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Interview with William E. King [10/22/2002]

Tom Swope:

This is the oral history of World War II Veteran William E. King. Mr. King served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater. I'm Tom Swope, and this recording was made at Mr. King's home in North Olmsted, Ohio, on October 22nd, 2002. Bill was 81 at the time of this recording. Where were you living in 1941, when the war started for America?

William E. King:

Cheswick, Pennsylvania.

Tom Swope:

Do you remember the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor?

William E. King:

Yes. Sunday afternoon, and we were getting ready to go off on a drive when we heard the radio account.

Tom Swope:

What did you think when you heard that news?

William E. King:

That's a long time ago. I think incredulous. "What's going on here?"

Tom Swope:

Did it come as a total surprise to you?

William E. King:

Absolutely.

Tom Swope:

How old were you then?

William E. King:

20.

Tom Swope:

20. But you hadn't seen anything or heard any -- seen anything in the paper or heard anything that implied that it was on the way, as far as the Japanese?

William E. King:

All I can recall now is there were some goings-on in Washington; the ambassador, or whatever he was, talking with our people.

Tom Swope:

Were you in school, or were you working at the time?

William E. King:

Both. I was working and going to college at the same time.

Tom Swope:

So what was your -- your thought? Did you want to go out and sign up the next day?

William E. King:

No. I -- truthfully, I -- I didn't even consider this. That came later. I was never rabid about the subject. Still not.

Tom Swope:

So when did you sign up, or were you drafted?

William E. King:

No, I -- I think the draft was breathing down my back, and I decided I'd -- if I had a choice, I would just as soon enlist. I enlisted July 22nd, '42.

Tom Swope:

And you picked the Navy?

William E. King:

Into the Navy.

Tom Swope:

Why did you pick the Navy?

William E. King:

To see the world. Good propaganda.

Tom Swope:

All right. Now tell me a little bit about your training.

William E. King:

Oh, boot camp at Great Lakes, then into a school in Chicago, 77th and Anthony, out off Stoney Island. This took me to just about January of '43, at which time I went to an ordnance school, aviation ordnance school in Yellow Water, Florida. I forget the exact dates, but this was pretty much wintertime in Florida. And from there to San Francisco, waiting for assignment. I was trained as an aviation ordnance man.

Tom Swope:

So what exactly would that job entail?

William E. King:

Guns, bombs, rockets, flares, you name it. Anything that goes bang.

Tom Swope:

Would you be on the ground crew, or assigned to a plane?

William E. King:

Ground crew, essentially, yes. The Navy, unlike some of the other branches, their people have two jobs; one a specialty, and one an armament job -- not armament, but a military job. Some training as a rear seat gunner.

Tom Swope:

Now, were you trained on PBYs?

William E. King:

No. I think the plane -- oh, golly. They're all antiques now, obsolete, but there were two or three trainers. I can't remember what they were, but eventually I wound up SBDs. Those were my favorites, and then toward the end of the war SB2Cs.

Tom Swope:

Okay. I think I have written down that wrong. I had you written down as PBY. So -- so you were -- did you end up as a gunner, then, on an SBD?

William E. King:

No. Wound up as -- in what they call the Carrier Aircraft Service Unit. However, my sea time was limited to going from here to there. I managed to get some flight pay in occasionally, but not -- not as a regular thing.

Tom Swope:

So when did you go from -- you said you were in San Francisco waiting for assignment, right?

William E. King:

And from there, oh, the Navy Unit's usual efficient manner managed to lose my papers, my service papers as well as my pay papers, and I spent about two months in San Francisco on shore patrol duty, being paid the very magnificent sum of 10 dollars a month, until they found my records. However, that was a very -- if I can use the word -- pleasurable period. I had a choice of pulling shore patrol duty or garbage pick up duty on Treasure Island. Shore patrol, we were stationed right on Market Street in San Francisco, and shore patrol duty was day on/day off, port/starboard, however you want to call it. And in those two months, I managed to learn San Francisco very well. Managed to see my first opera. I remember it well, San Francisco Opera House. It was the hunchback. It's off of Rigoletto, for heaven's sake. John Charles Thomas, Jan Pierce, Lily Pons. So I got my first taste of good classical music. Up to that point I used to think that a Hawaiian guitar was the ultimate; not to disparage the Hawaiian guitar, it has its place.

Tom Swope:

Now, on shore patrol, were you responsible for keeping the servicemen in line, that sort of thing?

William E. King:

More to keeping them out of trouble, let's put it that way. So many of the people we ran into were young, impressionable, inexperienced, and very prone to get in trouble, and whatever way we could keep them out, the better. It was a -- it was a good experience. The -- I remember a couple of instances. I was paired up with an M.P., and we drove a -- he drove a Jeep, I was passenger, and the M.P.s were somewhat trained for this duty, and we were recruited for whatever reason but not trained as such. And we had a radio in the thing, and we got a -- an emergency call of a riot, and I think it was California Street, which goes at an angle about 45 degrees, I think, and we hit that thing going downhill and left the ground. It was very -- very exciting. By the time we got there, it was swarming with M.P.s, S.P.s, and police, and it really wasn't a riot.

Tom Swope:

Yeah. So then you finally got your assignment?

William E. King:

Finally got my assignment to join an outfit in -- [Female walked in the room.]

Unidentified person:

Hello.

William E. King:

Mrs. King, Mr. Swope.

Unidentified person:

How do you do.

William E. King:

Join an outfit in Barber's Point, in Hawaii, Oahu. And from there we took a trip to Hawaii, going through the Golden Gate. We had one man in our outfit, his name was Juan Cruz (ph), from Los Angeles, and he was not a very good sailor. He got seasick as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, and remained seasick until we dropped anchor in Pearl Harbor. And he spent the rest of the war avoiding shipboard travel, and he became very -- very adept at this. He was able to grab a ride one way or another in a plane. But this would have been, golly, early in -- good golly, time being what it is, along about February of '44.

