A Sailor’s code from the 1940s and 50s.

Friends,

Below, a selection of photos from old albums of my fathers, dating back 74 years.  Over the years I have shared a number of stories of my father, his perspectives and values, and how they were shaped, and how they became the code I try to lead my own life by. I have spent the last 10 days in New Jersey, listening at great length to my fathers memories, brought back by combing through old photos. I remain stunned how easily, in spite of the distractions of health, diminished eyesight and the passage of decades, how dad can easily point out dozens of faces of men he has not seen in five six or seven decades. Turning over any picture and reading the notes on the back reveal that given only a visual reference, my fathers memory at age 90 is very strong.

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On the left, my father at age 16, four days before his 17th birthday. Beside him is Chief Frank Ryan. It is December of 1942. They are standing in the backyard of the Wynne family home at 118 Albion Street in Passaic NJ. Before my father was born, my grandfather found Frank Ryan, a young homeless orphan. He and my grandmother cared for him until he joined the Navy at age 16 in 1922. In the photo you can see he has 20 years of stripes. The photo looks happy, but it is cast against this back drop: Ryan is home because he was a plank owner on the USS Vincennes, CA-44, a heavy cruiser that was sunk a few months before at the battle of Savo Island. It took 322 shipmates, about half the crew, to the bottom with it. Ryan’s idealistic stories of Navy life were the largest factor in my father joining the Navy a few months after this picture was taken. If you read a single other story I have written, make it this one: A clarification and a century old story. It will dispel every thought one might have about my family being militaristic.

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When Frank Ryan went back to sea, he was a plank owner on the most fearsome battleship afloat, the USS Iowa, BB-61. On the Vincennes he was head of the ‘Black Gang’ in the boiler rooms, on the Iowa He was the Chief quartermaster. He is in Khaki on the left. Other than the kindness of my grandparents, to whom Ryan was devoted, his life knew no lasting joy; He was married in ’39, but his wife died of TB shortly after, he was haunted by the loss of his Vincennes shipmates, and no one could stop him from drinking himself into an early grave. He did not live to see 1950.

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Same two men, four years later: My father, who signed up as an Enlisted man in July of 1943, had become a midshipman at the Naval Academy by the time this picture was taken in 1946. My Grandfather, initial livid about Ryan encouraging my father to join in WWII, has relieved the war was over. There were a few brief years where it looked like my grandfathers one wish in life, that his son would not see what he had seen in WWI, might come true, but this didn’t last.

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Above the USS North Carolina, BB-55.  My father took this shot while he was on a midshipman summer cruise on the ship. Every boy of the 1920s and 30s thought of these ships as the ‘big guns’ of the fleet, the heavyweight knockout punch. Although WWII made carriers ascendant, and atomic weapons had been invented, there was something lasting about the mystique of battleships. For my father, this was tempered by a very ugly friendly fire accident on this cruise. The ships main battery of 16″ guns was being exercised on a Caribbean range; A land based block house fired a mortar which designated the target. Aboard the ship, someone pointed the optical range finder at the block house to see when the mortar was fired instead of waiting for the shell to mark the target, not understanding that the 16″ guns would train to the rangefinder. A mistaken command sent nine 16″ shells to the block house. At 20,000 yards the flight time of the shells was long enough to tell the personnel in the block house of the mistake and to take cover. It did no good at all. It was an awakening to my father, that even in peacetime, his profession would be dangerous.

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Just before the cruise, my father met my Mother at Bradley Beach NJ. In 1998, our family took at tour of the North Carolina, which is a museum in Wilmington NC. My father had not been aboard since 1946. What part of the ship did he want to show us? We went all the way aft to the post office, where dad showed us the mail slot where he put a letter in 1946….It was to my mother asking if she wanted to go on another date.  I looked at the mail box and realized that my very existence hinged on my father being a good writer. He is, therefore I am.

