Interview of Charles Calhoun Transcript Number 333



Today is October 30, 2002.  I am Sherman Hayes, university librarian at UNCW Randall Library.  I’m interviewing Captain Charles R. Calhoun, U.S. Navy, retired who also goes by the name of Cal.  Today’s charge is to concentrate on World War II experience.

INTERVIEWER:   Before we do that, why don’t you give us a little sense of where you were born, where you grew up before you started into the military.

CALHOUN:   I was born in Philadelphia in 1913.  My father was a Merchant Marine skipper.  So he was gone a great deal of the time.

INTERVIEWER:   But out of Philadelphia?

CALHOUN:   Well Philadelphia at that time was a thriving port.

INTERVIEWER:   I just didn't realize that.

CALHOUN:   Of course it’s 90 some miles from the ocean, but my friends and I when we were youngsters used to entertain ourselves by wandering down to Delaware Avenue and walking along looking at all the ships.  Frequently we would go on them and usually we were treated politely (laughter).  Usually, not always. 

Anyway my dad was killed in World War I.  He took a commission as a Navy Lieutenant Commander in the Reserves.  He made one trip to France in October of 1918 and while visiting in Sainte Mezera, France, he was called upon to make an official call on the commanding officer of a US destroyer which was moored behind them.  On his way over, a cargo crane which was unloading the cargo from his ship carried away and the whole sling of cargo fell on him and killed him.  So that was just about two weeks before the Armistice.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh my goodness and you were a youngster at that point.

CALHOUN:   I was then 5 years old, just 5.  He was buried over there and then later, I don’t know how many years later, my mother took advantage of an offer from the federal government to bring home those soldiers, sailors and Marines who had fallen over there back to Arlington.  So she opted for that and his remains were transferred to Arlington Cemetery

So I grew up without a father, but with a wonderful mother and a wonderful grandmother and grandfather.  We lived in Philadelphia in a tough neighborhood.  My grandmother had lived there when she was young and she refused to move (laughter).  It was getting tougher by the minute. 

INTERVIEWER:   The neighborhood was changing.

CALHOUN:   My sister who was 5 years old, 7 years older, than I was, I think was really handicapped by the fact that we lived there.  To me, it was great because I learned that after that no place was ever too tough (laughter). 

INTERVIEWER:   What was the neighborhood, was it just a changing neighborhood?

CALHOUN:   It was Kensington, it was a mill, labor heavy neighborhood, blue collar workers mostly although there were a few professional people, Dr. Lieb lived across the street from us and I lived next door to the owner of a soap factory.  Kensington and this particular part of Kensington called Fish Town, very close to the river, was a very tough neighborhood.  I managed to survive it somehow. 

I went to high school there and by that time, I was aware that due to my father’s death in World War I, I was entitled to an appointment to any of the service academies.

INTERVIEWER:   Just for that fact?

CALHOUN:   Public law #348.

INTERVIEWER:   I didn't know that.

CALHOUN:   Provided the opportunity for the sons of deceased soldiers, sailors, Marines and so on who had been killed in World War I to attend any of the service academies.

INTERVIEWER:   So you didn't have to have a congressman?  I mean today I think they almost have to have a congressman.

CALHOUN:   There was no political influence on it at all.  So I had decided when I was about 12 that that was what I wanted to do, go to the Naval Academy.  I was small.  I only weighed 145 when I was in high school.  I was also athletic and I wanted to play varsity athletics at the Naval Academy.  Not at 145 pounds.

INTERVIEWER:   What sport were you going to try out for?

CALHOUN:   Football (laughter) and baseball.  I felt that the thing for me to do was to spend the two years that were still available by reason of my age cause you couldn't go past the age of 20, doing something that would enable me to mature physically.  My grandmother, who was a great old gal, decided there was nothing that she would rather do with her meager assets than to send me to a prep school.  So I chose Valley Forge Military Academy and I went there for two years and I did play football there, first string.

INTERVIEWER:   What position?

CALHOUN:   By that time, I weighed 155.

INTERVIEWER:   What position though?

CALHOUN:   Guard (laughter). 

INTERVIEWER:   Guard!  Oh my goodness!

CALHOUN:   Wonderful.  By the time I got to the Naval Academy, I weighed about 165 pounds. 

INTERVIEWER:   What about your mom about your decision that you wanted to continue in the Navy?

