Biography of Norman P. Volz
Seaman 1/C, USS William P. Biddle APA-8, USN, WWII
I recently attended what probably is one of the last few reunions of my WWII ship, the USS WM.P. Biddle APA-8. I am trying to get all of the info of the Biddle into as many places as I can in order to give her a certain amount of immortality rather than remember that she was scrapped in 1957 to make frying pans or razor blades. She was a good ship that took her crew into and out of seven major assault landings in her six years of U.S. Navy commission. I was not on her during those landings as I was among the last war-time crew to come aboard. We made only one war-time cruise when I was aboard and that was to the Philippines in a thirteen ship convoy which sailed on a zigzag course thru the Philippine Sea a little over a day before the USS Indianapolis went through. We were on dawn to dusk submarine alert at our guns. When we got to Leyte we took on survivors of the USS Underhill which was sunk a few days prior of our going through. On our return trip to the States to re-fit, rearm, pick up troops and train for the big invasion on Japan proper in November of 1045 we ran across a couple of mines which we sunk one and exploded another. We were two days out of Pearl Harbor heading for San Pedro when we heard of the Atom Bombs and the Japanese surrender. To this day I and all of the crew members left say thank you Harry Truman, Col. Paul Tibbets and the Enola gay because attack transports carrying assault troops would have been the prime targets during Operation Downfall which was the two phased assault on Japan proper. My fear going overseas the first time were sharks and Kamikazes and Boy!, the Kamikazes would have fed plenty of sharks if the invasion had to be attempted.
We then did two more trips to pick up troops that had been overseas foe up to three years. This was called "Operation Magic Carpet". The biddle then dropped off her Higgins boats at Swan Island in Portland, Oregon and the went down the West Coast, thru the Panama Canal, up the East Coast to Norfolk, Virginia where we put the biddle in moth balls. She rested in the St. James River until she was scraped in 1057.
I was a "delayed entry" serviceman as I tried to enlist in 1944, passed all the physicals, etc. but was told I had to finish High School which I did by going to night school to get my diploma. I was not a very good student but I finally got it and went right to boot camp. I wanted to get into U.D.T. (Underwater Demolition Team) as I was not only a good swimmer but I was halfway through my instructors' course when I went in. I was a certified senior Red Cross Lifeguard at 15 years old, youngest senior guard in Chicago at the time. But U.D.T. was not to be because the war in Germany was almost over and all the Navy wanted were people to build airfields on the islands (Sea-Bees) and people to man the ships and landing crafts to bring the troops to the enemy (Amphibs). I figured I didn't want to be a ditch digger so I opt for Amphibs. I was seventeen when I came aboard the Biddle and nineteen when we decommissioned her. I was only aboard her for a little over a year and was not happy about the hard work of the Deck-Ape seaman or the strict regimentation of the United States vessel during wartime. However to this day I realize how great it was to be a First Class Deck Seaman doing all the things I read about in sea-going adventure books as a child. Yep! I like to think now of it as my great adventure as a real sailor handling lines, standing watch, rigging booms, run winched, load cargo and troops, steering the ship on wheel watch, look out in the crows nest, greasing cables, being hot glove man on a 3" anti-aircraft cannon, loader on a 20mm AA gun, being bow hook on a LCVP landing craft not to mention the un romantic jobs of holey stoning wooden decks and chipping, wire brushing and painting metal ones, etc., etc. the list goes on and on. Everybody, vets and new guys only wanted one thing then and that was to go home. We all griped about this or that and thought the life of an officer was plush while we enlisted men did all the dirty work. There was no talk of mutiny although there was one instant of casual thought of tossing one of the real nasty officers (an ensign high on his power) overboard during the 1945 typhoon in the Pacific. Never happened, just more griping which the civilian sailors that most of us were did a lot of, but we got the job done. Imagine a whole bunch of kids, farmers, salesmen, city boys, etc. most of which were depression children and had never seen an ocean or a ship coming together and running a 14 ½ ton, over 500 foot long ship. You didn't hear much griping about the chow (except maybe the meatloaf, powder milk and all the beets) because the U.S. Navy fed us pretty well, in fact for a lot of us the food was better than we got a home because of the depression and the wartime rationing.
Probably the most trying times for me were the watches and the continual drills both during and after the war which if you were lucky you were able to manage an average of about 3 hours sleep a night. This could be an exaggeration but that's how it felt at the time and that's why when men went home on leave the first few days were spent in bed. Another thing men did when first coming ashore either on liberty or leave was finding a place to drink a quart of fresh milk and then finding a place to get something stronger if there weren't some Shore Patrol checking I.D.'s.
