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|Interview of James
November 3, 2002
For the Monmouth University Archives
This oral history interview of Mr. James R. Mitchell, is taking place on November 3 of 2002, in the Student Center of Monmouth University, in West Long Branch New Jersey. This Interview is for the DESA Oral History Project for Hs 298 01 at Monmouth University. I am Joseph Sicignano, a student at Monmouth University, and I will be conducting this interview.
Q: Where did you grow up and what was it like?
A: I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. I lived there from 1926 until 1960, when we moved to the New Jersey shore. What was it like growing up in Newark? It was mainly during the depression. My father had more or less abandoned my mother my brother and myself, and we ended up on relief, or as today they call it welfare. We were very lucky very lucky to obtain an apartment in a federal housing project in Newark, known as the Seth-Boyden court. Before that we had lived several places in Newark. Being at basically the poverty level we lived in some very interesting situations, like shared bathrooms and things of that nature. I can remember before moving into the project my brother and I would spend several hours each week scouting around for wood, we had a wood stove. We lived in down town Newark at the time, in the downtown area, we would scout around the disposal areas, of the big department stores and the five and tens and so forth for anything that could be burned in our wood stove. In addition to that, during the depression, the city of Newark used unemployed men, who really had no place to live of their own, these are basically had no families or left their families, these men who live for example in Newark the old Washington Street school, which was at the corner of Kinney and Washington. The point being that the way things operated in those days they would deliver to these locations big logs of wood. I have no idea where they came from and the only work these men did was to cut and chop the wood and each family in our similar situation was given a chip, which allowed us to go down and get one bushel of wood a week to be used in the wood stove. In addition to that, being on relief we had, I don't think they called them food stamps in those days, a check, I guess is what it was, to be used only for food. There were checks given for shoes and sometimes for clothing.
My mother during this time became rather ill. It's in my mind many times calling for a doctor, to come to our little place, and she would have the flu or something. She would almost die sometimes until the city would send the doctor, and these doctors were very good men they were doing charitable work. In those days the mid 30's there was little they could do. Antibiotics did not exist and so forth. In any case we all survived until 1940, when we were able to obtain the apartment in the Seth-Boyden Court. We thought it was just luxurious to have our own bathroom. To have hot baths, hot water, a heat supply, electricity and so forth. The only bad part about it, it was on the third floor and my mother had very hard times getting up the stairs. But she was quite happy there. It was from there that eventually in the June of 1944 that I join and entered the Navy. Actually I joined in the December of 1943 under a program that the Navy had were a senior in high school if he would enlist in the Navy, they would give you permission to remain in high school until you graduated. That's what I did and in June of 1944 I was activated and reported to the Navy on my 18th birthday.
Q: What high school and grade school did you attend?
A: Well the grammar school was St. Bridget's in Newark, on what was then Plain Street a little tiny catholic school. I think that I had eight kids in my class maybe ten at one time. I was taught by nuns, who were very strict with us but were very good teachers. I think it was there that I began to appreciate the need for discipline and study. Then I guess a year after I graduated there I was attending St. James High School on Layfette Street in Newark. It does not exist any more and neither does the St. James church. It was a four-year catholic business school at St. James. At that time I had no idea of going to college. I signed up for the business course. I say I signed up, the pastor at St. Bridget's paid the tuition for all of the kids from St. Bridget's to go to Catholic high schools at least to St. James. I graduated St James on a Friday evening and two days later, on Monday, I was at the Samson Navel station up in Samson New York, up in the Finger Lake district.
Q: What Kind of extracurricular activities were you involved in grammar school and high school?
A: In grammar school there was no extracurricular activities other than working. I had a couple newspaper delivery jobs. One was on the corner of Walnut and Broad there was a news stand and a fellow and his wife, again this is during the depression, operated the news stand. It was right outside of, I believe it was a Whelan Drugstore, and the cars coming up Walnut Street to Broad would have to stop at a traffic light. My job was to get out there and hustle up and down the cars stopped at the traffic light and try to sell the papers. At the time the Newark Evening News, which doesn't exist anymore, or the Star Eagle, which eventually became the Star Ledger. This was a rain or shine type job and it was an interesting job because the people instead of paying the three cents, would frequently hustle me and take off without paying the three lousy cents that was involved for these papers. I left that spot after a while, and went to work for Sam Surinson who ran a little candy/news paper store on Court Street just a few doors from Washington Street right across from the, what was than and I guess it doesn't exist anymore, the first precinct police headquarters. I had several paper routes, which took me a very long distances. I estimate on the average route that I had was two miles, which isn't much to talk about walking, but in addition to that I had to carry with a leather belt, I had to carry a hundred or so papers, that were to be delivered. On Sunday's we started at six o'clock in the morning there, and the load was lightened somewhat by the use of little homemade wagons, because by this time the paper would be much thicker of course on Sunday, because we many more customers. There were about four of us, four paperboys, and Sam did a very nice job, he was a wonderful guy he and his wife, a very easygoing Norwegian man. His son Russell would sometimes accompany us, why I don't know I think he was coming along with us to see what girls he could meet along the paper route. And by the way I would work everyday after school from three to six, and maybe a little less on Saturday, and on Sunday from six in the morning till nine. I was paid fifty cents a week for this job, which even in those days I think was rather skimpy but it was a job. My brother also worked there with me, my brother John Paul.
Q: What did you do in high school?
