An Excerpt From The Autobiography of Francis M. Perry, 1921 -
Secondary Radio Materiel SchooI, Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois.
To this point in the autobiography of my life during World War 2 I have been able to spur my memory by re-reading a diary I kept for awhile (March 1942 through December 1943) and letters to family members which have been preserved. However, I do not have at hand any letters which I wrote from the Secondary Radio Materiel School which I attended at Navy Pier in Chicago during the period August 1944 through February 1945. For one thing, letters to Charlotte Wiesen, which I wrote from Gulfport, Mississippi during May, June and July of 1944, ceased to be written because I was then residing in Chicago and I was seeing Charlotte regularly every week. So now, as I write this 57 years later, Charlotte, my wife, does not have any old letters to refresh my memory. We must depend purely upon memory which we retain in our heads and it is growing dim.
As we look back it is clear that during the war years God used the ambient circumstances to providentially shape our lives, both mine and Charlotte's. This was possible, first of all, because God makes His grace available to all through Jesus Christ. It was possible in our lives because we yielded our lives to His direction. We were not much aware at the time that God was causing
all things to work together for our good. But, looking back now it is clear that He was.
At the time I simply deplored the faet that the world was plunged into such a devastating war. On the one hand I was tempted to volunteer for exciting activities, possibly as an Air Corps pilot or other commissioned officer of as high rank as possible. But, on the other hand, I could not believe that God wanted His children to embrace and savor such activity. So I decided that I would wait for the Lord to show me what to do. I did not expect the Lord to speak directly to me in any kind of spectacular or unusual way. I felt that I should simply keep myself aware of who I was, a Christian, and try to recognize the Lord's way in opportunities which would come before me. It was through this strategy that (I believe now) the Lord brought me, in August 1944, back to the city of Chicago. This time it was to be for a relatively long period of more than 28 weeks to further my technical education and, most wonderful of all, an opportunity for me to see more of the girl, Charlotte, who was becoming increasingly the object of my affections.
Chicago's Navy Pier was mostly a drafty warehouse type structure beside a
street stretching from its land based end at 600 East Grand Avenue out into
Lake Michigan for almost a mile. It had been built in 1916 as Chicago's
"Municipal Pier" to serve as a shipping terminal for vessels plying the Great
Lakes as well as an entertainment site for the public of Chicago. During
World War 1 it had housed several regiments of soldiers, Red Cross and
home defense units as well as a barracks for recruits. From 1918 to 1921 the
pier boasted its own street car line, theater, restaurants, and an emergen(y
hospital. In 1922 it housed Chicago's "Pageants of Progress" which drew
nearly a million visitors for its run of 15 days. In 1926 a pioneer radio station,
WGFG, was established in the north tower at the end of the pier. In 1927 it's
name was changed to "Navy Pier" as a tribute to Navy personnel who served
When I arrived in August of 1944, Navy Pier was serving as the home base for
some aircraft carriers (we referred to them as "Baby Carriers" because they
appeared to be so small) on which Naval pilots were trained in carrier take-
offs and landings. Although the pilots were not housed at Navy Pier, some
15,000 of them were trained on Lake Michigan during WW2, among them a
young airman named George Bush. I learned after the war that some 200
planes were lost in the waters of the lake during the wartime training. We did
see the carriers coming back to the Navy Pier base daily and observed the
unloading of wrecked airplanes quite often. Evidences of the hazardous duty
required of naval fliers was clearly visible.
In August of 1944 when I arrived at Navy Pier, the U. S. Navy Secondary
Radio Materiel Training School for Radio Technicians had only been in
existence a few months. A new company of trainees (about 100 or so per
company) was formed to start training every week. I was in Company Eleven
indicating the school had started only 11 weeks earlier. We were all third
class Petty Officers having graduated from various Pre-Radio and Primary
Radio Materiel Schools around the US. The entire school was housed in the
extremely long and open warehouse area of Navy Pier. As far as I can
remember there were few if any partitions along the pier between companies.
We had metal double decker bunks and personal lockers for our gear. There
were a number of shower rooms and toilet facilities at intervals along the pier.
We took our meals at a huge mess hall in what had once been a beautiful
theater building at the seaward end of the pier.
At various places along the pier there were rooms for laboratories and classrooms. A few shipboard models of radio, radar, and electronic equipment were installed in the laboratories on which we practiced. But most of our work had to be done theoretically using handbooks and pictures because actual models of the latest shipboard equipment were not available for the school.
