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Record 61/959
Cassette recorded oral history interview with Henry H. Roesler. He served in the United States Navy from March 24, 1944 to May 18, 1946 and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill as a Machinist Mate 3rd Class. The Bunker Hill was in the Pacific Theater of Operations when it was attacked by Kamikazi suicide pilots off the coast of Okinawa in 1945. Henry Roesler Interview 21 April 2004 Conducted by Bradley Larson (B: identifies the interviewer, Bradley Larson; H: identifies the subject, Henry Roesler. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear). B: It's April 21st, 2004 and this is Brad Larson. I am in my office with Henry Roesler. And Henry, I guess we are set to go then? H: I'm ready when you're ready. B: Like I said, we'll start. If you could just give me your date of birth to begin with. H: I was born October 3rd, 1923. B: And where were you born? H: I was born in Milwaukee. B: And what were your parent's names? H: William and Amelia Roesler. B: So you were born in 1923. When did you really start to become aware of things that were happening overseas? Like what was happening in Europe or what was happening in the Pacific. When did that really start to, when were you really aware of those? H: Oh, that was about in 1937-38, somewhere around in that particular category there. B: You were about 15 years old maybe, something like that? H: Yeah. I was in high school and of course the brunt of the thing, that we were aware of was what was happening in Europe over there. They had the Anschluss of Austria and they had the Anschluss of Serbia, I should say Czechoslovakia. And well then things transpired from there and you're always watching things in that particular respect. B: Did you or your family members, did you think that the United States was going to be involved in the war or did you think that we may be able to stay out of it? H: Well, I kinda think that I had a feeling that we might be able to stay out of it. I believe that one of the senators from Michigan, I think his name was Vandenberg, and he was an isolationist, you know. And I suppose with the proximity of us to Michigan, we kinda paid attention to that particular thing. And he was always advocating, you know, that the United States should keep their nose out of what's going on over there. So that we don't get ourselves involved in the war. B: Do you think that that was a pretty common held belief among your circle of friends at that time? H: It probably was although we didn't discuss it. B: You didn't? H: Naw, we were just kids, you know. B: Do you recall, did things, was there a time when things started to change and you began to think, "This isn't so good?" H: Well I think the closest I come to that particular situation was when they sank that destroyer off of Iceland in the Atlantic Ocean over there. The German submarine sank that destroyer, see? And I thought, boy, this is getting to be critical. The fact is, on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, when they made the announcement, well what the circumstances were; they didn't make an announcement that we had been attacked. They were looking for all the Milwaukee Journal newspaper boys to go to their paper stations so that they would sell extra editions you know, of papers. We used to sell extras back in those days. And I said to my brother, he and I were together, I says, "I bet we're in a war with the Germans." And then when we got home, he and I were at an ice rink down there, and when we got home we found out that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Then I was real surprised. B: What was the feeling toward Japan at the time? Do you remember? Prior to the attack. H: Well I don't remember too many details about that. There were things in the paper of course about the negotiations with the Japanese and so forth and so on. But what the situation was with the war going on in Europe over there, that was the main thing that you'd always be reading about in the newspapers. And I never gave too much thought about the Japanese over there. I mean as far as my age category was concerned, you know. B: Well what happened after Pearl Harbor then with you and your brother? You would have been what, let's see you were born '23 so you would have been 17? H: Yeah. Well I was serving an apprenticeship as a machinist at the Rex Chain Belt Company in Milwaukee. And I started that apprenticeship in October of 1941. And the surprising thing, when I went to work at the company there, I was put into the gun shop. And when I heard that name "gun shop" I thought it was just a generic name that they had for a certain part of their manufacturing process over there. Well, I walk into this place and here I see these barrels for cannon and the other mechanisms and stuff like that. Well then I knew that we were actually making cannons. We were making the 105-millimeter howitzers. And so as a consequence, when the war came along in December, well then we went to seven days a week work. And because I was working in a major defense industry, I had a whole year's deferment as far as the military was concerned. There was two things that was involved there. At that particular time the draft age was 21. See and I was only 18. So, I can't remember what year it was, I think it probably was in 1942 that they changed the draft law and they dropped the age down to 18. And well from that time on, then I had my year deferment and I didn't go into the service until 19444. B: What did you do in the war production end of it, in that factory? What was your job? H: Well as I said, I was an apprentice. And then - apprentice machinist. And in an apprenticeship like that, you're exposed to as many machines as possible. Engine lathe, turret lathe, milling machines, grinders, drill presses, broaches and so forth and so on. And in each one of these instances where I was working on these machines, it was always making parts for these 105 mm. Howitzers. It was a kind of a repetitive thing. It was a little bit discouraging because you'd probably make two or three thousand trigger shafts, for example. And it takes you about a week or a week and a half to do that. And that gets to be a little boring after awhile. B: Do you remember what the general mood in that factory was, or the general mood after Pearl Harbor when the nation was at war. And all of a sudden things were different. Can you remember what the general mood was? Could you try to explain that to me? Thinking back on it, what was it like in 1942? H: Well of course the people were rather concerned because we actually were in the war. And I don't have a good recall on it, to tell you the truth, of what the mood was. I knew a lot of people were happy because they were working long hours and they were making a lot of money, where we had just come out of the Depression. And even back at that time we'd hear about inflation, you know. And people were concerned about the inflationary factor there. Of course they had price controls that were in effect. Every once in awhile the government would come along and they'd say well, they can raise the wages a little bit here and there, you know. So it wasn't extreme. B: So were you then, did you enlist or were you drafted? H: No, I was drafted. B: Do you remember that day when you got your draft notice? H: Yeah. To a degree. One of the things that surprised me most, as told you that I had a year's deferment. Well I had the first six months deferment and that time was running out. And the guy's were being drafted left and right, you know. Even in the plant where I was working there, see? And I was talking to this one foreman and I told him I expected I was going to be drafted, you know. He says, "What makes you think so?" And I says, "Well, everybody's goin." And he says, "Well I don't know about that." He must have known something that I didn't know. And it was only about two or three weeks after that, well I get this notice from the draft board that I had been deferred for another six months. And I was real surprised. So I was more surprised about getting that deferment than I was when I got