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Interview of Norman W. Hickey
December 7, 2002
For the Monmouth University Archives


This oral history interview of Norman W. Hickey is taking place on December 7, 2002, at Mr. Hickey's home in West Orange NJ. This interview is or the Oral History Project for HS 298 01 (Oral History) at Monmouth University. I am Michael Lotito, a student at Monmouth University. I will be conducting this interview. Norman W. Hickey served in W.W.II. He was discharged with rank of Gunners mate 2nd class. He served in the following areas: North Atlantic, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Panama Canal, Pacific Ocean, and the China Sea.

Q: Mr. Hickey, what did your father do for a living?

A: He worked for the water department for the city of Newark.

Q: What was life like growing up in New Jersey?

A: Great, didn't realize I was living in a depression.

Q: Where did you live?

A: I lived in Newark. I was born in Cranford, but we moved to Newark when I was ten.

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: I went to school in Ivy Street School in Newark and West Side High School until my third year when I quit school and joined the Navy.

Q: What was your family life like living in the depression?

A: Life was fine, we went on vacations my father had a paid vacation and we went the Jersey Shore every summer.

Q: What do you remember going on with FDR and the war in Europe before the United States involvement in W.W.II?

A: I don't remember that much, I remember studying about it in school. We had a teacher trapped in Europe by the Germans in 1940. I don't remember that much about politics at the time

Q: Where were you when you first heard about Pearl Harbor?

A: I was in front of a house on Florence Avenue, in Newark; the Kerrigen family lived in that house and their son Jerry Kerrigen was killed in Pearl Harbor on that day.

Q: What was your reaction?

A: Shocked, upset.

Q: How old were you?

A: Sixteen.

Q: Prior to its bombing, did you know much about the base in Pearl Harbor?

A: No, not a lot about it. I knew it existed.

Q: What did you know about Japanese policies in Asia before Pearl Harbor?

A: Just that they were raising a rumpus with the Chinese. And we were sending bandages to China, and scrap metal to Japan. I remember things like that. But The Japanese were vicious, vicious fighters. Those things I do remember.

Q: Do you think the United States should of entered the into W.W.II before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941? How does this surprise attack compare to September 11?

A: I don't know whether we should have entered before or not it's again politics that I really wasn't involved in. As far as 9/11 is concerned, they're similar, but Pearl Harbor was the beginning of a war. 7/11, or 9/11 was a one-day experience, for me, not for a lot of families involved.

Q: How old were you when you enlisted in the Navy?

A: Seventeen.

Q: Why did you enlist when you were seventeen instead of eighteen?

A: Because I didn't want to go in the Army. My father was in the Army in W.W.I and he didn't want me living in trenches.

Q: What did you know about Destroyer Escort was before you entered the military?

A: I knew the kind of ship it was the navy I had put out a book describing Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts, and I wanted to get on one of the two ships. It's an informal navy, they call it a dungaree navy. If you were on a large ship like a battle ship, you're dressed up all the time. This was very informal, dungaree navy.

Q: During the time you served in W.W.II, can you describe some of the places you have visited?

A: Well we ran convoys in the north Atlantic and we went to places like Northern Ireland, Heart of Wales, Plymouth and Portsmouth, England, Cherbourg France, Algiers. We went through the Panama Canal, went to the Pacific, Marshall and Gilbert Islands, Guam, Okinawa, and finally China and Korea. I visited every navy base on the east coast and on the west coast San Francisco, Treasure Island, San Diego.

Q: What was the highest rank you achieved in the navy?

A: Gunners mate second class.

Q: What was the name of your ship?

A: USS George W. Ingram, DE 62, and converted in January '45 to an APD that's an attack personnel transport.

Q: How did your ship get the name George W. Ingram?

A: George W. Ingram was killed in Pearl Harbor. And he was a hero on that day, and the navy honored him by naming a ship after him.

Q: How did you feel about living on it?

A: It was an adventure, I was seventeen years old. I had never been out to sea before. I enjoyed it.

Q: Describe a typical day on a Destroyer Escort?

A: At sea, a day at sea was governed by the watch you had, Four six hour, six four hour watches around the clock and if you had the, say midnight to eight, you could sleep in the morning .If you had the eight to twelve or twelve to four, you worked after you stood watch. And working for me was taking care of all the guns, that's what a gunners mate did. Kept them in working order if the sea was rough you had to cover them and things like that. Chow at the chow line was the same every day. And all meals were the same everyday unless we had it rough. One trip we made crossing the north Atlantic it was so rough we lived on bean and bread for eight days.

Q: Did you know much about what was going on in the war during your service?

