Richard Oliver Young Memoirs & Interview
Life Aboard Worden, 1940 to 1943
Dick Young served aboard Worden in the Pacific from 1940 to late 1942, then aboard the Benson-class destroyer Laub in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. His younger brother, Herbert Wilson Young, joined Worden from Pearl Harbor to Amchitka.
Dick was born near Lecompte, Louisiana, in 1922 and after World War II became a Presbyterian minister and national chaplain of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
A RealMedia copy of this 59-minute video and other documents are posted on the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project (AFC/2001/001/49970, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress).
By Richard Young
This is the portion of Dick Young’s memoirs that deal with his time aboard Worden. The story begins in Louisiana in mid 1940…
During the time I had been in the CCC Camp, the old Church of God where Mama had been a member had been sold to the Assembly of God denomination, and they had a new minister who became very interested in saving my soul. I do not know if Mama had helped pre-arrange it, or if the man had made inquiries about when I was to leave for the Navy, but at any rate, he offered to take me down to the recruiter’s office where I would be taken by a van to New Orleans to catch a train for San Diego. The minister took me early, and all the way he talked to me about getting saved. Then, he had lunch with me, and again he was trying to force his religion on me. I had known all along that I simply did not have much use for the Pentecostal type religion, but by the time I got rid of him, I had come to a rather firm conclusion that I would never embrace any religion of any kind.
I arrived in New Orleans on August 30, 1940, along with ten other new recruits, and we were asked if any had ever taken a train ride. I said that I had. It was on this account alone that I was put in temporary charge of about eight recruits even though I was barely eighteen years of age. Among those on the train with me was John Roberts of Cheneyville, La., who now resides in Raceland, La. Later he was assigned to a destroyer that was a sister ship to the Worden, to which I was assigned. In 1990, he found out that I was a minister in Lafayette, and he called me. Later I called him, but to this date, we have not got together to discuss old times.
The train ride to San Diego beginning the next day was not all that memorable, but I do remember feeling the apprehension of a new and untried life. When we arrived at the San Diego Naval Training Station on September 3, the whole field was alive with sailors. Some were doing the 19-count manual, some were marching, some were in formation. They were all doing things to a cadence that seemed impossible to do.
The first thing they did to us was to assign us a company number: 40-63. Next they issued to us our clothing and supplies, and then they cut off our hair — all of it. They taught us how to pack our hammock, and fill our sea bag and tie it up. Now they said we would have to wash our clothes in a bucket, and hang them to dry. We would press them by putting them under our mattress. We were taught to salute, and since the men teaching us were petty officers, we had to salute them. But about the worst thing we could do was not to salute a commissioned officer. We were taught how to recognize these people, who stood next to God in terms of respect. We were also taught how to manage and fire a rifle, and to stand guard. We were taught all the knots that the Navy uses. But mainly we marched and did the 19-count manual.
One of the solemn promises the Navy recruiter made to us was that when boot camp was over, we would be given a ten-day boot leave to go see our families. Then we were to receive a 30-day leave each year. But on Oct. 14, when we finished boot camp, they put us in a long line carrying our hammocks and sea bags, and marched us aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Crane and then transferred us to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga as passengers to Hawaii. It was more than three years before I was to get sufficient leave to go home, and then it was only for six days.
Aboard the Saratoga they had us lay our hammocks out on the hangar deck, one deck below the flight deck where the planes landed. The ship would go into a long sustained roll, and it was about all we could do to keep our beds where they were instead of rolling down the steep incline. During the day time we were expected to do any job that we were assigned. To that time, we had not been given any dungarees to work in, and we had to work in our white uniforms. I was given the job of painting below decks, and I soon had paint all over my clothes as well as my shoes. My hair had been cut short on entrance to the boot camp, and I had received one other haircut, but by now my hair was getting pretty long around the edges. It was in this condition that I arrived in Hawaii on Oct. 19 and was placed aboard the U.S.S. Dobbin for further transfer.
My name was called out along with a few others to go aboard the U.S.S. Worden, a two-stack destroyer which did patrol duty in the north Pacific along with a task force of other destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers. When I first went aboard, I began to see that my training had been insufficient for this duty. We had been taught to come aboard, put down our hammock and sea bag, salute the flag, and then salute the officer of the day. I did this. But the officer was a Chief Petty Officer, who does not rate a salute. This C.P.O. was a Chief Boatswain’s Mate, and he really bellowed at me about saluting him. He tried to assign me a billet in the deck hand crew’s quarters, but it turned out there was no vacancy. He then took me to the quartermaster’s corps quarters and assigned me a billet there.
