U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program
Reflections of Collingwood Harris
Radarman Second Class, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
Former Crewmember/USS Peterson (DE-152)
(March 4, 1943 - April 11, 1946)
Researched, Interviewed, and Edited by
Lieutenant Arthur A. Johnson, USCGR
Place of Interview: Commerce Department Office, Washington, D.C.
Date of Interview: October 18, 1984
Operational, Technical and Maritime History Preservation Series
U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program
USS Peterson (DE-152), circa 1944, in the Mediterranean.
Q: Well, I'd like to thank you first of all for agreeing to meet with us and talk about your reminiscences aboard the [USS] Peterson [DE-152] while in the Coast Guard . . .
Harris: I'm flattered.
Q: . . . and the experiences that you've had as an enlisted man in the Second World War. First of all, I would like to begin by asking you when did you join the Coast Guard and if you can recall, what were the circumstances around which you entered the Coast Guard; the thoughts that came to your mind at that particular time?
Harris: Well, I entered the Coast Guard on March 4, 1943. I was in the first company of inductees into the Coast Guard. By the time I was old enough to go the policy had been changed and they were actually not taking volunteers per se, and all the forces were going on an allocation basis. I guess if I really had had my druthers I would have gone in the Air Force but my father; my real father, was killed in an airplane crash when I was a boy and my mother vehemently discouraged that û threatened me with physical harm which at that age I believe she would have done but I realize now that she wouldn't have; that she was worried that I would meet my father's fate. So I was dissuaded from going into the Air Force; a bunch of my classmates did go down and volunteer and joined the Air Force the previous fall. Then the policy was changed and so I became an employee for the Signal Corp. I was an Electronics Draftsman; an Electrical Draftsman û trained by the Signal Corp after I got out of high school the preceding spring.
Actually the circumstances which led to my joining the war û I had a fight with my brother û a fist fight . . . and my brother and I never got along too well so in a fit of guilt and self-flagellation, despair, what have you; I went down to the Draft Board and said that I wanted to be inducted and they said no problem. So that was the end of January or early February and I got a notice right away. I reported to Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Sheepshead Bay, on March 4. The only regret that I ever had was I was due at 12 noon and because I hadn't traveled much and was uncertain of the time, I and a classmate who also went the same day reported about ten in the morning and I always begrudged those two hours û throughout the war.
Why the Coast Guard? Actually I was taken down . . . prior to entering the Coast Guard we were taken down to Camden, New Jersey for processing and at that time I sort of had a crush on a girl who was several years older than I, that I used to carpool with, and I thought it would impress her very, very much if I were a Marine invading a beach somewhere. At this time I was eighteen years old. So I had this fantasy that Eleanor would be very impressed if I were a Marine assaulting an island somewhere. I got into the Marine line and an officer came along and put his hand in front of me and said, "That's all for today" - for the Marines. So I knew I didn't want to go into the Army. So I went into the Navy line and while I was in that Navy line a Chief came along and said, "Anybody here for the Coast Guard . . . ?"
Q: Volunteers for the Coast Guard?
Harris: ". . . out of this line." He was looking for likely recruits. So I had grown up in Manasquan, New Jersey.
Q: So you had a recognition for the Coast Guard.
Harris: Not only that but I used to be the mascot of the Coast Guard station; or the Lifesaving Station at Manasquan Beach. I used to be the only kid, when I was real little, who was allowed to go up in the tower. I used to even have meals with the crew at the Lifesaving Station; it's now a telephone station, a telephone technical station, a telephone technical installation, but in those days it was a lifesaving station, and they used to have drills taking the long boats out into the surf. It used to be very fascinating.
Harris: I was really the only kid around who was allowed - I somehow had this short privilege. I had a very warm feeling for the Coast Guard so when this Chief came by I said I would go in that. Thus I was duly inducted into the Coast Guard and told to report at 12 o'clock noon on March 4 with a classmate. I was given the serial number 7001-242 and my classmate - who still lives in Manasquan - whose number was 7001-241, which he can't even remember. I remember that Warren's number was only one number before mine.
Q: Yes, and you went to Manhattan Beach.
Harris: The first meal we had was lunch. We arrived at lunchtime. We had Chicken Fricasee. The reason I remember this was I was not familiar with the jargon of the day and I remember the petty officer (Boris Ratner) who led us to the Mess Hall saying we were having "Friggen Chickasee".
Q: Oh! "Friggen Chickasee".
Harris: So that's how I remember the first meal.
Q: So you were born in 1925?
Harris: 1924; 11 June 1924.
Q: You were 18 when you were inducted?
Harris: I was going on 19. I turned 19 three months later.
Q: What age were you at when you were the "mascot" of the Manasquan Lifesaving Station?
Harris: I guess I was probably five or six.
Q: Did you have a little uniform?
Harris: No, but for some reason the Coast Guard . . . my grandmother used to take a bungalow right across the street, across from the Cost Guard station. But for some reason I was very well liked there and they'd remember me from summer to summer and really nobody else was allowed to go up in the tower, and I used to climb up and look through the binoculars.
Q: Oh, yes.
Harris: Of course in those days there weren't as many people at Manasquan as there are today.
Q: What do you recall the crew size being at that time?
Harris: I guess it was about a dozen or 15.
Q: A dozen or 15 men?
Harris: There was a Chief who I remember exhorting the men to pull the boat into the water. They had a four-wheeled wagon that the men would actually pull out of the garage or the shelter, down onto the beach, and then they would launch the boat similarly as I recall to the way they used to . . . the Coast Guard boat they actually used brute force to just drag it into the water. In those days they had some commercial fisheries there, and they had larger boats, and they used to lay planks and then put rollers on the planks and push the boat û keep the boat steady from the sides û then they had a pulley out into the water and then they had horses pulling the pulley.
Harris: Those old Norwegian fishermen, they used to launch their boats with the pulley and the horses.
Harris: They would go partially into the surf and then come up and out of the surf and the boat would go in. But the Coast Guardsmen had to just pull it right into the water and then jump in with the oars and be on their way.
Q: Do you remember any rescues occurring at that time when you were there?
Harris: No, I don't remember.
Q: It would be about 1930 or 1931 if you were five or six years old.
Q: 1929, and the station was probably the typical lifesaving station of the time. It just got into action when there was a big storm and the ships were running aground.
Harris: Nearby was a Navy Radio Station too; a Direction Finder Station, right up the street.
Harris: My brother and I would always frequent that place and that sort of influenced our preferences for the sea duty because my brother went into the Navy.
Q: I see. Did your father or mother have any relationship to the sea services at all?
Harris: No, none at all. My father had. He was just at an optimum age where he missed World War I and if he had lived he would have missed World War II -- one too young and the other too old. Unfortunately he was killed in 1928. So in reporting to Manhattan Beach, as I say, I was in the first company of inductees and we found out later that they didn't know what to expect from us.
Q: Oh, they didn't?
Harris: At Manhattan Beach the Company Commanders were Petty Officers' First Class and our Company Commander told us much later toward the end of the Boot training period that they had been under instructions to really lay into us, because since we were inductees they had expected us to be recalcitrant.
Q: Oh, certainly.
Harris: The perception was that we were draft dodgers and evaders, which certainly in my case wasn't the case. I was just at a tender age. But in any case they said that we were the meekest, [the most timid] bunch of trainees that they had ever had and the most docile trainees that they had ever had.
Q: The size of the group that you're with then that was going through that training process, do you recall a number?
Harris: There were about 100 men in a company as I recall, divided into three platoons.
Q: About 100 men divided into a company.
Harris: Divided into three platoons and turned into squads.
Q: Oh, okay.
Harris: So there was a Company Commander and what they had done in this instance was take over Manhattan Beach, which was a recreational summer resort area and built new barracks, but they had also converted old cottages into barracks and they had, I think, 16 men. These had been small duplex cottages to serve two families. They removed the center wall and . . .
Q: Turned them into little squad bays as it were, I see.
Harris: Yes, and there were about 16 men per cabin or cottage. One thing I remember was that we had a savings bond drive and that they wanted, the Company Commander wanted 100 percent enrollment and we didn't do that well. We didn't enroll. So we marched up and down the street at two in the morning three consecutive nights until the point was made that he wanted 100 percent enrollment and he said, "I can't make you, but until there's 100 percent we're going to get up every night at two o'clock and march up and down the street."
Q: Strictly volunteer program.
Harris: And we got 100 percent.
Harris: Surprise. And this was funny because I handled the Savings Bond Program for the Savings Bond Division with the AD Council for 10 years; 1974 to 1984. And at a rally last year I told this anecdote out in Chicago.
Q: Well there are ways of getting 100 percent and then there are easier ways I guess, nowadays. The Company Commander, what rank was he?
Harris: He was a Boatswain First.
Q: A Boatswain First.
Harris: He had Boatswain Second and Coxswain for Platoon Leaders.
Q: Platoon Leaders. So you had small groups in these cottages. Was there a person delegated to be responsible?
Harris: No, it doesn't seem to me there was any one person who was in any cottage that was in charge.
Q: And the length of the training period was?
Harris: My recollection is that it was supposed to have been 13 weeks and I think they cut it back to 11 weeks because of the urgent need for...
Q: Need to get men trained.
Harris: They were shipbuilding by that time. Shipbuilding had reached a high level of efficiency and they were building DEs and we were wanted for DE crews.
Q: I see. Did you know, or not until you graduated, where you were going to be sent to?
Harris: No, we thought we were going to go on merchant ships.
Q: Merchant ships.
Harris: We really all thought we were going to be put on as gun crews and on merchant ships.
Q: So there was a common core of understanding that the Coast Guard was generally operating as gun crews?
Harris: Right, and that we were replacing Merchant Marine crews and that was the thought that . . . our understanding.
Q: Even when you were in line for induction?
Harris: At that time I had really . . . I only knew the Coast Guard from my firsthand experience.
Q: So this type of conversation; this understanding more or less, came among the guys that were there at Manhattan Beach?
Harris: Right, "Scuttlebutt", as the saying goes.
Q: Yes. Do you recall the typical routine of the day? Getting up a six o'clock?
Harris: Typical routine was we got up at 5:40.
Q: 5:40 in the morning?
Harris: The typical routine was we tried to be the first ones into the head.
Q: Oh yes, to maximize your free time there.
Harris: So I've always been an early riser, so I got to where I could wake up before reveille . . .
Harris: . . . be in there before reveille occurred, be shaved and whatever before the mob. Then we would get out and muster and then march over to the Mess Hall for breakfast, and then from there on it was classes and marching and classes in seamanship, handling boats, and . . .
Q: Do you recall with was a typical breakfast routine that comes to your mind? Did you have 30 minutes to eat it or an hour?
Harris: The time was rather brisk. I think we probably had somewhere in the vicinity of 30 minutes or maybe 40 minutes because I used to be able to eat and get back and rummage through my sea bag before we had a muster again . . .
Harris: . . . for classes, so I imagine it had to be somewhere in the vicinity of 40 minutes. The typical breakfast consisted of hot cereal, oatmeal and the whole wheat, eggs.
Q: All of that.
Harris: You had some choices. It wasn't just one thing û toast: it was usually cold and soggy and sunken; coffee in aluminum coffee pitchers at the table. You could take all the coffee that you wanted.
Q: Was it real coffee?
Harris: It was real coffee. I would say in retrospect that the Mess Hall was modern and really rather nice. It was just popular to gripe. But it was, objectively speaking, not really bad.
Q: Obviously no table cloths. The quality of the food then was very well to your liking?
Q: Where did you attend your classes?
Harris: We attended classes in the school.
Q: Basic Seamanship I would assume.
Harris: Well Basic Seamanship and we had the Bluejacket's Manual and we had classes in knots and the purposes of knots. We launched boats and learned jargon such as you said, "Tay-Kle" and not "Tackle", "Day-Vits" not "Davits" and we learned to launch boats and to handle oars and also we had classes in chemical warfare; learning the differences with the various kinds of gases and how they worked.
Q: Self-protection measures for aboard ship?
Harris: Self protection measures; there were vesicants and lachrymator [phonetic] as I remember. Also we had classes in painting, which I, to this day, think were the most ridiculous thing because they got technical and they taught us about pigments and vehicles.
Q: Oh yes, the catalyst for whatever . . .
Harris: Yes. I think the real thing would have been just how to wield a brush but they did give us the chemistry of paint. The hardest part for many of us was staying awake -- the classrooms were overheated. I think some of the classes were very interesting but in many cases they were really trying very hard to make a class out of nothing -- to fill the time.
Q: So they had a curriculum that was apparently put together as a crash program indicative of the war effort û rather tight.
Harris: In some cases it was a little bit over-structured. I had visions of the paint classes. I really, to this day, whenever I paint I think of those classes. I really think they were the biggest boondoggle.
Q: Well you probably had first aid, weapons use?
Harris: At Manhattan Beach all we had were small arms fire.
Q: Small arms fire.
Harris: We learned about, well we had the Smith and Wesson. I guess it was the 32 . . .
Q: That was your practice weapon?
Harris: That was our practice weapon.
Harris: I remember some firing range safety; "Ready on the right, ready on the left, ready on the firing line"; that type of thing. And I remember breaking up an instructor the first time I was out there because I had seen a lot of Westerns and I fanned the gun.
Harris: They couldn't believe it.
Q: A big "No no".
Harris: A big "No no". He couldn't believe it. He made quite an example of me in front of the group; this was not exactly what you do. We had a lot of marching; of close order drill, and I guess we did very well at that because we consistently "Took the Banner" at the Saturday Morning Review.
Q: The "Banner" at the Saturday Morning Review û for the particular platoon?
Harris: The Company.
Q: The company that . . .
Harris: The company that marched best got an extra hour and a half of liberty, got out . . .
Q: For the evening?
Harris: For the weekend.
Q: Oh, for the weekend.
Harris: Sometimes we got the weekend and Saturday night û all night Saturday û and were due back at 7:30; 1930 hours, Sunday.
Q: Oh, very good.
Harris: It was very good. So we always thought it was worth the effort and . . .
Q: Look sharper and get an extra hour-and-a-half or a weekend.
Harris: Or whatever it was. We used to win consistently. We were really good and I guess I was the only person at Manhattan Beach who used to really love the Review and there were 5,000 men marching.
Harris: Every Saturday morning and I loved it and I thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened. I used to love to get out there and march and watch, and everybody used to gripe and I would go crazy over it. To this day I love a Parade and Review.
Q: Speaking of the Review and the Parade, do you recall any individuals that might have been reviewing; any officials, at that time?
Harris: The only one I remember was Admiral [Russell R.] Waesche.
Q: Admiral Waesche, he had visited us.
Harris: He was the Commandant. He visited, I think once. And then another officer whom we had - we had a couple of others - Jack Dempsey was a Commander in the Coast Guard (Reserve).
Harris: Then Lou Ambers who was a Chief Petty Officer, he used to. And that was another thing. We used to have Physical Self-Defense, instructions in boxing, and we had Bayonet Drill and Vertical Butt Stroke Drill.
Q: Bayonet drills, yes.
Harris: Vertical Butt Stroke Drill and Horizontal Butt Stroke Drill, and how to free your gun if it was stuck in the enemy's stomach by pulling the trigger. And I remember one of the instructors knocking out the tooth of another instructor because he wasn't watching as he gave the Vertical Butt Stroke - they were both looking at the Company - and he says, "You go like this".
Q: Was it an accident?
Harris: Oh yes, it was definitely an accident that he knocked out his Eye tooth.
Q: Well he made the impression at least . . .
Harris: He made it, it lasted as well, you can tell, 41 years. The thing I remember about the Physical Ed classes was Lou Ambers who was a light weight champion.
Q: Oh, I did not know that. I'm sorry.
Harris: The gym was full of punch drunk fighters who, through one means or another -- cauliflowered ears and pugnosed -- had gotten themselves assigned to the Physical Education program.
Q: I see.
Harris: Which was good duty. Most of them were Third Class or Second Class Petty Officers.
Q: They had joined the Coast Guard because of their experience in boxing and self-defense related activities in their civilian life. They were then chosen to be instructors at this Manhattan Beach project.
Q: I see.
Harris: Lou Ambers used to walk around the gym with a cigar in his mouth and first time around the gym he would say, "Okay you guys, get busy". The second time he would come around the gym he would say, "You guys take it easy". He did this routinely. Third time he would go around the gym he'd say, "Okay, you guys bet busy". The fourth time around was, "Okay, [he'd say] you guys take it easy". That was the extent of Lou Amber's tutelage.
Q: Were these particular sessions an hour or . . . ?
Harris: They ran about an hour. About the only thing I do remember is they did teach me a little bit about boxing and the mechanics of boxing, and I would say that what I learned is more than I knew. At least I learned it from pros.
Q: Oh, I guess so. There certainly was pro level talent teaching. I'm at a loss as to how this training would connect up with a battlefield situation?
Harris: It didn't at all and I think that the story of how a lot of the war was conducted - I think we did mobilize very quickly and a lot of things were done - that upon reflection probably wouldn't have been done.
Q: Of course, it was exercise.
Harris: It was exercise and nobody got hurt.
Q: That's right.
Harris: But in speaking of how these things were done, it was while I was at Manhattan Beach that I was assigned to Radar School.
Q: Radar School?
Harris: Again, for example; how a totally unqualified person could get into something. When I got out of high school in '42 I had a natural talent for drawing. We lived near Fort Monmouth . . .
Harris: . . . which was Signal Corp. The word went out that they were hiring Draftsmen and I was . . . it was suggested that I go up by a friend of mine. I had no drafting training but I did do a lot of drawing. So I brought my drawings along and I got hired on the spot.
Q: Very good.
