Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview with William F. Mele on December 2, 2008, in Rahway, New Jersey, with ...
Joseph Rolli: ... Joe Rolli ...
Ida Mele: ... Ida Mele ...
SH: ... and Sandra Stewart Holyoak. To begin, Mr. Mele, I would like to thank you very much for having us here today.
William Mele: You're welcome.
SH: I would like you to tell me where and when you were born.
WM: Well, I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in the Bushwick section, at Bushwick Hospital. We lived in Brooklyn most of our lives. Well, not most of our lives, until I was ten years old, and then, we moved up to Washington Heights [in northern Manhattan]. That's up by the George Washington Bridge, as you know, and, from there, I was going to high school in Washington Heights, but decided to go to Bronx Vocational, and I went to Bronx Vocational and I graduated there and I received a scholarship to go to college. Now, the war had started already, in 1941, as you know, and so, what happened was that I had gone to this Kings Point, [New York], which was the [United States] Merchant Marine Academy. For some reason or other, I was a pretty good-sized boy and I was looked at like, "Why aren't I in the service?" being a big, young boy and strong looking. "Why aren't you in the service?" and I'd get [disturbed]. After a while, I just couldn't take it any longer. So, I decided; I enlisted in the United States Navy and, after I enlisted, they gave me, I guess, two weeks before my orders were to report to the naval station.
SH: Okay. Before we go further with your Navy career during World War II, let us back up a bit. Could you tell me a little bit about your father's background? Where was he born and raised?
WM: Well, my father was born in Bari, Italy, as you know, and he came here as a young boy of about nine or ten. He came from a hard-working family, but he was very, very intelligent about certain things, like the stock market and all that, and he was able to acquire an ice business in Brooklyn, on Gates Avenue. He owned his own ice business and everything, but, then, the [Great] Depression came and, with the Depression then, being in the stock market as he was, he just practically lost everything. There was a period where he and my mother sort of separated for awhile, and then, eventually, after a year, they got back together again. At that time, it was just my sister and I. After that, then, there were two more brothers born.
SH: When he came from Bari, did he come alone or did he emigrate with other family?
WM: No, he came with his family. He came with his father and his mother.
SH: Just he? There were no other siblings.
WM: No, there was. There were two brothers. There were two other brothers that [came].
SH: Older or younger brothers?
WM: Well, he was next to the youngest. There were actually five of them, three brothers and two sisters, and he was, like, in-between. The two sisters were, one sister was younger, one was older than him. So, he was next to the youngest.
WM: And he was a rather good-looking guy.
IM: He was.
WM: He was rather a handsome guy and sort of got himself into little problems, but he was a hard-working man. When he came back, [to financial stability after the Great Depression], he and his brothers, two brothers, they got into the milk business and they partially owned, I think it was called the (Remsen?) Milk Company in Brooklyn. Eventually, they weren't big enough, so, they were bought up by a bigger company, which they worked for. Then, eventually, they got out of that and all three of them went to work for Borden's Milk Company, over on the Westside [of Manhattan], and, actually, they were right alongside of the Hudson River, where the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, [large British passenger ships], used to dock. So, you could [see them], they were visible to [them from] where they worked. He used to have a horse and wagon and he had a beautiful horse called Charlie, [laughter] and he named him after his brother, Charlie, and he was such a beautiful horse. He had reddish fur, but his mane was sort of blondish and he had a terrible habit of, when my father would go into this bakery, to have coffee or something, the horse would go on the sidewalk, because the baker would always come out and give him something to eat, but they didn't want him on that street [sidewalk]. So, somebody must have reported it and, when a policeman came, they would shake his reins, and then, put him back out on the street. That horse was so smart, he'd wait for that policeman to turn the corner and he'd go back on that sidewalk again, but, when he was the [delivery means], my father would deliver the milk, what he would do [was], he'd go from stop to stop. So, he would have enough milk to carry over to the next apartment building and the horse would automatically go to the next, but some woman took a liking to this horse and, eventually, bought the horse from Borden's and put him out to [pasture] for the rest of his life. He just enjoyed the freedom and not pulling a wagon, but he was a very strong horse and that's all my father would have to say, "Let's go, Charlie." That horse would just [go], and then, the funniest thing, his other two brothers, they were shorter than my father and the shortest one of the three had the tallest horse. Then, when he had to put the harness on, he'd have to get on a ladder, and it was the funniest thing, [laughter] but, actually, what my father did [was], which was wrong, I was only ten years old, he'd wake me up two o'clock in the morning and he'd take me to work with him, delivering milk on the Lower Eastside [of Manhattan], which wasn't good, because I would sometimes be late for school. The teachers had to have my mother come in and wanted to know why I was late, but that's why. He never got me back in time, see, but that's what he did and he was sort of the old-fashioned guy, that [since] he had to work hard, he wanted you to work hard, but, being the oldest of the family, of the boys and the sister, I sort of bore the brunt of that. Eventually, when I went into the service, then, I came back a little while, and then, I was on my own.
SH: What about your mother? What was her family background?
WM: She was born also of Bari parents and she was born alongside of Ebbets Field, in Brooklyn, New York, [home of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team from 1913 to 1957], and she was a very pretty woman. I don't know if we have a picture of her here, but a very pretty woman, and this was really an arranged marriage. They were really not suited for one another. The families got together and they put them [together] and they arranged their marriage, but she really never had to work, because my father always made a fairly decent salary.
SH: I am just looking at a photograph of her.
WM: Yes. She was almost ninety years old then. She was almost a hundred when she passed away.
SH: She is beautiful.
IM: She was really very beautiful.
SH: Both her mother and father had emigrated from Bari as well.
WM: Yes, yes, they were both [here], their mother, father. My mother had three sisters and one brother and, when they came here, you see, the people from Bari, they either got into the ice business or coal business, and my grandfather got into the coal business, see, but that didn't last either. Unfortunately, when he was a little boy, he had stepped on a spike, on one of his [feet], I think it was his left foot, and he was afraid to tell his father that he had done this. He was, like, nine years old and, because he never said anything, the foot became [deformed], where it didn't really grow out full, it sort of rounded, and then, finally, when they did tell his father, it was too late. They couldn't do anything. So, he always had a club foot and he had to wear this special shoe and he would walk with a cane, but he was a pretty strong man, even at that [age], because, once he gave up the ice business, he went to work for the Department of Hospitals, [a New York City department that operated municipal hospitals from 1929 to 1969], and he was one of these guys that liked to tell a joke.
IM: Like you.
WM: And he was; he would always play a joke on somebody or he'd tell a joke.
SH: His last name was Bartolomeo.
WM: Bartolomeo, yes, Bartolomeo, yes, and he could sing. Yes, as a matter-of-fact, when I graduated from public school, we were singing Funiculì, Funiculà and he was up there, standing there, singing the song, along with the group. He was a jolly type of guy. He never got serious about things and he was a very good person, good person, and he ended up in a nursing home, because my grandmother, unfortunately, had high blood pressure and, in those days, they didn't know how to treat it and she suffered terribly with that. When I was a little boy, I can remember, she was crying to my mother, she was in such pain, and her name was (Lucia?) and she was, like, in her early seventies when she passed away. So, my grandfather was sort of left alone and he eventually ended up in a Catholic [nursing] home up in New York.
SH: You grew up with this extended family close by.
EM: Yes, yes, there were. When we lived in Brooklyn, my sister and I used to walk from our house on Willoughby [Avenue, Brooklyn], to Park Avenue, [Manhattan], where my grandparents lived, and being not able to speak, not to be able to read English too well, I would read the paper to them, but it was a funny thing. I went from public school to St. John's Prep School and, when I went there, in the Catholic school, you have to pray in the morning, pray when you go into lunch, pray when you come back and pray when you leave. So, when I went there, I didn't know. So, there was this Sister Trinity, who we became very good friends. She made fun of me. She said, "Look, he can't; he doesn't know how to pray," so, I was embarrassed, but, after that, because I lived on Willoughby Avenue and right across the street was the nurses' homes where they had, often, us children, so, I used to see Sister Trinity quite a bit. [Editor's Note: Mr. Mele may be referring to the Convent of Mercy on Willoughby Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, then home of the Sisters of Mercy, a religious order dedicated to nursing.] [As a] matter-of-fact, I used to go shopping for her on Saturday, with my bicycle. I'd go out and I'd get her groceries for her, but we became very, very close, and then, from there, then, because we moved from Brooklyn and we ended up; well, we went to another place in Brooklyn, on Nostrand Avenue, and then, we went to Canarsie. When I was ten years old is when we moved up to Washington Heights, and that's when I went to PS, I think it was 233 or 232. [As a] matter-of-fact, the famous baseball player, the one that played Gary Cooper in the movie
JR: Lou Gehrig? [Editor's Note: Lou Gehrig went to PS 132 and was played by actor Gary Cooper in the 1942 film Pride of the Yankees.]
WM: Lou Gehrig. Lou Gehrig went to PS 232 and he had inscribed, "Lou," on the desk, and you know that desk was bought by someone. I don't know [who], but, in there, they had that he went there, and then, they had a lot of famous people up there. They had Les MacMitchell, who was the famous mile runner. He ran the mile and he was exceptional as a mile runner, and, also, they had some, several, movie actors up there. We had Edmond O'Brien, that lived up in the Irish section. I never got to meet him, but he would go down to acting school with Paul Newman, and he used to have a little Eisenhower jacket. He used to get on the train, a subway train, on St. Nicholas Avenue and 181st Street. Also up there was the Campanella brothers, Joseph and Frank Campanella, who ended up in the movies. Joe was on The Lawyers, [a television drama], for a long time, on television.
SH: These were people that you saw as a young boy, growing up.
IM: Oh, yes
WM: Oh, yes, oh, yes. I have pictures with them. I have pictures with; well, Frank, the older brother, Frank, he passed away a couple years ago and he was a radio announcer and his brother, Joe, sort of was better looking than he was and he went to Columbia University, graduated there, but he went into acting. Eventually, the two of them went out to Hollywood, but, once in awhile, if you look, you'll see Joe, Joseph Campanella.
SH: Before you moved up to Washington Heights, was this a very Italian neighborhood that you lived in, in Brooklyn?
WM: A very what?
SH: A neighborhood with a very Italian ethnic background.
WM: No, it was very mixed. [As a] matter-of-fact, we were living in an apartment, the people were Jewish.
IM: And Greek.
WM: And this Jewish [woman], I can't [recall]; Mrs. (Weiss?), her name was (Weiss?). [As a] matter-of-fact, there was a killing around up by the, oh, it was like a swamp area, and they had buried this gangster alive. Her two boys happened to be walking over there and they saw the killing and they reported it to the police. So, now, when the photographers came, or the reporters came to interview her, she wouldn't give her name. She was afraid. She didn't want her name to be exposed on the radio or television. So, she never committed her name. She just said her boys had seen it and turned it in, and I forget the name of the man that they had buried. They buried him alive, in Brooklyn, many, many years ago. So, that was
SH: That would have gotten a young boy's attention, I would think.
WM: Yes. Well, they could see that there was something going on out there in that swamp area.
SH: Were you of the same age?
WM: These boys were a little older than me, yes, because I was not that old then.
SH: The neighborhood had a very diverse background. Am I to assume that your family was not involved in the church that much, if you had not learned to pray?
WM: If I did what?
SH: If you had not learned to pray?
IM: Well, they went to Mass. You went to Mass, but you didn't ...
WM: Oh, yes, yes, I went to Mass. I mean, yes, they [did]; well, my mother and father used to go to church. They were church-going people, yes.
WM: No, they were church-going people, but my grandparents were even more so, and I prayed more than my parents did.
SH: Was English the second language for your family?
WM: Yes; well, for my grandparents, and somewhat for my father, but not my mother, because she was born here, born in this country.
SH: Did they speak Italian in the home?
WM: Oh, yes, oh, yes.
SH: Did you learn also?
WM: Well, I learned, but, you see, Bari has a certain dialect and, when I met with Ida, their family is from Rome and Abruzzi, they speak a different dialect. So, when her mother came to live with us for awhile, if I said something with a dialect, she'd correct me. Right away, she'd say, "No, no, no, don't say that. No, you're not supposed to say it like that." [laughter] She was a very lovely woman. She blessed our home for the amount of years she stayed with us. She was a wonderful woman.
SH: Was Italian the first language that you learned or was it English?
WM: No, no, English was the first.
SH: Was it?
WM: Yes. No, they spoke English. My father and mother spoke English, no. My grandparents were the ones that spoke, back and forth, in Italian, and that's how I picked up certain words, but, other than that, no, we spoke English. We spoke English.
SH: You have told us about some wonderful memories of different people in the neighborhood, but what were things that you did as a young boy for fun and entertainment?
WM: Well, outside of school, I liked to play ball. I was very athletic. I could play football.
WM: Stickball, we used to play stickball. We used to play, I played football, I played baseball. [As a] matter-of-fact, my brother-in-law, he also played baseball and he played [in a] semi-pro league and he played second base. Buddy Kerr, who became the shortstop for the [New York] Giants [Major League Baseball team], he played shortstop, and my brother-in-law went into the Merchant Marine, but Buddy never went into the service, and, when my sister's first child was born, Buddy Kerr gave her an autographed bat with his name on it, "Buddy Kerr." I just liked sports. I like sports, and I actually learned a lot and I didn't read all that much, but knowledge came to me so easy, and so, like, when I'd go to school, I'd get these marks and they were [good. As a] matter-of-fact, when I enlisted, the teachers were very upset with me, because they had gone through this to get me a scholarship to go to college, and then, what do I do? I go and I enlist in the Navy. [laughter] ...
SH: Tell me about the high school that you went to.
WM: It was Bronx Vocational. It was not too far from where [talk show host] Regis Philbin came from. Yes, I think he went to Cardinal Hayes and I went to Bronx Vocational.
SH: Why did you decide to go to the technical school?
WM: Well, I just wasn't getting anything out of this academic course up in Washington Heights. I just saw the programs there weren't what I liked, so, and I was starting to lean more towards mechanical. So, that's how I got into that part, that aspect of it.
SH: What year did you graduate from high school?
WM: '43, 1943.
SH: Tell me what you knew about the war as a freshman, or was it junior high, eighth grade, seventh grade?
WM: Well, I didn't really; I went from public school to high school. I finished my elementary, and then, went into ...
SH: In 1939, you would have gone on to high school.
WM: Yes, 1939, yes.
SH: Were you aware of what was going on in Europe at that time?
WM: Well, I had heard certain things and all that. I wasn't too aware of it until I was sitting in a movie theater and they had cut off the picture and the lights went on and somebody came out on the stage and announced that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. Then, I was aware of that; now, we're in. We're going to go into a war with Japan, and that's what struck me the most at that time.
SH: You would have been a junior in high school.
WM: Yes. That was in 1941, so, I still was in high school, yes.
SH: Prior to that, did anyone talk about Mussolini or Hitler, either at home or in your class?
WM: Well, it was a funny thing. I was in a mixed neighborhood. There were Greeks and Italians and Jewish. The most I heard of, because I palled around with a lot of Greek boys and Italy was in a war with Greece, and so, they would sort of make fun of me a little bit, but not unkind, but I grew up with a lot of Greek boys, and that, I heard more of that war than I did of World War II.
SH: That is good to know.
WM: Yes, and I learned a few Greek words. As a matter-of-fact, when I came home from the service, you had to register with the; I forget what they call it, but you had to go and register that you [were there], your name, so that if they had to call you up again, with the
SH: With the Reserve?
