Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. John Fairbank on October 17, 2003, in New Brunswick,New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth ...
Geoff Cerone: Geoff Cerone.
SI: Thank you, Mr. Fairbank, for coming all this way and rearranging your schedule to meet with us. I am going to let Geoff ask the first question.
GC: Thank you for joining us, Mr. Fairbank. I would like to begin by asking you for a little bit of background on your family. Can you tell us about your parents?
John Fairbank: Sure. My dad was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and he was the first of the family to go to college, got a scholarship to St. John's College, which is in Annapolis, Maryland, and, at that time, it was a military school. My dad ... wore a uniform, but, after World War II, St. John's College, and they used to ... have a lot of [good] football teams and a good lacrosse team and so forth, they eliminated all that and their program and curriculum, I guess, is called the ... "Hundred Best Books" program, but it was entirely different when my dad was there. He became a civil engineer and most of his career was as a civil engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad, during the heyday of the railroads, and he moved around quite a bit with the railroad and his last job with them was here inNew Brunswick.
GC: Did he ever serve in the military?
JF: No, he never did. World War [I was] at that time, but, because of the need of the railroads, he did not serve.
GC: Can you tell us about your mother?
JF: My mother was born in Maryland, down on the eastern shore of Maryland, actually, in Bozman, where I'm living now and they were married in Easton, Maryland, in, I believe, 1907 and, of course, she moved with my dad and my dad died here in New Brunswick, in 1954, I believe.
GC: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
JF: No, I'm the only one.
GC: Is there anything you want to tell us about your childhood, from elementary school up to high school, your pre-Rutgers days?
JF: Of course, I went to the elementary schools here in New Brunswick and New Brunswick High School is onLivingston Avenue, around, I guess, Delavan Street, and I graduated in 1935. I think our class was about four hundred in the class, but I didn't play any sports. I love sports, but I didn't play any sports. I played basketball in the driveway and so forth and touch football in the street. We didn't have too many cars go down our street, so, we could play touch football there. I got a football every Christmas, because the leather would wear out playing in the street, but growing [up] in New Brunswick is fairly uneventful.
SI: Which ward or area of New Brunswick did you grow up in?
JF: Well, it was Edgeworth Place. It was called the (Latham?) Track and the Latham Track was between what used to be Codwise Avenue, which is now Joyce Kilmer, and Livingston Avenue and it extended from Stratford Place to Wellington Place. It was Stratford, Llewellyn and part of Wellington and I lived on Edgeworth Place. It was private homes, a fairly nice area, had a tennis court across the street. I played a fair amount of tennis, didn't improve too much, but I did play quite a bit during the summers, and so, that was the area I was from.
SI: Ethnically, how would you describe the neighborhood? Were there a lot of immigrant families or mostly second-generation Americans?
JF: As a matter-of-fact, in the deed, at that time, it excluded Jewish people. However, there were Jewish people in the neighborhood. It was just disregarded. There were lovely Jewish people in the neighborhood, but, when the deed was made, the Latham Track was established, that was in the deed. Of course, things like that don't exist anymore, but it was a very great neighborhood to grow up in.
SI: Was it the kind of neighborhood where everyone's parents would look after you, that sort of thing?
JF: Sort of, yes, sort of, right. I was, I guess, about ten when I moved to that particular street, good people on both sides, and played tennis with the neighbor next door and it was just a good place.
SI: How would you rate the quality of your elementary school, and then, high school education?
JF: I thought it was very good. Of course, I didn't have anything to compare it with, but I think people that graduated from New Brunswick High School went to various universities, so that the level of education was top drawer.
SI: From interviews with other graduates of New Brunswick High School, it seems it was a regional high school.
JF: Yes. People were brought by bus from Milltown, as an example, and South Brunswick. Lillian, for instance, she lived down on (Ellis?) Parkway and she commuted by bus, not by school bus, but they got bus tickets and she commuted by bus to high school. So, it was regional; I guess that would be the terminology.
SI: Some people mentioned a split between city kids, such as yourself, and people from the rural farm areas. Was there a marked difference in the classroom?
JF: I didn't notice that. Maybe all my friends were from that area, but I knew people from Milltown andBrunswick and so forth, but my close friends were from just in the neighborhood.
SI: How did the Great Depression affect, first, your family, and then, your neighborhood?
JF: It affected us greatly. As I told you, my dad worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and he was being promoted quite rapidly. However, he became ill and he was taken out of the line of promotion, because of his illness, and then, the Depression came along and the railroad, in '32 and '33, a lot of them are going bankrupt, and so, he was put on a retirement basis and he was very depressed. However, he kept looking for a job and he was in his fifties, I believe, at that time, and, as you probably know, the WPA, he got jobs as an engineer on WPA projects and, as a matter-of-fact, he worked on the Rutgers University Stadium. So, the income was reduced quite a bit because of the Depression, but we did very well. We got through. It affected us greatly.
SI: What was the relationship like between Rutgers and you, as a New Brunswick resident, before you went toRutgers?
JF: I just love Rutgers. The stadium, then, was on old Neilson Field, I think where the library is now located, and they had a kid stand. I used to come into the kids' stand and they had a cheerleader that would come over there and I went to most of the football games, home football games, and then, after I got into high school, a good friend of mine, he was a couple of years ahead of me, he played in the band and, in those days, you had a little ticket book, tear it out. ... Well, he didn't need it. In the band, he got in and I'd buy his ticket book to go to the football games and, as I say, my dad worked for the railroad. ... By myself, I went to some of the away football games. I went to Brown, up in Rhode Island. ... Well, they played Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, I went there. So, I was very involved with Rutgers University, as far as the sports.
SI: Did you see the Depression's impact on New Brunswick?
JF: Oh, yes, a lot of people laid off, certainly. Mack Motors, which was a viable industry here, they closed. Of course, Johnson & Johnson, the big industry they had, they were all down. Yes, it impacted a lot of people.
SI: It seems like sports took up a lot of your time before you came to Rutgers. Was there anything else that you did for fun? Did you go to the movies?
JF: Yes, I did the movies, sure, twenty-five cents.
SI: What were your favorite activities, other than sports?
JF: Well, just sports and, occasionally, go to the movies and hang out, went to the Y. I didn't belong to the Y, but a friend of mine did and I'd go down and meet with him. Sometimes, we would meet and hang out.
SI: Most people of your generation, it seems, did not travel very much outside of their hometown before World War II, but it seems like you had a little more traveling experience, following the Rutgers Football Team.
JF: [I] didn't travel very far. As I say, my dad worked for the railway. I had railroad passes and my grandmother and grandfather lived in Baltimore, and so, we used to go to Baltimore quite often for the holidays. That's about the extent, and then, down on the eastern shore of Maryland, where I now live, I spent some of my summers down there, too, on the eastern shore with relatives down there. So, that was what I did, summers. ...
SI: Did you work at all as a teenager?
JF: No, I didn't work until after my freshman year of college and it was the Depression. I finished my freshman year, however. ... I guess it was in April or maybe May, I came down with scarlet fever, and so, by the time I came out of quarantine, it was just about exam time. I passed enough, but my small scholarship that I had, I didn't receive it [again]. So, I was able to get a job. So, I started to work, and I worked for three years. However, I went to Rutgers; they call it Rutgers College, I believe [it] was University College. It was Rutgers University, at night, and [I] took some of these subjects at night, and then, after three years of working like that, they didn't give a degree at night. I transferred my credits from the night school back into the day school, and so, my senior year was made up of subjects that I should have been taking as a junior or a sophomore and so forth. ... So, I was entered as a Class of '39, but I actually didn't get a degree until the Class of '40. That was the extent of Rutgers and my working time.
SI: Your work schedule must have really affected your social life and the activities at Rutgers that you could participate in.
JF: Well, yes, it did. Of course, it was my first job, so, I bought a car. The family didn't have a car, and so, that was kind of fun, as I'm sure maybe your first car was a great thing, and you can roll about it and so can I. So, I [would] go down to Point Pleasant on Saturday nights with friends and so forth with the car. So, that was [my] social life, to do that.
GC: Were you in the ROTC at Rutgers?
JF: No, I was not. Let me take that back; I started out as a freshman in the fall. I wore the uniform and, as I say, I got scarlet fever and it was the first day of the spring drill. In fact, I was in uniform when I went to the dispensary, sick, and so, that's when they told me to go home. ... I got my family doctor to come and he diagnosed me with scarlet fever. So, the answer to that was yes and no. [laughter]
GC: It was not mandatory for a student at University College to take ROTC.
JF: That's correct.
SI: What can you tell us about your freshman year at Rutgers College? I know that in the 1930s, it was much different than after World War II. There were more Rutgers traditions, like hazing freshmen and having to say hello, not walking on the grass. Do you remember any of that?
JF: Well, of course, as a freshman, you had to wear a hat, a dinky and so forth, you know, and a button or something. ... I wasn't a fraternity person, so, that's the only thing. There wasn't any hazing, I mean, as far as I was concerned, then, of course, nothing at the University College.
SI: Were most of your fellow students at University College your age?
JF: About my age, yes. Some were a little older, but mostly my age.
SI: Were they in a similar situation, where they had to work during the day and attend class at night?
JF: Yes, right, right.
SI: What did you major in?
JF: Economics. I took accounting and I know I took finance and I took a course in Spanish and so forth, oral history.
