Name: Salvatore Palermo
Rank: Machinist’s Mate, Third Class
Date of Birth: 1924
Birth Place: Illinois
Dates of Service: 1943 – 1945
Branch: US Navy
Unit: USS Dennis, USS Dorothea Dix
Prisoner of War: No
Today is April 3, 2009. This is Fidencio Marbella with the Melrose Park Public Library in Illinois. Also present is Heidi Beazley, also with the Melrose Park Public Library. Today we will be speaking with Mr. Sam Palermo. Sam was born on August 22, 1924 in Melrose Park, IL. He served on the USS Dennis during WWII in the United States Navy as a Machinist’s Mate, Third Class. This interview is being conducted for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Now let’s go ahead and get started. Sam, why don’t you tell us a little about your family and when and where you were born.
My parents were immigrants from Italy. Dad came here in 1902 and I was born in 1924, August 22.
Any brothers or sisters?
I have three [six] sisters and two brothers.
What were you doing before you joined the Navy?
I was an apprentice in the tool room at Richardson’s Company, served my apprenticeship as a tool and die maker.
How long did you do that?
I was there about a  year[s].
You were drafted into the Navy when?
June 14, 1943.
How did you like the Navy? You didn’t have a choice, you got drafted?
It was something new and being young like that we had to change our lives around and do what we’re told. We were educated.
Where did you do your basic training?
Farragut, Idaho. I was there from June to about September.
Can you tell us about basic training? What kind of training you went through?
We went through all the boot camp training you have to be instructed on, marching and preparing your clothes and how to behave, taking orders.
Was that the first time you had been that far away from home?
That’s the first time I had been out of, home in a long time.
What was that like?
It was very educational, taking the train, going through the mountains and going to a beautiful camp, in Idaho. A beautiful place.
How did the Navy pick Idaho to be a training camp? There’s not a lot of water around there, is there?
There was a big lake.
Oh yeah, one day we had to use our rowboat, know how to use a rowboat. About ten, about twelve of us were in a boat, rowing. So we had to be instructed in how to use a rowboat, how to paddle.
What was that like?
Very interesting. Beautiful lake, Lake Pend Oreille it’s called, in the mountains.
How long was the basic training for you?
About six weeks, I think it was.
What was the food like out there?
Well, the food was different. We had breakfast, we had grapefruit, potatoes, eggs and we weren’t accustomed to that, being brought up in an Italian neighborhood, Italian community where during the Depression we ate a lot of spaghetti and different things but our parents knew how to survive on what we had.
Was there anything you were able to do for fun in Idaho?
We went on liberty to a city called Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and we had a good time. We had a big lake over there and we swam.
After your basic training was over, where were you assigned?
I was assigned to the University of South [North] Dakota, the marine engineering school. I was there about six months.
Did you pick marine engineering?
I didn’t pick it, but they gave us tests to see what we were qualified, where our ambitions were, what our ability was. That’s how we ended up being categorized.
So what exactly is marine engineering? Can you describe that?
Well they had to instruct us how a ship operates, what the systems are, operation of steam engines, how to operate a ship.
So mainly in the engine rooms?
Basic, yeah the engine rooms, basic engineering was how the steam was produced and what we did with the steam. Steam was 212 degrees when it was initially made, but then they went through the boilers again to make it super-heated steam because the steam turbines we had in our ship had to have dry steam. It can’t be wet.
So the water would be converted into steam, which would run the ship?
Saltwater and distilled water. We drank the distilled water all the time we were on the ship.
So you were at this post for six months?
What else did they teach you there? Was it just engineering?
Just engineering. That’s about it.
This will bring us when, to about 1944?
After you’re done with your training there, where were you assigned next?
They shipped us to Norfolk, Virginia to assign us to a group of ships. That’s where we were assigned to the ship, the Dennis. The Dennis was being built. We were trained in Norfolk too on Navy procedures and different things. One of the tests we had, we had to go to a swimming pool and jump off the edge, thirty feet into the water. For a test we had to put our life jacket on, one arm only, then when you hit the water then you tighten your life jacket.
How’d you do?
We were trained to do that.
Was it kind of scary?
It was thirty feet up in the air like that; a swimming pool and jumping off a diving board. Pretty high up there.