Harris: I was trained -- just to relate to the Coast Guard -- so I was hired and trained as a Draftsman. I got 645 hours of free Draftsman training. I was taught how to design cans and worm gears, bevel gears, helical gears, double gears, how to do sheet metal stretch-out and how to do electronic schematics. Then when I finished my training I was assigned to doing electronic schematics. I did Radar Book Plates for instruction manuals and I worked primarily with engineers learning how to do Bills of Materials and how to look stuff up. Engineers would give me rough pencil sketches and I would draw these big elaborate schematics. Well, when I went into the Coast Guard I was a standout for 18 years old because I was making a good salary; making 40 dollars a week.
Q: That was a good salary during World War II.
Harris: That was a very good salary for an 18 year old then. So they saw radar and they sent me to Radar School. I'd had a classical college preparatory course and no physics whatsoever and a minimum of science and a minimum of algebra, math, and no trig -- a little Plane Geometry. So they sent me to the Navy Fleet Service School at Virginia Beach.
Q: Virginia Beach, yes.
Harris: Yes, I was so dumb and so unprepared for this that I drove the instructors crazy with questions. In a class of 93 I finished third, which was a good trick.
Q: Very good.
Harris: The point is, is that the selection process missed a lot. They saw the word "Radar" and said, "Radar School", and I'll never forget the first class I went to. The instructor started talking about vectors and I had no idea what a vector was. Voltages and currents; I had absolutely no grasp of or understanding . . .
Q: Was this in the 8th week of training for which you were selected for that school or halfway through?
Harris: It seems to me it was probably about halfway through.
Q: Halfway through.
Harris: They'd given us IQ tests and I had done pretty well on that.
Q: The Basic training was 10 weeks?
Harris: Eleven weeks.
Q: Eleven weeks.
Harris: It had been a 13-week program.
Q: It was cut back slightly.
Harris: It was cut back to 11 weeks.
Q: Was it cut back during the process when you were there?
Harris: They told us that we were going to be the first group.
Q: The first for the short course.
Harris: The first short group to go.
Q: Did you know what they cut out in terms of your training?
Harris: I have no idea.
Q: Little less Rifle Drill and a little less Gymnastics probably?
Harris: I don't recall us ever having Rifle Drill. We'd just have the small hand sidearms. The one thing that I do remember is that we had a week called "Work Week" and the object of this was to get you conditioned or at least have you having had one week of tremendously high pressure where you were four-on and eight-off for seven days.
Harris: Excuse me, four off/four on for seven days, and we did Mess Cook Duty and a lot of other things -- mainly Mess Cook Duty.
Q: Rotational duty amongst the platoons.
Harris: You really did get run down. Also Guard Duty walking the seawall. During "Work Week" I got quite ill and ended up in the hospital. I got the flu.
Q: I can just imagine walking the wall out there. You probably got a little cold air!
Harris: Ended up in the hospital and that's how I finished up my "Work Week". As a matter of fact I tried to continue but I got out of my bunk one morning and collapsed. I stood there for one second and just went down. It was generally uneventful. The main thing that I remember was that there was one farm boy who absolutely could not learn to march so he was not allowed to march in Saturday Morning Reviews. He was kept back at the barracks.
Q: So they did have people that weren't advanced as a result of a lack of skills in certain areas - as in marching.
Harris: He just had no sense of rhythm and could not march to a beat of cadence and his name was Barry. He was from a farm and they used to have him out trying to teach him how to do it. He couldn't do it so the only way we got through that Saturday Morning Review was that they kept Barry back at the barracks. He never had to participate.
Q: Oh, I was wondering how you managed to "Take the Banner" at the Saturday Morning Review.
Harris: He never marched. Barry never marched!
Q: He would have sunk you all for the weekends.
Harris: Oh, I don't know what would have happened if they would have found out too. We had no bad discipline problems and I think it was the learning experience. It hadn't shaken down yet to the way it was at sea.
Q: The 11 weeks were such that they had issued you certain clothing at the beginning. Did that carry through all the way to the end or did they issue you additional clothing at the end of this training period?
Harris: No, they gave us all our clothing at that time.
Q: Typical shoes, underwear . . .
Harris: The thing I remember the first day was that we were given our clothing and given a certain amount of time to get dressed.
Q: Of course the clothing all fit.
Harris: That wasn't [the case] in my instance. I neglected to put my gloves where I could find them and we were suddenly called to muster. This is March 4 - it was very cold - and we marched for three hours. They marched us and marched us. The object of this was just to wear us down, I guess, and this idea that we were the first inductees.
Q: Break the resistance, which supposedly was there . . .
Harris: So we marched for three hours up and down.
Q: No hats at all?
Harris: I had a woolen hat. It was slushy and cold and I caught a cold. I remember my fingers were frozen so I never forgot my gloves again.
Q: That's a good lesson. The process of assigning, of course people in increments to these vessels; did you have any choice of assignment? Did they have a list of assignments; a list of twelve vessels, and say top of your class gets the selection first and . . . ?
Harris: I had no idea why I was going to Radar School at the time other than I was going to go to sea. Then we were assigned briefly to go to Curtis Bay Receiving Station here in Maryland.
Harris: I spent the summer on "Sod Detail".
Q: "Sod Detail", I don't know what "Sod Detail" is?
Harris: "Sod Detail" was going out and cutting lengths of sod and repairing damaged grass around the barracks.
Q: Oh, that's "Sod Detail".
Harris: That was "Sod Detail". I protested that. I got Poison Ivy because where they had the sod they had Poison Ivy. That was no excuse. Only when I came down with it did they put me on new duties. So then I got on the "Coal Car Detail".
Q: "Coal Car Detail"?
Harris: Yes. What they were doing was bringing in coal cars full of coal and we had to shovel the coal into the conveyor belt.
Q: For heating purposes, I see.
Harris: So that was an interesting week.
Q: Messy duty.
Harris: Another one was lining furnaces with refractory brick. I became something of a hero because we were having the Devil's own time getting the refractory brick in and I realized that you could take the furnace grates out and get inside the furnace, and nobody else would do it so I did it and speeded up the detail, and the Boatswain's Mate was so grateful to me really that he gave me a lot of extra time off.
Q: Oh, that was great.
Harris: He was very fair. I remember those things. They stick in my mind.
Q: Of course the same process is done onboard a ship whose boilers present problems at times for the many people that are required to go through that process of rebricking. A lot of people, I'm sure, have the same memories. The time that you spent at this unit was in the summer there at Curtis Bay.
Harris: Well, from probably the end of June to the middle of August. August 14th we shipped out.
Q: August 14th?
Harris: We picked up the ship USS Peterson.
Q: The Peterson, right.
Harris: There at the Receiving Station we spent about five weeks going to the ship part of the time and also doing Mess Cook duty.
Q: Had the ship received its full complement of equipment at that time or were you in the process of carrying things on?
Harris: No, it was in the process of being completed and I remember it was pretty much a chrome yellow and a lot of electrical work going on. Once the electronic gear had been installed we were assigned Guard Duty at the Thompson machine guns and we had to sit up by the electronic gear from that time forward.
Q: The Peterson wasn't commissioned until the 29th of September, so you arrived as part of the pre-commissioning detail?
Harris: That's correct.
Q: And the crew, you were the prospective crew. Did you have barracks that you were living in?
Harris: We lived at the Receiving Station in Orange, Texas, which were cockroach invested barracks.
Harris: They were so thick that you never picked up the towel or washcloth, or skivy, or bed clothing without first shaking it out, and generally shaking out about a good dozen or so cockroaches. It is beyond the imagination how many cockroaches were there. You can not conceive of the number of cockroaches there were.
Q: Well underscoring that point, what did they do to control the problem?
Harris: Nothing that I know of.
Harris: The only thing that you did . . . its amazing how you accept things in life and you'd go to put your uniform on and you just made sure you shook all the cockroaches out and get into your bunk and made sure you shook all the cockroaches out. You take a towel and go take a shower and make sure you shook all the cockroaches out. They were literally thick and they were everywhere.
Q: I thought DDT was invented during the Second World War?
Harris: It wasn't working at Orange, Texas, and there is no way to describe the number of cockroaches. It is beyond imagination and beyond describing.
Q: Were the facilities very close to dockside?
Harris: No, as a matter of fact there weren't too close to the water that I can recall. We had to go by bus.
Q: So you left by bus and showed up at the ship. So the crew participated in painting and generally pursuing an outfitting role.
Harris: Generally my duty onboard the ship was simply security.
Harris: Prior to the commissioning, and then starting to work the equipment. Working the radar; we had technicians from RCA and Western Electric onboard so we didn't have to start it up cold ourselves, which was good.
Q: Did you have knowledge of the size of the crew; the pre-commissioning detail at the time?
Harris: No, it was sort of a surprise when we finally all got together.
Q: How large of a group was it from the Boot Camp that you were at? Did you remember any of the same fellows?
Harris: Nobody from Boot Camp onboard my ship.
Q: Okay. Then you participated in the commissioning ceremonies. What did that consist of? Do you recall what formal . . . who was the guest speaker perhaps or who christened the vessel?
Harris: The vessel had been already sort of christened so to speak having been launched and I do remember that it was sort of a severe . . . it seems to me at the time that things were rather severe. We had an officer; a Commanding Officer, who was a very austere, kind of aloof and distant person.
Q: That would be Lieutenant Commander Richard Rea [USCG].
Harris: Right. Mr. Rea definitely belonged to the "School of Thought" that there should be a great cleavage and gulf between the men and the officers. I can always remember him being extremely oversensitive about maintaining this gulf and I remember the ceremony; my being in awe of Commander Rea. That is the main thing that I remember.
Q: He was a Cadet from the Coast Guard Academy in 1929 and he was commissioned an Ensign in 1933. He was from Hartford, Connecticut. Do you recall any particular details about the commissioning ceremony other than maybe his speech?
Harris: Strange thing that you mention it. I have the vaguest recollection of the Jack being raised on the bow.
Harris: The vessel was placed in commission in a sort of formal air but I think that we got right to it.
Q: Not a lot of time for reflection.
Harris: No, not a lot of time for reflection. I think the first thing we did was set the Special Sea Detail and get underway. I think that the Joyce was first and we followed the Joyce.
Q: Right out of the harbor?
Harris: Right out, yes.
Q: The ship was provisioned?
Harris: A lot of provisioning work was going on and loading of supplies. We really went down from Orange, I think, straight down to Galveston and there we did most of the making of it ready.
Q: Most of the dry dock work?
Harris: Really making ready for sea. Most of it took place there. Getting ready in Orange, Texas was mostly getting the ship moving.
Q: Do you recall any of the builders going aboard and going as far as Galveston? That would have been the first port of call after the ship was commissioned.
Harris: I remember the pre-shakedown. The thing that I remember particularly was that I was down in the Radio Shack and they opened the ship up to flank speed and everything that was loose came apart.
Q: Oh yes, rivets coming off and whatever.
Harris: Right. One of the radio transmitters was shaking violently and I can remember the Communications Officer saying to a company technician that that had to be better secured and that he wouldn't approve it for installation until it was better secured. What they did was to mount shocks on the overhead as well as the base.
Q: Oh I see, to prevent the . . .
Harris: To prevent the vibration.
Q: Did you notice any other problems that you can recall?
Harris: Well not at that particular segment. I do remember that when we set out from Galveston to Bermuda that . . .
Q: That was October 6?
Harris: The steering engines kept going out and we spent more than a little bit of time going in tight circles to the left because there was something in the design of these engines that they had to offset each other in the pneumatic system, that if one pushed the other -- sort of like muscles -- it was sort of like being spastic. The one that offset the other was the one that controlled the right rudder. It went out, so that the left one; the one coming from the left, pushed it into a full left turn.
Harris: The Captain didn't want to stop dead in the water because he was afraid of being torpedoed.
Q: Certainly there was a degree of that.
Harris: My correspondence with Klaus Haenert (U-550 Skipper) confirms that because he spent some time in the Caribbean and sank a lot of ships, and in any case we'd go around in circles. And then the other thing was that when we dropped depth charges a lot of electrical equipment would go out. And we never did cure the problem with the lube oil pumps.
Q: Lube oil pumps?
Harris: What happened there was that if you had an interruption in the voltage; of generator voltage, the lube oil pump would go out and when the lube oil pump went out there was an automatic cut out at which the Fairbanks Morse Reversibles would go out.
Q: Fairbanks Morse?
Harris: They would go out and the ship would stop dead in the water. We never did cure that problem the whole time that I was on the ship. In any time -- not any time -- but many times when we had an interruption in our electrical power, including in front of the convoy at night, the Peterson would stop dead in the water. It scared the daylights out of you but of course . . .
Q: Was this indicative of that particular vessel or the class of ship?
Harris: It was a problem indigenous to the Peterson.
Q: Just to the Peterson?
Harris: As I understand it.
Q: The Captain must have felt uncomfortable there?
Harris: Well the Chief Engineer had known by rote what the problem was -- that interruption of electrical power then lube oil pump fails, lube oil pump fails then FMR goes out. That was the scenario.
Q: Did you have a ship's mascot other than the cockroaches from Orange, Texas?
Harris: At one point aboard the Peterson we did have a dog as a mascot. This dog seemed to be very well liked by the crew and fitted in very well and got his sea legs. There was no particular problem as I recall but he came to a tragic end. Some of the fellows were playing ball on the fantail one day and the dog was accustomed to jumping up and catching the ball, and in this instance the ball went through the railing on the side. The dog leaped through the railing and caught the ball midair but then landed off to the side of the ship's wake and then preceded to swim after the ship in the wave with the ball in his mouth and disappeared and got smaller and smaller, and a call was made to the Bridge about the fact that the dog had gone overboard but the Officer of the Deck said since we were part of the convoy screen that we couldn't alter our course for the dog. But later the Captain said he would have done it if he had been informed.
Q: The morale of the crew being judged as worth the expense.
Harris: Trouble. I can't tell you how badly it affected the crew. Really people were down in the mouth about it and the Officer of the Deck had never been popular but he became even more unpopular.
Q: Do you remember his name?
Harris: I do. I don't know if you want to mention it.
Q: Oh certainly.
Harris: His name was Manning.
Harris: He was a Lieutenant. I think it was Robert Manning.
Q: Robert Manning. We have an Admiral Manning in the Coast Guard today.
Harris: I don't think it is the same person. This particular Manning had taught at Yale.
Q: Taught at Yale.
Harris: He was very academic - and really it was a case of the country at war - and he had received his commission by virtue of his very extensive education. He has a Master's Degree and maybe a Ph.D. He had done nothing else. He was in his thirties but had done nothing but go to school until the war, so he had a manner about him that was certainly different from the manner of the 200 and some odd men of all levels of society.
Q: So the officers were six and seven in number aboard that ship or do you remember?
Harris: I think at one point we were up to about ten officers. They had increased the complement at one point up to 225 and we were overcrowded and we were using bunks. They also built Emergency Officer's Quarters over the steering engines, which was actually the worst place in the whole ship to be.
Q: Why was that?
Harris: Between the noise and the vibration and then the pitch of the ship it was like living underneath a sea-saw.
Q: Were these stretched canvas bunks or hammocks?
Harris: For the men these were hammocks but not for the officers in the emergency quarters.
Harris: These were hammocks.
Q: Did they hot rack the troops in those or were you able to possess rights to that bed on a 24-hour basis?
Harris: We had rights to our bunks but there were a few who had this problem who had to sleep in bunks. As I recall it was just a very uncomfortable situation for those persons.
Q: Were these hammocks three high or four high?
Harris: The bunks were three high.
Q: Probably on two sides I would think.
Harris: On two sides of a stantion, at least amidships where they had the middle portions of the compartments.
Harris: So you were separated from the person adjacent to you by about six inches and a station at the head of the bunk and during the day they would be triced up at an angle with chains.
Q: With chains?
Harris: Yes, there would be more room and we would sit on locker tops. The lockers fitted under the bottom bunk actually. There were two or three bunks or lockers.
Q: The increase in crew size, did that come as a result of something particular?
Harris: The ships were originally designed with three torpedo tubes.
Q: Three torpedo tubes.
Harris: One Twin 40 and some 10-millimeters running up and down the sides and it was perceived very early on that the torpedoes were useless and that the biggest threat was really from the air and also from surface fire perhaps from a submarine. They figured a 40 could do a better job so they removed the torpedoes and we were given quad 40s plus two twin 40s and that increased the cruise requirements, and we increased the number of 20s and we had three 3-inch 50s, quad 42, twin 40s and ten 20s. Between the loading; ammunition loading and passing requirements, I think the crew went up like somewhere between 185 to 225.
Q: 185 to 225.
Harris: We picked up about 40 men.
Q: That is a good increase. Before I forget, did the mascot have a name?
Harris: I don't remember the mascot's name. I can't think of his name. I can just remember what he looked like.
Q: What type of dog was he?
Harris: A little long-haired wirey dog sort of more than anything, probably like a Scottish Terrier, maybe a silver-haired Scottish Terrier, but he wasn't really a thoroughbred. He was in that category of dog.
Q: Was he picked up in Bermuda or was he picked up in Galveston?
Harris: I think he was picked up probably in Brooklyn because we used to pull into the Navy Yard. The thing that was interesting about this was within 24 hours of the dog's demise we encountered a gale.
Q: Oh yes, very superstitious occurrence.
Harris: Everybody thought it was Providence - as punishment for not going back to the dog. Really people think like that!
Q: Was this the bad gale that hit the ship as she was coming back?
Harris: I don't know if it was "the bad gale". We had several bad gales and there was one gale that stood out above and beyond all others. But in this instance it would be hard to relate it to the worst.