SI: Did University College have a separate faculty or was it the same as Rutgers College?
JF: There may have been some [crossover], but I would have to say it was a separate faculty. I know there was a separate administration, so, probably, the faculty people, ... the professors, were separate as well.
SI: What interested you in economics?
JF: Well, I guess I wanted to be an engineer, but my math wasn't very good. ... I didn't want to go to Ag School, so, I decided I would take economics, and then, in those years that I worked, three years at night, I did work in a bank in New York. So, my interest then continued, taking finance courses.
SI: What did you do for the bank?
JF: [When] I started out, I was a messenger, carrying various documents around. I worked in National City Bank at 55 Wall Street and ... carried documents to the various brokerage houses or various banks, letters of credit and things such as that, all around Manhattan. Then, I worked in [the] personal credit department. National City Bank, I think, probably is one of the first to actually have sort of a personal loan [program?]. They had loaned people one hundred dollars. I worked in their 42nd Street branch, in personal credit, for most of the time, I guess, for a year-and-a-half up there. ... So, I spent most of my time at the personal credit department.
SI: Working in a bank at the tail end of the Great Depression, did you notice if the bank was struggling? How did the Depression affect the bank?
JF: A lot of the banks in New York failed. At the National City Bank, I forget the name of the president, but he'd gone to jail. So, there was a lot of the shenanigans that went on that are going on today, not necessarily in banks, but [also] within the corporations, ... and probably more so, because they didn't have the regulations that they do today. Yes, I think I saw more of it then than I did today.
SI: In New York, during the Great Depression, did you observe the things that are now written about in history books.
GC: People selling apples or pencils on the street.
JF: Yes, I saw people selling apples on the street and pencils, yes, on the corners, right, ... yes. A nickel for a cup of coffee, you know, ... panhandlers; of course, there's many more panhandlers probably today than then, but these were the ones that were really, I would say, destitute.
SI: When you were making the decision to come to Rutgers, how did your family feel about it? You mentioned that you had a scholarship, but it must have been a financial difficulty.
JF: Yes, I think. I forget, the tuition for in-state people was minimal and the scholarship was only one hundred dollars. [laughter] So, it wasn't a great scholarship, but, percentage-wise, it was fairly good. ... As far as coming to Rutgers, as I say, I did want to be an engineer at one time, I thought, but my math wasn't that good. So, I looked at other colleges, but Rutgers is right here and finances dictated it.
SI: Were your parents encouraging you to go to college?
JF: Oh, yes, very definitely. Yes, my dad was a college graduate and my mother was very much in favor of going to college.
SI: Did your father point you towards engineering or was that your own decision?
JF: That was sort of my own decision, right. At that time, [when] I made up my mind, I was thinking about college, my dad wasn't too well, unfortunately. So, he didn't enter into some of those discussions as perhaps [he would] if he was a very well person.
SI: How did your family feel about Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal?
JF: My dad was a staunch Republican. My mother was a Democrat and, the first time I voted, I voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The New Deal, yes, that was a change, of course, after Herbert Hoover. There [were] great discussions in the house between my dad and mother, as far as politics were concerned, but, anyhow, I think we all felt that we had to have a change after Hoover.
SI: Would you say that your area of New Brunswick and Rutgers was more Democrat or Republican?
JF: I would say New Brunswick was Democrat, perhaps still is. It was when I left here, but I would guess it is still Democrat.
SI: Was Rutgers left, right, centrist?
JF: I can't say. I really don't know. I never thought about it, really, I guess.
SI: Was politics just not discussed?
JF: Not a great deal. With my friends, [it] wasn't a great piece of discussion.
SI: What else stands out from your college years, your freshman year in particular? Did you attend mandatory chapel?
SI: What did you think of that?
JF: I enjoyed going to it, as a matter-of-fact. I was a member of the Methodist Church here in New Brunswick, but it was a different speaker every Sunday morning and I got more out of it. ... So, I enjoyed it and, because I was a member of a church here in New Brunswick, I could have gotten an excuse, but I did not and I enjoyed going to the chapel services.
SI: Do any of the speakers stand out in your mind?
JF: Not really. Perhaps at that time, [laughter] but time marches on, you know, and I can't recall any of that.
GC: Before you came to Rutgers, did you consider yourself or your family to be very religious?
JF: I wouldn't say [that].
GC: You mentioned you were Methodist, but were you very active in the Methodist Church?
JF: I went to Sunday school. [I] didn't go to church every Sunday, nor did my parents go to church every Sunday. So, they were not, what you might say, real religious, fire-and-brimstone, nothing like that.
SI: Did you know about the events that were happening overseas during the 1930s, such as Hitler taking power and starting to conquer Europe and the Japanese spreading into China? Was it a topic of discussion among either your family or your friends?
JF: We knew about it and it was in the newspaper, but, you know, it's a different kind of reporting. Today, you get it on the radio and you get it on the television; you hear it three or four times a day, so, ... [you] really absorb it. Also, you'd go to the movies once a week, the Pathe News, of course, and you don't remember that, I'm sure. ... That would be part of going to the movies. ... You'd see the feature presentation and the Pathe News and it was all the various things. You'd see Hitler moving into Poland and things like that, but it lasted maybe five minutes on the screen. So, [I] wasn't impressed with that as much as you would be impressed with something like that today.
SI: Progressing into 1939, 1940, 1941, was there a sense of "We are getting involved?"
JF: I think, in '41, we began to think about it, yes.
SI: You graduated in 1940.
SI: Could you tell us about what you did between graduation and your enlistment?
JF: Yes. I had enough of banking and, since my dad was with the Pennsylvania Railroad, ... I went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad, in their traffic department in Philadelphia. I worked in the office of the vice-president of traffic in Philadelphia and I did various things in the office, more clerical [than not]. I was sort of learning it, if you will. ... Then, of course, you had to register for the draft and [I] knew I was going into the service sometime. ... So, when the Navy had various opportunities into get to the V-7, V-5, V-12, various programs such as that, where they opened up a V-7 program, I decided I would try to get into that program. ... That was a program [for which] you had to be a college graduate and unmarried, and so, I applied for that and I was accepted.
SI: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
JF: I was driving my 1940 Ford from New Brunswick to Plainfield, had the radio on, listening to the New York Giants football game, going to Plainfield. I had a date in Plainfield, not with Lillian, but, anyhow, she knows that. [laughter] So, anyhow, that's where I was and, of course, then, I was inducted into the Navy on March 17, 1942, and went on active duty in July of '42.
SI: When you first heard the news about Pearl Harbor, did you think right away, "This is going to change my life?"
JF: Definitely, definitely. Where I went in Plainfield, there was a group of six or eight couples there. That was the discussion that afternoon and ... [the] girls there were nurses in Plainfield. ... So, there was discussion, "What's going to happen now? Are you going to go in the service," and so forth; yes, very definitely.
GC: By the time Pearl Harbor was bombed, had you already been accepted into the V-7 program?
JF: No. Pearl Harbor was 1941, December '41, and I was [inducted on] March 17, 1942.
GC: When Pearl Harbor was bombed, you did not know that you were headed into the Navy at that time.
JF: That is correct.
SI: Two months after Pearl Harbor, did you notice more Civil Defense type activities, such as blackouts or people standing on their roofs with guns?
JF: Yes, ... blackouts, and, of course, they would have sort of an individual to police the neighborhood. ... Then, there was, especially down and around the seashore, aircraft warnings, too, people who would sit there with binoculars. If an airplane went over, you were supposed to try to identify it and report it. That wasn't very successful. [laughter] Planes didn't fly as high as they do now, but it still was very difficult to verify what kind of an airplane it was. ... A lot of people did it, as volunteers and so forth.
SI: Did you take part in any Civil Defense activities?
JF: No. My mother, she worked as a volunteer at, I guess we had a USO [United Services Organization]. You know, we had Camp Kilmer here, which was a great big place for embarkation and, down at the MethodistChurch, they had sort of a USO, if you will, for men to come in. It wasn't a USO, but it was a lounge or something like that and she worked as a volunteer there.
SI: Did you observe any other way that Camp Kilmer, right across the river, affected New Brunswick?
JF: You merely knew that the war was going on, because you'd see the troop trains out of Camp Kilmer just take [them] to Jersey City to get on troop transports and so forth. ... So, people, I'm sure they knew that the war was on and people were going overseas; yes, very definitely.
SI: It was only a few months after Pearl Harbor that you went into the military. In that time, did you notice any changes on the home front such, as rationing?
JF: Yes, rationing had come in. Of course, I told you, I had a 1940 brand-new car, ... ration tickets. ... Of course, you couldn't buy butter; you'd have to get ration coupons for that. ... If you're ever able to get an old radio program, I have a few that I've gotten, ... you hear the announcer say, "And if you turn in two pounds of fat to your butcher, you'll get three red coupons ... and the fat will go into making munitions," and so forth. So, you heard it on the radio, about rationing and bringing in the various things for the war effort.
SI: Can you tell us about your first experience with the military after you were called up? What was the process of reporting like, getting your physical and that sort of thing?
JF: I had orders to go to the University of Notre Dame and I was real pleased about that. ... Then, I got there; they were cancelled, which happens a lot in the military, and the orders were for Columbia University, which really was fine. I was able to come home weekends and so forth, and so, that was great. I went in as an apprentice seaman, as everybody else in the V-7 program did go in [as]. It was sort of a probationary period, if you will, to see if you'd measure up, and I did, I guess, and I stayed in the program. Some were bilged out, as they said, and the terminology, kind of derogatory, was "ninety -day wonders." You've probably heard of that. That was a ninety-day wonder program at Columbia University. You took military subjects and a lot of drills.
