A Midwar Assignment In Which I Meet My Future Bride, December 1943 to September 1944.
Return to Nashville from Alaska, 1943.
It was an afternoon in early December 1943. The train on which I had sat in a day coach all the way from Seattle via Chicago had just pulled in to the Nashville train station. I knew my mother whom I had not een for almost two years would be meeting me at the station. Perhaps my two sisters and my "baby" brother might be there too. If they were not, my mother certainly would be there.
As I descended from my coach I looked for her on the station platform. Then as I walked along the platform and into the station I looked for her. Perhaps she did not know that my train had just arrived. But she would not be on the platform for there she might miss me in the crowd. I reasoned that she would be waiting in the sitting room of the station.
My eyes had to adapt to the semi-darkness of the station interior. There to one side was a low-lighted section with a number of people sitting on benches arranged somewhat in a semi-circle. The eyes of the people sitting there seemed to be fixed on one woman who was talking animatedly to them. The woman was strikingly beautiful. Her hair was heaped up on her head in a most pleasing coiffure. I could only think of a queen addressing her subjects. She looked like a queen, or a movie-star. And she looked strangely familiar. But she is too young, I thought. She can't be my mother! I stood on the edge of the group. She will see me in a moment. But her eyes will pass on by. She can't know me. For a split second I panicked and considered backing away before she could look my way. I was not sure that she was my mother.
But then she was standing and walking toward me. In a moment I was in her arms. "I was telling those people about my son who is coming home from Alaska", she said. All eyes were upon us, her six foot tall 22 year old first born son and his 47 year old mother who even after giving birth to five of us children, appeared to be no more than in her early thirties.
As I grew up with this mother she frequently surprised and amazed me. This was one of those occasions. Now, as I write this 55 years later, I still can see this beautiful young lady who just happened to be my mother!
A Brief Sojourn at Home in Nashville, December 1943 - January 1944.
December, 1943. My long trip from Alaska ended in the L & N Railroad Station in Nashville, Tennessee, where my mother met me. We retrieved my baggage, which was all contained in a large plywood aircraft engine crate which I had picked up in the Aleutians, and managed to get it into the trunk of a taxi for the final lap to Mama's house. She was living with my two sisters, Betty Jo and Isabella, and my little brother, Dick, in a nice little house at 2113 Acklen Avenue. It was in the block of Acklen Avenue just west of Hillsboro Road, in South Nashville.
I learned that my mother, in order to make ends meet, had to work in a downtown Nashville department store. My father was away working at a job building "Victory" ships in Portland, Oregon. My brother, Bert., age 21, was away serving in the Army Air Corps. My sisters, Berry Jo, age 19, and Isabella, age 17, both had jobs, I believe. My little brother, Dick, age 13, was attending public school. It was just a week or so before Christmas and the family already had a Christmas tree up and decorated. It was certainly a joyous time for me for I had not seen the family since about February of 1942. At that time they were living in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania where Mama was the city manager for the Avon Products Company. Mama's job with Avon had come to an end and the family had moved to Nashville. Papa, wanting to contribute some work to the war effort, had gone to Portland, Oregon to work for the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company. All this had happened while I was in Alaska.
Upon my arrival in Nashville, I notified my Washington, D. C. draft board that I was back in the lower 48 states and indicated my readiness to be drafted into the Armed Forces. I expected to be ordered, perhaps by telegram, to appear somewhere for induction within a few days. I had heard that the need for young single men like me was very crucial. After about a week of lounging around home I received a letter by U. S. mail from the Washington, D. C. draft board that my records were being turned over to the Nashville, Tennessee draft board and that they would notify me when to report for induction. I then made contact with the Nashville draft board and was told to relax, that they would notify me in due time when and where to report.
This was anti-climax. My first notification that my deferment from the draft (for the purpose of working in the war effort in Alaska) was to be terminated, had been back in September. Now it was mid-December and the draft officials didn't seem to be in any hurry to get me signed up. So much leisure was beginning to hang heavy on me. However, I did try to enjoy it.
I especially enjoyed being home with my little brother, Dick. I had been 9 years old when he was born, and I remember at that time I thought he was the dearest baby who had ever lived. Ever since then I had always enjoyed playing with him and he had always responded with great joy. We enjoyed each other's company. He told me at 13 that he had decided to become an Architect. I was already involved in studying to become an Engineer, so I told him I approved of his aspiration. He especially wanted to receive for that Christmas of 1943 a new bicycle. But it was not at all certain that he would be able to get one. You see, regular production of bicycles in the U. S. had been curtailed in order to make more provision for the production of war materials. Only one bicycle production line remained and it produced a single standard model known as the "Victory" bicycle. The demand was greater than the production and one had to get on the waiting list and then just wait until one was available. Well, Mama had gotten Dick's name on the waiting list some time before, and finally, just before Christmas, Dick got his "Victory" bike of which he was very proud.
