Steve J. Balach

BALACH, Steve J.

Steve J. Balach was born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1923.

Mr. Balach served in World War II. He served in both the European and Pacific Theaters.

Mr. Balach joined the Minnesota Naval Reserve on June 15th 1940. He trained at the Navy Reserve center at Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota, and served on the USS Paducah. His unit was sent to the Navy Pier in Chicago in November 1940. They reached the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, on December 7th 1940.

They were stationed in New York for 6-7 months and performed shore patrol duty. Then they were assigned to Little Creek Base in Norfolk, Virginia. They were there when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

After December 7th 1941, he helped train Navy personnel for manning the guns aboard Merchant Marine ships; they trained on Chesapeake Bay on board the Paducah. He did this until late 1942. Then he went to Syracuse, New York, where the General Electric factory had built new turbo electric steam destroyer escorts. He was assigned to serve as chief on the U.S.S. Liddle.

His unit brought troops to Swansea, Wales, to Gibraltar, and to Bizerte, Tunisia.

He was then assigned to service in the Pacific Theater. He was involved in invasions of the Philippines and the Battle of Ormoc Bay. He helped transport Australian troops in the South Pacific. His ship was hit by a kamikaze in December 1944.

After the war, Mr. Balach served in the Naval reserve for six years.

Source: Interview with Mr. Balach (below); Veterans' Memorial Hall Veteran History Form

Oral History Interview with Steve Balach

Veteran of the USS Paducah (WWII Vet)
Born 1923, Duluth, Minnesota

Interviewed by
Daniel Hartman
Program Director of Veterans Memorial Hall
On June 13, 2007

Transcribed by
Karin Swor
Program Assistant of Veterans Memorial Hall
On October 16, 2008

DH. I would like to start this interview by asking you to state your name and spell your last name.

SB. My name is Steve Balach. My last name is spelled B-A-L-A-C-H.

DH. What year were you born?

SB. 1923.

DH. Were you born in Duluth?

SB. Yes, I was born in Duluth, Minnesota.

DH. OK, then we will start asking other questions. I take it you were born in Duluth; were your parents born in Duluth as well?

SB. No, I am a first-generation American.

DH. Where were your parents from originally?

SB. Both of them were Serbs from—which was under the Austrian Empire at the time. They migrated to America, my father in 1906, my mother in 1910.

DH. They came at different times, but they came from the same area? Did they know each other prior?

SB. Families generally, that’s all.

DH. But they were of the same ethnic background. Growing up, was their ethnic background pretty dominant with you?

SB. Absolutely, that is why I know how to barbecue lambs, smoke sausage, and do many things.

DH. Did you influence your children with that as well?

SB. Absolutely, all of my children are college graduates, and they have all gotten some of that cultural background.

DH. That is great. What are some of the things your parents taught you about their culture growing up?

SB. Our family was a big family. We learned how to plant a garden, raise pigs, milk cows, and survive without ever being on the government payroll.

DH. I take it you didn’t live in town, growing up?

SB. Well, the western part of Duluth, in a rural area.

DH. Where exactly in west Duluth?

SB. Gary New Duluth.

DH. How big a property would you say your parents had?

SB. We had one home, and beyond that we had gardens. During the Depression days, nobody cared where you planted. The pasture belongs to somebody, but we had two cows. That was part of survival.

DH. You grew up most of your childhood in the 1920’s. How was it growing up in the 1920’s in Duluth?

SB. Very difficult, tough days. I was born in ’23, and I was privy to the whole Depression era, where we had little or nothing, so it was interesting to get a job, like in the Naval Reserve, where they paid $2.00 each time you went to a meeting.

DH. In the 1920’s when you were a kid, what did you do for fun?

SB. We made our own fun, I guess. Baseball. We knew how to trap, hunt, and fish. These were things that were necessary; they weren’t a joy at the time. If we caught fish, we had a fish dinner at home, or if we knocked a couple of partridges off with our single shot .22, we had a partridge dinner.

DH. Where did you do most of your hunting and trapping?

SB. Right in our area.

DH. In Gary?

SB. Yes, that is very rural.

DH. How young were you when you first learned how to trap and hunt?

SB. I had two older brothers that were experts. I must have been six or seven at the time, and I would go in the woods with them.

DH. In relation to the rest of your family, how—were you the youngest, oldest?

SB. Middle son: two older, two younger.

DH. Your parents had five children?

SB. No, no eight. Three girls too.

DH. OK. You grew up with a fairly large family then, too. Did you also have a lot of children like your parents?

SB. Six.

DH. Could you describe a little bit of Gary back in the 1920’s? What is different now compared to then?

SB. It was all ethnic groups, like Slovenians, Italians, Serbs. They all had their own ethnic background and their own social clubs and so on. Nobody had any money; however, it seemed that they still survived. It was very difficult in those days going to school with proper clothing and so, because nobody had anything.

DH. Even in the 1920’s before the Depression?

SB. It was very difficult.

DH. Earlier you mentioned that you played some baseball. Was this your favorite sport growing up?

SB. Oh, absolutely. In fact, if I ever got a penny, I bought a Topps baseball card that had chewing gum on it. I had 1934 World Series baseball cards for both teams. My mother somehow got rid of them. They are worth about a half million dollars today. I had the complete: Leo Durocher, Dizzy Dean, Bill DeLancey, Frankie Frisch from the Cardinals, from the Tigers, Schoolboy Rowe, Hank Greenberg, Jerry Jehr [?] I had them all.

DH. Were there sports that you played in the winter?

SB. We didn’t have skis, we would borrow skates. We were very limited with—
you know, with the necessities that the kids have today when they participate in winter sports.

DH. Did you ever play some backyard hockey?

SB. Yes, we did all of that. We never had a hockey stick, but we would find a piece of willow and make hockey sticks.

DH. You still found a way to play hockey. What was the puck?

SB. No, we never had a puck. They would cut a piece of birch wood off round, and that was our puck.

DH. Where would you play, would you play on Lake Superior or on the bay?

SB. No, no we had the river and we had a skating rink around. The community had a skating rink. They would flood it and we would go down there and play.

DH. The community still had rinks?

SB. Right, we used to argue about who is going to flood it and who is going to maintain it, between the county and the city. It was a different time; nobody had the financial ability to spend tax dollars.

DH. Quite a few people I have interviewed in your era were ski jumpers. Did you ever try that?

SB. No, we didn’t have skis, but I knew a few from the other end of town that were ski jumpers. We had a big hill in Fond du Lac, which was quite famous. Torgo Togo skied there in 1940 or 1939. But in order to have the proper equipment was skis. Among our group skiing was not—football and baseball were more our sport.

DH. In the 1920s compared to the 1930s, was there much of a difference in the eras to you to your family? When the Depression hit, could you tell that it hit?