At this point in the war, development of new electronic equipment was proceeding at breakneck speed and the possibilities of electronic warfare could scarcely be imagined. Before our arrival at Navy Pier, none of us had ever heard of radar. It was classified secret and until we finished Primary Radio School we were not cleared to learn about it. We were astounded to learn of the great search radar sets installed on almost all the ships which were able to map the waters around each ship out to a radius of 200 miles, detecting foes in the air as well as on the surface of the sea long before they came within gunshot. And the fire control radars could actually trace the passage of shells to their enemy destinations and indicate necessary corrections for effectiveness and accuracy even beyond the actual visual
horizon. The possibilities of the electronic circuits in these equipments amazed me and I began to entertain the thought that I might change my college engineering major from aeronautical to electronic engineering when and if this war should ever release me.
We had intense classes for at least half a day every day with the goal of studying in 28 weeks almost every piece of electronic equipment in the Navy. In the afternoons we practited equipment maintenance in the laboratory, had at least an hour of physical exercise in calisthenics, swimming, or tumbling, and, yes, everyday more of that eternal military practice of marching. At this time we were each given opportunity in turn to act as drill master and direct the marching ourselves. (We had occasions when amateur drill masters either purposely or accidentally tried to march the company into the lake.) We even became adept at chanting and singing sea ditties while we marched. We had some highly educated men of many talents in our company and it was not unusual at rare times of leisure for the actors in our midst to break into Shakespearean drama, or for the musicians to break out their instruments in a jam session or a musical parade down through the pier to the mess ball.
Each week was a term of study for one or more specific equipments at use in the Navy. Each Friday afternoon we would be given a final exam for that week's work. The exams often posed certain malfunctions for the specific equipment we were studying that week, and asked us to give the necessary solution to place the malfunctioning equipment back in service. We would analyze the equipment by spreading out the usually large schematic diagrams and searching for the malfunctioning circuits. There was a limited time to answer each question and often it would take all of the allotted time just to find on the complicated diagrams the circuits which were supposed to be malfunctioning. We were supposed to have learned how the circuits operated normally and to analyze the way they would react under problem conditions. In short, we were to become troubleshooters. To my mind we usually were failing miserably in solving the problems presented to us. After the exams on Friday afternoons some of us would get together to rehash the solutions we gave. Seldom were any of our solutions the same, and on the following Monday when we received our grades for the past week, we perceived that none of our answers were right. The average grade usually was 50 or 60 out
of a perfect 100.
We studied hard all week even in the evenings, and it was demoralizing to come up with only 50% on an exam. Often we disagreed with the solutions said by the instructors to be correct. We moved on the next week to new equipment regardless of the average low grades of the students. We reasoned that the instructors must be actually grading "on the curve," counting something like 60% to be a good grade otherwise most of us would have flunked out of the school. A few students did flunk out and disappeared from our ranks. The few who were considered to have flunked a week's work were allowed to drop back into the next company and repeat that week's work. Only if they flunked the same material twice were they washed out of school.
At about the 20th week of the 28 week course it happened to me. I was sick that week with some kind of stomach poisoning and missed some classes altogether. My grade for the Friday exam was scarcely 20%. I was given the grand opportunity to drop back to Company 12 and repeat that week's work with the provision that only my best grade for that particular week's work would be entered on my reeord. I hated to leave the comradeship of my friends in Company 11, but I realized I was being given a good opportunity to raise my grade average. It worked well and I raised my average grade to the point that, at graduation, I was promoted to Petty Officer Second Class. My old comrades in Company 11, who graduated a week ahead of me, did not receive promotions but simply retained the Petty Officer Third Class ratings they already had.
Each Company at Navy Pier had a Chief Petty Offieer who lived with the Company and directed it in activities other than classroom instruetion. Our Chief assembled us each morning and marched us off to our classes. In the afternoons he directed our physical activities and marching exercises. It was to him that we reported if we were sick, needed administrative assistance, or needed off duty liberty passes. He had the responsibility to develop us militarily for eventual Navy life aboard ship at sea. During the course of our stay at Navy Pier he chose certain of the students to serve one month terms as Company Commander, under his supervision, of course. I was surprised to be chosen for this "honor" (opportunity) during my fourth or fifth month. My duties were primarily to get all the men lined up every morning on the street outside our quarters and march them off to class. Later in the day I marched them off for the afternoon activities. I don't think I had any special talent for this. In fact, I rather dreaded the task. (As I remember, my
hardest problem was marching the Company through the narrow gate in and out of Navy Pier. I usually marched the men up to the gate, had them fallout of formation, and then commanded them to reassemble on the other side of the gate.) When my month was up, there were no requests that I be retained as Commander.
