INTERVIEW OF MR. PAUL WEISER
Transcript Number 003
INTERVIEWER: What caused you to join the Navy, Paul?
MR. WEISER: The war was pretty much moving along pretty well over in Europe. Being as I already had a taste of the Army (while I was in high school we had a program called CMTC) and we went with the Army for a month and we were trained. We had a rifle, they gave us a pack and we trained just like regular recruits. So after that month, I said, "I've had it with the Army", I decided I needed to join the Navy. I had a job and that wasn't working out too well. Then I decided to join the Navy. That was on February 14, 1941.
INTERVIEWER: Well before Pearl Harbor.
MR. WEISER: Yeah, it was nine months before Pearl. I had ---- I lived in New Jersey just about 18 miles outside of New York City so I had to go over to 90 Church Street to join. I said goodbye to my mother in the morning and she thought I'd be home that night. Like I said, I thought I had a weight problem and ate three bananas before I went over to make sure I was gonna be heavy enough and pass. We went over there and I was accepted right away. That night we went by excursion liner up to Newport, Rhode Island. I went to school up in Newport, Rhode Island.
INTERVIEWER: Now was that basic or...
MR. WEISER: Yeah, that was basics.
INTERVIEWER: Then what happen after basics?
MR. WEISER: After basics, we were assigned to ships and I was assigned to come down to New York. I think we took about five bus loads of recruits. We went down to Brooklyn, New York to go on the Battleship North Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: We're you on the North Carolina all your time in the Navy?
MR. WEISER: Yeah. Yeah. When I joined the Navy, I had to get my father's permission and the period of time that I could go in for was only six years. My father said, "You see that six?" I said, "Yeah". He said, "That's a long time." I said, "No, no problem." So for three weeks up in boot camp I cried. My dad had to sign and I went into the Navy.
INTERVIEWER: What was your job assignment on the North Carolina?
MR. WEISER: Well, when we went down, we seen this big monster sitting there. It was still being completed. It had been commissioned, but we were delayed----we had a scarlet fever epidemic up in Newport, Rhode Island. We went aboard---oh, five bus loads of us and brought us on the back of the ship and we were divided up into groups. The guy said, "Follow me." We went down into the ship and he said, "Grab a bunk. This is where you're gonna be living." So more or less everybody started out on the deck force. That was the dirty part. You had to kind of prove yourself before they would take you into something else. If you qualified for being a yeoman, you did the paperwork. If you had mechanic qualifications, the guy would take you down into the engine room. I saw those deep holes down there and I said, "wait a minute! Not for me." I enjoyed the group of guys I was with. I enjoyed the petty officers that were gonna be my supervisors. Otherwise I wouldn't be here today. These guys were good. I learned well from them. They showed me the ropes of what the Navy was all about and the jobs we had to do. Being in a deck force, out of the deck force came the gunners' mates. So some of the guys went in for the gunnery, but I enjoyed working out on the deck taking care of painting it and taking care of the deck and scrubbing it. That kind of ---if you want to call it dirty work. Operating the boats. My general quarters station was in five inch 38 guns. Again, it was up on the main deck. I loved this, this was beautiful. I started out as powderman. Eventually I got to be the gun captain on my gun.
INTERVIEWER: When did you first go to sea?
MR. WIESE: We went to sea ---- it had to be----it was warm----it had to be early June or July. We took the ship out to see what the engine was gonna do because this one had never been to sea. We were going out and take our shakedown cruise. Test the engines out. Went out and we had firing instruction for the ship. Each gun was fired separately to see what it would do. Then when they found out that all this stuff worked--- I know if you see a war movie you saw the North Carolina in the shot. I was watching a movie about General Patton. He's tanks got involved in a big battle out in the middle of the desert. This North Carolina fired a record shot. We fired nineteen guns with one firing key to see what would happen if this actually would happen to the ship in a battle that we would have nineteen guns go at one time.