CALHOUN:   My mother was all for it.  She thought it was a wonderful education and she knew that I had attached a great significance to my father’s experience in the Navy which was short, but it had certain patriotic fervor to it and so that’s the reason I decided.  She was encouraging about the whole business.  She visited me several times at the Naval Academy, two or three times a year at least.  Then I graduated and went to a battleship.

INTERVIEWER:   But you entered then in about ’33?

CALHOUN:   I entered in June of ’33 and I graduated in June of ’38.  I took the five year course (laughter) which means I was turned back one year.  I flunked math one year, the easiest course I thought we ever had.

INTERVIEWER:   Give us a sense of the academy at that point.  The war may have been in the distant horizon, but was it a peacetime view?  What was it like to be in the academy?

CALHOUN:   There was a distinct awareness of the military and political situation in Europe.  FDR was our speaker at graduation and he talked about the need for new naval officers to inform themselves about the political situation, the world situation and intimated that we should be prepared for what we were trained for.  So I went to a battleship, the Tennessee.

INTERVIEWER:   It was new, old, what was it?

CALHOUN:   That was the old Tennessee (laughter), electric drive.  I was only on it seven months because I began complaining the day I got there that I didn't like it.  I wanted to go to destroyers.

INTERVIEWER:   Now what were you coming in as?

CALHOUN:   I was an ensign similar to a 2nd lieutenant.

INTERVIEWER:   Any specialty on that first ship that you were working on?

CALHOUN:   Well in those days you rotated through all of the departments so I only managed to get through two.  I was in engineering to start with and the electrical division on an electrical drive battleship and that was an important position.  I didn't like it.  I didn't like being below decks.  I liked to be up in the sun and see what was going on.  In the second place, as an ensign on a battleship in those days, responsibilities were so unimportant it seemed to me that I couldn't feel that I was doing anything.

INTERVIEWER:   Because there were thousands of seamen on that particular ship?

CALHOUN:   Well we had probably at that time 2000 sailors and of course we had a lot of officers.  We had 22 junior officers in the junior officer ward room, all ensigns.  I was probably the junior ensign of all.  My duties consisted of things like making out the weekly hull report which meant I had to go around and inspect all of the spaces that we were responsible for and administer the sort of correspondence courses that were made available for the sailors to education them so that they could move up to the next rank.  It didn't appeal to me very much (laughter).

So I put in my request for destroyer duty and about seven months after I went to the Tennessee, I left. 

INTERVIEWER:   And that wasn’t a negative, to ask to switch to something else?

CALHOUN:   No, they may have been happy to get rid of me, I don’t know (laughter).  No, it wasn’t considered to be a negative point because at that stage of the game, they were beginning to turn out new construction destroyers.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh is that right?

CALHOUN:   Roosevelt, as you may know, was a big Navy man.  He had been the assistant secretary at one time.  He felt that the Navy needed to be beefed up and he was successfully coaxing the Congress to pass legislation which made that possible.  So the new destroyers began to come up probably in about 1939 and that was just right for me.  So I was sent to a new destroyer they were then building, but hadn’t yet been commissioned, the Sterett DD 407.  I have a picture of it right here. 

INTERVIEWER:   Named after somebody…

CALHOUN:   Named after Andrew Sterett, a hero of the Tripolitan War.

INTERVIEWER:   So you got the assignment and the boat wasn’t even finished.

CALHOUN:   I went to what they called the precommissioned detail where they sent the corps petty officers and officers so as to familiarize themselves with the ship’s construction and then organize the crew before they got there. 

INTERVIEWER:   Now you talked about 22 junior ensigns.  What was the officer corps on a battleship?

CALHOUN:   Total complement of officers on the Sterett was seven.  That included the captain who was then a lieutenant commander, the executive officer who was a lieutenant, the gunnery and engineering officers who were both lieutenants and the 1st lieutenant who was a lieutenant junior grade, four years senior to me, communication officer who was also an ensign, one year ahead of me, I knew him very well, and myself.  That meant I got all of the jobs like mess treasurer (laughter), officer in charge of the landing party, things like that.

I loved it.  It was a great, wonderful change, from the battleship.  I found myself with responsibilities.  We were commissioned in August of ’39.  We successfully went through our builder’s trials at record speed run, 40.3 knots.