The school was tough. The pressures to understand new concepts, to learn, and hopefully retain a vast amount of information seemed, at times, almost too much to bear. I was grateful that the schooling was presented in one week increments ending in final exams every Friday night. After Friday night, whatever had transpired that week, it was over. There was no more time for remedy as far as the school was concerned. One might as well forget problems and relax for the week end. Being able to do that accounts for my survival in the school.
Week ends were precious to me. I was released for liberty every Saturday afternoon. Although I usually had to be back at the pier by a deadline on Saturday night, I could depart again early on Sunday morning. I was especially gratified to have this assignment in Chicago because it gave me opportunity to continue to cultivate my friendship with Charlotte Wiesen with whom I had become acquainted during the short period when I attended Pre-Radio training at the Hugh Manley School just a week weeks earlier. I almost always had a date lined up with Charlotte on Saturday night and a standing appointment to attend church with her on Sunday. Charlotte was a member of the Northwest Church of Christ which was only a few blocks from her apartment where she resided with her father at 3651 West Byron Street. I could reach Charlotte's apartment directly from Navy Pier by a 30 minute ride on the Elston Avenue streetcar line. Charlotte's father, William Wiesen, was a conductor on the Elston Avenue streetcar line and sometimes I rode his car en route to see Charlotte. Charlotte and I often attended church at
Northwest. Other times we went to the Garfield Park Church of Christ where I had a standing invitation to lead singing.
Of course, I had opportunity to make many friends with many Christians at these two Chicago churches. Charlotte and I were invited to Sunday dinners with a number of the members. Charlotte's closest girl friend, Mrs. Marge Zini, invited us to her house quite often. And we attended many of the Sunday evening (after church) social activities of the young people. On Saturday or Sunday afternoons Charlotte escorted me to see the special visitor attractions of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Planetarium, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and Band Stand concerts on the Lake Front. At least once I took Charlotte to dinner at a restaurant downtown in the Loop. And we went to the movies at a movie house in her neighborhood on more than one occasion. We used to stop in for hamburgers at a little hamburger place near her apartment.
Of course, as my weeks in Chicago went by it became winter and it got colder
and colder. I remember really being cold and thinking my feet would freeze as I waited on Sunday nights for the streetcar to take me back to Navy Pier. On one cold winter occasion I had spent Sunday with Charlotte. After church we were invited to Marge Zini's house for dinner with several other Christian friends. But about time for dinner I began to feel very sick at my stomach and could not eat. I laid on a bed in the bed room while the others ate. Someone came in a checked on me from time to time and soon I felt somewhat better. That evening on the street car going back to Navy Pier my stomach ache returned and I had to retreat to the back platform of the streetcar, throw open the window and vomit out the window as the car went down the street.
The few other passengers on the car probably thought I was just a typical sailor experiencing the result of too much alcoholic imbibing. When I got back to Navy Pier I found that almost all my Navy comrades had been or still were similarly sick. Our Saturday night meal in the Navy Pier mess hall had poisoned us all. Luckily, most of us were recovered by Monday morning.
As Christmas approached that year there were several snows in Chicago and the slush on the streets was deep. I noticed that Charlotte did not have any snow boots to wear over her shoes, as most of the Chicago ladies had, to protect her shoes from the slush. Christmas was coming on and I wanted to get a present for Charlotte. We were becoming more and more attached to each other, but I did not yet feel that it was quite time for me to ask her to marry me and for us to become engaged. Besides I didn't have the money to buy a proper engagement ring. So I decided the perfect gift to give Charlotte would be a pair of snow boots. On Christmas eve we exchanged gifts. Neither Charlotte nor I remember what she gave me that Christmas. But I gave her the snow boots, generally known then as stadium boots. I just vaguely remember there was no great rejoicing over my gift. She was grateful for the boots. It was years later that I learned that Charlotte had been hoping for an engagement ring. Apparently, Charlotte's girl friend Marge had speculated that it was about time for me to produce an engagement ring and ask for Charlotte's hand in marriage. But, on that fateful Christmas eve, what did I
offer? A pair of snow boots!
