Thousands of miles from home, the men did what they could to make the Ship a friendlier place. On the Ship, they arranged holiday meals, held entertainment on the fantail, enjoyed boxing matches, watched movies, and listened to their band. On captured islands they played ball, drank warm beer, or perhaps hunted and fished. Sometimes the Ship had to return to a port for supplies and repairs. The men enjoyed visiting places like Hawaii, New York, Jamaica, and San Francisco. The men formed friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
“On the battleship, you worked, lived, and became friends with guys from your division. It was kind of clannish. Men from the same division formed a working unit within their department. They worked and slept in the same designated area. Your living area was pretty close to your work area and you tended to stay within your assigned areas. The guys in your division tended to be protective of their area. Buddies from other divisions could visit your space, but everyone was wary of guys they didn’t know hanging out in their space. In fact, there were some areas that were pretty much off limits. Enlisted men’s areas were painted white while ‘officers’ country’ and other restricted areas like sick bay, the plotting rooms, radio central, coding room, and admiral’s platform were painted green. You only went into these areas if you have a job detail to perform there. You just didn’t go wandering around into areas that weren’t yours. For instance, you didn’t go wandering down to the engine room or climb up in gun mounts if you weren’t assigned there. There were a few guys with a gift for gab that liked to wander around, explore, and meet people. We stayed in touch after the war. When I traveled across the country, I could stay with my buddies. We eventually formed an USS NORTH CAROLINA Battleship Association. In the early years, we had regional meetings in addition to annual reunions at the Battleship. Now we just have annual meetings along with our newsletter.
On board ship, we played cards, boxing, wrestling, wrote letters, and read books from the library. Some guys had hobbies like making knife handles or rings. Some guys made gifts for girlfriends and wives like aprons out of their neckerchiefs or created purses and belts by making knots from rope or made beautifully decorated leather belts from leather they managed to get from the bosun’s locker.
‘Smokers’ took place on the fantail. You’d have musical groups, comedians, skits, singers, dancers, tug of war contests between divisions, boxing matches, and similar stuff. Officers and chiefs sat closer to the front.
Any time you encountered another ship you could swap movies. When in a safe zone, could watch on deck or down in mess hall. But no movies if in war zone. If the captain was coming through or to join you, his bugler would blow a signal ‘attention’ and you’d know the captain was coming and you stood at attention.
Sports like division softball tournaments, baseball between ships, and basketball had to take place in liberty ports or on South Pacific recreational islands, but it was pretty limited. Most guys did other things.
We had church services. When the ship was commissioned, we only had one chaplain, Commander Albert, a Protestant. Later on after the war started, we had two chaplains, one Protestant and one Catholic. The Chaplain’s office was located inside the library and the library’s head (bathroom) served double duty as the confessional for Catholics. When we had a Catholic priest, he held mass nightly in the Warrant Officers’ Mess. Some people started up Bible study groups. The chaplain was in charge of morale and personal welfare. I remember being awakened about 10:00pm one night and told to go to the chaplain’s office. The Red Cross had sent him a message that my wife, pregnant with our first baby, was having serious kidney problems due to the pregnancy and that I should come home. So I went home to see the birth of my first son, born August 20th. The chaplain also helped with the paper and library. We had an organ given by an officer’s mother, but it was removed after the war started along with all items that were considered flammable or non-essential. We lost one of our planes, our beautiful linoleum, decorative aluminum hatch covers, and all but two of our 14 boats. We only kept two motor whaleboats. One of those boats became the Captain’s gig. Inside all the enamel paint covering the bulkheads was chipped off and repainted with a chalky white water-based paint. The decks were bare metal.
Everyone looked forward to liberty, a time to get away from the ship. Liberty was just a short leave like one day and most of the time we had to be back to the ship by dark. In places like New York City, San Diego, Norfolk, San Francisco and other large ports, we could stay out until 7am the next morning. Besides hitting bars and visiting brothels, other amusements depended on the port. For instance, in New York you could go to movies, attend Broadway shows, go to Coney Island, go sight seeing, and eat at restaurants. You could go to the YMCA and you could have a locker there. They had stuff like Ping-Pong, pool, cards, showers, and a barber where you could have your hair cut the way you liked it. New York was a good place to meet nice girls as was Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco, but not Norfolk or Honolulu. In Pearl, you could stay in the Navy Yard rather than catching the bus into Honolulu. The yard had movies and bowling and a place to eat. Some cities welcomed sailors and some didn’t.
Once we were in the South Pacific, the only real liberty town was Honolulu. In order to stay overnight, you had to put in for a special request that had to include where you were staying and the division officer had to approve it. The ship had to know how to get in touch with you during the night in case of emergency. There was a house in Honolulu we called ‘The Happy Hotel’ that consisted of a bunch of cots in this guy’s basement located on ground level. The house itself was on stilts. It was a pretty nice place. It had a large front porch where we could sit out at night and get harassed by passersby. He charged about $3.00 which was a lot of money back then.
Everyone was entitled to 30 days leave each year, but once the ship arrived in the South Pacific in July 1942, no one received much of a leave unless it was an emergency until the ship returned for a major overhaul in Bremerton, Washington State for a couple of months in the summer of 1944. One half of the ship at a time received 30 days leave. Many weddings took place at this point including mine and my new wife came back to Bremerton to stay until the ship left. The Navy had some housing called Port Orchard for married people. These flat-roofed three-bungalow units were tiny and consisted of two rooms. The front room was a kitchen/seating area and the bedroom was in back along with a single bathroom. A wood stove provided heat and they dumped the wood in the street and you had to chop your own supply. Our unit housed all couples from the NORTH CAROLINA. While we were there, my wife threw me a birthday party. I managed to have both a port and starboard liberty card so I could stay with my wife most nights. Don’t know how I did it without getting caught. One time I went ashore with a temperature of 102 degrees and my wife sent me to the doctor in Port Orchard. I didn’t dare report to sick bay for fear they’d keep me on the ship.
- Paul A. Wieser, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c