Here is the rest of the Story of my great uncle Gordon Gehrkes World War II experience. In his own words.
"I believe it was in May, 1941 that I qualified and played for the club championship at Ala Wai Golf Course. I got into the final match for he championship and was paired against a Japanese fellow. Deep inside I knew I could beat the guy so on a week day afternoon when I had liberty, we started. I won the first three holes and had him three down. Aboutthe fourth hole I noticed that he was attracting a group of (his friends. The group got larger and larger until there were probably fifteen to twenty of them. They were constantly talking, in Japanese of course. It wouldn't have been so bad but they began to talk louder and louder and especially when it was my turn to hit my ball. Look up the word "Psyche" in the dictionary and you will know what was happening in the golf match. They were psycheing me out! To make a long story short, I got beat some-thing like one down or two down with one to play. Anyhow, I got beat!
At Ala Wai Golf Course in the 40's, the custom was that any golfer who got a birdie on the par three eighth hole would win a case of 24 case of Coco Cola. One Saturday afternoon our usual threesome and one other Navy guy were playing. Palko and I had a hot match going and I birdied six, seven and eight in a row and naturally won a case of coke. So after we finished our round we tossed the case of coke into the trunk of Palko's car, had some dinner and I bought a bottle of rum. Now you can't drink coke without rum, altha' neither Palko or Butsko drank any liquor. They were good Catholic men. We finally headed toward the Ala Muana Hotel at Waikiki Beach and found a spot where a wedding was in progress. I was drinking a lot of free coke spiked with rum and by the time we left Waikiki Beach, the last thing1remember was that the car hit a small bump and I passed-out in the back seat. Palko and Butsko returnedto their barracks, but couldn't get me out of the back seat of the car so just let me there all night.
The next morning they attended early mass atsome Catholic church, but I'm still passed-out in the back seat. The sun was coming up and I guess when the warm rays beamed down on me in the back seat, I woke up. I remember that I raised up on one elbow and looked out of the car window. When I saw a church and a cemetery and all those head stones, I figured I must have died and was going to Heaven! I just went back to sleep hoping Palko and Butsko would find me. Well, they did and soon we were on our way to Ala Wai. It was still very early and I recall that I staggered up to the first tee and darnerd fell flat on my face when I bent over to put my ball on the tee. I started out double bogey, double bogey, double bogey. I'm six over par after three holes but the sun was continuing to rise; and it got warmer and warmer and I began to sober up!
I played the next fifteen holes in one under par and finished the round with a gross 77. Less my five handicap, I was even par 72. I never ever drank rum and coke again. (Not that much, anyhow!)
Our threesome stuck together and we played a lot of golf. On December 7th, 1941 we were playing at Ala Wai, real early in the morning as usual. We had already finished the first nine holes when we noticed all these planes (aircraft) flying over the Pali and heading toward Pearl Harbor. We didn't think too much about it because we knew that a couple of our carriers (Aircraft Carriers) were expected to be coming into Pearl Harbor. We all remarked about the same thing; there come our carrier planes. About the time we got to about the 14th hole we heard these muffled, loud explosions. We remarked that the stupid army was holding gunnery practice on a Sunday morning. Even when we saw the huge columns of black smoke riSing off in the direction of Pearl Harbor, we remarked that the stupid C.B's were burning tires again! This was all happening very quickly and it wasn't until we sawall these jeeps and military police out on the golf course and the M.P's asking if any of us were in the military. We all remarked that we were regular Navy and we were promptly told to get our ass back to our ship or base!
I don't remember exactly what I did with my golf clubs, bag and shoes but I guess I left them there at the Ala Wai Club House and put my regular civilian shoes back on and headed for the next taxi that would take me back to Pearl Harbor. It was the fastest seven mile ride I ever had in my life!
When I reached the gate to the dock at Pearl Harbor, I began to run to get on the next motor launch that would take me to the USS MEDUSA. No one could comprehend what was happening. The Japanese planes were making their bombing runs, anti-aircraft guns were rattling, our battleship row was wiped out, A thick black oil covered the water and I noticed that the mattresses that were in the motor launch were covered with blood from the wounded that had been transported from some of the ships. I won't elaborate except to say that it was chaotic. My first four year enlistment was expired and I was awaiting transportion back to the States to be discharged. As soon as the confusion, etc. settled down, perhaps a couple of weeks, I guess, I received permission to go to Nanakuli Rand R base where I had been assigned for temporary duty. All my navy uniforms and personal gear were there. For a couple of weeks I was wearing my civilian clothes that I had worn on the golf course. I re-enlisted for another four years immediately! The USS MEDUSA was not a combat ship but we had one five inch battery and some 20 and 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns on the ship. My battle station was top side with a set of head phones to relay messages from the bridge. I recall a two man Japanese submarine that surfaced or tried to surface near the MEDUSA. We helped' sink that sub that was later raised for the records.