As the new year of 1945 started I was realizing that my schooling at Navy Pier was to be complete sometime in early March 1945 and I would be off to parts
unknown. There was no doubt in my mind that Charlotte must some day be my wife. I wanted to give her a ring but I did not have the money to buy one. I think the reason was that I was still supporting one of my sister's to attend David Lipscomb College in Nashville. So I asked Charlotte if we could be engaged without the ring, and that I would buy one for her as soon as possible. We would be married as soon as I returned from the war. Would she wait for me? Her answer was yes and our engagement was sealed.
Believe me, I walked on air from that day on-for the rest of the war. The details of what happened during those last couple of months in Chicago are lost in dim memory. I graduated with promotion to Radio Technician 2nd Class, the equivalent rate as a staff sergeant in the army, with one stripe more than some of my fellow students. I must have gotten leave to go home to Nashville after graduation for I definitely remember taking Charlotte to meet my family. My family had moved from Acklen Avenue to a house on Gallatin Pike. We stayed a few days in Nashville with Mama, Betty Jo, Isabella, and Dick, and then I took Charlotte back to Chicago and reported to Navy Pier for further orders.
I think I was at that time assigned to the Commander, Administrative Command of the 7th Amphibious Forces which was where I eventually wound up. At that time the Amphibious forces were part of the fleet just starting the fight to free the Philippine Islands. But I was not told this detail at this time. We knew little or nothing of what was actually going on in the Pacific war zone except what was in the newspapers. My orders were simply to report to Camp Shoemaker near Oakland, California. And for the first time in my Navy career, I was treated as a responsible person and just given orders and ticket vouchers to proceed on my own. I booked a ticket on the Denver Zephyr overnight from Chicago to Denver and allowed myself a few hours layover in Denver so I could visit my relatives there. I had always wanted to ride on that streamlined super train. I don't remember what train I took on to Oakland.
It was sometime in the last week of March 1945 that Charlotte and her father saw me off at the Illinois Central train station. There was a lump in my throat and I think my beautiful bride-to-be was about to cry as I bid goodbye. Charlotte wrote to me later that she didn't allow herself to cry until I had departed.
As I think back now, much of my war was spent in transportation activities (or inactivities). My Alaskan war transportation was first an old ocean freighter on which we lived seemingly for weeks. Then it was C-47 aircraft with days in barracks alongside runways waiting for space available among the cargo. Much of my Navy war was a jumble of train station waiting rooms, train day coaches, Pullman cars, troop ears, some ancient “almost prehistoric," a few ultra-modern, always crowded to overt1owing. And finally, at sea, we spent weeks en route on troop transports, weeks of temporary housing on anchored ships, and finally three days without a bunk on a destroyer just in order fo reach the ship to which I was assigned. Finally in my own quarters on my own ship we spent a month or more at anchor for every three or four days at sea. There was constant hurry up and wait, with every hour anticipation concerning when and where we would go next.
I remember that ride on the Denver Zephyr. I had a reclining seat in the chair car. It was ultra-comfortable, had plenty of leg room, would rotate so I could look out the window, and would recline almost horizontally. The trains can't afford to give so much room and comfort to chair car customers today. We left Chicago at exactly 5:30 PM on March 19, 1945. At 5:45 PM we flashed by the Brookfield station, and at 6:05 we stopped at the Aurora, Illinois station. And we weren't really moving yet. I slept good and woke up as we were almost silently rolling into Denver. I spent about 5 hours with my relatives, Uncle Andrew Perry and Aunt Blanche at whose house I had lived one summer four years before, Cousin Gene Perry and his wife Wilma, and Cousin Myrta Blanche and her husband Richard Elliott. I learned that the young lady Ruth Hood, who had been such a good friend to me that summer four years earlier and had corresponded some with me while I was in Alaska, had been married three weeks earlier. I don't remember her married name. That afternoon at 5 PM Gene and Wilma took me to catch my train on to
Oakland and Camp Shoemaker.
It is fairly easy to reconstruct the rest of my life in th U. S. Navy (March 1945 to May 1946) because I wrote to Charlotte every two or three days and she kept the letters. I have them here as I write. There is one unmistakable main theme evident in these letters and that is my love for Charlotte. I was one love struck boy.