Tom Swope:

So were you in San Francisco for about a year, then, or --

William E. King:

From --

Tom Swope:

Because I think you said you got there in early '43, is that right?

William E. King:

Yeah. The better part of a year, yes. Some training, some duty at the air station at Alameda, and then --

Unidentified person:

Excuse me. I'm on my way.

William E. King:

Okay.

Unidentified person:

See you sometime, three-ish, or something like that.

William E. King:

Okay. And remember, I've got a 3 o'clock appointment.

Unidentified person:

Yeah, I know you do.

William E. King:

All right.

Unidentified person:

You remember.

William E. King:

Oh, I will.

Unidentified person:

I won't be here to remind you. Jean will remind you.

William E. King:

All right. Time does fugit, doesn't it. We were at Barber's Point for a couple of months, anyway. I guess we -- we got there in November or December.

Tom Swope:

Barber's Point was --

William E. King:

It's a Naval air station.

Tom Swope:

And that was in?

William E. King:

Oahu.

Tom Swope:

On Oahu, okay. So did you have a specific assignment to a squadron, or --

William E. King:

No. This was a -- this was a CASU, CASU 20, as I recall. A misnomer, of course. There were CASUs on board ship, but we were strictly land based.

Tom Swope:

Say that clearly. That's cash --

William E. King:

C-A-S-U, Carrier Aircraft Service Unit.

Tom Swope:

Okay. I've never heard that before.

William E. King:

Oh, okay. But our principal job was to be the ground support for the squadrons.

Tom Swope:

So you would be back at the air station for a specific carrier?

William E. King:

No. These were -- these were land-based planes.

Tom Swope:

Land-based planes? Okay.

William E. King:

People hear Navy Air and they oh, well, they're out in these carriers. Well, there were probably more planes on land than there were on -- on ships.

Tom Swope:

Right.

William E. King:

So I think we finally left Barber's Point January, early February, '44. Yeah. I cannot remember the name of the ship. It was a -- well, what was the name of those things? Kaiser made them.

Tom Swope:

Oh, Victory ship, Liberty ship?

William E. King:

Yeah. Yeah. They were never meant to be troop carriers. It was not the most comfortable travel, but we got there. It was a pretty large -- okay, this must be Alzheimer's setting in.

Tom Swope:

Convoy?

William E. King:

Convoy, thank you. I mean, nice, hard words like that. Then we had an escort, carriers, battleships, and wound up at an island, an atoll, in the Marshalls. The name Kwajalein probably is the most familiar name to people. The Army assaulted the main island of Kwajalein, and the Marines took the northern-most islands, which were some 40 miles from the main island. Two names, Roi and Namur. If your French is working, Roi being the French name for king; Namur being a city in France. I don't understand completely -- I never really looked into it -- the history of the islands, but I assume at one time the French were -- it was a French protectorate or something. Code names Camouflage and Burlesque. And that -- that is -- this, I think, was a very well-planned -- and now I'm second-guessing the brass -- very well-planned assault. You go in and hit them with all you've got. And I don't remember the exact date. I'm sure it was sometime around the 10th of February. The Japanese on the islands were, we were told, Royal Marines. Very few prisoners taken; I think something like 11 prisoners out of a contingent of some 3,000. They -- they did not surrender. I'm sure the propaganda worked on both sides, "Oh, they'll torture you," and this and that, so they didn't surrender. The Japanese had held these islands since World War I. They were well-fortified; blockhouses were a real work of art. They were elevated, reinforced concrete, and I think the walls were something like three-, four-foot thick, and a direct hit on them would do some damage, but not -- not put them out of business. So there was my home for many months.

Tom Swope:

You were on one of those islands, or --

William E. King:

I was on Roi.

Tom Swope:

Okay.

William E. King:

Roi was a -- the Japanese had fortified it, as well as used it as an air base. There was very little left. The blockhouses were not intact, but you could still recognize them for what they were. I'm guessing, I would say these things were maybe 40-, 50-feet square, floor off the ground maybe three feet, and very strong. Pillboxes surrounding. They had large guns. And again, you never know -- looking back, you never know how much was true, how much was guess and so much bull. They say that they had -- some of the guns they had had been taken at Singapore during the assault there. They were knocked out. H-Hour was probably maybe dawn. We were laying offshore no more than three or four miles, well within the range of the guns. We were listening to the radio between the planes and the shore battalions of Marines, and you'd -- we could hear somebody say, "At such-and-such coordinates there's a blockhouse still in operation," or, "There's a gun emplacement at this location." Then before you knew it, here would come a flight of planes, and usually dive bombers, kaboom. Then, "Okay, you got it." They were well organized. You remember Captain Queeg, Caine Mutiny?

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

William E. King:

I'll swear -- who wrote it? Was that Orris? I can't recall for sure. Well, regardless, I'll swear he was there, watching that operation and the assault that they had. Old Yellow-Stain. But we went in about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I don't know why -- oh, yes, I do, too. I'll get to that later. Went in on a -- oh, boy. Landing ship personnel, LC -- I don't know what they call them.

Tom Swope:

LCM or an LCI or --

William E. King:

Yeah. It's not an L --

Tom Swope:

LSM.