At that time I was a healthy man of 22 years and, after some 20 months in laska in an isolated society of men only, I was longing or some social contact with the opposite sex. Many of my friends from my David Lipscomb College days (1938-1940) were becoming engaged or were already married. The onset of the war in December 1941 had put many young people in a quandary. At a time of life when young people normally are courting to find life mates and lanning careers, we were called upon to put all that on hold while we engaged in the war effort. Some couples were jumping into marriage before hey normally would have married because a time of lengthy separation loomed ahead of them. Other couples postponed marrying because of the same reason. I was about to be inducted into an indefinitely long military career and I didn't even have a steady girl friend. I envisioned returning from the war some day and finding all the eligible girls already taken!
There was one girl, Stephanie Kilgore, I had met at David Lipscomb College whom I admired but had had little opportunity to date. She was known by the nickname "Steve." She had disappeared from my view when she had to leave college in mid-term because of the death of her father. Later, when I lived and worked in Washington, D. C., she came to Washington for a short while and I managed to have one date with her. But then she was gone back to her home town in South Alabama. In addition I had exchanged letters with "Steve" on perhaps one occasion. So, having what appeared to be free time ahead of me of perhaps a month or more before having to depart for military service, I decided simply to go to her town and re-introduce myself to her. Before Christmas I dispatched a letter to her asking her permission to come and visit her sometime. After only a few days she answered that I would be welcome. I had proposed no particular date for my visit.
We celebrated Christmas and then New Years Day at my mother's house and I had a glorious time with my family. I attended Hillsboro Road Church of Christ with Mama and the family each week. The church house was only a few blocks from Mama's house. Brother B. C. Goodpasture, Editor of the Gospel Advocate, was preaching there and the well known singer, (Was it Joe Fergurson?), was the song leader.
Then it was January 1944 and I still had no specific set date to report for induction into the military. So I set out for "Steve" Kilgore's house in Samson, Alabama, in the far south of Alabama near the Florida line. I took a bus from Nashville to Evergreen, Alabama. At Evergreen I transferred to a train for the remainder of the trip to Samson. I remember the train car was ancient, one that had probably been retired from service but brought back into service because the more modern coaches had been taken by the government to transport military forces. At one end of my train car a pot bellied coal stove was set up to provide warmth for the passengers.
Of course no one was at the little train station in Samson to meet me for I had not forewarned Steve exactly when I was coming. I had assumed that there would be some kind of a hotel in Samson where I might stay. But before me in the town of Samson was only a deserted one block long main street with no hint of a lodging place in sight. A nice looking young girl of high school age was standing on the station platform as though to meet the train. She asked me if I needed assistance. So I asked her if she knew the Kilgore family. She directed me to the Kilgore's Dry Goods store just down the street where she said I probably would find someone in the family. I already knew that Steve's family consisted of her widowed mother and her two younger sister. Her father bad died some years earlier while Steve bad been at David Lipscomb College. He had been the proprietor of a dry goods store. Mrs. Kilgore had taken over the running of the store after her husband's death.
In the store I introduced myself to Mrs. Kilgore. Steve must have mentioned me to her mother for she immediately recognized my name. She was surprised to see me, and had to inform me that Steve was out of town. Apparently she realized that I had come all the way down from Nashville to see Steve. Steve was to be back in a day or two, she said, and I must go home with her and stay at her house while she contacted Steve. Under the circumstances I was very grateful to get such a friendly welcome from Mrs. Kilgore. I gladly accepted her invitation to go to her home at least to find out if I was going to get to see Steve or if my trip was to be in vain.
At the Kilgore home I met one of Steve's sisters, "Sammie," of high school age, and a gentlemen who rented a room and boarded with the family. Steve's other sister, "Jean," was away at Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee. Apparently Steve was contacted by phone and I soon learned that Steve would return on Monday. It was then Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Kilgore urged that I stay over the week end with them to await Steve's arrival. I realized that my effort to get to see Steve before going into military service was getting rather complicated and perhaps, melodramatic, for I really didn't have any assurance that Steve wanted to see me at all.
The next day being Sunday, I prepared to go to the local Church of Christ with Mrs. Kilgore and Sammie. Mrs. Kilgore suggested that I might assist in the worship services. I certainly felt able and willing to assist in a limited way, so I said that I would, not knowing to what extent I might be called on. Lo and behold, when we gathered at the little church building, to which Mrs. Kilgore had the door key, I found the entire congregation that day to be four or five women. No men were present and there was no preacher. Of course, in Churches of Christ I was well aware of the fact that the public leadership of worship services is exclusively by the men members of the congregation. Should there be no men present at all, the women might be free to conduct their own worship. But, for the first time in my life I found myself to be the only male member present, and the one expected to lead the congregation in the entire worship service. I really felt ashamed that I was not prepared to give an uplifting Bible sermon to the little group. Supposedly I had prepared for such leadership in my studies at David Lipscomb College a few years earlier in my life. I did the best I could without prior preparation, and conducted a short service. My specialty in worship services was song leading, so I had no difficulty and enjoyed doing that. Then, I presided in the distribution of the Lord's Supper. I read the 53rd chapter of Isaiah and led short prayers of thanksgiving for the bread and the fruit of the vine. Finally, I lead a short general prayer and the service was over. It occurred to me that the Godly ladies present that day probably would have been able to conduct a much more satisfactory worship service for themselves had I not been present.