SB. Oh, absolutely, It was worse during that time. We had a place called the city dump. They threw canned goods up there, and we would go up there every day and eat off the dump. Why should we go home and eat beans and potatoes (that is all we had) when you could go and open a can of peaches or Italian plums or what have you? They would throw that stuff away, and we would wait for the truck to come up there and grab it off. It was amazing how much they threw away, and the people were hungry. We survived that way, right off the dump.

DH. Were there a lot of families who did that?

SB. Quite a few.

DH. When you were growing up in the 1920s, what did your parents do, or what did your father do to make a living?

SB. My father worked in the plant. He was in management since he came to the country.

Being a foreigner, he became a citizen when he was 22. But, during the tough days he only worked one day a week. We never went on relief. I asked my father one time, "Why we don’t have oranges?" He said they get them from the government. I said, "Why can’t we get some?" He said, "We don’t want any," but we knew rose hips is the same as vitamin c, and on the rocks above Gary there are all kind of wild roses. I never knew why we would eat the rose hip but it has 100 times more vitamin C than oranges. That was something we did automatically growing up.

DH. So you guys are actually quite creative in finding food?

SB. Absolutely. My older brother, my father, said, "The king does not own the deer in America," and we were great poachers. My older brother would poach deer, shoot one, then wake my brother and I up at 11 o’clock, and we would go and haul it. He knew where every game warden was.

He ended up being an infantry officer in the Battle of the Bulge and led his six people out; they were all wounded but they survived. I feel the reason he could do that: game wardens never got him. He was like an Indian, big clumsy guy, like an Indian in the woods.

DH. Which brother was this?

SB. George.

DH. George.

SB. 99th Division, Battle of the Bulge.

DH. How many of your brothers were in the war?

SB. Four, in World War II, all overseas at one time. The fifth one they went and sent him to Korea. All five Balach’s fought in the war. Four in World War II, one in Korea. All overseas, not some base job.

DH. Where were your four brothers stationed?

SB. George, was B+4 in Normandy, and then he fought throughout the Battle of the Bulge and so on. Joe made 57 missions as a bomber pilot, B26 Pilot; he bombed the bridges on D-Day, the famous bridges at D-Day. He went on the bus with Karin [Swor]. He light curl. He is my older brother. My brother Melan, who is a lawyer in town, he is dead now, he was gun tour captain on the U.S.S. Wilkes Barre, which was a light cruiser. Knocked the hell out of the Japanese steel plants with the 3rd Fleet. And I, of course, was on both sides, I went to the Pacific after D-Day and Normandy. Bobby, I tried to save him, but they shipped him to Korea anyway.

DH. Did your father have any service?

SB. No, he was a foreigner when he came over here, he was in camp, and he was a dedicated American. Happy, came to America at age 13, survived by himself. His relative in Columbus, Ohio, was dead when he got here. He found friends from the same area, and he survived. He said, "Never go to the state of Arkansas." You learn English very rapidly. He said, "The state of Arkansas has nothing but tornadoes, nothing to eat, and it is those straw tooth telephone poles."

They traveled with groups. He came here when they were building the dam in 1911 as a young man, then they started building the steel plant so he stayed.

DH. Did he work for the steel plant most of his life?

SB. Yes, yeah.

DH. Did he continue to have his job during the Depression, too?

SB. Yeah, but only one or two days [a week]. He had a chance to go to Chicago as a promotion, but he had too many kids, and two cows, and he didn’t feel it was safe to go down there. So he stayed here.

DH. In the 1930’s, this is kind of when you were in your teenage years. What did you do in your teenage years for fun in the 30’s?

SB. Almost the same. We never went to dances, we didn’t have dances. We had a community club where we learned how to do a little boxing. I was in Scouts, anything the Scout troop leader had for us, he had hot chocolate for us, and that was a big treat to get involved in something like that. So I was a Scout for many years.

DH. So what did you do in the Scouts beside drink hot chocolate, or some activity?

SB. All the activities were camping or so on. It was nice to have somebody have all that for you, because we had very limited resources.

DH. Where did you guys usually go camping at?

SB. Fond du Lac. We had all kinds of wooded areas outside of the Gary New Duluth area that was all wooded area.

DH. You wouldn’t travel real far, then?

SB. No, no. You didn’t have to go far. It was there: trout streams, fishing at Birch Lake, which is by Fond du Lac, we walked there every day to go fishing. We swan at the waterfall, where the new highway goes up to Becks Road. There is a place called the waterfall, we swam there, in fact, one time we got a railroad push car, one of these, it would go like this, and we "owned" it all summer, we would hide it in the brush. We would go up to where Arrowhead Blacktop is now. There was a place called Stone Crusher Lake. We used to swim in there, jump on the pushcart, and go back 2 miles, throw it in the woods. They finally caught us. Finally got it back, but that was part of our life. The city dump was very valuable to us. At the age of 7 or 8 I knew the price of copper and brass. All the metals. We were survivors.

DH. When you were a teenager, did you have a job anywhere in town?

SB. When I was 16, well, when I was 12, I was setting pins. You are supposed to be 16, but I lied, my age, in a pool hall.

DH. So you were actually setting pins in a bowling alley?

SB. Yeah, we had two alleys there. When I was 16 I worked for Dave Persha as a stock boy. We also had a shoeshine parlor with a black kid. We were partners in the pool hall in Gary because he knew more about it than I did, and he was my friend. He ended up owning half a dozen drug stores in Chicago, he was a pharmacist.

DH. Yes, I heard about him earlier.

SB. This is his younger brother. One was an orthodontist, one was a pharmacist. We grew up together.

DH. What was his name?

SB. Thomas, first name Roscoe.

DH. Roscoe? This is kind of a personal question: Did you go on dates with people, and if you did, where did you bring them?

SB. There was no dates in those days. I never went on a date until I had a uniform in the Navy.

DH. Really.

SB. No, there just wasn’t that atmosphere. We didn’t have dances, we didn’t have things like that like they have today.

DH. You had—I am sure that you tried to see girls.

SB. Oh yeah, but that was different. When you were 16, finally you started holding hands maybe. It wasn’t as it is today. I had to watch my kids: I couldn’t believe the difference in this area.

DH. But you had an interest in girls?

SB. Absolutely, I am a six-kid father.

DH. Back in those days it was somewhat common for families to hook their children up.

SB. The social group would have been around the church. I am Orthodox, and we have a very strong religious affiliation. We have several holidays. You didn’t mix too much with the girls, but you had an eye on that. Not until after the war did I have a great interest.

DH. You grew up Orthodox, I imagine your parents were as well?

SB. Absolutely.

DH. Were they constant church-goers?

SB. Yeah, helped build the church in Gary.

DH. They actually helped build the church?

SB. Absolutely. We have the finest collection of David Erickson paintings in our church that our fathers . . . The whole icon screen is . . . when David became a famous Duluth artist. Our icon screen is worth more than the whole church.

DH. I am fairly familiar with David Erickson.

