Biography of Earl F. Haferbecker
CCC Enrollee, 1939-1941, Backbone State Park, Lamont, Iowa & Caledonia, Minnesota
Radioman RM2/c, Naval Armed Guard SS Reigh Count & USS Texas & Commander Atlantic Fleet & USS John Parrott (DD218) & USS Wallace L. Lind (DD703), USN
Hi. My name is Earl F. Haferbecker. I was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa. At school I worked after school scrubbing floors and halls, cleaning blackboards, dusting rooms, cleaning out ashes and taking them outside for pickup. I got l6 dollars a month. This paid for my clothes and books. My folks could not give me any money for school. The last two years my younger brother came to the high school and I paid for his clothes and books so he could go. He graduated two years after me. He was too sick to work having asthma or bronchitis.
I Graduated from high school, l2th grade, in l939. I took up bookkeeping, business law, machine calculaton, shorthand and typing. Unable to find work at those times, I went into the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, to have a job and something to work at. When I went into the CCC, I sent all but 5 dollars of my money home that I got there. I kept five dollars for myself for shaving stuff and tooth paste. My mom used the money for stuff at home for the younger sister still going to school. Later when I went into the navy I sent all but about 8 dollars home every month.
I was in a CCC camp at Lamont, Iowa. CCC camps were run just like an army camp. Our officer in charge was an army Lieutenant. Sargeants were taken from the ranks of the workers. We slept in barracks. Each barracks had a sargeant in charge.
We were building a State Park, Backbone State Park. We had a quarry where we blasted rock down, broke it up into pieces that could be loaded on trucks. The trucks then took the rock to be fed into the crusher to make gravel. The gravel was used to make roads for the park.
I had no training other than school when I went into the CCC s. My first job was manning a 12 pound sledge hammer maul used to break large rocks into small rocks at the rock quarry.
I later faced rock. Facing rock is putting a one inch frame on the face of the pieces of stone. The frame is a thin flat rim about l inch around the face of the rock slabs. The rim chipped around the face of the rock is sunken and the face is raised. It is like a picture frame. It is just a border around the face of the rock. The border might be 1-2 inches deep Or wide whateever you wish to call it, and all around the building stone.
We did this with a number of chisels of different widths and points. We usually sat on one stone and took the chisels and chipped off pieces until it looked like a straight up and down border all the way around the stone. If you look at stone being used for building nearly all had the face put on by chiseling. Most parks and some inside fireplaces had faced rock for building. The rock I faced was for building the pavilions in the park. I worked in a quarry until April l940.
I went out of the camp in April l940 and came back in in October l940. I was a night watchman. We went into each barracks from back to front, checked stoves and refilled them when low. We checked all out buildings, car pool, and mess hall. We confiscated a sandwich once in a while. One guy on watch with me tried to slice a piece of ham off a bone and cut off end of finger. I notified the CO and had him taken to hospital. He used the knife as if it was an axe, in a chopping motion. It worked too well.
Jonesy was our foreman in the rock quarry. I had been there for some time and approached him one day and told him I didn't belong in a rock quarry and should be on a different job and he agreed and transferred me to the office.
The Office in the Lamont camp was a state office. It had all the records of the men and they had to be brought up to date all the time. I did routine typing and enteries in logs when that was assigned to me. The men came and went. New men coming and old men going. Men transferring from one duty to another. Watch lists and the sundry tasks of a small company. Bookkeeping and typing and filing. I do not recall clearly what type of work I did while there. After 60 years the old memory gets dimmer. I do know it was dull but clean. I wore a dress uniform all the time instead of boots and work clothes as I did in the quarry.
I was in the state office only a short time before I transferred the following spring I transferred to another camp. The new camp was a forestry camp in Caledonia Minnesota where we planted thousands of fir trees. The tree planting was for hundreds of acres of trees. It was nice work. It was much easier than a rock quarry.
At night I took classes in Journalism, finished that and then took classes in radio. We had a ham radio station W9PWG. That was early in l941 but I cant forget that call sign.
