Mr. Kenneth R. Gawne
Recorded on 10/17/05
[Interview starts at 001 on counter]
Lauren Sogard: Today is October 17 2005. I am Lauren Sogard and I am interviewing Kenneth R. Gawne at Park Tudor School, via phone, who served in WWII. Mr. Gawne is eighty-one years old and was born on October 1, 1924. Mr. Gawne was in the Navy and his job was to man [and maintain] the guns and stand watch for submarines.
LS: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
LS: Where were you living at the time?
KG: In Chicago.
LS: Why did you join?
KG: Chicago, I went down there, being drafted why, they give you a physical and then they gave me a choice of, army, navy or marines.
LS: Do you recall your first days in service?
KG: Uh…yeah somewhat, mostly on a train going from Chicago to Idaho.
LS: What did it feel like?
KG: Kind of lonely, you know leaving your family and friends and everything and you had no idea what was going on.
LS: Tell me about your boot camp/training experience.
KG: Uh… much like boot camp it was up in Farragut, Idaho. It was a brand new camp so we had to actually break rocks to form the parade ground where we went out to marched and all that kind of stuff you know so that was what we did that for about the first four days. Every new group or company of boots that came in had to go through this grinder thing. We broke rocks with hammers, sledge hammers and whatever stuff like that and they had a bulldozers there that would just grade it and flatten it out, we just made piles out of the stuff. And then we started boot camp pretty heavy, got fitted for your cloths and that issue of stuff and did all the inoculations of your vaccines and uh… the different shots that they give you. I think there were seven of them. Then we started to learn how to march and how to do this and how to wear our cloths and make our bunks and how to stay clean and all those kinds of good things.
LS: How did you get through it?
KG: Fine, being in boy scouts was a big help because I started to feel that I was at home with some of the things like taking care of your self and stuff like that doing your personal things and your hygiene and whatever. I learned a lot about that in scouts so that was not hard at all.
LS: You served in WWII?
KG: Yes, madame.
LS: Where exactly did you go?
KG: After boot camp you mean? I went to a gunnery school in Treasure Island California. It is right out in the Francisco Bay. I had the training there and after I completed the training they shipped me to a place near Seattle, Washington, Puget Sound and after a few days there they put me on a ship called the SS Diamond Head, not the USS, SS meant steam ship. And it was a freighter that was armed with different kinds of guns mostly for aircraft. And then I was navy gun crew on that merchant ship. The ship was actually run by the Merchant Marines and then we sailed for thirteen months up into the Alaska, Aleutian Islands and so forth and brought all kinds of different needs up to the guys that were stationed up there. And then after that, I got ten days leave to go from Seattle, Washington. I could go home for a few days and then ten days after that I had to report to Treasure Island. And we had a very short brief refresher course on some newer guns. I was put on what they called the SS Chaco Canyon, which was a tanker with aviation fuel and I was on that for thirteen months and went almost around the world in that [ship]. We had a full load of aviation gas and pulled out to go to the China Burma India Theater and from there we got a notice to go back to San Francisco and they strapped sixteen P51’s and two P 38’s on to the cat walk on to the tanker and it didn’t look like a ship was there, just airplanes floating on the water because we were almost below water level. Any way, we took off and about eight hours out the engines quit. We contacted the Navy and the Navy sent out a big tug and we found out what the problem was just about the time the tug got there and they helped us figure it out and then we headed to Australia from there. So then we went around Australia into the Indian ocean and into Columbo, Ceylon, which is now called Sri Lanka and unloaded part of the planes and went around the bottom and into Calcutta, India and unloaded the rest of the plane and the rest of the aviation gas because we had a lot of planes looking for subs and stuff.
LS: What was it like arriving at those places?
KG: Quite different because some of the things that got you was we pull in and send the hoses down to hook up and empty the cargo which was fuel, and then these people would go in to their religious thing and you just sat there and waited. You know their preferences came first before the oil and every thing else.
LS: What was your job assignment?