A: In high school, I think the only thing worth mentioning was I was on the basketball team and on the track team. It makes it sound like we had a full-scale sports curriculum, we did not it was a very small school, and if you went out for the team you made it that was about it period. We had a good basketball team though we played all over North
Jersey, including St. Benedicts in Newark, which was a real powerhouse in those days. We also came down and played St. James in Red Bank every year and we played a home and home series with them. I personally was not an outstanding player, I was good at rebounding and that's how I was mainly used. It became my life, I loved the game, and even after my Navy service I kept it up, my brother was much better than I. We had a team going in the neighborhood and we would book games all over the place. Basketball was basically my life in those days. Of course it was a much different game than they play today but I loved it, I just loved it. The track team I was only in about two meets. I was supposed to be a half miler but I never ran the half mile when the day came for the meets my coach would put me in the 100 yard dash which was not my game but I forget now why it was done. I never won or even placed as far as I can remember. I was never really a track star, or even a basketball star. I worked during high school the jobs were a little different. I was a Western Union messenger and I also worked after school in a defense plant. The Western Union job was just what it sounds like. In those days the telegrams were delivered by uniformed messengers on bicycles. We were given a little outfit, kaki colored as I remember, with a little cap with a brim on it, a military style hat and putties leather coverings over your lower legs. Kinda giving you a cavalry appearance. We were thoroughly inspected every day before we were allowed to leave the office and deliver our telegrams. The downside of the job, was the fact that the War Department, as it was called in those days not the Defense Department, would use the Western Union telegrams to advise families of the death of their loved ones in service. It became a very disturbing part of the job. The fact was as you were given a package of telegrams to deliver you could flip through the pack very quickly and you would find a special mark on the envelope, which told you that it was a death notice. This was in the early part of the war I would say 42-43 or something like that. After the first one you delivered, you knew that this was the part of the job that you were going to hate. You can't imagine a young sixteen year old knocking on a door and handing a piece of paper to a mother that told her that her son had been killed. It became very quickly known through out the country that when you saw a Western Union boy coming down your street your main hope was that he didn't stop here. I had occasion were people would not open their doors, they would scream at me through the doors to go away. The interesting sidelight to this was that most families that had a son in service would have a little tiny flag in their window facing the street with a blue star. Each a blue star pennant indicated a member of family in service and when you would see that and would stop there you knew it would be just a dreadful time. Eventually, after several months this requirement of the job caused me to give it up. It was just too much, in fact there was one of my co-workers, another messenger, who refused to deliver them, and would just through them away. I don't know what that lead too but he just said he could not face it and it was a dreadful moment. I can remember one summer evening, coming around the corner going down the street were I had to deliver such a telegram. It was a hot summer evening, everyone was sitting on their porches, this is before air-conditioning, and they would see me coming down and they would all run in the house in the matter of a few seconds, all the porches were cleared and all the doors were locked, each of them praying that I lust didn't stop at their place. For a 16-year-old kid it was just too emotional I gave it up after several months. It was an interesting job I remember having some telegrams I had to deliver to some note worthy people. Jack Benny, the famous comedian, was on the War-Bond drive and he and movie stars with him Hedy La Mare and so forth. They stayed in Newark and delivered telegrams to them. Jack Benny who had a comedy reputation of being a skinflint gave me a whole dollar, so for the rest of my life I was great fan of this comedian. There was another interesting place in Newark, a burlesque house, and the messengers, including myself, would fight to get telegrams that had to go to the burlesque house. We would tell the stage door guy that they had to be delivered personally, and that he could not sign for them. We loved to be in back of the stage with all of the pretty girls, waiting there patiently for the person to show up to whom the telegram was addressed. But that rarely happened to be given that assignment.
My other job was later on in high school. Almost everybody had the opportunity to work in a defense plant. The high school kids were very much involved in this on an after school basis. They would just about set the hours to your schedule. Most of these plants operated twenty-four a day. I applied, and was accepted at a Daven Company, it was on Central Ave just above High Street. There work consisted of supplying the Army Signal Core, with walkie-talkies. It was an assembly line situation. The high school would be taught how too solder and other minor assembly jobs. That paid one dollar an hour and that was unbelievable, to think that if I worked twenty hours that week or thirty hours, I would have thirty bucks, don't forget we're coming out of the depression. Everybody was able to get jobs, were as before there were so many desolate people, including the men I mentioned, who lived in abandoned schools and chopped wood for the poor and so forth. Things were beginning to change and I hate to say it but the war solved a lot of economic problems in the United States. The little interesting aside about this defense job was the entrance for the employees was on Sussex Ave, right adjacent to the entrance was a bar, I forget the name of it. It was known that a bunch of US Navy Sailors hung out at that bar and the reason was very simple. Many of the senior high school girls worked at the plant were found to be very attractive by these sailors and there would be all kinds of attempts made as the girls were entering or leaving the building to make their acquaintance by these sailors. Which was ok the girls got a kick out of it, sometimes the sailors got a date. Everybody seemed to be happy-go-lucky about it nobody seemed upset. The ironic part of it was, I found out later on when I was in the Navy talking to my shipmates. Several of them had been at that bar and been involved with the flirtations. They considered it one of the hot spots of Newark. These men were waiting for the ship that I eventually served on to be built in Port Newark. They loved to hang out at that particular bar.
Q: What do you remember of the war in Europe prior to Pearl Harbor?
A: That's an interesting question. I think that the country was astounded at the success that Hitler was having. I think that we were also rather upset at the rather rapid surrender of France. We were astounded at the famous Dunkirk Evacuation that the British were able to pull off were they were able to save most of their army by meeting them at the town of Dunkirk. In I believe it was either France or Belgium, with all kinds of private pleasure boats and ferries, and just save their army and bring them back to England, which paid off tremendously in the days to come. The interesting thing about that question is of course that we ultimately knew about the concentration camps and the horrors that these camps that these camps inflicted of the poor Jewish people and on others. But that was not known early on in the war, that was not known in the early part of the war, that was not known through most of the war. It was only known upon the US Army saving some of these camps and finding out what was going on there. In the United States early on in the war there were many pro-German activities, especially among people of German background. There was some youth camps set up in the United States which kind of supported the German ideas of their need to dominate central Europe and they were quit proud of this. It was not until the United States entered the war that these associations and groups kind of dissipated. Most of these people became very patriotic Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We all expected an invasion. We knew that our troops were being delivered to England were they were training the United States Air Force used English bases to very successful raids on Europe. I may be getting ahead of myself on that question. The fact was I think we were always sympathetic to England and really at the beginning of the war before we entered it wasn't quite clear how bad Hitler was and what an evil situation had developed in Central Europe.
Q: What about the Japanese theatre, was there any knowledge of what Japan was doing prior to Pearl Harbor?