That night, the Chief Quartermaster came and found me there and told me to get out. I asked him where to go, and he said I could take my hammock up on the main deck and sleep there, which I did. About six the next morning, I was rudely awakened by my bed being kicked: it was the Chief Boatswain Mate and he wanted to know what the hell I was doing there. I told him, and he said, “Pick up that bed and follow me.” He took me back down the gangway, and he really gave the Chief Quartermaster a dressing down. I don’t think I ever got very popular with that Chief Quartermaster after that. Within a few days the billeting situation was worked out when some of the seamen were transferred to the “black gang,” who worked in the engine room.
Soon after the other recruits and I came aboard, the Worden got underway for a short two week’s patrol. As we were getting underway, our “Captain’s gig” was being pulled alongside the ship by a line, and the boat davits were swung out over the boat, and the block and tackle attached to it by hooks. Then the boat was hoisted up to the top of the davits. It was about this time that the Chief Boatswain’s Mate yelled at me, “Grab the sea painter.” I looked about and saw nothing that even resembled a painter. He yelled again and used more choice words than I had ever heard before. Still I did nothing. Then he gave me a great big push and grabbed the line that had been pulling the boat when it was in the water. I could plainly see that the ways of the sea were not my ways.
In the months and years that followed, I noticed that nearly every time new recruits would come aboard we would immediately take a short cruise, and if the weather was rough, the captain would often have our ship going full speed so that we would get the full impact of the pitching, yawing and rolling motion of the ship. I believe it was done intentionally to expose the new recruits to a little sea-sickness. Certainly that is what happened when I came aboard. On the short patrol, our ship would hurl itself over the waves as fast as it could go, make short turns, and perform any other kind of maneuver that would guarantee a feeling of unsteadiness. In the meantime, the food that was served was exceedingly greasy which added to the general queasiness of the new recruits. Some of them began to vomit uncontrollably, and soon the mess hall floor had slimy vomit over a good deal of the linoleum. A funny thing: my stomach was stronger than many of the old sailors. I never did get sea sick, even when we were in violent storms at sea and had to stay in close quarters below deck. But I did pay a price: I was one who was given a mop and told to clean up the mess.
Our ship was a little more than thirty feet wide, but it was very long and shaped much like a cigar. The foc’sel deck started just a little forward of midships, and it was one deck above the main deck. The foc’sel deck house contained the officers’ quarters, and the officers’ state house where they ate, and had other social activities. Forward of that on the foc’sel were the No. 1 five-inch gun, and the anchors. On top of the foc’sel were number 2 five-inch gun, and housing for the captain, the navigator and the executive officer. The topmost structure was the bridge where the captain of the ship, the navigators, the signalmen, the lookouts, the steersman, and usually the officer of the day stayed. High above the bridge, attached to the mainmast, was the crow’s nest where a lookout was posted. The gunnery officer’s station was also above the bridge, at the control center for the aiming of guns and direction of the searchlight.
The galley was on the main deck about midships, and forward down the gangway to the next deck below was the crew’s mess. Ahead of that and still below decks were the Chief Petty Officers’ quarters, which were directly below the Officers’ Quarters. The paint locker was forward of the Chief’s quarters. Amidships were the engine rooms below decks, the torpedoes on the main deck, and the No. 3 five-inch gun, the whaleboat and the Captain’s gig on the superstructure. On the after deck house were the No.4 gun where I was stationed for battle, and the searchlight tower just above that. In the deck house was the head, and on the main deck aft of the deck house were the No. 5 gun and the depth charges.
I soon settled down to the routine of work: chipping paint off of rusty decks, painting with red lead and then covering over with a light blue-gray paint. We would also paint the bulkheads as needed, keep the brass brightly polished, and in general, keep the ship clean. We did have to use the mop or “swab” a good deal, and for this reason deck hands were often called “swabbies.” Of course during rough weather, it was not possible to work on the main deck, so we either got to take off from work or do such work as needed to be done below decks. All in all, it was not a hard life.
Our usual routine was to spend a couple of weeks at sea patrolling, and then spend a week-end in Pearl Harbor. Most of the sailors would be allowed to go on “liberty” when we got in to the harbor, but there was always a skeleton crew remaining. Usually all the officers went ashore except the duty officer.
The highest ranking officer we had was our captain, a lieutenant commander. The executive was a lieutenant, as was also the gunnery officer. The deck officer was a lieutenant, junior grade. We had several ensigns aboard, altogether about ten or twelve officers.
As for liberty ashore in Hawaii, that was not all that much of a pleasure for me. There was no way that I could see to get a date with any of the Hawaiian girls, and about all that could be done would be go on a hiking trip, or sight-seeing trip with one of the shipmates. One person I often went ashore with was named Briley, and I believe he was from Oregon. But by far the most usual shipmate I went ashore with was Frank (Bud) Shoemaker from Kent City, Michigan. Toward the end of my stay on the Worden, we were not quite so close as we had been, but still I remembered some good times we had together. I saw his name many years later in the Pearl Harbor publication, The Gram, and he was shown to be in a hospital in Michigan. His name appeared over a long period so I assumed he was working in the hospital. I meant to write to him, but thought there was no necessity to hurry. Then I read of his death in The Gram. It turns out that he had been ill, and he would probably have really appreciated a letter from me. But I had waited too long.
