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Record 22/959
Oral history interview with Clarence Frederick Smith conducted by Dr. Peter H. Liddle at the EAA Museum and donated by Adam Smith, Director at EAA, for the World War II project. He discusses his experiences as a Seaman 1st Class and Boatswain's Mate 1st Class on board the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor during World War II. Clarence F. Smith Interview December, 2001 By Dr. P. H. Liddle {L: denotes the interviewer, Dr. Liddle; S: denotes Mr. Smith}. L: It is December, 2001 and this is Peter Liddle of the Second World War Experience Center in Leeds talking with Clarence Frederick Smith of P.O. Box 245, 1050 Mihill, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin 54936 U.S.A. But in effect, the interview is taking place in Oshkosh at the EAA Aviation Museum. I'm talking to Clarence with regard to his service in the U.S. Navy in U.S.S. West Virginia, and in particular with regard to Pearl Harbor. But Clarence, let's go back to the beginning please. When and where were you born? S: I was born in southern Illinois in a small coal-mining town called [Hadleyborough], Illinois. L: In what year? S: 1922. L: What work or occupation was your father? S: My father was a high bridge painter. He went to England. He went to all the countries where they had high bridges, and being a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, he was not afraid of height or anybody on this earth. L: I just remembered that you told me last night about your pride in your Indian blood. We haven't got time to develop it here but I'm glad that you've drawn my attention to it. Which tribe was that? S: Cherokee. L: Well, it's a great thrill for me to speak to somebody with that ancestry. S: Cherokees come from Oklahoma. L: Right. Well, your schooling. S: Ah, they had a one-room school house in southern Illinois, [Hadleyborough], Illinois and they taught from the first grade to the eighth grade. L: And on leaving school? S: I went to high school. I played in the high school band. I bought my own saxophone with my own money. And I learned how to play saxophone. My mother taught hundreds of people how to play the piano and then teach my sister and I how to play the piano. My sister was taught how to play piano by the same teacher that taught me how to play saxophone. L: Yes, but your work, the first work that you undertook? S: The first job that I had? After I got out of school, there weren't any jobs. I couldn't even get a job for fifteen cents an hour. 'Cause we were in depression. I'm what they call a depression baby. Ah, we were lucky if we had beans and dumplings for dinner. So I saw a young man up at the uptown, I asked him, I says, "Are you in the army?" He says, "No, I'm in the Civilian Conservation Corps.." I said, "What do you do?" He says, "We plant trees, make ah, dams. In case of fire, we gotta go in and fight the fire if it's in the forest, And we do all kinds of things that help farmers." Which was in great need at that time. L: This is part of Roosevelt's New Deal, I presume. S: Yes. L: The program of giving employment to people who were finding it desperately difficult to get work. S: I drew $21.00 a month. They gave me aid and they gave my folks thirteen or fourteen dollars. And to them, that was a lot of money because a penny was worth a penny. A penny now is not worth anything. But they clothed us, they housed us, they took us to job sites and the driver of the truck would go back and there the cooks had made the dinners in large quantity. And they put them in like large pressure cookers and had em all covered up so they'd be warm. And when you took that soup or that stew, that was hot. And that was good. And the coffee was hot too. L: Well, how long did you stay in the Civilian Conservation Corps? S: One year. And I heard, I overheard some fellows talking. They were going to go to St. Louis, Illinois to see about getting into service. Ah, United States service. And I asked em if I could go along and they said, "Sure, if you got $2.00." So I gave em $2.00 and at that time I only weighed 165 pounds and was five feet six, I guess. And I was able to squeeze in and get a seat. And we got there and they says, "What branch of the service would you like to go into?" And I says, "The U.S. Navy." And they gave us papers and we filled them out, and only three out of eight made it. The big, the strong, the mighty, they were color-blind or some other thing and I made it into the Navy. And I went back home and told my, well, I had to get permission from my grandmother. My mother was alive but she just carried us as babies. My grandmother then had the control over us kids. And when I told them I had made it into the Navy, "Oh, you'll be thousands of miles away and, and," Crying and everything. And when it was time for me to go up there, I says, "Well I'm gonna go up and I'm gonna leave now." I got on the train - I had my tickets paid - to go to Great Lakes ah, Illinois which is a naval training base. And I get there and they run us through lines. You get the shoes, you get the stockings, you get toothbrush, all the way down the line. And then we went to our barracks and there they had bed springs in the bed but no mattress, no sheets, no pillow cases or covers. Now after we got our clothes changed into navy, we had to go back to another building and get all this stuff and come back and make it up. And ah, they was a man that was appointed as our oversee. And when we made our sheets or anything, he flipped a quarter up and if it didn't bounce, you made that bed over again. And ah, we spent three months training. L: How did you take to this ah, the discipline of basic training for the navy? S: Well, my grandmother was a religious woman and ah, she was Irish. And she was Irish, as Irish as they come. Anybody that told her that she was wrong when she knew she was right, there was fire there. Ah, but I was raised as a mild-mannered person. I had enough Indian blood in me that they always called me a dirty Indian, and my grandmother would go to the women's houses that their kids called me dirty Indian: "He's not a dirty Indian. He's poor and he's got patches on his clothes but he's not a dirty Indian!" And so they began to chase me so they could tie me up or beat me. And I would run and well, they would surround me. And they would look at me and say, "Well, I'm gonna take and beat you first. And then this other guy's gonna be second." And I'd run and I'd jump over em. Sometimes I'd land on my hands and roll. Sometimes I'd run and jump over em. And I could jump about seven feet high, so