INTERVIEWER:   How big of a crew would you have had total once you’re operating?

CALHOUN:   Well at the time we went into commission, it was not up to complement so we only had about 150 I guess.

INTERVIEWER:   Boy, that doesn’t seem like many.

CALHOUN:   Later during the war of course it got up to about 250.  It just happened to be what I considered the best destroyer in the Navy (laughter).  We had a wonderful crew, a wonderful set of petty officers.  The chief petty officers were the backbone of the ship as they always are.  The officers were compatible.  They got along well with the crew.  The crew respected them and it was just a wonderful atmosphere.  The crew and the officers had a wonderful mutual respect.

INTERVIEWER:   At this stage before the massive drafts and the war started, were these then mainly people that saw the Navy as their career?

CALHOUN:   Yes, I would say so.

INTERVIEWER:   Even in the enlisted ranks?

CALHOUN:   Oh yes.

INTERVIEWER:   So that made a difference.

CALHOUN:   Of course and we had a very high level of enlisted men, I would say about 75% of them were high school graduates.  We had a reenlistment rate of about 75% or 80%.

INTERVIEWER:   And then it was a new ship, which makes a tremendous difference.

CALHOUN:   A new ship, they were all excited about it.  We had new armament that was far above anything that had been produced before.

INTERVIEWER:   Now what would be a normal armament for this size destroyer?

CALHOUN:   We had four 5-inch guns, but these were dual purpose guns and they were all hooked up to a common director that had a computer in it and we were able to track targets with the sights of the director and by switching electrically, we put all the guns into unison with the director.

INTERVIEWER:   What would be a typical target that was anticipated for these kinds of guns?

CALHOUN:   Any surface target.  Of course we hoped that that wouldn’t include a battleship, but later it did and aircraft.  These were excellent antiaircraft guns.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh they were?  Okay. 

CALHOUN:   The antiaircraft arrangement was very forward looking.  They had devised a system where they could actually have the fuses, timed fuses, applied or the settings applied while the ammunition was being hoisted from the bin up to the gun.  There was a little mechanism in the hoist which automatically turned the ring on the nose of the projectile to a setting that had been determined by the director.  When we fired it, it was fired with a fuse setting that was designed, calculated to explode when it got to where the flame was or the ship.

INTERVIEWER:   Interesting and you must have had a machine gun complement.

CALHOUN:   We had both 20mm and 40mm machine guns, but the 40’s didn't come until probably ’41, late ’41, early ’42.  When we first went, we had 50 caliber machine guns.  They weren’t very satisfactory.  We also had a Sunday punch for destroyers.  We carried torpedoes.

INTERVIEWER:   I wondered about that.

CALHOUN:   We had the highest number of torpedoes in our armament of any class of destroyer.  We had eight in four quadruple twos.

INTERVIEWER:   And those were aimed at submarines primarily?

CALHOUN:   No, primarily surface ships.  They were fired with an explosive charge that propelled them into the water and then the internal engine of the torpedo took over.  Actually it was a turbine driven by steam produced by an alcohol burner inside the torpedo.  The torpedo was equipped with a gyroscope which maintained its attitude with regard to space so it didn't go up or down or either side.

INTERVIEWER:   By this time I would guess that it’s pretty obvious that the Germans with their U-boats were going to be part of the complement.  Was there an armament geared for that?

CALHOUN:   We knew it of course at the Sterret was commissioned, that the Germans had a U-boat program.  Intelligence sources kept us informed of the development of that program so that we were aware that they were developing a big submarine capability.  We did concentrate as much as we could on anti-submarine warfare.  Occasionally we would get the opportunity to work with a live friendly submarine. 

INTERVIEWER:   Had sonar been developed at this point or not?

CALHOUN:   Yes, we had elementary sonar (laughter).  I would say that we would be able to pick up contact underwater at about 1500 yards.

INTERVIEWER:   That’s too late?

CALHOUN:   That’s about three quarters of a mile.  Well that’s really within the submarine’s ideal shooting range.  He would have been able to stand outside that range, detect it and fire at you.  But anyhow that was the best we had and we did what we could with it.  Then we had depth charges and we learned how to use all those things.  We actually fired them from time to time.

INTERVIEWER:   So ’39, you’re on the new boat and it was launched from where?

