, back to either--well, I never came home at Notre Dame.  That's 120 days straight.  So, no, ... I really lost track, pretty much, with all of the local [friends].  I became more closely associated with my friends at the Choate School.

SI:  Your relationship with the Barefoot was rekindled to an extent.  You received the Barefoot Bulletin regularly.

JM:  Absolutely, oh, yes, ... well, after I went directly to [a ship from] Notre Dame, which was fortunate, because there were only about ten percent of the graduating class at Notre Dame Midshipmen's School ... [that] went directly to a ship.  I was assigned to the USS Dennis [(DE-405)] somewhere in the Pacific, but they couldn't get me there directly.  So, I first went to SCTC [Subchaser Training Center] school.  That's a training school in Miami for handling small boats.  These were hundred footers.  I think they were called patrol crafts, PCs, and we did a lot of small boat maneuvering and docking and anchoring and just sort of managing lines and learning what some of the terminologies were, knowing the difference between a handy-billy and a P500 [two types of emergency pumps], and then, knowing a little bit more about what a ship really looked like, because, at Midshipmen's School, there was no ship at Notre Dame.  After that, I went to recognition school in Gulfport, Mississippi, and, there, they were just treading water, because they didn't have a place for me to go yet and that was recognizing aircraft, enemy and friendlies, and, also, surface vessels.  Then, they sent me directly ... from there to San Francisco, just to await transportation to the Dennis, which was somewhere in the Pacific.  So, I was in San Francisco for a very interesting week or two weeks and I had a very nice time.  The whole city was given over to the Navy and everyone was very friendly and cooperative.  The transportation was free, ... but I finally got on a ship called the (Italia?), was a brand-new transport.  ... It had a lot of Army personnel onboard and just being transported out to the Pacific and I was in charge of one--I don't know how to put it--it was about a hundred men, just to see that they got out of bed and got up and did their exercises and went to meals on time, aired their bedding.  ... They were bunked five high, as I recall, or four certainly, a situation that I wouldn't have liked very much, [laughter] but we got to Honolulu and, there, I had some friends I'd known in school.  So, that was an interesting stay, because we stayed at their house rather than at the bachelor officers' quarters in Pearl Harbor, and, finally, got on another transport and went to Kwajalein and Wake, I guess, in that order, Wake, Kwajalein, and then, finally, to I guess it was Eniwetok, but I'm not sure, and picked up the Dennis.  ... We were then readying for--well, the Iwo Jima [operation] was underway.  [Editor's Note: The aerial bombardment phase of the Battle of Iwo Jima began in June 1944 and was accompanied by a three-day naval shelling prior to the US Marine Corps' amphibious invasion on February 19, 1945.  The island was declared secure on March 26, 1945.]  So, it had just been in for some reason; I don't know why it was there.  We just took off and joined the group ... at Iwo Jima and that was just a patrolling/land shelling operation.  We weren't very close to any real serious action, and then, when that was completed, we took over--there were two fleets in the Navy, the Third Fleet and the Seventh Fleet.  The Third Fleet did the fighting, the Seventh Fleet did the transportation work, personnel and all kinds of supplies, and Nimitz had the Seventh Fleet and Halsey had the Third Fleet.  [Editor's Note: Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz served as Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet, and Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, during World War II.  Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr., commanded Third Fleet and Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid commanded Seventh Fleet at this time.]  So, [when] I'm here in the Third Fleet, we were escorting aircraft carriers.  When we were in the Seventh Fleet, we were with a number of cargo ships, LSTs and various others, traveling very slow.  It was terribly boring, but we were generally running a screen, antisubmarine, zigzag, and then, Okinawa develops, when we all organized, had the entire US, practically the entire US, Navy in there.  [Editor's Note: The Dennis left from Guam on February 16, 1945, to patrol off Iwo Jima until March 8th, when the ship left the area for Ulithi on convoy escort duty.  On March 21, the Dennis joined an aircraft carrier group preparing for the Okinawa invasion.  The amphibious invasion of Okinawa began on April 1, 1945.  The island was declared secure on June 22, 1945.]  I've never seen so many destroyers and cruisers and battleships and aircraft carriers, and we took off early, because a typhoon came in and they felt everything larger than an LST and up should get out and the others should do the best they can by beaching themselves, ... because these storms were horrific.  ... If a typhoon ever hit an area like this, it would flatten everything in sight, because the winds were literally 190-200 miles an hour and we got out into the storm and you lose all track of where everybody else is.  You're just on your own and tried to stay afloat and you break radio silence, do everything.  We could hear where all the Japanese were in the same problems that we were and, literally, the waves were two hundred feet high and they had waves on waves that were twenty-five and thirty footers.  So, we were taking them on the quarter, that is, the after part of the ship, but not dead aft, and we had the best helmsman.  He was a rugged guy with a red beard.  He was the only man on the ship who was permitted to have a beard, because he had such a beautiful red head of hair and red beard, and he was from Brooklyn.  Most of the men on the ship were from Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma.  They had never seen a bigger body of water than a pond.  So, the ocean was quite a surprise for them and many of them were often sick, but we managed the typhoon.  We did go right by a (Tarasuiki?).  That's a Japanese destroyer, considerably larger than we were.  We were 305 feet with 350 men on board and we went right by it, not more than two thousand yards, a nautical mile, and neither ship paid attention to the other one.  We were just worried [about ourselves].  They were going the other way.  They were going into the storm, because they were larger than we, and we were headed away from it.  ... Of course, the thing we were concerned the most about was having water go down the stack.  ... It was a single stacker, but we had two engine rooms and two boiler rooms and, of course, [if] the water goes down the stack and you lose power, you go sideways and you just roll over on the next wave, and we had all the men in PFDs [personal flotation devices] standing in the two gangways.  We had gangways down both sides of the ship.  They were scared to death, every one of them.  I didn't seem to be too concerned about it.  I don't know why.  I just had been on the water a lot.  I had traveled to Europe quite a bit, several times on freighters, and I wasn't too concerned about it, but the officers' quarters and the ward--we called it the wardroom--we ate on the wardroom table, but we had a gig, which you put on the table, which holds any plate so [that] it doesn't slide right off the table.  It's a way of keeping some order.  ... Then, we were pretty much involved.  We had quite an involvement at Okinawa, because the kamikazes were coming in and we were out in picket duty, but they weren't particularly interested in something as small as a destroyer escort.  They were interested in the carriers and the cruisers and the battleships, if they could get to them, but ... the war ended when we were there.  The bomb went off at ... Nagasaki, or whichever city it was, I forget, and we shot off Very pistols [flare guns] and cheered and celebrated, and then, our ship finally was given orders to go back to the base in Pearl Harbor and we were mustered out on the points system.  [Editor's Note: Hiroshima was the target of the first atomic raid on August 6, 1945.  Nagasaki was attacked on August 9, 1945.  V-J Day was declared on August 14, 1945, in the United States and August 15, 1945, in the Pacific.]  If you were married and if you had children, and then, the number of months you'd been overseas, you were mustered out first.  So, I was very junior and very young, so, I was one of the few on the ship at the very end.  There were only about ten of us aboard.  There were sixteen officers at the beginning and it was less than ten, probably eight, ... but we were just alongside all the time, decommissioning, chipping paint and ... taking off paint, putting on paint and mothballing the ship and had some interesting experiences there.  The ship's captain was a man named Stanley Gleis and he was a lawyer to the musicians' union in Hollywood and he had a number of interesting contacts, which he allowed ourselves to contact, and so, we had a lot of fun and met some interesting people.  I met Humphrey Bogart, on another way, and he had just bought a boat from Dick Powell.  ... I'd been talking, meeting with a guy at the (Coronado?) Yacht Club in San Diego--this all happened in San Diego--and so, he said, "Would you like to go up to Long Beach and sail with Humphrey Bogart on a Cal 40?"  [Editor's Note: Bogart bought the Santana, a Sparkman and Stephens staysail schooner, from Dick Powell in 1945 and owned it until his death in 1957.]  I said, "Sure."  So, I went up and I met him and he's an awfully nice man and we made good friends and it was the first time [they] ever went out on it, Powell and Bogart, myself, and a paid hand took it out.  I mean, I'd never really had much experience on bigger boats.  I'd sailed small boats, very much like Brub, and had a fair idea about how to manage small boats, but this was quite new to me, but we caught on pretty well.  Actually, Bogart knew very little of the boat, but he learned very quickly and very popular, and so, it was very pleasant.  I really had a very interesting war experience.

