Tom Baldino: This begins an interview with Anthony P. Ventura, March 7, 2011, with Tom Baldino and Sandra Stewart Holyoak in Neptune, New Jersey.
Sandra Stewart Holyoak: Thank you very much, Mr. Ventura, for having us here today. To begin the interview, could you state for the record where and when you were born?
Anthony P. Ventura: I was born in Southampton, Long Island, New York, on January 24, 1927.
SH: Please tell us, if you would, your father's name and a little bit about his family history.
AV: Well, my father's name is Salvatore Ventura and he was born in Italy, in San Marco Argentano, Italy, in 1895. ... I'm not sure of when he came to this country. That must have been around 1917. It was before the First World War broke out and, of course, he came from Italy. He was in this country not even a year. The war broke out and the government told him he either could fight for this country or go back to Italy, because, at that time, we were at war with Italy and, no, he stayed in the country and he fought for the United States. [Editor's Note: During the First World War, Italy fought with the Entente Powers, with whom the United States fought alongside as an "associated power," against the Central Powers.]
SH: Was he given citizenship because of his enlistment?
AV: No, it's sort of strange. He didn't get citizenship until seven or eight years later, after the war and he was back home.
SH: That is very interesting.
SH: I thought they would have.
AV: No, and we could never get him to talk about it very much. He was a foot soldier. He was in the infantry and I know he was in two or three of the major battles over there, ... but he wouldn't talk about it, you know. He did say a few things. He said, because he was very short--I don't think he was five feet, four-foot-nine, and, of course, he talked Italian fluently--and, when they were fighting the Italians, he would talk to them in Italian and they never [shot him]. I guess maybe that was one of the reasons he survived, but, anyway, it's about the only thing he said about it.
SH: Did he talk about any of his commanding officers or where he was stationed?
AV: No, no.
SH: When he came to this country, were there other family members here?
AV: He had a couple brothers here. He came from a very large family. He had fourteen brothers and one sister and three of the brothers were in the United States at that time. ... He came over when he was seventeen and he went to Tuxedo Park, [New York]. That's where his brothers were, and he became--I think he worked in a wine[making firm], where they made the wine--and his job was to scrub the big vats, which he didn't like at all. So, he quit and he became a gardener, a caretaker.
SH: Do you know what profession his brothers were practicing at that time?
AV: His one brother worked for the wine industry. His other two brothers, I'm not sure what they did. I think he was the only one that was in the service.
SH: It wound up being just the four brothers of the family that were in this country.
AV: Yes, right. All the others were still in Italy, or some went to South America. Some were cops. It was a big family, yes.
SH: Then, his mother and father stayed in Italy.
AV: His mother and father stayed in Italy, yes. ... Once he came to this country, he never went back. All his brothers were over there and his parents and he never went back.
SH: Very interesting. Did he talk about getting into the landscaping business? He went to work as a laborer, or did he start his own business?
AV: I think he probably just went to work as a laborer, you know, and then, ... he had contacts to work on sort of estates. These rich people had a lot of land that needed to be taken care of. He slowly became a very good landscape gardener and a caretaker.
SH: Did he then have his own company?
AV: No, he met my mother in Tuxedo. That was before he was drafted and went overseas.
AV: Yes. He wasn't married then, but he met my mother in Tuxedo, and then, he went to war and they corresponded. ... I have a few of his letters, which--Italians are very emotional, you know [laughter]--but, then, he came back and he got married and he stayed in Tuxedo a little while. ... I think, at that time, they were making a hundred dollars a month as a caretaker and he was very good. My father was almost a perfectionist. I think, whatever field he went into, he would have done very well with it. He loved to paint. He carved birds out of wood, ... but he did get a letter from someone in Southampton, Long Island, that they needed a caretaker for an estate and he said, "Well, how much are they going to pay?" you know, because he was married then. I think he had two children by that time. There were seven of us in [all], children, and they were going to pay him 125 dollars a month. So, he said, "I'll take it," [laughter] and so, we all ... moved. I wasn't born yet. He moved to Shinnecock Hills, which is a few miles outside of Southampton, and these people had a hundred-acre estate. ... It was basically their summer home. They had seven homes all over the world ... and he took care of this hundred-acre estate year-round and, in the late spring, early summer, he would open up the large building. It was a three-story building, I don't know, fifty rooms in it. It was a large building and he would take all the shutters off the windows and get it all cleaned, ready for them to come down for the summer. ... The people were the (Claflens?). They were a very wealthy family and he would have it open for them and they would stay there the three months of the summer. ... They came there to entertain, you know. ... Every weekend, they had parties up at the building and we lived in a small cottage on the property. ... There was a two-story cottage and we lived downstairs and, in the summer, a chauffeur and his family came and lived upstairs. ... So, we stayed there until I was at seventh grade in grammar school, and then, we moved here.
SH: Okay. Let us back up a little bit and talk first about your mother and her family history.
AV: Okay. Well, my mother, she was born in this country. From what we gather, she was Hungarian. ... Her parents were from Hungary and her father lived in Southampton, Long Island, also. How he got here, I mean, I don't really know, but my mother's father was from Naples, Italy, and came to Tuxedo Park, where he met his wife.
SH: Was it Tuxedo Park?
AV: Yes. I was born in Southampton, Long Island, New York, a year after my parents lived in Tuxedo Park and moved to his new job in Shinnecock Hills. My mother was in Tuxedo. I know that ... her mother and father moved to Southampton, Long Island, and he was also a gardener and took care of a small rich family's estate. It was maybe four acres, something like that, and it was sort of interesting, because, right next door, lived Gary Cooper, you know. ... It was a lot of rich people at that time, but I don't know a lot about my mother's family. It was a large family, also. ... My mother had three brothers and a sister living here, also. That's right, too. My mother was in Tuxedo Park because her sister lived there and I think she was living with her when she met my father there.
SH: Was your mother working on one of the estates in Tuxedo Park?
AV: No. In those days, mothers were just mothers, you know. [laughter]
SH: No, I meant at Tuxedo Park as a young woman, when she met your father.
AV: No, I just think that they met at some social gathering, whatever, yes.
SH: Okay. Did you have extended family living in the area when you moved to Southampton, Long Island?
AV: Well, I knew my mother had two brothers there living in Southampton. Whether they came after my father moved there, I'm not sure, but we all lived there at pretty much the same time, and my mother's [family], of course. Mother and father lived there, yes, and that was about it. We had cousins in New York and Brooklyn and whatnot, but that was the small group that lived in Southampton.
SH: Were there different languages spoken at home?
AV: Yes, a lot of Italian. My grandfather came from Naples ... and my father came from Sicily, so, they didn't get along at all, because they're from different parts of Italy. [laughter] They always argued and they only spoke Italian and, from what they told me, we spoke Italian, too, when we were young kids, but I can't speak Italian now.
AV: Because, you know, everything they said in the house was in Italian.
SH: Talk about your family, your brothers and sisters. You said you were one of seven.
SH: Where did you fit in the birth order?
AV: We had a brother and sister who I never knew, because they died very young, like when they were six months, a year old, and they were born in Tuxedo. When my father moved to Southampton, Long Island--in fact, I take it back. My sister was born in Tuxedo, too. My sister was three years older than I. She's the one that survived. The two younger ones passed away, and so, when he moved to Southampton, my sister was the only child, and then, I was born three years after my sister in 1927, and then, I have a younger brother, John, who was born three years after me, 1930. [laughter] ... Then, I have another younger brother that was born thirteen years later.
SH: You really had a big spread.
AV: Yes. He's still living. He's in Florida someplace. [laughter] ... Right, there was my three brothers and sister in Southampton. ... I don't know if I mentioned, we had another brother, he was one year younger than my brother John, and he passed away. He was then three years old, yes, but, ... back then, we lived in a cold-water flat. I mean, it's not like today. So, the only thing that kept the cottage warm was the kitchen stove and a pot stove in the living room, and so, winters were tough down here. ... I think he got pneumonia and passed away. ... It was Johnny, me and my sister that survived, and we all moved up here.
SH: What do you remember about Southampton? How old were you when you left?
AV: I was fourteen when I left.
SH: Okay, then, you have memories there.
AV: Oh, yes, gosh, I have a lot of memories there. I went to Catholic school and there wasn't a lot of kids because we lived on this one hundred-acre estate, just my couple brothers and sister and I, and there were one or two neighbors with a couple children and the others were when the chauffer family came down. He had three children and that was it, but ... it was a nice experience. Catholic school was very nice. It was a lot of farming back then, a lot of potato farms in Southampton, and I know, because we were very poor then, right next to where my grandfather worked on that small estate, there was a potato farm. ... At the end of the season, when they, the pickers, were all done, then, they'd let anybody go there and pick potatoes. ... So, that's how we got our winter supply of potatoes. We'd pick four, five hundred pounds. [laughter]
SH: Did you really?
AV: And we'd have them through the winter. Everything was under the beds at that time, you know, potatoes, apples, tomatoes, anything to get us through the winter, and we did always raise chickens. My father always had fifty to a hundred chickens for eggs and for meat, some of them, and he would fish and he would hunt, that sort of thing.
SH: You would hunt on Long Island, near where you lived.
AV: My father would, yes. I didn't. ... I mean, we rarely had meat, you know, because we didn't have very much money, 125 dollars a month and raising four kids, and so on, but Shinnecock Hills is right between Peconic Bay and Shinnecock Bay. It's not too wide, maybe it's five miles wide, so that on the estate we lived on, we could see both bays. So, it was a very attractive spot, and so, my father could go there and fish and catch a lot of fish. I know we were in Southampton when that very bad hurricane hit Southampton. I think it was 1938. A very serious hurricane hit Southampton and we were in grammar school yet and it was just when grammar school was out, so, it must have hit around two, two-thirty and we had all come out of grammar school and got on the bus. ... No sooner were we on the bus--the top of the grammar school had this large cement cross--and it came crashing down right where we were coming on the sidewalk for the bus. Then, they transported us to Southampton High School, where it was safer, and I remember when my brother--he's three years younger, so, I was in seventh grade, he was in fourth grade. So, when we got out of the bus, the winds were so strong, it lifted him up and he was taken off. ... I know, I remember grabbing his shirt and ripping his shirt almost off him, but, anyway, it was a very bad time, and then, we were in ... the high school for maybe six hours. My parents had no idea where we were, because it was devastating. From what they told [me], my mother and father told me, is that we were out of electricity for a month. We had no power at all, and then, shortly after that, Mr. (Claflen?) passed away. Whether it was the shock of the hurricane or what, I don't know. So, then, they found out that he was almost bankrupt, because he had all his money in stocks. So, we had to move and that's when we moved here. [Editor's Note: Mr. Ventura is referring to the Great Hurricane of 1938, which hit Long Island on September 21, 1938.]
SH: Was your father moving to a job?
AV: No, he had no work, but, for some reason, he bought a small house. It's only about a half a mile from here, and we rented out. We got, I think, twenty-eight dollars a month rent and it had no water, no bathroom inside. The water was outside. It was like one of those pumps, and so, ... he had that house. So, he told the people that they'd have to move and that's when we came to New Jersey. That's where we stayed until we built this house. My father and I built this house.
SH: Did you really?
AV: Yes, he was good at everything. He's a good carpenter. ... Being a caretaker, you get handy at everything. So, we built this, I think, in 1948. I've been here ever since.
SH: Since 1948, that is wonderful.
SH: What were your chores in Southampton, just before you got into junior high? I am sure your mom set aside chores for you.
AV: When I was in Southampton? because ... we left when I was in seventh grade. Okay, well, our chores were really picking berries. ... The hundred acres was loaded with blueberry bushes, blackberries, strawberries, plums--you name it, the fields were loaded with them. So, my sister and brother and I, we'd go out and we'd pick berries and my mother would preserve them, you know. ... The other thing, my father, every Christmas, he'd give Johnny and I an axe, a small Boy Scout axe, and, all summer long, we'd chop wood for the stove for the winter, [laughter] and that was basically our chores, because we were so young, you know.
SH: Were you ever asked to do any work for the family when they were there during their summer vacation? Did your mother do anything with them at all?
AV: You mean for our family?
SH: For that family. Did you have any special chores when they were living there?
