WORLD WAR II
Oral History Interview with Ken Roehl

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Record 24/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation 2002 - 2002
Abstract Oral history interview with Ken Roehl conducted by Brad Larson for the World War II project. Ken enlisted in the US Navy at Oshkosh in 1939; stationed on the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor; present during the attack of December 7, 1941; wounded in action; and spent 30 years in the Navy. He was also on three other ships that were also sunk during the war. A typed transcript is on file in the archives computer.

Ken Roehl Interview
April 15, 2002
By Brad Larsen

{L: signifies the interviewer, Mr. Larsen; R: signifies Mr. Roehl}.

R: Right after the shakedown cruise, they called me in to personnel and said, "You want to go back to recomissioning duty?" And I said, "Yeah, that was good duty." So I went then, I got transferred and I went to the Kraft Shipbuilding Company which was building five cruisers. So I worked through the first four and I paid with the fifth one, the USS Astoria. The new Astoria. And when I was on her and went out and I was running short on twenty years.

And they said, "Are you gonna reenlist?" I said, "Not unless I get transferred. There's one ship I haven't been on and that's a destroyer, and that's what I want." So three days before I was to reenlist after that 20th year, they said, "There's an opening. But you might not like it." And I got the USS 888, The USS Stickel. And I said, "Well, I asked for a destroyer. Is that a destroyer? That's what I want."


And after I got aboard, I realized that he knew more about it than I did. Because when I went aboard it, it was at Pier 5 in San Diego. Bag and baggage, I put my first suitcase over the life rail. No gangplank, no gangway, nothin. She was tied up against the dock. And I reached over to get my cruise box and we were 30 feet away from the dock. They were sprung on the bow line already, ready to go. So pilot brought it out.

But that was a ship that was race-infected. You had Filipinos, African Americans, Italians, very few white Americans. And there was a colored person that was on the quarter deck. The O.D. had already moved up to the bridge. And he says, "What the hell are you doin aboard?" And that's the way that ship was, all the way through. There was nothin but strife in between the races. And he was about three times bigger than I. And I knew right then, if I let him get away with whatever you, with whatever he was trying to pull, I would be, I might as well jump over the side. So I belted him. And I set him on his butt. I said, "Now when I want you to know what I'm doin aboard, I'll let you know. The O.D. is on the bridge. I'll go and report to the O.D. That's my orders." And there was stone silence. There was people all over and they made way for me when I went up to the bridge. Skipper was standing up there. He saw me. And when I got to the top of the ladder, he said, "You know you just asked for a lot of trouble." I said, "Maybe so, but I wasn't gonna take any from him."

There was no engineering chiefs aboard. None. The senior petty officer in the engineering department was a second class water tender. There was no chief engineer. And the skipper said to me, "You go down and become acquainted with the ship. I understand that this is your first destroyer." I says, "I'm afraid so." And he says, "Well, you go down and get acquainted with the ship and I'll send for ya."

So I went down and I went through the fire rooms. And stool, feet up, on the railings, sound asleep, on watch, getting under way. And I kicked the stool out from under him. "You better get on your feet." "Who the hell are you?" I says, "Well, you keep this up and you're gonna find out." So he's real sarcastic and says, "Well you better do what he tells, because he's a big deal." And I punched him in the corner and I said, "You better remember that, because I'm gonna be a big deal." Holy cow. When I, you, on a destroyer there are no ladders or steps going in. You have to go up the steps like on a silo. So when I got up there, here's this big colored guy that I sat on his butt when I come aboard, right on top of the hatch. He said, "You better think twice before you come up outa that hold." I thought, okay. I reached across the coming, got his leg and flipped him and he went right on his butt. I said, "Now I'm up here. Why shouldn't I come up?" He rolled over, got up and left. But from that day on, he was my friend. He told me, "Nobody, nobody ever told me anything like you did. Anybody that's got enough guts to do that, I'll listen to em."

And when I had problems with any of the other races, he would go over there and he would talk to them, usually by hand. In one month, instead of being on the bottom of the economy list, we were on top. Because I told em, "You guys got a cleaning station?" "Nope." So I gave everybody in the engineering department a cleaning station. And I says, "You get that clean, you get it done, the rest of the day is yours." And it finally soaked in. Man, they had that engineering department looking like a hospital. Man, it was clean.

And then the squack off, because every four ships has got a squadron commander. They transferred me from the 888th to the 747th which was the Sadie Hawkins. And then instead of having a ship, I had all four. Because that was just about the time that everybody was getting out on points. So I made it, made my, did it right. Because I got along fine on destroyers after that. And I loved destroyer duty. I spent most of my time on destroyers.

L: Well Ken, when did you enlist?

R: I enlisted on September the 9th, 1939.

L: Why?

R: Well, if you remember, that was a time when you, it was just, not full depression but you were comin out of it. I didn't get a chance to go to high school. I went one year but I never went back to find out whether I'd passed or not. Because I had work. I worked at the Guernsey Dairy. Now they had horses then that were pullin wagons, milk wagons. And that barn had to be cleaned. Horses had to be trimmed, [ ], curried. Get the harnesses hung up. Now it, I did that for three years before I went in the Navy.