SB. David Erickson the painter. We have the biggest collection of David Erickson art in the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in the city of Duluth. UMD has some.

DH. I used to work for Glensheen, and Glensheen has a collection.

SB. Oh, yeah…UMD has come out and helped us keep our pictures in shape.

DH. Were you familiar that during World War I, David Erickson actually painted
propaganda posters for the US Army?

SB. No. I do know he was killed in Paris. He got run over in Paris.

DH. During the war?

SB. No, later. Our old timers hired him to paint, he worked for St Germain's,
to paint the icons. You know what an icon screen is in the Orthodox church? All the saints, he painted everyone of them. Twenty-four paintings in St George were painted by David Erickson. Are you not aware of that? If you are knowledgeable about David Erickson, we have the finest collection. I think UMD has more, or some banks have some, but we have one of the finest collections.

DH. I am not kidding, I am going to go check this out.

SB. Well absolutely, Dan, anytime, we would be happy to show you at any time. I am an officer in the church, in my old age. I am a past president but I am on the board.

DH. Actually, I am Catholic.

SB. That’s okay, you will enjoy our church.

DH. No, I went to Greece a couple of years ago.

SB. Then you know the Orthodox.

DH. You guys have beautiful churches.

SB. The only difference is we consider your pope as a bishop of Rome. Not as a pope. He is the same as the bishop of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Athens. He is one of equals, but not above, the early church.

DH. Otherwise we are very similar.

SB. We will not re-baptize a Roman Catholic. He has already been baptized. Very much similar.

DH. I enjoy a lot of the traditions you have, because we have a lot of them too. Anyway, a totally different subject.

SB. I will give you one story: My daughter was very active in Boston. They bought the French Roman Catholic Cathedral, one mile from Harvard University, for two million. They needed it for those damn six panels they got. The Protestants and the Episcopalians wanted it, but they gave it to the Serbian Orthodox. My daughter was on that committee. They said when you consider how we treat abortion, how we treat these things, we are not going to give it to those that don’t agree.

OK, you are the interviewer; I don’t want to be the interviewer.

DH. I need to keep track of where I am.

A lot of young men during the 1930’s, especially in this area, were part of the CCC.

SB. My two older brothers were in. I was under age, they would not let me in.

DH. Could you describe what was it like? Were they happy to have it?

SB. Yes, it was a great thing for those guys, my brother Joe and my brother George both. My brother George was a famous tree planter in Hovland. He made $45.00 a month instead of $30.00. My brother Joe fed the bears in Spruce Lake. The dentist, he always had pictures feeding bear up there.

DH. Really, Joe?

SB. They are both CCC Camp recipients. Those were tough days, they brought money into the home.

DH. So you were—?

SB. I was the oldest son left.

DH. Now, when the presidency switched from Hoover to FDR, was there a feeling of optimization, like verbal, like a feeling of help?

SB. It was very difficult. Every dirty word seemed to be with President Hoover, although he wasn’t responsible as much as they made him out to be. The mortgage memoriam act he wrote it up. Which saved a lot of houses, but he never got credit for it because everything went bad. He made his mistakes, he gave $50 million for the Maginot Line, but the Germans walked around it. And he wouldn’t take care of the troops in Washington when he sent MacArthur and Eisenhower.

Roosevelt appealed to the masses, and we needed something.

DH. Do you feel these programs helped?

SB. Well the WPA built roads would never been built. They did the Geological Survey, every piece of land. They took a bunch of civil engineers who didn’t have a job. You look at the maps today from the WPA, they have never been revised. They did a lot. They saved the country at the time.

DH. The CCC was another example?

SB. They did all; they did the work to build the parks. The country was never in better shape.

DH. The common person was really happy to do this?

SB. You got a meal, you got $30.00. $5.00 went to his family. I mean he got $5, and his family got $25.00. It survived, the nation, that is why we were proud to go to war. Those kids in the CCC Camps never questioned their country. They went. Look at how many went, 16 million.

DH. Another famous part of FDR was his fireside chats. Did your family listen to them?

SB. Absolutely, there was nobody that didn’t listen to them.

DH. I have also heard that it was common to have a photo of the president in their house.

SB. Absolutely, it is like the blacks. I had a black neighbor that had a big picture of President Lincoln, you know why?

DH. Yeah. FDR was pretty common then.

SB. Absolutely, they felt—how do I say this?—they were first-generation immigrant families, and they knew how bad it was in America was better than where they came from. and Roosevelt made it better.

Oh, another thing, let me quote another thing. Qhen the war started, somebody asked President Roosevelt, "Where are your sons going to be?" You know what he said? "They will be on the front lines like Serbian King Peter." He and his three sons fought in World War I on the lines. "My sons will be there."

I had the occasion to see Franklin D. Roosevelt on the destroyer Mayrant, you know, in Brooklyn, New York. He was an executive officer on there. Every one of his sons served. Very important, it was important to all the rest of us.

DH. Oh yeah. Then Theodore Roosevelt's sons served, too, another famous story.

SB. But Franklin D., all of his sons served, fought.

DH. There was a time when FDR made a promise to the country that we would not enter the war.

SB. Well, we were conserved as a nation, we were isolationist, and we didn’t think we needed it.

DH. Did you believe it at the time?

SB. When I saw the British Battleship, Malaya, come into Brooklyn, New York, in 1940 with a big hole in the side from German torpedoes, I knew eventually we would be in the war. When, I didn’t know. I saw them ready the 50 destroyers or the Eastland destroyers, are you aware of that? We saw them. Our Paducah group saw them getting those destroyers prepared to give them to England. They needed them; their back was against the wall.

DH. Let's bring it back to Duluth in the 30’s again a little bit. Something that other people have mentioned, that the theatres were very popular in the 30’s; there were dime theatres, nickel theatres. Did you go to these?

SB. Yes, we had a theater right here in Gary. State Theater.

DH. State Theater?

SB. But you had to have a nickel.

DH. What were some of the more popular movies that you guys went to see?

SB. Tim McCoy, the Indians are coming, Tom Mix, most of that type.

DH. It was a pretty fun place?

SB. It was a great thing to go to a movie, but you had to have a nickel. You might have to save scrap all week to get the nickel.

DH. But you would do it?

SB. Absolutely.

DH. Was this a common place for you and all your friends?

SB. Yes, as many as possible would go. Then the Catholic Church opened a movie, too.

One of my friends said, "I have 10 cents, shall we go to the movie? If you are under five you do not have to pay." So we went there and said, "Two please." He said, "How about her?" "Well, sir, she is under five." She said, "No, sir, I am seven," so I didn’t go. Remember that story.

DH Now I will move a little bit ahead into the future. You obviously enlisted in the Navy. Why the Navy?

SB. I had some trouble in school in Morgan Park, so I went to Central. Duluth Central. Some guys said, "There is a good deal, you get $2.00 each time you go to this meeting, and you get a nice uniform that the girls like." I was 16 years old, mind you. I was working for Dave Persha on Saturday, 10 hours for 2 1/2 dollars. He owned the city markets. The forerunner to Jeno Paulucci.

