Monthly Archives: March 2015

Battleship’s Navigators

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“It was a really unique experience because when we first got out there our charts were so inefficient and so out of date that we would be ordered to go to a certain place and have a hard time finding it on a chart. The first one that I can remember was when we were making our approach to Guadalcanal. I could find an island called Guadalcanar which was the name when the Spanish charts had been made. We soon found out that nobody knew where different places were because there were Navy names, Spanish names, names from older charts, and names from newer charts. Finally the powers that be put out a table which used code names. For a year or two we would break out a chart and if you didn’t have your files up to date and they told you to go somewhere you weren’t quite sure where you were going. Also the charts were very inaccurate.”

Commander Joe Stryker

Commander Kemp Tolley

Commander Kemp Tolley

“As a midshipman I hated navigation. I can’t add up a column of figures with any promise of accuracy and I am slightly nearsighted, so I couldn’t see the stars without specs and as far as I was concerned it was a very unpopular choice [of assignments]. But, it had a certain prestige to be number three on a battleship….”

“As Navigator I was always on call. It was an exhausting year. I was up an hour before sunrise normally with the crew, the same in the evening at sunset. We had General Quarters until an hour after sunset. I would have to take star sights, morning, evening and at noon – sun sight at noon – but the worst part of it was that the skipper…was out there on deck practically all night and he got lonesome. He would nab me out there and I was a conversation piece for him.…”

Commander Kemp Tolley

Commander T.J. VanMetre

Commander Thaddeus Johnson Van Metre

“As Navigator, I generally conned the Ship in battle while the Captain was in overall command. One of my funny incidents, and the only wound I ever received, was with testing a pair of binoculars with big rubber eye pieces. While up at the slit in the Conning Tower one night I decided to try them while turret #2 was firing a salvo. It so happened that just before the salvo went off I remarked to the Captain, “I may get knocked off my [ ] with this.” Sure enough, when the turret fired the concussion knocked me clear across the Conning Tower with a slight cut over one of my eyes. I immediately screamed that I was eligible for a Purple Heart but the Captain wouldn’t cooperate.

I had been Navigator for the NORTH CAROLINA for two years. I felt that was long enough for any one job during wartime. It was a gentleman’s job and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Frankly, I was afraid I would get careless with the knowledge of the job.”

Commander Thaddeus Johnson Van Metre

Captain Ben Blee, USN (Ret.) who was the Ship’s intelligence officer during the war, tells us about Commander Kemp Tolley.


Beating the Censors

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Passed by censor stamp

“Beverly [my wife] and I made up a code so she would know what area of the South Pacific I was in or headed to. The code worked several ways. A song title gave the location of where the ship was or where we had just been. For example when I wrote home I would say ‘remember when we danced to When They Ask About You (Honolulu) or later I heard Tokyo Rose today and she played our favorite I’ll Be Around (Guam). The second code used the words ‘letters from.’ For example, ‘I received a letter today from Butch (Majuro Atoll) or I head from Guy today (Formosa).’”

Ed Roberts, Gunner’s Mate 3/c

“If you cannot tell us which fleet you are in just mention some early morning hour some time and we will know which. If you are in 3rd fleet say ‘that charm should cost around $3.’”

Letter to Ensign Tracy Wilder from his Father, October 22, 1944

Sample of a censored letter
Example of a censored letter from Jack on the USS WISCONSIN to Tracy Wilder on BB55.

“We managed to work some kind of pattern out where you would say, ‘how are you darling, I miss you today.’ That would mean we were either going out of Pearl Harbor or coming into New Caledonia. Then we would have another message like say, ‘Well, how’s my Father and the family? Are they all ok?’ That would mean that we were just in a battle or we were underway for another island or so.”

Herb Sisco, Cook 2/c

Paul Wieser next to car

Paul Wieser stands next to a car while on liberty in Hawaii to have his photograph taken. He wanted his family to know where he was. The censors did not block out the license plate as they did in the other liberty photo of the men standing next to a parked car!

Car censored