The next morning Mrs. Kilgore and I met the bus on which Steve arrived. Steve was cordial to me, but seemed to be pre-occupied with thoughts of her own. I soon realized that she and her mother were probably having difficulty making ends meet. And Steve told me she was trying to prepare for a teaching job she was to start in the local scbool in a day or two. She prepared a festive dinner to entertain me. A highlight of the dinner apparently was a cocktail dish of oysters with a special sauce. I made the faux pas of attempting to eat the oysters without the sauce which I thought would not appeal to my taste buds. Steve seemed alarmed and said that I certainly could not eat those raw oysters without the sauce. I guess I ruined what she had intended as one of the high lights of the dinner. The next day Steve arranged for us to accompany some other young people to the neighboring town of Geneva, Alabama to get some treats at a drug store soda fountain. This was a fun experience for young people in those days. But it was getting clear to me that it was time for me to leave. Steve seemed to be avoiding any opportunity for her and me to talk alone together. That evening Steve told me that she had to start teaching the next day and she would not be able to see me off. Alone witb her at last, I blurted out that I was "in love with her." She replied, "F. M., you can't be in love with me!"
The next morning Steve was up early and off to school. My train did not leave until noon. I spent the morning writing a long epistle to her trying to explain how I admired her and why I had appeared at her house. I left it on her mantle in the living room. Needless to say, I was a bit melancholy on my trip back to Nashville that day. Later, after I was in Naval Training School, we corresponded and she told me she was touched by my letter. She sent me a picture of herself.
Back in Nashville I still had no word from the draft board setting a date for my induction. Time hung heavy on my hands. Realizing that Steve's sister was nearby attending Peabody College, I called her and invited her to go to the movies with me. She consented and we enjoyed the movies on two occasions.
Also living in Nashville at that time was my father's sister, Fanny Belle (Perry) Lipcomb and her husband, Granville Q. Lipscomb. They had two sons, my cousins Granville, Jr., and Robert. Granville, Jr., in his mid-twenties and married to Naomi, was away serving as an Ensign in the U. S. Navy. Robert, a boy of about 18, had only recently joined the U. S. Air Corps and was away in training as an aircraft gunner. Several times while I was in Nashville awaiting induction I visited with my Aunt Fanny Belle and Uncle Granville. Also, on several occasions I attended church with them at the Waverly Belmont Church of Christ where Uncle Granville was an elder.
One evening after supper I walked over from my mother's house on Acklen Avenue to the Lipscomb house at 1518 Ashwood Avenue, just off Belmont Blvd. Just as I reached the house and was on the walk leading to the front porch, a car drew up to the curb behind me discharging several people. I recognized Mr. Horace Lipscomb and other relatives of my Uncle Granville Lipscomb. Appearing very grim faced, they walked by me to the front door. I realized from their demeanor that something was wrong, so I drew back to let them knock on the door. Aunt Fanny Belle opened the door, took one look at the grim faced group, and began to cry, "Oh, it must be Robert! What has happened to Robert?" I learned from one of the group that Robert, along with several of his fellow trainees, had been killed that afternoon when the aircraft on which they were training exploded in midair.
Without entering the house, I turned around and went back to Mama's bouse to tell them the sad news. Robert's body was shipped back to Nashville and the funeral was held at the Waverly Belmont Church a few days later. A number of members of the Perry family gathered from distant places at the Lipscomb house to offer condolences to Fanny Belle and her husband Granville. Among them were their son, Ensign Granville Lipscomb, Jr. with his wife Naomi; Fanny Belle's brothers, Andrew Perry from Denver, Colorado; Roy Perry from Mobile, Alabama; Bruce Perry from Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Frank Perry from Florence, Alabama; and, of course, all of us from Mama's house. Most of Robert's boy friends near his own age were away in military service and were unable to come home for the funeral.
Although I remember my time in Nashville, after returning from Alaska, as a long time of monotonous waiting for the military portion of my life to start, it was really only slightly more than a month and, in writing about it now, it was seemingly full of incidents of importance. I had a glimpse of how folks in the U. S. were coping with wartime shortages such as rationing of certain grocery and household items, and how women were replacing men, who had been called into military service, in many industrial jobs. There was a definite shortage of young men to be seen on the hometown streets.
Finally, I was notified to report for induction at a place in downtown Nashville on the morning of January 19, 1944. I was to bring little more than the civilian clothes on my back and only the few personal items I would need for a day or two for traveling en route to my first military assignment. I reported as requested and found a group of fifty or more of us there. We were lined up and herded one by one through the offices of several doctors and nurses for complete medical examinations. As far as I could tell, most of us were found physically fit and were then sent through a line to get vaccinations and immunization shots of various kinds.
