|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Harley F. Loker. After Pearl Harbor, Harley entered the Navy in the fall of 1942 as a reserve officer with the rank of Ensign. He was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola in the spring of 1943 and was sent to Pearl Harbor. Harley describes life aboard ship, their routine, and some of the instances of combat. Off Iwo Jima, the ship was hit six times by Japanese artillery and suffered 19 killed and over 100 wounded. He also talkes about kamikazes and other aspects of the war such as his view of the Japanese, and the prospect for a bloody, "gruesome" landing had the Japanese home islands been invaded. He was discharged at Great Lakes in the fall of 1945 and returned home shortly thereafter.
Harley Loker Interview
6 June 2005
Conducted by Bradley Larson
(B: identifies the interviewer, Brad Larson; H: identifies the subject, Harley Loker. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear - in that order).
B: It's June 6th, 2005. This is Brad Larson speaking in my office with Harley Loker. And before we get going Harley, I'm going to do a little sound check here. So if you'll tell me your full name and your date of birth.
H: My full name is Harley Frederick Loker. I was born February 8th, 1914.
B: Alright. Now we'll stop right there. It's working perfectly. Where were you born Harley?
H: I was born in the town of Rushford, which is about two miles from Eureka, Wisconsin. Eureka is probably fifteen or eighteen miles west of Oshkosh.
B: What did your folks do?
H: My folks were farmers. My dad was born on the farm that my grandfather, James Augustus Loker moved to in Rushford in 1848. And my mother was born in the Town of Omro, which is south of Omro. She was born in '84 and he was born in '81. And her folks came here about the same time but I'm not sure just what… Her maiden name was Stone and her father was adopted by a family by the name of Stone. He was born Goodwin and he was born in Maine. The eleventh child in a family of eleven and the neighbors - Stone - adopted him. They didn't have any.
B: Eleven children is a big family. Loker, now that is a common name around here. You hear that quite a bit.
H: Yeah, Loker is very common around Eureka and Omro. And I still have two cousins in Omro by the name of Loker, about four by the name of Stone.
B: What kind of farm was it?
H: Well the farm originally was a section of land and my great grandfather gave it to, I think he had three boys and a girl and so my grandfather Loker got one quarter section and my dad was raised on that. He farmed it a little bit about the time he got married. But then he moved away and farmed elsewhere.
He farmed until 1920 when he became a banker in Omro.
B: Well that's quite a switch, from farmer to banker.
H: And he had six children and he became a banker.
B: How was the Depression on your family?
H: Well, I suppose it was tough because my father was a banker in Omro for six years and then he was hired by Paine Thrift Bank in Oshkosh. Paine Lumber Company opened the bank here. And hired him to run it for them. So we moved to Oshkosh in '26.
Well then in '28 and '29 the Depression started and the Bank was closed in '33, never to open again. As far as I know I think the bank paid all the stockholders and all the people that had money in the bank. So we moved then, back to Omro. He always owned a farm it seemed. And so he was going to farm it but he was then in his late fifties and it didn't work out.
So then he went back and worked for a bank in Madison that owned a lot of property up in northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan. He handled the sale of it and buying and rental properties that they had, and so on and so forth, until he retired. He had an interim - I don't know if you've heard of the Federal Land Bank or not - but in the early thirties, well probably the middle thirties he worked for them for about a year, doing the same thing that he did for the bank in Madison.
B: So your family was able to weather the Depression alright then.
H: So as far as I knew, there was no Depression, you know. We just, I don't know how he managed to survive. At the time that the bank closed, bank stock was what I call double indemnity. If you owned a thousand dollars worth of stock, you didn't just lose that, you had to come up with another thousand. And I don't know how he weathered that particular period but he did. And so as far as eating and so on and so forth, nothing changed.
I was a freshman at Oshkosh Teachers College in September of, that would be 1931. And I went there two years. I didn't want to be a teacher. My next older brother who was four years older than I was and had a college degree by that time but didn't have a job. And so he and I worked the farm there until I went back to school. Then I got enough money to go back to school.
B: Was the war news that was from overseas from Asia and from Europe, was that very much a topic of conversation in your family, do you recall?
H: You mean in the late thirties?
B: In the late thirties as things started heating up overseas.
H: I don't think so. I don't know. In 1934 I applied to the Naval Academy for, to go to school there, you know. And I think I got a letter like in February of '34 from the United States Congressman in Fond du Lac, to go to Fond du Lac sometime in March I believe it was, to take an exam. I don't know whether I just had to pass it or whether I was in competition. But anyway, about two weeks before that happened, I got a letter from the Academy saying that I was too old to go to the Academy. I was then 20 years old. Because I was born in '14 and February of '34 I would be twenty years old.
So then when the war started coming on and I was married, I realized in '41 that I was going to be susceptible, you know. We didn't have any children. And so then I heard about the naval 90-day program that they had. Northwestern University at Evanston, Illinois was one of the schools that had it. So I applied for that and they came back again, I was too old.
So then the recruiter said, "However, we have another program." And the other program was that you would get an instant commission if you were eligible and they wanted you. And I think [Al] took that program too. So in October of '42 I got a letter from the Navy saying that I was going to be accepted at Harvard on December 1st with the rank of Ensign. So instead of going four years to school or ninety days before I got it, I got it just by showing up.
B: How did you pick the Navy?
H: I don't know. I always liked the Navy. And I didn't want to be a teacher so this was something else that I could do. I can't tell you why I liked the Navy. But I always did.
B: In the months leading up to Pearl Harbor were you aware of increased tensions between the United States and the Japanese?
