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Military Service: Navy 1943-1946
Date of Interview: November 23, 2002
Location: Monmouth University
Q. This oral history interview of John Frances Xavier Acer is taking place on November 23, 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 Laurie Beth Harow, a student at Monmouth University. I will be conducting the interview. John Acer served in World War II. He served in the following areas: American, European, and North African theatres.
A. Hi Laurie. How are you?
Q. I'm good. How are you today?
A. Very good.
Q. We're here to talk about your life during World War II, including before and after.
A. Very good.
Q. What was your life like growing up in Brooklyn?
A. It was very interesting, there was a big family, five boys and two girls, my mother and father of course, and we lived in the section of Brooklyn called Parkville. We went to St. Rose of Lima Grammar School. All of us graduated from there. We all went on to high school and some of the older ones went on to college. When I finished with St. Rose of Lima High School, I went to Erasmus Hall High School, which is the oldest high school in the United States. And then from there, when I was nineteen, I went into military service. I was drafted but they called it selective volunteer for the Navy, and I was sworn in on June 28,1943 over in Manhattan. And then, they told you that you would be coming into the Navy yard on the 1st of July and to be prepared, get yourself squared away with everything, and that you would have to, they'll tell you where to report. Then, as I recollect, we had to go over to Hoboken, NJ and then they told your how to get transportation over to Hoboken. And then in Hoboken, New Jersey you would board a train to Sampson Training Center in Sampson, New York, up in the Finger Lakes up there. I left.
I guess it was about somewhere around the 1st of July we left Hoboken up to Sampson, New York. It was a road on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Everybody called it the cinder box railroad because the cars were old, and it was a steam train, and it was spitting out all kind of smoke from the smoke stack. All in all it was a long ride, we got there about the middle of the early morning, about four in the morning, three in the morning. They gave us a sandwich, which consisted of two slices of bread, a piece of bologna, and an apple. (Laughing) And then they told us, you'll get your two hours sleep and then we'll have you up by 5:00 in the morning, to start the busy day of being in the Navy. Of course, they swore you back in again, the next morning, even though you had been sworn in already. I had been sworn in at the Naval Training Station and then we were sworn in again up in Sampson, New York; they made sure that we were in. That was very interesting; it was a whole new life.
The first thing they did to you is they gave you a big pillowcase, a big sheet; you had to put all your clothes in. They kept throwing all these things at you, underwear, pants, suites, jackets, sweaters, hats (Laughing). They are all coming at you. Of course they started to process you and then what they did is give you the GI haircut that they shaved all your hair off. You had maybe about an eighth of an inch of hair left on your head, so everybody's going to look alike. And then, they had assigned us to the barracks, where we were going to be temporarily until we got our own barracks. It was quite interesting. It was a go, go, go, go, from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. It never stopped. The first few days were nothing but process. You take some tests; you take a physical examination. All in all it was very, very fast eight weeks. We went in the 1st of July and only finished up around the end of August. It was... everyday was drills and everyday was... you got to go to different schools, it was a difficult training, learning how to march, and how to do things together as a unit. How to do things where you're dependent on other people other than just by yourself, which was one of the basic things I learned from being in the Navy is that it's a team effort, you have to have team effort in order to make things work properly. It was very good. I think it was one of the most, beginning of the fascinating part of my life in the Navy.
Sometimes it was very, very discouraging because there never seemed to be any end. You would get to sleep and you would get back up again.
The food on the whole was, I guess, relatively good. It was substantial. They gave you, you don't get to much time off. I mean mostly you had between school I guess would run from, or the days of work would run from about 6:30 - 5:30 in the morning and it would run till about chow at night. Chow was when they fed you about 6:00 and after that you went to the barracks. You had to clean the barracks and you had to wash your clothes and scrub the barracks down clean and clean everything. One very interesting thing, a young man said, "I never had to do any of this work because my mother and father had maids." And the chief that was in charge of the barracks said, "from now on you're going to be my maid." (Laughing) And you're going to have to learn how to scrub floors and wash the dishes, wash your own clothes and everything. And it was, all in all, I guess, it was somewheres around 50-60 people, in the barracks that we were in, on the lower floor. There were two floors to the building. But I say everyday was a busy day and they take you out.
Everything was done by running, or walking very, very rapidly. You never did anything slow, everything was **** and you always did everything in a unit. Of course most of us just to begin with had never marched before. We had never formed up in a formation and some of the people, they had two left feet or two right feet and they couldn't get in step or they didn't take a big enough step. So all in all it was a very strong learning process, something that was really the beginning of a naval career. You do basic things; they would have knot classes, have classes on, where they take you out on a whaleboat and show you how to use an oars and how to use the engine. They take you out to the rifle range and show you how to shoot, how to shoot a rifle and how to use a constant submachine gun. And all in all at nighttime there was always a fire watch. Someone always had to be on the fire watch patrolling around the two buildings, usually in pairs of two to make sure that everything is safe and of course they always woke you up at 5:30 in the morning and even sometimes when things weren't going well they'd call you out maybe 3:00 in the morning.