the notice that I was going to be drafted. B: So then you got drafted and could you explain that whole process? What happened to you and where you went? H: Well we had a process down there in Milwaukee. I don't know if they people from Oshkosh were involved in that same manner. We got the notice that we were going to be drafted and then we hadda go to a, it was what they call a Johnson's Emergency Hospital. It was in the mid-Milwaukee area near the Eagles Club. And we had some routine physical things there. They took a blood test and listened to your ticker, and blood pressure, and check your eyes and stuff like that. It was kind of a routine situation, see? And then at a later date, it must have been about a month, something like that, we had to go to a pre-induction physical - they call that. And down in the produce section of Milwaukee down there, right across the river from downtown Milwaukee they had a big facility and they brought in people from eastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. And they were processed through that center there. And we had a physical. We hadda report there early in the morning, about seven o'clock, something like that. And all through the day we went through this procedure and that, went all they way up and down the line. And at noontime they stopped and they fed us. Then in the afternoon we started up again and then we went until about four o'clock in the afternoon. And it was at that particular time when a decision was made into what branch of the service you were gonna go. And I kinda think that they just did this on a kind of an optional basis. By late afternoon there, things were kinda straggling along like that. And they had lines painted on the floor to show you which way to go. About three or four stories high and you ended up on this ground floor level. And there was a sergeant that was sittin behind the desk. There was a guy ahead of me and the sergeant said to him, "What branch of the service do you want?" And this guy says that he wanted to go in the Army. And the sergeant says, "Okay." We had some papers and he took his stamp and he stamped. "Okay," he says, and he stamped his papers, Army, Army, Army. So I was the next one and he said to me, "What branch of the service do you want to go in?" And I says, "I want to go in the Navy." And he says, "Okay." And he stamped my papers Navy. There was a guy right behind me and he walked to the desk and the sergeant said to him, "You're in the Marine Corps." And the guy didn't want to go. And they were arguing there. And the sergeant says to him, "Out," he says, "You're in the Marine Corps," he says. So I kind think that I hit it lucky you know, that it was a 1-2-3, 1-2-3. It was Army, Navy, Marines in that particular manner. B: Why did you want to go in the Navy? Was there a reason why you had said Navy? H: Yeah. I kinda was fascinated with the Navy for years. When I was a little kid there was a guy in our neighborhood, well the fact is he and my brother were going to go into the Navy together. And this was in the 30's. Probably about '32, '33, somewhere around in there. And they went down to the Navy recruiting and they went through the procedures over there. And this fellow was accepted in the Navy. My brother was rejected because he had a slight eye defect, you know. He didn't have good eyesight in both eyes although he could see okay, you know. So my brother would write letters to him and he'd send stuff back. And he was stationed on the battleship Texas. USS Texas down in San Pedro, California. And of course I would read those letters, you know and he would send pictures and things like that. Then there was another thing. They made a number of movies during the 30's, well all the way up until the war like that. And they had Navy backgrounds, you know. Like James Cagney and Pat O'Brien were in some of the movies, you know. And Errol Flynn and, well there were some other well-known actors like that. Well, even Joe E. Brown was in a movie or two that involved the Navy, you know. So it kinda piqued your interest in that particular respect. That movie with Errol Flynn, it was entitled, "Flight Surgeon." And it dealt with guys that were flying off of aircraft carriers. And of course they were going through these extreme conditions in dive-bombing and everything like that. And they were investigating the forces on their body and everything like that. And it was kind of interesting to me and that's one of the reasons… I ended up on an aircraft carrier when I was in the Navy and that kind of piqued my interest too, you know, in that particular respect. B: From there you were sent to boot camp right away? H: No. What happened, we went through that procedure there at the pre-induction station. And then there was a deferral there of about three or four weeks again before I actually had to get inducted. And then the Navy had a big recruiting center down there in the Plankington Building. And we hadda go down there. We had another physical exam just like we had at the pre-induction station over there, you know. So we went through the whole routine and you walked around all day long with no clothes on. I don't know if you experienced that when you, oh you did huh? They started about seven o'clock in the morning, something like that, you know. Gave us a box to put our clothes in and they'd send us through this doggone procedure. And the only reason I'm mentioning this is in contrast to this situation that we had at the pre-induction station, when it got to be noon we figured we were gonna eat, see? And they weren't feeding us. So we started asking questions, "When we gonna eat, when we gonna eat?" They laughed at us, you know. That was it, you know. So they just kept us going until it was about 3'30, something like, about 3 o'clock or somewhere around that particular… Then we finished up and there's a circumstance too that was so different when you look at the situation like with the Vietnam War. Where these guys were chasing off to Canada and places like that to avoid this particular situation. When we were done there, they said to us, "Do you guys know where the North Shore Station is?" There was a North Shore Railroad that ran between Milwaukee and Chicago. It was an electric line over there. We said, yeah, we knew where it was. And so they says, "Well you go on over there and then you get on the train and then you go down to Great Lakes." And then we said, "Well, where's our fare?" He says, "Don't worry about the fare." Because see, when we left, when I hadda report to the Navy recruiting office, we went to the draft board first. And the draft board was only two blocks from where I lived. We went on up there and reported on in and they gave us carfare. And they told us exactly how to get down, they said, "Get on such and such a streetcar." It was on Vliet Street over there. And that streetcar went right down to the Navy recruiting office over there, see? So when we left the naval recruiting office in Milwaukee, we figured they were going to give us fare. And they says, "No, you just go board the train." Well we did that. Nobody took us down there. Then when the conductor came around, we told him we were goin to Great Lakes. And we got down to Great Lakes, got off. Then that was a funny thing too. You know you figure there's going to be somebody there to meet ya. And these guys at the gate over there, we told em we were from Milwaukee and we were gonna go in the Navy. And they kinda scratched their head and they said, "Well go over there by that warehouse over there." So we went over there and we stood around there for quite some time. And there were other guys that were assembling there at that particular point. And that spring, in this part of the state, or this part of the country, it was cold. I went in on March 24th of '44 and we had three-four inches of snow on the ground in Milwaukee at that particular time. And when I left home I had on wool pants, and I had a wool shirt on, and a jacket and a cap. And we got down there to Great Lakes and there were guys from Missouri and Alabama that were thrown together with us. And it probably had been warm down there and those poor