Born to Bob & Mary Harkreader, the 6th of ten children, five boys and five girls, fifteen miles west of Okmulgee, OK. I started school in 1930 and we lived three miles from school by bus and two miles if we walked.
My dad got jobs in oil fields, part time, and for low pay. Four of us boys were old enough to work. We farmed part of forty acres with one team of horses. We had a patch of cotton, corn and miscellaneous head grain and a patch of sorghum cane.
Cotton was our cash crop, but very little. The corn, we fed to live stock which was two horses and one milk cow and fifty laying chickens. For our food, we took just so much corn to the grist mill once each week to be ground for cornmeal which was our main food. We used it mostly for cornbread and corn mush and we ground just enough for three or four days. After that weevils would get in the meal.
Our mother past away in 1940 and I quit school in the tenth grade and stayed home to work.
Franklin D. Roosevelt too office in 1933, the start of the great depression. It lasted until WWII broke out. To help create work, FDR started the Works Progress Administration, Public Works Administration, NRA, Civilian Conservation Corps, and other programs.
About three months after I turned seventeen, I went in the CCC Corps and received $30 per month. The government sent $22. home which helped my two younger brothers and one sister who were still in school. Three dollars went for my laundry and I was paid $5.00 for myself.
In August 1941, at 17 years old, I enlisted in the regular Navy. I went to Dallas, TX. by train and was sworn in to the Navy along with about five other men. Then on to Navy training in San Diego, CA. by train. After five weeks of training, 25 of us were aboard the heavy cruiser, USS SLC CA25, which was anchored in the Long Beach Harbor. My position was Boatswain Mate 2nd Class. A top side sailor. My battle station was gun #2 - 5" x 25 AA gun. There were nine men on each of these eight guns.
September, 1941, we sailed for Pearl Harbor which was our home base. We were in and out of Pearl Harbor for gun practice and other things. About the first of December we sailed from Pearl with two or three other cruisers, four destroyers and one aircraft carrier, the USS ENTERPRISE. We escorted to Wake Island. Twelve Wildcat fighters flew off and landed on Wake Island.
On our way back to Pearl, we were 200 miles west of the Harbor, ward was given to us over the ships speaker system that Pearl Harbor was under attack by Japanese aircraft. That was the beginning of WWII for me.
We sailed into Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8th in the a.m. and ships were still burning and airfields were still smoldering. Some ships were almost completely under water. The battleship ARIZONA was sunk and my buddy and school mate Ray went down with it. We had visited several times in those last two months.
The USS SLC CA25 was 585' long and 62' wide with ten 8" guns which are about 30' long. Eight 5" guns that are 10' long and 40 and 20 millimeter guns that were for aircraft defense. She weighed two thousand tons before being outfitted. She carried a crew of 750 men in peace time.
After the Pearl Harbor attack we took on another 300 sailors from the battleship WEST VIRGINIA who had survived her sinking. We took aboard food, supplies, additional ammunition and fuel. As I remember, we sailed out of the Harbor on Dec. 9th not knowing that three and a half years of aircraft and submarine attacks, island bombardments and ship to ship combat lay ahead of us. We operated with about six to eight other ships alt all times. We were called a Task Force. We bombarded islands before the Marines landed and covered the landings with firepower support.
We excorted the carrier HORNET with Doolittle and his sixteen B25 planes and watched them take off to bomb Japan on April 18th, 1942. We were ordered to patrol the Corral Sea using Brisbane, Australia as our base for three months. Then we were ordered to Wellington, New Zealand to join up with a great armada of ships. It was the largest we had ever put toether and included war ships and troop ships all carrying thoughands of Marines. Our destination was Guadalcanal.
On October 11th at 11:45 pm, we engaged a battle force larger than ours. Four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and six destroyers. We fired star shells over the enemy ships to provide light for out big guns. We also used our powerful search lights to bring them into focus. We were firing at very close range. That battle was over in about half an hour. We sunk or damaged almost all of the enemy force. The cruiser BOISE received the most damage. She got blown up pretty bad, but they only lost about 35 men. We lost five men with twenty-one injured. The SALT LAKE CITY received three major hits. We returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs and the five dead men were wrapped in canvas with weights attached, given a military funeral and slid over the side of the ship to a watery grave.
