USS UTAH BB-31 / AG-16
UTAH STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEE: Charles Christensen
INTERVIEWER: Kent Powell
DATE: September 9, 1989
SUBJECT: World War II
KP: This is an interview with Charles Christensen in Plain City, Utah on September 9, 1989. We're going to be talking about his experiences during World War II in the Navy and particularly his experiences at Pearl Harbor during the attack o n December 7, 1941. Let me start out by me asking you where you are from. You're a native from Utah? Where were you born?
CC: In Salt Lake City.
KP: What's your birthdate?
CC: February 23, 1920. I'll be 70 in February.
KP: Where did you grow up in Salt Lake? Which school did you attend there?
CC: We lived all over the City. I went throug h ninth grade, junior high and that was it. It was during the depression. People had no jobs. We h~d a big family with ten kids. So I quit school to help my parents.
KP: After ninth grade you went to work?
CC: Yes. I worked for Sugarhouse Floral. I worked there for a while emptying those beds that they put the seeds in to raise the flowers for sale. After that I went to work for the Hudson Bay Company. When people brought their furs in for summer storage we would clean them before we stored them. The chemicals they used to clean the furs with made me sick so I had to quit. That' s when I decided to go into the service. I really wanted to get into t he Navy I figured it was more romantic (Ha Ha). I wasn't thinking of wars or anything like that when I went in.
KP: When did you join.
CC: December 18, 1940.
KP: So you would have been twenty years old.
CC: Yes, turned 21 while I was at boot camp in San Diego.
KP: So you worked quite a while, about five years.
CC: Yes. I also spent two years in a Civilian Conservation Camp.
KP: Where was that?
CC: In Bountiful. There were a lot of floods that came down Farmington canyon. So our job was to terrace the mountains. Dig ditches, pile the dirt up on the low side o when it snowed a lot and it would melt it would just sit there and soak into the ground instead of creating a big run off. I had an uncle that died in one of the floods.
KP: This was prior to your joining the navy that you were in the Civilian Conservation Corp.
CC: Yes. I went in there when I was seventeen and got out when I was nineteen.
KP: You could only stay in two years.
CC: Yes, in the CCC's.
KP: So that was kind of a natural thing. Were there a lot of people doing that getting out and going right into the service?
CC: Yes. Another thing, they started the draft and I was close to twenty one. You had to be twenty one to be drafted then. I was almost twenty one when I went in.
KP: They were just drafting for the Army. The Navy was still all voluntary.
CC: Yes, I went in Dec. 18, 1940, almost a year to the day they bombed Pearl Harbor.
KP: So the attraction to the navy was a chance to see the world?
CC: Right. A girl in every port. The old navy saying you know.
KP: Did you ever debate back and forth between the navy and the army which would be better?
CC: No, I think I had my mind made up I wanted to go in the navy.
KP: The thoughts of sailing and getting sea sick and all that didn't bother you then?
CC: At the time I didn't even think about that. When I came out of boot camp in San Diego they put me on a small ship the USS Manley, was the name of it, a four stacker destroyer. One of the real old ones. We sailed from San Diego to Long Beach, California, the Utah was at anchor in the harbor at Long Beach, that was the first sail I had in the navy.
KP: Were you in transit to go on board the Utah at the time?
CC: Yes, that's where the Utah was. At that time the Utah was considered the best duty in the pacific fleet. I wasn't picked because I was from Utah. I was just lucky.
KP: Why was that?
CC: The Utah's home port was in Long Beach. She would go to Hawaii for training and back. She had been converted from battleship to a bomb target, was also a gun school for all the latest anti-air craft guns. So the ship would go to Hawaii and stay over there for two or three months training gun crews and acting as a bombing target for other ships. When making bomb runs, planes from aircraft carriers would drop 100 lb. water bomb on the Utah for target practice. So we were away from home port only two or three months. Other ships were at sea for undetermined lengths of time.