They would run you around what they call the Grinder, just to get you back in shape. Or if you hadn't done well that day, they would give you extra duties to make sure you're out on the Grinder, that's where you do all the running. It was very interesting. It was something as they say, each day was another phase of learning, and one of the very interesting things taught at the end of the eight weeks was something everyone had to do, kitchen duty, where they had you peeling potatoes or waiting on the mess tables, or cleaning up the mess tables, or cleaning the deck as they say on. And the mess hall was a big, huge semi-circular roof on the thing, and it fed almost everyone on it. You used to pick your part of the base. And you scrubbed the floors and everything. I am telling you if the floor wasn't clean and the chief motions mate would come down in a nice, clean, brand new, white uniform and get down on the floor and roll over a couple of times, and if he picked up any dirt or any mess on the floor, on the clean white, you'd be down there scrubbing it up again until you got it cleaned up. But it was really quite interesting.
It was very, very fascinating as far as boot camp goes. Because most of us were as green as could be as it was something that was as you progressed through the eight weeks you became more inclined to depend on each other, work with each other, march with each other, and at the end of the eight weeks we were really getting to be quite a marching group. Things were in order and it was nice. From there, I, after the end of August, I was sent down to USS Wyoming.
It was a battleship, which was built in 1911, and it was for training purposes. I came down the very early part, umm, the middle of August, I think. We went from the 1st week in July to about the middle of August; it was supposed to be eight weeks but they were short and they needed people. But down there, they give you all kind of tests where they test your psychological things and what your good at. What would you like to do and what you had done before you came into the service? Things of that nature. And that lasted for about not quite a month, and then I was sent down to the sub chaser training station in Miami, Florida. And we were in we were all booked up in the hotel; the Navy had taken up most of the hotels in Miami proper. The Air Force had taken over all the hotels in Miami Beach. And we were in the Flagler Hotel, which is on the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and Flagler Street in Miami.
And everyday, we would get up about 6:30 in the morning; they would wake you up. Then you would get the place clean up, get you cleaned up, and they would march down a mile and a half to where you would be fed. And as soon after you were fed you would start you day of school. And that started from about 8:00 in the morning and it went through 5:00 in the afternoon. And this is on the study of sonar, how to become a sonar operator. Sonar stands for sound navigating and ranging, which is done underwater, by means of transmitting the signal down through the water and if it hits a solid object, it would send back an echo, which is recorded on a machine. And then you have to learn all the procedures about underwater sound, how it operates, all the different variations of sound. Whether is be fish or shrimp or whether it was a whale for instance. The school was very, very intense it was I would say from about 8:00 in the morning to well past five depending on when we finished each particular course for the day. Then you would be marched back to your barracks and that was not the end of the day. Then you had to turn around and study because everyday they could give you a test on what you just had on the previous day or they might skip a day and not give you one. But you didn't know. Usually when you came in on a Monday morning, you got a half hour test on what happened the day before and they were extremely strict about studying. You had to study. They said that if you fell below 85, three or four times then they could put you in a pool, transfer you out of the sound school, and send you out to the West Coast, where all the action is being sent out to the Pacific. So, if you wanted to stay in school you had to study well, and I was never a good student so I really had to put myself to it, put my mind to it.
I found I really concentrated and worked hard on it. Some of the things are quite difficult because some of it involves physics and some of it involves math and some of it involved just a general breakdown in structure of what your doing. The sound and how it operates and this thing was all new to anyone who was in that schooling. But it was a very, very lot group of people, sailors there, they had, we had British sailors, we had Russian sailors, we had, oh, oh, half a dozen different foreign countries who were learning how to become sonar operates and things. And they had other schools in there too. Because you would not only go to sound school but you would take more courses on navigation and more courses about radar. Something, radar is surface air, whereas sound is under the water. They had various different things where you had different types of drills.
You would have a mock ship where you would have a mock fire drill, or an abandon ship drill, or your going to have general quarters where you go through your battle stations. It was always laid out nice and everything you know, everyday was a different thing. And I said, studying, you really had to study to stay in there. And it went from the very beginning of September up until the end of December. And when we got finished, then they had you take a major test on all you learned for the past three months. And if you passed it then you would get your third class rate, which was after much studying and much hard work (Laughing) I got the, my, Sonar Third Class rank.
And then in the early, the first part of January, they had what they called nucleus cruise. That's where they take a small group of people who are going to, the ones that are going to go down and form the ships roster. As you go along, I think there was, not counting the officers, 16 or 28 of us and they call us the nucleus crew. And then we were assigned to the ship we were going to be assigned to. Even though it was not in Miami, they assigned me to the USS John M. Bermingham, DE 530, and that was being built in Boston, Massachusetts. And when it was, I guess February of 1944, we went up to Norfolk, Virginia.
We stayed in a receiving station for about two weeks, where we went through intensive fire, fire aboard ship, and you'd have all kind of different fire, fires that were required, electrical fires required a different type of distinction. Or a fire where, let's say oil was you'd have to use foam or regular fire with wood or everything else. You also were learning gunnery and basic things that was about what a ship was going to be like and how to conduct yourself. In the middle of February, I guess we left there and we went up to Boston, Massachusetts and we were assigned to what they call Fargo building, in Boston. It was a converted factory that they turned into the barracks for all those that are receiving ships up in Boston. How are we doing?
A. The ship was in the process of
being completed. It was when we first went up there it was I guess two thirds
of the way finished as far as construction of it. In order to necessitate moving
things along, they would take the men assigned to it, when we left Norfolk;
we picked up a whole lot more people assigned to the ship, the John M. Bermingham.
