By far, the greatest number of items in my father’s Hush Puppies box came from World War II. He joined the Navy fairly late in the war – early 1944. He once explained the reason – his parents didn’t want him to go. They convinced him to use the “only son” deferral until he couldn’t stand it any longer. He enlisted and then told them.
He was eventually assigned to the USS Pondera as part of the original crew. The shoebox contained a “Plank Owner’s Certificate” identifying him as one of the originals. Seeing this as a child, I was more impressed by the topless mermaids framing the certificate and the drawing in the center of a city being bombed as ships stream toward it. The caption reads “Destination Tokyo!”
What I missed was the rank designation after his name – “S2c(RdM).” Radar Man, Second Class. He completed radar operating training at the Naval Training School in Point Loma (San Diego) on July 4, 1944. That certificate was in the shoebox, too, signed by Captain (Ret.) E.L. Vanderloot, along with the small New Testament of the Bible given to all servicemen. My father received his on April 30, 1944, from the chaplain at the Naval Training Center, M. DeWitt Safford.
Shortly after becoming a radar man, he was assigned to the Pondera and shipped out. There is a photo album entitled Shipmates. It contains several pictures of the first stop out from California – Hawaii. The photos are small, black and white shots that appear to be ones he bought and wrote captions for on the back. But there's also one of my father in his Navy uniform, standing against a backdrop of trees and bushes. He's smiling, and he's skinny. I never knew him to be skinny, yet there's the evidence.
The album also contains the names of five shipmates, written in my father’s fine handwriting: Michael Pania of Chicago, Ill.; Virgil Coon of Pennyton, Texas; James Orand of Marfa, Texas; Richard Weir of Fremont, Nebraska; and Harlan Haas of Victoria, Texas. These were the five he was closest to, the ones whose names and hometowns he wrote down, yet he never talked about them. The Greatest Generation was also the Silent Generation.
There is a one-page, typed “Radar Security Watch List” covering the dates from Nov. 26 to 29, 1944. It’s a schedule of who is on watch duty, typed by the radar officer, Ensign B.J. Chartier. The watches were to be secured when the ship left the dock, and they “are to be stood with loaded pistol.” My father’s name is listed for 0700-1200 on Nov. 27 and 2400 to 0700 on Nov. 29.
There were a gaggle of loose photos as well, showing other places the Pondera docked – Manila, Hong Kong and Shanghai. These photos as well look like commercial or tourist photos that one might buy.
Judging by number of photos and artifacts, the Philippines seemed to have made the greatest impression on him. Or it may have been the first international stop for the young man from Shreveport. There is a bracelet made of Philippine coins, a knife in its leather sheaf, a dried seahorse, and one item too large for the shoebox – a small carved chest, with a lock and key. The lock fell off at some point – I never saw it attached to the chest but always inside of it. The box now sits on my bookshelf, close to one other artifact my father bought in Shanghai – a three-legged, brass Chinese wedding cup.
There are other items: a membership card for the Order of the Golden Dragon, given for crossing the equator; an official discharge letter from Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, dated February 1946; and the Durham Duplex straight razor that he used to shave (portable and compact, with a folding handle).
For me, the most intriguing memory from the shoebox is a printed newsletter, The Attack. It’s the ship’s newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 1 (and possibly the only edition published; who would have time to do a newsletter once the ship moved into the war theater?). It announces the official commissioning of the Pondera and includes profiles of the captain, Lawrence J. Hasse, and the executive officer, L.M. Fabian. The back page lists the crew, and my father’s name is at the very end (the curse of alphabetical order). He’s listed on the masthead as the circulation manager – a nod to the job he left behind at the Shreveport Journal. But he also wrote one of the stories – about the ship being named for Pondera County, Montana, which was being honored for all the work done in war bond drives.
My father was a writer.