KP: Were you ever on the Utah when they were dropping these water bombs?
KP: I've never heard of that before, what was that like?
CC: The first time I experienced this was not too long after I went aboard, we sailed to Hawaii. When we arrived in Pearl Harbor people started loading big railroad ties. They were about fifty or sixty feet and take six guys with big timber hooks to handle them. They laid them all over the deck, bow, stern, anything that was open. This was to protect the main deck. Then we went to sea. Our sailing area for bombing practice was between Aloha tower and Diamond head, just outside of Pearl Harbor. No other ships were allowed. When we went on a bomb run we had a destroyer lay off from us about a thousand yards. We were radio control and when we had a bomb run we'd all go down to the third deck and then the destroyer would steer us back and forth and zig-zag, then the planes from the Navy would come over and drop these 100 lb. water bomb on us. After each attack we would come up on top side and paint the hits a different color, yellow, blue, whatever color belonged to that particular squadron so they could count the hits from the air.
KP: Were these like great big balloons?
CC: No , they were make out of tin .
KP: So when it hit the water would splash all over.
CC: They would bust all up, it would make a pretty good mark in the tie so you could mark it.
KP: Could you hear them down below?
CC: Yes, the other things they did would bring gun crews to the Utah for training on all the latest anti-aircraft guns. Five inch, thirty-eights, one point ones, twenty and forty millimeters. We had them on the Utah and we would bring gun crews from other ships over to the Utah. Our crews would train them with these new guns. During a bomb run they put sheds made out of metal over the top of the guns so if the bomb hit, it would not hurt anything because the roof of the shed was pitched.
KP: Coming to the attack at Pearl Harbor what were the circumstances for the Utah then. You had come over from Long Beach on one of these training runs? Do you
recall when you had left Long Beach on that one. How long was the trip across from Long Beach?
CC: It use to take us if they went straight across and really cranked it up it would take about three days. But it seemed l ike it took about a week.
KP: You wouldn't do any training until you got to Hawaii is that right?
KP: Then different crews would come on?
CC: In this particular case just before Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5th, we had been out on a bombing run, had all those ties on the main deck and all the guns were covered with dog houses. We had no way to shoot anything during the attack . When we came in to Pearl Harbor, we pulled into and tied up at the USS Saratoga's berth.
KP: That was an aircraft carrier?
CC: Yes, it was one of the biggest carriers we had the day we came in was Friday so we spent all day Saturday stacking the ties so on Monday big cranes could lift
them off and put them on the dock, and so the ties were still on the ship Sunday morning when they attacked.
KP: You did this because you were going back to Long Beach?
CC: Yes, when I came aboard the ship in Long Beach they assigned me to the quartermaster division. He's the person that during a battle, he cons the ship, handles the helm and plots courses when at sea . I had the watch Sunday morning eight to twelve, the night before a friend who was first class quartermaster and myself were trying to sleep down below deck, but it was so hot we just grabbed our blankets and came up top side and then went into what they call the conning tower. Its a big metal room that has twelve inch thick metal surroundings, that's where the captain, admiral or who ever was in charge conned the ship during a battle, so they couldn't get hurt . We had a couple of leather couches in that room and that's where we also use to draw up the charts so we came up to lay on the couches. I left word with the night watchman where I was so he could wake me in time for my watch, he woke me early enough so I would have time to eat before I had to relieve the guy that was on watch the night before. It was about seven thirty when I relieved the Watch. When the ship is in port you raised the national ensign and the union jack which was a blue flag with 48 white stars. You raise both of these at eight O'clock A.M. I was standing on the bow getting ready to raise the union jack when I heard the roar of air plane engines. I looked at my watch I had about four minutes before I actually had to raise the flag so I stood there watching to see these planes go over. A big bunch of them came in over Pearl City. I really couldn't tell anything at that time. I didn't suspect they'd be anything but ours. I noticed that as they came in three of them peeled off and came for us. I could see them come right at the side of us. I could see torpedos hanging o n the bottom of them. I thought (man what's this) they can't be dummy torpedos about that time they let them go. When the planes veered off_ I didn't know whose planes they were, I didn't know they were Japanese because we had never had plane recognition training , like they did later in the war. I stood there up on the bow and watched the torpedos come in and hit. It just raised the whole ship up. She's a good sized ship and I said "wow' while the torpedo bombers and dive bombers were strafing us the high level bombers were drop bombs also. First thought that came to mind was get down below and see if your buddies got out, they were just down one deck . So I ran back to quarter deck and went down the ladder to the next deck, there was oil all over everything, I couldn't even walk two or three steps and I'd fall down it was so slick : I finally got to the compartment and there was nobody in there. They had all gotten out.
