Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Frank Petriello on February 28, 2014, in Clifton, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth and…
Francesca Cipriani: Francesca Cipriani.
SI: Thank you very much, sir, for having us here today. For the record, could you tell us where and when you were born?
Frank Petriello: I was born on March 16, 1921, in Sassano, Italy.
SI: What were your parents' names?
FP: My mother's name was Frances, her maiden name was Frances DeLisa. My father's name was Joseph Petriello.
SI: Did your parents ever tell you any stories about what their life was like in that area of Italy?
FP: Oh, yes, yes.
SI: Can you tell us a little bit about what their lives were like?
FP: Well, they were farm people and they lived off the farm, basically. When there was no opportunity for them there, that's why they came here, yes. My father came to the U.S. first, and he was an eighteen-year-old kid when he came here. Then, he went back to Italy to serve. They had universal military training at the time. So, he went back to Italy to serve his two years in the Army, and then, he came here again.
When he came here, he was here in 1912. Then, war broke out between Italy and Turkey. He went back to fight in Libya, and then, married my mother. He came here by himself. He was drafted into the American Army here in World War I, and then, went back to Italy. That's when I was born. [Editor's Note: Mr. Petriello's father served in the Italo-Turkish (or Turco-Italian) War, fought from September 1911 to October 1912 between Italy and the Ottoman Empire over territories in present-day Libya and the Dodecanese Islands.]
SI: When he was drafted into the US Army, was he sent overseas?
FP: No, he served nine months in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
SI: Did he ever talk about fighting in the Turco-Italian War?
FP: Not as much as he talked about his time in Fort Dix. From what I gathered, his time in Libya was a very short time. The war didn't last that long, yes.
SI: Was he an infantryman or did he have another job?
FP: Infantry, yes.
SI: You said he told you stories about his time at Fort Dix. What did he tell you?
FP: Well, he was there in training. They were just getting ready to go overseas when the armistice broke out [in November 1918]. So, he never did go to France, yes.
SI: Did he talk about what he did in those earlier times in America, like what jobs he had or anything like that?
FP: He was a railroad man, worked for the Erie Railroad. He was the guy that repaired the ties along the railroad, did all the jackass work, real hard work. He worked for Erie. Well, he worked for Erie for the rest of his life, yes.
SI: He did not meet your mother until…
FP: Well, they grew up in the same town, yes.
SI: Did your mother tell you anything about growing up in that town? That would be different from your father's memories, since she stayed there and did not go back and forth to the US.
FP: No, it's just farm people. The only thing is, my mother once told us a story about the time she was bitten by a snake on the farm and almost died. She was twelve years old. She was so bad that they gave her the Last Rites, but she lived another seventy-five years.
SI: You were born there in 1921.
SI: According to your memoir, you came to the US when you were about eight in 1929.
SI: Do you have any memories of those first eight years of your life?
FP: Not very much. It's like a dream. I don't have any recollection of my father being there, because he left when I was about two or three years old, yes.
SI: Did you have any siblings?
FP: Yes, I have one brother, who's two years younger than me, who also was born in Italy. Then, I have a brother and a sister, twins, who were born over here.
SI: Do you remember the trip over to the US?
FP: Somewhat, yes, yes.
SI: What do you remember about it?
FP: That it was a big, big place. There was a lot of people, more people than I had ever seen before, yes.
SI: Where did you come into?
FP: Into New York. I think it was a French liner, if I'm not mistaken.
SI: Did you come through Ellis Island?
FP: Well, yes and no. We came here, but I was an American citizen, even though I was born there, because I was the child of an American citizen. We didn't have to go through the Ellis Island thing.
SI: Your father got his citizenship when he was in the Army.
SI: Did you live initially in New York or did you go right to New Jersey?
FP: No, no, we lived in Garfield, New Jersey, which is just across the river.
SI: What was that like, adjusting to life in America, your neighborhood in Garfield?
FP: No, not really hard. We fell right in. All the other kids also were children of immigrants. So, no, we didn't have a difficult time, no.
SI: Were most of the people in your neighborhood Italian immigrants?
FP: No, no, it was really mixed, yes, Polish, Russian, German, Irish. It was like a little League of Nations, they used to call it, yes.
SI: Did everyone get along?
FP: Yes. No, that was the remarkable thing, even though there was all mixed people. Some of my best friends are not Italian.
SI: In your household, did your parents try to keep up Italian traditions or customs?
FP: Oh, yes, right.
SI: What were some of things that stand out?
FP: Well, we celebrated the holidays, plus, we had Italian food. The Italian language was spoken, oh, yes, sure--but so were all the other kids, too.
SI: Your father had been going back and forth between the States and Italy. Did he speak English fluently?
FP: Well, with an accent. He got by. It was not fluent, you would say, but he certainly could carry a conversation.
SI: Was your mother able to learn the language?
FP: Not as well, but she, too, in bits and parts.
SI: When you came here, did you have difficulty with the language and communicating?
FP: Not that much, no. I think when you're that age, you take everything right in. I've always, like, they have these problems with the second language here at the present, I always used to say, "Throw them in there like they did us. It's sink or swim."
SI: You mentioned that customs were kept up around the holidays. Can you give us some examples of those, any traditions?
FP: Well, Christmas dinners, even my children remember my mother making Christmas dinner with the big raviolis resting on the bed and stuff like that, yes.
SI: You came in 1929, which was the start of the Great Depression here.
SI: Was your father's work ever affected?
FP: Well, no, not really, because, being a railroad man, they always had [work]. What he had to do, he took a cut in pay, but he was never completely out of work, no.
SI: Did your mother work outside the home?
FP: No, no.
SI: Were you able to see any way that the Great Depression had an impact, either on your family or your neighborhood?
FP: Oh, wow, sure. People went--at that time, it wasn't called welfare, it was called relief--went on relief, just to eat, but we really didn't have to do that. We didn't have the best of foods, but we had plenty of the basics.
SI: Did you have any family over here? Did any of your parents siblings come?
FP: My father had two brothers here. One lived, oh, just a few blocks from us. The other brother lived in Jersey City, New Jersey. My mother had two brothers. They both lived in Connecticut.
SI: Did you grow up having a lot of family activities?
FP: Yes, sure.
SI: Were they affected by the Great Depression?
FP: I suppose so. I don't know. I mean, the kids, whenever we went there, it's not that they didn't have anything to eat. No, we were all affected one way or another, I suppose.
SI: Did you grow up in the same apartment or house?
FP: In a house, yes.
SI: Did you live there for a long time or did you move around?
FP: Oh, yes. My sister still lives there.
SI: Can you kind of describe the house you grew up in and the neighborhood you grew up in?
FP: Well, it was a small, one-family house. The one thing was, we had a big garden on the side, which my father turned into, like, a little farm. We had plenty of play room. We could play in the streets then, because there was no traffic, nowhere like what it is today.
SI: In this garden that your father cultivated…
FP: What did he grow?
SI: Would they grow a lot of food that you would then eat?
FP: Oh, yes, very much so, everything from tomatoes, corn, potatoes. We had fruit trees, oh, yes.
SI: I have heard that a lot of people who grew up in the Depression, their families raised food, to kind of stretch out their food budget.
FP: Oh, yes, it wasn't to grow flowers. It was to grow food and we did. We ate from it.
SI: Did your mother can food that was grown there?
FP: No, my mother, briefly, she did can some, in the Mason jars, but not too often.
SI: What did your family think of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal policies?
FP: [laughter] Well, contrary to what you might think, my father disliked Franklin Roosevelt, simply because (I mean, not the only reason) when Roosevelt took over, he declared a bank holiday. I don't know if you're familiar with it. My father had some money in the bank that he lost. From that point on, he just cursed him until the day he died.
[Editor's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn into office in March 1933 and served as President of the United States until his death in April 1945. Immediately after his inauguration, he declared a national bank holiday so that the nation's banking institutions could be reviewed by the Department of the Treasury.]
