|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Douglas Fuller by Gordon Doule. He discusses his experiences in the US Navy during World War II.
Oral history conducted by Gordon Doule May 12, 1994
F: My name is Douglas Fuller. Born in Oshkosh August 27, 1922. My spouse's name is Jean, her maiden name was [Allard]. We were married in January 19, 1944.
Occupation - right now I'm now retired. I had my own cleaning service for about 20 years. I then went to Kimberly Clark and after that I retired from Kimberly Clark and still maintained some cleaning service.
Children's name are: Roxanne, Ross, Sandy, and Bryce who died of polio, and Slaton. Went to school Merrill, started the elementary school, junior high at Merrill, and then Oshkosh High School. My parents' name were Earl Fuller and Theresa Tomasko.
I basically lived in Oshkosh all my life except for six years with the Navy and one year in West Bend. I was in the Navy, of course, and served from January of '43 'til January of '48. Enlisted on January 7, '42 discharged in January 6 of '48. I enlisted. Never owned a draft card in my life.
I was a bell hop in Oshkosh prior to going in the service. As a bell hop I was still going to high school. So basically, I enlisted right out of high school.
The town didn't change too much in the six years that I was gone other than that there didn't seem to be too many jobs around town, so that's one of the reasons why I went into business for myself, the cleaning service.
I started my boot camp in Great Lakes then I went to Port School in Great Lakes. Upon graduation from Port School I went to Quantico, Virginia where I was attached to the Marines. That was short-lived - I was only there about six weeks and then sent to Norfolk with orders to go to a code name of Base [Flivver]. We never did find out where that was. We shipped out of Norfolk and went down to Panama. Went through the locks there, and were out to sea about two days, and all of a sudden a ship came around and took us back to Panama. Apparently Base [Flivver] was a base or an island or something the Japanese must have captured, so consequently we never made it there. On that trip, going down from Norfolk to Panama, there were two ships loaded with munitions - they were AK, I believe they were called, and two destroyers. There was a fast run, where supposedly the first convoy to get through that area without a casualty. We stopped at various islands like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Kingstown, Jamaica and St. Martin's; a few other islands, dropping off munitions along the line. And there were several incidents that happened while we were at sea. There were German submarines that were sighted. The destroyers got credit for sinking two subs at that time. Being aboard these two ships loaded with munitions, everybody was pretty edgy about that, because, well, it was no radio contact and no signals or anything else, we were just following a zig-zag course so-to-speak. And one time we zigged and the other ship zagged, and we missed each other by about ten feet which was quite a scare.
So anyway, nothing happened out of that, although when we were in Guantanamo Bay, a couple of friends of mine were walking along the beach and we found all kinds of pieces of ammunition, this kind of stuff, and they told us that an ammunition ship had been hit just a short ways from where we were, and a lot of the debris and everything was along the beach, so it must have been quite an explosion, so we were thankful we got through that thing without any problems. So anyway, dropped off in Panama, and we were so-called Temporary Ship's Company at a Naval hospital there in Panama, waiting for further orders. That turned out to be about a year and a half there and then I was transferred up to Nicaragua. [Printo] Nicaragua, which was just a small village. There, they had a bunch of PBMs and PBYs flying out of there, it was a Naval Air Base that did submarine patrol duty. Some of my duties there, well, it was varied, being a corpsman, we would go out on a converted PT-boat and go to sea while the planes...
D: For the record, those PBYs that he's referring to were like a big flying boat.
F: That's right. And they carried depth charges and various things like this. I mean, trying to site subs, and of course, they dropped the depth charges from there. Anyway, I'd be aboard this PT converted into a sort of like an ambulance, so-to-speak, they had places they could put stretchers and that sort of thing. We'd go to sea when the planes would take off early in the morning for the patrol duty, then we'd come back in after they'd take off. Then in the evening we'd go out again when the planes were due back in. This was basically a crash area, maybe about ten square miles of area that planes were supposed to land if they were in trouble and couldn't make it back to the actual landing area. And that was the reason for us being out there. Actually, I had time to do a little so-called deep-sea fishing - made some homemade rods and reels and this sort of stuff, not necessarily reels, but made an outfit something like...what you made in woodworking class back in school days where you could wind up the clothesline. Well, we'd wrapped up our line in that. We made our own baits, out of spoons, a regular mess-hall spoon, we'd take that and bend it around and fashioned a hook on that sucker, and away we'd go from there. We caught quite a few fish and that sort of thing. In fact, we used to take the fish that we would catch and bring them back to the cook and they'd clean those up and we'd have fresh fish rather than that GI frozen stuff. They appreciated the fish that we'd catch. It was really fun, because basically that stuff tastes a lot like salmon, most of the fish that we caught. It was quite interesting. I don't know if you want me to tell about that other experience or not. Another one of my duties, was so-called 'pro-shack.' I was in charge of that. The government of Nicaragua had control over the houses of ill-repute in town. So consequently we had 'pro shack' where you'd get your prophylactic before you'd go to town, and when you'd come back you'd be serviced that way too, provided that anybody had any problems or if they had contact with some of the natives.
