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|Interview with Mr.
Edward A. Miller
November 14, 2002
This oral history interview of Edward A. Miller is taking place on November 14, 2002 at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey. This interview is for the Oral History Project for HS 298 01 (Oral History) at Monmouth University. I am Trina Popowich, a student at Monmouth University. I will be conducting the interview. Edward A. Miller served in World War II. He was discharged with the rank of seaman first-class. He served in the South Pacific.
Question: Before you joined the navy what was your home life like? Why did you like to do for fun?
Answer: What did I like to do? Well I liked to go camping. I was in the Boy Scouts. And when I was in high school, I lived in Linden, and once you went up past Saint George Avenue it was the country. So you didn't have to go far to go camping. It was fun. We could put our packs on our bikes and ride right out to the woods.
Q: Did you have a favorite radio program, movie, or type of music?
A: Let's see, in the morning before going to school I used to listen to, gee I forget what the station was, it was all the popular music, the big bands and all, and that was on in the morning before school.
Q: Did you have movies or anything that you saw?
A: The movies we went to on Saturday. There was no television, but the radio had good stories on it.
Q: You listened to them?
A: Yeah, we used to listen to them.
Q: Did you have any favorite programs?
A: Oh yes, we liked the Eddie Cantor program, and let's see, The Shadow was on. There was always a good mystery.
Q: What did your father do for a living?
A: My father was an electrician.
Q: Did your mother work?
Q: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
A: One brother.
Q: One brother? Is he younger or older?
A: Younger, he was four years younger.
Q: Who were your closest friends before the war and what were they like?
A: My closest friends were Russell and Gus and Steve
Q: A bunch of them?
A: Yeah, well we played ball together and we went camping together. We did all the things that teenagers do.
Q: Before you enlisted, what was your understanding of how World War II began? Did you know much about it?
A: It began with Pearl Harbor. That's the first we didn't pay much attention to the current events, and how the political countries were strict.
Q: How old were you?
A: I was 16 then.
Q: Sixteen when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
Q: Did you know anything about Hitler or Mussolini?
A: Well yes, what we read in the paper that they were rampaging Europe and all, but it seemed so far away it's not affecting you.
Q: Did you have an opinion about Japan?
A: No, Japan was just another country.
Q: Somewhere else?
A: Yeah, only we didn't realize what - now when I read back and read the history and all, how everything came about and we got involved in the war and it's a little more enlightening as why it happened. But then it was just, they attacked Pearl Harbor and, ooh, we have to fight back.
Q: How did you feel about them then, after they attacked?
A: Ooh, then everybody wanted to go back and get in the service.
Q: Where were you when you heard about the attacks?
A: We were riding in my friend's car and it came on the radio. His father was very upset, and we were thinking maybe we can go now. We can join the navy now.
Q: Why do you think there was a difference in how the father reacted to how you reacted?
A: Because he realized more what a war was like than we did. When you're 16, it's just something that - it's like, as long as you don't see it, you don't know what it's like until you experience it. It all looks glorified in the movies and all.
Q: How do you think the tragedy of 9/11 compares to the attack on Pearl Harbor? Do you think there are similarities or it's not similar?
A: I think it's very similar, very similar, because it was so close to home. It was people that you knew and it was right here. With Pearl Harbor, it was a naval base and they were serving our country, and they were attacked. But the twin towers they were just people doing their everyday job.
Q: Why did you decide to join the navy?
A: I wanted to join the navy since I was fifteen. My uncle was in the navy in World War I and he used to tell me all about the navy, about the ships and all. That was my goal in high school. I wanted to get out of high school and join the navy.
Q: Did you consider any other branch of service?
A: No, because I had enough of camping, in tents that leaked, the water, the mud, trying to cook when it's raining. And I said I want to join the navy because I'll have a dry bunk and I'll have three meals a day.
Q: When did you enlist?
A: Well I first went over in November in 1942, but I had a broken finger and it wasn't healed right so I didn't pass the physical so I had to go back the end of December and I passed. So we were sworn in January 11, 1943.
Q: How did your family and friends feel about you joining?
A: Oh they were happy. They were happy for me because they knew that was what I wanted. My friends were all envious because they wanted to get in then too.
Q: They were younger than you?
A: No, most of them were about the same age.
Q: And they didn't enlist themselves?
A: Well their parents probably wouldn't let them. I had enough credits, I left school in February, but I had enough credits to graduate.
Q: So you think they stayed because their parents wanted them to finish school?
A: I think so, yeah. Yeah, they were anxious.
Q: How did you feel during your last few days before leaving for the navy?