The first thing I did on reaching Denver was to send a picture postcard to Charlotte. It had a picture of Gem Lake in Estes Park, Colorado. Fourteen months later, in May of 1946, we would be there in Estes Park celebrating our honeymoon. But there was no way of knowing that in March 1945.
The train coach on which I rode out of Denver was ancient. It had once had gas lights in it. The seats had hard straight backs and were terrible for sitting all night. The night was pretty much of a nightmare but I slept a little. We crossed the Continental Divide and it was real cold. Out the window I saw snow everywhere. But the weather was beautiful again the next morning when we pulled in to Ogden, Utah. I had been there once before on a bus trip, but this time we had a three hour layover. The town of Ogden reminded me very much of an Alaskan town because, I guess, it had mountains which rose up all around it.
On the next leg of the trip I got into a car with reclining seats and I had an easier time of it that night. Most of the second day out of Denver we rode across what is known as the Great American Desert. We crossed Great Salt Lake on a bridge 17 miles long. When we were in the middle of the bridge we looked like we were far out at sea. For quite a distance the country was very barren, no trees, only sage brush and mesquite. Every now and then we passed some cattle or horses on the range or a little low, dusty ranch house surrounded by corrals. We even saw a few forlorn looking dusty cowboys with broad brimmed hats. We had a short stopover at a little town in Nevada called Carlin. The soldiers and sailors made a rush for the saloon. But I went in the soda fountain and bought an ice cream cone from the
beautiful girl soda jerk.
The next morning on the train dawned bright and fair and we were in California. And what a change. Now it was spring. The grass was green, flowers blooming, and trees budding. We got in to Oakland about 11:00 AM on March 21,1945. Oakland is a beautiful town, larger than Nashville, I think. I wandered around there for several hours because I didn't have to report to Camp Shoemaker until late that night. I visited the museum of a big game hunter (don't remember his name). There were some trophies there from Alaska.
I wrote to Charlotte on the evening of March 22, 1945 about my first day at
Shoemaker. "Shoemaker is a big disappointment. It's just like Gulfport was. We don't know what is going to happen to us yet except that we are going to be shipped out soon, probably within 10 days. Today we saw a lot of movies on chemical warfare and booby traps. Good information. Later this week we will have another physical examination. Then we will be put on various work details until we are ready to leave. There's nothing hard to do and it looks like we will do a lot of loafing around. On the post there are movie theaters, bowling alleys, library,
soda fountain, etc."
My next letter to Charlotte was written on the morning of March 24, 1945. I said, "Yesterday was a typical Shoemaker day, 1 guess. The sun was out all day and everything was very beautiful. The hills and mountains that surround this camp are just inviting us away but we can't go. Yesterday morning I spent having another physical exam called the 'overseas physical.' So I guess I really am going overseas. Yesterday afternoon we saw movies on how to kill mosquitoes so as to keep down malaria. That's all we did except that everywhere we go we have to stand in a line a mile long. It takes 30 to 45 minutes of standing in line just to get chow."
On March 24, 1945 1 wrote, "I had liberty last night. I was supposed to get out about 1:00 PM but for some reason we were not turned loose until 5:00 PM. I had planned to go to San Francisco. The trip takes about two hours. I still thought I might make it to San Francisco until I got in the line waiting for the bus. I waited three hours for a bus I could get on. There was about one bus every 20 minutes but there were so many in line it took that long to get our turn. It was 9:30 PM when we got to Oakland so we gave up going on to San Francisco. We were practically starved by then so we got a good meal in a restaurant. About 10:30 PM we started looking around for a place to spend the night. We were told we could find accommodations in a Baptist Church around the corner. So we went there, got a nice bed, and a 'huge' breakfast the next morning, all for no cost. It was Sunday morning but I couldn't go to church because I had to report in at the camp at noon and I had to go through the bus routine to get back. I have received no mail as yet (since leaving Chicago)."
March 27,1945 I wrote to Charlotte again. "I finally got paid and here's the $10 that really saved my life. You know, I didn't think I would need any more money but I needed it even before I got here to California. (I don't understand this as I write now. I must have borrowed $10 from Charlotte on leaving Chicago. 1 don't remember it. That was in the days when a dollar would buy something.) Its nice to get the raise that goes with my advancement in rate and it will be nice to collect that reimbursement for travel that I haven't received yet. That should amount to about $75.00. And when I get overseas I automatically get 20 % raise in pay. Why I'll be rich in no time if they'll only send me somewhere I can't spend it. Yesterday
morning I had to work over at the pistol range but there was nothing much to
do but sweep the floors and pick up empty cartridges. Yesterday afternoon I was fire watch in the barracks. I read a book all afternoon, 'Oh Promised Land,' a historical novel about Georgia and Alabama in the 18th and 19th centuries. Last night I went to the movies and saw 'The Story of Dr. Wassel.' Still no letters. Its been a week and two days since I've seen or heard one word from you. The delivery here is terrible. All I can do is wait, I guess."