In February, 1942, I received orders to return to the States to help put a new ship in commission. It was being built at the Alameda, CA ship ard and it was the AT-2, USS MENOMINEE, a salvage, sea-going tug. I was now a Second Class Petty Officer with one hash mark for four years in the service, (correction - the USS MENOMINEE was the AT-73, not AT-2). When I reported to the officer in charge at the ship yard and gave him my service record and orders he told me that the ship was a long way from being built and that I should find some place to live and all I had to do was report to him at the ship yard Monday through Friday. I was to receive a subsistence allowance for my room and meals. I met a First Class Carpenter's Mate by the name of Pete Gianotti who was also assigned to the USS MENOMINEE. When he told me that he was staying at a pretty nice hotel in Oakland, CA that was close to bus transportation to the ship yard, etc., I decided to do the same. Pete had been in the service eight or nine years and was much older than I was. He was born and raised on the east coast and was typical Italian; dark hair and dark skin. Pretty rough around the edges, so to speak.
But, hey, this was good duty. No restrictions, plenty of free time for liberty, you name it! As the months passed and the ship was beginning to shape up, I met a few of the other ship mates, namely one First Class Yeoman named Mike Striebel. A hell of a nice guy and gung ho Navy. He was a take charge type of a man with two hash marks (meaning he had eight or more years in the service). Mike apparently had been instructed to start keeping some records of personel being assigned to the MENOMINEE. One day he said to me that I would have to be bonded since I was to be the Mail Carrier when the ship was commissioned. That was fine with me since it paid an extra $10.00 a month. I had a regular heavy leather Mail Carrier's bag and had to have a special belt and holster to carry a 45 automatic. Ah, yes, things were beginning to shape up.
About September of 1942, the ship was about finished and ready to make what the Navy calls, "trial runs". The ship was soon commissioned and we took it out under the Golden Gate Bridge, past the Farralon Islands and out to sea. I had never been on a ship this small and when it reached· an area called the "cabbage patch" (that's real, real rough water) it was plain hell! It was one of the few times that I got sea sick; with everyone else on board. We had a 3" gun mounted near the bow of the ship and when we returned to the ship yard that gun was promptly removed from the ship. It was deemed t~ be use-less especially in rough seas. The ship was ordered to proceed to the Fiji Islands where one of our cargo ships had gone aground on a coral reef. Of course that meant crossing the Equator. This was sea duty, however, and I quickly went from being a "pollywog" to becoming a "shell back". I've got the diploma to proove it!
The cargo ship had been abandoned and was breaking-up on the reef, but we salvaged whatever was possible before we received orders that there was a terrible typhoon headed toward the Fiji Islands. We had an Australian gun boat as our escort during the salvage operations but I don't know where it disappeared to after Comdr. Genereaux, our skipper headed toward a small atoll (a ring shaped coral island). The skipper decided to put out the port and starboard anchors near the atoll and back the ship astern forming a "y" effect. He knew what he was doing and when the typhoon began to hit we were doing 4 knots forward and trying to keep the bow of the ship into the 120 knot winds. About 0100 the port anchor chain, broke from the strain of the wind and the ship began to sway back and forth like a fish tail. It was about this time too that the Executive Officer, a Lt. Comdr. by the name of Wetsoltoft lost his cool and began screaming. He had never been to sea before. Of course Captain Genereaux, thank God, kept the MENOMINEE upright and with proper maneuvering we were able to "ride out" the typhoon. All night long we could see huge I>alm trees floating past the ship. The wind had blown them off the atoLl along with the sand and other debris. By day-break the typhoon had passed us and the ship looked as though it had been sand-blasted. The grey-blue color paint job had been stripped down to the yellow under-coating. But we weathered the storm. Oh yes, the Executive Officer was transferred to other duty shortly after.
Perhaps I am devoting too much space to my military life, but it did span approximately eight and a half years of my life. Our mission in the Fiji Islands was complete. I did enjoy meeting some of the real Fiji Islanders and was particularly impressed with the changing of the guard, a dail ritual.