SI: Could you see the impact of those programs, particularly the WPA, in your area?
FP: Oh, yes. There was many projects of the WPA. The high school field was built by the WPA. Oh, there were several little bridges that they constructed. A lot of young people, even my age, went into the CCCs. I don't know if you are familiar with the CCCs. Oh, yes, they were, very much so.
[Editor's Note: The Works Progress Administration (or, after 1939, the Works Project Administration) employed millions on public works projects like buildings and roads, as well as in specialized areas, such as the arts, from 1935 to 1943. The Civilian Conservation Corps employed young unemployed males in outdoor conservation projects from 1933 to 1942.]
SI: Did you ever consider going into the CCC?
FP: Not really, no.
SI: When you were growing up, what would you do for fun, outside of school?
FP: Oh, golly, it was endless. There was open fields to play in, the rivers to swim in. There was a little pond there, and that's where we learned to swim. During the winter, there was little ponds to ice skate on. Then, there was sandlots, ballfields, everywhere--never was bored, that's for sure.
SI: Was it mostly just kids making their own fun or was there any organized activity, like Boy Scouts?
FP: Mostly the kids amongst themselves. There was no organized sports, like there is for kids today, no.
SI: When you were a high school student or maybe even in seventh or eighth grade, did you have to go out and get any part-time jobs or do anything?
FP: Oh, yes, we all did. We shined shoes. During the summer, I worked in [the fields]--there were several farms around here--picking tomatoes, strawberries, corn, oh, yes.
SI: How would you get there?
FP: Most of the times, walked there or bicycled there.
SI: How long would you work in an average day?
FP: An average day? Well, I guess seven, eight hours, I would suppose, yes.
SI: Where would you shine shoes?
FP: Shine shoes? Well, we'd shine shoes by going from tavern to tavern and shining shoes, a nickel a shine. Most of the times, you get a big tipper and give you another nickel tip. If you made a dollar or two, you had a good day.
SI: Can you tell us a little bit about where you went to school in the area?
FP: Well, I went to school in the Garfield school system. The grade school was maybe about three or four blocks away. The high school was a little further down, maybe six or eight blocks. It wasn't much of a walk, but there were no buses.
SI: Did you have a favorite subject or something that interested you the most in school?
FP: Well, I don't know, I guess I would say history, probably, was my favorite subject.
SI: Tell us a little about the high school. Were you active in any extracurricular activities or anything like that?
FP: No, because of the fact that when we got out, we had a job to go to. So, no, I was not active in any [activities].
SI: When you say you had a job to go to, were you doing the shoe shining?
SI: Or the farm?
SI: Were most of the kids you went to school with in the same situation?
FP: Same situation, yes. We all had something to do.
SI: When did you enter high school?
FP: You mean the year?
SI: Approximately, yes.
FP: I would say '36.
SI: 1936, okay. At that time, it was the middle of the Depression. What did you kind of see for yourself in the future? What did you hope to do in the future?
FP: Well, I really didn't [know], because I had no illusions that I was going to go to college. So, the whole thing was to get through to the point where you could get your working papers and get a job. That was really the extent of your ambition.
FC: You said you liked history. Was there a particular part that you found more interesting?
FP: Well, no, I think I was fascinated by English history.
SI: In your area, did your parents (and yourself, as you got older) belong to any Italian-American clubs or anything?
FP: No, just the church, that's all.
SI: What kind of role did the Church play in your life growing up?
FP: Well, we had to go to church every Sunday and we observed the holidays. We were not really crazy, but we attended church, yes.
SI: Which church was it?
FP: [Our Lady of] Mount Virgin Church in Garfield, New Jersey.
SI: You said your goal was to be able to get your papers and go out to work. When did you do that and where did you go?
FP: Well, there was several mills in the area there and I got a job in the woolen mill. That was my first full-time job, yes.
SI: What did you do when you first got in the mill? What was your first job in the mill?
FP: Oh, the first job in the mill was to keep the spindles well-greased, so that they didn't stick.
SI: Did you always do that job or did you progress into different jobs at the mill?
FP: Yes, in a sense, yes, I did. The next job was, I had to climb up on a ladder. They had pulleys that had to be greased and maintained and that was the next job. Then, the war came along and that was that.
SI: How many hours a week did you work?
FP: Forty hours a week.
SI: Full-time. At that time, in the late 1930s, I know the union movement was growing and the textile industry was a part of that. Were you part of a union?
FP: No, no, there was no union there, at that time, no.
SI: Were you aware of anyone trying to organize a union?
FP: No, not that I know of, no.
SI: Does anything stand out about your work there, anything about your fellow workers, or was it just a job? You did it, and then, you came home.
FP: Yes, that's about it, yes.
SI: At that time, you are a young man, working. What were you doing outside of work?
FP: The usual things, going to the movies, dances, swimming, going down to Asbury Park, down to the Shore.
SI: How often would you go down to the Shore?
FP: Oh, during the course of the summer, half a dozen times or so.
SI: You said you went dancing. Did you follow the music of the day, the big band music?
FP: Oh, yes, the Big Bands. Yes, that was the Big Band era.
SI: Would you go into the city often to see shows?
FP: A few times, we did, yes. I went a couple of times to Roseland [the Roseland Ballroom]. I don't know if you ever heard of Roseland, oh, yes.
SI: Did you have a favorite performer or style?
FS: Probably the Dorsey Brothers [Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey], the Dorsey bands, yes.
SI: As we get into the late 1930s and the early 1940s, obviously, a lot was happening overseas even before the war broke out in 1939. How aware were you of this? Did you follow the news closely of what was happening in Europe?
FP: I wouldn't say closely, but you couldn't help but follow it. Every day, you picked up a newspaper, some headline was blaring at you, about this or that. No, it wasn't that I knew all the politicians. I was familiar with the most prominent ones.
SI: Since your family had come from Italy, was Mussolini ever discussed in your house?
FP: Yes and no. My father was not a big fan of Mussolini. He was more loyal to the King at that time. No, he was not a Mussolini fan, no. [Editor's Note: Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini served as Prime Minister of Italy from 1922 to 1945 during King Victor Emmanuel III's reign (1900 to 1946).]
SI: Did you know, maybe in your community or beyond, of anybody who was pro-Mussolini? I know there was the German Bund in the area. Were you aware of those things?
FP: No. I mean, I read about them, I knew that they existed, but, to the best of my knowledge--and I had quite a few German friends--to the best of my knowledge, no, none of them belonged to it, as far as I knew, no.
[Editor's Note: The German term "bund" means "association" and was used by a number of German-American political, social and cultural groups. The German-American Bund (based on the earlier Friends of New Germany) operated from 1936 until December 1941, when it was outlawed as a pro-Nazi group.]
SI: In general, did you and your friends think that the US would get involved in the war or did you want the US to stay out of the war?
FP: I don't know. Did I feel that we were going to get into war? I didn't know. The only thing that made you think that we were going to get into the war [was] when they started the draft and started all that preparation. Then, you say, "Probably going to go," but I never thought that we would get into the war, no.
[Editor's Note: The Selective Service Act of 1940 required all twenty-one to thirty-five-year-old males to register for the draft. These age parameters were expanded to eighteen to forty-five years of age after the United States entered the war following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by Japanese forces.]
SI: Did any of your friends go, either drafted or volunteered, into the military before Pearl Harbor?
FP: You mean before Pearl Harbor?
SI: Before Pearl Harbor.
FP: Yes, there was. Of course, they would be older than me, because, at the time, before Pearl Harbor, we were all too young. There was some brothers of the kids that I knew who were drafted, because they were twenty-one and above, yes, quite a few of them, yes.
SI: Had you given any thought to the military before Pearl Harbor?
FP: I don't think so, no.