They said you had to be 17. Well, I wasn’t 17, but I had a Serbian baptism [certificate] written in Cyrillic, so I brought it down there, and the dummy—you can’t tell if it is June or November or what the hell. I said, "June 22," so they swore me in (but my birthday is November 22) but he swore me in.

In July, we had a two-week cruise, in the middle of July, on the Great Lakes. We went to Bayfield, Wisconsin, and the Apostle Islands.

DH. What year was this?

SB. 1940, July 1940.

DH. Just for the records, who was the guy that did your enlistment papers?

SB. I don’t know. I mean, Wes Harkins—but he just got them from someone who swore me in, that’s all.

DH. But he still did your papers?

SB. Yeah.

DH. So you joined in July 1940, then?

SB. No, June 1940. In July I went on my cruise. I got a uniform…

DH. Oh that’s right. Why did you pick the Navy over, say, the 125th?

SB. Because somebody told me you get this money and it is a good deal.

DH. You didn’t know about the 125th at that time?

SB. No, I had no idea. A couple of my friends, older than me, went in to the 125th about the same time.

DH. Would it be fair to say that the two largest local units at the time were the 125th [and the Navy Reserve]?

SB. The only two, absolutely. A dozen guys from my neighborhood went to the 125th, and a dozen went to the Navy.

DH. You guys actually trained together in the same Armory Building.

SB. Absolutely!

DH. Now, there is a little bit of confusion in this question. You trained at the Armory, but there actually was a Park Point [Duluth, MN] base for the Navy Reserve, correct?

SB. Yes.

DH. At the Minnesota side of the point.

SB. Right.

DH. Where would you describe that location today?

SB. About 13th and Park Point. They had the ship there, they had a boat house there, the YP and the Paducah both moored there.

DH. Ok, I ask only because Commander Erik Isaacson didn’t know it existed at that point.

SB. Isaacson?

Oh, yeah, I remember it very well.

DH. Ok, was that base there for quite some time before then?

SB. Yes, eventually from the early 30’s when they brought the ship up.

DH. Do you remember much about the actual militia? When you joined, were you part of the militia or were you actually part of the reserve?

SB. I think 49 and 50 were reserve divisions; that is the one we were at. The Minnesota Militia was, I think, prior.

DH. Ok, I have asked this question before, but: Do you remember anything about the canoe boat races?

SB. All I know is Tom Woods was famous for the races on Park Point, rowing.
Not canoe, rowing.

DH. So you don’t know any of the stories behind the canoe boat races?

SB. No

DH. We found several trophies, and we think they date back from the 1920’s in the Militia. Do you have anyone off hand you know or can think of that might know a little bit about the militia history?

SB. If anyone would know, Wes Harkins would know, because he would know from reading it.

DH. OK, you said you joined primarily because of the money per month and the uniform. Was that the primary reason?

SB. Yes, there was no war on. How would I say? It was a new endeavor, it's like the CCC Camps. It was something I could do and get paid for doing it. Jobs were limited.

DH. Had the war been on, would you still have done it?

SB. I wouldn’t doubt it, I probably would have.

DH. I have yet to interview anyone who joined because they had a fondness for the Navy. Did you have any shipping experience before?

SB. Not at all. I was probably one of the youngest chiefs in the whole Navy who came up from the bottom and made chief. I was only 21 when I made chief, all the way from apprentice seaman.

DH. When you first started training on the Paducah out in Lake Superior—do you want to describe that experience a little bit?

SB. I learned how to scrub the deck.

DH. I hear that was kind of cold.

SB. Yeah, as an apprentice seaman you had all the dirty work. You did it, it wasn’t that difficult. I had grown up in a family where I had to hoe the potatoes and the beans, milk the cow. It was nothing.

DH. I heard you guys slept in hammocks?

SB. Oh yeah, for a long time. They were comfortable sleeping.

DH. Not a problem then. What if someone slept too long in the morning, what happened?

SB. Nobody slept too long; they went around and hit you with a paddleboard on the rear. You got up.

DH. Someone else told me that if you slept too long they cut the line, and you fell on the ground.

SB. First they would hit you on the rear end, then they might cut the line. Master at arms would do that.

DH. A pretty good awaking, I imagine?

SB. Absolutely,

DH. You didn’t have any fresh water on the boat, all the water you had on the boat was from the Lake.

SB. Well, Lake Superior is fresh.


SB. It was no problem. It was when we went on active duty and ran into salt water then we had the problem. I was the engineer.

DH. Were you an engineer from the start?

SB. No, no.

DH. How long did it take you to get into that school?

SB. I got a black gang before, in Chicago, on the way to active duty.

DH. OK. We will start this journey, then. In 1940, shortly after you were involved, the Paducah was activated, correct?

SB. Yeah, the Paducah was moved to Chicago after our summer cruise that I was on. They took it down to Chicago. When they ordered our unit on active duty, we took a train to St. Paul, and then on to Chicago to board the Paducah.

DH. Do you remember what day you were put on active duty?

SB. November 3, 1940.

DH. What were you thinking at that point?

SB. We marched down Superior Street. We were only going to be gone a year for training.

DH. Did you actually believe it was only going to be a year?

SB. There were clouds on the horizon, but Roosevelt was smart enough to prepare the nation. We had the trained CCC Camps, believe it or not. We had 180,00 [?] sailors when we went on active duty. In the whole fleet, imagine that. That’s all. That is all that were called up.

DH. Were a lot of you guys talking about going to war?

SB. It seemed like it was back in the distance, not on the front burner, so to speak.

DH. The crew didn’t talk about it?

SB. We didn’t think it would be our war for a while. We really didn’t think it was our war.

DH. I guess, follow me through your journey, your activation during that first year. You went to Great Lakes, I imagine?

SB. No, we never had any training at Great Lakes. Our whole crew was already trained.

DH. I thought . . .

SB. NONE OF OUR GROUP WENT TO GREAT LAKES TRAINING STATION. WE WERE TRAINED IN DULUTH, MINNESOTA, WENT ON THE SHIP AND THAT WAS IT. We learned from one another as time went on. But we did not go to Great Lakes. None of our Paducah group went to Great Lakes. Unless they were stationed later.

We went from Duluth to Chicago and boarded the Paducah, and we were set to sail, but we could not sail because four or five lifeboats, ore boats, were sunk on the lakes. And duck hunters, 50-some duck hunters were froze to death in northern Minnesota. Biggest storm in history, November 11, 1940. So we were tied to the dock in Chicago with cables. It sunk all the ships in the harbor. A big liquor sign on Riverside Drive crumbled from the storm. So two days later, I think, we sailed, November 13, 1940. We took off.

DH. Where did you go?