Here comes Patton through the desert and the North Carolina is out there firing. They used this big blast that we did at night. It's a huge blast that takes place when these guns were fired. When we would go out, we would take correspondence with us from New York papers. One of them was from Walter Winchell's. The people of North Carolina probably got its nickname. So Walter Winchell came out and he saw the war hadn't come along yet, and he saw how we were operating the ship and the money that was being poured into the ship. They said it was a waste of taxpayers money. I don't know why we're building this thing. It was nothing but a showboat! So you know when you go over to the ship, it is called the showboat and Walter Winchell dubbed it the showboat --- a waste of taxpayers money. Little did he know that nine more were gonna follow behind it.
INTERVIEWER: When did you leave New York for the Pacific?
MR. WIESE: Prior to going into the Pacific, we were brand new. We took the ship, our sister-ship, the Washington. We went down into the Gulf of Mexico for forty days and we trained. We trained down there. They figured we were ready and they brought us up to Casco Bay, Maine. We were supposed to be waiting and we would go out to sea. We would go out to sea and try to invite the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. The Tirpitz which were suppose to be an equal for us. So we hung around Casco Bay, Maine, for a while and they decided to start the offensive in the Pacific with the landing at Guadalcanal and Tulagi. So they split the battleship division up. They sent the Washington on an ??? run. The North Carolina was sent into the Pacific and we were kind of nonstop right from ----this thing was planned well----right from Maine, we went through the canal. We stopped at Pearl for a little while. Replenished the ship a little bit. We went to Fiji. From Fiji we went right into the operations at Guadalcanal.
INTERVIEWER: That was the first battle?
MR. WIESE: Well, the landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi were August the 7th, but we didn't get baptized in fire until the 24th. The 24th they sent down a big reinforcement to drive us back out of there and we got into our first air attack. The 24th of August.
INTERVIEWER: What year?
MR. WIESE: Ah, '42. It was now '42.
INTERVIEWER: Then where did you go from there?
MR. WIESE: Well from there, we kept advancing after Guadalcanal was secured. We advanced right across and went to these different islands --- Tarawa, New Guinea, Palau, right on across through all the islands involved with taking the Pacific back. But we didn't leave Guadalcanal before we had some real serious damage. September 15th we had been at sea all this while, from August right to September. We were operating with the aircraft carrier Hornet with two different task forces; the Hornet's and the Wasp's. The Japanese submarine, the I-19, spotted the Wasp and it fired six torpedoes at it. The battleship more or less became obsolete during WWII. The aircraft was doing all the damage. There was nothing too much left for the battleship to do. Prior to the aircraft doing all their damage, the battleship was the penetrator, but now the aircraft were the penetrators. He fired six torpedoes, he wanted that carrier bad. He missed with one. One went across the bow of the Wasp and came over into our task force and hit us. Knocked a 35foot hole in our bow. We lost five guys that day. Three torpedoes hit the Wasp and sunk it. The two that went across the stern caught the destroyer O'Brien. When you see a movie and that submarine captain fires a torpedo, he gets one ship. This guy fired six and got three. They said it was the most spectacular shot of the war.
We had to go back to Pearl and get some repair. We also found out that those .50 caliber machine guns we had on deck weren't worth a damn in an air attack. We immediately started to get twenty millimeters and we also had a real bad gun called a 1.1. It loaded this way. It was supposed to. We got about forty millimeters and they just dropped right through. It was a good gun. We were credited on that----going back to the air attack----we were credited with shooting down eight planes that day. Our sky defense officer said we frustrated the attack of a few more. We busted a lot of that stuff up in the air for them.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us what it's like to be aboard ship when planes are attacking?
