Saturday, November 27, 2010

Durward's Navy

After writing about Durward and North Korea in Facebook, it occurs to me that I should fill in some blanks and that will take me back to some of my first memories. Perhaps his children will appreciate it. Keep in mind, however, that some of the blanks I will try to fill is based only on hints of what Durward must have been doing and my own experiences and conclusions of how it might have happened for him. Some, perhaps a lot, is guessing on my part, based on my Navy experience, and reasonable expectation of how the Navy would have operated. I could do a much better job of piecing the puzzle together, and answering many questions, if I had his letters that he sent home. I don't know who has those now.

One question is, for example, why do I remember the country, North Korea, spoken in our house on the corner of Brummett and First Streets in Owensville, Indiana, about as far removed from Korea as possible, when I was only six to nine years old, sometime between 1950 and 1953, give or take a year? The answer is simple. Durward's Navy travels were the talk of the house. Mom didn't take Durward's joining the Navy very well, perhaps because her illness was progressing at the time, or perhaps because Uncle Cecil, her brother, had also spent time in the Navy and came out of it an alcoholic. She may have been afraid that the same thing would happen to Durward. I don't remember if Uncle Cecil was in the Navy during war time, but if he was, then that would be cause for Mom's worry and fretting as well. She, like the rest of us, had no idea what kind of a mess Durward's ship, the USS Rooks (DD-804), a Navy Destroyer, was in as it patrolled the Korean coast line. So, whenever we received a letter from Durward, Dad read it at the dinner table and, if the letter hinted at conflict, Dad would have to console Mom as much as he could. Of course, Mom knew that Dad knew no more than she did. Both had lived all of their lives in Owensville, and knew only what they read and heard of the world beyond that. Sometimes, Elvin lent a consoling word that Mom could have more faith in. Elvin spent time in Yokohama, Japan as part of the Japan occupation probably within months of Japan's surrender. If anyone knew of what might be happening in Korea, Elvin did, but of course he didn't really know either. How could he? "He's alright," was all Elvin could really say, but it seemed to be more effective than Dad's consolation. I don't remember that Durward's letters were alarming or gave us cause to worry. I suspect that he, like Dad, would understate serious matters or situations of danger rather than sound alarming.

In the meantime, all of us were getting lessons in world geography and we paid more attention to news of the world on the radio. We have to remember what was happening in 1950-53 in Korea, and in China and the Soviet Union for that matter. Mao Zedong had just led a revolution in China and driven Chiang Kai Shek to Taiwan and he was threatening to invade Taiwan. Mao was also pushing his friends, the North Korean communists, to attack the Korean government located in Seoul. North Korea attacked the south in June 1950. Kim Jung-One, a mean despot and a Mao-wanna-be, wanted to be a god. His army captured about 90% of Korea and by September only a small area around Pusan, on the south-east coast of Korea, was left and it wouldn't be long before the entire country would fall. General Macarthur led the amphibious invasion at Inchon on the north-west coast just below the 38th parallel (the United Nations' delineated dividing line of the two Koreas) in September 1950 successfully stopping the North Koreans. Fighting lasted until July 1953.

The Soviet Union wasn't far away. At the end of World War II, Stalin captured Japan's most northern island and clamped down the Iron Curtain around it and it was only a day's sailing from North Korea. After that, nothing was heard from the island for twenty years. The USSR's most northern Naval port, Vladivostok, was located only 50 miles from North Korea's northern border. And, the Cold War-Arms Race was just beginning. These were historical times. America had emerged from the war as the most powerful nation in the world. And, let's not forget what was happening in other parts of the Asia and Asia Minor (Middle East). Israel was a brand new country. The Middle East had been divided up into countries only a few years before. The USSR was trying to gain inroads into Egypt and its President Naguib and his second in command and to follow as Egyptian President, Abdel Nasser. Naguib and Nasser led an Egyptian Socialist revolution in 1952, following the Soviet model. And, too, the French was fighting communist in Indochina (Vietnam) and losing. It was a troubled world.

To tell the truth, after writing "North Korea, Durward and Me" and thinking about it, I thought my memory may be playing tricks on me. It didn't make sense when compared to my own Navy experience and knowledge that he would sail from the East Coast to the Pacific. When I was in the Navy, we never, I repeat "Never," heard of an East-Coast ship being assigned to a Western Pacific patrol or duty. It was, in my day, like two separate navies, one on the East Coast and one on the West. The only place in the world where the two might meet would have been in the Middle East or in the northern Indian Ocean or Persian Gulf; one navy coming by way of the the Mediterranean Sea and Suez Canal and the other coming by a route through the Indian Ocean. There, the East and West would combine forces for a few operations, then turn and make our way back to our own play ground. Yet, I distinctly remember most of the places Durward visited being discussed at home. His travels were a big deal to us and I was interested in where he was. I missed him. I remember talking about the Caribbean, Cuba, Panama Canal, San Diego, Hawaii, Japan, Philippines, India, Africa, the Suez Canal, Egypt, Italy and France and the Mediterranean Sea. We tracked his route on a globe and we listened for those countries on the radio.