KG: Mainly to man the guns and keep them in top shape and working order and also to stand watch. We stood four hours on and four hours off and what we looked for was little wakes in the ocean. Like a wake it mostly meant that that there was a telescope up looking mainly to torpedo you. We spotted a few but never found out whether they were friend or foe. We had a confrontation with a few Japanese airplanes in the Indian Ocean. We shot one down and the other hightailed it out of there.
LS: So you saw combat?
KG: Oh yes, oh yeah, but not day in and day out like a lot of the other guys in the Army, but we did have a little brush with it every once and a while.
LS: Were there many casualties in your unit?
KG: No, not really. I was very fortunate in that the ships that I was on lone wolfed it, in other words they traveled alone not in convoy or with other ships. I think that was good, because the submarines where looking for convoys were they could sink numerous ships. So being alone sometime was worthwhile, because they wouldn’t bother you- it wasn’t worthwhile.
LS: Tell me a couple of your most memorable experiences.
KG: While we were in Calcutta we went ashore and I did not know that they have these cows or whatever they are, are revered by the religion and they walk down the curbing and they are lead by somebody, and I didn’t know about it and they had at that time the right of way and I stepped out to cross the street in front of them and I was a arrested. I didn’t know that the cow had the right of way. Kind of silly but that is the way it happened. And then most of the rest of it was just seeing different countries and different people and their attitudes and stuff like that. Although the ships, much like trains, do not pull into the nicer part of cities, they are usually down in the waterfront or in the buoys of something. So we really didn’t get ashore that often because they could empty it or fill it up in six to seven hours and we were under way again. Alaskan Aleutians was very interesting. We did get to see ice caps and Glacier Bay and stuff like that. In Alaska they have a lot of totem poles that have a lot of life history of a tribe or whatever, but you have to buy a book to find out how to read them. So that was kind of interesting. And then the people that you met . . . [from different states] I mean I was in service with guys from California, Connecticut, Washington, wherever.
LS: Were you ever a prisoner of war?
KG: No madame.
LS: Were you awarded any medals?
KG: No just the zones that were in I got two over seal’s medals both were Atlantic and Pacific.
LS: How did you get them?
KG: They gave it to us when we completed time in the Pacific or after you complete thirty days in the Pacific you got one or thirty days in the Atlantic you got one. On Christmas Eve  we were just coming out of the Suez Canal going into Mediterranean Sea and one of the merchant men who was an Englishman was up on deck, as most of the people were, because they were going to turn the lights on in Alexander, Egypt for the first time in five years, and we did not actually see the lights but you could see the glow in the sky when they did turn them on. They turned them on for about twenty minutes before midnight. So most of us were up on deck and this Englishman leaned up against the mast and just belted out “Ave Maria"! I never heard it better in my life or since! And then the next day we took on forty Yugoslav survivors, thirteen English nurses, and an English doctor in some heavier seas, which was really quite dangerous to be taking people aboard. And it turned out that some of the Yugoslavs were survivors. Their ship was going down because they had switched their waterline for the gas line and then there was water in the boilers and then they lost their power and the ship began to take on water and sink. So that is the way we spent a very cold miserable Christmas 1944. That I might say it one of the highlights!
LS: How did you stay in touch with your family?
KG: Letters, we didn’t have any cell phones or anything at that time.
LS: What was the food like?
KG: Mainly good. Because the Merchant Marine were able to get cooks that were pretty good. Most of the time we had a choice of two entrees.
LS: Did you have plenty of supplies?
KG: Normally yes, coming back on the tanker we ran low on supplies once. They always have plenty of canned goods that they can make some meals out of.
LS: Did you feel pressure or stress?
KG: Yes, standing watch looking for a submarine is tremendously stressful. It does not sound stressful, but it is one of those things. Him or I.
LS: Was there something special you did for good luck?
LS: How did people entertain them selves?
KG: Played a lot of cards. We did not have an awful lot of free time because you have to take care of your gun and you would have to stand for four hours on watch and then for four hours you would be off. One four hours you might work on the gun and clean it up make sure it is all greased and ready to go and then check the ammunition. So you worked a good sixteen to twenty hours a day, you always had something to do.