At some point in the line we were told individually that on that day, and that day only, we had a choice of opting to go into the U. S. Army or into the U. S. Navy. Normally, young men who were inducted went almost automatically into the Army. I had fully expected to be taken into the Army that day. When I learned that I might choose to go into the Navy instead of the Army, it only took me a few seconds of thought to choose the Navy. Having made my desire known, I and several other young men who had also chosen the Navy were herded into a different line. From that point on through the induction we were separated from the others and were finally taken to the train station to be shipped north to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station on Lake Michigan just north of Chicago.
I had lived for more than a year in the field in Alaska attached to a company of U. S. Army troops. While I had lived with them under ideal conditions as a civilian not subject to military discipline, I had shuddered at the thought of possibly ever having to live as an enlisted man in field conditions. This opportunity to go into the Navy was completely unexpected but was welcome. I began to wonder what experiences the U. S. Navy would hold for me?
Ever since I had become a Christian by being baptized into Christ at age 15, I had been growing in understanding that God would guide my life in the most fruitful way if I would let Him. While still in high school I had began to plan to go to college to earn an Aeronautical Engineering degree. At the same time I thought about the possibility of some day entering the Army Air Corps in order to learn to fly and work with aircraft. But as the possibility of the U. S. being drawn into the European war became more likely, I came to the conclusion that I, as a Christian, could not purposely project myself into a position where I would be seeking to kill any of my fellow human beings, as an Air Corps pilot might be called upon to do. When first called upon to register for the draft in early 1941 I considered registering as a conscientious objector to military service. Some of my friends did register as conscientious objectors, and I admired them for standing firm for their convictions. However, I could not bring myself to choose that option. I decided simply to register and take my chances. I wanted to serve my country in some meaningful way.
This is partly what drove my thinking when I sought the job with the U. S. Engineer Department in Alaska. In that job I could work in the war effort but be exempt from direct military service. As my exemption from the draft came to an end in late 1943, my friends in the U. S. Engineer Department in Alaska urged me to volunteer for military officer candidate school to serve my war time obligation as an officer in one of the services. After all I had two years of college training and almost three years of responsible work experience under my belt. I should be able to qualify for officer training. But still I rejected the idea of purposely choosing to become a military officer and directing others in battlefield actions. However, if I had to be drafted, so be it. I would serve as an enlisted man. Then, as I was drafted and was given the unusual opportunity to enter the Navy, I felt that there might be some working of God's providence involved.
As our little group got ready to board the train for Great Lakes, Illinois, I noted that most of the members of the group were mere boys of 17 or 18 years. Some were acting rather rowdy and "swearing like sailors," or like they might have thought sailors acted. I began to feel like "an old man" in comparison and I did not relish the thought of closely accompanying them on the train. So I was somewhat taken aback when the Chief Petty Officer who had escorted us to the train sought me out, gave me a pouch with all the enlistment papers for the group, and appointed me to be the "leader" of the group until we reached our destination. I looked at him as though to object. He dismissed me with the order to just give the pouch of papers to the Petty Officer who would meet our train at the end of the journey!
This was the beginning of several long train rides across portions of the U. S. during my Naval service. We always had some kind of sleeping accommodations aboard the trains, either in Pullman cars or in specially designed troop cars. It was 400 plus miles from Nashville to Great Lakes, Illinois on this first trip and I suppose we were on the train overnight. But, I don't remember the details of this particular trip except being embarrassed by the bad language and immaturity of some of the men in our group.
Boot Camp at The Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Illinois.
Busses from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station met our train and we were whisked to the reception building where we joined a large number of other recruits. There must have been several hundred of us. There we were sworn in as Apprentice Seaman, given recruit haircuts, issued full dress uniforms and fatigue clothing including winter pea coats, underwear, shoes and socks. We were also issued two blankets each, a thin cot type mattress, a small pillow, mattress covers, and a canvas sea bag in which to keep our belongings.
At some point during the reception our line of recruits passed a petty officer who inquired of each of us if we had any talent or experience as singers. I was surprised at this question but ventured to say that I had some experience singing in choral groups. Then I was asked if I would like to try out for a special company of singers being formed that day as a "choir company." I said yes. I was ushered into a room where a Chief Petty Officer, whose name I later learned was W. Harold Van Slyke, gave me an audition. I was asked to follow the piano in singing some exercises so that my voice could be heard and my vocal range could be determined. The exercises led me up to a tenor's high "A" which I sang with all I had. After that I was enlisted in the "choir company" as a first tenor! (I was somewhat frightened to be classed as a "first tenor" for I had always sung "first bass" or baritone.) Again I was amazed at my good fortune. I was going to get to do something which I really liked to do. Chief Van Slyke explained to me that in the choir company we would do a lot of special singing programs while we were getting basic training. We would not be excused from any of the regular training exercises that the other recruits had to do. But we would do extra duty in singing rehearsals and performances during the two months of basic training. After that, he explained, our singing careers would be over and we would be shipped out to whatever other assignments were in store for us. I became a member of the "choir company" of Apprentice Seaman being formed that day. There were 114 of us assigned to newly formed Company 277.