SI: I have heard it was very intense.
JF: Yes, it was. The amphibious force was just being formed and they were expendable. ... So, [to] our class, it was said, ... they called it a "tree," "If you're on the tree," meaning you're in a deficiency in a particular subject, "your name was on the tree." ... If you got on the tree too many times, you were definitely going to the amphibious force. Well, I never studied so hard in my life. Fifty percent of our class went to the amphibious force, because the ships were being built and they just needed the personnel.
GC: Is there anything that stands out in your mind about your basic training, as far as the physical training or anything like that?
JF: Some odd things.
GC: Could you give us a few examples?
JF: Well, we drilled all week to go to the Columbia University football game, I forget who they were playing. ... We were to march to Baker Field, march in. ... The command [would be] given by a bugle. ... The bugle would sound and we would "left face" to the visitor's stand. ... We would salute and people would applaud. Then, the bugle blew again and people were still applauding and half the corps heard it and half the corps didn't hear it. One went one way and one went the other, just a terrible mess. Drilled all week for this and it just fell apart completely, sort of typical military. That was one of the things I remember of all the drilling.
SI: Did you feel that your instructors, particularly your PT instructors, were harder on you guys?
JF: Oh, they were pretty tough, right. Yes, they were tough, right, and had you toe the mark, but it was good.
SI: What were the backgrounds of some of the people in your classes? Were they college graduates?
JF: All college graduates, [they] had to be college graduates, right. They came from all over the United States.
SI: Was that an enlightening experience for you, to meet people from all over the United States?
JF: Yes, it was very interesting. Of course, you didn't get to know too many people because of the number of people in the class. We were in John Jay Hall at Columbia, which is about a twelve-story dormitory. ... We were filled with that. So, there was various companies, and so, you got to know the people in your company. ... As I say, I used to come home weekends, so, I didn't get to mingle with other people. I had friends here that I wanted to see, but I enjoyed meeting the people, the roommates and so forth.
SI: Were there a lot of people that washed out?
JF: Yes, quite a few did. My first roommate washed out. He's a nice guy from Tennessee, from a farm, and obviously [had] gone to college, but he just didn't take to the military at all. ... He just didn't. He was foreign to it, so, he bilged out.
GC: When a candidate was unfortunate enough to wash out of the V-7 program, were they discharged from the Navy or were they assigned to regular service in the Navy?
JF: They stayed in the Navy, went back as an apprentice seaman. They were still in the Navy. ...
SI: Was everyone roughly your age or were they older?
JF: About my age, yes.
SI: Where were you sent after you finished training at Columbia? Were you commissioned?
JF: Yes, I was commissioned in October 1942 as an ensign to the amphibious force and was sent to Norfolk,Virginia, and then, to Solomons, Maryland. There was an amphibious base that they were just building at Solomons, Maryland, and, fortunately, I wasn't there too long. ... There is a holding pattern, until some ships were ready that a group of us can go to. ... It was just mud, mud, mud. [I] went there in October, November, so, [I] was just so glad to move out of Solomons, Maryland. ... It did become a great Navy amphibious base. I went there a couple of years or so ago, just to see what was left, and there was nothing left, except one of these road signs that you see on the highway, you know, like a historical marker, "Solomons, Maryland, sixty-thousand men were trained here for the amphibious forces." That was about it, but that's at Solomons, Maryland.
SI: You did not practice landings there.
JF: They picked our crew, our prospective crew for a certain ship. ... Then, that group went on another and these were LSTs [Landing Ship, Tank]. Are you familiar with an LST? Have you heard [of] that?
JF: The LST. So, we went on an LST, just like the one we were going to be stationed on, and spent a week onboard with our running mate, if you will, spent the time with the person that was going to have the same duties that we were going to have for a week. ... Then, our ship was ... about ready to go into commission, which was the LST-393, as a matter-of-fact. ... We went onboard the 393 and [were] getting it ready for commissioning. It was actually commissioned, I guess, in November of '42. It was December the 11th, I guess, the date that the Navy took over. So, in November to December, we were getting stores onboard and getting it ready to go. For training, we got prospective new crews for LSTs when they came onboard our ship and we would take them up to check up the Chesapeake Bay and we'd have landings and come back. ... Then, the next week, we'd get another crew, until they felt that we were [ready]. ... Of course, it was sort of a shakedown cruise for our ship, too, because we found that a lot of things were going wrong, ... especially [with] our generators. ... So, that crew, that time, it was a shakedown cruise for us. ... So, we spent from December 1942 until April of '43, I guess, in theChesapeake, or maybe March of '43, in the Chesapeake.
SI: Since the Amphibious Corps was very new, was there a lot of learning as you go?
JF: Yes, on-the-job-training, if you will, and, of course, there are also new ships for the Navy. The LST was the largest of them. It was 327-foot long, and then, there was an LCI [Landing Craft, Infantry]. ... There was an LCT [Landing Craft, Tank], then, of course, real small, the LCVPs, [Landing Craft, Vehicles, Personnel] which was the actual small landing craft.
GC: Can you elaborate on your role in the process of the amphibious landing? What were you trained to do? What was your battle station, so-to-speak, your duties?
JF: On the LST-393, I was a navigation officer.
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SI: Please, continue.
GC: What were your specific duties on the LST?
JF: When we first went in commission, we had seven officers and fifty-some men and I was a navigation officer and the stores officer. The LST wasn't large enough to have what they call a Supply Corps officer, but the stores officer did some of the administrative work, inventories and things such as that, keeping records. So, I was navigation officer and the stores officer. That was my first job. As we got more officers assigned, duties changed and I was a gunnery officer, and then, there is what they called the first lieutenant, that sounds like an Army [rank], but, in the Navy, a first lieutenant is in charge of the seamen. They take care of the ship and the lines and so forth, but they call him the first lieutenant. Then, eventually, I was transferred from my 393 to the LST-212, and I was the executive officer on the 212. So, I had various runs of duties on the LST.
SI: Starting from the time you first met your crew on the 393, can you tell us a little bit about the other officers and the men? Were they ninety-day wonders? Were they reserve officers? Were they regular Navy?
JF: As I said, we only had seven to start out with. Eventually, we got up to nine officers onboard. Our captain, Captain [John] Halifax, he was a yachtsman in Miami. He was a Ford automobile salesman. Our executive officer, fortunately, we had a good executive officer, his name was William Knight. He had been in the merchant service and he had his chief mate's license in the merchant service. So, he served on ships and he knew about ships and handling ships. So, that was our executive officer and, fortunately, we had a great engineering officer whose name was [Robert] McRae. He'd been in the regular Navy as an enlisted man, and then, he was promoted to an officer. ... He was our engineering officer and he really knew the engines and he was a great one to have onboard. Our communications officer was a fellow that had been to Columbia University with me and we had another officer, his name was Curly. I forget what his duties were.
SI: Particularly on big ships, such as battleships and aircraft carriers, we hear about friction between ninety-day wonders and Annapolis men. Was there any kind of tension between the officers on your ship?
JF: We didn't have any. The engineering officer was the only one [regular Navy], but he came up through the ranks and so forth, no. Oh, some kidding you know, sometimes, but nothing, I mean, that was really antagonistic.
SI: What about your men, the sailors? Were they regular Navy or enlisted men who joined because of the war?
JF: Fortunately, we were able to get ... a couple of good chiefs and that's the main thing in the Navy, get some good chiefs. We had a good chief boatswain and a chief quartermaster that was very good. A lot of the other men ... had enlisted in the Navy and they maybe have gone to cooking [or] baker's school or maybe they had gone to the radioman's school or something such as that. ... This was maybe the first time they'd served on a ship. So, there were all sorts of [thoughts of being] in the same boat. Realistically, it figured that we're in the same boat, [laughter] but we're all learning together and that's good for the shakedown cruise, and so, we managed.
SI: In tanks, airplanes and PT boats, we have heard about people making their own modifications. Was there any of that on the LST or was it too big?
JF: No, we didn't make any modifications, major changes, no, not at all. We made some changes, but they were authorized changes.
SI: What happened?
JF: Well, we were able to get more armament for one thing, and so, they gave us more guns. ... So, that was authorized and they put the new guns on and, because of that, we got extra men. That was one thing.
SI: When did you first get orders to go overseas?
JF: Oh, we left Norfolk, I guess, [at] the end of March and went to New York [City]. [We] came up to New York and [were] getting ready to go overseas and getting more supplies. ... One thing that they did in New York, we went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and they put on our deck an LCT. An LCT is one-hundred-and five foot long and about thirty-foot wide. ... They put that on our deck with a crane and, when we got to our destination, which was Oran, Africa, we just tilted the ship. ... It was on blocks, like launching blocks, which you just slid right off, beautifully. Anyhow, I'm probably getting ahead of the story.
SI: Can you tell us about the process of gearing up to go overseas? Did you go over with a convoy?
JF: Yes, we were in a convoy. It was almost, I guess, three weeks in New York and we were [in] a convoy that went to Bermuda and laid in Bermuda for two, three days for other ships to arrive. ... Then, we went [in] convoy [with] about one hundred ships to North Africa. [We] took the southern route to North Africa and our destination was Oran. ... That's where we, as I say, launched this LCT. ... Shall I go on with what else we did over there?
