Interview with John Bailey
Interviewed by Jessie J. Robinson
Veterans History Project
Interviewed on May 11, 2003
at the home of John Bailey
JR: Today is Sunday May 11, 2003, and this is the beginning of the interview with John Bailey at his home at 1111 32nd Street, in Marion, Indiana. Mr. Bailey is 85 years old, being born on November 25th, 1917. My name is Jessie Robinson and I will be the interviewer. John, will you please state for the recording what war and service you were in?
JB: 1941, World War II.
JR: What was your highest rank?
JB: Third-class Seaman.
JR: Where did you serve at? Where did you serve?
JB: On the ship the USS Caldwell, a destroyer, 605.
JR: What was your location?
JB: South Pacific. Well, first I was up North, we were up there for about six months and then we went down with the Indianapolis to the Philippines and we were there for a couple of years. One time we dropped a couple of sub landers and dropped depth charges and a big whale came up instead of a submarine.
JR: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
JR: Why did you join?
JB: To make some money. No, I thought it was the right thing to do, to join the Navy and help out. I don’t really know.
JR: How old were you when you joined?
JR: Why did you pick going into the Navy?
JB: I thought it would the be best place for me to be.
JR: You were located at Hawaii, correct? Were you located in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor?
JB: I don’t understand you.
JR: You were in the Pacific?
JB: Oh, yes. The Pacific.
JR: When did you arrive at the Pacific?
JB: Well, first we were at the Aleutians for five or six months and then we were assigned down to the Philippines and that’s when we were escorting the Indianapolis and it was sunk and we picked up survivors there and later on a few months later a suicide plane hit us where the captain was operating the ship and I was in the forward repair party. I was in the middle of the ship and something was flying around everywhere. There was a big can, or a canister I suppose you would call it, and I jumped into it until things quit flying around and I had to get out and help where the plane hit.
JR: So you were there when bombs were still getting dropped and it was getting attacked?
JR: Were you scared? Was it the first time you had been in that kind of action?
JB: Well, I would have to say yes.
JR: Was there…
JB: Things happened so fast though, you didn’t have time to really think about anything, really.
JR: Were there a lot of people killed during the time when you were there?
JB: Yes, one of my best friends. I saw his body go…he was up in the forward gun mound and his body went out of the door and out into the ocean. We never did get to get him. And down on the main deck, just off of the ammunition room, one body was blown into the wall about five or six feet up in the air, I never seen anything like that. How the body could stay in that metal, nobody could figure it out at all, even the officers were stumped on that. Then our ship was sent back to Honolulu, and I woke up in the morning and my ear was bleeding so they transferred me to a hospital in Hawaii. I can’t remember the name of that little island. It was about a month I was there at the hospital, and then they transferred me to Norfolk, Virginia and I went to school and training for invasion of the Japanese shores. While I was in school, the war ended, so I didn’t have to go. I was released about a month later.
JR: How long were you there? Did you train a lot for the invasion?
JB: We were out there for about three months.
JR: What all did you do when you were in the Pacific? Did you help clean up the wreckage?
JB: Oh, yes. We all had to. It was a total mess. While the ship was out of commission we had to get back to get it repaired. The damage was real bad. Oh well, a suicide plane hit the front of the ship, that’s what happened and it put the ship out of commission. They had no control of the guns or anything.
JR: Did you go on any missions or did you just stay near all the ships, where the wreckage was? Did you go on any missions like did you do any fighting yourself?
JB: Oh, no. I was on the ship all of the time.
JR: Do you recall your first days in service? Was that when your ship got bombed, in your first days of service? When you first arrived in the Pacific, your first days, do you recall what happened?
JB: Oh, the first few days in the Pacific, I had to get used to, especially at night, laying in bed. If the weather was rough, bouncing around in the bed. I didn’t know how to sleep.
JR: What were your first thoughts when arriving there?
JB: Arriving where?
JR: In the Pacific.