SI: Can you tell us what you remember about the day Pearl Harbor was attacked?
FP: Did you read that [his memoir]? Can you shut that?
FP: Okay, the day of Pearl Harbor, I remember vividly. I was in a clubhouse playing cards with a bunch of other guys in there. Of course, we always had the radio on and they always played the music of the day at that time. We were talking and stuff like that.
Then, somebody says, "Wait, wait, wait." Everybody just shut up and he turned the volume up. They were talking about bombing Pearl Harbor. Like I say in there, we all looked at each other, "Where's Pearl Harbor?" never heard of Pearl Harbor. That's the way I remember that day.
That night, we went to a dance. For the first time, before the band started playing, they played the National Anthem, which they hadn't done before. That's what I remember about that night, yes. At the time, then, we discussed (we knew then we'd have to go in), "Who's going [where]? I'm going to go into this. I'm going to go into that." I figured I didn't want to go into the Army. It was either going to be the Navy or the Marines.
SI: How quickly did your life change after Pearl Harbor, in those first few weeks and months?
FP: Well, I don't know that it changed, except for the fact that people were signing up. So, when I went to sign up--I wanted to go in before the holidays, but my mother persuaded me to stay until after the holidays. I waited after the holidays and I went to enlist. They told me that they would call me, since I wasn't eligible for the draft yet, that they would call me when they needed me. Then, they called me, I think it was June or something like that.
SI: Did you sign up here in Jersey or did you go over to New York?
FP: No, in Paterson, New Jersey, yes.
SI: In the time between Pearl Harbor and entering the Navy, did you see many changes on the home front or in your neighborhood, aside from the people signing up and going away?
FP: I don't think so. I don't [recall] any drastic change, no. The thing I did see is that they were just starting to ration. Just about the time I went in, they were just started to ration--food, clothes, gas. Gas started maybe a few months before. I guess the biggest change was the rationing of gas.
FC: Your brother also went into the Navy.
FP: My brother, yes.
FC: Was he able to enlist before you?
FP: Well, no, he was younger than me. So, he didn't go in until about two years later.
SI: Tell us about reporting in, you said in June of 1942.
SI: Where you went, what the process was like, sending you to your first post.
FP: We were sworn in in New York City. I think it was on Church Street; I'm not sure. We were sent up to Newport, Rhode Island, for basic training. I was up there for about three months, two or three months, something like that.
SI: What do you remember about your training company? Were these guys from all over the region? Did they get along?
FP: No, they were generally from around this area, because we went up there as a group. I think there was one or two that were out of the area, but most of them were either New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania maybe, yes.
SI: Did anything strike you about meeting all these different people?
FP: Not really. They were like people that I had worked with, people that I had played with.
SI: Did you know a lot of them personally?
FP: Well, one of them I knew personally, because he was a classmate of mine and he lived on the next block. We were put into the same company.
SI: Tell me a little bit about what the training was like, what it consisted of at Newport.
FP: Well, the thing I remember most is that you had to get up at four-thirty in the morning and do that two-mile run or whatever it was. Then, when we got back to the base, I was just starved to death and could eat anything and everything. They taught us how to pack a sea bag and tie knots and stuff like that. The thing I remember most is that I was hungry all the time [laughter] because you weren't allowed to have any kind of snacks. You have three meals a day. When I sat down to eat, oh, God, I just gulped it up.
SI: You mentioned this two-mile run. Was it very physically arduous?
FP: No. When you're twenty years old, it's not that hard.
SI: Do you remember your drill instructors at all? Do they stand out at all?
FP: I remember that the company commander was a Southern boy from, I think, Mississippi. He spoke with a drawl. [laughter] I remember one incident where he pointed to, "You, you, you and you," with me included in there. He says, "All right, you're all volunteers for mess duty." I remember saying to him, "I didn't volunteer." He says, "You volunteered now." That was it.
SI: Do you think you adjusted well to military life, the discipline and all that?
FP: Yes, I didn't find it that difficult, no. We had to sleep in a hammock. I had to get used to sleeping in a hammock.
SI: I have interviewed other people who were born in either Italy or Germany and they often ran into, maybe not problems, but issues when they were in the military, where people would ask them, say, "Would you have a problem fighting against the Italians?" They might not get cleared for certain things. Did you run into any issues because you were born in Italy?
FP: No, I don't think so.
SI: All right.
FP: I don't think they treated me any different than anybody else. I mean, the kids that I grew up with, they went basically through the same thing I did. I can't remember one incident where they said, "Well, maybe they kept me out because of my name or who I was, where I was born," no. If they did, I didn't pick it up.
SI: After Newport, where were you sent?
FP: Newport, then, we went to Great Lakes.
SI: Did you already make the decision that you wanted to be a corpsman?
FP: No, no. [laughter] It's another one of those things, "You volunteered." I said, "I don't know anything about it." "We'll teach you, don't worry," they said.
SI: Is that when you got to Great Lakes?
FP: Great Lakes, yes.
SI: What was the trip out to Illinois like?
FP: Well, I think it was an overnight trip, if I'm not mistaken. Yes, it was an overnight, first time that I had slept in a Pullman. They fed us good. Gee, we ate in a dining car. It was nothing extraordinary about the trip, no.
SI: Was that the first time you had been that far away from North Jersey?
FP: Oh, God, yes.
SI: When you got to Great Lakes, was it generalized training, then, you went into corpsman training, or was it all corpsman training?
FP: No, we went into classes. Mostly, it was first aid classes. We had the routine of what should be done. That was it, yes.
SI: How long was the training at the Great Lakes?
FP: I would say about three months, I guess. All I remember about Great Lakes [is] that I was up there in October and November and I was never so cold in my life. That wind used to come off the lake--oh, God.
SI: Did they make you run around the track there?
FP: Not so much, though, not so much physical training there as it was the classes, yes.
SI: Was it all just teaching you by theory or did you actually do any medical treatment?
FP: It was more theory, I would say, yes.
SI: Were the men training you experienced corpsmen?
SI: Had any of them been in combat before?
FP: Oh, yes. Well, I don't know about that, because this was early during the war. I didn't come in contact with people who had been in action before until I got to Philadelphia. Even then, it wasn't too much. It was when I got on the ship that you really got to know people who [were veterans]. As a matter of fact, on the ship, there was one of the survivors (one of the seventeen survivors) of the Juneau. I don't know if you ever heard of the Juneau.
SI: The Sullivan Brothers.
FP: The Sullivan Brothers, yes. One of the survivors was on the ship. [Editor's Note: On November 13, 1942, the light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52), already damaged in battle near Guadalcanal, was sunk by a Japanese submarine while withdrawing toward Espiritu Santo. Most of the crew of 650 men went down with the ship, but over a hundred men survived that night. After enduring eight days of exposure and shark attacks, only ten men were rescued. The five lost Sullivan Brothers became the focus of numerous recruiting and bond drives.]
SI: Wow. When your training at Great Lakes was complete, were you then sent down to Philadelphia?
FP: Philadelphia, yes.
SI: Tell us how your career progressed from there.
FP: Well, I was sent to Philadelphia. They shipped me to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. They were building several ships there. One of the ships they were building there was the USS Wisconsin. It's a battleship, a sister ship of the New Jersey, a huge ship. [Editor's Note: The four-Iowa class battleships were the USS Iowa (BB-61), the USS New Jersey (BB-62), the USS Missouri (BB-63) and the USS Wisconsin (BB-64).]
I would've loved to have gotten on that ship. As a matter of fact, I inquired about getting on to it, but they already had a crew. So, I was stationed there. They had a first aid station right nearby. It appeared (from what I was told there) that most of the people who wound up in those first aid stations were there permanently. So, after I'd been there for a while, it occurred to me that I was going to be there for the rest of the war. That's not what I had enlisted for.
