DESA Oral History Project

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Oral History Interview of Robert H. Jones
Date of Interview: November 20, 2002

Location of Interview: Florham Park, NJ

Today is Wednesday November 20th 2002 and this beginning of the interview of Robert H. Jones at his home in Florham Park New Jersey. Mr. Jones is 77 years old having been born on December 17th 1924. My name is Steven Nardiello and I will be doing the interview.

Q. Growing up during the depression, was in the 1930's, can you explain how your childhood and teenage years were? Can you also tell me about your family?
A. Well I was pretty lucky, I had very caring parents. I grew up in Union, New Jersey, went to Union High school and graduated in 1942. I can remember a lot about the depression. We didn't have too much but we always had food on the table and sometimes I remember just eating bread and gravy for my main meal. We weren't poor but it was an experience that I guess the younger generation can't understand. It was definitely quite an experience.

Q. Could you please tell about you high school years? Can you go back even before that and tell me about your elementary school years?
A. I was very fortunate. As I said before, I had caring parents and I really enjoyed every minute of high school, I couldn't wait to get there. I lived approximately 2 ½ miles from the high school. We had to take a bus, not a school bus, but a bus and usually ended up walking home. School was on a double session because of the war I guess and because they didn't have enough room. As a freshman and sophomore, we started school at 11:20am and got out at 5:20pm. I happened to be going out for wrestling at the time and the wrestling practice started right at 5:30pm. We would start running our laps at 5:30pm up in the hall and I can remember coming home every night around 9:30pm. That's when I got to eat my supper; my mother would have it waiting for me. It was a very interesting high school experience. I really got to enjoy every minute of it.

Q. What year were you in when Pearl Harbor happened?
A. It was 1942; I was in my senior year.

Q. Could you tell me about your feelings and where were you when it (Pearl Harbor) happened?
A. Well we were at home at the time and I guess it really didn't sink in until we got to school the next day. It was on a Sunday that it happened, I believe. When we got to school the next day that was all everybody was talking about. In fact one of my friends, my schoolmate enlisted in the marines at the end of the week. He was killed in about three or four months. This was how fast things were move after the bombing. After awhile everybody was being drafted so I decided that instead of being drafted that I would join the navy. So I joined the Navy one day before I turned 18, so actually I join the navy when I was only 17.

Q. A lot of people say that they didn't really know anything about Japan or what was going on in Europe before December 7, 1941. Did you know about anything that was going on over in Europe and Asia before the bombing?
A. No, not at all. Well actually, maybe a little more about Europe. The things that we were more in touch with were the things we saw at the movie theaters on the News Reel, which was in between the movies. They showed what was happening in Germany and that Hitler was taking over this and that. Then it was the same with Japan that they were going into Manchuria and that they were taking over a lot of places. That's was about it though, there wasn't that much news.

Q. So when you heard about the bombing it was pretty much a complete surprise to you.
A. Oh absolutely, it was a complete surprise to me.

Q. After 9/11 people had begun to look at Arabs differently. After December 7th, did you know anybody who was Japanese?
A. I didn't know anybody at the time but since then I have and one was a very good friend of mine, it was a girl who taught with me. Her name was Tomei Musumi. She told me all about her parents who were American citizens but they were interned in the Japanese camps on the Pacific Coast. The U.S. was worried that the Japanese were going to send balloons over, drop bombs and all this other stuff. I didn't have Japanese friends though during that time, I didn't even know any Japanese really.

Q. One question that a lot of people wonder about is if Pearl Harbor didn't happen, and we still ended up going to war; do feel you might have felt a different way when you entered the Navy?
A. That's a hard thing to say. I believe that everybody, especially the young guys should be ready to do their job for their country no matter what. It's hard to tell how my feeling would have been. I think I would be very happy to join and help our country.

Q. What made you decide to join the Navy?
A. Well at least in the navy you have a clean bed, don't have to sleep in a tent and don't have to romp around in the mud. The other reason why is a bit of a longer story. I was interested in music and I was taking lessons over in Brooklyn at the time. My teacher decided to send me down to the naval school of music to take a test. That is what kind of got me interested in the navy. I could have signed up for the navy then but it would have had to be a six year hitch as a second class musician. I didn't want that so I just said forget it.

Q. Had you ever been on a boat before?
A. It's a ship first of all, not a boat. We carried a boat called a whaleboat on our ship. To answer your question though, no I had never been on a ship before. In fact I would have to say that 90% of our crew had never even see the ocean before. Many of them were from the south or the Midwest. I had at least seen the ocean but I had never been on a ship before.

Could you please describe the first few weeks on ship? Could you also please describe the training that went on before you stepped on the ship?

