Harold talked very little about his time in the military. He served during WWII in both the North Atlantic Theatre (before Pearl Harbor) and in the South Pacific after the attack on Pearl Harbor. We urged him to write down his memories of these events later in life so they could be known and remembered by those who followed after him.
As I sit here on Memorial Day 2013 I know we are losing the last vestiges of what is commonly called “The Greatest Generation”. Those young men who heard the call of a nation at war and a world in need, they answered that call with gusto and pride. Few ever talked about their experiences so I will reprint here one of Harold’s most vivid memories, his recollection of the battle of Midway from four decks below on the USS Yorktown:
June 4, 1942
We were supposed to be bringing up the rear of the flotilla, but the Japanese really wanted to get at us because we had caused them so much trouble, not only in the Battle of the Coral Sea, but on the three raids we had made on their shipping, so they went around the other two task forces to get at us (so we took the main group of Bombers and Torpedo planes the Japanese had sent out from their carriers). We shot down every Torpedo plane and most of the Dive Bombers, but they made 4 Torpedo hits and several bomb hits or close misses which still can rupture some plates on the bottom of our ship.
I stood my watch in Central Station and had been told not to go up into the tunnel going to the Bridge because it was so long that is was reinforced in the center of it so a big man like me (230 lbs.) might not get through. I would have to be the last to go up (of the 25 men) if, and when we would get the order to abandon ship. This bothered me some, so when I was standing watch alone I undogged the small door in the ceiling and proceeded to climb the ladder until after 7 decks I got to the reinforcements in the tunnel. I was barely able to crawl through on the ladder but that made me feel better.
During the battle we received a torpedo hit in the fwd generator room directly across the passageway from our location on the 4th deck. I was asked to undog our watertight door into the fwd generator room and water started to seep out so I knew that all the men in there were dead. We also smelled some smoke so the 1st Lt. asked me to check the Powder Magazine in the next compartment forward of us to see if there was fire there. After crawling all around the compartment and over the powder canisters I determined there was no fire (thank goodness) and I reported back the same. Because of no generation from the Generator room we had no lights so we were using flashlights and power phones to keep in contact with the repair crews around the ship and the Bridge. We had taken a 25 degree list to the starboard side of the ship and we could hardly stand up. Finally the order came down from Captain Buckmaster on the Bridge to abandon ship. Because of having to go up through the tunnel all of us had the “belt” type of life savers on, which we would inflate when we went into the water the same as a pilot would do. This belt had two small canisters in the middle of it which, when squeezed would inflate the belt.
I was 4th out of Central Station and I went up that tunnel so fast that to this day I don’t remember that reinforcement in the tunnel. Arriving on the Bridge we immediately went out on the catwalks on the outside of the smaller stack which was about 50 ft. above the Flight Deck. We were immediately strafed by the Japanese planes so spent some time flat on the catwalk. We only had dungarees on with no shirt or shoes or socks. When we got down to the Flight Deck we were still on a 27 degree list to starboard and it was very hard to stand up and keep from sliding off the deck. When trying to get to the top side of the ship we walked around and over dead shipmates that had been on a 1.1 mount of anti aircraft guns that had received a direct hit on the mount and they were all killed and laid out on deck.
They had lowered lots of heavy 1” lines down the side of the ship to go down to the 50 man rafts that had been released from the side of the ship and were hitting up against the side of the ship with every wave. As we went down the ropes to the rafts there were so many going down that each shipmate was riding almost on the shoulders of the one below. I could hear the raft banging up against the side of the ship and worried all the way down that when I got down to the water either the raft would be gone or a person could be squashed between the 50 man raft and the ship. I couldn’t see below me so when I got to the water and felt it on my feet I immediately pulled up on the rope and I heard the raft hit the ship below me. I let loose the rope and I was into the raft when it again went away from the ship. The raft was full of shipmates and it was gradually sinking by sheer numbers in it and we were having trouble getting away from the ship. I inflated my life belt and started to swim away from the ship.
I was in the water which was covered with oil which immediately started to cake on my head and body. There were Destroyers darting in and out picking up survivors. They couldn’t stop for long because they were afraid of Japanese submarines in the area. After I was picked up by a Destroyer I was put into a baggage locker below deck on the fantail of the ship along with others and the deck door dogged down which was because the ship was under battle conditions of alert. Each time the Destroyer would gun his engines the screws directly below us would really shake us up. They would go to 25 knots in a few seconds from standstill.
Towards night we were let out of the baggage locker and because we only had pants on, without any shirts, we were given blankets to wrap ourselves in to stand up beside the stacks on deck to get heat. Seems like we were given something to eat out of hand until about 9:00 or 10:00 am when we were transferred to a boatswains chair individually on a rope strung from the Destroyer to a Heavy Cruiser, the USS Astoria.
After we were aboard the Astoria we were allowed into the heads to take showers. We would dry off and take them over again trying to get the oil off our heads and hair. Hair came out by the handfuls. We were issued some clothing to wear until we got to Pearl Harbor where we were taken to, and put up into the hills on the Island where we were issued new toilet articles and other issue of clothing, but not allowed to leave camp for any reason. We later found out they put a skeleton crew back on the Yorktown so they could flood the compartments on the Starboard side of the ship to try to level the ship from the 35 degree list to Port and they were doing this OK. There were two Million Dollar tugs (new) came out form Pearl Harbor and they had the Yorktown under tow at about 2 knots when a Japanese submarine put a torpedo into the USS Harman and it set off its depth charges in their racks and it sunk in about a very short time. It also blew a hole in the USS Yorktown big enough to put a house into. Everything was stopped and the skeleton crew abandoned ship for the 2nd time. The USS Yorktown stayed afloat for at least 24 hours until it finally sank.