A: Yes, for several months before Pearl Harbor there was all kinds of high-level political activity. There were all kinds of stories of Japans aggression. You got to understand that in the early 30's Japan set out on a military expedition to control their part of Asia. Now that involved China, Korea and they marched into those countries and committed awful atrocities. The Rape Manking was unbelievable. I will not repeat some of the stories that came out they're just awful. Japanese were determined to control that part of the world, and as they grew stronger and more territory. The United States got more and more alarmed. I'm just giving you my version it is very possible that the US was involved in things that you might say were anti-Japanese economically and perhaps in the area were influencing people that the Japanese thought they should dominate. I only know our side of the story and I think that it will be a long time before the full history comes out of what was going on. There is a school of thought that says the Japanese were bated into attacking Pearl Harbor I have no knowledge of that. The Japanese people of whom I knew known, in my part of New Jersey were certainly mistreated by the United States, eventually after war was declared. But before war was declared I had the general impression that a lot was going on in what we think of as the Pacific Rim today. But it is all political except for the military action in Asia by Japan, and we'd just have to keep our eye on it. That was my general impression as a thirteen or fourteen year old kid in those days.
Q: Describe your situation when you first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
A: Well that's a moment that is really impressed in my mind. On that particular Sunday December 7, 1941, I was living in Seth Boyden, which still exists, and we were at a friends house, the Goldstein's, lived across the street form us in the projects. My brother ands I were over their playing cards with Heshy (Harold) and his brother Saul also joining us was Jerry Petrico another guy from the projects. We were playing 21 or black jack, what ever you want to call it, for pennies. The radio was on and we were listening to the Giants game, I don't even know who they were playing. During the game the words came through that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. We were thirteen and fourteen year old kids. To show our lack of knowledge of geography we did not know what that meant. We didn't know who owned Pearl Harbor number one, because they didn't say the United States Navel at Pearl Harbor, they just said that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I remembered that someone looked it up in the dictionary to find out that it was in Hawaii. Mrs. Goldstein came into the room and was very upset, her oldest son Saul was Sixteen-Seventeen at the time. She rightly prophesied that he would probably go in unless the war ended very quickly. The point of the story was that it was a stunning moment and the interesting sidelight to it was that two of those guys, Jerry Petrico and Saul Goldstein were both killed in the infantry in World War II. The moment has stuck with me up till now and will probably always be with me. That two of my friends, so innocently that day, were to die in that war we heard about that day over the radio.
Q: How did the attack make you feel?
A: Well, we went home after the card game and went across the street. The first thing my mother said to us was "Thank God your both so young they'll never get to you." I didn't think too much about it. At my age I had no knowledge of the politics involved and what it would mean to the country, I was a freshman in high school. To me it was just something that was happening in the country, it wouldn't affect me I was just a high school kid. It wouldn't affect my brother it wouldn't affect us period. Of course it didn't work out that way. The war went on until 1945 and eventually me and my brother did get involved.
Q: Do you know if your friends felt along the same lines you felt?
A: Well, there were some differences, I remember there were a couple of guys who said immediately that they were going to sign up. They were only sixteen and couldn't. I think we were all in the same boat. You have to understand that Pearl Harbor was nothing more than a couple of words on that famous day. It took a while for that to sink in that the main part of the Navy had been destroyed and that we were there for very vulnerable to subsequent activities. My friends were always the guys who were going to go right down and sign up, and there were those who were frightened to death about going to war. It was a mixed bag. We had no experience to fall back on. The only people who had been to war that we knew of were the World War I veterans, most of whom by the 40's were still with us. Their stories about what happened in the trenches were just horrible. Most people don't forget that the draft was in effect by this time. The draft had started slightly before Pearl Harbor, the older guys, 18 and up, had to sign up for it, but my friends were a little lesser of age. Again it was a mixed bag, some were going to go right down and see what they could do and others were scared to death, I was somewhere in between, I think I was.
Q: Before you went you mentioned you enlisted in the Navy?
Q: Why did you choose the Navy ? Was there any particular reason?
A: Yes. Number one, if I allowed myself to be subject to the draft I had no control over were I would end up. Some Navy people were drafted, but that was just the luck of the draw. I always liked the Navy. (laughs) I can recall seeing some movies about the Navy. Those guys were always dressed in nice white uniforms everything was clean and sparkling and always exciting. I always liked the sea a little bit, the ocean. Plus the fact that the movies at the time that were starting to come out, made it pretty gory to be in the Marines or the Army and you know I don't think anyone really thought about being a hero, you wanted to do your part, but you wanted to have a little control over it. The only control that I could come up with was to pick my branch of service. The Navy did have this program of allowing you to graduate high school, which I found very attractive. I did want to get my high school diploma. I was going to be one of the few people in my family to have a high school education to tell you the truth. I was very happy with the arrangement.
Q: where did you do your training?
A: My boot training was at Sampson Navel training station up in the Finger Lake district of New York on Lake Geneva. It was an immense base that was built practically over night. Hundreds of thousands of sailors trained there. As I say almost immediately after high school ended up there. I was told to report to Grand Central station in New York. When I got there, there were several hundred other guys like myself, carrying their little bags. There was a Navy chief there we all gathered around him while they checked off our names, they put us on the train. We spent the whole night chugging away, going up to up state New York. We arrived about dawn and we unloaded. They marched us into a mess hall and gave us a bologna sandwich and an apple that was the traditional first breakfast. You get the haircut, the uniforms, the shots, you get checked by this and checked by that. Eventually you get formed into companies, about 120 men in a company, as I recall. Than you march to your new barracks. The fact is I spent in, I believe, 12 weeks in boot camp, which is rather lengthy. The way it worked, I found out later, was as the Navy needs developed they needs so many men in these spots, Samson Navy base and other bases would send the men out. Than there was a period of time when they didn't have such heavy needs, so rather than having you sitting around doing nothing, they would just extend your boot camp. I should have been there about eight to ten weeks we were there twelve. It was a wonderful, from a health viewpoint it was the best summer of my life. I spent all of July, August, and a little bit of September there. 1944, I was just out of high school and in great shape. It was very physically demanding. I can't believe that the army had any tougher basic training than we had at boots. We learned rifles and marched and marched, that's all we did it seemed. We got all kinds of instructions, plane identification, nomenclature of ships, and knots lots of knots, known of which I remember. Eventually our company was selected as the roaster company of the division we were assigned to, which meant were allowed to carry this big flag with a red roaster indicating that we were the honor company. After twelve weeks we had to be the honor company, for God sakes nobody had spent so much time in our division. One of the irksome things about boot camp to me, believe it or not, was something called the MUSTS, you got to go, you must go. These were mainly athletic events like the NY Giants came up and played the Sampson team or something like that. This was a Sunday afternoon it was the only day you had off, I wanted to do some laundry, I wanted to write some letters, I wanted to take a little knap (says laughing). You had to march to this boring game. And they had baseball games and all this stuff they were the irritating things. From a physical health situation it was the best time of my life. We ran a mile everyday before breakfast, when we first started no one could finish but by the end of the twelve weeks we were racing each other. Most of it was outdoor activity it was a hot summer but we were young and healthy. From there we had a one-week leave after boot camp, then we reported back, after the week, to what was called OGU, the out going unit. We are now ready for assignment and during that week we were given many things to do, I had to work in the tailor shop and sweep up. That was the problem, if you weren't ready to go they didn't know what to do with you. I ended up in radar school, that's how the Navy worked after all this stuff.