MR. WIESE: Oh yeah. It's ----they tell a story, the guys that are down inside the ship. They say ---- go to general quarters----you got guys in gunnery, you got guys in the engineers, you got damage control people are all scattered through the ship. We'll go to general quarters and everything is ready for battle. Now the range on those 5" guns were eight miles, so we could ---- the guns I was on ---- the 5" guns could shoot at eight miles. We'd start shooting and they'd say, "Oh boy, here they come." Then when the forty millimeters start talking---- the fives and the forty are talking and then the twenty ---- they say when the forties are firing they say he's coming close and then the twenties start talking ----- he's here, he's here. (laughing) It was kind of scary to me. We had gone out to instruction on fire on the ship, but that was kind of a different feeling. Like I said, I started out as a powder man on the 5" gun. Up to a point, it sounded like it was a drill until we're getting all our orders from the gunners mate who is getting all his orders from the director. We get a standby and he said, "commence firing," I couldn't believe it, I couldn't believe this actually happen. I couldn't believe that I got this stuff here and I'm gonna try and kill a guy and he's trying to kill me. Well, the thoughts were running through my mind very rapidly. My job was to ----- when I was standing on deck, the powder would come right up between my legs. All I had to do was reach down and snatch it up and grab it and put it in the gun. Well, when he said commence firing, I said, "I don't think I want to do this. I don't think, I don't think...." As I started to pull it out, as you pull that powder out, the minute you clear inside that trunk is what we called a paul'. The minute you released that, the next one is coming. It's gonna be there by the time you put that one in the back, it's there. So I release it. Now I've got the one that has now been knocked out on deck. My thoughts are saying, (you know you've been to a football game and you're not doing too well and the guy is saying, Hey, come on, you can do better than that! So I said, "I'd better get this thing off the deck and put it in the gun and lets go." From then on I had no problem, but that first shot it went through my mind that this stuff is dangerous----somebody is gonna get hurt out here. So after that it was not a problem. It was kind of noisy inside that gun mount and communication was down to hand signals as to anything we had to do.
INTERVIEWER: Now did it get easier in other battles? As you learned more about it?
MR. WIESE: Yeah, yeah. You got callous to it. You got callous to it. When we went to air defense you knew exactly what's gonna be taking place. We had kind of a security blanket. Our security blanket was the aircraft carrier. They knew what we had there. Like we had an inch and a half main deck and a seven inch second deck. They knew they weren't gonna penetrate this. You're gonna waste it. The guys that are doing the damage are the aircraft carriers. Go for them. We had a sense that we didn't have to worry too much. We just had to worry that we could knock this guy down before he got to this aircraft carrier, but you got callous to it. You kind of accepted it.
Like I say, people do ask me, "Was I scared?" Well like I just mentioned about being scared, but then I got callous to it. Then the next time I was scared, we were told----the captain come on the P.A. system----he told us that the Japanese had surrendered, they had given up. We had already known about the comakozi. We knew who he was. It was very strange. In my book here, there's a page here, it tells you that some of the Kamikaze were coming out. The war was over. When I climbed out of my gun mount, I was scared. I was scared where I was going. This----I mean for 2 1/2 , 3 years and somebody's got my number. I swore that it was gonna happen. Admiral Halsey gave the order, "shoot 'em down in a friendly fashion." I said, "beautiful, this is the way we're gonna do it."
INTERVIEWER: Didn't North Carolina have a lot of casualties?
MR. WIESE: No, like I said the aircraft carrier were the guys who were the main targets. Our casualties were by accident. The torpedo wasn't meant for us. We were at Okinawa when the guys were getting pretty trigger-happy with the kamikaze and we were in a task force. We had a plane, an aircraft carrier on our starboard side and the kamikaze were diving on it. We had a ship on the port side, which was firing at it also. Everybody was cutting loose. He was following that plane down and we got in that path and we took a five-inch shell from one of our ships. Killed four of our guys and wounded forty-four badly. So we lost ten guys total. Ten guys were killed on the ship.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you when the war ended?