AV: No. I mean, you know, my mother, of course, stayed home. She preserved and cooked constantly. She was a good cook. [For] my father, taking care of the estate was constant, you know, morning, noon and night, and so, we fed the chickens, picked up the eggs, cleaned the yard, you know, picked all the berries, but they were very lenient with us. I remember, in the summer, when the chauffer's family would come, he had a son my age. ... Peconic Bay was not too far from where we lived, maybe four miles, five miles, but we were only nine years old and she'd let us hitchhike to Peconic Bay, the two of us, and it was like a little summer resort, Peconic Bay. A lot of rich people went there. It was a rather large beach and they had floats out there and they had a restaurant and the whole bit. So, anyway, the lifeguards took myself and the chauffer's son--Bobby was his name--they took us under their wing and they taught us how to swim and all kinds of stuff. ... We did chores, but we stayed on that beach all summer long. [laughter]
SH: Did you really?
AV: Yes, and it was fun and, I don't know, in those days, even when we came home, we would wander through the hills. Shinnecock Hills, at that time, was a lot of sand dunes. I mean, it was loaded with scrubby brush and whatnot, ... but we'd roam it for miles. There was a railroad track right off [the path], not too far from our house, and we used to walk on the railroad track. In fact, once, my foot got stuck under the track and my brother and sister were with me and the train was coming, believe it or not. ... They couldn't get me out and it's just that when the train got within maybe a couple of hundred feet, how ever far it was, the weight of the locomotive lifted the track up and we fell backwards. [laughter] That's the only way I got out. ... Those sort of things, you remember.
SH: I should think so. [laughter]
AV: Yes, but it was a nice time. We had a lot of fun, you know.
TB: You mentioned that your father built this house in 1948.
TB: What was the area like then? Was it mostly farmland? Was there burgeoning development postwar?
AV: I'll show you. I have a photo [of] what it looks like. I'll get it.
SH: Was it because of the Depression that your family moved to Neptune?
AV: Well, I mean, we didn't have too much of a choice. My father did own this little house.
SH: He had the foresight to buy this small house
AV: I don't know. You know, I don't know. [laughter] I don't even know where he got the money to put down on it. ... Anyway, we had this house here in Neptune and, when the (Claflens?) lost all their homes, we had so much time to move, you know, and so, we moved here. Now, the only experience my father had up to this time was being a caretaker and a gardener. So, when he came here, which was in 1939, he got work on the WPA [Works Progress Administration or, after 1939, Works Project Administration]. At that time, the WPA, a lot of people, you know, they couldn't get jobs, and so, he worked for the WPA, and then, he eventually got a job at Fort Hancock, which is out on Sandy Hook, and then, from there, he got a job at Earle Ammunition Depot, which is right out here. [Editor's Note: At this time, Fort Hancock was a US Army Coast Artillery Corps base that protected the approaches to New York Harbor. Naval Ammunition Depot Earle (now Naval Weapons Station Earle) was built during World War II and commissioned in December 1943.]
SH: Was the job at Fort Hancock with the WPA?
AV: ... I don't know. It might have been in the beginning, but, then, he became caretaker of a number of the buildings out there, because, at that time, the military was still out there and he took care of a number of the commanders' homes, the properties and whatnot.
SH: He was basically landscaping.
AV: Yes, yes, and then, from there, then, he got ... a government job at Earle and that's what he did at Earle Ammunition Depot, was take care of a lot of the homes, the commanders' properties and whatnot, and he retired from that.
SH: Going back to Tom's question, you were here in this area originally, but how far from this home that your father built?
AV: You probably passed it; it's a half a mile from here, the small home that we moved into when we left Southampton in 1939. It's still there today.
SH: While you were living in that house, then, your father began to build this one.
AV: What happened, when we were living in that house, they built Highway 66--this highway wasn't here. They built the highway and on both sides of us were large farms, a large farm in the back and a large farm in the front. ... When they built the highway, they cut off a piece of the farm in front of us, which was a long, narrow strip, a thousand foot long and about three hundred foot deep, and my father knew the farmer, so, he wanted to know if he wanted to sell the property. ... The guy said sure; he has no use for it now. So, my father bought the property, and then, little by [little], he had professional carpenters put up the framework, you know, but we built the [rest]. It has a full cellar. So, my father put the cellar in, and then, we had the carpenters put the framework on, and then, little by little, as he got money, we would buy materials and close it in, the sides and the shingles and the walls and everything else.
SH: Just for the record, it is, I would say, a Cape Cod.
AV: It's a Cape Cod, yes.
SH: Lovely home.
AV: Yes, it's easy to heat, [laughter] yes, and it hasn't changed much, as you can see. It's got ... the old sink in it yet and everything, but, boy, he built a good house. It took us about a little over a year to build it.
SH: Wow. Can you talk about some of your early experiences here as a young man? You were still pretty isolated, it looks like, from your photo.
AV: Oh, yes, we were isolated. So, my brother and I, we worked for the farm in front of us. It was a large farm. It was a hundred acres or so, too, and he had a vegetable farm and we both worked on his farm, picking vegetables. He had his wife and daughter who picked vegetables, and then, he would bring them to market. Not too far from here, there used to be a farmer's market and we would go with him and he'd sell his wares. So, we did that quite a bit.
SH: Do you remember the farmer's name?
AV: Skulthorpe. He was tough. ... Everybody wanted his vegetables, because he demanded perfection. I mean, if you put a tomato, and it had a spot on it, in the basket, he'd throw it out, you know, ... but he was a good person. We worked for him for two or three years. I caddied up at Jumping Brook for a couple of years, you know, that sort of thing.
SH: Did you caddy so that you could play?
AV: To play? No, we gave the money to my parents. [In] those days, nobody had money, was very [sparse for] a while. ...
SH: Where did you go to junior high then?
AV: No middle school, one year of grammar school, then high school. ... When we came here, I was in the seventh grade, when I left Southampton, when we moved to the little house. The house was in Shrewsbury and across the road was our mailbox, which was in Neptune. So, the house was in Shrewsbury, the mailbox was in Neptune. [laughter] So, they decided to send us to Tinton Falls, to grammar school. So, I was there for one year, because I was in the eighth grade. Then, after that, then, there was another debate on where to go to high school, whether to go to Red Bank or Neptune. So, I went to Neptune.
SH: How difficult was that transition from one school system to the other?
AV: It was hard.
SH: Was it?
AV: Oh, it was very hard. You're going from a Catholic school to, you know, a regular eighth grade school and it was very difficult. I didn't know any kids. Of course, the subjects were all different--I mean, they taught them differently. I barely passed, you know, and then, when I got into high school, I didn't know anybody, because it's all Neptune, and I knew no one, and so, it was pretty tough.
SH: How did your brother and sister fare?
AV: My brother did better. My brother is sort of a free-going spirit, where I'm more disciplined, ... but he got along fine.
SH: How about your sister?
AV: My sister, let's see, my sister, of course, when we came here, she's three years ahead of me, so, she had to be, probably, a sophomore in high school, yes.
SH: Was it difficult for her as well?
AV: I don't know. [laughter] You know, it's funny, because my sister, when we lived in Long Island, before we moved here, right, ... she always complained about this. She said, "Boy, you and Johnny could do anything you wanted to. You went to the beach," and this and that, and she was always with my mother, the girls, always. She did nothing but preserve and can and do housework, and so, we never knew Mary very much. I mean, she was at this side of the family, we were at that side, [laughter] and she was quiet. She was a quiet person anyway, but we'd always answer, you know, "What did you do when we were in Southampton?" you know. [laughter] So, it was sort of a family joke.
SH: When you moved here in 1939, how aware were you of what was going on in Europe? You still had family in Italy; were your parents corresponding?
AV: No. It's funny, my parents--naturally, my mother's mother and father were here and ... two or three of her brothers and a sister--so, she wasn't too interested in Europe. My father, he might have gotten a few letters from some of his other brothers, but he never corresponded. He wasn't a writer. He was a very quiet person, you know, and he was content with just being here, and so, they never came to visit us, we never went to visit them.
SH: When you moved from Long Island to Neptune, what about your mother's father and mother and the family there? Did they also come to the Jersey Shore?
AV: I honestly don't know how my mother's mother and father came to this country or when they came. All I know is, they were here and we would visit them every Sunday, because, back then, families really stayed together. Sunday was always at the grandparents' house and we all sat and had meals and stuff and my mother's mother, she passed away very shortly when we were down there. I think we were only down here--in Southampton, I mean--a year or two when she passed away, and my grandfather, when we moved here, it was an agreement between the brothers and sister that we'd each take him for a certain period of time. ... After a while, nobody wanted to take him, so, my mother took him, because my mother, she was good to everybody. She'd take in strangers. ... Somebody'd knock on the door, she'd give him food and clothes. So, she took my grandfather in and he lived here, in this house, right in this room, until he passed away, and then, so, that was sort of [a tie]. ... I didn't know a lot about ... my mother's mother and father, except we would go and see them every weekend and she was a good cook, too. Polish people are great cooks, oh, my God. [laughter] The Italians always fight, the Polish are always loving and caring, for some reason, I don't know, but my mother's side of the family was really wonderful, yes.
SH: Was the family involved in the church? I know you went to Catholic school up to seventh grade.
AV: Yes, we're all very religious.
SH: When you came here to Neptune ...
AV: I went to Catholic school. We were all Catholic, but, when we came here, I went to the parochial school and to a regular high school, yes.
SH: There was no junior high. Your eighth grade here was ...
AV: At Tinton Falls. It was at a state school, yes.
SH: Where did you go to worship? Where was your church?
AV: It was Mount Carmel. I still go there today, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It's in Asbury [Park]. I've been a parishioner there, what? seventy years.
SH: Wonderful. [laughter]
AV: But, yes, it was a close family, yes.
TB: You mentioned that you still go to church in Asbury Park. What are your memories of Asbury Park then and how it has changed in recent years?
AV: Oh, gosh, oh, it's like night and day. When we moved here to Asbury--to Neptune, right, because Asbury's the big town, it's close by--Asbury was booming. I mean, it was a rich place. It was loaded with hotels. I don't know if you're familiar with Asbury Park, but it had Main Street and Cookman Avenue and it had beautiful stores all over it. The train station was right ... in town. Rich people would come down to a resort in the summer, because the beaches were beautiful. Taxicabs were all over the place, because there was a lot of nice hotels here, you know, and then, all of a sudden, I don't remember when, but they started getting problems with an area called Springwood Avenue. It was a low-class area and, for some reason, they set fire to it and it burnt down, and then, a lot of black people were coming in, a lot of other nationalities were coming in, and people started leaving the town. ... It turned into a really bad place and it is that way almost today. They're starting to rebuild it, as you might have heard or read.
SH: I did.
AV: They're putting a lot of money in it, trying to rebuild it the way it was, but, way back in there, in the '30s and '40s, when I went through high school, and even the '50s, it was a beautiful area, beautiful.
SH: Talk a little bit about Neptune High School, what you were involved in and what you did there. In the background, of course, is the beginning of World War II.
AV: World War II, of course, yes.
SH: Talk a little bit about that.
AV: Okay. Well, I guess I wasn't really too aware of the war until I was in high school, maybe a sophomore. ... Well, I don't know, I wasn't that concerned with it. I suppose, at that time, the war was in Europe, you know, and I forgot exactly when we went over to Europe. It was in '41, '42, somewhere like that.
SH: December 7, 1941. What do you remember about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
AV: Yes. I was at work when I heard that.
SH: You were about fourteen, I think.
AV: Yes. What was that, 1940?
SH: You were born in January of '27 and Pearl Harbor was ...
SH: December 1941. You were just about to turn fifteen.
AV: ... Yes. So, I mean, you know, for a fifteen-year-old, you know, I mean, we knew it was a very bad catastrophe, you know, and we heard Roosevelt on the radio.
SH: Franklin Roosevelt.
AV: Franklin Roosevelt on the radio, and, you know, we knew it was serious.
SH: What was the reaction in school?
AV: I don't know, because I didn't even know the kids. ... You know, it was a time when I was trying to get some normalcy back and trying to make some new friends. ... It wasn't, I don't think, until I was a junior and senior that we knew of the impact of the war, because, by then, right, then, we knew we were at war with Japan and some of the fellows were being drafted already, ... the juniors and seniors. ... Then, we realized how serious it was and I know that, when I graduated, like I mentioned before, there were only six or seven of us fellows left. It was all the girls and six or seven of us and that was in June 1944, and I don't know if it was at that time or shortly after [that] I got notice to be drafted. You had to sign up somewhere before you were eighteen. So, I was seventeen when I graduated high school and I enlisted before I turned eighteen, because I wanted to be in the Navy. So, that's why I started boot camp right on January 5th.