And then we went up, as I said to Boston, and since the war was progressing
rather quickly at that stage they wanted people to help out the yard workers
and try and bring the movement of the ship's commissioning up a few more weeks,
so everybody that was assigned to the ship would help do some other work. We
would bring on storage. We would bring on supplies, or we would work on some
of the things that were being done like the sonar people and myself and all
the senior ranks in sonar. We were doing our part to help, bring up all the
things that we need and put in the particular storage areas and everything.
And everybody worked together.
The ship was being built by both men and women. As I say, in Boston, we were on almost 24 hours a day, there was always a team of workmen and women working on the ship almost all the time. I guess, early March, it was pretty much completed, and so what they call at that time now when a ship is completed the Navy has to take over it. They call what they do sea trials. That's when you take the ship that is now ready to go out and you do sea trails, but before you do sea trials, you commission the ship as a United States ship in the United States Navy. That's a very formal thing and the orders are read from the bureau of personnel. The commissioning of ships are traditional done through the Navy as far back as it goes. They commissioned the ship and it was now a part of the United States Navy. And then they take the ship out, every day after the commissioning and they do what they call sea trials.
They go through all the various different things, how you fire the guns and run at maximum speed, at slow speed. You do all various things, go through different drills, abandon ship, general quarters, you see whether all the guns work and everything. You fire all the guns. Test all the equipment, the radar the sonar, and each day you go out and do all these different things. It was something that was required because if there was something wrong, then the yard had to fix it. You would be back and forth everyday and they would find things wrong and they would fix them. You'd be getting more and more equipment coming aboard the ship and food and things. On the whole, everybody worked together and brought the ship through. To life you might say because it was like this is our ship and we want to get it fixed up right.
And the end of early part of April, we were getting ready to go down to Bermuda for our shakedown cruise, and that's about three weeks. There we do everything from A to Z. We operate with other ships and you underwater sound detections of submarines there. Operate with a submarine and see if you can detect it. You have fires, and you go through all the phases of the ship to make it operate properly. You also have an intense inspection. As you progress each day they write up report on you and how the ship did, whether you were lacking in this or whether you were very good in that. And this went on for about three weeks. It was very intense and when you get all finished, with all the particular things you had to do. Then they had a major inspection. They bring on all the people from staff, down there in Bermuda, and they go through everything from A to Z, and if you don't have a good report, that doesn't look good for you; it doesn't look good for the captain and everything. So all in all, it was ahh. I think on the way down now when we went to Bermuda, we hit something and it hurt one of the propellers it put a big gash in the propeller and we had to, we went into, they have a dry dock in Bermuda, and they had to straighten the thing out whatever it was but they got it all fixed up after a couple of days.
Then we were assigned with a group of ships to go out with everyday, sometimes we would stay out two or three days and you would do submarining, work with the submarines to see if you could contact the submarine by means of sonar. Or they would have airplanes flying by puling the sleeve and if you hit the sleeve right you could. It was very, very intense. It was they really had it worked out that every ship that came down there did the same thing as day in day out. All work together as a unit. They worked to get the kinks out of the ship to get things running. Then when we got our final inspection we got an a okay that everything was alright, we went back up to Boston and then did some more work on the surface of the ship. They added some new equipment. And then we went down to, from there we were assigned to Charleston Navy Yard, down in Charleston, South Carolina.
We went from Boston down to South Carolina, and the Bermingham and another ship, I think it was the Atoule, we were to escort the commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet from Charleston, South Carolina, all the way up to Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John of Newfoundland. He being the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, he was required to visit all the ports check on all the ships that was under his command and by doing so we went to Charleston, we left from Charleston and we went to Norfolk, from there we went to Brooklyn, New York, to Rhode Island, we went up to Boston and we went up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Saint John, Newfoundland, we went up between Iceland and Greenland and then we came back down to Charleston, South Carolina. Then we took the convoy from Charleston to Olan, North Africa and that was our first overseas convoy.
Q. I am going to stop you now, and turn over the tape.
Q. This is the oral history interview of John Acer. He was telling us about his first trip across the Atlantic to North Africa.
A. Yes, and it was we had a fairly large convoy, it was between 60 and 80 ships, but it was very big and it extended over quite a wide period. Usually when you have convoy it takes like a box effect, and the front of the box is the escorts where they would be screening for submarines. There is two up front, and two on either side, and one on the back. Sometimes they had one way up front, maybe many, many miles ahead of the convoy and they just going back and forth screening for submarines. One of the fascinating things in crossing the Atlantic, we were out about, I guess about 10 days, and I said to the officer of the deck, when the sonar men, we were right up on the flying bridge, where the captain was and the officer of the deck, and there was an open bridge and if you weren't doing duty on the sonar deck, then you'd be doing some lookout work for awhile. And I was doing lookout work this particular day. The thing is the reason for that being is the captain wanted people to be able to do different things other than their own particular type or rate they were working on. And they would do for example standby on the radar or you'd help out the quartermaster if he needed it or you would help out. And you had to learn other things than you knew besides sonar.