when I'd run at em, and I ran swinging my fists at em, they'd scatter. And I was able to escape. L: Are you telling me that the harshness of service life was something to which you'd already been introduced in your youth? S: Yes. But I found that after being on board ship for a couple or three months, everybody called each other a sonofabitch. You can leave that in. That's the straight facts. L: So this, you went out, there was no discrimination against you in the navy with regard to your Indian blood. This was as a schoolboy. S: Yes. And everybody ah, you had to be ah, treat each other like a brother. Because when you're out at sea, there's no place to go and you are 5000 miles from home. Or 300 miles from home. You can't swim that. So everybody became like a brother. And you had to take and learn to take and follow into the overseas of you. Lieutenants, commanders, ensigns, yeah. Captains and admirals. And admirals was the top. And we learned that you become like cycles. A dog becomes. He's gonna be the leader. And he makes everybody come down and lay down by him. That's why your cat or dog, when you come, when they, when you come home, they'll lay down in front of you. Well, I never did lay down in front of anybody and nobody else I knew of ever did either. But I'm just trying to explain to you that you learn that there's a rotation that … L: Hierarchy. S: Hierarchy, yes. And ah… L: Which has to be accepted. S: Yes. And everybody, a few didn't accept it. They wouldn't wash their clothes. Their locker, their locker became stinky. So the bosn's mate would say, "Come here. Open up your locker." And, "Peuw." "Put your clothes in that bucket. You're going to go down and wash em in salt water with salt water soap." And the did. And they'd get em halfway clean. He says, "Now do it over again and get em cleaner." And, till he learned. And some people would eat almost with their hands. Because some people were very, very poor - from Tennessee and Alabama. But anyway, everybody learned that if you do the things the right way, everybody's going to be happy. And then we had our training, gunnery training. Fire drills. Abandon ship. And all these other things. They kept you busy from six in the morning from which you started scrubbing down the decks and everything. And before the war, before you painted the decks, we put lime and sand and then we used what they called a 'holy stone'. It was like a brick, and you put a stick in the center of it, and you'd go up and down each one of those boards twenty times. L: I think you're telling me now of events subsequent to your appointment to a ship, and I thought we were still talking about your being at a shore base establishment. S: Okay. Well, we can go back to that. Three months of being in training. And then they gave us a one month leave of absence. Because you had to be in the service a full year before you get a thirty day leave. And ah, unfortunately, it is not true. For me anyway. L: The date of your enlistment into the navy. S: January the third, 19 and 40. Before the war. My father says, "You must go in and join the navy because there's going to be one war, one war like there's never been in this world. It may be the last war and the last thing that we do here on earth, because it's going to be …" {the tape pauses here}. L: So Clarence, tell me about your appointment to your first ship, and was this first ship the West Virginia? S: It was. We would, after we graduated from ah, our training, we took our sea bag and we put our mat.. our ah, our mattress and our sheet and the pillows, and wrapped it up into a canvas and tied that up. And then we tied it to the seabag, put it over the seabag. And that mattress soon was called the "fart sack." And we brought our toothbrush and everything, and our seabag, and we had a small bag that we called a ditty bag. And that we would take and put three or four pairs of sox, underwear, toothbrush and shaving gear. L: Your personal treasures. S: Yeah. And we ah, tied that on the end of the seabag. And they gave us tickets. We could go home for a month. And after the month, we had tickets that took us back to Great Lakes. And ah, at the Great Lakes, they had the train to back in there. They had tracks already in there. And we would get on the train and we would take three or four or five days to get out to California. My ship was the U.S.S. West Virginia. It was stationed, its home port was Long Beach, California. L: Now what about your first sight of this great battleship? S: Oh, the first sight of that big battleship, I was amazed at how large it was! What they say, twenty football fields long? Thousands of pounds. And metal? Iron and steel? How could anything like that float? I says, "I can't believe anything like that can float." And we got out of the truck that they took us from Los Angeles, which they didn't have no tracks going down to Long Beach. They had an electric train that they ran every hour on the hour. And they couldn't possibly get as many of us that…. There was 800 of us that went to fill up the billeting of that ship, which made a full capacity ship. And ah, we'd get there and stand on the docks there and I saw the water was choppy. And here was a fifty foot motor launch that had a canvas over it. I said to the bos'n, "How come that canvas is over this ah, roof of the boat?" He says, "First off, it's not a boat. It's a launch and secondly, it keeps your ass from getting wet." Because it splashes. So we got our sea bags piled in there, and we got in there and we started a goin. And I says, ohhhh, I began to get kinda seasick, so I says, "I gotta get out so I can get a little bit of the air." And the bosn's mate says, you can stand up here by me but you're gonna get your face washed several times. And ah, we ah, went to the ship and we tried to get off of the launch, and the waves were about seven feet high and several of the men that were assigned to the West Virginia, they fell into the ah, water. And luckily, being of fast feet, I was able to jump onto the ah, the ah, the ladder. They called it another name; I'll think of that later. They ah, we went up there, carried our sea bags up reported for, "report for duty, sir." L: So you'd be assigned. [ ]mess deck was. Tell me about your living accommodations, your mess deck. S: Well ah, we were assigned divisions. First division all the way to ten or twelve divisions. L: Do you remember your division? S: Division four. Port side. Ah, boat deck above us. And ah… L: And how many men in this four division S: The fourth division. We were eighty. And they had hooks hanging up there. And you could hook your fart sack