The radio instructor was named Bow (not sure of proper spelling). He built the radio set up with help from a student named Gerald something from Dubuque. The radio was just educational but we put a remote transmitter and receiver in a truck and drove around Caledonia talking back to base at camp. We swapped a few jokes and got a pink slip from the FCC to desist or lose license. We quit fast.
I was in the CCC from graduation in l939 until l941. I then joined the Navy and served in the Navy from July l941 to October l945. In the Navy I still sent most of my pay home keeping about 5-8 dollars a month. That didn't allow for much of anything, but I did smoke.
Why I joined the Navy. It wasn't because of the work in the Cs, which wasn't bad at the Forestry camp. First I spent a lot of time as a boy on the Missippi River. I had an old rowboat and some oars and would travel miles in one day just sight seeing and fishing. I was sent out at times by my Dad to get fish for supper. I dont think I ever failed him. I seemed to be lucky at finding where the fish were feeding. After school and when work was done I could take the boat out and I did. I guess Navy was just an forgone choice. Also my Dad, a soldier in WW1, spoke of sleeping in trenches full of mud and slopping around in there. I thought a dry bunk might be a better choice of where to sleep.
I had my Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. From what I heard, Boot Camp was similar to training in other services. Boot training just taught you how to take care of yourself. I got along well with our training personnel. Having been in the CCC with related army life I learned to just do what I was told. Dont lag and dont volunteer.
Boot camp was a lot like the CCC because they were both millitary. We had reveille, taps, mess call and etc same as military. I knew my left foot from the right foot, so I Was told by the instructor to take his belt and .45 and teach the others how to march. I got out of a lot of marching that way.
I took up radio in the Navy, because I liked my radio experience in the CCCs. So after boot camp I went to Radio school in Indianapolis, Indiana. Radio school in Indianapolis was very good. From there I was sent to Noroton Heights Connecticcutt for extra radio training and anti-aircraft school.
In the Navy I was among the top radioman strikers in my class and had choice of duty on surface ships, subs, planes or armed guard and I chose armed guard. I think I was the only one to choose armed guard from our class.
After anti-aircraft gunnery school I was assigned to the Armed Guard. This was a unit that provided Naval Gun Crews to man Guns on Merchant Marine Ships. The Armed Guard the navy put on the merchant ships had a gunner's mate, a radioman (like me) and about 6 seamen. They were put on the ship to guard it.
I went to the merchant ship SS Reigh Count. I boarded the ship on March 28, l942. It was a rust bucket, an old coal burner with top speed of 8 Knots per hour. By comparison, a destroyer makes about 28 Knots an hour. On the Reigh Count the only armament they had was .30 caliber machine guns.
The Reigh Count was an Italian ship and confiscated when Italy joined Germany in the war effort. They changed the name (from San Leonardo) and flew under a Panamanian Flag. The crew was almost all Norwegian, Lithuanian and Swedish. One was American, one Scotish and I believe the rest were European. The Skipper couldn't speak hardly any English, and called me "Sparkito", his word for radioman. The only name I remember was William Cameron* of Glasgow Scotland. He jumped ship in Glasgow when we arrived there. Of the armed guard the only name I remember is Pete Petts. He was a seaman and the 3rd class Bosun was named Jim something. The entire armed guard crew slept aft on the fantail, below decks as far back as you could go. It was dirty with soot from the smoke stacks blowing aft.
When I went on board the Reigh Count and went into the radio room ( it wasn't even a radio shack) they had a transmitter and receiver on a table. The radio was a morse code radio. All the radios had Italian writing on them. They had books in a drawer but they were also in Italian. I tried to set up a receiver but had trouble with it. They had no paper, no typewriter, no coding machines, so if I tried to copy by pencil, if it was possible, I couldn't recode the messages anyway. I set them both up on 500, the emergency channel, in case we needed help, or another ship called. But I didn't have to use it for us and heard no calls from others, although alot of ships were getting sunk every day, nearly.
The captain said the radio operator was also the 3rd mate so I also stood helmsman watches. He would give me a heading or point out a constellation if clear weather. Every one would go to sleep and I steered the ship until the next watch. I spent a lot of my time on the Mississippi river as a kid and liked the water. So I enjoyed taking the helm of the Reigh Count.