William E. King:

Not an LST, not the big tank jobs. Our escort dropped off, just like Captain Queeg did. Maybe that was planned that way. We went the last few oh, couple thousand yards, maybe, there without escort. And the Marines had things pretty well under control by that time, and we landed, and orders were to dig in on the beach. Now, the geography, the atoll was roughly 40 miles north to south, and maybe 20, 30 wide -- I haven't looked at a map recently -- and there were several, oh, there must have been at least, oh, eight or ten habitable islands, and passageways between some of them. We went in through the passageway and landed on the lagoon side, so the water was calm, no problem there. The reef on the sea side, of course, would not permit bringing in landing craft; it was too shallow. And, for the millions of people in the services, I'll have to say that any time somebody shoots at you or drops a bomb at you, meaning to kill you, you've been at war, and the -- you get to know the sounds very well.

Tom Swope:

Do you remember the first time that happened?

William E. King:

Damn right. I was scared shitless.

Tom Swope:

Was that on that beach?

William E. King:

Yeah. As far as I can recall, there were no casualties in our outfit, and the Marine casualties were comparatively light. As I say, overwhelming force. If you have it, use it. Saves a lot. I'm not going to start teaching at any war college, but that's my theory. The first night was scary. There were pockets of fun Japanese Marines hiding out as best they could in pillboxes and under the blockhouses, and the Marines would go in and get them. I can't say enough about them. Marvelous people. Not to disparage the Army -- yeah, maybe a little bit. There was always that rivalry. Once the Army comes in and takes over an island, you can bring your family in and set up a picnic dinner. The Marines come in, whoosh, take the big part of it out, then they mop up. I don't know whether that's the way they're trained; I suspect it is. It was probably a couple of days, at least, before the place was secured. I'm sure you've heard, in talking with the people you have talked with, an expression, "The way to get along in the service is to keep your eyes and ears open, your mouth shut, and don't volunteer for nothing." Good advice for anybody, but I volunteered. At Tarawa, Tarawa, whichever way you want to pronounce it, they'd had a -- the devil's own time with bodies, and one of the things they did was load the bodies onto a transport, take them out a couple of miles, and dump them. The next tide would wash them up on the beach. That is not a good idea. Well, we were at Barber's Point. A call for volunteers came out to -- as burial details. With some minimum of training in the way to handle it, I forget how many guys in our outfit were in it, but I was, and we started to clean up bodies, Japanese bodies. They brought a bulldozer in and dug a big trench. Now, these islands, of course, are the tops of a volcano, how many ages ago I don't know, and they're strictly coral. Tillable soil was almost nonexistent. And by the time they got done clearing strips for planes to land and take off, and the bombing and everything else, I can't even remember a -- a palm tree on this particular island. But if you went down five -- if you dug down five to six feet, there was water. That was it. So these trenches were about that deep, and we'd gather the bodies, put them on trucks, take them to the common graves, throw them in. And we had one -- I don't know what outfit he was attached to -- one chaplain who said a prayer. And I know this was not part of the routine, but it was his idea, and I think most of us respected him for it. But our job was -- and it was not a pleasant job -- was to get these bodies on the road before they had a chance to petrify -- or not petrify, but to putrefy, I guess is a better word, before they did that and caused all kinds of health problems. So they were buried and covered up, and that was the end of that. And we got back, and it took us a long time to get over the sound, the smell, the feel of a lot of dead bodies laying around. And heat. Roi is about maybe ten degrees north latitude. Consequently, it's warm, hot. I would say most days it was over 100 degrees, so a body laying around in that does not last very long. Well, let's see. First job was to, after the -- the mortuary business, was to get an airstrip into use. The shape of the island was such that we had two airstrips: One running the length, 3,900 feet; one running the width for 2,500 feet. The longest strip went from water to water. The 2,500 went from water to water. That's how big this place was. We did -- the Seabees did extend the longer runway by about 100 feet on each end, just dredged up coral, spread it out there until it became solid, solid enough to land a plane on. Time telescopes here. So much going on that you're really not paying any attention to time. We had a radio call from a plane one night, evening. It was still dusk. It was a B-24, Army Air Force. They had been on a raid someplace up north, and they were damaged and were afraid they wouldn't be able to make it back to their base, wherever it was. And the strip was in fair shape, and so they were given permission to land. Beautiful job, he brought that thing down. Their hydraulics were not working, they were knocked out and there was a hole shot in the side. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. And they brought that big old baby down, and that pilot landed it in -- you -- like a -- like a feather. He was practically stalled before he touched the ground, so maybe they taught the Air Force guys how to fly, too. But we always disparaged them. Had a long conversation with the crew: "Where were you?" "Well, we were someplace up north." I can't remember the name. "Did you hit anything?" "Oh, we don't know." "What do you mean, you don't know?" "Well, we were at 30,000 feet." "30,000 feet? I don't think our planes can go that high." "Where do you bomb?" "Oh, 40, 50 feet." Everybody pulling everybody's leg. But that plane was pretty well damaged, and we were able to -- our mechanics and other crafts were able to get the thing back into flying shape. In a couple of days they took back off and went home. So -- And then there was the night, good moonlight night, and by this time we had anti-aircraft guns, I think 90 millimeters. 90 millimeters? Yeah, maybe 90 millimeter, and we could hear them firing at something, and we could see some planes flying around. They made a couple of runs at us, just bombed the hell out of us. In the moonlight they could see, and of course they knew the -- the topography and the shape of the islands, having been there for some 20, 30 years. 20, 25 years, maybe. And one bomb in particular hit our own bomb dump, and shrapnel flying all over the place, theirs as well as ours, mostly ours. And the next day -- well, that night we had dug foxholes, trenches, and had gotten out of our tents and into them, and this shrapnel set everything on fire. Okay, head for the beach. And the concussion had taken the coral that we had piled up around the sides, and back into the hole, and we were half buried. And I started for the beach, and all of a sudden discovered I didn't have any shoes on. They were back in the trench. I hadn't had time to lace them up. And I walked very -- ran very gingerly. And of course the word gets out, "Oh, there are submarines out there, they're bringing troops in." Well, the Japanese were long gone. It was quite a deal. Next day, casualties, again very fortunate, a few burns and shrapnel here and there, but nothing very serious. That was the one attempt the Japanese made to -- I think it was more of a -- I won't call it a nuisance raid, but they had no idea of coming back. There is a book written by a Japanese Naval officer called Zero. Any chance have you ever read it?