SH: Did your parents have to sign for you to join the Navy at seventeen?
AV: That's a good question. They might have, but I think once you're eighteen, they didn't have to sign, but you're right, they probably had to sign, because I was seventeen when I joined. I joined January 5th, my birthday is the 24th, so, I was still seventeen, and then, I turned eighteen.
SH: While you were in high school, how were the effects of the rationing program felt by people in the area?
AV: It was really bad.
SH: How did that affect your father's business?
AV: Well, we were all on coupons, you know, back then,
SH: Had he already started to work at Earle at that point?
AV: No, he was at Fort Hancock. He was at Fort Hancock and, you know, all the cars had to blacken their headlights. The top half was all painted black. You couldn't put lights on at night; you had to pull shades down. There could be absolutely no light facing [outward], because we were right on the ocean, and they had people, at that time, volunteering to watch the ocean. ... Then, of course, as far as rationing goes, they rationed gas, they rationed butter, they rationed meat, sugar--you're trying to get stuff on the black market. It was really bad.
SH: There was a black market in this area.
AV: Yes, yes. You couldn't get meat, but, luckily, I mean, we raised chickens, so, we were sort of safe like that, you know, and eggs, but rations were very strict. Sugar was very hard to get, butter was very hard to get, gas was almost impossible. ...
SH: How did your father make the drive then?
AV: Well, because he was a government employee; so, they allowed him so much for the driving distance, you know.
SH: Were your brother or yourself or your sister, or maybe even your father, involved in being an air raid warden or checking for lights, any of the defense drills?
AV: No, no. I imagine, because my father worked for the government at that time, that was what he did. We were all too young, you know. I was, what? How old was I then? fourteen, fourteen, fifteen. Mary was seventeen. Johnny and Joey were younger yet. So, no, we weren't involved with that.
SH: You talked about how, by the time you graduated, there were hardly any young men left in your class. Prior to that, did you still have things like football and basketball?
AV: Oh, yes, yes.
SH: Were you involved in any of that?
AV: I was in the band. [laughter]
SH: You were in the band. What did you play?
AV: ... I was good physically, because we were in great shape. My brother and I, we worked on a farm, two or three years. We baled hay. I mean, we were like athletes, but I never fell in love with sports, but I was in the band for four years and went to all the football games and stuff like that.
SH: What did you play?
SH: Did you keep it up?
AV: I still have it, but [laughter] ... I don't think I could play it, but I loved music. I still love music until today, you know.
SH: Did you play in any other bands, like dance bands?
AV: No. We tried to get a small jazz band together, but, of course, you know, that was '44--everybody was gone. So, it was very hard getting a small group together.
SH: Did you go to Asbury Park to dance or have fun?
AV: Well, let's see, when did that happen? When did the Big Bands come down?
SH: It must have been the 1940s.
AV: It must have been; trying to think when the Big Bands came, before I went in the service or after I came out of the service.
SH: I think before, and probably after.
AV: But, Convention Hall, which was right on the ocean, every summer, they'd have all the Big Bands come down. Every week, they'd have a Harry James, a Charlie Spivak or a Tommy Dorsey or a Glenn Miller and we'd dance, you know, and that's when Asbury was really [booming], you know. Easter Parade, everybody was dolled up and walked the boardwalk, you know
AV: With their fancy clothes and stuff--it was beautiful. ...
SH: Did your mom and dad go for this kind of thing?
AV: No, no. [laughter]
SH: Just the kids.
AV: Just the kids, but it was a Big Band era and it was just an awesome time, you know.
SH: Do you remember some of the events that were taking place locally? What were some of the big news items before World War II?
AV: Oh, gosh. It was just a normal town. ... Of course, there were no shopping malls then or anything. It was just [that] all the stores were right in town, supermarkets, and there were department stores and things like that, but it was just normal. ...
SH: What about politics?
AV: I never got involved with politics, so, I don't know.
SH: Mom and dad?
AV: My dad was a serious Democrat.
SH: Was he?
AV: My mother could care less, you know. [laughter] She was a housewife her whole life, you know, and so, they didn't get involved like that.
SH: Was there a subject that you had as a favorite in high school?
AV: No. I know I did take art, even though I wasn't serious about it at that time, but I did take a general course, which was four years of shop, which was carpentry, woodworking and all that. ... That, I liked a lot, yes. ...
SH: Why did you decide to enlist in the Navy rather than to be drafted? The war was not over yet in Europe in January of 1944.
AV: Yes, yes. I don't know.
SH: What were you reading about the war? Did something in that impact what you decided?
AV: No. You know, I think it's because my whole life, since I was born, we lived right on the ocean. Shinnecock Hills, we could see the ocean, here, we're next to the ocean, you know, and, again, it was sort of a natural thing, you know. ... Of course, you know, at that time, the infantry and the Marines, when you read about the kind of life they had to lead, which was pretty bad, you know, sleeping in trenches and everything, in foxholes, I said, "Hmm, the Navy sounds good." [laughter] One thing about the Navy is, boy, you had clean linen, you know, three meals a day and it was nice.
SH: On your pre-interview survey, you mentioned that you had cousins who had gone into the military.
AV: Right. Some of the cousins were in the military.
SH: Ahead of you or after you?
AV: Oh, they were ahead of me, yes. The only one after me was my brother, John, but, yes, my two cousins, the (Servones?), they were on my mother's side of the family and one of them, he was a chief petty officer. So, he was in the Navy. I don't know exactly what he did, if he was in an engineering group, ... but I knew he was on a ship and he was in the Navy. He was a nice guy. I remember him, and his brother, Frank, was in the Marines and I guess he saw a lot of action, ... but he never talked about it too much.
SH: Did he serve in the Pacific? Was that where he was?
AV: Yes, they both served in the Pacific.
SH: Did you ever write to them?
AV: No, but I saw them maybe three, four, five times a year. You know, they'd come down--at that time, they were in the Navy--when I was in Southampton. So, I would see them off and on, you know, and then, of course, ... then, my brother-in-law, who married my sister, he was in the Army, Frank.
SH: When did your sister marry? Was it before you left high school?
AV: Mary married when we were here, when we were living at the small house. So, that had to be--she must have gotten married in the early '40s, yes.
SH: Was it a gentleman from this area?
AV: It must have been [when] she got out of high school, and she was three years ahead of me. So, when she got out of high school, ... she got a job with the [US Army] Signal Corps, right in this area, and Frank, her husband-to-be, worked in the Signal Corps and that's how they met, yes, and then, of course, ... I forgot when, exactly, ... [he was] drafted in the Army, but he was in the Army a couple of years.
SH: Where did you go for your enlistment and where did you go for your physical? How did you report? I guess I should ask about your graduation from Neptune High School. Was there anything memorable about that day?
AV: Well, the one memorable thing is, well, two of them, I guess, ... somebody had to play a solo. I was a good trumpet player, but I wasn't great, but I had to play Oh, Danny Boy. You know that song--it's such a drain, that song, so that I had to solo. So, I played Danny Boy at the graduation and the other interesting thing, at graduation, we had a blackout. ... So, all the lights went out for about an hour or so, an hour-and-a-half, and we were all on the stage, and so, we all had to just stay there for that amount of time, until the lights came back on. [laughter] So, that was pretty memorable.
SH: I guess so.
AV: Yes, yes.
SH: Was it because of an air raid drill?
AV: It could have been an air raid drill, I don't know, but ... you heard the sirens going and all, everything. All the lights went out there, was in Ocean Grove Auditorium. We always [held it there]. They still graduate from there today--maybe not today, but we always graduated from Ocean Grove Auditorium.
SH: [laughter] That is memorable.
AV: Yes, yes.
SH: I assume you graduated in May or June.
AV: In June, graduated in June.
AV: '44, and then, at that time, I was working part-time at the Charms Candy place in Asbury, up until I enlisted, because I know I got my draft notice somewhere between June and probably October or November. Somewhere in there, I got the draft notice, and so, then, I went to New York to get signed in.
SH: Was there someone else from this area going with you?
AV: No, no. It was just me and I got my physical, that's right. That's when I enlisted. ... I don't remember that clear, but I was enlisted. Then, I had to go to New York, I know, for my physical, and then, when the physical was passed, then, I came back home and you just had to wait for orders [on] when to go to boot camp. That's the way it worked. ... So, January 5th, as I put down, we went to boot camp, which was Sampson, New York. Do you know where Sampson is? It's right on the Great Lakes, right off Seneca Lake. I was there January, February and maybe part of March,
SH: Little cold?
AV: It was. The temperature was from zero to thirty below the whole time and they had maybe four to five feet of snow the whole time. It was miserable, because the barracks are not insulated, the big, wooden barracks, and there's about 120 of us in each barracks. ... We would try to sleep with our pea coats on and stuff, to keep warm, and they wouldn't let us do that. Well, you know, boot camp is pretty strict. ... If one person does anything wrong, they get you all out of bed and you stand up and you either do calisthenics or they'd open the windows, when it's thirty below, and so, you didn't mess around too much. You did pretty much what you were told, you know, [laughter] but it was very cold up there. I was very fortunate. I wasn't there too long, because, when ... you go to boot camp, you take a lot of written exams the first few days or the first week, and I scored pretty high in the exams. I think I was second in the barracks. So, they gave me a job of being battalion messenger, which means I went down to the battalion headquarters and just sat in a chair. The barracks were in a big circle. There might have been a dozen large barracks and I would bring messages to the different barracks whenever they needed it. So, I didn't have to shovel snow, you know, I didn't have to do all these other things the fellows had to do. [laughter] So, I had a nice, easy job and I liked that. In fact, that's what helped me get into school after boot camp.
SH: Where did you go to school and what was the school for?
AV: Well, when ... you're in boot camp and you do all these [tests], you take all these tests, you write down where you're probably best fitted for. ... So, I was best fitted, because, in high school--I forgot to mention--I took two years of correspondence [courses] for airplane engines. So, I had certificates for passing two years of airplane engines. So, when I put down what I wanted to do, I put down I wanted to be an airplane mechanic and to be on an aircraft carrier, and I think the second choice was to be in engineering, which is all sort of tied together. ... At that time, January, February, March of '44, the war was pretty much on, pretty strong. So, out of every barracks, they would draft; you know, ... you didn't even tell them where you wanted to go, they would draft you. So, one-third were drafted for the CBs [Naval Construction Battalions or SeaBees], another third was for the amphibian group, and then, the other third, if you qualified, you went to school. So, because, I suppose, of high school or the airplane engine thing, and I did very well in my testing, I couldn't get to be an airplane mechanic, because, when they draft you, they need so many people for everything in the service. So, I got my second choice, which was engineering, and they sent me down to Biloxi, Mississippi. So, I went from freezing down to Gulfport, where it was a hundred, because I was down there in March, April and part of May, and I went to school there for, I think it was eight or ten weeks, you know.
SH: What are you being trained for in engineering?
AV: Well, they trained you in working with metal and using lathes and making very precise instruments. ... It was a general engineering course, because, even then, we didn't know what we were going to do, but we did all kinds of very carefully calculated things, making, I don't know, different units and making them very precise. ... It was so hot, we went to school with shorts, because it was really awful. It was in the hundreds down there. So, it was one extreme to the other, but I enjoyed it.
TB: You mentioned that you were not accepted into airplane mechanic training. How disappointing was that to you?
AV: It was, because, at that time, you know, I really knew a lot about engines and I said, "Wow, I'd love to be on a carrier, you know, and work on engines." ... It was disappointing, yes, because, at that time, I figured, "Well, gee, maybe this is what I'll do in my life. I'll be an airplane mechanic." So, maybe, in a way, it was good I didn't get it. I went to engineering school instead and, eventually, became an artist, right? [laughter] So, in some ways, I think maybe it worked out, I don't know. ...
AV: Yes, we had a lot of liberty down there.
SH: I am going to turn this back on.