H: I don't think I thought about the Japanese. I thought about Europe and I felt eventually we're going to get into that.
B: Did you?
H: Yeah, I really did think we were going to get into that because we were helping the Allies so much. And we were getting our merchant ships sunk by the Germans of course because they didn't want us to supply em. So I felt that we would get in that. Didn't think about the Japanese at all. I don't know why but I never thought of them. I know I was playing basketball the Sunday in Milwaukee that Pearl Harbor was bombed. And from the time I left home 'till the time I got there, which was probably three quarters of an hour we'll say, where I had to go in West Allis to play, the bombing had gone. And again you can't believe that these things are happening.
B: What was your initial reaction when you heard that?
H: Well, I'm going to be in the Navy. You know you just assume that you're going to go.
B: So what happened then when they sent you to. Where did you go?
B: So what happened when they sent you there? What did you start to do once you got …?
H: I think Harvard was basically a communications training. The ones that were going to go to a ship I think became a part of the communications department on board ship. Communications included the signal corps and the radio shack. And also I think that as one instructor there said, "We don't want you saluting a Marine Corporal or something." You have to learn what Navy regs are and how to cope with em and how to act like a gentleman. As they always say, a gentleman and an officer is what you're supposed to be.
B: How long were you there?
H: Five months. Yeah, five months and then you are shipped… Well it was a funny thing. At the end of our term we were given a slip to fill out and among the things that were filling out was what kind of duty do you want. And I had always felt that I would like to be on a destroyer. And I wanted to be on a small ship. So I wrote down that I wanted to be on a small ship.
And then before we left Harvard, we all had our assignment, where we were gonna go. And I was assigned to the Pensacola. And so we were talking to the various guys about "What did you get, and what did Jay get?" And I found that everybody I talked to had applied for a shore place, naval place here on this shore or that shore. And finally somebody said, "You know, I think you're the only one in the 250 that put down a sea duty." So really I felt good about it.
B: Well, you know at that stage of the war, things weren't going all that well.
H: Terrible, terrible.
B: What do you remember about those first few months?
H: Well I knew we had an instructor at Harvard that had been on one of the carriers that got sunk at the battle of Midway which was in the summer of '42. And this is in December of '42. And so we heard a lot about that particular ship. What I didn't realize until after the war was that Pearl Harbor had annihilated our battleships. I don't know if we had more than one? I think there was one that was still operative and that one had been at sea when the bombing came in. And I wasn't aware that we were so destitute. The Pensacola was one of three heavy cruisers that had been okayed by a treaty in Europe between I think it was: England, France, Japan, the United States and it could have been Russia. It wasn't Germany. I can't remember who, there were five of them.
B: I think it was Japan.
H: Well Japan I counted them. It was somebody else. Japan, France, Britain and the United States. That's only four. Anyway in that treaty the United States was allowed to have five heavy cruisers. And the Pensacola and the Salt Lake City were sister ships and there was one other ship that the United States had built between then and 1942. They did have some hulls, I think. Basic ready to build but probably because there wasn't a war they didn't finish em. So they only had three.
A heavy cruiser differs from a light cruiser in that a heavy cruiser has an eight-inch battery and the light cruiser only has six. So I wasn't aware that as I say, and then also at that time most of the, practically all of the surface firing in World War II had been done by the end of '42. After that it was basically an air war. You had the ships like ours for anti-aircraft but I don't believe there were any surface fights at all. We were supposed to be in one in the battle of the Philippines but the battle of the Philippines never came about. Apparently, as I understand it, Admiral Halsey had tried to trick the Japanese to bring out their depleted navy because they had been beaten up, you know in '42 by our air force and surface ships pretty badly. And so he wanted to finish em off but they didn't bite and so it didn't come off.
But the Pensacola was, there was a landing in Corregidor I think somewhere in early summer or so of '42. And the Pensacola was beaten up pretty bad I guess there. But there were three other cruisers. I think the Minneapolis was sunk and there were two others that were beaten so bad that they never got back into service.
Then the Pensacola went to Midway to cover antiaircraft. And then they came back and they got back down in the Coregidor area and that's when they got beaten up so badly that they were, they limped back as they say, to Pearl Harbor at the end of November of '42.
And then I got there in May of '43 and the ship was just like an anthill with ship workers, you know.
B: How did you get there? How did you get from Harvard to Pearl Harbor?
H: Well we took a train. I had, I don't know, maybe ten days to get to report to the naval base in San Francisco for transportation to the ship. And so we took a train and we had three or four days at home. And we lived in Milwaukee then. My folks lived in Omro. And we took a train the rest of the way to San Francisco. And I had to report like at eight o'clock some morning ready to go overseas. And I went down there and they said, "We don't have transportation today. Report tomorrow morning at eight o'clock."
So for eight days, everyday they would say come back tomorrow morning. And so we had a holiday for a whole day eight times. And in the meantime, going right along with us were two other couples that we knew from Harvard. They were there waiting for transportation at the same time that I was. And they didn't get called either. I think hearing from them afterwards, they both went either the next day or the day after. We all three were real close.
So then I got on a, one of Kaiser's ships. And it was filled with Army and Navy personnel and they were all going to Pearl Harbor of course either for assignment there or for… Well in my case, my ship was there.
B: So was it part of a convoy?
H: Well you know as I think back, I don't think so. I don't think we had anybody with us which always amazed me -some of the things they would do and some of the things they didn't do. I don't remember that, I think we zigzagged but I don't think that we had another ship with us.
B: What was your impression of Pearl Harbor as you first saw it?