But then my step-dad was a part owner of the Guernsey Dairy. Which is where Oshkosh Overall has got their [ ] store. That was there. And I would come, I would have to come in in the morning and set up all the piping and run sterilizer through em. Now we'd get the evaporators, I call them evaporators but they're not. Ah, where they homogenize the milk. I'd get that ready, get em all sterilized. Get all the piping, get that sterilized. Set up the separators, set up the bottling machines, fill the bottle washer. And then I could go to school, which commenced, maybe it was 10:30- 11 o'clock. So I missed that first part. And when it come time, I would try to get my assignments but I didn't know what they were talkin about.

L: Where were you living?

R: Here in Oshkosh. On Rugby Street. I don't know if you know where Rugby Street is

L: I don't think so.

R: Okay. When you go out 9th Street,

L: Oh, I do too know where it is. There's a bar there. Eating place. Jeff's on Rugby.

R: Yes. Yes. On Rugby. Well you go all the way to the south end of Rugby Street. The second house from the end is where I lived. Little bitty place. And that meant that you walked. So by the time I got up - we raised chickens - because we lived on 18th and S. Georgia after that, but before that, the people that owned the house on 18th and Georgia didn't do nothing. There was a silo. There was a barn there that had a stall for one horse and a stall for one cow. And there was a chicken coop and we were using the chicken coop. So I would have to go there and feed the chickens, scrape the dropping board and do all that. And then I could go to work. And then I could go to high school. And then after I got through at high school, I would leave early. I would leave maybe two o'clock and hadda go back to the dairy. All the stuff hadda be washed and set up for the next day. And my step-dad got my check. And they would be very generous. They'd give you a quarter to go to the movie on Saturday. Because everything was tight.

And I don't know if you ever, did you know where the wood piles were for the excelsior plant? Okay. When that was there, I would go, now across, just before you got to the bottle wrapper, the excelsior plant, there was a Baltimore and Ohio depot, roundhouse. And I would go there and I could get in the boiler. I could get in the firebox. I could get in the smokebox. Because they had superheaters and the big tubs that were workin there couldn't get in. So I could get in and every time I cleaned a boiler I got $5.00. That was a fortune for kids in that days. And I was making more money than my step-dad was. So I wasn't on his good list either.

And I waited for the day that I got to be 17. Because I had to be 17 before I could go in the Navy. I had three uncles in the Army and one uncle in the Navy. When they would come, I didn't make, they were, it didn't fit, they didn't… I never wanted to go in the Army just by watching them. But when the guy from the Navy came, he always had money in his pocket, he was always dressed neat, he always looked nice and I thought, "That's for me." And I got talkin to him and he said, now he was in the "lighter than air force." And he said, "If you're gonna be anything, be an engineer." 'Cause he says, "You know more about engines than a lot of people that have been in the Navy for 15-20 years.

So when I, my brother went in the Navy two years before I did and I never got along with him. Because that was momma's little boy. And he didn't have to do most of it. He would help her in the kitchen and that would be about as far as they went.

So when I finally got to go in the Navy, my mother wouldn't sign. She had to sign. I didn't know who my real dad was. My step-dad couldn't 'cause he never adopted. And he had a temper. And one morning I was turning my mother's garden over for next spring, and he gave me that assignment in the morning before he went to work. He said, "When you get through you come home and you do this." And that's what I was doing when he stopped by. But I didn't see him come and he booted me in the butt and that hurt. And I had the shovel and I sailed it at him. And I just missed him. If I had hit him, it would have cut his head off. My ma saw it. And I went up to the house and I told my ma, "That's it. I can't take this no more. If you don't sign my papers, I'm just leavin. I'm just goin, the hell with it." And she handed me the papers. She had already signed em.

Now the recruitin office was in the post office downtown. I took those papers. I took my bicycle and I went down there and took em to the recruiter and I showed him that they were signed, 'cause I already took the test. He said, "Fine. There's a Pullman sleeper over there to the depot. Be on it. It leaves at 2 o'clock in the morning. You be on it." And I was. He said, "Bring a toothbrush, some soap, and a razor, and a towel and nothin else. You'll get everything else."

And I did. I went there and I got clothes that were about ten times too big for me. The only thing that fit was the shoes. They gave me a pair of 10-D shoes and I wore 10-D's for the rest of my life until this come along.

Now, my Navy career was good. I got married in 1944. My wife would never go overseas with me. And I go two children. I got a boy and a girl. But I was able to make out about 99% of my wages in allotments to take care of my family. But you had to keep health and comfort.

But I could make more money soling shoes, polishing shoes, washing clothes and doing things like that. I went ashore and I bought a sewing machine. Now you know they got four white stripes on the collar and on the cuffs they got three. And sometimes they get pretty dirty and you can't wash em anymore; they start getting shredded. I would put new stripes on. And the stars, I studied those for a long time till I learned how to sew those in. I could put, replace the stars. I lived on that. I didn't, I didn't have to go through the pay line.

And as I got up in rate, I got more authority and I got a reputation and it went ahead of me always. Now I was with boiler water and engineering. I knew boilers, and I knew engines and I knew the auxiliaries. So I was a machinist mate. The chemicals you needed for testing boiler water, you know what Croton Oil is? Well, if you get a dose of Croton Oil, you can find a potty and sit on it, but you're gonna die right there. Because that's how much of a physic it is.