WM: No. Well, like a reserve, but it was a board. [Editor's Note: Mr. Mele may have had to register with his local draft board as a discharged veteran.] I forget the name of that board, but you had to go in and sign, but you had to bring someone that would know you or know where you would go. So, it was a funny thing. I took this Greek boy with me and, after this woman had taken all my information, my address and where I could be reached and all that, she said, "Now, if we need you and I can't get you, what friend can we contact to get you?" So, I said, "This young fellow here." She said, "What's his name?" and I said, "(Miltyadaspasypolus?)." She said, "Don't you have any other friends?" She couldn't spell the name. She couldn't spell the name. [laughter]
SH: "Don't you have a Joe Smith?" [laughter]
WM: She looked, she said, "You, come here, spell that name." [laughter]
SH: That is great. After the announcement that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, what was the reaction in the theater like?
WM: Oh, yes, it was very sad. As a matter-of-fact, some people got up and left, yes, some people got up and left, because I think, at that time, too, they announced that anybody in the military had to report for duty, yes. No, it was a sad thing.
IM: It was terrible.
WM: It was taken kind of hard, yes, and then, afterwards, you would see pictures in the paper, and then, hear the things on the radio.
SH: Did the school gather the students together and encourage you not to enlist or to stay in school? Was any such effort made by the school?
WM: No, no, they didn't get into that. They didn't really get into it. Of course, we were too young. We weren't of draft age. No, they didn't get into that.
SH: Your scholarship was to the Merchant Marine Academy.
WM: Yes, at Kings Point, yes, yes, where I started, but, then, I left.
SH: What kind of requirements did you have to fulfill for the Academy?
WM: Well, because [of] my mechanical background, that's one. Because you're going in the Merchant Marine, you're eventually going to end up on a ship with that, and you had to have some kind of mechanical skills. You had to know certain things and I qualified because all my marks were up there, and math was very important at that time, and science. So, my grades were very, very good and they went to bat for me to go to Kings Point. As a matter-of-fact, the football team, their mascot is a St. Bernard, yes, a beautiful dog, and I don't know if they still have a dog that size, but that was a beautiful St. Bernard.
SH: Before you went off to the Merchant Marine Academy, did you work? Were there jobs that you had during the school year or in the summer?
WM: Well, I always [worked]. I never took a vacation. I always had a newspaper route or I worked in a drugstore or I worked out on a gas station, out in Forest Hills. I was always bringing in some sort of money to the house. At that time, I wasn't doing anything. I wasn't [doing] anything because, to go to school, I just wouldn't be able to work, because you've got to catch the bus there, I think it was on Amsterdam Avenue, and then, I'd have to connect to another bus to go out to Long Island, where the university was, but I didn't stay there long, because I decided that all these comments I was getting from the people in the neighborhood [had to stop]. I said, "Well;" I decided to enlist.
SH: Were there a lot of men in your neighborhood who had already enlisted?
WM: Oh, well, some of them were drafted and some enlisted. Yes, there were some.
SH: You were the oldest in your family.
SH: How many siblings do you have?
WM: I have one sister and two brothers. The two brothers have passed away.
SH: Were you born first, then, your sister, and then, the two brothers?
WM: Then, the two brothers, yes, yes, and my sister, Dolly, and then, Nick, and then, Jimmy. Jimmy was, like, forty-six or something when he passed away. He had a ...
IM: I thought he was forty-two.
WM: Forty-two? He had an aneurism, and he worked for the vice-president of Manufacturers Hanover. He had a very good job. He was, like, an accountant and he collapsed out in the street and he passed away in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York. Yes, it had gone to his brain.
SH: How much younger were they than you?
WM: Well, my brother, Jimmy, was ten years younger and my brother, Nick, was five years younger and my sister and I are a year-and-a-half [apart].
SH: I just wondered if they were of draft age.
WM: No, no. Well, my brother, Nick, did get in the service, but not too long. The war was over then.
SH: Because you were eligible for the draft at eighteen, you had to go before the draft board, but you would be deferred if you were in the Academy.
WM: Oh, if I was in college, I wouldn't have to go. That's why the teachers were upset that they had gone through this effort to get me into the university, and then, I turn around and I enlisted.
SH: Why did you pick the Merchant Marines? Why was that attractive to you?
WM: Well, I think that's what the scholarship would be for. I don't know why, but that's what it would be for at Kings Point. That's where they had arranged the scholarship for me. That came from the teachers, not me.
SH: Would not have being in the Merchant Marine Academy deferred you?
WM: Oh, yes, I would have been deferred, and then, eventually, I'd end up on a Merchant Marine ship, yes. In those days, they were so anxious to get you out there, I probably wouldn't get the full four years, probably get two years, and then, go out on a ship, yes.
SH: Did they talk about the losses that they had suffered in the early part of the war? Actually, before the United States entered the war, were not the Merchant Marine ships being sunk?
WM: Well, yes, they were being sunk out there by the German submarines and stuff like that, yes.
SH: Was that talked about when you were in school?
WM: Well, as I recall, I don't remember them getting into that too much. I really don't remember how the students were reacting to all that.
SH: As a family, was that something that you paid attention to? You talked about going to the movies; were you watching the newsreels and reading the papers to keep informed on how the war was going?
WM: No, I don't think so. I don't think my father and mother were paying that much attention to it, only that one time that they were going to have an air raid. We had these air raids, which weren't really air raids, they were just ...
SH: A drill?
WM: Yes, and that's the only time that they really had a reaction, when the lights would go out and they'd hear the sirens and all that. That's the only time they seemed to really get involved with it. Other than that, I don't remember them [being affected].
SH: Did you notice how rationing was affecting your family?
WM: Well, mostly my father, because, at that time, he was working for a milk company in Yonkers and he had to drive up there and [to] get the gas for his car was a bit of a problem all the time. Yes, it always affected him, and then, I guess there were other things that were being rationed that did affect the family, yes.
SH: I just wondered if your mother complained that, say, she could not make her favorite cake.
WM: Well, no, I don't think so, no, I don't think so.
SH: Because a variety of things were rationed.
WM: Yes, yes.
IM: Things like sugar and a lot of things like that.
SH: When you made the decision that you did not want to continue at the Merchant Marine Academy, why did you pick the Navy?
WM: Well, I don't know, I just sort of leaned more towards the Navy than the Army. I just didn't think I'd want to go into the infantry, or something like that. I just; I don't know. Show them that picture, Ida, with me and my sister in the sailor suits. [laughter] So, I guess that's the reason why.
IM: Oh, when you were a little boy. [laughter]
WM: I was a little boy. [laughter]
SH: Did you have friends in the neighborhood who had gone into the military?
WM: Yes. One or two of my friends were in the Navy, but most of them were in the [Army] Air Force or the Army.
SH: Had they?
WM: Yes, most of them were in [the Army] Air Force or the Army. As a matter-of-fact, this one Greek fellow, he was a lieutenant and he ended up in the [Army] Air Force, but this is my sister and I. [laughter]
IM: Isn't he cute?
WM: That's my sister, Dolly, and I. So, I knew that I was going to end up in the Navy. [laughter]
SH: So cute. That is adorable.
IM: Isn't that cute, Bill? What a good picture, yes.
WM: What's that?
IM: The picture under the book.
WM: Oh, this is when I first went into the Navy.
SH: Look at this. [laughter]
WM: That's when I had hair. [laughter]
SH: It is amazing how little you have changed. I can still pick up the features and all. Most people tell us that, "That was when I had hair."
WM: Yes. I'll show you a later picture. This was when I was aboard ship.
SH: I am so used to seeing sailors with white hats.
WM: Now, this is when I was in Shanghai, at the (Palei?) Café, in 1946. These are Russian dance hall girls.
SH: Oh, my. I guess we could ask how Russian dance hall girls got into Shanghai.
WM: That's me and Yogi Berra.
SH: How cute. That was not too long ago, was it?
WM: Well, that was several years ago, yes, about three years ago, I guess, yes, and this is Pat Cooper, the actor, the comedian.
SH: Where are you seeing these gentlemen?
WM: Well, that was at the restaurant in Park Ridge, down the street from where [former President Richard] Nixon lived. He [Pat Cooper] was performing that night, but I had already seen him in another show, and then, we got acquainted and Pat recognized me. This is when I played softball for the company.
SH: You kept playing. Your love of baseball never stopped.
WM: This is my sister with movie actor Cliff Roberts [Robertson?].
SH: This is Dolly, from the previous photograph.
WM: Yes, that's Dolly, yes. This was when I played in the pro-am [professional amateur competitions] with [professional golfer] Betsy King. Her father is a doctor and this is another, out in Long Island; I played several times.
SH: Were you a good golfer?
WM: Oh, yes, I played golf for thirty years at the Colonia Country Club, and this is another girl, Silvia Bertolaccini. She was from South America, [Argentina].
SH: Thank you for sharing those with us. Did you talk to your parents about your decision to go into the Navy?
WM: My parents were not the greatest parents, I'm sorry to say, and my father was not opposed to it, only too glad that I was going to go, being one less mouth to feed. [laughter] I don't know. No, they weren't concerned, and then, I had two weeks; then, I was told to report.
SH: Did you have to resign from the Academy?
WM: No, I just let them know through my teachers, because I was afraid to say anything, and then, especially this teacher, his name was (Sachs?), a Jewish teacher, and he was very upset with me. He was very, very upset with me, and I told him that I just couldn't take the comments anymore, "Calling me 4-F, they're calling me names." I said, "I just couldn't take it anymore," and I said, "It's just too embarrassing. Every time I get off the bus, I'm hearing [this]." Especially, this one woman would make comments to me, and I just couldn't take it any longer.
IM: My younger brother said the same thing.
WM: I mean, so, I said, "That's it. I'm going to enlist." Well, look, it turned out to be the right thing, because I lived through it. Suppose [if] I had not; if I'd gotten on a Merchant Marine ship, they are targeted more than the ship that doesn't carry cargo, although we were always the first ship in line, because we were expendable. They just didn't care about an LST, [landing ship, tank]. They wanted to get the [cargo ships].
SH: Let us talk about your enlistment; walk me through that process.
WM: All right, okay. Well, after I enlisted, then, I was sent to Newport News, Rhode Island.
SH: For your boot camp?
WM: Yes. That's where I did my boot training, and one thing that happened there, that was wonderful, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had paid us a visit and we had to parade. They were on a reviewing stand and we paraded in front of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. That should be in the record somewhere, because it happened in 1943, and not only that, my rifle instructor was a famous right fielder for the New York Yankees, Tommy Henrich. Tommy Henrich taught me how to shoot a rifle, and he lived out on the base with his wife and family, and then, when I finished there, they sent me to diesel school in Richmond, Virginia, which you don't get enough [of]. You just get an education about the ship you're going to go on and how it works, but this is when I graduated from diesel school in Richmond, Virginia.
SH: Can you point to yourself in this picture?
WM: Well, wait a minute, let me see.
SH: It is a pretty big company.
WM: Yes, I know. I don't even know if I can find myself there. Wait a minute, that's a good question.
IM: Do you want me to look? I can find him.
SH: Was that the first time that you had really been away from New York, when you went to boot camp, and then, down to Virginia?
WM: Yes, that was the first time.
SH: Where was the school, in Richmond?
WM: In Norfolk, Norfolk, yes.
SH: In Norfolk; I thought you said Richmond. I am sorry.
WM: Oh, no, no, it was in Richmond, Richmond, Virginia. It was in Richmond. Norfolk is when we docked, somewhere along the line; I'll tell you [about] that. It's so hard to remember.
IM: Bill, let me see it, because I could probably spot it best.
SH: That is okay.
WM: I don't have my glasses; here, hon.
SH: One thing you must do is leave that picture flat, or it will just disintegrate.
IM: Yes, right, Bill.
WM: What's that? I think there's another picture upstairs that's not
IM: Leave it flat.
IM: Put it in the glass.
WM: But, once I finished diesel school, then, I went home on leave, and then, we were assigned to a USO in Louisville, Kentucky, waiting for the ship to be built, which was built in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
SH: I want to go back to Richmond. Who were your instructors? Were they Navy?
WM: Yes, yes. [As a] matter-of-fact, we were housed where they had a secret engine of some kind that was covered, that there was something that they were building that they didn't want us to see, but we went through the different things, like, if you were going to go on [to] a diesel engine school, or, if you're going to go on another ship, like a Merchant Marine, where you would be dealing with steam and not diesel, but, since they knew that I was going to go on an LST, which, really, [means] you're being assigned to the Amphibious Forces. [Editor's Note: Landing ships, tank, were Navy cargo vessels used to support amphibious missions.] LSTs were in the Amphibious Forces.
SH: At this school, where were you housed? Were you in barracks? Was it a Navy facility?
WM: Like in a barracks. Yes, it was in a barracks and, every morning, we'd have to get up at six o'clock and we'd run a mile or so on a track, yes.
SH: This was a regular Navy facility.
WM: Oh, yes. It was regular Navy housing.
IM: Bill, do you think it's this one right here, up in the back?
WM: Probably. I should put my glasses on.
SH: There was a Navy facility in Richmond that was training all sorts of people to work on the different types of engines.
WM: Right, yes. Well, no, this was really strictly diesel. This was diesel. This was diesel.
SH: Did you already know that you were going to an LST?
WM: Not at that point. Only later, we were assigned to, I was assigned to, LST-686.
SH: Was the school about three months long?
WM: I would say it was several months, yes, several months.
SH: What time of year were you in Richmond?
WM: In '44, just the beginning of '44.
SH: Then, you came home on leave.
WM: Came home on leave, and then, that was it.
SH: How was it to come back to New York on leave?
WM: Oh, it was great, because not being away from home [before], and then, you don't know what the circumstances [will be]. You don't know if you're going to live through this thing or not. You have tense moments. You think about it and you say, "Gee, I'm no longer free to do what I want, I'm no longer free to go down the local candy store and talk to the guys," or something like that, "or go play ball." Now, it's [decided for you].
SH: When you went off to boot camp, how much of a shock was that?
EM: No, that wasn't bad, because it turned out my cousin was out there the same time I was, but he was more in the advanced [course]. See, I was on the island, he was on the inside of the base, of the Rhode Island [base], and he used to come over and kid me. He says, "Oh, now you don't have your mother to feed you," and all that, stuff like that, but he went into fire control and that was a different [thing]. He went on a ship where he had to fire guns and all that.
SH: Was the food and atmosphere a shock?
WM: No, I think I took it pretty well. I didn't seem to worry about it. I heard guys cry in the morning or evening. I heard that. I mean, some of them take it a little harder than others. Fortunately, I went through it pretty good. I had to go through dentistry and all that. They did some work on my teeth, and, yes, you get moments when you're a little sad, but, all in all, I think I came through it fairly well.
SH: What was the difference in going from Rhode Island to Richmond? Were you already pretty seasoned and cocky?
WM: Well, I think there, you don't have that much activity, where [when] you're in boot camp, you're training. You're getting all kinds of instructions. So, your head is really spinning on different things, like, you'd have to learn how to shoot a rifle and certain other things that they made you do and get you ready, get you prepared, and they even taught you how to march, how to hold a rifle and how to [shoot]. All those things had to [be taught to us], where at the school, you had certain times where you relaxed. You didn't have all that [activity]. As I say, they got you up in the morning at six o'clock and you ran a mile or so, and then, got back, you had your chow, and then, you went into class.
SH: Did you learn to swim when you were in boot camp or had you already learned?