On Dec. 3, 1940 we took a memorable cruise to a position 500 miles southeast of Guam on a plane rescue mission. I remember the halcyon days we spent at sea our watching the flying fish skitter across the water, and our catching several large sharks. On our return to Hawaii, we began to run low on fuel, and the Captain decided that we could sail our ship on in, using only the awnings that we ordinarily used to protect the deck from the hot sun. As a matter of fact, it was probably written up in some manual somewhere that this could be done in an emergency, and I suppose our captain wanted to try it out. So he ordered us to break out the canvas, and all at once our old Chief Boatswain’s Mate began to be in his glory. He had been in the old navy when such things were done, and I can still hear him yelling, “Avast heaving,” and other such orders. We finally made it back, but not before we waffled several weeks at sea.
I had long before found out that the Chief Boatswain’s Mate was a far different man than first he appeared to be. He was probably about as ugly as any human could be: with a barrel chest, burly figure, and dark features; he could easily have substituted for an ape. But after first giving me so much trouble, he became one of my chief supporters. He found out that I was trying to study for Annapolis, and he made sure that time was provided for my studies. He did all he could to encourage me. At one point, he tried to get me to take the examination for first class seaman; he told me that he would recommend me if I wanted it. I told him I was not ready yet, but that I wanted to concentrate on the Annapolis studies. I eventually was able to take the examination for Annapolis, and I did real well on all except one subject, physics. That was a subject that I had not had in high school. But failing this one subject was enough to prevent my going to the Naval Academy.
We returned to the states for repair on August 20, 1941, and docked at the Long Beach Naval Station near Los Angeles. We were to be there too shortly for us to receive enough leave to go home, but even if we had been able to get leave, I came down with a bad case of bronchial pneumonia, and had to be taken by ambulance to the Naval Hospital in San Diego on September 4. But before that happened, I got to visit Richard Polakovich’s sister Helen Raciot and her family who lived in Los Angeles, and I was very well treated by them. I wrote in my diary that I had the time of my life. It was during this time that I attended an auction, and the auctioneer announced that any bid that a sailor made would be the last bid; we would be able to get it at that price. A beautiful woman’s hat (at least beautiful in my eyes) came up for auction, and I bid on it and got it for Richard’s sister. There was a lot that I had not yet learned about human nature, specifically that women would not have much regard for a hat that someone bought them at auction. However, she acted real pleased.
It was while I was in the hospital in San Diego that I learned that my younger brother Herbert had joined the Navy. He had told me that he was planning to get Mamma and Dad to sign for him, and I wrote them an urgent letter asking them not to do it. But apparently the letter got there too late, or they disregarded it. Herbert was sent to the San Diego Naval Training Station where I had been sent, and as I was now in the hospital there, he was able to come see me.
While I was recovering in the hospital, I had a strange experience. There were many sailors there who had gotten in some kind of trouble and they were under the supervision of several marine MPs. Sailors and marines did not have much love for one another, and the MPs enjoyed making the sailors run or do menial tasks that showed they had authority over them. Once I was in the chow line, and the MPs huffily came up and told me to get out of their way, they were bringing some prisoners through. Apparently I was not fast enough for them, because they began to curse me and threaten to have me in the line with the prisoners if I did not get a move on. I was almost tempted to give them some sass, but sweet reason told me that I had better not.
When I returned to the Worden at Pearl Harbor on Oct. 3, I found the Worden in dry dock to scrape the barnacles off the hull of our ship. This time, it was not only the deck hands who worked; all the ship’s crew with the exception of officers and chiefs went over the side of the ship and sat on long boards suspended from lines tied to the guardrail above, and scraped barnacles with an instrument that looked like a hoe that had been straightened out. It was pretty scary to look down and see the hard bottom of that dry dock; it would have meant instant death if anyone had fallen.
Herbert requested to be put aboard the Worden with me and when I returned to the ship, I found that Herbert was already aboard. His being there made things a good deal different than they had been before. For one thing, Herbert liked to gamble, and he was good at it. He had several sailors owing him money, and since Herbert is a rather small person, all of them were larger than he. One person in particular, called Tex, owed him money and would not pay. He was larger than Herbert or me. But Herbert told him if he did not pay up, I would take care of him. Tex came around to me and said that he heard that I wanted to take him on in a fist fight. I disclaimed any knowledge of the situation, and I asked Herbert to please not involve me in his gambling collections.