On March 29, 1945, after being at Camp Shoemaker for eight days, I wrote to
Charlotte, "Believe me I'm walking on air. And it's because I finally am getting your letters. (I got four letters in three days.) Sweetheart, you're the light of my life. One little line from you can buoy me up so that I'm happy no matter what I have to go through here. I have reread your letters several times and I'll read them many more times too. ...I finally got in to San Francisco. It's quite a city. Very big. The downtown section is as big if not bigger than that of Chicago. And it's a wild town just full of sailors. I keep one hand on my pocketbook and stay away from dark streets. I didn't do much there but walk around town a bit. I spent the night at a service center dormitory and had to get back (to camp) fairly early the next morning. California is turning into a beautiful country (with reference to springtime, I think). The sun has been shining nicely for 3 or 4 days. It's still very cool here but everything is green and there are flowers everywhere. I'll show you
California some time when we're together again for keeps. That's all for now, sweet. I love you, F. M."
March 30, 1945. Shoemaker, California. "Charlotte Darling, Your telegram
came last night and I couldn't imagine what it was about. When I opened it I
had to laugh. You're awfully sweet. You didn't want me to be lonesome
because I didn't have any maiL But I had already received four letters from
you and I received another one today. That catches me up to date thru March
27th. ...I'm on my way down to Santa Cruz on my liberty today. My cousin
(June Morris) lives down there. I don't know her address. I'm going to try to
locate her anyway because I won't have another chance probably. I wrote
Mama to send me her address but I haven't received it yet. If I can't locate
her it will be a nice little trip anyway, about 60 miles in all. By the way, what
is your ring size."
March 31,1945. Shoemaker, California. "Charlotte Darling, My morale is really high. I got two letters and your Easter card today. ...It means everything to me to hear you say you love me, and to get your letters telling me so and to hear you speak of our Nashville home and our plans for a happy life together. We've got a Chicago home too, darling, and we'll have another home somewhere. I don't know where, but it's someplace you'll like and I'll like. We've got the whole world to choose from. I think I'd like to see a little of the world before we decide. Wouldn't you? I've traveled around quite a bit but it wasn't much fun alone. I always wanted to share my travels with someone. For instance, an Alaskan sunset would have been infinitely more beautiful with you in my arms. The breath taking views of snow capped mountains would have been even more breath taking had your hand been touching mine. And darling, even the most horrible desert waste would seem
like an oasis if your face were there for me to gaze upon. ...I got to Santa Cruz yesterday but I didn't locate my cousin. She didn't have a phone and I couldn't find her any other way. I enjoyed the trip anyway. San Jose and Santa Cruz are very pretty towns. San Jose is inland in a beautiful mountain valley. The mountains slope right down to the ocean and Santa Cruz is very close to the coast. There are some nice beaches but most of the coast consists of high cliffs down to the sea. I had a luxurious hotel room which I hated to leave. ...There's still no word as to when I’ll leave this camp."
Camp Shoemaker, California was just a base for holding Navy enlisted men,
already prepared for overseas assignments, while the Navy Administration
sorted out the paper work of getting them assigned to the ships or bases where
they could do the most good for the war effort. So a great number of men
constantly were being sent there for periods of one or two weeks during which
there was little or nothing for them to do but wait until the administrative work caught up with them. But, I guess, the Navy was not unaware of the proverb, “idle hands are the devil's work shop." Although the men were given a few hours liberty every third day, efforts were made to keep the men busy when they were in camp. On the other hand the men, realizing that there was really nothing being
accomplished in their so-called work details, made efforts to keep from doing any of the make-work assigned to them. And the creative effort put forth by the men to keep from doing the work was sometimes marvelous to behold.