H: Well it's an awful busy place. Awful busy place. I guess I was overwhelmed just by seeing all the ships around and all the Navy and Army personnel that were there. It was kind of the jumping off point you know. And you know you don't realize I guess how bad off we were against the Japanese both in the Army and the Navy. Our Navy was, as I say the bigger ships were practically annihilated and the heavy cruisers became the battleships in a way. Well you saw some important people there. While I was there, there would be a tractor, well several tractors transporting people to go from here to there. A tractor had like a big hay wagon in the back where you could jump on and go to the next stop and so forth. And one day there's a lady standing next to me and I take another look because it's Eleanor Roosevelt.
B: I'll be darned!
H: And also during the time, we didn't leave there until, I thought it was late July that we went out for our shakedown cruise. But it could have been, somewhere I read that it was in November but they said active duty so maybe they meant that we were actually given an assignment.
But in the meantime we trained, you know. Because you stop and think that we had a complement of about 700 at that time and there were probably only three or four hundred on there at the time that I got there. And they're mostly like me - never been to sea. And now you gotta put em out to sea. So you have to have some shakedown.
I wasn't in the gunnery department but one of the things I did was go to a gunnery school for a couple of weeks. And the gunnery school was all on anti-aircraft guns. The Pensacola, when it got beat up at Tassafaronga or something like that was brought back to Pearl and they took the five inch guns off of it and they put forty millimeter and twenty millimeter guns on there.
And I don't know if you're familiar with those two but the forty millimeters are operated by radar and so on and so forth. And they have equipment that will pull in on a target, I believe. The twenty millimeters are smaller caliber of course and they have they have what they call a tracer bullet. Every fifth or sixth bullet I guess was lighted up and you've seen pictures in the movies or other of these and you wonder why they're there. Well that's so that you can see where you're shooting, you know.
And so I was one of just a few officers. Mostly the men that were training there were the enlisted men because they're the ones that do the firing when you get out there. So we did get the chance to shoot the twenty. Nobody shot the forties. And one day there again I was in my off time from firing the twenties. Somebody walked up side of me and I turned around and there was a lot of seniority there because it turned out that it was Admiral Chester Nimitz. So I met two very important people in the Navy.
B: Is it hard to hit a target like an airplane with a twenty-millimeter?
B: Is it hard to track and hit an airplane with the twenty-millimeter?
H: I would think so, if they were maneuvering. The Japanese had the Zeroes which were very maneuverable, you know. They didn't give much protection to the pilot or the gas tanks or anything else. And American's ships or planes were protected pretty well compared. But they weren't maneuverable like the Zeroes. You often heard early in the war how maneuverable the Japanese Zero was. And they were getting away from us. My first impression was, "Why don't we build them that way?" Well that's why we didn't.
B: What were your duties aboard the Pensacola?
H: Well I'm in the communications department so I was given the Signal Corps. The ship is divided into several departments. Of course you have a gunnery department. You have a gunnery officer who is a Commander.
Well starting from the top you have the Captain and then you have the executive officer. The executive officer pretty well does the day by day and the minute by minute operation of the ship, by the voice of the Captain, you know.
And then you have the heads of the departments. You have the gunnery officer who is in charge of all the guns of course. And you have the navigation officer who in our case was a Lt. Commander. You have the engineering department and he was a full Commander too. And you have the damage control officer division, department, whatever you want to call it. And a Commander is in charge of that.
So basically the engineering department doesn't stand deck watches. So the deck watch, the Oficer of the Deck in reality takes over the ship to run the ship when you're under way, taking the responsibility from the skipper. If anything happens or you go to general quarters, the skipper will, the Captain will quick take over the helm and the operation of the ship.
So we have usually four watches and the officers of the deck will probably come from the gunnery department, usually has most of them because you have more gunnery officers that anything else beside. Once in awhile a communication officer would be an officer of the deck. And the damage control generally had one.
Being new on board, all new guys, I don't think I stood a junior officer of the deck watch very long. And I was made an Officer of the Deck. So we had four of us that would run the ship every fourth watch. And one of the reasons I think that the navigator somehow picked me out to do it, and I think one of the reasons was that I was for rank, four or five years older than the Academy (The United States Naval Academy) boys. And none of them that were on board ship had been on very long. They came from the Academy to the ship. So they were in rank by the numbers, they were pretty junior.
And so the ship is under the control of the Officer of the Deck. And he runs it. The helmsman takes orders from the Officer of the Deck. The Officer of the Deck takes orders from whoever is command. We generally were in company with the Chester, which had the Admiral, and the Salt Lake City, which was like us. No Admiral.
And we would be given orders to, well if we were in column, I think all we had to do was the helmsman would just steady as you go, you know. If they were telling you to take such and such a track well then there would be so many degrees and always you were zigzagging whenever you were in any kind of waters. Generally we had about six destroyers with us when we were anywhere near a place that there might be some Japanese.
B: What happened then after your shakedown cruises in the summer of '43 and you prepared then to get underway and…?
H: Then we prepared to get underway. I think, I don't know what we did before that. I remember that we were in waters south of the equator that first Christmas and New Years. After that I don't remember where we were cruising and what we were doing but we had a baby carrier which is one of the converted carriers from probably from a cruiser body that they decided would be better with that. And on that ship was Captain [Mulinix] who just happened to be the brother of our ship's Captain, Captain Mulinix.
And that was the first time I saw anything that really scared me. Because every night about an hour before sunset we'd go to general quarters. And every morning an hour before sunrise we would also go to general quarters.
H: Well this was I think basically either aircraft or submarines were most apt to attack you at that time and so you're at general quarters. Everybody's at their station where they can best defend themselves.
B: Where was your general quarters station?