Tom Swope:

I don't --

William E. King:

Probably not. There's so many of these out. But he made a very, I think, astute observation early in the book. He said the Naval intelligence had decided early, early, early in the war they were not going to win. He said the United States just had too many people, too much industrial capacity, that he said all we can do is fight for honor. And so many of these things were, literally, nuisance, and it scares you, right? You -- I don't know if you've had any combat experience, but that first bomb, when you hear it coming, whew, you can hear it before it gets there, and it whoosssssht.

Tom Swope:

Did you think the first one was headed right for you, before you recognized the sounds?

William E. King:

Didn't even think about it. Just get covered up some way. The -- you should have talked to my brother, my older brother. He was in the Marines, Guadalcanal and places thereafter, and they really got bombed, every night. He said the favorite pastime while they were waiting from one bomb to the next is speculating on who was going to get it. And they had one guy from Brooklyn, "Lookout, this one's got your name on it." And they -- you -- I -- speaking for myself, you don't think about getting hit. Somebody else is going to get hit, and if you start thinking about yourself getting hit, you're done. So you always pick on somebody, you always figure somebody else is going to get it; you're not. But there were numerous cases where the rumor would start -- [Telephone rang.]

William E. King:

Excuse me a second.

Tom Swope:

It's their computer, didn't kick in to sell you something.

William E. King:

That's it. Anyway, where was I? Was I being a philosopher again?

Tom Swope:

Talking about a rumor.

William E. King:

Oh, there was always a rumor. Japanese planes -- not planes, but ships, or submarines in particular, are sighted. They didn't. I managed occasionally, in collusion -- don't ever tell the Navy this -- with the pilot and the gunner of a plane, I'd fly for the gunner occasionally, and mostly submarine patrol. Never saw one. And when a pilot would report that he'd seen one, it almost always turned out to be a whale or something. But the Japanese were too busy elsewhere. This was just a -- a backwater. But you still had to patrol. As far as I'm concerned, I think the most memorable thing I remember was when MAG 15, Marine Air Group, was stationed on Roi. And they had with them a civilian who was teaching them how to fly -- they were flying F4Fs -- F4Us, sorry -- Charles Lindbergh. Now, I don't know how much of this has ever been written about, but in talking with the pilots and the crews of the -- of MAG 15, they'd shake their heads. They'd say, "That guy can fly rings around these kids," and most of the pilots are in their 20's. But what he was doing was teaching them how to get the most mileage out of their fuel. He would fly the missions with them, and they'd come back in and they'd shake their heads. Some of these guys were flying on fumes; he had a half a tankful of gas left. Very -- I wouldn't call him standoffish. He realized that he was not in the good graces of the president, and he kept pretty much to himself. But you could tell when he was going to fly. There was always -- the rumor would get out Lindbergh is going to fly today, and people would come from all parts of the island just to watch him take that plane off. And one time there were -- this was the period when they were -- when fighter bombers kept in -- came into use, and an F4U is a powerful plane that has a big, big engine in it. And they were carrying maybe, oh, 100 pounds under each wing, and maybe a 500 at most under the fuselage. He took off one day with 4,000 pounds; 1,000 under each one, and a 2,000-pound under. The strip, now, is 4,100 feet long. He gets down at the end, revs it up, takes off by the time he hit the center, the middle of the strip. Unbelievable. The guy was just so good. He knew the flying business backwards and forwards. I hope somebody sometime writes a good biography of the man. Not somebody who is overly influenced pro or con, but somebody who can get it factual, just how good he was, what his thoughts were, and whether or not he was a good American. I think he was one of the best.

Tom Swope:

He was flying combat missions?

William E. King:

He was, yes.

Tom Swope:

Now, this was just an arrangement with the Navy? He wasn't actually commissioned, was he?

William E. King:

No, no. He held a commission as a colonel in the Reserves somewhere.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh. Okay.

William E. King:

But he was an employee of Chance Vought. Now, I mean, I don't know how much of this I'm telling you is factual; it's what I got from everybody that knew anything, so it may be colored, it may be false, but I think that that was true. Chance Vought made the plane, they wanted to get everything out of it they could, and this was the best way they could do it.

Tom Swope:

He was sent over there as a consultant, or something?

William E. King:

That -- precisely.

Tom Swope:

You didn't have any close encounters, to talk with him, or anything like that?

William E. King:

No, no. He -- the crewmen told us that he very seldom talked to anybody except, "Well, maybe you ought to do this to the engine," or, "Maybe the thing isn't quite in trim and you ought to do that," but no personal conversations. I can't even remember whether he went to mess with us -- with the officers, or not. Very reclusive. Oh, then the war itself, we got kind of lost, and there were still some bombing flights, mostly patrols. There -- there was an island. If I remember the name, it was Wotje, W-O-T-J-E. It was a little Japanese island, a little airstrip on it, which had been kind of by-passed, and they were -- again, these are the stories we got. I can't vouch for the accuracy, but I think they're -- they're screwy enough to be true. The Japanese were supplying it, by submarine, and it was on a patrol route, and about the time they would get the airstrip going and get a plane about ready, they'd take pictures and observation, then they'd send somebody over and bomb it. It was kind of a live target. And I mentioned before, saying that our planes were bombing at 40, and 25, 50 feet. I remember one time a -- oh, boy, PV1 two-engine bomber, small bomber, light, came back with palm fronds in the wings themselves, the engine itself. And you look at the guy, the pilot, and say, "What in the hell were you doing?" "Well," he said, "I thought I'd get down close enough to make sure I hit it." And what they'd do is go for any -- anyplace that looked like habitation or a plane, and then drop a couple of bombs along the airstrip so they couldn't use it. And, oh -- Then one of our other duties was to get planes that were coming from the States that were being shipped out on Jeep carriers. They'd actually bring them in and take them off derricks and bring them onto shore, and we'd make changes in the armament, take off bomb racks and put rocket launchers on the wings, and all kinds of little things. And I'm sure the other crafts, such as the metalsmiths, the mechanics, the radiomen and so on, they'd have changes to make, also. And then they would fly them up to more forward locations. They'd fly them with a -- oh, boy -- civilians called them DC3s.

