Riverside Public Library
Interview with James B. Davis
James B. Davis
Electronics Technician's Mate First Class, U.S. Navy
Served in World War II in the Pacific Islands, Japan
Interviewed on 28 January 2004 in Mr. Davis' home in Riverside, California
Appleton: This is an interview with James B. Davis and I am Rick Appleton, the interviewer. Today is Wednesday, January 28th, 2004 and this interview is taking place in Mr. Davis' home in Riverside, California, as part of the Riverside Veterans History Project, a Riverside Public Library Partnership with the Library of Congress.
Let's start out, Jim, by you just stating your name and when and where you were born.
Davis: O.K. It's James B. Davis. I was born January 12, 1926 in the town of Lakeport, in northern California. I went through the school system there. My dad was principal of the elementary school, and later Superintendent of Schools in the County.
Appleton: Now, is Lakeport in Lake County?
Appleton: Did your dad stay there through his whole career?
Davis: Yeah. He died of cancer when he was about 52. I was back in college when he passed away.
Appleton: And what about your mother?
Davis: She remarried later on and continued to live there until she passed away in about '85.
Appleton: Did your mother work when you were growing up, or was she always at home?
Davis: While we were growing up she was at home. After the kids left, she went back and worked for the county Welfare Department. She had been a teacher before and she taught in the same school my dad was principal of. Then, when she got married, she was a stay-at-home mom.
Appleton: Did you have brothers and sisters?
Davis: One brother.
Appleton: So, you grew up in Lakeport, right?
Appleton: Then before the war, you were still in high school?
Davis: Yes. I would have been about fifteen, I think when the war started. I actually enlisted when I was seventeen. My birthday was in January and I enlisted in October.
Appleton: That would have been 1943, right?
Davis: Yes. October '43. One of the reasons was that at that time, if you enlisted, you could pick your branch of service; where, if you waited and got drafted ... I would have been subject to the draft when I turned eighteen ... they'd put you where you were needed. I made quite an effort to get into different outfits. I tried to get into the Navy Air Corps, but couldn't pass the physical. My blood pressure was too high. I guess I was too keyed up. I went home and checked with the family doctor and he said, "Your blood pressure is fine. No problem at all. Nothing wrong with you."
Appleton: You wanted that really bad, didn't you?
Davis: Yeah. Anyway he said, "Go back down" so I did, but my blood pressure was still too high, so I didn't pass the Navy flight physical. Then I tried for a couple of other things, and eventually wound up in what was called the Eddy Program. The Navy, and I suppose the whole armed services responded to changing situations in the military. Radar was something brand new and it was just starting to go into production. U.S. ships had it but I guess most of the Japanese hadn't had it yet. Our Navy didn't have enough personnel who were prepared to maintain and operate the fairly sophisticated electronics.
Appleton: This was what you knew you wanted to get into, or did you get into radar just because you didn't get into the flight program?
Davis: It looked like a good deal, although I was disappointed that I didn't get into Navy air.
Appleton: Well, before we get into that, and your joining them when you were seventeen-and-a-half, a question that I always ask everyone is: Can you remember what you were doing on December 7th when you heard that the war had started, and that Pearl Harbor was attacked? How did you find out about it?
Davis: I think I was about a fifteen year old kid. I rode my bicycle from home to a friend's home and I remember pulling into my friend's yard. His mother and father and my friend were out in the yard talking, and I pulled in and they said, "Do you know that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor?" So, that's the first I heard about it.
Appleton: That would have been a Sunday. That was either Sunday morning or sometime during the day. Do you recall what your reactions were when you found out?
Davis: Everybody was shocked, although there were rumors going around that the Japanese were sending ... or had sent ... diplomats to Washington. There was a lot of stuff going on about bad relations between the Japanese and the United States, so the Japanese had sent a peace envoy to the United States. One reason that I was a little bit cognizant of it was that they flew, I guess, on a China Clipper and the Clippers, I think, would normally go into San Francisco Bay, but San Francisco Bay had a fog problem, so if they couldn't go into there, they'd land up at Clear Lake which is a very large lake in northern California and the Clipper could land there. So people were speculating that maybe the Japanese envoys would come into Lake County and land in the lake. People were probably more cognizant of the inter-play between the Japanese government and the U.S. government and the hard feelings that were going on.
Appleton: Right, because you had that alternate landing place for the China Clipper. Now, Lakeport is inland? It's not on the coast, is it? What city is Lakeport near?
Davis: Lakeport is inland and it's about 130 miles north of San Francisco.
Appleton: North of Redding?
Davis: No, south of Redding.
Appleton: Okay. So, you were seventeen-and-a-half years old when you wanted to join the military. You probably had to have your parents' permission to join the service, is that right?
Davis: Yeah. I guess I did. I don't remember that specifically, but I guess I did. I must have had to.
Appleton: The question people talk about: What did your family think about it?
Davis: Well, they were aware that military service was imminent.
Appleton: And that everybody obviously had to do something. Do you remember their feelings about it? What they said to you about your joining?
Davis: Oh, I guess no parent was really overjoyed about it. But at that time that was what was done. When I talked down at Martin Luther King High School, it's just mind-boggling for those kids to realize the level of our involvement in the war. When I tell them, "You look around and every boy you see here in this auditorium during World War II, every boy you see ... almost all would be in the military service within a year or two. And the girls, about half of them, would be involved in some sort of war-related industry or activity". They just can't imagine it. Well, they wouldn't even remember Vietnam, of course, but war is where the impact on our social life is very minimal in the military. Unless you happen to be a military family, it doesn't really affect you. But, that's about as far as it goes.
Appleton: How about your brother? You said you had one brother. Was he older or younger?
Davis: He was younger.
Appleton: Did he join later?
Davis: He was a little too young. He went in the Army but he never saw any action. He never went overseas. The war ended by the time he got through basic training.
Appleton: So your parents weren't quite so worried about him as they were about you.
Appleton: Then when you joined, that was in October of '43?
Davis: Yeah. I'm just guessing it's October of '43. I enlisted when I was still seventeen. My birthday would have been in January.
Appleton: But you actually weren't inducted then until after you graduated high school?
Davis: No. I was inducted in January just before my eighteenth birthday. But I already had some idea of what I was going to do. I had taken the so-called Eddy test which qualified me for about a year of electronics training, which was a really great program.