After the first night the Skipper checked the heading and found it right on. Much later, when I left the ship he wanted to give me a third mates papers but the Ensign of our armed guard crew would not allow it. I forget why he wouldn't let him.
So my duty station was varied. I spent some time in the radio shack trying to decipher the Italian papers but never did get them done. At times I was in the radio shack listening for SOS calls, other times I helped as signalman and stood helmsman watch. During raids I spent time on the bridge and some in the radio room listening for any SOS we may have to help. That is about as close to being a radioman as I came while on the Reigh Count.
When we sailed, the Reigh Count carried two tanks on topside and four in the hold. She also had ammo for the tanks, copper wire and other items that I don't recall. These supplies were to go to Murmansk, the Russian seaport off the Barents Sea. Our convoy sailed on March 28th, l942 for Halifax, Nova Scotia and from there for Russia. I don't recall any names of ships in our convoy. Most of our Navy ships guarding the convoy were English.
A wolf pack of German submarines followed the convoy from Halifax to Glasgow, Scotland and from Lock Ewe, Scotland to Murmansk. They sunk about half of the convoy. Nearly every day a ship got torpedoed and sunk.
The runs to Murmansk were called suicide runs, and were just that. We lost a lot of ships to wolf packs. I think a lot of the crew on the Reigh Count were scared of being blownup. But I do not recall being as worried as I would be later in the war.
The seas were very heavy when we got north of Scotland. Our top speed was 8 knots and when the convoy was urged by the escort ships to increase speed we got left behind and sailed alone quite often. Our skipper was a good seaman and he just drew a straight line to where the convoy would be next day and we went back into formatioin.
The weather was very cold nearing Murmansk. We had ice on the masts, rails and decks. When salt water freezes, it is cold.
We were attacked off Murmansk and got hit with a bomb from a Messerschimt, a German plane. The bomb hit the ship just off the fantail and knocked the rudder off so it couldn't be steered. At the time some Messerschmidts were also strafing the ships so it was pretty noisy. Pretty soon they ran out of ammo and left.
I don't remember any other part of the ship being damaged, but the bomb knocked out our steering. Because we couldn't get steerage we had to go for repairs in drydock. So while the ships that could get under way headed for docks to unload at Murmansk, we had to be towed back to England. I don't remember if it was a merchant ship or man of war that towed us back to England for repairs.
We were in drydock at Middllesboro, England for a long length of time but I don't recall how many weeks or months. Eventually, we got repaired and sailed for Hoboken, New Jersey, where we had sailed from.
When we left England they gave us some large fish and some mutton and hardtack. We had little freezer space so the fish stunk after a few days at sea. The cook hung them on the fantail so the wind would blow some stink off the fish. Finally we couldn't eat them any longer, so he deepsixed them. Then we had a real diverse menu. Every day we had lamb, ram sheep, or mutton for three times a day. We also had prunes and hardtack. Soon we ran out of mutton so the last few days we just had prunes and hardtack. Hardtack is a little larger than a regular cracker and 50 times as hard. Everyone was starved when we reached Hoboken. They had food on the dock yet no one was allowed to leave the ship. We ran up and grabbed oranges and sticks of sausage and ran below decks like someone was trying to steal it. We also had milk. I guess we had bread but I don't remember it. We just ate and slept for a long time before we were allowed to go ashore. I disembarked at Hoboken on August 13, l942.
When we arrived in Hoboken, I was sent back to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and was informed to stay there until an opening at officer's candidate school. I heard later, but not officially, that the Reigh Count was torpedoed and sunk off Halifax on her next run and lost all hands.*
About two weeks after I left the ship to await officer candidate school, they called me up to go to the U.S.S. Texas, who needed an operator. I went on the Texas, a battleship, and two days later was called up by Commander Alantic Fleet as his radio operator for "temporary duty with Admiral Alex Sharpe, Commander Atlantic Fleet."
When Admiral Sharpe called over for a radio operator, the Chief on the Texas in charge of the radio department sent someone else over. But the Admiral sent him back with a message, "I am Admiral Sharpe Comlantflt. I asked for a radio operator". The Chief told me I probably had more sea time, so he sent me.