JB: Really, I didn’t have any thoughts, to tell the truth. When arriving there, all you feel is the ocean and the ship.
JR: How were the people acting when you arrived, after the bombs hit? When people were still attacking, how were the people who were already there acting when you arrived? When you arrived in the Pacific, how were the people who were already there, how were acting?
JB: Well, I didn’t see people in the Pacific. I was on a ship all the time.
JR: How were the people on the ship acting?
JB: Oh, real good.
JR: How did your family feel about you joining the war?
JB: To tell you the truth, they didn’t know. I went with Jim Wood, a friend of mine. A few days before, I brought my clothes to his place and I hitch hiked to Indianapolis and volunteered. Then I wrote my folks a letter of what I had done. They weren’t very happy about it.
JR: How was your boot camp or training experiences?
JB: Some of it I thought was kind of silly. The way they treat you. Some of it didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t really. Making you say “yes, sir” “no, sir” and standing in attention when some big officer would be walking in. I just thought that was something that was ridiculous.
JR: How long were you in training before you went into war?
JB: Probably three months. Yes, just about three months.
JR: What was your training? What did you do while in training?
JB: Oh, most of the time you just marched out in the field and did strenuous exercise. Nothing was about a ship. Well, you didn’t know what type of ship you were going to be on. So, you learned the things on the ship on the ship, not on the training grounds.
JR: What was the hardest part of training?
JB: Oh, really there wasn’t anything in the navy. The navy is different than the army or the marine corp. But, sometimes the exercise they would make you do would kind of wear you out. But I’ll tell you that, that was about it.
JR: How many casualties were there in your unit, the people that were with on your ship? How many people died?
JB: Oh, I would say seventeen. I couldn’t remember, but yea, seventeen.
JR: Did you know most of them?
JB: I knew all of them.
JR: Did you see it happen, when they died?
JB: No, I was in the middle of the ship. I can’t think of what you called that room. What did I tell you at the start? Trouble shooter like. I was the only one in there and I was the one who phoned, and I could see the front of the ship and the back of the ship. And then anything that happened, I could report to the commanding officer from the middle of the ship. I was in the forward repair part, that’s what I was trying to think of. All I did was hid in that big barrel when things started flying around.
JR: What did you remember the most about your experience while in the Pacific?
JB: Seeing that boy in the wall, I still think about that every now and then. I don’t know why, it’s just something that stayed in my mind. I can’t get rid of it.
JR: What did you enjoy most about your duties in World War II? What did you enjoy most about your duties?
JB: Having a good meal.
JR: What kind of meals would they have?
JB: Most were very good, they were really good.
JR: What did you dislike the most?
JB: Do what?
JR: What did you dislike the most? What did you hate or what was the worst part of your duties?
JB: There really wasn’t anything that I hated. There was no reason for you to hate anything because you had fireman, too. During their regular routine, I would control the water going to the big boiler and I would have four hour shifts. I would sit up high above the engine room and every twenty minutes I had to either turn the water up or turn the water down, to keep the right amount of water in the steam thing, the steam engine. You couldn’t get sleepy up there. If you did, the engine could blow up on you if you let it get dry. It was a neat job, really.
JR: Were you there by yourself or did you have someone up there?
JB: You were by yourself in the water chamber.
JR: How long would you be up there for a shift?
JB: Four hours for a shift. Four hours on, four hours off, four hours on, four hours off. Now that really got tiresome, you know.
JR: Were you awarded any medals while at war? Were you awarded any medals? Did you get any awards?
JB: It seems like, well I really just can’t remember. Yea, I did get a medal for something. To tell you the truth I just can remember. I don’t know.
JR: Did you receive any injuries while at war?
JB: Well, my ears bleeding. One morning I woke up and blood was flowing out of my ears. And that’s when they transferred me to a hospital. It must have been from the big guns there were some in the middle of the ship and there were some in the back of me and the front of me. And would those big five inch guns would go off they must have done something to my ears.
JR: How long were you at war before you received these injuries?