And they put Croton Oil in the alcohol that you used to test boiler water. And I was on one ship where the engineering officer said, "I ain't gonna give you a gallon of it; you gotta get a five gallons or nothin," he says, "And you don't have to worry; if you drink it, you ain't gonna be with us anymore." "But if you can find a way to get that Croton Oil out of it, let me know."

And that, in the back of my mind, was a challenge. And after maybe five or six years, I figured out how to do it. With the help of the baker and a guy in [ ] stores. I would get a big roll of terryclothing, terry toweling, take about five yards of it, fold it in thirds. But before you fold it, you put salt in. [ ] And then you folded it and then you rolled it tight, just as tight as you could get it. And then you bound it up. And then you hung that up. And where it dripped on the bottom, you let that go through. They would bake bread for me. I cut the ends out of five inch powder kegs and they would use that for a bread pan. And they would bake me loaves of bread and I would cut the crust off, put the loaf of bread in there. And then we'd put the five gallon bucket of alcohol up on top and let it drip. And it'd take a day, maybe a day and a half to drip through. Well at first, it was just through the toweling and the salt and it was so salty, briny, you didn't want to drink it, you know. Just enough to taste it on your tongue. Which when you lit it afire, it would burn enough to melt the salt. So now we had to figure out how to get the salt out. So that's when I started usin bread. And he would make ah, very dense bread and it just dripped. But out of a five gallon can of alcohol with the Croton Oil in it, I could get almost four gallons. And you know, straight grain alcohol, when you put it in coffee, it looks like you put condensed milk in it. It gets white and cloudy. And you can't smell alcohol on your breath when you drink it.

So I told the chief eng… what happened, he come down to the engine room for a cup of coffee in the morning. And I had a cup. And he says, "I want a cup of coffee." And I, you get the kids trained. You go like this over at the edge of the platform. You stand by the throttle-board and you put your finger out like that and they know, "hang a cup in there. " And I pointed at the chief engineer so they come up with a cup of coffee for him. And he says, "How come it's not like yours?" And he took my cup out of my hand and he tasted it and he says, "That's what I thought."

So he used to come down, you know the military used to have brass canisters that they kept um, medicinal brandy in. And if you could get one, you were doin pretty good. But he had one, so one morning he come down with that. He said, "I want mine in here." So he goes up to the ward room and the skipper found out about it, the exec found out about it, the first lieutenant found out about it. And any time I needed more soap solution to check water with, I could get it. And I could get all the terry cloth I wanted. And that one went ahead of me. It went all the way through the Navy. When I went, they already knew. That if I wanted soap solution, I could get it.

L: Ken, when you left here, in that Pullman car in 1939, where did you go?

R: I went to Great Lakes. I ah, my training was at Great Lakes. And when I left Great Lakes, the [ ] brothers were assigned to the same ship. And my brother was on the USS Nevada. So I hadda go to the Nevada. And the Nevada was in Long Beach and they were getting ready to go overseas.

S o I got no boot leave. As soon as graduation was over, they said, "You got your bag all packed." You had to have everything all packed. With that last drill, you had to have everything on your back. So I went from there right to the depot, and I went right out to Long Beach. And right aboard. I got there and I went to, I had to go to the fleet landing first and they sent me over to the San Pedro storage dock. Because the boat was there waiting with stores and me. So I got on the boat and we went back. I didn't even get a chance to go off the boat to go up the gangway. I stayed on the boat and the put the line in and they put the boat aboard with me in it. Me and the engineer and the coxswain. And all the stores.

When I first went aboard the ship, I was assigned to a deck division. And I didn't want a deck division. And it took the chief boatswain's mate with that deck division a long time to realize I wasn't going to be worth a fiddler's damn as long as I had to stay on deck. So he swapped a fireman, a kid that didn't want to be in the fire room for me. And I went down there. I went in the fire room.

And I was assigned to the B division, which was fire division. I went through rates. I was second class. I went up to first, and, at Pearl Harbor. And when that started on December the 7th, we never got overnight liberty in Honolulu. Officers did but the white hats didn't. And Sunday morning, you didn't, you had, that was your day. And [ ] Sunday was a Wednesday and that's when you got the chance to fix up your uniform, shine your shoes and do the things for yourself.

But that morning, I went up to get a Sunday paper. They'd let the kids come in from town, from Honolulu to sell newspapers. They'd set em up on the fantail. And as I stepped out of the hatch on the main deck aft, they sounded "colors." So you stopped right there. You come to attention. And you could, the band was playin and they're pullin up colors. And you could hear these planes comin in. And until, this big thump. And I turn around and I looked, And there was a big geyser of water goin up in the air next to the Oklahoma which was tied two ships behind us. The Arizona was directly behind us. Or directly ahead of us. And the Oklahoma was ahead of her.

And they hit the Oklahoma. And when they dropped their torpedoes, they were pretty close. So they set em for deep running cause they knew that there's armor belts on those battleships. About 39 inches of steel. And I think she took three or four torpedoes before, right off the bat, before anybody could do anything.