SI:  Thank you for the overview.  I want to ask more specific questions.  You described very well all the actions the Dennis was in, but can you give me an idea of what you would do on an average day?

JM:  I was the first lieutenant.  That is not a rank; it is a position in the Navy.  That means that I was in charge of half of the deck gang.  So, I was nineteen years old and I was in charge of about 120 men.  We had a starboard watch and a port watch and we would muster up every morning and I'd just walk down the line and see that everyone was shaved and had a clean jacket on and ready for duty.  ... Usually, I mean almost always, a boatswain would be with me and the boatswain would have worked out the sea details, such as, you know, working on some of the gear on board or painting or going [to] some line or inspecting some peak tanks, working out the day's routine.  Underway, I--well, this happened when we were underway as well--but we stood, let's see, there were four-hour watches and I stood watch with the Executive Officer and had the best watch, because it's four to eight, four to eight.  ... The most interesting part of that is that I'd help with the navigation, which was all celestial in those days, and all the numbers had to come out of books as to the altitudes and the azimuths of various celestial bodies that we were working with.  Of course, you weren't traveling very fast, so, if you could see the stars, you saw the same ones every night--a little different than aviation navigation--but, that, I found very interesting.  I loved the navigation and loved the whole idea of it and the Exec was a great guy.  We had a very fine group of men aboard.  I liked every one of them. 

SH:  Were you always the first lieutenant or were you put in that position later on?

JM:  No, I was not the first lieutenant [initially]; actually, more accurately, I was the second lieutenant.  There was a senior officer to me who was the first lieutenant, but, when he left the ship, I became first lieutenant.

SI:  In interviewing a lot of men who went through either ninety-day programs or 120-day programs to become officers, they talked about how they relied on the older enlisted men when they first got into their positions in the field or their ships out at sea.  Can you talk about your relationship with the enlisted men?

JM:  With enlisted men, very little, but the enlisted men, ... they really were enlisted men, but they were the Chief Boatswain's Mate and the Coxswain, ... but senior enlisted men and they knew more about the ship than I did, although it's surprising how much a "120-day wonder" can learn about a ship compared to what the average seamen knew about the ship, but we relied a great deal on the experience and know-how of senior boatswain's mates, chief boatswain's mates.

SI:  How did you take to being in charge of men?

JM:  It didn't bother me at all.  I somehow wasn't nervous about it at all and I had to talk to them, sometimes, one-on-one, because it would be disciplinary, small disciplinary matters that would come up.  I do remember one mistake that I made and it taught me something that I carried with me for the rest of my life.  There was a gunner's mate and he had done something that wasn't right and I told him about it in front of all of the other men--not the whole 120 or thirty men--and I gave him a dressing down and told him how short he came up with what he should have known.  ... About an hour later, I received a message from one of the other officers that Farley or Hurley, or whatever his name was--hell, I thought I'd never forget it--wanted to see me and I said, "All right, see me in my quarters," and had an interview with him.  ... He said, "You know, you're young.  I'm," he was about forty, maybe, he seemed very old, and he said, "I didn't really appreciate at all the way you addressed me in front of the men.  You could have done it privately and I would have understood it and not been--well, I was hurt.  I was embarrassed and hurt," and that affected me a lot and it taught me a lot.  So, I was very careful not to ever do that again.  So, you do make mistakes when you're young and you're with a lot of men.  Most of these men were older than I was.

SI:  Had most of the men on the ship been through the earlier battles?

JM:  Yes, they had, yes, they had.  They had been through Leyte Gulf and they had gotten a partial credit for sinking a light, no, a heavy Japanese cruiser, and nineteen men were killed.  So, I was not really in that trauma, but I could see the trauma in the officers that I got to know pretty darn well and it was a terrible experience.  They had to come back to San Francisco and have the ship repaired and these men were all in one gunnery area.  We didn't have guns large enough to have big gun rooms.  We had a five-inch gun, ... we had a quad forty, but, yes, and that made me feel--and others like me, those that came on after me, who had very little experience on the ship--feel a little lesser of the camaraderie of the people who had been through a lot more than I.

SI:  Do you think that the people that had been through the earlier actions were hesitant to accept new people?

JM:  No, I didn't get that feeling at all.  It was routine to take on new people.  We didn't do it every day.  I can tell you an interesting thing that relates to the Barefoot Bulletin.  When we were forming up for the invasion of Okinawa, we were in an area called Ulithi, which is an atoll, and the whole fleet was in there and we received a flash message from the USS California [(BB-44)], a battleship.  ... A battleship addressing a destroyer escort is unusual in the first place, but the signalman came into the wardroom and I was sitting in there with the Captain and a couple of other people and he said, "Mr. Montgomery, you have a message from the USS California.  Captain Hoyt would like to know if you'd like to join him for dinner this evening."  Well, that impressed my captain some, to begin with, and I said, "Affirmative."  So, he flashed that back and they flashed back a signal that said, well, the admiral's barge [a harbor transport] would be back at, I don't know, 1650 to pick me up, and that's what happened.  They took me over to the California.  I came on board and saluted the ensign, and then, the officer of the deck and Ensign [Doug] Hoyt was there and ... first thing he said, "Well, we're going to have dinner, but let me have a look at your teeth."  So, he took me down into a room, which had two dentist's chairs, and he looked in my mouth and he says, "Ah, got a little cavity there."  "Bzzz," he fixed it up.  He said, "Now, we can go to dinner."  I walked into this wardroom.  The wardroom on a destroyer escort handles about twelve officers seated at the same table and this one probably had fifty officers with ten tables.  Anyway, it was enormous. 

SI:  How did he know where you were?

JM:  He knew about it because of the Barefoot Bulletin.  He knew I was on the Dennis and, somehow, ... there were some ships there that knew the names of every ship that was in there.  We didn't, but ships with more authority and more responsibility.  They had communication ships or, probably, the California might have been the head of the battleship group, and then, there would be the aircraft carrier group and submarine group.  The submarine [group] was very quiet--you never heard anything about submarines.

SI:  It is interesting, because the man I was telling you about before, he was an officer on the California.  In talking with him, he was a junior officer in the antiaircraft division and it just sounds like there were so many officers on that ship and the chances of him having a conversation with the executive officer or the captain were nil, whereas on a destroyer escort, it sounds like you were much closer

JM:  Every day, I talked to the [Captain].  We sat down in three meals a day and he played bridge and taught me how to play bridge and we became very good friends, and we still are friends.  He's still around and I don't know whether he's retired or not, but I did communicate with him less than a year ago.  ...