H: My general quarters was on the bridge. As a matter of fact, after a year or so, I slept on the bridge. Right to the rear of the deck, the bridge where the ship is operated from, there was two quarters, one for the navigator and another one. I don't know whether they couldn't find anybody to get in that or not but the navigator had me sleep there. Basically he said it was that I knew some of the signals and the radio signals and so forth better than most of the, everybody's new you understand. So I didn't have to know much to know more than most of them. And if one of them had a problem I was right there and they could wake me up.
Anyway we were at general quarters right at sunset and this great big sun was on the horizon. And all of a sudden somebody says, "Look!" And there were a bunch of Japanese Bettys, which is a torpedo bomber of the Japanese, and they are coming right in on the sun. And being fairly new, like a darn fool I stand right out there in the open to watch em. I swore I could see them as they go over us to go to the aircraft carrier, you know. I swear I could see the whites in their eyes. Because you just kinda froze. Anyway they damaged the converted carrier pretty bad. I know they put it out of commission. I can't remember whether they sunk it or not. But Admiral Mulinix was killed in that. And Captain Mulinix was a basket case after that. He was just so nervous, you know. And really I don't blame him.
B: That was your first action?
H: That was our first action, yeah. I think they said the Pensacola was in thirteen battle actions. I don't know whether that was one or not. And there were only twenty given out in the whole war. They had twenty. I was on it for the last ten. They had three in '42 before I got on board ship. But that was the first action.
B: Were any of the Betty's shot down?
H: I think there were. Yeah I think there were. I don't know why they shouldn't be because we were all, everybody was ready and waiting. I just can't imagine except that there were probably ten or a dozen of them. It was like shooting in a flock of ducks. You're gonna get something.
B: How did you dress during general quarters? What would be your normal wear that you would be carrying…?
H: Nothing different. We didn't have helmets or anything. We didn't change anything. We just got to our quarters. Of course the whole gunnery department had a gun mount to go to and this was prior to when there was still slavery, you might say. And the colored people only worked as kind of charwomen you might say. They worked in the officers wardroom and things like that. But in general quarters they carried the ammunition to the gun mounts. The eight-inch is a two part. You got the shell in the front and then you have the powder in the back. The five-inch that we had we didn't have any five inch. Five-inch were taken off the ship when it was in '42 and '43. When they were at Pearl Harbor. Forty-millimeter and twenty millimeter were put in. So we didn't have any of that. They also had to carry the twenty-millimeter or supply the twenty-millimeter gun mount and the forty-millimeter.
My job on the signal bridge was, I don't know. You were waiting for something to happen I guess. You were there to do whatever needed to be done.
B: So after that first action what happened then? How did your service progress?
H: Well I think that was a good education. I think everybody grew up as they say. And I would feel that the ship operated a lot better after that. Our main operation at about that point, if you can visualize Japan up here, the island, then you have Okinawa, then you have Iwo Jima, then you have Guam and Saipan. And then you have a series of smaller islands going, Solomons, Gilberts, and in there you have Kwajalain, and Eniwetok, and Tarawa, all those going down to the equator. And the way that America fought the war was to start way at the bottom and take these islands one by one going up.
And our job with the Pensacola and the other two ships there - we generally had a half a dozen destroyers with us for anti-submarine help - was to go in before a landing by the Marines and the Army and level one of these islands, depending on how big it was depended on how long we would stay there. Sometimes it didn't seem like it was more than three or four days.
Then after we got up a little further, the encampments of the Japanese were a little more solidified and a little more established. Why it got tougher. As we went on up, well the day before the landing, say we had to, on the little islands maybe we would bombard em for a week. And when I say for a week it would be all day.
B: What was it like on your ship if you were firing all day?
H: Everybody is at general quarters and every time the main battery, the eight inch goes off, the ship would go like that. I always wondered how they held everything together. Anyway as we went on up they found that the Japanese dug in these trenches, not trenches but holes in the ground. There would be a cavity down there and you never knew how many were in. I went ashore at Kwajalain with the mailman and there would be a sentinel here and there. And the sentinel was watching a hole to a cave. Rather than going in and not knowing whether there was one or how many Japanese there were and what they would do, they would just put a sentinel on for twenty-four hours. And that seemed to be the way it was.
B: Did you see the effects of your shelling when you went on the island?
H: The islands, you mean they were leveled.
B: They were, huh?
H: They were leveled. And it's just like, in the Army or Marines, I don't know which or both, would have a little tent encampment and set up their necessary things for eating and so on and so forth on the island. Basically the trees are gone, it seemed like, and everything.
Going on up a little bit further, well when we got to Guam and Saipan we had big encampments there and there were buildings and so on and so forth. And we were allowed to go in the harbor. We had a harbor there that could be guarded, put nets around it, you know. And one of the funny things was our aircraft, we had two spotting planes on board ship. And two of em went over to the Army air base where they were bombing Iwo every day. And these guys, we found out, they would get on the plane and ride along as an observer. And every so many events that they went around, they would get another star, you know. They call it "the milk run," because the Japanese by that time were not defending anything.
Incidentally, back aways I told you about how the Zero was so maneuverable. One day, I don't know what island we were bombing but we, the weather was so heavy that there was like a two hundred foot to the clouds and our pilot was the only one up in the air. And it got to be that day it seemed anyway, so routine that you know it's like a day at the races. I was a signal officer yet at that time and we were all out there, you can't see anything because we're seven to eight miles away. But anyway we were all there watching and watching our plane go around.