And I felt very, after awhile I felt very sorry for the people on the Arizona, and the Oklahoma and the California because they were on the old security system. Where you had one man or two men with a belt with a clock on it. Time belts. And they hadda go around. The keys were on the various places they hadda inspect. And they'd push the clock and it'd punch it. It had a disk that would let you know what time the clock was punched. But they couldn't open the engineering spaces. They couldn't open the gunnery spaces. That clock just told em what time they punched it. They couldn't get in.

But the skipper on the Nevada was a hundred and ninety percent against that. And he wouldn't permit it. All of our spaces were - no locks. They were open. He said, "If you can't trust our own people, we can't trust anybody."

So, as a result, when you saw what was happening, I did an about face and I tried to go down the hatch but there was so many people coming in from all directions, I turned and I went down the deck and I just about tripled my speed when they were strafing the deck. Now the deck on those ships are teakwood. And when I saw that splittin, I went through the first hatch going in that I could see, and I went right straight down below.

And automatically, because every time they'd go to [ ] you were told automatically what had to be done. So you knew what had to be done. Nobody had to tell you. So I went in. My battle station was in the up-takes. That's right in the middle of all the fire rooms where the smoke stacks come together. And I was with a chief called John Brandon and he was burner control. And I was with him, pickin it up. And when we got underway, we sprung on our bowline and the stern was going out. And what we had done was offloaded all of our ammunition. The only ammunition the Nevada had on her was that which we were gonna use for gunnery practice on the way back to the States.

We were scheduled to leave on a Monday morning to go back to the Bremerton Navy Yard for an annual overhaul. And that, the bo… the chief boatswain with the warrant officer went over on the barge because the barge was still tied up alongside in the back. And he chopped the hoggers off with an ax. To get it away from the ship. He didn't make it. He stayed on that barge. And then we backed up. We were backin down and we took a bomb. And to my way of thinking, it was more than a bomb. It was a torpedo. They dropped it on us while [ ] was underwater. And because we were getting underway - now we were the last battleship in a row. And as they come down "battleship row" each ship was hit harder. Evidence the Arizona, the way she's sittin right now. We would have had that memorial on it if we hadn't gotten underway. But we got underway. And then they concentrated on us. They skip-bombed. Just thank the good Lord they didn't have any torpedoes right there, fly into us. Or they would have dropped us right where we were.

And we went out, we got, we were hit forwards with a torpedo. Opened us up big enough to put a big Greyhound bus in it. So that let the whole forward end of the ship flood. Because you got tanks - the armor deck is here - and you got tanks and there's a blister that sticks out. And that sticks up and these are tanks that you could use for sea water, fuel oil and such as that. But there's 39 inches of steel all around the engineering department. So when they hit there, they just opened it up, but they opened it up forward to let the water in.

And by the time we got past Ford Island, they ordered us aground because we were so far down by the bow, we wouldn't a got over the sill. We'd a plugged the harbor up. So we were put aground. We just went aground. And we were settin on coral.

So now during this time, when this is happening upstairs, I was, hey, I'm loosin the Navy now. I'm not saying up above anymore. I'm saying upstairs. Ah, I was, because the fire rooms were getting salt water. You cannot steam a boiler with salt water. But underneath each boiler is a reserve of fresh water that is to be used specifically for feeding boilers. We had, number two boiler was open. Couldn't use it. And number five boiler was open. Couldn't use it. Number five was open, wide open. Everything. And John said, "Go down and see if you can get that boiler runnin. Just close it up and steam it." So I did. I took a couple of kids and I said, "Let's go."

We went down and just put the manholes in and handholds and everything in, No internal piping, nothing. We steamed it. You got a full set of burners, you got your own pumps, you got everything down there. So we lit that, we set that boiler off and we steamed it. Now we were settin on the bottom and I was still able to steam because they said, "Steam it as long as you can." Because they were usin that steam for their autoclaves for the medical department. And then autoclaves were run by steam. Now they're run by electricity. So, but then they needed it. So we used it.

And then I got, I got to the point where I couldn't steam the boiler anymore because you cannot boil salt water. It foams. And I told em, "I can't steam this boiler any more. I'm going to have to wrap it up." He says, "Okay, wrap it up and get your people out of there."

The fire room is under pressure. And you've got a ladder ah, fit with a hatch on the bottom, hatch on the top. Both hatches have to be closed. One can be open, you get in, you go down and you open the bottom one. But when I looked into that porthole, looking into that other side of that door, it was full of water. So I asked him, "How are we gonna get out. I can't open that door." Because it opened against the water and I said, "I can't open the door." So they came down and they took a hatch cover off in the blower room. Then we went up through the catwalks and out into the blower room. And that's the only way we got out of there.

When we got out, I couldn't believe it because I hadda wade [ ], the main deck was about that far below the water level. Above it, above the water level. The, the, the sea was in. The old one deck. Forward the forecastle was above that. So we could still use our antiaircraft battery but we didn't have any air. We couldn't bring the guns back to battery. Once you fired em, they'd go back but you have to have air to bring em back to battery. And we got torpedo [ ] from the [ ] and then we could use it.