A: Yeah, we had a little ship newspaper, the radioman used to get news on his radio and then he would make up a report that was printed once week on the ship and we kept up to date. But we were in port every thirty days.

Q: Did you think that we were going to win the war?

A: Oh yeah. Never any doubt in my mind.

Q: During your service, did you ever visit Pearl Harbor?

A: Yes.

Q: What was your reaction?

A: It was a great liberty port, and we saw some of the ships that had been damaged on December 7th. Of course, at that time they were just laying in the water there wasn't any memorial built or anything like that. But, Honolulu was an interesting city and the destroyer base was an interesting place. Don't forget again I'm a seventeen-year-old kid being there for the first time in my life. There wasn't any danger there when I was there.

Q: What contact did you have with the enemy during W.W.II?

A: Well, by contact I'll have to assume you mean depth charges, every trip that we made I think we dropped depth charges Our radar, our sonar equipment would pickup the sound of submarine contact. The sound was a pinging noise on the ship that go ping, ping, and meant that you made contact with probably a submarine but in some cases it was a school of fish. Porpoises, a school of porpoises, would give us the same sonar reading as a submarine. And we drop dept charges. We killed a lot of fish.

Q: Did you or any of your shipmates suffer any injuries?

A: No.

Q: Do you recall any humorous or unusual events from the navy?

A: Yeah, I can. In March of 1944, we were off the coast of Cape Cod, we got orders to pick up a disabled Italian submarine. And when we found it, the captain called for anyone on the ship that could speak Italian. For layette on the fantail. So we got back there and the captain explained what he wanted to tell the people on the Italian submarine. So these guys in Italian yelled over we are going to throw a line over, tie it to you bow, we're going to tow you. So they screamed a message over and we got back a reply back in clear English, we don't understand you.

Q: What did you do for recreation while you were on the ship and while you were off the ship on liberty?

A: Well off the ship, well when we ran convoys into North Ireland at the navy base there they had a lot sport facilities mainly basketball. We played basketball, we had a team, and we played the other ships in our squadron in Northern Ireland or in Wales. Recreation was if you got to a nice city went on liberty you had a nice meal, looked the town over.

Q: Did you have any contact with the opposite sex while you were in the service?

A: Yeah, sure. Want to see my black book? The Irish girls were always looking for the navy sailors, of course they didn't have any in Ireland. They had been at war for maybe five years by the time I got over here they didn't have any cosmetics, they didn't have any lipstick, nail polish, nylon stockings, none of that stuff. (cough, cough) So we used to bring it over for them.

Q: How did you keep in touch with family and friends during your service in the navy?

A: Mail, V-Mail, and just letters.

Q: How did you feel about segregation on the ship?

A: I didn't even realize it was taking place.

Q: Now that you look back on it, what is your opinion about the segregation in the navy?

A: As far as I was concerned, there wasn't any segregation. We had six, I think six officer's stewards on the ship. We went out on liberty with them and played cards with them and we associated with them. There wasn't any feeling of segregation

Q: What was your opinion of FDR? What was your reaction to his death?

A: His death, I worried about Truman taking over. Truman was an untested politician. I don't think he ever went to college. And he was put in office by a political machine from Kansas City. Things like that I remember I was worried about. I guess worrying whether he was capable of running the country in the war.

Q: What was your reaction to the talk of the invasion of Japan?

A: We were getting ready for it, we were in training for it, we were ready and anxious to go. It was set for November 1st 1945, the invasion. We were in training for it in Okinawa.

Q: How did your opinion change when you heard about the dropping of the atomic bomb?

A: It saved my life. In the invasion of Japan there was going to be a million casualties and I would of been one of them. Everyone on my ship would of been one of them. Truman had the guts to drop that bomb. It ended the war.

Q: What medals and/or service awards did you receive while in the U. S. Navy?

A: I have nine from the U.S. government and three from foreign governments. American Theater of Operation, European, African Middle East Medal, Asiatic Pacific Medal, Victory Medal ,China Service Medal, Occupation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Naval Reserve Medal. In boot camp I was an excellent rifleman, I have a medal for that. Then I have a medal from Russia, with a letter from President Yeltson thanking me for helping them during WWII. I have a letter certificate from the French for the same reason, helping them. And the British issued a medal to any US serviceman that ever served in any part of Great Britain. That's all I have. Oh, I have the -- Distinguished Service Medal. Given to me by, authorized by Governor DiFransesco, and given to me by Senator Corzine, Armorists Day 2001.

Q: What was your most memorable experience in the navy?