Now you’re in Norfolk, Virginia and were you there for the commissioning ceremony of the Dennis?
No. We were shipped to Houston Navy Yards to pick up our ship for commissioning.
That was the USS Dennis?
The Dennis, right.
What kind of ship was the USS Dennis?
The Dennis was a destroyer escort.
What were the responsibilities of a destroyer escort?
An escort was to escort aircraft carriers or any other naval ships, to keep submarines away from them.
So they had depth charges?
Anti-submarine, right. They had depth charges on the back of the ship and the sides. We would fire when the sonar picked up a contact. We’d drop the depth charges according to the depth of the water that the submarine was in.
How big a ship was the Dennis?
The Dennis is about thirty-six feet wide and three hundred sixty [six] feet long.
And how many crew members?
About three [two] hundred twenty five, maximum.
How fast would it go?
Oh, about twenty eight knots. Almost thirty miles an hour.
What was it like when you first saw the Dennis, the ship you were assigned to?
We were amazed that we were on a ship that big. It looked big to me then, but it’s a small ship. It’s a new life, how to live on a ship with a bunch of people like that.
Were you a plank-owner for the Dennis?
Did you attend the commissioning ceremony?
I can’t remember if it was commissioned there, if it was commissioned there or not.
When you were first aboard the Dennis, tell us about life on a ship like that, with three [two] hundred other men.
Well, it was kind of systematic where you had to get up in the morning, had to wash and shave and get dressed up. Our lunch time was, our chow was a certain time. You had to be at the right time in the chow line. It was unusual. Life was not for us. You were scheduled to do things at a certain time of day.
And you had to get it done.
Get it done, right. Do what you’re told and only ask questions if you really had to, but don’t ask too many questions.
You were assigned to the engine room on the Dennis?
Did you have to stand watches like the rest of the crew?
We would stand watches when the ship was under way. We were on four and off eight. Four hours at a time.
What exactly were your responsibilities on the Dennis?
My responsibilities were to make sure there were no leaks in different pipes, different functions of the pumps and equipment in the engine room. If it was not functioning properly, we’d have to, you always had a bypass to switch over to another unit if something failed.
Did that happen very often?
No, everything was working fine. We came out of the dry dock or the shipyard, the ship was inspected and after the shakedown we went to, after commissioning we went to Bermuda for a month. We went through all different procedures on how the ship operates, the guns, torpedoes, things like that.
That was your shakedown cruise?
Shakedown cruise, right.
And that lasted about a month?
Lasted a month. Then we had a six hour leave in Bermuda and we rode our bikes, we rented bikes and rode around the beach to a city called Hamilton. I still remember that, very beautiful.
What was Hamilton like?
Hamilton was, there were no automobiles, everything was done by cart and horses. No automobiles on the [island], it was English.
After you got done with Bermuda where was your ship assigned to?
We were assigned to the Pacific Ocean, so we ended up going through the Gulf of Mexico through the Panama Canal.
What was that like, your transit through the Canal?
Well it was very interesting, going through the Canal we had to go through locks in the canal. We had to go under our own power but then in the canal you had to be towed there. You’d get hooked up in the channel and they’d pull you with a locomotive through the canal. You can’t go under your own power.
How come? Was it the wake?
They didn’t want you to damage the locks in any way, damage the sides or the gate. The gates are closed and have to function properly and they don’t take any chances. They’d pull you through, used to pull you through with donkeys when they first made the Panama Canal, but then they had locomotives do that. The canal was one hundred ten feet wide and the ships cannot be more than one hundred and ten. The big battlewagons and carriers had to be one hundred and eight feet wide to have enough room to squeeze through. They had to be towed through; they can’t be on their own power because they might damage the sides or the gate that opens the canal.
So these larger ships only had one foot of clearance on each side?
Yeah, one foot. That’s pretty big.
After you got through the canal, where did your ship head next?
We went to San Diego. Took us about five days to get there. We took on our ammunition, our torpedo tubes and after we were equipped for war like that, we had to go to Hawaii, check in Hawaii. You always stopped in Hawaii. Then we went to the Admiralty Islands, the Carolinas.
You had to stop at Pearl Harbor first?
Yeah, you stopped at Pearl Harbor. We tied up alongside Hickam Field, right near where the Arizona was at. We never saw the Arizona. We weren’t allowed to do anything but stay on the ship or off of the pier.