When I heard about that they were organizing some people to go up to Boston to go on the Bunker Hill, which was a carrier, I volunteered and they took me. [Editor's Note: The USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) was launched in December 1942 and commissioned on May 25, 1943.]
SI: How long were you stationed at the first aid station there?
FP: Well, I know I was there at Christmastime. I would say about, maybe, a couple months.
SI: What were your daily activities there?
FP: You gave first aid to people that were workmen, that were working on the Wisconsin, nothing really big. For a while there, I was put on night duty. Many times, people would come there and all they had were just little scratches, nothing big.
SI: No accidents where people fell down or anything like that?
FP: No, no, it was a breeze. As a matter of fact, you got bored, sometimes.
SI: During that time, were they bringing in a lot of women to work on the ships?
FP: Women? I suppose there was, but I don't recall. I mean, nothing stands out that there was a lot of women. There probably was, but I don't remember, really. I don't remember ever treating a woman, no.
SI: You mentioned that that was not what you got into the service to do. What did you want to do in the service? What was your mindset at the time?
FP: No, wasn't so much what I wanted to do as where I wanted to go. I just didn't want to get stuck there in Philadelphia for the rest of the war, not so much what I wanted to do. I wanted to get on a ship no matter [what]. Well, of course, at this point now, I knew that if I did get on a ship, I would be in the Medical Department.
SI: During that time, were you able to come home?
FP: Yes, I did come home, yes.
SI: Was it any different coming back home being in the service for a little bit?
FP: Well, the big thing was that most of the guys that I had been with, they were all gone, too. There were a couple what they called 4-Fs. Some had some physical disability, that they couldn't go in, but most of the guys were gone.
SI: Do you know if the 4-Fs were looked down on at all?
FP: I don't know. I didn't look down on them. Now, looking back on it, I knew that the 4-Fs were very conscious about it, yes, but I never considered any guy that was 4-F [a shirker]--although, in my group, there was only one guy that was 4-F. We weren't so sure about him being either 4-F or not. His father was a manufacturer. We often suspected that maybe his father pulled some strings for him not to go in. I don't know, but I never looked down on any of them.
SI: Out of the other corpsmen you came in contact with, do you know if any of them were conscientious objectors?
FP: No, not that I know of, no.
SI: Or were going into the Medical Corps for religious reasons?
FP: No, no, not as far as I know, no.
SI: Tell us about joining the crew of the Bunker Hill.
FP: Well, first of all, I should say that there was this other corpsman and myself. He was from Kentucky. We had gone to training school together there, and then, we were both in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. We both volunteered to go up on the Bunker Hill.
So, when we went up there, which was, I think, in early January or something like that--it was after the holidays--we went up there and we thought we were going to go right on the ship. We got up there and we found out that the ship was not even commissioned yet, that it would not be commissioned for another three or four months.
So, they put us in what they called a receiving station, where the rest of the crew was being gathered there. We were in Boston and the ship was being built in Fall River. So, we decided to go over and see the ship. It was not commissioned yet. The workmen were still working on it.
We went there and the first time we saw the ship, oh, God, my mouth just dropped. I had never seen anything so huge in all my life. It was, like, three football fields long and about six hundred feet wide. Oh, my god, it was just humongous, I don't know what the word [is] I could use. So, then, when it was commissioned, it came over to Boston.
SI: Was there a ceremony at the commissioning?
FP: Oh, yes, there was a big ceremony, the commissioning ceremony. That book over there shows that there was a little boy that presented the Captain with something, yes.
SI: Then, once the ship was launched, you had to get settled in and go on shakedown cruises.
FP: Well, we went on a shakedown. Before we went on the shakedown cruise, the first time that the ship pulled out, we just went out into the Atlantic, maybe a hundred miles or so, and then, came right back. We did that a few times, to get the kinks out of the whole crew. Then, from there, we went to Norfolk, Virginia. Then, we went on a shakedown to South America, yes.
SI: Was just the ship's crew aboard then or did you have the air contingent?
FP: No, we didn't have the air group yet.
SI: As you were working the kinks out of the ship, what were your daily activities like? What were you doing on an average day?
FP: I was put into the Medical Department office, keeping records of guys that came aboard, where they were going, where they had been and put them all in files, stuff like that. Of course, we all had battle stations, that, in time of battle, you were to report to that station, where there was a first aid trunk there, to administer to whatever happened.
SI: Give us a sense of where the sickbay was, where your position was.
FP: All right, sickbay was three decks down. Now, you've got to remember, there was the flight deck. Then, there was the hangar deck, which is the main deck. I was two decks down from the hangar deck. The sickbay area was more to the what they called aft of the ship, the back part. My battle station, though, was at the extreme front end, on the bow.
There was a forty-millimeter gun there. That's where my battle station was, which was, in a straight line, you're talking about maybe four or five hundred feet, maybe more. When the alarm sounded to man battle stations, I found out the quickest way to get to my battle station was to go up to the hangar deck and go straight forward.
SI: You left Norfolk and you went south. Tell us about the rest of your journey and going out to the Pacific.
FP: Well, we went down to Trinidad and Venezuela. Then, we were joined by the air group down there. We conducted maneuvers down there for a few weeks, maybe a month or something like that. Then, from there, we went back to Boston. There was one major clink that they had to take out. I think it had something to do the drive shaft. I don't remember.
Anyway, we were there for a short time, maybe a week, ten days or something like that. Then, we left, went to Norfolk, and then, from there, went down to the Panama Canal, went through the Canal and up along the Mexican coast to San Diego.
FC: Did you get an opportunity to get out of the ship and experience some of these places you went, like Trinidad, Venezuela or Mexico?
SR: Did you get any shore leave?
FP: No, not in Mexico, no.
SI: Did you get shore leave in any of the other places?
FP: Panama, yes.
SI: Did anything strike you about these areas that you visited?
FP: I didn't find anything that I didn't expect to find. It was just a foreign place, yes.
SI: At this time, as you are getting out to the Pacific, were you still in the recordkeeping part of the operation?
SI: Were you working under an officer or a chief petty officer?
FP: Oh, sure, yes.
SI: What was the relationship between the enlisted men and the officers that you had contact with like?
FP: Well, most of my contact with commissioned officers were the doctors. It was not as formal as it would be, say, if you were in other departments, because of the nature of the business. I had no problems with them, yes. The officers and noncommissioned officers, they were pretty straight guys.
SI: What was life on the ship like, when you were not on duty? What were your living conditions like?
FP: Well, we slept in bunks, in three layers. I was fortunate enough to get the bottom one from the beginning and I kept it throughout my stay on the ship. You went to chow three times a day. There was three thousand men on the ship, so, they had to prepare nine thousand meals a day. You had chow, and then, the time off, you did whatever you wanted to do.
If you were out in the tropics, you could go up on the flight deck. We'd throw a ball around or something like that. There was games. They had organized a lot of sports activities. If we were in a safe area (out of the combat area), they might show a movie. Unfortunately, the movies that they showed were all circulated amongst the ships when they came by. So, you got to see the same thing all over again. I don't know, I was never really bored.
SI: After you left the West Coast, did you go out to Hawaii?
FP: Went to Hawaii, yes. Then, Pearl Harbor became our home base then. From there, we went to--the first combat was in November 1943--there was a big Japanese naval base called Rabaul. We were to attack the base. There must've been, I don't know, maybe three or four carriers, then, oh, a lot of cruisers and dozens of destroyers. Our first attack was on November 11, 1943. They gave us the name of "Holiday Inn" ['Holiday Express"] because it seems like, every holiday, we were attacking.
SI: During an operation like that, is the aircraft carrier so far away you cannot see the island or could you actually see anything in the distance?
FP: No. The only time that we saw islands was during Saipan and Iwo Jima. You got to see Iwo Jima and Saipan, Tinian, but most of the time, we [did not]. The thing was that, after the attack on Rabaul, we were in support of the Marines. From there, we attacked Tarawa.