WM: Oh, yes. When you were in boot camp, they wanted you to swim. Yes, they throw you on one end, go down to the other, [laughter] and then, they also had, where that was a little bit more advanced, where they'd throw the logs [across the pool], wooden logs, and they'd start a fire and you'd have to swim under again.
SH: Had you already learned how to swim before you went into the Navy?
WM: Not that great. I wasn't that great, but, somehow or other, I managed to do what they wanted me to do, but, as a great swimmer, no. My cousin, Sal, was a better swimmer than I was. Yes, he was better than I was.
SH: Had you known that Sal had signed up for the Navy?
WM: Yes, I knew he had. He went before me, just a little, and we were the same age. I was a day older than him.
WM: Yes. He was the 23rd of October, I was the 22nd. He was my first cousin. His mother and my mother were sisters, yes.
SH: Down in Richmond, did you get leave to go off the base? How did they treat you?
WM: Oh, yes, we went out into town. [As a] matter-of-fact, our chaplain, he knew [American actress and singer] Jeanette MacDonald and they met in town and they had lunch or dinner, whatever, but he came back and he told us that he had met Jeanette MacDonald, yes.
SH: Did you find that the people treated you well in Richmond?
WM: Richmond was all right, but in Gulfport, Mississippi, no, if they knew you were from the North, no, even in Louisville; if they knew you were from the North, they were ...
SH: You went by train from Richmond to your home on leave, and then, by train to Kentucky.
WM: To Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, yes.
SH: Where were you housed while you waited?
WM: Yes, in the USO in Louisville, Kentucky.
SH: Was it like a hotel?
WM: It was like a hotel, yes, and we got five dollars a day subsistence, but we were invited out on the weekend to different homes. They invited us for supper and they had the Brown Derby right around the corner, which was a famous place, and then, we also took a ride out to where the Kentucky Derby is held, [Churchill Downs], and so, we got a good look at [the area]. Louisville is a very interesting town. I mean, it's great, a very nice town. Yes, now, we only took five dollars a day. That's all you had to work with.
SH: Was this the whole crew or just certain members?
WM: Just the members that were going to go on the LST-686. Now, there were other ones that were quartered [there], but they weren't in our section, because every day, or every other day, we used to go out to Jeffersonville and see how the ship was being built, and getting certain information about where the engine room was going to be and the auxiliary engine room was going to be and where the fire engine was, where you had the Hercules fire engine for pumping water, and that was all sort of a learning period to what this LST was going to be like.
SH: In this USO, were officers also housed there?
WM: No, no, no officers there, just the [enlisted men].
SH: Who was in charge of your contingent that was going to be on the 686 in the USO?
WM: Well, there was a chief. I think there was a chief that gave us instructions in when to get on this bus to go out to Jeffersonville, Indiana. Yes, they had someone overlooking that we had to report to.
SH: Were there any from the crew that had their wives with them?
WM: No, not that I recall, unless they were in that area. I don't think so, I don't know, because most, I think, came from New York and Jersey, and then, there was a group from the South. So, we had, like, a mixed group from North and South in our ship, yes.
SH: You said you were very aware of how different it was in Louisville, being in the South, than it had been in Virginia.
WM: Well, Louisville wasn't so bad. The one that was really bad was in Gulfport, Mississippi, and even Louisville, to a degree, because what happened [was], I think I was with; there were four of us. We're having a lunch or something, I think it was the Brown Derby, and there was this, I think it was a woman doctor, or somebody like that, and then, someone offered to buy our meal, but, then, when they asked who was from the North and who was from the South, they only bought the dinner for the ones that were from the South.
IM: Oh, my god.
WM: And that's a true story.
SH: What did you see of the Jim Crow South in Louisville?
IM: Oh, yes, Jim Crow, the blacks being separated.
WM: Oh, no, no, I didn't see too much of that there.
IM: You didn't?
WM: You mean the blacks and the whites? I didn't really see that, because we were in a sort of high class section of Louisville, where it wasn't that kind [of diverse population].
IM: Yes, but, when you went to the men's room, they had [separate] for the black men.
WM: Oh, yes. Well, I don't recall too much of that. I don't recall too much.
IM: Oh, I did. I saw a lot.
WM: Don't forget, though, it's 1944 now. I didn't see too much of that, no, although, in our ship, we had several black [sailors], but they weren't doing what we had to do. They were commissary stewards. They had prepared the food for the officers. They weren't with [us]. They didn't go with us. They were on their own, yes.
SH: How long did it take to build the LST-686?
WM: I would say we were there maybe two months, or something like that. Now, it may be a little less, because they were putting those things together. Remember, they're only welded; there's no rivets to that ship at all. I mean, we had one guy, one soldier, accidentally shoot one of his guns off, an automatic, and put a hole right through the bulkhead, because it's only so thick. There's no rivets. When they first built the LSTs, they used to break up, because they weren't that strong, and, remember, an LST is a flat-bottomed ship. There's no keel. So, when you hit the water, you're bouncing. You're not cutting the water. Like, when you have a keel, you're going to spread the water. Those things bounce. Actually, when you used to go down to get your food, you'll be bouncing, even when you put your tray down on the table, the trays would be bouncing, because you were right over the shaft alley, where the screws were and everything, and there's vibration and it was [something].
SH: Did you go by train or did you take the ship down from Louisville?
WM: Oh, you mean how did we get out there? No, they arranged a bus to get us back and forth to the [shipyard].
SH: No, I meant when the 686 was ready to sail; did you take it down the river?
WM: Oh, yes. We got into the Ohio River, yes, which empties into the Mississippi [River], and that's where we moored, in the Mississippi, and then, we went out to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi empties out there, and that's where we did our shakedown cruise. That's where you do certain maneuvers and where the Captain would ring down, and those things. Actually, when he rings down, when you're down, you're answering [it]. The things up there are annunciators. So, when he said, "Half speed," "Full speed," those are annunciators. So, now, we get out there and we fire, we have twenty-millimeters and forty-millimeters, and then, we also practice opening the bow doors and dropping the ramp. That's a very dangerous thing, to open the bow doors, because they had a ladder on the inside and a ladder there, and they have these dogging wrenches and I ended up doing that. One guy went down this way, one guy that [way], and you'd open up the [door with the] dogging wrenches, unloosen them, until you get to the top one, and then, you go into a gun tub with forty-millimeters, twin forty-millimeters overhead, and you'd kick that loose and the bow doors would open to ninety degrees. Then, you go down to a pumping station and you pump them open to 144 degrees. Then, when the Captain wanted you to let the ramp down, you let the ramp down and these amphibious DUKWs would go out into the water and into their battle, but the opening those bow doors was a very tricky situation. [Editor's Note: The DUKW, nicknamed the "Duck," was an amphibious truck used to bring cargo and personnel directly from ship to shore.] Then, when you had to beach, you went in heavy ballast and you dropped the stern anchor, so that you're heavy and you're sitting on a sand beach. Now, when you wanted to get off, you empty the ballast, it raises the ship and you used your stern anchor to pull you off, and that's how you get on the beach and that's how you get off the beach.
SH: You were practicing this in the Gulf of Mexico.
WM: Well, yes, you had to practice those things, and then, you had to know all those things. Actually, being in the engineers, I was only a second class water tender. I should have been a higher rank, because I got on the ship when it was commissioned, I got off the ship when it was decommissioned, and I got on from beginning to end, and I think maybe that's why I got the privilege of this. When I came back, we're coming back because we lost so many [other crew members]. I wasn't married. I had the points to get off, but the married men got off first. So, what happened was, I ended up being in charge of the three divisions of engineers. In those days, you were four on, eight off, but, when you're under attack, you're on four on, four off, but I had to run, I had to sound all [the tanks]. I had to show somebody how to sound the tanks. They have fuel oil tanks to sound, freshwater tanks to sound and lube oil, and that report had to go to the Captain every day. So, on that last page, it shows you how much fuel we used, how many miles we traveled and everything else, but you had, like, a thirty-foot sounding rod. You'd open up the overhead, the overflow pipe, and twist the handle, and you run the rod down, and then, what you would do is, you'd take three readings: when the ship is to the port, and then, when the ship was sort of centered, and then, when it was to the starboard. You'd take the three and you'd divide it by three, you'd get the figure, [laughter] and that report had to go, every day, to the Captain. He had to know how much water we had on there. I think, we had three freshwater tanks and the way we tested it, they had inches and feet. It had a little petcock and you'd take a rubber tube, and then, you reached the level where the water was, and then, you'd see you have ten feet, six inches, and you look in the log; [if] you've got ten feet, six inches, you've got so many thousand gallons of water. Sometimes, when we ran low, we had evaporators, we could make fresh water.
SH: Did you?
WM: Yes. We could make, like, two hundred gallons an hour. It was a very slow process, and they had a salinity tester. So, you tested the body of salt in that water that you're in and that determines whether you put the heaters up or a little down, so that the more heat you had, [the faster] you extract the brine, and then, you put it in. Once it gets through, it goes through a filtering process, and then, goes into a settling tank, and then, you pump that into your freshwater tank.
SH: Would that be a job for a water tender, such as yourself?
WM: Well, anybody in the engineers, not only necessarily me, anybody that was in the engineers. Actually, a water tender is the highest rate, higher than the motor mac, because, actually, you can go on a Merchant Marine ship, where they don't have diesel, they have steam.
SH: Where did you learn how to do all this? Was it while you were waiting for the ship to be built?
WM: Well, some of it while [we were waiting], but mostly when you're out there, mostly out there. You learn from your engineering officer or your chief, yes.
SH: Did you have a good chief ahead of you?
WM: We had a pretty good chief. Well, my captain was regular Navy and the engineering officer was regular Navy, (Lawson?), but it was a funny thing, his name was H. A. May; affectionately, we referred to him as "H. A. M.," [laughter] but he was a wonderful guy. He was very knowledgeable, and so was the engineering officer, (Lawson?), and the chief petty officer we had, he was very, very knowledgeable. I learned a lot from both of them.
SH: What was the Captain's name?
WM: H. A. May.
SH: He was the "H. A. M."
WM: He was the "H. A. M."
SH: Where were they from?
WM: Well, you see, what happened [was], we were supposed to go to the Atlantic, because H. A. M. was from the Pacific. We ended up camouflaging the ship; we've got to go into the Pacific. Otherwise, we were going to go to the Atlantic, we're going to be in the European [Theater] instead of the Pacific, but, then, we had to go through the Panama Canal, which is quite a thing, if you ever have a chance to.
SH: Let us back up a bit and do this in chronological order. When you were in Gulfport, were you housed on the ship?
WM: Well, we're docked in Gulfport, Mississippi, and I'm out on liberty. You go out on liberty, yes.
SH: However, your home was the ship.
WM: The home is the ship, always the ship, yes.
SH: How much liberty did you get when you were in Gulfport?
WM: Oh, one day, and then, it depends [on] whether you're on the starboard or port.
SH: Do you remember when you got to Gulfport?
WM: Yes. We came in and it was like a small opening to get to Gulfport, and very muddy. The water is very muddy and it wasn't a big town. Gulfport wasn't a big town, but they were very prejudiced, very prejudiced. As a matter-of-fact, the waitresses were terrible if they knew you were from the North. They'd throw your dish down. They weren't very friendly. I never saw that before. I never had that happen to me, and it happened.
SH: You did not try to develop a Southern accent.
WM: Well, I'll tell you what happened. When I was in Louisville, because I was Italian, they sent me to a house for dinner and this guy was Italian, and he said to me, he greeted me, said, "Che si dice, y'all." [laughter] I said, "Hey, I'm in the South here;" "Che si dice, y'all." [laughter]
IM: What do you say?
WM: He was funny. They were very nice to me. No, they were very nice people and their hospitality. I had a nice dinner with them, but that was a funny thing. I told my wife that; I couldn't believe it. [laughter]
SH: How long were you in Gulfport? How long did the shakedown last?
WM: Not very long, not very long. It was mostly, sometimes, to pick up cargo and stuff like that. It's probably in there; it's hard to remember all these things, but probably picking up cargo and shells.
SH: Were you aware of what was going on? Were you keeping up with the war?
WM: Oh, yes, we were kept abreast. We were told. We were getting certain bulletins [that] would be on the bulletin board about certain battles that were going on, yes, yes.
SH: Did you know when the D-Day invasion had taken place, in June of 1944? Were you aware of that?
WM: D-Day in June, oh, yes, we were aware. We were made aware of all that, yes.
SH: When did they have you camouflage the ship?
WM: When we were still on the Atlantic side.
SH: In Gulfport?
WM: No, that was over in; outside of New Orleans, they camouflaged the ship. In other words, they make it where we had battleship gray, and then, they have all these different colors on the ship, so that you know you're in the Pacific Fleet, not into the Atlantic Fleet.
SH: Did you go from Gulfport to
WM: No, not from Gulfport, I think we went from Florida. I think we went from Florida. We went down to Florida.
SH: You came down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River, and then, you wound up at the Algiers Navy Base [in Louisiana].
SH: What was the commissioning like?
WM: In Algiers? No, we didn't go ashore there or anything like that. We were just docked there to take on, I think we took on ammo and stuff like that, and they checked the compass and logistics and all the things that had to be checked, but we didn't really [go ashore].
SH: Was the commissioning when you were in Louisville? Was that where the commission ceremony was?
WM: No, I don't think we [did]; well, I think the boat was commissioned in Indiana. I don't think we commissioned in [Louisville]. I think we were commissioned in Indiana, Jeffersonville, Indiana, and then, that's when we entered into the Ohio, into the Mississippi. See, we were placed on full commission in Algiers, New Orleans, Louisiana, by Lieutenant Commander (Weldon?) and Ensign H. A. May, who was only an ensign at that time, but they made him a lieutenant later.
SH: Where did you go from there?
WM: Well, that's when we went, from there, into a shakedown, and you know what they had, we had an LCT put on deck. We actually can put a smaller ship on our deck, which is really a landing craft, transport, and then, what you do is, they have these pontoons, like a rail thing, and then, we tilt the ship to the starboard side and it actually slides off the ship into the water. That's a smaller ship than an LST, but we're able to put that on top, on the deck, yes. [Editor's Note: Landing crafts, tank, were designed for landing tanks on beaches for amphibious assaults.]
SH: Did you travel with this?
WM: We traveled with that, yes, and then, until we had to [offload it], wherever we were taking it. Then, we would unload it. We would unload it. See, we took on, in Gulfport, wood pilings, see
SH: Then, you went to New Orleans.
WM: And we went to New Orleans, and then, we prepared for sea, see, and that's when I think they camouflaged us, because, you see, now, we're loading passengers for the Canal.
SH: Tell me about the passengers that you took on.
WM: Well, we took on soldiers. I think, at that time, they were artillery soldiers and they would be sleeping in their sleeping bags, either onboard or in the tank deck, and, [on] the tank deck, we could sleep quite a few.
SH: You had tanks onboard.
WM: Well, then, we took on these DUKWs later on, but not while, yes, [we were in the United States]. I think we took them on later on, when we're going to hit Leyte.
SH: Tell me about when you went through the Panama Canal.
WM: Well, the Canal is wonderful. You know how it ups and rises; you have the Coca-Cola [Coco Solo] side on the Atlantic side, but, when you go to the Pacific side, Balboa is beautiful.
SH: Is it really?
WM: Beautiful, Balboa is really a beautiful, beautiful place, and then, Balboa is on that [Pacific side], and then, you have the lines, that they actually pull you through, in certain areas, but it's a wonderful experience to go through the Canal, but how they do it is amazing.
SH: Were there a lot of ships lined up to go through the Canal?