I had never been to Florida in my life. They put us on a train myself and a dozen other guys were sent to this school and boarded in a very nice hotel. At that time there were only two hotels on the beach, one was the Fort Lauderdale, which is where I was assigned and I cannot think of the other at this time. The Fort Lauderdale Hotel is still there. It's so small now compared to the others but it was a great course. I was there for four months, we studied quite long during the day and into the evening. We were to become radar operators. We were not technicians. We were to be able to read what was on the radar and make sense out of it and advise the officer of the watch. At the beginning I had never heard of radar, this was 1944 and we were told this was all very highly confidential stuff and we were not to discuss this with anybody. And we didn't because mainly we couldn't explain it to anybody. All we knew how to do was read it and take the information and plot it on a big table. A table lit from underneath. Our training involved being at this big table and listening to the radar man on the scope telling us what he was seeing and then plotting it on this table and marking it, target 1, target2, or what ever. But having to write it upside down so that the officer standing on the other side of the table could make sense of it and that became quite a thing, practicing writing upside down. But now, in today's Navy it is all highly mechanized, automated, and computers and so forth. But in those days we were assigned to what was called the combat information center. That's where the radar was, in a room probably about a third the size of this room I would say it was maybe 10 x 10, it was a very small room. The point was we finished there and were shipped out to Miami to await assignment to ships.
Again, you were allowed to make your choice of ships and I selected a battleship or a cruiser and of course I ended up on a destroyer escort, that's the way the Navy works. We were sent to Miami to await our assignment. The Navy had taken over several little hotels and many little rooming houses and it was quite chaotic to try and live in this situation because we all meet at a mess hall that was a former automobile agency that had a ramp that went up to a second floor and both the first and second floor became this big mess hall where all the sailors waiting would come everyday for breakfast and so forth. I was assigned to work in the mess hall, which was a pain in the neck. We had to carry all the tables, after each meal, we had to carry all these big heavy wooden tables to the street and hose them down after each meal. And I would estimate were talking 75-80 tables and they were not light picnic like tables (says laughing) but that was the way the Navy was, super clean about everything. I was there for a couple of weeks and I got word that I was to report to Brooklyn Navy Yard to report aboard the USS Roche. When I left the Roche was still out at sea and therefore instead of going into Brooklyn they sent me to Pier 92 in New York City, which became a big receiving station. Finally, when the Roche appeared I was taken over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and reported aboard.
Q: Describe some of the sailors you were on ship with.
A: I sure could. The first moment on the ship was an interesting experience. I came aboard with a draft of about five or six men of different ranks. I was what you would call a radar striker, I was seaman first class with a radar striker category, meaning I was to be trained more in radar than anything else onboard the ship and eventually I was to stand my watch there. But coming onboard as a seaman first class it took a while until I actually got to read a radar. The day I reported onboard with these other guys, we were on what they call the quarter deck, this is the deck where you come aboard a ship on a gangway. There's a little desk there and there's an officer and a messenger and other people. And that's where you sign in aboard the ship. So we came aboard and reported, Mitchell reporting, radar man striker for duty. And he would get us all together and eventually he would assign us to different parts of the ship for bunking and so forth. The day we got there, now this was in the fall and we were all wearing pea coats, they had painted the wire braided line that ran all around the ship, the safety lines, so you couldn't fall off and they were painted with white chromate they called it. We didn't know this of course we are standing around in this very small area and this boatsen mate came over, I'll never forget him, Andy Mandraky was his name, a New Jersey guy of all things and Andy comes up to us and says in a very nasty tone, "Watch out for that safety line there it has just been painted" and I looked around and I wasn't that far away from it. I said to the guy next to me, "Thank God he said that I would have ruined my pea coat". And Mandraky heard me and he said "You, I don't give a blip blip about your blipin pea coat but if you screw up that paint job you are never going to forget what I am going to do to you". I was aboard the ship two minutes and here's Andy giving me the works. From that moment on I was afraid of that man. He was the chief baotsen mate, he was God, he was the guy that ran the ship as far as the seaman-like aspects of it. And he could make your life hell if he wanted to so that was my welcome aboard.
The sonar men aboard were an interesting group. These are the guys, that the radar you get visuals, the sonar its all sound. And most of them had some musical talents. Apparently that went with the game. You could detect changes in pitch very easily. On our ship accidentally, they were mostly Germans. They had names like Nagel and Redick, and Nadrash, all these German names and some of them could speak German. They had been involved in these youth groups, the Germany Bunn and things like that. Sometimes when they got excited on the headset they would begin to talk German back and forth to each other. This could be very frightening at night at 2 o'clock in the morning out on the ocean suddenly you hear German speaking and all you could think of was German submarines around you. It took a while for the Captain to break them from doing that (says while laughing). The radar men were a mixed bunch. We had a real old guy in the group, he was 25 years old, we called him Pappy. Anybody 25 and up we called Pappy on our ship. They were the old men, 25 years old. Many of the officers were not 25 but we had guys from Ohio, Brooklyn, myself from New Jersey, a guy from Georgia, you know, it was a mixed bag. The captain was a man who when I first came aboard was Captain Parker I think his rank was actually lieutenant but anybody in charge of a ship was called Captain no matter what his rank.. He was an old conservative, very cautious guy. After one convoy crossing with him he was transferred somewhere else and Captain Laidley took over. He had been the executive officer #2 under the Captain. He was promoted and he was a fine man. He is deceased now, but he was a really good man. The officers were outstanding, very human but some seemed to be terrorists almost in the way they treated the men. There were different ways of handling men and some had the trick and some did not. But you learn to live with everyone.
Q: Did you have any contact with home while you were at sea?