guys were out there in their shirtsleeves. And they were freezing. I felt sorry for em. Some of em even had short sleeve shirts on. B: Had you been away from Milwaukee before you had gone? Had you traveled much prior to this? H: Only once. My mother, who was born in Europe, she had a sister who was living in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada. Spruce Grove was about fifteen miles from Edmonton. And my mother hadn't seen her sister in thirty years. And we had an opportunity to travel and that was my first experience. So my mother and I, we went up on the train to Alberta and visited her. But that was the only time that I had ever done any traveling. Up until that time, I had never been further north than Sheboygan, further west than Watertown or further south than Chicago. B: Not an uncommon thing I think for at that time. How did you find boot camp? H: Well, because we weren't used to the regulations and stuff like that, you know. And then you hadda do this and that, the next thing you know. And sometimes you scratched your head and you wondered about it. When I look back, and I thought about this through the years, my boot camp was kind of a joke. I said it was mainly that they kept you over there for a period of time. They couldn't give you all the shots in one day. So they give you a shot, well a lot of times we got two shots but then there would be a week that would go by before you got some more shots, you know. And so forth and so on, see? I was only in boot camp for five weeks. And there was a Chief Petty Officer that was in charge of this thing, this company that we were in there. And we were only there about two weeks or so and they pulled him out of there and they put him in charge of a draft that went out to California. He accompanied a troop train out there and then he came on back. So there was a Third Class Petty Officer that was in charge then. He was a bosun. And what we primarily did was we would have close order drill, you know. And we'd go swimming because they wanted us to be good swimmers, you know. But we did a lot of laying around. It was kind of boring, you know. Sit around for five, six hours just doin nothing, you know. We did have some classes. Where we went to ship and plane recognition. Got pretty good at that, you know. They had these [existoscopes] and they would show you silhouettes of different ships. They would just flash em on the screen momentarily like that. And then they were all American ships, is what they were. And then you had to identify the destroyers, and cruisers and battleships. And then the different planes. I suppose what the idea was, like mostly with the planes, that we would recognize the American planes as opposed to the Japanese, you know. Or might even be Germans if you were going in that particular direction. B: What happened after boot camp then? The five weeks were up. Where did they send you then? H: I was selected to go to a basic engineering school. And that was at Great Lakes too. And that was an eight-week course that I was in there. Seven weeks of that was machine shop and I was pretty familiar with that because I had been serving an apprenticeship for two and a half years as far as machine shop was concerned. And then the final week we were exposed to a lot of things like steam engines and pumps, things of that nature. B: Did that seem to come to you pretty easily because of your background? H: Yeah. See, we had, it was kind of interesting. We went to school at nighttime and I liked that. We started at four o'clock in the afternoon with this class and then we went to midnight. And we had a break there around six, somewhere around in there for an evening meal. And the first part of the, from four o'clock to six o'clock we had classroom classes. We had mathematics and we had drafting. And I think we had blueprint reading in that timeframe every day for an eight-week period. And then after we came back from eating out evening meal, then we went into the shop. They had a beautiful… B: Practical. H: They had a beautiful shop down there. A machine shop. And then we were exposed to the different machines that they had available over there. B: When that concluded were you assigned to a vessel then? H: No, no. When I finished up the basic engineering school I had liberty the last weekend that I was down there. We had liberty at, only at two-week intervals. They would give us a weekend liberty. Then we had a liberty there at the end and I came back from that liberty and they told me that I was going to go down to Richmond, Virginia to a diesel school. So I got put on a troop train and got shipped down to Richmond down over there. B: What was that troop train like? Could you explain that or describe that? H: Yeah. It was like a boxcar is what it was. And instead of having the type of doors that they have on the typical boxcar, they had like a Dutch door on there. You know it was half, and you could open and close the top. And then they had bunks in there like you would have in the barracks. And well, that's what we had for our transport there. But they had a regular diner on the car. So when it was time to eat, we would go to this regular dining car and have our meals and then come on back to the troop train there. And we spent a lot of time as I told you with this kind of like a Dutch door there. Well we'd stand there and we could look over the countryside. B: It must have been a pretty exciting time though. H: Yeah. B: A young guy, you know. Being away from home for the first time. It must have been very… H: It was you know. And it was interesting. I mean you know, you go through Ohio and through West Virginia and into Virginia. It was pretty. And well, some of the guys, they must have had some knowledge about some of those things. Because when we were down there in the West Virginia area there was some real exclusive country club type thing, you know. And when we went by there, some of the guys, they pointed it out and they said, "That's…" I can't remember the name of it but that was a real exclusive, where all the wealthy, they used to spend their time there. B: Well you know that's one of the things about the military, is you're thrown in with a group of men from all walks of life. From every state. So it's always, it never ceases to amaze me anyway about what people know or what they've experienced. So what happened at the diesel school and afterwards? H: Well when I finished up the diesel school, that was a five week course, and I had taken an examination with abut 35 other guys and the purpose of this examination was to see if we could get into a V-12 program. The Navy had a V-5 program and they had a V-12 program. I can't remember about the V-5. I think it had something to do with flying. But the V-12 program, if you were accepted into this program, then you would go to a college or a university and you'd get, you'd fall right into the regular routine that you had there for education. But you were in uniform and you had drills and stuff like that all the way up and down the line. But you were actually getting a college education at that particular time, see? Well out of those 35 guys that took that test there was a fellow from California and I, we were the only two that were accepted on this particular thing. So we were held there at Richmond and I was hoping that I'd be able to get back home to go to, I think I had stipulated that I wanted to go to Marquette University. And while I laid around down there for about a month I finished up that diesel school and I would check every other day at the personnel office to find out what the circumstances was. And finally I walked in there one day and they said, "We're sorry that you were not chosen in the final analysis to be a participant in this V-12 program." The way this was set up, each naval district, they were allotted a certain number of men that could go into this program, see? And I was in the, at that particular time when I was down there at Richmond, I believe it was the 5th Naval District. So you hadda compete with those people in the 5th Naval District and they gave priority to the guys who had sea duty, see? And I hadn't had