A: Nervous. When I got on the train in New York, we had to go up 7 o'clock in the morning. No parades or nothing. When you get drafted then they have a parade and everything, they take you down the state. We had to get over to New York at 7 a.m., then they took us down to the train and we went on the train to Great Lakes. And while I was sitting on the train I was thinking, did I make a mistake? Is this really what I wanted to do? You get that lonesome feeling, like you're all alone. No friends, nothing. You don't know anybody else there. But, it doesn't take long.
Q: Did you do anything special before you left?
Q: Nothing special? No last time of doing anything?
A: No, I was too young then. I was only seventeen then.
Q: Where'd you say you went for training?
A: Great Lakes.
Q: Could you describe a typical day of training at Great Lakes?
A: A typical day at boot camp? (laughs) Well, it's hard to describe
Q: Anything stand out in your memory from it?
A: Just standing guard with a rifle with nothing in, in the snow, marching around the cafeteria - I forget what you call it now - it was the mess hall. Marching around the mess hall in the snow with a rifle just to get you to know you had to stand watches. But there's nobody in the mess hall, there's nobody around. Just you and your rifle and you can march around there.
Q: What else did they have you do besides that?
A: We had to do exercise, training, running. Mostly it was discipline. You do what I say without question.
Q: And how did you do with that?
A: Good. Yeah, everybody understands that this is what you're supposed to do.
Q: Do you remember any of your instructors?
A: No. It was sixty years ago.
Q: What type of ship did you serve on?
A: A destroyer.
Q: And what were your feelings about being on a destroyer?
A: I loved it. That's what I wanted.
A: Well it's a smaller ship. On the battleships and the carriers and all, for morning muster you had to put your undressed blues on and on the destroyer it was the dungaree navy. You're in dungarees all the time. And it wasn't as restrictive. I could go into any department, visit my friends in the torpedo shack, or the radio shack. On a battleship, you don't do that. You go in your division and you stay there. Were you ever on a battleship? Never went to Fall River on Massachusetts? You can even go down below they have a carpenter shop, a tailor shop, and they have an ice cream counter, and they had all this.
Q: Where did your ship go? What areas did you serve in?
A: Where did it go?
Q: Yeah, you said South Pacific, I believe, right?
A: Right. I went aboard in Purvis Bay, just between Tulagi and Guadalcanal.
Q: What was your job or assignment on the destroyer?
A: Well first I was on the deck force. I painted, scraped paint, swabbed decks. And then I got into the fire control gang, and I fixed the sound powered telephones. Everybody at the gun stations and all wore earphones and they had one talker so you could communicate with your battle stations and all. Well they were connected with a jack in the wall and when there was a lot of excitement they'd go running with them and tear the cords out. And I had a little shack and I just fixed all the cords. Put new cords, new plugs
Q: Why did you make the switch from the other job?
A: Cause that's what I wanted. I wanted to get in the fire control. That's the gun fire control.
Q: Describe a typical day on your ship. What did you do from the moment you woke up?
A: (Laughs) Let me see. Well, first you had chow, unless you were on watch. We stood four on and eight off. Constantly. So if you weren't on watch you had chow, and then turn to. I would go to my shack and fix phones and then around 4:30 then we had a little free time. Well you had mess in between that, you know, lunch, and then you stood watches. Most of the time you were either standing watch or working.
Q: And what did you think about the food?
A: Very good. We had good cooks on board ship.
Q: What did you do for fun on the ship?
A: For fun? We listened to records. When we weren't on watch we used to all go into the IC room and that's where the computer was for the main battery director. It wasn't a computer like you have today. This was a computer where everything was cranked in. You'd call in the wind speed and they'd crank it in, and the speed of the ship and they would crank it in. And there was a gyro compass on it. It was a mechanical computer. But it did the job.
Q: Did your ship see combat?
A: Yes, we did. Yes when we were in the Solomon Island we used to load ammunition all night of the barges, all day, and then at night in the dark we used to run up the slot in case the Japanese were trying to supply their troops on Guadalcanal and these other little islands. We were supposed to go up and try to intercept them.
Q: Could you see them from where you were or were you just relying on targets?
A: No, you couldn't see them.
Q: Was your ship damaged at all?
A: We got hit once with a small shell in the back in the after-compartment. But my first battle station was in the powder magazine for gun one and that's as low as you can go. I felt like my feet were on the bottom of the hull. And I didn't like that very much cause we'd listen to see what's going on. They knew the guns were firing, they were shooting at something but you didn't know what.
Q: How did you feel when you were in combat?