The Admiral wanted to observe shelling practice in Chesapeake Bay by navy ships. For this he wanted his own radio operator with him on his way to the observations to contact the ship he wanted to observe.. He would visit the flattops, cruisers, wagons and etc. that were practicing. He usually boarded that ship and left me on his "taxi", which was usually a 83 foot coast guard cutter. When the shelling was over we picked him back up and took him to shore. I then went to a drydocked ship the USS Alcor and then waited for a summons to meet him on his next taxi to be his radio operator for his next observation.
As for the USS Alcor, she was a submarine tender that was docked in Norfolk. When ships pulled into Norfolk they didn't tend radios anymore, so the Alcor intercepted messages and forwarded them. I was listed as being on her but I was only there when not out with the Admiral.
Working with the Admiral was a breeze. He was very friendly. He was always out of cigarettes and bummed some from me nearly every time we sailed. As Admiral Sharpe's radioman, I over saw all messages that came to the ship that might be of interst to him and had them forwarded. I checked all mail and just sent him anything looking important.
When we boarded a cutter for transport to a ship in Chesapeake Bay, our party included the photographers who went to ships with the Admiral to take photos of the ships firing at the targets. They had a problem of getting photos after the shell hit the target. We set up so when they fired the guns, the camera was set off also and they got the photos they wanted.
The last taxi we were on was a Yard Patrol boat, the YP 565. Usually a ship towed the target for the ships to fire on, but this time they had no tow boat so Sharpe volunteered the YP as the tow ship for target practice. A shell missed the target and put a hole in the YP. She sank slowly, so we were taken off by another boat from Norfolk.
I then went on a old four stacker, WWI vintage, a tin can named John Parrott (DD218). We took convoys to Casablanca North Africa. This was better than the Murmansk convoy I had been on. The runs to North Africa were better managed and we did not lose as many ships, though we did lose some. I felt much safer on the destroyer than I did on the merchant ship. If general quarters is sounded my duty station is in the radio room. All radio men assemble in the radio room. We had guns, radar, sonar et cetera. We got some subs, assisted on some and were the aggressor instead of the victim.
The Parrott escorted convoys to Casablanca, French Morrocco in North Africa. We had the wolf pack following our convoy the same as to Murmansk. We spent alot of time at general quarters. If general quarters is sounded my duty station is in the radio room. All radio men assemble in the radio room.
When our sonar picked up a ping on a sub, we dropped depth charges in an attempt to destroy them. A depth charge is set to go off at a certain depth. If it goes off on or near a sub it can slip the seams and let water in so it sinks. If a sub is hit usually a large oil slick will show on the surface along with some type of floating debris, wood, cloth, life rafts , etc.
We sunk one sub in which 26 German seamen came to the surface to be picked up. As we came alongside, they were in a life raft and did not appear dirty from oil. When they were brought aboard they were stripped down and dry clothes given to them. They were then herded below to a compartment of their own. We kept them in an isolated place and kept armed guard over them.
Its hard to describe how we felt about the surviors from the German U boat, who were our enemies. I was glad, I believe, that a sub was sunk. But I think we only got 26 men from a possiblle l26 men or so in the crew. I was put on guard for some of the time because I knew a little German. I could not get all their conversations but I did pick up some bits which were relayed to the Commander. The guard carried machineguns that were in plain sight of the prisoners, so nothing of any furtive kind was observed. I believe I was more curioius of them than of hating them. They were of no further threat to our ship so I never gave a thought to making it any harder for them. I had this same belief when after the war I was a police officer for 25 years. After I got a criminal locked up, I no longer felt any animosity toward him. After a lot of them got out of prison we spoke when they saw me and even bought me coffee and talked. I tried to find jobs for them after their release and I think they appreciated what I could do. This may help in describing how I felt with the German prisoners. When the threat was gone, I felt no animosity toward the prisoners.
We were to take the POWs back to the states but another higher ranking officer ordered them aboard his ship . So we sent them over in a breeches buoy. To do this a cable is attached to each ship and the buoy is sent across the open space in which the person being transferred sits, hanging over the water between the ships.