any sea duty, see? So I was just, I mean that was one process of elimination there. And then after I found out that I was not accepted, well then they put me on a draft and I was sent out to Shoemaker, California. From Richmond, Virginia out to Shoemaker, that was a five-day trip on the train. Now you might think that wasn't so nice but it was. We had a regular Pullman sleeper arrangement there. The train was made entirely of these Pullman sleepers. And some guys, they had, like there was two guys in a stateroom and stuff like that. And well that was, there was only about two or three of those units that were available. But then the rest of us, we were in a regular Pullman sleeper. The upper and lower berths… The one thing I was lucky, the guys that were in the upper berths, they slept alone. The guys that were in the lower berth, you gotta sleep with some other guy. And with my situation there, see I got thrown in with these guys. I didn't know any of em. There was not a single soul that I knew on that train over there. Although I got acquainted with them in a hurry. Not because I was in the same bunk with em but we were in the same compartment. So five days we went across the country and it was kind of interesting with the food situation. When I went down to Great Lakes, from Great Lakes to Richmond we were on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and so they had their dining car on there and the food was good. And when we left Richmond and we were going west across the country, I think we went all the way to St. Louis and we were on the Baltimore and Ohio too. And we had good food. And the further west we got, the worse and the worse the food got. By the time we got out there to California the food wasn't that good. See the railroads, you'd switch from one railroad to the next one and what the railroads did, they would have their own locomotives and their own dining cars. But the Pullman cars were cars that went from coast to coast. B: And this train was composed all of servicemen? H: Yeah. There must have been oh, I'd say there'd be 10-12 cars on there. And they was just strictly all Navy personnel that went from Richmond, Virginia out to Shoemaker, California. And Shoemaker was a receiving station. It was about 35 miles out of Oakland, California. It was a kind of a mountainous region there. I'm not meaning that it was extreme mountains, you know, but you were in a mountain range situation. No trees. Everything was bare. There was… This Camp Shoemaker was there and adjoining that was Camp Parks, was a Seabee camp. And well, I mention that because my brother was in the Seabees and at one time he was stationed out there. Not when I was out there. But it was just by coincidence that he had been at Camp Parks over there too. B: So then you were assigned to your ship from Shoemaker. H: Yeah. But you know there was another situation that was kind of peculiar. I got out there at Shoemaker, California in the last part of September and I didn't get assigned aboard ship until January. So there was October, November, December, January. It was four months I was in that receiving station over there, you know. And I had been, there was about four drafts that I was identified to be going on and before I got onto the Bunker Hill. But there were two situations where we got scratched. The draft had, we'd been identified bein on this draft and we got scratched and told well we go back to our barracks where we were. And we weren't going to be going with that. But there were two other times when they put us on a bus and they took us down to Treasure Island, which is in San Francisco Bay. And we're sittin there all day long and then at the end of the day they said, "Your draft has been scratched." And they put us on the bus and they put us back to Camp Shoemaker. B: Well you certainly had your share of waiting around. What was your initial reaction when they told you, you were going to be assigned to an aircraft carrier, the Bunker Hill? Do you remember what you thought when they told you that? H: I was real surprised. I was surprised in two respects. When they posted the draft notices, we hadda check the bulletin board every day to see if you were gonna be on the draft. When your name came up on the draft, the area that you were supposed to be going to was always blacked out. And so I had gotten acquainted with a guy, I believe I had met him on the train when we were going across from Richmond out to California out there. And we were always together in the receiving station over there. And one day he came on back and he says, "Hank," he says, "You know," he says, "We're on a draft," he says, "And we're gonna go on an aircraft carrier." I says, "Baloney." I wouldn't believe it because they always had that blacked out. He says, "No, no, no." I wouldn't believe him. So I went down there and he accompanied me, you know, and here it was, the listing of all the guys that were in the draft. And on the bottom, "Assigned to the USS Bunker Hill, CV 17. Boy was I surprised! So that was the one aspect of it. I said there were two aspects where I was surprised. When we were in boot camp, they asked us what kind of ships we'd like to be on. Well I put aircraft carrier first, and battleship second, and cruiser third. I didn't want to be on a little puddle jumper. And so I thought my chances of getting on a carrier were going to be kind of remote but her it materialized that way. B: Where did you pick the ship up then? H: At the Alameda Naval Air Station. It adjoins Oakland, California. B: Do you remember your first impression when you walked up that gangway on that aircraft carrier? H: I can tell you what my expression was - impression. Before I walked up that gangway, they ran buses from Shoemaker and they took us down there to the Alameda Naval Air Station. And there probably were six or eight buses that they brought guys from there you know. And we pulled onto this dock. The ship was tied up to a dock there at the Naval Air Station and it must have been high tide. And we got out of that bus and I looked up at that ship and I thought, holy smokes, what am I getting into? I was really awe-struck you know. I'd never seen a ship that was that big, you know. So it was kind of scary, you know. And then well, I went aboard the gangway there and that was the first time I ever exercised the routine, you know. You salute the flag and then you salute the officer of the deck. I never had done that before. Although we had been informed about that. And then we were on the hanger deck and then the petty officer, Chief Petty Officer from the division that I was assigned to, he got ahold of me and then he took me down to the bunking compartment that I bunked in for quite some time. I was in A Division. That's auxiliaries. We took care of all the auxiliary equipment on the ship. Turbo generators, air compressors, steering gear, elevators that raised and lowered the planes. (The first tape ends here). B: So did they give you a period where you got to be, have some time to get acquainted with the ship before you actually got underway? H: No. It was a circumstance where you just were thrown into it, you know. And then there were circumstances there, were you aboard ship when you were in the Navy? Now I don't know how it was when you were aboard ship there but on the carrier there the officers area were painted a pastel green. And the enlisted men was white, off white. And you weren't supposed to be in that pastel green area over there you know. So if you were wandering around the ship, if you walked, most of the pastel green area was up forward on the ship on the fo'c's'le area over there. You got into that area and you say, "I'm not supposed to be there." So you got out of there, that particular thing. And the, my getting acquainted with the ship, it was mostly on the third deck where our bunking area was. And we had our mess halls down there too on the third deck. And the post office was on the third deck. The compartment that I was in, the post office was immediately behind it. And we had mess halls down there. And then way aft on the third deck was the sick bay. So I was acquainted pretty well on the