Appleton: Where was your boot camp training?
Davis: Well, at Great Lakes Training Center, but we weren't there as long as we should have been because they were anxious to get us through fast. They had a real accelerated program. There were three groups of people in that boot camp. One was the Eddy test school ... guys who were gonna get trained as radar technicians. The Japanese Air Force was sort of in a real rapid decline at this point, so the Navy Air Corp didn't need as many Navy pilots as they had planned to use. There were a lot of people that got sort of washed-out of the Navy Air Corps and got put back into the regular Navy. Well, as you can imagine, they were a disgruntled bunch. Then there were a lot of what they called "retreads." They were individuals who had been in the Navy years before, had retired from the Navy, or had dropped out of the Navy. Then they'd come back in the Navy, and they had naval experience. Anyway they put us all into this accelerated boot camp.
Appleton: How long was your boot camp?
Davis: It was about a month. Normally it would be two or three months. There were a number of schools around the country that were pre-radio, which was sort of a refresher math and physics training program. There was a place called Hugh Manley High School in Chicago, and there were other places too. I don't know how they did it, but the Navy just took over entire high schools and we had bunk beds set up in some of the classrooms.
Appleton: Really? I'd never heard about that before.
Davis: That was probably the end of January, the first of February. Those who graduated from there went out for about three months to Del Monte Resort ... what once was a tremendous luxury resort in Monterey, California ... and the Navy took that over. I guess it kept it too because it went through various things from, I think, the Army or Navy foreign language school and so on.
Appleton: Nice surroundings. Is that where you were?
Davis: Yeah. I think when they first took it over it was a pre-flight school. Then when they started cutting back on the Navy aviation program and started accelerating this radar training program, it turned into a radar school for about three months. This was, I guess, sort of an introduction to radar and electronics.
Then after three months there I went to Treasure Island, San Francisco Bay for about six months. There we got hands-on maintenance and operation of specific radar equipment that they expected us to learn.
Appleton: Now was it Treasure Island or Angel Island in San Francisco Bay where the China Clipper airplanes came in?
Davis: They went into Treasure Island. But they did that before the war. You know, it had an exposition, and then during the exposition the Clippers used that. Then, during the war, the Navy took over the whole place.
Appleton: And then the Clipper flights and all were cancelled during the war, weren't they?
Davis: Yes. It was a peacetime operation. I guess flying boats did operate out of there but they were Naval operations.
Appleton: Did the Navy use some of those Clipper airplanes that landed on the water?
Davis: Yeah. We had a lot of flying boats of one kind or another.
Appleton: Were they some of the same planes that they'd converted?
Davis: I can't answer that. There were two or three generations of aircraft that made up the China Clipper ... a big Boeing seaplane that they used, and whatever happened to those during the war, I don't know. But they did operate other kinds of flying boats out of that area.
Appleton: So, some of your training there was at Treasure Island?
Davis: Yes. About a month at Hugh Manley in Chicago, about three months at Del Monte Resort, and about six months at Treasure Island.
Appleton: This would have been late in '44 when you finished your training?
Davis: Yes. Counting boot training. I had just about a year. Then from there I went to what was called a "nucleus crew". I was assigned to a ship down in Orange, Texas. I remember spending New Year's Eve on a train going down to Orange, Texas. The shipyard was on the Sabine River, about fifty miles from the coast. They built destroyers and destroyer escorts and they launched them sideways into the river.
Appleton: Oh, yes. That's right. I've seen photos of those.
Davis: The ship would go down sideways and hit the water and it looked like it was gonna tip over ... way over ... and then it would right itself. After it was launched, a couple of months ... two or three months ... where it was fitted out, there would be shipyard workers and representatives of different companies that were installing equipment and facilities aboard the ship. The nucleus crew, which was, for example, electronic technicians, we worked along with the Raytheon and General Electric people that were installing the electronic equipment, and we'd see where the equipment was going and where the cables were going and all that. So that when the job was done, then we would know where the equipment was. And the stuff would be strung all over. It was like a computer with its mainframe in one location, and the terminals all over. Well, this was the way the radar was. It had one part located in one place, and then terminals located on the bridge, and combat information centers strung around. The spare parts were scattered all over. Now, this was just us. The engineers and electrical people and everybody else did the same kind of thing.
Appleton: Now the nucleus crew at that time would be about how large compared to what a full crew would be later on?
Davis: Maybe about ten percent.
Appleton: You went onto a ship as it was being fitted out, right?
Appleton: Were a large percentage of the workers men? Or were they mostly women? Or did you notice?
Davis: A large percentage of the total shipyard setup were women. But mostly in the offices and commissaries and things like that, than actually doing welding and that sort of thing.
Appleton: Right. Although some women did become welders.
Davis: There were a lot of women. Maybe a third of the workforce at Consolidated Steel were women, but they mostly did clerical work and stuff like that.
Appleton: How about the technical people from Raytheon and some of those other companies?
Davis: They were all men that I can remember.
Appleton: Were they older men beyond military age?
Davis: No. I think they were military age people, but they may have been classified essential for the war effort.
Appleton: When you got on to that ship in Orange, Texas, was that the ship that you stayed with at first?
Appleton: What was that ship?
Davis: The ship was the Hawkins. I went on two destroyers. The Hawkins was built there and the other one was built at Bath, Maine. I didn't get on that one until later. They were called Long Hull Sumner Class Destroyers. Sumner was a class of destroyer that was built sort of during the middle of the war. When they were first built we had two sets of torpedo tubes. One back on the fantail of the ship, and another between the two smokestacks. They were called "Long Hull" because they were maybe thirty or forty feet longer than the first batch of Sumners they built.
Appleton: Now, were these torpedoes launched off of the deck, or down under water?
Davis: The torpedo tubes were mounted on the deck. There was a set of maybe four to six torpedo tubes side by side that were mounted on the deck. They turned.
Appleton: Aimed in both directions, so you could turn them? Could you turn them from side to side or were they just tubes aimed in both directions?
Davis: No, they turned from side to side. They rotated. It had three turrets of two five inch guns per turret, which distinguished them from most other destroyers at the time.
Appleton: So, when a torpedo was launched it would go out of the tube and hit the water, and then it was guided?
