Harry C. Perkins
USS Yorktown, CV10, USN
I was in high school when the U.S.A. entered the war. My three brothers and friends were either drafted or they enlisted into the military. I was not old enough to do either. I had to wait until I was 17 years old before I could enlist.
I quit high school to enlist in the U.S. Navy on December 4, 1942, my 17th birthday. I selected the Navy because my brother Ed and our close friend Jimmy Graves had already enlisted in the Navy, and I felt this was the most honorable thing for me to do. I was sworn in at Indianapolis, Indiana on or about the 6th of December, and was sent by train to Great Lakes Naval Training Station for my boot (basic) training. We arrived early in the morning and were put up in some barracks. The next day we were awakened very early to start the entry process. This was my introduction to beans and red lead for breakfast (translation - navy beans and catsup). As I was used to eggs and bacon, cereal, doughnuts I turned down the offer of their wonderful breakfast and went without food until lunch which came, a little late. We began processing by stripping naked for our final physical, and receiving a bald haircut. We were issued our uniforms, hammock, and sea bag.
After processing we were marched over to our barracks, shown how to string up our hammocks and where to stow our clothes. There was heavy snow on the ground, and my first duty assignment was walking guard duty around our barracks. After taps, while walking my post, I would hear a thump now and then. This was new recruits falling out of their hammocks. I knew that my turn would come after my duty was over, about 11:00 PM. I was really afraid to climb into the hammock for fear that I too would tumble out onto the floor. When I got off watch I noticed that a few of the recruits had placed their mattresses on the floor to sleep. These were apparently the ones that had fallen. After some trials and errors, I mastered the hammock.
The next morning we started the training. This consisted of learning how to march in unison and how to salute officers. We learned all the things it takes to make a sailor, such as tying knots, firing guns, and survival at sea. The one thing that I remember is if for some reason you were washed overboard or your ship sunk from under you, you could survive in the ocean by taking off your jeans, tying knots in the legs, and throwing them up over your head. Air would be caught inside the jeans and create a flotation device. You had to keep filling the jeans with air to retain the buoyancy. I had to learn control to keep myself from talking when I should have listened. For example, while my Chief Petty Officer in charge of training was giving a lecture, I was talking and raising hell about something. He stopped lecturing and ordered me over to the window. I was made to get a handful of snow and wash my face with it to cool down. This method worked well until I got out of the service.
After graduating from boot camp we were able to come home for leave. This was a great day for me. Now I could go home, show off my uniform, my new hairstyle and show everyone what a fine, outstanding military man I had become.
Returning back to Great Lakes after our leave was a new adventure. We were assigned to a huge holding area to wait our new assignments. Names were called out all day long and into the night. I was assigned to the Fighting Lady, the USS Yorktown, CV 10, an aircraft carrier. She was moored at Newport News, Virginia. I was put on a train with others with the same assignment and we headed for Norfolk, Virginia. While at Norfolk we were assigned to our departments and jobs aboard the ship and released to our division officer. We were then assigned to barracks in Newport News in order to be close to our ship. These barracks were located in a residential district with no fencing around them. We stayed there for about three weeks while the ship was being completed.
The weather in Newport News was mild, as you might guess, as it was nearly spring, and I felt I had no need for my wool blanket or long underwear. I washed them, and hung them on the clothes line outside the barracks. I then spent a lot of time aboard my new floating home the U.S.S. Yorktown to learn what I could about the ship. When I returned to the barracks that evening someone had stolen my clothes and blanket from the line. I suspected the neighbors of doing this because no one in our outfit needed them, knowing we were heading for the South Pacific. It would mean just one more thing to carry. I certainly didn't think I would ever need them again.
On the next weekend with nothing to do but to be present for muster, I had one of my buddies to answer the call for me, and I took off for Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, to visit with my brother Clifford. I was just gone overnight, and my buddy forgot to answer the muster call, and I got into a little trouble the next day. I was walking down the walkway when an auto was next to the curb with two commanding officers inside. They stopped me and told me to get into the back seat, and one of them proceeded to chew me out for leaving camp without permission, and how I could be floating down the Chesapeake River and they may never find me. He went on and one. Finally he paused for a few seconds and seeing my chance to escape, I got out of the car and went to my barracks. When I looked over my shoulder, he was still going off at the bazoo. He was talking to me and I was gone. Nothing ever came of it, so I guess they forgave me. Because of the chance of us never seeing each other again, I guess they decided not to pursue the issue.
