Saturday, April 21, 2007

Radio School--NYC--Oct.-Dec. 1942

En route to New York, we traveled on a small craft up the Chesapeake Bay to Wilmington, Delaware. From there, we traveled by truck to Pier 92 on the Hudson River. There were two old cruisers tied up at Pier 92, the Camden and the New Jersey One was used for a receiving ship and the other a prison ship. Of course, the receiving ship was too small to handle and house all the sailors that were in transit at that time and Pier 92 had been taken over in its entirety, for living quarters. So Pier 92 became my home for the next four months. The Pier was grossly overcrowded, as we were sleeping in four-decker bunks and with the eating and toilet facilities being inadequate to properly take care of that many men, it left a lot to be desired for sanitary conditions. None the less, it was not hard to realize that we were lucky to be able to live, even under those conditions, because, at that time, the North African Campaign was in full blast and many soldiers didn't have it so good. Besides, there were many good things about being in New York. There were only about 40,000 sailors around the city. We got liberty every other night. We were within walking distance of Times Square and there were plenty of places to go and things to see. The people of New York were most friendly and generous to servicemen. There were numerous USO clubs and invitations to attend private parties in private homes for-holidays and special events. We were given free passes to professional baseball and football games and some college football games.

On Halloween, some girls from the Bronx that worked at Kresge's had a private party and invited some soldiers and sailors through the USO to attend. They had hired a small dance band and everyone had an enjoyable evening. on Thanksgiving, there was an invitation extended on the bulletin board for two sailors to have dinner with a family on Park Avenue. My buddy, Smitty, from Atlanta, Georgia and I decided to accept. Of course, we did not know what to expect, but when we arrived, there were a couple of soldiers from Fort Dix, who had also accepted an invitation, already there. It was apparent that the people were well off, as they were living in a nice high rise condo. They were a nice middle-aged couple and they had a couple of daughters home from college for the holidays. The man played the guitar very capably and we spent the afternoon singing to his playing. He claimed that he had learned to play in his younger days when he was hoboing around the country, riding the rails. When it came time for dinner, they took us to the first floor of the building, where the dining room facilities were operated exclusively for the tenants of the condo. I'm not sure how they could afford it but after dinner, all of us went to Radio City Music Hall, where they had reserve choice seats for the Premier of "Random Harvest". I had not expected so much hospitality and it was a great experience for a country boy who had come to town. I was discovering that those Damn Yankees could match our southern hospitality. In the line of conversation, when the man learned that Smitty was from Atlanta, he asked him if he knew of a certain textile mill there and Smitty replied that he passed it on his way to work. The man told him that he owned the mill. Later, Smitty told me that it was one of the biggest industries in Atlanta.

I was fortunate to have two friends while in New York who were natives. Both of them were named Bill Murphy. Both were Irish and Catholic and both were from Brooklyn. Bill Murphy #1, 1 had become acquainted with in D. C. He had worked for the Army Map Service and had also boarded at Mrs. Donaldsons. He was still single and had returned to Brooklyn to accept a better job and live at home. Not only did he invite me into his home for some of his mother's home cooking but lots of times, when I would have liberty, he would go with me to eat dinner and would show me some of the more interesting places to see and would tell me of things and events of interest to see, when he could not go with me. Bill Murphy #2, was in radio school with me. His mother worked for NYC telephone company and on one of my liberties, Bill and I went through the exchange where she worked and the complexity of it was mind boggling for a country boy, at that time. Bill's mother also prepared home cooked food for us and I can still remember how good her pineapple upside down cakes tasted. I remember that on Christmas Eve , 1942, 1 attended Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with Bill. I was reared in the Presbyterian Church and though I attended the Baptist Church at Brookmont, this was the first Catholic service that I had ever attended. I was impressed even though there were many things about the service that I did not understand. The things that were similar did convince me that most of the differences of the different denominations of Christian Churches are insignificant. In two short years, I had moved from a rural, predominantly white Anglo-Saxon protestant society into one which was urban, with many different creeds and nationalities. The significant common denominator was the fact that they were all proud to be Americans and the majority wanted to do their fair share to contribute to the war effort. I have never seen people united behind a single cause as much as they were in World War II.

I have many memories of Pier 92 and NYC not connected with radio school. For the entire four months I was there, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth would alternate coming into Pier 91, where they would stay in port about a week each, taking on war material, troops and supplies that were being shipped to England. It is difficult to imagine the amount of cargo that these ships were carrying on each trip. They would come into port drawing about twenty five feet of water and when they would leave they would be drawing forty to forty five feet. The day before they were to leave port, soldiers would march single file up the gangplanks all day and night. Although the German U-boats were having a field day sinking our cargo ships in the North Atlantic at that time, thank God neither of the Queens were ever hit. I also remember spending a liberty at the USO club at Yonkers, when the Swedish ship "Gripsholm" was in port. I met several of the Swedish sailors and though I didn't understand them very well, we could at least play a good game of ping pong with each other. The Gripsholm was being used to exchange diplomatic prisoners that were taken when the war was declared.

RCA Radio School had been taken over by the Navy to train shipboard radio operators. While we were primarily concerned with learning the Morse Code to the extent that we could receive messages and type them out, we were also taught a smattering of electronics and radio theory. Most of us were able to receive and type code at the rate of thirty to thirty five words per minute, upon finishing the course. We were promoted to Radioman 3C, upon graduation, and we stated our preferrences, in numerical order, for the types of duty we would like the most. I remember that my list looked something like this:
1. Submarines
2. -Aircraft
3. Aircraft Carriers
4. Battleships
5. Cruisers
6. Destroyers
7. P T Boats

Well, I guess Uncle Sam needed Aviation Radiomen more than anything else, because I received orders to report to Aviation Radio School, at Naval Air Technical Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee.

It had been most difficult for me to understand the difference in social status between officers and enlisted men. I knew it was generally a difference in education, as the college graduates were generally always officers, and if you had no college, you had to work up through the ranks.

The officers who were not liked by enlisted men were referred to in the ranks as "ninety day wonders", or, "Officers and Gentlemen by an Act of Congress". We also had the saying that "there is only one Navy, the Queens Navy", which expressed the resentment of enlisted men for the U S Navy being so closely patterned after the British Navy.

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