SI: Was there anything else that happened during the convoy?
JF: Well, it was always general quarters every morning, just routine. However, the destroyers had reported that there were submarines in the area. None of the convoy was lost, so, we all made it safely across. Of course, they were not all LSTs, not by any means. Most of them were merchant ships and, of course, LSTs go very slowly. ... So, the merchant ships had to go slowly as well, but they made convoys either fast convoys or the slow or medium speed convoys. ... So, we were in a slow convoy. It took us thirty days to get to Oran.
SI: What was your ship's task once you arrived in North Africa?
JF: Well, the first thing there was, as I say, [we] got rid of the LCT, and then, we loaded tanks that were there and took them up ... as close to Bizerte as we could get. The war in Africa was still going on and Patton was winning the war, but these were tanks. ... The only port that was [as] close to Bizerte as we could get [to] unload our tanks [was] at this town of Bone, B-O-N-E, I think it is. ... Then, we came back and ... there was a little ... Navy base near Oran called Arzew and we spent time in there and had some more training. You never sit idle. You always do some kind of training, ... I forget how long, but, then, the war in North Africa was over. ... Then, we went up to Bizerte again and picked up a lot of Patton's tanks and took them back to a major port. It wasn'tOran; I forget the name of the port that we went to. I guess [it was] for shipment or reconditioning [of] the tanks. Then, we sort of made Bizerte ... our base and stayed in Bizerte in training. In a way, that was an amphibious base there.
SI: How did being in the war zone change your activities? Were there any air raids?
JF: Yes. We had a nightly air raid at Bizerte and not by too many airplanes. Of course, the Italian Air Force had been almost wiped out, but we had two or three airplanes [that] would come over and drop bombs and so forth, until we had antiaircraft. All the ships were firing antiaircraft, because the LSTs ... had ordnance, but we didn't have any real guidance, except with your own eyes, really, not anything sophisticated, like the cruisers and the destroyers had at that time and certainly not like they have today. So, you saw the airplane and you looked at it, lead it and fire, like that. So, every night, we had an air raid in Bizerte. We stayed in Bizerte until, I forget the date now, but we loaded there in Bizerte to make the invasion of Sicily. ...
SI: You mentioned that you trained in Arzew. I was just reading a book about North Africa, which discussed some of the naval battles that happened at Oran and Arzew. By the time you got there, did you see evidence of those battles, like smashed docks and all?
JF: In Bizerte, particularly, it had been bombed, because it was a naval base. ... The buildings near the base and the residences, you could see, definitely, more devastation.
SI: Did that affect your operations at all?
JF: Not really, no. At that time we got there, there wasn't anything in the area that would keep us from operating.
GC: You mentioned that you picked up Patton's tanks and took them to be rebuilt. Did you ever see any tanks that had sustained significant combat damage?
JF: No. When we took these tanks back to this particular port, I can't remember the exact name, we just left them there, and so, I don't know. I heard they were going to be reconditioned. ... We didn't stay there. We dropped them off, and then, moved on someplace.
SI: Were you just transporting the tanks themselves or were you also transporting their crews?
JF: Not at that time. There may have been a few men, but not a great many men. ... Of course, when you loaded for Sicily, we did load men and tanks for the invasion of Sicily.
SI: Did you ever go on shore leave in North Africa?
JF: You'd go ashore, but there was really nothing to do. You could go in a bar and get wine, Muscatel or something like that. Onboard Navy ships, you don't have any liquor, you don't have any beer and they hadn't really opened up any USOs or lounges or anything like that. So, there was really nothing to do. In Bizerte, there was a Navy hospital. Navy hospitals have nurses. ... We were able to meet some nurses and invite them over to the ship for dinner and they would say, "Oh, we'd love to come, but can we take a shower?" and so, they would come and take a shower onboard. [laughter] We had fresh water and, where they were, they had very limited shower facilities, and so, we had some nurses come onboard for dinner, occasionally, not nightly, by any means, but a couple of nurses came onboard every once in a while.
SI: Did you ever interact with any Arabs or French colonials or Italian colonials?
JF: [I] saw them, of course, but never had any relationship with them, no discussions with them. They're always trying to sell something on the street.
SI: Did you have any preconceived notion about what you would see in North Africa, such as from movies?
JF: No, not really, no, no.
SI: So, it was all pretty new to you.
JF: It was very new to me, yes.
SI: Is there anything else we should ask about North Africa before we move on?
JF: I don't think so.
SI: What kind of preparations did you make for the invasion of Sicily?
JF: Our preparations were mainly made in the States, with landings and so forth that we made on the Chesapeakeand in Solomons, Maryland, and ... some training that we had at that little base at Arzew, North Africa. The preparation, well, we had all our supplies onboard, so, it was just to load the units that we carried, tanks and jeeps and armament and so forth.
GS: Did you land the armor and so forth in the first wave of the attack?
JF: At Sicily, we did. Usually the paratroopers were first, but, then, very close to H-Hour [Editor's Note: The term H-Hour refers to the specific hour of deployment] and, with Sicily, we did. We were in a place called Scoglitti, which is in the southeast section of Sicily. ... The British were around a little bit further to the east and north, but we landed at Scoglitti. Scoglitti was a very hard landing. It was very, very rough that night and an LST and all the amphibious craft roll very easily. ... The LST was just rolling and there was supposed to be a submarine that had a light on it and, I guess, because of the wave action, we couldn't find the submarine. We made it. We kind of lost our direction and a destroyer came after us and said, "Follow me," and we made a 180-degree turn and went back a few miles and so forth. Anyhow, I think that was a pretty rough landing there.
SI: Did you either witness or hear about the friendly-fire incident with the paratroopers?
JF: Yes, I certainly did. That was terrible. I think twenty-one C-47s were shot down that night. We were anchored off the coast, because we didn't have radar. ... I guess it was a cruiser that was the command ship and he got the word that, "Bogies are in the area," and, "Go to general quarters." ... Airplanes came over and everybody started to fire and, unfortunately, they were twenty-one or so C-47s with paratroopers and they were lost. ... Somebody else has told you that story, I guess, and it was reported in the Saturday Evening Post, after the war was over. Apparently, the C-47s didn't have the code for IFF [Identification, Friend or Foe]. They were challenged and they couldn't reply. So, they were bogies and they were fired upon, unfortunately.
SI: Was that known right away?
JF: Not right away, no. We thought it was the enemy. I forget when we discovered that, maybe a week or two [later], but it wasn't right away.
SI: What about the landing itself? Could you go through your day?
GC: Could you just walk us through the process of how an LST lands its armor?
JF: You should know the beach and the depth of the water as you approach the beach. So, you try to determine the best place and we had what we call a stern anchor. ... You would drop your stern anchor as you're approaching the beach, hopefully at the right spot. The stern anchor was quite large [and] had a cable wire rope about two, three inches in diameter. ... Then, the LST would go up as far as it possibly could. We had big bow doors. We [would] open the big bow doors. Then, we'd have a ramp, put the ramp down and we would go. ... Hopefully, you're right up on dry land. Most of the time, you got your feet wet and maybe more than your feet, going ashore, but that's how we would unload. ... We had the main deck, we had the jeeps and small vehicles that didn't weigh a great deal and we had an elevator. ... So, unloading the top deck took a little bit of time, because we unload the bottom deck, I mean, we call it the tank deck, and get the vehicles on the elevator. ... Then, they would go down to the tank deck, and then, they would roll out. I have some pictures if you [would] like to see them sometime.
GC: Who would actually drive the vehicles out onto the beach? Was that Navy personnel?
JF: No, [it was] the military that was assigned to that particular unit. Whatever it was, [if] it was a big .75-mm artillery unit, they would be onboard and they would arrange to get it off. The military loaded it and the military took it off that was responsible for those units.
SI: How well did the Army and the Navy interact in this particular invasion?
JF: Oh, good, good, yes, right. The officers, they ate with us in the ward room and they were in our staterooms, ate with the men. You know, there was kidding and everybody seemed to get along all right. I never heard of any particular problems at all.
SI: What was going through your head the night before the invasion?
JF: Oh, you're very apprehensive of what's going to happen. The invasion, it was something [where] you're going into the unknown and you didn't know what they had over there, what they would be shooting at you and so forth. You're scared, [laughter] but, anyhow, ... that was it.
SI: You had been under fire in North Africa. When was the first time that you realized the danger of combat?
JF: Sure. Your adrenaline, you know, "This is it," you know, and you see an airplane over[head], ... and then, you're all pepped up, you know. Your apprehension, your being afraid, sort of leaves you. It's a fight, you know, sort of a challenge, right. You asked about my duties. When we went to general quarters at that time, ... on the stern of our ship, we had what we call a three- inch .50. ... I was the gunnery officer for that three-inch .50. There was a crew of four that manned that three-inch .50, and so, I was in charge of that during general quarters. It was subsequently removed, however, when we got .40-mms in its place, twin .40-mms in its place, but, at Sicily, we had it.
GC: Were you actually on the trigger or did you have another role when you manned that weapon?
JF: Someone else manned the weapons. There, we had four to bring the shells up and so forth. Yes, there was four men there.
SI: Did Marines man the guns?
JF: No. These were just Navy, our own Navy personnel that manned the ship.