CALHOUN:   Well it was built and launched and commissioned in Charleston, South Carolina.  During that first few months when we were in precommissioning detail, I lived ashore and lived with a wonderful old spinster, well actually no, she was a widow, and her sister who was a spinster on South Battery in Charleston.  That’s an ideal, very prestigious address.  They didn't rent rooms, they had paying guests (laughter).  Her name was Serena B. Davidson and she was absolutely wonderful.  She became my surrogate mother, just great.

INTERVIEWER:   Now one of the things when we ask people about their basic training, it’s usually because they’re enlisted and have to go for a set time period.  Since you were coming out of the Naval Academy, there wasn’t anything comparable to that?  In other words, that became your basic training?  In other words, you didn't have to go for an additional eight weeks or 10 weeks?

CALHOUN:   No, no.  At the Naval Academy of course we had had cruises.  As a matter of fact, that’s why I had become familiar and liked destroyer duty.  During our junior year, which we called second class summer, we made a destroyer cruise.  We were on a destroyer then for about 2-1/2 months.  We just moved up and down the east coast with it, but we did some firing exercises and things like that.  These were World War I destroyers.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh really!  Oh goodness.

CALHOUN:   I was on one called the Klecks and there’s more about that later in the World War II story.  Anyway I don’t know how much more detail you want about what we did in the early days.

INTERVIEWER:   Well I think that’s interesting because you are a little bit unusual for us in that you were involved for quite some time before the actual hostilities broke out.  I’m just curious of whether you were working towards a war that was coming.

CALHOUN:   Yes, we did.  As a matter of fact, even on the Tennessee we were aware of that.  I can remember sitting in the ward room listening to Adolph Hitler and remarking with my colleagues about the fact that he was a dangerous individual and that we were probably going to end up having a war with him.

INTERVIEWER:   The sense that I had was that the public was coming along much later.

CALHOUN:   Oh they were.

INTERVIEWER:   But the military really knew and had the information.

CALHOUN:   Yes, yes.  Going into the Navy was something that people looked at you askance.  I had a best friend, a best girlfriend, who lived in Winston-Salem.  Of course I commuted from Charleston to see her frequently and ended up marrying her.  But anyhow, while I was going up there on weekends from Charleston, some trip incidentally, leave Friday afternoon, drive up to Durham where she was then in a hospital as a dietician and then back to her home in Winston-Salem and then up to Mount Airy where her father had a farm and then back to Winston-Salem from Mount Airy and then back to Durham with her and then back to Charleston.  That was rough duty (laughter).

INTERVIEWER:   (Laughter) A boat looked pretty good after that.

CALHOUN:   Right.  So I can’t remember where I was in my story, but anyhow we had enjoyed that proximity to North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER:   Well you were talking about being in the Navy was an oddity.

CALHOUN:   And during the time that she was still in college and I visited her at her home, she was frequently dated by the Duke football team who were more or less in evidence when I came and on one occasion one of them asked her if that bodyguard was coming the following weekend (laughter).  Somehow or other I managed to dodge all those Duke characters.  Ginny waited for me when we went to sea, we went out to Pearl Harbor.  I’ll get to that in a minute and we were married in December of 1940.

INTERVIEWER:   So you’re in Charleston and that’s where the shakeout crews started.

CALHOUN:   Shakedown.  Shakedown crews were undertaken during the early part of the war of course.  The war was well underway then.  We were, among other things, sent to Vera Cruz, Mexico, where we were assigned the task of shadowing a German liner which was of course only allowed to stay in Vera Cruz for a prescribed length of time since that was a neutral court. 

INTERVIEWER:   So was it an actual passenger liner bringing people?

CALHOUN:   Yeah, it was a passenger and I suppose some cargo.  Anyway she departed there and we actually followed her and our division mates, three other destroyers, took turns tracking her and reporting her position to the British so that they could get a shadowing ship in place to intercept her.  When the British did finally intercept her which was after we had our turn with them, the crew of the German liner scuttled the ship rather than be captured by the British.  So we had kind of introduction to the war at sea with that incident.

Then Roosevelt, as you know, established a neutrality patrol and we became engaged in that.  That was miserable difficult duty because of the weather.

INTERVIEWER:   Where were you patrolling then?