The thing was, what we would do, we would go there and bomb the area for anywhere from a couple of days to three, four, five, six days, whatever it took. Then, we'd pull back. Then, the Marines would go in. We'd just [go] maybe fifty or a hundred miles off the island and just supply the air support.
SI: In an operation like the Rabaul bombings, would the pilots be coming back wounded?
FP: Yes, yes, not so much--wounded, yes--but their big problem was to get onboard before they ran out of gas. They would circle around.
SI: Was it a busy time in the sickbay?
FP: It could be. There were times it could be. Then, other times, they just were routine, nothing happened.
SI: During Rabaul and Tarawa, those early engagements, would the ship ever be attacked?
FP: Oh, yes, many times, yes. We've had several what they called "near miss." The bombs exploded close enough to throw off shrapnel, but didn't hit the ship until that one day, until we really got hit by the kamikaze [Japanese suicide aircraft].
SI: Before the kamikaze, had there been any casualties on the ship itself?
FP: Yes. Oh, I would say maybe fifty men or so died from shrapnel wounds in various places, but there were no big casualties until that day.
SI: Do you remember having to treat any of these men who were wounded by shrapnel at your battle station?
FP: Yes. Again, it was superficial. [laughter] I do remember one. I don't know whether I should tell this with the mixed company here.
This one kid, he was a gunner. There was a bomb [that] exploded, oh, maybe only a few feet away from the ship. It threw off the shrapnel. It seems like a piece of shrapnel got him right in the inside of the thigh and embedded itself in.
So, we took him off the gun and I ripped off his pants. We had what they called battle dressings. They were pieces of gauze with strings on four ends. You wrapped it around the leg or the arm and they made very good tourniquets. He was bleeding, but not that bad. So, we laid him down on one the bunks there. He was fine, was smoking cigarettes. The battle continued.
So, every once in a while, I would take a look to see if it was still bleeding, but it was not, because the pad was dry. Then, after a while, he was laying on that bunk and I saw a little stream of blood coming out from the bunk. It was coming through. I looked at the pad again and it was still dry. So, I ripped open some more.
What had happened was, the shrapnel had gotten his penis and just scraped the end of it, just barely scraped the end of it. It was bleeding. So, I said, "Well, no big deal." We had the sulfa cans there, put sulfa on it and put a battle dressing on it. [Editor's Note: Sulfonamides are a group of drugs used to kill bacteria. Powdered sulfa drugs were included in US Armed Forces first aid kits during World War II for use in preventing the infection of wounds.]
While I was doing that, one of the other gunners looked. He says, "Oh, look, it got his pecker." This guy, when he was there smoking, he was calm, until he heard that. He almost panicked, "Take a look!" "No, no," I said, "you're fine, you're fine. There's nothing wrong." Oh, he was so concerned about it.
What made it funny is that he was sent back to the States. I had forgotten the incident and I didn't see him until one of the reunions, many, many years later. He says to me, "You were right." He says, "There was nothing wrong with it." He had seven kids, so, yes. [laughter]
The day of the attack, I was not at my battle station.
SI: We want to ask about that in a minute, but, in these earlier engagements, do you remember them as hectic times, as times of a lot of activity, particularly when enemy planes were coming in?
FP: Well, of course, there was a lot of shooting, but it was very organized. I don't remember too many guys freezing. There were a couple that did. As a matter of fact, a close friend of mine did on the ship. During the shooting there, he was just chattering away. He couldn't function, just froze, but there was not too many of those.
SI: Are you talking about corpsmen?
FP: Well, this guy was not a corpsman, no.
SI: He was not a corpsman.
SI: From your battle station, could you actually see the planes coming in?
FP: Oh, I had a grandstand view, because I was right on the bow there. I could see anything that came in within the front. I could see them coming in, a thousand guns shooting at them. I've seen, oh, probably maybe fifty, sixty planes (Japanese planes) coming in where they just exploded when it finally got them.
SI: How did you react to that? Did that make you nervous or frightened?
FP: No. You know what I found myself [thinking]? I remember them coming in. You kept hoping that somebody would get him before he got too close. No, I didn't panic or anything like that, no.
SI: In-between operations, would you go back to Hawaii?
FP: A few times, yes.
SI: As the Bunker Hill was at sea for a long time, would you run low on supplies? Did it affect the ship in any way?
FP: Well, first of all, we were refueled at sea, many times, but, as far as running out of supplies, not until the Okinawa operation. There were many, many times where we had to refuel a destroyer because they ran out of fuel. When they would pull up to refuel, many times, we'd send over some supplies that they were short of, mostly fresh fruit. They would run out of fruit and we'd send over a few cases of it. Sometimes, we'd even send over ice cream. We made our own ice cream. Of course, they didn't have the facilities to do it, so, we'd send over ice cream to them.
SI: You mentioned in your memoir the ceremony when you crossed the Equator.
FP: Oh, yes.
SI: That was before Rabaul, right?
FP: No, I can't remember now; Fran, get that certificate.
Frances Petriello: For the Equator?
FP: Yes. I don't know whether it was before or after. Is there a date on there?
Frances Petriello: It's October 26, '43.
FP: Oh, yes, that was before Rabaul.
SI: What was that ceremony like?
FP: [laughter] Are you familiar with the [ceremony]?
SI: A little bit, but each ship does it differently.
FP: Yes. Well, the thing was that I would say we had three thousand men on the ship and a good, at least twenty-five hundred of them, us, were not "shellbacks" [sailors who have crossed the Equator]. So, there was a lot of the guys that had to be put through an ordeal.
What they would do, one of the crew members would be Neptune and the other one would be Davy Jones, I think. They had a regular ceremony. Fortunately for us, our Captain was a shellback, but there were several high-ranking officers that were not. They were put through the same thing that all of us [were]. As a matter of fact, we even put the Chaplain through.
The initiation that I got is--you know these chutes that the planes have for target practice? Well, they had one of those on the flight deck. They had two guys with the hose on one end. You had to go through the chute and they squirted you through it. Of course, we all got our haircut down to nothing. Yes, it was kind of an initiation, like a fraternity initiation.
So, then, you became a shellback. We were issued those official certificates. In fact, I still have a little card that I've carried with me all those years that says I'm a shellback.
SI: Do you recall being exposed to other Navy traditions when you were aboard the Bunker Hill?
FP: No. We were also initiated into [the Order of the Golden Dragon] when we crossed the International Date Line, but I don't remember any kind of ceremony for that, just that you had crossed the International Date Line.
FC: Did you keep any correspondence with your family? Did you write to anyone back home?
FP: Well, sure, oh, yes, I wrote.
SI: Was it very important for your morale to get mail from home?
FP: Oh, very much so, yes. We looked forward to mail. Sometimes, we'd go literally two or three weeks before we got mail. Then, big bags of mail would come over. Geez, everybody would get (most everybody) a whole stack of letters.
SI: After Tarawa, you were involved in these later invasions, like Eniwetok and other places in the Marshall Islands and Guam.
SI: Does anything stand out about those operations or are they pretty much the same routine?
FP: No. Most of those operations, even the Marshalls, it was just a case of going in there, bombing the hell out of it, pulling back, and then, just waiting for the Marines to go in, to give support. What we didn't know, like, say, at Tarawa, was that the Marines were going to encounter such resistance as they did. I think we learned from that, from Tarawa, that we had to do more and more bombing. [Editor's Note: The land battle for Tarawa was waged between November 20th and November 23rd in 1943.]
Most of the other islands, it went according to plan, so-to-speak. The exception, of course, was Iwo Jima, because what we didn't know was that the Japs had dug themselves into the mountain. No bombing was going to affect them, but the rest of them, it was just waiting back to find out what happened.