third deck and then on the hanger deck. And then the enlisted men, they would always hang out on the fantail of the ship. That was a favorite hangout for the enlisted men. B: My recollection was one of great confusion until I got this all sorted out in my mind. Did you have that same? H: Yeah, unh huh. That's what it was. You know I mentioned the fantail. My duties, when I had watch, would be in the forward auxiliary or the after auxiliary. In the forward auxiliary, it was down on the seventh deck. It was as far as you could go down on the ship. The evaporators were there. Now we didn't get, we weren't involved with the evaporators. The water tenders took care of that. They made 30,000 gallons of fresh water a day in those evaporators. And the interesting thing is the best grade of water, the highest grade of water, that went to the boilers. And then the next, that was for general ship's use, you know. We also had a three thousand-kilowatt diesel engine, diesel electric generator down there that was supplementary. And then there were three air compressors down there. One three thousand pound and another one was three hundred and one was 125-pound air compressor. My other watch duties would be, if I was assigned, would be in the after auxiliary. In the after auxiliary they had the machinery for the No. 3 elevator that raised the planes up and down from the hanger deck up to the flight deck. And we didn't get involved with that either. They just had certain individuals that ran that. And we had another 3,000-kilowatt electric generator there. And then there was some compressors and then electrical distribution center there too. And of course the electricians took care of that. The forward auxiliary, there was an electrical distribution center but it was on the next level up and the electricians took care of that. Well, getting back to that situation. Initially when I was assigned my watch duties, I was down in the forward auxiliary and I would stand watch with a guy who was a Portugal decent. He talked with an accent, you know. And so I'm down there with him and there was a trash can there and it got all full, you know. And he says to me, "Take ye sheet can out to the fantail." I says, "The fantail?" I didn't even know what a fantail was. I asked him, "What's a fantail?" He says, "You go up to the hanger deck," he says, "And valk all the vay back," he says, "And dump the sheet over da back end." Well then I found out what the fantail was. B: Where was your battle station? H: There were 14 fire pumps on the carrier. There were No. 1 and 2 fire pumps were diesel. They were way up forward. And No. 13 and 14 were diesel fire pumps and they were way aft in the after part of the ship. All of this is on the seventh level. The steering gear machinery was back there too where those diesel fire pumps went. So when I wasn't on watch, if they sounded general quarters, then I had been assigned, either I was going to be going to the forward diesel fire pump room or to the after diesel fire pump room. And that was the battle station. Otherwise, if you were on watch, you just stayed on watch when you were in general quarters. B: Do you remember what you, do you remember any reaction as you were heading out of home waters and heading overseas? Do you remember what you might have thought or wondered about? H: Well, when we left the Naval Station at Alameda, we kind of grouped together with some other ships and we went to Hawaii. And so there must have been about 6 or 7 ships that were there. And there were two battle cruisers. The United States only had two of em. They were built and completed, that was early war years there. They were the "Alaska" and the "Hawaii." And oh, these had beautiful lines, you know. That's the only time I ever saw them was when they went with us from Alameda Naval Air Station to Hawaii over there. And I don't remember, when we left Hawaii we went to a fleet anchorage at Eulithi. That had been captured in September. Well let's put it this way, it had been taken over in September of 1944. There wasn't any military action. When the United States came there in September of '44, the natives told em that the Japanese had vacated it only about two or three weeks previous to the United States moving into there. It was a beautiful anchorage. Oh man, oh man! There must have been about 12 islands there and there was this big lagoon. And well, it was something to see. Those ships there. When the war started we had about five aircraft carriers. And you pull into the anchorage over there and there's about 12 aircraft carriers there, you know. And not only that but there's battleships, and cruisers, and destroyers and you name it, you know. B: Let me ask you this. Now you talk about American Navy and everything. At this time did you think the end of the war was drawing near? Did you think that maybe the war was going to go on? Do you remember what you recalled about as the war was moving closer to Japan? H: Well I always felt kind of optimistic, you know. I mean we were moving along, they called it island hopping, you know. They'd invade these islands and secure them and they'd keep on moving closer and closer to Japan. And we were successful in that particular respect. I thought it would be just a matter of time. Maybe a year or something like that, you know. And things would be over. So I was looking at it optimistically. B: Well what happened when you left Eulithi then? That must have been in the winter of '45? H: Yeah. It was, let me see. I got on the ship in January of '24 (means '44?). And it was a matter of just weeks. 23 days after I got aboard ship, we were off the coast of Japan and we made the first carrier task force raids against the home islands since Doolittle had made the raid there on April 18th, that was the anniversary just the other day of that raid over there, in 1942. So that was the first raid from a carrier task force at that particular time. So that was only 23 days after I got aboard ship in California there. Well that was kind of scary. The chaplain used to come on in the evening about 6:30 - 6 o'clock. And he'd always kind of give us a run-down of what had happened during the day or what was probably going to be coming up the next day, you know. And they said that they anticipated heavy casualties, you know, with our being so close to Japan over there. Making these raids. But I don't know if you can call it fortunate, the weather wasn't too good. It was cloudy and blustery and we even had snow on a couple of occasions. And I imagine it was really an experience for the pilots for example. And for the guys handling the planes. B: The deck crews? H: The deck crews and stuff like that. It didn't snow hard but it did snow. And as a consequence we didn't have a lot of opposition on the part of the Japs there. We were only up there about three or four days. I think it was a diversionary thing because we went on down then and we invaded Iwo Jima. So we covered the invasion of Iwo Jima. And ah… B: And what do you recall about that? Let's talk about that period. Iwo Jima was really a difficult battle and they used a lot of kamikazes, beginning in Iwo Jima. H: Well really the Iwo Jima situation as far as I was concerned, it wasn't too extreme. We were only there about two weeks covering the invasion. The guys that really had it tough, see that was a Marine Corps operation in its entirety and they took a lot of casualties and the like. So we were only there for a two-week period covering that. And then we left there and went back to Eulithi. Well we had attacks as far as the Japs were concerned, when they were opposing us. But it wasn't too extreme. And well, I was surprised that it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. B: What did you think of the kamikazes? What was the reaction on your ship from you and your shipmates? H: Well, we didn't really hear too much about kamikazes until we got, invaded Okinawa. And that's where it started in. And that was an altogether different situation than what we were faced with at Iwo Jima over there. Okinawa was a lot closer to Japan than to what Iwo was. And I didn't anticipate that we were gonna be there