OFF TO BOOT CAMP and THE BEGINNING OF THE NAVAL CAREER of John Q. Greene This is the story of John Q. Greene as he left home and family in Eastern Oregon, many miles from the ocean. it takes him from home to his first Submarine duty and covers a piece of history and Sea battles that he witnessed. Submitted by: Dallas Dolan
OFF TO BOOT CAMP
THE BEGINNING OF THE NAVAL CAREER of
John Q. Greene
This is the story of John Q. Greene as he left home and family in Eastern Oregon, many miles from the ocean. it takes him from home to his first Submarine duty and covers a piece of history and Sea battles that he witnessed.
Submitted by: Dallas Dolan
So long son, Good-bye honey, write, Good-bye brother, Bye Johnny, I wish you did not have to go.
These words were spoken by my father, mother and three sisters as I was getting ready to board the train for Portland. I shook hands with my dad, kissed my mother and my sisters and told them I would be home in about six weeks on a recruit ( Boot) leave.
The recruiter saw me aboard the train and introduced me to another recruit from Baker. The recruiter said, you gents will be met at the station in Portland and he will get you squared away. Keep your noses clean and come and see me when you get home on boot leave.
Looking back a bit, I had stopped in at the recruiting office about a month before and talked with the Navy recruiters about joining the Navy. I liked what they told me and the thought of going to sea was a real lift.
I had only seen the ocean once in my life and since then the mystery and the vastness of the ocean had haunted me. I was embarking on the greatest adventure of my life. Little did I know that the Navy would be my career. Here I was on the train heading for Portland, the first leg of a twenty-three year journey.
I arrived in Portland and was met, fed and lodged for the night. Next morning after breakfast we were taken to the main recruiting station where we were given mental tests and our physicals and sworn into the U.S. Navy. There were several men from all over the state. That day was June third, nineteen forty-one. There was a man who was put in charge and we boarded a train heading for San Diego, Calif.
When we arrived, we were met by sailors who got us in busses and headed for the Naval Training Center (NTC) - (Boot Camp). It was chow time so they marched us to the barracks that we were to stay in that night and found a bunk. Putting our bags on the bunk we were marched to lunch in the mess hall and our first Navy meal. I do not remember what it was.
Next morning after breakfast we were marched over, (we marched every place we went), to what the Navy calls Small Stores, where we were issued our uniforms and gear. I got a hammock, mattress, a couple of blankets, pillow and seabag. I got undress blues, dress blues, whites, dungarees, socks (black), underwear. undershirts, shoes (highcut and lowcut), neckerchief, peacoat, whiskbroom, hairbrush, towels, white hats, watch cap and dress flat hat. I was also issued toilet articles, sewing kit, a pocketknife and other items.
We returned to barracks and got out of our civvies and into a set of whites (Order of the day). Our civvies were sent home in the bag we brought with us. We were issued a service number that we had better learn, I still know mine (393-55-60).
We began to learn how to fold and roll our clothes the Navy way. Everything you owned and were issued had to fit into the seabag except your blankets and mattress, which was rolled into the hammock.
The hammock was secured with seven half hitches and then you laid your seabag on the rolled hammock, pulled both ends over the seabag and secured the whole package. When you moved, you shouldered everything you owned and was on your way.
We spent many hours on the grinder (parade ground), learning to march. We had a lot of guard duty. We would strap on a bayonet and guard the clothesline and the barracks at night. If somebody had said Boo we would probably have fainted.
One night while laying in my bunk, (every man but the barracks guard should be in their bunks after Taps), I saw the company commander sneak in. I am sure he was trying to catch the guard doping off. Anyway I saw the guard slip out from between the bunks. He slipped up behind the company commander, stuck his bayonet against his back and yelled, Who goes there? Well, when the chief got back down off the overhead, he turned on all the white lights, (we had blue lights when all lights were out), held reveille and every one got a lecture about pulling their bayonets on the company commander.
The boot that was on guard duty got a lecture all his own. We all gave him a pat on the back after the chief was gone though.
We spent a lot of time on laying out our seabags for inspection. That had to be done right or the company commander would stir it all up and you would do it all over again. We were taught how to salute. We had to learn the manual of arms using the Springfield rifles that were issued.
The company slowly transformed from a group of civilians to a military group of sailors and we had not been anywhere near a ship yet. We were restricted aboard the base for three weeks and then were given a few hours of liberty on the weekends.
Our pay was twenty-one dollars a month and fifty cents of that went to medical. I had enough money withheld, so that I could buy a bus ticket home when boot camp was over. They paid us in script, which we could spend on base in the ship's service. If we went ashore on a liberty day you could exchange script for money. I think I went ashore twice while I was in boot camp. I went to the beach and the Balboa Zoo. That is a fine zoo. If you ever get a chance to see it, take it.