During our stay at the Newport News barracks, we were assigned to our divisions aboard ship. I was assigned to the Black Gang in Number 2 Fire Room. There were four fire rooms aboard this carrier, and each one had two B & W oil fired boilers. These boilers had six burners each that were injected into the fire chamber as needed to generate 600 lbs of steam pressure. Each had super heaters attached that boosted the pressure up to 900 lbs. There were 2 working shifts of 4 hours on and 8 hours off, a total of 21 men per fire room. We were called "Water Tenders." I never realized how hot this job could be until we arrived in the South Pacific. It was during this time that we had the opportunity to meet our captain of the Yorktown. His name was Captain Clark. I never knew his first name, but he was called Jocko Clark. He eventually made Rear Admiral. He was a great warrior and a great captain. Everyone liked him, probably because he was not strict on his crew. He wore a baseball cap and was not particular how we dressed at sea, with one exception: While at general quarters he wanted us to wear long-sleeve shirts. A general quarter was when we were on alert and under attack. This was to protect us in case of a fire.
After about 2 days we went on a shakedown cruise to Trinidad. This was the only pleasurable trip that was made while I was aboard ship. During this trip, I was given a tip on how to best clean your clothes with very little effort. You tied your dirty clothes to a line with the other end of the line tied to the railing of the ship. Toss the clothesline where the clothes attached over the side and let the water beat the dirt out of them. This worked well until the Master at Arms came along and told me to get the line in and not to ever do this again. I said to myself, "----him," and moved to another part of the ship where I thought he wouldn't see me and threw them over again. This time he walked up and pulled out his knife, and cut them loose. He then explained to me the importance of why I was not to do this. If they broke loose, an enemy sub could spot them and easily track us down. Besides, if caught again I would be in front of a Captain's Mast. The Master at Arms had the power of a police captain, and his word was law. I really didn't have to wash my clothes in this manner as we had a laundry aboard ship. All we had to do was get our clothes together and someone would pick them up once a week, launder and return them to our compartment when finished. Wouldn't you know it, after I lost my clothes the captain called for crew inspection, and all personnel not on duty were to report to the flight deck for inspection. I grabbed others' clothes from the laundry, and went up to the flight deck like a well-trained sailor should and stood at attention while the captain and engineering officer approached us for the review. They looked me over and walked by, stopped and took two steps back, looked me up and down again. The captain asked me, "Whose cap do you have on, Sailor?" It was about three sizes too small for me. Then he looked at my jeans and said, "Sailor, those jeans don't owe you a thing." They belonged to a mate that was about a foot taller than I was, and I had rolled them up. He said, "I'm going to suggest that you fall out and return below deck, and don't ever report to an inspection dressed in this fashion again." I was thrilled to death that he hadn't noticed the untied marine high-top shoes that I was wearing.
After our return from our shakedown cruise, the ship proved to be what we expected. We were sent to the Pacific via the Panama Canal. In order for our ship to go through the canal, they had to remove the side forty-millimeter gun turrets. This took a couple of days. While waiting for this, we wanted to see the city, but they didn't want us to leave the ship for fear that our destination would leak out to the wrong people. So of course we had to sneak off the ship. We carried our dress uniforms in trash cans, changed clothes and left the can in the dock warehouse. We didn't get into trouble for this, but they sure didn't like it. When we came back aboard ship we had two fifths of rum taped to our legs where our bell-bottom pants would hide them. This was in order to give our shipmates a little pleasure from our unauthorized liberty. One of the guys behind me bumped the bottles together and busted them giving him away and he did get into trouble.
The next day with the gun turrets removed we started our trip through the canal to the Pacific. After arriving to the Pacific we were delayed for a few hours while the gun turrets were welded back in place. The ship was equipped with 20 forty mm guns and 40 twenty mm and 4 twin mounted 5-inch guns. Although we had plenty of arms aboard ship we were joined by a 4-destroyer escort for protection from enemy submarines. The destroyers carried lots of depth charges in case of us encountering enemy submarines. As was policy, we zig-zagged in order to confuse the enemy subs. This makes it difficult to set coordinates and to get a fix on a ship.
It took us 4 days to reach Pearl Harbor, HI. When entering the bay from the ocean, the first thing I noticed was the Royal Hawaii Hotel. It was a coral-colored building that is still standing today. The pier where we tied up was just across from the sunken Arizona left after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Today there is a Memorial for those that gave their life on December 7, 1941. Much of the damage left by the attack was visible, and I was in awe at the damage that the Japanese inflicted on us with their surprise attack even though a year and a half had passed.