up there on one end and hook it to the other, and open it up. I learned that if you have a canvas, and you wanna lay in it, you're gonna have a hard time doin it. So If I put, and they also had cords going from a canvas up to a round ring which was hooked on there. And I found out that if you put a board or a large stick in there that would spread the canvas, then you wouldn't be able to fall out. And I, they said, "This will be billet, this will be his…" And so forth. This will be your locker, and it wasn't tremendous big either but it was big enough for my clothes. And I… L: Locker was fixed against the… S: Overhead. On the beams. Which was, I suppose it would probably hold a couple a ton. But when they served the meals, They had the, it was like picnic tables, and the legs of the table would fold under and they put that up on the overhead. So we had no tables in there. So a person could come in there and walk through and everything. And nobody was allowed to be into the living quarters of the division because there were no slackers on the ship. If they were. They put them in the brig for a little while to learn that you do, you have to do your share. L: Now, the man immediately superior to you. Petty officer, was he? S: Yes. Petty officer second class. They had a third class. They generally took care of the boats. The second class took his orders from the first class. The first class took his orders from the chief. The chief took from [ ]… L: Now then, action stations for you if you would have been, and of course you would be in training. Where were your action stations? S: Well, my action station was in turret four. And that's where they had the sixteen inch guns. And mine was not up there inside where the gun was. Mine was five decks below to the powder room. And that always got a big laugh when I'd go to reunions. "Oh, Smith, big bos'n mate. What was your first position ah, during the war, attack, on maneuvers?" "I was in the powder room." "The powder room! Ha, ha, ha." And the reason they called the ship, or the reason they used so much powder and paint. Paint was to keep it looking new and powder for the guns. And one big… when we got down to the deck which we always went down, not never, we never went from the hatch where the turret was. We had to go down another way to the fifth deck. And we'd open up the double hatch, water hatches and we'd walk through, we would close them. And they had dog ears which was a pipe that fit on this pipe that closed the doors. L: What about security procedures to see that no possible spark ah, could ah, [ ] disaster from the powder room? S: Well, I'm glad you brought that up. Ah, we had to take off our clothes down to our jock shorts or shorts, undershorts. Took off our stockings and shoes. Took off our rings if we had any. Took off our watches if we had any. And there was no jewelry on us or anything because if we had a spark… L: [ ] S: Yeah. And they, those powder bags were 50 pounds. They were sewn in silk, had sewn in silk, they had special needles. And it took five of those bags to shoot a 2000 pound [projector] {means projectile} which is a shell. And when they would take and ram that shell into the gun, they would take and, has an automatic on that because 2000 pounds is hard to push. Boom, they would shove it up in there good and tight. But when that powder bags came up there, everybody handled it like it was eggs. They laid it down and they'd take a wooden pusher and push it up there, just barely touching it. They'd shove five of em in there then they'd close the breech of the gun and lock it. And the gunners mate would say, "Guns forward; turret four is loaded and locked." And then when they would shoot it, wham! Boy that ship would rock. And they had two of them, so that was four thousand pounds. And you could shoot it 20 miles and hit the target. L: Now are you speaking of training exercises in the firing of the guns in which you took part? S: Yes. L: Where was this? S: That was aboard this ship. That was my place to be during an attack, if there was an attack. L: But are you speaking of exercises outside of in California waters or when you went to Pearl Harbor? S: On the way over to Pearl Harbor, out on the open sea. Where there was thousands of miles of water and nobody around. And there you'd have five battle wagons and sixteen heavy cruisers, thirty two light cruisers and a hundred and some destroyers. And then you'd have, and every one of them formed a circle around each one. The carriers was in the center. Then the battle wagons round that, then the heavy cruisers round that, light cruisers. So when we moved, they had to go through a lot of people to get to the carriers. Because that was like the honeybee. She was the queen bee. L: You're speaking of the voyage out from West Virginia to Pearl Harbor. S: From California to Pearl Harbor, yeah. We went to Australia. We went to all the other islands. The English owned a lot of the islands in the South Pacific. And we ah, were friends with the English and we obeyed all the rules of their road and they obeyed the rules of our road. L: One figure I want to get to before we come to Pearl Harbor, and that is recreation. S: I was on the ah, boxing squad. 'Course I was always active and my feet was fast. And ah, when I came aboard the ship, I was on board the ship the third day and we had already had breakfast. Came outside and some of us wondered what we were supposed to do. And the bos'n mate saw us standing around and says, "Alright. Alright you sons of bitches. Get over here and you do this and you do that." And he says, "You, you son of a bitch, you do that." I says, "I wanna tell you that I wasn't raised to be called a son of a bitch. I'm not a son of a bitch and if you call me that one more time, I'm going to deck you. Well, I was used to fighting, you know. He says, "Boy, you son of a bitch…" I hit him, down he went. And the other guys tried to grab me and I was fightin, knock the crap out of quite a few of em and finally the Lt. Commander of our division says, "Alright, everybody attention. What in hell goes on here? Who's the instigator of it? I says, "This fellow that's layin here on his ass knocked out is the instigator. He called me a son of a bitch. I asked him politely that I wasn't raised in that environment and that I had a mother and that I had a father. He says, "Well, I'm going to tell you something." He got this close to me. "The next time you strike a petty officer or an officer," he says, "I'm going to beat the shit out of you." I says, "Who the hell do you think you are?" He says, "When I went through officers training school, I