We had training down in Norfolk Naval Base in each category. If you were a gunner's mate you went on the York and they went out and practiced gunnery practice and so forth. Then we went on the ship for shakedown and that was from Norfolk to Bermuda. That was a hairy experience because nobody knew what was going on and you just had to play by ear. There were a few people, mainly the chiefs who were taking over the running of the ship. A lot of the officers didn't even know what was going on either. It was a learning experience. On our way down to Bermuda we happen to hit rough seas. Everybody was sick, well not everybody but mostly everyone. I think I was one of the lucky ones. I was feeling bad but I really didn't get seasick. They were throwing up all over the place, then it finally subsided and we went into Bermuda. As we got ready to enter into the harbor, we ran aground on to a reef and we had to wait there until a tugboat could pull us off. It ripped our sonar gear, which detected sound. It was ripped right off the hull of the ship so we had to go into dry dock. Then of course we did a lot of gunnery practice, practiced chasing subs and so forth. Then we came back to Norfolk; I forgot how many weeks it was though. After our shakedown, the gunner's mates had to learn how to hit a sleeve from a plane. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be the guy piloting that plane because those shells were coming pretty close. These guys were just learning how to shoot but finally they got pretty good at it. After we got back to Norfolk, we then started to take our convoys.

Q. Do you remember how long the shakedown was?
A. I think it might have lasted two or three weeks.

Q. The definition of the Shakedown was pretty much what?
A. It's the learning of what your job on the ship was and learning how to go to generals quarters fast. Also as we were talking about before, going up and down the ladders and all that.

Q. What exactly was your job?
A. I was the signalman. The signalman took care of any messages coming in by flag or by light. We mostly used a 12-inch signal light.

Q. Would it take you awhile to learn how to use signals?
A. All of went to school, that was the difference between the Army and the Navy. Each person in the Navy had a school that they attended to learn their job. I happened to attend the signal school that was out at Chicago University which last 8 weeks during the summer, before we got on the ship. So therefore I had all that knowledge ahead of time such as Morse code and how to read the lights, which you really had to know. There was another interesting experience that I had. In the Signal School out in Chicago, we were bunked in the gym, in four deckers. So the first day we got there after arriving from Norfolk, having no sleep due to an 18-hour ride on a train, we were giving a pack of card. There must have been around 70 cards in the pack. On each card, it had a picture of a flag and what it meant. The person in charge said that everybody was going to take a test at 8 in the morning on these cards. If you didn't pass the test, then you were out of there. Out of here meant that you had to go on one of these landing crafts and nobody wanted to do that because we rather be on a ship. So everybody stayed up all night learning these flags and what they meant. There were some guys that just didn't get it and they were out. Then we had to learn about the flag voice and the main thing was the Morse code on the light. That would be what our main job was. We had to go up into the field house, everybody sat down and there was a light way in the back. The person was giving the Morse code slowly and you just looked at that light everyday for about 45 minutes. Then you would have to try and make heads or tails of it. I sat there for the whole week and saw, nothing, I couldn't get anything. All of the sudden though, you would start seeing words, not like T, it would be a dash. You start to realize that that's was the way to do it. So, that's the way we learned the Morse code. We also had to learn how to send it and at a certain speed. When we got on the ship though we didn't go that fast because you wanted to make sure the person was getting your code and knew what was going on.

Q. Did you sign up to be a signalman?
A. Oh no, you don't sign up to do anything. They tell you what you are going to do. In fact one of my best friends from Baltimore was a quartermaster on our ship. A quartermaster takes care of all the navigational maps and charts. That's what he was on our ship. Before he joined up for the Navy, he installed cockpits on a Navy bomber. He put that in saying he could do that with his eyes closed. That didn't mean a thing, the navy didn't want him to do that at all. They wanted him to be something else, so he was a quartermaster. I could never figure that out and he couldn't either but it happened a lot. He could install that with his eyes closed he said, all the instruments but they decided not to use him.

Q. Do you know how they went about to pick certain people for jobs?
A. I have no idea. It was probably better that we didn't know. After you had boot camp you were put into the OGU, which is the Out Going Unit. That's where you did menial tasks just to keep you busy until they decided what school you were going to. You would check the board each day and if you name appeared you were going to this school. We took tests of coarse but I still have no idea why I was a signalman, that's for sure.

Q. Back in training, did you have time off or were you pretty much just shipped right out?
A. After boot camp we had a week and then we went to our school. Then when you went to school, you would probably have a week off.

Q. What would you normally do when you had that week off? Did you go see your family?
A. I always went home. It was good because I could get home.

Q. When was the first time that you stepped foot on the ship and knew that you might be heading out to combat?
A. It was at the commissioning, that's when we pretty much knew that this was it. We were going to be training and then heading out.

Q. Were you anxious or scared?
A. I don't think anybody on our ship was scared. We were I guess, as you would call it, too stupid to be scared, too young to be scared. I don't think anybody really had a feeling of that something might happen to us. I would say that this was a feeling for most of the service men. I don't think they were that scared, we were more anxious I guess but I wouldn't call it scared. It was probably our age that did it. (I'm still the same way because of my age, we never expect the worse) Yeah, you think nothing can happen to you.