Tom Swope:

C-47s?

William E. King:

C-47s, thank you. That plane would kind of -- was kind of the mother ship, and they'd take them up to places like Saipan, Tinian, and then the pilots and the crews would get on the DC3 and fly back home. One time I didn't have -- I'd like to say I was on it, but I wasn't -- one of the planes was coming back and got on the edge of a storm, whether it was a typhoon or a hurricane or whatever it was, but it actually flipped it in the air, and I saw it when it got on the ground, and the pilot came back. There was a wrinkle just in front of the tail where the thing had done that, and the pilot said, "No wonder I couldn't keep that thing in trim." You think those planes weren't good?

Tom Swope:

Wow.

William E. King:

That thing did a 360 in the air, and they were still able to fly it.

Tom Swope:

Wow.

William E. King:

Fortunately, everybody in the plane was tied down, but it happened so quick, he couldn't -- couldn't change anything. Oh, let's see. I suppose, like -- sometime I'd like to hear a good, reliable figure on this, how many people were actually not in the front lines, day after day or month after month, how many guys onboard ship were out sinking submarines or whatever -- don't -- don't tell me about submarines. We were in Hawaii and get into Honolulu on leave, once in a while, liberty, and we'd get to talking to some of the other guys, the submariners, and the guys with the wings and the guys with -- I don't know what those were, porpoises, maybe, and they'd see the wings and they -- "You mean you go up in those damn things?" "You mean you go down in those damn things?" But neither one of us would have changed. Hawaii was a -- a blur. We did a lot of -- a lot of training, and again, the time just goes by. How off -- not off-color, but how -- how earthy can you get on this thing?

Tom Swope:

Very earthy.

William E. King:

Okay. You understand, at this time I think I had -- I had -- I had turned 21 by this time, maybe even 22. About 21, 22. Anybody over 25 was known as "Pop." And we went on liberty in Honolulu one time, and here stands one of our Pops in line. There are lines all over the place. "Hey, Pop, what are you doing in that line?" He said, "What do you think I'm doing? I'm waiting." "You're too old for that. That's the line for a whorehouse." He says, "It is? I shouldn't be here. I've already been in that line." He was waiting for lunch. But there were those guys. I mean, your thinking becomes so unusual, and things that today you wouldn't even think about were commonplace. Language was horrible. The -- the F-word was every other word, and I had a heck of a time after I got out. I remember we were at home and some aunts and uncles and the girl I happened to be engaged to, not my wife -- we were engaged during the war, but not to each other. The girl I was engaged to was there, and we were playing poker, penny-ante poker, and -- in the kitchen, and there were six or seven of us around the table, and I -- the kitchen cabinet behind me, and I had put a drink of something behind there. We finished a hand, and I reached around and it wasn't there. "Who the fuck stole my drink?" I was really embarrassed, because we didn't talk like that at home, and I think it took me -- I think I started to stutter for a couple of months after that, making sure I didn't make the same faux pas. But oh, well. Let's see, what else happened. Oh, I was talking about I wish there was -- how many people were the -- the grunts, the people that did menial jobs, that were on the edge of the action all the time. But we put our time in, and all three years, four months and 24 days. How's that?

Tom Swope:

Were you on Roi until the end of the war, then?

William E. King:

Oh, yeah. There was -- used to be "18 months and home." Never worked.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

William E. King:

We found that the only way you got home was to go back to school. So I put in for school, and my orders came through about two days before they dropped the bombs, and orders are orders, so -- I forget how the orders are, they read, but at somebody's convenience, or to the best of your ability. So from little Roi up here down to the main island, and from there get the best transportation you can to here, and the best transportation to there. Horrible. I don't know how long I spent there, but finally I got a -- next to the pilot, I got to talking with the pilot of a B-29 that had come in, and asked if I could fly back with him. I said, "My orders are in good shape." He said, "Hey, all you need is a parachute and your orders, and," he says, "I'll take you." So I go over to the parachute loft and explain to the guy in charge at -- the chief, and I said, "I need a parachute." He says, "Okay." He says, "Where are you headed?" I said, "Well, the plane is headed for Hawaii." He said, "All right. You drop it off at Hawaii, and make sure you get over to the parachute loft and turn it in." All right. So the next day I was supposed to take off, and the orders from the island commander, no Naval personnel are to be flying in a B-29. Ha ha. So, back to shipboard. I got a -- a ride on a small PC -- patrol craft, not personal computer -- from Kwajalein to Enewetak, and I was supposed to pick up a carrier. Oh, boy. Which one, I can't remember. Essex, maybe. I'm not sure. And lo and behold, after several days at Enewetak, we can look out there and here comes a carrier. What's the matter with that front end of that flight deck? And it was all caved in or smashed. It had been in a storm, and the only personnel to go on the ship are hospital cases. I was not a hospital case yet. So, another wait, and we finally were able to get another Liberty ship headed for San Francisco, which was fine. Now, there -- there was a real -- a real sea voyage, a real cruise. We were really packed in. Two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Instead of brunch, what do they have between lunch and dinner? Linner? I don't know.