SI: Did the Marines man the guns on the bigger ships?
JF: Oh, yes, probably, but I'm not sure.
SI: What else happened that day, in your experience?
JF: Of course, we unloaded and things seemed to go pretty well, and then, we backed off and we anchored. ... While we're anchored that evening, that's when the C-47s came over. We always seemed to wait to see if there are any casualties to take back or prisoners we should take back. I don't know that we did after our first landing atSicily, but we made about seven subsequent trips from Bizerte to Sicily and landed at the beach, such as if it was an invasion. ... Of course, ... there was no enemy fire or anything, but that we were bringing more equipment in and supplies for the Army and, I think it was after Sicily, we took a thousand prisoners back. That was a mess, to take a thousand prisoners back to North Africa.
SI: Was that done over several trips?
JF: No, that was one trip, [we] had a thousand. They just lay down on the tank deck. The tank deck was pretty large. It is large, but the problem was toilet facilities, and so, we constructed a little trough that we put up on the main deck and ran water through it constantly. ... If they had to go, they were allowed to come up with an MP. That's a good term to use; come up with an MP to pee [laughter] and to relieve themselves. That was pretty crude and we gave them C rations, Army C rations, for food. It took about, I guess, ... two days, not quite two days, from Bizerte to Sicily.
GC: Were they Italian or German troops?
JF: They were Italian. We had Germans sometime later, but these were Italians at that time.
SI: Was there any apprehension that you might have problems with the prisoners?
JF: No, they were just so happy. "New York, New York." They thought they were going to New York. They were just so happy to be prisoners and the crew, we're not supposed to, but they mingled down there with them and traded cigarettes for watches and helmets.
SI: Was this the closest you came to actually seeing the enemy?
SI: Did your previous thoughts of the enemy soldiers change after you encountered them up-close?
JF: I don't think it changed, no, and especially with the Italians. I think the Italians, at that time, they were ready to surrender. They hadn't surrendered, but I think they were ready to surrender and, as I say, they were very happy to be prisoners.
SI: On the actual initial invasion, was there any resistance at the beach?
JF: Yes, there was, but [it was] artillery fire. There wasn't any aircraft, but there was artillery fire. ... It was soon stopped by the military getting there and the military moved very quickly through there. So, we did have the artillery fire and, of course, mines were always very, very troublesome. ... Fortunately, we didn't hit any, but they had mines all along in there. Most of them had been swept by minesweepers, but they can't get them all.
SI: Did your ship coordinate with the British?
JF: No. Occasionally, we carried British troops, but, as far as operations or something, we didn't have any relationships with the British.
SI: How was morale on your ship throughout this period?
JF: I think it was very good. At that time, it was very good.
SI: Was there anybody on your ship who could not cope with the pressure of being in a combat situation?
JF: No, we didn't have anyone like that.
SI: After Sicily, where did you go next?
JF: We came back to Bizerte again and, I guess, we had some kind of training, [preparing] for the invasion ofItaly. The invasion of Italy, which was just about a month after the invasion of Sicily, I don't know the exact days, but just about a month later, ... the invasion was at Salerno, which is just south of Naples, and we didn't have any problems there. ... It wasn't like Sicily, where it was very, very rough, but, again, we had artillery fire. We anchored off for a while before we actually hit the beach. I don't think we were in H-Hour, but, while we were anchored out, there was artillery fire, and then, we hit the beach, as we did at Sicily, and [it] went along very, very nicely.
GC: Were you more afraid of aircraft fire or artillery fire? With an aircraft attack, you could at least shoot back with your deck guns.
JF: We couldn't fire back on artillery fire, because we couldn't see them and we didn't have that kind of reconnaissance or the sophistication to know where they were. ... So, we would have to rely on military artillery or military airplanes.
GC: Would you say that you were more afraid of artillery fire than fire from aircraft?
JF: Yes, right. At least you were doing something with aircraft.
GC: Even if you did not hit it, you were at least firing back.
JF: Right, you felt you were doing something and, also, because there wasn't too many airplanes there. They didn't have much of an air [force], the Italians. ... That's what was based there, the Italians, and so, they didn't have much of an air force at that time.
SI: I know Italy formally surrendered right before Salerno.
JF: I think it was after Salerno, but, anyhow, I think it was. ... There was another invasion at Anzio, but our ship did not participate in that.
SI: As you were going into Salerno, did you and your men think it was going to be a cakewalk?
JF: No, never thought it was going to be like a cakewalk. You're always very apprehensive, because you don't know, but it did turn out to be much easier than Sicily.
SI: Were you also taking in tanks there?
JF: Tanks; everything that the military had, we carried, everything, whatever it might be. The big toms, .105 mm [guns], the biggest tanks, all kinds of everything, we carried.
SI: How many trips did you take to Salerno?
JF: About seven.
SI: Was there any trouble on any of those or were they typical supply runs?
JF: There was, yes, no problem. At that time, there wasn't any. I don't think there were any submarines in theMediterranean. ... I didn't hear of any at all or have any real big problem in the Mediterranean at that time.
SI: After Salerno, you went back to Bizerte.
JF: Yes, after the seventh trip. Each trip, we would go back to Bizerte and we left North Africa [in] early December. I don't know whether we went from Bizerte, ... I can't recall exactly. We probably went into Oran for a day or two for supplies. ... Then, we went on up to England and we got into Portsmouth, England, on, I think, Christmas Day of 1943. Then, we were getting ready for the invasion of Normandy. Of course, we didn't know when or just where it was going to be and we had lots of practice landings with various infantry people and artillery. I mean, groups would come onboard, we'd make practice landings and we went into quite a few ports. We went to Londonderry, Ireland, one trip, to have some new armament put on, and then, we went into Belfast, Ireland, to have railroad tracks put on our tank deck. Now, the railroad tracks were not the tracks that you see here, three or four inches high. All they were would be like reinforcing rods, maybe an inch by an inch, just enough to keep the flange of the wheel straight. ... We carried [those]. At that time, we didn't know what we were going to do with them or when we were going to carry railroad cars, but we were prepared to carry railroad cars. ... Eventually we did, after Cherbourg fell, but that comes a little bit later in the story.
GC: Did you notice any difference in perhaps the intensity of the training from the other invasions? In comparingSicily and Salerno to Normandy, was the training more intense? Did you train any differently for that invasion?
JF: Maybe a little bit different. We knew this was, you might say, "the big one," and we knew that [the] Germans were there. ... I think we knew that it was going to be a harder landing to make. [We] didn't know just what were there, but the training was about the same. ... [We were] doing sort of the same thing over and over again, you know, and perhaps a little bit more intense, but maybe that's what went through your mind, [to] make sure you got it right.
SI: Was there anything you learned during the Sicily and Salerno landings that you had not been taught or prepared for, anything that you learned by experience?
JF: Well, sometimes, you learn by seeing what happens to someone else. Part of the problem's, when you go up, landing like that, as I say, you drop your stern anchor, but, if the tide is running so, you just don't go straight in. Your ship begins to broach a little bit, like that, on an angle. ... A couple of captains, they wanted to try to figure [out] what to do. So, as they dropped the stern anchor, they went just a little ways, and then, they dropped their bow anchor, but the ship ran right over their bow anchor and tore a big hole in the bottom. It was an experiment that just didn't work. I mean, they were trying ... and it was difficult sometimes to prevent this broaching, because of tide and wave action, but you never really did solve it.
SI: Did you go ashore at all while you were stationed in England?
JF: Oh, quite often, yes, we did. We were in various ports and the crew and the officers would get maybe five days off and everybody would head to London. ... So, that's where everybody would go. The British rail was very convenient to where we were and we were mostly on the Channel ports, and so, we could get up to Londonquite readily. Some of the guys went to Scotland. I didn't go to Scotland, but they would take the train and go up to Scotland for five days. ... Yes, we got ashore quite often.
SI: What was wartime England and London like?
JF: Well, of course, they had the Blitz. The Blitz was about over when we were there, but you could see the remnants of the devastation of the Blitz. ... Then, right after the invasion of Normandy was when the V bombs started, V-1s first, and then, the V-2s and, of course, with the air raids, they usually got a warning and they could go into the air [raid] shelters. ... With the buzz bombs, ... you'd hear them ... and they were flying much lower, of course, and, when the engine would stop, then, you knew they were going to come down, but you didn't know where they were going to come down. ... So, I think the people were much more afraid during that period of time than perhaps they were during the Blitz. They had warning about the Blitz; they were prepared for it. ... A lot of them were killed, of course, but the Blitz [buzz] bombs killed a lot of people, too.
GC: Was there ever a situation when you were in London when a V-1 or V-2 came in?
JF: Yes. ... I was over there and I did hear the air raid siren go. ... You would try to get down into a Metro station or something such as that, an underground station, but there was not too many of them.
GC: Did you personally hear the scream of the V-1 engine as it came in?
JF: [I] got a little ahead of the story, but, after the invasion of Normandy, we went up to London to load our second and third trips. ... Coming out through the Straits of Dover, I saw the V-1s for the first time. ... I think we counted about two hundred that went over that night and you could hear them. Yes, you could hear them and hear the noise. ... Then, you didn't hear it. They were, of course, programmed to go farther on, but we heard them, right. ... I guess the V-2s went faster and the British Air Force [tried] to knock them down. They couldn't fly as fast as the V-2, but they would try to get higher than the V-2, and then, dive on them, to knock them down over the Channel. They had some success that way.