Durward reported aboard the USS Rooks (I didn't know it had an "s" on it) on March 8, 1952, according to this miracle of the Internet (Find "Clark, Durward" on the page or scroll until you find his name), at Portsmouth, Virginia after he finished Storekeeper school at Newport, Rhode Island. He probably came home for two weeks after school. He was a Storekeeper Seaman Apprentice, one grade up from the bottom, nineteen years old and he had been in the Navy approximately five to six months, twelve weeks of Boot Camp, eight weeks of school, and one month of leave, when he joined the Rooks. Mom was so glad that we took a train from Princeton to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, just north of Chicago, to see him graduate from Boot Camp. She wanted to see that her son was okay. We watched all of the recruits march by the bleachers and stand at attention to receive the tributes of the speakers. All I remember about that was Mom asking, over and over again, "Do you see him? Where is he?" I don't recall that we did see him during the graduation ceremony. There were several hundred recruits all wearing dress blues and white hats, all with short-cut buzz haircuts and all looking alike. The only thing that distinguish some from others was their race. Someone, Dad or Mom, would point and say, "Is that him?" And we'd all look hard only to say, "Nope. That's not him." Later, we waited on sofa-like chairs in a large hall, Mom fidgeting and asking, "What's taking him so long?" until he finally came through the door. The reunion was joyous. It was as if he'd been gone for years instead of twelve weeks. The irony was, that after traveling that far to Chicago, a long way in those days, we only got to see him for about an hour, and then we were on our way home. A few days later, after Boot Camp, he came home for the typical fourteen-day leave before going to Newport, Rhode Island and Storekeeper School. He flew out of Evansville to Newport, which, like my travel to Rhode Island fourteen years later, was probably was his first airplane ride and likely stopped at a half-dozen airports along the way and took ten to twelve hours. I think the flight took me around eight hours. We can fly from San Francisco to Paris in eleven hours today. What a contrast! In eight weeks, he was home again for another fourteen-day leave before returning to the East Coast to the USS Rooks.

So, what was Durward up to? In those days after the war, the American Navy was the strongest military force on the planet, but it was scattered hear and yon. Since the Pacific war was primarily an air war, all of our aircraft carriers were in the Pacific, although battleships, anti-mine warfare ships and other surface fighting ships were there too. The Atlantic Ocean War was a surface and submarine war, with very little need for aircraft carriers. Germany had the big battleships and the submarines in the war and it was those that our East Coast Navy was designed to beat. Of course, each navy, Atlantic and Pacific, had taken casualties; ships were sunk and neither navy had the variation of the ships it needed. And, Ike was our President and probably the most knowledgeable military strategist on the planet. I think he saw a need to make a statement to the world in case another dictator saw an opportunity for war, sort of like, "Hey! Pay attention any of you despots and dictators who might think you want to raise a ruckus. I'm sending a large naval task force around the world to show you the kind of force I can bring down on your head. So, beware. Be belligerent at your own risk." So, he ordered a large naval task force on a world cruise. Mao hesitated to invade Taiwan and, in fact, never did. Egypt hesitated to invade Israel, delaying that for a number of years. In Ike's day, the United Nations was somewhat successful in stopping the civil war in Vietnam for a few years. Durward, it seems to me, was part of an American "show the flag world cruise."

Again, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and some dedicated old sailor or naval historian who has learned the ins and outs of it, we can read the USS Rooks' daily log. The log starts in September 1944 in Seattle, WA and the Pacific. Take a moment to read the legend of what the symbols mean, T/U, S/W, IND, etc., at the top of the log. The Rooks has quite a history. In February and March 1945, the USS Rooks was in the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the most vicious battles of the Pacific. In September 1945, it took on board ninety-two Allied prisoners of war, mostly British, at Nagasaki, Japan. I found it interesting. Scroll down until you find the dates when Durward was aboard, between March 8, 1952 and November 11, 1953 when he left the ship for Port Lyautey Naval Air Station, French Morocco.

From March to September 1952, Durward hung around the East Coast, making port calls at Rockland, Maine, Newport, Rhode Island, and Portsmouth, Virginia and a trip south to Guantanamo Bay and Santiago, Cuba and Puerto Rica. Santiago is now under Castro control and we cannot visit it. By September 11, 1952, he was passing through the Panama Canal to San Diego, Hawaii, Midway Island and Sasebo, Japan and was patrolling off the east coast of North Korea by October 13 with Task Force 77. The strangest log entries in Durward's North Korean day are the entries from November 30 to December 10, 1952, "off of Wonsan Harbor, North Korea 'Tin Pan Alley'." The term, Tin Pan Alley, was around long before the Korean War, and my search suggests that the term meant a certain style tinny sounding music or musical instruments with a tin-like quality sound, such as old pianos and phonograph players. Wanson Harbor is near the northern border of North Korea where China, Siberia and North Korea meet and it is the same harbor where the USS Pueblo was captured in my day. It was a primary shipping harbor for North Korea. If they called it "Tin Pan Alley," I can only assume they meant the Tin Pan ships that supplied North Korea. Perhaps they sunk a few of them. Perhaps it was a turkey-shoot. I have no doubts that Durward saw a little action, first hand, around that harbor.