We took tests, learned seamanship and learned how to be military. I was slated to go to aviation mechanics school in Seattle and I was really excited about that. After six weeks we were at the end of boot training. I figured that it wasn't so bad.
I went home on boot leave and strutted around like I = knew what was going on. I explain how I was going to school and maybe be riding a big aircraft carrier. When I got back to San Diego and reported in, I was told that the draft of men going to school had already gone and that I would be going to a destroyer and shipping out to Pearl harbor in a day or two. I think that I will go to sea.
ARRIVING USS BALCH (DD - 363)
I and a bunch of apprentice seaman were put aboard an old troop ship (the same one my Dad went to France on during WWI.) We were sent to Pearl Harbor. A motor launch picked some of us up and took us to the Destroyer Tender Dixie.
I lived out of my seabag and swung hammock while waiting for the Balch to show. About two weeks after reporting aboard the DIXIE, about ten of were told to get our gear ready and standby to board the Balch.
We saw a fine looking Tin Can, (slang for Destroyer), coming around ford Island. They had us load aboard a motor launch and took after the Balch. She was moving slowly so the Launch could catch up with her. We came alongside, threw our gear aboard and climbed a Jacob's ladder. That was the beginning of my life as a Tin Can sailor.
There would be many things, in the not too distant future, to change my life that I was unaware of at this time. As soon as the last man came aboard, the launch turned away and we headed down the channel and out to sea. We were all glad to be heading out to sea. After all we were sailors and where would a sailor be why, on a ship at sea shouldn't he?
As the Balch poked her bow into the swells and picked up speed some of the these brand new sailors begin to wish they were back on the Tender. Seasickness is not a pleasant thing nor is it a pretty sight. It wasn't long before most of the men were in the head calling for O'Rourk. I was very fortunate because I have never been seasick. I took to sea life like a duck to water.
In no time I had my sealegs and was enjoying my new home, some of us had to sleep in hammocks in the crews mess for about two weeks until we got bunks in the crews quarters. Hammocks are not bad when your ship is rolling from side to side. A person in a hammock will hang straight up and down as the ship turns around him. When you are heading into rough seas and the ship is pitching, as the bow comes up on the wave, you feel like you weigh a ton and when the bow drops into the trough, you feel as light as a feather.
A bunk is different. A bunk is fastened to the ship so it moves with the ship. when the ship rolls so does the sailor laying in the bunk, many is the night that I have laid with both arms and feet jammed in the bunk rails cursing the day that I decided on a sailors life.
A true sailor would forget all about these inconveniences when the water was calm and you could see from ship to horizon, with a flying fish breaking from the sea and gliding off to enter the ocean once again. The seabirds flying around, an Albatross gliding along on never moving wings and making graceful turns and swoops with a wing tip just grooving the water, or perhaps a school of Porpoises playing in the bow wake and just maybe a Whales back or his fluke as he sounds.
The USS Balch was an 1850 ton, Porter class Destroyer built in 1936. She was one of eight and they were the biggest Destroyers in the fleet at the time they were built. She had eight 5" rifles in four gun mounts, two forward and two aft. She had two, four-tube torpedo mounts One mount forward of the after stack and on mount aft of the after stack. Balch had two quad barrel machine guns mounted forward and aft that would fire 600 rounds a minute. She had two water cooled .50 caliber machine guns mounted on each side of the after stack. Balch was equipped with two depth charge racks, located Port and Starboard on the fantail. There were three carbon arc search lights, two 36" and one 24". The two big lights were mounted on a tripod mast aft, and the smaller one was located on a tripod mast over the bridge and was used for signaling. The Balch was a two stacker with two fire rooms and one engine room. She could do 36 knots full out. She was a fine ship.
About the third day aboard, I was in the crew's quarters when this big, bald headed chief stepped into the quarters and hollered. Who in here is Greene? I am Greene sir, I stammered. The chief then said I am chief Hart, the chief electrician on board this ship and would like to have a word with you. I have looked at your records and liked what I saw. How would you like to work for me? Well now, what is a scared youngster aboard ship just a few days, facing a six-foot, bald headed, arms as big as an elephants trunk, voice like a fog horn, chief, going to say? What you say is, when do I go to work, sir? That was my introduction to chief Hart.
Chief Hart was a fine chief. He was fair. He was strict when it came to his electrical classes. He was a gentleman and stood tall among his peers. He was proud of his electricians, his power plant and his ship. He was a true shipmate.
