Chapter XVI - War Alarm

        Sunday, December 7th, 1941 was my brothers birthday. Bill had just turned 22. I was perched on the arm of my fathers Easy chair when the Radio Announcer interrupted the program for a news bulletin from the White House. When President Roosevelt described the surprise attack and devastation rained down on our Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, He stated the now famous phrase, "This is a Day that shall Live in Infamy". We were stunned beyond belief. The United States had just declared WAR against the Empireof Japan and Adolph  Hitler's Third Reich in Germany.

        The most profound statement of the 20th century was to come from none other than the highest ranking officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy-Admiral Yamamoto -when he said  " I am afraid we have just managed to awaken a sleeping giant".  The Giant was not only awakened but was infuriated and roared with a voice soon to be heard around the world. A grim, ghostly calm had pulled a pall over the Christmas Holiday with the realization that our country was now at WAR.

        1942 was just a few hours old when President Roosevelt ordered that the Wheels of Industry be shifted into High Gear. Every building in the country that looked like a Manufacturing Facility was mobilized to produce anything they were capable of producing. Every Machine Tool was set in motion.  Price and Cost were no longer factors in the equation. Uncle Sam was footing all the bills. The Accounting methods were referred to as "Cost Plus". This was the Governments way of saying "Money is no object- Just get the job done. Do it now."

         Proprietary Trade Marks were no longer recognized . All manufacturing Inventories- Tools -Dies -Plans- Drawings- Blueprints were expropriated and became became the property of the U.S Government for the duration of the conflict. Theywere shared through out the various industries, where ever they were needed. The words  Me   Mine  And   Ours -  were, in a sense, deleted from normal conversation.  Virtually all of the necessities of life were immediately Rationed - Food - Fuel - Clothing  Shoes - Boots - Tires and Tubes - All Rubber - Wood Products - Tools - Cooking Utensils. People that cheated the system to make a profit were considered traitors and faced harsh treatment when they were caught.       

        The entire population of the United States had but one question to pose to their  President. "WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?".  Back yards across the country were transformed in to VICTORY GARDENS - Every conceivable product that could be used to aid the WAR EFFORT  was donated and transported to pick-up points designated by local officials . Even the urine from Pregnant Women was saved and collected by Army Ambulances daily in a door to door effort, to be processed into Plasma for use on the BattleFields. The Military Uniform, regardless of Rank, Service or Insignia suddenly became the mantle of heroism. Treated by every civilian as Knight of King Arthur's  Round Table. This was the state of our Nation in the Spring of 1942. This is what John F. Kennedy referred to when he spoke those immortal words. "Ask not what your country cando for you -But what you can do for your country".

         I was also fired with ambition to do more than what I considered to be menial tasks I performed at the Milling Machine Company where I worked.  The 6 months that I spent in the CCC had ignited a wander lust in me. I had to know what was on the other side of the mountain. I quit my job and with $42.00 in my pocket I started to hitch-hike the 2400 miles to Los Angeles California. Three days later I arrived at the Rossiter Hotel near Hollywood.

         I still had $40.00 left and as I walked up to the desk to register, the Manager said "How Would You Like To be A Bell Boy, you will only need to work 3 hours a night from 7 until 10." I thought for a minute and said . "I don't know- How much does it pay?"

        He said "You can have a room and 50 cents per hour".  Well I was in no position to turn down an offer like that. After I got settled in with my cardboard suitcase. I went out to get a bite to eat and see some of the sights. Then I returned to the Hotel and donned my little monkey hat and became a Bell Boy.

         I was very disappointed to learn that The Famous Hollywood was a Rinky Dink suburb of Los Angeles and that all the movie Stars lived in Beverly Hills, some distance from Hollywood. I checked the "Want Ads" to find a job. I was hired immediately by the Pan Pacific Oil Company to unload a freight car filled with 55 gallon drums. These were to be filled with 100 octane aircraft gasoline. The drums were painted Olive Drab and were consigned to the Army Air Corps.

