I went to boot camp at Farragut in Idaho in 1944. I was in Camp Waldren. (Dad was 17 at the time and had two brothers already serving: Uncle Jimmy was serving on the Carrier USS MUNDA (a Jeep carrier with 512 feet of deck that Kaiser built only 50 of) and Uncle Don was serving on the Heavy Cruiser USS WITCHITA.)
After boot camp finished, I took a train back to Walhalla, ND for a 15-day leave. Then boarded a train to San Francisco—Treasure Island—to report for duty. My good buddy, Jack Renville, and I planned to meet up on a street we had both heard of in San Francisco—Market Street—on a certain date. We were both from Walhalla—a small town of about 1,100 hundred people—and figured we’d find each other easily on the main street in San Francisco. We never found each other! (Dad laughs). I spent three to four months waiting for my assignment. Don’t remember doing much of anything, but I lived on the base and we played basketball, swam, took some classes.
I was finally sent on a troop train (train used for transporting military personnel) to Seattle. Actually, Bremerton. This was in September of 1944. I was assigned to a Destroyer; the USS ZELLARS DD-777 in October as an ammunitions specialist. I was a 1st Class Seaman and Plank Owner. On October 25th, 1944, I was listed on the Muster Roll of the Crew during the Commissioning Ceremony and the USS ZELLARS was declared to “Go with God as she began her service to our country.”
And then the shakedown began. We loaded the USS ZELLARS with supplies, and fuel, and ammunition, and ran her through drills up and back across the Sound. And in early November, we took her on her extensive shakedown cruise to San Diego. We ran the USS ZELLARS through sea trials and pushed her to her limits. Then headed back to Bremerton for repairs and corrections. During November and December we would run practices 4 or 5 days a week. And Fridays were dedicated to cleaning the USS ZELLARS from top to bottom.
I spent Christmas in Seattle that year. Then we made our final preparations to ship out in late January 1945. We headed out of Bremerton, through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and overseas towards Pearl Harbor. On the way to Pearl Harbor we would still practice working with carriers. I was 17 years old and heading to war.
The USS ZELLARS pulled into Pearl Harbor and witnessed the aftermath of the Japanese bombing from December 4th.
During the last part of March, we headed for Okinawa. I remember stopping at beach parties—Eniwetok or ?can’t remember—but they were American stations for food, ammunition. We would play football with the officers on the beach. It was our chance to try to beat them up, but generally they were much bigger than us runts, so it didn’t really work out in our favor. I remember having beer—Olympia—and it was lukewarm, but it was the greatest thing in the world.
I had been 18 years old for six days, and on April 12th the USS ZELLARS was hit by three kamikazes.
Dad at his beach party drinking beer.
*The following is an excerpt from my dad’s journal that he wrote the night after the attack:
A JILL torpedo bomber hit the aft part of mount two gun and the ward room. Flames all over the ship. The 20MM mount gun that was hit was where I was supposed to be standing. I was about 2 feet aft lying on the deck. The Jap plane knocked out sound, radio, radar, mess hall, galley, mount 2, plot, CIC, forward diesel room, gyro compasses, 37 gun directors, 2 20MM guns blown off, scullery, navigation room, Captains cabin, ward room sick bay and laundry.
Our ship’s doctor and a PhM 3c were killed and only portions of their bodies were found. Lt Kinkaid and Ensley PHM 3c were their names. We only had a Chief and 2nd class Pharmacist Mate to care for the wounded. We later had another doctor from another destroyer come on board.
I was on a quad 40MM gun on the starboard side as a #1 loader. When the plane hit, the flames were flying on the side where I generally stood. A large piece of shrapnel hit just behind my battle station. I thought it was part of a forward 20MM gun. Most of my friends and buddies were killed. There were 10 from our deck, 8 killed and 2 wounded severely. They were all in mount 2 handling room. It was about 2 feet forward of where the plane hit. The handling room burst into flames and burned H.A. JERCEK, BIEBER, POTTER KEIFERLE. Also killed were MURPHY, KEANE, MOORE, DANKERT, LISTON, KRAMER, who were all in our division. Immediately after the hit I looked aft and saw a Torpedoman 2c torn in half I immediately ran forward to assist with fires and wounded.
Before the attack, we had been bombarding Okinawa for weeks; Destroyers in close, Cruisers, then Battleships further out firing towards Okinawa over the two. I learned that Don’s ship (his brother)—the USS WITCHITA, a Cruiser—was firing over ours at one point.
After the attack, we went into a harbor in Okinawa called the ‘graveyard’ for about 1-2 weeks. We worked cleaning the ship of debris and trying to repair all the holes. I found a Jap coin. We had heard that at night the Japs would swim to ships and knife guys in their cots. We were assigned duty to watch the water. At night, guys would shoot at any little noise. It became a game to throw stuff in water and watch your mates shoot at it. We were young.
When we were ready to leave, we had to wait for a storm, because we had no sound gear. The storm would provide a cover so we couldn’t be tracked. The USS ZELLARS had gone to a dry dock and took off its sound gear to give to another ship. I remember the day before, Tokyo Rose had announced that that dry dock was going to be bombed on that day. A plane did fly over, but only dropped one bomb. Luckily, it missed the dry dock. That Tokyo Rose knew everything that was going to happen. And she would play music from back home and talk of soldiers and happenings that would make all of us homesick.
On our way home, we stopped for one day in Pearl Harbor to refuel, then to San Pedro (May/June 1945). That weekend 250,000 people came to San Pedro to view the ships. There was another ship there that had also been hit; a hospital ship called The USS COMFORT—it was a bad thing for Japs to hit a hospital ship. They were all marked with crosses and signs. And it was just bad, bad, that they hit it.
There were invites to tons of houses for the soldiers for home cooked meals. The girls would just run up to me in the street and hug me and kiss me. I met one girl and her parents invited me for dinner. We got to talking and it ended up that the girl had met my brother, Jimmy, prior. Small world.
While we were in San Pedro, the sirens sounded throughout the city declaring that the Japs had surrendered. The celebration began and things got crazy. Bars started closing because they feared people were going to get too out of control. I did not agree with this and started pounding on one of the doors in celebration. I was thrown into the tank for “Safekeeping”. (Turns out dad was cited for Intoxication—he was 18—and Possession of 2 ID Cards; 1 altered—of which I assume showed him as 21). I was only kept for about an hour and then released “on good behavior” he laughs.
After the war ended, I stayed on the USS ZELLARS through the Panama Canal and then on a shakedown cruise to Rio De Janeiro with the USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT for a presidential inauguration. I returned with my ship to Florida and then was discharged in March of 1946 and headed to Minnesota.
Thank you, Dad—WWII Veteran—for your service.
Dad's "Release" papers from the tank the day WWII ended.
The story of the USS ZELLARS and all her men can be
purchased here: http://tinyurl.com/zncnt2g