Davis: Yes. It would sail out maybe fifty or sixty feet before it hit the water 'cause the ones on the deck between the smokestacks were pretty high up. Maybe, I suppose, twenty feet above the water when they'd go sailing out and hit the water. But that was kind of a moot point because we didn't keep those torpedo tubes very long. I forget just when we went to sea and went down the Sabine River and had a shake-down cruise in the Caribbean. And here, again, how the war changed things. This was shortly after the Japanese first used their kamikazes during the Battle of Lingayan Gulf in the Philippines. I guess, there was a great concern that this was gonna be something new that the Japanese were gonna start doing.
Appleton: The kamikaze attacks were new?
Davis: Yeah. I think the first appearance of the kamikazes were at the Battle of Lingayan Gulf, which was right after the invasion of the Philippines. I'm not sure of the date, but that's when the kamikazes first showed up. So the Navy tried to figure out, "Now, what do we do to counter this?" They figured the Japanese were really going after the aircraft carriers so they figured that one thing would be to use radar picket ships. We'd been on the shake down, and instead of going to the Panama Canal, they brought us back to Norfolk, Virginia and took our torpedo tubes off ... the ones that were up high, between the smokestacks. But we kept the fantail ones. They put a big tripod mast in there and it had a pretty fancy radar that I hadn't seen before. It was one of the banes of my life.
It was a fighter director radar that had been used on aircraft carriers and the purpose was that we were going to, supposedly, have a combat air patrol assigned to us ... a group of fighter aircraft. The plan was that the radar not only could get the normal range and direction that most of our radar could do, but also it could determine the elevation of incoming aircraft. We had our fighter aircraft and we could pick up the range, speed, and direction of incoming Japanese aircraft.
Appleton: That was the purpose of that tripod mast radar.
Davis: It helped our fighters out so they would have every advantage. They could attack from above. It had some other strange things on it ... the first radar counter measures that I don't think anybody had ever seen before ... were mounted on the mast too.
Appleton: Now, were you learning this as it was being developed? Or is this what you were trained to do six months before?
Davis: This was all new stuff, so we had to learn it. The darn fighter director radar depends on a gyro to stabilize it so it was always pointed level. The thing had been originally designed for aircraft carrier use and aircraft carriers didn't roll around very much. But destroyers did. So when a gyro goes past its normal stops, it does what's called "precessing". It goes flopping over. As the ship would roll, the gyro would hit the end of its radius ... it hit a stop, it couldn't go any further, and so the thing would go WHOPPP over, at a 90 degree angle.
Appleton: So you had to reset it.
Davis: We had to reset it, which was about a half hour detailed process to do it.
Appleton: Did you have to climb up to set it?
Davis: No. It was in the radar room down below.
Appleton: How were you with your sea legs? Were you getting used to rough weather?
Davis: Only when the Captain said, "Our radar's out! Our radar's out!" So, we'd have to get that thing going, and he'd be pretty unhappy if that radar was down for any amount of time. I guess it wasn't designed for destroyers. (Laughing) and it was a half hour process to get it back up and stabilize the gyro. I don't know what it's rpm was but it was very high speed.
Appleton: Well, I asked you about your getting used to rough weather. Was that a problem for you?
Davis: Oh, yeah. I've never been motion sick, so I could handle it better than a lot of the others. But you got typhoons in the Pacific and it could be a pretty hair-raising event.
Appleton: Well, a typhoon is basically a hurricane, like in Florida and the Caribbean, but they call them typhoons out there. Did you have to ride out several typhoons?
Appleton: Was it ever enough to actually destroy or sink ships?
Davis: Yeah. They did off Okinawa. We never got into that out there, but destroyers and other ships were sunk in typhoons.
Appleton: What a tragedy.
Davis: We were worried because our tripod mast made us top heavy. The ship hadn't been designed to carry that much weight up in the air.
Appleton: Now, was this still the Hawkins that you were on?
Appleton: Was there a first name ... something Hawkins ... or was it just called Hawkins?
Davis: No, there was no first name. I don't remember what the reason was they only called it Hawkins. The destroyers were named after Naval heroes and the next ship was the Frank Knox, which was named after the Secretary of the Navy.
Appleton: So, you stayed with the Hawkins for a while?
Davis: I stayed with the Hawkins most of the time. The Frank Knox got out earlier. It saw a little more action off of Okinawa than we did. We got out there just at the very tail end of the action. I was an electronics tech first class at that time, and they needed that position aboard the Frank Knox so I transferred over there.
Appleton: Where were you then, geographically, with the Hawkins and then when you transferred to the Frank Knox? Were you already out in the Pacific?
Appleton: And that would have been early 1945? Or still late 1944?
Davis: Let's see. Well, I went aboard the Hawkins in January of '45, and went to sea about 3/45 (March). We probably were in Norfolk in 4/45 (April) and we went from there through the Panama Canal and out into the Pacific. There was no particular action in the central Pacific. All of the action moved off Okinawa and the Japanese islands.
Appleton: So, when you're saying 4/45, you mean April of '45.
Appleton: Most of the picket ship duty was closer to the Japanese mainland?
Davis: Off Okinawa. That's where the worst part of it was. But we got out a little bit late for that. The Frank Knox was involved in that, and I transferred to her. I got in the very tail end of the action off Okinawa and the kamikaze action.
Appleton: Did a kamikaze plane hit the Frank Knox or try to?
Davis: It tried to. They made a run on the Frank Knox but the pilot lost his nerve, I guess. Some of them did, you know. He probably would have hit the Frank Knox but he pulled up and flew away. I don't know where he went after that. As far as I know, the Hawkins did not get into action.
Appleton: By that time in April were you on the Frank Knox or was it later?
Davis: Well, the war in Okinawa was just winding down and everybody was thinking about the pending Japanese invasion.
Appleton: Right. But before we talk about that, what was your duty day like? What did you generally do?
Davis: It was a combination of watches where most of the time I had maintenance of the electronic equipment. There was a staff consisting of an officer, Lt. junior grade, who was in charge of the total division. Then I was next to him in supervising about a half a dozen to ten ... it varied ... electronic technicians. We handled not only the radar but the underwater sound gear and the electronic counter-measure stuff that we had just gotten. Things like that. We didn't do any of the ship's radio equipment. The radiomen handled that themselves. We did the radars and underwater sound-related stuff. We had to keep that up. We had probably a dozen or fifteen different kinds of equipment from fire control radar or maybe more than that. Maybe twenty different kinds.