AV: Okay, because, you know, we were going to school and it was just an eight-to-four, nine-to-five time. ... We didn't have to pull any duty, nothing. We could wear, you know, our dungarees. We didn't have to get dressed up, but we did get a lot of liberty and the only town close to the naval base was Biloxi, which was a really tiny town. ... You let, you know, twenty, thirty thousand sailors [loose] in a little town, it was [packed], but, then, we would go swimming a lot, because it was right on the Gulf. ... In many ways, it was relaxing, but, you know, then, we didn't know from there where we were going to go.
SH: What was the South like at that point? Was it a shock, not only the weather and the temperature, but what about the Jim Crow South at that time?
AV: The what?
SH: Jim Crow South.
AV: Oh, I don't know. I mean, you know, we were on the base. We were there eight or ten weeks. We did get some liberty, but there was no place to go. I mean, there were no big towns close by. There was a small town. We'd get liberty maybe a couple times a week and we'd go to a movie or something like that. ...
SH: How did the locals treat sailors?
AV: ... I don't know; I think they were so tired of us, because that school was there for a long time. When we left, another group of twenty thousand came in, or whatever, and it had to be hard on the town. I mean, certainly, they prospered, because we spent money, you know, but it had to be tough on them.
SH: Did you get any liberties to come back home to New Jersey?
AV: After. From boot camp, we only had about three days, or maybe a little less than a week, to come home. Then, we had to go to Gulfport. When we were done with schooling at Gulfport, we had to go back to Sampson to get our orders. ...
SH: You were traveling by train.
AV: Yes, train, all the time, oh, but, anyway, so, we had to go back. After we finished our training, we still didn't know what we were going to do. So, we ... went back to Sampson, and then, from there, they sent us out to [Camp] Shoemaker, California. It's a big naval base out there, and then, that's when you get your orders of when you're going to ship out to go overseas.
SH: Did you already know what ship you were going to be on?
AV: No, had no idea. Everybody's in the dark, I mean. ... You didn't know what was going to go on, and so, in that respect, it was scary, because they didn't know what ship they were going to put you on until they're out there and know what ships needed new men. They didn't know. All they knew is that I was an engineer, right, and so, they shipped us out to Shoemaker. We weren't there very long. They put us on this old converted cargo ship that they turned into a transport ship and it was probably the worst experience I've had. It smelled. It wasn't too great. The bunks were five high, so, you can imagine, and I was unfortunate to get the top bunk. So, when you're laying in the top bunk, there's only like six inches before you hit the bulkhead and it was, I think, around three thousand men on the ship when it left.
SH: All Navy personnel?
AV: All Navy, yes, because it was strictly a Navy base and the transport was waiting to bring us all out to the fleet.
SH: What was the nearest town to Shoemaker? Do you remember?
AV: It had to be near, ... very near, San Francisco, because that's where we sailed out from. When we were put on the transport, it was in San Francisco Bay. ...
SH: Were you traveling in convoy or traveling alone?
AV: Now and then, we would have a destroyer escort or a destroyer with us, part of the way, but we didn't have it all the time, you know. When we left, ... of the couple experiences in the Navy, that was probably the one time we were all the most frightened or afraid, ... because we had absolutely no idea where we were going, ... what ship we were going to be on. We had nothing, ... but, once we went under the [Golden Gate Bridge], we left San Francisco and left the bridge and we looked back and saw the United States fade away, we were really depressed. I mean, that was probably when none of us had any idea if we'd ever see the United States again and that was a time when the war was still on and you had absolutely no idea, you know.
SH: You are all of eighteen. [laughter]
AV: Eighteen, we were all eighteen. The only good thing is that everyone was a sailor. ... It's amazing, when you get a big group of people all in the same situation, it sort of evens out, you know, ... but it took us almost three weeks to get out to the Philippines.
SH: How did you pass the time?
AV: You know what we did to pass the time? All right, it's an old ship, three thousand men--you get up, if you can get up, early, you stand in line and you wait for breakfast. Soon as you're done with breakfast, which wasn't too great, then, you got in line again and waited for lunch, because three thousand men, it took them a long time to serve. The food was not great, because, I mean, how much food could they store? It was a month's trip, three weeks on the ship. The lunch was always the same. It was two slices of bread with a slice of bologna in it, no mustard, no mayo, no nothing, and that was our lunch, and then, when we're done with that, we'd stand in line for the big meal, which was supper, and that was the life. Otherwise, we would lay on the decks and a lot of us didn't go down below, because ... it was musty and, oh, it's bad enough sleeping down there. A lot of us slept on the deck, because at least there was fresh air, and I don't think there were any radios on the ship at that time, in the '40s. They would announce something now and then, over the PA system, but, otherwise, you'd just play cards and things like that, and that lasted for ... a good three weeks.
SH: You were headed to the Philippines and you did not stop.
AV: ... We knew we were headed for the South Pacific. ... We didn't even know where we were going to end up at that time.
SH: Did you stop in Pearl Harbor?
AV: No, no. We didn't stop anywhere, nowhere. Now and then, we'd see an escort ship alongside us, because these transport ships, ... they had one gun on it, I think up in the bow, and it was like a peashooter. So, we didn't feel too safe, but, now and then, we would see a destroyer escort, which is a smaller ship than the ship I was on, or maybe a destroyer would be with us part of the way, you know, but, otherwise, there was nothing to protect us. ... Even as we got near the end of that trip, we knew that we were going to be anchored off the Philippines somewhere. Now, when we came to the Philippines, it was understood that the fleet was going to meet us, and then, transfer all of us to whatever ships we had to go on, but, at that time, the Okinawa invasion was on. It was near the end of that battle, I think, the middle, end of June. So, we sat on the ship, and we sat and we sat, and we sat, and we were on it quite awhile. That was the end of June and probably a good part of July, I believe, and we were getting almost like we were going to break into the kitchen and get some food, because ... we all must have lost five or ten pounds, at least. It was really not good. So, this is when the second transport came in. I guess they were running out of food, because we were just anchored out there. The fleet was busy ending the war, and so, they couldn't come down and get us. So, what they did, they sent out this brand-new transport ship. I don't think it was two months old. It looked like heaven, you know, and it pulled up alongside and they shuttled us across on these pulleys with a basket and they treated us like kings. I mean, we had all the food we wanted to, fresh milk, fresh ice cream. Oh, it was just awesome.
SH: Everybody from the old transport was sent to this new one.
AV: Yes, yes. We weren't on it too long, maybe a week, week-and-a-half, but it was awesome, clean showers.
SH: Did either ship have a name?
AV: I don't remember the names of the ships, no. All I know is, the transport was brand-new and it was clean [laughter] and fresh water and all the food--you could go back as much as you want. So, that put some weight back on us again. ...
SH: Did you have conditioning exercises to do?
SH: Did they have you do any kind of calisthenics?
AV: No, because a transport ship, they probably just had enough crew to keep the thing going and all of us were pretty much just out of boot camp or whatever, or schooling, and so, no, we just lounged around. On the second transport, though, ... those of us who were engineers, we would go down into the engine room or the fire room and help out, just, you know, to get used to what it looked like down there on a big ship and on a transport ship. When you go down to the fire room, it's like, I don't know, four stories down and it gets hotter and hotter and hotter. ... The only place you can survive is right in front of a blower, but, anyway, ... it was clean and that lasted for, like, a week-and-a-half, and then, I was transferred. ... Then, they got us all up on deck and they started calling out the drafts. So many names would come up and they'd say, "This is the ship you're going on," and it would pull alongside, and that's when I got on the Maddox, the USS Maddox, that was a destroyer, [DD]-731.
SH: What month of 1945 was this?
AV: That had to be the end of July, possibly beginning of August. That's when I don't have a lot of records, but I know that I was on the [USS] Barton, [DD-722], in the beginning of September and the war ended. ... So, I was on the Maddox only about two to four weeks, a very short time. They transferred about thirty of us on the Maddox to the Barton when I finally got on--the same class, everything was identical. So, when we were on the Maddox, that's when we started getting our training in the fire room. I was a fireman, and so that three to four weeks later, when we were transferred to the Barton, we knew everything, because we were familiar with the ship. The Maddox had gotten orders at that time to return to the United States. That's why we were transferred. So, we said, "Oh, we're going back home." They were transferring the fellows that were on the ship a long time. From what I understood, you had to be in the Pacific eight months and have two Battle Stars to be able to go home, and so, we would relieve them. We were the new people relieving them. So, the Maddox took on thirty people from the Barton who had earned their time to go home, and then, we replaced them. It was a switch, and then, the Maddox went back to the States, and then, the Barton, that's the ship I was on until I was discharged, just under a year.
SH: Can you talk about where the Barton went?
AV: You know, at that time ...
SH: You transferred in the Philippines.
AV: We transferred off [in] the Philippines. It might have been a little closer to Tokyo, but the Philippines are close to Tokyo anyway.
SH: Yes, Tokyo Bay.
AV: Yes. We were on the Maddox and destroyers, at that time, we did a lot of patrolling. As you know, a destroyer protects the fleet. It does all the messenger work, it does all the running around, it picks up fellows that fall into the sea. I know, once, we picked up a pilot whose plane crashed into the sea and we had to rescue him, because a destroyer sits very close to the water. It's only six feet above the water or whatever, where your cruisers and battleships are four, five, eight stories, carries very high off the water, ... and we're a fast ship. So, we were sent out to pick up someone who might have fallen into the sea. We would go out and sink mines, loose mines that are floating around, because, after Okinawa, there were hundreds of mines all over the Pacific. ... For the period of time between Okinawa and [when] they dropped the bomb, and even to the peace treaty, they had minesweepers out there, loads of minesweepers, sweeping up hundreds, maybe thousands, of mines. I mean, we were right off Japan, so, it was loaded with mines and they would sweep them up, and then, the destroyers would go alongside and blow them up. ... Then, there was always loose ones and loose ones are the scary ones, because the sea isn't always calm, like you can see five miles in front of you. The sea, you get ten, twenty-foot swells--a mine isn't that big--you see a mine pop up maybe every five minutes and it's only up there for a few seconds. ... I know one mine we were sent out to destroy, the water was a little rough and it took the gunners an hour-and-a-half ... to shoot that mine, because they'd only see it for a split second when it came up and it's scary that way, too, because I know, once, one came very close to the bow of the ship. ... They just spotted it when it got close and they were able to avoid hitting it, but they're hard to see, and even someone that falls into the ocean from a plane or whatever, they're very hard to spot, even with life preservers on and they throw out a colored dye, so [that] you can see the colored water. ...
SH: Where was your battle station?
AV: I was a fireman, so, I was in the forward fire room. Now, a destroyer, as I mentioned when I talked up at the PNC place [the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Era Education Center, located on the grounds of the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey], every ship has two fire rooms and two engine rooms. In case one gets hit, you have the other one. So, my station was the forward fire room and what we did is, we made steam, super-heated steam. We worked in front of the huge boilers, just like furnaces like we have today, only these are huge and, like, two stories high and forty feet square, whatever. They were huge and we would make steam. There were two boilers facing each other with about six or eight feet between them and every watch had two firemen, one for each boiler. It had a petty officer on the second level. ... He had this big wheel and all he did was regulate the water going into the boilers to make the steam, which was a very crucial job, and that's all he did. He stared at this thing with the water level in it and you had to be a petty officer to do that, and then, in charge was a chief petty officer. Every watch had a chief petty officer and he stood in front of us. We were at a boiler on each side and he had sort of a periscope that looked into the smokestacks, so that when you got orders for flank speed or standard speed or to stop, you have to adjust the burners, right?
AV: Yes. So, if you're going to stop, ... each large furnace had, I think, four or five burners, so, when you stopped, maybe two burners are going and you have to shut off one immediately. ... So, the chief petty officer who's in charge looks in his periscope and sees what color the smoke is and it's his job to keep [it at] no smoke--it can't be white, it can't be black. So, he's got to constantly adjust the air going in to mix with the fuel oil, ... because, in wartime, if you make smoke, the enemy knows where you're at. So, they were pretty skillful at not letting no smoke go out those stacks. It was interesting. ... Besides running the boiler, we would have to take readings every hour, about a dozen or so readings of different pressures, but what we basically did, we made steam, very hot steam, was re-circulated into super steam. ... They always told us, you know, ... if the ship gets hit, the only way out is up through the top and they said, "Don't go up there, because the steam will cut you in half." That super-heated steam is sent to the engine room and that's what turns the turbines and the propellers and makes the ship go. So, if you want the ship to go fast, right, you've got to click in two or three burners, I mean, just like that, and, if you want it to stop, you've got to shut them off, and that's what we did, yes. We got pretty good at it.