was the middleweight boxing champion." And he says, "I'll get you." I says, "You won't call me a son of a bitch." He says, "You're going to get so used to that name, you'll call everybody you see, "Hey, you son of a bitch, and everything else." And ah, they had a loud-mouthed boxer on the ship. And he come down that ladder. [ ] right in front of him and he pushed him aside. He came down that ladder and I was holy stoning. And he hit me, I went flying, the stick went flying. He says, "You know when…" What did they call him anyway? "You know the next time I come through to get out of my way because I'm tough." So I got over and I got ahold of that stick and I threw it like a javelin. And I threw it sort of between his legs…bang, bang, bang, bang. I says, "the next time you come through here, I'm going to hit you so hard that you're going to fall over the side." So he got up and he came over there and he started fighting with me and I was dodging this way and that way, and then I cold-cocked him. I hit him right here between the eyes and then I hit him on his jaw and he was down. And the chief bos'n mate of the boxing squad, he saw me do that so fast and so clean. He says, "I wanna see you in the squad room." Alright, I went to the squad room. He says, "Why don't you try and be a boxer? You get the best of food. Your breakfast consists of steaks. Your breakfast, your lunch anything you want and your dinner is the finest pieces. Where do you think I got this stomach?" He was setting there having a cup of coffee and it was settin on his stomach. So I says, "Well I, I don't like to fight with these guys. They used to call me a dirty Indian and all that stuff." And I said, "I had to defend myself." So he says, "Alright you wanna become a… " I says, "Sure, sure." And then that guy that I hit, when he go well enough, he says, "Yeah, you could challenge any guy on the ship you wanted to. Put on the gloves with you, go in the ring. I want you in the ring. I'm going to beat you so bad, you won't ever know your name." We went in that ring there and he was slow and he always telegraphed how he was going to hit and everything by the feet and the hands. So I busted his jaw in three places and gave him the three ah four ribs that I broke. Two on each side. So he says, "You're gonna take his place in the ring." He says, "You're going to be so happy that you did that because this guy is the third man from the top in being the champion.: Well, I says, "Well what will I do?" And he says, "Well, I'll tell you a few things." And he told me a few moves. I get in there and it turned out that it was a draw. Neither one of us won. But the next time - he challenged me again - he says, ah, the guy that I boxed. He says, "I'm gonna challenge you in two months." In two months we went out there and I cold-cocked him because I had seen how he telegraphed too. And he says, "Just keep on goin boy 'cause you're doin good." And that boxing, I'd do a hundred push-ups and two hundred sit-ups. L: Okay, you told me clearly about recreation, Two things that we can perhaps briefly dismiss before we come to Pearl Harbor. And not particularly nice topics at all, but I must put them to you. It's said that homosexuality is a part of every large community of men. I would just like to know if you have any recall of it being evident within your vision in your mess deck? S: Yes ah, there was a lot of it goin on. There was a first class yoeman on our ship. He was the type that everything the captain says or any meeting that they had with the officers. It was typed and in the log. And so this one guy, they eventually called him "lips Canavan." Canavan was his last name. And he was married to a beautiful, beautiful woman. Stacked up like that and everything. And I says, says to him one day, I says, "Who's that beautiful woman?" "Oh, that's my wife." "Really?" "Yeah." And that very evening, after I had my dinner I went up to, out on the deck. I'd wrote some letters and then I went to get some fresh air and then I walked around the deck and I seen a line comin out of the bos'n's locker where you keep a lot of ropes and cables and stuff. Here the guys came out without their pants. And I says, "what the hell's goin on in there?" "Oh, Canavan says this was the night he wanted to take and get all the screwing in his rectum and doing all the kissing of the male's penis." I says, "I don't see how anybody could do that." And as he came out, I seen him get up and stick his butt up in the air and he had one guy layin down there on the floor and the other guy was getting ready to give it to him in the rectum. And there was a chief gunner's mate that had 25 years in and they was a coxswain who'd just became a coxswain from first class to bo… third class coxswain. And they went, and he went downstairs, down in the decks for some damn thing and there he seen him in the powder room. And he reported him. He got dishonorable discharge and 25 years in prison. L: The other thing I wanted to ask you about was relations with black crew members. Was there any discrimination or not? S: Yes. Yes. The black men, we had two that was in the cook force and the rest of them waited on the officers. Served their meals to them, did their dishes. And ah, saw that their clothes got washed and pressed and all that stuff. But there weren't that many on board the ship. L: And they were discriminated against. In other words, they were socially excluded, if not bullied. S: Well ah, you know how a person is that has been with his family all the time and he's being thought of as one of the sons but he feels that he, he's not liked as well as his brethren. And so he knows that when he goes into service, he knows that he's going to have to learn how to get along with people. And so they tried to pick up somebody that not liked as much as the black man is. And he keeps talking to him and giving him free this or that you know, from the officers mess. And they take and work themselves into, finally they've got two instead of, then they've got five, and they've got ten. And he tries to go ashore with them. But he knows once they get ashore, that these guys aren't going to hang around with him so he has to be friends with his own kind. L: Okay, let's come to Pearl Harbor. Now I'm sure you understand that I'm trying to get you to the actual circumstance and to exclude hindsight. And so let us please focus on you yourself when you, as with everyone else, gets hit by surprise. Where were you? S: After breakfast, we go in and we change our clothes. I even take an extra shower. I take a shower in the morning first of all and then when I'm going to go