All of a sudden a Zero came out of the clouds. And we had the ship to plane radio on our loudspeaker so that we could see what the instructions were that were being given to the pilot. And by the pilot to the gunnery officer. And I never heard so much blasphemy and swearing in all my life as this Zero made a shot at him. But somehow he missed him and as he went by we had what we called an OS2U. It's a duck; they called it a duck lovingly because it was so non-maneuverable. It was equipped with a 50 cal. Machinegun. So as the Zero went by him, he gave him a burst with his 50 cal. Machinegun and he hit the gas tank and it exploded. And the Admiral was over to our ship so fast you'd think that he was getting a meal. He was there before the pilot. We had to land him in the water and pick him up. We'd catapulted him but we had to pick him up out of the water. As far as I know I never have heard of an observation plane shooting down a Zero.
(The first tape ends here).
B: June 6th, Brad Larson and Harley Loker. I have a question for you Harley about, think back now, how did you view the Japanese at this time. You're right in the middle of combat and it seems like one island after another. What was your view of the Japanese?
H: Well, I guess you'd say that they were kinda like animals. We had a contingent of fifteen or twenty Marines on board ship. And once in awhile a Marine would have been in one of the divisions that landed on one of these islands. And the things that they would say about what they were doing, the treatment that they would give to prisoners that had been taken, and the, what'll I say, the way they shot and fought to the death, it was just like an animal fighting for its life. My feeling about them was just that, that they were, I guess it's a snobbish way to say that they were prehistoric to American fighters.
B: Do you think that was shared by the men on your ship?
H: Not necessarily. I don't know how, we never talked about it at that time. We were just anxious to get the war over.
B: What was the routine like on your ship? How did an average day progress?
H: Well, we had to stand the one and four watch. That meant that we were on one quarter of the time.
[ ] Four of you were sharing a watch. So we were standing one-fourth of twenty-four hours. That would be six hours a day on watch. It averages out that way anyway. And then during the time that you're off watch in daylight, you have to train your, my signalmen and so on and so forth. The last year when I was radio officer, then it was to deal with the radiomen.
And we held training sessions. I would have my first class signalmen, or once in awhile I had a chief on board ship. I would have him give some training [ ] of which I would attend, for the men. And that took up your day. There were some other duties that would be thrown at you once in a while but not many.
B: Mail reach you very often? Mail from home?
H: Oh mail. We got mail periodically. And when you got mail it was by the bags full. My wife wrote almost every day. And so you'd have all these letters and when you'd get them, you'd put them in chronological order. You could write every day if you wanted to but we had instructions to tell our men in our division that they can't say certain things that would give away the ship in any way. And so we would, they couldn't seal an envelope. They had to give it to you and some officer had to [ ] It irritated me that in 1944 we got a leave.
We went back to San Francisco and got a leave. And I adhered to the rule about not saying anything that I shouldn't say. And I got back there and my wife said to me, "How come you didn't tell me this, how come you didn't tell me that?" She's talking to some of the other wives and they knew everything that was going on. And I always thought why how silly, if you're going to make all the men do that, you've gotta live by that too. But anyway we got mail pretty good.
B: I imagine that was a pretty important part of your life out there. You're pretty far out in the Pacific. It was your one connection there to home.
H: "Time" had a little condensed, it wasn't condensed as far as content was concerned but there was no advertising. But it was only about four or five inches by six or seven inches high, just a little dinky thing and it's got everything in it. And I had that. I had subscribed to that before I was in the Navy so I kept it all during the war. That was a real, between that and my wife's letters why that worked out good.
B: What was your most harrowing experience serving on the Pensacola? Thinking back on it what would you say is probably your worst experience on that?
H; Well I think the first scary one was the first time we saw the Bettys come in. But when we were at Okinawa, by the time we got to Okinawa there were a lot of ships. And we had battleships and carriers and you know, everybody. Prior to that, our main operation up until we got, I think to Saipan and Guam, everything south of that, there probably only would have been three cruisers and destroyers that were working together.
But when we got up to Okinawa we had all these battleships and carriers and everything going around the island, you know. And every night we would disperse. The Pensacola would go off somewhere with a destroyer or two for anti-submarine protection. Everybody was going out because every night around sunset, why we would have a bunch of Bettys coming in. Betty was the Japanese bomber.
And so it's scary because every night they would seem to hit some ship. They didn't bomb the Pensacola because we weren't the big bait. The big bait was the carriers and the destroyers. Up until Okinawa we didn't have the suicide bombers. So it wasn't scary up until that time. They would come in and strafe you, and drop a bomb but they wouldn't crash you like they started doing.
You had the suicide bombers up there, starting, I believe it was anyway, starting at Okinawa. And so it was a little scary. One time when we were in the harbor. Once in awhile we would get into a little harbor and they would put a net around it so that the Japanese couldn't come in with a submarine. Well apparently this particular morning they opened the gates and I think they said there were about five or six little one-man Japanese submarines came through real quick. We had a big, big supply ship of ammunition, an ammunition ship moored next to us. And I was on the bridge, just came up to relieve the watch who was Officer of the Deck. He said, "Not now, not now, not now!" And so I stood over to the side and just about that time the submarine got up so that you could see the fin on it and it blew up the ammunition ship. And I tell you, that's scary.
B: What happened?
H: Well, then he got sunk. The sub got hit real quick. But he surprised everybody. And I think that was the only ship that got blown up. They decided there were maybe six of these little one-man subs that came in. They were suicide, you know they had a suicide mission.
B: Was the Pensacola damaged from the explosion at all?
H: No. We were at Iwo Jima. Our basic job when we came up was to bombard an island into submission. And we were bombarding Iwo Jima with the Chester and the Salt Lake City. I don't remember whether anybody else was there or not. I don't think so. We always had a half a dozen destroyers with us for anti-submarine help. And I can't remember whether anybody else was there or not. But a shore battery opened up and I was radio officer then. I was inside. There's the main deck and then the radio shack and then the bridge is on the next level.