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Dad, on his summer cruise on the USS Randolph, CV-15, an Essex class carrier. In those days, all midshipmen learned to fly at the academy in ‘Yellow peril’ N3-N biplanes on single floats. On summer cruises, they were sent out as crewmen on attack planes. Dad flew in both SBDs and TBMs. It was a way of evaluating who would later be offered a slot at Pensacola.  In 1947, the USAF had just broken off from the Army, and they were threatening to end Naval Aviation. Dad’s N3-N instructor, a veteran of the ‘Marianas Turkey Shoot’, said that dogfighting was probably never going to happen again in the missile age, and the USAF, might end carrier construction in favor of something new called a B-36.  From there, Dad starting looking at Amphibious Warfare. Ironically, Essex class carriers had radically longer and more useful lives than B-36s, and people came to learn that both the USAF and USN need aviation.

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In the story: Patriotism has no Party I make a brief mention about an F-8F Bearcat hitting the back of the USS Randolph. My father saw this on the same cruise. They brought midshipmen down to the aft most 40mm gun tub on the starboard side, which hung  just below the flight deck. It was an excellent vantage point to see planes approaching the carrier. An F-8F on final got a wave off from the LSO, and when the pilot put full power from the 2,000 hp radial at slow speed, the plane snap rolled and hit the stern of the ship, about 50 feet from the gun tub. It was a low hit, and the midshipmen were shielded by the tub. All that came to the surface in the wake of the ship was a fuel slick and one of the main tires. Nothing else was recovered. It was another reminder that being in the military had risks beyond conflict.

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Even though he did not choose to become a Naval Aviator, my father still loved planes. His albums are full of pictures of them. Above, he took this picture of a Martin Mars, one of the largest flying boats ever built, when it came to the Severn River at the Naval Academy. When going across the pacific many times between 1949 and 1953, dad made the trip in both a Martin Mars and a Consolidated Coronados, stopping at Midway, Wake and Guam. The note about the young officer and the pool in this story Patriotism has no Party, comes from a 1953 trip home from Korea.

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Above, a 1951 picture from Okinawa, where the Seabees were practicing amphibious landings for Korea. I wrote about these in this story: USN sea story.  If you want a better look at the island in WWII, read this: Memorial Day Reading. Unlike most other pacific island involved in WWII,  Okinawa had been densely populated.  In the WWII battle, which took place just 6 years before my father took this picture, The US lost 20,000 KIA, the Japanese lost 110,000 KIA, but nearly 40% of the 300,000 civilians on the island also perished, enormous numbers of them from committing suicide because they had been told that the US troops were monsters who did despicable things to civilians. Above, the ‘monsters’ are feeding little kids who survived the battle, years after it was done. Notice that one of the enlisted men is using chop sticks to eat. To get a look at what my father thought was worth fighting for, please read: William Edward Wynne Sr. – Father’s Day Notes

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Above, Dad operating a bull dozer on a beach while he was a company commander in ACB-ONE. This is the same piece of equipment that hit the LST door in this story: USN sea story.

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This is a LST, which stands for “Landing Ship, Tank” The US built about 1,000 of these in WWII. If you look closely, on the side it is carrying several hundred feet of floating pontoon causeway, folded up 90 degrees. Approaching the beach, these are dropped from each side, and the LST drops an anchor behind it to slow down, and the pontoons are maneuvered, mostly on inertia, out in front of the LST to form a path to the beach. This technique was used on assaults where the beach was not steep enough for the LST to get close.

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Above the two sections are joined, and lined up with the bow doors of the LST. The craft to the side of the pontoons is a “warping tug” a general purpose tugboat, crane, barge that Seabees used a lot.

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Above an amphibious DUKW, the command post of ACB-ONE, Dad described these as fun, but not really sea worthy. One of the ones he used sank, fortunately in practice mission.

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Above, a good end view of a LST with the bow open, a pontoon causeway and a warping tug. Lettering at the top of all of these pictures is dad’s handwriting.

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Above, a look at what made the Inchon landings so tricky: The have some of the highest tides in the world, 40 feet of change at times. That LST draws 15 feet at the stern, so it gives you a good idea of how fast the tide ran out, and ran back in to submerge anything stuck at low tide.