A: I didn't like that down there. I didn't like being confined down there. So I went to the gunnery officer and I asked him nicely, I told him I got a little claustrophobia down there so he said well he tried me out on the 40 millimeters director and that was better. I liked it up on deck. I want to see what's coming. So that was my next battle station.
Q: Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.
A: My most memorable experiences? Well I guess the Typhoon Cobra would be the most memorable. We had just finished. We were in Lady Gulf with the fleet and we were ordered out to refuel and we went out to refuel and when you went out to refuel all the ships went out and we met the tankers and all the tankers were out and they would refuel all the ships and we were getting low on fuel then. And on the process of going out there was a tropical storm starting to build up and they were having trouble tracking it. They didn't have the equipment they have today. And when they zigged they should have zagged. We wound up heading right into the typhoon and the weather conditions were perfect, just like the "Perfect Storm". The weather conditions were perfect to feed this tropical storm and it became a typhoon and we got caught in the middle. The first day, that was the 17th, we went alongside the New Jersey. We refueled from the New Jersey. We put all the lines over; all hands had to do this. They got lines like this, you had to haul up and tie the two ships, tie it together. And then they pulled the hose over and tie it and pump the fuel into our tanks. Well we just got started and we hit a swell and the two ships went apart like this (he holds up his hands and separates them) and it parted every line, just snapped. And the oil hose broke and scattered all over the ship. So they had to abort the fueling and said they would continue the next morning. Well the next morning, I had the watch from eight until noon, eight to twelve, that's why I'm here. I was on watch and it just kept getting nastier and nastier and so we were just on watch, screaming around up there, talking, we never realized anything was - and then we lost power. We lost power and the ship sort of got quiet and when a ship gets quiet it's an eerie feeling. You don't hear the engines running or anything. What happened was the water got in and shorted everything out, and so they lost the steering. And we got caught in a trough. We went up on a couple of, you know how you go up to the top and then slide down the other side, well we did and it went up a couple of times and went up and it just came back, and we went over again and it came back, and the third time it just went right over to the side. They didn't have time to say abandon ship or anything, we just had to scramble off and jump in the water. So I swam out, I opened the hatch, and crawled out. I was on the main battery director, by the time I crawled out the water was coming in already. And I just closed my eyes and waited until it got calm and I swam to the top and luckily when I got to the top there was a few other people there and there was a life jacket there and I put it on. If I didn't put that on I wouldn't be here. It was a heavy jacket with the little collar. And then we decided we better get away from the ship a little. We moved. We tried to get away because then if it goes down it might suck you down. But you couldn't go too far away because you couldn't see. The swells were so high that the wind would just blow the tops off. It was like the surf, down the shore. And when you got up to the top of the swell it would just blow you, you would just go and you would just hold on and wait until it stops and then you could come back up. You'd be surprised how deep you go. Well we got out and we swam out a little bit. It was about eight, nine fellows, I guess, there and they were holding onto a piece of wreckage or something big. So I grabbed onto that with them and we went up on one of these swells and by the time we came down I was all by myself. I couldn't find anybody. Everybody just got separated.
Q: This was during the daytime, right?
A: Yeah, this was 11 o'clock in the morning. Another fifteen minutes I would have been off watch and I would've been down below and I never would've got out. So while we were holding onto this piece of wreckage, someone had a life ring, he had his arm in and I put my arm in the other side and I was holding on that but when I came up I was the only one on that life ring, but I still had it. Then I drifted for a while and then I met David Moore, who was a stewards mate, and we stayed together for a while, and then another gunners mate, he came, and the three of us stayed together then. It was only bad until the nighttime, I guess. By then the storm subsided a little bit then and it was a little calmer. But it was just hectic getting thrown around all the time, constantly. The next morning the sun came up and the sea was like glass and that's when you get sunburn and your throat gets dry. We had no water, no nothing, no shoes, even my shoes were gone. And we just stayed together and kept looking for an island to swim to or something. So then that first day went by, we got all sunburned and all. Your lips were blistered. That night, the second night, we thought we saw lights or something on the horizon. We tried to swim that way. But then by the morning when we woke up there was nothing. We didn't see anything there. Then the third we drifted, we were starting getting weary there. We saw a plane circling and I said gee look at that there's a plane circling around. And then finally we could see sticks like on the horizon there. And this plane was searching an area. They had this baby carrier. I forget the name of it - it's in here (points to a scrapbook he brought) but it was a baby carrier and they had pilots up and they were searching the areas. They had a pattern to search for, looking for us. I said ooh, that's the first time I even figured they were looking for us. Dave Moore, he says oh don't worry they're looking for us, they're looking for us, they'll find us. And this plane circled, but he wasn't coming close enough. We was flashing and trying to make and he flew around back around and I said oh, he didn't see us. But he went around the ship again and he came back and this time he came up close and he dropped a smoke. Oh then we were overjoyed, and then we saw all the masts start coming to us, and the ships came alongside and they fished us out of the water. We couldn't even climb up out of the they threw the life nets over the side, and we tried to climb up and they had to get down in the water and push us up on the deck.