LS: What did you do when you were on leave?
KG: Mostly go ashore, see if there wasn’t a USO or one such thing, go there, and usually there was always something like a juke box or something. Neighbors would bring cake and what not. Sometime college kids would come over and you could talk to them and sometime you dance with them to break the monotony of what you are doing. That was kind of fun. Los Angeles had a lot of great ones. But they had a lot of movie stars and stuff like that that would come to the USO.
LS: Where did you travel while in service?
KG: Alaska Aleutians. Also over in the mid east over there where we are having problems right now, Persian gulf and I was in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Mediterranean, Sicily, and back and forth in the Persian Gulf there because you have a lot of oil in there for a lot of different things. We picked up oil and brought it to an English submarine base just out side of Sicily and to the boot tip of Italy. That is where we took our survivors that time too.
LS: Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?
KG: No, not really. You had to laugh once and a while, but no not really.
LS: Did you ever pull pranks on others?
KG: Yeh, we used to double sheets to make the short sheets, where the covers are only half way up the bed. In boot camp we did a lot of that horsing around. All clean fun, but they would not let you get too serous about it because they come down on you pretty hard.
LS: What did you think of the officers or fellow soldiers?
KG: I thought a lot about them, but every once and a while you would want to cross one. Every time you came into the States some of the crew would change. There were a few that would only think of themselves. That wasn’t too good but other than that the guys were great. We were all in the same situation. One might have a rough edge for a while but fall in line.
LS: Did you keep a personal diary?
KG: No. That was sort of a taboo. You could not have a camera either, but now that the war is over you see a lot of the guys coming out with different pictures that they took while in service.
LS: Do you recall the day your service ended?
KG: Yes I do. I came home and as I turned the corner on to my block. I saw one of my buddies that was in service the same time I was, he got discharged a few days ahead of me and went into a diabetic coma. The ambulance was in front of the house taking him out when I turned the corner coming home. I didn’t know anything about it. It was kind of shocking. He had a physical problem with that all his life; he passed on early in life in his forties.
LS: Where were you went your service ended?
KG: I got discharged at the Great Lakes[Navy base.]
LS: What did you do in the days and weeks afterwards?
KG: It was only a couple of weeks and I went to work. I got a job at the newspaper, the Chicago American, before I left, so I went into service and then came back to it, and then they eventually became a printer. Worked for in the composing room for forty-four years.
LS: Did you make any close friend ships while in service?
KG: Yes, I still am in touch with one of the fellows that live in California. We send Christmas cards and stuff like that we used to call up on the phone and talk to each other but got away from that, but we still send Christmas cards back and forth.
LS: For how long have you known him?
KG: Probably sixty years. Many of the kids in my neighborhood used to be in Boy Scouts together and we still get together about once every two years. We go somewhere like about two years ago we went to the Lake of the Ozarks for a week. There were four couples down there.
LS: Did you join a veteran’s organization?
KG: Yes, American Legion.
LS: What did you go on and do as a career after the war? Ok you went to work?
KG: Yes. I had a full high school education and you might say trade school.
LS: Did your military experience influence your thinking about was or about the military in general?
KG: Oh yes, I am sure it has a lot to do with my thinking of it.
LS: What kind of activities does your post or association have?
KG: They are quite active in Boys State, where they pay for boys from the high school to go down to Illinois at camp and they spend about a week to ten days down there and what they do is follow the government. They go through situations that the government goes through. The boys get down there, , . . they get to meet each other, then they elect a governor and a vice governor, and the go through laws and make laws. It is a way of learning a lot about your operation, legislation and justice branches. It is very good. You often find that the boys that did that went on to be very good citizens.
LS: Do you attend reunions?
KG: I have attended a couple of them.
LS: How did your service and experience affect your life?
KG: Well, it took about three years out of my life from about nineteen to twenty-two. I don’t regret it, and I think I learned a lot by being in service.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.