One shell came over, over our head. One shell came close, short. Then they hit us six straight times. Now this is, there hadn't been a gun fired on Iwo Jima until that time. They missed, got the range in two and then hit you six straight times. And I was radio officer. I was inside the bulwark there and one went through the deck just outside because they had an armor-piercing shell. And it went through the deck and exploded in the wardroom, which is on the deck below where we were. But just like that, bing, bing. It must have been more that one gun but they really had it homed in.
B: What happened on board the ship at that time?
H: Well I can't tell you. We didn't have any damage on our deck. The forward bridge was damaged and they couldn't operate the ship from that station. They had to use the one in the stern. The bow, I had a room with another officer way in the bow of the ship. And one of the shells of the [ ] went through the forward part of the ship and flooded the whole front part of the ship. So I didn't have a room again for a long time after that.
I think there were nineteen killed between the wardroom and other parts of the ship when the shells had hit. And I think we had a hundred and nineteen, a hundred and twenty that were injured. Then we limped away from Iwo Jima back to Pearl to get put together.
B: Were those nineteen men that were killed, were they buried at sea?
H: I don't know. We were a long way from Pearl Harbor. They must have been. I can't say. I know our first lieutenant and our executive officer were both killed. And I think there were a couple of other officers and the rest were seamen.
B: You don't recall any burial at sea though? You didn't attend it or you just don't remember it?
H: I don't remember it at all. I would think that we buried em at sea. That's a good question. I could ask somebody…
B: You made it back to Pearl Harbor for repairs then?
H: Yeah. And we were repaired at Pearl Harbor probably, that was the last battle before Okinawa. And Iwo Jima went on for quite a while even after we were, we stayed around though. We had, one of our main batteries was inoperative. The other one though, we still could use. And we stayed around for a few days I guess. They didn't want the main battery. They had made the landing at Iwo by that time at Iwo. Then we couldn't [ ] with the big guns, you couldn't use them.
So we went back to Pearl Harbor and we prepared to go back and cover the landing in Okinawa.
B: Did you think those big guns were pretty effective?
H: Well we thought they were a lot more effective than they were, I think. We leveled some of these islands where there wasn't anything except, you know, and still the Japanese would have an awful lot of resistance. When we started way down near the equator covering the landings, why there weren't all these caves that the Japanese got by the time we got to Iwo Jima. Even in Guam and Saipan it was bad but by the time you got to Iwo Jima they had an underground city and it just seemed like it would explode on you.
B: Of all the islands that the Pensacola was involved in, is there one that sticks out in your mind as being particularly difficult above all the rest?
H: You mean to conquer? I guess Iwo Jima turned out to be the biggest surprise in the way they defended that. They were pretty close to Okinawa and Okinawa had a lot of people there. Just non-army personnel. Whereas Iwo Jima was just fortification. And I think they fortified it to protect the main island. I think that was their intention, which proved to be what it was.
B: So did you think the Pensacola was a good ship with a good captain? You know how some ships are considered to be good?
H: I think it was. I think that basically we had three captains while I was on board ship and I think basically all three were very good. They certainly knew how to handle the officers. And I hope the men felt the same way. But they were very good.
B: Well let's talk a little bit about the end of the war. As you are at Okinawa, as the battle for Okinawa wound down, you assumed you had to invade Japan as the next step.
H: We assumed that was what was going to happen. Until the bomb was dropped.
B: What did you think about invading Japan?
H: Well I was glad I wasn't in the Army, I can tell you that. The way the Japanese fought, you know, they didn't give up easily. Well, you had these stories, well like I said, at Kwajalain they were guarding them rather than going in there because they were going to kill somebody before they got killed. It seemed as if we had invaded Japan, that they would have fought to the last guy on land. I'm awfully glad that we didn't have to go in there and I think there's a dispute as to whether Truman was right in dropping the bomb. But the ones that are in favor of it or thought that it was the right thing to do feel that that there were a lot fewer lives lost by making that one big drop than there would have been if the soldiers had had to land there. The Japanese didn't give up easily.
B: What did you think when they dropped that bomb? Do you remember that?
H: I sure do. Oh boy! I was Officer of the Deck at the time that it happened. Our radio [ ] twenty-four hours a day there was news coming out of Washington on Morse. And we always had a radioman, one or two taking the news. And I just happened to be Officer of the Deck when the news came in about that. The radioman would bring the news up to the Officer of the Deck first. And he brought it up to me and it said that we had dropped the bomb. I forget whether it was Nagasaki first or…
B: That was second.
H: That was second. It was on the other one then. And what was the other one?
H: Oh yeah, Hiroshima. And I read that and it said that we had dropped an atom bomb with the power of 2,000 tons. And I read that and I said to the radioman, "Would you take this back and have the radioman check that. I think he's got the decimal point wrong." Well that's how it struck me. 2,000 tons! It's hard to believe. Then you know that Japan isn't going to last very long. We were all worried about the landing and, you know, that it was going to be gruesome. It was just going to be gruesome!. So it was good to see that immediately almost, Japan made some overtures to have peace.
B: What was the reaction on your ship when the Japanese then formally surrendered?
H: Ready to go home. All the reserves were taken over to the regulars. We kidded the regulars; during the war it seemed like when we'd get the officers from the Academy, the first thing they did on board ship was to apply for flight school. And they'd be on board for six or eight months and back to flight school they'd be gone. Because the war basically, after '42 was an air show.