For basic training our Company Commander was Chief Specialist G. K. Savage. He lived with us in the barracks night and day. Our director for singing rehearsals was Chief W. Harold Van Slyke. Our director for official singing performances was U. S. Naval Chaplain, Captain Hjalmar F. Hanson. That day began a whirlwind of activities that lasted about two months until mid-March 1944.
Another momentous thing happened to me during my first few days at Great Lakes Naval Training Station which would change my outlook and determine my future life more than any other one thing. I didn't realize its great importance at the time. Now, as I write this at the age of 80, I am convinced that God's providence has been guiding me all through the years. Someone going over the backgrounds of the recruits in basic training noticed my education and experience background and requested me to report to take an aptitude test referred to as "The Eddy Test." I didn't know what it was all about and no one explained except to say it might determine what kind of training I would go into after basic training. As I took the test, I realized it was testing my knowledge of basic physics, especially of electrical phenomena. I answered all the questions as best I could, realizing that there were manyanswers I did not know. A few days later someone came to me saying they had good news for me, I had passed the Eddy Test. After basic training I would be going to Radio Technician Training School. It would have three phases at three different locations and would last a total of 10 or 11 months. I might be trained to maintain shipboard electronic equipment or I might be trained to maintain Naval airtraft electronic equipment. At the proper time I might have opportunity to express a preference for whitch type of equipment I would like to work on, but it would not be guaranteed that I would get my preference. I remember that it was not so much the type of equipment but the location of the training schools that interested me. So, early in my Navy career, I knew something of what lay in store for me.
But first I bad to get through basic enlisted man's training. We were purposely stressed physically and mentally. Tbe first day consisted in getting acquainted with barracks life. We had double decker bunks, all together in one big room. Between the bunks were horizontal bars on which we hung our sea bags containing all our personal belongings. They bad to be fastened up in a special way with grass ropes. Since we had to take them down to get anything out of them, and immediately fasten them back up again over and over again, for it was not allowed for them to lie loose on the floor, our hands were soon almost raw from the chaffing of the rope. We were given two towels each and one had to be draped in a certain way at the foot of each one's bunk. Since we had to undergo inspection of these things daily, we devised the plan of using only one towel and keeping the new clean one draped on the bunk for inspection at all times. To press our uniforms we learned to fold them in a certain way and carefully lay them on the bunk under the mattress. Our weight on the mattress at night would press creases in them. Everything in the barracks had to be spotlessly clean at all times in case of surprise inspections. We learned that the best way to keep things clean was to not get them dirty, so we went to great lengths to remove our shoes when possible and not use anything unless absolutely necessary. But dust filtered into the barracks and it seemed to be impossible to keep things as clean as Chief Savage demanded. The entire barracks might be ordered out for special physical exercise, or individuals might be given extra duty for not being able to meet inspections.
Most of us recognized this as just part of the teaching of discipline and took it in stride. But some of the younger boys, who must have come from homes where they had learned little about personal responsibility, found the discipline almost more than they could bear. One boy went to Chief Savage and declared that he was underage, only 16 years old, and wanted to go home. As I remember, he really was only 16, having lied about his age at enlistment, and was sent home.
We were roused out of our bunks at daybreak each morning to run a mile or more before coming back to clean up and go to breakfast. Then we would be trained in various ways of marching for some hours each day. Since we were a choir company we sang in four part harmony for much of the time when we marched and I think our marching maneuvers were one thing in which we made Chief Savage proud of us. Then there was outright physical exercises of push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, running of obstacle courses, and strength tests conducted periodically. There were two or three older men in thcompany who were in very poor physical condition at the start. They simply could not keep up and eventually disappeared from the company, for other duty I suppose.
In addition to the physical aspects of the training we had daily classes to learn the various ships and aircraft of the U. S. Navy. We had exercises to recognize at a glance the various aircraft and the silhouettes of various types of ships, friend and foe. We were introduced to tear gas and the use of the gas mask by actual encounter with the gas. We were taught to swim and tread water, the proper use of life jackets, and how to safely jump into the water from high elevations. And we were taken to the firing range and taught the correct use of various military rifles and firearms. In addition to all this, we practiced choir music every day learning special musical arrangements and, beginning the second week, we sang weekly on the "Meet Your Navy" radio program over a national radio network. All our singing was a cappella. Our specialty was the Navy Hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." The announcer for our program was the young, later to be nationally famous, Durwood Kirby. Various well known movie stars were guests. I especially remember when Susan Haywood was on the program.
It was a damp Great Lakes winter during our training, and a number of our company fell sick with a serious upper respiratory illness which we called "cat fever." Several had to go to the hospital for a week or more to be treated and to recover. Alas, somewhere near the midpoint of our training I too fell ill with "cat fever." To the hospital I went and I was in bed for the better part of a week. When they let me up I wanted to get right back to my company as soon as possible for there was a danger that I might have to transfer to another company in order to make up for the training I missed while ill. But, there was a policy at the hospital to keep each patient for several days after he recovered to perform some menial duty for the hospital which was operating shorthanded. At first, it appeared that my further service in the special choir company might be finished. I wanted to graduate from basic training with my singing choir company. So I made a special plea to the hospital authorities to please try to get me back to my choir company. It worked. They let me back in the company in spite the fact that I had missed about a week of the training. At the close of basic training we got a special letter citation signed by Chief W. Harold Van Slyke and Captain Hjalmar F. Hanson thanking us for our service and a picture of the entire company which I have to this day. I graduated from basic training as a Seaman, Second Class, one step above the lowest rate in the Navy (equivalent to a Private First Class in the Army).