Q: So right after the dog was last seen over the fantail.
Harris: We encountered a gale; our worst experience aboard ship in terms of weather. There were two worst experiences, one was a very heavy gale where we lost - we took green water down the funnel - where we lost everything about two thirds on the way up forward on the weather deck.
Q: That must have been August 19, 1944 when you had a hurricane of 100 knots that hit the ship. You were off . . . I guess the tanker Jacksonville was sunk during that particular convoy.
Harris: The Jacksonville was torpedoed off of Northern Ireland.
Q: Right, and it was a very bad hurricane that hit you coming back on the . . . .
Harris: That was the more fearsome but it didn't do as much damage because of the gale that I described. I can't place the gale in time other than it was one of the many gales that we encountered.
Q: Okay, that's fine.
Harris: That gale . . . it was two-thirds on the way forward on the weather deck that these watertight doors that are usually left open when the weather is nice and closed when the weather is bad, they are closed so that the water is diverted from running the full length of the weather deck. In this particular instance the water just went right through that door on the portside like it was cigarette paper; like a pack of cigarettes.
Q: Force of the gale.
Harris: Force of the gale went right through and it tore off funnels and it tore off depth charges on the portside.
Q: They were damaged?
Harris: The depth charges were rolling around the fantail and it was nighttime and a certain number of the crew was detailed to go up and to get these depth charges off the fantail because you could hear them rolling around and slamming into everything. Of course the obvious was on everybody's mind; when are we going to blow up? So a couple of guys did go up and they secured lines to protect themselves but the depth charge racks on the portside were all gone. Everything on the portside wing went . . . we took this one tremendous wave and the ship, it was just like running into a brick wall while driving a car.
Q: Plus the water.
Harris: And that was really worse than the hurricane. The hurricane didn't do as much damage. It was superficial compared with . . . it was light. We rolled a lot and the worst roll that we took was in clear weather I believe in the spring of '44 or the winter of '44 on a training session out of Casco Bay. It was a bright clear gale and the ship was oscillating at a certain time and I guess it was in a turn or something where we oscillated and hit a wave and rolled 57 degrees and just stayed there. I was in the radar shack and had my feet up on the desk and I was standing on the side of the desk. That's where I left the seat and was standing on the bulkhead on this desk, which was the bulkhead.
Q: Pretty big roll!
Harris: It was 57 degrees and the ship just hung there and everything was . . . everybody just hung there because we weren't sure whether it was going to continue or come back. The radar shack is right in back of the wheel house and the Quartermaster said that his eyes were as big as saucers and it was 57 degrees. Now that was in a clear bright sunny day. There were very heavy winds.
Q: But it was at 60 that you would go over on the side.
Harris: It's said that at 60 degrees we'd go over. Well if it's designed well a ship should come back even at 60 degrees and this was 57.
Q: That was the worst roll that you can recall? What do you recall the crewmembers saying after going through that experience?
Harris: Well everybody was just astonished and thought we were going to go and everybody was just replaying it over and over.
Q: Was the ship's dog onboard at that time?
Harris: No, he was not onboard at that time. But the psychologically most traumatic experience was the hurricane and the thing that was very interesting about that was the Captain, Sidney Hay. It was a little vague what the Captain had done in civilian life now that he was about 42 years old but it was our understanding that he had operated yachts for wealthy persons. That was his occupation and he seemed to know a lot about the sea in a different way from the Academy people but he was a good officer.
Q: He had his feet in the water rather than feet on the ground.
Harris: But in any case, during the height of the hurricane Captain Hay took the helm himself for four hours. He decided that he could not properly command the ship from the Bridge. He came down from the wheel house and relieved the Quartermaster and for four hours, by himself, Captain Hay operated the helm.
Q: This was that storm that hit off of Londonerry?
Harris: No, this was the storm that hit off the coast of New Jersey, the one in which the [USS] Warrington went down.
Harris: The destroyer Warrington went down. We got reports from the Warrington for a couple of days that they lost a hatch forward and the hurricane had come up the coast and we got these reports of what was happening. They stuffed mattresses and planking and everything else that would move up forward into that compartment trying to keep the water out. It didn't work and finally they took on too much water and things got out of critical balance and the ship went down.
Q: Do you recall any of the crew members being rescued by your ship?
Harris: No, they were far from us and they were . . . we had this unique drama playing out. We were coming back from Europe.
Q: Yes. Was this convoy second?
Harris: Oh, this was in '44. Probably this was our fifth or sixth.
Harris: We made 11 round trips and 22 crossings. So this was probably halfway through our North Atlantic experience and the current hurricane was coming up the coast and we were getting these reports about it from the Warrington.
Q: A DD?
Harris: She was a destroyer; a Navy DD.
Harris: She started reporting she had lost a hatch and she was taking on water and telling us what they were doing.
Q: Casualty Reports.
Harris: We were coming the other way and our hope was that we were going to beat the hurricane into port. It did not work out that way and we were about maybe four or five hours to go up the coast of New Jersey and the water was as calm as glass. It was very smooth, as smooth as this coating on this photograph.
Q: Part of the storm, yes.
Harris: It was the calm before the storm and the air got very heavy and hazy and then around 1700 the ship started to roll in the swells just after chow, and the ship started to roll from it more frequently and it just hit like a son of a gun.
Q: Can you recall what you had for chow?
Harris: The only that that I recall was that Captain Hay . . . we had the dog then, yes, because someone was holding the dog. I remember the dog was . . . .
Q: Generally the dog or the ship's mascot goes around the chow area aboard the ship or the dining hall.
Harris: We had him up in the CIC room and someone was holding him because he couldn't cope with the rolling. Oh yes, I remember that very clearly now.
Q: Eyes rolling inside of the dog.
Harris: Well someone was holding the dog and I think at one point Captain Hay held the dog.
Harris: Then he took the wheel and the thing that I remember was the crew sitting around with their lifejackets on in the passageways and hardly anybody was in the sleeping areas. We had a Special Sea Detail for a while, then he eased up on that and then that was the . . . .
Q: As the rolls were getting better?
Harris: He just decided there was no cause having all these people . . .
Q: Standing around waiting for a disaster.
Harris: . . . waiting for a disaster. After he once got the sense, the hang of it, the feel of it, I got relieved on the radar and I asked permission to go below. I was given permission to go below. As I did so I went through the passageways and all the doors were closed and dogged down tight.
Harris: We'd take these waves and the water would come through the seams like water through a fire hose.
Q: Pretty heavy wave action.
Harris: Yes. Then there were passageways . . . I was going aft into the passageways and the passageways were full of water and sloshing back and forth, and I went down into the sleeping quarters and hardly anyone was there and the ship would take these tremendous pitches over the waves and drop, so that if you did get into the bunk you could be thrown out. I strapped myself into the bunk and went to sleep. Everybody else seemed to be in lifejackets and smoking cigarettes.
Harris: Well my escape has always been -- from stress -- was always to take a nap. I even do that today. When things are really bad I close the door and take a nap.
Q: You can turn the sleep mechanism on very well.
Harris: Yes. So I went to sleep and I woke up and the weather had abated. It was still nasty by usual standards.
Q: The first convoy that you had went from Norfolk to Casablanca.
Q: That was UCS-26. That left December 2, 1943, and that convoy had about 78 merchant ships and ten escorts as our records would indicate. This convoy had some rough going and coming back.
Harris: It was a terrible trip coming back.
Q: Do you recall going over, how that went?
Harris: Going over wasn't' too bad except certain curious things that had occurred. I don't know if these were recorded in the log.
Q: Maybe not.
Harris: Two curious things that occurred -- one was that of the ten escorts, two were Coast Guard.
Q: Two Coast Guard?
Harris: My recollection was that the other one was the Joyce. I may be wrong. I think it was the Joyce; DE-317.
Harris: We were at opposite flanks of the convoy. That was our first convoy; our first trip. We were still rather inept in terms of Seamanship. I do, with all respect, include the Reserve officers with men. They had, in many cases, no more experience than we did.
We were given a Change of Station Maneuver. It so happened that as a result of this, these two Coast Guard vessels, one in each end of the convoy, came so close that the anchor flukes of the Joyce took off the depth charges and damaged the racks on the stern of the Peterson. I remember being up in the radar shack of the ship with a guy by the name of Spangler who was watching as that ship is getting closer and closer and suddenly there was this little nudge -- you can just feel it -- and I went out and the Joyce was just pulling back from us and there had just been a grave misunderstanding as to who was to do what, and I didn't witness it but I was told it ended with the Officer of the Deck of the Joyce standing up there and waving his arms at the Peterson to get out of the way. I always thought it was extremely humiliating that the two Coast Guard vessels -- this whole thing that the two had to collide; and it is a fact that the flukes of the Joyce damaged the depth charge racks on the Peterson. I don't know how this was reported or how it was covered up, or if it was covered up as such or what.
Q: It requires training and experience on behalf of the crew to learn the required skills necessary to perform various maneuvers.
Harris: But we had, prior to this, a similar incident when we were in New Orleans for degaussing.
Q: Where the degaussing coils were being placed on the ship?
Harris: Again, the officers had not developed their skills in ship-handling. In this instance the Commanding Officer of the adjacent or outboard DE had intended to swing the stern out and then back neatly away. Somebody did something wrong and a line was let loose when it wasn't supposed to be let loose and instead he backed away, but as he backed away his flukes on his portside came down the weather deck of the Peterson and just snapped off stanchions like teeth of a comb. It just backed off and Commander Rea was furious to say the least.
Q: They ruined his ship.
Harris: He didn't say anything and the thing that was so funny -- enlisted men have a different perspective on these events -- this ship pulls off and the Captain of the ship, I don't know which one, but he gets up on the blow horn and he says, "Sorry Rea." That's all he said.
Q: Sorry Rea.
Harris: I always thought that was one of the funniest things that I ever saw in my life; even the way he said it. It was just so totally inept and inappropriate under the circumstances. I will tell you something that happened onboard this particular ship.
Q: Okay, going over or coming back?
Harris: Going over. We had an officer whose name was Richard Weinacht.
Harris: Weinacht. It happens to be the German word for Christmas.
Harris: Anyway, Mr. Weinacht was a young officer, a Reserve officer - I believe he was an Ensign at the time. It had been the practice going over that the Officer of the Deck and the Junior Officer of the Deck would rotate Bridge duty and the Junior OOD would come down and spend some time with the Radarmen and the other would go up on the open Bridge, then they would switch and come down. So Mr. Weinacht came down and at that time we had a table in the CIC room: Combat Information Center, so Mr. Weinacht propped himself up to keep from rolling and put his knees under his chin. And I have to add this, that we had not become too fond of Mr. Weinacht. That's all I'm going to say. So Mr. Weinacht came up and put his knees under his chin and started to doze off. He dozed off. My shipmate Tully looked at him and he said, "Should I wake him", and there was this thing about even supposing to acknowledge that he was asleep.
Harris: Maybe your better discretion was to pretend that nothing had happened. So he said, "I'm not going to do it." "Well I'm not", I said. This was about 2300 hours.
Q: Was he supposed to be on deck watch then?
Harris: He was supposed to be the Junior OOD and he was supposed to be alert, actually keeping track, looking at the radar, making sure the Radarmen were on the ball and the range and bearings were maintained from the guide.
Q: Certainly, on course.
Harris: On course and all that stuff. So with that Commander Rea comes into the room and he looks at Mr. Weinacht telling him . . . he looks at me and he doesn't say a word. We are dying. And Mr. Weinacht . . . the Captain writes in the Night Order, every night he wrote ten orders and it would be the same every night but it would be, "Report any contacts to me in his report."
Q: Standing Orders.
Harris: Standing Orders, yes. This particular night he wrote in the book and looked at Mr. Weinacht and he looked at Tully and me and bore holes through somebody with his eyes, and he went out and slammed the door to the radar shack so that it was like the door was going to come off. So Mr. Weinacht said, "What was that?" We said, "It was Captain Rea". Weinacht cried, "You're kidding", and we said, "No Sir." "No, you're kidding", he said. So we said, "He wrote in the Night Order Book". So Weinacht went over and he looked in the Night Order Book and he said, "Golly, why didn't you wake me up", and so we had no answer after that. He was just miserable for the rest of the watch. Just before we left we went over and we looked at that Night Order Book. In addition to the ten Standing Orders Captain Rea, I mean Commander Rea, had written "The Junior Officer of the Deck will remain awake and alert at all times." Well from that day on Mr. Weinacht's name was mud. The Captain just ran his rear end ragged. He never brought any charges against him and he never . . . everybody just knew what had happened. Tully and I mentioned it and it got around and he just really . . . so at the end of that trip Mr. Weinacht left.
Q: He left; he left voluntarily?
Harris: I don't know how you leave; how an officer leaves a ship, but at the end of that incident he left.
Q: New orders at least or granted leave.
Harris: New orders were granted.
Q: This was once you got to Casablanca?
Harris: No, when we got back.
Q: So you had a crew of about ten officers at that time. He was one of the ten.
Harris: I think at that time we had less than ten or we might have had eight or so.
Q: Okay, so when he left you had a replacement then?
Harris: We got a replacement for him. As a matter of fact he made quite an error on one of our trips with regard to the course. We got another officer; John Truesdale.
Harris: He's right here in town as a matter of fact.
Q: Oh really?
Harris: He is now the Executive Secretary of the National Labor Relations Board. He came aboard in April.
Harris: Truesdale. He is about 63 now.
Harris: He is five years older than I am.
Q: So . . . .
Harris: He replaced Weinacht. That was in April because that was the day before we sank the U-550; that he came aboard. So he stayed aboard at least through that time I guess. I'm not sure if we would have made another trip. I'm not sure whether on the next day we went on another trip and I don't think we did. We might have had another officer in "C" Division along on that trip.
Q: So did you keep in touch with him over the years?
Harris: Yes, I see Truesdale once in a while. I had Captain Wilcox from the Joyce and Mr. Truesdale and their spouses over to the house about 18 months ago and we talked about Klaus Haenert; the Captain of the U-550. I hadn't really known Mr. Wilcox. I knew who he was and I'd seen him from afar many times but it wasn't until I started corresponding with Klaus Haenert that I was motivated to get in touch with Mr. Wilcox.
Q: What other officers do you recall, in addition to Mr. Wilcox, who served aboard your vessel in this period of the first convoy; do you recall any other officer's names?
Harris: Yes, I was going to get back to the first trip. We had another Ensign along on this first trip across. We had an officer named Jackson. I don't remember his initials.
Q: Was he an Ensign or a JG?
Harris: Mr. Jackson was a JG. He was reported to be a shoe salesman in civilian life. We had all these stories about what the officers used to be in their civilian lives.
Q: Very interesting.
Harris: Well you see most of these officers were in the Reserve.
Q: Mostly Reserves.
Harris: These were Reserves and we had unkind names for them.
Q: What was Weinacht's reported occupation?
Harris: I think Mr. Weinacht was just out of school.
Q: The crew didn't assign him any particular occupation then?
Harris: Mr. Weinacht made one mistake. He was extremely smart. And as the Communications Officer he could copy code from the radio and the blinker. He put himself in a position of being competitive with the men under him. I think that was a very bad technique.
Q: Certainly never allows the Radiomen to gain any self-confidence.
Harris: No, not only that, it has a leveling effect. And if someone is better than the officer he is compromised. I'm sure that regular officers are taught about these things. I like to figure these things out later but at that time -- this was later analysis -- I think now about these things. It was a big mistake. He literally competed with his men and sometimes he triumphed. He was superior. I don't think that is the way to go.
Q: Getting back to this incident.
Harris: We took this convoy through the Straits of Gibraltar.
Q: This was during UGS-60.
Harris: Right. We actually took the convoy through the Straits. We took the convoy through the Strait and since our maneuvering hadn't been too good the Flag decided that we needed an extra day at sea on the way to Casablanca to brush up on our maneuvering capability. So at this point we were in a fighting line. We were either in a flank movement turning or in a fighting line turning into a flank, I forget which it was. But Mr. Jackson was also the Officer of the Deck and I don't think he had any idea of what was going on. And the signal was on the yardarm and at "Execute" Mr. Jackson said, "Very Well", and the whole flotilla turned. It was supposed to turn from a fighting line to a flank. The whole flotilla turned except the Peterson. We just kept right on going and the Signalman called out again and said, "Execute" and Mr. Jackson said, "Very well", and finally, reading the Signalman, knew what we were supposed to do. He yelled "You're supposed to turn to port". But about at that time it was evident to the Flag that we didn't know what the hell we were doing and everybody else turned and the Peterson . . .
Q: Went straight ahead?
Harris: Still going straight ahead.
Q: Not good.
Harris: So as the result of that we spent still further time out on maneuvers and it was just another example of . . . it didn't do much for Mr. Jackson because it got spread all over the ship and people didn't have a lot of confidence with Mr. Jackson at the Conn. But in retrospect this was wartime in the service and people trying to do things they hadn't been properly trained to do and did not have a lot of experience.
Q: He was the one, John Truesdale.
Harris: Mr. Jackson was simply . . .
Harris: No, he was the Gunnery Officer.
Q: My mistake.
Harris: Weinacht was the "C" Division Officer and Truesdale replaced him. I think there was one intervening trip with another officer.
Q: So Jackson was the individual that was suggested to be the shoe salesman on the outside.
Harris: That was the trip before the trip that we lost the Leopold.
Q: So you went into Casablanca.
Q: You went into Casablanca and offloaded. Do you remember the nature of the convoy; were they primarily in support of the North Africa Campaign or what?
Harris: I do recall there were a lot of troop ships.
Q: A lot of troop ships.
Harris: There were a lot of troop ships and I remember that the convoy was spread so far that it was difficult to get the picture of the entire convoy on the radar.