WM: Oh, yes, we were in line. You had ships in front of you, you had ships behind you, sure.
SH: Were they all part of what was going to be one convoy or were you independent?
WM: No, I think it was really a mixed bag. I don't think we joined any fleet or any command at that point. We just had to get to our destination in Florida there.
SH: At this point, was it just LSTs going through the Canal?
WM: No, no, they had other ships going through. You have bigger ships than that that go through, yes, don't have to be necessarily an LST.
SH: What was your duty while you were going through the Canal?
WM: Well, I was an engineer. I was an engineer. I was on the engineer force. There were three divisions and the engineering [staff], yes. At that time, I wasn't rated. I didn't have any rate then. I was just a [seaman].
WM: Yes. As I went along, then, I got my different ratings.
SH: When you got to Balboa, did you get leave?
WM: Yes, we got leave. We went on shore. They had different places where they had entertainment and stuff like that. That's all the sailors are going to look for. You're not going to go look for a library. [laughter]
SH: I did not expect you to tell me that. [laughter] How were sailors treated? What was it like to be this kid from New York City now who is in a foreign land?
WM: Yes, well, it's an experience, because I have never seen anything like that before.
SH: It was kind of tropical.
WM: Yes, it was tropical. It was tropical. Then, they had different kinds of entertainment, which I don't want to go into, but it was [laughter]
SH: Since this was in May, was it really warm down there?
WM: Yes, yes.
SH: You said you went to Florida.
WM: Yes. Well, I think we sailed from here to ...
SH: Now, you are going to San Diego, according to the ship's log.
WM: Yes, San Diego, but I think, before that, we were in Florida here, somewhere.
IM: April to May, St. Andrew Bay.
WM: Well, in San Diego, we took on cargo and oil pilings, and then, and that's when we launched the LCT, the 680.
SH: You dropped it in San Diego.
WM: Yes, we dropped it there. Yes, on the main deck, see, and dropped it from the main deck.
SH: When you have the LCT onboard, was the crew also there?
WM: Oh, yes, yes, you had to have their crew there, too.
SH: Everybody is messing together.
WM: Yes. Well, I think they stayed mostly on their [ship], and then, they came into our [area] for chow and stuff like that, yes. Oh, yes, you're going to be in [close proximity].
SH: How was the interaction between the officers and the enlisted men on the LST?
WM: Well, I think you only have 125 crew, basically, and you have, I think, the engineering officer, the captain, the medical officer, and then, there was the, oh, what do you call that officer, does most of the pencil pushing? I forget what they call him, [executive officer?]. I think, basically, it was four or five officers, and I think we had two chiefs, one in engineering and one topside chief, yes, boatswain chief and the engineering chief, and, no, it's a close-knit thing. You really have to pull together, because, actually, there isn't that much room for the officers. They're up just outside where the cooking is going on and their quarters aren't that great, that big. They were good, but they weren't that big.
SH: How was the ship's company quartered? Were you scattered all over the ship or did you have certain designated areas?
WM: Well, down below, both on the starboard and portside, there were these hammocks. They're three deep, and then, at the stern, you had hammocks that were over the screw [ship's propellers] and all that. So, you've got hammocks on both the starboard and portside and you've got them in the stern.
SH: Where were you?
WM: I was in the stern, unfortunately. [laughter]
SH: Tell me about getting together in this convoy in San Diego. Did you also get liberty?
WM: Yes, we got [liberty], you went on shore. You see, you only get like a twenty-four hour [pass] and you've got to come back. You're not there for a week or anything like that, no.
SH: Did you run into anybody that you knew in San Diego?
WM: No, no. The only thing is, we had one fellow that was from Van Nuys, California, and he wanted me to go and meet him and his family. I think he got an extended leave, because he was from that [area], and I didn't go. I don't think I went with him, I don't think I went with him. Yes, I ended up in San Diego, and then, got back, yes.
SH: Were you writing letters home or getting letters from home?
WM: Oh, yes, I was getting letters from home and I was writing back. No, I was constantly writing back, and my mother would write to me. My sister, occasionally, would write something, but she was a little younger than me, so, mostly from my mother, yes.
SH: I was going to say, did anybody have any dealings with the Red Cross?
WM: In my family, no, no.
SH: I meant you or anybody on your ship.
WM: Not that I recall. I don't remember. I don't remember if anybody had any [need].
SH: When you knew that you were going to the Pacific, did you know exactly where you were going?
WM: No. The only thing is that they told us we were going to go to Pearl Harbor, and then, that's when we ended up in Pearl Harbor.
SH: What are LVTs?
WM: Those are the landing vehicle, transfer [tracked]. In other words ...
SH: They are like DUKWs.
WM: No, not like a DUKW. It's like, if you were thinking of a motorboat, this has a ramp and everything, and the engine is at the stern, and then, you could carry a small vehicle, but we carried troops or soldiers, and then, it would hit the beach and let the ramp down and they would get off, or you could even let the ramp down partially before you hit the beach, especially if you had a vehicle that could take water so deep.
SH: How many of you departed from San Diego for Pearl Harbor?
WM: Oh, we were in convoy; you mean when we left? Yes, we were in convoy, yes, had to go in a convoy, yes.
SH: There was an incident you told me about, before we started recording, of someone who had gotten ...
WM: Yes, he had gotten, he had received something from home and it was just so distressful to him that, and what it was about exactly, I don't know. I had just surmised that it might have been something with his wife or something, and he sat on his bunk and he took a knife and he stabbed himself, and then, the medics came and they tried to repair what they could. Eventually, they would put him on a medical, hospital ship, but he was under guard, because he was suicidal, but, then, when someone took a break or something, he found a way to escape. He went up to the starboard side and he jumped over into the water, but, once he hit the water, it seemed like it revived him and he wanted to be saved, and some small ship, I think they tell you the name of it, that picked him up, and then, we never saw him again after that. Yes, we never saw him again after that, probably was sent home.
SH: What was it like to arrive in Pearl Harbor then?
WM: Well, what happened was, we got our sea legs, because we had very rough water and a lot of them got seasick, and the funny thing of it is, we had these soldiers on deck and we had a guy by the name of Moe, who was a bookmaker from the Bronx. He was in the john, with his head over the bowl, the entire trip, and I would bring him an orange, I felt so sorry for him, and I'd bring it and he'd eat it and he'd throw it up. So, I'd say to him, I tried to kid him, I said, "Moe, they're giving," and I knew he was a bookmaker, I said, "all right, they're giving odds; ten-to-one, you don't make Pearl Harbor," and he said, "Get out of here, jerk," [laughter] but he had his head over the bowl the whole time, and then, he said, "I'll never go back on a ship." When he got off, he kissed the ground, he said, "I'll never go back on this ship again," [laughter] but, you see, he hadn't gotten that kind of a trip on a ship, where you're rocking and swaying all the time, and it's a constant thing. You don't get any relief, but, once you get your sea legs, like I did, then, it didn't bother me anymore, but, until then, I had a problem myself.
SH: Had you gotten your sea legs before you went through the Canal?
WM: No, it was after, when we went to go on to Pearl Harbor. That's when I really [got them], because, before that, we didn't really hit any severe weather or that kind of bouncing around all the time, and an LST, it's called a landing ship, tanker [tank], but we referred to it as a "long, slow target," because it doesn't go that fast and it can't get out of the way of anything. [laughter] So, we called it a "long, slow target."
SH: Was there any trouble in the convoy to Pearl Harbor?
WM: No, not then, not then. No, we didn't have any [trouble].
SH: When you went into Pearl, did you see any of the damage that had happened during the attack?
WM: Yes. We saw something of some of the damage, but a lot of it was cleared, but there were still some ships that were sunk there that didn't go all the way down, that were still in Pearl Harbor, yes. At that time, there was; I can't think of the name of that barracks, but that's where Joe DiMaggio was quartered. Bayfield Barracks, or something?
SH: Schofield Barracks?
WM: Yes. Schofield Barracks, and that's where Joe DiMaggio was. Of course, he didn't go overseas or anything. He was there mostly for [entertaining troops].
SH: Did you know that Joe DiMaggio was there?
WM: Oh, yes, we had heard. Those things would come back to you, that you would get the word.
SH: Did you have a ship's newspaper or anything like that?
WM: No, no. We'd only get little things that were transmitted to the radio operator, or something. Then, they'd put it on the bulletin board, but they weren't too easy to inform you about things, because they wanted to keep you cool. They didn't want you to know that there was this happening there, or Iwo Jima.
SH: Were they censoring your mail?
IM: Oh, yes, I think everything was censored.
WM: Oh, yes.
SH: You were aware of what you could put in your letters.
WM: Oh, well, yes, they sort of warned you not to say too much. Otherwise, they would examine your mail. No, they didn't want you to say certain things, which is only right, because you don't want to scare your folks back home, or that they didn't want you to write anything [indicating] where you were going, especially where you were going to head to. They didn't want you to put that in the mail.
SH: When you were in Pearl, did you know where you would be going next?
WM: No, because I think, at that time, didn't we go back sometime?
IM: You were supposed to go to some place, and then, they cancelled it.
WM: Oh, well, what happened [was], we were going to hit Yap Island. That's what it was.
IM: Yes, yes.
WM: And that's a small island, and [General Douglas] MacArthur said, "No, you're going to bypass that. You're going to go into Leyte." Before that, we crossed the Equator and we had the customary initiation of the pollywog, which I was at that time, a pollywog. [Editor's Note: In naval tradition, a pollywog is a sailor who has never before crossed the Equator. Upon crossing and taking part in the line-crossing ceremony, the sailor becomes known as a shellback.]
SH: We have seen your certificate, so, you are now a shellback. This is good. [laughter]
WM: Yes. Well, I'd hate to tell you what I went through, but it was something. [laughter]
SH: Do you want to share any of what you went through? [laughter]
WM: Well, you see, the ship, in the back, the stern wasn't all that big, but what happens was, they have the King Neptune and Rex dressed up. [Editor's Note: Neptunus Rex, or King Neptune, is the presiding officer of the line-crossing ceremony.]
SH: Dressed up like what?
WM: Like, just like this picture, almost. I don't know if it's in here or not, but they had a helmet on, they had whiskers and they had a pitchfork, and you had to kneel before them and they gave you some trumped up charges. They charged you with this, they charged you with that, and they asked you how you plead. So, if you say, "Innocent," [they reply], "No, you're guilty." In the meantime, a guy has an electro and he's touching you with that and you're jumping, because he's giving you an electric shock. So, then, King Neptune says, "You're guilty. You get ten whacks." Well, I bent over and this guy had this big paddle. I want to tell you, when he hit me the first time, I went from here to that wall, and I said, "I've got to get nine more of those? I don't know how I could take it," but I had to take it, and that's, I think, how I got my pilonidal cyst, from that banging. Then, they had a huge pit, with sludge and junk and garbage in there, and you had to climb a ladder and you got to the top and there's two guys waiting for you and you're blindfolded. You jump in and they grab you, one guy grabs you, and they say, "Yell, 'Shellback.'" When you yell, "Shellback," they stick you under and everything goes in your mouth. Oh, before that, you've got to go to the dentist's chair. You open your mouth and he shoots [in] oil or whatever, and then, you go to the barber. Then, he cuts your hair every which way and a big glob of grease goes on your head, and then, that's when you go up to the pit, and then, you get in the pit and they keep, a few times, they throw you under. Then, they had a long canvas bag that you had to crawl through and they had a hose with water shooting this way. Now, you had to crawl through that long thing and there's these guys with paddles, hitting you as you're going through, and, here, you're fighting the force of that water and you're trying to get through as fast as you can. Then, when you get through that, then, they say, "Okay, shellback, welcome. Join into the facility [festivities]," and we had almost a thousand soldiers that wanted to go, but you had to get their name and commission, so that they could document it and give them the [certificate], and a lot of them, they were there. We're doing this until night time, because they wanted to get the shellback certificate. Unless you're duly initiated, you can't get that. You have to be initiated. Crossing the Equator without getting initiated don't mean anything. You have to be initiated.
SH: Okay, of course. [laughter]
WM: Well, you know what it is, that's naval tradition.
SH: There you go.
WM: That's what they do in the Navy and that's what you have to go through.
SH: You did not go to Yap, but you went to Manus Island.
WM: Well, yes.
SH: In the Admiralties.
WM: We just took on instructions and all that, and we went from there; let me see, we went, fast forward, to Manus Island. We were in a staging area, waiting for the invasion of Leyte. Now, we went into Leyte with 606 ships, but we were always the first one. Now, here's another story I've got to tell you; we had this wonderful lieutenant from the service, in the Army, that went through his shellback [initiation], but one of his things was, they had him scanning the horizon with two Coca-Cola bottles tied together. The poor guy was up there, scanning the horizon with two Coca-Cola bottles as part of his initiation. Then, he had to go through the other [phases], but the sad part is, and I was on the forward repair party; now, we were told a password. You had to give the password, so, then, you would let the person through. So, I was there with a machine-gun, submachine gun, and I was standing duty and I had a walkie-talkie, and this poor soldier was coming along, dragging his M-1, and I challenged him and he didn't answer me. I challenged him, he didn't answer. I didn't have the heart to shoot him, but I could see he was shell-shocked. So, then, I called for the medics, and then, they took him in the sickbay. He was shell-shocked. He just didn't know where he was at, but the sad part, that I saw, and I still think about it, was that lieutenant was killed, and how they piled the bodies [was], they'd pull a jeep with a little cart in the back, and he was piled on top of these bodies. His arm was dragging and I saw his face, and it was that lieutenant that was scanning the horizon.
WM: That was sad.
SH: Was that the first part of the Leyte invasion?
WM: Yes, well, we were already on the island. There were soldiers on the island. We [had] already hit and, actually, if the Japanese had treated the Filipinos a little better, we would have had more people not on our side, because, when we went into Manila, I remember going into this place and they had a sign up there, it said, "Asia for the Asiatics," and, if the Japanese had been a little kinder, instead of robbing them and raping their women and stuff like that, they might not all have sided [with us]. As it was, they didn't all side with us, because, when we went out to anchor, when we got off the beach in Leyte, they blew up an ammunition dump and I was out there, and I was lucky I had my helmet on, because scraps of metal were coming down and hitting our ship. I think it was either somebody from the Philippines that did that [or some other enemy].
SH: It was sabotage.
WM: So, it wasn't all that easy then. Then, MacArthur, I didn't get to see him, but I saw pictures of him coming out on the water and they changed his pants, and he was famous for that hat that he wore, and he had a car in Manila. I went into Manila. Manila is a very dry heat. You can get a stroke there because you wouldn't realize that the heat is penetrating you so much, but Leyte was a very tough operation. It was not that easy. There were a lot of bodies that were [piled up].
SH: Was that the first time you were under fire?
WM: Well, yes, that was the first thing I'd seen, the first real battle that we saw, and then, we had Mindoro.
SH: You went into Leyte and off-loaded the troops and the equipment that you had aboard. Did you have to then return or did you stay right there?
WM: Well, we stayed there for awhile, because I remember going on the island for a little bit and I went into [the interior], and then, I got into Manila.
SH: You were able to go into Manila.
WM: Yes, I went into Manila. They had a Tanqueray distillery operation there then. I don't know if it's ever progressed or did anything, but they did have a distillery.
SH: What did you see when you went into Manila?
WM: There was not that much to see. I mean, you walked around and there was a lot of poverty. It wasn't that impressive. There were buildings, there were buildings, but, as I recall, it wasn't that [impressive].