Appleton: Did most of the equipment work pretty well?
Appleton: That's good. That wasn't always true for some people. (Laughing)
Davis: Some, better than others. But, you had to work to keep it going and that took a group of half a dozen or ten people working all the time to keep it going. Then we had some watches where we would actually stand on look-out duty. Then we had battle stations, which was different than our regular work.
Appleton: What would you do if you were called to battle stations?
Davis: On the Hawkins I was on a damage control crew. I'd been through fire fighting training. Then on the Frank Knox I was radar fire control operator on what was a main battery fire control radar ... and I did the ranging on that.
Appleton: Did you ever have to do your fire control duty on either ship?
Davis: Well, on the Frank Knox I was on this fire control duty, but the Hawkins never got into combat so they never needed to use the damage control party. We were trained and all that, and there were continuous drills, but we never saw action.
Appleton: But you didn't have to put your skills to use under fire.
Davis: Neither ship ever got hit.
Appleton: The Frank Knox was kind of closer to action but it never got hit.
Davis: It never got hit. It would have if that kamikazi guy hadn't lost his nerve.
Appleton: How close did it come to the Frank Knox?
Davis: It was less than a hundred yards ... maybe a couple of hundred feet. It was right over the ship.
Appleton: Wow! That must have given everybody a start. To what part of the ship was it headed?
Davis: About the middle of the ship.
Appleton: Where were you standing?
Davis: Well, I was on the main battery director at the time. This was a steel box that was above the bridge.
Appleton: Yes. So it could have been pretty close to you.
Davis: I guess it was about as good a place to be.
Appleton: You could have jumped into the water maybe.
Davis: If he had gone into the side of the worst ... you know, the worst place to be was down below deck in the engine room and places like that.
Appleton: When was this particular incident ... when he almost hit you and then pulled off?
Davis: That was at the very tail end of the Okinawa campaign.
Appleton: So, that would have been May or June?
Davis: It wasn't too long after that that they dropped the atomic bomb.
Appleton: Okay. So it could have been in the summer ... June or July. What was the talk on the ship about a possible invasion of Japan?
Davis: Everybody figured this would be just a hell of a mess. We had heard that the Japanese were holding their kamikazes back. At the end of Okinawa they just dropped right off. The war continued on for a little while. They quit using their kamikazes, and the idea was that they were holding them for the invasion; to attack troop ships during the invasion. I guess we heard the same thing. I don't think we had unique information. It was the same thing that everybody was getting, you know, that the Japanese were gonna put up a big fight for their homeland, and there'd be terrible casualties.
Appleton: Did you ever hear any of the radio broadcasts from Japan? From Tokyo Rose?
Davis: I didn't.
Appleton: I've asked several veterans that question, and some did. Some actually heard the broadcasts, and I wasn't sure on your electronics portion of the ship if you ever got any of that. Had you heard then about the victory in Europe?
Davis: Oh, yeah. I can remember clearly the Normandy invasion, but I don't remember specifically V-E Day.
Appleton: So, the Normandy invasion ... you were in training at that time?
Davis: Yes. At that time I think I was on Treasure Island. I was working on some sort of electronics project on a workbench and somebody came in and made the announcement that there'd been an invasion.
Appleton: What was the reaction to the announcement?
Davis: Well, we were pretty glad that it was taking place, and everybody was listening ...
Appleton: A lot of whooping and hollering?
Davis: I don't think there was whooping and hollering. All the people were trying to listen to the news to see how it was succeeding.
Appleton: Then the victory in Europe would have been just about a year later, because that was in May. Not quite a full year. Was that reported to you? Were you able to follow the news on shipboard?
Davis: Yes. But, for some reason, I don't remember the report. I can remember the report about V-J Day. I think somebody said the captain was crying because he was not gonna be able to take part in the invasion.
Appleton: Take part in the invasion and get his extra star or stripe or whatever.
Davis: I was a little facetious. I don't think that was really true either. He was probably a reservist who wanted to go home too.
Appleton: Right. Well, your career people have different agendas than your enlisted people.
Davis: Well, practically everybody aboard that ship was a civilian at heart. I don't think there were very many career people on board ... well, the captain might have been a career naval person.
Appleton: Sure. Even some of the officers weren't necessarily ...
Davis: They were people who had had career aspirations.
Appleton: Right. What did you hear about the dropping of the atomic bomb? Of course, I suppose you had no information ahead of time, but what did you hear afterwards?
Davis: I suppose pretty much the same news that you got in the states. I think that's where our news came from. But, I think everybody agreed that this was ... nobody was sorry that we did it.
Appleton: Was there a great sigh of relief like this might bring an end to the war?
Davis: Yes. We were really concerned about going on the invasion of Japan. This was gonna be a terrible bloody mess with hundreds of thousands of American casualties and whether we were gonna get through it alive, and having that thing bring the war to an end, was ... I don't think you'll find very many veterans of the war who were protesting the use of the atomic bomb.
Appleton: They didn't even think about it. They saw the dropping of the atomic bomb as bringing the war to an end quickly. Of course, the second bomb was dropped just three days later. Was there a different reaction on the second one?
Davis: No, I don't think so. It was a matter of getting the war over with. We were off the coast of Japan when it happened.
Appleton: About how close were you?
Davis: We were close enough so that you could see the Japanese mainland. We had gone from Okinawa and part of the 3rd Fleet was operating off the coast of Japan. Battleships were shelling bridges and whatever they could reach with their big guns off the Japanese mainland. Then, when the war ended, shortly after the second bomb was dropped, we went into Tokyo Bay with the Missouri, and the escort fleet where the surrender was.
Appleton: Before you comment on that, what was the reaction then when you heard about the Japanese surrender? You were on shipboard at that time. What did people say?
Davis: Well, we were delighted, of course. As I facetiously said, the captain cried. But the rest of us were delighted. (Laughing)
Appleton: Did they let you celebrate a little bit?
Davis: Not at that point. We didn't do any celebrating until maybe a month later, when things were really over. We didn't know what was gonna happen.
Appleton: You said you went into Tokyo Bay and then what did you do when you went in there?
Davis: Quite a group of ships went in with the Missouri, where the surrender ceremony was gonna take place.
Appleton: Then you knew at that time that the ceremony would be on the Missouri?
