College Life & The Navy
September 1930, I enrolled in Northwestern University,
Evanston Illinois. At that time we were just 12 years out from WWI
Armistice, and Germany had a loud mouth spellings about the great
Aryan race which would rule the World. The University required A Major
field and at least two Minor fields of concentration. I had always
had but one idea in mind, I wanted to design Buildings and things
Mechanical, hence the Major was easy. We were offered a course sponsored
by the US Navy, which would lead to an Ensign's Commission in the
Naval Reserve. That was one Minor, others I elected were Physics,
Philosophy, Bus Ad, and English.
In June 1934, complete with mortar board and gown,
I was graduated with a BSc Eng, and one bright and shiny gold stripe
on my Navy blue uniform. After several starts(these were depression
days) I finally became employed by a US Major Oil Company in their
Chicago Regional Office. In Chicago, we had a very strong Naval Reserve
Group of nine Divisions, each of which was training to man a Destroyer.
Closer to War
In early 1940, The US Navy sent out an invitation
to Reserve Officers to request Active Duty. Later in the year our
generous President, viewing the hardship Great Britain was enduring,
gave our Destroyers in exchange for bases all over the world. Then
the Navy sent out a sequel to their first invitation stating that
it was disappointed with the response, and so stated, then added a
footnote that if the results did not pick up, the Reserves would be
activated. They weren't kidding. Halloween 1940 we were in the Navy.
But we had no Destroyers to man. Four or five Chicago Divisions were
chosen to man a new type of Combat Transport. My Division was picked
to go aboard the USS Fuller, then converting in Seattle. So off to
We sailed with about ten other Combat Transports
under the Flag of Commander Landing Force One. Following Commissioning,
we departed for San Diego to pick up a load of Marines, supposedly
for a practice landing. The group we picked up became later The First
Marines, and we finally landed them in Iceland. We returned empty
first to Boston, then to Norfolk. We practiced landing exercises with
the Army and the Marines until a Santa Claus trip to the Caribbean.
Our Commanding Officer assured us that we would be home for Christmas
1940. It was at this time the Jap decided to bomb Pearl Harbor, we
were at war. We did have a final Christmas with the family. Then up
to New York to pick up the Second contingent of US Army to move them
to Belfast, Ireland and across to Glasgow to pick up assorted passengers
and return the to the New York. As soon as we unloaded we were sent
to Norfolk to pick up a Marine Defense Battalion for Apia, Somoa,
this was rush rush.
After Apia we departed for Wellington
to await the First Marines. They turned out to be a lot of the same
crowd we took to Iceland. Thence in a very well protected Convoy to
Koro Island of the Fiji Group to meet up with additional Marines from
Pearl and the West Coast. We had a disastrous practice landing, which
was called short. We then left for Guadalcanal. I was detached to
serve with the shore base (you will have read about my fun and games
on the beautiful tropical paradise).
I rejoined the USS Fuller and sailed the
milk run, Suva to Noumea to Gaudalcanal 13 times (after the third
trip, we didn't have to have a helmsman) I held a Deck and Engineering
Commission so was eligible to serve in any capacity. My duties on
the USS Fuller were Engineer, Boat Repair, and Beachmaster
You must remember that back in the early days, we landed only the
First Marines and a few Second Marines. Also a part of the First took
Gavuto, Florida Island which housed the main portion of the Jap fighting
force. The landing there was a much stiffer one than ours, the exercise
was short and sharp. Our reports had shown that there were a couple
of thousand Japs on Guadalcanal and only about 200 on Gavutu. The
reports were correct, except that they mistook the force on the Canal,
they were mostly a labor force, and few fighting personnel. This balance
soon altered with new Jap landings below Red Beach. After the Marines
had taken the airport [ Henderson], and withdrawn all the supplies
on Red Beach, they established a perimeter to cover the airport and
Kukum. Beyond those areas it was suspect.
Marauding Japanese Submarine
We did have boats stranded on the beach at Red
Beach and used to continue to go into the area to remove them. There
was a nasty Jap Submarine which used to come up about 6:00 AM and
3:00 PM to shell us, then about midnight really tear up and down the
water front sending up a wake which put the abandoned boats further
up on the beach, just to make our jobs harder. We did manage to get
most of them off, but there were a few we couldn't get, so at a later
date managed to disable with gun fire from a small Patrol craft.
We were requested to have boats available the take
our Marine pals behind the Jap lines at Matanikau. They would land
beyond the village, closing the escape route. As this was a daylight
raid, and volunteers were not called it was an ordinary expedition
for us and I did not go along. As usual, we armed the boats, loaded
them and sent them off. I believe that our friends had an idea that
the boats would lay off waiting for them to complete their games.
This would not have been healthy for my crews, as we did not have
air coverage, so they came home. Later in the day we returned to pick
the Marines up. The Jap of course had followed them back, and we were
a bit pushed to get them aboard. Finally, we decided that we would
engage with our Lewis guns, and we got our passengers loaded.
The Jap Unit they encountered was a Special Naval Fighting Force.
They had also been the proud owners of the Headquarters of the U.S.Naval
Defense Force Kukum, but now we were. The attack was in retaliation
for Col. Frank's ambush. There was little time time look around. Of
the ambush, there were three survivors, who escaped by swimming back
to Kukum. They were Corp. Joseph Spaulding (New York City), Sgt. Charles
G. Ardnt (Okolona, Miss), and Sgt. Frank L. Few (Buckeye, Ariz).
The Patrol was a write off. I did take them down as directed. I wanted
to lie off, but he insisted that I return to base, as I might upset
the whole scheme. Directly after we departed, it would seem that they
walked into an ambush. From later reports the Colonel was the first,
and received it on the head. We heard no noise as our boat engines
would have drowned out any rifle reports. The night was pitch black
on the beach, but we always had sufficient light at sea. And we had
traveled that coast many times picking fire fights with the Japs,
for amusement after dark.
From the many later reports, the bodies were never found, though there
were many searches. It was believed that the Jap buried them close
to the river, and in shallow graves, then at high tide they were washed
out to sea. Just after we returned to Kukum, and secured the boats,
one of the Patrol arrived back at our headquarters, and told us of
the ambush. Lt Comdr. Dexter, USCG, my boss took him to General Vandergrift's
headquarters immediately. According to my friend Dick Tregaskis, Guadalcanal
Diary, there were two others to escape. We had a very late night that
night, but finally gave it away.
I kept a diary while on the Canal. It was the
only one I kept as they were forbidden because of the information
they might contain to aid the enemy. It covers the two months I spent
on the Canal and the time in Hospital on Villa.