Now what was the feeling aboard your ship as you were leaving Pearl Harbor and heading off to war?
We didn’t know what to expect. We never saw any action. Didn’t have the slightest idea what was going to happen.
The officers didn’t let you in on what was going on?
Some were experienced and some were not. That’s why every time a ship was being commissioned there’s only so many experienced and some that were not. The Navy was very strict on that.
They wanted a good mix of experienced and inexperienced?
That’s right. You have to learn.
So you headed to the Admiralty Islands?
Where are those?
They were just above, South Pacific, south of the equator. New Guinea, just above New Guinea.
You stopped there for a little while?
Stopped in the harbor to take on stores. Usually every five days we have to take on fuel. That’s the Navy procedure. Take on fuel, get our stores then we went to the invasions from there. We went to the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa.
Okay. So after the Admiralty Islands, your ship headed to the Philippines.
What unit was your ship a part of?
Our ship was a part of Taffy 3. Taffy 3 was a group of thirteen ships. Six aircraft [carriers], CVE aircraft carriers and seven destroyers.
CVEs, what kind of ships were those?
They were converted tankers and cargo ships built by Kaiser in Seattle, I guess it was. They were built pretty fast during the war because there was a great need for that.
Were these Kaiser Coffins?
Kaiser Coffins, right. We called them Kaiser Coffins.
Okay, so your ship was assigned to Taffy 3. What was the responsibility of Taffy 3 during the invasion of the Philippines?
We were, the invasion of the Philippines was the Twentieth of October, 1944 and we had to, we were about thirty miles off the islands escorting these six carriers and they were bombing the beach in preparation for the invasion, for five days. The 25th was when the Japanese fleet came in and we had to defend our ships that we were escorting.
Can you tell us about the opening days of the battle where Taffy 3 had to confront a Japanese fleet?
Well, that was the 25th of October, 1944.
Did something happen before this?
Yeah, I was in the chow line at about quarter to seven. Go to chow then relieve the watch at eight o’clock. My duties were at eight o’clock.
This was in the morning?
In the morning, in the AM. So what happened, we turned around and saw a big fleet of ships behind us and we said, that’s pretty nice, the admiral’s fleet’s out there. Then they were shooting at us! Something unusual. We thought it was Admiral Halsey, but he was tricked to go up north.
How was he tricked?
The Japanese tricked him that they had an aircraft fleet up north. He left the Philippines, San Bernardino Strait unprotected. He left and he didn’t notify the admirals that he was doing that. They didn’t know where he was at until the Japanese attacked us.
He left to chase this Japanese fleet and left yours unprotected?
Can you tell us what happened at Surigao Strait?
Surigao Strait was where the Japanese Admiral Shima came through there and Admiral Oldendorf with the old battleships from Pearl Harbor, he had about seven old battleships there and he had to defend that portion of the channel when the Japanese came through. They called it the “T”. The ships were like coming into a T, seven ships lined up to one point, one direction.
So the US ships formed the top of the T and the Japanese ships formed the line beneath it. Why was that advantageous? Do you know?
That’s something way back in history they talk about that.
Crossing the T?
Crossing the T. That was performed then at that time. The admirals were educated and they knew what to do about that from Annapolis. Admiral Oldendorf and all the people knew about that. They know their business.
So that allowed all the US ships to fire at just one Japanese ship at a time.
Yes, in one line.
So Admiral Oldendorf, his fleet was able to stop the Japanese there?
Stopped them. They retreated.
So after this happened is when Halsey got drawn off?
Halsey was drawn off before that. There was nobody to defend that harbor, that entrance to the Philippines.
That left Taffy 3 to confront this Japanese fleet by itself.
Right, the Japanese fleet came from the north. Admiral Kurita came from the north, San Bernardino Strait. That’s where he took care of us for about three hours.
You mentioned being in chow line and suddenly this Japanese fleet shows up and starts shelling you. What was the reaction like of you and the crew?
We went to general quarters and we didn’t know what was going on. A lot of confusion.
You were in the engine room during the battle?
Okay. Were you able to, did anyone tell you what was going on during the battle?
The intercom system. The fellows had earphones on. We got hit five times by eight inch armor piercing shells. That’s the part of the scrap you see there that I brought. The shells went right through the ship.