So they kept 21 people aboard that knew the ship. And we were also gun crew. And everybody else was transferred. And you just made out the best you could. Now I went, when that - whatever they dropped came through the bridge, came down. And it hit the uptake. But the concussion, where the six stacks come together, that concussion crushed it. And that's when I got a piece of shrapnel, I got a hunk of steel hung in there that came through. But that's all armor deck over your head too. So it was something that was broke loose from that shock. And all I had on was a pair of white shorts, 'cause I went up to get that paper with, that's all I had on. Just a pair of shorts. No skivvy shirt, no sox, no shoes, no nothin. And I had a pair of rubbers that I picked up. I had a pair of rubbers and those white shorts. That's all the clothes I had. Everything was under water then.

And at first we had no place to go for food. And at first, we were just forgotten. Other that being at our gun platform. And they, the Navy Yard sent us a little dumpy boiler. It was about that big around, about that high. One of those round things with a stack on it and it was oil fired. And it had a whistle. No, you couldn't use a radio. Everything was radio silence. So they said, "Any time you got problems, blow the whistle." And that's what we depended on. But they finally got around to checkin to see who was all where.

And they said, "Well, we're going to house you people over at Craven Center, which was a recreational center in Pearl Harbor. [ ] And, not to me. I couldn't see that. They put mattresses down in the bowling alley. So anything you had to keep, you stuck under your mattress. But when you walked away, who else is going to go under your mattress? So I made up my mind, "No, I'll come in to eat but that's it." And I changed my mind later on about that too. I didn't even go in to eat. We would ah, we would wait.

The submarine people would set their food out for the submarines when they'd come in and we'd go over there and get what we needed. We'd get it off the dock without any requisition. We just helped ourselves. And from the submarine dock to where we were was quite a distance. So as soon as it would get dark, we would start. Get an old life jacket and you'd keep goin. No lights. And we'd go over there. And you'd look up on the dock and you'd pick out, pick through what you wanted. And you put it in a, what we had was like a garbage can. It was all covered and you used it for a ready box for ammunition. And we'd get that in and it'd be just enough to float, and then we'd float it back. When we'd get aboard we had enough to live off for two days, and then we'd have to go and get a refill.

Now they knew we were getting it and they would always set something off on the side. And we got so we knew that. And they knew. We knew they were watching us and, but we never got hungry.

{The first tape ends here}.

L: Ken, explain to me, what did Pearl Harbor look like after the attack? What did it look like?

R: The one thing that stuck out in my mind was there was a big chimney, smokestack that stood up there. And there was a nice round hole in it. Now, if it had been live ammunition that did that, the whole stack woulda come down. So it had to be one of our practice shells. And it was fired from the broadside battery which was used normally for surface craft.

So, I know we fired everything we had and practice ammunition was mostly what we had. The rest of it was all down in the hold. And the ready boxes were the only thing that had live ammunition. So the, you couldn't tell. There was smoke and in, actually when you get right down to it, you didn't give a damn. You wanted to get back to your ship. You knew what that looked like.

Now I got hit with shrapnel. I didn't turn in to sick bay because when I got to go and look the ship over, No.5 casemate, which was a broadside battery, gun, opened up and got a direct hit with a bomb. Now the gun crew was on that gun and they were spread all over the bulkhead. So when I went up, I hadda go up and look. I hadda see and when I'm there looking - I knew some of the guys that were on that gun, two officers in whites, spotless whites, uniform of the day. They had been ashore, coats off, sleeves up, did this, scuffed their arms up. They put in for the Purple Heart and they got it. And I made up my mind, no way do I want something that is that easy to get. So I never put in for it.

When I had about 16 years in the Navy, I figured I would like to have it. So I made out a request and I put it in, I turned it in. Got as far as the personnel officer. He called me up. He said, "I've discussed this with the commanding officer, executive officer and your chief engineer. But I've got to tell you this: if we send this in, you're gonna, just as sure as the day is long, you're gonna get a court martial." "Why?" "Because you're concealing an injury." He says, "Now, here is your request. If you wanna put it on, if you want it to go through, you can leave it here." But he says, "You sit here and think about it." He got up and walked out. So I picked it up. I had sixteen years in the Navy. See I wasn't about to lose that. So I took it and it went in the trash.

Now when I had a little better than twenty years, I thought, well, I got twenty in. At least I'll have that much. So I put in for it again. Then it went through. And I got a letter from the Secretary of the Navy in which it stated that I would have to have four eye- witnesses. I would have to have the name of the doctor that tended it, what his report was. And I looked at that and I said, "To hell with this." And I just let it go. I didn't want it. Because if it was that easy to get and that hard to get to, I didn't want nothin to do with it.

So now I retired. And in order… I couldn't retire just outright. Because I was on recruiting duty. You cannot retire from shore duty. You have to go back to sea if you're sea rate. And I made up my mind, I'm going to retire from this duty. I'm not going back to sea. So I put in a request to be transferred to Great Lakes Naval Hospital at Great Lakes, Illinois for a complete physical evaluation prior to discharge. They could not deny it.

So now I got that. I got medical, board of medical survey papers. I got that. I got what picked, the Na… the Bureau of Personnel says, "Nothing in your records verifies this." That's why it went to the Secretary of the Navy. So I got, I asked for a complete copy of my records. So they put everything on cards. So they sent me my whole record. The old ones. Not any good to them. Everything they got is on tape or whatever. And I went through my records and I found various papers that referred to the treatment and to me, it was enough.