The tables were nearly turned on another convoy. I was at the tail and saw a torpedoe trail coming toward the Parrott. I hailed a warning to the bridge. The ship made a hard turn to starbord, but not fast enough. The trail went right under my feet. Luckily there was no explosion. The sub had set the depth too low and the torpedo went safely under us. If they had set it for about 9 feet they would have blown us in two. That was close.
On our last trip we came back to Norfolk, we got a new skipper, and loaded up for another convoy escort to Casablanca. The new skipper backed the Parrott out from the dock and into the path of a freighter of the Liberty class. The Liberty Ship ran over the Parrott aft of the superstructure and cut into her nearly to the other guard rail. The skipper yelled abandon ship and jumped overboard. Those of us left alive stood at the guard rail, canted at about 30 degrees, and watched him swim. He kept yelling abandon ship, but no one went into the water with him. We got taken off and put ashore in Norfolk. But we had lost most hands.
After a short period we were assigned to other ships. I got a new can in Boston, the Wallace L. Lind, DD703. A new two stacker can. We shook her down in the Atlantic; Azores, Bermuda, etc., and then took her through the Panama Canal. I had been in the Eureopean Theater from '42, when I went to sea, to '44. Now I was going to the Pacific.
We made Pearl Harbor in December '44. We then sailed for Luzon.
When we left Pearl we were with the Enterprise, a flattop. We left Pearl on December 25th, I beleive, and on the 27th during excersises a pilot hit the water. We picked up the pilot. A few hours later the incident was repeeated and 4 crewmen rescued but the pilot was lost. On December 28 another plane crashed with 3 crewmen. All were lost. On December 31st another plane went in the drink. Recovered 2 crewemen but pilot was lost. On January l we joined the task force at Luzon in the Phillipines.
After Luzon we sailed all over, to Iwo Jima, Okinawa. Leyte Gulf and the South China Sea to try to locate the Japanese fleet. As we came back, we hit a typhoon. believe l6 navy ships were lost. We had one man washed overboard, and the weather was too rough to try to locate him. He got washed up onto the deck of another destroyer behind us. He is still alive and I have talked to him this summer.
During this time the Task Force was the target of numerous kamakaze attacks - in the Pacific we had them very often. Most times theere were a number of them attacking at the same time. They would dive on the ships and explode. One went just over our stacks and hit alongside the ship on the port side and exploded.
I do not recall ever being as worried during the war as I was with the zeros in the pacific. They were kamikize and deliberately dove into the ships if they were not shot down before reaching the target they aimed for. They came in droves like mosquitoes and you couldn't shoot down all of them so some got through. A few ships hit by zeros remained afloat but most did not.
It is hard to say what was worse. In the atlantic you didn't see them often. In the Pacific you saw them coming. The Murmansk Convoy was tough. And the near miss on the Parrott was close. But I don't remember that as disconcerting as the aircraft diving directly at our ship. The fact he missed is a puzzle. That was nerve chilling.
At wars end, I had 46 points to be eligible for discharge and was the first man to leave my ship. I left on Aug l5th after Japan surrendered but was not on the Lind when she went into Tokyo for the signing of the surrender.
Later I found out that although the highest rank I held was Radioman 2nd Class, my records show I was to be a First Class Radioman or Chief Radioman if I asked for it. I didn't.
After the War, I worked 25 years as a police officer in civilian life. I was in Dubuque Iowa on the Dubuque Police Department. I was police offficer from 52 to 76, retired as Captain. I spent 9 years as patrolman, about 2 years as sergeant and about 2 years before I made captain. I was in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division. I really enjoyed doing that kind of work, hoping I helped more people than I hurt in any way.
I guess that is all. Hope I have been of help to you.
Earl F. Haferbecker
1) Name Given as William Camoron by Mr. Haferbecker, but I presume its Cameron as this is common Scottish name
2) The SS Reigh Count, operated by the United States Lines in cooperation with the War Shipping Administration under her new name and under the Panamanian flag, was lost during the course of WWII though I could not confirm the circumstances of her sinking.
USS Wallace Lind DD703 page on Destroyers Online with reunion contact information
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