[TAPE PAUSED]

JM:  Well, that's interesting that, on a large ship, you don't have much of a chance to talk to authority on the ship.  ...

SI:  Unless you are summoned.

JM:  Yes.  A destroyer escort is, you know, it's over three hundred feet long and it has over three hundred men aboard.  So, there are a lot of people around, but ... officers do not generally get very close to the crew.  It's not a question of snobbery or social distinction--it's just the Navy way.  ... Officers associated with officers and enlisted men associated with enlisted men and enlisted men always called officers by their last names, "Mister," and officers always called enlisted men by their last names, but just their last name, like Gurnicky or Smith or Jones.

SI:  Actually, I went on a tour of a destroyer escort up in Albany.  It is the Destroyer Escort Museum.  [Editor's Note: The USS Slater (DE-766), moored in the Hudson River at Albany, is the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum.]

JM:  Oh, they do?  I was unaware they had that sort of thing.

SI:  Yes, they restored a destroyer escort that had been sold to, I think, the Turkish Navy.

JM:  ... Do you remember the number of it?

SI:  I forget, but I can send that to you. 

JM:  All right.

SI:  It was very interesting, but I was amazed at how small a ship it is and that you would put over three hundred men on it.  Can you talk about your living conditions and how cramped it was?

JM:  Well, the officers had private quarters.  I mean, I did have two roommates and we lived in officers' quarters aft and the others, other officers, lived in their own quarters around the wardroom.  ... We had to walk outside and we did have our own shower aft, but that's where the laundry was and I think the provision refrigerators were there, big walk-in refrigerators, and it was kind of noisy and very hot.  I remember when we took a shower, which was really nice.  One of the reasons I joined the Navy is that we could have a shower every day and ... not have to dig a hole and lay in a puddle of mud, and we also had very good food.  I mean, they had powdered milk, so, you could not use the milk.  They don't have that wonderful milk now.  This box milk is excellent, that the British use a lot.  We're starting to use it now here, in the US.  I suggest, if you've never tried it, you ought to try it, the kind of milk you just put on a shelf, you don't have to refrigerate until you're going to use it.  You familiar with it?

SI:  Yes, Parmalat?

JM:  Yes, that's it.  ... It's great.  I like it and I use it all the time.

SI:  How well supplied were you?

JM:  We were very well supplied, except, of course, there were no fresh vegetables and no fresh fruit.  We had all the meat we wanted and canned fruit, usually, and ... the steward's mates were the only blacks on board.  There were no black members of the crew except steward's mates and we had our own cook and they served us at the table and they were a good bunch of guys.  ... That was our eating condition.  The eating condition for the men, they ate in the mess hall in two shifts and I would have to--all of us, all the officers have to--the duty that they'd have to go down to inspect the kitchen and just on an unannounced visit, just to see what conditions were like and what the trays looked like and how the men were seated and we had a good crew.  We had a couple of troublemakers, but, for the most part, we had a really fine crew and a lot of them were very well educated people who had been yanked out of an interesting life of some kind, either professional or farm or whatever it might be, into this very different situation.  ... They, for the most part, managed it, I thought, very well, upon recall.

SI:  Among the officers, were most college educated or had some college training?

JM:  Almost all the officers had some college training, yes.  I think the only officer that didn't was the engineering officer and he was a "mustang."  A mustang is a person who was an enlisted man who became an officer because of his knowledge of ... his assignments and he was the chief engineer.  He was a lieutenant and he, I think, was the only non-college--a lot of us weren't graduates--but non-college person.

SI:  Were any of the officers Annapolis men?

JM:  No.  We had no Navy, no regular Navy, no.

SI:  Did you have a radar system on board?

JM:  Yes, we did and we had a radar officer.  He was aboard as a communications officer, but in charge of radar, and that was, in general, monitored from what was called CIC, which is the combat information center, right below the bridge, and that's where we could see the planes coming in and where other ships were, if there were any in the vicinity, on the horizon.

SI:  Do you recall ever being under air attack?

JM:  Oh, yes.  They'd run by us a couple of times and the only effective weapon ... we had against aircraft ... was the quad forty.  That's a forty-millimeter quad, four guns in one turret, and a five-inch gun.  The twenty-millimeters were hardly effective.  We had people man them and fire them, but I don't think they ever caused any harm and, whether we ever hit another aircraft or not, I don't recall.  ... Sometimes, everyone's firing at it and you don't know who's hit it, but one Zero came down, was shot down, and we went over and picked the man up, but he was dead.  ... Another time, one of our own ships was disabled and we were out on picket duty then and it came and sort of made a crash landing very close to us.  It was an F4F [Wildcat] and he got out of the cockpit and stood on the wing and we went over, saw [him].  It was a very calm day and we got over slowly and put over a Jacob's ladder and he climbed aboard.  I don't even think he got his feet wet.  [laughter]

SI:  Was that in relation to the ...

JM:  Okinawa, that was off Okinawa.

SI:  Off Okinawa.  I read also in the records of the Dennis that there was a rescue operation involving the Sangamon

JM:  Sangamon, I was not aboard then.  [Editor's Note: The Dennis rescued eighty-eight sailors from the USS Sangamon (CVE-26) after the carrier was hit by a kamikaze on May 4, 1945.]

 

SI:  When you would be under these air attacks, what would you be doing?

JM:  I was on the bridge and my responsibility was, really, ... it varied from time to time, but it was keeping an ongoing communication between CIC and the bridge on a personal basis, rather than by the sound-powered telephone we used.  We used sound-powered telephones, which were very effective, but, sometimes, it's better to see the person and explain the situation, rather than just hear it, not talk it over so.  ... I stood with the Executive Officer and the Captain, myself and the Chief Gunner's Mate, "Chief" Chief Gunnery Officer and the Chief Communication Officer.  I think there were five of us that had battle stations on the bridge.

SI:  In those moments during those air attacks, what do you remember about that?  Was it hectic? 

JM:  It was.  It was pretty scary, but they weren't aiming at us.  They would generally be flying right over us to get at something larger and more important.  I remember the Curtiss.  That was a repair ship and they flew over us and one kamikaze ran into the Curtiss and I think some men were certainly injured, maybe a few, two or three, were killed, but it didn't cause much damage.  ... I don't recall ever receiving any gunfire directly from a Japanese plane while I was aboard.  [Editor's Note: On June 21, 1945, the Curtiss was struck by a kamikaze, resulting in thirty-five crew members killed and twenty-one wounded.]

SI:  What about antisubmarine activities?

JM:  That was our biggest responsibility and, of course, there, we had to be very careful about submarines, because submarines do not identify themselves, whether they're friend or foe, but ... you began to know when it was an enemy one, because it began to approach you in a menacing way.  ... We did drop depth charges on several occasions, all at different depths.  We never got credit for sinking a sub, but we might have, might have damaged one--we don't know.  In motion pictures, where you see these large explosions of water from a depth charge which has been rolled off the stern, that means it has a very low setting.  It's a setting at about maybe twelve feet, [at] most, and that doesn't do much damage and there aren't many submarines going around at twelve feet under the water.  Most of them were at sixty feet and some at forty feet.  So, when a depth charge goes off at seventy feet, it usually just causes a small disruption of the surface of the sea. 