During the next two months, war talk began to get more and more serious. The United States was now doing all we could to help the Allies without actually getting in the shooting war, and it did not look as if we could stay out of the war for much longer. Gunnery practice on the ship became more serious and more frequent. We were doing a lot of work on the simulator, which was a machine that duplicated the actual loading and firing of a five-inch gun. The ships had already been covered over with a dull blue-gray paint, all port-holes had been welded shut, and the brass work was all painted. Our maneuvers were also designed to duplicate actual battle conditions, with smoke screens, high speed turns, simulated torpedo attacks, depth charge attacks, etc. We knew that war could not be far off.
I had an experience during this time that has remained in my memory. I was sent up to the crow’s nest as a lookout, and after getting bored with looking out over a calm sea for a few hours and seeing nothing but water, I sat down on a stool that was in the nest, and I began to read funny books that were left there. All at once I heard a voice calling my name over the communications system, and they wanted to know what kind of ships that were out there on the horizon. I got up and looked, and they were not on the horizon; they were all around us. I felt that I was very lucky that I had not been courtmartialed, or at least called up before the Captain’s Mast.
On Friday evening, Dec. 5, we were entering Pearl Harbor after a two week cruise with our task force, and our sonar device recorded an underwater sound like that of a submarine. Our Captain tried to ascertain if it was a friend or foe, but there were no subs of ours reported to be in the area. We asked permission to drop depth charges, but the permission was denied because we were not at war. As to whether this story is completely accurate, I do not know because seamen are not told the details of such things from the highest authority, but I do know that we made several depth charge runs over the area in a criss-cross fashion, but did not drop any explosives.
After we came up alongside a destroyer that was tied to the U.S.S. Dobbin and tied up to it, several of us were on the fantail talking about the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor. I said that I thought the Japanese would strike the oil tanks where all our reserve oil was kept. They were lined up like ducks in a row on Ford Island, near our ship. But Frank Shoemaker said that he believed they would sink our battleships. Of course, Frank later proved to be right.
The final entry into my diary is as follows:
“Dec. 7, 1941. It was early on Sunday morning and everyone was lounging round, reading papers or asleep. We began to notice explosions and saw planes diving. They looked unfamiliar, and when we looked across the harbor, we saw great columns of smoke rising. At first we thought it was practice, but when we saw the U.S.S. Utah get hit, we manned our guns immediately. Although there was no air on our guns, we would ram by hand and fire as quickly as possible. (Note: these five-inch guns were normally powered by air, as ramming the shell case and projectile into the breach of the gun required an extraordinary force). There were six of us destroyers tied to the Dobbin so we made a large target.
(Note: there were only five destroyers; the sixth ship was the Dobbin itself, a large tender which would have offered a pretty large target even if there had been no destroyers.)
One squadron tried to bomb us but we drove them away with anti-aircraft fire. However, one bomb hit 50 feet off our fantail. One of our machine gunners brought down a plane.
“We had an hour of nearly steady firing. The noise was enough to burst the eardrums. Some men on the Dobbin were killed from strafing. The Worden was inboard ship (Note: this is probably inaccurate; the Worden was second to being inboard) but was the second to get underway. As we left the harbor, we first saw the Utah sinking, then we saw the Arizona burning all over. The West Virginia was afire and sinking, and the Tennessee was tied inboard of it to the dock. The Oklahoma had capsized. We saw the California sinking. We also saw the floating dry dock sinking, and the U.S.S. Cassin, which was in it, was blown half in two and was burning. Near the net of the harbor we saw the Nevada beached and sitting low in the water. It had been bombed.”
As I have noted, there were several inaccuracies in my diary which I cannot account for. I did not write this information down until a few days after the attack, and I might still have been a little discombobulated.
I do remember some parts of the attack from a more personal standpoint. To begin with, it was my brother Herbert who first came down to alert the crew’s quarters. I believe I was lying on the bunk about half awake when he came running down the gangway calling my name. I asked him what was the matter and he said that there were some strange planes buzzing around. He had been up for about an hour working in the galley, as he was a ship’s cook striker, and he might have been the very first in our whole group of ships who saw the planes. I hurriedly dressed and went topside with him, and almost instantly recognized that they were Japanese from the red dot on their wings. I told Herbert to go and find the Officer of the Day so he could sound general quarters, and I would go and alert the crew, I went down the gangway yelling as loud as I could, “The Japs are attacking.”
One of my shipmates at the time was Woody Woodson from DeWitt, Arkansas, and he was one who heard me as I came running down. I saw him a few years ago when I was in Stuttgart, Germany, about 1974, and I asked him if he remembered me running down yelling. He said, “You bet, I do.” I asked him if he believed me when I said the Japs were attacking, and he said, “Yes, I did. You were as white as a sheet.”
Not all the crewmen believed it was an attack, A black man who worked in the ammunition magazine started to go down in the magazine to send up ammunition, but before he did, he asked, “What do they want, target ammunition?” I used some kind of expletive, and said, “Just so it will shoot.”