SH: What was the watch, four hours?
AV: Four hours on, eight hours off, and it would change periodically. So, you didn't always have the twelve-to-four watch or whatever.
SH: What did you do on that eight hours that you had off?
AV: The eight hours, well, we ate some of the time. ... We didn't have to do our laundry. The laundry was done for us, but there was designated days or whatever that you brought it to the laundry room. Otherwise, we'd write letters or play cards. We did have a phonograph on the ship with a lot of popular records, the Big Bands that we were talking about, ... but the time seemed to go.
SH: Did it?
AV: It went fast and, of course, you had to sleep, right? In that eight hours off, you had to sleep some of the time. So, on a destroyer, you don't have recreation rooms or anything. It's a very tight-knit ship. So, our sleeping quarters is at the tail end of the ship. It's two huge compartments. Where maybe the ship holds three hundred men, counting the officers, so, there's probably 225, 250 regular firemen and seamen, and so, ... we're broken down in two compartments, large compartments. The bunks were three high and it was very comfortable then, ... but that's on our time off. ... We spent it in our bunks. ... There wasn't a lot of room to walk around the ship. I mean, from the deck to the ocean was maybe six or eight feet, where you could walk around the decks, and, if it was rough seas, the water came over the decks most of the time. So, you got from one place to the other through the center of the ship, which was a long hallway. ...
SH: Did you have bad weather?
AV: Yes, we had bad weather. It was mainly, I think, more nice than bad. When it was nice, it was beautiful. I mean, it was just not a ripple and we would watch--we always had dolphins diving alongside the ship. They used to love swimming alongside the ships. I don't know why, but, anyway, the calm weather was nice. Lightly rough wasn't bad, but, when it was rough, yes, you had to be careful. I mean, you could walk around on the deck if you wanted, but we did hit a hurricane out ... in the Pacific and we hit one in Tokyo Bay, and then, we hit the typhoon, of course, which was terrible. ... You know, you get used to it. A destroyer bobs around like a cork. It's a small ship. It's only three hundred feet long.
SH: How well supplied were you on this destroyer, the Barton?
AV: They must make every square inch count on these ships, because the food was very good. They treated us very well. You didn't have to dress [up]. You could just wear your dungarees. You didn't have to salute officers. It was very casual.
AV: Because of the small amount of men, yes, and we got to know everybody, you know, the gunners or the electricians or the torpedomen or whatever. ... There'd be one alleyway through the center of the ship and off this left and right of the alleyway, ... they had where you could get a toothbrush or razor blades or a candy bar. It's like a big closet, the fellow was [in]. That's how small the ship was. [laughter] ... It was like a counter. You'd walk up to him, say, "I want this and that," ... or, if you needed a pair of dungarees or a shirt. ... All along the way, you'd hit different rooms, ... where the doctor or the medical room was or, then, you'd go through ... where you ate, you know, the mess room, and then, of course, above the mess room was where the officers lived. The chiefs, the chief petty officers, lived in the bow. I don't know how they could take it, but they lived in the bow, [laughter] but every inch of the ship was very well thought out, you know. So, the biggest area for us for recreation was where we slept, in our bunks. So, between taking some time to sleep and eating, the time went.
SH: How often did you get mail?
AV: Mail? very little for a while. Because I was transferred from two transports to two destroyers, I didn't get mail until after the war was over and my mother didn't get mail for about six months. She had no idea where I was, because, back then, it was all censored anyway. If you wrote a letter, it was read. ... So, you couldn't say where you were, what you were doing or anything. So, it was sort of tough that way.
SH: The men that you worked with, in the fire room, where were they from? How diverse were their backgrounds?
AV: They were from all over, but, you know, one interesting thing is that I'm "V." I'm at the end of the alphabet. (Zabanac?), which is a "Z," he was at boot camp with me, and (Wetzel?), I think was his name, with a "W," the three of us went through boot camp, engineering school and were on the same ships.
SH: Really? [laughter]
AV: Because ... the Navy, whenever they drafted you, you know, they did it alphabetically. So, we were always stuck together, the three of us, but ... the sailors were from all over, every part of the United States.
SH: Did people get along?
AV: Oh, they got along great. Well, you know, when you're on a small ship and you rely on each other to stay safe, I mean, yes, you get along very well--no fighting, arguments or anything on there.
AV: Yes, it's very close-knit.
SH: May I turn this back on?
SH: We were just looking at the chronology there. You said August.
AV: From the records I have, Japan surrendered August 14th. The atom bombs were dropped on the 6th and the 9th of August; the 14th, they surrendered. [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.] I would imagine that's when the Maddox transferred me to the Barton, because they had orders to go back to the States, being the war ended. So, it's right in that period of time I was put on the Barton. So, I was put on the Barton near the very end of August, the beginning of September, and I know that the Barton sailed into Tokyo Bay on the 10th, because I ... sent a letter home on that day, that we were going into Tokyo Bay. So, I know that we were going into Tokyo on September 10th. Before that, we were just patrolling outside of Japan and China--not only patrolling it while the peace treaty was actually being signed on the [USS] Missouri, but to get rid of loose mines, because there were so many mines around. [Editor's Note: Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945, in a ceremony held onboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay.]
SH: What about the news of the atomic bomb? When did you hear about that and did you understand what an atomic bomb was?
AV: Yes, we knew what that was. I believe I was on the USS Maddox at that time, ... when the bombs were dropped.
SH: I thought you would have been on the Maddox by then.
AV: ... Yes, I was. I don't have all the cards and things. I have nothing from the exact dates I was on the Maddox, but I know I was only on it for maybe two to four weeks, was on it for a short time.
SH: Okay. Did you understand that these bombs would mean the end of the war?
AV: Well, you know, there's so much scuttlebutt going on and, sure, you know.
SH: What were people talking about? What were they thinking?
AV: Well, you know, I guess we didn't ... know that much about it, but we knew that it was a very powerful, dangerous weapon, because the United States had never used it, all right. This is the very first time and it was only later that I realized, from--I have, like, some DVDs on the history of the Pacific, when Japan wasn't going to surrender. They weren't going to surrender, even after the atomic bombs were dropped. They were really very stubborn and they weren't going to surrender. So, that's when they did drop the bombs, that's correct, ... and, yes, I take that back, it was before the bombs were dropped. They didn't surrender--after Okinawa, which was the last big invasion, they didn't want to surrender. The United States felt that we would have to invade Japan and that might be another two years of war and that's when Truman decided that this was a way to end it, you know.
SH: What were the sailors talking about as you were waiting for that surrender to finally get signed?
AV: Oh, God, I mean, there was so much scuttlebutt going around, because nobody had radios. I mean, ... even the transport ship we were on didn't give us much information. So, we were sort of in the dark. Now and then, we'd say, "Oh, someone heard on the radio that the war ended," but, boy, you get rumors like that, hundreds of them.
SH: Did you ever listen to any of the Tokyo Rose broadcasts?
AV: No, we didn't have that sort of stuff, no. I think ... the Army and Marines got that all the time, but we didn't have any radios, so, we were sort of in the dark, until we got actually on the destroyers and we realized everything that went on.
SH: What did you hear about the kamikaze attacks that were taking place?
AV: Yes. Well, you know, the Maddox, even a couple of the fellows told me, because I don't know if they were hit with one lightly ...
SH: No, they lost their captain. [Editor's Note: The Maddox was struck by a kamikaze off Formosa (now Taiwan) on January 21, 1945.]
AV: But, you know, the kamikaze attacks started mainly at Okinawa. Okinawa was a three-month engagement, which was very long, and they were telling us that Japan felt that they were losing the war and they wanted to get back into it, and so, they had these, I guess, thousands of kamikaze pilots. ... During Okinawa, they had them go after all the naval ships and most of the ships, a lot of the destroyers that were in the fleet with the Barton, were hit by kamikazes.
SH: The Maddox, I think, had been hit in January of 1945.
AV: I think they mentioned something when I was on the ship. You know, when you're on it for two weeks, you're trying to get used to the darned ship, you don't even know, [laughter] but it seems like a couple of the crewmen were telling me that they were hit. ...
SH: When you got on the Barton and the surrender still had not taken place, what did they tell you about the impending invasion of Japan?
AV: Well, I guess they didn't even know, on the Barton, if we were going to invade Japan. ... We were patrolling outside of Tokyo Bay. They didn't know. I guess they were trying to recuperate, because the Okinawa battle they were in was the largest battle the ship was in and that's when they were given the Navy citation [Navy Unit Commendation], for what they did at Okinawa. ... For some reason, the Barton must have had a rabbit's foot hidden in it somewhere, because it missed everything. It was one of the very few destroyers that never got hit by a kamikaze. Kamikaze planes came close to it twice and they were able to destroy it before it hit the ship. It's amazing. ... This is the book on the Barton, right here, and, at the end, when the war was over and they returned home, not one person was killed on the Barton, the whole war. That's pretty amazing.
SH: That is.
AV: When you hear of all these ... destroyers that were hit by kamikazes. Even a typhoon hit Okinawa during that time and a couple of them tipped over, you know. We were really lucky, because the fellows told me that two destroyers were hit off of Okinawa and the Barton and the O'Brien were told to relieve them and they no sooner got near Okinawa that the O'Brien was hit by a kamikaze. ... That's when the Barton one missed it. They never got hit. So, it was pretty amazing. I really picked the right ship. [laughter] [Editor's Note: The USS O'Brien (DD-725) was attacked by a Japanese "Val" suicide plane off Kerama Retto, near Okinawa, on March 27, 1945, suffering fifty crewmembers killed and seventy-six more wounded.]
SH: You certainly did.
SH: Earlier, I think you probably were still in San Francisco when the war ended in Europe. When did you hear about that and was there any reaction?
AV: I don't remember a lot of reaction--whether it's because, you know, when we were in the Navy, we were so absorbed with our training and where we were going to go and we weren't really into what was happening in Europe that much.
SH: When President Roosevelt died in April of 1945, do you remember that? You would have been at Sampson, perhaps.
AV: April of '45, March, I was in Gulfport, of '45. I don't remember a lot of what the talk was.
SH: Did people say anything about having confidence or no confidence in President Truman then?
AV: No, no.
SH: I just wondered how the troops reacted.
AV: No. Actually, even in Gulfport, you know, everybody got along well. I guess we were happy to be going to a school and learning something. ...
SH: As the treaty is being signed in September, are you part of that fleet?
AV: Yes, we were part of the patrol fleet right outside of Tokyo Bay. I was on the Barton at that time and our job was to patrol. I think, when the peace treaty was signed, on, what was that, the 2nd or the 4th? there were about two hundred ships in Tokyo Bay. ... The job the Barton had was to patrol outside of Tokyo Bay, you know, and to keep everything secure. The only ships in Tokyo Bay were really destroyers and cruisers and some battleships. The carriers were always out. They didn't want to get trapped in the bay area. So, the aircraft carriers were always out in the open sea, yes.
SH: What is the most vivid memory that you have of your time on the Barton?
AV: I don't know. I think I enjoyed the Barton, I guess mainly because, when I did get on it, the war was just about over and everybody was so relieved, but all I remember is that the crew was very nice. I mean, we got along. Like I mentioned before, you got to know everyone. You could go anywhere on the ship you wanted to, except, certainly, the bridge, you couldn't go up on the bridge, [laughter] but even if officers came by, you didn't have to salute them. It was very casual, but you had to be neat and clean, of course, you know, and I enjoyed it. I guess I was eighteen--God, what more do you want.
SH: Was there a chaplain onboard?
AV: There's a chaplain on board and, of course, a medical doctor and he's the one that wrote this book. A medical doctor is the one that keeps records of everything and that's why, even this, some of the dates were a little bit [off], [laughter] because, in some places, he puts September and October or March or April, you know, but it's pretty accurate of everything the Barton did. This is what the ship looked like and I'll show you one where we're fueling off a carrier. Here's the Barton and, here, we're fueling off the aircraft carrier.
SH: How difficult was refueling like that, especially in rough seas?
AV: Oh, we did it tons of times. You know, now, a carrier can stay out for, what? a year or more. [laughter] We could stay out for three to five days.