SI:  During those operations, would you be doing the same thing, going back and forth?

JM:  Yes, I would, yes.  I mean, once your battle station, general quarters, sounded, you went to your battle station.  You always had the same place.  I remember, I had an interesting situation once.  We were just cruising--we'd cruise alone a lot.  We'd be a mail boat, sometimes, and, sometimes, we'd be sent off on R&R.  We did that once--we went to New Guinea--but we always had men in gun tubs right around the flying bridge, right under the pilot house, and they had helmets on and binoculars.  Here, they're supposed to be keeping a look on the horizon all the time and I noticed one man was very [still], hadn't moved for a long time.  So, I walked around, I went around, I walked around it, looked up and he was sound asleep.  The glasses were propped up on the gun tub that he was behind and they were propped up on that, but he was sound asleep.  So, I walked back up on the bridge.  ...

---------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE-------------------------------------

SI:  Please, continue.

JM:  So, I had an idea that he was asleep, was sleeping, and so that we had belaying pins up on the bridge.  What they were for, I'm not really quite sure, but I got ahold of one and I walked over to the top.  I looked down on him and I just gave him a bang on the top of his helmet.  I think he stayed awake from then on and forever when he was on watch.  Very interesting about watching at night is, you're supposed to look fifteen degrees above or below the object that you want to see, because the part of your eye that could see at night--this is at night--is not directly into your eye, but it's fifteen degrees either above or below or to one side or the other of your central sight.  So, that was something that was developed at Princeton, actually.  I had nothing to do with its development, but it came out of a study from Princeton.

SI:  A lot of these officers had already been through the earlier engagements.  Did they tell you anything that you had not learned in training, that they had learned only by going through these other experiences?

JM:  Very little.  It was amazing how well trained you are in 120 days.  Midshipmen's School is very rigorous, very regimented.  I had three roommates, two Moores and a (Molator?), because everything was done by the alphabet, and the two Moores and the (Molator?) were flunked out.  ... I remember, when we first arrived, we had our sailor suits on, with a regular seaman's hat, and we all sat down and the commander was a Captain (Guy?) and he said, "Now, take a good look at the man to your right and the man to your left, because one of you is not going to be here at graduation."  They had pretty much a policy of graduating fifty percent of the class.

SI:  When you left Midshipmen's School, did you have any idea what you wanted to do or you would hope to do?

JM:  I wanted to be on a ship, but you have no choice.  They could have sent me to Washington, they could have done anything, but I was very lucky.  I went directly to SCTC school, then, to the recognition school, and then, to San Francisco, and then, toward the ship.  I didn't find out what ship I was on until I got to San Francisco.

SI:  Were you happy to serve in the Pacific or did you not care?

JM:  Yes, I was happier.  The weather was a lot more clement and that's where most of the action was.  Of course, that's not so true--the convoy work that was done by the Navy and there were a couple of engagements that were very important in the Atlantic--but there was, not that I was looking for action, but that's where the Navy had its biggest [force], played its biggest part, was in the Pacific.

SI:  Most combat veterans I have talked to note how military life is mostly boredom punctuated by these brief moments of intense, scary activities.  Can you talk about the boredom aspect?  What would you do with the majority of your time on the ship?  You have your duties. 

JM:  When you're off duty? 

SI:  Yes.

JM:  Well, it was eight on and twelve off, I guess that's right, and you had duties.  You had to see that the men were carrying out the orders that appear on what's called the morning order book and that the work was being completed and that there weren't people sleeping around or goofing off, although the boatswain's mates and ... the enlisted men of rank were responsible for most of that.  You did have, however, time to play cards.  That's when I learned how to play bridge.  We played bridge in the wardroom and we'd sit around.  Oh, we listened to music.  We'd have what were fifty-inch [records], I think they were, and they would play for hours.  ... We had movies, but we'd show them at night and we'd show them for the men, so that I didn't see very many movies.  We could go down to the men's ... mess hall and watch the movie, but that was what we used to do is trade movies with other ships.  When you say intense things happened, as a deck officer in charge of half the crew, I was responsible for several activities.  One was anchoring and letting in, and then, taking off and the other was refueling at sea.  Refueling at sea was a hairy operation, because we were usually refueling from an aircraft carrier and everything's bouncing up and down in different moments and the Captain and the Chief Engineer would get very angry if the fuel attachments weren't firm and, if I got any fuel on the deck or anything like that, that would be bad news for me.  I mean, they didn't put me in irons or anything, but I'd get a scolding, and so, I was very [careful].  That was tense, because we were looking up at this [larger ship] and you have [a hose].  They put it in loops, so that when the ships are closer together, it takes in.  Then, when it goes up, it takes up the slack and that's how we [transferred fuel].  We had a man with an appendix [that] had to be taken out and we transferred him ... I think to a cruiser, where they had an officer who could perform the operation.  We put him in a boatswain's chair.  That was rather a delicate operation, because he did go in the water a couple of times, but we had him in a boatswain's chair, strapped him, tied in.  We had several different operations.  I remember, once, an LST had run aground in some atoll and couldn't get off.  So, the Captain decided, "Well, let's get him off there somehow."  So, he decided to try to make the biggest wake we could make.  So, we revved it up as fast as we could get it and turned it hard over, just made big circles out in front of this, to break the suction, and it finally did and the LST got off, but most of the times that we would [operate], the seas were calm, the days were hot.  We had no air conditioning, of course, but shade was--it was sort of a dry air, as I recall.  It wasn't all that uncomfortable, but, if we saw a rain shower somewhere, we would try to figure out if we could get under it, get a free shower, [laughter] just for more recreation than it was [necessity], because ... we made all the water you can imagine.

SI:  When you were involved in an operation, were you often by yourself or were you ...

JM:  Often, I'd be by myself, just lie in my bunk and reading, yes.

SI:  I meant the ship.

JM:  Oh, the ship.  Yes, when we weren't in an operation, we were generally solo.  We were on our way to something and all these things were pretty far apart and we could go thirty knots, but we'd travel usually at about twenty-three knots, twenty-two knots and that's going pretty fast, but we would be alone most of the time.

SI:  How strict was the protocol and the discipline on the ship?  Was saluting always maintained?  Was the uniform always kept to regulation?

JM:  That's a very good question.  Authority was accepted and never questioned.  None of us wore any of our bars or any indication as to your rank, and the men didn't either.  They wore denim shirts and denim trousers and black shoes and we wore Navy grays, but no ties and ... nothing on the collar and, as far as saluting goes, I didn't see a salute the whole time I was on board.  Well, I take that back--maybe, when an enlisted man came up to address you, he would salute.  Yes, there would be a salute.

SI:  I have heard that that all emanates from the captain of the ship.  If the captain is a real stickler, he would have everybody in full dress all the time.

JM:  That is probably true, but this captain was not that kind of a captain.  ... He studied the ship all the time.  He knew more about the ship than anybody aboard and, ... as I told you, he was a lawyer.

SI:  Between these combat actions and the typhoon you were involved in, which to you was scarier?

JM:  The typhoon, much more so.

SI:  It is interesting how many people say that who went through that or a similar experience, that the weather could be more terrifying than the enemy.