SH: Did you see any of the Japanese that were prisoners of war?
WM: Not at that point, no, not at that point, not at that point.
SH: What about the Philippine people? Did they look like they were friendly?
WM: Oh, they were friendly, they were very friendly, yes. A lot of them lived off the waterfront. They had their shed-type of homes, little boats that did fishing. No, they were friendly. They were happy to see us.
SH: You said that your ship was one of the first ones to beach there. Had there been a lot of shelling prior to your going in?
WM: Well, yes, there was a lot of air raids. We weren't really the first one, but we had to beach. We had to beach, but, before we did, we let the amphibious DUKWs out, and then, they went into the island, and then, the troops disembarked on those LVTs and that's how they engaged, and then, we went in and beached. Yes, then, we went in and beached.
SH: Were there any air battles that you were aware of? Were Japanese airplanes attacking?
WM: Oh, yes, yes. There were Japanese flying overhead and there was firing, but, luckily, we didn't sustain anything at that time.
SH: What was your battle station?
WM: I was in the forward repair party, and that was mine because I was an engineer. So, if anything had to be repaired or anything, or the bow doors had to be opened, that was my responsibility, and then, I'd go into the pumping station and pump it open, the rest of those to 144 degrees, and then, when I got orders to let the ramp down, then, I let the ramp down, yes.
SH: How long were you in Leyte before you turned around?
WM: Well, I don't think we were in Leyte all that long. I say, "We departed
WM: To Manus Island," let me see, "then, D-Day, (prior to the night?) taskforce, and transmitted straight through." See, some of these islands, I hardly remember. I know I remember Subic Bay.
SH: What was that like?
WM: Well, Subic Bay was a little [better]. It was a nicer area than some of the other areas I had seen, and Mindanao wasn't bad, either.
SH: At this time, you were preparing for Mindanao.
WM: Yes, we're preparing for Mindanao, yes, and then, "We beached at Dulag, [in Leyte], and remained there for twelve hours. Then, we departed for Leyte again, only to be returned because of the Japanese fleet." That was when they had that famous battle with the Japanese fleet and that was the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, [June 19 to 20, 1944], and that was in progress. So, we were sort of not going in that direction at that [time], not to go in that direction [at] that time.
SH: Okay, you were not a part of that. That was one of the questions I had.
WM: Yes, we went back into Dutch New Guinea, see, and then, "While we were six days [at Leyte?], twenty-nine Jap planes were seen and seventeen were fired upon," and then, that's when we took credit for the one Frances and one Tony, and then, "General quarters was sounded twenty-seven times and we were at general quarters for twenty-nine hours and thirty-four minutes, in addition [to] the thirty-three hours and forty-five minutes that the ship was in condition 1-E." [Editor's Note: "Tony" was the Allied codename for the Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien fighter plane and "Frances" was the codename for the Yokosuka P1Y Ginga bomber.]
SH: What is condition 1-E?
WM: Well, that's like alert. We're in an alert. In other words, we're not really in full battle, not in full [general] quarters, but on the alert.
WM: So, at any minute, that we would be called to general quarters, but we're on alert.
SH: From there, you went to Hollandia, [in Indonesia, now known as Jayapura City].
SH: You were there until November 9, 1944.
WM: We departed for Biak Island, yes. Then, we beached on (Ilse?) Island, off Biak Island, about six miles, and we loaded for a return trip to Leyte. We're constantly picking up cargo and [going] back and forth, because that's what that ship was built for.
SH: Yes, that is what I wanted to know.
WM: Yes, because the tank deck can take all kinds of loads of material, firearms, amphibious DUKWs, even a tank, if we had to, and we used to take on a lot of food for the GIs. They had these different rations and we used to store that on the tank deck and it was very accessible, though. A lot of those times, we'd go down and sneak in and grab a box. Their ten-in-one ration was terrific. [Editor's Note: The ten-in-one ration held a full day's worth of meals for ten soldiers.] It had everything in it, between cheese and cigarettes and candy. So, it was a good thing to grab hold of. [laughter]
SH: Some of these cases were obviously opened up.
WM: Oh, yes, they knew it.
SH: Was it pretty open when you went back to Leyte?
WM: Yes, it was pretty much secure then. No, the beach was pretty much secure. The battle had been basically won by then, probably some small, little in-fighting way out, but, basically, it was under [control].
SH: For you, it was secure.
WM: Yes, it was secure, yes.
SH: When you prepared for the invasion of Mindoro, did you go there from Leyte?
WM: Yes, we went from Leyte, and then, we went into (Cayton Hill?). After that, then, we reloaded for invasion and we departed for the mission that we were assigned, and we were escorted, four cruisers and twenty destroyers, for protection. We were in a taskforce at that time.
SH: How big is a taskforce, usually?
WM: Well, it all depends on what the mission is. If the mission is bigger than Leyte, or of [the] same size of Leyte, then, you've got to have a real force, because, now, you've got a stronger enemy to face, where if you're going to Mindoro, it wasn't that big of an invasion, not like Leyte.
SH: All right.
WM: The only thing is, you see more enemy planes and what the enemy would do [was], the Zero, especially, they would fly between ships. So, in your firing, you're shooting at one another and that's how, sometimes, you get hit. Now, we only had twenty-millimeters and forty-millimeters, but, if you're on a destroyer with three-inch guns or a cruiser with eight-inch guns, they could blow you apart. So, their aim was to fly low on the water, skim the water, and have you ...
SH: Draw fire that way?
WM: Fire, yes, you fire at one another, yes. The enemy is not that stupid. I mean, they're pretty smart, too. [laughter]
JR: Did you ever see a kamikaze attack?
WM: Yes. That's when they hit the USS Nashville. [Editor's Note: The USS Nashville (CL-43) was hit by a kamikaze on December 13, 1944, en route to Mindoro, suffering a loss of 130 crew members and forcing the ship to return to the United States for repairs.] I saw them. Actually, what they do [is], they aim for the con [conning tower], where the captain and all them [are stationed]. They aim for the con, and then, while he was in our taskforce, during the night, he disappeared, and that's when he went in for repairs, but the kamikaze actually went into the con and hit the USS Nashville.
SH: You saw that.
WM: I saw that.
SH: You could see that.
WM: Yes, I was on the starboard side and I actually saw a kamikaze go into that USS Nashville.
SH: That was a heavy cruiser.
WM: That's a cruiser, yes, that's a cruiser.
SH: Did you think the ship was sunk?
WM: No, I didn't think the ship was sunk, because that's a pretty big ship, and then, where he was hit, you're mostly not hitting where [it would endanger the ship]. If you were hitting, say, below deck and where you're going to create a hole and the water is going to come in; you're hitting [the] top and that didn't. That could really [be contained]. You could extinguish that fire, but you're going to do damage to the captain and the engineering [officer], the different officers are going to be [killed]. You know they're going to get killed.
SH: They took them out under cover of darkness.
WM: Well, what happened [was], during the night, they disappeared. We didn't see them the next day in the convoy. They were gone, but they had to go in for repairs. They were actually destroyed, to a degree, but they were able, still, [to] move the ship and get to where they had to get to.
SH: Where did you go from there?
WM: Well, that's when we had the suicide attack by eight or nine planes, and two LSTs were lost during this time. Then, we beached on "Blue Beach," [a landing beach codename].
SH: Did you know any of the people on the other LSTs that were hit?
WM: Only on one LST. I think it was the 733 that I knew somebody. [Editor's Note: The LST-738 was hit by a kamikaze on December 15, 1944, during the Mindoro operation.] That was the only contact I had, although I had a friend that was on the [USS] New Jersey [(BB-62)], the battleship New Jersey, and, when I was in Pearl Harbor and they were in Pearl Harbor, we contacted each other and he took me on it, and that was a very impressive ship.
SH: Was that when you went to Pearl the first time?
WM: Yes, when we went to Pearl the first time. I want to tell you, when I went on that ship, I couldn't believe it. They have everything, even an ice cream parlor. [laughter] You never saw anything so big, beautiful. It's really an impressive ship.
SH: Did you ever think about trying to transfer to something like that?
WM: No, not if I'm in the Amphibious Forces. They're not going to transfer me on that, because those [sailors], they have to be trained for that particular kind of ship, and then, you had fire control. You're actually locked in with those sixteen-inch guns when you're under battle stations, and you have to know fire control. You can actually, if you see, like, you're here and there's an obstruction here, but you want to hit that target, you can actually make that shell go like that.
SH: Like an arc.
WM: Yes, like an arc. You can actually [fire over]; that's what they call fire control. Instead of going straight, you can make it go up like that, yes. I've seen that, I've seen it, and it's really impressive, goes like that, "Boom, boom," [laughter] really something, yes, really something.
SH: Is it fair to say that some of this was actually exciting as well as terrifying?
WM: Well, you're under so much pressure to get to what you have to do that, sometimes, you're not even thinking. You're not even thinking. You just go and do it automatically, because you were trained to do that, and then, when they told me to go, and this other personnel, to go down and open those bow doors, then, we had to go and open those bow doors, and, if we're under attack and if we're hitting [a beach], that was our instruction. That wasn't an easy thing to open those bow doors, because I often thought that when I kick that last lever, if my foot ever got caught, I mean, but the thing that was really bad is that you couldn't really stick your head up, because, now, you've got twin forty-millimeter guns firing in that gun tub. You're coming up in that little opening and you had to get out of the way before; you couldn't stick your head up there. You'd blow your head [off]. Somebody had actually gotten hurt, on one of the other ships, from coming up from trying to open those bow doors. Then, you go down to that pumping station, and then, that's when you open, you get the instructions to open, the doors to 144 degrees.
SH: You had talked about one of the Army personnel discharging their rifle and putting a hole in the ship. When was that?
WM: Well, no, it was an automatic. It was an automatic gun, that it just went off by mistake and it was just outside the lavatory area there, where you take showers and all that, and that was another thing. Since I was in charge of the water and all that, I had a key, that I had to shut the shower. Those poor guys had a certain time to take a shower, because we couldn't expend all that water, and then, if they didn't take a shower, [they were unable to], but a lot of them knew how to open that valve, [laughter] because we didn't have any handles on it, took all the handles off, and I had a little key. Then, I'd go down there and I'd see this guy taking a shower. What was I going to say, poor guy? [laughter] Well, we got [friendly]. We were very friendly with them, and they were friendly with us. I mean, you're a comrade. I mean, you're fighting the same enemy and you can't [be petty].
SH: The men that you carried into battle and discharged on the beach, did you ever see any of them? Sadly, you talked about the lieutenant that you recognized.
SH: Did anybody ever come back on the ship for another invasion?
WM: Oh, yes, there was. We took the same artillery or infantry. You wouldn't mind; a lot of the boys we got acquainted with were from Brooklyn, the first batch. So, we had a lot in common. We talked about Brooklyn.
SH: Did the bookie recover?
WM: Moe, that Moe, I never saw him again. I don't think he ever recovered. [laughter] His head, I swear to God, his head was in that bowl the entire time. He wouldn't move from there.
SH: Do you think he still may be on Pearl because of this? [laughter]
WM: Probably, but it was funny that he was a bookmaker and we're trying to make light of it and joke by saying, "We're giving odds that he doesn't make it," [laughter] but, when he got on shore, he kissed it. He swore that he'd never go back on another ship.
SH: When the kamikazes attacked that day, you said there were six, did it make you angry?
WM: Well, to a degree, it's scary, that they're willing to commit suicide like that. They're willing to [die]; it's like what you see in the Muslim world today, where these terrorists are willing to blow themselves up so [that] they can kill. It's [a question of], "How do they get a person's mind to do a thing like that? What is the background? How do you communicate with a person that's willing to give his life just to kill you?"
SH: Had you been told that there was the chance of that happening? Was that something new for you?
WM: Well, you mean for them to hit our ship, you mean, something like that?
SH: I mean that the kamikaze was not something that they used at the beginning of the war.
WM: No. Well, you didn't hear much of it until you got out there.
SH: You had heard of them before that actually happened.
WM: Yes, we had heard. We had heard that they would [do that]. Well, look at what they did in Pearl Harbor, I mean. It's funny that we became such good friends with the Japanese after that. It's just amazing, what they [did], how cruel they were. We had a gentleman that lived around the corner here, that my wife was very friendly with his wife, and he was in the Bataan [Death] March and was a wonderful guy. Ida, what was his name?
IM: Ed (Demarest?).
WM: (Demarest?), yes, Ed (Demarest?). Yes, he was in the Bataan March and it was very cruel, the way they treated those people.
SH: As a young sailor on an LST like this, did you perceive the Japanese differently as your enemy, compared to how you saw the Germans as the enemy?
WM: Actually, you took both of them equally. I felt they were both ...
WM: Yes, but, of course, being in contact with what you see with the Japanese, naturally, you feel more hatred, or not hatred, but you know that that's more of your enemy than the Germans, because you're not in the conflict with the Nazis. No, there, you knew that they were your enemy.
SH: At what point did you feel that the war was actually winding down? Were you always optimistic that the war would end soon?
SH: Was it the Battle of Leyte, or when you went into Manila, that you thought it might be ending soon?
WM: Well, at that point, I wasn't really sure yet. When I was sure is with [the Battle of] Okinawa, and then, when they bombed with the atom bombs, and then, I was pretty sure that things were going to be [ending soon].
SH: When you heard that the war had ended in Europe, what was your feeling? What did you think?
WM: Well, we had sort of a celebration. We celebrated.
SH: Did you?
WM: Yes. You're not allowed liquor or anything, but you'd have a little entertainment, or something like that.
SH: Did you feel that the Pacific Theater had been forgotten while Europe was still going on? Did you expect more supplies?
WM: No, no. I think we were both [treated] equally, both have our share of battles. Whether theirs was more so than ours or not; it was a tough battle, that before that, Iwo Jima and all that, they had to gas these Japanese out of the holes up there, and her [Ida Mele's] brother was on Iwo Jima. They were a tough enemy. They weren't easy to deal with.
SH: How did you feel when you learned of the death of President Roosevelt?
WM: Yes, that was sad, that was a sad day. He was one of my favorites. I admired Roosevelt. I felt sad about that.
SH: What was the reaction on the ship?
WM: Well, most of it took it hard, that now we have a new Commander-in-Chief in Truman.
SH: Were they confident in Truman?
WM: At first, I wasn't, but, after awhile, I think we were, because, when he stood up to MacArthur and all that, you had a guy that was head, he was in charge, he wasn't taking any guff from anybody. [Editor's Note: Mr. Mele is referring to President Harry S. Truman's dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.] So, no, I think he became a very good President.
SH: How was MacArthur perceived by the sailors in the Pacific?
WM: Well, no, we admired him as a gentleman and soldier, and a bit of a; not a show off
IM: Yes, a show off.
WM: But, he was, sort of. I think we admired [General Dwight] Eisenhower more than MacArthur.
SH: What did you think of the different admirals that were in charge in the Pacific?
WM: Oh, we had some very good admirals. I think, I forget, [Fleet Admiral Ernest] King, or I forget the name of the admiral we had in our fleet.
WM: No, I thought the admirals were [good]. Yes, I thought we had good admirals, yes. No, I didn't hear anything too much about the admirals, to be honest with you. Of course, we weren't going on shore that much, where you could get a lot of this information, and you hear things from the radio, or stuff like that. So, when you're out to sea all the time, week after week ...
SH: What did you do for entertainment in down times?
