uncle allen - WWII Veteran

 
 

December 7th, 1941 By Allen Price

A short vignette as told to Amanda (Phillips) Ethington on November 3rd 1998

My body jerked slightly and my heart stood still. Were they real? I knew that I wouldn't be able to tell, yet still…I dropped the three plates that I was holding and ran for the door. As I entered the dining room, I watched the last of the soldiers scramble their way out the door and I paused a minute, or maybe it was a second. The piercing wail of the sirens were bouncing their way along every metal part in the ship (meaning it was a veritable ricochet of sound) and it hurt if one stood still too long, letting the sound sink into the body. I hopped over the little ledge that designates a doorway and ran down the hall.

My battlestation was in the keel of the of the Destroyer Leader the U.S.S. Selfridge, and as I burst into the room I saw that two of my shipmates were there and had already begun the loading.

"Hey," I shouted, "does anybody know what's going on?" "Does it make a difference?" the Seaman replied, packing the ammunition on to the metal elevator. "Get a bag and throw it on." I turned around and grabbed a 65 lb. bag of ammunition and gave it to Seaman George who in turn placed it on the elevator. Within a few minutes we were watching the bottom of the metal chain link plank as it made its way above board.

The sirens soon stopped wailing and I was able to think a little clearer. I thought about what the Captain had told us that morning about the Japanese submarine that had been sunk before dawn in 1800 feet of water by the U.S.S. Ward.

"So do you think that it's the Japs?" I asked the others. "I know, I know, of course it's the Japs but do you think that this is it?" Just then the phone rang. Seaman George answered it and nodded a few times and then hung the black receiver back on the mainline. "That was the Captain. He said that the Japs have just started an air attack on Pearl Harbor and to stop sending up ammo."

Sudden panic set in as I remembered once again how much I disliked him. We're being bombed and by the way don't bother to send up ammo..he always did this; he made things so dramatic.

"Well, the Captain said that the ship is next to the base and the docks are getting it pretty bad and that there's not much we can do. We don't carry anti-aircraft so we can't fire back." "Besides," he said "What are we going to do? Get out the oars and row over to the battle."

We had been at sea for the past 26 days and this was our first night within sight of the base. Unfortunately, we had NO fuel left. We had enough to make breakfast and get bathed this morning and that was it. A fuel ship was supposed to have come and given us enough fuel to get to the fuel station but it was looking like there might be a delay.

We sat there in that small, cramped metal room waiting for our next orders. We could hear the air-raid sirens from the other ships around the harbor as they tried to fight back against the planes diving and torpedoing them. It was an eerie feeling. The room was starting to smell of fear: the type of body odor that delineates fear and inaction. I gazed at the metallic gray walls and at the metallic shadows created in all of the metallic nooks and crannies between the pipes and the metallic strengthening ribs of the ship.

I was 18 years old and, if I may, a good looking young kid. I had wavy, dark brown hair, cut to military order of course. I was thin, young thin, 18 year old thin. My eyes were a piercing green hazel, a trademark of the Price family, and I used them quite effectively. I didn't mind the navy dress issue because we usually just wore military issue pants and white T-shirts.

Being on board the U.S.S. Selfridge was quite a challenge for me. You see, I was the youngest Junior Seaman II Class on the 8 ships that made up our Destroyer Squadron. This was a rank given once a year and to only one person in the Squadron: it was a type of competency test and required a little maneuvering of the gray cells to pass it. I did pass it with flying colors and I was promoted. This did not make me very popular with the crew. There were some men aboard who had been Seaman I Class for eight and ten years with out getting promoted; needless to say, being just 18 and a higher rank than most of the men I associated with did not endear me to the crew.

To make things a little worse, I was being tutored for advancement to an Officer rank and because of my studies I was only required to work part time. The majority of my time was spent studying.

I was what was lovingly called the "scullery maid": I washed dishes for 360 men three times a day. It wasn't that bad of a job, although I was the only one doing it. Sometimes it got a little redundant. There was only one mess cook so he and I took care of everything. It took me about one hour per meal to clean-up. We had a high power electric dishwasher that would take care of all the really dirty stuff and I just made sure that everything was kept clean. I loaded all the dishes into the dish washer and then unloaded them when they were clean. My job as an ammo loader was much more fun than the dishes.

As I sat there in the keel, watching the walls and listening to the whine of the sirens, I thought about my family. The reason I was in the Navy was because I needed to get away from home. I remember the conversation I had with my parents when I signed up with the Navy.

"Mom," I said, "I've just received orders to report to boot camp in California on the 28th of April." "Received orders? From who? Allen, what are you talking about?" my mother questioned anxiously. "Mom, stop getting so upset. Look, you told me if I could find a place to take care of me as well as you did, and I didn't have to follow your rules, well, you told me to go."

I remember looking at the kitchen table with the letter of "admission" lying folded on the white tablecloth. I picked at the needlepoint of a brown dog doing dishes with the word Monday written beneath it. I could smell the chicken dinner cooking and my stomach was trying to growl.

At this point my dad stepped into the discussion. "Mother, you did tell him that if he could find a place he could go. He's old enough to make his own decisions and if he thinks that the Navy is it… Well, I say let him go." He turned around and walked out of the house, letting the screen door pop close behind him.

"Allen, if you really think that living by the rules of this house is so difficult that the rules of the Navy look easy, well… go." She put her hands down on the table top and pushed her way up onto her feet. She stood for a moment looking at me and I couldn't bear to look back. Why didn't I feel triumphant?

I was startled back into the reality of war by the phone ringing again. "Yes, Captain?" Seaman George answered.

"Yes, Sir. We'll be up in a minute, Sir." He hung up the phone and looked over at us with a funny look on his face "the Captain said to come up on deck and watch the show." "You mean, go up and watch the fight?" one of the others asked. "Yep, let's go." Seaman George answered as he started out the door and towards the ladders.

Once up on deck I couldn't believe my eyes. I was standing on the fan tail of the ship and looking out to the west I could see the planes coming in and dropping their torpedoes and bombs. The Utah was hit, it was tipping to one side, and it was obvious that it was going down. Looking towards Ford Island, I could see the utility plane hangers burning. The smoke was starting to turn everything a hazy brown and suddenly everything went silent. There was noise, but it felt silent compared to the barrage of a few minutes before.

The fighting had stopped. Everyone on deck stood still and no-one said a word. It was in that instant that everyone felt death. What could we say or do at that moment? We watched in silence the destruction around us and then everything burst into activity. The Captain came over the loud speaker "Men, we are now secured off battleship. We'll wait for the refueler and then we'll see if we can't help somewhere."

He meant that we were no longer in battle and that we had nothing to do but wait. It was really a helpless feeling. I stood by the railing and watched the plumes of smoke billow over the island. During the next few hours I watched the Utah roll over.

At about 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, the tanker with our spare fuel had arrived and we took on enough fuel to get the docking station. We left the docks and headed back out to sea to help with damage control and some search and destroy missions. It felt good to be busy and soon I was back to scrubbing dishes.

The monotony of dish washing gave me time to reflect on what had happened that day. I couldn't believe our luck…we could have been right in the middle of all of that carnage if our ship hadn't run out of fuel. It was a pretty close brush with death. At that moment I felt more lonely than I ever had. I looked down into the sink filled with white clouds of suds and a stack of pans that needed a little extra scrubbing and I noticed my watch. 6:48 was what it read and smiling, I realized that at this same moment my Mother would be doing the family's dinner dishes, looking down into her own pile of suds and, perhaps, thinking about me.. Maybe I wasn't as alone as I thought…

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