Q. You fought on the USS Carol?
A. I was on that ship from the very beginning, the commissioning of it. This was interesting because it was ceremony where we had to wear our dress blues and the widow of the man Carrol was there. All of these ships were named after heroes of the war, like people who were shot down. This ship was named after a man whose last name was Carroll; I have forgot his first name. His widow spoke and at the end she donated an ice cream machine to the ship which was great because not all these ships had ice cream. We were one of the lucky ones because we had ice cream a lot in the Pacific. It was a great thing.

Q. Now we will move up into questions about World War II. What theaters of war did your ship see?
A. We took eight convoys to Africa. The first one we went to Casablanca, then we went to Bizerte. If you look on the map, Bizerte is not far from Tunis or Oran. Those are the places that where we took convoys into the Mediterranean. The convoys consisted of around 100 to a 120 ships which were lined up in a pattern with the ammunition ships in the middle. We were like the shepherds, always going around it forming a sonar screen around the convoy. The convoy would have to zigzag, so where a ship zigzagged here, we would zigzag there. This would cause there to be no space left where a sub could get through. That was our job. We lived a charmed life because we took these convoys and never lost any ship, going or coming back. Now we had to take them back too, we would stay about a week in like Iran and then we would take back these empty ships. They were sinking ships though on either convoy ahead of us or in back of us and I know this because I recorded it. The convoy ahead of us, they lost a couple, one lost one in the Mediterranean and then the convoy after us lost a couple. We kind of lived a charmed life, our division; a division consisted of six ships.

Q. Do you remember the other ships that were in your division?
A. Oh yes. There was the USS Atherton, the USS Amick, and the USS Eldridge. The USS Atherton by the way, sunk the last submarine of the war and believe it or not, but it got it off the Long Island Sound. In fact the Atherton's captain still has the captain of submarine's hat in his possession.

Q. You said earlier that the convoys traveled to Africa. Did you get a chance to get off the ship?
A. Oh yeah, we always got a chance to get off the ship.

Q. Can you describe it?
A. Well the first time that we got off the ship was in Casablanca. That's when I was chosen for shore patrol, I guess because I was 6' 3" and looked like a good guy to put on shore patrol. So when I was on shore patrol I had a 45 strapped around waist and I never had shot a 45 before, now I had a loaded one, ready to fire. There was two of us that went on this jeep and all we did was go to all these bars, down theses narrow, dark stairs looking for guys in white who were lying around or passed out. We would then lug these guys up and put them on the jeep, almost like corpses and make sure they got on their ship. When we took them back to the dock, there were makeshift signs with DE's names on them. We would then take the guy up, who was out cold and lie them down at their ship area. Then we would move on to the next one. That was the shore patrol duty that I had which was a very sad thing but that's what we had to do. These guys couldn't hold their liqueur I guess. They were taking a chance because you didn't know who was sympathetic to whom. The French were sometimes a little sympathetic to the Germans and you didn't know that. It was a little hairy, I was glad to get back to the ship and turn in my 45.

Q. Speaking about the ship, it's not really that big of a ship. So how were the living conditions? What did you do to kill time on the ship?
A. You get used to that, it really wasn't that bad. You could take a shower and if you were lucky you could take a fresh water shower. You did it fast and not everybody went at the same is what I'm trying to get at. There was always one group on watch duty, so they couldn't take showers then. So it was the other groups that then got a chance to go shower. It wasn't that bad. When the sea got rough, then you couldn't take a fresh shower. You had to take a so-called salt-water bucket bath. What you did was turn on the salt water, put it in a bucket and then use this crazy soap. I was like the old Kirkman's soap; your grandfather probably knew what it was. It was this laundry soap. It was a brown, pathetic soap but at least it was something. You had to put your foot in the bucket because with rough seas, the water evaporator didn't work and this meant you couldn't fresh water until the seas calmed down. So with rough seas you were bouncing around keeping your foot in this bucket and trying to wash.

Q. How was the food on the ship?
A. The food on the ship was Navy food (laughs). All that I can say is that you get used to it. I thought we had very good bakers on our ship but each ship I guess has thing. Its rough sea so you really don't get much food, you just get sandwiches. When the was rolling, I know that when I sat at where we were eating and that I had to hold the tray up so nothing would fall off it. We had a lot of big rolls (waves) that was the most impressive thing. It impressed me the most the first time that I was out at sea because if you never been at sea you think of a wave as being down at the Jersey shore and you see a big 15 foot wave. That's nothing, what we were into were the size of mountains, it was just like a mountain. You would have to ride down it when in a heavy sea. You down the mountain and once you got to the bottom, you were going right back up, it was like a roller coaster. Then there were these big tankers that used to go across and plow into the wave, that kind of sea was really rough. One time it took us 18 days to cross. One day when I woke up and went on watch the whole convoy was going all over the place. That was another one of our jobs, when a convoy get off station, we had to get the convoy back into their station, which was almost like a line. They started out that way but after this storm they were going every which way. You had to go up to a guy and tell them exactly what position he was suppose to take, and sometimes that captain couldn't even speak English, which made you realize you were in gonna have some problems. It was kind of a tough thing to get those ships back.

Conclusion of the Interview.


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