They were using armor piercing shells instead of explosive shells. If they’d used the right shells, we wouldn’t be here today.
How did the US fleet, how did Taffy 3 actually end up stopping this Japanese fleet?
Well, we had gone around in circles, circled around our fleet. We had to lay a smokescreen from our generators and from the stack of the ship to hide them then, with the grace of God it happened to rain and we hid in a rain squall too. Our ships hid in a rain squall. But then Admiral Sprague gave us an order for the “little boys let go your fish” so we had to fire torpedoes at these big ships.
So the Dennis actually launched a torpedo attack against the Japanese fleet?
We had to, our captain was kind of nervous. He wanted to fire the torpedoes at 15,000 yards and our gunnery officer, Mr. Smyth, said that he can’t do that until he was within 8,000. He refused to fire them until it was 8,000. Then when we got within 8,000, then we fired the torpedoes. They said three torpedoes they claim hit one of the cruisers and we got credit for helping to sink a cruiser. That picture I have here shows them painting the picture on the side of the ship.
After the Dennis launched their torpedoes, did you then turn around and try and get away?
We turned around and then what happened we were being chased by a cruiser and one of our pilots told us to hold your fire because he was strafing that cruiser.
Was he able to stop the cruiser?
He stopped him from chasing us, right.
So one man was able to save the ship?
So what happened was I was in the chow line waiting for chow and at daybreak the first procedure the navy has is we all have to go into the wind so the aircraft can take off. They took off at daybreak and they spotted this big fleet out there and what happened they reported to the admiral what happened, but the admiral won’t believe them. So they had to verify it and then they got shot at besides that too, trying to verify what they saw. They counted the ships, they had pagoda masts and American ships don’t have pagoda masts so they finally decided that’s what they were. They were all surprised that Admiral Halsey didn’t protect us that way in the harbor.
As the carriers were trying to get away from the Japanese fleet you mentioned that the Dennis laid down smoke.
Was that to hide the carriers from the Japanese ships?
How fast could these escort carriers go?
They could only go maybe fifteen knots but they’re staying in a certain area, go around in circles. We could go about twenty-eight knots around them to protect them.
I imagine the Japanese ships were probably a lot faster.
Well they were faster, they were coming about thirty five knots at us when they were chasing us.
But the carriers still got away.
They were in a circle. They were going around like Indians would in the Old West.
Like a wagon train?
Like a wagon train, right.
So the Dennis got hit about five times?
Five times by eight inch shells.
Was this after the torpedo attack?
Before, no during the attack. We had two five inch guns and they used up all their ammunition. All their ammunition. We were shooting five inch at them and they were shooting eight inch and fourteen inch at us.
So you had to get pretty close to them to use the five inch gun, when you’re shooting at a ship that has eight inch.
We could tell when there’s enemy contact. When you hear the five inch guns going off, then you hear the forty millimeters going off and then the twenty millimeters, you know they’re getting closer.
So you actually had to shoot your forties also? They were that close?
Yes. You’d shoot anything you had.
This went on for about three hours?
About three hours.
Why did the Japanese stop?
They decided that they weren’t gaining much on us. They were worried about Admiral Halsey coming and helping because they went back where they came from. San Bernardino Strait.
So they didn’t know that Halsey had been drawn off? They thought he was still in the area?
They were confused too. They missed us quite a bit, with their accuracy.
Now do you know of any US ships that were sunk during this Japanese attack?
The Gambier Bay, the St. Lo, and the Johnston and the Hoel and the Roberts. There were three destroyers sunk.
The destroyers were the Johnston, the Hoel and the Roberts and the carriers were the Gambier Bay and the St. Lo?
After these ships were sunk and the Japanese had withdrawn, what was the Dennis assigned to do?
We were assigned to pick up the survivors. After that was over the suicide planes came. The suicide planes hit the carrier, that was after the battle was over. Then we had to pick up the survivors.
What ship was hit by the kamikazes?
The St. Lo.
Did you actually see that or no?
No. I was in the engine room. When you’re at general quarters, you’re in a closed compartment. That hatch is sealed.
You’re locked down there? So after the St. Lo was sunk, the Dennis was assigned to try and rescue the survivors?