I met Orland C. Hare on the Sperry and we received orders to the Balch at the same time. Rabbit, (Anybody named Hare is going to be called Rabbit, unless he is big enough to discourage such name calling), and I became good friends and shipmates. About a month after we reported aboard the Balch he wangled his way into the electrical gang, and we became electrician strikers together.
The Balch spent a lot of time at sea. My sea watch was on the 36" searchlight. Some of the time I would be in the engine room standing watch on the main generators and some times I would stand watch in the IC room where the Gyro Compass was located.
Rabbit and I worked for different third-class electricians and they provided our on-the -job training. Chief Hart had us studying for third - class and the third-class was studying for second-class Etc. What made it good was that he was our instructor.
Time at sea goes rather slowly and a person has to think of things to do. One day while I was in the Head (Naval for Toilet) I devised a plan that would probably give me a chuckle. The Head on a Tin Can had a metal trough with salt water running through it all the time. There were five stalls with toilet seats and you basically sat over a stream of water. I was in the first stall and all the other stalls were full, so after I got through I wadded up a bunch of toilet paper, set fire to it and tossed it into the stream, then hurried to the doorway out, hoping not to be detected and turned around to watch. Directly I heard What the H!, OW! and then OOEE-Dam! and various words of endearment that I felt would be inappropriate to mention here. All of a sudden the fellow in the first stall leaped or maybe exploded out of there and this was followed by each stall down the line. Each man turned and looked back into the stall, which probably saved me from having to explain why I was laughing like I, was. As I left, I just knew they enjoyed the prank, for they were talking of keel hauling, hanging from the yard arm and various forms of torture to a shipmate that would singe the bottom of fine sailors like themselves !! I did not bother to tell my buddy Rabbit because he would be upset that I didn't include him and blabber it all over the ship. Anyway he was one of the sailors involved, I figured he had enough excitement for one day.
Rabbit and I would go ashore together and head for Maggie's bar & grill. Most of the Balch crew would end up there before liberty was over. Many the times the furniture was re-arranged in Maggie's because some other ships crew was rather mean to the peace loving Balch crew.
Our crew was rather good at cleaning house and by the time the shore Patrol got there everything was ship shape. The shore patrol would be rather nasty to the fine lads that were still there and check Rabbit's and my ID cards and want to know what we were drinking. We would assure them that the only thing that we would think of drinking was Root Beer or Lemonade. We would then get a few threats thrown our way and the fine keepers of the peace would be on their way. I was always glad that I did not have to walk a line or something like that. I always did have a hard time walking a straight line and I am sure that they would have thought that I may have been tipping something other than root beer.
We had joined the aircraft Carrier Enterprise with a division of Destroyers and two or three Cruisers and headed for Wake Island. The Carrier left 12 Marine Pilots and their airplanes at Wake and we headed for home. The day we were to arrive at Pearl Harbor, Japan decided to start WWII.
The task force that Balch was with turned and went looking for the fleet that had attacked Pearl harbor. As soon as we received word that Pearl was being attacked, the ship's company was called to battle stations and there we stayed for the next twenty-four hours.
That first day of the war, my battle station was on the 24" light on a platform above the bridge. Food and coffee was brought to me by the mess cooks during meal times and added coffee during the night. It was probably a good thing that we didn't find the Jap. fleet. We didn't realize it at the time but our task force was rather ill prepared to take on the Japanese fleet at that time. I am sure that the good lord was watching over that small group of ships. We entered Pearl the next morning and were not prepared for the devastation that was Pearl Harbor.
The main ships of the line, the backbone of the fleet, were setting on the bottom or hemmed in by sunken ships. Bunker oil was all over the harbor waters, Ford Island was burning, ships were burning, not a pretty sight but a sight to stir the anger in any American and especially in the service man who had sworn to protect his country against this type of thing.
We took on fuel and supplies and the next morning we were at sea off the Hawaiian Islands looking for submarines. we made numerous contacts and dropped depth charges like they were confetti. I have no idea how many subs we really contacted and of the subs we did contact, how many were actually sunk. One morning we made contact on a sub and swung around to make an approach. The rest of the Destroyers fell into line behind Balch and as we approached the contact area the sub broached right in front of us. Bad move on his part! We speeded up and dropped depth charges and every Tin Can in line dropped ash cans (Slang for depth charges) on that dude. If we didn't sink that sub we sure must have made those sailors on it wish they were some where else.
After a couple of weeks hunting subs, we left Pearl and headed for the Marshall Islands. After we arrived in the Marshalls, the Balch along with the Maury and the heavy cruiser = Chester were dispatched to the Island of Jaluit. This groups mission was to shell the Island. It was believed that there were troops and barracks there. We held reveille on the troops who were there as we opened fire at 0600 Hrs. that morning.