Well anyway, after we decommissioned the Biddle the Navy gave me leave. When I reported back I was stationed at Navy Pier in Chicago which was a good deal as it was just 8 miles from my hometown of Cicero, Illinois. All I did for about a week was report for muster in the morning and then take off for home. It was too good to be true and to this day I'll never understand why the Navy sent me to Bremerton, Washington for 2 weeks of sitting on my duff doing nothing and then sent me to Swan Island in Portland, Oregon where I volunteered in the motor pool in order to have something to do. For another 2 weeks all I did was pick up a Captain and drive him to Vancouver, Washington for the day , then drive back in the afternoon. The only excitement during those 2 weeks was being in an earthquake tremor while sitting in the motor pool office and watching the locks on the lockers swing out and back hitting the lockers and the clothes on a clothesline swinging to and fro. Finally I got the order to report to Great Lakes back in Illinois for discharge. This I did while the railroad union was threatening a strike with the possibility of stopping all discharges in order to have us servicemen run the railroads. Luckily the strike was settled and I got to Great Lakes to get my discharge. I was offered my Coxswains rating if I signed over as I had passed the Coxins test just as the Biddle got orders to decommission. No way I just wanted to get home at the time but at times in retrospect I often thought I should have. Even my Uncle Sam Keating tried to talk me into signing over and he was a Master Chief Petty Officer with over 40 years of service. When he retired he became Chief of Police at Great Lakes.
Anyhow, I didn't sign over and was discharged July 4, 1946 and commenced civilian life on the 52-20 club ($20 a week for 52 weeks). I bummed around Cicero for a while, tried going to college but found out I was still a poor student so I switched to Art school. Couldn't get into the Art Institute of Chicago as it was packed with returning G.I.'s so I went to the next best in the area which was the American Academy of Art for 3 years. The G.I. Bill picked up all the cost for school but I had to do misc. of jobs to pay for my Chicago apartment which I shared with 2 other ex-G.I. all going to different schools. I worked as a shipping clerk in an auto parts company shipping 300 lb. motor blocks to South America in crates that just fit in the weather exposed chain hoist freight elevator. After almost losing my frozen fingers while loading one on the elevator I said forget it and got a job selling shirts at Carson-Pirie's Scott in downtown Chicago. That was a low paying part time job with a commission on each shirt sold but the old timer regular salespeople would grab the sale away from you and you really couldn't blame them as that was there livelihood. I then switched to night school at the academy in order to take a full time job as salesman at a small Sears store in Cicero. What with commissions and overtime I was making a pretty good average salary for that time. I was taking home $100 a week plus and was made manager of the clothing department. But shortly after, an opening as an apprentice in a major art/photography studio came available which I quickly grabbed. My salary dropped to $27 a week but I made up for it by doing much overtime at time and a half. I went as far as I could in that company without a college education so I left them for a smaller photo studio for more money and more titles like paste up artist, layout artist, artist, stylist, art director, salesman, studio rep, almost everything except photographer which is what the 2 owners were. I was know in that small circle of art/photo studios on Chicago's North East side so one day I was invited to lunch with a big studio owner that wanted me to open a studio for him in New York City. My private life was kind of on the downside and I thought I could help other people as well as myself if I went-so I went. I was about 37 years old when I opened the studio in N.Y.C. for that Chicago company. I left that studio to open my own with a partner after about 12 years at age 50. We did so well that we were out of the red and in the black in just one year. After 5 good years and looking to get better my partner decided that 50-50 was not good enough and he wanted controlling stock interest. After 2 years with attorneys I finally got my asking price and sold him the business. I got 3 offers from other photo studios to come work for them but I decided to retire early. One of my best customers in N.Y.C. was J.C. Penney and they hired me as a consultant to set up a price structure list for all the photography except fashions in their catalogs. This project took me 2 years working at home. My wife Marie was a teacher and we lived on her salary and invested the money from the studio buyout and J.C. Penney. I never went back to work again and I started to take up my neglected paints again. I started a co-op art gallery with 12 talented artists in an old grist mill which was a place to display and sell our artwork. We also had art workshops, gave lessons and art shows. This lasted 9 years and we had to move. We set up in a smaller place that was not such a good location so we closed the gallery there after 2 years. Since then I have only shown my art in special shows. For the past few years I have been painting miniature paintings and showing them at the International Miniature Art Exhibits in New Jersey and Florida. I have 5 paintings in the Florida show as I write this. Years ago I was only an oil painter. I won awards but didn't sell too well so when I started the co-op art gallery I switched to watercolors and I sold very well pus winning awards. I am now at a point in my golden age going back to standard sized oils after about 20 years away from them.
Okay!! Congratulations if you managed to read my letter this far. I realize that I have deviated from the WWII era stories but once I got going I couldn't stop. So you have a fair section of my life's history for WWII Navy Service up till today. Of course there are things I haven't covered but I think you'll agree (if you read it all) that I covered enough. Also being as I have never ever written that much of my history for anybody I am going to make copies of it to file in my family album. I am going to send you a signed copy but only because the original is rather sloppy due to my excessive use of white-out (what a blessed invention).
The commemorative print of a painting I did of my ship (USS W.M.P. Biddle APA-8) is now in the archives of 7 military museums across the country plus the Bureau of Records/ Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The original painting was won by one of my shipmates at one of our reunions where I donated it foe raffle. Almost 400 of these prints are scattered in all but 4 or 5 states and hanging in the homes of my shipmates or their families.
----- Norman P. Volz
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