It was customary for recruits to be given their first leave to make a quick trip home after the completion of basic training. After this leave many Navy men often had no further opportunity for leave during the war. I think I remember getting such leave, but now, after about 58 years, I do not remember the trip home. I assume I went home to Nashville on the train. I remember being in uniform and visiting with one of my David Lipscomb College teachers, Brother Andy T. Richie, Jr., in his home. Mr. Ritchie had directed a musical group, the Lipscomb Radio Choristers, of which I had been a member. I wanted to tell him about my experiences in the U. S. Navy Choir Company. After a brief visit with Mama, Betty Jo, Isabella, and Dick, I left again on the train for my next assignment which was to be in the City of Chicago.
Pre-Radio School at Hugh Manley School, Chicago, Illinois.
This assignment was to complete a Pre-Radio Materiel course as the first stage in getting ready for radio technician training. For this course I was scheduled to attend the Naval Training Station at Hugh Manley School, 2935 West Polk Street. Chicago 12, Illinois. The Hugh Manley School was a public high school building on the south side of Chicago which had been taken over by the U. S. Navy to house the sessions of the Pre-Radio Materiel course. I was a member of Company 325 and both lived and attended classes at the school building. The course was about one month long and covered intense refresher training in mathematics, physics, basic electronic components, maintenance shop practice and shop administration. Most of the men picked for this training had previous technical or college training. However, some of the students could not complete the course and were transferred out to other service at the end of the month. I had no trouble with the course. Some of it was simply a review of courses I had in college. However, the electronic circuitry was new to me and very intriguing.
We were given liberty each Sunday to leave the school to explore Chicago. We found Chicago to be very hospitable to military service men. Any of us in uniform could ride free on the public transportation services such as buses, street cars, and elevated trains. In addition there were several "canteens" run by the United Service Organization (USO) where service men could get free food and entertainment. I sought out the nearest Church of Christ congregation in order to worship on Sunday. I found the Garfield Park congregation whose Minister was my former classmate at David Lipscomb College, Brother Woodrow Duket. His wife was also one of my classmates at Lipscomb whom I knew as Opal Gowan. I was delighted to find Christian friends close by the school. I was enlisted to lead singing at worship services and to teach a singing class on Sunday evenings at the Garfield Park church as long as I was free to attend.
Of even greater import, Opal, knowing that I was single and would perhaps like to have a girl friend, suggested to me that I meet a Christian girl she knew who attended the Northwest Chicago Church of Christ. Her name was Charlotte Wiesen. I was not adverse to meeting and gaining a pleasant girl friend. Opal invited both Charlotte and myself to dinner at her house the next Sunday. Of course, I had no idea that I was about to meet the girl who would one day become my wife. I doubt that I thought of this scripture at that time, but it certainly comes to my mind now, about 58 years later: “For we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.
We did meet for dinner at Opal and Woodrow's house. I took Charlotte to her home at 3651 West Byron Street in Northwest Chicago via the street car that afternoon. We met at church the next Sunday, and then got together every Sunday to go to church together. She loved singing and had a beautiful voice. She especially liked the hymns of the great masters that I liked. She enjoyed going to church services, would not consider missing them, and obviously loved the Lord. Her personality was straight forward and real. She was really exactly who she appeared to be, and the longer I knew her the more I realized she was without guile. In every way she was beautiful. Of course, I did not realize all this at first meeting, but I definitely wanted to see more of her every time I had liberty from school. She lived with her father who was a Conductor on the Elston Avenue street car line. Her mother had passed away when she was a young child. She had two brothers, both younger than herself, Charles who was away in the U. S. Navy, and Robert who was away in the U. S. Army.
During my month at the Hugh Manley school I saw Charlotte every Sunday. I especially remember one Sunday afternoon we went out together to the Chicago suburban community of Brookfield to the local Church of Christ for a prayer meeting conducted by a man, Brother O. D. Bixler, who had been a missionary to Japan, the country which had become an enemy of the United States. (Brother Bixler resumed his service to the Japanese people after the war was over.)
After completion of the preparatory course in Pre-Radio subjects, I was sent to the E. E. and R. M. School at the U. S. Naval Training Station in Gulfport, Mississippi. I was advanced in rating at this time to Seaman First Class, equivalent to the rank of Corporal in the Army. My blue dress uniform then had a full complement of white stripes on the cuffs and collar of the blouse.