But anyway, another part of my job was to check the girls in the houses of ill-repute for venereal diseases. I'd draw blood samples once a month from them, and also take vaginal smears for gonorrhea and run those. That was quite an experience because when I'd walk through town and all the natives there knew who you were, because quite a reputation for that type of a job, and those that were of the so-called middle class, those were the ones that had shoes on Sunday, they'd shake their fist at you and call you names and this sort of thing, they'd call me 'puto,' which was basically meant 'pimp,' I guess, but anyway, it was sometimes hard to get service in some of these places like restaurants and that sort of thing, the so-called better places.
The president of Nicaragua owned a match factory, so therefore it was illegal for any native to have a cigarette lighter. Of course cigarette lighters were always good, like the Hershey Bar thing, you know, you could always get something in trade for it. So anyway, a young gal was caught with a cigarette lighter she was put in jail. By being in jail, you had to pay room and board and these people didn't have any money so they had to earn their way out of it, by earning their way out of it they would be put into these houses of ill-repute. And of course, any girl caught on the streets messing around with somebody they weren't married to, they also were put in jail and they had to earn their way out the same way. So anyway, there was quite a variety of girls that were available to the personnel that wanted to take advantage of them. But being in the business I was in, it didn't fare too well with me. I wasn't interested in any of that. I wanted to "save" myself for my lovely wife.
D: But you weren't married?
F: I was not married at the time, no. I came back from there in December of '43. When I came back - December 27 I got into town. Naturally, I contacted my sweetheart of, well, let's see, I started going with her when I was eleven, she was ten. I met her on a fence. She was trying to sneak into a Boy Scout meeting or something or other, and she got caught on the fence and I helped her down off of there, and we started going together at that time. So anyway, came back home, and on New Year's Eve, we went down to the American Legion for a...well, the Legion was holding a dance. At two minutes before 12:00 I proposed to my, who is now my wife, Jean, and she didn't accept until the next year, that was about two or three minutes after 12:00. So anyway, I proposed on New Year's Eve, naturally, January 1, '44. That New Year's Eve, my wife and I, well, my sweetheart, the gal that accepted my proposal, we went to a movie. At that movie, we were called out of it. At that time, it was my dad on the phone and he told me that we got word that my brother was missing in the Pacific. He was aboard an airplane coming back from New Zealand going back to Guadalcanal and the plane went down and it was lost, and we were notified that he was missing. About two weeks later we were told that there was no chance of survival. So my wife and I decided well, rather than waiting over a long period of time or until I got out of service, we decided to get married right then and there. So on the 19th of January we got married. Right from the church we jumped on a train and went down to Milwaukee for six days. Then I proceeded to Boston for further assignment, and my wife went back to Oshkosh. So, that was basically our honeymoon, there was no reception, no anything, ten people were in the church and they were all related to us except for one individual that heard we were getting married and she decided she was gonna crash the wedding.
