Ed Kamberger

Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program
Interview with Lawrence “Ed” Kamberger Jr.

September 8, 2017

Pippi Mayfield, Interviewer

EK: Ed Kamberger Jr.
PM: Pippi Mayfield

Track 1

PM: The following interview was conducted by Pippi Mayfield on September 8, 2017, for the Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program. I’m here with Ed Kamberger who served on the USS Duluth.

Why don’t you go ahead and say your name and spell it for the record, please.

EK: Ok. My name is Lawrence – I go by Ed – Kamberger: K-a-m-b-e-r-g-e-r. I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland, where I enlisted in the Navy. Currently I live in York, Pennsylvania. As a teenager I was… First of all, I was born in 1960, but as a teenager, during the bi-centennial of America’s 200th birthday, Baltimore Harbor was inundated with Navy ships from all over the world and I saw those girls going crazy for sailors. So I had to be a sailor.

PM: [laughing] That’s always a good incentive.

EK: Yes. And then my family went camping down Myrtle Beach and working our way up the coast. We stopped in North Carolina and I visited the battleship USS North Carolina memorial (and) toured the ship. That set me in motion for my naval career, which is short-lived. I only did three years. But I enlisted in delayed entry out of high school and had to wait eleven months to report for boot camp. I went to boot camp in Chicago, Great Lakes, and picked a job that would almost guarantee me shipboard duty, which is navigation.

Everybody in my class got a ship except for two people. I was very glad to get a ship. (I) never, ever, heard of Duluth. When they told me I was going to the USS Duluth, I thought they said “Deloosh.” I had no idea what it was, but I was going to a ship and I was happy. It was in San Diego, so I was going to get to see California. Being from Maryland, I had never been farther (west) than probably Tennessee. (I) went to Orlando for my A-school, which is your job training, and did that there, then went home for 30 days recruiter assistance. I understand I was responsible for three more recruits. Drove to California and got on my ship. Reported in May of ’79. We left on an overseas cruise, “WESTPAC” they call it, in July. We went to Hawaii and, being a troop transport ship, we had to pick up our Marine detachment in Hawaii, some 900 Marines. You try getting in chow line behind them. If you weren’t on watch, you had to fight for yourself. Watch standards got meal first.

Anyway, we picked those up and then we went on to Okinawa, Japan. We changed commands with the ships that were there, and on their way back to the States while we were in deployment overseas. We kind of hubbed around the Philippines, the Subic Bay Naval Base, in and out of there while we were doing our operations. Went to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of New Townsville (Australia), and we did Operation Kangaroo Three with the Australian/New Zealand Navies and practiced hitting the beach. Our Marines deploying on the beach and having the fake battlefield games.

After that exercise was over, we pulled into Sydney for seven days and got to see Cheap Trick (American rock band) playing on the steps of the opera house. Then after we left there, we went to New Caledonia and Fiji, two different ports, small and nice – tropical. Then back to the Philippines for our (hub? 4:23) operations in the area. We went to Hong Kong for Christmas. Beautiful city at the time, still British occupied and owned. Beautiful city. We had to anchor out, so you had to take a shuttle boat in to land. But absolutely gorgeous.

While we were in Australia, I didn’t mention the Iranians took our hostages at the embassy. We got orders when we were leaving Hong Kong at Christmastime; we were supposed to go back to Cebu, Philippines. They diverted us to Singapore, that we would be in a closer proximity for an airstrike in Iran if we needed to be.

We sat five days in Singapore, another beautiful country. Litter laws are very strict. You can’t even spit gum on the sidewalk. The cleanest, most beautiful city I’ve ever been in – a great port. They decided we weren’t needed to go into the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean. They brought us back and we changed commands at a small Bikini Atoll called Enewetak. I was in navigation and one of my jobs was to plot or take bearings to different objects – lighthouses and mountain tips and points of land – so the ship can plot their course. An atoll is a volcano head below water. When we went into the lagoon, the middle of a volcano, you could see the ridge – the side of the mountain – coming up as you go over and then in, you see it going back down. Then we anchored in a lagoon. Because I was a fresh air guy – I was up on the bridge wings – I got to see everything. I looked over the side and that lagoon was packed full of hammerheads. I’d never seen a hammerhead before.

We changed commands, went back to Hawaii, dropped our Marines off, back to San Diego (California), Valentine’s Day, 1980. That’s nothing, we spent New Year’s in Singapore, ’79-’80.

PM: Was that a little crazy?