Tom Swope:

Dunch?

William E. King:

It was -- I found more ways of eating Spam than I want to know. But the first couple of nights I slept with a poncho between me and a steel deck. That ain't easy sleeping. But eventually you -- you make do. And we -- by this time there had been several of us from different outfits waiting in Enewetak for transportation, and we started a poker game, and we continued the poker game on the ship back to the States. I forget how many days it was, but there were six or seven of us who started the game. Of course this is -- this doesn't happen in the Navy. The Navy doesn't allow this. We started the game, and it went on 24 hours a day until we dropped anchor not in San Francisco, but in Seattle. Two days out, we made a 90-degree turn north. And the only -- the only rules of the game were that any of the six or seven of us who had started the game, we could get in and out any time we wanted; anybody else had to wait their turn until somebody else left. It was a good game. I managed to win a little bit. Oh, every once in a while I managed to meet somebody that played chess, and we managed to get a game in every once in a while. It was enjoyable. And some of the people would be the -- the ones you would never think knew what a chessboard was. Everywhere from the air station at Alameda to Enewetak, and just -- just about every place, you'd find somebody that has a chess set squirrelled away someplace, and we did it. And back to the States.

Tom Swope:

Did you ever get any shows when you were oversees, any kind of entertainment like that?

William E. King:

Yeah. Bob Hope made it. A couple of the -- the bands. Names escape me. I was talking to -- just a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a nurse down at the hospital. I was in for some blood work, annual physical, and I had a sweatshirt on that read, "So many books, so little time." And the nurse says, "Okay, who's your favorite author?" And I said, "Really," I said, "I couldn't -- I couldn't answer that." I said, "If you're really going to tie me down, it's Bill Shakespeare." Okay. And then I said, "But then there's another one whose name escapes me." She says -- she mentioned somebody, and I said, "No, but that's close." I said, "Alzheimer's is catching up with me." And she said, "No," she says -- I think I got this right -- she's taking her master's in psychiatric medicine, psychiatric nursing, and she says she had to give some kind of a dissertation or write a paper or something, and she chose the -- what seems to be a little odd -- she says after the age of 55, there is a tendency for people to have a difficulty in remembering proper names. And I found, yeah, every once in a while I have to think. There's an author I've been trying to think of for some time, and I, believe it or not, I found it in an article in today's paper. I ran across it, I said hey, that's it. I had to write it down so I'd remember it. There's some stuff of his I want to get at the library. But you know, most of the people -- as I remember in the little blurb -- you were talking with people from Vietnam and the --

Tom Swope:

I specifically have been talking to World War II veterans.

William E. King:

Okay. Do you find that we have -- as a rule, now, we can be pretty far along here. Do you find that people in our -- my age group do have a -- a particular problem with proper names?

Tom Swope:

Yeah, I think that's true. I mean, a lot of guys can tell me their memories of the stories, but they don't remember the names of the ships, the names of the guys, or whatever. Yes.

William E. King:

Uh-huh. I remember --

Tom Swope:

I can't --

William E. King:

Well, you're a -- you're a young man. I remember a couple of names, and these are people I literally lived with for a couple of years. One is a guy named Wilson. As a matter of fact, you look a little like -- or you look like he looked, good Lord, 50, 60 years ago, whatever. Had a mustache, which he could grow in three days. He had to shave twice a day, and a two-edged blade, he would use two blades to shave. His beard was like wire.

Tom Swope:

Wow.

William E. King:

And it grew fast. There was another fellow named McClanathan, McClanathan (ph). He was from Chicago, and somehow or another he said -- somebody said, "Well, only Jews can do that." And he said, "Well, count me in." "What do you mean? Your name's McClanathan." "No," he says, "My name is Macla-Nathan." Then there was a guy from New York, Phil Mattice, M-A-T-T-I-C-E. He and I were bunkmates for a long time, and I've often thought when I'm in New York, look the name up -- that's not a real common name -- and just see how many Mattices there are, and see if any of them have a grandfather by the name of Phil who was in World War II. But there --

Tom Swope:

These are guys that you were all overseas with?

William E. King:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Did you do anything in particular for fun, to relieve the tension or whatever?

William E. King:

I learned to play handball over there. We played softball. We had a couple of teams of major leaguers, ex-major leaguers, or whatever, including Johnny Mize. The name hit you at all?

Tom Swope:

Sure.

William E. King:

He was in this one group. I remember Bob Hope. And again, you never know whether these things are true or not. When he was in, he looked over the -- the seating arrangement, which was pretty primitive, and he said, "Well, what's -- what's this area down in front here?" He said, "It seems to be a little more human than the rest of it." "Oh, that's for the officers." He said, "Huh-uh." He says, "The officers take their chance." He says, "Anybody who gets here can get those seats." He was very -- very nice with the enlisted people. An apocryphal story -- no, it's not apocryphal, supposed to be true. It has nothing to do with me. Yasha Heifetz was in Special Services in North Africa. He gave a concert, and by this time he had made a couple of movies, and he played some of the stuff from the movies, some of the lighter classics. And then he comes to the microphone and in -- was he Lithuanian? Whatever. Somewhere. Strong accent. He says, "Now," he says, "I play some Bach for you. You won't like it, but it's good for you." So anyway, that's beside the point.

Tom Swope:

Do you remember anything specific about the Bob Hope show?

William E. King:

No. A lot of fun. And again, let's see. Linda -- Linda? No. Oh, names again. A very popular girl, woman, actress. No, I can't remember her name. She was there with a couple of other women. But this was probably in '45. Things were pretty quiet.

