The Navy and me.
It was January 1, 1944, and I was almost 18. I went to Newark and tried to get in the Army Air Corps. I took the test and failed by one point. I made 74 and needed 75. I next tried to get in the Merchant Marines. I slipped up on the questioning and told them that I walked in my sleep one day three years ago, so they wouldn't take me. So I went and enlisted in the Navy.
I had my physical at 383 Madison Avenue, New York City. That was on February 5, 1944. I had to have a written statement from my mom, saying that she didn't see me walking in my sleep, and I had to have it signed by a notary public. My mom, Doris, and I went to Union City [New Jersey] and stayed overnight, as I had to be in New York at 8 A.M. on February 7, 1944.
They swore me and 40 other guys in and said to be ready for boot camp at 9 p.m. It took about five hours to have our physical, and for lunch we had one sandwich and an apple. We left from Penn Station about 11 p.m. and arrived at Sampson [Sampson Naval Training Base in Seneca County, New York] at 6 A.M. I was awful cold and the chow and the joe really tasted good. The fellows on the train had candy, which we all ate.
We had a lecture about 8 A.M. and then we started getting our gear. We held a mattress cover open and everything was thrown in it. We put on dungarees and took our civilian clothes off. Most of my gear fit me and was I surprised--oh, all except for my hat; I never did get a hat that would fit. We were then given our sacks and a little time to get squared away. We had chow and it was pretty good, then I went to a lecture and after that we went down to the dispensary and got two shots, one in each arm.
I was on the top floor of the barracks along with 100 other fellows. We were known as Company 320. Fifty-eight of the 100 are now dead. They were a swell bunch of kids. We even got the rooster twice (a pennant given to the best company each week).
We got seven shots altogether, two tetanus, two typhus, one typhoid, one yellow fever, and one diphtheria. We had radio tests, swimming, boxing, rifle practice, lots of work-outs in the gym, and plenty of guard duty. I got used to the dog watch (12-4). [Actually, the two "dog watches" are between 4 and 6 P.M. and 6 and 8 P.M. They split a normal four-hour watch, thereby ensuring that the two alternating watch crews don't get stuck with the same duty times every day and night.] We had lots of snow to shovel. We had to be out of our sacks by 5:30 A.M. and have the sacks squared away by 6 A.M. We went to chow at 6:15 and half the time it was snowing. The mess hall was about two blocks away.
Our company was air raid wardens one week and the next week we were mess cooks. We had to get up a little earlier then. I cut my thumb on my right hand with a knife when I was peeling spuds, and it became infected. We didn't have to take the obstacle course because of the snow on the ground.
I met Jimmy Coperato and another fellow up there a few days before I got my boot leave. They were in G unit and I was in E unit. I was in boot camp six weeks and just missed getting a 21-day leave by one day. I did, however, get a 14-day leave. I reported back to Sampson at the OGU (Out-Going Unit). I was then sent to Pier 92, New York City, and I spent 12 days there working in the ship service, giving out ice cream and making milkshakes.
I came home on Monday and Wednesday before Easter, and expected to have the Easter weekend off, but all liberty was canceled. We boarded the Queen Mary [the giant British ocean liner that ferried more than half a million GIs across the Atlantic] on Easter Sunday, starting with us navy men (2,400). Then the army came on board, and by Monday morning when we left, we had 27,000 people on board, and that ain't hay.
I started to get seasick the third day out and was sick for two days. The Limeys fed us hash almost all the way over. We went almost 100 miles out of the way because of some German submarines. We were up near Iceland in the arctic sea one day and a few days later we were down near Bermuda. We had to stand in line in order to throw up in the head. Most of the time you wouldn't get there in time--that's when our helmets came in handy.
On the night of the fifth day out, we heard an explosion. We found out later that one of the men on watch saw a mine and blew it up. We never saw another ship all the way across. We landed in Panerth, Scotland, near Glasgow, and we were put on a base there. The grass looked very green to me, and later I found out why: it rains about 360 out of 365 days a year. How well I know! We used to stand in a chow line and the rain would be pouring down, but only for an hour or so.
I stayed on the base about one week and pitched liberty at Helensburg and Glasgow. There were lots of redheads there and the girls were all chubby with rosy cheeks, and they walked fast. Then I was elected with seven other fellows to do mess cook duty aboard the USS Melville (a repair ship). We got ice cream on there, also some gear we were short of.