Q: Were there 78 merchant ships?
Q: Of that group of ten escort ships two were Coast Guard.
Harris: The two that were Coast Guard were the two that collided.
Q: The Joyce.
Harris: The Joyce and the Peterson and Mr. Jackson on that trip. The only other incident was when we were in Casablanca we were there for Christmas Eve and we went to mass in a warehouse type of building. I remember Christmas Day I had a pack of cigarettes and a French sailor went by on the dock - and I knew about two or three words of French - and as the French sailor went by I said, "Marine Francaise". He looked up and I was on the Signal Bridge and I threw him my pack of cigarettes and said, "Joyeux Noel" and he said, "Merci Mon Ami, Joyeux Noel".
Q: He was a member of the Free French Forces?
Harris: Right. I remember going ashore at Casablanca very surprised about two things. One thing was the French section, which was very modern and had a lot of modern apartment buildings. Then we took a guided tour through Old Medina, which was the Arabic section. It; the city section, was off limits except to guided parties so they had a shore personnel type who escorted us through. I think there was a group of ten.
Q: Loaded up in little trucks.
Harris: No, we walked.
Harris: Just like going back to the time of Christ. The streets were maybe like six or eight feet wide, garbage thrown into the street and the food was on skewers and stands. You could hardly see the food because of the insects which were covering it and all extremely dirty. I remember seeing an Arab man in a crudely woven gown with a fez. The thing I remember was that he was riding a little donkey and his feet almost touched the ground.
Harris: I remember the men who looked furtively at us if we looked at all towards the direction of their women.
Q: Did you have a feeling that you were welcome there at all?
Harris: No, I had a feeling that we were regarded with a great suspicion. Our guide was a 12 year old boy who spoke Arabic, French, German and English. The Germans had been there too and the French, and of course he was Arabic. He was an Arab boy. He spoke four languages and he told us a lot about the Germans. They had been there before us.
Q: What do you recall his comments were with regard to the Germans?
Harris: He didn't say anything kindly or unkindly, he mostly spoke about his skill in languages. The thing that I do remember is these young children soliciting us their sisters and saying, "Hey Sailor, want a piece of ass, my sister clean, clean, clean" and coming along and tugging on your sleeves.
Harris: 1943. I also remember the battleship Jean Bart, which was very beautiful.
Q: The battleship Jean Bart.
Harris: Jean Bart. It was hard hit. There was some dispute as to whether the French would oppose us or not in the invasion of Africa.
Harris: Some were with us and some were not and the Bart got itself into the position of being against us. The shore batteries took it out and a shell went through it and sank it in the harbor. It was raised and it was housing for French sailors but I don't recall whether the ship ever went to sea or served in any capacity after that time.
Q: Probably the nature of the damage was such that they . . .
Harris: Probably just a floating barracks really at that point. I do remember seeing it. The thing I do remember is that when we came into the harbor scores of Arabs came out in little boats and wanted to trade things with us for clothing. So someone discovered that a mattress cover could make a good shawl or gown for an Arab. He'd poke a hole in the top for his head.
Q: Quite a good idea.
Harris: Yes, so all of a sudden there was a big run on mattress covers. They were giving away trivia in return for mattress covers. There was a tremendous business going off the fantail until a stop was put to it.
Q: That was probably Captain Rea putting a stop to it.
Harris: Captain Rea. He was sort of a strict person. I can't remember exactly when it was but Captain Rea was sleeping in the Captain's Cabin, which was adjacent to the CIC room on a small bunk - he slept there once in a while when we were underway instead of in his larger cabin.
Q: Close to the action as necessary.
Harris: And the message came through at that time. The exercise was that as a Radarman you stood 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off during a four hour watch and if there was a message for the Captain the Bridge would call the Radar Shack and have us come down and we would take the clipboard and take it to the Captain, wherever he was, so that they could continue to copy since they couldn't spare a man. So I got called to go down and I picked up this message and took it down to the Captain - and Captain Rea was a very heavy sleeper. So I called him and no answer. I called him louder and no answer. I called and called and I couldn't wake him up. Finally I touched him. I touched him but I didn't wake him up and finally I shook him. For my pains I got the worst dressing down I had ever gotten in my life. You were never, ever to touch an officer and never do that again and did I understand that. He just chewed me up one side of the street and down the other. I was terrified. I thought I was going to go to jail for the rest of my life.
Q: At that time you were 19 years old?
Harris: 19 years old.
Q: He was at what age would you guess?
Harris: I'd say he would have been in his forties then.
Q: Probably in his forties.
Harris: Well he graduated in '29.
Harris: And this is 14 years later. He was in his late 30s or 40s.
Q: I was referring to Commander Rea.
Harris: That was Commander Rea.
Q: The ships then left; returned after their R&R in Casablanca, and your crew then in total went back.
Harris: The crew in total went back. The main thing that I recall about that trip was the tremendously bad weather.
Q: Coming back.
Harris: Out of 21 days back there were 18 days I remember. It was just stormy weather. The weather decks were awash and we did have one of two days where the sun broke through. I remember sitting out there and drinking the sun up.
Q: This was January, 1944.
Harris: The thing I remember particularly about it was how bad the weather was most of the time. One went from the After Sleeping Compartment to the Radar Shack through a passageway that went over the Engine Rooms and the air was fouled with the smell of diesel and it was an extremely depressing trip. I remember that. That was the thing I remember mostly about it. It was just such a God awfully depressing trip and I had a bad cold and I was given to sea sickness in those days; my first days at sea.
Q: Were you alone in that?
Harris: I probably had it worse than anybody because I acquired the nickname "Buckets".
Harris: The reason for that was that I had to sit at the radar set and I would sit there with a bucket. Sea sickness was no excuse for duty so I had to sit there at the Radar Shack with a bucket between my legs. Mr. Weinacht, it seems to me, had suggested that. I would vomit continuously and I timed myself one watch and I threw up every 20 minutes.
Harris: It was just bile. I would say not everybody was that seasick.
Q: During that 18-day period you were able to have something in your stomach . . . ?
Harris: Very little. I've learned its funny how you can adapt to anything. The way I learned to cope with it was to eat crackers and bread and never stop eating, that's how I conquered it. Then eventually I got to where I didn't get seasick.
Q: Just kept the mass in your stomach.
Harris: Just slowly eating, that is how I conquered it. Then eventually I got to where I didn't get seasick.
Q: On your later trips of course.
Harris: Later trips, yes.
Q: Do you recall the percentage of the crew that was also ill?
Harris: I have to say that in my state I thought I was the only person in the world that was sick. I don't know what the rest of the crew was doing or if anybody was seasick. It was unknown to me because as far as I was concerned there was only one guy on that ship who was sick and I was it.
Q: I wonder if there were enough buckets to go around.
Harris: We did get a Boatswain's Mate later on who would pass out.
Q: Hard to believe.
Harris: Literally he would just pass out on deck.
Q: Do you recall his name at all?
Q: Costanza, probably came from a shore station to that ship!
Harris: He would literally pass out on deck enroute from Point "A" to Point "B". He would just fall right there.
Q: Fall right there.
Harris: Fall right there. They would just find him. Whether he was truly out or not that is where they would find him . . .
Q: Psychological problem for some, and others, they react to it differently.
Harris: I could do everything that I had to do. I could operation the radar set.
Q: Just your minor impediment . . .
Harris: I would just throw up every 20 minutes!
Q: Yes. The second trip that you made was, as I recall -- according to our records -- you were with Escort Division 22. That was when you had six other ships or six others were DEs that went along and I believe that you left out of Casco, Maine.
Harris: Casco, Maine.
Q: Casco, Maine in January '44.
Q: So you just arrived and spent Christmas in Casablanca; 18 days you were at sea and came back to Maine. And now you were in Maine for it must have been a short while to turn right around and go across . . . .
Harris: We had something of a subsequent shakedown. We would go up to an island called Seal Island.
Q: Seal Island.
Harris: Yes, and we would bombard it with 3-inch 50 shells, off the coast of Maine.
Q: Trying to get the saltwater out of the gun tubes.
Harris: Trying to. We had a funny incident at that time. It was this Mr. Manning that I mentioned. Mr. Manning endeared himself to the crew because during one time we were firing pyro-techniques and he turned to someone in the crew and said, "My, what a passionate color!" That isn't exactly crew jargon and after this incident the crew did have a tendency to isolate him as a singular person and he did get the nickname "Mother Manning" after it was all over.
Q: "Mother Manning".
Harris: I think was an all right guy. You know how those things go. In any case we were practicing gunnery and I don't know what it was with Mr. Manning. He was assigned to this one gun and we would make these runs trying to get the fellows to load faster and have something to shoot at, and somebody forgot to tell Mr. Manning that we were resuming fire.
Harris: He was standing immediately next to the barrel. He was on the deck and standing next to the gun, which was elevated horizontally - and he was under it - suddenly we were back firing again and nobody told Mr. Manning.
Q: Out there in front of the gun.
Harris: His hand went like this and all of a sudden the gun went "kaa thud". It was like a scene out of a Tom and Jerry movie where suddenly Mr. Manning just stands there as if he'd been frozen in ice and comes to life, and turns to the crewman next to him and said, "Who told you to fire?"
Harris: It was funny and it was terrible.
Q: Do you recall any other names for other crewmembers?
Harris: I remember some of the crewmember's names. I could take you through the Signalmen. They were Reading, Gilbert, Warren Harder who was the Quartermaster. Dave Brownell was a Quartermaster. Radarmen were at that time; Frank Shelley, Bill Baker, Warren Benesson, Ray Tully, Collie Harris and Jim Spangler.
Q: Did they have individual names or any particular names that were attached to them for any deeds that they did aboard ship? You mentioned the shoe salesman being the "Handle" for one person.
Harris: I'm just trying to think if we had any nicknames. We had one fellow Daughtrey, who was a Signalman, and for some reason we got to call him "Kid Doc".
Q: "Kid Doc".
Harris: He was also the Ship's Librarian. He was a real rough diamond. I guess the thing that I got out of living aboard ship was that I associated with people that my mother never would have had me associate with and learned that there were nice people from all levels of society and that there were people that you could admire for reasons other than what their social status was. They were nice people. And I remember "Kid Doc". My first impression of him was that he was one of the roughest people I'd ever met. He turned out to be a real sterling character and a person whom I'd greatly admired and liked.
Q: Also with the Librarian title there.
Harris: He read a lot. We had another Boatswain's Mate who's name was Parker - I can't remember his first name - and Parker was probably competent enough but he'd earned over time the slight distain of his fellow crewmen. He acquired the nickname "Turkshead".
Harris: So we called him "Turkshead Parker". That was his name.
Q: The nature of the voyage was very routine. You were going from Casablanca, then back again to settle into a certain pattern.
Harris: We settled into a pattern of dismay and despair, frustration and disbelief, mostly young fellows who had never been to sea and a 21-day trip. This was a very, very long trip for someone who had never been to sea before.
Q: This was the first turnaround.
Harris: This was the first turnaround. It was out of this I remember the 18-day trip and it was probably the longest trip for somebody who had never been to sea before.
Q: This was the first turnaround?
Harris: This was the first turnaround and out of that I remember there were 18 days that were the worst. We talked about it for long afterwards.
Q: Shocked by it; the storm?
Harris: Shocked by it all. But beyond that there was nothing of great consequence to mark that trip.
Q: So after the gunnery practice on Seal Island did the ship go into convoy CU 16, which was a Fast Oil convoy, to cross again?
Harris: Is that the one we lost the Leopold?
Q: Yes, the Leopold was sunk on that convoy.
Harris: The sinking of the Leopold, should we discuss that?
Q: Yes, around March 9, 1944, your ship was south of Iceland and the Leopold was torpedoed with loss of life. Only 28 of 199 were rescued.
Harris: This is right. Well in that instance it was just at the turn of the watch. I think we had just gone on duty and we were taking over and going on the evening 2000 watch, which we used to relieve at about 20 minutes early.
Q: Twenty minutes early, right.
Harris: Right. I don't know why, just one of those things instead of doing it on the hour, just about 20 minutes before the hour, and Tully; R.M. Tully was on the set, a Radarman who lives in Bethesda incidentally.
Q: I didn't realize that.
Harris: Yes, Raymond Tully; R.M. Tully. Tully was on the set and he said, "I think I have a target", and I said, "Yes", and he said, "Yes, I think it's something real." As I went over to the radar set to look and as I went over to it I could see it just disappear. It was at 270, about four miles. Just about that time I guess it was the Leopold reported she had a contact too and that she was going to break off and investigate. So the Leopold went back to investigate -- and I can't remember precisely whether I think the Joyce was detached to assist - and we got a call and we got a TBS Message from the Leopold and he said, "This looks like the real thing." Then there was silence and the talkers were reporting they were seeing tracer fire in the dark and then there was nothing, and the Flag tried to raise the Leopold and then suddenly the first word that we had was Bob Wilcox; Commander Wilcox, then Commander, said, "I'm standing by to pick up survivors . . .", he said,". . . just like fish in a barrel." That was his first comment meaning the people in the water were just like fish in a barrel. The reason I remember this -- these words -- if you were not on the radar set; it was the Radarman not on the set that had to copy TBS talk; TBS traffic.
Q: TBS traffic was?
Harris: Verbal talk between ships; TBS.
Q: Talk between ships.
Harris: Tully was operating and I was copying so I remember some of these things very lucidly "Just like fish in a barrel." Also you got to where you could remember what they said because sometimes they would say, "What did they say".
Q: The Leopold was the DE-319.
Harris: From then on it was a lot of excitement and a lot of tension between the Flag and the Joyce.
Q: The Flag was on the Poole.
Harris: The 151.
Q: That was Captain [William B.] Kenner.
Harris: Yes, the name sounds familiar but I wouldn't have been able to say it.
Q: He was in the Coast Guard.
Harris: Yes. In any case there was just a lot of excitement and we could hear the talk between the Flag and the Joyce and the convoy fading off the radar screen. It was a realization that they . . .
Q: They weren't going to slow down to pick up survivors.
Harris: The Joyce stayed back for that purpose.
Q: Did you notice the flashes of gunfire?
Harris: No, I was in the Radar Shack. The only thing that I recall was that the convoy got fainter and fainter and the TBS traffic got fainter and fainter, and finally it was decided to announce to the crew that the Leopold had been sunk. So Mr. Jackson made the announcement, I remember that. He said, "Now hear this, now hear this. The Leopold has been sunk", and I had the headphones on at that time while he was making that announcement over the JV Phones and he said, "The Joyce has been detached to investigate." "Investigate" I think is the word that he used, or assist, but I think it was investigate. One of the things I remember particularly was one of our crewmen; Pegano, saying, "What's the matter with us, have we got shit in our blood?" So for the balance of the evening it was being on the alert and getting concerned about the rest of the convoy, and once in a while a very weak message from the Joyce getting weaker and finally catching up with us again.
Q: After having picked up whatever crewmembers were in the water, yes.
Harris: The real interaction occurred after we got there in Ireland. We were given some of the Leopold's survivors to bring back. They were distributed among the crew and among the convoy and the Gandy replaced the Leopold. We had several of the Leopold crewmembers with us.
Q: That was DE-764.
Harris: The thing I remember particularly was bringing back the crewmembers. It was the return trip that was more dramatic to us in some respects because these crewmembers did not sleep all night because they would describe their experiences. One of them was saying that the ship had broken in two.
Q: Having been torpedoed.
Harris: After having been torpedoed the forward half capsized and there were no officers saved. At one point the Joyce detected torpedoes being fired at her while she had several members, several people on lines, including the Captain of the Leopold, and then he had to turn and I'm not sure whether it was left or right that he turned but it was flank speed to get out from under the torpedoes' wake.
Q: Flank speed to get out of the torpedoes' wake.
Harris: Left Full Rudder, Starboard Ahead; he turned like that, and several of the men were sucked into the propellers and many couldn't hold on with the movement of the ship, sort of like when you are waterskiing.
Harris: So that is where they lost a lot of the men. I remember one of the crewmembers telling me that he was standing on the fantail and that the lights kept burning on the Leopold and the ship settled, and you could look down below and see the lights glowing and as the water was rushing in and then suddenly he was afloat, and in the excitement of the movement they had neglected to set the depth charges on the stern on Safe; they were all set on Shallow.
Q: As the ship was sinking.
Harris: So he; this particular fellow, told me that he got blown out of the water and had two ruptured ear drums and of course he was in quite a highly tense and nervous state of mind. These fellows would sit up all night and smoke cigarettes and that's all they did.
Q: The survivors?
Harris: The survivors of the Leopold. I do remember during the night that aircraft joined us. I don't remember if they were out of Iceland or Scotland.
Q: Somewhere in the night or early morning hours?
Harris: Yes, and they joined us and we had quite a bit of conversation with the aircraft and they were dropping flares and illuminating the sky, which is supposed to have been disadvantageous to submarines.
Q: In case they were surfacing to recharge their batteries?
Harris: Surfacing for batteries or a better shot. In any case it was more or less a recollection of disbelief, mainly disbelief, a lot of tension, and being a radar operator we were close to the center.
Q: And the information.
Harris: And the information but there wasn't a lot of information, the people looking at the Captain and a lot of the people looking at the charts.
Q: You mentioned that the Joyce was in the process of rescuing the ship's Captain of the Leopold but because of the necessity of getting out of the way of those torpedoes he lost the Captain.
Harris: The torpedo . . . and that was the last that he was seen.
Q: Coming along the side of the ship.
Harris: That was the last that he was seen. He was about 28 years old, something like that, a young man.
Q: The responsibility for the rescue went wholly to the Joyce.