Tom Swope:

Right.

William E. King:

They were reasonably safe. Anyway, Seattle, there's a -- what they call a receiving ship; land, of course. Treasure Island in San Francisco was a place like this, and we started down Puget Sound rather early in the morning, and by the time we got down to Seattle -- I haven't misplaced Seattle, have I? Seattle is on Puget Sound.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

William E. King:

I think so.

Tom Swope:

I know Puget Sound's in Washington. It's got to be.

William E. King:

Okay. Anyway, we get down there and it's -- they have busses, cattle cars to take us over to the -- the base. By this time it's 8 o'clock at night. Nothing to eat. We ate, and you never saw such a bunch of ravenous wolves in your life. It was -- I don't know what it was, but it was better than what we'd been eating for several months. And for the first time -- this would have been about late September or early November, I had a hot, freshwater shower. I must have used 5,000 gallons of water just beating on me. In the islands -- now remember, these are volcanic peaks. There's no fresh water, except rainwater, and you keep rainwater around very long, you get mosquitos. Our doctor was adamant on this point: You shall not gather water. If you want to get out while it's raining, okay, take a shower, but don't -- don't hold it. And we never turned up with a case of malaria. But we had brackish water. They'd dig wells, and by the time it filtered through the coral, it was still brackish; you could taste the salt. And the only thing you could wash your hair in -- the only thing I could wash my hair in was Fels Naptha soap. Can you imagine washing your hair in Fels Naptha? Oy. But it worked. Oh, man. We had a couple of -- this thing is getting disjointed. We had some -- as a matter of fact, almost every place I went in the Navy they had built four-walled handball courts, and if you can imagine playing handball in field shoes, it's good exercise, but it was -- did we have gloves? I can't even remember whether we had gloves, or bare hands. Probably. A handball was very much in short supply. That was fun. And, again, if you were in a place like this, you don't -- you're not always thinking war. What do I do to forget it? The -- the reef on the sea side of the island was -- at low tied was -- oh, you could wade with no problem at all, maybe a foot, foot and a half. And the different seashells you could find. As a matter of fact, I ran into one not too long ago. I forget what it is, but it's a -- it looks like an eye, looks like a pupil and the white and then green around it. One of my granddaughters has a collection of stones and shells, different gemstones or semi -- semi-precious gemstones, and I just sent that off to her. I said this thing is at least 60 years old, out of the water. So 55, 60, somewhere. So that's what I like about computers and grandchildren. Here's my nine-year-old granddaughter can run a computer better than I can. There's no justice. But the world progresses. Coming -- coming home. I had orders to school. I had the orders, you'll go to school now. Even if I get out before I finish school? Well, you won't get out before you finish school, collecting points. So I rode across country by rail. I had a 30-day leave, of which I was able to use I think about ten because my orders were to report to school down in Jacksonville sometime in October, I think. And when I got down there, what do I find? My outfit from the islands had gotten there before I did. And some of them were finishing school, six-week school. So you never know what you're going to run into. We got down there and ran into a -- now, we didn't run into it, but there had been a hurricane. Is October hurricane season down there? Maybe it is. And they had ropes, or as we say in the Navy, lines, staked out along the sidewalks to hold onto when you're walking. So it must have been a good one. But it was funny. My rate at that time was AOM1c. And first class has some privilege, not quite as much as a chief, but some. And in talking with the guys from my outfit, "All right, what do you do down here?" Well, the first thing you do, you get yourself a job as a -- some kind of a section leader, something like that, where you literally have charge of about 60 people. And you make out the watch list. Of course, you don't have to stand watches yourself. And you, instead of sleeping with those 60 people out there in a big room, you have a little room where there are only two of you, and you have your own private bathroom and shower. And that's -- and you have your liberty card all the time. So as long as you keep these guys on the work details and watch, keep your nose clean, you have these privileges. So that -- that was pretty good. And you pass along the word to the guys that come along, because there's always room for Sergeant Bilko, if you remember Sergeant Bilko. I'm sure you do. But finally the points came up, and I was discharged December 14th, 1945. The officer, I think I may have been older than him by that time, I think he had just gone through OCS, and he was trying to get people to sign over. And by this time, of course, I was planning to get married and go back to school. "Well, if you sign over," he says, "we can get you a permanent appointment chief's rate." And I thought about it for at least two or three seconds. "No, thank you." So there we go. Now, I don't know whether this is what you wanted to hear or not, but I ramble.

Tom Swope:

How about your reunion when you finally got home?

William E. King:

A lot of fun. My grandfather, I remember I walked in the house, and by this time I think my grandfather was late 80s. Heart attacks, strokes, and then the usual things in those days. "Oh, Bill, where you been? I haven't seen you for a while." It's been at least two years since I've seen him. "Where you been?" And on the way home -- oh, this is a good one -- in Jacksonville at that time in the middle of December of '45, everybody's traveling, they're going home. And I tried to get a plane. Sorry, we can put you on stand-by, but won't do much good. So I got a train reservation, got a berth, and the train was supposed to leave 7 or 8 o'clock, something like that. And I had a little time to spend, so I stopped by the airline office. "Just had a cancelation, and since you're here, you can have it." Got to Washington, and that's as far as I got. And got a plane sometime in the morning, and somehow or another, must have been an early edition of the paper, the train that I was supposed to be on had a wreck in -- somewhere in Georgia. Not a bad one, it was derailed, but I wasn't on it. I ran into an Army officer who was also was booked on the same plane I was going out to Pittsburgh. He had come from India, Calcutta or someplace in India, and he had spent more time waiting for a plane in Washington, DC than he had spent traveling from Calcutta to Washington. So, I mean, travel in those days was so unusual. Oh, and of course I finally got into Pittsburgh rather early in the morning. No, late night -- early -- early morning somehow. It was a long wait in Washington. There was about a foot, foot and a half of snow on the ground. I hadn't seen snow for three years, and I was cold through the next summer. I guess it's just a matter of getting used to it again. The fuse locker out on Roi was in a -- one of the blockhouses that hadn't been completely destroyed. Now, I -- remember, these are walls, they're every bit of this thick, reinforced concrete, and they were cool. I mean, you walk in it, and it's cold. Not cold, cool. And I went in to pick up a load of fuses, and I said, "You have air conditioning in this place?" He said, "No." He said, "Take a look at the thermometer," and they had one inside. High 80s. He says, "Now," he says, "Right outside, out of the sun, take a look at the thermometer out there." 115. So you get acclimated to that and then you get something cold, and wow. Oh, man. But I was able to -- this was December. I was able to start back to school in late January.