A: Yea, I had a very interesting situation, my ship was home ported in New York City and I only made about four convoy crossings but we'd always leave and come back to New York City. Sometimes we'd go into Brooklyn Navy Yard if there were repairs. So if I could get liberty I could be home in an hour. There were guys who lived in Brooklyn and they were home very quickly too. There were a couple New York City boys. Some of the men California, Georgia, Ohio, they had to wait for leaves to go home. I was home rather regularly and my Mother could not believe that I had been over to England and back again since the last time I saw her, cause three weeks later I'm back, or what ever it was, a month later (says laughing) it was interesting. I like getting home believe it or not, mainly because I could sleep. I had a very tough time sleeping aboard the ship, very tough. I would love to get a liberty say at four o'clock off the ship, get home have a nice dinner, rack in and get up very early and get back to the ship.
One of the most disturbing things that happened, in part because of the liberty, I was home and I came back rather early I got back to the ship at six in the morning and we were in Brooklyn and they were working on something, all the shipyard workers were. I got into the bunk fully clothed except I took a pair of new Navy shoes off and left them at the foot of my bunk and I fell asleep. When I woke up they were gone. I know the shipyard workers took them. It just seemed such a low-life thing to do. They were all over the ship. They had all kinds of stuff they were carrying in and out. It was very easy to get them off. That hung on me a long time. I just couldn't stand those guys after a while. I couldn't believe they would do something like that but other guys had reported things missing too. In fact, they used to announce that when we were going into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, "hide all your stuff, put it in your locker, keep your eyes and ears open". These were the guys that were supposed to be helping in the war effort, anyway, that bothered me.
Q: Did you have anything else you did while you had shore leave?
A: (says laughing) Yea, I used to go to libraries, museums. Well, yea, shore leave of course being 18 year olds, we were always looking for the young ladies and it was interesting. Everybody was living in mad, mad times and all the young men for the young ladies were off in service and life was frantic, life was very frantic. It was not particularly hard to get a date. The main way of doing that was not only going to dances but also roller skating rinks which were big in those days. There were a couple in Newark that were very big and that was a good way to pick up a young lady. I actually, in England, spent more time just walking around. I was fascinated by it. We were in towns like South Hampton and Plymouth and Portsmouth, which was a big English Navy base. I remember going into a tobacco shop in England and buying English tobacco. I was a pipe smoker in those days and after I bought it I felt bad because I realized, My God, I could get tobacco onboard the ship of course and I am taking this tobacco away from these poor English people who so little of anything. But the guy sold it to me so. My first time in England was South Hampton, on my first convoy. I came down the gangway in this Navy Yard and there's a British sailor there and he said something to me. He had on a black raincoat type thing and I said I didn't catch you. He said it again and he ended up being a cockney. They speak a strange language (said laughing). They have a funny way of expressing themselves. They have key words that they understand but nobody else understands. Anyway, it ended up he pulled out a bottle of rum and he wanted to sell it to me. In the British Navy the sailors are given a shot of rum, I think they call it grog, everyday and you can accumulate it. When you get a bottle they give you a bottle and he was trying to sell it to me. That was my first contact with an Englishman and I couldn't understand him.
Q: Did you see any combat while you were at sea?
A: Well, the type of combat that our ship was designed especially for was anti-submarine warfare. That's why we worked on convoys across the Atlantic. Yes we made several runs on submarines. But I have to tell you truthfully that we were never credited with a kill. It is the most exciting moment that you can imagine, when in the middle of the night that gong goes off, and everybody has to get to their battle stations. You sleep with your shoes on for example because you only have a couple of seconds to get where you had to get. When I first got on the ship I took my shoes off nobody had mentioned that to me. And when the gong went off, gong gong...I mean you know what it is, it's battle station. I put my shoes on the wrong feet I dint know it till it was over, and I'm wondering why my feet where hurting so much. My battle station was on a twenty-millimeter machinegun. I was a loader, the ammunition comes in these canisters and you put on and when the ginner gets through with it you take it out and put another one. We never had any combat of that type, but I had to practice it all the time. I did so well at it that promoted me to the three inch fifty cannon and I became known as a fuse setter. The fire control man, who was in charge of firing the guns, would be maneuvering his equipment to get the range of the plane for example. He would pump that information automatically down to the gun and they would give me a shell and I would put it into this device, which turned the fuse on the shell to go off at a certain distance. I'd give it to the loader at it would go. While I was aboard we never had any air combat. Eventually I was transferred to the radar room and became a third class radar man, it was called a petty officer third class. My job was the plot table. We would be listening in to the sonar men who were giving ranges and maneuvers of the submarine. We would plot this thing on the table and an officer would be reading this and talking to the captain. The beauty of the destroyer escort is the main attraction of its design could make a very sharp turn while going fast. A destroyer a larger more powerful ship would have to make a much wider turn. We were the preferable anti-submarine type vessel. And the depth charges would go off you knew that something big had exploded (says with a laugh), but as I say though we made half a dozen runs we never saw a sub on the surface and we never got credit for a kill. That was the extent of what I would call my combat experience.
We had other things happen. In March of 1945 we where bringing a convoy over to England, and in the convoys there would be lines of ships. There might be ten lines with six to eight ships per line. The middle two lines up in the front would be the protected ships in the convoys. That is where troop transports would normally be located. The ammunition ships would be in the back, if they went they went on their own rather than destroy the convoy. All around the convoy would be the destroyer escorts and the lead combat ship would be a destroyer he was our head if you will. There would also be a tail end Charlie he was back there to help any ship that fell back. At nighttime the job of the radar men we assigned certain ships to worry about, we where to keep these ships up with the other ships. There were no lights except a red light the size of a silver dollar on a mast sticking up on the back on the tail end of the ship. That's all the guy behind you had to guide on. He had no radar he couldn't tell how close he was he only had to keep in line with that red light. Our job was to keep him in line and keep him up. Don't let him fall back if he falls back they become a good target. And that was it all night long we're calling these ships and telling them. This one night troop transport and an aircraft carrier from France called The Free French aircraft carrier under De Gaul, at three in the morning I'm watching the scope and all of sudden I notice that the carrier seemed to be going off to the port. We had nothing to do with that, and I couldn't understand it, so I asked the other radar man do you see what's happening. He said "Yea he's off course". And the carrier had lost all power, which happens once in a great while. It came along and scraped against the troop transport and in doing so it ripped the steal plates of the troop transport. The ocean poured in the sleeping compartments where these poor slobs where sleeping on racks in their sleeping bags and washed them out to the ocean. Dozens of men where in the ocean that night. We where tail end Charlie that night and were told to watch for survivors. In the mean time the carrier got its power back on, and the troop transport was able to continue. The plates were made water tight for emergency activity, and the convoy kept going. So we're left with dozens of guys in the water in their sleeping bags, they couldn't get out and drowning. At the same time coming out of some compartment was a whole bunch of mailbags, which made it very difficult. The mailbags looked like guys in sleeping bags, this was night time no lights very heavy seas. Finally the convoy disappeared over the horizon and the captain put the searchlights on. And here are these poor slobs, most of them corpses by now. We where able to get, through heroic action by some of our sailors who went over the side with life lines, we where able to get eleven aboard. Another destroyer escort picked up two before he left the scene. Over eighty men died that night and never had a chance. They never got to Europe they were replacement troops. It was a scene from hell looking down from on deck in to the water with these guys bobbing around an almost none of them moving. You knew what was happening. That was on March 13, 1945.