But anyway, after being in the Fargo Building in Boston for a period of time, waiting for assignment, at that time you were not supposed to be assigned outside of a combat area, I mean, you were supposed to be assigned outside of combat, you weren't supposed to be into any fighting being the lone male survivor. So I was sent to a school for Pharmacist's Mates, Corpsman, for independent duty, basically assigned to LSTs and that type of service. I went to that school and from there I got an assignment to an LST which was built in Jeffersonville, Indiana. We left there in April in floodwaters, and went down the Ohio, down the Mississippi, into the Gulf of Mexico, took a shake-down in Panama City, Florida, then went on up into Little Creek, Norfolk area for assignment. For assignment there, instead of going over for the invasion of Normandy we were assigned the training of other LST crews. And so we sailed, basically, up and down the Chesapeake, training crews, we'd go to sea for ten days, do this training and then come back, in port for four days, and then go back again. I had my wife, Jean, come to Norfolk, and she had quite a few good experiences in Norfolk, being a sailor's town, it was ten days that I wasn't around. She had a job at the hospital and it was quite an experience getting home from her work every day. Anyway, I was aboard that LST for about 19 months, and during that time my wife became pregnant, and we felt it was best that she come back to Oshkosh. So, the ship was assigned to go into the Pacific so I brought her back to Oshkosh, I went back to the ship, and when I got back there I had orders that sent me off the ship to Staten Island, New York. There I worked in the pharmacy there, or sick bay, that serviced small craft - mine sweepers and that sort of thing, servicing the crews that came off the seas.
An interesting thing that happened - every once in a while they'd find bodies in the sea or something like this, and they'd bring them to our dispensary for identification. That was one of my jobs, to fingerprint the individuals, what we called 'floaters.' When a person's been in the water for any length of time, their hands swell and that sort of thing, and actually they crack across the backs of the fingers. And the fingers, of course, when a person is dead, is quite rigid, and it's very difficult to get fingerprints. So, what I did, I took a scalpel, and cut off the skin, just by the first joint, you just make an incision around there and you can peel the skin off, slip it on your own finger and you can make beautiful sets of fingerprints. Well, just to back-track a little bit, I had a corpsman that came aboard the LST that I was on, and he had done duty at Brooklyn Medical Supply Depot. And he had stolen about 5,000 syrettes of morphine. And when he was aboard ship, after I got to know him a little bit, he asked me what these [syrettes] of morphine were, and what he should do with them, because he had stolen thinking he could sell them for a profit, something like that. Then he started getting a little leery of carrying those things around. I said, hey, you gotta get rid of the stuff because I just won't tolerate it. So, we threw it overboard. Well, getting back, now, to Staten Island, I'd taken these fingerprints, and after I'd been doing this for a couple of months, maybe five or six different 'floaters,' I was called in one of the offices one time, and there was an FBI man wanted to see me. Right away, the only thing I could think of was this doggoned morphine syrettes. Actually, he wanted to know how I was getting such good fingerprints, because nobody got fingerprints like that before off of 'floaters.' When I told him, he says, that's a no-no, you can't do that. That's a bad thing to do, by dismembering the body. Removing parts of the body, or something like that, you just can't do that anymore. Oh, I got beautiful sets of prints. That's a no-no, you don't do that. So anyway, I discontinued that, but I sure had a scare there, for a minute, the first thing somebody told me this FBI man was around, hey, woah... that morphine, I'm in trouble now! But it didn't work that way.
D: But that was certainly a pity to let a body go unidentified because you weren't allowed to take the skin off...
F: You could get some prints, but it was very difficult to getting a good set of prints, and they were usually pretty smudged by doing it the conventional way, but my system, they were such beautiful prints and they really wondered about that.
D: They ought to have made it a standard procedure.
F: But anyway, while I was there in Staten Island, by this time, my wife was ready to deliver, it was May 1 when my first child was born. I got word that she was in the delivery room. The telephone operator called, and there was a message for me, and fine, that was it. I got emergency leave and headed home, and had a five day emergency. So anyway, came home, saw my wife, saw my new child. Real thrill, she was scared because she knew I wanted a boy and it was a girl, but mighty happy with it irregardless, you know.
D: Couldn't take it back.