JM:  Well, the point is that, in a battle, you generally don't know what's going on.  The only ship that knows what's going on is the communications ship and, in our case, at Okinawa, that was the USS Hill.  [Editor's Note: The USS Hill (DE-141) was not involved in the Battle of Okinawa.  Mr. Montgomery may be referring to the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), which did see action in the Okinawa battle.]  ... They had enough communication on there to be in touch with every single ship in the group and they'd very seldom address us directly, but, if they did, we'd just respond with an affirmative.  In other words, they'd want us to take another position or to join another group or to go back to Tacloban or someplace and pick up the mail.

SI:  In operations like the Okinawa invasion and the Iwo Jima invasion, you were escorting aircraft carriers.

JM:  We were.  So, we were so far offshore, you couldn't even see them. 

SI:  You could not see the island.

JM:  Couldn't see the island.

SI:  The shore batteries could not reach you.

JM:  No.

SI:  It was pretty much aircraft that would be the main threat.

JM:  Yes, it was, yes.

SI:  When you were on picket duty, you were separated from the aircraft carriers.

JM:  Yes.  There, we were just picket.  ... I don't quite know what picket means, but we were north ... of Okinawa, just looking for aircraft coming in and they would usually come in in the morning or in the evening, and I forget what it was, I think it was up sun and down sun, according to whether it was morning or night.  In the morning, they would come with the sun behind them and, at night, they would come in with the sun behind you, I think.

SI:  They would use the sun.

JM:  Yes, they would, yes.

SI:  What did you think of the Japanese as an enemy?  Did you respect them?  Did you fear them?

JM:  I never saw them, being in the Navy.  ... I did have a hate for them and, from what we did get from the news, I was very disturbed by how they treated prisoners and the civilians.  ... I could not understand to any degree their feeling about the Emperor and that he was a deity and all that was totally foreign to me. 

SI:  You mentioned a little about what you did in your free time, but I would imagine you spent a lot of time just conversing with your fellow officers.

JM:  Yes.

SI:  Do you remember what you would talk about, other than things dealing with the ship?

JM:  We would generally be talking about things dealing with the ship, generally a technical story, or be talking about the men in some way.  We might be talking about the food and other conditions on the ship and what needed to be looked after, if there is a problem with the ice cream machine or laundry or there is too much starch in the laundry.  ... A lot of it had to do with the ship's activity. 

SI:  Would you ever talk about the war, say, where you thought you were going to go next?

JM:  Well, we were concerned that we would be making ... a landing in the Japanese mainland and totally surprised by the atom bombs, had no inkling that that was being contemplated, and, when it happened, we didn't really understand it.  It was such a shock.  We saw no pictures, we just had descriptions and, of course, having radio silence broken, totally, was almost like being in a crowd [after] you'd been solo for so long, with no radio contact or noise.  ... Again, what was the question?

SI:  What kind of discussions you had among the officers about the war in general.

JM:  Yes.  Well, we'd talk about home a lot.  Men would talk about their wives and their children.  [Among] the men, there was one other--two other--well, one other Princeton man on board.  There was a Yale guy, the guy from Georgia Tech and one very wealthy man who lived in Chicago, who owned a furniture company, and he'd talk about his company a little bit and we'd talk about Chicago and we'd talk about times when we were ashore before we got on the ship.  A terrible thing happened when we were back in San Diego.  Some of the senior officers had it in for one officer.  I remember his name, but it doesn't need to be mentioned, and it was because he was always late to reporting on duty.  You're supposed to be at least ten minutes early and the off-going watch would leave coffee for you and you'd do the same for the next watch, every eight hours, and this fellow was constantly late.  Now, when an enlisted man wakes an officer, he never touches him.  He can only talk to him, and so, they would yell at this guy, but he wouldn't get out of bed and he would be five minutes late.  ... He didn't relieve me, but the officers that he did relieve resented it and the senior men on the ship, when they got back to San Diego, went up to some hotel up on a hill--I forget, it was new at the time--and they had a big party and they got in a big fight and they darn near killed this guy, physically.  ... He had to go to a hospital and he didn't report to the ship again.  So, that was one un-pleasantry.  The other small un-pleasantries were, sometimes, when a seaman first [class] would misbehave or not carry out his duties properly, you'd break him to an ordinary seaman.  That means he'd take one stripe off his sleeve, and we had a couple of men that way.  He ... must have had Velcro on them, because he'd take them on and pull them off and take them on [again] and we had captain's masts, but, fortunately, we never had the next step up in the judicial ladder.

SI:  Court-martial?

JM:  I guess it was called a court-martial, yes.  Navy might've had a different name for it, but it was very well brought out in The Caine Mutiny with Jose Ferrer and Humphrey Bogart.  [Editor's Note: The 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, based upon Herman Wouk's 1951 novel of the same name, centers around a mutiny aboard a fictitious US Navy vessel and the ensuing court-martial trial.]  We had a homosexual situation and there was no tolerance of homosexuality in those days in the Navy.  ... These two men, I didn't know them very well, I'd seen them and they were transferred and sent back to the States.  What happened to them after that, I don't know, but that was the only homosexual activity that we were aware of, but that was totally forbidden.

SI:  Was this something that was talked about, in terms of that you would have to look out for this in the Navy?

JM:  No, no.  It just occurred and it was a surprise to us and we didn't know how to manage the thing.  We sat down around the wardroom and the Captain said, "We just have to get them off the ship and have somebody else deal with it."

SI:  Did it not even come before the captain's mast?

JM:  No, it didn't, no.  It was so heinous an act that it transcended a captain's mast and needed more judicial opinion and attention.

SI:  When you were at sea, did you ever have a chance to have a beer party or a shore party?

JM:  Once or twice we did and that's when we were on R&R, and they'd send us down to Hollandia, which is a little island off New Guinea, and, as I had told you, I think before, the ship is divided into a starboard watch and a port watch and myself and another junior ensign were sent ashore with the starboard watch.  ... They had tenders, LCVPs, come out.  They would hold pretty much all of the gang, and we had beer on the ship, but it was under lock and key and, I remember, the beer ... came from Pittsburgh.  I thought I'd never forget the name of it, but, anyway, we'd get them ashore.  ... They'd all line up and that was about--they didn't all go--so, it would have been maybe eighty men, ninety men, and each man was allowed two cans of beer.  Of course, some men didn't drink, so, they would take the beer and give it to others who would drink eight cans of beer.  So, there was some drunkenness and a few fights and they got in poker games and that sort of thing, but ... that was the only time that we had any activity like that, that involved both the officers and the men.  We never did anything on the ship like play games or have singing contests or any recreational activity like that.  Men were left to their own [devices].  We didn't allow them to have pictures of nude women on the bulkhead.  That's one thing the Captain didn't like.  ...

SI:  Did you have to be on the lookout for people trying to make their own liquor?

JM:  No, no.  There was some rumor, once in a while, that they would drink "torpedo juice," which is alcohol.  ... We had torpedoes, had six torpedoes, and they would drink some of that, but we never had any proof of it and I never drank any of it.  No, there was no liquor--it was never a liquor problem.  The only time we ran into that was when we went ashore and they distributed beer unevenly. 

SI:  Do you remember any occurrences or problems with any form of bias, like anti-Semitism or ethnic problems?

JM:  No, mostly no, maybe slight anti-Semitism.  There, [we] had no question of blacks, because there weren't any aboard, ... except the steward's mates and they stayed to themselves.  They were only responsible for serving the officers and keep washing the dishes and making the tables and making the beds and doing that thing that they do for officers.  So, the only bias that might have occurred, and it wasn't a big problem, would be anti-Semitism and that would usually be focused on one or two or three incidents or men and not a general swelling of bad feeling.