The other thing that I would like to talk about was as the war in Europe ended on May 8 1945, we where told to get back to the US a quick as possible. We where escorting a bunch of ships that had all kinds of wounded on. They still concerned about some of the German subs out there. So we escorted them back without problem. We where than told that we where going to the Pacific, to get down to Cuba for special training, which we did. They took our torpedo tubes off and put in and put in more guns for anti-aircraft work. We trained down there for a different kind of war less submarine and more surface activity. We eventually went through the canal on July 1 1945. by that time most of the fighting in the Pacific was over. We where sent to Ulyse, an Island in the Marshals islands. We where told that we where that we where going to prepare for the invasion of Japan, which was going to take place on October 1 1945. That was before the dropping of the Atomic bomb. In the mean time they drop the atomic bomb and suddenly the war was over. We where assigned to escort so marines back to Wake Island, which had been the scene of a tremendous battle, around the days of Pearl Harbor. We got the Marines back there and that was the first time I had seen a Japanese soldier and they did not look so formidable. At that time they had been starved and so forth. In the mean time we had been told to rendezvous with USS Florence Nightingale, which sounds like a hospital but its not it's a troop ship, and escort her to Tokyo Bay. This is late September29th we entered Tokyo Bay about 1500 feet ahead of this troop ship. At about eight thirty in the morning we struck a mine a floating Japanese mine. 400pounds of TNT and it went off under our fantail. I was up on the flying bridge at the time, and my impression of our ship getting hit in the rear was that it was up like 45 degrees in the air before it settled down again. The whole rear of the ship was gone, three men disappeared we never found a piece of them, several men (15-20) where very badly wounded from the movement of the explosives up through the deck. That was our grand entrance into Japan. The ship had been very lucky all through the war now the war was over actually and here we were blown to, well not blown to pieces but, they towed us into Yokisuka Navel Base and eventually the ship was determined to be non repairable and we where taken out, after I left and we where taken out to be used for target practice by US Navy ships.
Q: What do you think about President Truman, and his decision with the bomb?
A: Well, you have to understand we where not politicians we didn't know what the atomic bomb was, just like we didn't know what they where doing to the Jewish people in the concentration camps. The knowledge was at a very high level it was not at our level. All that we could think of was that these towns had been obliterated and the Japanese where ready to negotiate. All we could think about was we where ready to go home. You have to understand all the things on our minds about all the atrocities that the Japanese committed. I mean God help a Marine who was caught by the Japanese, I mean wholly hell! They where cut to pieces alive, they were beheaded. We were dealing with a very tough customer. We where glad that the war was over. All we knew was what ever this thing called an atomic bomb did we where going home. Instead of waiting October 1, and the big invasion of Japan where an estimated million people where going to die, we where going home. That's all we knew. If you ask me know would I have dropped the atomic bomb? I don't think so, but I think Harry did exactly the right thing. The war had to end and the bombings in Europe. Thousands of people died in the bombing of Dresden a fireball took place there. They just burned the town up. People don't talk about that but they talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki its all relative. If you drop a bomb and one person dies that's horrible, if you drop a bomb and a hundred thousand people dies that's horrible. Is it a hundred thousand time worse, I don't think so, it's all relative. And don't look for niceties in wartime, if you want to win you can't do it. But I would not drop the atomic bomb today on anyone.
Q: Did your ship play nay part in the occupation of Japan?
A: Yea kind of a minor part. When we where tied up and they had sealed up the rear of the ship, there was no fantail any more. We became known as what was a station ship. It was a bad deal but it had to happen. A station ship is nothing more than a ship where sailors wait for another ship. It's like a hotel. And the result was a lot of coming and going. Strangers, guys you never saw, sleeping in the same room with you eating at the table, you didn't know who the hell these guys where. Eventually our crew began to dissipate because they had enough points, you had to have so many points to go home. I would say that a lot of men and officers stayed aboard our ship. That was a service that had to be somewhere.
I left Japan much earlier than I was supposed to because the Red Cross advised me that my mother was very ill, and the skipper gave me an emergency leave to get back to New Jersey. It took me ten days on a ship to get to Seattle and than five days to cross-country by train to get home. They held me up at Seattle for about four days I don't know why. I was not out on points on points. The orders did not require me to go back to my ship. I was sent to Pier 92 in New York City and stayed there for a couple of weeks. Then I was sent to Lido Beach Long Island and discharged. All of this happened because of the illness of my mother. In the mean time my brother had gone into the service also in the Navy.
Q: Where any of your crewmates discharged before you where?