When I went up on topside again, I saw Gunner’s Mate 3/c Jack Wright from our gun crew looking for a key to unlock the firing pin for our five-inch gun. General quarters had not even sounded yet: I imagine Herbert had had a hard time finding the Officer of the Day, There were no officers aboard our ship at the beginning of the attack other than this one, and apparently he wasn’t too visible.
After about two or three minutes we got our gun crew together and our gun into operation. From that time on, we laid down a heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire by firing projectiles that would explode after 2½ seconds. The sky was covered with puffs of smoke from these exploding projectiles from our guns and others over the harbor.
At that time we had neither radar nor real anti-aircraft firepower. The five-inch guns were far too slow to maneuver to shoot a moving plane, and our .50-caliber machine guns did not have sufficient range. After the war started, we soon had two 40-millimeter guns placed on the after deck house, and several 20-millimeter guns placed around on the main deck. But at Pearl Harbor, all we had were the five-inch guns, and two machine guns.
After about an hour there came a respite from the attacking planes, and by then our deck was covered with empty shell casings, and the gun was smoking hot. We cleared the deck and got ready for another attack, and it was not long in coming. This time, we could see them plainly coming in, and our ships were right in their pathway. Not only that, we presented a large target.
I still do not know why they did not put more effort into bombing us. At any rate, we began to fire as quickly as we could in their direction, and it was at this time a singular thing happened to one of our crewmen. His name was Sutter, a red headed Irishman. He had on the phones to communicate with the gunnery officer, and all at once he discontinued speaking. He was holding the guardrail tightly and gazing up at the incoming planes. Our gunner’s mate yelled at him, but he paid no attention. Finally the gunner’s mate gave him a push and took the phones from him, but still the man did not respond.
It was only a few minutes later that I myself had an experience that has greatly influenced my life. I was just over behind the bulkhead picking up a powder casing, when I heard the gunner’s mate named Voorhies yell, “If anyone has ever prayed, now’s the time.” I knew what he meant; a plane or a bomb was headed our way. So I closed my eyes for an instant and said silently, “Lord, it looks like I am coming to meet you now. Please forgive me for my sins.” At that instant there was a loud explosion off the fantail of our ship, and our ship along with the other destroyers raised up on a large wave. About that time I heard someone calling, “Richard, Richard.” It was Herbert who had left his gun on the bow to come running back to the after deck house to see about me because from his vantage point, it seemed that the bomb had fallen right where I was. When our ship came back down again, all the lines connecting us to the large ship Dobbin parted and sent us drifting. Also, it was at this time that we saw several mops full of blood being thrown overboard from the Dobbin.
The man who was given credit for shooting down a Jap plane from our ship was named Ray Brubaker, and I have seen him at many meetings of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. It was most likely the same plane that came close enough to drop the bomb that he shot down. At any rate, we saw many Japanese planes go down that day.
The full impact of what happened didn’t hit us until we started on our exit from the harbor, about 11 o’clock. The main memory I have is that of the great Arizona, which seemed to be ripped open from forward to aft, and tremendous flames and smoke were billowing from it. Oil was all around on the water, and much of it was on fire. We passed almost near enough to the burning battleships to throw rocks at them. The heat was so intense that we had to take shelter behind bulkheads.
One scene is etched on my memory more than any other. The great U.S.S. West Virginia was burning, and there was one lone sailor up on one of the higher decks, and he had a hose that was still functioning. He was shooting water all around. But it occurred to me then that I could hardly stand the heat at the distance we were: how could he possibly be standing the heat when he was almost in the midst of the flames? Obviously it was too far to the edge of the ship to jump over. Yet, he was still trying to make it.
It is hard to express the deep sadness that overcame the members of our crew as we steamed out of the harbor that day. We were extremely proud of the Navy, and our hearts would have been broken of only one of our great ships had been sunk. But to see all of them either sunk or sinking, and our entire fleet virtually decimated, was almost more than we could bear. It was not that we were afraid, or even that we thought that the Japanese could beat us; it was the loss of the ships and the men that tore us up.
That night we were separated from the other ships as we were not allowed to communicate with one another. We were not sure where the Japanese fleet was, or whether or not it was planning to come in for an invasion. Ever since the attack, no person other than the people who worked below decks were allowed to go below. We all had to stay on our battle station at full alert. My night battle station was the huge searchlight. There were only four commands that I might receive. The first was to strike the arc, which in effect turned on the light. But no light yet escaped the sealed shutters. The second command was to open the shutters: that allowed the light to go out in a large beam which brought into bright view objects that were several miles distance. The only other commands were to close the shutter and to douse the light.