One night when I was in my sack, an officer came over from the camp and told me that Frank Petroski, who I met on the Queen Mary, and whom I used to caddy with at Forsgate Country Club [in New Jersey], had died. He died from nerves I guess, as every blood vessel in his body had burst. The next day they were to take him to London to bury him. I couldn't go because I was on a draft. We went by train to Cardiff, Wales, and there me and 30 others boarded the USS LST 391 [LST stands for Landing Ship, Tank]. We then made ourselves at home; the chow was good. I liked everyone on board except for Chief Boatswain's Mate M----. We got our gun stations, and mine was a trunnion operator [the member of the gun crew who adjusted the height of the gun base] on Number 1 20mm.
We then left Wales and went to Portland, England, where I saw my first air raid. A lone German plane came over on a reconnaissance flight, and some British ATS [members of the women's Auxiliary Territorial Service of the British army] shot it down with a 90mm gun. We listened to a radio report the next morning and they mentioned that a plane was shot down over southern England. That was the first and only time my knees shook--I sat on the deck and held them, but they still shook. I blamed it on the night air.
I then started getting used to the way decks are chipped (that's taking the rust off). After the decks were chipped, we would put red lead on the deck and then paint it gray. I liked standing watches--most of the time. After that, things were pretty quiet for a while. We went on working parties and we used to carry rockets on a small train from underground ammunition dumps to an LCT [Landing Craft, Tank], where we loaded them. They were quite heavy, but we were afraid to drop them.
We went to Plymouth, England, for about two months, and learned how to tie Rhinos up to the bow door. Rhinos are flat barges used to carry cargo to the beaches. On June 1, 1944, the skipper--a lieutenant, junior grade--read us a letter which he read to all of us, prior to the invasion [D-Day]. We were then all restricted to the ship. We loaded our troops on June 4, which was a headquarters division of the First Army. I remember a Brigadier General Williams--while we stood gun watch, he used to come up and joke with us. We also carried five tanks (Shermans), lots of command cars and jeeps, and ammunition trucks carrying 30,000 tons of TNT. I remember about 50 five-gallon cans of fuel oil.
At 8 P.M. on June 4, we shoved off from Plymouth. There was a heavy storm, so we just traveled up and down along the English coast waiting for orders. It seemed like all the ships were doing the same. We received a message saying the invasion of Normandy had been postponed for 24 hours. So we just sailed up and down along the coast.
When we finally did start across the [English] Channel, it was about 6 A.M. on June 6. When we first sighted the beach [code-named Omaha Beach], I guess we all said a little prayer. The first thing we could see was the Arkansas, the Texas, and the Nevada. They were pounding 88 [German 88mm anti-aircraft gun] positions about every two minutes. When we finally came to anchor, we were just ahead of the Texas and about a mile from the beach.
I remember seeing a navy fellow float by. He probably was a crew member of an LCVP [Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel]. He had his helmet buckled around his neck, and must have died due to a concussion nearby. Never buckle your helmet or it will break your neck. I also remember an army pilot floating by. We saw lots of small boats that had been sunk, up near the beach. We could see what remained of the LST 499. We could hear lots of machine guns on the beach to the port (left). What I saw was all from the starboard bow. We could see the Germans running and fighting and trying to get over the hill. We could see tanks leave the beach and get blown up before they were half way up the hill.
There was a French town on our port bow, and the Germans wouldn't give it up. One time the Germans would have their flag up, then the Americans, then the Germans again. About 3:30 P.M., a squadron of Spitfires [British fighters] came over and started dropping rocket bombs on the town, and by 4 o'clock the Americans had the town. I saw a Spitfire shot down with ack-ack [anti-aircraft fire], and the pilot never had a chance. On the beach we saw an LCI [Landing Craft, Infantry] get blown sky-high with an 88mm shell. The Texas all the while kept firing over our heads, and we thought for sure it would knock our mast off. About 6 P.M. the German planes came over and started strafing the beaches and dropped a few bombs. At night, the battleships and the 88's stole the whole show, each firing at one another.
On the second day, nothing in particular happened but a few air raids. Oh, I might mention that we stood four-hour watches for the five days. We couldn't get any sleep because the Germans would send a plane over every two hours.
Well, on the third day the headquarters division was going to leave, but when they heard the Germans were only six miles away, they decided to wait another day. That night, we got a message not to fire at any drones or planes, as we were sending over 5,000 planes. Well, everything went OK. The planes were going over and no one was firing, but the Germans sneaked in one plane, and it dropped a bomb near a ship. Well, that was all; almost every ship in the harbor opened up on the American planes--that is, all but our ship. We followed our orders.