KP: They had all gotten up on deck is that where they had gone?
CC: I guess. I didn't see any of them at that time. I came back up top side and the chief quartermaster who was in charge of our division was standing a little ways from the quarter deck house. Its a little house that sits in the center of the deck. He said "you better get over the side. She's going down." To complete the uniform when you are on watch as a quartermaster, you wear a forty five and so does the office of the deck, they were the only two that had arm's and its more or less a badge of authority when you are on watch . I had complete white uniform on when I came up, the chief asked me if I could swim with that forty-five on, and I said yes, he said you better get over the side, shes going down. You better get rid of flag.
KP: You could really feel it moving then?
CC: Yes, he said, "get rid of the flag", just drop it. But I went back to the quarter deck house and opened the drawer, put it where it belonged, closed the drawer, came back out and then went over the side.
KP: What made you do that.
CC: I think maybe it was respect for the flag. I can't think of anything else because it was tucked under my arm all this time, folded up. I never got it straightened out to hook it on the halyard. So I just put it away in the drawer and came back out. I went up the side where he was standing, and she was heeled over about half way. So I went over the side and slid down the bottom to what they call the bilge keels the ship has two of these keels, one on each side. These keels are like a long strip of steel sticking out of the bottom , they are about six feet below the water line. They are to keep the ship at an even keel.
KP: These would have been under water at normal times?
CC: Yes. I dove from the keel into water which was about four feet. We were only about fifty yards off the beach from where we were tied up. Oil was all over the water.
KP: Eight inches to a foot?
CC: More like four inches. I was splashing around in it and I swallowed some. I got real sick to my stomach .
KP: Did you throw up while you were swimming?
CC: No, after I got on the beach I did. We were tied up to two foxes; one fox on the bow and one on the stern. It took six eight inch and two ten inch lines to hold the
ship to the foxes.
KP: That in diameter?
CC: Yes, they had strung a rope from one fox to the other, and it was hanging down from just above the water. They used the rope to tie the small boats up to, liberty launches and the captain's gig etc. I got to the rope and hung on to it to catch my breath, because I was really wore out.
KP: Swimming in the oil was a lot different?
CC: Yes, with a full uniform and the forty-five, but I don't think the gun weighed all that much. I'm glad the rope was there because I don't think I would have made it otherwise. After resting there for a while I swam on to the island. I remember one guy was swimming along side of me, air planes were still strafing I don't know what type they were, I didn't get hit but I could hear the bullets hit the water. He went under, I guess he got hit.
KP: These planes were just above you then?
CC: Yes, maybe just a little higher than the roof of a house.
KP: They were coming in to shoot at you in the water?
CC: Yes, there was a bunch of guys in the water, as she heeled over the ties I was telling you about were tumbling all over the ship and into the water. I know they got a few guys.
KP: Just crushed them?
CC: Yes, when the torpedos hit some flew up in the air. They were stacked all over the main deck, above where the torpedos hit. Also there were some guys that were
going down eight inch, ten inch lines hand over hand to the foxes. The weight of the ship and the water finally busted everyone of the lines. Can you imagine how tight those ropes were, ten inch stretched down to about five inch size? The guys that were going down hand over hand, when the line snapped, were tossed around like rag dolls, and later when talking with some of these guys (they had there hands bandaged up) from the rope s tripping the flesh from there hands.