Harris: Mr. Wilcox really did a great thing because my understanding is that there were two torpedoes fired at him and he avoided both of them with evasive action by turning the bow toward the oncoming torpedo passing and one passed to the right and one passed to the left.
Q: Smaller target.
Harris: Smaller target and one passed to the right and to the left.
Q: Quite lucky.
Harris: If you ever meet Captain Wilcox - even now he is 68 - he was quite a feisty young man.
Q: Is he in this area?
Harris: He lives over in Baltimore, in Severna Park. I'll give you his address.
Q: He was the skipper of the Joyce.
Harris: He was the Skipper of the Joyce, a young fellow then. I used to admire him from afar and he stayed with it all night and picked up as many survivors as he could but in the morning the bow of the Leopold was still afloat and there were some men hanging from the anchor flukes I am told. When the Joyce came close to pick them up they jumped in the water and never came up. You figure it was March off the coast of Iceland and the water was very cold and in fact it was amazing that anybody survived when you think about it.
Q: Hypothermia being the killer that it is.
Harris: Yes, it is amazing that there were any survivors. The Captain of the U-Boat's name was Harms. He was listed in Jergen Rohwer's -- a German compiled "U-Boat Successes" after the war -- book. I don't know if he is still living or not.
Q: The other individual is Captain Bill Wilcox, the Skipper of the Joyce. He is at [DELETED SECTION] Severna Park, Maryland. Okay, the Joyce stayed around until dawn and tried to rescue the survivors that were still visible.
Harris: Right, and at that time the only ones that were visible were on the bow. They were the ones that didn't come up. I was told that from eye witnesses that they just jumped into the water and disappeared.
Q: Hoping that they were going to be picked up.
Harris: They were probably numb already.
Q: They couldn't overcome the difficulties of the final swim.
Harris: He; Captain Wilcox, sank the bow. It was my understanding that they sank the bow. Bob can tell you more about that.
Q: Hoping to avoid being a derelict.
Harris: I guess they left a trace - the crew.
Q: The ship; the Peterson, was still being skippered by Captain Rea.
Harris: Okay, on that trip it was still Captain Rea. Captain Hay had been the Executive Officer and he was apparently ashore on that trip and Mr. Jackson was the Acting Executive Officer.
Harris: Rea was relieved on the next trip and Hay became Captain.
Q: April 1, 1944 the COs were exchanged. Concerning the remainder of the trip, now that the Joyce had picked up the remaining crewmembers from the Leopold and they were dispersed among the crewmembers of the Joyce, what do you recall, if anything, that the survivors might have mentioned about that particular engagement, such as . . . did you get the feeling they felt prepared or what?
Harris: I think they were not prepared and I think they were astonished. We saw the target too and there is sort of an air of disbelief about it in that there was really suddenly a target on it that shouldn't have been there.
Q: And they really did fire those torpedoes!
Harris: They really did fire those torpedoes. There wasn't anything really singular about the trip other than the recollection of these men being so distressed and that they sat up all night and smoked cigarettes. They would go to bed during the night and sleep during the day but not at night.
Q: So you had six survivors, ten on your ship coming back?
Harris: Probably five or six, not more than 28.
Q: So you had 28 out of five they dispersed to go on your ship. Of these survivors they were crewmembers above decks?
Harris: They were crewmembers. The only one I remember specifically about kept coming out of the water and was part of the Deck Crew. I don't remember anybody specifically being rescued. None of the Bridge complement was saved; nobody on the Bridge. That always used to distress me.
Q: Obviously concerned.
Harris: It just went right over and that was it. No officers were saved and none of the Bridge complement was saved.
Q: The mascot didn't make it either?
Harris: But the After Crew did.
Q: Those survivors that are still around are probably thanking their lucky stars. After that particular incident you had a new Skipper - this was after April. Now the ship was part of the convoy activity - two ships collided in fog and the Peterson was detailed to escort the Pan Pennsylvania after it was torpedoed by U-550.
Harris: Actually that is not quite correct. There were two other ships that were detailed. Are you familiar with a write up that was done, are you familiar with this? This is from a microfilm that I have and this is from the diary of the Eastern Sea Frontier.
Q: The "Sinking of the U-550".
Harris: You ought to have that.
Q: We can make a Xerox of these and have them back to you in the morning.
Harris: Okay. This is quite detailed from the various reports from these files by the Commanding Officers but specifically what brought this to mind was there were two other ships that had collided and we were detailed to guard the flank and in so doing we were rejoining the convoy at the time of the attack on the Pan Pennsylvania. It was a custom on Sundays to test the General Alarm.
Q: Sunday mornings at ten o'clock.
Harris: At eight.
Q: Eight o'clock.
Harris: 0800. I was down at the Mess Deck and it was close to 0800 and the General Alarm sounded and nobody paid any attention to it. We all just sat at the table and I guess people stayed at their bunks. Finally someone had to come on the loud speaker and say, "This is not a test", and "Go to your battle stations. This is not a test, man your battle stations." So I got up and ran to the Radar Shack and as I burst in one of the Radarmen was saying, "This is the torpedoed ship." That was the first indication we had that the ship had been torpedoed.
Q: That was the Pan Pennsylvania.
Harris: That was the Pan Pennsylvania. So we and the Joyce and the Gandy started to make a search for the submarine but one of the things which hampered the search was the submarine which was lingering in the vicinity of the tanker. Every time that sonar would get contact and check bearing 2,700 at 2,500 yards the Bridge would report that as the tanker. This happened until it was apparent to Wilcox that there was a slight disparity between the check bearing and the bearing of the tanker. He made a run on it and brought the submarine up and when he did that the Gandy followed close and when he reported that they did ram, as the ship's log states - showing remarkable presence of mind - the Captain had the sonar head raised before he rammed her, which did show remarkable presence of mind.
Q: Certainly being able to give all the commands beforehand, yes.
Harris: As he pulled away then we came alongside and fired our "K" guns along with short charges and straddled the submarine, and as we came away it started firing. And the thing that always sticks in my mind is that there was a lot of firing and I heard they were firing back.
Q: The submarine was firing back?
Harris: Somebody yelled they were firing back. That is in dispute today. We were really copying TBS.
Q: They were out of the water in any case.
Harris: I was copying TBS at that moment and what was said . . . the thing that I remember was I would write . . . you could get a lot of words on a page but during the height of this action I was getting one word per page because I looked at the log later.
Q: Oh yes.
Harris: I was so nervous and I was trying to control myself to write what was being said. I didn't miss anything but my hand was shaking so that the only way I could control it was by writing one word per page as rapidly as I could û letters about six to eight inches tall. I would write a word across the spread and turn the page.
Q: Go to the next one.
Harris: Really. I didn't miss anything.
Q: Was the Peterson originally planning to ram the vessel or was there any doubt about the position?
Harris: The thing that would stick in my mind is the fact that the firing was very intense.
Q: Firing sequence, okay.
Harris: We were firing everything that we had and finally the order came to cease fire. And something that bothers me to this day was nobody ceased firing and the guns kept firing and the orders had come in screaming, "Cease fire, cease fire." Those twin 40s were going "Kaboom", rhythmically pounding away. I guess that order was given five or six times before the gun began to let up. They didn't just stop. It just let down and finally died down and a voice kept screaming, "Cease fire, cease fire!" I always thought about that because in reading subsequent accounts it always has seemed to me it would have been a lot of loss of life if the firing hadn't ceased.
Q: Loss of life on the German side.
Harris: German side because they were just all trying to get out. And out of 50 men, 38 were killed. There were 12 survivors and all of the rest were shot. I know there was a lot of wanton shooting because there were some descriptions by some of our men about shooting guys in the water. I remember one fellow whose name was Richardson who was in kind of a state of hysterical euphoria. He said, "Did you see that [guy], I shot his head off!" Of all the excitement I guess he . . .
Q: Was he on the crew?
Harris: On the Peterson.
Q: Was he on the 40-millimeter?
Harris: He was on one of the guns. He said, "I don't know which one that I shot. Did you see that [guy], I shot his head off!" It was that kind of scene.
Q: Well in the height of the battle, I guess after the Leopold.
Harris: Oh yes.
Q: After the Leopold sunk . . . .
Harris: After the Leopold I wrote that to Klaus. I explained that . . . I said that you have to consider what had happened on the previous trip and nobody was taking any chances. It was not apparent that Germany had not won the war and our perception was that the sea was alive with submarines.
Q: Certainly, yes.
Harris: That was my perception. I thought that this was one of many that were out there. That was my feeling at the time.
Q: Others certainly would be coming behind . . .
Harris: So then the Joyce moved in to pick up survivors.
Q: From the U-550.
Harris: From the U-550. I remember Captain Wilcox saying, "I am going in to pick up survivors", and he said, "If this son of a bitch torpedoes me I want you to kill every goddamned one of them." It is as though I just heard it two minutes ago. I told that to Klaus.
Q: Was there any doubt that this could happen? I guess it could of. . . .
Harris: I guess, you don't know. Our perception was that they were everywhere.
Q: Oh yes, the war had hysteria. It was fed on both sides.
Harris: Our perception was . . . my perception all the time was that every time an alarm rang I just assumed there was a submarine out there and that we were going to let him have it. Every time we dropped a depth charge I always assumed . . . today I know better only because I know the state the German situation was in at that time. You have to think in terms of what it was then. Your perception at that time was that the ocean was alive with them.
Q: With wolf packs, yes.
Harris: With wolf packs, and all the charges we were dropping were being dropped on submarines and yet there was some kind of mysterious invincibility that the Germans were supposed to have.
Q: Captain Wilcox picked up the survivors?
Harris: He picked them up.
Q: Yours didn't have any survivors on it at all?
Harris: We picked up survivors from the tanker.
Q: Just from the tanker.
Harris: And several of our men went down and these men were on hatches and on rafts, and our men . . . .
Q: Was the water burning?
Harris: No, I don't recall if the water was burning but the ship was burning furiously.
Q: It was high octane gas.
Harris: I think it was high octane. The thing I remember particularly was watching the submarine go down but it seemed to me that we were some distance from it. It seemed like being at the beach when the tide comes in and it comes up and washes over things. It seemed like the water more and more was washing over the submarine and all of a sudden it was pitched up and it went quickly, as I tell you that, it went down.
Q: There were 12 survivors.
Harris: There were 12 survivors. There would have been 13 survivors but one man died after he was picked up by the Joyce and he was buried by the submarine's crew.
Q: We were talking about the Pan Pennsylvania survivors.
Harris: It seemed to me that they were an extremely quiet group and we had very little to say to them. They weren't very talkative. It wasn't quite like dealing with the members of the Leopold. So I really, to my recollection, I don't think I ever really exchanged anything other than a nod or so.
Q: They were Merchant Marines.
Harris: They were Merchant Marine. The thing I do remember was that some of our men went down into the water and helped them get up. They seemed to be somewhat bewildered and when we pulled alongside it wasn't like what you see in the movies.
Q: Were they lifeboats?
Harris: They were on rafts.
Q: On rafts.
Harris: It seems to me that one of them was on something like the equivalent of a pallet; a forklift pallet. It seemed to me that it was not a particularly dramatic thing once we got to the submarine and started picking up the survivors. The Captain was concerned that there were other U-boats and I guess we all believed that at the time there were U-boats.
Q: Some people panicked a bit when picking up the survivors.
Harris: It was done calmly and it was done with remarkable detachment. It was done with remarkable detachment. Really, as I think about it now, those guys doing down the side and helping them to get up, later on they were given commendations for it. And there was a lot of talking about whether the Germans would shoot back at us and a lot of speculation about whether there were others, and the rest of the trip was spent with a lot of expectation of further action but there really wasn't anything else that really happened after that other than that we were probably a little trigger happy for the rest of the trip. I think at any time we got a contact we were ready to think it was another submarine.
Q: Another opportunity for a battle, yes.
Q: The length of time that you spent getting the survivors out of the water from the Pan Pennsylvania, was it several hours?
Harris: No, I would say that it was all accomplished in a matter of 40 minutes.
Q: Forty minutes, yes.
Harris: I wouldn't say it was an hour. I think the thing moved very rapidly as a matter of fact. Then we overtook the convoy and the Flag.
Q: Do you recall the ship's speed at the time?
Harris: We probably overtook the convoy and did something over 21 knots, in that vicinity. I know 22.5 was flank speed and the Captain never did that except . . .
Q: Avoiding torpedoes?
Harris: We never did it ourselves. We did do flank speed once or twice for test or evaluation purposes. I think 21.5 was about as fast as we could go then. He would turn it up or down a few revolutions, which would smooth out any vibrations. So that was about the only thing that I recall other then being very apprehensive that there might be further activity. It was quite dramatic when we got to Ireland because we had to turn the crew over to the British.
Q: It was the crew from the submarine and . . . .
Harris: We were turning over the survivors from the tanker.
Harris: But also we turned over . . . the Joyce turned over the Germans to the U.S. Marines who came to take them away. It was rather an interesting scene in kind of a sort of chivalrous or gallant way. They brought the Germans up on deck and then up on the dock. It was sort of a nice day as I recall and the Germans were dressed in American fatigue and work gear clothing and some of them had on jackets; the zipper jackets, the warm jackets. And one of them, it seemed to me, had on a watchstander's hat but they seemed to be not well fitted and there was something about their manner and several of them were bandaged and they had been wounded. Captain Haenert had bandages over one of his eyes as he had been shot through the bridge of the nose, although I didn't have any way of knowing it at the time. But I remember he had bandages over his eye and that he had long blond hair.
After the crew was lined up Wilcox said something - I can see this from the Flying Bridge of the Peterson. Many of us were looking up at this time - then Wilcox said something to the Germans. Then the German officer; the Captain called Haenert, gave them an order to salute so they all saluted and then he stepped forwarded; took a big step forward, and shook hands with Captain Wilcox. It was sort of gallant you would think.
Q: The survivors thanking the Joyce.
Harris: So they were put on a truck and taken away. I remember they were looking all around. I don't think they were told where they were. I think they were just glad to be in a nice setting. We were in Londonderry, Lisahally in Lough Foyle. It's a very beautiful setting there; green hills all around sort of a pocket, green hills on either side and it was kind of bizarre in a way as you go into Lough Foyle, on the starboard side entering the Irish Free State it comes around to the north.
Q: That is Lough Foyle.
Harris: Lough Foyle. That is coming in. You're on the heading of 240 and on your right; on the starboard side, is the Irish Free State. There we used to admire a castle up on the hill and also think about the Germans looking down on us. We used to know that they looked down on us. Probably our arrivals and departures were reported. On the portside was Northern Ireland just at the wave. The geography is right there and the Free State comes up and hooks up to the north around it, sort of a pincer or spur. So we always knew that we were observed coming and going out of Lough Foyle and figured that the Germans . . . we used to crack jokes about the Germans telling them, "There goes DE-152", and things like that.
Q: How long did that take place - the transiting - about 30 minutes to an hour?
Harris: I would say the whole thing took place in about 20 minutes.
Q: Twenty minutes.
Harris: So you mean bringing in the Germans?
Harris: Bring them up on deck and turn them over and be done with it; 20 minutes or less.
Q: They took them away in the truck and then your ship got underway again.
Harris: After a few days we resupplied and took another convoy back.
Q: Did the crew get any liberty at that time?
Harris: We always had liberty. Actually Lisahally was a very nice place to stay because we were in Ireland, which was relatively sparsely populated if compared to New York or Boston.
Harris: And the . . .
Harris: Lisahally, right outside of Londonderry. We had a nice baseball field and we could go right ashore and play ball. You could see the ball field from the deck of the Flying Bridge. It was an easy trip into town. Into Londonderry it was maybe 15 or 20 minutes and generally speaking it was quite picturesque. I used to really enjoy going there so it was a nice place to get to and to be. We made several visits to there. We had one other encounter with a U-boat in that vicinity and I don't know whether they are in your records because they are not specific to the Peterson. But in our convoy in August of '44, the Jacksonville . . . .
Q: Yes, August 19th.
Harris: Right, August 19th.
Q: That is when the CU-36 convoy departed from New York and the tanker Jacksonville was sunk off . . .
Harris: Lough Foyle. That was interesting and that was a shocker because we would make a couple of trips and they would develop a routine.
Q: Routine onboard ship?
Harris: Routine onboard ship and a routine about the trip. The trip psychologically . . .
Q: You get into an 18-day cycle.
Harris: You get psychologically adjusted. When you leave the people on the dock they get smaller and smaller and it seems like when you are moving away you are getting smaller as you pull away. Then the first swells hit as the ship is going through the narrows and then the tempo of the ship's engine picks up. Suddenly things are moving and you are standing watch. Just a few hours ago you were on liberty and all of a sudden you are at war. Then after you got to the other side, as you approached, we used to be really psyched about picking up the first landfall on radar. Based on the Captain's navigation we would pull out the charts and anticipate what we would see first, then we would just get a little trace on the radar at the 60-mile range. The big excitement over that . . . and what it probably was, we would start giving ranges and bearings all out of proportion to their importance. There was great excitement that you were coming in. We were within sight of land; clear sight of land, and we could see Ireland to the south of us and you could see the Hebrides to the north of us, and I literally said to myself as I sort of experienced relief as you do when you're relieved of stress and I had a certain feeling of relaxation that comes over you, "Gee, I don't have to go on watch again so I can go and take a nap." No sooner had I gotten into my bunk when someone started yelling, and it was the same Guy Richardson who shot the head off the German who said, "Run for your life, there's a submarine!"
Q: Run for you life onboard ship?
Harris: That woke me up. I ran up the ladder and the General Alarm sounded and I went out on deck, and there was this tanker burning furiously.
