Second World War: Drafted into the Navy

Recollections of being drafted and serving on a support carrier during the Second World War

| Good Old Days

It was late in 1943 - when the United States began taking the initiative in the Pacific, and the Allies were flexing their muscles in the Second World War - that I received my memorable letter from President Roosevelt. 

I was lucky; instead of the usual five days after taking my physical, we were given 10 days before reporting for permanent duty. Christmas was in that 10 days. We were the first contingent with children to be drafted from Fort Worth.

In boot camp, I was fortunate enough to secure a third-class petty officer rating. I did not realize what a boost that was until I saw what other less fortunate men had to do. After a couple of weeks on Ford Island, I was assigned to a carrier aircraft service unit at Kaneobe Bay on the island of Oahu, across from Honolulu.

On returning from liberty at Honolulu one evening in November, I was met at the barracks by my chief, who said: "The lieutenant wants to see you - he has shipping papers for you to report to the carrier Shangri-La, I think."

My heart hit the deck with a thud. The condolences of my buddies didn't help much. With considerable misgivings, I reported to the lieutenant. He was very understanding, but explained that the "big push" was on, and it was just a matter of time until the entire unit would be moved. He also told me the ship was not the Shangri-La, of which we had heard a great deal, but the USS Steamer Bay CVE 87, one of the 50 Kaiser-built escort carriers commonly called a "kaiser kofin." As it turned out, it was the luckiest break I could have had.

At the supply office, we were welcomed with open arms and a sigh of relief. It seems the Steamer Bay had been used in ferry service to take surplus planes out to the forward area for other carriers. Now she was to get her own squadron and join the fleet as an operating unit. We were part of the crew necessary to keep the squadron flying. I had recently been made a second-class petty officer, and with this transfer was the highest aviation storekeeper rate on ship. I was given charge of all aviation stores. In addition, we rated a first class, and at the end of four months in rate, I received my first-class rate. This was the lucky break I mentioned previously, which only happens during wartime.

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