JB: About two years.
JR: What part of the war, when you arrived in the Pacific, what part of the war was going on? Had the Pacific already been bombed initially and you came afterward or did you come before they were being bombed?
JB: I didn’t understand that.
JR: Did you come after the Pacific had already been bombed? Did you come as back up to help clean up?
JB: No, I didn’t do any clean-up, no. I’m not understanding what you need? Did I come back to the..?
JR: When you arrived at the Pacific at Hawaii had Hawaii already been bombed?
JB: It was way after it had been bombed, yeah. See , that was bombed in 1941 and I didn’t do join until 1942.
JR: How did you stay in touch with your family while out at sea?
JB: I wrote them a letter about once a month. Cause that’s about all that they’d let you do.
JR: Did they write you? Did you receive letters?
JB: Yes, uh huh.
JR: And you said the food was really good there right?
JB: Very good.
JR: What was your favorite, what was a good meal? What was a usual meal?
JB: I liked the sliced ham when we would have that. That was really the best.
JR: Were you stressed and under pressure all the time there? Were you stressed a lot?
JB: Not really, no.
JR: Was there something that you did for good luck?
JB: Yeah, I did “Hail Mary’s.”
JR: How did people entertain themselves?
JR: Oh, once in awhile we’d get in a group and sing. And, sometimes they’d have four of us in a little quartet. It wasn’t too bad really. One guy, a tenor, he really had a beautiful voice. The chief officer, he’d come down and listen to us.
JR: So the people in your service would entertain themselves. Or would you hire people to sing, too?
JB: Oh no, we were just to ourselves. There was no way of hiring people on the ship.
JR: What did you like to do in your free time?
JB: Sleep. Four hours on and four hours off. That’s tiresome. That’s seven days a week, too, when you’re on the ship.
JR: Did you get to travel like on the land? Did you get to go off the ship and look around any?
JB: No, no. We didn’t get off the ship when we didn’t assist any kind of…Oh! When I was in the hospital with my ear I met Helo Haddie. She was at that time, one of the best singers in the world! And, I don’t know how, but I was up there in this island, and I left the hospital just to scoot around the island. They gave me permission to. But someone told me that Helo Haddie was going to be here at two o’clock and at that time she was the most famous entertainment in Hawaii. She was really good too. And good looking at that.
JR: Do you recall any humorous or unusual event that happened? What was the funniest thing that ever happened when you were at war?
JB: I can’t answer that…there’s not anything I can think of.
JR: Would you guys play pranks on each other? Would you play pranks like joke around or do tricks on each other?
JB: Yeah, very much.
JR: What was one that you did on someone?
JB: I really can’t answer that. I don’t know. Wait a minute, I can’t remember what that was. Some guy when he woke up, but I can’t remember what I did. I don’t remember.
JR: What did you think, did you get along well with the people that you roomed with?
JB: Real well.
JR: How many people? Were you staying in a room or…?
JB: There were four beds on this side and four beds on this side. And they were one here and one here and you had to climb up to the top one.
JR: What was your ship name?
JB: The U.S.S. Caldwell 605.
JR: Did you keep a diary or write down your thoughts while out? Did you keep a diary or write down your thoughts?
JB: Boy, I wish I had of. But, I didn’t. I just didn’t think about anything like that at that time. But I should of.
JR: Did you say that you went to the Philippines after the Pacific? Did you say that?
JB: We were headed into the Philippines. That’s when the Indianapolis was struck. We picked up people from that. I can’t think of the island where we bombarded. Cause we got hit by one of Japanese suicide fighters. It was one of those islands beyond the Philippines, though. There are so many islands there I can’t stay up on them. I’d have to write them all down.
JR: How long were you stationed there?
JB: I wasn’t stationed in the Philippines any. The ship went into the Philippines. Destroyers, the main thing on them with cruisers and battleships, destroyers stay around to hunt for submarines. Then when they run in contact with submarines and there is a certain bomb they drop. Our main job is protecting cruisers and battleships on the destroyer.
