|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Gilbert Pollnow, Phd. by Gordon Doule. He discusses his experiences in the Navy during World War II.
Gilbert Pollnow Interview
Conducted by Gordon Doule
October 26, 1993
My name is Dr. Gilbert Pollnow. I'm 68 years old. I was born in the City of Oshkosh on January 17, 1925. My first wife's name was Ca… was ah, Geneva Yantze and I had two children by her; Steven John and Nicole Denise. My present wife's name is Catherine. I'm still married ah, I'm a retired professor of chemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. I ah, attended the ah, Jefferson School through the 4th grade and then ah, and then transferred to the old Peace Lutheran parochial school where I graduated at the end of the eighth grade and entered the Oshkosh High School. I graduated from Oshkosh High ah, in 1942. Albeit without, with some reluctance. I tried to enlist in the Navy at the age of 16 in 1941 immediately following Pearl Harbor but the recruiters discovered my altered confirmation certificate and checked with the courthouse and ah, promptly ah, terminated my attempt to get into the service at that time. And so I made a pact with my father that I would finish high school if he would sign the papers in advance that I could join the navy the day after graduation.
And the only reason I choose the branch, the Navy, was that ah, being seventeen, they were the only branch of the service that would take ah, enlistees at the age of seventeen.
My ah, father's name was Arthur Ewald Pollnow and my mother's name was Alma Clara Sonnenberg. And I had two brothers and a sister. I ah, have lived in Oshkosh ah, much of my ah, life. Ah, I lived here from the date of birth until 1942 when I transferred to Great Lakes. And then spent four years on active duty in the Navy. I came back to Oshkosh and ah, attended Wisconsin State University which at that time was Oshkosh State Teachers College, in 1942 to 1946. Upon graduating from there I went to the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1950 and got my masters degree in physical chemistry that same year ah, then completed my doctorate in physical chemistry in 1954. I then went to work for Dow Corning Chemical Corporation in Midland, Michigan until 1958, returning to Milwaukee and working for the Allis Chalmers Corporation from 1958 to '61. Whereupon I came back to Oshkosh and took a position as Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, which at that time was called Oshkosh State College.
Ah, at any rate ah, I spent 4 years, well actually three years, eight months and fourteen days in the active duty because since I enlisted in the regular Navy I was on what was called a "skivvy cruise." Which was until your 21st birthday. And so I ah, on my 21st birthday was in Shanghai, China. And ah, was then shipped back to ah, San Francisco where I was discharged on February 25, 1946.
My ah, the days about Oshkosh, I suppose, I remember the Great Depression ah, because in the '30s my father was adversely affected without employment like many others, although we managed to stay off the public relief. But ah, I also recall ah, Steve Wittmann who was my childhood or boyhood idol, who was a famous race pilot of that era.
When I returned to Oshkosh of course the ah, I had matured a great deal and ah, in fact when I look at my picture taken in boot camp and even during the years aboard ship, I realize what a boy I was at the age of seventeen. Of course, coming back to Oshkosh with many of the veterans ah, the city had ah, definitely changed. I was able to frequent the taverns for one thing and we use to sit and play Sheepshead at the old Peacock Bar and Grill. And ah, then ah, 'course this was while we were still going to school, and actually when I first got out of the service, I ah, also worked briefly for the Leach Co. making wooden ladders when they were on 6th and South Main. But I apparently developed an allergy at that, during the service. So I had to quit that job. Then I went to work for Timken Detroit Axle Co., again briefly, learning to run a Warner-Swazey turret lathe. Then unfortunately, the UAW/CIO which I was forced to join, decided to go out on strike. And since they went out on strike ah, I decided to start college in the summer of 19 ah, 46. And well ah, the rest of the story has already basically been enumerated.