Stationed on the bow of our ship was a sharp-eyed Texan named Branscomb. He drank a lot, and he was quarrelsome, but his night vision was really good. All at once I heard Branscomb on the phones saying, “A ship three points off the starboard bow, sir.” Immediately the guns and the searchlight swung out in that direction in sync with the fire control tower. I received the order to strike the arc which I did. Then the order went to the gun captains, “Load the guns.” Just as that order came, the No. 1 gun fired without being ordered to do so, and now the phone began to really come alive. The command came to me. “Open the shutter. Open the shutter.” And I quickly obeyed. Then our fighting lights (specific colors of lights pre-arranged with all ships for quick recognition) came on, as did the lights of the other ship. When we saw the ship under our searchlight, we could see that it was not all that far from us, and all of its 8-inch guns were pointed in our direction. They were about to blast us out of the water. I sure was grateful for those fighting lights.
The next night we came into to Pearl Harbor at the munitions dock to restock our supplies and all people aboard, both officers and men, passed ammunition to our magazine. After a time, I was given a rifle and told to walk guard duty along the dock. As I was walking to and fro, a small man came toward me without the identification tag that he was supposed to be wearing. I began taking the rifle from my shoulder and I said, “Halt,” but the man did not stop. I clicked the safety off, and that brought him to a stop. I said, “Where is your identification?” He began reaching under the light jacket he had on, and I was sure he was going for a gun. I was squeezing the trigger when he brought out the tag and said, “I am Chinee. I am Chinee.” I have often felt grateful that I did not kill that man that night.
From that time onward for the next several months, we were mostly out to sea, and had very little shore leave. Our days were spent mostly on the gun watches, with four hours on duty and four hours off. During the daytime off duty hours we would do our regular upkeep work. In this way, the war settled down mostly to a boring kind of waiting for something to happen. However, as will be seen in the next section, there were many more war stories to tell.
Dropping depth charges on submarines or on suspected submarines was an important part of our contribution to the war. On the very afternoon of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we dropped seven depth charges near Oahu, and twice again on Jan. 16 and Jan. 22 we dropped depth charges. We could not be certain that we ever actually hit a sub in this way, but usually when we dropped the charges, debris would come floating to the surface. This could have been contrived, however, to make it appear we had been successful.
We did not receive mail for more than a month after the attack, but during that time I tried many times to write Mama to let her know we were OK. Herbert never liked to write and so far as I know, he only wrote one letter home when we were on the Worden, and he mailed that one with one of my letters. Herbert and I had mailed Mama a Christmas package from Hawaii earlier than Dec. 7, so she knew we were there during the attack. However, she did not get a letter from us until February. When she did get a letter, this fact made the Alexandria Town Talk, and it was published on the same day again in the newspaper in 1992 under the heading “50 Years Ago Today.” Mama kept all my letters, and they were found in a box after her death, along with the letter from Herbert. I suppose it gave her comfort to reread them. But the truth is, we could say almost nothing in our letters having any content because of the censors after the war. I still have the box of letters that she kept, and it fills me with sadness to read them.
On February 5, 1942, our ship escorted the seaplane tender Curtiss to New Caledonia by way of Samoa and Fiji. I remember the sailors getting excited because the Samoan girls were topless, but as a matter of fact, even so, they were not all that great to look at. We were given a brief liberty ashore, and many sailors bought mats woven from cane, thinking they were native products. But back aboard ship, they discovered the markers, “Made in Japan.” In Fiji we saw a few people with bones in their noses, and their dark kinky hair was red on the outer end, probably bleached from the sun. We heard they had at one time been cannibalistic, and they looked the part.
Again back to Pearl in March, we joined the Lexington (a massive carrier) to go to the Coral Sea, but were detached from her on May 2 to escort the tanker Tippecanoe to Nouméa, New Caledonia. On May 4-8, while we were separated from them, the Battle of Coral Sea was fought, and the Lexington was sunk. Due to our being a part of the task force and the fact we were still in the proximity of the action, our ship was given credit for participating in the battle.
I had an unusual experience in Nouméa, New Caledonia. We were given a few hours liberty to go ashore, but were told that most of the French people there were Vichy-French and not friendly to Americans. We were advised to be very careful not to have trouble with any of them, and to stay with large groups of sailors. I went ashore with my friend Bud Shoemaker, and soon after we got ashore, we encountered a beggar asking for alms. I had already exchanged my money for French money, so I gave the man a large 2 franc coin. I thought I was being generous. But the man threw the coin on the ground and began to rail at us in French. A large crowd soon gathered around us, but soon I saw our chief boatswain’s mate and several other sailors pushing through the crowd. The chief gave the man a five hundred franc note and he was satisfied.