CALHOUN:   We were in the north Atlantic and we were assigned a patrol that took us across the shipping lanes mostly to South America, but to the Caribbean.  We constantly ran into, I mean by that came in company with, we didn't collide with, merchant shipping from all over the world.  We would have to identify these ships, give their location and their destination and report that to naval headquarters.  That in turn, I’m sure, was relayed to the British.

INTERVIEWER:   At this point in your career, you’re now starting to become a fairly veteran seaman, were your duties changing?

CALHOUN:   Yes, I had become aboard the Sterret as the assistant engineering officer.  The engineering officer was a lieutenant who was a postgraduate, engineer graduate from the Navy’s postgraduate school.  He knew the plans backwards and forwards.  So I was fortunate in having him as my boss.  I learned a lot from him.  I learned a lot about handling men from him also.

INTERVIEWER:   What was his name?

CALHOUN:   Frank Lamongo.  Frank and I had a great relationship and we had a wonderful relationship with the executive officer who was an old China hand and had been, in his words, at the end of a long green table at least once which meant that he’d been at least subjected to the preliminaries to a court martial.  I don’t think he was ever court-martialed, but he had obviously been a naughty boy on the China station. 

He used to tell us stories about his escapades as a bachelor in China and he would end out these things with tears rolling down his cheeks he was laughing so hard and we’d be doing the same thing (laughter) because of these wild stories.  I won’t take the time to describe some of them, but they were really fun.  He was a wonderful seaman and a great ship handler. 

INTERVIEWER:   And that’s what an executive would do mainly?

CALHOUN:   The executive would execute the captain’s orders.  That’s where the term comes from.  So he was the disciplinarian really and he was a very tough guy, very stern, very forbidding in his appearance.

INTERVIEWER:   And what was the executive’s name?

CALHOUN:   Watson T. Singer.  At one time after we were ashore for about two hours and I had three or four beers, I inquired of him, “What does that T stand for, Mr. Singer”.  He confided in me by saying, “If you ever tell anyone what I’m going to tell you, I’ll break your neck”.  Then he said, “The T stands for Twitty”.  Twitty?  (laughter) I could not imagine Watson, called Watso, being called Twitty (laughter).  Anyhow, I never divulged that (laughter). 

But he had superb self-confidence.  He knew exactly where he was and he knew what he wanted to do and he never had any hesitation to do what he thought was right, didn't make any difference what anybody thought of it.  As a matter of fact, he was the best thing in the world for me because I was a wild man.  In fact my first skipper remarked to the mother of another officer that I was his Peck’s bad boy (laughter).  So I was raising hell ashore and doing my best to be a good officer aboard, but boy I was having fun.

INTERVIEWER:   And where was ashore?  I mean you were going up and down and up and down the coast.

CALHOUN:   Well mostly Charleston. 

INTERVIEWER:   But Mexico, did you get to stop when you were there?

CALHOUN:   Oh yeah, we went ashore in Mexico and the shakedown crews also had a couple of other stops that were fascinating and lots of fun because the whole town turned out.  We went to Savannah.  That was a marvelous visit.  We linked up with a Marine colonel and his family and I dated his daughter.  We had a wonderful time there.  We went to Houston.

INTERVIEWER:   When you’re doing this patrolling, how long would you be out?  In other words, what would be a time that would be normal?

CALHOUN:   Oh we were gone for five to six weeks at a time.

INTERVIEWER:   And you could stay supplied through that whole time or did you have to have somebody supply you?

CALHOUN:   We didn't have fueling at sea or anything like that.  We would occasionally take up with a carrier and we’d fly off in a carrier.  We would dash in someplace and get fuel occasionally.  The North Atlantic in the wintertime absolutely was miserable.  So we were worn out physically from simply staying at sea.  And a destroyer you know is not very big, only 341 feet long, 36 feet beam, 18 foot draft.  Next to the propeller actually it was only about 12 feet. 

So it was a rough and tough life at sea.  We learned an awful lot about seamanship.  We would have storm damage frequently.  Getting back, I wanted to mention the fact that he became my mentor.  He was responsible for turning me around from being a hell-raiser.  He did it in a way that I will never forget.  I wish I could have done it with my own youngster.  Mine was a daughter.  I couldn't do it quite the same way. 

He called me into his cabin one day after a particularly hairy evening.  I had barely made it back to the ship on time for quarters.  He sat me down in this chair and said “I want to talk to you on a man to man basis and I want you to know that I wouldn’t talk to you about this at all if I didn't think you were worth the effort.  I’m telling you that you had better straighten up and fly right or I’m going to kick your ass out of the Navy”.  And he meant it and I knew he meant it (laughter).  He really got the message across. 