I served in the, my first ship was a three-masted schooner tied up to Commonwealth Pier No. 1 in East Boston, Massachusetts. And this ship, much to my dismay at the time, of course I'd wanted to get on a capital ship like most young guys of the era who had a great sense of patriotism, and wanting to participate in the war. But any rate, this ship I discovered after my ah, actually after my retirement as a professor, had a very illustrious history. It had been in, had raced in a famous race back in 1929 from New York to Santander, Spain. But, any rate, it had been converted during the war to an anti submarine patrol vessel. And we use to sail between Cape Cod and the fishing banks off of Nova Scotia. And we were armed with a 3 inch 50 gun and depth charges and ah, "K" guns and sonar and radar and "mousetraps" which were an early form of rocket.
I managed to get a transfer from that vessel to the submarine chasing training center in Miami and from there I ah, I was attached to a small auxiliary gasoline tanker, the U.S.S. Nemasket. And we went on a shake down cruise from New Orleans, where the ship was completely outfitted, ah, having been built actually at Cargill, Minnesota. And then we went on shake down up to Norfolk, Virginia, and thence down to Aruba where we filled up with aviation gasoline and then through the Panama Canal and to San Diego. And ah, from that point we ah, went to Honolulu and actually to Pearl Harbor and the Ford Island Naval Base where we operated out of and carried "av gas" for a few months down to Christmas Island which is near the Equator. We did that primarily to gain experience in ah, the high speed pumping of gasoline which at that time was 130 octane which was required for the bombers and high performance aircraft engines.
After a few month doing that, the Nemasket then went to ah, the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Time won't permit all the details here to be spelled out but did go to ah, Eniwetok, to Ulithi Atoll, to ah, we ran most of the "av gas" into the Palau Islands for the B-24 Liberators which were used to bomb the Philippine Islands. And from there we participated in the invasions of ah, Iwo Jima and ah, Okinawa. And of course at Iwo Jima and at Okinawa we experienced our first adverse encounters with the Kamikaze pilots. And of course, being on a gasoline tanker ah, needless to say we were quite ah, apprehensive about the possible consequences. Although we'd all been trained in fire fighting techniques ah, prior to our original shake down cruise, we realized that out in the open, if our tanks ever caught fire, we really wouldn't have much of a chance, despite the fact that we had a tank tops spraying system and a below decks carbon dioxide system for extinguishing the fires.
Ah, at the, after the, let's see, after the Okinawa invasion, we were stationed at Kerama Retto which is an anchorage a few miles west of Okinawa where most of the service fleet was harbored. And then we went back to the ah, then we went to the invasion of the Philippines as part of Service Task Force 10. And we were waiting there in San Pedro Bay for the invasion of Japan when the news of the ah, dropping of the atom bomb ah, came to us. And World War II eventually came to an end.
Well I suppose some of my most interesting experiences that I recall were ah, aboard my very first ship which, being a three masted schooner, we didn't use the sails very often, but I was seasick from the first day we went out in a Northeaster out of Boston. And my bunk, being the junior man on the ship, was the only one forward of the hawse pipes. Now anybody who knows anything about where the center of gravity of the ship is, the ship rotates about its center of gravity in the waves. So of course I got what amounted to a super teeter totter ride. In fact the first night I couldn't even get into my bunk. I just wound up sleeping on the deck. But nevertheless, I was never excused from my duties as a quartermaster. I had to stand watch in the chart house and the bridge with the officers. My duties at that time as a quartermaster were to make sure the charts were, the navigational charts were up to date. And of course we all stood watch and took care of the ship's log which recorded all the events of the period of the watch.
As a young guy too ah, we went out and got into all kinds of ah, trouble in terms of drinking too much. And so on. I won't go through the details but as a result of one such episode, I wound up being confined to the vessel for a number of liberties, and subsequently taught myself the ah, touch system of typing, which as a computer expert today, I can lay back on that tedious and rather unfortunate period but then again if you ah, if you take adversity, you can usually convert it to something worthwhile.
Aboard the ah, the name of the first ship was the U.S.S. Guinevere. Ah, aboard the second ship, the ah, U.S.S. Nemasket, I suppose some of the more interesting experiences included crossing the international dateline and being inducted into the realm of the "Golden Dragon."