The USS MENOMINEE received orders to proceed to the Florida Islands namely Guadalcanal and Tulagi. We arrived in Tulagi on February 24th, 1943. Our fighting Marines and Army had secured Guadalcanal near the end of November 1942 although we were still finding a few stray Japanese soldiers on Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Our assignment was to raise and re-float a Japanese destroyer that had been hit by our torpedos during the fighting on the two islands. The Japanese navy tried to run the destroyer up on a coral reef and they were successful except that the ship slipped off the coral heads and eventually sunk in perhaps fifty foot deep water. This, however, turned out to be a very interesting and difficult assignment.
It took over eight months of terrible duty to complete the job. Remember that the USS MENOMINEE was a small ship with a crew of perhaps 80 to 90 people. The ship was anchored in Tulagi Bay and there was no way to get off the ship unless you were ill or got hurt or were the Mail Clerk, like me! It was also my responsibility to try to keep enough food, coffee, etc. on board since we had no Supply Officer and no Medical Officer. We did have a First Class Pharmacist Mate however who did a good job of patching up the guys and keeping himself and me and the First Class Yeoman in "sick-bay" alcohol. We used to dilute it with grapefruit or orange juice when and if we had any.
Every single night without fail, the Japanese would send one aircraft over Tulagi Bay around 0200 in the morning. We would sound General Quarters and everyone would man the battle stations. "Washing Machine Charley" as we used to call the Japanese pilot and plane, would drop one or two bombs from high altitude and then disappear until the next night.
These were nuisance attacks and we didn't get much sleep. One day when I was picking up the mail at the main base on Tulagi, I got the word that the Japanese military were sending down over a hundred planes from Rabual. We had our aircraft on Guadalcanal and shortly after noon time all hell broke loose. The reports were that we shot down over ninety Japanese planes and I can believe it because the "dog-fighting" was fierce. The Japanese managed to sink an Australian Gun-boat and one of our oil tankers.
It took us eight months to complete the job of ralslng the Japanese destroyer; patching the torpedo hole in it's side and floating it. It was one of the older class of ships that the Japanese had. I remember the No. 23 painted on the bow. Our orders were to tow 'it up one of the rivers that ran into Tulagi Harbor and beach it. Eight months of "hell" duty for what?
We received orders to proceed to New Zealand for a little Rand R. Actually, we had to have some dry dock work done on the ship. And after eight months of Tulagi with nothing. the New Zealand beer and steak and eggs were out of this ·world. Liberty was pretty damn good too! There were. about twenty young women for everyone man since all the young men were in the military and off fighting someplace. I remember one-night a couple of guys and myself went on liberty and found out where there was this dance hall. It was a big building and sure enough there were all these girls lined up against the walls of the room just crying out take your pick. I spotted this beautiful brunette and asked her for a dance.
We got acquainted real quick! I found out that she worked in the office of a large laundry and dry cleaning building in Auckland. Well, I was still the Mail Clerk for the ship and that meant I had to go to the Auckland Post Office every day to deliver and pick-up the mail. Every day except Sunday. Patti Wills, that's the brunette I met, told me to put all my dirty clothes in the mail bag when I came ashore each day, drop them off at laundry counter and she would have them ready for me the next day. How sweet it is! The rest of the guys aboard ship could never figure out why my white uniforms looked so nice and why my white hats looked like new. I met Patti's mother and father. Real nice people and even though gasoline was hard to get, Patti's father offered to let me drive their car to take Patti for a drive. I never did, of course! Thirty days in New
Zealand went by very quickly and then it was back to some serious duty. Of course I had made First Class Petty Officer some time ago and I was almost eligible to make Chief Petty Officer. Mike Striebel had already been promoted to C.P.O Yeoman and one day he said to me that he was about to write a letter for the Captain's signature, requesting that he be promoted to Ensign. Mike further added that I should write a letter for my- self requesting that I be promoted to Warrant Officer (Acting Pay Clerk). Mike said that he would get the Captain to endorse both letters and he would send them in to the Bureau of Personnel. Mike also intimated that he was being transferred and as soon as I made C.P.O. I would be transferred too. Well Mike was right as usual. He was transferred and shortly thereafter I made Chief Storekeeper and got my orders to report to a new ship being built in Tacoma, Washington. It was the USS KENNETH WHITING, AV-14, an aircraft tender. I came back to San Francisco, CA and soon was on my way to Tacoma, WA. Things were moving pretty fast. This was June of 1944.
I reported for duty on the USS KENNETH WHITING as a C.P.O. Storekeeper. The ship was pretty well outfitted and getting ready for some trial runs. Atleast that's what I thought. But after a week or ten days, my orders came through promoting me to Warrant Officer (Acting Pay Clerk). It was back to San Francisco, CA to await further orders for reassignment. Soon I learned I was to report for duty on the USS BELLE GROVE, LSD-2. I learned that the LSD actually meant Landing Ship Dock. It was a combat ship and I was to be the Assistant Supply Officer. I was to wait for the ship to come into San Francisco, CA and when that didn't happen I got on board another ship that was bound for Pearl Harbor, HI. I stayed at the Bachelor Officer Qarters waiting and hoping that the USS BELLE GROVE would come into Pearl.