After the ship was repaired in Pearl Harbor, we received orders to sail to Dutch Harbor, Alaska and prepare to intercept troop ships that were planning to reinforce Kiska and Attu in the Aleutian Islands. Our strength was the SALT LAKE CITY, one old WWI light cruiser, the USS RICHMOND, and four destroyers. On March 26th at 7:30 am
we were surprised. We didn't see troop ships, but a battle force that was much larger than our own. There were two heavy cruisers, much newer than our own, two light cruisers and six destroyers. The following battle lasted three hours and forty two minutes. To much went on for me to detail here but we owe our survival to the four destroyers. We received so much damage from the Japanese heavy cruisers that we lay dead in the water in the Bering Sea, where if exposed to the water you could only survive a few minutes. Two of our four destroyers were ordered to attack the enemy with torpedoes, a certain suicide. They did though, and the enemy turned and fled, but not before severely damaging the destroyers. In the mean time the SALT LAKE CITY was making headway with an eight degree list. We were on our way to Dutch Harbor with two dead and thirteen injured. This was the longest sea engagement in the entire history of the modern Navy. The two dead were buried at Dutch Harbor.
We were now on the San Francisco for repairs. Then we went island hoping for three or four more months. Next on to Iwo Jima to bombard and soften the island for the landing of Marines. For two months we bombarded Iwo Jima night and day. We provided support fire for the landing Marines by laying off shore about a mile and giving support fire when they called for it. Starting on Feb. 16th, the day of landing, we stayed for twenty-five days firing on the enemy and knocking out pill boxes and strong holds as the Marines were advancing and losing young men by the hundreds.
Next on to Okinawa, where we stayed for two months. With a gun range of fifteen to twenty miles, our guns could shoot over the Marines and soldiers and help to open up a front for them. At the same time we were using our antiaircraft guns to shoot down hundreds of suicide planes that were attacking all our ships. At least twenty ships were sunk by suicide planes and even more damaged. There were thousands of young men lost on the ships and on land. By the time we had been at Okinawa for sixty six days and only one other ship stayed longer than we did.
Now we were sent to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines for a much needed rest and to clean up our equipment, guns and engines. Next we went to the China Sea where we joined in a shipping hunt that took us near Shanghai. Then we were sent back to the Aleutians but before we got there the Japanese surrendered. So we were sent to the island of Honshue, Japan to help secure it. Then on to Portland, OR. and then Astoria, OR. for the end of the war celebration.
My two year extension would not expire until Feb. 3rd, 1947. Fifteen more months to go. The size of the crew was reduced to about five to six hundred personnel. Our job was now called Magic Carpet. We used the SALT LAKE CITY for bringing military men from the islands back to the states so they could go back home.
After a few months, an atom bomb test was planned and the location was Bikini Island. We anchored a small fleet of ships off of Bikini Island and there were ships from just about every country. I was one among many who volunteered for this test called Operation Crossroads. We watched both explosions, one above water and one below the surface. We were eight miles away from the blast, watching from a communication ship. For the next three months me and a small group of sailors removed highly radioactive ammunition from the nuclear blast from the SALT LAKE CITY. This was so the ship could be towed back to the states so scientist could go aboard and conduct their studies about the results of that atomic blast.
The old SALT LAKE CITY CA25 was sunk by our own ships off the coast of San Francisco in 1948. She was my home for five years. My enlistment expired Feb. 3rd, 1947.
I hired on with Pacific Telephone in Los Angeles, CA. in Sept. of 1947. I retired in Escondido, CA. in Sept. of 1984 after thirty seven years. Team roping is my sport and I am seventy five and I will rope as long as I can.
I met my wife Barbara in El Centro, CA. She was twenty-one years old. She was employed by the telephone company. I was a lineman working out of Brawley, CA. and I was twenty-six years old. We were married in Yuma, AX. on Dec. 30th, 1950. We raised two wonderful daughters and they each married an outstanding man. We have four grandchildren, three of whom are in college. We are all close and love each other. I think often of all the young men who did not return home and of all the mothers and fathers who never knew exactly what happened to them.
Life has been good to me and so has my family.