Yes, 434 survivors.
They all fit on the Dennis?
Well they had to fit.
So you had 400 extra bodies on the ship for how long?
We had them about two days. We took them to the island of Palau. It took about two days. We were out of food and the Army gave us C-rations and stuff like that. We dropped the fellows off at the USS Solace or Bountiful, one of the hospital ships.
Did you get a chance to talk to any of the survivors from the St. Lo?
Oh yeah, we gave them our clothes and our shoes. They were told to take their shoes off when they jumped off the carrier. We picked them up, gave them our clothes, blankets, they took my blankets and everything and we gave them all we had. After we dropped off the survivors the supply officer had us make a list of what we gave away. We got paid for everything.
Where did they sleep on the ship?
Wherever they can find!
They were on deck also?
They had an announcement. They wanted somebody to volunteer to sew up the five and the one from the carrier that died. Six people to sew up in the body bags, canvas bags. I couldn’t do something like that. The older people might have done that. And then they placed them on an area of the ship. One of the survivors said he stepped [slept] on the torpedo tubes and he stepped [slept] on some bags. When he woke up in the morning he found out that they were body bags.
The Dennis had a burial at sea for the five crew members that died?
Burial at sea for five crew and one from the St. Lo.
Did you know any of the men from the Dennis that had died?
I knew all of them very well. You’re pretty close. You know who they are, and I kept pictures of them. I still remember how they looked. We used to go to beer parties on the beach. I didn’t drink any beer but I gave my beer quota to the other fellows.
You actually had a beer quota? How many cans was that?
I think five or six cans.
That was a lot of beer! The fellows had a good time. We went to Eniwetok usually. That’s an island. In fact I think they dropped the hydrogen bomb there.
They tested it after the war?
Yeah, I don’t think it’s there anymore.
So after the Dennis dropped off their survivors at Palau, what happened to the Dennis? Where were you assigned next?
We were going back to Pearl Harbor.
Repairs. The repairs they did there was very minor. We did some repairs, our own crew did some repairs, our maintenance men. Then we went to Hawaii and from there we went to San Francisco, Alameda. The ship was in dry dock for a month. Whenever a ship goes into the harbor, they update everything with the latest equipment they have. We had twin forty millimeters – they put quad forty millimeters on them. Everything was upgraded.
Were these forty millimeters mainly for fighting against airplanes?
By then they had a pretty big kamikaze threat?
Right. Shot down one of the airplanes at one time, with our twenty millimeters or our forties. The ship was shown in a picture I have, on the side of the ship was a picture of an airplane and a ship that we were credited with sinking.
When your ship was back in San Francisco for repairs did you have a chance for any shore leave?
I got six days shore leave and I flew back home and I flew back United Air Lines through the southern route. It was December and we couldn’t go straight across because of the snow so I got home and when I came home it was all closed in, snowed, and when I came back at that time you had to go downtown to Chicago and get on a limousine to take you to the airport.
Was this Midway Airport?
Midway. Then we flew back to California again straight across. We didn’t go the southern route this time. So they must know what they’re doing, these pilots. They were DC-3 planes that we were flying. You had to have a priority to fly in them. You couldn’t get them during the war. I had the priority of being a serviceman and they gave us a leave. We were certified to fly.
It must have been nice getting to see home for a little while.
It cost a hundred dollars I think to go back and forth.
So the Navy didn’t pay for that?
Time off, you had to pay for your own.
So after your leave you went back to your ship in San Francisco?
And by then it had been repaired?
Repaired and we went back to the Caroline Islands again, Eniwetok, Manus where the navy bases were and we got ready for the invasion of Iwo Jima.
Tell us a little bit about the invasion of Iwo Jima and the Dennis’ role in that.
We found out after the secret orders were opened that we were going to this place called Iwo Jima. We were kind of jumpy. What kind of a name is that? We were kind of lost. We were kids. We didn’t know any better. Looked at a world map. We were supposed to stay about twenty five days, no seventy two hours and we ended up staying twenty seven days. We were firing our guns, even at nighttime. Every so many rounds, they’d fire a flare. The sky was always lit up at night. All the ships were firing, bombing the beach there. The battlewagons, the cruisers.
So the Dennis actually had to bombard Iwo Jima also?
After Iwo Jima was done, that was about twenty seven days you were there?