SI: What was the relationship like between officers and enlisted men on the smaller ships of the amphibious Navy, as compared to the traditional Navy?
JF: On the LSTs?
SI: Yes. I know that on the battleships, it is very rigid, very traditional. Was it less so on the LSTs?
JF: I would think it was, not [being] able to compare [it to] on the other ship, but I would think it was less rigid. That is, you were closer together, and so, yes, I would think it would be less rigid. ... Of course, depending upon the commanding officer or the executive officer, too, which entered into it, ... they would set the standard.
GC: Was John Halifax a stickler for rules?
JF: He was sort of a stickler for rules, yes. He had this engineer, McRae. He sort of would counsel him, because he'd had a lot of experience. He was on the aircraft carrier Enterprise, and so, he had experience on a big ship. ... Then, Mr. Knight, William Knight, that was the executive officer at that time, he had experience in the merchant service, [whereas] Halifax didn't have any time with other folks. So, he was a stickler, but he didn't go way out on the end. He wasn't a Captain Queeg.
SI: He responded to suggestions from his officers.
JF: Yes, right, yes. He was transferred, I guess after Normandy, and then, William Knight became captain, and then, eventually, McRae became captain. Knight was transferred, McRae was transferred.
SI: Were there any casualties on your ship?
JF: Fortunately, no, we did not have [any].
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO-------------------------------------
SI: This continues an interview with Mr. John Fairbank on October 17, 2003, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth and ...
GC: Geoff Cerone.
SI: We were just talking about how your ship did not suffer any casualties.
JF: No. We were very, very fortunate. We did not lose a man.
SI: Were you ever in a situation where you came under direct fire? Was the ship ever hit?
JF: The ship was never hit by enemy fire. However, we had a collision in broad daylight with another LST, most embarrassing for both captains. We were going to Cherbourg Harbor to unload and another LST was coming out of Cherbourg Harbor. He came out, ... he should have never done this, with his bow doors open. Why? I don't know, and then, who had the right of way? [You] toot the whistle and this and that and so forth, and [it was] just all [a] big mix-up. ... With that bow door open, it was just like a knife. It sliced into the side of our ship, and then, it hit the ammunition locker where we had .40-mm ammunition stored in cans and it bent those. Why they did not explode, I have no idea, but not one exploded and no one was in the room where the ship came through. Anyhow, that was our only casualty.
SI: From viewing other ships, were there ever any accidents, such as munitions detonating?
JF: Yes, we saw, of course, during the invasion, ships nearby [that] were hitting mines. After the initial invasion, ... near the end of the campaign, we went up the Seine River to Rouen and the Germans had mined the river. The ship ahead of us was a sister ship of ours, it was LST-392. We had known them for a long time. They hit a mine. They lost some men, but, again, we were very fortunate. We were just at the right place, and so, we didn't have any casualties or injuries.
SI: What did you think of the Germans as the enemy?
JF: I guess I'm prejudiced; I didn't think very much of them, frankly, at that time.
SI: Could you tell us what happened before the Normandy invasion?
JF: Of course, we knew the invasion was going to take place. We began loading. We loaded at Falmouth, which is down in Cornwall, down in the west-southwestern part of the country. We loaded, and I forget the exact date now, but we started out into the Channel, and then, we received word to return to Falmouth, that there was a delay, because of the weather. So, we went back to Falmouth and waited for a day. We were to arrive at OmahaBeach on D +1 and anchor in a certain location, which we did. I was just mentioning before that we did not go up on the beach at Normandy and the reason being [was that] some of the LSTs were not supposed to go and hit the beach, because of the tidal situation. The tide is so great that if you hit the beach and the tide would go out, you'd be ... a sitting duck and you couldn't move for six hours. So, we anchored out and an LCT came out and we opened our bow doors and our ramp and we unloaded from the LST to the LCT. That's how we unloaded for the initial invasion of Normandy, on D +1. Then, ... after we were unloaded, we remained at anchor and awaiting orders. ... Then, we picked up [the] wounded and we normally didn't carry doctors. We had a pharmacist's mate as part of the ship's crew, but, for each invasion, we'd had maybe one doctor. For Normandy, we had three doctors on the LST, on our LST. So, we had quite a few casualties that we brought back ... to Southampton. ... Then, I think our second trip, we went up to London and loaded near London, I think it was (Tilworthy?). I forget the name of the area where the docks are in London, on the Thames, and, on the way back to the beach, [that was] the first time we saw the V-1s, counted about two hundred as they went over. ... We made, I would guess, about seven landings on the beaches, and then, they had arranged to have pontoons and they called it a "Mulberry." They had sort of a breakwater, so that the ships [could unload]. The wave actions are calmer in the area where you could unload. ... You could unload over these pontoons and you'd come up and moor to the pontoons, open your bow doors and your ramp, and it was much easier to unload. We did that a few times, and then, after Cherbourg fell, ... we were [used] as a ferryboat, going from Southampton to Cherbourg with railroad cars. Occasionally, we'd carry personnel as well, but they were not in one particular unit, maybe ... two or three going back to a certain unit for transportation, but the railroad cars were fairly small. They were more of the British type railroad car than the US railroad car, but, as I say, we made quite a few trips. We made trips across the Channel, from the invasion and through Cherbourg. We made seventy-seven trips across the Channel, from the invasion until December. So, we would just [go to] Cherbourg, to Southampton, load and be right back. So, that was most of our time there and, as I did say, we went up to Rouen one time and unloaded. ... Other than that, that was the only change in the routine, was that to Cherbourg. ... Then, this was in February, I was transferred to the212 as the executive officer and the 212 was also making the same kind of trips as the 393, with railroad cars, and we continued to do so. ... Then, the war in Europe ended in April, I think it was April, [May 1945], and the 212received orders to take a Norwegian-American paratroop detachment, a paratroop and ski detachment that had been in Normandy. They were going to use them as paratroopers, but they did participate in the war, but they were then going up to Norway and we took them up there with the Army of Occupation for Norway. So, we were able to take them up to Oslo, beautiful trip, and some of the fellows would say, "That's my grandmother's home up there." Some of them were Norwegian sailors that had been stranded when the war started and they were in the United States and couldn't speak English, but they were going back home. ... So, it was beautiful weather, a beautiful trip going up the fjord and we spent three days in Oslo. I had received my orders, [to] come back to the States, just the same day we got the orders to go to Oslo and I decided I'd go make the trip toNorway before I proceeded with those orders, which I was glad I did. ... So, that was, I think, about the highlights of our trip to Normandy. Fortunately, we didn't have any casualties, didn't have any bomb damage and, as I say, the only damage we had was the collision that we had. Anyhow, that's about the story there.
GC: On the morning of D-Day, H-Hour, your ship was assigned to not hit the beach. You were anchored off in the water. Approximately how far away were you from the beach?
JF: About a mile.
GC: During the initial landing on the beach, did you have an opportunity to stand on deck and actually see anything or were you busy with your duties?
JF: Right. We didn't get there until D +1. We were not there at D-Day. We got there D +1, but, of course, when we got there, we could see a lot of devastation, what had happened. ... I was a little bit crazy, I guess; as I said, we were unloaded by an LCT. I rode into the beach on an LCT to see what was going on, which was kind of crazy, but I did see some of the steel emplacements that they had to prevent landings and so forth. I did do that.
SI: When you transported the wounded off the beach, did you have to help the doctors treat the wounded?
JF: No, we had a pharmacist's mate and we only had one pharmacist's mate, ... I guess, maybe carrying the stretcher or something such as that, but our Navy crew did not really ... participate in getting them onboard or [in] any of the treatment.
SI: What were your expectations for Normandy?
JF: Oh, I thought it was going to be ... much worse than it was. We had air raids, but, to me, the air raids we had in Sicily and Bizerte, although they weren't tremendous air raids, were much worse than what we had atNormandy. I'm sure that a lot of places had it much worse than we, where we were, but we just didn't have it. There was artillery fire that came out from the beach, but, as far as air raids, we didn't have any air raids and we were very, very fortunate.
SI: Could you tell us a little bit about the size of the armada? It sounds like it was huge.
JF: Oh, right. I have pictures and so forth. There was a thousand ships. ... I think the LSTs had over about six or seven hundred LSTs there and, of course, they'd loaded at all ports in England. It was just amazing to see all those ships there. There weren't any aircraft carriers, but there were cruisers and I think there was maybe one battleship, but the destroyers and minesweepers, and then, of course, as I said, the mines played havoc. They had mines that just were pressure detonated. If your ship went over them, they were down at the bottom, they were not floating and you didn't have to hit them. The pressure of the water would detonate it. They would have some of them ... set so that [on] the third or fourth time that the pressure that was required [was exerted], then, it would go off. I mean, you'd think the minefield had been taken care of, but, then, all of a sudden, another ship would come over, boom, it was gone. We saw so many and I don't know just why we were so lucky, but we were.
SI: Did you have to take part in any rescue operations?
JF: There was an LCVP that was afloat that we were able to rescue and that was about the only thing that we rescued. ... We couldn't put it up in our davits. We didn't have any place for it, but we took it alongside and brought it alongside for a while.
SI: Leading up to D-Day, these training missions that you went on, were any of them at Slapton Sands?