On May 22, 1942 we crossed the equator, and the shellbacks aboard did not let the polliwogs forget that they were now entering into the domain of King Neptune. I received the following summons, which I still have in my possession:
SUBPOENA AND SUMMONS EXTRAORDINARY
The Royal High Court of the Raging Main
District of EQUATORIUS Vale of Pacificus Domain of Neptune Rex
s. s. : Richard Oliver Young
TO WHOM MAY COME THESE PRESENT:
GREETING AND BEWARE
WHEREAS: The good ship U.S.S. Worden DD 352, bound northward is about to enter our domain; and the aforesaid ship carries a large and slimy cargo of landlubbers, beachcombers, sea-lawyers, lounge-lizards, parlor-dunnigans, plow-deserters, park-bench warmers, chicken-chasers, hay-tossers, chit-signers, sand-crabs, four-flushers, squaw-men, and all other living creatures of the land, and last but not least; he-vamps and liberty-hounds falsely masquerading as seamen, of which low scum you are a member, having never appeared before us; and
WHEREAS, The Royal Court of the Raging Main has been convened by us on board the good ship U.S.S. Worden DD 352 on the 22nd day of May 1942, Latitude 0°00’00”, and an inspection of our High Royal Roster shows that it is high time the sad and wandering nautical soul of that much-abused body of yours appear before the High Tribunal of Neptune; and
BE IT KNOWN, That we hereby summon and commend you
Richard Oliver YOUNG
now a Sea, 1c, U. S. Navy, to appear before the Royal High Court and our August Presence on the aforesaid date at such time as may suit our pleasure, and to accept most heartily and with good grace the pains and penalties of the awful tortures inflicted upon you. To be examined as to fitness to become one of our Trusty Shellbacks and to answer the following charges:
CHARGE I: — in that Richard Oliver YOUNG now a Sea. 1c., U. S. Navy, has hitherto willfully and maliciously failed to show reverence and allegiance to our Royal Person, and is therein and hereby a vile landlubber and polliwog.
CHARGE II: — Enticing Herb to join the Navy.
DISOBEY THIS SUMMONS UNDER PAIN OF OUR SWIFT AND TERRIBLE DISPLEASURE. OUR VIGILANCE IS EVER WAKEFUL, OUR VENGEANCE IS JUST AND SURE.
Given under our hand and seal.
Attest, for the King:
F. W. Milet, DAVY JONES
M. B. Dye, NEPTUNUS REX
Of course, the whole affair was all in fun, but the torture they meted out was less than fun, and I feel could have turned dangerous. First we had to go on hands and knees down a line between two groups of men yielding shillelaghs made of rope hardened by soaking them in water. After this shellacking, we had to climb a vertical ladder, with the full force of a large fire hose in our face, and then we had to kiss the baby’s toe (a fat man with a sheet for a diaper represented the baby) and then kneel before the queen (a man with a mop on his head for woman’s hair and other props). As we were doing that, a shellback touched us with a sword (a copper blade with electricity attached) and this caused us to draw up in a knot. They then made us get up on a copper-plated table and they “operated” on us with the electrified knife. Finally, they had us to crawl through a canvas tube which ended in a large water filled canvas bag. When we came up from that dunking, we were through.
When I went through the line, the man who had been only a couple of people ahead of me in getting the treatment, turned around and began to help in initiating me. I did not like this, and seeing a bucket of water, I lifted it and poured it on his head. The executive officer Anderson had been observing from behind the bridge above us, and he yelled out, “Give it to that man double.” They sent me through the line again.
On May 26 we were back at Pearl Harbor replenishing our stores and ammunition, but we soon saw this was not to be an opportunity to obtain shore liberty in Oahu. The ships waited in line to take on supplies, and everything we did was in great haste. As soon as we finished, we put to sea, and joined the Enterprise and the Hornet, two of our large carriers. Then it seemed as if all the ships were racing to see which could reach our destination first. The only thing wrong was that we had no idea where we were going.
A few days later, perhaps the fourth or fifth of June, our “Old Man,” Captain Pogue, called all hands to the main deck to give us a speech. As he had never done that before, we knew it was serious. He told us that we were about to engage in battle with one of the largest naval fleets in history. He reminded us of how Commander James Lawrence said to never give up the ship, but fight till she sinks and he said we must be prepared to die for our country. I suppose he was trying to pump some courage into us, but as far as I was concerned, he did nothing more than give me a good scare. Then he gave the order to “strip ship,” that is, to get rid of everything that would burn that we did not need for battle.
My battle station was the No.4 gun on the after deck house, but the job I was given in stripping ship was at the other end of the ship on the bow. I was sent four decks below to the paint locker, and several people were lowering lines to me down through four hatches. I would secure the lines to the handles of the paint buckets and they would draw them up and throw them overboard. All at once in the midst of this process, the general quarters alarm sounded. There were two rules of the Navy that came into immediate conflict: first was the rule that you never left a hatch open when you left the below decks, and secondly you always responded to general quarters by reporting immediately to your battle station.