EK: A little bit. Then in March we went down to Acapulco (Mexico), two-week cruise, R & R. It was a nice visit. Then we came back and went in the shipyards. I was able to go on temporary duty on another ship for 30 days while our ship was in the yards and keep my skills fine-tuned. Then after my tour was up, I was discharged and stayed in San Pedro, California, for 10 (years), where we were in the shipyards. Then I stayed in touch with some Navy guys. Funny, I ran into Don, who’s the president of our association, at Arlington National Cemetery. I was there visiting with my four- or five-year-old son, looking at Kennedy’s grave. I look up and see this guy wearing an LPD-6 hat. I went over to him and I said, “Well, when were you on it?”

Come to find out it was Don. His son was in the Marine Corp, stationed in Quantico, Virginia, and they were doing the bus tour of Arlington. So we exchanged numbers and stayed in touch and then he proceeded to organize this crew member’s association and the reunions and… I was a founding member the first reunion.

I guess that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

PM: Do you want to tell me a little bit more about your day-to-day as part of the navigator crew?

EK: OK. Well, everybody who has not made rank, which is non-commissioned officer, which is E-4. So E-1, E-2, E-3, you’re a non-rate, even if you have a job. On a ship, (they) are required to do what we called “mess cranking” – mess cooking. We call it “mess cranking.” There’s a variety of different things you can do. Some guys would go work in the “chief’s mess.” That was the primo assignment because the chiefs all pitched in and paid you a tip and you got to eat the chief’s food, which was always better than the regular enlisted crew. But all the chiefs had to agree on letting a “mess cranker” come in there. They had to be in unison with who they picked. My first time, right when we got ready to leave on our cruise, I was picked for the wardroom, which is the officer’s mess.

During the day, I had to clean officer’s quarters – their bathrooms and their hallway – the passageways. Then mealtimes I was actually was in my…we called them “salt-and-peppers”: white shirt, black pants. I served them like a waiter. That was mealtimes. Then after mealtimes, I did whatever needed to be done around there as housekeeping.

I did do a second tour, because each division contributes a person to do that. So after they cycle through and your name comes up again, you have to… I was in a small division, being in navigation. The second time I was down on the enlisted decks. I worked in the dish room in the pots-and-pans. That was the day-to-day activity with that. Those were two different times, a year apart. Your “mess cranking” was 90 days. If it was general quarters, which was battle stations, you had to go back to your original work assignment and man your battle station there, even if you were on one of the mess decks.

When that was over, my responsibility that was given to me was I had to wind the ship’s clocks. There were about 60 clocks on the ship. The reason for that is if the ship takes a torpedo in the side, and they sever the electric lines, and clocks stop working – they’re electric – so all ship (clocks) had to be wound. They were eight-day clocks. That had to be done every Monday. I would go around and wind all the ship’s clocks. So I got to see a lot of people and be in a lot of spaces. I went in the captain’s bedroom, the captain’s office, the executive officer, I went down in the engine room and wound the clocks in the engine room, in the dentist’s office – we had a dental office on the ship and a little hospital bay. Everywhere. I got to see everybody and got to know a lot of people.

Another one of my jobs as navigation assistant was to keep charts updated. A ship goes down, they put a buoy there to mark where the sunken ship is, we have to add it to the chart. We’d get a publication from the Coast Guard, telling us the updates and we had to update charts and publications all the time. If there was a light out in the lighthouse – if it was burned out – we had to mark that in our publications.

Quartermasters were also in charge of the deck logs. You were there (when) we were talking about deck logs and performance logs. Deck log is something that was filled out every day (about) anything that happened on the ship: change of watches, somebody reporting onboard, somebody getting hurt. When we’re underway, every time the captain says, “Left ten degrees rudder,” you had to write down, “Left ten degrees rudder.” It’s an official document and that’s why there’s 88,000 pages of it. That’s a quartermaster’s job, is to keep those publications, those deck logs up to (date). We had to correct them. There could not be any mistakes or any erasures. If we had to rewrite one, we had to go find all the guys who signed their names and have them re-sign. Yes. It was a pain.

PM: Sounds like it! [laughing]

EK: Yeah. Then our area to maintain – paint, clean and keep up – was the bridge area, the wheelhouse. It was nice being up there in the thick of it and see what everything’s going on instead of… We had “hole snipes” which were down in the engine room. They saw no fresh air. So, that was basically what my job was.

PM: Did you have a favorite? Because you had quite an array there, it seems like.

EK: Well, we would have to stand watches underway, then if we anchored, we had anchor watches, where you had to make sure that the ship wasn’t dragging its anchor. So you had to take bearings to different objects at different times. I liked doing that because I was up there by myself. I was responsible for the ship and making sure it’s where it’s supposed to stay, but I didn’t have anybody breathing down my neck.

PM: [laughing] That’s always nice.

EK: Yeah.

PM: How many men were on the ship with you?