After taking on supplies and topping our fuel we set sail to join Task Group 58. This was a huge war fleet. It consisted of several large carriers of the Essex class, as with the U.S.S. Yorktown, some of the smaller carriers that had been converted from cruisers, a couple of battleships, at least eight cruisers, and a multitude of destroyers. Picture if you can, about 6 large aircraft carriers surrounded by two battleships, one leading and one following, as many as 6 cruisers along our sides with the perimeter of this fleet surrounded with about twenty destroyers. Each of the large carriers with one hundred and ten planes of different types aboard, (fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes). I don't know how many planes the smaller carriers had. In any event, this was indeed a real war machine for this time in history.
We were not told where we were going, but we knew it was for real this time. The announcement of our destination was made on the second day at sea. We were to begin our drive toward Japan, bombing all the islands that they claimed in their quest to rule the world. There were a lot of lives lost and many ships were lost in our drive toward Japan.
Generally, when we moved close to an island, the goal was to land our fighting forces. We began by bombing the island. We were under attack by them as well. I learned early that when the 5-inch guns went off it meant that the planes that were coming in for an attack on us were quite a distance from us. Then when the 40s started firing, I soon learned that they were getting pretty close. But when I heard the 20s going off, I knew that they were on top of us. As I was either in the fire room or just above the fire room, I had to rely on sounds that would tell me to brace for a hit. This was our routine. Enemy planes did find it hard to reach our carriers because of the fire power of the destroyers, cruisers, and of course, the battleships.
We would be at sea for several months before returning to Hawaii, our home base for more supplies and etc. I will never forget the one time after we were at sea for one hundred days without seeing any land at all. We came into the harbor and those of us that were not on duty went topside to get fresh air and to wave at the Hawaiian girls on the dock to greet us. The first one I laid eyes on was a girl with a hula skirt on, no teeth in her head grinning from ear to ear, and topped the scale at about 300 lbs., and to me looked as good as Marylin Monroe.
While taking on supplies we heard the Quartermaster announce the need for a working detail to report to the quarterdeck to load provisions. We would go up topside to watch this process. When we saw something in the cases that we thought we would like, we would just step in line, retrieve a case or two and hand them out to our buddies, take them to the fire room. We would dump the can goods into the bilge so we would always have a midnight snack while on duty.
I smoked cigarettes during my time in the service. I think mostly because they were only five cents a pack. I didn't smoke very much because in the fire room one would perspire so heavy that you would ruin a pack in very little time. I got to where I didn't carry them at all, but would bum a cigarette whenever I wanted one. I would always pay back by buying several cartons on payday, and just leave them on the table in our compartment for all to help themselves. This of course erased the guilt of bumming them.
I had a buddy on board who was from Long Island, New York. His name is Herbert F. Goldsmith. We worked together in the fire room and got to be pretty good friends. Whenever we had an opportunity to hit the beach on liberty, we usually went together to look for girls and hit the bars. One particular day we went on the beach to hit the bars on the strip in Waikiki. After a few drinks we decided we would travel up north to Wahewa. This was a little town up in the fountain area above the pineapple plantations. This little town was far enough away from the Naval station that we were about the only servicemen in this small community. This gave us an advantage of being special and we were treated like royalty. However, this royalty stuff lasted only until when I fell asleep on a table in the car and they kicked us out. We had to hitchhike back to Pearl Harbor, and by the time we got back to the ship it was near chow time. My buddy went to the compartment to get some rest, and I went to the third deck to check on the food that was being served for this evening. I lifted the lid on the meat tray. The cook said that it was not chow time and keep my meat-hooks out of the food. He boasted, "I'm a first-class Petty Officer and will put you on report." I got a cigarette and asked a mate standing nearby to give me a light. While he was doing this, I told this guy that he means he's a first-class cook, not a first-class Petty Officer. Well, this didn't set too well with him and he busted me up-side the head. The fight was on. I was winning this fight when the Master at Arms stepped in and separated us. My buddy came up on the deck when he heard of the fight, and said to me, "I should have known that you would get into trouble as soon as I left you."
The next day we were off to the war again. There was more tension each time we left. I can't remember the dates of all these maneuvers, but I'm sure it is documented somewhere. We went to liberate the Philippine Islands. On the way, the best I can remember, we ran into one of the worst typhoons I had ever seen. It was so bad that the fleet lost two destroyers that didn't have time to top their fuel tanks. This meant that they could not control their vessels and sank. The storm was so intense, a large carrier of our class had its flight deck folded back like a piece of cardboard. Because of the rough sea, the crew had to eat cold cuts for the whole day. The storm was as scary to me as any attack that we'd come under so far. After the storm, the sea was so calm looked like a sheet of class. Not a ripple could be seen in the sea.