SI:  It never disrupted operations.

JM:  Never, no.

SI:  In general, how was morale on the ship?

JM:  Morale on the ship was really very good, excellent.  We got terribly bored.  That's what your other interviewees have said, and it is boring, but, when you're doing the navigating, it's interesting, because you always are wondering how close you're going to come to your DR [dead reckoning] and, when you take a [fix], if you can see the stars, which you usually can in the Pacific, how close of a fix, how good of a fix, you could get, and then, of course, the noon sighting is pretty easy.  Handling the sun is very easy.  The stars are different, but they're much more interesting, because you have to identify the star to begin with, and then, you have to ... look it up in the book and you have to know what date it is and exactly what time it is.  We have a chronometer on board, and then, a hack chronometer, which we would carry with us up to the bridge, and it all has to do with tables that were made up by the guy who invented the clock.  ... His name was John--I'm having trouble with his name, it doesn't come to me now.  ... I'm sort of going off on a tangent here.  ... [Editor's Note: John Harrison invented the marine chronometer in 1737.]

SI:  Do you feel like your experiences with the Barefoot Yacht Club in any way affected your time in the service?

JM:  Yes, I do, because this was a group of young boys who had no supervisor.  ... I mean, the group did not have a supervisor or parental influence or guidance, and we learned how to get along with each other and there were, sometimes, little disagreements, but they were generally over in a day or less.  ... I just found that getting along with a group of up to twenty boys--I wasn't aware of it [then]--but it probably did help my ability to get along in the Navy, particularly at Midshipmen's School. 

SI:  Do you feel like your time in the service was just--I do not want to say a distraction--but as though your life was on a path and this was just a minor side street that you went down, or did it affect your later life in terms of changing what you wanted to do or inspiring you to something more or different?

JM:  Well, that's a very good question, too, because what it does, it interferes with your social life and your education and, also, a period in your life when you're just getting [social].  You're becoming aware of girls and liking to go to dances and going places, listening to music and drinking ice cream sodas and doing things that young people in [their] later teens do, and we had none of that.  We were cheated of all of that, because we came back when we were pretty mature and I went back to Princeton for two years--not two years, about a year, little over a year--and then, graduated, because we did get credits for some of the courses we took at Midshipmen's School.  ... Then, of course, it was [that] people were getting married at a much earlier age.  I was married when I was twenty-six.  That's pretty young by today's standards.  ... My wife was twenty-four.  So, I just felt cheated of those fun years that I could have had. 

SI:  Had you met your wife before?

JM:  No.  I'd met her after the war.  No, I can't say that.  No, I didn't.  I knew who she was and, actually, she is the girl that married Brub Hance.  She would have married me, but I didn't want to get married.  We didn't actually get to the term, you know, didn't so-called "pop the question," but she would have, because ... we were steady and we went together a lot, but, when I left the scene for the Choate School, Brub made friends and they were a wonderful pair, because she took to sailing like Brub, was a great sailor, and she was a wonderfully read person.  She was a very good dancer.  She and I used to dance a lot and we didn't dance professionally, but we danced for the Elks Club shows and things like that. 

SI:  You were not corresponding with anyone while you were in the Navy.

JM:  Yes, I was.  Yes, I had a girlfriend and she was very pretty and she was "Queen of Derby Day" at Yale and she came to the festivities at the Choate School as my date and had a very interesting situation there.  She also lived in the apartments at Riverside Gardens and, one day, her father said, "I'd like to have a talk with you.  Let's go down to the dock and have a talk."  So, I called him Ralph and I said, "Okay," went down and Ralph said, "My daughter, you know, is very interested in you and you're getting along, but she also has another boyfriend who's really quite wealthy," and I didn't have any money at all.  My father was not in the money business, and he said, "So, I'm going to strongly suggest that you sort of cool your relationship with her and give her a chance to work things out with Dave."  Well, so, she finally married Dave and they have four children, and then, got a divorce and he lost all his money.  So, things, sometimes, you get what you wish for, which is not a good idea.

SI:  Is that while you were still at the Choate School?

JM:  No, that happened well after then.

SI:  After you got out of the Navy?

JM:  Yes, after that.  No, they were married when I was in the Navy, because I remember ... some friend of mine sent me a picture of them at the church.

SI:  How had Princeton changed during the war years, between when you first started there and when you finished up afterwards?

JM:  Well, during the war years, it was really taken over by the military, Army, Marines and Navy, and the civilian population at Princeton was really quite small.  ... So, the change now is that there's no military there at all, that I'm aware of, and the requirements and the level of intelligence and the requirements for entrance are much more rigorous today than they were in 1942 and, also, the mix, the racial mix of the students, has changed considerably, because they have girls there now, I mean, women, and they have black students.  They had no black students. 

SI:  When you returned, were most of your classmates veterans also?

JM:  Yes. 

SI:  How did that change the classroom experience?

JM:  It didn't change it an iota.  I would say the classroom experiences were the same.

SI:  Just from interviewing people from Rutgers, they talk about how, before, they would be intimidated by the professors.  The professor was really the master of the classroom, whereas after having been in the service, they were more comfortable, not talking back to the professors, but talking more as an equal. 

JM:  I think that we felt we were talking as equals before the war, during the war, whatever, and after.  There wasn't much of a change.  I had had an experience at a private school, a large one, in New England, so, the relationships were pretty much man to young man.  There wasn't a hierarchy or anything like that.  There was a division between social feelings and the professors.  They had no women professors at Princeton, or Choate for that matter, when I was there.  Of course, they do today.

SI:  Did you live on campus when you returned?

JM:  Yes, I did.  I was very fortunate.  When I got to Princeton, I had a roommate and he was--happened this was unfortunate--we lived down in (Audi 4?), that's one of the dorms, and he went off.  He was drafted and he was [sent] off and killed almost immediately, and so, then, I roomed with other guys and up in Holder Hall, which is a very prime freshman and sophomore dormitory.  ... We had two bedrooms and four guys and a sitting room.  It was very commodious, comfortable.

SI:  When you first entered Princeton, was there any kind of hazing?  There were a lot of colleges that had the traditional hazing of freshmen.  Do you remember any of that?

JM:  Very little of it.  You used to have to wear a beanie as a freshman and freshmen were not allowed in the lunch clubs.  What else?  You'd have a "cane spree."  I forget actually how that worked, but the whole sophomore class would show up on one of the baseball fields and the whole freshman class, and then, there'd be cane, an ordinary cane, and the idea was to wrest that cane away from the other class.  ... If the freshmen won the cane spree, they could immediately remove the beanies and were allowed more freedom in the campus and ... we did wrest the cane from them, and everybody gets pretty well beat up.  I mean, it's a rather rough-and-tumble thing.  Whether they still do it or not, I doubt, but there was that differentiation between the freshmen and the rest of the student body; other than that, wasn't anything. 

SI:  I wondered if things like that survived the war or if they were swept to the side afterwards.

JM:  It was still in effect after the war, right after the war.  I think today is what I'm speaking of.  Right after the war, it was still in effect, but probably not as rigorously and ... with such anticipation to look forward to.

SI:  What was your major?

JM:  My major was psychology.

SI:  Why did you choose psychology?