ashore on liberty, being nineteen, I was eighteen when I joined. And being nineteen, I take and go in and I take another shower. If I got any dirty clothes, I wash em and all that. And then I go back to my locker and I finish dressing. I put on my dress whites and my black shoes that I got polished hah, like a diamond. And we were gonna, us guys were gonna take and get dressed. I was, well we got dressed and we went up on topside ah, to go to the boat deck. And we're up there shootin the breeze and we couldn't get a drink because we couldn't get served until we was twenty-one. They were very, very strict in Honolulu. And we were standin up there talkin and all of a sudden we began to hear, "Boom, boom, boom." I says, "Where in the heck is that comin from?" We looked over at Hickham Field and we saw powder and explosions over there and then we saw them over at another place. Then we see the submarine base getting hit. And then we saw Ford Island. We looked up and then we see these high flying bombers and they were dropping bombs down. And then they come with the torpedo planes. And one guy we heard comin up the channel and there was a bunch of ships over here that was all tied up and right next to one another. And we looked over there and I says, "What is that, oh-oh, that's the damn Japanese." They told us not to have any ammunition up, open up the double bottoms. I says, "This is gonna get, this is gonna be war. This is war now." And I reached out and got three tomatoes, three potatoes, about the size of a baseball. And I threw it and hit the plane and that got the attention of that damn Jap aviator and he looked over at us and he looked straight ahead and he pointed. He looked at us and he goes… L: Puts his thumb down. S: Yeah. That meant, you're gonna go down. And so we threw the potatoes but by that time he was almost a couple hundred, maybe a hundred feet from us. And we threw the potatoes up in the air and I guess one of em hit the tail of the plane. He dropped his torpedo, went over there and these guys were all standing there and they was frozen. They were scared. They didn't know what to do. And the torpedo went and hit the ship. The ship raised up about thirty-five feet high L: Your ship. S: No. That was another ship. An auxiliary ship. They did all kinds of maintenance work for us. They could fix anything from a watch to some big guns. L: Now Clarence, I must challenge you about what you've just told me. About throwing a potato at an attacking aircraft. Here you are, you used that good expression, you're shooting the breeze on the, on that deck. You were not in your action station. You had no reason to be in your action station. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose. My feeling is, my judgment is that you should have been racing to your action station or looking for somebody to order you to do something. And in fact, you tell me that you go and get a potato and you throw it at an attacking Japanese aircraft. S: Well, I don't give a damn what anybody says, or you. It happened because I was so mad. If I could have reached over and pulled that pilot out of that plane, I would have. But he was only about 20 feet. His wing was 20 feet from out ship. And it made me so mad, the drillin went through me, I had to do something. So I got the [ ], I threw the damn thing. I was trying to hit him in his head, hoping to knock him out and he wouldn't be able to drop that torpedo. But he did. And it hit that… L: Auxiliary ship. S: Auxiliary ship. And those, when that ship came down, some of those guys had actually vanished. They had been blown into bits. And I says, "Come on guys, let's go to our battle stations." And at that time the guy on the bugle, which we had loud speaker all over played, "Battle stations, battle…. This is not a drill, battle stations." And we went to our battle stations. We get down there, took off all our clothes except our shorts, closed the hatches and a torpedo hit our ship. L: So you're down below. You can't see what's happening now at all, but suddenly, an enormous explosion. How did you feel or hear that explosion in your enclosed space? S: We were on our port side. Our port side was exposed. We were the only ship at that time that had an armor plate put onto the regular side of the plate of the ship. It was six feet wide and it tapered from the bow, three feet, four, five, it was six feet when it got by us and then went on back. And we were the only ship that had it. If we hadn't of had that, I wouldn't be here today. And ah, the lights went out and the ship shook like a bowl of jelly on a cold, frosty morning. That's an old saying that my grandmother and great grandmother had said in the past. And did we pray. Cried and prayed. Cried and prayed. Then another torpedo hit, and another torpedo hit. Nine torpedoes in a row. And we felt the ship was like [ ] and we was practically walking on the port side of that room. And I'll never forget that gunner's mate saying, "Okay men, come on up. Come on up." We ran up that, in that, I don't know. I got up there so fast I couldn't believe it. And the others, they was six of us down there. And we all got up there. First of all, we opened up the door so we could get our clothes. Some of us had $5.00, some mighta had $2.00. I was fortunate, I had $40.00 in my wallet. And we got up there and we put our clothes on and this gunner's mate looked at us and he says, "Boys, you're going to have to leave the ship. They asked us to abandon ship. It's 40 degrees list already as you know. There's a life raft on the funnel of the ship - that's where they shoot the smoke up out of. You're going to have to get that life raft off of that funnel, lay it down in the water. You're going to have to push the oil and the water that's on fire out of your way. You gotta get away from the ship. 200-300 feet if possible because if this ship goes under, it's going to suck all, suck everything around that area." I says, "What kind of a war is this that they allow the damn Japs to come in here?" He says, "You know those yellow bellied, yellow, slant-eyed, no good, rotten, son of a bitchin bastards? They don't believe in Christ. They got their own man they believe in and they think by killing people will let them go to heaven." I says, "Them dirty bastards are going to go to hell when I get ahold of them." And we opened up the hatch, slid down. He says, "Well," Before we left, she says, "You're gonna see your friends layin out there on the deck. Some are gonna have their heads off. Some arms and legs. And ah, if some of em are, still have most of their limbs on em, they're gonna say, 'help me, help