So I was doing lookout work this day, and I said to the officer of the deck. There is a very strange thing out here. The horizon is the fine. I don't know if my eyes are playing tricks on me, but way above the horizon is this great big mass of thing. Now we were many, many miles at sea, and so he says, what do you think it is? And I says, I don't know I am in the middle of the ocean so I am sure it wouldn't be any land, and he didn't say anything. Well, keep looking at it and tell me what you think. And I said the horizon stops and above the horizon is this massive thing. As I said, we were maybe 25, 30 miles away, but a beautiful day. And he says let me know what happens in another few minutes; in fact let me know what happens in five minutes. So about five ten minutes later, I said to the captain, I said to the officer of the deck person, I said, I don't know what this is but it's getting bigger. So I think maybe you better take a look at it. So then he finally told me is you're looking at the Azores and its owned by Portugal. It's several thousand miles out in the ocean, where there is nothing but mountains that have come up through the ocean. The troughs in the ocean out in that area is very deep, several miles deep, and but anyway, it was the Azores and it was Mount Pico, 13, 000 feet high. That's why you could see the horizon and above the horizon was this mass. You didn't know what it was until they explained it to you.
Then we pulled into later in the day into the Azores. Portugal being neutral, you could also have German submarines, or German ships, or German in the air, or whoever else may have wanted to come in. Because it was a neutral country, Portugal, and you have to respect their neutrality. So we went into the Azores there and we took on fuel, we did have tankers with us that we could do fuel, but we took on fuel and we took on some form of food. And then, we headed out to sea again and headed towards the Mediterranean. Africa and Spain almost come together and what is known as that is called the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea, and that runs from Spain and Morocco in Africa all the way down to Egypt, as far down as Egypt, that's how far it runs, which I think about roughly 1500 miles from Gibraltar all the way out to Egypt. We took the convoy into Oran, North Africa, which is part of Morocco.
We discharged the convoy, our first experience we were able to bring an entire whole convoy without losing any ships. We had some incidence on the trip where some ship would break down and you would have to send a destroyer out, a destroyer escort out to get them moving along, all in all I guess it took close 20 days, I guess, because we weren't that fast a convoy. We were doing about 10 knots, and that was our first encounter. We discharged all the things up on Oran and some of them in the convoy went up further into the Mediterranean but we didn't take them up beyond that. We went into a port Messals for beer, where we tied up for a few days, and we had short liberties where you could go ashore for about six hours, and then you had to come back to the ship. But, we stayed there about three days, and then we took another convoy back to Gibraltar, and then back to the United States and brought that into New York.
We went into Brooklyn Navy Yard there and we got some new equipment on our radar and some depth reading. From there we went on up to Portland Maine, Caskill Bay in Portland, Maine, where then you would do maneuvers with a whole bunch of destroyer escorts, learning how to fuel a tanker, learning how to come alongside a tanker and fuel and they would pass over big hoses back to you. Caskill Bay was a very big bay and you could do exercises all in there. We were doing a training period because we weren't taking a convoy up. And after that, we went over to form a convoy up in I think part of it we left Brooklyn, New York, which was I lived in which was nice, I got home a couple of times.
Then we went to form up a bigger convoy, about 80 ships, and we went to Lundunary, Ireland. And that was quite interesting because now it was the end of July early part of August and we were starting to get some of the storms in the Atlantic. It was very interesting; you never knew what was going to happen. Everyday was doing convoy and you'd be patrolling you station, and the sonar would be going, and the radar would be going, and there would be constant people on watch looking for things. That's because submarines, you'd always have to be looking out to make sure the convoy, you had to make sure they stayed in properly and if they didn't, you had to go over and tell them to stay in line. And some of the merchant ships wanted to go faster than what we were going because they could go faster; everybody would say that we got to get out of here, it's to slow, but the commodore, who's in charge of the entire convoy, he said, no this is the way it's going to be. The navy ships the escorts would make sure he told them what to do and then we went to Ireland, Lundunary, Ireland, and Belfast we didn't loose any ships fortunately. A couple had broken down but they managed to make it all right into their port.
And then we went down on the Irish Sea down to, I think it was Plymouth England, where we formed up another convoy. Now what we did then was we were assigned to five or six destroyer escorts and the command ship was a destroyer and what we did was a sweep across the Atlantic Ocean. We each were so many miles apart and we would do periodic maneuvering back and forth over the area searching for submarines but we didn't encounter any. We had possible contacts with them but we never got credit for having sunk one. It was, what we did this time on the way back from, we went to, like I say, there was about six or seven destroyer escorts and we did this great big sweep, some of us maybe 10 or 12 miles apart and we did this sonar sweep across the ocean.
On one occasion, when we were doing that we got a very good sound contact, and we went to general quarters and all of a sudden this great, great big thing started to surface, and we thought it was a submarine. When it broke the surface it was a great big barge that was partially submerged in the ocean. It was we estimated at least 50 feet across and over 200 feet long. The destroyer went alongside of it and was pumping in 5-inch shells into it, and it wasn't doing anything. So they told, three or four of the destroyer escorts to go alongside and fire at it for a while, of course we had a smaller gun than what the destroyer had. But then what they did, they decided they would have to get it out of the ocean there because if anything ran into it at night it would sink anything that it hit. It was just a big, metal barge. So what they did is that several of the destroyer escorts came alongside in the barge in their motor whaleboats, and they had detonation packages, dynamite, that they rigged up and put them up with electrical wires. They were able to get them into the barge, and after three or four of the ships had done it, we blew them up, and that managed. The thing had finally sunk, but it was almost an all day project trying to get it out of the way.