as long as we were. Because that Iwo situation was as far as we were concerned, only about a two-week proposition. But when we got up at Okinawa we were under attack constantly. General quarters left and right and day and night. After a period of time we were lucky if we got four hours of sleep a night, you know. And you say well, what about the night situation? Well I, as I told you, my watch duties were way on the lower level and also when I was at battle station, it was at those diesel fire pumps. But some of the guys in my compartment where we slept over there, these guys, if they weren't on watch, they went up to the guns and they had to pass ammunition. And then after general quarters, it'd be like midnight or something like that when general quarters was secured. And these guys would come down and they'd be talking about that. Well the Japs had dropped flares and they said it was like daylight out there. And those flares would just light up things and reflecting off the water and everything was real visible. So I never saw any of that stuff but you could hear the guns when they were goin off, you know. But you never knew what was goin on when you were way down there in that 7th level. B: And that's a kind of a bad situation in a way, isn't it, being way down there? Was there any way that you handled it? Was there anything that you did to take your mind off it or wasn't it something that really bothered you? Do you recall when you're in a battle situation and you know there's enemy planes up there? H: Well I don't recall anything I mean where it was an adverse, you know, where you were real concerned. The Bunker Hill had had nine engagements that they had been in previous to the Iwo Jima and the Okinawa situation there. And these guys seemed to take this in stride. There were a lot of "plank owners" (Plank owners were men who were members of a crew of a ship when that ship was placed in commission - or re-commissioned) that were on the ship there and I stood watch with em and had the battle station duty with those guys and they just kinda took it in stride. And it gave you a certain amount of confidence, you know and as a consequence you weren't that concerned. You figured that you were gonna get through. B: Well what happened on the day, let's talk about the day the Bunker Hill was struck by the Kamikazes? H: We'd been at sea for 58 days and we were in combat for 41 days. And I was on watch in the forward auxiliary on that particular day. I had the 8 to 12 watch. And I was on watch with Charley [ ] who was from Elizabeth, New Jersey. And it was about 10 o'clock and we heard this big "whoomph", you know. And we wondered what the heck that was. So there was a PA system that we could hear in the forward auxiliary there. But to hear it the best we had to go between the evaporators. So we went down there between these evaporators and just as we got to the spot there between these evaporators there was another big "whoomph". And I was right below an air vent. And there was grit that came through that vent and it hit me in the face. But that wasn't the only thing. I was fortunate. These water tenders, they had a five pound tin of cheese in that vent, keepin it cool. And that doggone five pound tin of cheese went sailing over my head, you know. Well then we found out, you know. When it came over the PA and they said that we had gotten hit by two kamikazes. Well, from there on it was a kind of trying thing wondering what was going to materialize. We, there was a certain amount of smoke that we got into the forward auxiliary there. And fortunately we had our gas masks with us. We always, when you went on a watch and you went to your battle station, you had a life belt with you. And you had a helmet with you and a gas mask. Those were the things you carried with you all the time. And it was just a kind of an interesting situation. You know they had the bulletin boards on the ship and every week there was something posted up there. Just the previous week they had posted on there that the Bureau of Mines had indicated that gas masks like we had could be use in confined spaces between a half hour and an hour, you know. They were good for that particular period of time. So we put those gas masks on and well we were lucky then that none of us in the forward auxiliary there were asphyxiated. The next engineering space on the Bunker Hill, behind the forward auxiliary was the No. 1 fire room. A half inch of steel between where we were and where those guys were. And there was No. 1 and 2 fire boilers were in there. Ten guys died in that because of smoke inhalation in that engineering space over there. B: So the fires were raging on the ship. H: Yeah. On the hanger deck and the flight deck from about 'midships all the way back. See, what the situation was, the air groups, they had made their morning forays and they had come on back. And they were rearmed and they were refueled and they were waiting to go out for the next sorties. And then these kamikazes came on in and within 30 seconds two of em hit the ship over there. Well, with these planes all full of gasoline, fully refueled, and ammunition, you know; well everything broke loose. The fires raged pretty extensive. Well, there was another thing too that probably contributed to that. There were two conditions: you had torpedo defense and you had general quarters. When they had torpedo defense, the guys went to their guns and everything like that. And the hatches and everything weren't battened down. When you went to general quarters everything was battened down tight, see? And because this happened so fast and the hatches weren't battened down, well the gasoline it kinda seeped on down, you know? So it just burned out things all in different areas. B: What was your job during this? What was happening with you during this period? H: Well, I was, as I said I was in the forward auxiliary there. And the ah, those pieces of equipment that I had identified, the 3,000 kilowatt diesel generator and the air compressors, they were designed that in an emergency situation they would cut in by themselves and that is what happened. So we didn't have to go and start em up, you know. They just kicked on in and so we just kinda kept an eye on things to make sure that they were running down there. And that was the extent of it. B: What about the aftermath of the, of the crews battling the fire? What was the aftermath? What happened afterwards? H: Well I didn't get up topside until four o'clock in the afternoon. And when I got up on the hanger deck and I saw that mess, oh man oh man! That was just awful, you know. Twisted metal and everything was blackened. And there had been a certain number of planes that were on the hanger deck. And they were just melted down from the heat, you know. And then I went from from the hanger deck. I went up to the flight deck to see what was the situation up there. And you could see where the kamikazes had hit and where a bomb had exploded and tore everything up. And there were a lot of bodies there. They had, on the starboard side of the ship they had about a hundred bodies that were laid out there at that particular time. B: The Bunker Hill took very severe casualties during that … H: Yeah. There were 393 guys that were killed and 256 wounded. B: Were you involved in any of the aftermath of the cleanup? As the ship was getting underway and getting back…? H: No. I was just standing my watches and that was the extent of it. I thought it would take an extended period of time, a month or two to get that ship cleaned up. But these guys are pretty ingenious. You had the ship fitters. On an aircraft carrier you had a couple of Jeeps and we had some small tractors. Ford tractors. They put plows on them. They made plows and they just went and they plowed everything overboard. We left Okinawa and we went down to Eulithi. It took four days to get there and between the time that we left Okinawa after getting hit and to get to Eulithi, most of that stuff was cleaned up in pretty good order. B: Was the ship listing at all? H: No, no. We, there was no time at all. The captain of the ship, he conducted a maneuver somewhere in between