Q: Cause you were so tired and fatigued?
A: You get dehydrated I guess. Once we got on board that D.E. they treated us like kings.
Q: And what was the name of the Destroyer Escort that saved you?
A: The Swearer. The U.S.S. Swearer, D.E. 186. And their crew is just the same today as they were then. I remember an officer gave me his stateroom because there was no more bunks down below. So I was up in officers' quarters, and a steward brought my breakfast up. He come in and he brought me a whole set of clothes. I got all new clothes and new shoes. And then when we went down to the mess hall, they wouldn't even let us get in line. Sit down, we'll get you whatever you want. They were really good to us.
Q: Did you have any lasting health problems? Or was it just dehydration?
A: I don't think so. I lost a lot of weight. But they brought us in and put us on a hospital ship and we stayed on the hospital ship for a few days. Just to see if everything was alright. And then they sent us home. We got a thirty day leave.
Q: What was going through your mind when you were out floating at sea?
A: Well I was thinking, how am I going to tell my mother what happened. I really felt bad since there was no way you could communicate with anybody and say don't worry, it's alright, I'm okay. I think it's an easy way to go because you get so tired, tired from swimming.
Q: Where you hopeful that someone would find you or did you
A: Oh I was hopeful someone was going to find me. I didn't know who.
Q: Did you expect them to?
A: Well, like I said, David Moore, he had been in the navy for nine years and he kept on, don't worry, they're coming, they're looking. But if you read some of the history now from back then, they didn't always stop. Look at the Juno. Did you ever read that book, Left to Die? They saw that they were all coming back from Sabo Island and the Juno ship was torpedoed, a Japanese ship torpedoed it. It was limping back. They were all badly damaged.
Q: Was that a destroyer?
A: No, that was a cruiser. And it just disintegrated, blew up. It seemed like the captain on the San Francisco was there and the captain and the admiral were all killed on that and the officer in charge, his main objective was to get the rest of his fleet back to Tulagi to get fixed. The way they saw that ship disintegrate, they figured there's no survivors. But they found out later that there was. And if they had sent somebody back to look they could have saved a few lives, but that's hindsight.
Q: Describe your relationship with the crew and officers of the ship.
A: We got along great. That's what's good about a small ship. You know everybody. Maybe you're not friends with them but you know who they are. Just like when I lived in Linden. I could go down Wood Avenue and everybody that walked by, I knew who they were. I knew their name, but I didn't know them. I couldn't talk to them. But then you have your close friends.
Q: Who were your close friends?
A: I had a close friend from Linden. He was Johnny Shupek. He was so happy when I came aboard, that there was somebody from his hometown. And then Anderson, the gunners mate. Jack Carls. He was from Michigan. Smitty.
Q: Did you all have similar personalities? Is that why you were good friends?
A: No. We were all in the same war. Personalities were different. Everybody liked different things but what could you do, you were in a small ship. You could only eat, or listen to music, or talk about home.
Q: Were there any African-Americans on your ship?
Q: Did you notice a difference in how they were treated?
A: They were all stewards. They were all stewards mates at that time.
Q: Were they treated differently than other people?
A: I don't know. I don't think so. No. They seemed happy enough. They had their own compartment and everything. We never thought about discrimination or anything then. It was just the way things were.
Q: Did you keep in contact with friends and family at home?
Q: You wrote letters.
A: I wrote letters.
Q: What did you miss most about your home life?
A: Well just being able to go where you wanted to go, and do what you wanted to do.
Q: Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan?
A: That was after my survivor's leave. They didn't send me back to sea. I was in an ammunition depot in Seal Beach, California. And that's when we heard about it. That's similar to Earl here (New Jersey). It was naval ammunition.
Q: And what was your reaction to it?
A: We were happy. The war was over. Well, we figured it would be over.
Q: What did you think about President Roosevelt?
A: President Roosevelt?
Q: Did you think about him?
A: No. (laughs) Not really.
Q: How did you feel about his death? Were you concerned that the war would change because of his death?
A: No, because he had his staff. He wasn't running it alone.
Q: When and where were you discharged?