MR. WIESE: We were off of Japan when the ---- we were operating ---- making air strikes with the aircraft carrier covering them. They were making strikes on Japan. For some reason, the weather was getting very cold. We didn't know why. We found out that an Enola Gay was coming through. They chased us up around the Alaska area to get us out of the way. They didn't want that Enola Gay dropping that thing on top of us if they had an accident. All of a sudden it got cold and we were----it was kind of warm where we were and we were issued heavy weather gear. We went up there for about three days and then we came back down and continued operations off of Japan. We were off the coast of Japan.
INTERVIEWER: Then what happened after that?
MR. WIESE: Well, when we were notified to participate with the invasion, we had eighty or ninety marines aboard. All ships that had marines, we had a transport that came alongside and we transferred our marines---all ships that had marines---we sent them ashore. We were still pretty busy with Okinawa. There was nobody there to start this initial invasion. All ships sent their Marines in. We stayed out at sea while they had the surrender. When things were ready we went in and picked up our Marines and headed back home.
INTERVIEWER: What did the back home trip consist of?
MR. WIESE: We stopped at Okinawa. We picked up a thousand passengers. They learned in WWI that they had a problem. This ship took five trips over. They had riots and fights because these guys all wanted to go home in one shot. That ship couldn't take five trip loads in one load. So they learned that anybody going back would take somebody. We picked up a thousand passengers in Okinawa from Japan, stopped in Okinawa. From Okinawa we went to Pearl Harbor. We unloaded the west coast guys and this made us feel very good being an east coast guy. We kept our east coast people and down through the canal. Our next stop was Boston. We had a hell of a welcome up there. The fireboats were out. It was terrific.
INTERVIEWER: Paul, I notice that you have a picture there. Tell us about that picture.
MR. WIESE: Yeah, this is a picture of me, which was taken in Pearl Harbor or Honolulu. I can see I was 3rd class there and I was now gun captain. The story about the picture---the crease across my nose right here ---- the ship laid in mothballs for fourteen years in my backyard which was seven miles from where I lived in Bayonne, New Jersey. When the ship came down here, I came down to all our reunions. One particular year, one of the men that worked on the ship asked me did I ever have a picture taken on a postcard? These were postcards. I said I didn't remember it too well because I was busy with two of my former crewmembers that I was talking with. After my friends left, I said where is this picture and what are you talking about? So he showed me this picture and said is this you? I said, "Yeah, that's me. Where did you find it?" So we went down into the compartment where I lived. Had the same bed for almost 5 1/2 years. As he started going around the corner, I said is that locker the one where you found it? He said, "Yeah, that's the one." What had happened: We had a drawer in our locker. One was more or less for stationary and the other one was for toilet articles. So my drawer was so filled that one day when I closed it, the picture jumped over the back of the drawer when I closed it and slammed it and it creased it. There are a lot of letters on the ship that were found on the same situation that I had here. In fact there was one letter that they posted in the post office and I wrote to the guy. He was a farmer in Iowa. I wrote to him and said, "You have a letter here. Do you remember it?" He said, "Yeah." The guy on the ship was writing to a guy in Germany somewhere. These guys were neighbors. They had farms that butted against each other over in Iowa. We sent him that letter that also had fallen behind the drawer. This is the way this thing was kind of restored. That's more or less the story about that.
INTERVIEWER: How long were you in the Navy after the end of the war?
MR. WIESE: I had to complete my six years. While the war ended in '45, I had to stay a year and a half.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do then?
MR. WIESE: We didn't do too much. We kind of settled down a little bit. We lost a lot of our personnel. A lot of the guys were only in for the duration of the war. We used to have little battles on the ship. The short timers on their dog tag had USNR. We had just USN, so we were great guys. We were regular Navy. We were tough. They assigned us a job on my last summer aboard ship to take the midshipman on their summer cruise. We took them down to Guantanamo, Cuba for a little recreation, but that was part of their training that every summer they would go with ships to different ports. My last summer on the North Carolina, I did go down to Guantanamo with them.