As a large group of Seaman from Hugh Manley School were to go for further training at Gulfport, Mississippi, we were sheduled to go together by train as a group. The day that we were to leave I tried to call Charlotte on the phone but didn't reach her. So I sat down and wrote her the following letter:
"Wednesday afternoon, May 10. 1944.
"I reckon I won't get another chance to call you so I'll write what I'm thinking. I tried to call you last night but you were gone out or else out walking the dog for no one answered. And I didn't get to call again because the line in front of the telephone booth was too long.
"We leave tomorrow sometime for Gulfport, Mississippi. So you see I didn't get any of my choices as to where I would go. No one wants to go to Gulfport because it is rumored to be one of the worst bases.
"It may sound funny coming from me, but you know I had just about decided that J. W. was right, that I did want to stay here in Chicago. I'll have to admit tbat I regret leaving here. But it doesn't do me any good now. I had no choice whatsoever in the matter.
"What I really wanted to tell you is how much I enjoyed meeting and being with you even for so short a time. I wasn't exactly myself Sunday night I was so tired and droopy. So I didn't think to tell you then.
"I sure am glad the Dukets had you over to dinner two weeks ago or I never would have gotten acquainted witb you. You kn (!! Someone just tbrew a baseball in the window or rather through the window right here beside me. If you will notice the last word I was writing you'll see how I jumped.) I was going to say: you know you are very different at first glance than you are when one gets acquainted with you. For instance, when I first met you I didn't know you were so much fun nor such a little bundle of sweetness and I really admire your Christian character. Wish I could stay here and see more of you.
" Another reason I'm writing you this little note is so you'll owe me a letter. Of course, I'll have to send you my address first. I don't know what it will be yet, just Something, Gulfport, Mississippi. It used to be a summer resort town, so it won't be so bad down there. And it's in my native Southland. I still have 10 months of radio school to go through so maybe I'll be back to Chicago before I'm through. A new secondary school is being opened at Navy Pier soon and that may be my secondary school when I get ready for it.
"Well take care of yourself and I'll see you in the funny papers.
Primary Radio Materiel School, Gulfport, Mississippi.
The Primary Radio School was called the E. E. and R. M. School (possibly meaning Elementary Electronics and Radio Materiel School) and was situated in a group of Quonset huts on a large almost treeless field on the north border of the village of Gulfport, Mississippi, about 1/2 mile from the Gulf of Mexico. I became a member of Plat. 4 of Batt. 6-44. I have a note in my archives which says I lived in Quonset Hut 1052 near Barracks 24. When our class of students arrived in mid-May 1944, the weather was cool and ideal for living in a quonset hut in semi-outdoor conditions. I wrote to Charlotte on my first week end in Gulfport, before school classes started, telling her about the glorious weather of my beloved southland. However, this enjoyment of comfortable living conditions was only temporary. In early June the weather warmed up to typical Mississippi summer temperatures in the 90's, and living and studying in metal Quonset huts became next to unbearable. But we had no choice but to bear it. We perspired freely just sitting still at our desks. It was difficult to take notes and keep from smudging the pages with perspiration. We were constantly sleepy when sitting still in class because we had guard duty for part of almost every night. To keep from dozing to sleep during class we were allowed to stand up. Nearly half the class was often standing in order to keep from sleeping during class. The guard duty we had to share each night was simply a senseless march on a prescribed beat around each hut on shifts of two to four hours. There was nothing to guard against except the danger of falling asleep on guard duty. I suppose the whole exercise was simply designed to get us used to the idea of standing watch on shipboard. When I walked my beat in the blackness of the night I did not dare even to stand still for I could actually doze off while standing. Once my knee buckled as I almost lapsed into unconsciousness while walking.
I remember one of my shop projects was to build my own six tube superheterodyne radio receiver from basic commercial components. When completed, it worked! Most of what we learned about eloctronic circuits was generic and primary in nature. We did not study in this school the specific electronic equipment we would find aboard ship. We were to learn later in Secondary Radio School many advanced state-of-the-art equipments, most of them classified Secret which at that time we didn't even know existed. The Gulfport Primary Radio School provided learning conditions far from ideal and my grades sometimes were borderline passing. However, when the classes were completed about the first of August 1944, I was awarded the stripe of a Radio Tchnician Third Class (equivalent to Sergeant's stripes in he Army).
There were some interesting events in my life while I was stationed in Gulfport. I didn't get any liberty away from the base until my second week end there. I wanted to find a Church of Christ congregation with whom to worship. But I had no indication that one existed in Gulfport. So on my first free Sunday I got up with the sun and taught the bus to Mobile, Alabama, and attended a church whith I had heard about there. I enquired of the members there about the existence of a Church of Christ in Gulfport. It seemed strange to me that no one knew whether there was a congregation there or not! In the afternoon I went to the Mobile suburb called Creighton and looked up the address of my Uncle Roy Perry, my father's brother. (Uncle Roy bad been a member of the Churth of Christ as a boy but upon marrying Aunt Helen, he adopted her religion, Catholicism. This is the reason I did not contact them earlier that Sunday.) Uncle Roy, Aunt Helen, and their daughter Frances, a few years older than me, were very glad to see me. They had a son, Marion, about my same age, who was away in military service. My cousin, Frances, took me for a sightseeing tour of Mobile by car. I had to catch the 5:15 PM bus in order to make sure of getting back to Gulfport on time. They invited me back to spend more time and I promised to come to see them again during my sojourn in Gulfport.