The first day of make shift work details were pulled off by the camp staffm personnel without much complaint from the men. We were all assembled outside our barracks after breakfast. The roll was called to see if we were all there. Then we were formed into small work details which were placed under the leadership of certain permanent camp personnel. These leaders then led the details off to pick up empty shells at the rifle and pistol ranges, to sweep up trash from a field, or to do other mind numbing tasks. The second day, however, many of the men began to figure out ways to escape the details. For instance, a detail of men would be marched off with a camp staff leader at the head of the group. When the group got to the place of work and the leader looked back to survey the group, a number of the group would be missing. They had simply dropped out of the group along the way without the leader noticing. The leader seemed to be surprised at losing some of the men. Some of the men were transported to the rifle ranges on the back of trucks while the leader of the group sat in the cab of the truck. The leader seemed to be surprised to find the back of the truck almost empty when it got to the
destination. The men had simply jumped off the back of the truck when it stopped for red lights or stop signs.
The third day the leaders of the work parties placed guards behind the groups and on the back of the trucks to keep men from leaving the parties en route. But even then men were escaping when the guards turned their backs. Finally the leaders of the work groups began to take the drastic action of collecting the ID cards of
everyone in their work party before departure for the jobs. Then they could check up on the workers from time to time during the day to see who might be missing. The men were warned that those who sought to escape the work details would be punished. But even this did not quell the ingenuity of certain of the men. One enterprising sailor got an accomplice from the permanent camp personnel to come over in the morning to claim one of the work parties for a special job. Then the accomplice marched the special group down the road a distance, had them march
"column right," while he marched to the left, thereby losing the entire party to the wide open spaces of the camp! I never knew sailors to shirk their real jobs or fail to do their duty when they were under serious shipboard conditions. But few of them would put up with the "busy work" routine at Camp Shoemaker without complaint.
April 2, 1945. Shoemaker, California. "Darling, I'm finally on draft to leave here in two or three days. Our destination is unannounced. But it's good news in a way. I'm almost positive I'm going to a Pacific land base. I don't think I'D be on a ship at all Here's why I think so. This morning I was issued a tropical raincoat, marine shoes, marine belt, canteen and mess kit, mosquito head net and mosquito netting for my bunk. That all points to a land base. We'll probably leave Tuesday, April 5th aboard a regular troop transport. Looks like I'm going to be a Navy soldier instead of a sailor. Sweetheart, please remember that I can't mail letters from a ship and while I'm on the high seas you may not hear from me for quite some time, maybe a whole month. I'm just telling you this so you won't worry when my letters
cease to come."
April 3, 1945. Shoemaker, California. "Darling, I just received your telegram I.
telling me what size ring to get you. And now I just hate to tell you that I may not be able to get it myself at all. You see, I leave this base Thursday, day after tomorrow, and I am not allowed to go on liberty any more. And I couldn't get it until after payday tomorrow anyway. My next liberty may not even be in the States. I hope I get to town before I leave because I want to get the ring myself for my darling. But if I don't, sweetheart, I couldn't trust anyone else to buy it unless you do yourself. What do you think of that plan? I've heard of it being done but I didn't like the idea at the time. But now I think it would be O. K. in this sort of emergency. Is that alright, dear? It's bad enough not being able to put the ring on your finger myself. I do want to pick it out. I'll wait a few days and see if I can get to town."
April 4, 1945. Shoemaker, California. "Darling, Well, I didn't get paid after all. I'm to leave in the morning so all my records have been sent on away from this base and I couldn't get paid. I'm awfully sorry because I was counting on getting a ring for you and I know you must be disappointed. And now that I am leaving, it will probably be a long time before I get a payday. Keep writing to me here, sweet, until I send you a new address. I did a silly thing today. I forgot to pick up my shoes out of the cobbler shop. It's the only decent shoes I have. We're going to leave pretty early in the morning and I'm afraid I won't have time to get them then."