Then we went to back to Ireland again and convoy, and by now the evasion had already occurred in June, we weren't in on the invasion of Normandy, but we did do one other trip back to England. We did what they call patrol duty up in the part of North Sea for a while. We were looking for German U-boats but we didn't find any. They would send out maybe eight destroyer escorts while they were waiting for another convoy to form up, and a couple of destroyers to sweep the area for German U-boats but we didn't find any. Then we went back to Africa again and when we went back to Africa again for the third time, the war in Europe was coming to an end. We were in Oran, North Africa when it ended. It was a wild scene really, a lot of the communists in North Africa were rioting and we were doing, all the Navy ships were there, and they had to put out a strong shore patrol, with people fully armed and everything. We thought we were going to have a lot of problems. The Army came out as well that was occupying Oran and the riot finally subsided after one day, and we were on our way back to the states. And after we got back after DE Day, we went back to Charleston, South Carolina, and we were assigned for Miami again for officers training.
You would go back to Miami, Florida, and we were take officers out, new officers that hadn't been out on a ship before. Everyday we would take them out, and we did that from about May of '45 until about, I guess, two months, and then we left Florida. Yeah, so that was in May, June, and July, and August, cause the war ended in August 15th. Then they started sending everybody home. I didn't have enough points to go home yet so they assigned me to go out to the Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn, New York for a while.
I lived right in Brooklyn, so it was very nice I got to go home quite often. But you had to do all kind of work while you were reassigned there. I was sent down to Bainbridge, Maryland and the naval receiving station at Bainbridge, Maryland where they were discharging men who were coming back from the war, particularly mostly men from the Pacific. But what it is is you take a group of fifty men, fifty sailors, and you take them through the process of being processed out of the Navy. And what do on the very first day is you take the fifty people, you were always checking to see if everybody was there, you went through and take them to classes and to physical examination. You would take them to the payroll; a lot of these guys had been out in the Pacific since the war started and they were getting all kind of pay because they hadn't gotten their pay. They were told what benefits they would have as far as the G.I. bill, how to apply for it. It usually took about a week for to get them transferred from the Navy back to where they were going in civilian life. Then I went through that I went to Lido Beach, Long Island, New York where I was discharged myself. But that was basically what it was. It was great!
I'll tell you I think the Navy did a great job in teaching you unity, doing things in a unit, and doing things for each other. You forgot about yourself and everything worked so that you were working with a group and you would get things accomplished. I think the discipline was excellent and something that I have carried through I think to this day. I enjoyed it. It was really difficult at times, and difficult in situations. I think it was very good. No complaints.
Q. Well you told us a lot of your story. I am going to go back to kind of get some things that happened before the war. Now that you are finished, how did your view change of the U.S. military change before the war to after?
A. Well, actually, because there was, at that time, when I was growing up, things were just beginning with the situation with Japan, because the situation in Europe had been going on since 1930. I was more and more inclined to think we were going to get into it eventually, but you could see the deterioration of the situation in Europe and the situation with Japan was deteriorating, especially when they started to use their expansion into Saigon. They started to go into the Dutch Indies later. They went into what is now, oh, but anyway, they were expanding and then had gone into China, Japan and they were moving above the Malay States, like not Singapore, but anyway you could see the expansion. Japan was beginning to encroach on Asia there and the situation; we really went in there more or less to freeze on Japan's shipments to Japan, especially of oil and fuel or whatever. You could see it growing intense.
But, you know a very young guy doesn't think about going to war. I didn't think about anything then, but then when it happened. I was working for Western Union, on the Sunday of the Pearl Harbor thing. I was delivering what they call news drops. You go to all the newspapers and they give you likes the Associated Press, or International News or Reuters News. These things like that. They all had dispatchers and they would send to their papers and then the papers would put them in. Western Union used to deliver all these. I was one of the helpers who liked it on Sunday because when I was done delivering all the papers I could go home, but I got paid for the whole day.
I was in the Sun building on downtown Chambers Street, New York, and I had just delivered a whole bunch of dispatched to the Sun Newspaper, which was up on the sixth or seventh floor. And when I came down, the operator told me, young man you better go and join the army, navy, or the marines, Pearl Harbor in Hawai'i has just been bombed by the Japanese. And then the beginning of 1942 my brother Chris and Joe went in, I went in 1943, and my brother Paul went in in '44. Two in the air force two in the Navy.
It was something when it started, and then when you really became very strongly opposed to Japan and Germany. They really wanted to get the stuffing kicked out of them. I wanted to go in right in 1942 but my father wouldn't let me go until I finished school. So he said once you graduate school you can go in and for now your two brothers are in. So when you get out of school, so I get out of school in 1943. I came right out of high school and went right into the service.
Q. What were your feeling when you first left home?
A. It was very, very, well a lot of my friends were already in because a lot of them had enlisted. I can see myself going down where I lived and some of the people were out on the porch, of course it was summertime. John, good luck to you. I said to myself I didn't want to turn around, I had to keep going. It was a rather traumatic; you know your going home and your going off to war. You don't know what you're going to be doing, where you're going to go, what kind of ship you're going to be on in the Navy. But it was something that really left its mark on you. It was something you said, I have to go out and do it. You felt sad and then you felt somewhat distressed that you were going, because you didn't know what to anticipate that you were going into.
And of course as it progressed, as you got into the Navy more and more, this is going to be a shooting war. And it was as they say sometimes it was quite lonesome at night. You are thinking about, especially if you had a very hard day at boot camp, how am I going to survive this? But as things progress you get working at it, get learning, and get doing. It was something. It was rather traumatic going into the, you know your leaving your house and your home and all your family and you don't know what to anticipate. Something that wouldn't want to relish to anybody but it was something that needed to be done at that particular time.