Then we went back to the Carolines and Eniwetok, where that was at and Manus, the naval base. Then we went to Okinawa, the invasion of Okinawa.
Tell us about that invasion.
Well, I don’t know too much about that other then we were bombing the beach all the time.
How long was the Dennis off Okinawa?
We were there, I don’t know how many days, but I was there to the very end almost. I left the ship that time and was assigned to a new ship, new construction. I was shipped back to the United States.
Now you mentioned about how the Dennis shot down an aircraft. When was this, was this during Iwo Jima or Okinawa?
During the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Leyte Gulf, okay. Was it a kamikaze trying to hit your ship?
I don’t know what it was. It was an airplane. When you’re shooting at someone like that you’re not trying to find out what it is or who it is! Just trying to knock it down.
The Dennis also got credit for sinking a ship?
For helping sink a ship. It was authorized. It was painted on the side of the ship.
What do they actually paint on there? Was it a silhouette of a ship?
A silhouette of a ship, right.
Then also the silhouette of a plane?
So after Okinawa was done, you mentioned you were assigned, reassigned to a different vessel?
I was assigned to Philadelphia Navy Yard and the war was over. I was in Philadelphia Navy Yard. I was, I didn’t have enough points to get out so they shipped me back to San Diego on this troopship, the Dorothea Dix, to pick up army soldiers from the Philippine Islands and bring them back to the United States. A troopship.
How long of a trip was that, from the US over to the Philippines?
I’d say it took about two weeks, five days to go to Hawaii and five days to go to the US.
So how many soldiers did you pick up in the Philippines?
The ship was full, I don’t know, lots of army guys.
What was the mood like coming back from the Philippines?
Sounded pretty happy coming back!
Now what did they actually do to occupy their time on the ship for that long?
I don’t know what they did, some of the fellows played cards, gambled, whatever they did I don’t know. I didn’t gamble. I still don’t know how to play cards.
What were your assignments on the Dix? Were you in the engine room also?
I was in the engine room. We checked that different things were operating properly. That bearings were lubricated properly and the shafts, that they would not freeze up. Kept up the maintenance on the ship.
So the Dix was a much different ship from the Dennis?
So once you made that one trip to bring the soldiers back from the Philippines, what did you do next?
That’s when I got shipped back to San Diego, from San Diego I went back to Great Lakes to get discharged.
So this would have been about December of ’45?
December of ’45, yeah. Spent Christmas Day in San Diego, beautiful dinner at the base there and then they shipped us to be discharged at Great Lakes. That was a snowy day, the best [last] day of the year!
That must have been a fun way to celebrate the New Year, getting discharged.
What was your mood like after you got out of the Navy? Were you just happy to be home again?
Happy to be there. I learned quite a bit, being a civilian, how to behave and how to conduct your life. Doing what you’re told and behave properly. We had to dress up properly in the military. When you were in the military you couldn’t wear civilian clothes. You had to wear a uniform. Without your uniform you got fined for some reason, so that was very strict on your dress.
Now what was the reception like from your family when you finally got home?
They were happy, Mom and Pa were happy to see us. My mother must have cried an awful lot; these old-time people get carried away.
Did you have any problems or challenges readjusting to civilian life?
No, not really. I went back to my job again as an apprentice in the tool room. I was going to school then at night, engineering school, that’s how I ended up being in the department for the companies that I worked for, I was a designer, tool designer.
Do you keep in touch with any fellow veterans over the years?
There’s a few we kept in touch with, different reunions we go to. I’ve been to about twelve, fifteen reunions. Our ship, the Dennis, and the last five reunions I’ve gone to the St. Lo reunion because our ship was too small and nobody wants to run a reunion, most of them have passed away or aren’t interested. But the St. Lo usually has about two hundred people that show up. They always honor us with being there, we’re always welcome.
For saving their lives.
Anything else you’d like to share with us today? Maybe photographs?
I’ve got pictures here and research I did for our ship.
Why don’t you tell us about this one picture here showing the muzzle.
This one picture here, I have the newspaper article from 1974 that this gentleman that we picked up out of the water name of Mark Capolia, he was a harbormaster in Los Angeles. In 1974 the picture shows here that he was, the ship, the Dennis was being towed in to be scrapped. He told the people towing that ship, that ship picked me up out of the water. So they got a newspaperman there and took a picture of him, that’s him there. They made a plaque for him and I’ve got the plaque right here.