me.' And they're gonna call you by your first name and it's gonna, like stickin a knife into your heart. But you cannot stop and help em." L: Now you're categorically stating that before you come up on the deck for evacuation, you were instructed, in the words that you've just told me, that you must pay no attention to what you see in the way of men needing help. You've got to evacuate the ship yourselves. S: "Abandon the ship," he says. So we went out, and I didn't know whether to heave or what. And I felt sick at first. And then when I looked again, that made me so mad, I felt as much hate for the Japanese as I could possibly at that time. And it gave me the strength to walk through there and go up and get ahold of this life raft. And six of us got ahold of that life raft, and they got those toggle switches on it that hold it up there. You know it'd be like that, and you turn it like that and it holds it. And so we ah, are undoing the toggle switches and I look at the paint and all [ ] it looks like it's coming towards me. And pretty soon it came up like that and then I couldn't sit because my dress blues blouse, my dress white blouse was up hiding my right eye and my hand was hiding the left side of my face. And boom, I felt something hot and it stuck to my face. And I was brushing it off with the sleeve of my blouse, and I saw thousands of stars. And how we got that down I don't know because I was in shock. When we got it unfastened, it must have, the life raft must have just slid right down into the ocean. Into the Pearl Harbor. L: So you were up against the funnel. S: Yeah. And ah, we slid down over the top railing that's on the ship, When it's up, it's normally three and a half feet high. And ah, we went over that I guess. And we get out there and all of a sudden one of the guys says, "Here comes a Jap Zero. He's going to shoot at us. Dive!" Dove, and I went through eight or nine feet of oil, which there was, holds million gallons. And went and the cold water hit me. That woke me up. And I heard the shell go, "Sssssss." And I held my breath as long as I could and then I came up and I looked at some of the other guys. They were already up. I says, "Who in hell are you guys?" "Why, Smitty, don't you remember, we're all from the 4th Division, from the turret." I says, "You sure? Well, I don't see any slant eyes. I guess you're true." But we had to dive down about twenty more times. Them Japs, they just didn't want to give up. They wanted to shoot anybody that was in the water or on the ship or anything. I guess they thought that they did most of the damage to the ships that they thought the ships would never sail again. And then I turned and took a look and I saw the Oklahoma upside down. There was about five or six guys standing on the bottom of that great battle wagon. And then I took a look to my right and there was the Arizona exploding, and exploding. Knowing that there was hardly anybody be alive on that ship. And then I looked at West Virginia. I really loved the West Virginia. And we was up on that life raft, hangin onto it, pushin those oil and flame away from us. And after we was out there for a couple hours, we heard somebody sayin, "Hey, anybody out there, anybody out there?" 'Course we all hollered, "Yes, we're here." And he took us to the cave that they have on Ford Island. And we were all just covered with black oil and no hats. And we went inside and he said, "Well, I gotta go out and look around for some more guys." And ah, so he took off with the motorboat. We went inside and there's a bunch of people in there, women and kids. And the kids saw us. "Here comes a Jap, they're gonna kill us, Mommy." "Here comes the Japs." And so some of the women knew that we weren't Japs and they gave us cloths that had some kind of a salve or something that we wrapped around our eyes, wiped our nose and did the inside of our ears. And then I says, "Come on guys, let's go outside. Maybe we can find some guns and maybe we can shoot some of these damn Japs." And I'd no sooner said that than here came two more planes shootin at us. So we ran staggardly. And I ran maybe about a hundred feet and I seen this railing and I knew there was some steps going down and I saw there was some windows around like these raised ranches have. And I says, "This is some kind of a building." So I ran and I got ahold of the top railing and I let myself down, it was probably only about five feet. So I opened up the door and it opened. And I went inside and there was all kinds of pressure tanks and stuff. And I says, "I wonder what the hell is this?" Then I looked around and I saw a pair of over… coveralls hangin up there and saw another pair of shoes and I says, "Well, I'll take this off." And I took off my clothes and I put those coveralls on. But before I did that, I cleaned my hands so I wouldn't get oil on that. And then I saw a bunk, and then I saw that they was a sink, and I saw some more chemicals there. And I says, "Well, I'll take and wash my hands and get myself partially cleaned up. And then I looked at my face and everything. My face looked red, real red and then I ah, L: It is December, 2001 and this is Peter Liddle of the Second World War Experience in Leeds, with a continuation and conclusion of the tape, talking with Clarence Frederick Smith of P.O. Box 2045, 1050 Mihill, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, 54936, United States of America. Now the interview is taking place at the Air Museum in Oshkosh. And Clarence has been telling me of his grim experience as a survivor from H.M.S. Virginia. Can you go straight on from where you had reached, or would you like….? S: We can go on from there. So I got myself cleaned up. I went over and laid down on the bed. And I could hear some shots and I'd hear some more explosions but I was tired. I was wore out. I just couldn't figure out how I could become so tired in such a short time. But the time had taken its toll on my body, my physical being. So I laid down on the bed there, and I'm layin there and all of a sudden I wake up and it's around 7 o'clock, 7:30 at night, and I smell food. And I hadn't eaten all day so I says, "Well, I'm gonna go and see if I can find some food." And I opened up the door slowly. I went out and looked around. I says, "What a mess!" I couldn't believe the Japs had done that to us. So I walked along and crouching low. And luckily the dungarees were kind of a green-like olive color. And so I went over and I seen the mess house where they fed the people on the island. And I saw their garbage, where they had them garbage tanks. And I took the lid off of one of those garbage