SB. All the way through the lakes, all the way through Cornwall on to Montreal. We stopped in Detroit for one night because the Dubuque was going with us, our sister ship. Then we proceeded, we saw Niagara Falls, and we got to Montreal, I had liberty in Montreal.

A Canadian destroyer in the gulf challenged us because we had no radar, no sonar or radar at that time. They had to make sure; you know, they were at war, as you understand. They challenged us in the St. Lawrence Seaway. Then we proceeded. We got to Brooklyn, New York, December 7, 1940. Don’t you think that is significant? December 7, 1940, we got to New York, Brooklyn Navy yard.

DH. Your journey through the Great Lakes, was this something that you really enjoyed? Was it kind of a neat view?

SB. Fine, but rough storms. When we got into the St. Lawrence Seaway it was terrible. We were an old ship. We were an old ship.

DH. Were a lot of these guys pretty sick from the storms?

SB. Oh, sure.

DH. Were you sick?

SB. Yes, I learned how to quit smoking there. I got seasick, but I served on destroyers and I learned how to overcome that.

DH. There were a lot of rough storms; did you ever enjoy part of the journey?

SB. Oh, yes, Cornwell, Canada, and see Niagara Falls from a distance, to see the mist, fog in the sky from the falls. Then Montreal, Canada. We had liberty there. That is where we stole coconuts and put them in the crow’s nest.

DH. How was the city of Montreal, was it pretty fun?

SB. Oh yes, terribly fun for young guys going ashore for the first time.

DH. Describe your first liberty city event. Like Montreal, what did you do?

SB. Well, we didn’t, somehow—let me see. I don’t think I got in too much trouble in Montreal. I will never forget: they had good French pastry someplace. We were too young to drink.

DH. You didn’t drink anyway?

SB. Well, I would have if I could have gotten some, but we were too young to drink. Let's see, we had different floor shows and they had . . . of course, I was too young to get involved at that time, not that I didn’t later on in my time. Remember I was just 17, I had just turned 17 around that time.

DH. And drinking age was . . . ?

SB. Eighteen or 21, depending on where you were.

DH. In Canada it was 18?

SB. Eighteeen, yes.

DH. Things don’t change a whole lot.

SSB. No.

DH. December 7, what were you thinking the day of? Do you remember where you were?

SB. '40 or '41?

DH. Oops, I just skipped a year, didn’t I?

SB. Yeah.

DH. So let's talk about Brooklyn?

SB. Well, we got into Brooklyn Naval Yard December 7, 1940. Brooklyn was quite a place, a naval yard, a lot of ships. They were building two new battleships, the USS Washington and the USS North Carolina. The first two authorized by congress, battleships, since the early days of American Naval History. They were being built there, we saw them. We were tied up right near them.

DH. Were they supposed to be sent to England?

SB. No, no. They were our battleships. For our future, they weren’t ready yet. Lord Henderson, the British Foreign Minister, we all watched him come aboard and check them out. They were being built for the future and probably then the war was on the horizon.

DH. Yeah, Then when you got to Brooklyn, was war becoming more oblivious?

SB. Very much so, especially when we start reading the destroyers for Lease- Lend and the battleship Malaya, she got torpedoed in the North Sea, and she came in for repairs in Brooklyn. There were big fights on Sand Street. Sand Street is the wild hang out at the Navy yard. Some British Marine got in a fight, hit some sailor with his belt, fights all over the place. We weren’t in love with the British at that time. We were allies from a distance, let's put it that way.

DH. Now at the same time the British were very well know for their naval superiority, was that part of the reason you didn’t blend real well? Because America was pretty proud.

SB. I think that they felt they owned the sea, and they did at that time. We trusted them to patrol the Atlantic but they were falling short because the Germans were doing their job and the Japanese were doing their job. We were no longer the country safe on both shores, as you know.

DH. Correct. You said there was kind of a wild hangout, was it wild because of the fights?

SB. Bars up and down, 25-cent girls up in there. There was an old story, a woman would raise a second story window, "Hey sailor, come up here, I will give you something that you never had for 50 cents," and one sailor looked at the other and said, "She must mean leprosies, they had everything else," was the story!!!

DH. So it was pretty wild?

SB. Then there was a YMCA, where I used to play basketball, right in the middle, I used to play basketball there and that is where I learned how to dance. They had girls come there, and it was a very for us children, guys, very good because we could have gotten in all kinds of trouble. I learned how to dance there, play basketball there, handball there, YMCA, I will always remember that.

DH. How long were you in Brooklyn?

SB. About 6 or 7 months.

DH. You learned how to dance in Brooklyn at the YMCA?

SB. Yeah. I saw floor shows in New York. I didn’t have money to go but one of my sisters sent me money. "Tobacco Road," "Hell’s A Poppin'", "My Sister Eileen." Those were famous stage . . . that was important, those were important, Fred Waring, Radio City Music Hall, those were important for us, coming from that generation, to see that.

DH. Floor show, describe what a floorshow is exactly, is it like a theater?

SB. Yeah, a stage play.

DH. You were in Brooklyn for 6 or 7 months, when you first arrived. I imagine it was pretty impressive to be in New York?

SB. To see—coming into New York, down the Hudson River—it was magnificent.
You see all the big buildings, the Empire State Bldg.

DH. For most of your crew that was the first time that they'd seen it too?

SB. I would say 99%.

DH. People just didn’t really travel as much as they do today.

SB. No, not at all.

DH. Skipping ahead a little bit. 6 -7 months, what happened after Brooklyn?

SB. They did some repair on the ship. Put 5” guns on here. Maybe it was 9 months. We did shore patrol off New York and then we went to Staten Island and we were stationed at Staten Island for about 6 months. We did inshore patrol duty up and down the coast, for what I don’t know, we couldn’t fight submarines if they wouldn’t attack them. We weren’t at war.

DH. You were still on the Paducah?

SB. Yeah, then we got orders to go to Norfolk, Virginia, at Little Creek, they had a base there. And we started to train, they started to mount guns on merchant ships, and we started to train the armed guard, which would go on these merchant ships. Now this was before the war, just before the war. We were in Norfolk when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

DH. Do you remember where you were when it was attacked?

SB. It was in Norfolk, Virginia, tied to the dock. Sunday, I was on watch. I came out of the engine room, and they said the Japs had attacked.

DH. What were you thinking, immediately?

SB. All these people who don’t like us in Norfolk, their sons and daughters had to prepare for war. They hated sailors; you can’t blame them. When the fleet would come in to Norfolk, a quarter million sailors would storm the city. They hated sailors with a passion. We called it Sh-- City. And they said, "No sailors or dogs allowed." But the war brought us all together.

DH. It changed overnight?

SB. Yes,

DH. Before that the city of Norfolk, as a city, fought with the sailors all the time.

SB. Oh, they couldn’t stand the sailors, relationship was very bad.

DH. What did sailors call the city again?