KP: I guess its like holding a rope as tight as you can and having it yanked out of your hands.
CC: Its worse because as the tension went out of the rope, it went back to it normal size. And that's what caused the flesh to be stripped from there hands.
KP: They fell into the water when it snapped?
CC: Yes. I hope most of them did. Some might have landed on the foxes, if they did hit the foxes they would have been hurt bad, because the foxes were big cement blocks. After I rested at the tie down rope for a while I swam to the island. I got up on the beach and it seemed like twenty or thirty feet from the water's edge. They had dug a big ditch. They were laying pipe. This was on Ford Island which is in the center of Pearl Harbor . There is a naval air base on that island and they were bombing and strafing it also because of the fighter planes that were parked there. Two or three of them got off before the runway was destroyed. I think they were digging the ditch to lay pipe for the married officers homes. The first thing I did was get down into the ditch were I stayed through most of the attack. The ditch was filled with other survivors. Then I started worrying about my friend that was with me in the conning tower the night before. He stayed in the tower while I went on watch. I got out of the ditch and walked the length of the ditch looking for him. I don't know why I did it was plain foolishness.
KP: There were other sailors in the ditch then?
CC: Yes, some said, "get back in the ditch you dumb ass do you want to get shot" I wasn't even thinking of getting shot. I never did find him, I found out later that he
went down with the ship. His body is still in the conning tower as far as I can figure.
KP: The door had closed and he wasn't able to open it.
CC: I think what happened was the door closed and when the torpedos went off it warped it. There was no way he could have opened it. By the way, he was from Utah also. He was married and had a wife in Long Beach.
KP: Was she from Utah?
CC: I didn't know. I never met his wife, probably would have if we didn't have the bombing. We got to be really good friends and he was teaching me the works.
KP: He was the quartermaster for the ship?
CC: He was first class quartermaster second in charge of his division. There was first, second, third class and recruit at the time I was recruit because I had just got out of boot camp. I'd only been in the navy a year.
KP: So he was both a friend and a person to help you learn the business?
CC: "Oh yes", both ways. We had gone to shore together a few times over in Hawaii. We had a beer together. (Nice guy).
KP: How much longer was it before you realized what had happened to him, a few days?
CC: Yes, it was quite a while before I finally realized that he never did get off the ship. I never did see his name on the list of survivors. The only ones on the list of dead were the ones they had found their bodies, the ones still missing weren't on any list.
KP: Had you been strafed on the ship before you got off?
CC: I could have been, I didn't realize, I was too confused with what was going on. I never even got scarred that I can remember.
KP: You were ready to put up the flag, the three air planes came in and torpedoed the ship, and the explosion raised the ship out of the water. You stayed on your feet that full time, it didn't knock you down. From there you went to check on your buddies to see how they were doing down below. You get there and see oil all over and they were gone. So you come back on deck and then this is when you meet the chief quartermaster, and he tells you to get rid of the flag and go overboard. I guess that probably just took five or ten minutes?
CC: Yes, not very long. It couldn't have been because I had on a watch that stopped at seven minutes after eight. I wish I would have kept it, it would have been a good souvenir. I didn't want it any more because I knew the salt water would ruin the insides, so I sold it. After the attack was over it appeared to me like it was after ten O'clock in the morning before they quit bombing us, dropping torpedos and strafing.
KP: So it was a little more than two hours?