Appleton: Then that would have been the first week of September, I think, so just a couple of weeks later after the surrender. Did you have any role with the Missouri?
Davis: No, except that we were part of it ... I guess, an escorting fleet, because we didn't know for sure what was gonna take place. It could have been a big trap. We were at general quarters the whole time we were in there.
Appleton: Meaning that you were on alert?
Davis: Yeah. Guns were manned. We were ready to start fighting if something had gone wrong.
Appleton: How large was the escort fleet for the Missouri?
Davis: I don't know. Probably thirty ships. No aircraft carriers. All the aircraft carriers stayed out at sea. We were ready to attack in case something went wrong.
Appleton: Was there a certain amount of suspicion then that this might not be for real?
Appleton: That's a little different than in Europe. I mean, when they surrendered in Europe, they knew it was over. Or, in World War I, you know, they stopped and celebrated.
Davis: We were at general quarters. That's when you man your guns and are ready to fight. We didn't know exactly what was going to happen. It was a little bit harassing because there were big coastal defense batteries ... the Japanese had, I guess, probably twelve ... fifteen or sixteen inch guns on the cliffs around the harbor in Tokyo Bay.
Appleton: As far as you knew, were there any U.S. military on the ground?
Davis: Yeah. They started to go in.
Appleton: In and around Tokyo to check these batteries ...
Davis: There was a steady flow of troops going ashore, and aircraft flying above.
Appleton: Before the signing ceremony actually took place?
Davis: Yes. There were dozens and dozens of aircraft flying overhead, and troops going ashore. We sure watched those big guns ... if it looked like any action from the gun crews, I don't know quite what we would have done. We'd have maybe pulled up anchor and got out.
Appleton: Yeah. You could have had a lot of disturbance going on, for sure. But nothing happened, apparently. There were no hostile acts?
Davis: No, there weren't. In fact, it was just the other way around. One of the incredible things to me was ... I had been in Saipan ... not during the action, but after Saipan had been taken, and it was being used as an air base for the B-29s.
Appleton: Now, Saipan is one of the islands?
Davis: Yeah. Saipan and Tinian, Mariana Islands. The Japanese civilians ... everybody committed suicide ... they jumped off cliffs. But, in Japan, I guess the Emperor said, "Okay, it's over." I was at a range finder telescope ... it was about a 24 power telescope ... and I was looking through it a lot of the time, looking at the gun batteries.
Appleton: How close were you actually?
Davis: Oh, a couple of miles.
Appleton: That's plenty close enough.
Davis: But we could watch the Japanese. All the people came walking down to the shore. Thousands of Japanese came down.
Appleton: And you could see them.
Davis: Yes. Families, and little children, and trains would go by, and you could see all the people looking out of the train windows. It was just like ... when the war is over, it's over. And we're not gonna do any more fighting. We're gonna try and get along.
Appleton: Were people watching the fleet out in the harbor? They wanted to see it?
Davis: Yeah. They were curious.
Appleton: And they knew that the surrender was about to take place. That's amazing.
Davis: It's almost inconceivable to me how the Japanese mindset was that led to the suicides in Tinian and Saipan, then changed around and went to, you know, well, curiosity and lack of fear down in Tokyo Bay.
Appleton: Yes. There's been a lot written about that and, of course, about the Japanese who committed suicide on Saipan. Were those mostly military people? Or both military and civilians?
Davis: Both military and civilians. The civilians might have been goaded into it by the military, but a lot of civilian families committed suicide. They threw their children over and jumped over themselves. Where, on Tokyo Bay, you could see family groups. They'd come down as close as they could to the waterfront and just look.
Appleton: Well, by that time they had already heard from the Emperor.
Davis: Oh, yeah. They knew the war was over.
Appleton: So there was a great deal of respect for the Emperor.
Davis: They were more optimistic about it being over than we had been. Like I said, we were at general quarters and not taking anything for granted.
Appleton: Well, they knew what you didn't know ... that they weren't going to fight anymore. That's fascinating. After the signing ceremony for the surrender, did you stay in the Harbor and then finally dock? Or did you go out again?
Davis: I'm not quite sure of the order of sequences, but we did operate out of Yokosuka, which is a major port, and it had been a Japanese naval base. Very soon after the surrender, we were given shore leave. We traveled all over.
Appleton: In a matter of days, you mean, after the signing?
Davis: A matter of a few weeks. I was riding Japanese subway trains. I'd go and take trips to Tokyo and Yokohama. Sight-seeing.
Appleton: What did you do in terms of money? Did you have to change money?
Davis: They were glad to get American money. We could exchange that for yen. I think the American dollar was more stabile than the Japanese money. People bought curios.
Appleton: So, you went on shore leave and you were able to travel around. Where did you go and what were the things that you could do?
Davis: Well, we went sightseeing and buying curios. The sailors were glad to see the girls.
Appleton: Other than the brothels, what other things did you do? You said you were able to go by train to visit different places.
Davis: Yeah. I think one of the things that sticks in my mind ... was in parts of Tokyo. You'd be in an area which would look like maybe an Iowa wheat field, just rolling ground as far as you could see ... sort of undulating hills and weeds and grass and things growing there. Until you were told that months before it had been part of their city that had been absolutely destroyed and burned ... completely disappeared in fire raids.
Appleton: And they planted it with ...
Davis: Well, I'm just saying, all you could see ... it looked like they had planted grass. No signs of buildings or anything. There was hardly any rubble. There wasn't an awful lot of rubble because the Japanese construction at that time was wood and paper ... very light materials. I don't remember really seeing much rubble other than in Manila. Manila was a modern stone and concrete bricks city, and you could see rubble there.
Appleton: So the rubble had actually been cleaned up then. Well, they were very industrious people and they would clean things up even if they didn't rebuild.
Davis: I imagine they probably did.
Appleton: Did you travel to any other places away from Tokyo by train?
Appleton: You went to Yokohama, but mostly in the Tokyo area? How long were you in the Tokyo area after the signing ... the peace treaty? Or, actually, the surrender?
Davis: Oh, I guess probably two or three months we operated out of there. I guess you'd call it "enforcing the peace". From there we went back to Manila, then back to the United States.
Appleton: Did you have any particular duty in enforcing the peace on land, or were you still based mostly on your ship?