[Editor's Note: The aerial bombardment phase of the Battle of Iwo Jima began in June 1944 and was accompanied by a three-day naval shelling prior to the US Marine Corps' amphibious invasion on February 19, 1945. The island was declared secure on March 26, 1945.]
SI: At these invasions, into 1944, could you tell if there was more Japanese resistance being thrown at the aircraft carrier or did they seem to losing their Air Force?
FP: Well, yes, there was. We didn't encounter that many enemy planes until, actually, I think it was in the Philippines is when the kamikazes first came into play. Then, that changed the whole thing. Then, it didn't matter how many came over, it's just that any one that did get in, it was [deadly], oh, yes.
SI: Your ship also took part in the Marianas Turkey Shoot.
[Editor's Note: The Battle of the Philippine Sea took place from June 19 to June 20, 1944, and was called "the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" by American airmen and sailors due to the fact that US forces shot down 550 to 645 fighters while taking only 123 aircraft losses. The loss of aircraft and pilots and the sinking of three Japanese fleet carriers by US submarines crippled the Imperial Navy's ability to carry out significant carrier operations.]
SI: Which happened far away from the aircraft carrier, but, when they came back, was there any increased need for medical care?
FP: Well, no. The Turkey Shoot, the big problem there was not the Japanese opposition, was that they had to land at night. That's where we lost so many planes, landing at night.
We lit up like Broadway. I mean, I remember thinking at that time, "Oh, my god, if there was one Japanese submarine in the area, it would've sunk a dozen ships," yes. That night, during the Turkey Shoot, at night, when we landed, one of the planes came in and crashed. Now, that closed the whole flight deck down. So, the other planes had to find somewhere to land, trying to land on other ships.
What other ships did do is, they would land the plane and they wouldn't have room to store them there, take the pilot off and throw the plane into the sea, so [that] they could make room for other ones, but so many planes went down. The next day, we spent, oh, God, the better part of two or three days searching for pilots. We picked up quite a few of them, but we lost a lot of them there.
SI: You said at Saipan and Tinian, you could actually see the island, you were that close. Was there anything about those operations that stood out besides that?
FP: No. People ask me, "Did you see the flag up on Iwo Jima?" No, we weren't that close. No, they wouldn't bring a carrier that close. It was just that a lot of those islands, they were so small, now, when you think about it, to fight over something that small, just barely maybe two or three feet above sea level. As a matter of fact, when they had those hurricanes out there, they would be overrun.
SI: Can you tell us about when the ship was hit by the kamikaze?
FP: Well, that day, as I say, I wasn't at my battle station. We had been up there for days off Okinawa. Oh, I saw the Franklin, when the Franklin got hit. We watched it burn. [Editor's Note: The USS Franklin (CV-13), an Essex-class aircraft carrier, was struck by two Japanese bombs on March 19, 1945. Over eight hundred crew members were killed.]
That was just, I guess, a couple of weeks before we got hit. Several destroyers got hit, a couple of cruisers. Like everybody else, I just felt that, sooner or later, we were going to get it. We had gone through so much without a major hit that we were bound to.
So, we went to battle stations that morning. Then, we were put on what they called "condition one-easy." That means that half of the gun crews stayed at the battle station, the other half went about the other doings. We went into "condition one-easy" maybe, I don't know, maybe nine, ten o'clock, nine o'clock or so. Then, we would start early chow, early lunch. We started about nine-thirty, ten o'clock. So, they sent me to early chow.
We were in the mess hall and I had just gone through the tray line with my food that I had. We're sitting. I sat down and I had the bulkhead (the wall) right in back of me. I had just sat down, and then, there, oh, this big explosion. The next thing I knew, I was thrown up against the bulkhead in the back. I wasn't hurt, but I was kind of shook up. I knew then that we had been hit.
My first impulse was, "Get to your battle station." Now, from the third deck, what I would usually do was go straight along the third deck, which would go through the mess halls, would go into "officers' country" [the officers' quarters], and then, up to the bow. When I started to go forward, a Marine was coming aft. He says to me, "Don't try it," he says, "it's all afire." The whole mid-ship was afire.
What had happened was, the bomb (a penetrating bomb) had gone through the flight deck and to the hangar deck. So, I immediately went back towards the sickbay. There was no doctors there at sickbay. They were all at lunch. The chief petty officer there says, "I don't want all you guys here in one place--scatter around."
So, I went back and I couldn't go [forward]. No matter which way I tried, I couldn't go forward. The ship was just afire. So, I was trapped on the fantail, the back part of the ship, just above the propellers. That smoke started coming in. I don't know how long we would be able to stay there because it was getting real thick. I took off my T-shirt. I wet it and put it to my face, so [that] you could breathe through it.
There were some guys that started jumping off the fantail. I was very tempted to, but the only thing that stopped me was the propellers. I was just above the propellers and you could get sucked into the propellers. So, I decided to stay on unless I heard an internal explosion. If I was still alive, then, I was going to go over.
Well, it never came to that, because, then, oh, after we were there--I must've been there for, I don't know, maybe an hour or two or so--one of the officers from the flight deck came down, says, "All you guys up here, I want you all." We became firefighters, throwing the planes off the ship, bombs and anything, just get it off the ship, until it finally got under control. Then, I was able to get to my battle station and stayed there for the rest of the night.
[Editor's Note: The attack Mr. Petriello describes above took place on May 11, 1945. The damage inflicted by the two kamikaze attacks that day cost the lives of 393 crew members, with 264 additional Bunker Hill sailors suffering wounds.]
SI: When you went up on the deck to fight the fires, can you describe the situation that you saw there?
FP: I guess the one word is chaos. It was afire all over. Planes were exploding. I never manned a hose. What I did do was just throw stuff off the flight deck, until a cruiser came along to help us out. By the way, we were the flagship. Soon after we got hit, the Admiral [Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher] was taken off the ship. A destroyer came along, picked him up and brought him over to the [USS] Enterprise [(CV-6)].
The funny part of it is that ship (that destroyer that came along there), the USS English [(DD-696)], years later, at a high school reunion, I found out that one of my classmates was on that ship. He didn't know that I was on the Bunker Hill, I didn't know he was on that ship.
SI: Once you got to your battle station, were you treating men who had been wounded?
FP: No. See, the fire didn't affect us up there. It was all from mid-ship aft. The front part of the ship was left unscathed. There were three kamikaze planes. Two hit. The third one was coming in. He was probably a torpedo plane. He was coming in low off the water. He was headed for the bow, because in the bow of the ship was where we stored our high-octane aviation gasoline. He was headed for that because if that had exploded, the whole thing would've went down.
SI: What happened in the days afterward?
FP: Well, we stayed at battle stations for the rest of the night. I guess it was the next day, we started bringing in the [casualties]. Most of our casualties were not from being shot or anything like that. It was from inhalation, because being that we were not at battle stations, the ship had not been prepared for battle. So, all that smoke that was burning up there was being sucked down inside. Men died from smoke inhalation. We started bringing up the bodies, maybe two days, two days, and burying the bodies then, as we brought them up.
SI: Did you actually bring up any of the bodies?
FP: No. My job then was, when we brought them up, then, we had to identify them. My job was to go from body to body, and then, mark down the person's name, get the same name off the dog tag. That list was then used to notify the next of kin.
SI: What was your mindset in the time after the attack? It was obviously much worse than what you had been through earlier.
FP: Well, I'm trying to think of it. One thing I felt, I felt lucky that nothing had happened to me. That much I remember feeling. It was really too busy to give us [a chance to say], "Gee, what happened?" to kind of analyze. No, I didn't go through anything like that, no.
SI: Was the Bunker Hill sent back to the States for repairs or Pearl Harbor?
FP: Well, from there, from Okinawa, we went to Ulithi. Then, from Ulithi, then, we went to Pearl Harbor. There, it was determined that it couldn't be repaired in Pearl Harbor. We had to come back to the States, which we did then. While we were in the States, then, they dropped the atom bomb and it was all over.