I saw two planes fall in flames, but I don't know how many didn't catch fire, or how many were damaged. Three barrage balloons were also shot down. We could see the flashes from German E-boats [torpedo boats that were a bit larger than American PT boats] as they tried to get in the harbor, but none did get in, to my knowledge. They did sink lots of ships out in the Channel, though. We finally transferred our cargo onto an LCT, because we were ordered to go to the Utah beach and pick up some casualties.
The beach we had been on was named Omaha. When we got to Utah, we hit the beach, which was about 2 P.M. on June 11. Then a German 88 started firing at us. I don't see how he could have missed us--we could see the flashes from his gun. There were three destroyers trying to hit him, but they were almost a mile off range. Lucky for us, seven B-26s [American bombers] came over, and someone radioed the leader to bomb the 88. One bomber let his whole stick land smack on the target, and I never saw such an explosion since. We then decided to pull off the beach and not take any more chances. We had a time getting off, but we made it.
About 6 P.M., the casualties were brought out to us in an LCT. We tied it up to the bow and then went down to help carry the stretchers on board. We had the tank deck lights on but didn't think much of it--but some pilot of an Me-109 [a German fighter] did. He dived and dropped two bombs. One landed 100 yards ahead of us and the other landed about 50 yards on our port quarter. That's another time I did a lot of praying.
That night, 200 German planes were going to give us a heavy going-over, but some of our planes caught them just as they were taking off and shot all but three of them down. The three that remained came over and started an oil dump on fire. Then we left for Southampton, England, and I wasn't sorry one bit. We made 9 knots on the way back--that is, until we had a collision with another LST. We smashed in our bow and damaged the bow gun pretty bad, but none of the shells exploded. We then went to the Plymouth dry-dock for two weeks. When I was on liberty in Plymouth, I went to this building which was right on the main drag, where they had a merry-go-round, and it moved around four times as fast as ours do. You had to hold on tight or you would fall off.
We made 15 trips across the English Channel. On our eighth trip we went through a British mine field, and two Liberty Ships had their sterns (fan-tails) blown up. We couldn't stop for any survivors. On our 10th trip, we had a collision; it was foggy, and another LST rammed our stern.
One night when we were in Southampton, we saw the first buzz bombs [jet-powered, flying bombs] that were shot at England. On the 14th trip, when we were coming back from France, a German U-boat was blown out of the water by one of our DEs (Destroyer Escorts). We also had British corvettes and American PCs (Patrol Crafts) as our escorts. On our 12th trip, we got lost from the convoy when they went a few knots faster and we didn't get the message. All the ships passed us in the fog. We were quite scared, as we thought a German E-boat might see us. When morning came, we could see the ships way ahead on the horizon, so we did emergency speed ahead and caught up with them. Then I went to bed and slept until they called special Sea Detail Stations to drop the anchor in Cherbourg Harbor.
The 15th trip didn't seem any different. We had empty railroad cars on and we were at Cherbourg, France. Oh, I might mention that we took 1,500 prisoners to England. We were anchored and most of the crew was fast asleep, as it was 3 A.M., on August 17, 1944. There was an explosion, and when I woke up, about a half-minute later I was on the deck.
The first I thought of was to get my shoes, as I knew there would be a lot of glass on the floor of the head. I had put my shoes on the ledge above my sack; when I found them, they were on my sack. I could smell fuel oil, but none of us seemed very scared. Some fellows hollered, "Keep calm!" I decided to put on my clothes, because we couldn't see a thing and didn't know what to do. My clothes weren't on the hook on the door where I had left them, so I looked on the floor. There was a whole pile of them--I grabbed the first pair and put them on. One guy wanted to light a match, but we changed his mind but fast.
I then started heading for the end which I thought was the bow, but it turned out to be the stern. When I passed the first compartment, I looked down the hatch to the auxiliary engine room and saw a fellow who had been on watch coming up the ladder with the water rushing in at his heels, and him cussing like the devil. I found out later that he fainted as soon as he got up topside.
The fellows were starting to come around with flashlights, but the fumes were getting awful thick, so I fainted. When I woke up, I was on my hands and knees and crawling along in the head. Then I fainted again. Someone carried me topside, and as soon as I hit the air I woke up. Besides a cut on my head and nose and an awful headache, I felt OK.