Davis: I had some shore patrol duty but it was just in the daytime. I think, for the most part, liberties were limited to daytime. You'd go on shore in the morning but you had to be back by evening, or by dark, something like that.
Appleton: What was the reaction of the Japanese people that you came in contact with as an American military?
Davis: Amazingly friendly.
Appleton: Did you encounter any hostility?
Davis: I didn't.
Appleton: Interesting. Were most of the people you ran into women and children? Or men, women and children?
Davis: Mostly women and children, but some men, too. The Japanese young men, I guess, were pretty well desolated by the war. But there were some older men and lots of women and children.
Appleton: Yes. Well, that's always an interesting sort of thing ... how quickly people can change from wartime hostility.
Davis: That was absolutely unbelievable to me. How the Japanese flopped from being the enemy ... apparently their troops fought to the death. Their people were so dedicated to the war and then, I guess, maybe, it's the discipline of the Japanese.
Appleton: Well, and also the difference between the attitudes of the military and the military leadership, and the Japanese people as a whole, would have been quite different.
Davis: Well, you can contrast that to Iraq today. I guess you didn't have any impression it was over with, but, you know, you've got this long, protracted guerilla warfare that's going on there with Japan and just end it ... period.
Appleton: Right. And that's come after the hostility ceased. Well, this was certainly a different experience today than then, when hostilities ceased at the end of World War II in Japan, it was over. And that's not true now. Okay. Then you said you went to Manila.
Davis: We sort of wound our way home. From Manila to Samar in the southern Philippines, and I know we had to get a new radar antenna put on our ship.
Appleton: You said you went on shore when you were in Manila and you saw a lot of devastation, right?
Davis: Yeah, and that was quite a while after the war was over.
Appleton: That would have been towards the end of November, December of '45?
Davis: I was discharged 5/46, (May '46) so it was probably about the end of 1945, or the beginning of '46.
Appleton: Well, Manila was a devastated city. No question about it. Bridges down. Public buildings were just ... I mean it was building-to-building warfare for part of the time.
Davis: I'd seen pictures of Europe, of course, you know, the rubble all over and everything like that, but I never saw this in the Pacific, because of the kind of construction, until I got to Manila.
One of the things that was rather remarkable to me was the ramifications, again, for the Japanese, was that we had some experience with ... for a little while we operated off the coast of Japan, I got to use the counter-measures equipment. The Japanese radar operators would power up their radar transmitters and they'd radiate us. First I had a thing that was like a police band radio sweeps thing where it would change frequency and go clear across frequency range, and it would hit the frequency of the Japanese radar and it would set up a pulse on a CRT screen. That would tell you the frequency of the Japanese radar. Then you'd turn your jamming transmitter on, which didn't do anything except make a lot of noise. You'd put it on that same frequency and it would blank out the Japanese radar. The Japanese had a tunable radar and they'd change when some guys would go up, and some would go down, and they'd change their radar frequencies and you'd retune the noise transmitter. So you got kind of acquainted with some of these guys, just for the little short while we did that.
Appleton: This was in August then, before the war was over?
Davis: Yeah. When the war was over we were in Yokosuka, which was a big naval base; it was sort of like San Francisco Bay, in a way, where the hills are around the Bay; and I went up to look at some of these radar installations. I was used to state-of-the-art radar that we had in our fleet, and I couldn't believe it. This was a major naval base. You would have thought they'd have the best that Japan had to offer at the time. Instead they had a big thing that looked like bed springs set up and it was pedaled around. A guy pedaled it with his bicycle to move it. I think they had two operators on each side. One pedal to do one series of motions and another pedal to do something else. No power drive at all. Our equipment, of course, were all driven by motors and electronic equipment.
Then the person who was getting the information on the range and direction, would yell to the operator ... I guess the command post operator ... through what looked like a garden hose with a funnel at each end. (Laughing)
Appleton: Oh, they didn't have telephones?
Davis: No telephones or anything. They just had this thing that was flexible, like a garden hose. And they'd yell the distance and direction into that. Then they had their anti-aircraft guns. They were set up all along the ridge top.
Appleton: Were their guns pretty good range, as far as you could tell?
Davis: Well, the stuff I saw was mostly what looked like 40 mm and 20 mm guns, but I'm sure they must have had other things too. I know I saw a lot of ammunition dumps for 40 mm and 20 mm shells.
Appleton: Then, after you left Japan, you really weren't there in a very long piece of time duty.
Davis: No. As I said, I had shore patrol duty, but that was to keep American sailors in line more than anything else. I didn't have any military police duty as far as the Japanese were concerned.
Appleton: I guess that's still a big responsibility of the shore patrol duty, even now. (Laughing) So, you were in the Philippines for a while and then did you start your way back to the United States?
Davis: No. We went to Hawaii and then came back to San Diego.
Appleton: Did your ship go into Pearl Harbor? If so, what was it like then? I suppose the ships were still there ... the ones that were destroyed.
Davis: Well, not very many. The Arizona was there, but most of the others had been cleaned up.
Appleton: So it was a working shipyard.
Davis: It was that way too when we stopped at Pearl Harbor going to the Pacific. It would come from Norfolk going to the Panama Canal. We went to Hawaii and then kind of island-hopped across from Hawaii to Saipan.
Appleton: So, Pearl Harbor was quite useable then in 1944 when you went over?
Davis: Yes, it was. I didn't see any of the damage. I think everything had been cleaned up by that time.
Appleton: Other than the two or three ships that they just left?
Davis: I think the Arizona was the only one left. All the others were either salvaged or cut up for scrap. And the islands ... some had been rebuilt so you couldn't really see any damage on Pearl Harbor when I was there.
Appleton: So, when you came back from Hawaii, did you come back to the United States then?
Davis: Yeah. We came back to San Diego. The discharge was based on a point system and you had to get a certain number of points that included your time in service and combat experience, and a whole bunch of other stuff that added up together gave you the points you needed.
Appleton: What was your point total? Was it a late or early ... I don't necessarily mean the number, but did it allow you for a middle-medium discharge? Or a late discharge?
Davis: Medium, I guess. Other people went off earlier but there were a lot of people staying because they had to keep the ships serviced. They just couldn't let everybody go.
Appleton: Well, of course. Were you discharged in San Diego?
Davis: No. I was discharged up at Pleasanton. We had a demobilization center there. Pleasanton is east of San Francisco Bay. I don't remember how I got to Pleasanton. I might have been on leave and then reported to Pleasanton. I'm not sure.