[Editor's Note: Hiroshima was the target of the first atomic raid on August 6, 1945. Nagasaki was attacked on August 9, 1945. V-J Day was declared on August 14, 1945, in the United States and August 15, 1945, in the Pacific.]
SI: Was it Bremerton you were sent to?
FP: Yes, we went to Bremerton, yes, yes.
SI: You were there when you found out about the atomic bomb being used.
SI: Were you on leave?
FP: No, no. What happened was, I don't remember the dates now, but, yes, when we got to Bremerton, then, there was a bunch of us (me included), who had been with the ship since commissioning, who were to be transferred off. We were to get some shore duty. We had to wait awhile until our replacements came aboard.
So, what they did, they gave us what they called a thirty-day "survivor's leave" to come home, which I did. I came home on survivor's leave. I was home (it was at the end of my leave there) when the word came that the atom bomb [had been dropped], never heard [of it].
We had no idea. I had no idea what an atom bomb was. In-between the bomb on Hiroshima and the bomb on Nagasaki, my leave was up. I had gone back to Philadelphia for further duty. That's really when the Japanese surrendered. That's where I was, back in Philadelphia Navy Yard.
SI: Before the atom bomb, had you expected the war to go on for some time?
FP: Oh, yes. Oh, I thought, for me, the end was not in sight. I was resigned to the fact that we would have to invade Japan. Yes, to this day, there's a million people like me who keep saying, "God bless Harry Truman." We are all convinced that he saved our lives, each one of us individually, because if he hadn't dropped the atom bomb, we would've had to invade.
I guess you've read [that] estimates would be that there would be at least a million American casualties and millions of Japanese casualties. Oh, yes, when they dropped the first atom bomb, and then, there was talk about the Japanese surrendering, I said, "No, no, they're not going to surrender." I didn't expect them to. I thought it was going to be--like I said, I don't know when--but it was going to be after the Japanese invasion.
SI: You were in Philadelphia for V-J Day.
FP: V-J Day.
SI: Was there any kind of celebration?
FP: Oh, God, downtown--have you ever been in Philadelphia? That downtown, on Market Street, oh, it was wall-to-wall people, just like in Times Square. People were drinking. I'm not a drinker. I don't know who was buying the drinks, but I don't know who was paying, either.
SI: That was August. You got discharged in November.
SI: What did you do in those last few months in the service?
FP: I was sent to Bainbridge, Maryland, awaiting discharge. You got discharged according to points. You accumulated points [by the] time you went in, time overseas, dependency situation. There's three or four different factors that were factored into it. Married men with children were the first ones out. Then, the rest of it, you waited in line. When the war was over, I estimated that I would be out sometime in October or November and that's what it was.
SI: You were obviously on the ship for a very long time. Does anything else stand out from your service on the Bunker Hill, any changes to your routine or treatment of men that stands out?
FP: Treatment of men? No, I didn't find that anybody was treated too harshly. No, I don't think so. I think we were treated fairly.
SI: What about treating anyone who was wounded, any other stories about that?
FP: Oh, not really. No, whatever it was was nothing major.
SI: Did they ever have USO shows on the aircraft carrier?
FP: Oh, yes. They used to come over there and they would put on a show. The carriers all had elevators that carried planes from the hangar deck up to the flight deck. So, when the elevator dropped, there was actually a big square hole in the flight deck. What they would do is, they would lower the number one elevator, which was towards the front part of the ship, to maybe three or four feet off the flight deck. That was the stage. We never had Bob Hope on the ship, but, oh, we had several groups come over, yes.
SI: What would you say was your most vivid memory of your time on the Bunker Hill? Was it the kamikaze attack or was it something else?
FP: Well, yes, of course, when I think about my time on the Bunker Hill, that has to stand out.
SI: Did you have any interaction with the air crews?
FP: The air crews kept pretty much to themselves. One of the things was that the air crews, many of those guys were not Annapolis men. They were college guys, all young kids. The interaction between these pilots and their crew--they always had a two-man crew, who were enlisted men--it wasn't like the formality that you had with other commissioned officers, because they were so close and they had to work together.
As a matter of fact, we had one pilot on there, he played cards with the enlisted men. He was called up a half a dozen times. The saying is, not just the Navy, was that if enlisted men and the officers get too chummy, they said, "Familiarity breeds contempt." I guess you've heard of it before, but this guy just disregarded it.
Like I said, my interaction with the officers was mostly with the doctors. There were others, junior officers. Of course, the interaction with, like, the Captain or heads of department, commanders and vice commanders, that was very, very seldom. Whenever it was, it was strictly on a formality basis, yes, especially with the Annapolis men. The Reserve officers, sometimes, they would disregard it, but Annapolis men, no.
SI: Did you ever get to go ashore in any of the areas you served, outside of going back to Hawaii or an established base like that?
SI: Panama, okay.
FP: Venezuela, Trinidad.
SI: Not beyond Hawaii?
FP: Well, the islands, there wasn't much to go back to. Every once in a while, we'd be at some of those islands, like, Eniwetok, Ulithi, they would have what they called "beer parties." You'd go ashore a day and they would give you hot beer. [laughter] That's as much as you saw of the islands then. By that time, we had leveled it. It was not even livable.
SI: You mentioned that there were cases of men who froze in combat. Did you encounter any cases of what you thought would be combat fatigue or men who had to be removed from the ship because they could not handle the stress of combat?
FP: You know what? It brings me to mind, there was one fellow who reported aboard (he was a seaman), he reported aboard on--I don't know, this was 1944. I don't remember the date, but he reported aboard and he reported to sickbay, complaining about a backache. Well, first of all, on the ship, we had an X-ray, but that was the extent of it. There was nothing else.
So, they examined him and they said, "No, no, you're fine. You can go back down." "No," he says, "it still hurts." They sent him back to duty. The next day, on sick call, he was there, "My back is killing me." They kept him in sickbay for, I don't know, a few days, I suppose, and sent him back to duty two or three times.
Then, it became apparent that he had a back problem, or so he said. They determined there was nothing wrong with his back. I remember, one of the doctors says to him, "The only thing wrong with your back," he says, "there's a yellow streak running down it." He says, "There's nothing wrong with it." He kept insisting. They sent him back to duty and he would come back.
So, finally, they transferred him off to a hospital ship, where they had better facilities. There was something wrong with his back, to the fact that he died from it. He actually died from it, but we had no way of knowing.
SI: After you were discharged in November of 1945, how did you readjust to civilian life? What was your first move?
FP: No, they talk about adjusting, they make a big deal here. No, there was no big deal in adjusting. You just went back to what you were doing before. I don't know of anybody that had problems adjusting, coming back. No, I had no problem at all, just went back to civilian [life], picked up the pieces where you left from before.
SI: You went back to work at the same mill.
FP: No, no.
SI: Where did you find a new job?
FP: What did I do? I got a job in--there was a perfume factory around here, that I went back to work there for a short time. Not back--I got a job there for a short time.
SI: What did you do there?
FP: I was working where they made, I forget what the name of the perfume was now, Givaudan? Jo, what was the name of that perfume that Givaudan made? Do you remember? No, I can't remember, but, anyway, I worked there for a short time. Then, I left there, and then, I went into dry cleaning. That's where I stayed, yes.
SI: You used the GI Bill to start your business. [Editor's Note: The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (known as the GI Bill of Rights) offered funding for college or vocational education, as well as one year of unemployment and home loans, to returning World War II veterans.]
FP: No, not to start the business. I used the GI Bill to buy a house.
SI: Tell us about starting the business. What led you into dry-cleaning? Why choose that business?
FP: Well, there was a brother-in-law that was in the business. He's the one that got me started in it, yes.
SI: Where was the business located?
FP: His business, in Jersey City.
SI: What was the business called?
FP: I can't remember. It was just a one-man shop, that's all.