SB. "Sh-- City," and they had signs, "No dogs or sailors allowed." Then there was a city hall auditorium where 1,000 sailors would come for the dance, and there would be 8 girls.

DH. Eight?

SB. They didn’t like sailors, and a few of them from the USO would come. We were there for about a year-and-a-half. 2 years. Guys were getting transferred. We were experienced; we were all getting transferred sooner or later from there.

DH. We talked about this earlier, after December 7: the city began to enjoy your company.

SB. Absolutely, because we were at war, and their sons were being drafted, you know, it changed completely.

DH. At this point, many of the men that you originally got on the ship with, I imagine they are not there anymore.

SB. They are still there, up to this point, few would have gone. Somebody went to flight training school; somebody got a chance to go to a commission somewhere and so on; but the majority were still together until they started needing us on different ships in the fleet after the war.

DH. What happened after December 7, what was your new duty? Did you have any new duties?

SB. Yeah, we trained armed guards, which was very vital. We had a different crew every week, come in, take a crew, fire up the Chesapeake Bay, come back in and take another crew. They would be assigned to merchant ships and so on.

DH. This was still on the Paducah?

SB. Yeah.

DH. So you guys were part of the permanent crew when you have your new job?

SB. We would take on probably 50 guys at one time, they would blurt out a fire, learn a little bit because they were going on Merchant Men.

DH. Merchant, like in Merchant Marines?

SB. No, as sailors manning the guns on a Merchant Marine ship. Independent-- they were not getting Merchant Marine sea pay, they were still in the Navy, but they manned the guns. The Navy had the guns on the Merchant ships, and we trained that bunch.

Bill Carlson was one of them that was sunk on that. He left and went on one of them, they shipped some of them, after 1941 more and more going. I, not being a deck hand, Red Erickson and I; Del Forsyth; we were shipped to Syracuse to the General Electric factory they were building; new turbo electric ships for the destroyer escort to convoy, for convoy escort, and that is where we went, later '42 I think, end of '42.

DH. Okay, how long did you continue training this armed guard?

SB. I left the end of '42, and I think they trained for another full year or so.

DH. You said you left in '42, where did you go?

SB. I went to Syracuse, to the General Electric factory, where they were building new turbo electric steam destroyer escorts.

DH. This is where your engineering experience helped?

SB. I went on a sister ship, I went on a squadron, Del Forsyth was with me, who was on the Paducah earlier. He was a chief on the Newman, I was a chief on the Liddle; we had six ships in our squadron. We went to shake down in Bermuda. First we went to Charleston to put them in commission, and they were built in Charleston, South Carolina. That is where I saw who Francis Marian was, that is where I saw Sumter, where the Civil War started, historic area of Charleston, beautiful historic area. We went to shake down--shake down means to practice everything--to Bermuda, and then we got sent, I think the first convoy, we got sent to New York, and we were bringing a bunch of troops to England. We had a battle ship with us, in the middle, because that German battleship was running around the North Sea somewhere. We brought troops to the first one in Swansea, Wales. Forsyth and I went together, same squadron.

The next convoy, we went to Gibraltar and back, and the next convoy we went to Bizerti and back.

Well, we were on that convoy, that is when they hit Normandy, as I recall. Our squadron, all six, when they hit Normandy, we were in the North Sea for awhile, then we went back to the States and we got a 30-day leave. They converted us to destroyer transports, the conversion meant this. We put LCD B boats, four of them, and they were high speed, 'cause we had a lot of speed, we had good gun power. We became an APD, destroyer escorts, which were worse because we hauled troops in on invasions, but I will get to that.

DH. Which ship was this, the Liddle?

SB. Yes, the Liddle, but it was converted APD-60.

DH. You said that was a destroyer transport?

SB. Destroyer. She ended up being a destroyer transport, she was a destroyer escort. She was high speed for running convoys. Submarines were scared of us. We threw many dept charges out. I don’t know if we got any kills, but we threw a lot of them out.

DH. Keep talking, if you want, about the APD-60.

SB. Okay. The APD-60. Our whole squadron went, I think in September, through the Panama Canal.

DH. So you actually went from England all the way down?

SB. No, excuse me, I jumped ahead. When we got converted we went through the Panama Canal, to Bora Bora, Finch Haven, New Guinea, Hollandia, New Guinea, that is, the Pacific. When we came back from the European Cruises we got converted. Then the Pacific starts; we went through the Panama Canal.

DH. You went to Europe first, and then you went?

SB. Yeah, that is, on both sides, I fought on both sides. Many of our group did.

DH. How long were you in Europe?

SB. Well, I ran all those convoys, maybe a year, year-and-one-half. I have African, European African award, pre-Pearl Harbor and all them. Then I have the Asiatic Pacific awards, too, because I went to China and all over after.

DH. You just skipped through Europe like nothing, so we have a lot to talk about in Europe.

SB. All we did was run convoys. Swansea, Wales, was destroyed by the Germans, there was nothing left there. Do you know what a brachbrewer [?] is? In Swansea, they had cables with big balloons and straw on the beach. A low flying plane would hit those cables, and the straw on the beach was to light on fire for the German invasion. People don’t know this. England had its back against the wall. You never knew when there was going to be an attack. Swansea—there was not one building standing in Swansea, Wales. We brought troops, they had built a base there, but that was the first trip.

Then we went to Gibraltar to unload troops, convoy ships. Then we went to Bizerte [Tunisia] to help. They were fighting [illegible] in the African Campaign. I went to Tunis from there, I saw Ethel Merman on the beach, USO, in Bizerte.

DH. When you did these convoys, escorts, you did stop in the cities a little bit?

SB. Stop where?

DH. In the cities a little bit?

SB. Not too often. Tunis we got, Tunis and Bizerte, they warned us, "Be careful of the Arabs. If you eat and go to a French home or an Italian home, watch out for the Arabs."

DH. What was the reasoning?

SB. They were anti-American at that time. The same ones that are still today. No different, no different, they were Muslim, and they hated Americans at that time and still is.

DH. The Navy warned you about that.

SB. Oh, yes.

Now we go to the Pacific.

DH. What did you think of Tunis, was it a neat city?

SB. Oh, yeah, I had shore patrol in Tunis, I will never forget. Do you know what a casbah is?

DH. Yes, but for the record tell us.

SB. The casbah is an underground marketplace. I had shore duty there. I had a .45. They said, "Don’t take your gun out unless." I had my gun out cocked, walking around. It is a crazy place. I said, "I am not going to walk out of there, I am going to walk out, and someone else is going to get it."

Arabs running [illegible]. It’s a funny thing. I seen two things I will never forget there. Let's say in the market place you have this scarf $3.98 or $2.00 American. You hold it up, you're going to buy it, three other merchants would run with the scarf, the same kind, to try and chisel this guy down. I never saw anything like this in my life.

Another thing on the beach, Bizerte: I saw a 5-year-old, probably, and a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old son, he had an American cigarette. He would puff the cigarette, blow the smoke in his sister’s mouth, and she would inhale it and blow it out.