INTERVIEWER:   And you knew what he was talking about.

CALHOUN:   I knew exactly what he was talking about.  He knew and I knew.  I then decided that I would marry somebody that I loved.  I had fallen in love with this gal from Winston-Salem.  Once that was accomplished, that would be the end of my hell raising.  So I managed to do that.  I don’t know how I ever managed to get her to marry  me (laughter).  As she used to say, “I wish I had known you when you were a midshipman”.  I said, “Ginny, you wouldn’t have had anything to do with me” (laughter).

It turned out to be a wonderful thing.  He then, Watso, was a wonderful friend and a great supporter of mine.  For some reason or another, he decided that he was going to help me.

INTERVIEWER:   And you need that in the Navy, right?

CALHOUN:   Well it was wonderful.  So he exhibited confidence in me when it was important.  We just had a great relationship.  I hated it when he was transferred off the ship.

INTERVIEWER:   And when did that happen?

CALHOUN:   We had gone from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  We were stationed in Pearl Harbor beginning in about mid-1940 lasting until mid-1941. 

INTERVIEWER:   What I think is fascinating is the thousands of miles that your ship must have put on its record in this time period.  You were almost constantly out doing something, right?

CALHOUN:   Yeah, we were and when we were in the Pacific fleet, that was much more military oriented than anything we did in the Atlantic.  We had all kinds of squadron and division tactics and maneuvers, exercises with other ships and battle practices.

INTERVIEWER:   So after your Atlantic duty, you proceeded then to the headquarters of the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.  And did you go through the canal at that time?

CALHOUN:   Oh sure. 

INTERVIEWER:   And that was a regular back and forth through the canal?

CALHOUN:   Well we went through the canal to the Pacific.  We went out there and of course we came back in about mid ’41.  We came back as the escort to a battleship, one of three I think, that were transferred from the Pacific to the Atlantic because of the threat of the German pocket battleships.  So we escorted the Mississippi from Pearl Harbor.

INTERVIEWER:   So how long was that first Pearl Harbor?

CALHOUN:   All together it was close to a year.  It was broken up by one return to the United States and that was when I got married.  We came back to the shipyard for an overhaul and by that time it wasn’t easy to get leave to go anywhere very far from your ship.  I remember I was required to go see my squadron commander which was most unusual to answer questions about where it was I was going and what it was I was going to be doing and whether or not I was certain that I could get back. 

Anyway I convinced him, he asked me how much leave I had.  I had 13 days.  He asked if I thought I could get properly married in 13 days (laughter).  I said yes, I thought I could.  I went back from that to my ship and we went then back to Pearl Harbor and my wife stayed in Charleston.

INTERVIEWER:   And then you were gone for another extended time?

CALHOUN:   For another six months.

INTERVIEWER:   And she knew about this Navy life, right?  She understood what this was about?

CALHOUN:   Yes, she did.  I’ll never be able to understand quite why, but anyway she went into it with her eyes open.  I don’t think her father was very happy about the fact that I was in the business I was, although he and I were very good friends.

INTERVIEWER:   And what was your wife’s name?

CALHOUN:   Virginia Taylor.

INTERVIEWER:   So tell me a little about that time period on that first Pacific run.  You said they were in essence starting to prepare for big group force maneuvers.

CALHOUN:   Yeah, we frequently went to sea with our division, which consisted of four ships.  We would do to what amounts to close order drill in the infantry, the right flank, the left flank, turns and what-not.  And then we would do _____ practices with the division where we would actually conduct torpedo attacks against a target and see how close we came. 

Of course these torpedoes were loaded with dummy warheads and they would surface of their own after they completed their run and then they had a smoke pot in the nose of the torpedo that floated with the nose out of the water.  The smoke pot would mark it so we could locate it and go pick it up.

INTERVIEWER:   We had started to talk about your changing roles on the ship.

CALHOUN:   While we were in the Pacific for the first time, the communications officer, Dick Hughes out of the class of ’37, left the ship to go to Pensacola to take flight training.  I moved up and took his position as the communications officer.

INTERVIEWER:   What kinds of duties would that involve?