A: I was discharged in Lido Beach, Long Island.
Q: And when was that?
A: In February, 1946.
Q: After it was all over, did service in the navy turn out to be what you expected it to be?
A: Yes. Sometimes I wish I would have stayed in a little longer.
Q: What was your reception like when you returned home?
A: Good. Yeah, it was good to be home, good to see everybody. But then you had to face the reality of what am I going to do now. I have to get a job.
Q: Did you consider going back to school?
A: I went to a vocational school cause the G.I. bill, we had. So I took a course in electricity and we were looking for work and we were collecting, what did we get, twenty dollars a week for twenty months, or something like that. Then while we were doing that we were looking for work. I finally got a job as an electrician's apprentice in the local union in Elizabeth.
Q: Was your father still working as an electrician at that time?
A: My father was an electrician, but he was in a plant. And he knew a friend that had left there, an engineer, and they started their business and I went to work for them. Then finally I got interviewed and I got into the union and I stayed in there until I retired.
Q: After you got home from the war, was life at home as you remembered it before you left? Or had it changed?
A: I don't think it changed.
Q: Did people treat you differently?
A: No. They had it just as hard at home as we had in the service. They didn't have any butter, they didn't have any cigarettes. Everything was going. They told them oh it's going for the boys in the service. There was no gasoline. You couldn't buy a new tire for your car. So they were scrimping and saving, of course, like it always is, there's always somebody that's skimming a little bit here and there. But the majority of the people were behind the country, just like after 9/11. It seemed like everybody pulled together and that's what happened then. Everybody pulled together and forgot about all the petty things that they needed and the war effort was successful.
Q: Did you do anything special to celebrate when you came home?
A: I don't remember. (laughs) I don't think so.
Q: Did you join a veterans' organization?
A: Yes, I did. I joined the VFW.
Q: And that stands for? Veterans of Foreign War?
A: VFW, yeah.
Q: And what is that organization about?
A: That's all veterans from all the wars. I went to the Veterans of Foreign War because my dad was a veteran from World War I, and when I was little, I'd say eleven or twelve, he used to take me over to the post home and I used to sit and listen to all the soldiers telling their stories about the trenches in World War I, and I was very interested. I joined that post in Linden but then I moved to Clark and everyone I knew was in Clark so I transferred to Clark.
Q: What did your father do in World War I?
A: My father? He was in the infantry.
Q: So what is your role in the VFW? What do you do?
A: Now? I'm just a member.
Q: Have you seen any World War II movies in your lifetime?
A: I have a lot of tapes home. Victory at Sea and all.
Q: Do you think they portray the period accurately? What's your opinion?
A: Well, not exactly. No. It's something that if you didn't experience, you can't get it from a picture, or movie.
Q: And which ones did you say you saw?
A: Victory at Sea was all. It was mostly World War II. But they say that, what's that one that Tom Hanks was in? that D-Day? They say that was very accurate.
Q: You haven't seen it?
A: No. No, I didn't see it. My wife's brother, he was in the army and he was killed in the Normandy landing, so she's not interested in watching any violent movies from that time. It reminds her too much.
Q: Did you tell your family and friends about your experiences as soon as you got back or did you wait to tell them?
A: No, I don't think so.
Q: It was easy to tell them?
A: Well, I said my dad kept all the newspaper clippings and all but no we never talked much about it. In fact, I had a cousin. My cousin was on a submarine the whole war and all the years we used to visit, he'd bring the kids over, we'd have lunch together and everything, we went out places with them and all, and we never talked anything about it. After he moved away and then he died, I kept thinking gee, you know, I wish I would've talked to him a little bit. But it was too soon.
Q: So does your family know about your experiences now? Have you told them stories?
A: Now? Yeah.
Q: What do you think is the most important lesson you learned from serving in World War II?
A: The most important lesson you learned from serving in World War II? (laughs) Boy, you got some good ones. I think the most important thing is to do what your heart tells you to do, not be influenced by a lot of things. If you feel like you want to go in the navy, go in the navy. If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor.
Q: And you're happy with your choice?
A: I'm happy.
Q: Has it changed your life, serving in it? Do you see it influencing other areas of your life or is it just something that you went through and are proud of it?
A: No, it's something I went through and everybody at that time wanted to do their part.
Q: And that was your way of doing your part?
A: And that was it, I did my part.
Q: Is there anything else that you think is important to talk about that I haven't covered in the interview?
A: Not right now, but probably while I'm riding home in the car I'll think of a few things. (laughs)
Q: Well thank you for your time and
this concludes the interview.
Conclusion of the Interview.
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