JM:  I didn't want to study history and there are a lot of mandatory courses, of course, included a foreign language and math.  ... Psychology interested me because it involves some biology, which I liked, and ... I liked one or two of the professors in the group and, frankly, it wasn't as difficult ... or rigorous as some of the other followings.  If I had to do it all over again and were to choose a major at any university, I would choose art and art history, even though I'm not an artist, but I would love to know more about art.  ... I know quite a bit, but ... I think you'd make a great hit with the ladies if you know a lot about art, because most women are interested in painting and sculps [sculptures] and architecture around the world and a person who knows a Monet from a Manet can make some progress, usually, with the ladies.

SI:  That is a good motivation.

JM:  Yes.

SI:  I know from interviewing Rutgers men over the years that the rivalry with Princeton was very important on the Rutgers Campus.  Do you remember that coming from the Princeton side?  Was it a big rivalry for you?

JM:  Well, no.  It was usually our starting game and was considered the easy game.  We usually thought we could beat Rutgers, which we're not going to do anymore, Princeton, because we're not going to play them, but we hadn't lost to Rutgers for a number of years, since the first game, as you recall, and we lost [then].  I remember, we went up to Rutgers--it's when you inaugurated one of your new stadiums, not the one you're in now--and we all went up there and climbed the fence.  We didn't pay any [fees].  Anyway, Rutgers won that game and that was the end of the losing streak, and then, from then on, Rutgers played us very evenly, but it's not an Ivy team, so, it's not one of the bigger games.  We'd play three games that are non-Ivy League, and then, seven that are, but, no, we wanted to beat Rutgers as [much as] anybody else.  [laughter] [Editor's Note: On November 5, 1938, the day of the dedication of Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, Rutgers beat Princeton University for the first time since defeating them in the first college football game on November 6, 1869.]

SI:  You mentioned that you went to Europe as a child a number of times. 

JM:  Yes.

SI:  It made you aware of what was happening in Europe with the Germans.

JM:  Pretty much so, yes, and I learned a great deal about culture.  My mother thought it was a great education to see how people were living in the rest of the world, in the Scandinavian world, in Europe and in South America, and they actually had automobiles and they had electric lights.  ... I wasn't a linguist, though I speak a little French, but she thought it was as much a part of my education as going to the classroom.

SI:  Where did you go and what do you remember about these places?

JM:  Well, I traveled on Hog Island ships, which are made in Hog Island, Virginia, and they have five holds.  [Editor's Note: Hog Islanders, freighters built by the Emergency Fleet Corporation during World War I, were constructed in a temporary shipyard established on Hog Island near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.]  They're freighters.  They're very slow--they traveled at about ten knots.  That isn't flank, but they can do [it], that's generally what they do.  ... I was a boatswain's helper, the boatswain's helper, and it was only because my mother knew somebody in Moore-McCormack Lines that I got the position, and they paid me five dollars a month.  I was usually gone three months, which would mean I'd chop off some part of the school here in Red Bank, in the beginning, and then, part of the end, but it didn't make any difference and I was either putting on paint or taking off paint most of the time, but I did sleep in the same compartment with the third mate and I ate with the officers.

SI:  You were probably thirteen, fourteen when you started doing this.

JM:  Yes.

SI:  What are some of the more vivid memories you have of your overseas trips?

JM:  Those trips?  Well, mostly of the ships themselves, which are unique, ... and the loads, big deck loads we'd carry and the loads we'd carry going over, we'd carry a load.  Coming back, the only deck loads we'd have, sometimes, would be some [items].  Once, I was in charge of polo ponies, a string of polo ponies going to the Argentine [Argentina].  That was my only job, was to take care of them, and they were brought on the ship in stalls, individual stalls, all bolted together, and all I had to do is clean up and feed them and wash them down a little bit.  ... I was paid more for that.  I forget what, but the owner of the ponies paid me for keeping them alive.  They were on deck--they couldn't go below--and they stood up the whole way.  They stood up for something like forty-two days.  A horse can do that.  A horse doesn't have to lie down.  They sleep standing up.  Another interesting thing, coming back from the Scandinavian countries, we went all the way up the coast of Finland, down the coast of Sweden, picking up pulp in bales.  So, we had a deck load that went straight from the bridge right all the way up to the bow of the ship, and then, aft.  So, the whole ship was just almost solid cork and it was a dirty mess.  Then, another time, coming back from the Argentine ...

--------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO-------------------------------------

SI:  You were saying.

JM:  We took on, yes, bulk grain, in the forward hold, I think it was, and the last thing they dropped into it was a whole bag of snakes [laughter] and let them go over it.  They had passengers.  They had about nine passengers.  My mother was a passenger, but I generally associated with the third officers, took watch with them, which wasn't doing much except be a gopher, but I was amazed by Buenos Aires, what a modern city it was, how much light it had.  I found Genoa and all these seaports--we never went inland.  Well, I did with my mother--correction, we did, yes--and that was interesting, because I remember when we went to [Europe].  I made three or four trips, I think, and one was to the Scandinavian countries and we got off the ship and I didn't have to get back on it until when I wanted to, or my mother wanted me to.  So, we flew down to Berlin ... from Copenhagen and saw Berlin and I was very taken by it.  We really were usually traveling on the cheap, but, in Berlin, we stayed at the Adlon, which was, at that time, ... one of the finest hotels in the world.  ... We went out to Potsdam and I did see Hitler a couple of times and gave him the Hitler salute, like everybody else did when he went by. 

SI:  How old were you then, fifteen, sixteen?

JM:  Well, it was 1936, so, I was fourteen.

SI:  It was around the time after the Olympics.

JM:  Yes, it would be just after the Olympics, right.  Jesse Owens and his events, I remember that.  [Editor's Note: Jesse Owens was an African-American track and field athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany.]  ... It must have been when I was in--I wasn't in Germany that year.  The years are a little hazy now, I don't remember them all that well, but I was really very taken by Copenhagen.  It was lovely.  It's a lovely city, and the (tier garden?) and the Tivoli.  ... We even took a trip, an inland trip, from Gothenburg to Stockholm on the Gota Canal, which is on a little, tiny boat that goes through seventy-two locks.  They're not all in a row, but you come out on a lake and we go in the other locks and we had the only stateroom on the ship.  The rest of the people slept in what were Pullman cars and I loved the trains.  We traveled on some trains, wagon-lit, and, of course, Pompeii was interesting and Rome and Venice.  I was really taken by Venice.  Venice has changed, so [that] you wouldn't know it.  These places have changed all, and generally not for the better.  I mean, I remember going to Capri.  In Italy, you say, "Ca-pri," and the French say, "KA-pre," and we do, too, I think.  It's so changed now that it's not even worth going there, because there are so many boats waiting to get in to see each grotto and, when you get in there, you're just [seeing] hundreds of boats and hundreds of people talking.  It just loses all its beauty and effect that it had in 1939, or whenever it was that I was there.

SI:  Having been in Rome and Berlin while the Fascists and Nazis were in charge, what do you remember about that, their impact on those cities?

JM:  I saw no impact in Italy, anywhere, but the impact in Berlin was very noticeable, a lot of uniformed people and ...

SI:  Banners all over the place?

JM:  No, there were none.  I didn't see any of that, but, when Hitler went by in the car, I know that everybody stopped and saluted him, including tourists, and the tourists were advised to do so.

SI:  You were, okay; by the American embassy?

JM:  No, by a German tour guide, who you just had for the day.

SI:  Do you remember ever having discussions with your mother or anybody else about what this meant?

JM:  No, not really.  I must have been "the innocent abroad."  ... I didn't think about a war breaking out or anything like that. 