the time that we got hit and well it probably was around noon or maybe a little bit after like that. There was a lot of water that was being doused on the fires and stuff like that. And there was a certain amount of gasoline and all that stuff around. And he ordered a maneuver on the ship to make a sharp turn like that. Which caused the ship to heel like that and as a consequence, a lot of gasoline and water and stuff like that that flowed off the ship. So it was a very thoughtful maneuver to be made in that particular respect. It was good. B: Was there a memorial service Hank, during this time between Okinawa and heading to Eulithi for the, for your shipmates? H: Yeah. Unh huh. B: Do you recall that? H: Yeah. Unh huh. We must have been one day out of Eulithi and we were called to quarters and we went up on the flight deck. The flight deck was open from about amidships all the way forward over there. The after part was all burned out and damaged and everything like that. So we, there was enough space there so you could get a couple of thousand guys up there for these quarters. I don't remember the specifics of the ceremony that was going on. But the one thing that really impressed me while this was going on, there was a squadron of B-24 Liberators that come flying over. Here we're out in the middle of the ocean, you know and here these guys come on and they bank over and they make a zooming pass over the ship like that. And that really impressed me. B: Did the Bunker Hill head back to the states then? H: Yeah. We went down to Eulithi and we put about three, four days in there. And then we left there and we went to Hawaii, to Pearl Harbor. And incidentally, talking about these circumstances in terms of "do you feel secure" and so forth and so on. You see, when we were in combat, like when we invaded Okinawa, this was Task Force 58. And the Bunker Hill was the flagship for that Task Force 58. Mark Mitcher was the admiral in charge and he was on our ship there. The Task Force consisted of four task groups. And every task group had at least four carriers in there. So there was 16 carriers there. The carriers were flanked first by battleships, then they were flanked by cruisers, and then by destroyers. So you had all of these ships in there that were protecting the carriers. Well, we got hit there at Okinawa and I thought that we were going to be leaving right away but we didn't. It wasn't until the next day that we left Okinawa. And all they gave us to accompany us from Okinawa down to Eulithi was a destroyer escort. That's a little dinky thing and I tell you, the guys were really, really concerned because that's all the protection we had. And when I look back, I think probably the only reason they gave us that destroyer escort was they had sonar equipment on there so they could detect submarines. And then well, they had the capability too of dropping depth charges on the submarine if it would materialize. B: Do you think you confidence was shaken at all by that? H: Oh yeah! It was scary. I can't remember where it was. It must have been somewhere between Eulithi and, I mean Okinawa and Eulithi. They sounded general quarters and I hate to say this but a lot of guys didn't go to their battle stations. They grabbed their life jackets and all that stuff. And they were standing by the rails over there, you know. If something were to happen, they were in a convenient spot where they could get off the ship. B: So you got back to the states and got the ship repaired? H: Yeah. B: Where was that? H: We went into the navy yard at Puget Sound, Washington. B: Now that must have been a sight to see all those workers swarming over the Bunker Hill. H: Yeah. It was real interesting because I'd never seen anything like this, you know. And well, we were the only carrier in there. But right next to us there was a dry-dock and the cruiser Pittsburgh was in there. Now the cruiser Pittsburgh was with the task force out there in the Pacific. And they ah, had a big typhoon. And there was a lot of damage that was done to the ships. The bow of it, I think it was a 120-foot section of the bow of that Pittsburgh broke off. And they salvaged that and the Pittsburgh managed to - under its own power - come back to the states. And I don't know who pulled that bow there but they pulled the bow into the dry dock. And they ran the Pittsburgh in there and they joined it back together again. B: I'll be darned. It must have been impressive. H: That was impressive. Yeah. And then those Navy Yard workers, well like you said, they swarmed all over the ship there. They worked round the clock, 24 hours. There was a fair number of women that were workin there as well as men that were doing their various tasks. B: What did you think about seeing women in the shipyard? Did you have any thoughts about that? H: No I didn't. I suppose what the situation was, when I was serving my apprenticeship and the war started, well then they started hiring a lot of women, see? And I was, there were women working all around me at Chain Belt Company there in Milwaukee, in the gun shop there. They were running drill presses and small milling machines and things like that. The bigger work was done by guys, you know. But where there was a small machine and light work, the women were doing that. So when I got out there and saw these women in the Navy Yard, it didn't make too much of an impression on me. One of the things that did, you talk to these people - and a lot of em were from the Midwest, like northwestern Wisconsin, and Minnesota and the Dakotas. They were out there workin in the Navy Yard. B: Where were you when the war ended? H: I was home on leave in Milwaukee. B: Let's talk about that. Let's talk about the atom bomb a little bit and then the end of the war. What did you think when you heard about this secret weapon? H: Well I was really amazed. The newspapers at that time, they stressed a lot the matter of radiation, you know. And when I heard that they had dropped that first bomb, you know, and the newspapers were quite specific about all of these things. And then they came along a couple of days later and they dropped the second one, you know. And I said, "Oh boy, what is materializing here, here, you know, with this? This was, it was scary to me, you know. I didn't know to what extent that would be used, you know. Well nobody knew anything about radiation and things of that nature. That was the first we'd heard of anything of that nature. B: Prior to that had you expected that the United States would have to invade Japan? H: Yeah. Yeah. I figured it was just a matter of you know, here we were up at Okinawa and the next thing if there were any islands that were closer, that they would be invaded and then eventually the invasion of Japan itself. B: And what did you think of that? Do you remember what you recalled about the idea of invading Japan? H: I didn't give it too much thought. I imagine if a person was in the Marine Corps or the Army, you'd give a lot of thought to that particular thing, you know. But being in the Navy like that, you were always doing the initial bombarding and things of that particular nature. And providing the cover. And you weren't involved like the Army and the Marine Corps were. B: So then the end of the war came. How long after the end of the war before you were discharged? H: Well the war ended in August of '45. And I was discharged in May of '46. After the war ended and we got out of the Navy Yard, the Bunker Hill, we went down to the Alameda Naval Air Station and then from there we went out to Pearl Harbor and we picked up an air group out there. And then we had flight operations for a week. And then we came on back to the states. And when we came back to the states, we went to Seattle, Washington. And we got back there in October of '45. And we were up there for "Navy Day." And that was kinda interesting because we were the only carrier that was tied up to Pier 91. But there were a couple battleships and some cruisers and everything that were tied up there. And then they allowed all the civilians to come aboard, you know. Up to that time, they never allowed anybody. And we had 10,000 people