JR: Did you say you’d mistakened a submarine for a whale?
JB: Order went to general quarters, we had a contact with submarine and after the bomb struck a big whale come up. That happened to others too though on other ships. That was just a mistake on this ship. It was definitely a mistake. One of those things you just disregard or forget.
JR: So you didn’t stay long in the Philippines. Were you sent then to Norfolk in Virginia after the Philippines after you went there and picked up the people from the Indianapolis?
?JB: We went two or three months later were going down closer to Japan and that’s when we got hit with a suicide plane. Really, after we got to the Philippines we didn’t see really too much activity. We got hit, but most of the time, I don’t know how to explain it. We were with the Indianapolis at that time. We were with several ships. Not just the Indianapolis alone. But with the different groups the ships, we would be assigned to patrol and stay with them and hunt for something. This is bringing it all back to life. Oh, man! I hardly know what to tell you. I can’t remember all those islands out there. I should have wrote all this stuff down. I didn’t know of anyone having a diary. I didn’t see fellows writing stuff down. I didn’t think about it either. After I got home I sure wished I had.
JR: You were in Norfolk for three months. Did you go under a lot of training?
JB: Yeah, we there were three months of training of physical exercises the Navy put you through. And then the war ended and I was discharged within three weeks after that.
JR: Where did you end up at? Did you stay in Norfolk or did you come back to Indiana?
JB: I came right back to Indiana then.
JR: So how long were you at war all together?
JB: War was over in 45. I went in in 42. February 42 till 45 when the war was over.
JR: What did you do in the days and weekends afterwards? Did you still think about the war all the time? Was life a lot different?
JB: No, not really.
JR: Did you go to work or go back to school?
JB: I went back, I drove Coca-Cola trucks, and soon as I got back home why my boss got around and called me and I had my job back.
JR: Was your education supported by the GI Bill? Or did you go to college?
JB: Oh, no.
JR: Did you make any close friendships at war?
JB: Yes, uh huh.
JR: Did you stay in touch after the war was over?
JR: Have you talked to these people in the last ten years?
JB: No, not really. I imagine most of them are gone.
JR: Would you write back and forth to each other?
JB: There was Bob Kurne. And what was his name? Oh, Ted Harrison. I think Bob Klee. Yeah, I contacted with them for quite some time.
JR: Where do they live?
JB: Oh, one in Oklahoma. I don’t know where the other two live now.
JR: Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general? When you joined the military or the Navy did it change your thinking about what went on there?
JB: Yeah, in some ways.
JR: How have your opinions changed?
JB: Why do people want to kill each other? It doesn’t make sense. Animals don’t do that. Like today, there’s countries that are fighting in one religion and over the next country’s border is another religion and that’s all they are fighting over, and that don’t make sense.
JR: Did you attend any of the reunions for the Navy? Did a bunch of people get together at a later date to hang out and see what happened?
JB: No, I never did.
JR: How did your service and experiences in war effect your life?
JB: I don’t think it has effected my life.
JR: How has it changed how you live now? How you think about war and what goes on in the world?
JB: Well, that’s what I said a little while ago. People are dumber than animals. Animals don’t treat each other like people are doing today. Look how many places in the world right now where they’re fighting each other. Israel and Pakistan, what a mess that is. And look how many people been killed on both sides. I mean innocent people. It don’t make sense at all.
JR: Do you have hard feelings against the Japanese, since they were bombing and attacking your people.
JB: Well, at that time I guess, but today, it is all together different. I mean there shouldn’t be any hard feelings towards them now cause it’s over with.
JR: If you could go back would you serve in World War II again? Do you regret it?
JB: Oh no. I’d do it again.
JR: Do you have any advice or comments for a person considering to join a war?
JR: Do you have any advice or comments for a person who is considering to join a war today?
JB: No. I don’t know nothing about it.
JR: Is there anything else you would like to add that was not covered in the interview?
JB: No, you have done a real good job.