CC: Yes, that's what it seemed to me, two and a half hours around that. I never did find out exactly how long any of this took place, but that was my guess. After that a sailor came over and told us we didn't have to stay down in the ditch any more to come over to the big building which was the bachelor officer's quarters. There was one thing I forgot to tell you. I had that forty-five on and I took it out of the holster and I only had one clip of ammo. I blew all the water out of the barrel as much as I could, slipped in the clip and got behind one of the stacks of wood that we had lifted off the ship and took aim on one of the planes that was coming in strafing, before I could pull the trigger an officer came up behind me and said "you better let me have that gun. I'm the senior officer right now and I don't have anything to show my authority." So I gave it to him , obeying orders.
KP: You didn't have a chance to fire it.
CC: No, before I pulled the trigger he came up behind me and I gave him the gun. After we got into the bachelor officers quarters they had a rec hall down in the basement that's where most of us congregated. They had the wives and children of married officers down there with us. Of course, we were in the basement in case we were attacked again. I kept getting sick and throwing up. They had navy doctors down there that checked us. They told me, you better take that oily uniform off and get rid of it your going to be sick until you do" I didn't have anything to wear so someone handed me a towel. It was a hand towel so it wouldn't go all the way around me. The ends would barely tuck in at my waist and it split down the side of my leg. One of the officers in charge told me to go with one of the wives and take a basket, go to the married officers houses on the beach. Get in their fridges and medicine cabinets and bring back anything you think we might need. All this time I was carrying the basket and trying to hold the towel on at the same time. There were others doing the same things .
KP: You didn't find a pair of pants while you were there?
CC: No , I didn't even think of looking for any. I was just doing what they told me to do. In fact, when we got back I kept asking around where I could get some clothes, and finally someone told me they had driven a truck out in the middle of the airstrip where they were handing out clothes. I got the word a little bit late so when I got out there it was pretty picked over. Everything I got was too big for me. Big or not at least they covered me and that's all I cared about. The next thing that happened was they assigned all the survivors to barracks were we had a bed and could clean up. The barracks were on ten dock. We spent the next week, maybe longer trying to identify the dead guys and helping to bury them. Worse job I've ever had in my life we'd wrap the bodies in canvas and put them in wooden boxes. I'm not very tall so when we'd lift the box it would tip toward me and if there was any liquid in the box from the body it would run all over my pants. Being Sunday morning and hot everybody was asleep in just underwear . There were sailors from the ships in the harbor helping identify. The way we identify the body was from the stenciling of the last name on each article of clothing which was a requirement of the Navy.
KP: Were you able to identify anyone form Utah?
CC: No, I didn't see anybody.
KP: The other part of your job was to put them in the canvas bags and put them in boxes and board them on the truck?
CC: Yes, we did that for a while and then we went on the other end putting them in the cemetery. They had a dozer dig out a big trench and we put a number on the
box and we had a stack with the same number on them. I guess the number was matched with a name on a list.
KP: Was there a lot that they didn't identify?
CC: I'm sure there were some. The next assignment was they took a whole group of us and assigned us to the USS Honolulu . I was on the Honolulu until 1943.
KP: Did you stay quartermaster?
CC: No, when I went aboard the Honolulu, they didn't have any openings in the quartermaster division they put me in the main deck gang. They are the people that would take charge of the anchor and cleaning up the ship, putting the lines out when your tieing up,.
KP: What kind of ship was the Honolulu?
CC: She was a light cruiser. She had fifteen six inch forty- eight guns. Five turret, three guns per turret and a bunch of five inch thirty eights and all the other smaller anti-aircraft guns. I was in seven major engagements on her.
KP: What were those seven?
CC: I can't remember all of them. We came to San Francisco were they had loaded eleven troop ships with Army guys and we had the job of protecting those ships in route to Melbourne, Australia. At that time the Japanese were bombing Perth and getting ready to launch an attack on Australia. All of these boys had been sent to Africa to fight for England. So we were bring our troops from the United States to help protect Australia. We were only in Melbourne for ten days so while the Army soldiers were in quarantine on ships for shots and stuff we were allowed to go ashore. I can't tell you how welcome the people there made us feel. We also got to go on liberty in San Francisco before going to Australia. Before going on liberty the officers told us not to say anything about the attack on Pearl Harbor they didn't even want us to say what ship we had been on and if it sunk.