They would steal American stuff. You would see an Arab walking down the street with "Joe Butts USN," serial #. They would steal anything they could get their hands on. That was Africa, French Africa.

DH. I have heard that a lot about French Africa.

SB. That is all I have to say about Europe. Then after D-Day my war came back to the states.

DH. Before we go any further I am going to.

DH. This is part two of an interview with Steve Balach. OK, let’s talk about what happened after D-Day and your European adventure.

SB. Okay, our squadron was converted to destroyer transports, known as APD. It included our whole six squadron. We went through the Panama Canal, I believe in September 1944, went to Bora Bora our first stop, Finch Haven, New Guinea our second stop, and then we arrived in Hollandia, New Guinea, which was in preparation for the invasion of Leyte Gulf.

Prior to the invasion, we had one task. We ran convoy to Peleliu, and torpedo bombers, had these torpedo bombers attack. I will always remember.

DH. Was this your first time under attack?

SB. Under Japanese attack, yes. The commander, I mean the executive officer, of my ship—served on the U.S.S. Dubuque. which was the sister ship to the Paducah in the Chesapeake—he was my executive officer, his name was Cunningham. He said, “Well, we have seen our first Japanese war planes. Let's go back to the Chesapeake.”

DH. What did you guys think when you saw these planes, did you get a little nervous?

SB. Very much so, it was a different type of war. A different type of war than Europe.

DH. Would you describe what was so different?

SB. Being attacked by torpedo bombers. There are some high flying German flight in the Mediterranean, but no bombing attacks like that. But anyway, after we went to Leyte Gulf, I think we were D+2 in the invasion force of Leyte Gulf, which was the main hit in the invasion of the Philippians. It seemed that we sat there quite a while just keeping our guns blazing whenever enemy attacks came and so on. Then we went to, let me see, Leyte, we made quite a few invasions, I am trying to think. We went to Medora [?], southeastern Luzon, Legazpi, we made that invasion.

DH. In these invasions were you under attack?

SB. Oh yeah, in both of them, we would bring the troops in.

DH. Did you kind of get used to getting attacked?

SB. We would unload the troops, we had firepower, and we would get out on the picket line and fire at enemy aircraft or whatever. Then we—the major, one of the major invasions, that was so prevalent. We made others.

We went to Ormoc Bay, which was the end of Leyte Gulf, and in Ormoc Bay the Japanese were reinforcing the area. That is the invasion we got kamikazied, but the U.S.S. Ward, which fired the first shot, was sunk. I watched her go down, in that battle, the battle of Ormoc Bay. The Lampson was sunk, and three or four other ships were sunk.

Our whole bridge was cleaned off. They killed 70% of all the officers instantly. On my ship. They killed about—I believe there were 60 men killed altogether, another 60 or 70 wounded. We managed to stay afloat, put out the fires. We had no steering, we steered from aft. We had a towing bar. Do you know what a towing bar is? A towing bar they throw in the stern of another ship and it leaves a wake.

We followed that wake back to Leyte Gulf. It took us about a day to get back, because enemy aircraft were searching, it was a major battle. When we were unloading troops, the Japanese were unloading troops. We caught them on the beach, and we beat the hell out of them. That is when their air force came in, kamikaze. We survived and got back to Leyte Gulf, took off our dead, buried them all in the Tacloban cemetery in Leyte.

DH. So you actually buried your dead on land?

SB. Yeah, we had guys come in and pick the parts up, too. It was a terrible thing.

We cleaned the ship up as much as we could. We went to Annawetock, Hawaii [Eniwetok, Marshall Islands?]. They had already prepared, we were under power with repair work. We got back to San Francisco, they put a new bridge on, and three or four months, we were back in action. I thought I was going to get transferred, but we were back in action, I can’t think of what invasion we were on, I think it was Palnia [Palau?].

DH. You were still on the same boat APD?

SB. I always smelled the death on that ship.

DH. So it was pretty hard to stay on it then?

SB. Yeah, but I had crews and some shipmates that were still alive. All of us in the engine room were very lucky. They killed some of the guys in the #1 engine room, but mostly topside was destroyed.

DH. I am sure you knew some of the guys topside, too.

SB. Yeah, they got it, it hit the bridge directly, but we weren’t the only ones. They were hitting others.

DH. Were the kamikazes more of a threat then the torpedoes from the Japanese planes?

SB. Absolutely, because they were one-trippers. They were going to get you and not miss. You had to hit them and destroy them before they hit you; otherwise they were going to get you. If you hit them usually you would get them.

After we were hit, the gate glasses in the A’s room that were not broken, a Betty came off our fantail (that is, a [Japanese] twin-engine bomber) tried to get us. And somehow we had some 20mm still operating in the rear (mechanically not electrically), shot her down, and when she blew up off our fantail, every gate glass that wasn’t broken before was broken.

DH. Your ship went through a lot?

SB. Yeah, we had many, we went back to several invasions. I just have to tell you how important it was, few people will know this: We got back to the Philippines and we made one invasion, I think it was Palau or Mindoro, then we went down to Majura, East Indies, and we picked up the Australian 9th division that had fought Rommel in Africa. Our squadron escorted them to the invasion of Dutch Borneo. We made the invasion of Dutch Borneo, Australian troops, we landed them there, the Japs had very little fire power left: they had the 13th Air Force from the Philippines knock the hell out of them, but we shot down whatever they had training, training planes, and we shot them down pretty early.

Then we went back to Majura and we picked up Australian troops again, and we went to British North Borneo, which is Brunei Bay. (Remember in the assault, the Brunei gave $9 million to the contras?) Sarawak and British North Borneo, these are the biggest oil centers in that whole area. Oil fires were so high in the sky there, we were interested in recapturing to stop the oil supply from the Japanese.

So we did, the Australians did all the fighting there. I saw MacArthur for the second time there. He flew down and got on a seaplane, and we all saw him.

DH. Did you ever meet him, or just see him?

SB. Saw him; saw him in the Philippines once, same thing. But we made both of those invasions.

DH. What did you think of the Australians?

SB. Great fighters, they fought Rommel all over. They had been fighting since '39. Sergeant Major _______ became a great friend of mine. He gave me two Australian pennies, I still have them today. I taught him how to drink coffee; he came in my engine room all the time. He had fought '39, '40,'41. They fought three years ahead of us.

DH. Did you ever go to Australia?

SB. No, we didn’t get there, but I often thought about it. They were great people. I have great admiration for them.

DH. How would you compare them to the British?

SB. I think they are much more like Americans, they are not high falluting, they are more like common people, a good people.

DH. So generally the Americans got along with the Australians?

SB. Very well, very well, and they appreciated that we saved their nation because the Japanese were not far from there at all.