So they needed pilots of course. So these guys would be on board for six or eight months and back, everybody applied for, so now the war's over and the reserves are ready to go home tomorrow. You know, the war's over, they don't need us. And the regular Navy, now they got busy.
B: Where did you go after the war was over? What happened to you?
H: Well, I can't remember whether the point system for retirement came out before the war was over or whether it was after. But there's not much differential in there. But the Navy had a retirement or whatever, plan. A point system for time in the Navy and whether you're in the war zone and so on and so forth. And that came out right after, when was the bomb dropped, in October?
H: August? Was it that early? Okay. We're ready, we're right there in Okinawa of course at that time. And so as I say, the reserves are ready to go home. The regulars, now they gotta get busy. And they came out with the point system. And I had points enough to get out right away. But by that time I was communications officer on board ship. And the communications officer has to sign for all these secret publications like the code, for breaking the code that you've heard so much about. And stuff like that. So I can't get off the ship until I get relieved. And they would not give the job to anybody on board ship. I had to get relieved from Washington. So I had to wait. And in the meantime these guys are [ ] which made the war last an awful long time.
B: It must have been tough to see those guys go and…
H: Well it didn't last long. We then got orders, let's see, if it was in August, I would say by October we had orders to go back to the states. The ship did. So then it didn't make too much difference. And then besides that, we had orders to go through the Panama Canal and up to Virginia. And boy, in spite of the fact that I wanted to get home, that was appealing to me. And so that took a little bit of the curse away.
And then our orders were changed and we went to San Francisco. Now then a plane flew to Great
Lakes Naval Academy, stayed there two days and was mustered out and took a rapid transit to
Neenah. Not to Neenah, to Milwaukee.
Right after the war was over, when was that, October? September, October?
H: First they [had one] in Tokyo. Then they brought a battleship up to Hokkaido, a northern island and had a second signing. I don't know why we had that. I don't understand but anyway we had a second one and then after that second one was signed, everybody left except the Pensacola. We were the only ship bigger than a destroyer that was left there.
B: So your ship went into Japanese waters as part of the surrender force.
H: I don't know if we had anything to do with it. We were there, year. Incidentally, in '44 we were given leave. I had 20 days of leave in 1944. We went up to Adak where I think they had the Chester and the Salt Lake with us. And we were guarding the Aleutian Islands and so forth up there. But we went over and bombarded northern Japan, Japanese islands at night, twice.
B: Well that must have been pretty harrowing.
H: Oh, there wasn't, nothing happened. We had some buildings that we were supposed to destroy and we went like the devil over there and fired at em in the night, turned around and went back just as fast as we could. On the way up there, we had two sailors, I think it was a tidal wave or something. You talk about, what was that thing called that was so disastrous.
B: A tsunami?
H: Yeah, it's not a tsunami but it's a tidal wave and it washed two sailors over. And I'd always read that in wartime no ship is going to jeopardize the safety of the ship to save them. And this was in the summer of '44 on the way from San Francisco up to Adak. Well, we turned around and it was late in the afternoon and we must have dilly-dallied around there for an hour, hour and a half before it got too dark to see em. I think we had one destroyer with us to keep us away from submarines or something. I never could understand why we did it but we did it. We turned around but we didn't get em. We didn't find em. They were both, had been in the Navy, they were chiefs, they'd been in the Navy for over twenty years and neither one could swim. So you know why President Roosevelt made us swim. He wanted everybody in the Navy to learn to swim, should say. And when I was at Harvard, we all had to take an exam. I think we had to swim 200 yards. And there were quite a few that couldn't swim. I was amazed.
B: Well one question that I have for you, let's back up a little bit. You know when things were going really bad for the United States at the beginning of the war, did you ever harbor any concerns or doubts that the United States would be able to emerge victorious?
H: I don't think so. I didn't know until after the war that we had so few ships when I went in. I might have worried a lot more if I had known that, but I don't think I ever thought about that. And compared to poor Army riflemen, infantrymen, it's an impersonal war. I'm sure we had things happen but they aren't things that an individual can do much about. You do your part, whatever it is. You're busy; you don't think about it. And we always thought we were gonna win. Or I did anyway.
B: Do you think very much about the war today? Is it something that enters your consciousness very often?
H: You know when I think back when Bush, and I voted for Bush, but I think back when Bush was running for president the first time, he said he was not going to get us involved in any [ ] war and he was not going to try and force a democracy on anybody. And he's done both of them. And I think this democracy thing, we look historically and I think that democracy is something you have to learn. You have to grow at. It took two hundred years, over two hundred years and we're still growing. And these people have to want it. And a lot of em feel they are better off if they have a monarchy than if they have a democracy. And maybe they are. Maybe they aren't ready. Certainly the Mideast people are for the most part, the poor ladies are so downtrodden and everything. How could they possibly be a good democracy?
I wish we weren't into that. I don't know how we can get out of it.
B: Looks like you brought me something.
H: Oh, I just brought a picture of my brother and my sister and I. That was in 1943, just before, on my way to the Pensacola. My older brother was killed in Africa later that summer. My sister was a dietician at one of the Army barracks.
B: Where was this taken?
H: This was taken at our farm in Omro. And this will give you an idea of what it looks like on D-Day.
B: Where was this taken at?
H: This is at Iwo Jima. That's Mount Suribachi. And if you look down in here, you'll see three bigger ships. That's the Pensacola , the Chester and the Salt Lake City.
B: Oh sure, I can see them there.
H: According to [Carl Forster] that picture was taken by radio.
B: So your brother, the one that was in the Army, he was killed.
H: He was my older brother. She's my younger sister.