KP: I assume people asked you about it though?
CC: Yes, we talked but we didn't say anything about the damage or how bad it was. When we arrived in Melbourne with all those soldiers they thought we had saved them from the Japanese attack, and you can't imagine how they felt towards us.
KP: So there weren't very many of you to show their gratitude toward?
CC: No, (HA HA) the people lined both sides of the street like they were expecting a big dignitary. One lady grabbed me by the arm as I went by and she said "If you can't find any place to sleep, I'll give you my address. I've got an extra bedroom . My boys over in Africa, you can stay at my house." But I never stayed at her house, but I thought it was real nice of her to invite me.
KP: They're naturally friendly down there.
CC: Yes, after we were there for ten days we escorted the troops to the port of New Maya, New Caledonia were the troops were unloaded. From there we went back to the states. We went into San Diego. The next thing we did was went to Kodiak, Alaska in the Bering Sea the first big island off of Alaska in the Aleutian chain, the Japanese occupied the last two islands of the Aleutian chain, "At tu and Kiska." Our purpose was to bombard them. And harass them. We would lay off the island and shoot two or three hundred shells at them. It was a cold day, I can remember that, and I can remember coming down, wondering what was going to happen because we hadn't seen any action since Pearl Harbor. When we got there we moved fairly close to whichever island it was that was bombarded the first time. A thick fog rolled in, so thick you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. That country is bad for fog, of course with instruments they have on a ship they know how close they are to the land even if they can't see it, and also they knew were the barracks and buildings were located, so we sailed in as close as we could get to the island , then were opened fire and shelled them for about fifteen minutes or so. Our six inch guns could fire so fast that they called them six inch machine guns. It was clear above the fog and you could see the Japanese firing their anti-aircraft in the air, not having radar they didn't know where the shells were coming from, they thought it was airplanes. As soon as they discovered it wasn't planes they started shooting at us. The first shells that burst over us was pretty scary. Later they showed us pictures that had been taken by aircraft of the area that we had bombarded and the pictures showed how much damage we had done to buildings, trees, etc. The buildings were all down and the tree's were just sticks.
KP: Tore the branches right off?
CC: Yes, we were in that area until August of 1942, that's when we went to Guadalcanal. That' s were the first marines landed . The Japanese had an airstrip witch was what we were after, it was called Henderson field. Guadalcanal is one island o f a series of islands called the Solomon Islands. A couple more are New Georgia and Bougenville. We were operating out of New Hebrides Islands. Esperanto Santos was the island we were on. Our task force was anchored in the bay, and we would proceed to Guadalcanal and we would intercept the Tokyo Express. There were the instructions we would receive from our Admiral in charge of our task force when ever they would detect the enemy was headed towards Guadalcanal. We were in several major engagements in that area. In one battle in that area the USS Helena was s unk, the St Louis was hit by a torpedo about thirty feet from the bow and had a big split from the water line to the main deck you could have walked
through, and the USS Honolulu lost fort y feet off her bow. In another battle the North Hampton was sunk. Did you see any of War and Rememberance?"
KP: I saw some of it, yes.
CC: A captain Henry?
CC: Pug is what they called him . He was captain of the North Hampton and we were in the same task force and were with the Hampton when she was sunk.
KP: It must be quite frightening to be on a ship when it's being shelled?
CC: Yes, It is scary. What I hated worse was bombing and strafing attacks by planes. I couldn't see the ships firing at us, but I could see the planes and the bombs
they were carring.
KP: They were coming for you?
CC: Yes, at the time of these engagements with the enemy I was a radar operator, and the radar was located near the stern and was on top of a steel pillar so there were no obstructions in the way of the radar beam. And during air raids I felt like a sitting duck, up high and the only protection being the metal enclosure, that I was inside of which had the radar antenna on top. The radar its self was a fire control type, used primarily to detect aircraft.