Q. What was segregation like on your ship and how do you feel about it looking back?
A. Well, basically the non-white people in the Navy were delegated to stewards' mates, which were servants to the officers. The interesting part of it was that we operated with the USS Mason, which was the only... they used at that time the expression, Negro ship. We were 530 and they were 529, we were in the same shipyard and they commissioned a day apart. But they were the first, it was 80% of the men when we first started out were Negro, or Black Americans as we call them today.
I never thought too much about it because when I went to Erasmus High School, there were young, nice Negro boys there, all different nationalities, it was something that I didn't think too much about them. I lived in a neighborhood that was pretty much all white people, but I never had any problems with them. I always looked upon them as they were just as good as I am. We didn't really have too much problem with them, though some of the men they were from down south and not too keen on them. I guess it carried over from a long period of time. I think that segregation is a terrible thing, because it demeans people, it takes away the humanity from them. It something that really is an abominable when you come down to it, because you're segregating man against the lowest depths of things, and he is treated just like that.
I was glad to see the Navy break the segregation by having a full Negro ship, a lot of the guys from the ship were from various parts of the South and they didn't particularly like the idea, but I did not have any problems with it. Of course, my father and mother always told me to treat everybody equally, one of God's creatures. I am very glad to see it come along, its not as good as it could be, and there is a lot of things that are still at fault for it. I think that they have progressed with it since the last part of World War II, I think the significant tried, but we begin to see more and more of the minorities being educated.
One experience I remember, me and my wife went on a cruise and there was a good bunch of people there that were Black Americans, but they were teaching. I was saying to myself, o boy, o boy, do they step out in the hype of fashion. They had the nicest clothes, the nicest things, they had a real good time, and they were very hospitable. We really enjoyed it and I think segregation is a major sin that we really need to overcome.
Q. This is a continuation of the
oral history interview with John Acer.
Okay, What was yours and your ship's reaction to Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt's death?
A. Well, I remember almost distinctly
that I was up on the flying bridge and word came over the radio that President
Roosevelt had died and it was a very, very solemn moment. It was more or less
everybody started to think prayfully about the situation, because Vice President
Truman, most people didn't know too much about Vice President Truman. It was
a rather difficult situation there, because the President of the United States
was dead, who was going to take over in the midst of the closing phase in the
war in Europe, he died April 12, 1945.
One month later, in May, May 7th the war was over and so it was a devastating effect on everybody. But we still had to go about our business, we were in the middle of a convoy going over to North Africa, and we had to go about our business. We had some prayers back on the fantail and then we went right back to doing what we had been doing. You know, you were in the middle of a war, the middle of a convoy, you had to keep things going, keep it running. It was. It was. I remember that distinctly. It was very it was just devastating column of pain when that happened, the president dying. It was something you don't forget I remember that. But I will always remember where I was; I was right up there on the flying bridge of my destroyer escort. The officers around me, they were all shocked, it was something, but we still had to get back to doing what we were doing. We were in the middle of a convoy. We going towards our destination, but it was something that you don't forget. But then, it worked out very well with President Truman, he is most favorite president, President Truman.
Q. Where were you when the atom bomb hit Japan and what was your reaction?
A. (Long silence) I think I was up in I can't remember I am pretty sure I was aboard ship, let me see that was August 1945, I think I was down in Miami Florida, taking officers out when it ended, because I think it was August 14th in Japan when it happened and it was August 15th in the states when it happened. Yeah that's where I was in Miami, Florida, on a ship, training officers. I though if it was going to bring a quick close to the war it was okay. Even though thousands upon thousands of people were killed, it was Japan was a ruthless enemy; they had no regard for human life or limb or anything. This was going to bring the war to a quick conclusion; I have no qualms against it. I thought it was great for the country.
Q. Of all the places you traveled to with the Navy have you been able to return to one of these places after being released from the Navy?
A. Well, I went to Bermuda, and I went back to the Ireland, but not necessarily up where Belfast and Lundunary, but I was back into Ireland. And my daughter when she got out of high school went into the service and was based over in Germany. We went to Germany on visiting my daughter, after the war. I've been to Bermuda, to Ireland, to Germany. I never got to Germany during the war, but it was beautiful. We got to Germany, Austria, and part of Italy. In 1989 we got Ireland. On our 40th wedding anniversary we went to Bermuda on a cruise, but Bermuda was altogether different. Bermuda, I remember was strictly wartime, there was no pleasure boats or anything at that time. The only thing you would see in there may be a troop transport ship going in or out of there. Bermuda was when we were there, during the war, was pretty bleak. Then when we went back again it was kind of like Saint George. I was only there a short period of time but you know.
Q. Do you remember your closing ceremony when you were released from the Navy?
A. O yeah sure, we were down in Loelitoe, New York, in one of the hotels they had taken over and when I came home I got on the Long Island Railroad and I came into Brooklyn, took the subway home from there. It was great. (Laughing) Yeah, I think it was April 12th, 1946, no March 11th 1946. It was great; it was a good feeling. I didn't know what I was going to do with myself, whether or not I was going to go back to school. What I did do was, when I came back, I was sort of a bad student when it came to math and I just didn't like school, but when I came out of service, Erasmus Hall High School offered classes for returning G.I.s. I had what the called a general diploma. I had what everything but my languages and my math, so I went back to there.
