Letter Written by
Oren T. "Red" Woodford
Spring of 1991


I tried to register for the Navy but they thought I was too old. I was 25. When I ran into my cousin, who was the county attorney, I told him what the Navy said. He said if I was born before 1913, he could have a birth certificate made showing I was born in 1913, which would make me eligible for the Navy. Kansas never registered births until 1912. My mother signed this 1913 birth certificate and I took it to Wichita to enlist.

There were over 250 men on the waiting list. On August 16, 1938, 12 men of the 250 were signed up. I would have been skipped over again if I hadn't gotten acquainted with a chief. Earlier, I had introduced him to a bootlegger that sold whiskey. (Kansas was a dry state then, No Booze). I joined on September 16, 1938. I would have been too old again by October 2nd. I spent my boot camp in San Diego.

I will tell you something about the war. Most of it has been blocked out. I spent 36 months in the war zone. In that time I had been in enough battles, etc. to earn eight bronze stars.

After boot camp, I was transferred to the USS Salt Lake City built in 1929. It was quite different from the ones that were built later. When you reported aboard the first time, you were issued a bucket, life jacket, and a cot or hammock. There were no stationary bunks. Later they put some in, but while we were in the South Pacific, we couldn't use them. There was not enough air and it was too hot. We just laid down under a blower or on topside to sleep.

Now, about the bucket. Each man had one with his name stamped on it and also a peg to hang it on while at sea. At certain times of the day we would get 3/4 of a bucket of water to do with as we pleased. There was one scuttlebutt, a drinking fountain, on the ship for drinking water. A guard was stationed there to see that we didn't waste any water. The reason for this was, the ship couldn't make enough water for the boilers and the other needs, too. If we wanted a shower, it was a salt water shower. Of course, when we came into port, we could use all the water we wanted.

Early in 1939, the Pacific Fleet moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. Liberty was real good before the war started. There weren't any big buildings back then and no grass skirts, as was the rumor. But the natives were barefooted as far as I could see. We would see the gals in grass skirts when we were invited to a luau. These luaus were best when show groups from other islands would put on a show.

We would rent bicycles for a trip around the island. Out of about ten tries, I made it two times. The bicycles weren't cheap. To rent a bike, you bought it, and if it made it back you got a refund. Usually the bike was a wreck and was picked up by one of their trucks.

After the war started in Europe, before the Japanese bombarded Pearl Harbor, we went to Australia. That was good for the crew's morale.

I must tell you about our captain and skipper.[Ellis M. Zacharias, Sr.] He was a Japanese Intelligence Officer who could speak Japanese almost perfectly. In my scrapbook, I have a copy of the speech he made to the crew. In 1940, he predicted Japan would attack Pearl Harbor on a Sunday sometime in 1941.

He believed Pearl Harbor was no place for a ship to anchor. With that in mind, we got very little liberty in Pearl Harbor, so it was good we got this trip to Australia. We had liberty in Guam, New Zealand, and two weeks in Brisbane, Australia. That was really something. The people treated us more than good. It was too good to last.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, we were about 200 miles out to sea. We had to come in the next day because we were about out of fuel. We lost over 3,000 men that day.

During the war, the Salt Lake City would just hit and run. We weren't big enough to fight a battle. Later, we tied up with a carrier and more cruisers and destroyers. On this trip, I also saw the planes that first bombed Tokyo take off from a carrier. [Doolittle Raiders]

After one battle we were shot up pretty bad, so we had to go to a dry dock someplace. We thought for sure we would come to the states for this overhaul because it had been five years since we left San Diego, but no, we went to Pearl Harbor and they sent the USS Boise instead. There is an article in the scrapbook about it.

After five years, I finally got 30 days leave from Pearl Harbor. There were no airplanes in those days, so you found the best transportation you could. It took four days to go from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco and three days by bus to go to Bentonville, Arkansas, where the folks lived.

Note from g-dau. Lori Rodriquez

It was during this leave that he got married to Roberta, his first wife. He got married in Reno and was two weeks late getting back to Pearl Harbor which he said lots of guys were a couple weeks AWOL too.

Back to Red's Letter
Sometime in 1943, I blacked out and when I started remembering things I had spent three weeks in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The Navy had taken it over as a hospital. Most of the men that were there were shell-shocked Marines. Nothing was wrong with me, except I was simply worn out. The doctors called us the W.O.S.'s, worn out sailors. After three or more years of four hours on and off, it got to you. Your sub-conscience mind takes over and you do things without knowing it or remembering it. Work and the lack of sleep causes it.

When you first get to the hospital they give you a pill and put you to bed and you only get up to eat or go to the bathroom. When I was up and around and started enjoying myself some, I had no liberty card and wasn't to leave the hospital. Another guy and I would sneak out and catch a bus to town, but when we got off there was an MP that put us on another bus back to the hospital.

I was discharged from there and had a couple of weeks to wait for my ship to come back to port. I got my liberty card back and had a good time.