JF: Yes, there was, and that was a tragedy, oh, what a tragedy. I didn't find out about it until maybe three or four years ago and a friend of mine, just recently, she said her dad participated in that. ... She loaned me a book, ...The Forgotten Hundred [The Forgotten Dead by Ken Small], I think it was called, and also a video. There were seven hundred military lost in that operation, two LSTs, and it was just a tragedy. A Navy admiral commits suicide afterwards and the British, ... their communications was terrible. The E-boats got in there. They should never have been able to get in, though, they had warnings. It was just a big SNAFU [Situation Normal, All Fouled Up]. That video that I have, it is just terrible. ... It wasn't filmed at that time, of course, but it's just pictures and so forth that the audio describes ... and, as I say, it was super secret. They took the town and moved the town, everybody out of that town, Slapton Sands, moved them out. We were in that area many, many times, atWeymouth and Bournemouth, Weymouth, which is very close to the area, but we did not participate in that operation; again, luck must have it.
SI: In all of the services, perhaps more so in the Navy, there are superstitions. Did you observe any of that among your crew, lucky rabbits' feet and so forth?
JF: Perhaps with an individual. I don't know of anyone that was. I didn't have any real superstitions or anything such as that.
SI: How were Navy traditions present in your experience? It would obviously be very different from somebody who is a career Navy man.
JF: Well, I think, with the amphibious force, we didn't have too many regulars in there, but I do think they tried to continue with the Navy tradition, the military honors, the side boys going to ashore and going to the OD [Officer of the Day] at the deck, salute, "Permission to go ashore." "Permission to come aboard," and things such as that. You know, you just didn't wander aboard or anything like that. So, it wasn't that haphazard. So, we did have those traditions.
SI: Did you ever get to go ashore in France?
JF: I didn't; like, in Cherbourg, just on the beach there, but [there was] not ever any place to go. ... As a matter-of-fact, after Paris fell, it was out of bounds. No one was supposed to go there, and so, none of our guys had liberty in France, no.
SI: Can you tell us how you came home and what that was like?
JF: I received my orders to go home and I reported into Plymouth, England, as required. I was the first senior grade lieutenant to report for this group to transport back to the States and, as the Navy tradition had it, that senior grade lieutenant was put in charge of all the Navy personnel on the ship. I had to go up to London and get orders for everyone and we got in a special train from Plymouth to Scotland and the Queen Elizabeth was berthed there and there was thirteen thousand military in total and two thousand was Navy. Although I was supposed to be in charge, I was not the senior officer by any means, but it was a fast trip, fortunately. These fellows were coming home, probably going to be discharged, and, as far as obeying orders, they just didn't care. ... We had duty stations for them or cells; some had to go to the galley, some to the scullery, some to a cleaning station and they would still be in their bunk and didn't go. Of course, ... I had chiefs assigned to these various details, but I was called quite often to straighten things out. I was very fortunate that it was a very fast trip, a very calm trip, and it came into New York Harbor and [it was] a beautiful day; fireboats met us. It was the first trip of a transport after the war in Europe was over, so, there was no secrecy. It was just ... a thrill to be home, but not only that, it was a thrill coming into New York Harbor, seeing the Statue of Liberty and the fireboats and so forth, a great experience.
SI: What did the Navy do with you after that?
JF: Well, I received orders, almost immediately, to report to the Third Naval District, which was in New York City. I did, reported there, and I had applied for a post-graduate school at the Naval Academy. I didn't go to theNaval Academy, as you know, but they had a post-graduate course there for Reserve officers that might want to stay in the regular Navy and I applied for it. I was accepted, and so, that was my orders. Then, in about a week or two, I reported down to the Naval Academy at Annapolis ... in June, July, and it was the following June. So, it was about almost a year that I was there at the Naval Academy. We started with a class of 160, commanders, lieutenants, lieutenant junior grades and that all had a lot of war experience. So, when the war in the Pacific was over, they announced the means of getting out of the Navy, ... if you had so many points, and, of course, everyone there had enough points to get out immediately. They had so much service. Of the 160 that started, sixty got out, sixty remained, I should say, and, of the sixty, fifty-two took regular Navy commissions. I could have, but I did not take a regular Navy commission. I had a civilian job and I weighed what I might have to do with the Navy versus a civilian job. I [had] just married, and so, I decided to get out of the Navy, but stayed in the Navy Reserve. So, as I say, I did finish the course. I stayed in the Navy Reserve and I was a line officer during World War II, [who] wears a star on their arm. I was working, as I say, once, for the Pennsylvania Railroad in transportation and I went to the Shell Oil Company in transportation. So, the Supply Corps of the Navy, ... transportation falls under the Supply Corps. So, I transferred to the Supply Corps of the Navy and, when Korea came along, I was called back for Korea. Fortunately, it worked out very well. I was living in New Jersey at that time and I spent ... two years at Bayonne Supply Depot. Did I get a little ahead of the story?
SI: No, not at all.
JF: So, I stayed at the Bayonne Supply Depot for two years, commuted from my home, just up the road here. It was on Ellis Parkway, on the River Road, and commuted to Bayonne. Bayonne has a slogan, "Where the debris meets the sea." So, it was quite a place, but I had two years of good duty there, met some nice officers. I think they were helpful and I stayed in the Naval Reserve and was eventually promoted to commander and retired as a commander. I had enough regular Navy service and Reserve service to get Navy pensions and get military benefits, like use of commissary and the exchange and medical facilities. So, it has been a benefit.
GC: You mentioned that, by the time you were reassigned to Bayonne, you were married.
GC: At what point did you meet your wife? Was it after you got back from Europe?
JF: No, I met my wife a long time before that. I told you, I was going to Rutgers night school, the UniversityCollege, and I think she mentioned that she worked at University College. So, she was taking a course in psychology, I was taking a course in psychology, and so, that's where I met her, in a psychology class at theUniversity College. ... So, I knew Lillian for quite a few years before we got married.
SI: Did you make a conscious decision not to get married until the war was over?
JF: No, we were not engaged. She was, I'm sure, ... dating; so was I. We got engaged when I came back fromEurope. I came back in June, got married in December.
SI: I want to ask a few general questions about life in the Navy during World War II. What was, for example, a typical day like on an LST?
JF: Well, again, we're very fortunate. The officer's quarters were just great, couldn't have been any better. I had a stateroom and there was a lower bunk and an upper bunk. The upper bunk was [for] when I had to have a roommate, usually an Army officer would come in with the unit. On the other side, there was a leather sort of couch with doors underneath and there was a place to hang your clothes in a clothes hanger and it was very, very comfortable, much better than a lot of the big ships. ... They didn't sleep in hammocks, but they were close quarters and, of course, submarines were the worst, but we had a wardroom where the officers ate. We ate the same food that the enlisted men ate; big ships do not. They usually have their own chef, but we had stewards that made up our bunks and, also, took care of the room, kept the room clean and also served the food. They would go to the men's mess and just bring it into the wardroom and serve it. ... Our wardroom was just a little bit larger than this room and very plain. There was a settee in there. I used to tell my grandkids that that ship would roll so much and you could roll in dry-dock, I would say, and sitting in the wardroom for dinner or any meal, I sat and there was a pole or stanchion right alongside of where I sat. ... So many times during a meal, my chair would slide and I would have to grab the stanchion [to keep] from sliding across the room. My grandkids ... got a big charge out of that. I was able to take one of the grandkids to actually see the LST-393 and I showed her the stanchion. She took my picture holding on to it. [laughter] We didn't have a washing machine. I washed my own clothes. I ironed my own clothes. We had living very, very good on an LST. I can't say the same for an LCI or an LCT, I don't know, but I just can't imagine anything any better than we had. We had really good food. I think we did have good food. We didn't have any complaints.
SI: Were you always able to get the supplies you needed?
JF: Yes, for the most part, we were able to. When the ship first went in commission, as I say, I was a stores officer, and so, ... you had a sort of list of the things you were supposed to have, all the kind of machinery parts and so forth and even the stuff for the galley. Of course, we looked forward to the first day we were going to eat on our own ship. While we're getting ready, we ate on a sister ship. So, the first day that we were going to ... eat on our own ship, we looked forward to it. So, we had a nice dinner meal, luncheon meal, and so, of course, then, the next thing [was that] you had to wash the dishes in the scullery. We didn't have any soap powder and I was the stores officer. So, I went to the Navy supply depot in Norfolk, a green ensign, not knowing all the Navy regulations as far as how you order or anything like that. My experience of going to the stores [was] buying one box of soap powder. I ordered what I thought was a sufficient quantity of soap powder, but ... I got ten times what I wanted, because I thought I was buying them in one-pound containers and it came in a huge carton. So, I had soap powder coming out [of everywhere], but we kept that soap powder. When we got to Africa and especially in Arzew, people were running out of soap powder, so, I used it for trading and I would trade for things, but, in Africa, we had a little bit of a problem of getting supplies. We knew of a supply ship [that] had come in and was doling out, if you will, fresh meat. So, I took a group, a working party, down and we were able to get some fresh meat for the first time after we'd left the States. Then, as the supply chain got better, we didn't seem to have any difficulty getting [things].
SI: You mentioned trading. Is there anything that stands out?