come aboard the ship on Navy Day. Then the people had an opportunity to see something else. Now I was on duty down below so as I indicated before, you don't know what's goin on up topside up there. Well they went out after Navy Day and that air group, they were out in Puget Sound out there. In Elliot Bay. And the planes took off from there and they probably went to Whitby Island. There's a naval air station over there. So the people around there, they had a good opportunity to see these planes taking off from an aircraft carrier right out there in the bay, and flying away. Well then we went into the Navy Yard and we put three thousand bunks - I should say the Navy Yard people put three thousand bunks - on the hanger deck. And we went over, we then became what was called a "Magic Carpet Fleet." And I don't know how many other carriers were involved in that particular respect because we never saw them. But we left Seattle and we went to the Philippines. And we picked up 4500 troops. And see, 3000 of them were on the hanger deck and then the air groups had all left so they vacated bunking areas on the ship too. So we had a total of 4500 troops that we brought back from the Philippines. We brought em back to San Francisco, I should say the Naval Air Station at Alameda. And then we left there and we went to Guam and Saipan. We picked up some more troops and brought em back. And then we went to Long Beach, California. I mention the fact that coming into Alameda over there, when we left Seattle when we got out of the Navy Yard, I indicated that we had gone down to the Naval Air Station at Alameda? Well when we came through the Golden Gate Bridge there were a lot of ships tied up. You know, commercial ships and the like at the piers over there. They tied down their whistles and boy there was just a toot, you know! They were saluting us, coming, made the guys feel pretty good. B: I'll bet it did. What was the mood on your ship at that time? H: Well it was good, you know. Yeah, the guys were kind of chortling. We were chortling because of the fact, see, the people there, well anybody, civilians and the like, they probably figured we came back from the Pacific, see? When we actually had come down the coast from Seattle and went into the Naval Air Station over there. The wharf over there, see? So, well we didn't get a greeting when we came in the first time. So that made up for it. B: So you were discharged in May, 1946. H: Yeah. B: And then you came back to Milwaukee? H: Yeah. And I went and I finished up my apprenticeship. B: At the same company? H: The same company. Yeah. B: And then did you find employment there? H: Yeah. That was my full time job, you know. B: How long did you stay there? H: I stayed there until '47. When I was in the Navy Congress passed the GI Bill and I said to myself, what I'm going to do, I'm going to go back and I'm going to finish up my apprenticeship. And when I get that apprenticeship completed, then I'm going to go off to college. So that's what I did. I worked as a journeyman machinist until the fall of '47 and then I enrolled in college. B: What college did you go to? H: Well initially I went to Marquette University. I was there for a year and that wasn't for me. So then I went to the, at that time it was the Stout Institute. And now it's the University of Wisconsin at Stout. B: And what did you major in? H: Industrial education. See Stout at that time, it had two schools. The School of Industrial Education and the School of Home Economics. And well all the fellows were of course in the industrial education and gals were in the home EC. Area over there. B: I imagine that there was a lot of ex-GI's there. H: Oh yeah. Yeah. I venture to say that better than half of em were veterans. B: So when you graduated from Stout then where did you go? What happened then? H: I went back to Chainbelt. And I worked there for two years. I thought that perhaps when they hired me that I would be doing a lot of training there because, you know, industrial education, see? But actually what materialized was that I was a foreman in the machine shop where I had finished up my apprenticeship. I was disappointed in that particular respect. As I indicated, you know, I was looking more to work with the individuals who would be in a training aspect. And there was a very minimal of that, that I was involved with. So then I resigned that particular job. I came up here to Oshkosh and I started teaching at the Vocational School that was downtown. B: What year would that have been? H: 1953. B: Centennial year. H: Yeah. Last year was the 50th year that we've been living here in Oshkosh now. B: So you've seen a lot of changes in the community in those years. H: Yeah. Yeah. (The second tape ends here). B: So you've seen a lot of changes in those 50 years? H: Yes. Really did. My wife just made a comment about that the other day. She was talking to somebody. I overheard it. Back there, Sawyer Street was the western extreme of the city, you know. There was only a few houses here and there that were west of Sawyer Street. Well now we're way out on the other side of the highway. I myself, we live out in Westhaven out there. We've been out there for 35 years now. And well of course you know there were different industries that were in Oshkosh here. Like Diamond Match and Deltox. And well, I can't remember some of the other ones. You tend to forget about those things. But Diamond Match, there was a big building that, it was where the university is now in that area over there. Close to Wisconsin Street. That building was probably about five or six stories high and it covered a whole block, you know. From one street to the next and all the way around like that. Well that building isn't there anymore. And well, the Deltox building, there were more buildings that were involved there that, some of those buildings are still there. But by Deltox, that William Steiger Park is right there, and the university. But they were more extensive than what there is right now. B: And how long did you stay? How long were you a teacher and when did you retire? H: I started in '53 and at that particular time, as I said I was at the Vocational School. Downtown in Oshkosh there was a Vocational building, there was the Beech building and then there was the high school buildings. And part of the students that I had, they were high school kids. They would come over and they would take classes. I was teaching machine shop in the Vocational School. And half the day I'd have high school kids and the other half of the day I'd have people who were classified strictly as vocational. And we were dealing a lot with the below 18 years of age group but than as time went by, we started dealing more and more with adults. And the thing that materialized was well, they built the new high school out on the West Side. And we were down there by ourselves down there near the downtown area. And we dealt more and more with adults. And then around the state they started developing two-year programs in different categories. They had machine shop. They had mechanical design. They had electronics, auto mechanics and so forth. Well then they also had business type classes and so forth. And the situation that evolved there, we became the Oshkosh Technical Institute. And I think it was 1969, the state formed 16 districts for vocational education. See, previous to that time it was only your larger communities that had vocational schools and they were primarily supported, financed by the local city, see? Oshkosh had one. Fond du Lac had one. Appleton had one. Green Bay… B: So you spent your whole career there. H: Yeah. B: Within that system. H: Yeah. That's right. I had a total of 32 years. I retired in 1985. B: Well I guess that pretty much wraps up our interview unless there's something else that you want to add or something you've forgotten. H: No, no, that's pretty much it. B: Well thank you very much. It's been very enjoyable and I think it's a really wonderful tape. I appreciate it.
Oral History Interview with Henry H. Roesler. -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum

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