A: Yes, you got points, you got a point for, my memory is kind of weak on this, but lets say you got point for every month you where in service, for every combat you where involved in, for any heroic metals you got, etc. And you add the points lets say when the war ended you had a hundred points you could go home. A couple of months later they would announce if you had ninety points you could go home and so forth. So many of the men aboard my ship had enough points to leave. And pretty soon with the coming and going of these strange guys and the removal of the regular crewmembers, it became a ship you didn't even recognize you didn't think about it. who are these guys? So I was kind of glad to get out of there. One of my things is I got a trip to Tokyo. I ran into a friend of mine who was on this Yokisuka Navel Base CB. He and I had joined the navy together at Newark Post Office. He was able to get hold of a weapons carrier, vehicle, and I got a liberty one day and we went up to Tokyo about twenty miles up the road. And the road was bombed out I mean obliterated. It took us three hours to get through all this debris and everything (says with a laugh). We went to the emperor's palace, which was a stunning place. I'm a great lover of Japanese culture believe it or not. Than we went to the Ditichy Building, in the heart of Tokyo, was Macarthur' s headquarters. He was running the country. I had a camera with no film so I bought some Japanese film and we waited for a couple of hours. And finally he came out. He had a meeting with the Japanese delegation and they had arrived by trolley car, which ran right in front of the Ditichy Building, they where wearing their morning suites, formal suites with tails, and they went into the building. They came out, got on their trolley car, and they went away. Macarthur came out a limousine is waiting there, and he's surrounded by these First Calvary Infantrymen wearing these shining helmets. They were stainless steal helmets and carrying sub machineguns, and they're all six foot and bigger. The first cavalry has the yellow badge with the horses head, they had been involved in the Philippians, they where his personal body guard. There where several of us there with cameras, and he posed and said "Take your time Gentlemen, take your time" Macarthur! I took a lot of pictures and he finally got into the car and left. He was very gracious about the pictures. The damn Japanese film didn't come out (says with a gentle pound of the table). In those days the Japanese products were not very good, today they're fantastic.
Q: How did you feel when you got discharged?
A: For a while I felt a little lost. My mother was ill and I was glad to be home with her, but there was a cretin tension in your life in the Navy that no longer existed. It kind of bothered me. Now I had to lay out what am I going to do know. I got a very sick mother. My brother is still in the Navy. I got to get a job. I got to work things out, I got a life ahead of me. I had know steady girlfriend, I can say that. Before I went into Navy, I had a job for a couple of months working at a grocery store outside the project. The guy came to see me he heard I was home. And he offered my job back. He said "I could really use help". Well, Marty I want to go to college, I want to get a job, I'm waiting for the 52-20 club. Now the 52-20 club was run by the US government through the US employment service, and a veteran could sign up, and you would tell them what kind of a job you were looking for and they would look for that job for you. I the mean time they would send you twenty bucks a week for fifty two weeks, so it became known as the 52-20 club. That was it help veterans get on there feet, now twenty bucks doesn't sound like much, but it helped. I said to Marty I'm in the 52-20 club I can't work. He says "Come on I'll give you a couple of bucks, I'll pay you by the day". And I did. A couple of weeks, a month maybe. I come home one day and here is a letter from the employment office. That because I haven't answered their mail I'm going to be kicked out of the 52-20 club. So I ran down to the employment office, and they pulled my folder and here where these post cards they where supposed to have sent me. They never sent them. So I was very upset. The guy said look here take one post card take one interview and we will set you right up to date. I said good. I had not shaved, I had old beat up Navy jacket on, I was crumby looking. I walked into this place, National Car Loading in Newark they where looking for a male typist, and I walk in there and say sir my name is Mitchell. The guy said "oh yes can you type"? Yes. "Oh good when can you start". Now I didn't want the bloody job, I wanted to do my thing, but I couldn't get out of it. He hired me. It was like forty-five bucks a week and plenty of over time. That's where I meet my wife. So the whole damn thing became a strange little plan for me to meet my wife, that's what it was. I had to get that 52-20 club letter. I had to go down there and complain. They had to set me up at National Car Loading. And there was the girl, I never knew her but eventually we married. I forget what the question was. What was the question? (Laughing)
Interviewer: What did you feel when you where discharged? (Laughing)
I felt relieved, I felt there was something missing in my life and I was trying to plan. While I was planning it my life was unfolding. It was interesting.
Q: How where you received upon you r return?
A: We were all coming home together. No parades or anything like that. Everybody just came home. Of course I was so sorry about the Goldstein boy and the Petrico boy. It seemed like a big chunk of your family was gone. They were the only two kids in the projects to get killed. I was glad to be home. My brother got out a couple months later and we where ok. The depression was over. We were confident that we where going to make something of our lives. I think eventually we both did.
Q: How do you feel about the way Vietnam Veterans where received when they got home?
A: I feel very badly about that. I have always respected the Vietnam guys. I just can't believe that people would say derogatory things about them, and actually spit on them and that type of thing. These where men that where defending our country. The leadership were wrong, but that had nothing to do with the men who where on the frontline that gave so much. I've been to the Vietnam memorial, it was so moving. I have friends who where in Vietnam. I don't see how any one could hold against soldiers what the policy of the country is. If your in the army you cant say "I'm not going". Just try it! I have a lot of respect for them. I have a lot of love for them for what they did.
Q: After returning, did you continue your education?
A: Yes, they had a thing called the GI Bill. I didn't go immediately, but in 1949 I started college at night. I wanted go fulltime but I couldn't. Eventually in 1956 I got a degree, a Bachelor of Arts in English from Seton Hall. I began working for New Jersey Bell at the time, and was off on my career. Part of the GI Bill paid for most of my Bachelors. Eventually, in about 1968, I decided to go to law school, which was a little but I did it. I went to Seton Hall Law School, again at night. I passed the bar in 1973. And I'm very grateful for the fact that these schools where available to me. It has impacted on my whole life. It's just been wonderful.
Q: What is your opinion of Hollywood's portrayal of WWII and other wars?
A: Until I saw Private Ryan, I didn't think much of their portrayal. Although Private Ryan is about the army, I'm not at all experienced in it. It certainly seemed realistic. The thing I liked most about it was you saw that there were moments of intense agonizing activity, and days and hours with nothing in between. Just patrolling. The opening scene of Private Ryan, as everyone who has seen it comments, was certainly realistic and it was brutal. It was probably as close to the actual moment as one could imagine. My all time favorite war movie, and this probably predates your birth Joe, was All Quite on the Western Front. It was a WWI movie, I remember it stared a fella named Lou Heirs, and it was about the German Army during WWI. The same human elements where portrayed in that movie as appears in any American movie. The fear, the loneliness, the panic, the bravery, the whole thing and the futility of it all, the futility of it all! You know war is nothing more than gaining control of real estate that's really all it is. And to fight over some muddy swamp, or some stupid hill, which is what our soldiers have to do, is so ridiculous when you think about it. The bravery of men on both sides is always astounding. In WWII an Army Air Force pilot named Colin Kelly, early on shortly after Pearl Harbor, crashed his United States bomber into a Japanese battle ship. President Roosevelt said that that was such an act of bravery that he was going to get the Congressional Medal posthumously, and also Roosevelt was going to arrange for his son to get an automatic appointment to West Point. All of that happened and the boy did go to West Point. Graduated gave up the Army and became a minister, which is fine. My point is though in WWII when the Japanese pilots crashed into our ships, they where tagged as idiots, crazy and dumb, but when we do it it's heroic. There are brave men in all armies, on both sides and we don't like to categorize our enemies that way, but unfortunately in war time there are heroes all over the place in my opinion.