It was a ten-month course in which you completed two years of work. And you went right through for ten months, you didn't stop and I took both algebra and geometry and two years of French, which brought my thing back up to an academic qualification. But that was great. Looking back on the Navy, even though it was difficult things at times, it was still one of the nicest parts of my life. I enjoyed it.
Q. What was the first thing you did after being released?
A. I remember walking home from the subway saying to myself, aw, this is great, I can't believe it. What I was going to do. Hadn't the slightest idea what I was going to do but it was just great to get home, you know. My oldest brother had been discharged early because of the fact that he was wounded in his airplane. My other brother, Chris, he was an air force; I think he was home already. My brother, Paul, who went in later, after I did, he wouldn't be home till later. Yeah it was great. Nice to get home and see the old homestead again, you know. Everybody was, yeah somewhat bad, because a lot of my friends, I had graduated high school with or grew up in grammar school, unfortunately were killed, so it was quite a few of them. It was somewhat sad because you wouldn't see them again. All in all, it was just good to be back.
Relatively easy time, I was not been in any combat, even though I was in the area where there were submarines and everything, went through one hurricane in September-October 1944 and two tropical storms. They were very, very difficult, but not as anywhere near as difficult as what they went through in combat. I am very thankful for all the great things that happened to me.
Q. Do you have any memoirs of the war that you go back and look at now?
A. I have a album of all the, one of the fellows aboard ship took a lot of pictures and at the end of the decommissioning of the ship in October 1945, he made up a batch of pictures then that you could buy. I have them in an album at home. Since then I have been back to my ships reunion, late, no early 1990s, I started going back to my ship's reunion and it is really great to see the guys again. You know it is very enjoyable.
Q. What are the reunions like when you go back?
A. O basically we all get together, wives, lady friends, and the guys, and of course it's great to see each other. They tell stories that embellish a little more each year. They get better and better, and unfortunately every year our shipmates are passing on. It makes it harder and harder to have reunions. We have had some good. I've been to Washington; I've been to Norfolk. I've been to Las Vegas. I've been to Buffalo. I've been to Orlando, Florida. I've been to Williamsburg. All in all, what's nice about it is that we get a hotel and we get what's called hospitality room. In the hospitality room, you can have snacks and drinks, beer, soda, or bring something yourself. It's just great to get together and I even became the president of our organization one time, where you have to go out and do all the work on getting the hotel and setting it up.
It was a lot of fun, it really was to see all those guys and remember all their faces and names. I have pictures of back there aboard ship and I look at them today and I can still remember a lot of them. It is something that stays with you. It's some part of your life, so it's really quite enjoyable. We have a lot of them. My wife and I enjoy them tremendously. Really it's just a bunch of guys and gals and we have a lot of fun. We usually go on either some kind of a tour one day or they have special event for us. Or we were in Norfolk, now I have another hat it's not this one but, (He is pointing to his hat commemorating a ship.) Chris Daniel was a the first Negro gentleman that was assistant secretary to the Navy, during President Wilson's time during World War I so they the ship after him. But you know things like that, Las Vegas; they had the Hoover Dam there on Lake Mead. All of these different places that you've gone to, it is really very nice and it is something that you would not normally do unless you had the urge to go and see all the guys and the gals and I say its really a lot of fun. Peggy, my wife, and I really enjoy it. And you travel different places and see different cities.
I know one of the fellows had said, that when we were in Norfolk, the sailors, during the war, were treated very badly, poorly by the community because they were all over the place. Some of them had some sad experiences, bad experiences in Norfolk. He said that he was not going to go to Norfolk under any circumstance. He wasn't going to bring his money into that dog town. (Laughing) To this day he still wouldn't go to Norfolk. Norfolk was great cause they really did it all over. It was 50 some years when your going back and it had all been done over, nice, new roads, new hotels and everything. It's still a big naval base.
It's the biggest naval base on the East Coast and in fact there's only two or three of them now. They closed down the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and the one up in Boston, so the only one you have left is Norfolk. But I enjoyed it. I like to remember it. I didn't have a bad time in Norfolk. Some of the fellows had a tough time in Norfolk. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.
Q. Would you like to share on of the humorous stories that you talk about when you go back to the reunions?
A. Well, when I was in Miami, Florida in the sub-chaser training center, there were five of us on a scaffold doing painting in this big room and we had a five-gallon can of gray paint. Now lets see, there were one, two, three, four of us on the scaffold plus the paint. Now, the chow bell rang about quarter to twelve and three of the guys jumped off all at the same time and I was on the other end. Not realizing that they all had jumped off, the plank that we were on, since I was on the end, upended. And down came the five gallons of paint. And guess where the five gallons of paint landed? Right on top of my head. Fortunately, thank goodness, I had my navy white hat turned down instead of up, which was just about a little bit above my eyes. So instead of the paint dripping in my eyes, it dripped all down my face, all down my mouth, all down on my clothes (Laughing). And of course, everybody screamed when they saw me.
Then they yelled, get out of here, and I am dripping paint all over me now. I have paint everywhere, everyplace I walked I am full of paint, deck- gray paint. And so they finally got me into the pharmacist there and he cleaned me off my face and everything. He rinsed out my eyes, and then he said, the best bet I can tell you is your going to have to go back to the barracks and cleaned up. I am paint from head to foot now, deep gray paint. So he says go ahead back up to the hotel, I'll give you a pass to go back to the hotel and get cleaned up. He says, I'll give you a day off because your going to have to get all this paint off you, and I am going to give you this stuff to use. It's going to be a little hard, but I'm paint, you know, from the top of my head down to the bottom of my shoes. So now I had to walk back from sub-chaser training center on the pier where we were to the Flagler Hotel, which is on Biscayne Boulevard and I am in the middle of the street walking, clunk, clunk, clunk every time I walk there was another clump patch of gray paint dripping off me.