Appleton: You left the ship in San Diego?
Davis: In San Diego, yes. I went up to Pleasanton and got my discharge there.
Appleton: So then you were fairly close to home by then.
Appleton: What was it like, going home?
Davis: Well, I was anxious to get started. I had a big interruption in my life and I was looking forward to going to college and I wanted to get a job to make some money.
Appleton: To get started all over again. Was there any kind of special reception when you got back home?
Davis: No. I don't remember anything special at all.
Appleton: Did you go home by train or bus?
Davis: Some things I don't remember. I don't remember whether I went on a train to Pleasanton directly, or whether I went home on leave. I might have gone home on leave for a few days, then reported to Pleasanton. I'm not sure just what did transpire at that time. As far as parades or brass bands go ... nothing.
Appleton: I think that only happened occasionally.
Davis: I think that maybe for some of the first servicemen returning home ... but our ship just came in and I think there was a squadron of about four or five of us who came in at the same time and tied up. One of the things that did take place was a kind of funny little incident. During the war, you know, you had radio silence and strict radio discipline, and you were very careful how the radio was used and, at the end of the war, some time after we got back to Hawaii, and things were really settling down, with no more fighting with anybody, things got very lax. The people would tune their radio transmitter on, and they would give kind of a long thing like "How do you hear me? Counting one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten ..." They'd count up to thirty and then maybe backwards to one, and the tuning receivers and transmitters and stuff. It was very lax in the Pacific. But, when we got down to San Diego, we started getting into the spit and polish of the port master ...
Appleton: The captain didn't want any sloughing off.
Davis: It was the harbor manager. I don't know what the title was, but the commandant of the San Diego Naval Base was not gonna tolerate any of this loose stuff. He probably hadn't gotten out of San Diego during the whole war! But he was gonna have lots of spit and polish. So, these guys ... I can remember one incident when he didn't like these long counts. He told them to "Knock that off". It was not supposed to happen. And this one night, I was in our combat information center, and this guy counts on and on and the ships were all tied up. There might have been half a dozen destroyers tied side by side, and some guy counts up to about thirty and back down. The harbor master got on the air and says, "We've identified you," and he named the ship and the guy on the ship said, "It wasn't me! I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"
Somebody else, with the same voice, said, "Harbor master! Harbor master! You can't catch your ass with both hands!" (Laughing)
Appleton: So, there was a lot of horseplay, even on the radio.
Davis: Yeah. But you had a bunch of veterans that had come back, been in combat and radio silence and lives depended on this sort of thing, and then they get back to San Diego and they find these martinets that probably hadn't got out of the United States, were trying to discipline them and they didn't take to it very well. (Laughing)
Appleton: And then, you left the Navy. You were discharged in the summer of '46.
Davis: It was May of '46.
Appleton: Okay. Then what did you do? Did you apply to go to college then?
Davis: Yeah. I got a job for the rest of the summer and I applied for enrollment under the G.I. Bill at the University of California at Berkeley.
Appleton: Okay. What kind of a job did you do before you started school again?
Davis: It was a forestry-related job.
Appleton: Oh, okay. Had you had some interest in that kind of work already?
Davis: I had been interested in forestry all along. I'd planned on that as a career. I apparently planned that very early on when I was still in high school.
Appleton: Was this your first forestry job?
Davis: No. I'd worked for the state forestry and for the forest service during the summer months when school was out.
Appleton: While you were still in high school?
Davis: Yeah. They took us on earlier than they normally would have because it was wartime and they couldn't get older people, so they hired younger kids. I was sixteen that first year with the state and then seventeen with the forest service.
Appleton: What did you do when you were with the Forestry Service?
Davis: Fire crews. State Forestry for one year and then Forest Service Fire crew the other.
Appleton: Just like they do today, the summer forest fire patrol.
Davis: Right. The summer fire fighting crews.
Appleton: That's true. The fires keep on coming.
Davis: Yeah. Then, just like now.
Appleton: Were you involved in a number of big fires when you were working summers?
Appleton: And did you get paid well?
Davis: I don't think so. (Laughing) I think the state paid maybe $70.00 a month, including room and board, but you were on duty 24/7. We were on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Appleton: Were you in a camp-type set-up? Was it in northern California? Did they have a lot of high school students doing that?
Davis: To answer your questions: Yes, and yes it was in northern California and the state crew had maybe eight or ten high school students and about the same for the Forest Service crew. Different locations; but both in Lake County.
Appleton: Did you do the same thing then after you were discharged from the service? Were you on fire patrols?
Davis: No. It was a forest insect control operation. Not insect, but pine disease, called "white pine blister rust".
Appleton: So, you were working in that. Okay. Then you went to the University of California at Berkeley with a view towards preparing for a career with the Forestry Department?
Appleton: What was your major area of study?
Appleton: So, it was forestry with the scientific study of forestry and biology and that sort of thing?
Davis: Yeah. I really didn't use my Navy electronics training. I probably could have. In theory, you could skip a lot and still get credit for a lot of classes ... if you were going into electronics or electrical engineering, or something like that.
Appleton: Right. But in your case you didn't have too many classes that were related to the military?
Davis: No. So I didn't try to get credit.
Appleton: When you started at the University of California, you started then as a freshman, right?
Davis: Yes. I hadn't finished high school 'cause I'd gone into the service when I was seventeen, and I wouldn't have graduated until I was eighteen. But I had enough credits ... I should say, "I didn't finish," but I had enough credits taking extra classes so I got my diploma. Although I didn't graduate with my class. So I had enough credits to go into college without having to do any make-up.
Appleton: Then you finished your college undergraduate under the G.I. Bill and then you graduated from the University of California. Was that the Berkeley campus?
Davis: Yes. Then I took another year in college and got a masters.
Appleton: Right away? Was that still at Berkeley?
Appleton: This would have been around 1950 then.
Davis: I was in the class of '50 as an undergraduate and then I got a masters in '51.
Appleton: Then after that you went to work for the Forestry Department?
Davis: Yes. I went to work for the State Division of Forestry. Now it's called the State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Appleton: Did you meet your wife while you were in college?
Appleton: Did you get married while you were in college or after you graduated?