KP: Sounds like a nest up there?
CC: Yes, it was, we only had room for two or three guys up there. My job was to handle the radar, I was responsible for the control of four five inch anti-aircraft guns on the starboard side of the ship. Whenever we picked up a bogie, which is what they called the unidentified aircraft the radar picked up. I would crank in the calculations the radar would determine into an electronic connection with the four anti-aircraft guns. To determine if the aircraft were ours was made by a constant signal our aircraft imitated and if their signal was not received by the radar the aircraft was the enemy. I liked this job, although I hated it in one respect, whenever a day light air raid would occur the ship would lay a smoke screen and we were located right behind the two big smoke stacks. You couldn't breath and you would get grit in your eyes, and by the time they would finish I'd be black all over. They were pretty accurate and we done real well shooting down planes. I was in seven engagements while on the Honolulu. I can name some of them and some I can't recall. I was transferred off the Honolulu, and assigned to new construction. As a result of this I was transferred to Guadalcanal, where I waited for about thirty days for transportation back to the states to treasure Island. On arriving I was given a thirty day survivor leave, for being on a ship that had been sunk. When I got home my parents were shocked when they saw me. I was surprised also because back in Hawaii the navy had led us to believe they had sent messages to our parents that we were all right.
KP: So you stood in line and thought you'd send a message?
CC: Yes, It's the first my parents would have known I was alive, because they had read in the paper that the Utah, Arizona and Oklahoma had sunk.
KP: That's the first they knew you were alive?
CC: Yes, It's the first time I had seen them since I joined the navy in December of 1940, this was in March of .1943.
KP: That was at least one year and three months or more.
CC: Yes, Maybe six months after the war had started. I hadn't seen them or even heard from them.
KP: By then they had learned that the Utah had gone down .
CC: Yes, it was in the newspaper, they only said the three ships had been sunk the Utah, Oklahoma, and Arizona. They didn't put too much in the paper because they didn't know how much damage they had done. All they knew was my ship had been sunk. But I didn't know this. As a result, I didn't do anything to inform them that I was alright.
KP: Could you have sent another telegram for San Fransisco?
CC: Yes, I could have done something, my folks didn't have a phone. Had I known I would have sent them a telegram before we went to Australia.
KP: You were surprised that they were surprised?
CC: Yes, I told them "I thought you knew I was alright. I sent a telegram," they said "We never got anything." I never did ask any of the other sailors if their folks had received anything. So I'm not sure if they just didn't get mine or what. Because I'm sure they had a lot of messages to send out in that period of time. After I returned from leave I was sent to Norfolk, Virginia were the new ship was being commissioned. Being in that troop train was like being in a cattle car.
KP: This was 1943?
CC: Yes .
KP: You mean it wasn't a pullman coach?
CC: No, it was a troop train built for moving a lot of troops at one time . Across country there was a about thirty service men in each car. The cars were pulled by old steam engines, it was so hot we would open the window, and as a result all the grit and smoke would come into the car. I can remember laying on one of the hard seats in full uniform sweating like crazy. Every time we pulled into a little town everybody would jump off and run to the nearest bar and get a drink to cool off. When we finally arrived in Norfolk, I was assigned to a ship named the USS Harry F Bauer which was a new destroyer.
KP: What rank were you by then?