cans and I seen pork chops, and cake, and pie and everything. So I pulled up the sleeve on my jumper and I put it on the top of the lid. And I knew that the lid was clean because they used to wash em. They washed em so clean, they'd take a white glove and rub it. Then I punched over [ ] and I went back, I run back down to the water treatment building and I got inside and I ate with my fingers. And ah, fingers were made before forks and spoons so I was happy to be able to be eating. And I stood up there and looked around, and looked around. And I didn't have, didn't turn on no lights because there wasn't no sense of lettin anybody know where I was at. Pretty soon I became sleepy again and I went over and laid down. And every once in awhile I'd wake up during the night and I'd hear somebody shootin a gun or I'd hear something that sounded like one of the ships was creaking real bad, or. And I just blocked it all out of my mind because my dad taught me how to do that. It was one of the ways that the Indian was able to survive. Next morning I woke up, was hungry and I got out of bed and I washed my face and I didn't find no toothbrush but I used the soap and I washed my teeth with my finger. And I was wondering how in the hell I was going to be able to do anything. And then I saw people walking around, stumbling around. I said, they won't notice me. So I went up there and got myself some more, came back, laid down, slept. Then that evening, I got up and went over and got myself another garbage lid full of food. My face had swollen. It went from red, going towards a greenish color. And my eyesight was bad on my right side. And the left side of my face was beginning to swell a little bit. But I couldn't remember at that time. So I took the garbage lid and went over. This was the third day I was there and I had a hard time how to see. And I get over there and normally I'd raise that lid off and you couldn't even hear it, But this time I, it felt like it was a little hard. But the infection had went through my body. And I took it up and it hit a little bit, and I started putting the garbage in there and I heard somebody say, "Halt, who goes theyah?" I didn't say anything, threw some more food in the top of the garbage lid. I says, "Who all goes theyah, and I'm not goin say it agin.." I says, "I'm Bos'n Mate Smith from the USS West Virginia." He came over there and about fifteen feet from me. He says, "You're not the [ ] of damn tall Japanese." And a few other exciting words. And he says, "I'm gonna put my bullet in this breech and I'm gonna pull that trigger and I'm gonna put another bullet in. I'm gonna get myself a medal for this." I couldn't hardly see because it was getting dark. Then I heard another voice say, "What are ya trying to do over there Charlie?" "I caught myself a damn Jap and I'm gonna blow his brains out and I'm gonna put a couple more bullets in there, and I'm gonna be a Medal of Honor man." He says, "You're gonna be a Medal of Honor dead bastard if you pull that trigger because I'm going to blow your head right off." "But Sarge, this is my chance." He said, "You Tennessee hillbilly, you jackal, M.F., you eject that shell that's in the breech of that gun. Otherwise, I'm going to blow your head off right now." And he picked his gun up and he threw it down. He says, "There you are, Sarge, [ ]." So the sergeant came over there and he looked at me and he says, "Who are you?" I told him again and he looked at my dog tags around my neck and wiped off that oil there and he says, "Yeah, what happened to your face?" I says, "I don't know." He says, "We're gonna take you in a jeep to the hospital." So he took me in the jeep to the hospital and my face had swollen up more and practically had blinded my right eye. And the, my right hand was swollen up too because of that paint goin onto my right hand. And ah, the Mayo brothers, Dick Mayo from Minnesota; they're the place where anybody has cancer, heart problems, they go over there and they cure em. Of the disease. Or they [ ] if they don't. They are known to be the greatest. And he was notified that Pearl Harbor was hit. So he says, "Pack my bags and put plenty of sulfur and everything else in it. I'm going to catch a plane and fly over there." And he did. L: And the treatment was effective for you. S: Well, he opened up the… he set me down and he says, "Set up there." And then he took a paper bag and punched a little hole in it. He says, "I gotta see better over here." And he had that scalpel in his hand. And when he put it up there, he hit it, I passed out, all that crap came into that bag, and I was out for four days. He said, "One more day and you woulda died." L: One thing you didn't talk about which I thought was an important omission, was that when you were in the powder room, and you described two things: one, the light going out. The lights going out. And two, the listing of the ship. And successive torpedoes. You told me nothing of the possibility of any panic and certainly physical difficulty in ascending whatever sorts of internal or external walkways, ladderways, stairs, whatever, to get the five decks which you'd mentioned earlier up to fresh air. S: We went up to past this elevator we turned the powder by hand. You didn't want to take and have any electric motors there or chains moving because that would throw a spark. And blow that turret right off the deck into space. So, we had to crank that by hand. And it was belts. Like the belts of your trousers, to hold up your trousers. They were long belts and we turned that if we wanted to get up. There was a latch that we could turn that there was a little space like a little ledge like on each side. And when we went up we could put our feet and grab by the hands to go up like that. L: So, did you, you're saying that there was an elevator that you used. How far did that take you? S: Up five decks. L: And then what about, you're now talking about ladders. S: Five decks to go up. You had to have ladders in order to go from one deck to the other. You know. L: Where is the elevator taking you? S: The elevator went right up to the turret room. Where they put the shells in the gun, the powder in… L: So are you able to use the elevator or not? S: Yes. But we don't turn it. I'd go in there and I'd push the things which opened up. I went in there and I pushed that up, and I pushed that up, and I pushed that up to get all the way up to top side. And there's little, little ledges where this had, was hooked on each side. Because if a man was down there and he couldn't get out of that powder room in case there was water comin or something in