Tom Swope:

Any trouble adjusting to civilian life?

William E. King:

Oh, yes. Horrible.

Tom Swope:

Yeah?

William E. King:

I mentioned the language problem, but getting used to -- and this -- this really was the hardest: Making your own decisions, because for those three years and four months and so on, somebody was making up my mind for me almost all the time. And it -- it took a while. The matter of clothes, I had to get used to wearing a shirt and tie. I still hate to wear a tie. And of course in those days I had the devil's own time finding a white shirt. They were so expensive. I think the one I finally got was an Arrow, and I think it cost all of two and a half dollars. Oh, man. You're just not used to that. I wasn't used to that. I can't remember when I got my first suit. But that and getting used to decent food. The -- the food was -- in the Navy, in the service, any service, it's -- it may be nutritious, it may be adequate, but it's not real food, it really isn't. I remember, I think I was still in my first -- first or second semester back in school, I had the devil's own time with my eyes. I was not wearing glasses at the time. I went to see an eye doctor, and he examined me and he says, "You in the service?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "You in the Pacific?" "Yeah." "Were you eating K-rations, C-rations, stuff like that?" I said, "Yeah." He says -- he says, "You don't have a real problem. All you have is a vitamin deficiency." So he gave me some glasses for reading, principally. He said, "You probably won't even want to come back to see me." He says, "Within oh, within a year to 18 months," he says, "you can throw the glasses away, you won't need them." It was true. I forget how long ago -- how long it was, but the -- the bridge, whatever, broke, and I started to go around without them. I didn't need them. And it was, oh, golly, it was a good 15 years before I went back to glasses. So I imagine there were a lot of people like that.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

William E. King:

Oh, food. I don't drink coffee. In the Navy if you don't drink coffee, you're going to die of thirst, but I was able to wangle a pound of tea from one of the cooks, and so I didn't die of thirst. Then there was the day -- the word gets around. A ship from Australia has just come in with food, fresh meat. Fresh meat, fresh meat, wow. And we had what they called lamb stew. It was made from 40-year-old New Zealand goat. The fat was that thick on the top of this stew. I have not been able to eat a piece of lamb since. Well, I hadn't eaten it before, but it's kept me. I think I ate one -- a lamb chop once, just really to be polite. As I remember, it was my boss's wife who was serving it. It was politically correct to eat it. But -- and I'm sure it's delicious, but I've never gotten used to it, and I've never learned to drink coffee. So -- Anyway, you do adjust, and I don't -- don't regret it, but I wouldn't do it again for a million dollars, if I had a choice. I lost one brother during the war. He was in the Army; he was killed in Italy. The other brother I mentioned, the older brother, was in the Marines. He died oh, four or five years ago, and he -- he was always a big veteran's organization, which I have never been, and he belonged to the VFW and whatever else there is, American -- American Legion? Yeah. And they had a Marine honor guard there for his funeral, and I got to talking to one, and the guy was a little bit bigger than me, a little taller, shoulders about this wide, and we got to talking at the funeral, and he said, "What outfit was your brother in?" I said, "First division." Oh? His eyes got about this big. Apparently the tradition is, hey, this is one tough outfit. So -- and my brother had malaria for -- from the time he got home until he died. It would kick up on him once in a while. So, anyway --

Tom Swope:

Do you think that covers it?

William E. King:

Okay. Unless there's something you want to ask me.

Tom Swope:

I think you've answered all of my questions.

William E. King:

I've rambled on.

Tom Swope:

No.

William E. King:

But it's -- there's -- there are heroes and there are heroes and there are heroes. I'm not one of them. I think the word is used these days very poorly. Excuse my politics showing a little bit -- and I'm a registered Republican and have been since I was old enough to vote -- Rudolph Guliani was not a hero. I think the word was misused. I'm not even too sure about Old Dugout Doug. Certainly, he got around and he had all kinds of medals, but the hero is the unsung guy that does something out of the ordinary.

Tom Swope:

Right.

William E. King:

Doesn't think of any glory about it. He does it because it's the right thing to do at that time. So I have no tales to tell you of any heroes on my part. I was there, that was it.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

William E. King:

So -- you may -- you may want to put this in: I just remembered. I mentioned before, the bombing we had one night. We had one guy in our outfit -- everybody gets a nickname one way or another -- he was Holy Joe. And this night of the bombing he was in our -- in the group that I was in, and there was no hallelujahs, amens, or anything like that, but this guy who had probably a more religiosity -- I may have just manufactured that word. I say that in no disparaging way at all. He was a confirmed Christian; I'm quite sure he was Catholic, I'm not positive of that. He never made a point of it, if he was. But he pulled more guys out of these trenches, these dugouts, foxholes, or whatever we called them, with no regard at all for his own safety. Now here was the hero. He pulled them out, he got them on his way down to the beach, and finally he came down himself.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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