On September 12th, 1944, I reported for duty and went on board the LSD-2, USS BELLE GROVE. This ship was 396 feet long and 44 feet wide, built at Moore's Dry Dock Co. in Oakland, CA and carried a crew of 330 men and 18 officers. It was commissioned on 9 August 1943. This ship was a real amphibious assault vessel, the second of its class to be built. Many, many more followed later.
So here I am, on another ship. I'm the Assistant Supply Officer and thanks to Mike Striebel, I got a little gold stripe on my sleeve. Even got my own little stateroom with lots of privacy. Commander Morris Seavey is the skipper and Lt. (jg) Loyd Bjorlo is the Supply Officer that I would be working with. I was also the "s" Division Officer and had supervision over the Storekeepers, Cooks and Bakers and Officer's Mess Boys. It didn't take long to get into the swing of things and I had the feeling quickly that I was going to enjoy this duty.
After a short stay in Pearl Harbor, HI for some overhaul work and to replace all the wooden furniture with metal furniture, we were soon headed out to sea. Our orders were to join other ships for an assault on the Philippine Islands. We hit Leyte on 20 October 1944 (I remember well because it was one day after my 25th birthday). What a nice birthday present!
Between the Leyte invasion and 7 December 1944, the BELLE GROVE had inaugurated a vigorous War Bond Campaign. When the campaign was over and all figures were compiled, Admiral Nimitz saw fit to send a letter of commendation to the D.S.S. BELLE GROVE announcing that the ship was first in the Amphibious Force of the Pacific Fleet in the Pearl Harbor day sale of war bonds. The average sale of $36.62 per man for a total of $16,350.00 was better than that of any other ship in the amphibs. Since I was the appointed officer in charge of the sale of war bonds, I received a personal letter of commendation from the Commanding Officer for initiative, originality and attention to duty. I started the campaign out as a competition between the divisions on the ship. Altha' the sales were made to individuals, I had the division competing against division. Each morning I would post a running record of how each division was doing. I would mimeograph enough copies so that each division had a copy to post on the division's bulletin board. The competition grew and grew and the sales of bonds did likewise. Don't forget this was 1944 and the war was going full blast. What better thing to do but buy a $25.00 War Bond?
The BELLE GROVE, between the invasion of Leyte on October 20th, 1944 and December 30th, 1944, made sixteen trips from Hollandia, New Guinea and other islands carrying supplies back to Leyte. Besides carrying supplies we would transport Marines and Army personnel back and forth as well. Oh yes, the BELLE GROVE was kept busy. We had direct written orders from Rear Admiral Forrest Royal who was in command of Transport Division 28. It was war!
The ship was in Hollandia, New Guinea on a Sunday 24 December 1944. I remember we put on a little Christmas Eve Celebration. I was the Committee Chairman and we had four boxing matches, a short talk by the Chaplain, T.R. Clancy, singing of "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night", cracker and pie eating contests, distribution of presents by a make- believe Santa Claus. And it was Christmas Eve and we tried to be merry and thankful for still being alive. On Christmas day, 1944, the ship sailed from Hollandia and Humboldt Bay loaded with equipment and combat troops and headed for Lingayen Gulf in the Philippine Islands. We took part in the invasion on 5 January 1945.
After a couple of weeks, the ship sailed on to Ulithi, Guam and Saipan. We loaded up with landing craft and "hot" cargo, marines and army personnel and we knew that we were headed for another invasion somewhere. Some little island halfway between Saipan and Tokyo was the word. That little island turned out to be Iwo Jima, 5~ miles long and 2~ miles wide. A little pear-shaped island of volcanic ash with Mount Suribachi
on one end and Kitano Point at the other end. There were two airfields on the island with a third airfield under construction. The BELLE GROVE delivered the First Wave Marine Am Tracs toward the landing beaches just north of Mt. Suribachi. We were under air attack every day from "D" day until the island was secured. We saw the raising of the American flag by our marines on Mt. Suribachi. The hand to hand fighting on the island and in the caves on the island was fierce and I could see it very clearly from the bridge of the BELLE GROVE. We were at anchor from "D" day,
February 19th, 1945 until March 21, 1945, when the island was supposedly secured. From Iwo Jima it was onward to the next battle, the battle for Okinawa. Okinawa was an island one mile long and actually considered =to be a part of the Japanese mainland chain. It was a battle that didn't last as long as some of the others, but 310,000 people died! It was finally secured.