Q: Describe your role in any veteran's organizations.
A: The only veteran's organization that I belong to the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, the Garden State chapter, I've been very active in it. I've avoided holding office until very recently but I had been much involved in it. And then last year they twisted my arm and made me a trustee, which is part of the planning group that tries to keep the organization together. We are a last man organization, which is unfortunate because there are no more destroyer escorts. For example the destroyer men have an organization called the Tin Can Sailors, destroyers are called tin cans, they go on and on so they can stretch all the way from WWI until God knows when the last destroyer will be around. Destroyer escorts went out of the Navy and the Coast Guard in the 1970's I believe the last one was scratched. You should know that during WWII there where I believe thirty DE's manned by the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard comes under the division of the Navy during wartime. These men operated the same ships as we. The first destroyer escort lost was a Coast Guard Destroyer Escort that was torpedoed outside of Greenland in 1944 or 43. The USS Leopold was torpedoed by a Wolf Pack. A German sub surfaced the Leopold spotted it came charging another sub sitting there let go of the torpedo. It was icy day in March. The water was freezing. Another destroyer escort couldn't stop because it was being torpedoed. One hundred and ninety Coast Guardsmen were lost that day Coast Guardsman are always welcome among DE men.
Q: How do you feel the events of September 11th relate to Pearl Harbor, if they do at all? And what are your general feelings on September 11th?
A: Well the general feeling is one of horror, unbelief that it could have happened. I don't think that the terrorists actually expected the buildings to come down number one, and number two I don't think that they expected the subsequent reaction to be such an economic one in this country. Since that time the stock market has gone to hell, many jobs have been eliminated, the gross domestic product and measurement of employment have all dropped dramatically and I think much of it pivots around September 11th. I don't think the terrorists thought that they were doing anything else other than performing an incidental act of terror. But it has magnified beyond anyone's expectation in my opinion, which of course is not good. What do I feel about? I feel dreadful that our country is viewed in the eyes of so many people in such a skewed way that we are considered the bad guys. I never felt that the United States is the bad guy in anything but I am beginning to wonder now because your hearing about the complaints of some of these other countries about the United States and its not all good. We really have to change the face that we present in these third world countries and to the Middle East. We have to solve the problems with Jerusalem very quickly or these acts of terror are not going to cease. I cannot condone what's happened but I also can't understand why the United States is looked down so dramatically by so many people in so many parts of the world. Its very disturbing to me.
Q: How do you feel about the current situation in Afghanistan and the potential situation in Iraq?
A: By the way, in your last question you asked me to compare it to Pearl Harbor, I never did. I think its two different things. Pearl Harbor attack was a national attack by the Empire of Japan. Whereas the terrorists acts were by individuals who for what ever reason were so hateful of the United States. On that level they cannot be compared. But on the level of the impact on the country, I hate to say it but the terrorists attack, I think because of the communication that exists today, with television and all of that, I think it had a much broader detrimental impact on the people of the United States.
Now, getting back to the question of Afghanistan and Iraq, I don't really understand why we're treating Iraq the way we are. I am not in favor of Iraq at all, don't get me wrong, but I don't see why we are rattling swords when all of the diplomatic activities have not been exhausted. I don't want anybody to go fight in Iraq if we really don't have to. And the people of Iraq, as down-trodden as they have been, they have not undertaken anything of their own volition to get rid of this character, Sadam. And that's where it really should start from. And then you could say, well they're not capable of it because it is such a police state, a dictatorial state what have you. That may be but I find it hard to believe there aren't some groups in that country that perhaps the Kurds who are not capable of undertaking some kind of revolution. But short of that I still say that we should exhaust and have not anywhere near exhausted the diplomatic possibilities. Regarding Afghanistan, getting rid of the Taliban was an actual wonderful act although I am not sure that were not going to pay for that in the future. You have to take history in long drafts and long looks. Things that look good today eventually end up looking awful tomorrow. And I think were going to regret a lot of our activities in that area, Iraq and Afghanistan. I think ten years from now we'll be involved in it someway, but my hope is we make some accommodation and avoid the need of sending ground troops into Iraq.
Q: How do you feel your experience can help future generations?
A: Wow! That's a biggie. Well my experience is not complete, if you don't consider the economic depression of the 30's in the context of my life. They where tough days, they where unbelievably tough days for family such as mine. It was embarrassing to be on relief or welfare. It set me off from other kids. To get shoes we had to get a chip and go to a special shoe store that accepted these chips and buy a pair of cheap shoes. My mother spent much of her time trying to shop and get good deals. I remember once we weren't getting enough milk and she dragged me over to the Department of Health in Newark and she persuaded the doctor to write a chip that gave us one more quart of milk a week. So this is all part of my experience. I think coming out of a depression into a war that solved all of our problems was kind of a fairy tale ending. It's strange to say, the war solved everything people could get jobs if they really wanted to. Money became a little more available. The day everybody lived for was for the war would be over. What does all of this mean to the future? It's hard to say except that we're a wonderful country. We certainly don't back off from anyone. Education means an awful lot, and everyone can get an education if they really want to. You might have to struggle to do it but it can be done. In many other countries it is not possible at all. I feel proud of having been in WWII. I feel proud of being in the Navy. I believe that military service is good for everyone. I'm not sure that everyone is cut out for it but it's a wonderful experience you mature very quickly. You learn how to shift for your self. You learn to live with other people and work with other people. And I think the best lesson to learn is that if you apply yourself and keep your eye on the donut not the whole you'll do pretty well in this country. And I really sincerely believe that.
Well thank you for your participation.
Conclusion of the Interview.
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