Shortly after this problem with the storm, we headed for Borneo near Australia. We anchored in the Bay of Espartos Santo, and the captain ordered beer on the beach for all of us to enjoy a little R & R time. They warned us not to drift away from the beach into the jungles because there were wild boar in the brush. Although the beer was warm, we did have a good time. I think the reason we were in this area was because there was a rumor that the Japanese fleet was in this area. During our march to Japan we were constantly on the watch for the Japanese fleet to draw them into battle and hopefully destroy them.
On our return trip to the northeast, we crossed the International Date Line and the Equator at the same time. There is a tradition for a ship when they do this. It is to initiate all new sailors that have never had this experience into Pollywogs. King Neptune sits on his thrown and supervises the initiation. This of course was all in fun, and we all got certificates confirming that we were now officially Pollywogs.
We went back to Hawaii to replenish the ship with supplies. This day I do remember, April 1, 1944. I remember this because my dad had passed away. The Navy knew this when we were in Pearl, but waited until we were out to sea again before the chaplain called me into his office to tell me the news. After reading the telegram, I was quite disturbed because they waited until we had set sail before telling me of this. I knew that at a time of war it is not practical to release a crewmember to go home. There would be no way to make it in time anyway. I had three brothers that were in the service and none were released to go home to be with our mother at a time of such a loss. I will always be grateful to my brother-in-law, Bill Gustafson, for being available to take Dad to the hospital and to stand by my mother at this time. Also, my girlfriend stood by my family knowing that I would not be home. She sent flowers in my name to the funeral home.
During this time at sea, we continued to offer support to the ground troops at Saipan and Tinian Islands. I can remember this incident because we were in the bay and sunbathing while our troops were invading these two islands. We watched as the cruisers and battleships blasted away at the targets called for by the Marines on the shore. This as most of the others was successful enough that our captain allowed us to sit on the flight deck and gather some sun. This was badly needed for us in the Black Gang, because we rarely got sunshine where we were on the ship.
After this battle, we headed to Bremerton, Washington, to go into dry-dock to have the barnacles removed from the hull of our ship and other repairs and painting. This may not sound too important, but barnacles will slow the vessel down considerably. Upon arriving in Puget Sound from the South Pacific, I was sleeping and was awakened from the cold and damp weather. As you may recall, I did not have a blanket because it was stolen at Newport News, Virginia. I noticed the mate above my bunk had a blanket, so I got my scissors out and cut a large piece of it so I could keep warm. Needless to say the guy raised a little hell, but when I explained to him how cold I was, everything was okay. I did learn to take care of my gear from then on.
We were going to be in dry-dock for about two months, so the captain gave us all three weeks leave. Off I went home to Evansville, Indiana. I had proposed marriage to my wife while I was overseas, and when I got home, we went to Morganfield, Kentucky to get married. This was on August 28, 1944. After a very short honeymoon, I left to report back to Bremerton to my ship and to face more war. I took advantage of the dry-dock period to build a shower in back of the boiler so we could take a shower when we wanted to. Water was sometimes scarce and rationed because the "solo shell" could not produce enough water for everyone to take a shower at the same time. We perspired a lot in the fire rooms and needed to shower more often than the average duck. So I bummed some copper tubing from some dockworkers, picked up a showerhead from the machine shop, and tapped into where the water went into the water fountain. I had to string the tubing in back of the boiler. I placed a couple boards over the grates, and bingo, there was our shower. Believe me, it came in handy. I would love to go aboard the ship as it is moored at Charleston, South Carolina, to see if it was still rigged up, but I have not had the chance.
I truly loved Seattle, WA, and swore to myself that someday with my new bride we would return to this great place and start our life together. We still have not done that. Sometime in October, 1944, we left the Sound and headed back to the war zone.
This time we were going to support the invasion of Guam. This island was essential for the U.S. We needed it for an airstrip for the B-29s to bomb the mainland of Japan. This was crucial because of the location of Guam to Japan. It allowed the B-29s to go on their bombing runs and still have enough fuel to return to the island. This enabled the U.S. to send sortie after sortie to Japan. Although this was successful and we almost completely destroyed their main cities, they still would not bend. We finally found the Japanese fleet and engaged them into one of the greatest sea battles of all time. It was during this time that the Kamikaze pilots became a factor. They felt very desperate. These pilots were trained to give their lives for their emperor and their flag, the Rising Sun. I think this was the scariest part of the war to me, because there wasn't much you could do to stop them from their mission. The only way to stop them was to shoot them down before they could set their sights on us - their target. Once they had their sights on your ship and they started their dive, only a direct hit would stop them.