By the middle of June the Japanese had admitted that the battle for Okinawa was lost and were boasting that preparations for the battle for Japan were complete and perfect. Japanese troops were making a "strategic" withdrawal from China's east coast and on 21 June, Admiral Nimitz announced that all organized resistance had ceased on Okinawa.
The battle for Japan never did materialize. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the emperor intervened for Japan and surrendered according to the Potsdam terms. It is estimated that the surrender by Japan saved Japan 3.4 million lives. Thank you Harry Truman who was then President of the U.S.A. Between November and December, 1945, the USS BELLE GROVE transported personnel to Shanghai and Hong Kong, China. The ship left Hong Kong. China in late December and was ordered to proceed to San Diego, CA. It arrived in San Diego, CA on New Year's Eve, 1945, a gallant, proud ship that had boasted of traveling some 65,000 miles in 27 months.
I left the ship in April, 1946 and shortly thereafter the ship was decommissioned and was assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet. Upon leaving the ship in San Diego, CA, I proceeded to Treasure Island, CA near San Francisco, CA and received my Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Navy as a Chief Warrant Officer, Supply Corp. Thus ended my Naval career after eight years and four and a half months.
A lot of people have asked me why I didn't stay in the Navy. I had an excellent rank as Chief Warrant Officer and was in a pretty good pay bracket. But as you may recall, I never wanted to join the Navy to begin with. If it wasn't for Alden King talking me into joining, who knows what might have happened.
So the war was over and I was a civilian once more. I had no job to return to since I joined the Navy right out of high school. So as circumstances would have it, I returned to Santa Cruz, CA. It was April and it didn't take me long to find out that there were no jobs in Santa Cruz, since it was a summer resort small city. I managed to get a part time job in a Greek restaurant on the boardwalk overlooking the beach and
Pacific Ocean. I only worked on weekends, Saturday, Sunday and any holidays.
The pay was something like $1.00 an hour plus whatever you earned in tips. But that was O.K. I figured "beggars can't be choosers". So I cut the brass buttons off of my Navy uniform and removed the gold stripe on the sleeves and replaced the brass buttons with regular black buttons. Threw a white linen napkin over my arm and bingo, I'm a waiter. I also was lucky enough to get a one day fill in job as a cocktail waiter at one of the large hotels in town. This one evening job as a cocktail waiter paid more, including tips, 'cause a lot of people were spending their evenings at the hotel. All this probably doesn't make much since, but that's the way it was!
I struggled along at this waiter's job through the summer months and near the fall of year the Casa Del Rey Hotel ownership changed hands and I went to work for the new owners as the receiving clerk accounting for receiving all the produce, meats and food supplies. To me, this was a hell of a let down from once being an assistant Supply Officer in the Navy.
Santa Cruz is a summer resort, vacation sort of a town. It didn't take me long to realize that once the summer vacations were over, you could forget about business or jobs. So, I decided to move back to the big city of San Francisco. I still had no employment and started from scratch. I consulted the newspapers and started looking at the ads and pounding the sidewalks. I remember it was on a Friday morning and I was on Mission Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets. I actually wanted to find employment with some large company and wanted to start as an outside salesman. I had purchased two new civilian suits; one a brown tweed and the other a gray pin stripe. I also purchased a gray semi-Homburg hat, cause every man wore hats in 1946.
Anyhow, I walked into this big store on Mission Street and asked to see the personnel manager. His last name was Lester and I explained to him that I was seeking employment as an outside salesman. He explained to me that he would hire me but I would have to work as an inside salesman until I learned the type of merchandise, etc., a little better. We agreed on the salary and Mr. Lester told me to start work the following Monday morning. At least I had a job and I think the salary started at around $350.00 a month, five days a week, less holidays. Lester stated that as long as I was agreeable, he would have someone show me around the store. As I looked around, I began to feel more and more that I would be "a small cog in a big wheel" and be lost in the shuffle so to speak. As I left the store building, I noticed that there were several other similar business establishments on this one block of the street. So even tho' I had a job, for some reason I still kept looking at the ads in the newspapers.It was Saturday morning and I saw this ad for a Shipping & Receiving Clerk at 953 Mission Street. I decided to check it out. So I put on my gray pin-striped suit, white shirt and tie and my semi-Homburg hat and walked into the store on 953 Mission Street that was just across the street from the business that hired me the day before. 953 Mission Street was a much smaller business and I told the first person that approached me that I was answering the ad for a Shipping Clerk."