SI: Did you use any other part of the GI Bill, besides the housing benefit?
FP: Later on, when I went into business for myself, I used the GI Bill to buy the property.
FP: That the business was on. Yes, the only time I made use of the GI Bill was when I bought the house and the building, yes.
SI: When was it that you went into business for yourself?
FP: Late '50s.
SI: Up until then, you worked for your brother-in-law.
FP: No, I had left there. I was working somewhere else, yes.
SI: Where were you working then?
FP: Well, at the business that I bought. I worked there first, and then, bought it.
SI: Okay. Where was that located?
FP: In Paterson.
SI: I think you owned that business up until the 1970s, mid-1970s?
FP: Yes, '70s, yes.
SI: What stands out about owning a business there over that twenty or so year period? What are some of your fondest or maybe not so fond memories?
FP: It was a business. I ran it and prospered, let me put it that way.
SI: Were there any changes in the business over that period?
FP: No, not really, no.
SI: Anything new you tried to introduce?
FP: No, nothing new.
SI: Can you tell us a little bit about starting your family after the war with your first wife?
FP: Well, yes, I got married in '44 and had three children, Frances, Joseph and Jane. She's one of them. My first wife died in '74--right, '74?--and remarried in '81 and here I am.
SI: After the war, did you get involved in any veterans' groups?
FP: I belong to the American Legion, I belong to the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], not active. I was a member, but I never was active in it, no.
SI: Were there any other activities, say, in your community, that you got involved in?
FP: No, I was not a joiner, no.
SI: I wanted to ask your family, are there any stories that you have heard over the years that we skipped or should be included?
Joseph Petriello: I thought, going back to the early part of your interview, when you were asking him about living before the war, prewar, you asked him, at one point, about the house that they lived in. I thought he was going to be a little more expansive about describing the house.
FP: Which house are you talking about?
Joseph Petriello: On Chestnut Street.
FP: Oh, Nana's house, yes?
Joseph Petriello: Yes, and you've told us stories about, not that it was unusual at the time, what the house was like, what kind of amenities (or lack of amenities) you had at the house, [laughter] what the basement was like and what the heating situation was like, what you had to do to keep warm, what you had to do for hot water, those types of things. I thought you might describe that a little more.
FP: It was a house, what they called "cold water," I'm sure you've heard it called. It meant that there was no central heating. I'm reminded [by] this cold weather we're having now, oh, my god, we had a few of these in the mid-'30s. We had a coal stove. The coal stove would go out at night and we would just freeze. My brother and I, we slept up in the attic.
Joseph Petriello: How did heat get up into the attic?
FP: The heat. [laughter]
Josephine Petriello: With a grate in the ceiling. [laughter]
FP: There was a coal stove and, right above the coal stove, there was a hole in the ceiling with a grate on it. That's the way the heat went up to the attic. You froze in the wintertime and just sweated it out in the summertime.
Joseph Petriello: Hot water, how did you get hot water?
FP: You had to heat it on the stove.
SI: Boil it?
FP: Yes. I have a video about the Bunker Hill--would you be interested?
SI: Yes, I would like to get the title afterward.
FP: It was one of the episodes from …
SI: Victory at Sea?
FP: No, GI Diary; you ever hear of GI Diary [a 1978 CBS TV show]?
FP: Lloyd Bridges was the narrator, yes.
SI: One of the stories in the information you sent me was about going to visit the family of a man you knew on the Bunker Hill.
FP: Oh, yes.
SI: Can you tell us about that?
FP: He's talking about that…
Frances Petriello: (Tempio?).
FP: What happened was, my wife at the time was working in what they called a defense factory. She was working. There were several women there who were Navy wives, Army wives and all that. They were all close together. One of the guys on the ship lived in Garfield also. He was a little older than me, but he lived in Garfield. He got killed.
His wife says to my wife, knowing that I had survived, "Would I stop over and see her when I came back?" which I was very reluctant to do it. I didn't want to, but I was pressured into going to see her.
Joseph Petriello: Why did you not want to see her? Why did you not want to go there?
FP: Well, I didn't want to go see her because I knew I was going to be asked about how he got killed. He was a parachute rigger. The parachute loft was located between the flight deck and the hanger deck. There was fire above and fire [below]. He was literally fried to death. Plus, I couldn't go and tell her, I mean, his mother and father were there. I was very uncomfortable, but I did go see her though.
SI: After the war, did you maintain any relationships with men that you served with?
FP: Oh, well, we used to have a reunion every year. Only up until about three or four years ago, we had a reunion every year. By the way, the Bunker Hill, before it got scrapped, it was turned into a communications experimental ship in San Diego. We had a reunion in San Diego in which--they [his children] were young people then--we actually went aboard the ship, so, one of the few people that was able to bring their family aboard the ship, oh, yes.
The fellow that volunteered with me down in Philadelphia to go on the Bunker Hill, he was a Kentucky boy. We kept in contact until he died, oh, ten years ago or so, but there were many, many of the other ones that I used to see every year.
SI: How soon after the war ended did the reunions start?
FP: Ten years, yes, about ten years, I would say, yes.
SI: When you came back from the service, did you talk about the war with your family or friends?
FP: No. Of course, when we got back, I knew that So-and-So served at so-and-so, but we never went into extensive, "We did this," or, "We did that." Of course, we all knew what had happened to us, but I don't think we spent hours and hours talking about the war, no.
SI: I also saw the article about getting your diploma, later in life. Can you tell us about that?
FP: Oh, that. [laughter] Well, that was quite unexpected. I don't know. Well, both my brother and I, we left to go into service and never went back to high school. Years later, though, I got my GED, but my brother never did so. My family and his family persuaded the board of education to give us an honorary diploma, which they did. We made the front page and that was quite exciting, yes.
SI: Are there any other topics that you think should be added?
Frances Petriello: I'm just always amazed, when I'm out with him and he wears his Bunker Hill cap, how many people, young, old, stop him and say, "Thank you."
FP: That's true, especially lately, yes.
Josephine Petriello: Everywhere we shopped, restaurant owners would come over and give him gift certificates, because he had his Bunker Hill hat on, people all ages, even young, like thirteen, fourteen. Of course, the elderly, the hat did it. [laughter]
FP: One little boy came with his parents. They say to him, "Now, thank the man," and the kid put out his hand and said, "What am I thanking this guy for?" [laughter] He had no idea.
Josephine Petriello: Frank, what about when the new Bunker Hill was commissioned in Boston?
FP: Oh, yes. That was another one of the reunions we had in Boston
Josephine Petriello: That was a big affair.
FP: They built a new Bunker Hill, but it's not a carrier. It's a guided missile cruiser. We were the guests of honor there at the new commissioning. Oh, God, they have a ship now, this new Bunker Hill, has more firepower than all the firepower on both sides in World War II. Of course, they don't say whether it's nuclear or not, because they can't say that, but you certainly know that it is--with about a third of the men that we had.
Josephine Petriello: Who commissioned the new ship?
FP: Senator [Edward] Kennedy was there.
Josephine Petriello: Yes. They allowed all us spectators, the veterans, onboard ship. They toured the different decks with us, explaining things. It was wonderful. I never forgot that. It was wonderful. All the sailors were all in their dress uniforms, greeting all the veterans, a handshake to all of them.
SI: Are there any other memories you would like to share for the record, anything that we skipped over?
FP: No. The crew that I was with, the kids, the boys in my department there, to the best of my knowledge now, there's only three of us left. One is in Rhode Island, the other one's down in Florida. There may be others, but I doubt it. There's three that I know of.
SI: Thank you very much for all your time today, thank you to your family for having us here. We really appreciate your time today and your service, thank you.
---------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Francesca Cipriani 4/23/2014
Reviewed by Michael Farner 3/7/2021
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 9/29/2021
Reviewed by Fran Petriello Atieh 11/22/21