Q: The Jacksonville.
Harris: Yes, the Jacksonville was really burning. It had P-47s on deck and you could see them clearly. At first we were apprehensive - the submarine was close at hand. We spent the whole afternoon looking for that thing and we were detached and the British had taken over the convoy.
Q: As it was coming back into . . . .
Harris: Yes, we were going into the Irish Sea so the British came over and met us there and . . .
Q: This is the concluding part of the convoy and they caught us while we were coming back in.
Harris: I had long thought about that and that is exactly right; the concluding part, but it was also the confusing part because there is a lot of chatter back and forth and we were pulling away and they were moving upward going on, and what this fellow had done was sat on the bottom, came out and let us have it. So we spent the balance of the afternoon till dark looking for the submarine and we couldn't find it. All we got were bottom echoes because it was very shallow there. So we pulled into Lisahally adjacent to two British frigates. The next day they went out and he got one of them and that's in the end of Rohwer's book Axis Submarine Success' of World War II. So anyway, we talked to the crew of the surviving ship and they said that they saw the torpedo and they went into reverse and stopped and the torpedo went right by their bow and hit the other guy. It was really intended for them. It went right past their bow and hit the other ship. So he got that ship too. That was an interesting time because he did get away to our knowledge and we know now later that at that time he didn't get sunk. He did get sunk a couple of months later.
Q: This particular ship that he got; that he torpedoed, it was British, do you remember?
Harris: I can find it. It's in here.
Q: We can locate the information in that source you've cited too.
Harris: It is the next sinking after Graf Von Matuschka got the Jacksonville.
Harris: He got one the next day and I can't think of the name of it.
Q: This particular convoy; Convoy 36, which departed New York on August 19th and had the sinking of the Jacksonville occur as part of its history, there was also a hurricane encountered on the return trip to North America.
Q: Although no casualties were reported in the convoy records it must have felt pretty bad to be onboard that ship.
Harris: It was a lot of apprehension because, as I mentioned earlier, we knew about the Warrington. We knew that it had gone down and we felt we were going to head off the storm.
Q: At what point did you know about the Warrington?
Q: The Warrington, it was about halfway across.
Harris: We knew before the storm hit us that they were down and they went down that morning. They were in trouble for a period of about 18 hours.
Q: Oh, okay, so that was a long time.
Harris: They didn't go right down. We kept listening for reports. It was mainly the apprehension. The main thing that I remember about that tip, or an important thing about it, was that we went into the storm and I think we had 33 ships in the convoy and we were headed for New York and the way the convoy was routed we were on a northwesterly heading, and as the hurricane overtook us we had a turnaround and headed back into it.
Harris: We couldn't maintain steering while heading into the storm as it hit us in such a way that we took a heading of about 170. I really think I remember the heading was 158.
Q: Good memory.
Harris: I remember it was an "odd" number not ending in 0 or 5 and I think that was what the heading was. We were 33 ships plus the screen when we went into the storm. When the storm broke in the morning there was no ship in the radar range; no convoy ship in radar range and no escort ship in radar. We were totally alone on the ocean.
Q: Weathering the elements alone.
Harris: We had gone our own way as had everybody else and the whole morning; that following morning, was given to a lot of TBS messages as to where we were and where we should rendezvous so that we could restructure or reconstitute the convoy. I don't recall that we ever did totally reconstitute the whole 33 ships. I think everybody was just getting into port on their own.
Q: Everybody just went into port on their own.
Harris: Just get into port because we were so close and it was more expeditious to everybody than to hold everything up then regroup. We were that close. We were practically where we were when we got the German submarine.
Q: The Escort Division made part of a larger trip on October 16, 1944. So you left with the USS Durant (DE 634) plus four Navy manned destroyer escorts. At this point you made five round trips in seven-and-a-half months.
Harris: We were making very good time.
Q: Do you recall any of these five round trips in particular that you made?
Harris: To be frank, they were all a blur.
Q: A lot of trips.
Harris: Just a lot of trips at sea, a lot of trips, and a lot of heavy weather. I remember that particular winter; it was kind of grizzly winter, and there was a lot of heavy weather. There were no further submarine encounters.
Q: The tempo of submarine traffic seemed to diminish.
Harris: On one occasion we did come across a dead whale and it apparently had been dead for several days. Its carcass was covered with seagulls. We made the mistake of passing on the leeward side of it. The smell was sucked into the ventilators and it permeated the entire ship. It was the worst smell that I've ever smelled in my life and everybody was gagging. It was just awful, a dead whale. Apparently it had been depth-charged and that is what we figured must have happened. From time to time we would encounter a large ship or two we would watch.
Q: A ship or two by itself?
Harris: By itself, yes. I don't know why it would be that way. On one occasion we had some activity with a freighter. We would transfer some TBS equipment to it. One of the characteristics; one of the things that we would run into at least initially was the lack of credibility of the merchant ships as to the precision of radar.
Harris: A lot of the merchant ships had not received radar. Radar was pretty much a military thing. We would give orders, "Number 33, you are 100 yards behind station, close up. Number 22, you are 200 yards to the left of station, pull right, pull right." A lot of these merchant Captains didn't understand how we could tell. I remember one trip to Liverpool the Captain of one of these -- while we were in Liverpool - wanted to come aboard our ship and see, as he put it ,"This goddamn radar."
Q: This magic box.
Harris: Magic box. We took him up; the Captain brought him up to the Radar Shack and we put on a demonstration for him and made a believer out of him. He was really quite surprised and quite impressed. I guess the only other really interesting scene that happened occurred when we went into, we made a trip into Cherbourg at one point after the invasion.
Q: After the invasion.
Harris: Yes, we encountered several fast torpedo boats. We did not know if they were German or British. They just went by fast in the dark.
Q: Lucky in one case.
Harris: We were concerned about that and we were under restrictions about dropping depth charges because they had these systems for conveying fuel across the channel by a rubber tube.
Q: That was part of the contingency planning for the invasion.
Harris: Yes, they said we were not to drop depth charges in certain places. When we went into Cherbourg we escorted several ships - we just, the Peterson - and we got to the harbor and the merchant ships didn't want to go in because they were concerned abut the harbor being mined.
Q: Yes, okay.
Harris: So Captain Hay was really quite aggravated about their timidity. So to show that there was nothing wrong or nothing to fear except fear itself we went in.
Q: To please the crew no doubt.
Harris: We showed them that the way was clear. Then they followed and he muttered a lot of things under his breath. We did this identical thing but not by choice when we had gone into Glasgow, into the Firth of Clyde. There had been a good reason to be concerned because there had been reports that there was a German mine-laying submarine that had been in there and had mined the approaches. We were the junior ship so we were designated to see if it was so. At that time we were kind of really . . . I had my teeth clenched. We went in with teeth clenched.
Q: To prove it was mined or not.
Harris: Waiting for these explosions. I make no pretense of being a hero and I was just waiting for the ship to go.
Q: Was there a particular type of course that was steered; was it a zigzag course into the harbor?
Harris: No, we went just straight in. We made it and the others were going to make it. That was the attitude.
Q: So that was the idea. So you made it in and came back out.
Harris: The rest of them went in. I do remember the striking beauty of the Firth of Clyde. I thought it was one of the most beautiful sites I've ever seen. I really did like it. I thought it was lovely. I couldn't get over it.
Q: To this day.
Harris: To this day. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I would love to go back and do the same thing we did.
Q: Except you be the junior ship again.
Harris: Being somewhat of an artist I've always had a sense of beauty and it was always paradoxical to me that sometimes we would be out in these awful situations. They would really have a stark beauty about them; ships cutting into the sea and the heavy waves and the drama of the whole thing.
Q: Do you know if any of the crew members might have taken pictures?
Harris: I'm glad that you have brought that up. There were motion pictures of the sinking of the U-550. I have never tried extremely hard to find out who took them. Only one thing I haven't done was check the film listed down at the National Archives about "Coast Guard Activity in World War II." I haven't reviewed that yet.
Q: I wish you luck.
Harris: Might, if it is, I'm going to get a video tape of it. I have ascertained that the film existed but I didn't have time to review it.
Q: I know that we've done some work in terms of reviewing pictures that were there for the Normandy anniversary.
Harris: Do you think it might have been in there?
Q: I was not involved in the reviewing of that footage. I know there is a lot of footage there that isn't labeled.
Harris: When I get down there I have the same problem. There were some other interesting incidents when the war ended; we almost capturing . . . almost taking over a German sub and going through the Scilly Isles.
Q: Were you part of the ship as it entered the inactive fleet; when the ship was mothballed?
Harris: No, I stayed on the Peterson until we got to Pearl Harbor.
Q: You were saying that there were two types of DEs in the Second World War.
Harris: One was the FMR Fairbanks Morse Reversible diesels and the other GE turbines and their profiles weren't at all identical, and the turbines seemed to have something of a large rectangular vent running before and after the lower portion of the stack. So in this particular photograph of Captain Wilcox presenting the Coast Guard Academy with the model of the Joyce, what he is doing is rectifying an error because the Joyce is sort of a hero to the Coast Guard because of its sinking of the U-550. Someone had made a model, a scale model, a beautiful scale model, but they made the wrong kind. They made it of the GE type.
Q: Oh yes, okay.
Harris: They made it of the turbine type instead of the FMR. So Bob wanted to correct that so he got the crew to chip in and have a professional model-maker make it.
Q: Oh, very good.
Harris: So they didn't know what to do with the old model, which also said 317 on it, so I said that they should have them side by side and one could say "Before" and the other "After".
Q: Several questions come to mind from yesterday. You mentioned that you had escorted some ships to Normandy after the invasion?
Harris: Yes, to Cherbourg.
Q: To Cherbourg. What can you recall about the conditions at the time there in Cherbourg?
Harris: Actually considering when we were there the action had really moved on. We could see the shore and see evidence of damage, as I recall, but all things considered it was rather an uneventful time except for the fact that the waters had been said to be mined. We were the "Lucky Pierre" and tried to see if that had been the case.
Q: Had you or the crew sensed the timing for D-Day at all? I know there was a tremendous cloud of secrecy over the actual timing of that event.
Harris: No, I remember very specifically certain things that happened that day though, again, going back to this matter of the Radarmen being the radio messengers. A message was received in the Radio Shack advising that the invasion had begun and by that time Sidney Hay was the Captain of the ship and he was sleeping in the Emergency Cabin, and it was my task to bring the word to him.
Q: So you were on the Bridge when the messages were coming in?
Harris: D-Day, yes, I was on the Bridge as messages were coming in and so I was appointed to call by the Radio Shack to take this message to the Captain. I woke him up and I guess it was somewhere around 5 a.m. He muttered, "Well let's hope they make it this time", the reference obviously to Dieppe.
Q: Oh, yes.
Harris: Many people had thought that Dieppe; a seaport in Northern France on the English Channel raided by an allied expeditionary force in August 1942, landing was supposed to have been the beginning of the invasion, so he made reference to that. So at the time we were cruising northward in the Bay of Biscayne. It was sort of a brisk day and later on that day we received word that there were six German destroyers that were enroute to intercept us. I don't know where this word came from but there had been a radio message that there were six German destroyers who were out to get us. We knew that the destroyer escorts had 3" 50 guns and were no match for these destroyers so there was great activity aboard ship and all of our guns were limbered up and gun crews worked all day, and I remember in my case I owed a fellow ten dollars and I paid him. I don't know what prompted me to do that but it seemed there was some kind of relationship between that. As it turned out we did not encounter any destroyers.
Q: So you paid this fellow his ten dollars.
Harris: I paid him his ten dollars. His name is Jack Craig. He was a Radioman. The day passed and there were no German destroyers that pulled into view. We actually got to Great Britain without incident.
Q: The ship's Assignment Orders were to do what?
Harris: We were escorting the convoy.
Q: Escorting the convoy, right.
Harris: What they would do is they would route these convoys differently each time so as to present a perception I suppose to anyone that was making observations as to whether they were bound. In this instance we appeared to be going for a long time to the Strait of Gibraltar. I think we actually did go through the Azores and head north and head due north. I don't know whether this was the strategic plan from the beginning but that's how it was executed. I was going to tell you about the VE-Day. The reports finally did come through that the Germans had positively quit. We were there in a great state of jubilation over this.
Q: All the ship's crew?
Harris: Oh yes, we were quite excited and happy that the war had ended. We just passed, had left England, and I think we had been in Liverpool and we had stopped briefly in Plymouth on this trip and had deposited some ships and proceeded down to Liverpool. We had left Liverpool and proceeded southward and had passed through the Scilly Isles. Then the word came that the war was over. The German submarines began to surface and report their positions. There were three right where we had gone through that had, for some reason or another, not attacked us.
Q: Maybe they had expended their torpedoes.
Harris: They might have expended their torpedoes and or they might have considered that they were no match for air cover. By that time the air cover started to play a great role. I would have to say at that time I didn't realize that. I only know this later. By later knowledge air cover had become extremely important. So in any case it was something of a dramatic shock to find out that we had just gone through a field of three German submarines who were then ready to surrender. We then got a message that a German submarine had indicated its position and that we were to intercept. So we got a boarding crew together and since I spoke some German at that time - I speak better German now - I was appointed as a member of the crew; the boarding crew. I was going over in my mind through all kinds of phrases which might have been used. The Germans would have probably spoken better English than I had spoken German but in any case as it turned out we did not make the capture. Someone else was dispatched that was closer and we continued on our way. The big difference was that very soon after we got back to the U.S. and started south to the Canal that we were permitted to run with running lights. This was quite as big cause for excitement to be able to be at sea and not be in a state of apprehension that you were about to be torpedoed at any moment, and I always had this vision that the German submarines were lurking everywhere and in my mind there were thousands of them and they were everywhere. Of course it wasn't until much later that I realized that there weren't that many of them.
Q: What particular preparations was this particular boarding crew given prior to their going aboard a submarine?
Harris: We hadn't known it at the time but the U-505 had been captured by the [USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60)]; the Killer Hunter Group.
Harris: That had occurred about a year before and because of that they were able to provide us with diagrams of the layout of the submarines and where the key elements were and certain things to do in case of boarding a submarine. I think it was Admiral [Daniel V.] Galley. He was Captain Galley then. He had conceived the capture of 505 before the fact and was able to execute it, then with his success there was great incentive for others to try it and utilize the information that was gained from the capture of the 505.
Q: Such as code books and other . . .
Harris: The 505 was significant because they did capture code books. Actually the code books for the German "Enigma" had been obtained even a year before that through the capture of Fritz Julius Lemp's [U-]101 but we didn't know this. This was, again, knowledge that I know now and I didn't know then. Lemp had been brought to the surface and had abandoned his submarine under British attack and then realized that the British were boarding the submarine and he hadn't destroyed the code books or the multi-wheeled "Enigma" machine.
Q: Of the submarine?
Harris: So he started to swim back and his efforts were misunderstood and he was shot, and still according to the literature today it's still a bone of contention what really happened and why it really happened; that he was shot. But in any case the code had been broken by that time and that accounted for the fact that with our Huff-Duff operators it was very important that we intercepted messages because the content of them could be understood back at COMDESLANT or wherever it was that did these things. Whether they were sighting reports or position reports, that could be determined, because they had this information. But the 505 did provide us with the diagrams of the layout of the submarine and afterwards we were given some basic instructions as to key controls and things like that. However in recollection they were not very well drawn or prepared.
Q: The drawings of the submarines?
Harris: You heard me say earlier I was a trained draftsman and it stands out in my mind that the diagrams we were given were very crude diagrams considering.
Q: Considering they had the submarine?
Harris: And certainly there were people who could draw, could have done a better job than those who ever drew these sketches.
Q: Obviously there was evidence of seacock positions on these drawings.
Harris: And controls.
Q: And controls.
Q: Diving controls.
Harris: Diving controls and steering controls; things of that sort. So we were not exactly operating in the dark?
Q: So the German submarines at VE-Day were told to surface and give their positions so they could be turned over and this occurred rather smoothly. Did you have knowledge of any submarines that resisted this?
Harris: At that time I had no knowledge of any that resisted. Of course we know now that there were a couple that didn't want it that went all the way to Argentina.
Q: Oh yes.
Harris: And subsequently they gave themselves something of a pleasure cruise. They took quite a bit of time to do it, much longer than it would have taken. That's an interesting story. I imagine it would make a good movie.
Q: I imagine so, "A cruise in the Atlantic".
Q: Your ship returned from European waters having its running lights on and you'd been in New York for a little while and I would imagine the crew was granted liberty. Probably there was a great deal of excitement as the result of the war in Europe ending. What were your thoughts during this period?
Harris: By then a little bit of disappointment having to go to the Pacific.
Q: When was the announcement made, was it rather sudden? How did the crew get the original orders to stand by for Pacific duty or Refresher Training?
Harris: What we did do was we went down to Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Q: Directly from New York?
Harris: We went from New York first and then we went down to Cuba and Puerto Rico. Particularly off Puerto Rico there was an island called Culebra, which will forever be emblazoned in my mind because the Captain knew that I'd been a Draftsman and we were having to do shore bombardment practice there and the nature of our activities changed quite a bit. So we alternated between shore bombardment and aircraft fire and we worked with drone model airplanes out of both places, particularly shore bombardment. What I had to do was to take the map of Culebra and rescale it to draw it to fit the Dead Reckoning Plot and the Gryo Plot. This was sort of dirty pool in a way because we were being compared with other ships and I don't think any other ships in the group had the capability we did of redrawing the map that we were given to fire upon. So we went through very elaborate drills to accurately position ourselves on the table before the run.
Q: Oh yes, okay.