SH: Is that how often you refueled?
AV: We had to refuel and this is us on our way home. We were refueling off an aircraft carrier. So, you either refueled off an aircraft carrier or a cruiser, something like that, but, every five days, you had to refuel, pretty much, and what they do, they shoot a line across the bow. We shoot our line across the bow, and then, they keep pulling it from the other side and it gets to a bigger rope and a bigger rope and a bigger rope, until it supports the heavy hose line that's going to fuel our ship, and you fuel it somewhere around midship. There's a few openings there where you put it in and it takes, you know, an hour or so to refuel. When you refuel, both ships have to be parallel with each other. Of course, they have to go the exact same speed, right. They have to be, I don't know, seventy, a hundred feet apart, whatever. As you could see in this picture, they weren't too far, depending on how rough the sea is, because, a couple times, there were close calls, where the sea was rough and we almost ... hit a carrier right alongside us. ... It's a skill, it's a real skill, and, luckily, ... on our way home, we were fueled just after we left Tokyo Bay, because it was only a day or two later, we hit that typhoon, that I can tell you about later, but we had to get fuel every, roughly, five days.
SH: The war is over; what is Anthony Ventura doing?
AV: Well, the war's over, everybody's saying, "Wow, we're all going to go home," but ... it isn't that easy. At that time, it was all by points, like I mentioned before. When I was on the Maddox, then, they told me, you know, you had to be out eight months and have two Battle Stars. Otherwise, you stayed overseas, but, once this peace treaty was signed, they dropped it and it went pretty rapidly, you know. By the time I was on the Barton and we returned to the United States, we were the oldest crewmen, and so, we're almost ready to go home, but ... we were on the West Coast for quite a while. Different things happened on the West Coast. ...
SH: Were you transporting anybody back?
AV: Yes, and we did transport--I believe when I got on the Barton--this government representative of New Zealand, an Air Marshal Isitt. Do you have anything on him? It seems to me he was on the Barton when we were transferred on the Barton, because I was on my watch in the forward fire room when they told us that they were transferring a high dignitary to the USS Missouri. ... This was outside of Tokyo, so that they put him on the Missouri before they went in to sign the peace treaty. ... That must have been Air Marshal Isitt. It's the only one I can think of, you know, but I was only on the Barton a day or two, you know, [laughter] and, of course, ... I was on watch, so, I couldn't be on deck, seeing what was going on. [Editor's Note: Air Marshal Sir Leonard Monk Isitt, Chief of Air Staff of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, was the New Zealand signatory during the formal surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.]
AV: But, that was interesting and, of course, when we were in Tokyo Bay, it was interesting, too, you know. We were in Tokyo Bay about three weeks and we did have shore leave, three or four times.
SH: Where at?
SH: Talk about that, if you would.
AV: Yes. Well, it was sort of strange, too. I mean, of course, we got our first liberty, I think, on the 12th of September, 14th of September. The peace treaty was signed; ... when was the peace treaty signed? The peace treaty was signed on September 2nd, but this, we're talking about September, yes, September. I know we went into Tokyo Bay September 10th, and then, we got shore leave a couple days later. So, we had shore leave about the 12th, which was a few weeks after the peace treaty was done. Our first leave was in Tokyo itself and it wasn't crowded. I guess most people were afraid of all the ships in Tokyo Bay, but there were stores open, you know, and we went into sort of a large department store. ... We were given some money, you know, if we wanted to buy something, ... but they didn't talk to us.
SH: Was that in the form of scrip or was it Japanese money or US money?
AV: It was Japanese money, it was Japanese money. We didn't even know what we were handing them, but, I mean, we just went to buy something. ... They were very quiet. They didn't talk to us. They're looking out windows and things. You know, you can imagine, when you're taken over by another country, but they weren't violent in any way. They were very peaceful people. Then, later on, when we were in Tokyo Bay, we went to Yokohama and Yokosuka, which is right off the other side of Tokyo Bay, and one of them was demolished completely. It was a factory center, I believe. I think that was Yokohama, had a lot of factories, and they were [sites where] every inch is bombed, and then, when we went to Yokosuka, which was a naval yard, we saw a couple of small boats and ships. There was very little in the harbor. There were a couple two-man submarines up on shore and there were primitive stuff. They had even rowboats with, like, stuff strapped alongside of them, like suicide boats. They have a lot of railroad tracks going into caves and mountains. Everything was in caves. People lived in caves. They had all their munitions and things in caves. ... You know, it looked pretty bad. ...
SH: Did you go ashore in Yokosuka and Yokohama?
AV: Oh, yes, yes.
SH: There were still shops open there.
AV: No, there's no shops there. We walked up the countryside in one--I forgot if it was Yokosuka or Yokohama--and there were about a half a dozen of us or more and a couple of them could speak a little English, you know, and we were trying to talk to them. ... They were very poor people, even right off Tokyo. They lived in these little houses. They had no windows. The door had, maybe, a little curtain on it, and no furniture.
SH: What did the Navy tell you? As a sailor on leave in an occupied country, what were you told?
AV: They didn't tell us a lot. They just said, you know, "Don't go too far," [laughter] you know, and to be nice, you know, and, if you wanted to buy something or shop, that was fine, but we didn't go inland too far. We stayed right wherever the boat left us off and we looked around a little bit, you know.
SH: What about fraternization?
AV: Not that I know of, no.
SH: Any directions on that?
AV: I'm too young. I didn't know anything about that stuff. Probably, there was, but I don't think so. I didn't hear of any--at least on our ship, they didn't mention it. What they did, the Barton, when the officers went ashore, ... we had a whaleboat. Every ship has a whaleboat and it putts back and [forth] and the officers went ashore and they went in one of these caves and picked up a ton of guns and knives and all kinds of weaponry and whatnot. ... They brought it back to the ship, and so, certainly, the officers get first pick and down the line. So, the firemen were at the end. We got whatever was left, but I did get, like, a Japanese bayonet, you know.
SH: Did you?
AV: Which was sort of nice.
SH: Did you manage to get home with it?
AV: Oh, yes, yes. They didn't confiscate it, you know, because, at that time, we went home on the Barton. It wasn't like we had to ship it or anything. So, that was it, and then, of course, in Tokyo Bay, we did get to see--I mentioned it in the notes--the battleship Nagato, the Japanese battleship. Did you ever see what it looked like? [Editor's Note: The Imperial Japanese Navy's Nagato battleship served as the flagship of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during the attack on Pearl Harbor and fought in many key battles in the Pacific, including the Battle of Leyte Gulf.]
SH: No. Obviously, you have a picture.
AV: ... That's from Tokyo Bay. This is the Nagato here and here's a close-up of it.
SH: Did you go on board the Nagato?
AV: No, you couldn't go on board, but we went pretty close to it, as you can see. It was the only battleship of the whole [Japanese] Navy that was left, ... but it was pretty badly damaged. ... The engines worked and everything, but it couldn't sail anymore. The whole superstructure was messed up.
SH: I was just going to say, it looked like it was pretty bad.
AV: Yes, and I think I saw recently, or read recently, where they had used it as target practice somewhere.
AV: Well, you know, a lot of these ships, even the Barton was took out somewhere and sunk and made a reef somewhere. ... I mean, there were hundreds and hundreds of ships. What were they going to do with them? but I know that they sunk that, too, but that was interesting to see that ship, and then, the only other experience in Tokyo Bay was when the hurricane hit us in Tokyo, Tokyo Bay. There were still maybe--when we were in there--still maybe a hundred ships in the bay and we broke our anchor, our mooring, and so, we all had to run down to the fire and engine rooms and get the steam up, so we could steer the ship, to keep it from hitting other ships. ... That went on for about a day, until the hurricane passed, but it was [hectic]. You know, when you're young like that, to see Japan and Tokyo and right after the war ended, it's [unique].
SH: Did the Japanese, as an enemy, look different to you than what you had imagined?
AV: They are small, you know. They certainly are small. We didn't see a lot of them. We really didn't see very many men, mainly women. When we went into a store to shop, it was all just women working at the counters. ... I don't know where the men were, whether they were hidden or ... they were probably all in the military, because they were using kids as kamikaze pilots near the end of the war. They were fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. They could fly a plane.
SH: Did you hear anything about the Americans that were being held prisoner and used as slave labor in Japan?
AV: No, no.
SH: That was not anything that was discussed.
AV: No, didn't hear anything about that, no.
SH: Talk to us about when you finally got your orders and you were heading back.
AV: Okay. ... We were in Tokyo Bay and we were told to return to the United States. We did and we left Tokyo--I have that here somewhere--at the end of September. I know we stayed in Tokyo Bay just about all of September and we were told to return home, but we made one stop at Okinawa to pick up some military--I don't know if they were all Army men or Army and Marines--that served their time and were ready to be discharged. So, as ships were going back to the United States, if they had room, they kept picking up Army personnel or Marines or whoever had the time up, I don't know how many, depending on how many we could handle, you know, and then, from there, then, we went to Seattle, Washington. That's where we pulled in.
SH: Did you get off the ship in Okinawa to look around?
AV: No, no. When we were off Okinawa, the men were just brought out on a whaleboat or something and put aboard the ship.
SH: Did you see any of the damage that had taken place there in the invasion?
AV: ... No, you're not that close. A destroyer can't get that close, but a destroyer can get closer than any other naval ship, because it's not that deep, but you're about, I guess, a mile off, a mile, two miles off, you know. ... Really, Okinawa was, you know, high hills and a lot of vegetation and, yes, you could see, you know, a lot of mounds of dirt, but it was a lot of caves, too. Okinawa was all caves.
SH: You did not see any ships that had been sunk on the coral.
AV: No, not where we picked [the men up], but there had to be a lot there, but Okinawa is a long island, right, and we were only there a short time. ... They brought the men out to the ship, and then, [as] soon as they were aboard, then, we left for Seattle. ... We got into Seattle close to Navy Day [October 27th], which was sort of neat. Yes, we arrived in Seattle October 19th, which was, wow, to see the United States, again. [laughter]
SH: I was just going to say.
AV: Oh, my God.
SH: Were you on duty or were you able to be on the deck?
AV: No, when we sailed into Seattle, I didn't have duty, so that I was up on deck, watching this. It's a nice, long waterway coming into Seattle. It's beautiful and we pulled up to a dock there. We were the only naval ship besides there was a submarine there. So, there was the Barton and tied up alongside us was a submarine, a US submarine, and you can imagine, they're the only two ships there during Navy Day, and they let people come aboard. ...
AV: Oh, yes. For about a week, people could come and see what the ship looked like.
SH: Did you have to do anything to get it pretty?
AV: Just stay nice. ... From what I remember, we didn't have to wear our dress blues or anything; just as long as we were dressed neat.
SH: Were you in Seattle or Bremerton?
AV: Seattle, yes. Where's Bremerton? Is that off that waterway, too?
AV: All I know is, it's Seattle, but, anyway, yes, we were there about a week and people came aboard. ... Oh, my God, you know, that's when you realize how wonderful this country is. I mean, they treat you like you're kings. I mean, from then on, even until I was discharged, no matter where you went in this country, people opened their arms up to you, you know.
AV: When we went back--from there, we went down to San Francisco [San Pedro?] for a couple months-- any time we had liberty, because we were near Hollywood, of course, Hollywood and LA, so, we went to Hollywood more than LA, but you could get tickets for anything, free, you know, to stage plays and movies, anything you wanted, anything you wanted. When we went to Hollywood, at that time, the Hollywood Canteen was going and whatever movie stars were around, they'd wait on you and stuff. It was really cool, God. [Editor's Note: Located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, the Hollywood Canteen provided food and entertainment for Allied service personnel from October 1942 and November 1945. Created by film stars Bette Davis and John Garfield and MCA President Jules Stein, the Canteen was noted for the celebrities who often volunteered to serve the servicemen and women.]
SH: Do you remember anyone that you saw?
AV: Oh, I had written some down, but I forgot who they were there, of the '40s. ... You could dance with them, do anything. Everything was free and the Canteen, we would go there a lot. If we didn't want to go back to the ship, we could stay at the American Legion lodge, which was beautiful, in Hollywood and they would serve you meals, let you stay overnight, whatever you wanted to do. It was a nice time.
SH: Had you saved money so that you could enjoy this?