At the bus depot I found a line of people about a block long waiting to get on the single bus to New Orleans with a stop at Gulfport. I felt I had to get on that bus so I started an infiltration process through the line and luckily found myself in front of the door of the bus before it was completely full. So I got on the bus, but had to stand up all the way to Gulfport. (These kinds of crowded conditions existed on every train and bus on which I traveled during the war. On overnight trips, military men slept on the floors of trains under the seats and some times even on the luggage racks.)
On a subsequent Sunday I found a Church of Christ congregation in Biloxi, Mississippi, only about ten miles from Gulfport. Here I met another sailor who was in a different training school at Gulfport. He was Seaman Basil Overton, a year or two younger than me, and one whom I learned was a dedicated Christian preacher in civilian life. He impressed me because he conducted Bible studies among his fellow sailors and sought to convert them to be New Testament Christians. I learned also that there was, indeed, a small congregation of the Church of Christ meeting in Gulfport, which I quickly visited, perhaps at the Sunday evening service. In the Gulfport congregation I met a young preacher, Brother Bill Reeves, who had recently been attending David Lipscomb College in Nashville, my alma mater. He was serving as the preacher at the Gulfport church during that summer. Brother Overton, Brother Reeves, and I worshiped together and together visited other nearby congregations during several Sundays that summer.
Brother Basil Overton mentioned the fact that, in the course of conducting Bible Studies with some of the men, he had gotten acquainted with the Naval Chaplain at the Gulfport base. So I think it was Brother Overton who suggested me to the Chaplain for an opportunity which I was thrilled to receive. Somehow, I was given the opportunity to lead the singing at a Sunday morning worship service on the Naval base. Maybe the fact that I had been a member of a Navy Choir Company at Great Lakes convinced the Chaplain that I was up to the task. I am not sure how it came about. Anyway, I remember finding myself on a raised platform on a Gulfport dock looking out on what appeared to be thousands of uniformed sailors stretched for about a city block, all standing for a brief period of worship. I had a microphone in my hand and there were loud speakers at strategic places among the sailors. I had one song to lead, the Navy Hymn, a cappella. I raised my hand high for attention, sang out a note to give the pitch, and then led them:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
0 hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.
I could hear those sailors singing. It rang out through the village of Gulfport. Sailors are not known generally for their pious or worshipful attitude, but most of them learned the Navy Hymn and were not ashamed to sing it.
It was during this summer that we heard about the Allied invasion of Europe across the beaches of Normandy. We assumed that Charlotte's brother Charles was in the midst of the Naval part of it, and we later learned that he was. We also thought that my brother Bert might be in the Air Corps part of it, but we later learned that be bad been sent to an entirely different front in far away India. This was the summer of 1944 and for 2 1/2 years, since December 7,1941, only one primary thing had occupied our minds, the world war on many fronts. Everything else took a back seat to that: completion of schooling, starting of work careers, even courting a wife and starting a family.
Our training for Navy service was of utmost importance so we worked hard both night and day. But our brief liberties on Saturday afternoons and Sundays were precious. In addition to visiting Christian friends with Basil Overton and Bill Reeves in south Mississippi, one Saturday afternoon I hopped on the train for New Orleans, a city I bad never before visited. I think I slept that night in a bunk room that a downtown church maintained for visiting service men. I wandered through tbe French Quarter and ate in a fancy restaurant. I don't remember much else about the visit. On my final week end of tbe Gulfport sojourn, I went back to visit Uncle Roy, Aunt Helen, and Cousin Frances in Mobile. (Of course, I didn't know then that some years later I would get very much more acquainted with the Mobile Bay area of Alabama when my aging parents would move to Fairhope,a little city across the Bay from Mobile.)
Charlotte and I exchanged several letters while I was in Gulfport. We experimented calling each other nicknames. We finally decided that our usual names, Charlotte and F. M., didn't need adjusting. I think we both wanted to see more of each other. Looking back from this time 58 years later, I must claim that God's providence provided for our desires. On June 29, 1944 I wrote to Charlotte: "It is still unsettled where I will be sent next (for my continued schooling as a radio technician). It will either be Washington, D. C. or Chicago, and the chances are it will be Chicago. Anyway, if I pass O. K., I'll sew 3rd Class Radio Tecbnician stripes on my sleeves and step on the train for one place or the other next Friday. ...I'd sure like to enjoy some cool Chicago weather now and maybe I will next week. If I come to Chicago I'll be stationed at Navy Pier which, I hear, isn't too good (for living conditions, that is)." Well, my next station did turn out to be the Radio Materiel School at Navy Pier, on the lake front in downtown Chicago.
Excerpt from the Autobiography of Francis M. Perry, Born 1921.