there, anything, he would die. So they had to make an exception to the rule so that he would be able to escape, and by escaping, push that thing up. L: So you're pushing a sort of hinged door at the top of this elevator? S: Each, each, you put the powder into on each hinged door and then you turn it to get it up high enough to get another powder in there. And five of them, you got to turn it until it goes all the way up to the top. L: The handle for turning is inside the elevator. S: No, it's on the outside because we have to turn that thing. And ah, well the powder bag is fifty pounds. It's that bag around so we were able to crawl into it. And then I pushed, right on up. And then the other guys followed. They put their, they crawled in it and then they was able to stand up, and then they put their feet on the botto…. On the rack, and then they pulled with their hands to go on up. It's pretty hard to explain it but that's actually how it does work. L: Okay. After the successful treatment of your eyes, how soon are you able to join survivors from ah, your S.S. West Virginia? S: Well, I was at that hospital. Military hospital at Hono…. Pearl Harbor. I was there for three months. They had hundreds of sailors but they had no ships for em. And so they had barracks, and they had ah, anything that they could use that they could put a cot in that the men could sleep comfortable. Because there wasn't any such temperature ah, like in the morning, you wake up. It's 70 degrees and ah, at noon, it's 80 and in the evening it's got to about 84-85. That's the average temperature. And so they put tents up. And then they didn't have to worry about the temperature L: Just tell me please Clarence, in a nutshell, and I do mean for the moment in a nutshell, about your length of service. You recover by half-way through 1942. What happens to you next? S: Well I finally get assigned to the USS Minneapolis. L: Which was a? S: Heavy cruiser. And I was on there for a year, L: Did you see any action with her? S: Yeah. Yeah. Well we'd be out to sea and they had planes that'd fly over, these heavy bombers? And I, well I was chosen to take and be one of the men that would steer the ship. For some reason, I was just chosen, like throwing something onto a wall and there's a number there and it hit my number. And I was up on duty, and it was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and here came the bombers. I said, "My God, Captain, what are we gonna do?" He said, "We're gonna play the old chess game." So the admiral of the fleet says, "Go to numbers 33 maneuvers." So the officer of the day, the captain told the officer of the day. So the captain told him, gave him his orders and he says ah, "Go to 245 compass." You looked at the compass. You know, we was at 160. So I swung the wheel, brought her around to what he told me. We're on course. They dropped their bombs. All the bombs were there and we were over here. L: Was this part of a major naval action or not? S: Yes. L: Which one? S: Ah, this was the 7th Fleet, and we were considered the 7th Fleet. L: Where were you? S: I was on the… L: No. No. Where was the 7th Fleet? When they were attacked by these Japanese bombers? And it was where. S: About seven miles from Iwo Jima. And that was one of the islands in the South Pacific. I believe that was one of the islands owned by the English. L: Yes. S: And ah, they just kept dropping bombs and we kept maneuvering and I looked up. I said, "They're comin right at us!" He says, "Turn to 180." Well all we… that was about 16 degrees that I had to turn it to and we just cleared that area and then came the bombs. L: This is, what date? S: This was August. Oh, about the 14th, '43 I guess. L: And then you went USS? S: I was on the USS Minneapolis. L: Would you say that there was any further activ…. action in which you were involved that you ought to record before the ending of this little session? S: Well, we were at the Great Turkey Shoot. Marine…. Marina Islands {The Mariana Islands}. Ah, Mary Ann, Mary Ann Islands. It's been so long since I thought of that. Mary Ann Islands. Every morning at dusk or about a half hour before the sun came up, we would take and put our pilot and a radioman in the plane. This was a biplane which was a two wing job, and it was a float plane. It had floats on it instead of wheels. Put him on the catapult, and we'd load the catapult with the powder shell. And we'd close it and shoot it. And naturally the pilot had to have the engine running as fast as he could. And it shot him out. And they'd go out and they'd scout around, around about a hundred miles from our ship. And it was kind of, there was clouds in the sky and so they'd go up and try to get in the clouds as soon as they can so they don't give away any of our destination. And ah, all of a sudden the clouds break just a little bit and they looked down and they saw the whole damn Japanese navy. They turn around, keepin theirselves in the clouds. Came back and came alongside of us. And the radioman, they could write messages and they got this case that they put em in, this led. They tossed it on the ship. They fly up again and the Captain says, "Bring that up here to me." They goes up there to him and he opened up and he says, "You're going to have a good turkey shoot today. There's about twenty two of their ships to one of ours. And there's five carriers. And there's seven battle wagons. Get your, you know what to do. You do the job." And he got ahold of the admiral. He says, "Well we're gonna have ourselves a turkey shoot." That's what they called it. We came in this way, and they're over here. And they're, it's, they're kinda tucked in between two islands. The islands were about six miles apart. L: Clarence, time on this occasion really has run out for us. May I ask you, do you still write comfortably? I wonder whether you would consider writing to me so that we do get for the Second World War Experience Center in Leeds, the completion of an account which you've begun so outstandingly well? S: If you can read my writing. L: I can read… I was told by an American the other day that anybody who can read my writing deserves some sort of honor. So if you would consider doing this, I'd appreciate it. S: Yeah. L: I must tell you that, without exception, that's one of the finest recordings I've been privileged to make. I'd like to thank you and congratulate you. S: Yeah. If you take and write the book and its success, I'd like to have one or two copies of it.
Oral History Interview with Clarence Frederick Smith -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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