EK: Our ship carried about 325 and maybe 20 officers, so about 350 Navy guys. We had two permanent Marine detached Marine Corp service members. One was a senior enlisted and one was an officer. Their titles were actually “combat cargo officer” and “combat cargo assistant.” They were permanently assigned to the ship. When the Marine detachments came on board, they worked hand-in-hand with them to park the Jeeps and the tanks where they had to park them and make sure that all the logistics for the 800-plus Marines we carried were taken care of.

PM: That’s a lot of extra guys.

EK: Yes. And like I said, chowtime was a challenge. If you weren’t assigned early chow for watch relief, you had to fight for it. [laughing] I think our mess decks probably held a hundred guys. We’re talking 1,200-1,300 guys on the ship, so there was constantly rolling over. And, out to sea, there were a lot times that they wouldn’t put the chairs out; you’d have to stand and eat because you’d just slide everywhere.

PM: So what about comradery with the guys? Because, like you said, when you were doing the clocks you got to meet everybody. Did you get close to people?

EK: Oh yes. I did. I became friends with a guy (who) worked in the engine room (as a) machinist mate. When we both got out of the Navy, we both settled in San Pedro, California. He’s not at this reunion. He was here last time and I missed the last one. But he works at Disneyland in California. His son is a Boston Red Sox pitcher. Steven Wright is his son and he’s a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.

I got to be friends with him (Roy) and it was funny, when I got out and got a job, and made friends with one of my managers, come to find out, my manager was going to church with Roy and they were friends. So, it tightened up the circle a little bit.

Another thing I used to do was, I was the mail orderly. I would go get the mail for my division and bring it up from the post office. One time there was a newspaper from my hometown with some other guy’s name on it down in the engine room. So I went down and gave it to him, because it got mixed up in the wrong mail. Come to find out, he was from my hometown.

PM: That’s pretty cool.

EK: But we never became friends. I’ve tried contacting him to let him know about reunions and I can’t get a hold of him. He doesn’t return calls. So there’s a difference there. Guys I worked with directly over me, I’ve talked with them and that’s about it. I’ve met some of the guys who did the same job as me – years later – and we’ve become friends.

PM: Well that’s cool. You have a common thing there.

EK: Yes. We had the same job on the same ship and we’re all on Facebook together.

PM: Facebook keeps everybody connected now.

EK: Yeah. This is the only way I’ve been able to keep in contact with people, is through the Association and the reunions. Nobody near me.

PM: That’s good. It’s nice that this formed. So, when you describe some of the places that you guys went on the ship, they seem very picturesque and beautiful. Did you think about that at the time or was it just “We’re going here”?

EK: Oh yeah. When we were in New Caledonia, they’re always trying to organize tours for the guys to take. I went on a tour of New Caledonia and at the end of the tour, they had us… Now, New Caledonia is a French territory, so a lot of French speaking and they’re under the French flag – a lot of natives, South Pacific natives. We went to a restaurant for a meal and the waterfall on a rock was IN the building. The restaurant was built on the side of this waterfall. It was absolutely gorgeous. I took pictures (but) I’ve since lost them. I’ve lost a lot of my… Made some bad decisions in later life and lost a lot of my belongings. I have some, but not all. I was able to keep my cruise book and my high school yearbooks but a lot of my pictures disappeared.

PM: That’s too bad.

EK: Yeah. When I was in Hawaii, I rented a car and toured the island. I got to see Gilligan’s Island out there off the coast. Acapulco was gorgeous; I went up to the cliffs and watched some cliff diving. The weird thing about Acapulco on the beach side of the road – the main road there in the harbor – is all these gorgeous, elaborate hotels. On the other side of the street – not the other side of town, but the other side of the street – were the shacks. I couldn’t… That was hard to understand and fathom.

Things were gorgeous. Like I told you about Enewetak, going over the top of that volcano head.

PM: That’s what I think would be so interesting.

EK: Yeah. And then being in the Great Barrier Reef. We actually went down and up into it. Very dangerous waters. We traveled through the Philippine Islands, which we did what they called “12-on, 12-off.” You’re 12 hours on watch and you constantly had to be taking bearings. You were in close proximity to land. You were not just on open ocean. You had to navigate through channels and islands and that was all gorgeous. Philippines. And one thing I’ll say about the Philippines that I can remember: every single day, about 1:00, right after lunch, it rained – without fail.