JF: We did have a jeep, a stolen jeep, and, in Tunis, we stole a jeep from the French officer's club and we kept it in the LCVP that we had on the deck. The side of the LCVP was very high, but the rumors got around and there was inspections being made of all the LCVPs in Bizerte and they had to turn them in. Our exec, it was William Knight, ... I wasn't with him, but he was able to steal a German jeep or whatever they called it, I guess, and he had that for a while. He wrecked it. So, we did have some transportation. We didn't trade our soap powder for a jeep, but we did trade it for other things. I can't recall exactly what it was at the present time.
SI: One thing that stands out in my mind is just how young everyone was. It seems that most men were in their early twenties and I suppose that most of your men were younger than that.
JF: Yes, some of the enlisted men were, yes, eighteen.
SI: How did that affect the dynamic of the ship? You all had a serious duty to do, but you were all still young men.
JF: Of course, I think there were some real good guys that were enlisted people. I think they sort of looked out for some of the others that maybe were just away from home and didn't know what to do and so forth and some had a little bit more experience. I think everything went fairly well. I don't think anyone got homesick or anything like that. It worked out okay.
SI: Were you always able to get mail and have regular contact with home?
JF: Mail, of course, is always very important and we were frequently, as I say, in Bizerte and those ports. ... So, we did get mail quite often. Sure, there were delays, there were always delays, and our skipper, Halifax, he was getting kind of despondent about not getting mail. He expected mail and so forth. He was the only one that I know that was so upset about not getting mail, maybe [of] the enlisted men, too. ... He was always complaining about that.
SI: How often were you and your men able to have access to religious services?
JF: When we're in port on a Sunday, we could go ashore for religious services, but, when we're underway, [on] Sundays, there was no one to conduct the religious services.
SI: You mentioned stewards. Were they Filipino or African-American?
JF: They were all blacks from the South, mostly from Georgia, North Carolina, and so forth. We had four or five and, of course, in those days, that's the only jobs that they could have. They weren't ... allowed to have any jobs as gunner's mates or anything, so, just that. [It was] the same way in the Army. So, onboard, they were just stewards and I'm sure they felt it.
SI: Were they quartered separately?
JF: No. Yes, they were quartered separately, but we didn't say, "This is colored or black." They were in the same area, but they were at the other end. I think they chose it, really. We didn't say, "You have to go here," or, "You have to go there." We didn't say that, but they picked out their bunks on their own. Usually, they're different; like, the gunnery division, they used to sleep together or something. So, they were sleeping in the same area together. As I say, you have to sleep in a certain area and they used the same heads, same shower faculties.
SI: Were there any problems with that, or perhaps problems between Jewish sailors and non-Jewish sailors?
JF: Not on our ship. I didn't see anything like that. It may have happened and probably did, but I didn't see it on our ship.
SI: Can you just tell us a little bit about what you did after the war? You stayed in the Navy for about a year after coming back from Europe, but you did not start with Shell Oil until 1949.
SI: What were you doing in that time?
JF: I went back to the Pennsylvania Railroad, and then, Shell was looking for someone in transportation. They came to my boss and my boss recommended me, and so, I went with Shell Oil in New York City. Then, I was eventually transferred to Jacksonville, Florida, and I spent the rest of my career with Shell in Jacksonville, Florida, and not in traffic or transportation, but in [the] transportation sales department, selling to transportation companies.
SI: Your time at Shell was interrupted by the Korean War. Was there any problem with that?
JF: Shell didn't want me to go and they wrote a great letter to the Bureau of Navy Personnel requesting my deferment. As you probably could guess that was turned down. It was a great letter, I saw it and, usually, you'd say letters such as that "get the deep six" and [are] thrown away. I was ordered to the Bayonne Supply Depot, to go to school to become a supply officer. ... As I told you, I hadn't been a Supply Corps officer. So, I started the course [and], in about two weeks, ended the course. The fellow that had a job, what they called the Navy Central Freight Control Office at Bayonne, New Jersey, was being transferred. So, the job was open. So, Bayonne was looking for an officer to fill that billet. So, they went to the Bureau of ... Navy Personnel and somebody inWashington remembered the letter and said, "Well, Fairbank is up there in school and he probably was not going to stay in the Navy." So, they pulled me out of the school and they gave me this job and I was officer in charge of the Navy Central Freight Control Office. There were five of them in the United States and I was in charge of the one in Bayonne. It was a great job. It was, again, transportation and it was just dumb luck that that letter was read and I was pulled out. Shell was very nice. They made up the difference between my Navy pay and their pay for the period and I think I got three months salary when I first went into the service. I think we used that to buy our first television set.
SI: In general, what appealed to you about the Navy and why did you want to stay in?
JF: Well, then or when I first went in?
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JF: Okay, I didn't want to go into [the Navy]. I did apply for the Coast Guard at first and they turned me down. They said, "You should have more math." This was before the war started. So, then, I went and tried to get into the Navy and I did. Of all the services, ... I didn't want to be a pilot. When I was at Rutgers, the senior year I was at Rutgers, they had flight training. They would give you so much to take flight training and I think a lot of the guys took some flight training and got a certain amount of money from the government for their flight training. They weren't in the Army at that time, but, anyhow, I didn't want to be a pilot. So, the Air Force was out, or that end of the military was out. So, it was the Navy.
SI: I have heard similar stories from other people. They did not want to continue being in the Navy, but you continued.
JF: Yes, I enjoyed being in the Navy. ... As I say, I really thought of making a career out of it at one time. I weighed the possibilities. I decided, "Well, okay, I'll go back to civilian life, but still enjoy Navy life," and I stayed in on the active Reserve for a while. I was down in Jacksonville and I had a great group down there of Supply Corps officers, all Supply Corps officers. What a great group and we were meeting at a Navy Reserve armory, which was pretty rundown, and one of the fellows that was a Supply Corps officer was a lawyer in town. He said, "We can meet over at my office." He had a great office and got approval from the Navy to meet over there at the office and we had all officers in the unit. Two of them made admiral. So, it was a real good unit and so nice to be with people like that. That sort of enhances you ... to continue on. If you get in a rundown unit or with people you don't care for, you make up your mind [that] you don't want to stay, but I enjoyed it all.
SI: Out of curiosity, were you put on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
JF: Yes, we were. I was still in the Reserve there, but there was not a call on active duty at all. Of course, I was in Jacksonville and we saw a lot of military moving through Jacksonville. The Navy has a big base in Jacksonvilleand a big air station and, also, [an] installation at the ocean, Mayport, for aircraft carriers and cruisers. So, we knew something was going to happen soon.
SI: Would you like to say something about your family?
JF: I have a son and a daughter. The son was in the Navy ROTC at Vanderbilt; ... because he was colorblind, he got a restricted commission. So, he decided he would get a restricted line commission and he went into aviation. They sent him to aviation maintenance school in Memphis and, because of that, that was his career. He was in the Navy during Vietnam. He was a maintenance officer for a patrol squadron, VP-38. Then, after the war, he got a job with United Airlines in their engineering department in San Francisco. So, [he] spent his career there in something that he learned in the Navy and he just recently retired. Of course, if you have been reading, United Airlines is in deep trouble; [they] went into bankruptcy. They're coming out of it, but he got a little incentive to retire. He had enough service, and so, he's doing some consulting work with aviation people. Our daughter, Nancy, she went to the University of South Carolina and, after her freshman year, she said she wanted to get married. I said, "Well, I like Danny, but can't you wait a while? I mean, if you get married now, you're going to get pregnant and you'll not finish school." "I want to get married." She got married. She finished school. She got her Master's degree and she's doing very well. She has two children and one has a Master's degree, the other is a senior at college and probably will get a Master's degree. Our son and his wife have a daughter who is a freshman in college, just starting. So, the family has done very well and, fortunately, we're all very healthy.
SI: You have given us a great deal of your time. Is there anything else you would like to put on the tape?
JF: Well, guys sometimes fall in love with a ship. I fell in love with the 393. After the war, what happened to the393? I tried to find out what happened. Well, of course, those LSTs, they were scrapped. They were sold to go to South America for banana boats and things like that. I could not get any information at all. About three years ago, I was in Florida. I was looking at a newspaper and it said, "There's a meeting of the Florida LST Association." I didn't even know there was an LST association. So, I went to the meeting and, when I was there, [I was asked], "What LST?" I said, "393." He says, "[Do] you know where it is?" I said, "No, [I] could never find it." "It's up in Muskegon, Michigan." "It is?" I couldn't believe it. I verified it. I came home. I was flying high. I don't know how I that affected me. I got to tell everybody about it and I really only had kept in contact with one of the other officers. He was in our wedding party and I got to tell everybody about it. Well, unfortunately, records were lost, but I was able to get in touch with three other officers and about twenty of the enlisted men. We went to Muskegon in May of 2001 and had a reunion on the 393. The 393 was at a very small museum in Muskegon, Michigan, and ... was sold to a company in Muskegon to carry new automobiles fromMuskegon to Milwaukee and back. They called it, they renamed the ship, Highway 16. This museum had taken it over and is rededicating it and ... it's hard to explain how I felt about that. So, I got to see the old ship and some of the family was there and they dedicated a room to me onboard, which was actually my own stateroom that I had all those many years. So, that was it, the story of the 393.
SI: That is a great ending.
SI: Thank you very much and thank you, Mrs. Fairbank, for your patience.
Mrs. Fairbank: You're very welcome.
SI: This concludes our interview with Mr. John Fairbank.
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Reviewed by Thomas Perri 10/27/04
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 11/9/04
Reviewed by John Fairbank 1/19/05