AV: Well, ... everything was free anyway, but, I mean, when we were on ship, once a month, they'd give you a token amount, you know, which wasn't much, twenty dollars, or something like that, in case you needed soap or toothpaste or something, but you didn't need any money. Wherever you went, you got everything, and so, it was really wonderful, you know. It was a nice time and we stayed there for a couple months in San Pedro. We were down there January and February. Oh, when we did get back to the West Coast, from Seattle, we came down to San Francisco and we all got a thirty-day leave.
SH: Did you?
AV: Well, yes, the war was over. They didn't know what to do with us anyway. So, that was the thirty-day leave. It was the month of December, yes.
SH: You came home for Christmas.
AV: Yes, yes. That was nice, and sad. We came home for the month of December, right, but the orders were to be back on the ship by, I think, December 26th or 27th. So, I had to leave here Christmas morning to go back to the West Coast, and so, I sent a telegram asking if I could stay one more day and they wouldn't let me. So, we all had to go back on the ship--why, I don't know, because we didn't do anything when we got back on [after] the thirty-day leave. That was at the end of December, right then. From there, we went down to San Diego. That's a big naval shipyard and we stayed there a couple months. We stayed there March and April, and then, we got orders to go to China. The ship got orders to go to China. Well, that morning, I was on the watch, so, I did sort of miss the action, but we left the harbor early in the morning and I was in the forward fire room. ... All of a sudden, the old bells are ringing and we had to bring the ship to a stop and hard reverse. So, we're throwing in all the burners in the back. Twenty seconds later, we hit something, you know, and so, when we heard about it, we had rammed another ship, [laughter] which we didn't know if it was accidental or whatever, but, anyway, we rammed the ship. It was some sort of a cargo ship and we messed up the bow of the Barton. About eight or ten feet of it was all messed up and we put a crack in the other ship. So, instead of going to China, we went back to San Pedro, which was a dry dock, and then, we're in dry dock for a couple of months. ... By that time, we were in dry dock for two months, they didn't know what to do with us, because, when you're in dry dock, you get everything from the shore--you get electricity, you get power, heat, whatever you needed from [the shore]. So, here's three hundred guys sitting around a ship that's banged up and they decided--well, they didn't know what [to do]. So, they sent us home again. So, I got another thirty-day leave. [Editor's Note: Subsequent to the interview, Mr. Ventura submitted the following addendum: "I wrote a letter home from San Diego on March 20, 1946, saying that the Barton was to be part of one hundred ships participating in atomic bomb experiments (Operation CROSSROADS, Bikini Atoll, June 15-August 10, 1946) around the Marshall Islands, and that the ship would be leaving in a few weeks. As you know in our interview, on leaving San Diego in April of 1946, the Barton struck another ship and damaged the Barton's bow. We then had to return to San Pedro for repairs. There were also rumors that we were going to China. It's possible that the Bikini Atoll operation and the Barton's orders to leave in April for the Pacific were the same."]
SH: I cannot imagine. The Barton survived World War II, and then, went over and they ran into something.
AV: ... These aren't great, but this is pictures of it in dry dock, if you're interested. When it was in dry dock, they decided not only to fix the bow, but to take the plates off the side and redo the boilers and the engine room, and so, ... they almost ripped the ship apart. So, there's so many workers on the ship, you know, and banging and riveters. So, they said, "Everybody go home." [laughter] So, we went home for another thirty days and, yes, let's see, that was April and May. ... That's right, we did come back and we weren't back too long when they decided, I guess, just to really redo the whole ship. So, there was no reason for us to be on it anymore. So, that's when ... we all got orders to go to wherever state we came from and, of course, I was in New Jersey, so, they sent me to Bayonne. I didn't have quite enough time to be discharged. So, they sent me to Bayonne, which is a dry dock, too, and I didn't realize until later that I was on the USS Franklin for two or three weeks. It was being decommissioned and I imagine the Franklin was hit early in the war in the Pacific. [Editor's Note: The USS Franklin (CV-13) was badly damaged by a Japanese air attack on March 19, 1945.] I didn't know it at the time, ... but my job on the Franklin--we're just waiting for our time to be up--was to climb down the smokestack, because we were firemen, so, that's what we [did], with scrapers and we're scraping the soot off the inside of the smokestack of the aircraft carrier.
SH: I cannot imagine. [laughter]
AV: Oh, it was awful, I mean.
SH: After all of this.
AV: We couldn't get the soot off us at all. I mean, we had clothes all over us. ... So, then, after that, we were sent to Long Island and discharged. [Editor's Note: Subsequent to the interview, Mr. Ventura submitted the following addendum: "I found a train stub dated May 6, 1946, for New York, which means that I started my thirty-day leave. I am sure now that when my leave was up, I was then to report to the carrier USS Franklin in Bayonne, New Jersey, and help to decommission it, and await my discharge at Lido Beach, Long Island, New York, July 28, 1946.] ... One of the most interesting events, if you want to go back to after we left Tokyo Bay, was when we hit the typhoon.
SH: Please, tell me.
AV: ... Probably, besides leaving the United States and not knowing where you were going, the next scariest time was the typhoon. Because the peace treaty was signed and we were leaving to go back to the States, we didn't have to be as secure. So, they secured the forward fire room, which means they put a cover on the top of the smokestack. You can see the size of the smokestack, and it's a big canvas cover. ... We didn't have too much notice of the typhoon. It came pretty rapidly. So, when the typhoon hit, it was only the aft fire room that was running and, of course, it got worse and worse. A typhoon can get pretty bad. They battened down all the hatches. You weren't allowed out on deck. You had to wear life preservers all the time, even when you slept, and the swells got deeper and deeper. Now, we didn't know how bad it was until they told me and (Zabanac?), who we went through the whole service together, that we had to go up on top of the stack and cut the cover off. They each gave us a knife and we had to go out on deck in this turbulent sea. The swells were, like, thirty to forty-foot deep. So, when the ship went down in the swell, it vanished. All you saw was water around you, and then, when it came up to the top, you'd see sky and it's tipping left and right, and so, being ... it was our watch, the firemen, ... the both of us were sent to climb the smokestack. There's a ladder on each side and to cut the cover off, and that's when I realized how bad the typhoon was.
SH: Have you got some kind of a lifeline on or something?
AV: No, just clung to the ladder. [laughter] We didn't have any lifeline. There was a ladder on each side of the stack and he climbed up one side, I climbed up the other, and eighteen years old. ... It didn't seem to hit us when we did it, but, when I did see the swells, it was really scary. So, we cut the cover off. Then, we could get down into the forward fire room and start the boilers, so that in case anything conked out, the ship could be steered, because once you lose steering the ship, you just tip over. So, it was really bad and that lasted for four days, the typhoon.
SH: Unbelievable story.
AV: Yes. ... Really, that's a time I'll never forget. ... We were a little leery when they told us both to get out there and cut the cover off, but you've got to do what you are told.
SH: Do you keep in contact with anybody that you served with?
AV: No, it's funny, I haven't. (Zabanac?) and (Wetzel?), the two that I went all through boot camp to the end of the war, no--it's a shame.
SH: Afterwards, did you keep in contact for a little while, and then, lose contact?
AV: No. You know why? because, then, I came home. In fact, they wanted me to reenlist, you know. Of course, they tried, wanted everybody to reenlist in the Navy. ...
SH: Did you consider it?
AV: I don't know, a short time--maybe ten minutes. [laughter] I said, "No, I just want to get home," but they would make me a chief petty officer. They said, "In a couple months, you'd be a chief petty officer." I said, "No." So, then, when we came home, I just wanted to get back to normal life, you know, and then, that's when I got back home. That was in 1946. I went to art school. When did I go to art school, '50? There's three or four years in-between. I think that's when we built the house, that's right, because this house was built in '48.
SH: Right, you were discharged in Lido Beach, Long Island.
AV: July the 28th.
AV: Right, '46. So, then, when we came back home, it was in that little house. ...
SH: How was it to come back and be with your family after having all these adventures?
AV: It was great. Well, you know, basically, we were a very close family. Back in those days, it was a close-knit family and we were like farmers. I mean, I just did work on the farm. What else did I do? and so, it was nice, you know.
SH: Had you begun to make any kind of plans while you were on the ship?
AV: No, no.
SH: About what you thought you might want to do. When did you find out about the GI Bill?
AV: Well, yes, when you're discharged, ... when you go through the discharge procedure, they tell you that you've earned four years of the GI Bill, you know, and you can use it whenever you want or wherever you want. So, there was no need to rush in making a decision. So, that was just in with my discharge papers, ... but, then, when I came home, I guess my dad had an idea of this place, because we were in good shape by then, I mean, you know, eighteen years old. ... So, yes, I spent a year-and-a-half or so building this. So, that brings us up to '48, '49, '50. ... Then, I said, "I've got to do something." I did work for a supermarket for a while, but, then, I had to decide what to do, you know.
SH: Did you stay in the Navy Reserve?
SH: You just cut it, okay.
AV: I don't think we had to. Maybe I signed up for two years in the Reserve; I don't remember that part. It might have been compulsory. I don't know if I wrote it down, but I don't remember. I don't think we had to do it. So, I was in no Reserves of any sort.
SH: You had served two years.
AV: Yes, yes.
SH: I just wanted to check that.
AV: No, ... we didn't have to do that. So, then, I just stayed home for those couple years, helped get settled here. Then, I was deciding what to do and I said, "Well, in the Navy, you know, I had this [training], all engineering and airplane engines." So, then, I went and worked at Monmouth Airport--they had small planes then--to see if I'd like it, and so, he hired me, you know. ... I worked with the chief mechanic, not long, I don't even think it was six months, because, like I mentioned at the time, maybe when you first come in, that if they didn't have any engines to work on, they had me cleaning wood and laying cement and just cleaning up the place. ... I said, "Oh, this is no good. I'm wasting my GI Bill." So, I left that, and then, at that time, a buddy of mine, who I graduated high school with and he was in the Navy, [for] some reason, we bumped into each other, because he lives in this area, too. ... He was going to art school and I said, "Wow, that sounds good," you know, because I did it in high school. I was always sort of interested in it, and so, I started going to art school under the GI Bill.
SH: Where did you first start?
AV: That was in Newark. I went there for the four years. I used up my GI Bill in Newark and ... I was going for illustration first, but, then, illustration was fading out, which I didn't know about. So, then, I went into fine art, and so, I said, "Well, I need some more training. This is all for commercial art." So, then, we moved to New York and we went to Pratt Institute for a couple years, and then, Art Students League [of New York] to study under professional painters.
SH: Was your buddy with you doing the same?
AV: He went to the Academy of Arts with me for the four years--or he graduated a year before me, because he was in the Navy before I was--and then, we sort of lost touch, yes.
SH: When you first came back, were there just hundreds of GIs trying to find jobs?
AV: Yes, sure there was, yes, but before I went in the Navy, I worked for Acme Markets, besides Charms. I worked for them just a short time, but I worked for the supermarket, and so, when I came back, they took me back, if I wanted to work. So, I had a job, you know. ... Then, when I went to art school, I'd work for the Acme until noon, and then, I'd grab the train to Newark, and then, I'd come home on "The Owl," which was the last train coming back to the Shore. So, I'd work part-time in the morning, then, I went to art school full-time at night. I did that for four years, "choo-chooing" back and forth, and Don was with me at that time, and so, we played pinochle most of the time on the train rides. He's still an artist, too--so am I.
SH: The pinochle was something you learned in the Navy.
AV: From my father. ... I mean, he was just a good pinochle player. ... Going back to the days of Long Island, him and my mother would play my grandfather and his wife and my father would always win. He had a great memory for remembering every single card, even a double deck. ... He'd be able to bid on something he didn't even have in his hand, you know. He gambled a lot, but he always won, and my grandfather just couldn't stand it, [laughter] but, anyway, so, we learned how to play pinochle.
SH: Okay, I thought maybe that was something the Navy taught you.
AV: ... No, I didn't play much cards in the Navy. Some of the fellows, with what little money they had, gambled, but that was a waste of time, you know, yes.
SH: When you decided to go to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, did you move there?
AV: ... We went to the Academy of Arts for the four years. Don graduated a year before me, so, he came back home. When I graduated, myself and, actually, my brother and two other artists from the Academy of Arts, we decided to go and study at Pratt.
SH: Your brother was also studying to be an artist.