CC: I was a third class petty officer (coxswain) before the new crew went aboard the ship they sent all of us thru training classes. One class in particular was showing everyone the principals of how radar equipment is operated. As a result of me already knowing how to operate radar the captain told me personally that I was to be his number one radar operator, by the way the captains name was Henry J . Morgenthau, his father had been secretary treasurer of the U.S. I never did sail on the USS Bauer because of the following: During our time off from duty we were playing softball, I fell and skinned my left knee which later got infected, my knee swelled up and they sent me to the Boston naval hospital and the USS Bauer went to sea. And I was reassigned to the USS Scroggins which was a destroyer escort. Right after I went aboard the USS Scroggins we proceeded to Halifax Nova Scotia where we were assigned to convoy duty escorting convoys through the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. We were assigned primarily as submarine hunter or to protect transports and supply ships from submarine attack. We would pick up another convoy coming out of the Mediterranean headed back from the states. After we got back from one of the trips we were allowed a leave and recreation trip for two weeks to New York City as we came down the east coast just before we got to New York harbor we pick up through sonar gear an enemy submarine we made a run on this submarine dropping depth charges and hedge hogs and we must have hit it because of the amount of oil that came up to the
surface they figured it was a Nazi refueling sub.
KP: You didn't see any men come up from it?
CC: No, that was the last action I saw of the war.
KP: You had quite a career. Sailed right up to the end?
CC: I was on the Scroggins when the war ended. We were in Charleston, South Carolina when the war ended. We had gone out to sea on a trial run the day the news came of the war being over. So by the time we got back in port most of the excitement was over. And I was kind of disappointed (to put it mildly) because all the service men who were in port at the time were hugged and kissed by all the girls in town. After the war ended we didn't do much of anything for about six months then we were ordered to Green Cove Springs, Florida to put the ship in mothball.
KP: In May of 45 the war ended in Europe and August of 45 in Japan.
CC: So it was May of 1946 when I got hurt. When you put these ships in mothballs we would tie up four of these destroyer escorts abreast we were one of the outside
ships, so we had to let out both anchors one at a 45 degree and the other straight off the bow. We had let out one anchor and were changing anchor chains on the capstan, we had the slack chain we were taking off the capstan coiled up, and held in that position by an anchor chain brake to stop the excess chain from running back into the locker, as the brake was released I was accidently knocked into the coiled chain I tried to jump over it but I hit right into the middle of the coiled chain and before I even knew it my right leg was down into the hole that goes to the chain locker, right to my hip. I couldn't feel anything, it didn't hurt at that time, but they had to put the chain back on the capstan before I could get my leg out of the hole as the chain was back out I seen the sole of my shoe instead of the top of it coming out of the hole . I realized at that time I was hurt real bad. When I got my leg loose from the anchor chain every bone in my ankle was broke beside my leg was broke between the knee and the ankle in about eighteen places. I hadn't got a scratch during the whole war from Pearl Harbor to this time.
KP: That ironic to have it happen as you were just putting the ship away.
CC: Yes, I was in the naval hospital for seventeen months for the first six months I was in the Jacksonville naval hospital and the rest of the time in the national naval medical center at Bethesda, Maryland. While I was in Jacksonville I got osteomyelitis an infection of the marrow of the bone. After a lot of operations at naval hospitals they sent me home and I checked into the V.A. hospital and went through much of the same thing. In between operations I got married and finally my wife and I were called down to the V.A. hospital in Salt Lake City for a meeting with a doctor on what should be done with my leg. My wife and I decided on advice of the Doctors to have my leg amputated just above the infection so I would be permanently rid of the osteomyelitis. I was fitted for an artificial limb which I wear today.
KP: Let me ask you a couple of more questions about Pearl Harbor. You gave me the story of Pearl Harbor. I'm interested now in your reaction to that. How did you feel when the Utah was sunk? And the attack on Pearl Harbor?
CC: At first I was shocked and the only thing I could think of was find my friend. Then as I has moved around doing different things, I began to seethe and to wish I had a chance to get back at the Japanese to inflict pain and suffering and death as they had done to us. It was a long time after the war ended before I could associate with them without remembering what had happened at Pearl Harbor. I can safely say now, that I do not harbor such hate as I did right after Pearl Harbor. In fact I have worked with some and have become good friends with them . I have decided that you cannot hate a whole race of people for acts committed by their leaders.
Charles R. Christensen