So now when this piece of shrapnel came off, I went to the foot doctor, Dr. Smith. Mark Smith. And he's got the piece of shrapnel yet. So he wrote a letter stating what treatment he had done. I had a callus under the ball of my foot that was like a golf ball. And I would keep grinding it off with a handy grinder because I couldn't walk. And then one day it went through and the water squirted all over. And that's when I knew that there was an ulcer under there as big as a egg. So I cut the heavy stuff off and then I went to doc Smith and he's been treating it now for a little better than two years. And it wouldn't heal. So he suspected I had diabetes. I suspected I had diabetes, but every time they tested, no, I don't. But because it's where it is, you, every step you take, you tear all the new growth, it wouldn't go.

So he did pretty good getting it to heal from that size of an egg down to about the size of my thumbnail. But then it stopped. It wouldn't heal. It was always raw and it drains. So he sent me to the hospital for whirlpool. So for awhile I was going until it was the size of my nail, little fingernail and then it quit.

And then my insurance and the hospital sent me a bill. The bill from the insurance was what they had paid toward this treatment. And the hospital was what I owed. And that boggled my mind because when you added it all up, it was over $5,000.00. So I told em what they could do with that. I'm not goin back to that hospital. Because that, in my opinion, they kept that open so that it would drain, drain, wouldn't heal. And I went to my doctor and I told him, "I'm not goin back." I can go to Walgreens and buy a foot whirlpool. That'll cost me 50 bucks. It won't cost me no 4-5 thousand dollars. I can do that myself.

And I had to provide the medication. The only thing they used, they charged for, was the bandaging. And the labor of the people doin the work. They could have put a whole new unit in for what I paid. But now since I've been doing it, it's been maybe four weeks, five weeks. But now, you know what a ball peen hammer is? If you take a ball peen hammer and hit a piece of wood, you get a dimple. Okay, if that dimple was about that deep and eh, maybe that big around, that's what I got left since I've been doin it myself.

And the medication. One was $35.00, and the other one was $17.00. And they come two units in a package. So you hadda buy twice as much. So the first time it's $70.00 and the next time it's $38.00. So I still, I'm still using what I bought for them to use. But I hadda ask for it. "We can't give you that. That's prescribed stuff." I paid for it, so I got it.

L: Well what happened after Pearl Harbor. Where did you go? Did you stay with the Nevada?

R: I stayed with the Nevada. I stayed with the Nevada until ah, Attu. You what Attu? That was up in the Alaskan chain. The Japanese had moved into Attu. They were headin towards Alaska. And we went up there. And the reason for that was to set up a remote control base. And that's when, where the Nevada got its Japanese nickname. The "{Tetu} Moru." "The Ghost Ship." Because there was usually so much fog up there that the only thing that you could see above the fog was our foretop. That would be the only thing that was up there. But you could see other ships and you had to be very careful. 'Cause you can't see through that dense a fog either. But the radar was above the masts and they knew. They knew that we were being watched. But because we were there, I think we prohibited them from moving in towards Alaska. And that North Bering Sea is wicked.

L: How so?

R: Wet, hard, high seas. Most of the crew would be up there chopping ice off the bow to get some of the weight off the ship. See, that's no place to be, period. And of course, that's where, they could come through the, that Kuril Chain of islands. They could work their way right in to Alaska. Once they get to Alaska, Alaska had no defenses to speak of

L: Ken, how did you feel about the Japanese after Pearl Harbor? How did…

R: Then? Right then? I guess it was hate. You know. But as time went by, it's like now, the Japanese people, like now you got a dog. And if you don't train that dog, it'll do things it's not supposed to do. And if he's told to something wrong, he'll do it. And that's what the Japanese people were getting. They had leadership. I don't think that their leadership was the only thing. In the back of my mind, we had people in our country, leaders, that knew exactly what was gonna happen, if not when. They knew what was gonna happen. But they didn't warn the people. They didn't warn us. And they knew what was gonna happen. And I think I was more bitter about that than I was about them. I still am.

Now a lot of people were blamed for being responsible for that baloney over there at Pearl Harbor. Some were not in any way shape or form. But some were. And I think Roosevelt was one that knew. He didn't know when. But he knew it was bound to happen. He didn't know how or where. But he knew it was going to happen.

L: Did the average sailor like yourself think much about Japan as an enemy, potential enemy for a possible attack on Pearl Harbor?

R: No. It was good liberty. That was it. Because most of the [ ] from the service knew that it was good living. But the Japanese were, and are, very secretive. You didn't know what they were planning. They spoke out of both sides of their mouth and they got a face on both sides of their head. So you, you didn't know. And if you didn't have no reason to suspect em, you didn't. But once you did ah, I never went ashore in Japan. Not since, even though I've been over there since everything has settled down. Unh, unh, I don't wanna go back. And it's just like Pearl Harbor. I don't wanna go back there either. Because I would remember everything that went on. And I don't wanna remember it. I'm trying to forget it. You put it out of your mind I guess, but you never forget it.

So…. I figured lately now, I figured, I talked to Governor Thompson when he was here. When his dad, when George Bush, the original president went through Oshkosh, he used the First Congregational Church as an FBI headquarters. So when he came over, I talked to him. And I talked to Thompson then. And he said, "Well, write a letter." And after being turned back, turned down so many times it's hard to sit down and write a letter.