Davis: Yes. Well, I didn't get my masters right then. I did all the course work and everything for my masters in June of '51, but I had to take a comprehensive examination rather than write a thesis. I came back early in '52 to take the comprehensive exam, and I got my masters at that point. But I completed all the course work in June of '51, and we got married then.
Appleton: When it looked like you were going to be employed and you could support yourself, right? (Laughing) Well, that's the normal way to do things, although people do it all different kinds of ways. And you continued to work for the State of California in the Department of Forestry throughout your whole career then?
Davis: No. I worked about twelve or thirteen years with them and then I went to work for the U.S. Forest Service. I worked a lot during the summers and weekends and things like that while I was going to college, but I went to work permanently when I was twenty-five and retired when I was sixty-five, so I had forty years with them. I worked twelve or thirteen years with the State and then the rest of it was with the U.S. Forest Service.
Appleton: I see. Looking back on your military career, do you have any feelings about whether it was worthwhile? Did you have a sense that this was important stuff to do?
Davis: I think everybody figured it was essential. You look at the situation ... we were in a global war we were losing. The Germans were winning and the Japanese were winning. But, by the time I went into service, it looked like: if we didn't win this war, we'd be speaking Japanese or German! (Laughing)
Appleton: Or both.
Davis: It was absolutely essential.
Appleton: There was that sense at the time that this was almost a matter of national survival. Did you personally think this was a valuable experience? Did it change you in any way?
Davis: Oh, I'm sure it changed me a lot. People have said that it was something they didn't want to do without, but wouldn't want to do it again. I guess maybe it was that way. It was certainly a growing up experience for me.
Appleton: Of course, you were right, at the time, as was most everyone that joined when they were seventeen, eighteen or nineteen, that big changes would happen in their life no matter when. But this added a new dimension.
Davis: I don't know how I would have felt if I'd have graduated and got married, started a career, and then had to go in. My attitude might have been entirely different. But, you know, really starting in as a seventeen year old kid, you sort of mature in service, I guess.
Appleton: Have you kept up with people that were involved in your military units?
Davis: I did at first.
Appleton: Well, some do and some don't. Did you join any of the military organizations or just to keep in touch with people personally?
Davis: No. Just kept in touch personally. My ship has a reunion periodically but I never attended any of those. Some people do, I guess. For example, like a reunion in Washington, D.C. would mean a trip across the country.
Appleton: They still do now?
Appleton: Of course, your family was focused on education, obviously. Your parents were college educated. Have you thought about the G.I. Bill and would you have gone to college anyway?
Davis: I would have gone anyway. My folks had been saving money; quite a beneficiary of the G.I. Bill themselves, because they'd been saving money, planning to send me and my brother to college. They didn't have to do that.
Appleton: Didn't have to spend that money.
Appleton: That's an interesting observation that parents who knew that their kids were going to college, and had saved for it, then they didn't have to use those resources for that purpose.
Davis: It's kind of unfortunate. My dad died while I was still in college, so maybe they didn't get to travel or do what they might have done with the money they'd saved.
Appleton: As you look back on this, would you consider your military experience as a positive experience for the most part, or entirely?
Davis: For the most part, certainly.
Appleton: Did you find it more of an interruption or just something to deal with? It delayed your college by what ... three years?
Davis: About three years.
Appleton: Well, that's not too bad.
Davis: No. As I said ... for example, if somebody ... let's say they'd gone to college and started a family, started a business, and the business was just getting underway, then having to be gone from it, it would completely change their lives and their family's lives, and maybe the business would have to cease, and things like that. That would have a profound effect on them. For me, I think it was a pretty maturing and growing experience. It did put off my education. I joined a fraternity when I went to Cal and the house manager was one of Merrill's Marauders. Practically everybody in my class has had some sort of military experience, and they'd kid somebody and say, "You crashed more American planes than you shot down German planes." (Laughing)
Appleton: And trade war stories. Were there also younger college students that you related to?
Davis: There were some ... the ones that had a hard time relating were the girls. They didn't know how to cope with these guys, you know.
Appleton: Some of them had been around, yeah. Well, that was a different experience ... to be in college at that time, where you had people who hadn't been directly related to the military, along with those who had.
Davis: Well, Carmen was one of the girls, of course, at that time, and they figured, "Oh, these guys aren't gonna study. They're just gonna goof off." I guess the average G.I. hit the books running, you know, pretty hard. They wanted to make up for lost time.
Appleton: That's true.
Davis: Some of the grade point averages, you know ... everybody had to study a lot harder than they ever expected they would have to, than the ones that had gone in from civilian life.
Appleton: A little more urgency if you'd been out a few years. Well, apparently your wife Carmen was impressed that you were a studious person. (Laughing) I think we've covered just about all of the questions that I have, unless we've missed any particular circumstances.
Davis: I was gonna make one point about the Japanese radar and electronics. It wasn't very long after that under the benign control of MacArthur's occupancy, it happened that in a very few years, Japan became the leader in the electronics business. They just blossomed under a democracy.
Appleton: In your opinion, why was the electronics industry so quickly developed in Japan?
Davis: It wasn't that the electronics ... cameras, you know ... photography ... technology in general. Automobiles. They were really competent, energetic, capable people.
Appleton: The general level of education in the country before the war was high.
Davis: Hard working. And I think that before the war, "Made in Japan" was synonymous with junk. But after the war, it was synonymous with quality. I think that some American advisors had gone to Japan and helped them get started in their business technology. They emphasized that one of the ways to achieve prosperity was to produce quality products.
Appleton: Well, they certainly have been very successful, in part, at our expense, and in part because they just are a very industrious people.
Well, I think that that probably brings this all to a close. I want to thank you for participating in this project and sharing your military experiences. This interview and conversation that we've had will be transcribed and you'll get a copy of the tape, and the transcription, and then if you have any photos and things that we might want to make a copy of, we can include that. Then, eventually, the tape and transcript will be shelved in the Riverside Public Library, minus all the personal information and will be available for students to read, and anyone else ... newspaper reporters ... and then also, this is part of the Library of Congress project where every participant's name is part of the National Registry of the Library of Congress, and, even some of the transcripts, we will send to the Library of Congress as well. I think yours will be one of them. It's part of the National Veterans History Project that's been going for about three years. You're right now one of about 15,000 only in those three years, but that's growing very quickly. All over the country we have people participating in this project. So, this concludes the interview.