So that’s actually the muzzle from one of the guns on the Dennis?
They cut the muzzle off and they gave it to him. That was nice of Mr. Coates, he was in charge of that steel company that scrapped the Dennis. He was a Navy man and he saw many things that were usable that could be put in a museum. Many, many ships contacted him to donate some of the materials that he got. They needed certain things and that’s what he did. This gun was two and a half inches thick here and weighs thirty-two pounds. This is a brass cap that fits on the muzzle here.
That would be what goes here?
That’s the same thing. You’re looking at the same thing. These grooves you see on the barrel, they’re grooves so that when you fire a shell, a five inch shell comes out of here, it goes in a straight direction. There’s grooves that are twisted in the barrel. I’m not a gunner, so I wouldn’t know too much about that.
So the barrels were rifled to make the shell rotate.
Right. The ships specified a five inch/38. Five inch/38 means three eight [thirty eight] times five inches is the length of that barrel. Sixteen and eight point eight long [fifteen feet, eight inches long]. That’s how long that barrel is. I learned that about two weeks ago.
Five inches is the actual diameter of the barrel.
That’s here. This is about nine, eight and a half inches here [5 inches, outside diameter is 8 inches]. It’s two and a half inches thick. They had to cut that off with a torch. It took a lot of work to machine that to put it on a plaque and have it engraved like he did on a piece of wood. It was a costly thing for that company to do that. It was a nice thing for them to do.
There’s a little bit of the Dennis that survived.
What else do you have here that you can show us?
I have a picture of me with my medals, battle stars, Philippine liberation, Presidential Unit Citation.
So the Dennis got a Presidential Unit Citation for serving in Leyte Gulf?
Leyte Gulf. Right. The seven ships got that.
All the escort ships.
Can you tell us about these three medals, right here?
One was Pacific/Asiatic and this is Atlantic Ocean and this is the Peace Medal here. [Also the Presidential Unit citation]
You got that after the war ended?
Yeah, and this is my dog tag. That’s when I was eighteen years old.
You also have a can containing some pretty interesting stuff here. Can you tell us about this emergency fishing kit?
The emergency fishing kit is olive drab painted and it specifies on there “Emergency Fishing Kit to be used when abandoning ship.” The reason why I have that is that we picked up the 434 survivors and they went through our life rafts and ate all the food that was on there. This can, they opened up, they opened the can up and they saw fishhooks in there, and a whistle and a line and they discarded it. They were looking for food because 434 guys on the ship for two days, they’d eat anything they could get a hold of. We had no food when we got rid of them. That’s why we were eating K-rations. The Army fellows didn’t like it but it was a novelty for us to eat that stuff.
You also have in that can a piece of shrapnel. Can you tell us about that?
The shrapnel I picked up on the deck of the ship and I remarked to a few friends of mine that’s part of my father’s Model T Ford that the Japanese fired back at us at Pearl Harbor.
So before the war the Japanese bought a lot of Model Ts as scrap metal?
Then they used that to make armaments.
That’s what caused the war when President Roosevelt stopped their oil, that got them mad. No more oil to Japan. They knew something was going on. Since he passed away, our President Truman, he started the CIA, to investigate what’s going on in these countries before it happens.
So the Japanese shot back the Model T at you in Leyte Gulf.
I rode in that Model T.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today? Any final thoughts that you have?
Only thing I can say is that we’re grateful that we live in this great country. Our government took care of us all these years and they still take care of us. The greatest country in the world since the beginning of time.
Thank you very much for sharing all of your memories with us today.
I’ve been to a few demonstrations. One of my grandson’s class wanted me to talk about the war here in Hinsdale and this boat club wanted me to give a talk on the Battle of Leyte Gulf which I have pictures here to show you. I tell these young fellows that we live in a generation now, these kids are all mixed up, I call it the warped generation because they don’t know what life is really all about and they don’t appreciate what us fellows did to make this country safe, as great as it is. That’s why we’re the greatest country. All over the world, they want to come here. So I always say, God bless America and in God we trust. I put that on my mail whenever I send a letter to my shipmates.
Thank you very much.