I go to the First Congregational Church. I do the security work there. And I was sittin at the desk one day and I was trying to write this letter. I had written one letter to one senator and I never heard a thing. Nothin. And they said, "Try again." Now I'm sittin, tryin to write this letter and one of the co-pastors says, "What's the matter?" And I says, "I'm trying to write letter for that Purple Heart. I said I get so far and I get frustrated and I get angry and I throw it away. I can't write it. And she says, "Well, maybe I can write it." She took all the papers I had and she went in her little office. And I didn't see her anymore after that. She never mentioned it. But she sent it to Fiengold. So I'm waiting to hear from him. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. But if I don't, never again will I try to get that Purple Heart. What she did is, her and her people, they made a Purple Heart. And they made a certificate and they presented that to me because I have never gotten the other one. And I still got that.

L: What happened after Alaska Ken? [ ]

R: Well, we went back down. We were in Long Beach. We were anchored in Long Beach and they were looking for somebody for new construction. So I put in for it. And I got it. And I was assigned to the Craft Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia. They were building the five cruisers and I stayed with the last one. And that's where I put the chief's hat on. That's where I…. I learned a lot of things there. And then because…

L: The Astoria.

R: The Astoria. And then because I was running short on time for enlistment ah, my enlistments were all for six years. So that comes to eighteen, it doesn't come to a full four years to come in so you can come twenty or thirty. I put in for new construction and shore duty at the same time. I got the new construction. And I learned, when I first went to the Craft Shipbuilding Company, I went to see the {group} ships there. And I told em, I want a road map of the cruisers. And he says, "What in God's earth do you want with a road map of a cruiser?" I says, "If I'm gonna be aboard it, I wanna know where everything is." He shook his head, called his secretary and called for a number he got out of, and he said, "I want a copy of it." And she brought it in and I got it.

Which meant that every piece that was going on that ship, if it was in the way, if it didn't fit right, if it didn't look right, I'd get that roadmap out and it was just like a regular map. Like a city map. And I'd [ ] and I'd send it to {group} ship. This isn't right. This'll never work. This is in the way. This goes the wrong way. This hose is hooked up to a fire main. This is hooked up to a gasoline line. And, and ah, it got to a point where he wouldn't permit me aboard any more than two hours a day. But when you do that, and he explained it, when you do that, you know it, the changes that you don't notice if you're there every day.

And I made a lot of points. But because my enlistment was short and they had gone from E-7, which is a chief petty officer, to E-8. I was qualified for E-8, I went up for E-8. I passed it but I never got it because they determined I wasn't going to be in long enough to have it. Give it to a younger person. So I never got it. Ah, it didn't really jar me much. Ah, the difference in pay wasn't that much. But even though there was E-8s coming, I had more authority than they did because I knew more about the ship than they did.

And I went to the, from there, I went to the destroyers for full time duty. And I went, when I got to be a short timer there, I went to a destroyer tender. The {Cadmus}. And there we had ah, two repair officers. Actually one was for deck and one was for below deck. And our chief engineer was the acting one for engineering. For repair. And he said, "I know you've been assigned this ship as crew. But I'm reassigning you now as crew and repair." And signed the papers.

And there I had more authority than most chief petty officers did. I had more authority than some warrant officers did. Because when a ship would come alongside, and they would want this and this, "you can't do that." You haven't got enough money in your budget to do this. And I might have made a few points because I never got, I never got backed off. If I said, "No, we can't do that," we didn't do it. And if I would suggest an alternate, that's what was done. They never argued about it. And when I was on the {Cadmus} was when I put in, I took the shore duty.

And I told the secretary in Philadelphia, which was in Indianapolis, which was Ninth Naval District Headquarters; I told her, "When my advance copy comes in,' 'cause I knew I'd have to back to sea, "When my advance copy comes in, give me a call." I was in Bloomington, Indiana with the college. She called me one morning and she says, "Your advance are in." I says, "Where do I go?" She says, "You're on a fast recommissioned destroyer out of San Diego which is training recruits." I said, "Noooo, I'm not." I said, "What are you drinkin?" And she says, "Four Roses." Okay. Four Roses came four fifths in a case. So I got a case of Four Roses and I took em to her. And I also gave her that letter requesting to be transferred to the hospital. She says, "That little red-head went crazy." He was the commander of the Ninth Naval District. He went crazy because he said, "You will never , you will never go any place but back to sea." "You people with all that sea lawyer business. You don't hit me at all. You say here, until you're up and then you go there."

L: Did you ever go back to Oshkosh during the war?

R: Oh, yeah. In 1944 I got married here. I come back on leave once in awhile.

L: What was it like when you came back during the war? What was your town like?

R: What was it like? I guess when I first came back I used to make the rounds of where I used to go before I enlisted in the Navy. But it was changed.

L: How?