WM: Yes, there was some entertainment. The Captain would have these three-round fights, and then, based on your weight, you'd be up on this cargo hatch. They'd have a ring up there, and then, if you went up to the (island?), you saw your name, you're going to be fighting this guy for three rounds. The officers would all sit there, with the Army officers, and you'd be over there fighting three rounds, but, of course, you had these big gloves, so, you couldn't hurt anybody, but I got in with this one big guy from the South and he had these big gloves and he never punched straight. He scraped, and I had these lines on my face for the longest time; remember, Ida, [I] had those lines? It took years for those lines to go away from that leather, when he was slapping me, and he just made lines on my face, [laughter] but that was the only time I got in the ring with him. He was a big, tall [man]. He really wasn't a fighter, he was just a slapper, [laughter] and I was bigger and stronger then than I am today. Of course, I'm [over] eighty.
SH: It was not just Army against Navy; it could be two Navy or two Army guys fighting?
WM: No, we didn't. They didn't put the Army in. They didn't mix the Army with the Navy. This was strictly a crew thing.
WM: Yes, on fighting those three rounds, yes. They'd have it every once in a while.
SH: What else did you do for entertainment, if that is entertainment? [laughter]
WM: Well, on the ship, there wasn't really much. Oh, we'd have movies. I remember seeing a movie with Ann Miller, back in the stern of the ship, where the chow line [was], where the tables where you ate [at]. We had films, yes, we had films, yes. Well, that's about the only thing.
SH: Did you play cards or craps?
WM: Oh, yes, some of them played cards, but checkers, something like that, but that was basically because we're always under way, doing something, something, some battle or something. I've got to tell you, the point, when we get to the point of Okinawa, I'll tell you about that.
SH: There had to be some downtime, so, I thought perhaps people were winning and losing money.
WM: Oh, yes. They would play cards for money, but it wasn't that big money. Don't forget, I never took my money [out on payday]. I only took just enough to keep [going. As a] matter-of-fact, when I was discharged, I had about twenty-five hundred dollars coming to me, but I used to send money home to my mother. I thought she would save it for me, but she never did. [laughter]
SH: She was enjoying the money.
WM: She was enjoying the money I sent home.
IM: Your outfits, your clothes.
SH: How did the crew get along?
WM: There was some animosity, because you had a mixed crew of Southerners and Northerners and there would be some infighting, once in awhile, there would be. When I became in charge of the three divisions, I always had a lot of problems, because, when I made up the watch lists, this guy always wanted to be with his buddy and the other [one] wanted to be with his buddy, and I said, "I've got to mix him up with him," before you know, I'd destroy the whole system that I had going. Then, if I didn't do it, then, they'd get mad. Then, we did have one Jewish fellow fight a guy from California. His name was (Kassera?). He was a Jewish fellow, he was pretty strong, and they had a fight down on the tank deck one night, and this other fellow that came from California was a pretty big guy, but he broke his tooth. They never got along after that, but he was one of the fellows that was injured and went home. He was injured on his ankle, so, they sent him home. He was discharged, but he went to visit my mother. He went to visit my mother in Washington Heights. He came from the Bronx, and [his] name was (Kassera?), and he said, my mother said, "How is he?" and [he said], "Oh, he's doing all right." He said, "Your son is doing okay," but I got along good with him, because he's from the Bronx, but he fought this fellow from California, who was, I think, a pretty strong fellow, it turns out, name was (Nonamaker?), was a very good swimmer. [As a] matter-of-fact, when the cable got wrapped around the stern screw, he was the one that went overboard and went and unwound it, and he had to come up for air every once in awhile, but he went under, he was an exceptional swimmer, and he unwound it.
SH: The guy from California?
WM: He was from California, yes. (Nonamaker?), his name was.
SH: Did you swim for sport when you beached?
WM: No. Well, I think the one time, when they threw out a net, that, then, you could swim, because there were shark-infested areas there, and then, you could only go so far, and then, you were sort of protected by that net. They'd jump off, but I'll tell you, you go on a carrier and you look down to jump off a carrier, you don't want to think about that twice. That's a pretty high jump. [laughter]
SH: Did you go on any carriers?
WM: I've been on one carrier, yes.
SH: Which one did you go on?
WM: I forget the name of it now, but it was out there. It was just a moment, just a quick visit, and you could see how the planes would land, but I forget the name of it. It's so long ago. You're talking about over sixty some-odd years ago. [laughter]
SH: That is right.
WM: I'm lucky I remember what I do.
SH: How did you manage to get all the supplies, repair equipment and other things that you needed?
WM: Well, a supply ship, or we'd go to port, and they'd pick up things. Actually, one time, we had water to give another ship, or, no, fuel to give another ship. [When] two ships come side-by-side, that's a pretty tricky thing, because, now, you've got to tie the hose to a line and you have to throw the line to reach them with a gun that shoots it over, and like a harpoon. It shoots the thing over, and then, you pull the wire and you pull the hose over, and then, you feed the fuel into them, and that's a pretty tricky thing, because, if you ever fell over, if you ever see the current between the two ships, when the water mixes up, it's pretty difficult, because both of you are swaying, and especially an LST. You're bouncing all the time.
SH: This was another LST that you were refueling.
WM: No, it was a bigger ship than an LST.
WM: I forget. They were just out of water, out of fuel or [water]; I think it was fuel, and we gave them fuel.
SH: Were there oil tankers that supplied you with fuel as well?
WM: Yes, well, an oil tanker or on shore, yes. Shore would supply us with the fuel. Water, we would get most of the time; we'd make our own or we'd get water, yes.
SH: What was the worst weather that you encountered?
WM: Well, we hit a typhoon over here, and I think, when it was outside of Okinawa, we actually had to go out to sea or come in.
SH: I remember reading about that.
WM: I think it was here. We hit some kind of typhoon or something. We had to come in.
IM: When you departed Okinawa for Guam?
WM: Well, it was outside of Okinawa when we ...
SH: We can talk about that when we get there. Right now, you were preparing for Okinawa.
WM: Yes. Now, we're preparing for Okinawa and [the] Okinawa invasion was April 1. We were assigned, with another LST, to unload these "long toms," [155-millimeter artillery pieces], we had ten and they had ten, and the Captain called us topside. H. A. May said, "Our duty is to land these long toms in this little inlet. The Seabees [Underwater Demolition Teams?] are out there blowing up the coral," so [that] we could beach, "and we were told we were expendable. Get the cargo on, we don't make any difference. Get that cargo on there, get those guns on there." The Captain said, "We are expendable." So, we went in the day before the actual invasion, our LST and another LST. We landed the long toms, and, during the night, there was a gun, but they were on a railroad. Nobody detected that right away. He'd fire, and then, he'd go, and then, if there was a battleship out there, trying to get to him, he would disappear, because he's on this railroad, but, out of twenty guns, I think there were only five guns ready to operate the next day, because, now, the fleet is going to come in on this inlet. They had to have certain protection. If they're on a hill, if there was any kind of cannon to shoot back at them, they had to shoot them, but there were only five left the next day, five or more, I forget, but I think it tells you how many were left, but all night long, we were fired on, but we didn't get hit. I don't know if the other LST got hit, but we didn't get hit.
SH: All the time that you were there, you were being fired upon, but the big Navy ships were also firing.
WM: They're firing back where they saw the flash, but, then, they weren't there, because they were on this railroad gun.
SH: What are "long toms?"
WM: Well, those are long cannons that the artillery [used].
SH: Would you also offload the personnel who fired them?
WM: Oh, yes, yes, you had to unload the personnel to fire them, sure.
SH: Were they in the Marines or the Army?
WM: No, they were Army.
SH: They were Army.
WM: They were Army artillery, yes. There were Marines in the Third and Fourth Division that came in, that we transported later on. [Editor's Note: The Third and Fourth Marine Division's assaulted Iwo Jima; the First, Second and Sixth Marine Divisions took part in the Okinawa Campaign. The Fourth Marine Regiment was then part of the Sixth Division.] They were hitting Okinawa, the Marines.
SH: The troops that you were putting on the beach were part of the Army, but, when you went in and you were told you were expendable, were you told to get off the beach once they were offloaded?
WM: Not right away. I forget, I think we stayed there for a couple of days, and then, what happened [was], we sustained damage to two freshwater tanks and three ballast tanks. Isn't that what it says here? Let me see, yes, "Three ballast tanks and two freshwater tanks were in need of repairs," and what we did [was], we went into an LSD. Now, an LSD is a repair ship, and you won't believe it, but they have an opening and you go in while there's water and you're sitting on these wooden [support beams?], I forget what they called them, but, actually, we went into this ship to get repaired. [Editor's Note: Dock landing ships served as floating repair docks in combat zones.]
WM: Yes. You go inside this LSD and they repaired our ship, and what you have to do is clean out the tanks, so that, then, you had to dry them before you can weld, and then, we emptied out whatever was left, and then, we repaired them, and then, we went back out. That's when we departed for the Okinawa (Atoll?), and that's where I saw the most Japanese, that came around Bolo Point. That's where I saw the most Japanese planes [coming] over, and then, we were told to get out of that area, because of their [attack]. That was their last desperate shot.
SH: Before the invasion of Okinawa, you were at (Keise Shima?). Is that where you trained for the invasion? What were you told would be different?
WM: Well, no, you did your actual [job], like, if you were in the forward repair party or rear repair party, that was your job [that] you did. You maintained your position that you had. You were given certain instructions, like, if you were going in during the night, you didn't want any light showing. Like, if you opened up the hatch door or something, they had these curtains, so that the light wouldn't reflect. The enemy was treacherous. I mean, for them to have that railroad gun up there, who knew that they had that? because they would fire, and then, move, fire, and then, move.
SH: What other stories or memories do you have about the Battle of Okinawa?
WM: Well, other than that there was severe air strikes from the Japanese, then, once the island was secured, we were given permission to go on the island, which was a dangerous thing, because what the Japanese had done [was], wherever you walked on this path, they had trapped it with a hand grenade. So, they had a wire go across the path, and, if you didn't look, and some had already, some sailors had gotten blown up, because he hit the wire and [that] pulls the pin and the hand grenade goes up. Another thing about that, the Japanese, on that island, they're buried with their possessions. [Editor's Note: Mr. Mele is referring to the burial chambers of indigenous Okinawans.] They were large, like, almost like a garage-sized shed and, inside there, they were buried with all their possessions, their teacups and whatever they owned. They were buried in that particular place with their belongings. That's what they believed in, but, then, after awhile, it got too dangerous to be walking around, and then, we were called back on ship, [told] not to walk around there anymore.
SH: When you were walking around, had all the bodies been cleaned up?
WM: Yes, the bodies had been cleaned up, but, later, when we came back again, we saw bodies floating and, when they're floating, they're blown up. They blow up, and we saw a lot of coral snakes, a lot of coral snakes. As you look down below, on the water, you'd see these snakes, but we saw some Japanese bodies floating out there.
JR: Were you armed when you walked around? Did you go on patrols?
WM: No, no, we didn't carry any arms, didn't carry arms, no.
JR: You just walked around.
WM: Just walked around. Of course, [as] a sailor, you don't carry [a weapon]. Like, a soldier, you've got to carry a rifle or you're going to carry a sidearm, we weren't given any of that.
SH: At one point, you said you brought Marines onto Okinawa.
WM: Yes, yes.
SH: Where did you pick them up?
WM: I forget where we [did that]; let me see. "We loaded a Marine and antitank unit on May 5th and proceeded back to assault beaches Okinawa, and we beached on 'White Beach,' [a landing beach codename], and unloaded and we went into a restricted area and anchored."
SH: What is a restricted area?
WM: Well, it means that this area is now where [you must go]. In other words, it's a restricted area, only assigned ships or whatever has to go in that area. Otherwise, you should stay out of that area. There's a particular reason for that. So, we were in a restricted area, and then, only under orders are you allowed to go into that restricted area, but I think they were the Third or Fourth Marine Division, I forget. It's so long ago.
SH: That is okay. That is perfectly understandable.
WM: Yes. I'm amazed that I even remember [that much].
IM: How about the women? There were women.
SH: Were there civilians on Okinawa?
WM: Civilians, I saw some, but not many, at that point, no, not many. I only saw a few farmers or whatever they were, but not many. They were either evacuated or got out of the [area], because it's still a dangerous area. You still don't know what the Japanese had done. Like I told you, they had the ...
IM: You were returning Japanese and Chinese people down there.
WM: Oh, well, that was later, after that. When the war was over, then, we repatriated them, yes.
SH: After Okinawa, you were sent back to Leyte for repairs.
WM: Yes, yes. Then, we went back to Leyte. We were sent there for more complete repairs, because, like the water, the fresh [water makers], the evaporators that make water, had filled up with brine. There's about three hundred tubes in there that get heated up and extract the brine. You're supposed to have an electric rod that would go up and remove the brine. You're sitting in the bilges, and I'm sitting in there, trying to clean them out, but I'm not getting anywhere. You need a special tool. So, we picked up things like that, or if we had to repair an engine or something, we did that.
WM: Like, we had two engines for underway power. There were two General Motors engines. We had three auxiliary engines for electrical power, and then, we had a diesel pump, a Hercules, for pumping water, if you had to pump water to put out a fire with it, with a fire hose. Then, we also had a smoke machine that [we used] when we're in convoy, and that's a very dangerous machine. It's heated with, like, an oil and you couldn't have a regular light, you had to have a red light, and you had to watch the temperature. Now, if it exceeded a certain point, it could blow up. So, that was another thing that you had to watch out for when we were under orders to put the smoke machine on, in order to camouflage the other ships that are behind us. As I say, the LST, it was always out front, because they're not [capital or cargo ships].
SH: How often did you have to use the smoke machine?
WM: Oh, several times, especially when we're in convoy, going into certain areas, and we had to protect the other ships from aircraft or from another ships striking them. Yes, there were several times we used it.
SH: It was a kind of defensive mechanism.
WM: It's a defensive mechanism, yes.
SH: You went to the Ulithi Atoll for your repairs, then, you went to Subic Bay again.
WM: Back to Luzon, yes.
SH: On the 29th of June, you were making roundtrips from there to Okinawa.
WM: To Okinawa.
SH: Were you bringing men and materiel back?
WM: Yes, we were bringing amtracs [amphibious tractors] and we loaded certain equipment, and we took that back into Okinawa.
SH: At this point, the war is still going on.
SH: When you first started bringing material off, were you preparing for the invasion of Japan? Was that something you were talking about?
WM: Well, that would have been the next [operation], but, then, when they dropped those bombs, on Hiroshima and all that, then, that's when the Japanese, more or less, gave up.
SH: However, up until that point, you thought you were going to invade Japan.
WM: Up until that point, then, there was the possibility, then, that we'd have to hit the mainland of Japan, yes.
SH: Were you being told anything? Did you hear any rumors?
WM: No. It's funny, you don't get that much advanced information from the Captain. It's really almost up to the point where you're going to go into these things. He never really [said much]. Don't forget, he was regular Navy and he was instructed [at the US Naval Academy]. Now, if he was a "ninety-day wonder," as we called these guys that go through, and you might have heard [that term, maybe he would have said more]. We had a "ninety-day wonder" engineering officer come onboard, and the poor guy, he was a nice, young man, but he didn't know anything about the ship, I mean. [laughter] We had this four-stack, updraft boiler for heat, and what happens, it's [that] you're injecting fuel into this chamber and you have these electrodes that spark. Once those electrodes corrode and the spark doesn't materialize, the fuel oil builds up there, but nothing is happening. So, he called me. He said, "Bill," he said, "we've got no heat." He says, "You've got to get [the heat working]." [laughter] So, he went down with me and I removed the furnace, took it out, and I cleaned the electrodes and wiped up the end and I put it back in. Now, he's not aware that once I turn that key and that spark goes, you're going to have an explosion, you're going to have a backlash and smoke is going to come out. Well, when I start it up and [it emits] the smoke and everything, and the, "Boom," he ran up that ladder and he yelled down, "Are you all right? Are you all right?" and I'm down there, holding my head. I shouldn't have done it. I should have warned him, but he didn't know. I said, "Boy, that had such a backlash and the smoke and the explosion," and he ran up the ladder. [laughter]
SH: What you have to do to entertain yourself. [laughter]
WM: Well, this was when they removed the regular [officer], because, at that point, I think, the war was over, and then, they brought these new officers on.