And ah, I also had ah, another unfortunate experience I suppose, as a result of using the blinker ah, the ship's blinker signal lights. As a quartermaster I also had to be skilled in the operation of the signal lights. And at sea and in task forces we did have some radio communication with other ships in the task force but also quite often, we also used to use blinker lights to communicate with other ships.
And so at least this one day we were in port and, I think it was probably in Ulithi Atoll anchorage, and ah, and I ah we happened to be anchored next to another ship of the same type named the U.S.S. Petapsko. And I got to communicating with a fellow quartermaster over there on the bridge. And ah, I ah, in response to his question about how I liked our new captain who was, his name was Captain Dandrew who had previously been executive officer on the Petapsko; using the jargon of the day, I ah, I sent back on the blinker light, "Boy, is old Dandrew ever horse shit." Well, at any rate, he didn't read the communication very well because it's a fairly complex character string with lots of dots and I sent it very fast. And at any rate, he asked me to re… to send it back.
And about the time I got through sending it the second time, I heard a voice down on the navigation bridge below me, I ah, saying, "Pollnow, what was that last word?" And I looked down and here was Captain Dandrew. And I said, "Horseshit, sir." And he says, "Well, Pollnow, you're on report." Well, fortunately he told me that he would let me think that over. And so I thought it over for a couple of days and he finally called me into his stateroom and I attempted to explain to him that I only meant he was such a stickler for squared hats and ah, the regimentation that ah, we had gotten used to in boot camp but we were expected to carry it out even at sea and out in the battle area. So he left me off with just simply a warning but our very warm relationship from that point forward was never quite the same. And it taught me also I guess the ah, to be a little bit more careful about ah, what you say and do so that you don't offend anyone, when you don't mean to.
As far as the most interesting person I met, well I had a couple of officers on the very first ship I was on. I suppose I could attribute a good deal of my skills and interest in the Navy and navigation to those officers ah, that ah, taught me a great deal about navigation. Ah, even though I was seasick whenever we went to sea. I suppose doc…. Captain Dandrew on the second ship was one of the most memorable. Although I didn't keep in contact with him, I was for some years in contact with Lieutenant Joe Crohn and a Lieutenant Murphy. Ah, but I've lost contact with most of those people. I am still in contact with a few other of the enlisted personnel from the second ship, ah from the Menasket, ah, but I haven't actually succeeded in getting together with any of them.
Ah, as far as the value of the military experience on my life, I personally think it was invaluable. And I in fact recommended it to my two children; Nicole who served in the Air Force for one tour of duty, and my son Steven who spent one tour of duty in the Marines. Both unfortunately as enlisted men.
At the time I went in the service, ah, I was only seventeen and because of my haste to get in, my intellectual abilities were not able to be put to probably their full use. Although quartermaster/signalman school was the top class A school at the time for enlisted personnel.
But certainly all the experiences in the navy, the discipline, even to this day I basically am more or less of a "neatnick"; not a nitpicker on that but basically I put all my clothes away. And like in, when I went away to Great Lakes in 1942, we had to scrub all our own clothes on a washboard and rinse them out. Then we dried them inside out so that they wouldn't have to be pressed. And then of course when you put the clothes on, you turned them right side out and so then all the Navy pants and jackets and so on had the crease the other way. And to this day I find all those ah, the discipline of that era ah, well worth the time I spent in the service.
I did spend another four years in the reserve but ah, apart from attending the two week drills, or the two week annual cruises, I never got called back into the service. Whereas all the other ah, people in Oshkosh who were a member of Oshkosh Naval Reserve Division 9-222 wound up going back to Korea. And ah, unfortunately or fortunately, I had made application for a commission at that time and apparently my records had been sent then from Oshkosh to Kansas City in response to that request on my part. And then after I had received all the forms back, I believe there were like thirty some pages of forms I had to fill out to get ah, to be commissioned as an ensign. And by that time I lost interest and I simply didn't fill out the forms and perhaps it was that delay that at any rate the Korean War passed me by.
Oral History Interview with Gilbert F. Pollnow
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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