Harris: So this was very essential. So the Dead Reckoning Tracer is tied in with the Pit Log and the Gyro. There is some error but if you set it up for a specific run it is going to hold at least through that run. So we did all our gunnery control from that board. We got what could only be considered fantastic scores and the Flag really was calling over and saying, "That's great." He was going bananas and we were right on target and nobody else was even that close to what we were doing.
Q: The scores were very good.
Harris: They were amazed. The Flag; I can remember his calls on the TBS; Talk Between Ships, that this was really great shooting and we never ever told him what we did. But I can remember Culbera Island because we spent a full day doing this thing to scale. I was a little irked because the Captain would be telling me how to do things I felt I already knew . . .
Q: The drafting part, yes.
Harris: The drafting part. I felt I knew more than he did about it.
Q: In hindsight it all went well.
Harris: It went extremely well. Our scores were dramatically quite good. We were the model for everybody to emulate.
Q: Unfortunately they probably didn't have the same talent aboard their ships.
Harris: Captain Hay was pretty well liked by the crew. He had certain idiosyncrasies and procedures - we all do - but he was pretty well liked.
There was one occasion - I can't place it in time - when we were to have a ship's inspection over in Ireland or England, I don't remember which. Somehow we were to have a division inspection and the Flag was to come to all the ships while we were over there. Somehow we caught fire, so to speak, and we got the ship looking like a picture book. I don't know how to describe it but everybody got into the spirit of this thing. I just started and it was like competition throughout all the parts of the ship. The ship was absolutely fantastically beautiful. The knife edges were all steel wooled.
Q: Oh really?
Harris: Yes, we repainted everything with great care.
Q: Was there a couple of days to do this?
Harris: There were a couple of days to do this, just to get the ship looking good for this.
Q: For the inspection?
Harris: For the inspection. The knife edges just stand out in my mind especially. We did them up in the Radar Shack and everywhere so we cleaned the gaskets that laid against the knife edges and we did a little touchup with black paint. We painted everything that could be painted; the old joke about it, "If you can pick it up then pick it up and if you can't pick it up then paint it." That was sort of what we applied. So when the appointed day came, because I was a Draftsman, we had black boards, so we did very elaborate diagrams of what the convoy would look like. We had the Radar Shack looking, again, like a textbook illustration of what a . . .
Q: Radar Shack should look like.
Harris: The Flag came through and I have to tell you he was dumbfounded. Not only was he dumbfounded but several of the officers from other ships were brought aboard to see what a ship should look like, much to their great chagrin. We had several inspections that day from other ship's officers from other ships being brought through the Peterson.
Q: To see what one of the . . .
Harris: To see what a ship should look like when it is in good shape. There were several reactions to this. One was . . . nearby was a British ship and we used to exchange visits with British sailors. We were allowed to go back and forth. One British sailor said, "We're a fighting Navy and not a painting Navy." But the Captain got on the loud speaker later that day and said - it was like a Saturday -- and he said that he was grateful to the crew and that there wasn't a lot he could do for us individually for all that we had done but he said he felt he could do something, so he said, "Tomorrow morning there will be no reveille", and he said, "Except for watch standers you could also sleep late." So we had no reveille that Sunday morning except for the watch standers. We did sleep in.
Q: That was very good. That was a nice way to pay back.
Harris: Yes. I'd like to tell you another anecdote about Captain Hay.
Harris: Because it's, again, indicative of how he was liked and how he was. When we were down in the Caribbean it was extremely warm and I think it was in Guantanamo Bay that we were at anchor and we used to have an anchor watch for the radar. The object of that was to pick certain checkpoints and make sure we were not dragging at anchor. The likelihood of that was very remote and those are one of those things you did because if you didn't do it and you dragged your anchor you would be in a lot of deep trouble.
Q: So very quickly.
Harris: It was actually the world's most boring watch and you would sit up there for four hours.
Q: Anchor Watch, yes.
Harris: You'd look at the set every once in a while. As it happened I had the 2000 to 2400 watch and 24 hours came and went and no relief and it had been very, very deeply ingrained in me that you never ever left your watch unless properly relieved. So it got to be 12:30 and it got to be quarter of one and it was very, very warm. This is the key to the story. So finally I guess somewhere around quarter to one or ten of one this figure went by on the outside of the Signal Bridge, outside the Radar Shack, and I just caught it out of the corner of my eye and it was just a person in a pair of pants and no skivy shirt and no top. I thought it was one of the Chiefs in khaki colored pants so I yelled, "Hey". So the figure dashed by and went back in and it wasn't one of the Chiefs, it was the Captain, and I said, "Oh, excuse me Sir, I thought it was one of the Chiefs." He said, "Alright." He left and then came back a second later and he said, "What did you want anyway?" So I said, "Well Sir," I said, "the Quartermaster apparently didn't awaken my watch relief." He said, "Oh." He left again and came back again, "Do you know who he is?" I said "Yes Sir." He said, "Do you know where he sleeps?" I said, "Yes Sir." "Okay, go get him and I'll standby for you." So I told the Captain the range and bearing on the various points, he stood by and I went and found my relief and came back up until the guy got dressed. I relieved the Captain again and thanked him very much.
Q: It was very helpful of the Captain to do that.
Harris: It was very nice of him to do that.
Harris: So I always had very pleasant memories of Captain Hay. I was always sorry I never saw him again.
Q: I wonder if he is still alive.
Harris: No, he's dead. He died in 1970.
Harris: He died of a brain tumor. The reason I know is that I keep in frequent touch with the former Executive Officer, Robert McCullough. I remember speaking to Bob Brown in 1972 and the reason I remember it was '72 is because it happened that I was here at Commerce at that time on temporary assignment such as I am right now, and he said, "Well, you know, Sid passed away." At that time he said about 18 months ago he told me his symptoms; that he had blackouts and apparently had a brain tumor.
I have to tell you another story about the Captain. This is a story that I shouldn't tell you. My wife last night said that I told you all the wrong stories. She said that the stories that I'm telling . . . she said, "You're one of these guys who is going to start World War III . . ."
Q: Oh, I don't think so.
Harris: ". . . or World War II all over. But anyway, in 1944 the ship was in New York Harbor. It was an extremely warm August and Mr. McCullough, whom I just mentioned, was the Executive Officer.
Q: Executive Officer.
Harris: Executive Officer. He was a strong believer in training. As a result, when he became Executive Officer we were always spending a lot of time on shore between trips going to classes and anything that came up on ASW School or Fighter Direction School. I think that's what we did in Maine.
Q: Fighter Direction.
Harris: Fighter Direction schools. So he sent us up to Casco Bay and we did some ASW training. We got back to New York. I have to say first that it was not Casco Bay, Maine, it was Portland, Maine. It was a very cool August and very comfortable, very pleasant, and we were with a Mr. Ellis who was a Supply Officer; Disbursing Officer, and he was a former enlisted man who had a temporary commission and very convivious.
We had a pleasant time for about a week up in Maine and that is the point of the story. We got back to New York at the height of a heat wave and it was god awful hot by contrast with having been up in Maine and it seemed warmer and stickier. We had stayed at the Eastland Hotel in Portland so the ship was just grungy and hot, sticky and dirty, and it was awful. I went down to my bunk when we got back in the evening and I just couldn't sleep so I had an inspiration. I went up the Quarterdeck, up to the gangway, and I said, "Where is the Captain? Did the Captain go home?" The Quartermaster said, "Yes." He lived over in Verona, New Jersey. I said, "When is he due back?" The watchstander said, "Oh, he is not going to be back until twelve noon tomorrow." "Are you sure?" "Oh, yes", he said, "He is coming back around that time unless of course it's an emergency, okay." But I didn't say anything to anybody. But I went up to the Emergency Cabin, which is next to the Radar Shack, and turned on the two electric fans and I locked the door and I got a good night's sleep.
Q: That was one way of surviving the heat wave.
Harris: It was a very comfortable night's sleep and I just felt very clever at the time. I don't think the Captain ever knew. That was the Emergency Cabin next to the Radar Shack.
Q: The ship went through training down in Puerto Rico and now you were on your way to the Pacific on June 10-20, 1945. Then after the 20th of June the ship sailed for Japanese waters.
Q: Do you recall what the Assignment Orders were?
Harris: No, they didn't tell us a lot except, as I say, we got into this training with drone airplanes. It does seem to me that we did a little of it down in Guantanamo or Puerto Rico.
Q: So the threat was airborne?
Harris: Airborne; that was the object or the thing we were going to be concerned about. One of the things that was surprising to me first of all was going through the Canal, which was a very interesting experience.
Q: Panama Canal.
Harris: Panama Canal. First of all it was extremely warm and we were permitted to sleep up on deck. We would bring our mattresses up and we would find us a spot on deck and we'd sleep up there.
Q: Was the crew about 212?
Harris: Yes. So we slept all over the place and the Captain tolerated it. His main concern was that we got up promptly in the morning and he was quite brisk about that. Soon as reveille sounded everybody had to clear the decks but he did permit it during dark.
Harris: As a matter of fact one morning he was quite testy because some people didn't get right up and he threatened to withdraw the privilege; that he wasn't going to permit this if people did not clear the decks. Everybody from there on in turned to and did it.
The thing that was interesting was the manner in which we went through the Canal; rather than one ship at a time we went through a lock together, as DEs were of the size that you could latch four together.
Q: Four together.
Harris: Two, two and two. So we went through in groups of four, which was very interesting. The other was going through, I guess it was called Gatun Lake. So I saw my first alligator or crocodile and I saw that. The other was I remember talking to one of the canal workers and got my first practical lesson in sociology about working conditions in the canal. He seemed to be a very articulate man and very intelligent but all that he did was handle cables. He told about how hard it was to be employed and that there was so little employment that they actually were employed in accordance with the letters of the alphabet. They would call up so many people each day according to where their names stood in the alphabet and that was how he worked; one day a week or two days a week because there were so many people to be employed and that is how they spread the work around.
Q: Interesting system.
Harris: It was an interesting system. I don't recall that we actually went ashore or even stood on the locks, maybe at one point just before we embarked to the Pacific.
Q: How long was the process of going through the canal?
Harris: It seems to me it took us a day and a night, the next morning right out and through. It seems to me we spent one night just on the west lock.
Q: Tied up or underway?
Harris: Tied up, yes. I think it was then that I learned to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific by going from west to east. That is the way the canal is oriented. If you look on the map you are further east when you finish then you are from where you start.
Q: I didn't realize that.
Harris: Well look at the map sometime and you'll see the northwest entrance through the canal is further west than the southern. You are actually further east when you finish going through than when you are when you start.
After transiting the canal we went up the coast of Mexico, which was very beautiful and very pretty, and went to San Diego.
Q: San Diego was the first port of call after the Panama Canal.
Harris: Yes. That was interesting because they permitted us then to ride without lights on and I remember thinking that was very . . . I was surprised that we were allowed to run with running lights.
Q: Considering this was still a hostile area.
Harris: Yes, considering the Pacific was a hostile area. I guess they had a pretty good fix on where all the Japanese subs were so it was permitted that we run up the coast with lights on. We really surprised them.
We were not in San Diego too long as I recall but we were permitted to go to Los Angeles with specific permission and the fellows had a much more negatively fatalistic attitude about the Pacific than they did about the Atlantic.
Q: Crew members . . .
Harris: Crew members; there were a lot of discipline problems and a lot of fellows felt that we were going to be in the Pacific for a long time so they may as well make the most of it. So a lot of people went up on liberty to San Francisco and stayed until the last possible instant and I remember we just were casting off and after literally casting off lines some of the men appeared to come aboard. Some did not make it. Actually the discipline meted out was very appropriate, but those who were late the Captain dealt with very severely. As a matter of fact this one fellow that I know whom I prefer not to mention to this day harbors a grudge against the Captain and the Executive Officer because he felt he was unjustly dealt with. I don't feel that he was.
Q: Who was the example of his punishment?
Harris: He was demoted a rate. I think he was like First Class when he was demoted to Second or he was Second to Third.
Harris: He really seemed to resent that intensely but the rules have been spelled out and he gave himself extended leave and you can't run a ship or a Navy with everyone having their own hours of work. I would say, as I was thinking last night about this experience, I would say that I think that the discipline problem was the big surprise to me. What was behind this discipline problem was the perception on the West Coast that we were going for a long time in the Pacific and therefore while we were in an American port, those who felt this way, felt that they were entitled to really have themselves one last final blast.
Q: Was this a fear of their being finally killed in the Pacific or was this a desire to live out those last few moments of life? Did they feel a degree of threat coming from somewhere?
Harris: I think they felt more that they were going to be away a long time. I don't think there was much of a feeling of imminent death so much as a concern this was really it for a long time. People knew that when you were in the Pacific you were there for a long time.
Q: Obviously Japan was a long number of days sail away and that this was clear in everyone's mind that we were going to be out there for a long time.
Harris: I think in a manner of speaking we were spoiled in our Atlantic duty because we were home every couple of weeks. I figured out that in fact for the whole time I was in the Service that I was home once every seven days; one out of every seven.
Q: Into a homeport?
Harris: If you take the number of days that I was in the Service and the number of days that I was away it works out that I was in the United States one out of every seven days. That was a good average I thought. It works out to about once a week. But of course it didn't actually happen once every seven days but it averaged out that that was what it was.
So there was something of a discipline problem.
Q: Would you say that it was ten percent of the crew having discipline problems if you're going to give a statistic?
Harris: I would say that it is a very good number; 20 to 25 out of the crew of 200. I would say it was ten percent of the crew.
Q: This occurred at the first liberty port on the West Coast?
Harris: First liberty occurred at San Diego and many of the fellows were going to Los Angeles only knowing they were going to be late and play it out right to the last instant.
Q: So a lot of them talked about it saying, "I think I'm going to stay till the end of my liberty in San Francisco," as they were going across the gangway.
Harris: So those who did play it out too long were in trouble when they got back. I don't know really what happened to them. I just know what happened to the ones who just made it. I do know in this one case of this fellow, that he was very . . . the last time that I saw him, which was about ten years ago, he was still angry that he had lost a rank or lost a stripe.
The ship then left the Port of San Diego and headed for Hawaii, which was an uneventful trip. Finally we got to Hawaii.
Q: Running lights on all the way.
Harris: Running lights on. I can't say that when we got to Hawaii that they were still on. I just know it was a very conscious recollection going up the coast of Mexico with the lights on. I can't say that I specifically recollect it; that they were on when we got to Hawaii. I remember we got to Hawaii during the night and we laid off the harbor until dawn. I remember getting up at dawn. For Hawaii it was an overcast day. I guess I felt much like Captain Cook about getting the first view of the island. In the morning light there wasn't a lot of detail so it could have been any island anywhere. There wasn't a lot of silhouette. The thing that was important, in Hawaii we did a tremendous amount of air-to-air - no surface-to-air gunnery - with drones. This was a difficult thing to do. We got to where we had to track ten aircraft at once.
Q: In the CIC?
Harris: In the CIC room. The problem was that these practice runs were of two kinds. We actually shot at model airplanes but the Navy flyers would also fly at us for radar drill and they would spread out all around the compass and come in from all the angles, and that was the trick, which is to plot these airplanes and give ranges and courses, speeds and direction. I got to where I could plot ten aircraft at a time. I think ten was our maximum number that we could really handle, not any more than ten. They would come from all directions. Sometimes I would go out on the Signal Bridge and they would have a long glass and it would be mounted on a big signal light or arc light and that made a nice stable platform for the long glass, and you could look at the pilot's faces as they went by and they would be smiling down at you, a sort of a form of amusement to do this.
The thing I guess; my outstanding recollection, was while we were out one day we got these reports continually that the Japanese were going to quit but they were . . .
Q: The reports being in the nature of . . .
Harris: Radio reports.
Q: Radio reports.
Harris: The semi-official reports that the Japanese were about to quit. Finally that night while we were watching the evening movie in Pearl Harbor . . .
Q: Aboard ship?
Harris: Aboard ship that the word came through that the Japanese indeed had surrendered, that it was official that the war was over. I have to tell you that there was absolutely pandemonium but nothing in my experience that ever would match it. Pearl Harbor was chock-a-blocked with ships; full of ships of all descriptions.
Q: For the final assault?
Harris: As I wrote to a friend in a letter, the Navy had removed everything that would float from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There were a tremendous number of ships and space was at a premium. Many times we had to stay aboard ship in the evening because we were not conveniently moored to get the crew ashore for liberty. So all these ships began to fire a lot of tracers but also explosive ammunition, anti-aircraft ammunition, and the sky, for a brief time, was just alive, just aglow with thousand of tracer bullets and exploding shells. Then shrapnel began to fall and it was somewhat dangerous. It sounded like rain on a tin roof. Shrapnel was falling all over the place. The movie stopped and everybody just went bananas and I went up on the Flying Bridge and there Ray Tully had a Very pistol and he was firing Very rockets into the sky. "So let me have a shot" and he handed me the gun. Just as he handed me the gun Captain Hay appeared on the Bridge and I said to myself, "Oh, no, I'm in trouble".
Q: Did you have the pistol in your hand?
Harris: I had the smoking gun in my hand. All Captain Hay said was, "I'll have a shot on that Harris as soon as you're through". I fired it once and I gave it to the Captain and then he fired it. Then an order came through from the Flag and as a matter of fact it was brought up to the Bridge where the Captain was. The Commandant of Pearl Harbor demanded that all firing should cease and it did.
Q: People realized that they were doing something wrong?
Harris: I was surprised at the effect, yes. The orders were obeyed and it did diminish and petered around.
Q: What else was occurring as the flares were being shot off? Was there machinegun fire as well?
Harris: Well there was anti-aircraft fire; 20mm, 40mm and some big guns were firing.