SH: When you first heard about the first atomic bomb that was dropped at Hiroshima, did you know what it was? Did you understand what it was?
WM: Well, yes, we understood it and we had mixed feelings about that now, because, now, you're killing a lot of civilians and you wonder if it was worth [it].
SH: Did you wonder whether dropping the atomic bomb was worth it then, or after the war?
WM: After we heard about it and got more into it. The first reaction [was], "Oh, good, we're going to get this over with," but I think, after awhile, when you think about it, and then, you see films of these scared bodies and stuff like that, and then, you start to [understand the impact of the atomic bombs].
SH: Until then ...
WM: Until then, you didn't realize it. You don't feel the fullness of it in the beginning. It's like when you hear if somebody dies; it doesn't really penetrate until later what the consequences [are].
SH: Where were you when you heard about the two bombs being dropped?
WM: We were outside; we were out on one of the islands here. I don't think we were out on Okinawa yet. I don't know where we were.
IM: Wait a minute, I just saw that.
SH: Were you out of Subic Bay at that point?
WM: I think we were near Okinawa at that point, because it wasn't too far after that when they dropped the bomb [in Nagasaki] in May; I think it was in May, or, no, April?
IM: May or June, May, I think. [Editor's Note: Hiroshima was struck on August 6, 1945, followed by Nagasaki on August 9th.]
SH: Where were you when the surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay?
WM: Oh, wow, let me see, in September, I think we were somewhere in the Philippines when that happened, yes, in the Philippines.
SH: What kind of celebration took place?
WM: Well, there was a celebration, but, again, we're not allowed to have beer or drinking on the ship. So, the entertainment would be toasting each other with a soda or coffee or something like that, or patting each other on the back. There wouldn't be anything like that. If you're on the beach, naturally, you'd head to a bar or something like that then, but celebrations, don't forget, we had our food, what we ate. We had powdered eggs, we didn't get fresh meat, didn't get fresh beef. The only time we got some beef, we had some Australian beef, and that's very tough, but powdered milk, powdered eggs, and it was all [dehydrated].
SH: Did you ever have any interaction with any of the other Allied forces, say, the Australians or the British?
WM: Not really, not that I recall, no, not really.
SH: When did your orders change? Obviously, then, you were sent to start bringing Japanese forces back from China.
WM: Well, that's another thing, yes. We did that several times. First, we would take back the Koreans, back to Korea, and we ended up in (Mokpo?).
SH: Where were you taking the Koreans from and to?
WM: Oh, yes, well, let me see; well, we were in Manila and we loaded onboard a [group for] transportation to Jinsen, [the Japanese name for what is today Incheon, South Korea]. So, we must have picked them up in Manila and took them to Jinsen, Korea. "We arrived there on the 27th of September, and then, we departed for Manila again and we took on Unit 78.12.60 and passed through," and that's when we hit the tropical storm and, "The battering received, put into Nago-Wan, in Okinawa, to await moderation of weather. Then, the task unit would depart from Manila the next day, en route and pass through the center of the great typhoon that hit Okinawa at a distance of three hundred miles, only feeling the effect of the winds at the outer perimeter, and, in five days, we were permitted in Manila for purpose of logistics, and then, we picked up in San Fernando, Luzon, and discharged at Jinsen." We picked them up in Luzon and dropped them in Jinsen, Korea.
SH: What kind of shape were they in? Were they in good shape?
WM: What, the Koreans? Terrible; you know what they had? They're called "honey carts." You know what a "honey cart" is, right? Well, you get behind one of those things. [laughter]
SH: Joe might not know what a "honey cart" is.
WM: Well, that's where they pick up the waste. They put the waste in front of their house and they pick up the waste, and I want to tell you, but they had a theater. I remember seeing a theater, that I walked up the steps. They had this big theater in Jinsen, Korea, and they had school kids that I saw, but there, at that point, they were nearly poverty stricken. They really didn't have anything, neither Jinsen or (Mokpo?), Korea.
SH: The Koreans that you picked up in Manila or Luzon, what shape were they in?
WM: They were not dressed too well and they all slept on the tank deck and, in here, one of them had given birth to a child that passed away, and then, we deep-sixed it, [buried the infant at sea]. The difference between them and the Japanese [was], the Japanese civilians all wore masks. They all protected themselves from any smell or disease or anything, where the Koreans weren't dressed too well and shabby, carried bags from their possessions, and not too wealthy.
SH: When you took them back to Korea, did you just drop them off?
WM: Yes, well, yes. They departed and I think there was some emissary or somebody, that they took over and they departed for wherever destination they were going.
SH: Did you then go to China?
WM: Yes, then, we took Chinese back to China
SH: Where did you take the Chinese from?
WM: We went to Taku, China, and then, we were assigned to the duty; oh, no, then, we went there and we took the Japanese prisoners. That's another thing, almost a thousand Japanese prisoners. I think we had four or five Marine guards and a thousand Japanese prisoners on the tank deck, and one Marine got up there, guarding a thousand, with an interpreter, so that he could speak. He would give the interpreter his rifle and he'd say, "I'm going to go have coffee," and the interpreter would be up there guarding a thousand Japs, but the one exposure that I had to them, I had to go down with a Marine guard, with a rifle. We had an overflow from one of the pipes, that fuel spilled into the tank deck and they wanted to know where it was coming from. So, I ran down there to sound it, to see which tank it was that's overflowing. Here I am, with a thousand Japanese, with one Marine guard with one rifle, and I said, "How many bullets do you have in that thing?" [laughter] but I don't know. I think, at that point, they knew they were going back to Japan and they were defeated and they weren't about to start [a fight], but I think that that's, to me, a pretty, pretty dangerous situation, with a thousand Japanese, a 125-man crew and six Marines or five Marine guards, but we did that several times. It wasn't only once. We did it several times.
SH: Were there any incidents with the Japanese?
WM: No, no. They were very subdued. They knew, by their interpreter, that they weren't going to be harmed, that they were going back to Japan and, subsequently, they maintained their cool. In other words, they weren't getting [worked up], and then, what we used to do [was], they had these big GI cans and they'd steam the rice and they'd have rice. They'd put in some kind of peppers or something, and then, they'd have bowls of rice to eat, and so, the same way with the Chinese, but they'd have the big GI cans and they'd steam the rice. We'd have a steam hose [that] would cook the rice.
SH: Where did you pick up the Chinese?
WM: Now, the Chinese, I'm trying to remember where we picked them up.
SH: Were they in Japan?
WM: No, I don't think they were in Japan. I'm just trying to think of where we [got them].
SH: It was in Sasebo and Kyushu that you picked up the Chinese.
WM: A thousand Chinese.
SH: A thousand Chinese. What shape were the Chinese in?
WM: Not as good as the Japanese civilians. They were more shabby and they weren't very protective of themselves, where the Japanese wore these masks, to protect [themselves].
IM: And they were cleaner.
WM: And they were cleaner, the Japanese. The Chinese weren't as clean.
SH: You took them back to China, and then, you picked up, this time, Japanese civilians.
WM: Japanese, yes, we took back Japanese civilians in there.
SH: It was at that point that the baby was born.
WM: Yes, baby died.
SH: This was in December of 1945.
WM: Right. "Then, we received 980 Korean civilians and departed for, [on] the 22nd, (Mokpo?), Korea," and that's when we encountered very heavy weather.
SH: It says that you wound up in Korea on Christmas Day. How did you celebrate the holidays while you were in the Pacific?
WM: Well, the celebration is when you might get some different food onboard ship, cold cuts or something like that. [laughter] It wasn't very [fancy]. We didn't carry very much fresh food. We did have a fresh fruit compartment and we had a freezer compartment. Naturally, the freezer compartment, we kept [at] lower degrees, the vegetable department, [at] a little higher degree, but that wasn't available. Good fresh fruit wasn't always available.
SH: Now that the New Year is arriving and it is 1946, how did you celebrate 1946, New Year's Day or New Year's Eve?
WM: Well, I think, maybe music, or something like that, or putting on a film. There wasn't much entertainment on an LST, because you didn't have that kind of facility.
SH: It says that you were anchored in Japan. I just wondered if you got off the ship in Japan.
WM: No, no. They didn't want us to get off into Japan, no. They didn't want us to get off in Japan, got off in China, but they didn't want us to get off in Japan.
SH: Did you get off in China the very first time you went there?
WM: Yes, several times, when we got into [China].
SH: How was it there?
WM: Poverty stricken. If you looked over, out in the outside, you'll see these huts. They had rickshaws with lice on the blankets. You couldn't [miss it], especially in Shanghai. In the Park Hotel, if you're up on the top floor and you overlooked, you could see all these little huts out there, no real big buildings, and smoke coming out, because it was in February when we were in Shanghai, and there was not much, a lot of poverty. Then, what they used to do is, we had a lot of Australian beef, they'd come along with these little sampans, [flat-bottomed Chinese boats, generally used for transportation and fishing in coastal areas], and they'd dicker with yens to get food from us and some guys would be broke, pushing some beef, which they shouldn't be doing, and getting some money for it, but China was a very interesting place. We got on a train in Tsingtao, we went to Peking, which is now Beijing, and we saw the Great Wall, what was left of it. We went into that, but, on the way in, in Tsingtao, at that time, Chiang Kai-shek [leader of the Chinese Nationalists] was fighting the Communistic forces, [under Mao Tse-tung]. Now, we had no guns, no nothing, and they had to stop the railroad train because they had to wait for Chiang Kai-shek's forces to move the Communists this way, away, so that we can pass through, and, here, we're sitting there, with no guns, no nothing, and we hoped that our side would win. Sure enough, they were able to push the Communists back and, at that time, they weren't that strong, yes, but, later on, as you know, they became very strong, and then, we went into Peking. The kids would all be around you, going, "Ding-how, Joe, ding-how, Joe." They're looking for money. They're going through your pockets. The Great Wall, actually, was all crumbled. It was coming into the city, almost, and, of course, now, our mayor had gone there and it's all built up. It must be a beautiful view, but Hong Kong, I was very impressed with Hong Kong. We went up on a cable car. All these British homes were evacuated because of the Japanese, but, if you looked in the bay, Hong Kong is the most beautiful sight, beautiful. Yes, Hong Kong is, that's a treat, to go up on that cable car, and then, overlook the bay. It's really very nice, and then, we were in Tientsin, China, which is east of Shanghai. The Yangtze River flows through Shanghai. Then, the Park Hotel, that was built by one of those architects.
IM: Frank Lloyd Wright.
WM: Yes, Frank Lloyd Wright built that, or was the architect, but Shanghai was in very poor shape. They didn't really have anything at that point.
SH: How did they treat American sailors?
WM: Not bad. No, they weren't bad. They were very friendly. No, they were very friendly towards us. Of course, they had such cruelty with the Japanese, we were their heroes. We were able to take their enemy away, so, no.
SH: Did you ever run into any Japanese, Chinese or Koreans who spoke English, and did they try to converse with you at all?
WM: No. One or two, but they're limited. They were limited to what English they spoke. Shanghai was not that well-[off]; it wasn't that impressive as far as having anything monetarily or built up, not like it is today.
SH: On just one ship, considering the number of Japanese that you repatriated, in reading the ship's log, I could not believe how many were on just one ship. How many others were doing the same thing?
WM: There were, maybe, one or two, but, somehow or other, we got stuck with that, and it got very depressing after awhile. Every time we heard that we had to pick up some more to repatriate, it was very, very stressful, because, now, you've got all these on there and the dirt that they left afterwards, and it had to be cleaned, vacuumed out, and then, they had to be fed this rice. Of course, we let their own people do that, but we had to supply the rice and all that, but it was filthy when they got off. It was terrible. It wasn't easy. That was tough duty, taking them back and forth, and we did it several times, with Chinese, Japanese, Koreans. After awhile, it got stressful. We didn't think we'd ever get through with that.
SH: It just continues on through March. You are still doing the same thing. You are even taking these passengers to Okinawa. Were these civilians or military?
WM: Yes, no, they were civilians.
SH: Then, you also loaded up a Marine battalion.
WM: Yes, yes.
SH: In March, you are taking them as part of the occupation forces.
WM: You mean in January? No, you're talking about in March, right? No, let me catch up to you. In March, "We unloaded and departed for Shanghai on March 5th." That's when we started transferring officers, and then, we received [orders] directing us to load the Japanese again, to proceed to Sasebo, and, there, we were detached from the Seventh Fleet and we reported orders to (ADCOM-PHIL-PAC-Marianas?), and that's when we changed fleets. We're no longer under the Seventh Fleet command. I think it was the Fifth or Sixth Fleet that, again, we loaded Japanese again, departed from Shanghai to Sasebo. [Editor's Note: The Fifth Fleet operated in the Pacific in the aftermath of World War II. The Sixth Fleet operated in the Mediterranean, having been established in 1946 as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the eastern Mediterranean.]
SH: While you were in Guam was when you got your orders to come back to the States.
WM: Yes, and then, after Guam, then, we went into Guam; no, in March 26th, we were still proceeding to Okinawa, and then, that's when we took the 12th (Service?) Marine and we loaded them. That's when we had a typhoon, and we proceeded to Nago-Wan, to anchor [for] the night, to await development. Let me see, after the typhoon, now, we, the LST, arrived at; oh, this is now, I think, [as] we're starting on our way back to Guam, right, yes. Now, at this point, we're going to get orders to go back to, I guess, Pearl Harbor, right? Oh, we celebrated our second year as a commissioned ship on April 14th, "Complete holiday for all hands," but the holiday is nothing that you could really brag about.
SH: [laughter] You go from Guam back to Pearl Harbor.
WM: Yes, now, we went to Pearl Harbor.
SH: You are ready to head back to the States.
WM: "We are scheduled to depart for Guam, and then, rather than hold up the sailing with only a partial load, for the next twenty days, our mixed convoy;" that's when we were in convoy. I think that's when we had trouble with one of the ships and we only were able to go at 8.5 knots per hour. It was a memorable trip. One LCI [landing craft, infantry] was [crippled], and we had to tow an LCI for two hours and, because of her slow speed, we had to keep our engines going at a slower pace, but, then, the next day, "The LCI was taken in tow by another LST and both LSTs had to tow continuously until our arrival off the entrance buoy at Pearl Harbor." Then, I think, during the towing of the LCI, part of the second day, I think that the towing line broke, and then, we had to take her back in tow the next day, "On the fourth day, our towing cable parted, due to strain and wear on the cable where it passed through their house pipe." In other words, it goes into this piping thing and that broke. "So, on the ninth day out, the LCS [landing craft, support (large)] was about to lose all light and power. So, we cast off our present tow to pick up the LCS before all power was lost. About 2100, the LCS went dark and we connected our dead tow, which lasted for seven days. On the seventeenth day of our trip, the LCS, having regained the use of one generator, was cast off and our original LCI was taken in tow again, because of mechanical failure and poor fuel. For sixteen days, we headed into the wind and seas. The direction and force of both was so consistent, for such a length of time, that it became almost unbearable. It was not until we were two days out of Pearl Harbor that any let up in that direction or force of the elements were observed."