AV: Yes. He stayed. So, we moved to Brooklyn, someplace [in] lower Brooklyn. We were only about seven blocks from Pratt Institute. We found an apartment, and so, we went there for two years. I think Johnny left, my brother left, after the first--no, he left after the second year--because he went out West with us and he was in the service, I think I mentioned that, too, later on. He was right in-between wars, but I can tell you about that later. Anyway, we ... went to Pratt two years, and then, we decided to go to Art Students League, which was so very famous back then, you know, and you could pick the teachers you wanted. ... So, then, we went there for two years. So, I was in New York for four years, living in Brooklyn, and worked part-time. I worked on Broadway in front of one of the movie theaters as an usher. I was a messenger in New York for a while, running clothes from the Garment Section to the photographers to photograph their models and stuff--sort of interesting, I thought, at the time, you know [laughter]--before I ended up coming back here, yes.
SH: You mentioned something about going to the West Coast.
AV: When we were in art school, after the Academy of Arts and we were going to Pratt, we didn't go to Pratt in the summer. It was, like, just a season. So, in the summer, we took trips out West. We had this roomy van that we loaded up with art supplies and dented cans. We got a lot of dented canned food from Acme, where I worked part-time. [laughter] So, [they] said, "Whatever canned food you want, take." So, we had boxes and boxes of canned food, tons of art supplies and the three of us took off in the van and just went out West.
SH: Where did you go out West?
AV: ... We made two trips. The first summer, we went down through Tennessee, through Texas, and then, we went to old Mexico and Mexico City, and then, we came out and we went up towards New Mexico, and then, came back home, and we stopped wherever we wanted to and painted, did artwork, and that lasted for three months. If we were broke, we got sort of a job doing something, just to make a few dollars, but we had plenty of canned stuff. Sometimes, some of the cans didn't have labels. We'd open a can, it's cat food, or whatever, [laughter] but it was fun, and then, the second year we went out, we went the other way. We went up over the Great Lakes and went to Montana and Wyoming and that section and came home. It was nice trips.
SH: How did people treat you then?
AV: Great. We had no problem at all, you know, no problem, although we got a little gravely looking, I know, when we were in Montana--not Montana, Wyoming, because that was after the Mexican trip. We were wearing these, something like sombreros, big straw hats, and we had dungarees on. We all carried knives, hanging from our belts, you know, and I guess we didn't look too great, because we didn't shave all the time. ... I remember going in one town in Wyoming and the sheriff came up and wanted to know how long we were going to stay in town and all that stuff, and he had a six-gun. It's just like the Old West we had, oh, God.
SH: Do you remember the name of the town?
AV: I mean, yes, he wanted to know how long we were going to be in town. We said not long; we just wanted to get something to eat and to clean up. So, we asked him if there was a place where we could shower, clean up, and he sends us down the street. It was a flophouse. We go in this little crowded couple of rooms and it's loaded with, you know, all these outcasts, laying on bunks and stuff, and that's where we had a shower, and so, when we were done, we just ... took off. ... Then, we went through all of Wyoming, to the east coast. Have you ever been to the east coast? It's like a planet out there. I mean, it's barren. At night, one of the sunsets, it would almost look like you're on a planet. I mean, it was all red and orange and flat.
SH: The prairie.
AV: It was prairie, and I know we got a flat tire out there and we didn't know what to do. So, this guy come along with his pickup truck and he happened to run a gas station and whatever. ... He told us he had tires. So, we went there and he knew he had us over a barrel. So, he charged us fifty dollars for the tire. Otherwise, we'd be stranded out there forever. [laughter]
SH: And he knew it, right?
AV: And he knew it, but, anyway, that was sort of a little adventure, coming home.
SH: It certainly was. [laughter]
AV: But, that was after art school and it was really wonderful traveling all over the United States and seeing so many of the states. ... So, that took three months the first time, two months the second time; then, after that, I finally settled down.
SH: You have been back and forth across the United States, on the train, several times.
AV: Five times. I got so used to that train. It took forever. Back in the '40s, the trains weren't too nice. They were all, you know, the old locomotives and all the black smoke kept coming out and the windows were not sealed. ... I remember one, coming back from the West Coast to the East Coast, I was on this one car and I'll tell you how old it was, because they still had a sign hanging up in the car and it said, "No shooting buffalo out the window."
SH: [laughter] Did you ever have any dealings with the Red Cross?
AV: Oh, yes, oh, yes, every single place you stopped with the train, because, during that period of time, a lot of servicemen were traveling the trains back and forth. No matter what train station you came into, there were women or young ladies with coffee, donuts, sandwiches. Oh, it was awesome,
AV: It was awesome, and even for quite a while after the war, because, even [then], nobody knew what kind of jobs they'd have. It was all military during the war, right. All the factories were turning out planes and tanks and guns, but ... everybody, they treated you [well]. You didn't have to close it, lock a door. You go home, eat, leave the door open. They're very nice. Wherever you went, Red Cross was there or the town was out to greet the train when it stopped.
SH: What about the USO?
AV: There were a lot of USOs, too, yes.
SH: You talked about the Hollywood Canteen.
AV: Yes, well, that's the one you always remember, [laughter] but, yes, there were USOs all over, you know. ... Basically, when we were traveling back and forth, when ... I was stationed in California for quite a while, after Seattle, we'd go to the USO a lot, because, you know, they'd feed you, eat, drink, dance, have fun. It was nice.
SH: When you came back, how long were you at Lido Beach in Long Island?
AV: Not long, a couple days. When we left the Franklin in Bayonne, it was just a matter of going there. I don't know if we stayed overnight or whatever. ...
SH: After these trips as an artist, back and forth, then, going to Pratt, who did you study under?
AV: ... Art Students League. Well, they were pretty well-known artists at that time. At Pratt, I studied under Ed Whitney, a very famous watercolorist at that time, and so, you can see, I do a lot of watercolors. ... Then, I went to the Art Students League and studied under Robert Brackman and Ivan Olinsky. Now, Robert Brackman [is a] very well-known easel painter and he's in the Metropolitan Museum and other museums and I don't know if you ever saw the movie Portrait of Jennie [(1948)], with Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones. It's a story about an artist who is inspired by this woman and, in fact, she was supposed to have been dead and, somehow, she came back. ... They met and Joseph Cotten did her portrait, ... but, anyway, Robert Brackman painted the portrait for the movie and he was a very well-known painter. ... So, that got me into fine arts. So, when I got back home, I started exhibiting and painting and teaching and the whole business.
SH: Did you do this within the school system or were you working independently?
AV: Independently; it's downstairs. ... I had my own classes here, four classes a week. In fact, I have one tonight and there's about twelve, thirteen students in a class and I teach them painting oils or watercolors or whatever.
SH: This has been your full-time occupation since the 1950s.
AV: ... Well, for about ten or fifteen years, I worked still for the supermarket, because I got married, raised three kids, and so that you had to keep making money. You know, in fine art, you don't make money. [laughter] You know, it takes quite awhile.
TB: I saw that you met Norman Rockwell. Now, Rockwell's images of America are considered to be idealistic and sentimental. Do you see yourself influenced by Rockwell's work?
AV: No, I loved Rockwell's work. I went to a lecture of his at the Society of Illustrators in New York and he was very humble. He's a quiet person, too, you know, very thin. I loved his work, his Saturday Evening Post covers. All America loved his covers, but I wasn't influenced by him, because, at that time, I was studying to be a fine artist and I was more interested in studying Rembrandt and that sort of thing. I also met, in the course of my art, Andrew Wyeth, at the Salmagundi [Art] Club in New York, and I met Ogden Pleissner. Now, Ogden Pleissner was in the Air Force in World War II and he was probably one of this country's top painters and I met him at the Salmagundi Club. So, in my art career, I really met hundreds of artists, but these were probably the most well-known. ...
SH: What has had the most influence on your art?
AV: The most influential, of course, ... when I was going to the Academy of Arts, it was really more the old masters. We had to go into museums a lot, but, then, as most of us did, we fell in love with Winslow Homer and [John Singer] Sargent. Everybody fell in love with those two and I've seen four or five retrospective shows of their works. I've seen hundreds and hundreds of original Homers and Sargents. So, I'm mainly influenced by Homer and Sargent--Joaquin Sorolla, who you may not have heard of, but he was a Spanish artist and he did ... fourteen panels for the Hispanic Society in New York City. It's called the Sorolla Room, which is just breathtaking, and I was influenced by him--Anders Zorn, who was a Swedish artist, who not too many know of, but Sargent was impressed with Zorn and Sargent was, probably, the top of the line, and then, Ogden Pleissner, who I met, you know, in my time. There's so many great artists, but I was very fortunate in going to art school in the '40s and '50s, when there was so much good art in New York City and so many great illustrators, like Rockwell, and we got to meet a lot of them. I used to go to the American Watercolor Society exhibition, which was at the National Academy in New York, and that's a society. It's the biggest in the world, it's the most important in the world. I said, "Oh, man, AWS." [laughter] So, we used to go there. Their show would be on for about six weeks and, every single Sunday, they'd have four illustrators doing demonstrations in different parts of their ... gallery. So, we would go there and I saw so many of these great illustrators do demonstrations, and so, over the years, that was my goal, right, to maybe, one day, be associated with AWS. ... So, you know my age, three years ago, I'm elected a member of the American Watercolor Society.
SH: Oh, my, how wonderful.
AV: And that's the highest honor you can get in this country as an artist. ...
SH: Have you put on a demonstration?
AV: No. They asked me and I sort of ... declined. I said, "I don't know." I used to do demos in the state a lot, and workshops, but running the classes and trying to get my own work done, I sort of tapered off that, yes.
SH: Of all the pieces that you have created over this time, what are you most proud of, what exhibition?
AV: Oh, God, well, that's hard to say--probably the one in the living room that I showed you. That's the one that got me elected into AWS, that large watercolor.
SH: The one of ...
AV: Of those buildings, but I've been a member of, like, six or seven societies, still today, and I exhibit all the time. So, I keep very busy between exhibiting and teaching.
SH: Have you ever made another trek out West to paint, as you did as a young man? [laughter]
AV: No, no.
SH: When did you meet your wife?
AV: Barbara, I met after the war, when I was back home and I was working for the Acme for about six years, I think. ... She worked there, too. That's where I met her. [laughter]
SH: You got married when?
AV: Got married in, ... what, 1959? I have it written down. No, it had to be a little earlier than that. Did I get that date wrong? Let me see; Tina was born in 1963, oh, okay.
SH: Just for the record ...
AV: ... She was a lot younger than I was, but we were married ...
SH: 1963, April 9, 1963.
SH: Your wife was a teacher.
AV: Yes, she was a teacher. She got her master's in education and she taught special ed, very smart. Oh, my gosh, she has the brains of the family, very smart, and it was tough, because I wasn't earning that much money working for a chain store and teaching. I was teaching five classes a week and sending her to college, because, after we got married, that's when she went to college.
AV: So, you can imagine how long that took to get her master's, and I sent the three children to college, but she was very bright. ... She was a 4.0 student just about all through.
SH: Good for her.
SH: You have three children.
SH: Do they live close by?
AV: They're all within fifteen, twenty minutes away, all my children, grandchildren, all right around here.
SH: That is wonderful. You really are a Neptune boy.
AV: Yes, and Tina's an art teacher in the middle school, my daughter, and her daughter is majoring in--well, she's an artist, too, and she just finished college. ... She's working for the government now, I think. There's a lot of promising artists, yes.
SH: You have a son, Mark.
AV: Mark is the middle, the middle child, and he got his master's in chemistry and he lives in Freehold, which isn't too far away, and he runs a chemistry lab, you know. He's doing very well. He's got three children, three boys.
SH: Then, there is Paul.
AV: And then, Paul, my youngest, he's got the brains of the family. He's as smart as his mother and he got his master's in quantitative analysis, which, you know, is pretty tough, and he was working for Merrill Lynch for ten or twelve years. Now, he's working, I think, for Bank of America. He's on the transition team, ... because they joined together, and he's brilliant.
SH: Thank you. Are there any other questions or any stories that we have forgotten to ask about?
AV: Not that I know of.
SH: Thank you very much, Mr. Ventura, for having us here today.
AV: Okay. You're welcome.
---------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW-------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Randolph Talalas 2/15/12
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 5/22/12
Reviewed by Anthony Ventura 5/30/12