R: Well, it just wasn't the same. They were a bunch of selfish people. Everybody was lookin out of, for themselves and nobody else. And ah, I'm not born that way. Ah, if you can help somebody, you help em. If you can't, you can't. Ah, maybe I'm changing now. I work for the food pantry. The ecumenical food pantry. My wife and I worked for them for about 13 years. And people, when we first started our, if we had $50.00 to buy stuff with, man, we figured we was rich. But now we got six churches that back that food pantry up. And sometimes we get over $2,000.00, $3,000.00 that we can buy. We go to Omro to that surplus food outfit and buy. And we buy, we can buy meat and Mrs. Bradley gives us eggs. And, but, right now with all the lay-offs and all of this, we are getting people, in my opinion, having watched this grow, they no more need assistance than the man in the moon.

Ah, just the other day, the hallway was full of people waiting to get into the food pantry. Most of em were all young college guys. Why did they come? Because they spent all their money on spring break. They don't have any money to buy food. And they were comin. We give eggs, we give pizza, we give meat, hot dogs with ground turkey, and pizza. And they come and get that.

{Mr. Roehl goes on at some length here about possible abuses of the food pantry privileges. This is being omitted}.

L: How did you meet your wife?

R: Well, that's a long story. I went to school with her many, many years ago and then we split, we moved, we [ ] you know. And then I came home on leave one time. My aunt and uncle lived here and my aunt says, "You know any gals in town?" Not one, not very many. I been out of town too long. My aunt says, "Well, I know a young lady you might like. I'll tell her. You'll have her tonight." That was that gal that I went to school with. But my wife won't admit that. She won't admit that. But, well, maybe two years and we tied the knot.

L: In 1944?

R: We tied it in '44 so…

L: Were you here?

R: Yeah.

L: Then did she stay here or did she go off to Philadelphia with you?

R: No. She went, we went to Philadelphia right after we got married. But she wouldn't leave the States. Ah, we were in Philadelphia and when we left we went on the owl train to get to, to get out of here. And when we got to Philadelphia, there was a transportation, no taxis, no buses ah, strike. So in order to get from the depot, I had rented a room in an apartment, hotel. In order to get to that apartment, I hadda call New Jersey and get a cab from New Jersey to come and take us over.

And then we lived in Norfolk, she was with me there. And then when I'd go overseas - we'd go overseas for an extended cruise - then she'd come back to Oshkosh.

L: Can I ask you another question about the war? Did you ever think we would lose the war after…?

R: No.

L: Why not?

R: Because I know that our people were trained to do a job. You didn't have to get on em. Now like the people that were on that other ship that were locked up. They were locked up. They couldn't do their job. But if they coulda got in and done their job, those Japs would have been shot down like crazy. But they couldn't get to it.

And while I was on destroyers, we would go down between the ah, coast of Japan and just shoot the hell out of everything. They had tunnels and the trains would come through and we'd just cruise along and shoot at a train that would peek out of one and shoot it off of there.

And ah, when the marines were blocked in, we were layin out there ah, on that one thing where they ah, the marines were pinned down real bad.

L: Iwo Jima?

R: Yeah, no, no. Iwo Jima was all the way over, in Japan. We laid off and we gave em ground support with our aircraft, our broadside batteries.

L: Okinawa?

R: Yeah. And you know, you know that those guys were doin their job. And we did ours. You know what a gun barrel is. They got a brass liner and when it, when you look at a gun, when you got it there, it's flat. And after you make about two trips down the coast and that brass barrel's stickin out that far, you know you shot, you done a lot of shooting.

And when the marines would get on the radio and give you a bunch of thank-yous and a whole bunch of hoop-las, you know you did some good. So you know that they did what they hadda do.

So I ah, have changed my opinion about the army, what it was when I was a kid. And, but I also know that I passed on the word to my son when he was old enough, and he found women, and his marks were goin down over here at the college. I said, "You better start lookin because if your marks keep goin down, they're gonna put you in. You better decide which one you're gonna go in. If you go in the army it's this. If you go in the navy, it's that. If you go here, it's air force, it's that. If you go in the navy, you go with your house. You don't have to live in a dump." He went every place except the navy. And then when he did, he didn't tell me until he was ready to go. Because, anything but what pa did.

So he went in the Navy and I told him, "The only advice I will give you, I won't give you a bunch. The only advice I'll give you is: go to school. Every school you can get. Go! Go! Go! Go and don't… Study. Pass it." And thank God, he did.

{At this point, Mr. Roehl discusses his son's career at length. This is being omitted}.

R: They got a bar room downstairs and every time I went there these guys are sittin, cryin in their beer. I don't wanna do that. The heck with them. If they want to do that, let em do it. I don't want to watch it.

I don't want to join the Pearl Harbor Survivors for the simple reason. One time I went to a ceremony over on the south side, where they had that ceremony on December the 7th. And these guys that weren't as old as I am - but they look it - older. And they're all standing there and "blaaa," cryin you know. And I can't handle that either. I don't want nothin to do with that.

The good Lord let's me wake up in the morning, I'm gonna have a good day and nobody's gonna tear it down for me.

L: When were you born?

R: I was born in '21. So I'm gonna hit my four score and one this June.

L: Well, it's been a real honor for me to talk to you Ken. I've really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. Thanks a lot.

R: Okay.
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Object ID OH2001.3.30
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
People Roehl, Ken
Subjects World War II
Pacific Theater of Operations
United States Navy
Ship accidents
Ships
Shipwrecks
Pearl Harbor
Title Oral History Interview with Ken Roehl
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009