INTERVIEWER: How did your life go after that?
MR. WIESE: After I left the North Carolina, I had ---- well, I've got to go back a little ways to 1944. I was corresponding to my high school sweetheart. We talked about that the first time I came back we would get married. So we came back to the states after being----went into the Pacific in 1942 and we didn't come back until 1944. So we were talking about this marriage thing right along. One day while in Pearl Harbor I decided to go over to the submarine base. I went over and bought an engagement ring and a wedding ring. I sent the engagement to my older brother, having six brothers. I said, "I want you to present this to Jean," which he did. We got engaged by proxy. We said the first time I come back, we're gonna get married. The ship came back in '44 for a general
inspection in Bremerton, Washington. While we were in Bremerton, everybody got a thirty-day leave. Then we went back into the Pacific. When we came back to the east coast I now had my first son. My first son was born while I was on the west east (?). My wife had medical problems with this here. I liked as I said at the beginning I enjoyed the guys I was with, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting in this chair. I know some guys that don't want any part of that life they once lived. So I had a brother that was on the fire department and he talked to me about becoming a fireman. My wife didn't want me to go back into the service again either. I said, "Can I hold on to what I've got." I joined the Naval Reserve. I joined it and while I was in the Naval Reserve for three years, along came Korea. They said, Let's go. We've got some more paint we've gotta do. So they called me back. I was assigned to the aircraft carrier Kula Gulf. It was strange that the battle of Kula Gulf is where we received the torpedo on the North Carolina. It was named for the battle of Kula Gulf and I was on this small CVE. We didn't go to Korea. Our ship was more or less assigned to training pilots. It was a small thing. How these guys ever landed on there I'll never know. But we did most of our work on the east coast, running between Cuba for summer and Iceland for the winter. The only big trip that we took was we loaded the ship up with planes. The hangar deck and the flight deck we strapped down as many planes as we could. We took them over to Casablanca and we unloaded them there. Then we went around to Gibraltar and then we came back to the states. I didn't do too much on the ----when my enlistment was up I was already on the fire department. I went back and completed thirty-one years with them and retired.
Being that the battleship North Carolina was bought by the people of North Carolina, I decided to come down here and live in 1983, to come down here and take part in telling people about the ship I was so proud of.
INTERVIEWER: What do you do on the North Carolina now? What connection do you have with it?
MR. WEISER: I take people who come over to visit it. Sometimes there's groups of people the ship wants me to take through. I do that kind of thing over there. For a while I still had some strength in my hand. I used to do things that I normally did on the ship that needed to be done now while it was here. I would do different things----from on displays----I'd make lines for them. Like when I said, when I was bored we more or less we dealt with everything on topside like fuel the ship, bought stores aboard. So that was all with working on topside; bringing ammunition aboard and storing it. That was more or less the things I did.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any overall thought or overall feel for your military service? What the significance was? Should other people do it? All that sort of thing?
MR. WIESE: Yeah, I always had a great feeling for participating in what I had done. I just felt good with the things that I had to do for the country.
INTERVIEWER: Would you recommend it to your sons?
MR. WIESE: Oh yeah, yeah. I would highly recommend it. I think this program I went through when I was in high school was a great thing for me. It was a great thing for me. It laid my groundwork for me when I went aboard the ship. I knew what was expected of me. What had to be done. If you did that, you were well rewarded. You didn't get too many dirty jobs. You proved yourself. You did the dirty jobs and once you did that---I knew I had to do 'em. One day they asked for ----we had some sort of a job---- but I don't know it was gonna be a dirty job and they asked for volunteers. I volunteered and the petty officer in charge said, "Did you volunteer to join the Navy?" I said, "Yeah." So he said, "Don't ever volunteer again. Let these other guys go." So I was dragged off that volunteer job. I always tried to pull my end. It worked out well for me.