I decided to follow the rule of closing the hatch. But I had a problem. The men lowering the lines had secured them at the top to the handrail, and they had deserted me and gone to their battle stations, leaving the lines dangling down into the paint locker. There was only about a six inch space around the hatch, but after some maneuvering I was able to get the excess line placed around the open hatch and close it, then go to the next one above. But there my problem was compounded; I had much more line to place in the small space around the hatch. After much struggling, I got it done. But when I reached the third hatch, it had well nigh become an impossibility. By that time our guns were firing, and I knew we were under attack, and I knew I would be in trouble at my battle station. It was about this time that some of the maintenance crew saw the open hatch on the bow and came to close it. They saw my trouble, and quickly cut the lines. When I got to the battle station, the gunner’s mate was angry, but when he heard my story he decided I had done the right thing.
Our ship was not hit but the Yorktown, another of our great carriers that was near us, was. It had not sunk when we left it, but it was burning, and all its sailors except those killed in the battle were able to escape. Our pilots sent word that we had won a great naval battle that day, called the “Battle of Midway.”
After returning to Pearl, we joined the Saratoga on June 13, and headed out toward the South Pacific on July 9. On July 28 our ship picked up 36 survivors from the sunken Army transport Tjinegara and took them to Nouméa, New Caledonia, arriving on August 1. The survivors were all kept below deck under guard and not allowed to see any of our ships in the area. They complained bitterly about being treated this way, but our Captain did not want any knowledge of our ship movements to become published by these people after we let them off. On August 3 we caught up with the Saratoga and were on our way to Guadalcanal.
It was during this time that we began to run low on food. We had not had a supply of food since the middle of June, and we were accustomed to being resupplied every 2 weeks. Before we got our next supplies we were eating two meals daily, and both meals consisted of corn-bread and dried peas. The peas were served like soup in a bowl, and little white worms would rise to the top. I would collect my worms with a spoon and throw them away. I remember one sailor saying, “I just can’t eat this food.” Another one said, “Let me have it.” The one who received the bowl gathered the worms with his spoon, and plopped them in his mouth. A week or so later, when a tanker came alongside to refuel us, they sent over a couple of boxes of apples for us to eat. It was a sad sight to see sailors fighting over those apples.
The planes from the Saratoga were soon taking part in the attack on Guadalcanal in preparation for landing, and helped to sink the Japanese carrier Ryujo and damage the seaplane tender, the Chitose, before it (the Saratoga) was hit by a torpedo. Sailors on our ship actually saw the submarine that fired the torpedo as it came to the surface right in the middle of our task force. We were not able to fire at it because this would have endangered other ships, and it submerged immediately again. We and several other destroyers laid down a criss-cross pattern of depth charges that almost certainly sank the sub. We were sure that the sub had time to send a message to the home base as to our exact location, and we knew we ought to get out of there as soon as possible. However, for us this was not possible as we and another destroyer were assigned to escort the Saratoga to Tonga Tabu for repairs, and the top speed of the damaged Saratoga was about five knots. We were glad to get out of that one alive.
When we were coming into the port of Tonga Tabu, we were met by a whole wave of outrigger canoes laden with somewhat green bananas which the natives wanted to sell. We were extremely hungry, and bought all we could afford. The only trouble was that we ate them too quickly, and they made most of us sick. Many who did not get sick from the bananas got sick from some of the native home-brew which they purchased when they got a few hours liberty.
After we had escorted the Saratoga to Tonga Tabu, we headed back to Hawaii with another destroyer (I believe it was the McDonough) when we encountered a strong typhoon. The wind was so strong that the rain was coming horizontally, and there was a fierce howling sound. Waves were as high as our masts, and when we reached the top of them, the whole midships would be under water. Pitching down forward, the whole bow would plow under the next wave, and the ship would have a creaking sound as if it were about to break in two.
Our boat davit came untied, and a group of us had to go up to the superstructure to secure it, and we would have been swept overboard except that we tied ourselves to the guardrail. The other destroyer lost a man overboard, and we tried for a short time to find him, but because the visibility was so low and the storm so fierce we had to give it up. I do not know the strength of that storm, but my guess is that it was about Category 5.
We arrived back at Pearl on September 23, and even though we had received supplies at Tonga Tabu, one thing I remember well is that at last we got all the food we wanted to eat. Five days later we sailed for San Francisco with the battleships Idaho and Pennsylvania. At that time I asked for a transfer from the ship as I had fallen into extreme disfavor with the Chief Boatswain’s Mate whose name was Griswald, who was my main boss. It seemed to me that whereas the Chief who was on board when I first came on the Worden did all he could to get me ahead, this chief did all he could to put me down.
In retrospect, I probably was as much to blame as he was; however, that does not change the fact that I was being held down from any kind of promotion because of the chief’s disfavor. I talked to the commissioned officer Caldwell who was over us, and he suggested the transfer since he sympathized with my position, but could offer me no aid.
On Dec. 27, the Worden went from there to the Aleutians, and was sunk on a rock on January 12, 1943. Fourteen of the crew drowned, but Herbert fortunately was one of the survivors.