Although we were at general quarters, I had just gotten out of the bunk from a rest shift. (I was just resting on top of the fire cover on the bunk.) I had gone down to the fire room when we were hit by a Kamikaze plane. It exploded right next to the compartment that I just vacated, tearing a hole in the side of the ship. This was about a 10' X 30' hole. Almost every bunk, including the one that I had been in was shot up with shrapnel. I was very thankful that I had to go on duty when I did.
We thought for sure that we would be sent back to the States for repairs when just two days after we got hit, the U.S.S. Franklin was also hit by a Kamikaze. They were loading their aircraft with bombs and aviation fuel at the time they were hit. All of the bombs exploded and the fuel caught fire. There were 100 percent casualties and most of the ship was burned. It took several hours to extinguish the flames and restore some order aboard their ship. They were towed out of the area, and I think in a couple of days were moving on their own power. They headed back to the States and on to New York to be placed on display to sell U.S. War Bonds.
Instead of returning to the States as we had hoped, the U.S.S. Jason (a repair ship) pulled alongside of our ship and began welding steel plates on the side of our ship where it was damaged. When this was completed we went back to the fleet and continued with the war.
We did not know of the plans to drop an atomic bomb on one of the cities of Japan to see if she would result in surrender. The city was Hiroshima and the city was completely destroyed. It was truly a terrible thing to have to do, but the Japanese were too proud to surrender. It seemed to be the only way to end the war and and death. About a day or two later we dropped another one over Nagasaki. The Japanese were now ready to surrender.
After the signing of the surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, we cruised into Yoksuka Harbor, Japan, and we had an opportunity to go ashore at Yoksuka naval base. We took a train to Yokohama, and while on the train we discovered that the Japanese naval officers still carried their swords in their belt holsters. They respected us but you could tell that they wanted to cut our throats. Not able to speak Japanese, I hadn't any idea what they were saying to one another. We could understand why the grim looks on their faces, after the constant bombing of the B-29s, Yokohama looked like a tin city. Most of their buildings were destroyed and the people were living in tin shacks.
After the war was over one had to have 26 points in order to be discharged from the service. I had 27 points and was transferred to the Battleship U.S.S. Iowa, the same class of battleship as the Missouri. We sailed to Seattle, WA, via Hawaii. I took my last liberty in Hawaii at this time. After a couple of days we set sail to Seattle. When we arrived we disembarked at the dock in Seattle and took a train to the barracks where we would spend the night before boarding a train for Great Lakes, Illinois. This would begin the three days of "mustering-out" of the service.
The Navy tried to get us to re-enlist, but this guy was not interested in this. So at about noon on the third day with my discharge papers in hand, I boarded a train to Chicago to meet my wife at Dearborn Station. We got a room at the MiraMar Hotel on 63rd Street and finished our honeymoon. I spent the next couple of days buying civilian, then we headed for Evansville, Indiana.
I had a tough time trying to find a job in Evansville and went to Indianapolis to try my luck up there. While there visiting with some friends of my family, the McClintics, I received a call from the railroad telling me to come in. They had hired me and I needed to pick up a pass to get to Chicago Heights to take a physical for a job on the C&EI Railroad. I passed the physical and began work on my first day back. I worked for the railroad for 40 years, interrupted only during a short time while I got my G.E.D. and Evansville College for three years. I was told by the railroad officials to return to work or quit. I had too much time in to quit, so I returned.
I needed this job to raise my wonderful children. They were indeed the best things that ever came into my life. They are all gone from home at this writing, and have families of their own. I will be 73 years of age in Dec. of this year. Married and have 6 wonderful children. My children are all married and scattered over these United states. I'm now retired from the CSX Railroad, after serving 40 years with the same company. I now have fourteen grandchildren and five great grandchildren. The part that I played in this war and the time spent of my life was well worth it to help make a better place in this world for all our families.
The Fighting Lady, USS Yorktown, CV 10, is now a museum at Charlston SC. Although I have been within 50 miles of this location twice in the last 6 years, I never had a chance to go back aboard to visit the ship. Let me hear from those that served aboard the Fighting Lady during this period of 1942 and 1945.
Harry C. Perkins
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