April 5, 1945. Treasure Island, California. "Darling, Whew, this has been a busy day. You are wondering, no doubt, what has happened to me. Because, even though I am writing this on April 5, I expect you will not receive it until April 16th or 17th. Here is the reason for the delay. We are now in the pre-embarkation battalion here at Treasure Island. That is, we are to board a troop transport within the next two or three days. For security reasons the mail will be held for six days after we leave, then mailed. So it will be more than ten days before you receive
this. I got started late this morning. We were at Shoemaker and we were supposed to get up at 4:00 AM. But no one awakened me and I slept soundly until 6:00 AM. I had to lash all my gear and carry it about two blocks. That nearly killed me for my gear weighs about 120 pounds. I picked up my shoes at the cobbler's shop and barely made the draft as it was pulling out. We came about 35 miles on buses here to Treasure Island. It's a man-made island in San Francisco Harbor, half away
across the bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. You have heard of it, no doubt. It was tbe site of the San Francisco World's Fair a few years ago. We are quartered in a special area, all fenced in with guards around it. That's to make sure we don't wander off and that we are here when the time comes for us to board ship. ...There is good news in the newspaper today. Russia and Japan are on the "outs" with each other. Maybe the Japanese war will end soon. Germany is as good as "done for" we all know. If the war ends soon maybe I can be back to you soon. If it doesn't end soon I may be gone 2 or even 3 years. I hope not. It's not a pleasant prospect. ...Darling, I'll send your ring, or the money for it, as soon as I can, maybe from Hawaii if I get liberty there."
April 6, 1945. Treasure Island, California. "My Darling, Well today the scuttlebutt is really running high. I've never heard anything but rumors all day. Strangely though, I just about believe these rumors. The fellows who are spreading them claim their information comes from reliable sources. And the rumors are all uniform; in other words, there are no conflicting rumors. Besides, they are logical. (It turned out the rumors really were true.) We are to leave here on a Navy transport either the ,.h or 8th of April and we are to wind up in Leyte or Luzon in the Philippines. From there we will be distributed again to ships or shore bases. So you can take that as fairly accurate information until I tell you differently. However, after this my letters will be censored and I may not be allowed to mention where I am except in the most general terms. All day today I have just sat on my bunk and read a book. Being a petty officer of such high rating, I don't have to do any menial tasks here. That is for the seamen. I managed to struggle to chow
three times today."
April 7, 1945. Treasure Island, California. "Darling,. I just got the word on when we're leaving and my new address. It is: Receiving Barracks, Navy 3964, Care of F. P. O, San Francisco, California. We're going aboard the transport tomorrow morning early. As near as I can ascertain we're going directly to Leyte. I'll write more later today. I love you, FM. ...(later) I guess we're really gonna shove off in the morning. I've been in the Navy a long time and expected, when I got in, to be gone long before this. But I am really lucky to have been held here this long. I think the war is just about over and I won't be gone long. If I were a civilian and were taking this trip at my own choosing I would be having the time of my life. But under the circumstances I would just as soon be staying here. It just tears my
heart to be continually moving farther and farther from you, dear. ...I have to get up at 3:30 AM in the morning and we go on board at 5:30 AM. The name of our ship is "West Point," I think. ...I don't know when I'll be able to mail another letter, probably a long, long time. Don't be worried about that. I understand we aren't going to stop anywhere all the way to Leyte."
Wednesday, April 11, 1945. On board the USS General Hershey at sea. "It's been about three days since I wrote to you and I'm awfully sorry. But I guess it couldn't be helped. You see, I'm so much of a land lubber that it took the sea about three days to get used to me. We left San Francisco Sunday afternoon. I watched as we slid out of the dock into the harbor. We moved right under the Bay Bridge, went fairly close to Alcatraz Island, and finally under the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we were at sea and right then things began to get rough. There was a real gale blowing and we began to toss and roll something terrible. I have been in rougher seas (in the Aleutian Islands) and didn't get sick but after a couple of hours of this I got real sick. I staggered down to my bunk and crawled in, clothes, shoes and all. After several hours I got up energy enough to take my shoes off but I dared not get
out of my bunk. Pretty soon I went to sleep and slept good and sound and woke up next morning feeling fine. That is, I felt fine until I tried to get out of bed. But no sooner did I lift my head than things began to whirl and I put it right back down again. So I stayed right there all day feeling fairly well as long as I didn't lift my head. By night I was plenty hungry so I crawled out anyway and went to chow. After chow I was sick again. But I had plenty of company. About three fourths of the men on the ship were sick. The next day was calm and I was only slightly sick. I sat around on deck most of the day. Today it's calm again, only a slight roll, and I feel like a million dollars. I couldn't get enough to eat this morning for breakfast. ...We have very few duties on board. We have a watch to stand about once a week and that's all. The rest of the time hangs heavy on our hands. I expect to do a lot of reading. We have a library on board. Last night I saw a movie in the mess ball. The weather is still cool, but only because it's cloudy. Actually we're getting pretty far South.
An Excerpt From The Autobiography Of Francis M. Perry, Born 1921.