Our next assignment was the North Pacific where the longest battle in Naval History was fought in three hours and forty-two minutes. [Komandorski Battle]

In my scrapbook is a story called "My Speed Zero".. It is about the Salt Lake City and how it was hit so many times that it was dead in the water. After what seemed forever, we got one boiler and one engine going.

After this battle we went to Anchorage, Alaska. With the help of some tugboats, we made it to Vallejo, a shipyard near Seattle. At that time, with the war about half over, we had sunk or destroyed two heavy cruisers that were bigger and faster than us, one light cruiser, two cargo vessels, and twelve Jap airplanes.

When we were in the shipyard near Seattle, Roberta came out. What is odd about this, is that when we got to Pearl Harbor again, I was transferred to the USS Hornet in Newport, Virginia and I was back in San Francisco before she went back to Kansas. Duty on the Hornet, a carrier, was much easier than on the Salt Lake City, and I soon made Chief Boiler Technician. Water wasn't much of a problem on this ship. Our air group, according to a picture in my scrapbook, sank 21 ships and knocked down so many Japanese planes that I can't see good enough to count them on the picture. Some people said they just quit counting.

I got acquainted with some of the pilots. They would come down to the fire room to take steam baths and to drink coffee. They said it was better than theirs.

When we knew that the war was about over, I got a transfer back to the states. I must say that I had only been to the states two times in eight years, one of them being the thirty days from Pearl Harbor when I was two weeks AWOL and the other was when I was transferred to the Hornet.

I didn't much want to leave the ship with the war about over, so I went to see the chief engineer about staying. That's when I heard I had spent 36 months in the war zone. He said I had had enough and I was going back and I had my orders.

I must tell you something of "the ship" I was put on to get from an island not far from Japan to Pearl Harbor. It was an old cargo ship that was converted into a troop ship and was used by the marines. The holes where the men were to sleep had bunks eight high and it was infested with lice and bedbugs.

When the marines left it, they took all the cooking utensils with them, so there was no food to eat and no way to cook it. The ship was run by three different branches, civilians ran the engineering part, sailors operated the guns, and marines policed the ship.

Somebody goofed and put 500 sailors on the ship. For a trip to Pearl Harbor, we were fed one meal a day of powdered eggs and some kind of fried bread. The first day at sea, trouble started when 20 marines tried to make 500 mighty tough Navy passengers go down in the holes to sleep. I went down there once and couldn't stand the smell, let alone sleep down there. Fights started and the passengers took the guns and clubs from the marines and threw them overboard. I think some of the marines just gave them the guns because the marines I talked to were on the passengers' side.

The next day all the passengers were charged with mutiny. Nobody was bothered after that. We found out later we weren't charge with mutiny because we were in a different part of the ship when the fights started.

The men, sailors, marines, and civilians, would sell the passengers canned food such as peaches for $75 or spam for $100. There was water but a glass of ice water was $1. They stole the food from their own store rooms.

A few days out of Pearl Harbor, the Captain that charged us with mutiny disappeared. All kinds of rumors (scuttlebutt) were circulating. Some said he was thrown overboard, some said he went crazy and jumped overboard. I think he was plenty scared, as you can imagine, and hid out someplace.

When we finally reached Pearl Harbor, the whole ship was quarantined, for at least two weeks. Before we left ship, everybody got a haircut close enough so it could be washed easily. We left all our clothes, shoes, etc. on board. We could keep waterproof watches and things lice and bedbugs couldn't lay eggs in. On the dock they had tanks with some kind of solution that killed any thing that crawled. We called it the sheep dip. When we got out of the dip, we were taken to our barracks with only a towel. The good part of it was you could shower as long as you wished. Of course we were issued all new clothes. Most of us didn't have any spares, so it didn't matter.

I heard that they gave up on that ship and towed it out to sea and sank it. I don't know what became of the sailors that were charged with mutiny. I heard that there were several high ranking officers that were court-marshaled because of this. They said it was a mix-up some place.

Within two weeks, I was on my way to San Francisco to a place called Goat Island.

I still had two years to go in the Navy. I think I got 60 days leave before I got shore duty in St. Louis at a separation center. That's where they discharged the sailors after the war. I got a citation there for organizing the group leaders, men that showed the sailors that came in where to go.

I had a wonderful time there. After most of the sailors were discharged, we had nothing much to do. We went fishing a lot and the chief's club had a big party almost every two weeks. The club had lots of money to throw these parties. We sold liquor to the civilians. Some men just out right peddled it in town to some bars that couldn't get it then. The club had rations for 150 chiefs and we only had 30 men. It was delivered every week. It just piled up, so we sold it. The club was allowed only $2,000 and then we had to get rid of the money. What better way than to throw a party. We gave some money to charities too.

I finished out my time in the Navy on the USS Sicily and I was discharged in Sept. of 1948. I was to re-enlist in the Navy but my wife was in the hospital and months went by. When I finally tried to re-up, they said I was too late and would have to take a first class rating. After being a chief permanent appointment for four year, it was out of the line for me. I found out later that by going through the right channels, I could have gotten my rate back in the Navy.


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