After the invasion of Borneo, we got back to Subic Bay and went to Okinawa. April 1st they invaded Okinawa, that is when we went to Borneo, so we did not go to Okinawa for the invasion. We came there 30 days later or so, I was on the picket line in Okinawa and pretty close to the end of the war, kamikazes came in until they threw the [atomic] bombs. We were there when they threw both bombs, Okinawa.

Then they ordered us to a place called Gunsan, [today, South] Korea. Which is Najin [today, in North Korea], we went there with a battle cruiser and the ordered us to go to Diran, Manchuria, that is where the Japanese sunk the Russian fleet in 1905. The stacks are still sticking there. We went there to pick up prisoners of war.

Going up there we had a mine sweeper that would cut the mines and explode those he would see during the day, and those he would cut at night we would explode the next day. I thought, "This is a lousy war, surviving the war and these damn mines." There were British mines, American, everybody had mines there.

So when I came back, we had a hospital ship go up there with us to pick up the prisoners, went back to Korea and back to Okinawa. They said, "You are high- point man, they are waiting for you. The Texas is going back--the war is over, mind you, a week now or so--they are going back to the States. I jumped on the Texas, rode her to Hawaii, went on the battleship Iowa in Hawaii, rode her back to Seattle, and that was it, except I made 4 cruises in the Reserve after the war.

DH. We kind of skipped over a couple of things I would like to talk about.

SB. Go ahead, you do the questioning.

DH. When Hitler died, did you hear about it that day, and was it much of an impact?

SB. It didn’t make much of an impact because we were over there.

DH. I imagine you had to be a little happy on V-E Day? Were the guys cheering?

SB. Oh, absolutely, because when they broke through the bulge, we thought we might be losing the war. That is what Tokyo Rose kept telling us: "The Germans killed all your troops and swept them in the ocean." The Japanese had their backs against the wall but she said, "We have 20,000 kamikaze waiting for you, you will never get home." That’s before the bombs were thrown.

DH. So you listened to Tokyo Rose?

SB. Oh, God, everyone listened to her. She played beautiful music for us, she said, "Wouldn’t you like to be dancing with your girlfriend back home?" When you are 20-21 years old it makes an impact. We were young guys.

DH. Did her persuasion actually ever do anything, or did people just push it off to the side?

SB. It scared us a little, at least it scarred me a little, because we have to get this . . . I had a brother flying, and one in the infantry over there, and you didn’t know what happened. So it had kind of an effect on me.

DH. So you guys didn’t receive updates from the U.S. on what was going on?

SB. We would, but [not?] instantly, maybe a day or two later. Not like today. Not like the communication of today.

DH. Did you have communication between your brothers at all?

SB. Very rare, because if I got any mail it was sparse and few and far between. Well, I saw the Wilkes Barre pass by one time, and my kid brother was on the Wilkes Barre.

DH. Did you write letters to your parents?

SB. Oh yeah, I had written, yes, but it took time, where it went, it had to pass it on the ship going this way, and so on. It was a very slow, slow way of communication. But they got them. We would get letters, we would catch a ship and they would say, "Hey, we have mail for the squadron," and finally we would receive it.

DH. When we dropped the bombs and they surrendered, I imagine this was a bigger day than VE Day was?

SB. For us, from which I understand, we were "Oboe 1" or "[Oboe] 2," which was going to hit southern Kyushu in an invasion. We were going to haul troops in for an invasion, I guess October or November of that year, we were going to make the main[land?], I think October, and I think we were assigned to "Oboe," that was the code name. We were going to go into Kyushu and it would have been . . . The Japanese were going to fight to the end, and we were going to lose a lot of people.

DH. Do you believe the bomb saved a lot of Americans?

SB. Definitely. No doubt. You can’t talk to one specific solider that will say otherwise. Maybe 5% out of the whole works.

DH. So if the bombs would not have been dropped, you would have been over there, for sure.

SB. Sure, and you don’t know if you would have survived. We know we killed a lot of Japanese, but they would have killed a lot of Americans, because they had a lot of kids. You had everybody worked up, you know, hitting the mainland, you know, it would have been a disaster. No doubt about it.

DH. Ok, I would like to skip ahead a little bit. You said you came back and did four cruises in the Reserve. How long were you in the Reserve?

SB. Until 1951.

DH. Did the reserves go through quite a change from when you originally joined?

SB. Not the first four years, no. Pretty much I went down the engine room. I rode the Wisconsin from Bayonne down to Panama, I took the Pervis to Santiago, and you know where they were building those pens for the submarines, Russians? I was in that town in '48.

DH. Didn’t the reserve base receive a brand new facility in '49?

SB. Yes, it was a new, down there, a new fieldhouse building.

DH. Was it a pretty big deal, were people pretty excited for it?

SB. Very nice, I am amazed that they had the audacity to get rid of it here, because we used to train all those sailors from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin out of here. This was natural for that. But maybe they don’t need the Navy the same anymore, I suppose, so they abandoned. I told Isaackson, maybe if we had known, we could have done some political work on it. I would have--I know some congressmen, I know senators, I would have [been] happy to work on it.

DH. We could have easily. I would have as well. Is there anything else you would like to talk about re: the reserve base after WWII? Commander Isaackson was under the impression that after WWII, the reserve base wasn’t training people out on Lake Superior.

SB. They weren’t, they were shipping us out. Let me tell you one of the reasons I was being shipped out. They would take maybe two men out of the reserve to go on the USS Wisconsin out of Bayonne, New Jersey, in February, leaving Duluth, Minnesota, going to Panama--what could be nicer?--for two weeks. One of my executive officers on one of my ships was commandant at Great Lakes, and I think that is why. I will never forget Lock Perkins, who is a lawyer here in town, was a commander down there. He said, "Damn, are you going again?" They would only pick two, and I was only one of them. There was no reason, except that he had known me. I enjoyed going. I went on a destroyer, I went on a battleship. I took one cruise out of Duluth on the YP, with Commander DeMoore, we went to Toledo and back. The Maumee River in Toledo, they have five bridges, I don’t like to go there. By the time they are opening one bridge they have to close the other.

DH. That is in Toledo?

SB. Yes.

DH. I guess this is my closing question: Is there any closing statement that you would like to make before the interview is done?

SB. Only this, I was surprised to see that they took out some of these ships, the firepower, and the battleships in the last war, the Gulf War. I suppose the Navy doesn’t have the same responsibility, but I think they will always need the Naval Air Force and the carriers, because they can move around the world in an awful hurry. I saw the might of them in World War II.

It bothers me that we don’t keep our armed forces up to shape. It really does!!! Because I'd seen how important it was at one time. We survive the nation; we still had a fighting course. Now we don’t even have enough people, it seems, to man the responsibility of protection of the nation. It bothers me immensely, when you think at that time we had 16 million men under arms to save, fighting both sides. It would not surprise me, I am not against a draft, but if they do impose a draft it would never bother me. I think these young kids in the country that don’t have any direction, I think it would never harm them.

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