Perhaps the Rooks was hit or damaged in some way while patrolling off North Korea. It spent December 31, 1952 through January 6, 1953 in drydock #1 in Sasebo, Japan. The only reason a ship is placed in drydock is to repair hull damage, usually below the water line. I also found it odd that Sasebo would have a functional drydock and repair facilities so soon after the war. Sasebo is only a few miles north of Nagasaki that was totally destroyed by the atomic bomb and Sasebo itself was the target of some very intensive bombing. Even in my day, fifteen years later, Sasebo had not been restored to a major naval port, let alone a repair port. But, the U.S. Navy did miraculous things in building what it needed at the time. The Navy Seabees could, and still can, construct anything in a matter of days. I wonder whether Durward saw Nagasaki in those days? He would have had time to do that although the radiation may have been too hot to visit there.

He visited Yokosuka, Japan and no doubt paid tribute to Honcho Street, the "Boss" Street, the street of night clubs. In his day, Honcho Street would have been the only place that he could unwind after long days at sea. He spent five days in Yokosuka. I guess it would be nice to think that Durward was a saint and spend all of his time on base. There likely was an Enlisted Club on base, and he could have spent all of his time there, but I doubt it. The shops, night clubs and sights of Honcho Street lures everyone. Durward could not have had a beer at the Rendezvous Room, however, because he was much too early for that. The Rendezvous Room was in the Enlisted Club at the end of Honcho Street built in the late 1950s, about six years before I arrived in Yokosuka. The club was built outside of the base intentionally, to keep as many of us off the street as possible. It did the job. It was a hopping place and all sailors usually went there. The beer was cheap, the food was good and the dancing lasted until 11:00 pm, Monday through Thursday, and 1:00 am on Friday and Saturday nights. But, as all sailor towns, Yokosuka was a rough place and the Rendezvous Room was too. Subic Bay was worse, however.

Surprisingly, after three days at Yokosuka, the Rooks went to Atami, Japan. I know exactly what Durward saw in Atami. He couldn't have missed it! There are shrines and temples to this particular ancient cult worship all over the city. He would have been shocked and amused and he and his buddies would have had plenty to joke and laugh about for days, maybe weeks. Atami was a resort in my day with hotels with hot spring pools in which one bathed naked while, of course, modestly keeping one's body up to one's neck under water and each gender entering the pool from their own hidden dressing room. We were, nevertheless, naked under water. The city's biggest attraction, however, and it shocked me during my visit there, was (get ready for this!) its annual "Penis Festival," a fertility festival carried over from ancient days gone by. There are penis shrines, fully erect, all over the place and temples with table after table filled with all shapes and sizes and made of plaster of Paris, carved wood, molded metal and carved stone penises. It's not difficult to imagine Durward's reddened, freckled face with the "what the hell is going on" look on it.

The Royal British Navy was in the conflict as well. On February 6, the Rooks escorted the HMS (His/Her Majesty's Ship) Wave Prince, an oiler, to Sasebo, and that was her last duty around North Korea. In mid February 1953, the Rooks was in Subic Bay, Philippines and then to Singapore, a British Crown Colony then, Ceylon, Bombay, India, Bahrein in the Persian Gulf, Aden, Arabia, the Suez Canal and Port Said, Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea by March 20, 1953. Whew! He had quite a trip! Of course, Britain no longer has Crown Colonies, Bombay is now Mumbai and Arabia is now Saudi Arabia. Things have changed.

From the Rooks, Durward was transferred to Port Lyautey Naval Air Station, French Morocco, which is no longer French. I've always thought, based on something I heard or imagined, that he was at some lonely outpost in Morocco on the Mediterranean Sea, sort of Embassy Duty that a fortunate few are assigned. That's not true. Again, we have the Internet to thank for a peek at what duty at Port Lyautey might have been like in the form of a Squadron Scrapbook. Click the "Next Page" until the pictures end to see them all. And, with the French Army around, or its Foreign Legion, there would have been plenty entertainment. It looks like a nice, peaceful and fun base to spend his last two years in the Navy.



Dan said...

As usual...a fascinating look. Your attention to detail was great. Thanks for sharing a look of what Durward saw and did.

tclandis said...

So interesting. I've seen pictures of Dad on the streets in Egypt or Morocco - can't remember which. Guess Mom has these somewhere.
Loved your research and thoughts - the website with the 'yearbookish' thing was amazing. Thank you so much.

tclandis said...

Amazing research and interesting thoughts. Thanks so much!