INTERVIEWER: How would you compare today's Navy with your Navy?
MR. WIESE: It's quite different. There's a lot of that push button stuff. There again ya know being aboard the ship now and seeing the stuff that we had it's not too much different than what they have to do today. A lot of it is automatic. We had to manhandle the stuff, but from what I've seen, I'm pretty confident with these guys we have out there. I was invited, in 1989, I was invited with three other guys to go on the Wisconsin to go up to New Jersey and take a ride on it. It was a great thrill to be able to go back over this and see that it wasn't too much different, but these guys were doing their job.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any last words you want to say, anything profound to leave us with for posterity?
MR. WIESE: It's like being with a ball team or in sports with the number one team. I think I was with the number one team. I think it proves it right here. It proves it here with all the activity that the North Carolina was involved in. The different battles it had participated in and was there and ready for call at any time. It did what it was called to do.
Ok. This book here was put together by one of our officers who was aboard the ship and he operated CIC, the combat information center. He decided to do a book in memory of one of our executive officers, Admiral Striker. What we've turned to here is a picture of a loading machine where we're practicing loading the gun. Like I said, this book was suppose to be dedicated to Joe Striker and nobody's name is suppose to be mentioned in here, but down in the corner here, I one time signed this picture for somebody and this is me with out loading crew. We would go over there periodically to keep our timing because the director wanted to make sure we were putting a shell in there every four seconds. So this is a pretty good about the ---tells the whole story about what goes inside ---- what goes on inside the 5" gun mount which is showed here. This is all taking place in here. The ammunition is coming out from the magazine below.
This other book here is the war diary of the ship. This belongs to me. One of our crewmembers befriended an Admiral in Chicago and he told him that this tape was in Washington. That all this was on microfilm at one time. I think some of the pages do show you that. So we acquired it. We---my shipmate that lived in Chicago that knew the Admiral and I -- got it. We reproduced it and put it back into book form, but it ----
INTERVIEWER: Is that a day-by-day account?
MR. WIESE: Um, hum. It is a day-by-day account. I think it shows you here how it was labeling the film as to what it was. Then it says it goes day-by-day.
INTERVIEWER: What time period does it cover?
MR. WIESE: It goes from 1942 to 1945, the end of the war. This is all the war diary. We have another book which was the ship's log which would say if I was hurt today, it would be wrote in the log that I was doing such and such a job. This kind of stuff only pertained to where we were and the ship's information and described a little bit as to what took place that day. I kind of highlighted it. Like I said, I've used this book at the University, at Cape Fear College. I put these little tabs on here to remind myself as to what I was about to get into to talk about.
INTERVIEWER: That's a tremendous record to have.
MR. WIESE: There was a man here---I had just returned from the west coast and while I was out there----I've got a son that's the Director of History in Phoenix, Arizona. He put my name into the internet and he said, "My father was on the North Carolina." He got a response immediately from a girl who lives here in North Carolina. I hadn't seen her father in over forty---fifty years. I showed her this book. The reason she was bringing her father here, after seeing what my son had put into the internet. She wants to write a book. He was keeping a log of his own which we were not supposed to do. He had it and she said she was going to write a book. I showed her this thing and said I'd gladly loan this to you. You can run through it and it will tell you, describe things that happened on those certain days.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's a great record.
MR. WIESE: Yeah, yeah, this is ---- I've carried it. Oh, I don't know how long I've had this now. I've loaned it to other people who have copied it. Can you imagine going through this thing and copying it. We do have the ship's log and we also have a book that the executive officer kept. It was the battle report. Like our first air attack. The first air attack, Admiral Striker describes it. Which guns worked. What the sky looked like. What the markings on the planes were. Where they came from. Anybody that was hurt. It just described it thoroughly. What was the morale of the crew? Did they stand up well in the battle? This is the kind of thing that went into the battle report. This here is the diary. It's kind of a brief one of the ship's log.