Q: Not 5-inch of course?
Harris: I don't know. I can just tell you that it was pandemonium. It was like being at the bottom of a sea of pyrotechnics. It was just pandemonium.
Q: A good description of the event.
Harris: It lasted just a short time.
Q: Five, ten or fifteen minutes?
Harris: You know it is hard to say. I would say probably it lasted somewhere in the vicinity of 15 to 20 minutes and may have been longer than that, probably not even that. It just built up to a tremendous crescendo and guns firing and everyone went crazy.
Q: Happiness obviously was in everyone's hearts and minds.
Harris: Yes, it was just incredible just to think that we had outlived the war. I think that's what everybody was celebrating.
Q: Everyone felt still alive and the war was still over.
Harris: Was still alive and the war was over, which I think everybody had a little reservation about that and they weren't positive about what to do. I don't recall that there were any problems as a result of that. As it happened in my case, I was very quickly assigned to I guess you'd call it an R&R type of assignment. I was put ashore and sent back home and got a 30-day leave.
After the war in the Atlantic occurred and ended I did go into a state of depression and I remember being very, very depressed. I guess this was observed and so I was one of the first to be put ashore and I was assigned to a shore station in Hawaii, to Wailupe. There was a base called Wailupe and I was there I guess about two weeks, then I got transportation home on a troop ship, the name of which I can't remember at the moment, and I got a job on the troop ship but the troop ship was so full of people that they were only serving one meal a day. No, I'm sorry, two meals a day; they were serving two meals a day. The only people that were getting three meals a day were the people who had work assignments.
Q: Burning up calories.
Harris: I volunteered for the ship's paper as a sports writer and that qualified me for three meals a day and worked with the Chaplain and I wrote the sports column, and it happened that Johnny Mize, the Giants pitcher of those days, was coming back from the Pacific so I was assigned to go down and interview Johnny Mize and I was not bad at writing but I didn't know anything about reporting. As a matter of fact I had written up a column for the local paper; a radio column, but it wasn't the same as reporting or interviewing. So I went down and to see if I could interview Johnny Mize and this troop ship was a big ship just full of people. He was Navy. He was very uncooperative and I think he figured that I was one of these characters that had an easy berth or billet and I was coming down and he felt I was on a gold brick assignment. So finally I explained that, I said, "Johnny, I really don't know anything about reporting. I'm coming back just like you are." I told him that I had been on a destroyer escort. "The only reason that I'm doing this was so I could get three meals a day." He warmed up and he changed from being very closed mouthed and uncooperative and aloof to very friendly and told me a lot of things. I even asked him, "What do sports reporters usually ask you?"
Harris: So he even told me the questions to ask so I got a nice article out of it. That was the highlight of . . .
Q: How many days of the week were the papers being printed aboard that ship?
Harris: They were mimeographing the thing like a sheet every day.
Q: Oh, keeping people informed of meal times.
Harris: Meal times and who was onboard the ship, what the latest news was from home and things like that.
Q: What was the passenger size?
Harris: I'd say that we had, to my recollection, about 2,500 people.
Harris: On the ship. It was really loaded and that was why most of them had been Soldiers and Marines from out in the South Pacific. I talked to one fellow who had not been home . . . I think he hadn't been stateside for more than two years.
Q: As a result of the wounds he suffered or as a direct result of the up-tempo war in the Pacific and him having to be engaged in those different island hopping exercises.
Harris: He hadn't been home yet and they were under constant utilization for all that time. He'd been on at least one invasion activity but he hadn't been stateside is the point. He was quite full of anticipation as to get back.
Q: The fact that you suffered from depression as a result of the end of the war, did you notice other people as well having this feeling of the war now being over and them having to face a new era?
Harris: I got over mine or whatever was bugging me very quickly. I went home and had 30 days.
Q: Thirty days of leave.
Harris: Leave plus travel, then a new assignment where I got on a patrol frigate doing weather duty out of San Francisco. I served on it until I had enough points to get out of there in February.
Q: Oh, the point system, yes.
Harris: Yes. At that time I can tell you this, that I remember a shipmate who got quite neurotic as the time came for him to get out and he would say, "Wouldn't that be something to walk through this and have something happen right now?" To this day I think of this fellow. He got himself into a terrible swivel that he had survived the war and the he was now assured of discharge and assured of getting home and now something terrible was going to happen. I don't know if my depression was possibly occasioned by the fact that my cousin went through the invasion of Europe and he was Infantry and he was killed in an auto accident the night he got home from Europe. He got home on a certain day and some of his classmates from high school were home and he and they went out on the town of Manhattan and I guess as a result of having too much to drink they hit an "L" pillar on Third Avenue. There is no "L" there now, it has been taken down. But he hit an "L" pillar and was killed. That was the first day that he was home. So whether that had any influence on my state of mind . . . but I know this fellow was anticipating something like that happening to him.
Q: Very unfortunate if that would have occurred to you.
Harris: I guess the feeling was generally jubilation. My greatest, most difficult time that I had was I finally got points to get home.
Q: How did the points accrue?
Harris: They accrued for sea duty in foreign waters.
Q: For sea duty in foreign waters.
Harris: In other words, if you were Coast Guard out of Manasquan Inlet or Ambrose Light that didn't count the same as . . .
Q: Duty aboard the DEs.
Q: DE in the Atlantic.
Harris: DE in the Atlantic.
Q: Yes, okay. Obviously if you were wounded that could be more points.
Harris: That would be more points and so on. I think age had something to do with it too and I think I had gotten in when I was still 18 and I had points I accumulated and I could have gotten out had I been at the right place at the right time about a month or six weeks sooner. But they didn't really start to move you until you got the points.
Q: Closer to getting that total up to a certain number.
Harris: As it turned out I couldn't get out until April.
Q: April of '45.
Harris: April of '46. But the worst problem that I had was after I got off the patrol frigate.
Q: What was the name of the frigate?
Harris: The USS Casper.
Q: Was it Coast Guard manned?
Harris: It was all Coast Guard manned. The job here was to go to sea for roughly four weeks; 30 days, and go around and stay within a roughly 15-mile circle and give ranges and bearings to aircraft flying between San Francisco and Hawaii, and also to get weather reports; take weather observations every four hours.
Q: For civilian and military or primarily military?
Harris: Primarily military. Pan Am was flying that route at that time but Pan Am handled it differently. As radar operators we would talk to these aircraft and they would say, "This is Charlie 4 0 5 0 9, estimated position 20 miles north of you, can you confirm?" So they would sometimes estimate that they were 20 miles north and 30 miles south. We would confirm this with IFF having gone through three or four codes to be sure that we had the right target. They would be off by the time they were getting two thirds of the way. They might be off course by 100 miles.
Q: They certainly would miss the island of Oahu.
Harris: Most of them were coming east to the coast of the United States, to San Francisco. Pan Am would never ask us to do anymore than to turn on our beacon light. We had a Gimbal-mounted beacon light just aft of the stack. This would shine straight up. We would tell Pan Am that we had them at 2 7 0 at four miles or that we had them at whatever and they would just say, "Please turn on your beacon light." They wouldn't even acknowledge that you told them that. They were very, very military, more military than we were in that sense. So that was fairly interesting duty because we had one occasion where there was a Navy four-engine transport flying from Hawaii to the West Coast. It was a stormy night and they were having engine problems and they were lost, and they had one engine out and the second engine cutting out; intermittently on and off. Somehow the navigator just didn't know where he was and we could hear them loud but we couldn't pick them up on radar, even with IFF. Sometimes you could pick up an IFF signal where you are not getting a contact, a radar contact. So we finally talked to KSF Radio in San Francisco and arranged for them to send M O signals.
Q: M O signals.
Harris: M O for long signals - that is the object of them. DAA-DAA, DAA-DAA-DAA is a good signal to do a DF fix on.
Q: Morse code, M O, okay.
Harris: Right. So the stations then all up and down the West Coast had zeroed in on him and gave him a precise fix and he was a couple of hundred miles south of us and very badly off course. They guided him to San Francisco and we talked all though the night. Suddenly we could hear KSF Radio of San Francisco trying to reach them and we couldn't reach them, nobody reached them, and we found out later that they hit a mountain outside of San Francisco and all were killed and found with their lifejackets on. But I mean it was kind of tragic because we spent the whole night working this thing.
Q: Talking them through.
Harris: They got right to San Francisco and they hit a mountain outside of San Francisco. After I had gotten off the patrol frigate I was assigned to take a party back to Brooklyn for discharge.
Q: Escort a party.
Harris: Escort a party. I was the senior person.
Q: Were you First Class at the time?
Harris: No, I was Second Class.
Q: Second Class.
Harris: I remember we were mustering and ready to go and my name got called and I was given the orders and told I was in charge of the whole detail, and I protested vehemently, "No." But I was told, "You're it kid." So I had this group, I think it was about 15 guys, and I had the meal tickets and I had the transportation tickets and everything. It wasn't too bad except that we'd make these long stops in the Middle West sometimes waiting for trains.
Q: Waiting for trains.
Harris: Waiting for trains and taking on mail and whatever. The guys would get off and I had to round them up and get them back on the train. But the real test came when we got to New York and they all wanted to go home. You see we were all from that area. I have to say that I was proud of myself. I absolutely insisted that they could not go home and they called me every name that you could think of. Some of these guys really got nasty. They called me everything under the sun and I said, "Absolutely not." I said, "We are going in." They said, "We'll be here in the morning." I said that we were going to report wherever it was over at Church Street in Brooklyn and I insisted that we were going over and arrive as a body.
Q: Probably South Ferry. Was it a Demobilization Center?
Harris: It was over in Brooklyn at a dock type installation and I'm trying to think of the word.
Q: So your orders were to report in and berthing was available down there?
Harris: Right, I got them all in and I prevailed and none of them went home, and I always felt kind of proud of myself that I had the force to do it.
Q: Were these individuals senior to you at all or were they all junior to you?
Harris: They were all about the same equivalent rank. There were about 15 of them but they were all at the telephones and wanted to go home.
Q: All of them had contacted their relatives I suppose.
Harris: Contacted them at home. Then they used every form of threat and intimidation known to man.
Q: Fifteen-to-one for starters.
Harris: I insisted, no way that this was going to happen; that we were going to go. That was my proudest moment I guess
Q: You prevailed and the crew got to their assigned Berthing and Demobilization station in New York?
Harris: Yes, it took about 72 hours to be processed
Q: Seventy-two hours.
Harris: Yes, I think it was about three days or 48 to 72 hours. I was a little surprised that we didn't just go, we had to go and see movies; movies with Robert Benchly on how not to spend your Mustering Out Pay.
Q: Interesting, yes.
Harris: Did you ever see that movie?
Q: No I haven't.
Harris: Robert Benchly was a great comedian. I loved him and he was very popular at that time. So they did this skit or this movie where he is a sailor getting discharged with Mustering Out Pay. He has some time to kill waiting for his train so he goes to this bar to have a drink; have a beer, while he is waiting and he looks over at this girl and the first time he looks over at her she is pretty ugly but with each successive beer he looks over at her and she is prettier.
Q: I see, so they changed the girl.
Harris: They changed the girl. By the time he has his third beer he looks over at her and, gosh, she is absolutely a gorgeous beauty. Then he goes off with her and he spends all his Mustering Out Pay. So the moral of the story is . . .
Q: Don't spend your Mustering Out Pay in one evening I guess.
Harris: One evening like that. Then there were some things about jobs that you were qualified for and your rights under 52/50. They had a thing called 52/50 and you got 50 dollars a week for 52 weeks. That is what they called the 52/50 Club.
Q: This was sort of unemployment compensation; mustering out of the military.
Harris: Yes, it was called 52/50 and if you didn't go to work you were entitled to the compensation, which had the popular name 52/50.
Q: I understand. I wasn't aware of that.
Harris: Yes, 50 dollars for 52 weeks.
Q: So you received a separation document, which was your notice of discharge at that time?
Harris: Yes, it was known as a discharge and it had some indication of what you were qualified in the operation of radar.
Q: Okay. Did most of the members receive these introductions and the film and later received their Mustering Out Pay and they received their discharge separation documents?
Q: Did you turn in your uniforms or were you told to take your uniforms with you?
Harris: No, we were taken and we just got our seabags, and in my case a group of us were taken to Penn Station in Manhattan and we got our tickets and that was our last formal action as a group.
Q: Get your tickets and see you later.
Harris: Right. We rode the bus from Manhattan and I remember we were a wild bunch shouting - somehow the bus went down Fifth Avenue - and we were yelling to the people on the sidewalk and we were making the yahoo-type noises.
Q: Oh yes.
Harris: The group in that bus I hadn't ever seen before. The only thing that I had in common with them was that I was going to Penn Station.
Q: To be leaving at the same time?
Harris: Yes, leave at the same time and scatter to the winds and that was it, and that was the end of the time.
Q: The three-day period ended and you got to Penn Station and you left. Can you recall any other event at that mustering out center that struck you being unusual or typical of the demobilization process?
Harris: By that time everybody was impatient and really wanted to go and just were counting the hours and minutes until he had the official discharge and could go home. I can tell you one interesting event that happened sometime afterwards. I got a job soon after I got out of the Service as an artist working for the Air Force Air Material Command, which job I got by reason of the fact that I had worked for the Signal Corp before I had gone in and I was entitled to employment or an equivalent job. They had that kind of rule. So I went to work for the Air Force for a while as an artist illustrator at a laboratory up in New Jersey. I was an apprentice in the Art Department; sort of a beginner in the department, and so a lot of my job had to do with supplies and working with the more senior artists getting things ready and making sure that we had paper and rubber cement and masking paper; frisket paper they called it, and things like that. The point of the story is that I was putting things in the cabinet one day and I suddenly realized that I was shoring everything up in the cabinet so that when it rolled none of the stuff would come loose. This was something you did at sea automatically, instinctively. You never just put anything down like these cups are here on a ship.
Q: You always back them into a corner.
Harris: You can put them in a corner and put them someplace so when the ship rolls they don't fly. You got so that was second nature. The last vestige of my sea duty was that day that I realized that I was buttressing everything in the cabinet so that when it rolled everything in it wouldn't come loose. I suddenly laughed at myself that I was doing this without even thinking about it.
Q: Still having your sea legs there. Are there any things that come to your mind with regard to that experience, either onboard ship of the Pacific theater; other shipmates that you can recall having talked to you about their experiences?
Harris: Well we used to engage in a little bit of horseplay. One of the things I remember was the weather patrol was interesting and it was different from convoy duty in that you didn't have the anxiety. Anxiety was replaced to a very great measure by boredom. You knew you were going to be in this 15-mile circle for 30 days and the way they would worked it was the Navigator would compute the drift and you go to the extremity; the windward most extremity, of the drifts.
Q: Cycle back.
Harris: Then turn the engines off, or not actually off but idled them and then drift and it was computed that you were on the opposite side so you would go back up again. So a lot of it was what you do with your spare time. So I discovered a place where they stowed life jackets under a sponson under the Signal Bridge. When I was in the middle of this pile of life jackets I couldn't be observed from the deck. I never told anybody about this but I used to climb up there because there were a lot of extra assignments that came from the fact that you were seen. "Harris, are you on watch?" "No Sir." "Well can you do this for me?" "Yes." I'd learned that trick for a long time so I would get up there with books and I used to love to read and so I got a lot of reading done that you couldn't do in the Atlantic. On the Atlantic, I was always too seasick on the Atlantic, initially anyway, so I used to read a lot, which was a lot of fun. Then I use to draw a lot so I had a lot of fun, which was self-centered kind of fun.
Q: Winding down in your own way for the release to inactive duty.
Harris: Yes, just looking at the ocean and maybe taking a nap and not having any problems.
Q: The Peterson was decommissioned later on. Had you any information with regard to what happened to the ship after that?
Harris: Talking to John Truesdale, John Truesdale was aboard this ship when it was decommissioned and he said by that time they had run into some discipline problems, not serious but the fact that everybody knew that the war was over and they were going to get out.
Q: Nobody was willing to tow the line at the end.
Harris: It was hard to get real work done because people just weren't particularly interested in it.
Q: No threat; no external threat to motive their behavior.
Harris: Right, he commented on that about 18 months ago when he was at our house for dinner.
Q: The ship was decommissioned at Green Coves Spring, Florida on January 29, 1946. so Truesdale was still aboard at that time?
Harris: Yes, right.
Q: Obviously the crew wasn't its full crew at that time.
Harris: Apparently not. No, I don't know who else, other than what Truesdale told me, I don't know really much about what occurred at that time. I was going to tell you one thing that happened on the Pacific before the patrol frigate. When we were monitoring airplanes, on some nights it would be less busy than others. Some nights there wouldn't be anything going on at all. These patrol frigates were stationed at 400 mile intervals; Bird Dog One would be 400 miles, Bird Dog Two would be at 800 miles and Bird Dog Three would be at 1,200 miles. I guess Bird Dog Four came out of Hawaii. So in the dead of the night maybe nothing would be happening so we could talk to each other with VHS radio and 400 miles wasn't particularly any great distance to talk. So we could talk to the other Bird Dogs once in awhile. So we would, just to enliven things, one of us would get on and say, "Which way did they go partner?" One of them would say, "They went that away." They were restrictions against that and there were survey planes that monitored our performance. Once in awhile we would get caught. I'm just giving you the condensed version of what went on.
Q: These survey planes were aerial observers to make sure that the ship was within that quadrant?
Harris: Yes, and making sure that we were also giving the proper kinds of information, that we were alert and that we were responding to the need so that we would supposedly treat every aircraft with the same attention. We really did. I don't think we did anything else.
Q: Thank you, again.
END OF INTERVIEW