F: Nope, can't take them back. So on my way back to Staten Island I hit Time's Square just at the time they announced VE Day, 8th of May. Wow, I got caught in that mob on Time's Square. That was quite a celebration to see. Quite a thing to go through. That was happy times. Then, from there, I was accepted in a x-ray schooling, and I was assigned in St. Albans for my schooling. And that was uneventful other than I graduated in five months and it was a sixth months course. I was an instructor while I was a student, it seemed that I had just a natural aptitude and ability for x-rays. I just loved that work. So upon finishing school I was sent up to Sampson, New York. In the meantime, the last two months of my being in St. Albans I had my wife and child come to St. Albans, New York. Then I was transferred up to [Samson,] New York, which there was a TB hospital, specialized in TB. They had about 33,600 patients with TB. And they had little Quonset huts or little cabins for the people there, with pot belly stoves and charcoal. There wasn't much living quarters but I finally got my wife and daughter up there, and the week after they were up there I got my orders down to Dublin, Georgia, to take over the x-ray department for a research hospital down there for rheumatic fever. I guess, the only reason why I was, is because I was regular Navy plus I had the proper rating that they wanted for that position, plus the record that I had established in the school in St. Albans. I was placed in charge of this, and I had twelve technicians under me. And I was down there about a year and our son was conceived down there. And shortly after that I got orders to go to the Marine Corps. So consequently Jean came back to Oshkosh and I went out to California in the First Marine Division, they were establishing a medical battalion, which was something new, the Marines just didn't have anything of that consequence. Anyway, it was a new conception. This was at Camp Pendleton, and what a place that is! Huge - mountains, you wear out shoes in a hurry out there 'cause there's a lot of rock and junk - it was not too good.
But anyway, at Camp Pendleton, that's how I got some Marine experience or Marine duty, I was attached to [ ] Rifle Company for awhile, and it would vary. I'd be with the Rifle Company then I'd go back into the sick bay and handle x-ray and back out to the Rifle Company...Anyway, that's where I ended my Naval service discharge in San Diego, started to hitchhike back to Oshkosh, figuring I could save some money, and that didn't work out very good, it didn't save an awful lot of money. I got as far as Needles right on the border of Arizona and California, and it got cold that night, and I decided, of course, this is December, I heard a train whistle and figured I better head for the railroad tracks, I jumped the train and came back to Oshkosh. And from there, got a job in West Bend as an x-ray technician, but the pay wasn't what I wanted so consequently, after five months, went down to Milwaukee for five months, took a job with my brother-in-law cooking and that didn't work out too well. I'm left handed and he couldn't stand to see anyone with his left hand using a knife! So I came back to Oshkosh and started my business. That's basically my Naval or military...
D: Who was your most interesting person that you remember? That you met in the course of your duties?
F: Actually, I met several, but one that really made an impression was when I was on that LST. There was a mess attendants, and of course every mess attendants at that time were Negroes. And he would come down to sick bay and borrow every single medical book that I had for reading. And one time I asked him if he intended to be a doctor. He said, no, he said, I just want something worthwhile reading. I don't like comic books. And his English, his vocabulary was just absolutely fabulous. And he had been a sophomore in the University of Indiana, prior to being drafted, and I often wonder what happened to this guy, because, being a Negro, and at that time, that's the only place Negroes served in the Navy was in the mess hall.
D: Yeah, it wasn't integrated until Truman.
F: But anyway, the intelligence of this individual who had a meaningless job, and the ability that he had was just something. Because some of the officers we had, like our supply officer - he also didn't graduate, he had about one or two years in college but his dad was a store keeper, and so consequently became a supply officer, you know, one of those 90-day wonders. And he couldn't hold a candle to the person that had to feed him his food. And it was just a shame. He impressed me. There was a Dr. [ ] that I ran into. I was a first-class corpsman and he always called me 'Chief.' And he had just gotten out of Germany, the last ship out of Germany so-to-speak. He was Jewish, and a very, very intelligent man. But he spoke with a German accent, a broken accent. But, anyway, he had come over to the States and from there he went to Mayo Clinic and he specialized in radiology. He specialized in radiology and was in this research hospital in Dublin, Georgia. And the man was just absolutely brilliant. He would take x-rays and read them and then he'd order additional x-rays depending on the condition and hound the various doctors for more information on this individual. And he would make diagnoses that were really out of this world, I mean, right to the point. Not only was this a research hospital in rheumatic fever, but we also handled a lot of veterans patients at that time, too, from WWI. And we had some of these casualties of WWII there too. And the things that he did - one time I asked him, I said, doctor, how come you chose radiology out of all the specialties that you could have taken? He said, because this is the only thing that I ever had to study and work at in my life. He said, all the rest of it came easy. He says, this is difficult, and he said, the difficult things are the things you remember.
D: How true.
F: How true. And that man he actually, he offered to...
|Oral History Interview with Douglas Fuller
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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