As it turned out we sort of stirred up a hornets nest. It seems there was an airfield on the Island and the pilots took offense at being so rudely awakened. These fellows come right on out and greeted us, It seemed with more enthusiasm than was proper. We were shooting at planes with everything we had including Springfield rifles. The SOP (Senior Officer Present) who was on the Chester, sent orders to the Balch and Maury to follow him and we headed out just as tight as could go. One bomb hit the Chester. A bomb hit so close to the Balch that it blew the Starboard smoke tanks off the ship. Planes were after us until late that afternoon.
We came close to running out of groceries that trip. The last three days before entering Pearl we ate rice three times a day. We had coffee and a bit of protein since the rice was full of weevils.
We made a trip to Wake Island and harassed the ground troops garrisoned there. The Balch sank two sea trucks and took four Jap Prisoners on that trip.
The next trip, the Enterprise and her task force rendezvoused with the Hornet and her task force and we headed west. Hey Greene, what do you suppose those B-25s are doing on the Hornet?, Rabbit asked. Beats me, I have no idea where they are going to get rid of those planes, we have no friends the way we are headed. Speculation ran amok on the Balch until the Old Man (slang for Captain) passed the word. Men, the Hornet is taking the Army Air force and its planes close enough to Japan so that they can bomb Tokyo. They will take those planes off the deck of the Hornet. The Hornet will leave the destroyers nine hundred miles at sea and go on in to six hundred mile before launching the aircraft. The Enterprise and the Hornet continued to work together after that trip.
We left Pearl and headed southwest to join the Lexington and the Yorktown battle groups in the Coral Sea but before we could get there, the battle was over.
The Lexington was sunk and the Yorktown was damaged. We were ordered to proceed to Pearl, where we took on supplies and headed out for Midway Island. There was supposed to be a big Japanese fleet headed for Midway and three aircraft carriers and their planes were going to stop them. (Yorktown had been patched up in three days that was quoted as a thirty-day job). We could see Yorktown, hull down on the horizon and then we saw the dive-bombers attack her.
The Balch, Maury, and another Tin Can or two, and two Cruisers were sent to assist the Yorktown. The Yorktown had been hit and was on fire. By the time we got to her the fires were under control and she was under way. Her rudder had been knocked out and she was steering with her engines. We had no more than got on station when in came a group of torpedo planes.
Rabbit and I were clipping 20mm ammunition on the platform around the after stack (the 50 cal. guns had been replaced with 20mm machine guns). Well all the guns opened up, I was clipping and Rabbit was passing shells. Hey, Rabbit, pass some tracers. I was getting all high explosive and it was supposed to be a high explosive and then a tracer. Then it was all tracers. Hit the deck, Rabbit yelled and not needing a second invite, I not only hit the deck but I think I tried to crawl under the ammo locker.
I would have made it into that 4" space, but the gunner hollered for me to get more ammo up to him on the double. The reason for the Hit the Deck, was that a plane was coming in strafing our side of the ship. He was close enough that his rounds were splashing water on us and we were at least 20 feet above the water. Then all of a sudden it was over. What Jap planes hadn't been shot down had headed back to their ships, which had been sunk by our planes. Our planes that could headed for the Enterprise or the Hornet and the ones that did not have enough gas ditched alongside destroyers.
The Yorktown had been hit again with torpedoes and was listing badly. They abandoned ship and our work began. We brought oil soaked men aboard for hours it seemed. When we were through we had 500 + survivors. I had enlisted in the Navy exactly one year ago, June of 1941 and this battle was June 3rd 1942.
We left the area and transferred our survivors to cruisers and refueled and headed back to the Yorktown. It had taken three days to accomplish the above work. When we arrived back at the Yorktown, she was under tow by a tug out of Midway. The Destroyer Hamman was alongside furnishing power and there was a salvage crew aboard who were trying to get the ship on an even keel.
All of a sudden the lookout yelled Torpedo on the Port Side. I saw the wakes and hollered at Rabbit but he had already seen them. I damn near pooped my britches because they looked like they were coming right for us. They passed just behind us and continued on until they made contact with the Hamman and the Yorktown. The Hamman broke in two and sank in minutes. The next morning, just at sunrise, the Yorktown dipped her bow, stuck her screws into the sky and slipped beneath the waves.
Rabbit and I had both made third class just before the Midway battle, so after the battle, Chief Hart asked me if I would like to go to submarines. He said he had to send a third class Electrician and that if I wanted it, I could have it. I am your man Chief, I will be ready to leave when we reach Pearl.
That began my Career in the Submarine Service.