So when I got back to the hotel, they were having an inspection, and the first thing they said to me was get your tail out of here and get around to the rear end, you can't come in the front. Cause I'm all paint, you know. What the hell happened to you? So I told them four of us are on a scaffold with a five-gallon can of paint and three of them jump of them jumped off when the chow bell rang, guess where the bucket of paint landed. I don't have to ask where it is; I can see what happened to it. But anyway, I had to go into the back and one of the guys that was running the elevator took one look at me and says your not coming on my elevator with that crap dripping all over the place. He says, what floor are you on? I told him what floor and what room I was in and I said get me a pair of dungarees, at least let me dump this stuff in the garbage so then I can go upstairs and change. So he went up in the elevator and came back down a few minutes later and I changed and took them all and dropped them open. Got rid of them.
It took me I guess another day before I got all the paint off me, aww man, I tell you my skin was so sore. But that was one of them, it could have been difficult, you know, if I had gotten it in my eyes. I got it all around my mouth, my ears, my nose, all over the place, my clothes and everything. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if you still looked real hard on Biscayne Boulevard that you could still see the gray paint marks of me going back to the hotel. It was I can tell you I had some interesting experiences. And that's true too, its not far-fetched.
Q. How do you compare the events that you experienced sixty years ago to the events of today?
A. Well I think today, that our servicemen are much better equipped. They have by far altogether different technology, altogether different ships that they have today that are so far advanced to what in comparison World War II had. The progress that they made is really phenomenal. The technology alone is; if you go into service today, whether it be the army, the navy, or whatever, the marine corp., or the air force, I mean it's technological wonder. It really is. Some of the stuff out there today is almost unfathomable. It's so far advanced I strongly believe that we have a good strong defense, which is the best thing for preparing for a war.
The situation that is coming up right now, I give those G.I.s a lot of credit, they're going to be out there in the thick of it. If this thing blows up it won't be good. They have a lot more things than we had in World War II. The technology is really from 1939 up until today is unbelievable, the medicine or the automobiles, the ships or planes, or anything like that now. We went down to Myrtle Beach a couple weeks ago, and we went out to see where the Wright Brothers were in North Carolina there, and to see that he went off in that plane and to see what they have today where they can do 500-600 miles an hour and go a great, great distance. Its unbelievable, as I say the technology today is primarily because of the G.I. Bill that the guys coming home after World War II were at their disposal.
The advancement and no matter what you pick up, whether it's clothing or food or whether it's automobiles or your travel and everything is so far advanced it's unbelievable. Its amazing the technology that we've come across in the last 60-65 years. Something that is the beginning, but the guys going over there, I think they're well equipped and they're going over. They are already in Afghanistan and they've proven their worth over there. They're well trained; they're well equipped. The Navy is, since I have been in the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, I have had occasion to go down to Earle's Weapon Station, here in Leonardo, New Jersey. Boy, I'll tell you these guys just can't talk high enough about how great these ships are and everything and how well advanced everything is.
I think nobody wants to see a war, and the devastation that took place on the World Trade Center, and the thousands and thousands of families that have been devastated from lost lives. I have no sympathy for the people that brought this on; I just hope that they get what they deserve. I don't feel sorry for them at all; they just brought on so much bloodshed and destruction and devastation of families. And anyone that is going over there as a G.I. today, I think there going to go over there with a get it over with and get it over with quick, and not fool around with it. That's what I think.
Q. Thank you for sharing your story. I see you have you have two pictures here, would you like to describe them.
A. This is a picture of me when I first was in the Navy in 1943, and I think it was, I am wearing a pea jacket there, which is my pea coat, and I would thing it was taken in January 1944. I am not sure if it was Boston or New York but I am there by myself. I can see an officer coming out of the place where he's at. I'm inclined to think that it's Boston. I think maybe just put down Boston. What are you going to do make copies of these?
Q. I am going to scan it into a computer.
A. The picture here was taken in Myrtle Beach, last year when we had our ship's reunion. It's my wife and I, and then we were 47 years married at that time, now it's 48. This was one our ship's reunion but we always have a very nice get together in our hospitality room. We rehash our old sea stories and everything. We take care to write letter or cards to our members who are sick or unfortunately passed away since the last reunion. Just get together with the guys and the gals and their wives; it really is nice. It is very reminiscent; it brings back things that are most enjoyable. Otherwise, reunions are very good.
I am also in the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association of New Jersey for the last five years now. I have been disperser or treasurer. This is the New Jersey group and we have quarterly luncheon meetings, we have monthly meetings, and we have the in five different sections throughout the state. And there is approximately about 100 sailors that attend these luncheons, there is one in Toms River. There is one in southwestern part, Paramus, another one up north, I can't think of the name, and there is one in Pembroke in the very southern part down by the Delaware River. So we get together and it really is a nice luncheon. It is very enjoyable in addition to going to my own ship's reunion, which is annual. But all in all I am very glad that I have been involved in the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association and in particular I would like to thank Professor Douglass for allowing us to come down. It's really good, a lovely lady, I've met her a couple of times, really nice. And she is so enthusiastic about this, tell her I said so.
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