SI:  When Hitler went by, was he just going to his office?

JM:  Yes, just going from A to B, and the other time we saw him, it was at Potsdam.  He had an office in Potsdam.  Potsdam is a beautiful park outside of Berlin and he was in his office there and he walked out on the patio and, when he walked out, all the people stopped and gave him the salute.  You know, today, I mean, I don't think you probably have ever met a Nazi, neither have I.  "There weren't any Nazis."  [laughter] They were all Nazis.  They were all "lampshade manufacturers."  I'm not fond of the Germans, nor their food, but I love their country.  They have a lovely country and, of course, there are exceptions.  I had a wonderful, dear secretary who was German, lovely lady, but, for the most part, the Germans are noisy and rude and demanding and unpleasant.  I think most people who had experiences in World War II ... do not have a good experience or good feeling toward either the Japanese or the Germans.  It doesn't leave you easily.

SI:  It is a little after eleven-thirty.  Do you want to keep going? 

JM:  No, I've said all I mean to say.

SI:  Okay.  Is there anything else you would like to add for the record?

JM:  No, except, for the record, I am very interested in the Barefoot Yacht Club and ... getting in touch with somebody who would be interested in listening to Brub and myself and maybe, you know, anyone else we can get around, alive, that can put stories together and light a little spark here, what he can put into what will forever disappear and probably never be reenacted or duplicated.  I mean, it was a unique situation, put together by very common people, common people with a lot of ambition, and we took on--Brub had a lot to do with leading us into building a (Marine?) right away and building a dock, and not that he did it officially.  ... He was a little older than most of us, and having a big backyard and a spar shed, but it was a great experience.  I had a wonderful childhood.  Don't you feel that way, Brub?

SI:  It is pretty remarkable how it lasted only a few years, but it left such a lasting impact on everybody involved, partly for what you did together, but also its impact on each individual.

JM:  Yes, that's right.  Yes, unfortunately, there's so few of us still living, because some of them are really characters, Schwartz and Sig [Thompson] and [T.] Lloyd and how different people we were.  Yet, we were one group.  ...

BH:  Just very few of us left. 

JM:  Right.

BH:  And you should sort of arrange a meeting with Ed Rullman.  His mother was ...

SI:  The one who put together the Bulletin.

JM:  Yes.  ...

SI:  Does he still lives in New Jersey?

JM:  No, he lives in Brooklyn and he lives there in the wintertime, and then, the summertime, he lives in Nantucket, rather, Cape Cod, and he's a naval architect and an architect.  He went to Blair [Academy] and Yale and to Yale Architectural Graduate School.  ... He would be very good, because he expresses himself well.

BH:  He's a real original.

JM:  Original, right, yes, he is.

BH:  Was in his backyard and his father's dock.

JM:  And his father's boats and his boats.  We used to have circuses and all kinds of things.

SI:  I did not know about that.  I do not think you mentioned the circus.

JM:  Well, didn't we have some kind of a circus? 

BH:  He had a circus in the backyard, a trapeze, a swing.

JM:  ... I mean, they used to have cookouts at night, in the evenings, once a week, and I would be invited.  Well, you were invited, weren't you, sometimes?  Lippincott was there all the time.  I was just invited once in a while.  ... There were cookouts and Harry (Sutton?) would come and ...

BH:  Charlotte.

JM:  Charlotte, and some other people.

BH:  I remember, on Sundays, after the boat races, he used to tow us down to (Kayoz?) Cove and Mrs. Rullman would supply us all with fried chicken, watermelon and (Hance's?) ice cream after the races.  ...

JM:  I don't remember doing that. 

BH:  That was after your time, sneakbox sailing.

SI:  Do any of the sneakbox races stand out in your memory?

JM:  I didn't own a sneakbox, but the races stand out, yes, because the competition was very stiff and there were two or three people that won all the time, Charlie (Lara?) being one of them and Bucky Mead got hot for a while.  I guess Lippincott and (Roman?) would win there now and then.  Hance would win once in a while, but he came into his own in another class of sailboat, but, when we would have a regatta, I mean, on a weekend here, there would be--would you say there'd be a hundred boats out there, of different classes, racing? 

BH:  A lot of boats.

JM:  Fifty, ... maybe fifty or sixty boats out there, different fleets.  There'd be lightnings, there'd be comets, there'd be sneakboxes.  ... Didn't they have a sort of a handicap class of "bird" boats and things like that? and then, smaller boats like penguins, but, ... for some reason, we never got into the Optimist class and I can't imagine why.  ...

BH:  They came over from Europe.

JM:  Well, they were all over New England way before they were here.  They were in New England fifteen years before they were here.  ...

SI:  Were the Barefoot Yacht Club sneakboxes able to compete on the same level as these other types of boats, the comets, and so forth?

JM:  We didn't race each other very often.  I think we might have a couple of times.  It would depend a little bit on the wind conditions.  ... I would say the Comet could point higher than a sneakbox, but, off the wind, the sneakbox would be a good bit faster, had a lot more sail, wouldn't you say? and, of course, there were fleets of sneakboxes down in the Barnegat Bay, at Bay Head and at Lavallette, ... Mantoloking entrance, right.  I think of Bay Head and Mantoloking, and we'd take our boats down there sometimes.  I guess, they'd bring theirs up here, wouldn't they, ... once a year or so?  They were pretty good.  Of course, most of our boats were built down there, but some of them were built up here.

SI:  You did not have your own sneakbox.

JM:  No, I had my own Comet and we all owned Penguins, because we'd built them as a group. 

BH:  That was after the war. 

JM:  That was after the war.  We were all married by that time and our wives ... took part in the [sailing].  One interesting thing about building the boats--in order to take some weight out of the boat, for some reason, we used the same set of screws on, what? twenty-four boats.  I don't know how many we built.  We would just use brass screws.  They were fairly expensive.  After we bought one set enough for one boat, as you know, you put glue in, and then, you screw it down, and then, as soon as the glue is set, we just backed all the screws out and put the screws in the next one.  Isn't that the way it worked?  Are you agreeing with me or not hearing me?

BH:  I was thinking about it.  I think the screws stayed in the boat.

JM:  You do?  Well, maybe it was just one or two where they took the screws out, because the screws didn't hold the boat together, the glue did.

SI:  How many guys were involved in this postwar incarnation of the Barefoot, where the wives were involved?

JM:  Hance, you can answer that question better than I.  I'd say fifteen.  What do you think, Brub?

BH:  Yes.  About the only time we got together then was at the reunions.

JM:  Yes.

BH:  Had parties, because we were all married by then. 

JM:  We became commuters and torn apart that way.

BH:  Some of the wives didn't like boats.

JM:  Yes.

BH:  ... I can remember, we had a couple of guys, while they were courting their future wives, the gals would get in the boats, sail, would then join them.  Since they got married, they never stepped foot in a boat.  [laughter]

JM:  ... I really have to go.

SI:  Before we conclude, thank you very much.

JM:  Okay, well, thank you for coming.

SI:  Thank you to both of you.  Happy birthday, again, and thank you very much.

JM:  Right, okay.

--------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------

Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 4/23/13

Reviewed by Leslie Montgomery 6/19/13

 

Rutgers Oral History Archives

A Rutgers History Department Affliated Center 


This website and all content

Copyright © 2016 ROHA

 

Contact Us

Rutgers Academic Building
15 Seminary Place
West Wing, Room 6105

New Brunswick, NJ 08901


848-932-0454
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.