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Lore of the Corps.

(From the book "Ready for Sea, The Bicentennial History of the U.S. Navy Supply Corps" by retired Rear Adm. Frank J. Allston, SC, USNR)

This issue's Lore of the Corps focuses on retired Supply Corps officer Rear Adm. Onnie Lattu, who completed 28 years of service and retired in 1945 after a recall to active duty during World War II.

Onnie Lattu had an especially unusual career in the Supply Corps. He served on the Asiatic Station in the late 1930s, was a member of the U.S. embassy staff in Berlin when the United States entered World War II, was interned by the Gestapo, and later rose to Flag rank.

He was born in Nehvola, Karjala Province, Finland, in August 1906. His family immigrated to the United States, and young Lattu attended high school at Fort Bragg, Calif. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, in 1926, where he was selected as a member of the first NROTC unit in the United States. Through an administrative oversight, his selection occurred a few days before his citizenship papers came through. Onnie Lattu survived a potential disenrollment as an alien and remained in the NJRTOC unit, which Capt. Chester Nimitz had started at Berkeley. The young Finnish-American became a favorite of the Nimitzes, in whose home he was a frequent guest. He graduated in June 1930 with a bachelor of arts degree and a commission as Ensign, Supply Corps, U.S. Navy Reserve.

Ens. Lattu reported as Assistant Supply Officer aboard USS New York in February 1931, and in November of that year was transferred to USS Saratoga (CV 3). Lattu moved on to USS Augusta (CA 31), flagship of the Scouting Force, as disbursing officer from January 1932 to September 1933. He was at the Puget Sound Navy Yard until 1935, when he went to the Navy Yard, Cavite, in the Philippines.

In September 1936, he returned to Augusta, then flagship of the Asiatic Squadron. Lt. Lattu was ordered to the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts in January 1938 with additional duty as White House aide.

He was sent to Europe in August 1940 as assistant naval attache, U.S. embassy, Berlin, with additional duty at the American legations in Madrid, Rome, Stockholm, and Vichy, France. His attempt to reach his new duty at Berlin was an adventure in itself. He went by ocean liner to Lisbon, intending to go to Berlin via occupied Paris, where he planned to purchase an automobile from a fellow Supply Corps officer, Lt. (later Rear Adm.) Charles (Count) deKay.

Officials at the legation in Lisbon advised against the Paris route because gasoline was scarce and the Nazis unlikely to permit a drive into Germany. All travel in Europe had been disrupted and seemed to be, in Lattu's words, "a mess." He accompanied a courier to Bern, Switzerland, via Spain and France, encountering bureaucratic delays at every border crossing. After several weeks, he finally reached Berlin and reported to his new post.

He spent a month learning German at the University of Berlin. He and other Americans--Army officers and members of the press--moved from their dreary hotels and pensions into an apartment. The Americans pooled pooled their rations and elected Lattu mess treasurer. The young, single Supply Corps officer took weekend trips within the permitted 70 miles of Berlin. He found the people in the villages happier, better fed, and less concerned with the war than Berliners. He also made several official visits to the other legations where he had collateral duties. Lattu had planned to go to Sweden and then go to Finland to look up relatives. He traveled by train and ferry to Stockholm, arriving on Dec. 6, 1941. When he learned the following evening of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he changes his plans. Although Lattu was not authorized to travel by air, he managed to book passage and flew back to Berlin the following morning. He arrived in Berlin only two days before the Germans declared war on the United States on Dec. 11, 1941.

Lt Lattu was interned, with other embassy personnel, for more than four months in a rundown resort at Bad Nauheim. They were finally repatriated on in May 1942. Lattu returned to duty at the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts and was responsible for the Navy's leadership in materials handling, packaging, and preservation. He then went to the Naval supply Depot Oakland, Calif., in April 1944, and in May 1945 served briefly as Assistant Supply officer, Serving Squadron 10. In September of that year, he joined the staff of Commander, 5th Fleet, under Adm. Ray Spruance, with additional duty as assistant logistics officer.

Cmdr. Lattu returned to BuSandA in June 1946 as director of material and supply. He attended the strategy and logistics course at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., in 1948 and 1949. He then reported in June 1949 for duty on the staff of the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, and Force Supply officer under Adm. William Radford, with additional duty on the staff of Commander, Service Force Pacific. These two commands provided logistics support of the Fleet and overseas based during the Korean War.

He returned stateside to assume command of the Naval Supply Depot Newport in September 1952, with collateral duty as Supply officer, Newport Naval Base. His next duty, in November 1954, was as Commanding Officer, Ships Parts Control Center Mechanicsburg, Pa.

He was promoted to rear admiral in 1956, and became executive director of the Military Petroleum Supply Agency. In September 1961, he was ordered to duty as Assistant Chief, Bureau of Supplies and Accounts for Transportation and Facilities. He was detailed to the Department of the Interior in May 1964, where he was appointed Director, Office of Oil and Gas.

Rear Adm. Lattu retired from the Navy in November 1965, but remained the director of the Office of Oil and Gas as a civilian. He retired from the Interior Department in March 1969. In May of that year, he became director of the Washington office of Cities Service Company, a position he held until retiring for a third time in 1974. He and his wife Arlene lived in Washington, D.C. He passed away in January 1995.
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Publication:Navy Supply Corps Newsletter
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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