IM: Do you remember that?
WM: Oh, yes. "Two ships were watered underway;" that's when we watered them. Remember, we talked about watering. Well, I think I said fuel, but I think it was watering, "And the state of sea made operation difficult, trying and somewhat dangerous. Both LSTs lost their stern anchors because of the LCI being towed and the difficulty in maneuvering, and then, we arrived at Pearl Harbor about noon on the twentieth day of the trip that should have been made in fourteen days. The island of Oahu was a very welcome sight to all hands. [laughter] Our stay in Pearl Harbor was just long enough to permit a little liberty and recreation for all hands and get necessary logistics and voyage repairs for us to complete our homeward-bound journey. On May 9, 1946, we received our orders to join a convoy and proceed to Port Hueneme, California. We unloaded our cargo, and then, proceeded to San Francisco for disposition by Commander Western Sea Frontier as directed by CNO [Chief of Naval Operations]. At long last, we're on our last trip homeward. This trip proved to be quite enjoyable, compared to [the] one just completed. No major breakdowns by any of the LCIs, although one caused the convoy to slow down to six knots for fifteen hours. On 16th of May, orders were received changing our ultimate destination from San Francisco to Seattle, Washington, where we are to report for (commandment or?) the 13th Naval District for disposition. Port Hueneme was reached on the nineteenth day [of] May 1946. The unloading of our cargo was accomplished in one day, so that we set sail for Seattle in the afternoon of the 22nd of May. Late in the afternoon of the 23rd of May, our starboard engine had its second serious breakdown, necessitating pulling into San Francisco Bay to acquire the necessary spare parts to offset the repairs." What had happened [was], they're water-cooled, these diesel engines, and, when you remove the inspection cover, the water had shot out, and so, we had to shut that engine down and what we had to do was, we had to get an overhead type of arrangement to pull the piston out and detach it from the connecting rod. The water jacket had cracked. So, now, that means that we had to remove that water jacket and put in another water jacket, so that the water would be contained and not flow out, and that took a little time, and then, that's how we fixed that part.
SH: Did you get any liberty once you got into San Francisco?
WM: Oh, yes, well, not San Francisco; Seattle, we got some. I have pictures of Seattle, but, then, that last page tells you all the statistics of what we did, as far as miles and as far as fuel consumption and various other things.
SH: What was it like to know that you are going to finally get to come home?
WM: Oh, yes, that was great, yes, it was great.
SH: Were you really jealous when they offloaded, was it thirty-four other guys?
WM: Well, not jealous. It's just that they were married and I wasn't married. I had the points to get off, but, because I was a single person, I had to stay on and I was on from the beginning to the end, and so was H. A. May, and I think, when we got to San Francisco [Seattle?], his family, his wife, greeted him and I met [them]. They were very nice, but Seattle's a beautiful town. It's widespread, but I think our ship was bought by an oil [company]; in other words, they could use it as an oil tanker, because there are a lot of ballast tanks on [it]. I think they came onboard to examine the ship and see if it was really able to maneuver, but, then, I took back thirty [men]. I had the highest ranking, so, I was given the papers and the subsistence money to take back thirty to Lido Beach.
WM: Yes, and what happened [was], we got into Chicago. After we ate, I lost five of them, because they got wild. They went out drinking and I lost five. I got into the station in Chicago, on the loudspeaker, calling out their names, telling them where the train would be.
IM: They weren't there.
WM: Yes, they never showed up. So, then, when I got into Lido Beach, to the officer of the day, I reported what I did and to give him [the papers]. He wouldn't take the papers. "Oh, no," he said, "you wait until you get to the base," yes, because they wanted to know how I lost them and, yes, they drove me crazy, and then, I had to take my physical. You have to get in there and I'm standing by this X-ray machine. I'm so dizzy, I nearly fell over. They weren't worried about me. They said, "Get that machine out of the way." They were worried about the machine, well, because that was an expensive machine; me, I'm expendable. [laughter]
IM: You were expendable right from the beginning.
WM: Then, how it turned out, my Uncle Bill picked me up, and that was the day, when I got released, that my sister got married, and then, they were in St. Elizabeth's, in Washington Heights. Just as they were walking up to the altar, I came in and I caused a bit of a stir, because my grandmother was there, my mother and my father, and I created a bit of a stir, because they hadn't seen me all these years. [laughter]
SH: You trumped the bride.
WM: Yes, yes. Then, I mentioned it at her fiftieth anniversary, that I had come in that day, but, all in all, you have to thank God that you can go through something like this, but you have to be a young man, like him. There's no way that, when you get up in age, that you can sustain anything like that, because your body just won't hold up. It's an experience you'll never forget, but you thank God that you got through it and you thank God that some of your shipmates got through it with you. I always gave a lot of respect to H. A. May, because he was regular Navy and, I mean, he was strict, he wasn't easy, but I thought he was a fine officer and a gentleman, yes.
SH: Did you ever entertain the idea of staying in the Navy?
WM: Seeing any of them again?
WM: Oh, staying in the Navy? No, I think, when I got out, I was ready for civilian life at that point, yes.
SH: When did you start making plans as to what you would do when you got home?
WM: Well, in the beginning, they give you this 52/20, [GI Bill unemployment insurance]. You get twenty dollars a week [for up to fifty-two weeks], and so, I sort of laid around a little bit for awhile. I didn't use it all up, because you had to have some kind of income coming in. I took some odd jobs or something like that, but I wasn't ready for anything that I wanted to do yet. So, then, there was a friend of mine that was a Linotype operator and I got interested in that, and then, I went to school and I took up [Linotype].
SH: On the GI Bill? You used the GI Bill.
WM: Yes, I used the GI Bill and I went on 23rd Street. I took that. Then, when I finished, I got all kinds of telegrams, to go out to Graham, Texas, and to Pennsylvania. They were offering me jobs. So, I got something local, up in New Jersey, North Jersey. I used to take the bus and I'd go over, and then, I ended up working in Flemington, New Jersey, alongside the Flemington Fur Company. They're called the Hunterdon Republican, but it was no political [newspapers], it's just a name, and it was bought from the Hearst Publication people, and we were right alongside the Flemington Fur Company.
SH: Who was your boss there? You were the Linotype man.
WM: I was the Linotype; I was in charge of the composing room and they had two owners, one guy by the name of (Bower?), whose mother owned four or five banks, and George (Halloway?). George was the man that knew about printing. (Bower?) was just sort of an investor, and we had three Linotype machines, we had a flatbed press and we had a couple of smaller presses to do job work, but we used to share the same driveway with the people that owned the Flemington Fur Company, and they used to have furs out there, sometimes, out on the platform. Then, Thursday, a truck would come and pick up the weekly newspaper, that's when you had to have it ready, and I warned her; their name was (Benjamin?). They were Russian Jews. She was a wonderful woman. She had a Collie, a white Collie, and I'd leave the door open sometimes in the winter and that Collie came and sat alongside of my press, I mean, my Linotype. You have a molten lead pot of 550 degrees, and I happened to get a squirt. That meant that the thing didn't go into where it was supposed to go on the disc and it shot out and it hit the dog. I felt so bad. He howled. So, I told Mrs. (Benjamin?) and she told me not to worry about it, the dog was fourteen years old and, not too long after that, he passed away. When we sold, when we got out, I came to Rahway, to the Rahway Record, and I worked there nights, but they sold the property to the Flemington Fur Company on Spring Street. So, they expanded their facility all the way to the end. There were two brothers that took over and we met them later on, my wife and I and her brother and his wife, when I got to speak to them, later on.
SH: When did you meet Mrs. Mele?
WM: Well, I had already been divorced and we were working in the same company. So, she was a proofreader, head of the proof room. She became head of the proof room, but she was a copy editor, and then, she became in charge of the proof room. I was a Linotype operator. I said, "Look, I'm not going to do this the rest of my life." So, I went to Mergenthaler Linotype Company, I took some tests, psychological and written, in the New York Athletic Club and they wanted me, said, "I want you to cover Boston, Maine and Vermont, but, before we take you, I want to speak to Mr. (Quinn?), because they draw all this equipment and we don't want to jeopardize an account." At that time, I was also chairman of the union and I ran a school for new processors, and I also ran a sports night. So, when Mr. (Quinn?) heard that they wanted me, he said, "No, we want him." So, then, he put me in the New York sales office, and then, from there, I became vice-president of sales. Now, they bellied up in 1978 and I went to work at (Book Comp?), over here in Colonia. They were only a typesetting outfit, but they were all right, but they were too small for me. So, then, I went to work for American Book-Stratford Press in Saddle Brook, and I also became vice-president of sales there. The CEO, believe it or not, was Frank Satenstein and Frank Satenstein was the director of the Honeymooners [television show]. I don't know if you ever did see the Honeymooners, but he was no longer involved with television. They didn't want him, but he was a fine, tall, Jewish gentleman, and, while I was there, he died of cancer, but I got along with him real well. We used to go to the racetrack. We went to the trustees room. We took one of my publishers and his wife and the guy that was a handicapper, in this beautiful room, and then, they were sold to Arcadia. Arcadia had eleven plants, several down South. We used to do a lot of deluxe Bibles and printing of fiction, bestsellers, big books. So, I went to work for them for ten years and I became an account executive, and then, I retired from them, but, [in] that meantime, I had an open heart bypass. So, I said to myself, "I've got to get on a plane, go to Tennessee all the time, and go to Buffalo, go here, go to Fairfield, Pennsylvania." I said, "At sixty-seven years old, I think I'll pack it in." So, when I retired, they said, "Why don't you stay on as a consultant?" I stayed on for a consultant for about seven or eight months, and then, I gave that up, but I met some very interesting people in the business world. [As a] matter-of-fact, I became very good friends with Bill (Clayburg?). Bill (Clayburg?) is Joe (Clayburg's?) father. He was a vice-president with (Joanna?), which sold covering material, and I want to tell you, when he heard I was retiring, he was trying to get me to come to work for him, just as a consultant. Twice, he took me to the Princeton Club. If you ever have a chance to go to the Princeton Club in New York, outside of Grand Central, over on Vanderbilt Street, you wouldn't believe the service you get at the Princeton Club, really beautiful, really nice.
IM: By the way, Sandra asked you, "How did you meet Mrs. Mele?" and you went way off on another topic.
WM: Oh, okay. Well, she was a widow, her first husband
IM: My first husband was a lieutenant in the Air Force and he was a pilot and his plane was shot down going to Germany on a mission. So, I was a widow for quite a few years.
WM: He's buried at Arlington.
IM: I never thought I would get married again until Bill came along. So, we've had a very good marriage. We get along very well.
WM: It was her mother, talked me into it, her mother. [laughter]
IM: No, I was working in the proof room, and so, I did the proofreading and the editing for a lot of the books that he brought in. So, we had a very good understanding of each other's jobs and it worked out very nicely.
WM: In other words, I was very lucky, I want to tell you. I got two for one. Her mother lived with us for a number of years. She fell down. She had a two-family house and she had to sell it, but she came to live here and she always said, "Casa mia, casa mia, [my house]." She loved the house. Yes, she was a wonderful woman. I tell you, I never saw anybody like her. For a woman born in Rome; [as a] matter-of-fact, when we went to Italy, we saw the place that she lived and just not too far from the Vatican.
IM: Yes, and she used to write to a priest, and she had never met him, but I can't remember now how she happened to write, that she got letters from him. She started this correspondence. So, when we went to Rome, I said, "I'd love to call him." So, I called and he said, "Oh, I'd love to see you," because he loved my mother. So, we went there, and what did we do? Wasn't he lovely?
WM: Oh, well, what was that church that was where the vision [was], they saw the vision?
IM: In Rome, there was an apparition there and we went there, and then, he took us by taxi, showed us a few other things in Rome, and then, took us to his apartment. He was living by the church.
WM: Yes, but tell them, first, where you put your hand in the mouth.
IM: Oh, so, then, we were passing and saw this
WM: Across the street from the Coliseum.
IM: It's very close to the Coliseum, and this is way back, I don't know how many years. They had, like, a monster on the wall and the mouth is open. So, they always tell the children who pass there, "If you put your hand in the mouth there and if you tell lies, that monster is going to take your hand." So, she remembers when she was little and they would tell her and she'd put her hand in there and want to pull it out and I saw it from the taxi. I said, "Let me stop here." So, we did and I put my hand in the mouth, [laughter] and I thought that was so strange, because I had heard that story since I was little, and I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't gone over to see the priest. Then, we went by taxi, and then, I have kept up a correspondence with him, for many years, until this past year. I don't know if he's ill or what. I keep saying I might call, try to call, or write again.
WM: Yes, but, when we went to where that church was, they had these flowers and we were given the honor, when they're serving Communion, he called us up first, and he said, "The visitors from United States," and he gave us Communion first, before he gave the rest of the parishioners.
IM: Yes. He was so happy that we went there.
WM: Yes. They had all kinds of statues, all around the church, something that was pertaining to that time when they saw the vision.
IM: Yes. The people who prayed to this Blessed Mother, who feel that they were given a gift of some kind, an answer to a prayer, they believe in, like, putting something there, like a note of thanks, or something, and the wall had all these things. It was interesting. I have pictures of it.
SH: Thank you so much.
IM: I want to thank you. I mean, I did what I can remember, but you're going back over sixty-some-odd years, I tell you.
SH: I think you did a fine job. I am very thankful that we had your ship's log. I am sure that helped both of us.
WM: It did, because a lot of it came through, but there's a lot of stuff that's missing that happened. I have a picture of this little Chinese girl that we took from one part of China to another. She was an orphan, but we were taking her to where she had a [relative]; I have that picture somewhere upstairs, a cute, little Chinese [girl].
IM: I told you to get things ready.
WM: I should have put it down, but she was a cute, little Chinese girl and she was sitting in the stern, on top of one of the cable wheels, and we took her to where she had other relatives. She had lost her parents, but there are a lot of things like that, little things, like the fights that they used to have, three-round fights. There were some other things that, when you go into China; oh, I could tell you some stories.
SH: I guess they are X rated. We will have to let that go.
WM: Yes, they're a little X rated. I mean, there were some funny ones. What are you going to do?
SH: We will leave that for you to write later.
SH: Thank you so much.
WM: Now, what happens?
SH: We were just talking and you recalled having heard Chiang Kai-shek speak.
WM: Yes. Well, I didn't hear him speak. He was speaking in this, like, a ballpark, and there were thousands of Chinese there, listening to him give this speech, and then, when it was all over, they evacuated or left this stadium and I was out in the street there. I saw this overflow and I found out that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was there and had given a talk, and they all had come out, but they sort of rushed out of the stadium and they were just wild. I mean, well, it's too bad that the Chinese, at that time, because of the war with Japan, I think that they lost a lot, as far as getting ahead and stuff like that. They were just under the thumb of the Japanese at that time. That's why they had such hatred for the Japanese, and I think, today, to this day, there's still a lot of animosity towards the Japanese.
SH: I am thankful that we had not turned it completely off. Thank you again.
WM: Yes. Is there anything else I can offer you?
--------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Cody Martin 10/7/09
Reviewed by Corey Ershow 10/7/09
Reviewed by Emily Shapiro 10/7/09
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 10/12/09
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 11/24/09
Reviewed by William F. Mele, Jr. 8/15/18