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Above, and LCU unloads two bull dozers after  the Amtrack on the left disembarked.

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Above, dad stands with his parents in front of an F-8F. Many sailor’s stories from WWII and later hint at exotic ports of call and drinking, gambling and brawling. Not all sailors excelled at those ‘arts’. My father was always a very grounded man, even when he was young. He credits this to his loving parents, who set strong examples with their own lives, and expected their kids to do something meaningful with theirs. If you want an example of how tough my grandmother was, get a look at this story: Italo Balbo in 1933, an 83 year old family story. My father dated my mother nearly the whole time he was at the Naval Academy, they were marred a few months after he graduated, and 66 years later they are still the love of each others lives.

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How the stories have always been shared: Above, in a photo taken yesterday, Grace sits with my father, as he is recovering. She drove up from Florida with ScoobE to see Mom and Dad. They are looking at some of the old photo albums that contained the photos above. Grace has a phenomenal memory, and treasures this kind of history, she needs only hear it once for it to be saved. ScoobE had his little yellow vest on and his shots cards so they let him into the hospital, and after they saw that he could sit in my fathers lap, silently, for hours, the staff was glad to have him. He and Grace spent many hours of every day this week taking care of dad, attending to his needs, one of which is sharing memories of 90 years on earth.

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Many of the stories are moving, some are very somber. The case of characters are mostly all memories now. Having made it to 90, my father feels nothing but gratitude for his good fortune. I know many people who only like to hear ‘nice’ stories, and my father knows plenty of them, but ‘nice’ is rarely what was the pivotal, moving moments of a life well lead, where values were followed and costs were not a consideration when weighed against one’s virtues.  My father was born to and raised by such people, and in turn become one himself, and found a soul mate with the same codes in my mother.  He taught us all that a life well lead will contain both triumph and tragedy, and to strive for ‘nice’ or ‘happy’ is to desire a luke-warm world in which to live. In the quiet hours my father wants you to consider and remember the pantheon of good men he once knew, and the values for which they lived, the willful decisions they made to lead meaningful lives.

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“Sunday night, with most of the family and friends on their way home, found my parents home suddenly quiet. While all of the afternoon’s conversations had been on family and good memories, my father, now almost 90 and somewhat frail, took the last hour of the evening to meet an obligation he finds very important;  I sit beside him and listen while he looks back through the decades to remember and speak the names and the stories of good men, who’s devotion to their Shipmates, the Navy and our Country cost them everything, including a chance to grow old with the families they loved. This spoken remembrance is central to my father’s gratitude for the great fortune of being married for 65 years.”-from New Jersey, June 2015 and 65 years ago …

 

 

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-WWjr.

About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

2 Responses to A Sailor’s code from the 1940s and 50s.

  1. Harold Bickford says:

    William thanks for posting these entries; they are heartfelt and goo to read.

    Harold

  2. Robert Duke says:

    I too being an old salt, enjoyed the precious memories of your father. My father has been gone for nearly 10 years now and hardly a day doesn’t go by that I wish that I could call him up or go visit him. He had great stories too.
    On Chief Ryan’s left arm, the picture showed he had 4 hashmarks, each stripe signifying 4 years of service. After 12 years and good conduct one would be allowed to have their stripes in gold. If they had several hashmarks and were still red, they probably had a few unexemplary reviews, and or disciplinary measures. Colorful history of brawling, and fun times in a new port. Ha!!
    I was a fire control technician aboard 2 destroyers in my naval career. I operated the range finder and radar for firing the 5 inch guns on our ships. We did a lot of shore bombardment exercises and also training at Coronado Naval Gun Fire Training facility. I remember some of the 16″ bullets they had there and some of the stories of when they shot the 16s from the battleships in VietNam. That bullet weighed 2000# and was like shooting a VW for 5 miles. It would leave a hole like you wouldn’t believe. I would not want to be anywhere near the crosshairs of those 16s. Nope!!

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