B: Where were you stationed when you found out your brother was killed?
H: Well, I was on the Pensacola. He was killed in July just before, as we were being repaired. It's a hard thing. I knew him very well. Before I was married I lived with him for four years in Milwaukee. He was single - fortunately.
B: Would you let me keep this to copy?
B: I'll give it back to you but it would be nice to copy and go with your oral history. Well we've covered a lot of ground. Do you have anything else that we should, that you want to talk about? Any humorous incidents maybe that happened on your ship or anything like that?
H: Yeah. That's the Pensacola. This is at Corregidor. We were eating at Robbins and this was a placemat. Do you know about it?
B: Yeah, we produced em here.
H: Yeah, we had, in 1944 we had, we came to, oh it was after Iwo Jima. We came back to the states. I'm not sure of the time. Anyway we were at Mare Island in San Francisco to get more repairs than they had done back in 1943. And the Chester, which had an Admiral on board. Our Admiral for Cruiser Division 5, the Salt Lake City was up in Adak. And they had an Admiral on there of course. But Admiral [Dennerbrick] was put on board our ship to relieve the Admiral that was on the Chester. So Admiral Dennerbrick had been running a naval school, I don't know where. But he knew all about all the equipment on board ship, which scared the devil out of all of us guys that were standing Officer of the Deck officers. Have the Admiral come over there and look over your shoulder, you know. But it got so that one of the things he did, he wore one of these blue and white railroad caps. So we called him "Engineer Denny." Not to him of course.
So we're going up to Adak all alone. And one of the things in the Navy regs is that if you see some object out there, the bigger ship is supposed to challenge the smaller ship. On board ship, on the bridge there's a big, big, it's like a compass. About this big around and they have an arm swinging around - it's radar. And when there's an object out there that's a ship, it would shine. And here's this object. Anyway I came up to relieve the watch at eight o'clock at night. And it's kind of half-light. And we had an Officer of the Deck, I think he hadn't been an Officer of the Deck for very long. And so I said, "Larry, I'm ready to relieve you." "Oh, not now," he says. "All hell is breaking loose!" So I stood back, waiting a little bit to see what was going on. And I found out from one of the guys there that this blip was on the screen and Larry didn't know what to do about it. And the Admiral was there looking over Larry's shoulder. And somewhere along the line the Admiral says, "[ ] and nobody knows what the hell to do with it." Anyway the Navy ship is supposed to challenge it and this thing keeps coming closer and it turns to be a little gunboat. They probably got a two-inch shell. And Larry is so fouled up that he doesn't know what to do. I don't know why he didn't call general quarters and have the Captain take over. And this little gunboat says to the Pensacola, "Who are you?" I coulda died laughing.
B: Well Harley, thanks a lot. It's been a really wonderful interview and I've enjoyed it a great deal. You have anything else that you want to add?
H: Well, for recreation we had, you could play cards and then they had movies on board ship. When we were in port or were in friendly waters we would have movies. And sometimes we would have them a long time before we could trade with somebody.
And one of the funny incidents that I thought that guys, everybody'd go. You could have seen it six times if we were in port. You could have seen it six times. It would still be there. "Why do you go to them?" "Well, I don't go for the movie. I go for the infield chatter, you know."
And the infield chatter, one time I guess a relatively new Ensign was on board. The movies as I remember were in the wardroom and the officers would come in and sit down. Only one-fourth of the crew and one-fourth of the officers could go there because the others had to be on duty. And this new green ensign was sounding off as being kind of salty and this and that. Finally one of the older guys got sick of it and he says, "For God's sake," he says, "Why don't you shut up? Trigger's got more time on here than you have!" Old Roy Rogers' Trigger.
B: Alright. Thanks a lot.
H: You're welcome.
(The tape ends briefly then begins again.)
H: …..And so there was always a reward to get back. And the executive officer is the one that does all of this. But as signal officer I would do the choosing. Basically I'm doing the choosing in the [forehead]. Basically also, he takes whatever I do and puts it through.
Well one of the things that I got determined about being a darned reserve was that I felt that why send somebody back that doesn't deserve to go back, you know. The slacker, the bad seed in the group. And so I told the second one, "You have to earn your way. The good guys are going back." So the next time when one came through, I don't know how many there were, probably three, four usually. That's what there was. There were about twenty -some in the whole signal corps. I did just that.
And so the guys that are on deck getting their assignment, or I mean waiting to get on a destroyer I guess it was, that was going back to Pearl or somewhere to take em back. And up comes the exec, listening to somebody, a First Class Signalman I guess, that I thought was no good at all. Bad seed. He went to the exec and complained and the exec said I was wrong. So he takes a fellow off the deck that's packed to go back to the states. Says, "You're not going." And so I was really upset. I was really upset! So I told the yeoman that I'm not picking anybody anymore. So I don't know whether he told the exec or not but anyway that's what [ ].
So later on we get another order. So the yeoman come down to me to get so and so and so. I says, "You know I'm not picking anybody. Tell the exec to pick his own." So I guess the exec did. I can't remember whether he did or not. But he called me in then of course. And we had a heart to heart talk. Which meant he did the talking and I listened. He told me, you know, "You reserves don't know how to run the Navy." And so on and so forth. All this and that. You would be amazed at how good friends we became after that. I tell you, when he wanted something, he'd call me in and "Sit down here," like father and son. But it irritated me that … And I told the exec. I said, "You should be court-martialed." He went over my head. He had to go through me, the chain of command. But anyway that's the difference between a reserve and a regular.
|Oral History Interview with Harley F. Loker.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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|Harley, Loretta & Rex Loker