A: My most memorable experience was the day after the war ended. They sent us into Korea to find out if the Japs knew the war was over. We were escorting the Marines in for occupation. And we went up this long channel it had cliffs as high as the cliffs on the Hudson River, the Palisades only the river was only one-fourth the size of the Hudson we were at battle stations. It was eight miles long this channel, and we all figured that if they didn't get the word that the war was over, were all dead. And that was the only day in my navy career I was really scared

Q: What was your last day in the navy like?

A: Nothing special, I had been in Lido Beach like four days, I knew I was getting out. I guess I was glad I was home

Q: Did anyone treat you differently knowing that you served in the war?

A: I don't think so.

Q: When you came home, were there any major changes to the area that you lived in?

A: No, I lived in Newark when I went in. Nothing changed.

Q: Was it hard or easy to return to civilian life after your discharge?

A: It was easy.

Q: How did the GI Bill affect your future?

A: I went to college. I went to Rutgers. I am sure that had an effect on my future. Although I cannot really measure it now. I went to night school in Newark, I went for seven years.

Q: How did the navy influence your future? Do you think you would have followed the same path without navy?

A: That's hard to say. I mean, I went in a seventeen-year boy and came out a thirty-year-old man, so to speak. You grow up quick from the service. From that standpoint, I got to be a man quicker I think. I went back to work where I had worked before went I in, and stayed there for forty-four years. But I think I would of done that anyhow.

Q: Do you have any regrets about joining the navy?

A: No.

Q: Would you do it over again?

A: Yes.

Q: Does your military experience have any influence on your view of the wars that are going on today?

A: Probably, I believe we should go into Iraq and get rid of that guy. He is just like Hitler.

Q: What do you think the world should learn from your experience on a DE in W.W.II?

A: I guess that a little ship could do a lot. I mean we were like a cork in the ocean bobbing up and down. And I am sure that prior to that navy experience that ships my size were nowhere near the north Atlantic. It was rough, there were days we went through waves we didn't go around them or over them. I think that the government and the navy learned that a small ship properly constructed can take a lot.

Thank you for taking part in this interview.

Our ship printed a book following the end of WWII, The Cruise of the USS George W. Ingram, DE 62, APD 43. The book describes some of the things we did and a lot of photographs of different parts of the world. We sailed her over135,000 miles, we called her the George Willey, we made eighteen crossings of the north Atlantic with convoys, and we never lost any ships until the last trip when we were towing a convoy of ships that the book is called the cruise of had been used in the invasion of Normandy, in southern France. It was December 20, 1944. And we were just off the coast of the Azure Islands, when there were two explosions in our convoy, it was two ships that were torpedoed by two different submarines, German submarines and we were in a battle for about four hours with these submarines. We think there were three of them. We found out after the war, when the German Archives were released that these three submarines were sending weather reports to the German generals at the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was all about weather, bad weather. And they were being informed of how the weather changing were coming, the weather patterns. At that time, the weather came up through South America, over the Azures, through northern Spain and into central Europe. And we disrupted that, we didn't sink the submarines, but what we, what we called scattered them. And according to German archives, they had never sent another weather report after our battle. So we feel we that were part of the Battle of the Bulge. After we got back to The States, they converted our ship to what they call an attack transport. They put an underwater demolition team on our ship. They were young swimmers that the night before an invasion they would swim into the harbor and get rid of the mines so that the landing craft could get in without being blown up. After the conversion of the ship we went to the Pacific for the Panama Canal, then we stopped at Pearl Harbor, and Anaweetok, and the Marshal Islands, went to Guam, and we caught the end of Okinawa battle and were then in training for the invasion of Japan which was scheduled for November 1, 1945. The day the war ended, they sent us, our ship, to Korea with the first Marine division for occupation. And as I related before we went up that channel at battle stations, but we didn't know if they knew the war was over. We then went to four different landings in China with occupation troops from August through October of 1945. And then we came home the end of October. Came back to the west coast, and the next day we put our ship in mothballs. That's about it.

In the battle of the Azure Islands, the USS Fogg was torpedoed, cut in half, and fifty or sixty of their men were thrown into the water. Nineteen of them were killed, and we rescued five of them. One of them that I helped pull out of the water was unconscious, he still had his earphones on, he was a radioman. And we took care of him that night and the next day he was transferred to a hospital ship. This guy spent fifty years looking for us, he knew my ship picked him up, but he didn't know anybody on the ship, and he tried. He watched reunions for fifty years, and he finally saw one, we had one in Dayton, Ohio. This fellow was from Louisville, Kentucky. He saw the reunion in the paper, and he called up asked if he could come to the reunion, explained who he was, and the guy running it said sure. He came to our reunion with his wife, children, and grandchildren. And we were there with our wives, and he said he was looking for us for fifty years to thank us for saving his life. And now he comes to all of our reunions.

Conclusion of the interview.

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