        The empty drums were rolled down a ramp from the Box Car onto a concrete platform. A man with uncanny skill would grasp the empty drum by the flange, lift it about 75 degrees and spin it so that it rolled on the bottom rim a distance of about 30 yards and position itself in a pocket next to the preceding drum.  I attempted this mind boggling magic act and in 5 minutes I disrupted the whole operation. The boss decided I would be more useful at filling than unloading.

        The filling operation was setup with 2 inch lines (pipes) running from a Tank car on an adjacent track. The Valves on the vertical fill lines were positioned about 4 feet apart in such a way as to facilitate the manual  filling of 2 drums simultaneously.  The fuel level was determined by the sound emanating from the drums. Filling gasoline drums for the Army Air Corps seemed to be a little closer to the War effort but not quite what I had hoped for. After filling several hundred drums the tank car was pulled and replaced with another. At that point I was looking for something more challenging.  I had worked my way to Long Beach, California  and caught a bus to Terminal Island,  which at that time was a Ship Yard. (After the war it was transformed into a maximum security Prison).

         Entering the SHIP YARD on Terminal Island was the most Awe inspiring spectacle of my entire life. There were Enormous Mobile cranes capable of straddling a 2 story house and which could no doubt lift it from the foundation and carry it off.  This Human Bee Hive was launching  a completely fitted OCEAN GOING VESSEL  into the Pacific Ocean every 24 hours. The are no words to describe this activity. Massive plates of hot rolled steel 12 feet wide and 40 feet long  were maneuvered onto huge bulwarks in less time than it takes to tell and automatic welding machines (Robots) climbing 45 degree slopes to fuse the plates into one, making  the Prow of a Liberty Ship - 50 yards away, the Stern plates were being fused later to be joined  amidships.  Within a week this unbelievable creation would be launched on the high seas, filled with war materials from across the country with supplies and Marines, headed for the South Pacific.     

        I wandered through a maze of frame buildings, trying to find my way to the Personnell Office. I was hired on the spot as a welder's helper, and told when and where to report for work. The pay was $1.50 per hour.  3 times what I was getting back home. My duties were to follow the instructions of the welder to whom I had been assigned.

       This was primarilly lugging long lines of Arc welding cable - up - down - around - and into the bowels of a ship.  The massive piping layout in the hold of these ships was unbelievable,.  When my welder completed a weld, I used a Ding Hammer to the remove all of  the Flux/Residue  that had built up during the welding process. This is called Slag.

       When the supervisor learned that I was capable of reading blueprints and interpreting welding symbols, I was instructed to take a group of Blueprints and mark the pipes with various designations from the prints.  Using a "Soap Stick" I marked each pipe per the drawings, e.g. "Fish Mouth"   "Butt Weld"  "Fit before welding"  "Leave this end loose"  etc et cetera.

       One evening I was climbing down a rickity 50 foot ladder into the Hold of a Ship when a huge crane lowered a hook past me - down to the very bottom of the ship.  The Hook was then attached to a large Tool box that was to be elevated to the top deck.  Half way up - this tool Box became entangled on a ladder rung directly below me.  The Tool  Box - with the ladder - and me clinging for dear life started for the upper deck. I screamed as I dropped all of the welding cables and scampered up the ladder as fast as I could go.

        I clocked out after receiving my last pay check. I explained  my reason for leaving to my supervisor and the manager of the Rossiter Hotel. I located Route 66 the next morning. and said good-bye to the city of Angels.  4  days later I arrived home in Cincinnati. The only piece of mail I had received was a Telegram from the War  department, dated on my 20th birthday.  It read :   "Greetings;  You are here by ordered to report to your local induction center at 8.00 am  December 1st, 1942  for physical Examination and induction into the Armed Forces of the United States. The period of enlistment shall extend for the duration of the conflict and 6 months there after."  

Email The Author, Ed T. Braun, unkled@iquest.net 

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