PM: It was on a clock, too. [laughing]

EK: Yes. Every day it would rain for about a half hour or so. Then we’d have to go up and squeegee the decks and get the water off. But we were right there on the Navy base in the Philippines and you just look out and see jungle everywhere. Absolutely gorgeous. I went snorkeling in the harbor and brought back a whole bunch of coral and put it in one of our “heads,” which is the restroom that we only opened up for when we were out at sea. It was up on the bridge level. I put the bag of coral in there and closed the door and locked it. Needless to say, it didn’t make it home. Coral is a living organism and when it dies it stinks. [laughing together]

PM: Smelly bathroom then, huh?

EK: Yes. I was told to get rid of that. But we had fun. My chief was an old guy. Old to me – he was probably only in his 40s. (He was) always playing tricks on us, telling us different things. I decided to play one on him. Now, chiefs had their own mess. They also had their own sleeping quarters. One year, while we were in the Navy, Playboy had a centerfold that was actually the cartoon depiction of the grandma. I don’t know if you remember the grandma of Playboy? But I took that grandma centerfold and taped it up underneath his bunk. [laughing]

PM: I hope he appreciated a good prank.

EK: Yeah. Something else… Crossing the line. When you cross the equator, if you have not been across the equator on any ship, you are called a “pollywog.” Once you cross the equator and you go through the initiation, then you become a “shellback.” Understand now, with political correctness, they don’t do the initiations like they used to. With women on the ships, it’s kind of hard to be as brutal as we were.

But you crawled from the front of the ship to the back of the ship with your underwear on the outside of your pants, with a big “PW” for pollywog written on the t-shirt, and you had to crawl. Guys who were already shellbacks had sections of firehose that they beat you on the butt as you were going by. They saved all the food garbage up for a week in advance and you had to crawl through that. Then (when) you got to the end, you had to kiss the “royal baby’s belly” and his belly was full of grease. They’d just shove your face. And then you had to go before King Neptune and be accepted into the “realm of the equator,” or the King Neptune’s realm.

The anticipation before getting to the equator… They have one guy from each division, even the Marines, select one guy to dress up as a girl and participate in a beauty contest. I mean these guys were wearing mops on their heads for wigs and the outfits were absolutely hilarious. Whoever wins the beauty contest gets to sit with King Neptune and not participate in the initiation.

PM: [laughing throughout this explanation]

EK: This old guy dressed up as an old grandmother with a crutch and the crew voted him the beauty queen.

PM: [still laughing]

EK: That’s what reminded me, telling you about putting that grandma’s picture… He didn’t have to participate in the initiation. We all did it. It’s a tradition. You can go back to World War II in Naval history then and find everybody’s done this. But now they don’t do it.

PM: It sounds like you guys had fun on your ship.

EK: Oh yeah. You had to make fun. Another weird thing is you go twenty miles off the coast of California when we would leave, we’d lose the TV signal. So we had no TV. We had close-circuit television – CCTV. Hollywood would ship us in VHS tapes of TV shows. So whenever we’d get the mail, we’d have TV for a couple weeks and watch whatever shows and sporting events were popular. We all were fascinated with Wonder Woman and Soap on that cruise. [laughing together]

PM: That’s funny. I can understand why you guys had to make up your own entertainment.

EK: Yes. And the big popular game at the time I was on the ship was Risk. We would have a Risk party that would last all weekend. I’d have to get up and go on watch so I’d get up and somebody would take my place. They just continued the game. It would go on and on and on all weekend long.

PM: So when you were a teenager and you said, “I’ve gotta go into the Navy,” now, as an adult and what you went through, was it everything you thought it would be?

EK: Yeah, but I didn’t have the girls flock over me.

PM: What? That was the whole reason you joined. [laughing] It was a good experience, though?

EK: It was a good experience, yes.

PM: Any other stories you want to share at all? Otherwise I think we’ve covered…

EK: Yeah, I’ll tell you one story. I told this at the very first reunion and it’s absolutely hilarious, in my opinion. The first day I reported on the ship, they showed me around, I put my seabag down in my area, they assigned my bunk and they took me up for chow, for dinner. I’m sitting there eating my dinner, I hear the bell ring, and it’s always in a sequence of two so you hear, “Ding ding! Ding ding!” Then you hear, “Duluth departing.”

I went, “We’re pulling out? We’re leaving? I’m in navigation – I’m supposed to be on the bridge. “Am I…? Why am I sitting here? Are we leaving?” I didn’t know that was the tradition of announcing the captain leaving. So if the crew members on watch at 5 in the morning saw the captain coming up the pier, you’d hear, “Ding ding! Ding ding! Duluth arriving.” Because the captain IS the ship. It wasn’t “captain arriving” it was “Duluth arriving” or departing.

So that was something funny that I like to tell. I was so “be-fazzled” that the ship was leaving and I wasn’t where I was supposed to be to help get it out of port.

End of recording
Track 1

Transcribed by Mary Beth Frost

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