They took seven of us ashore to the hospital, and when I was riding through the streets of Cherbourg, I expected someone to throw a hand grenade at the ambulance, but no one did. The hospital was an old French schoolhouse. I stayed there for four days. I rode downtown a couple of times with a fellow who ran a station wagon from the hospital to town. I saw the first train start up after the invasion, and the people were cheering. All the crew from LST 391 were taken off and put aboard a seagoing ferry. I was taken there after I was better.
I met a fellow from Jamesburg [New Jersey]--his name was Gealeno. We went back to the ship the next day and were we surprised to find that the salvage crews had stolen everything. We were without food and clothing. All we had was what we wore. We had some boxes of K-rations, so that's what we ate. No heat and just a little water, and that tasted like rubber. We had to drink torpedo juice [180-proof grain alcohol] in order to keep warm.
After five days of that we were put on a seagoing tug and we pulled our LST back to Plymouth, England. We were then put on a base at Saltash--that's across the river from Plymouth. We stayed there one month and we took liberty whenever we weren't on a working party. That was when I started drinking beer. We were almost like civilians, and boy it felt good. Five days before we were ready to leave, I decided to go to the navy dance which they had there. I walked in, and the first person I saw was Lee, and it was love at first sight. I met her aunt and uncle, and on the last day I saw her, I met her mom and pop.
We left on Sunday by truck and rode all the way to Portland. We were all wet from riding in the truck, and the road was wet. We came to a spot where there was wet leaves all over the road and one of the trucks up ahead stopped dead; the truck ahead of us just stopped in time, but our truck couldn't, so the driver pulled over on the other lane. There was bus coming up the hill, but we all stopped just in time. The rest of the way there we kept singing. (There was a wreck on the highway, but I didn't hear nobody pray.)
The crew was then split up on all the LSTs in Flotilla 12. Me and two other guys were sent to LST 337. We never left port, as it was having its cracks in the tank deck fixed and we were tied up to the Melville [an American destroyer tender, or support ship for destroyers]. I did a lot of mess cooking and chipping the deck, and went on liberty every chance I could. About the 15th of November, 1944, we got orders to go to Dartmouth and rejoin the old crew. While I was there I was awarded the Purple Heart with four other guys, and I hope you can tell me why, as I don't know why.
We left Dartmouth around the 1st of December and went to Wales by train, where we boarded the USS Lakeburst (an army transport). We were treated swell on there. We saw movies almost every night. The food consisted of powdered eggs and dehydrated potatoes, but we were used to them now. It took 14 days, as we hit two hurricanes. We kept turning our watches ahead and we sure were glad when we saw the good old USA time again.
We landed in Brooklyn on December 22, and the Red Cross was there with donuts and milk. We were freezing, but we still drank the milk. We then went by cattle truck to Long Island Railroad Station, where we caught a train for Leido Beach, Long Island. We were there just overnight, and I was on my way home with a 21-day leave. We laid on springs that night, but not many felt like sleeping.
After my leave, I reported to Norfolk, Virginia, and stayed there for two weeks. Ray Mount had an uncle and aunt living in Portsmouth, Virginia, and I met Ray down there and we pitched a few liberties there. We both were then shipped to Fort Pierce, Florida, where he became a cook and I went through the amphibious training as a signalman. Our flotilla was Number 73.
While I was in Fort Pierce, I did a lot of drinking. One night when I was on liberty, I had been drinking and I had a nervous breakdown. I broke a window at Stewart, Florida, and I was put in the civilian jail for 21 days. I was fed two meals a day: a pancake and a strip of bacon in the morning, and a pancake and a few beans at night. No soap to wash with, just water. Then I was taken out of jail and thrown in the brig, where I spent 18 days of just confinement. Then I was given a summary court-martial and fined $130 and 30 days on bread and water, with full rations every third day. My hair was all shaved off.
After I got out of the brig, my pop was down to see me. That's when I was sent to Tampa, with only a little of my gear, as the rest had been sold. I was a seaman guard at Tampa. I didn't stay in Tampa for more than two weeks before they decided to send me to Jacksonville Hospital as a battle fatigue case. I stayed there penned up for one month and then they decided to give me an honorable discharge (medical discharge). Could they afford it?
William Weedon typed out this memoir of his WWII navy service on October 12, 1947, while the memories were still fresh. He resides in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
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|Title Annotation:||I WAS THERE|
|Author:||Weedon, William E.|
|Publication:||America in WWII|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2006|
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