CALHOUN:   It involved being in charge of the radio and signal gangs so that I was responsible for all of the messages that came into or went out from the ship and the supervision of the radio personnel and the signal and quartermaster personnel of the bridge team that took care of all of the visual signaling.  I loved that.  I was in my element.  I loved it.  I loved being out on the bridge in the open sunshine.  I enjoyed the challenge of the signal business.

It required very heads-up surveillance of the other ships so that you would never miss a signal.  Frequently these signals were sent by flag hoist.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh, I wondered if they were still using flags, but not so much the semaphore.

CALHOUN:   Although that occasionally happened when we were in close proximity to another ship.  Most of it was by flashing light.  I became very proficient with the flashing light.  I used to stand watch with the signalmen and we would take turns answering or sending messages.  I’d take my turn.

INTERVIEWER:   Now what was the level of radio contact at that point of the war?  Was it long distance accurate?

CALHOUN:   I would say most of the radio traffic that we got came in the form of what we called the fox schedules.  These were broadcasts from radio Washington which were sent to the entire Navy every hour and those messages would include directives to all of the ships, directives to certain squadrons or units of the fleet, directives to individual ships.

INTERVIEWER:   Now were these encoded at this point?

CALHOUN:   Yes, they were in Morse code, but they were not enciphered, plain English.  All you needed to know was the Morse code and you knew what they were sending.  But that changed very early.  I supposed it changed while we were still in Pacific waters.  Those all became encoded messages that went by radio.  In fact, we became the division flagship while we were in the Pacific at the end of ’40 and ’41.

Division commander was a commander named Donald T. Moon who later became an admiral.  Don Moon became aboard with his small staff.  I think he had about four people on his staff and demanded the kind of service from the communications department that he would have gotten on the battleship.  We did our best to provide for him what he wanted which was not always possible.  I had lots of interesting experiences with Don Moon.

I used to take messages to him.  We had long since decided that Don Moon was marching to a different drummer (laughter).  He was most unusual.  When I would take messages to him in his cabin at night, of course the minute I opened the door, the lights in his cabin would go out because all the doors were fitted with switches that turned off the lights because we were a darkened ship, and then I would close the door and the lights would come on.  He’d be in his bunk and he’d been wearing headphones. 

One night I remarked, “Oh Commodore, I guess you found a good music station”.  “Music station! I’m listening to the fox schedules”.  Fox schedules? In Morse code enciphered?  (Laughter) But he was.

INTERVIEWER:   And he couldn't tell what they were?

CALHOUN:   No (laughter).  All he got was a garble of letters, that’s all.  So anyway.

INTERVIEWER:   And he was a commodore at that point?

CALHOUN:   He was a division commander.  We called him commodore.  That’s common in the Navy.  Unit commanders regardless of their rank are called commodores.

INTERVIEWER:   But what was his rank probably at that point?

CALHOUN:   His rank was commander three stripes.

INTERVIEWER:   And what’s next up after commander?

CALHOUN:   Captain, four stripes.

INTERVIEWER:   And then above that is admiral?

CALHOUN:   Rear admiral.

INTERVIEWER:   You’re using the terms and I just wondered…

CALHOUN:   Well actually next in line would be commodore, but the rank commodore was not in existence at that time.  So you went from being a captain to being a rear admiral which was unusual.  See the Navy differed from the Army and the Air Force in that respect.  When you went from colonel to general, you went to brigadier general, that was one star.  When you went from captain to rear admiral, you skipped commodore so you had two stars.

INTERVIEWER:   A much bigger jump though, much harder jump.

CALHOUN:   I don’t know, I can’t answer that (laughter).  Anyway and captains aboard ship were always called captain, meaning the commanding officer of the ship regardless if he was just a lieutenant.  He was the captain.

INTERVIEWER:   So how many were in this group that the commodore?

CALHOUN:   Well we had four ships.

INTERVIEWER:   That’s a group.

CALHOUN:   And he really ran our tails off when we were at sea.

INTERVIEWER:   Were these all destroyers?

CALHOUN:   Yes, all destroyers.

INTERVIEWER:   Now would you be attached normally to say an aircraft carrier? 

CALHOUN:   Oh frequently especially when we came back to the Atlantic in ’41.  We began operating frequently with carriers.  When we first came back, we were assigned to convoy duty of fast mostly troop convoys going to Iceland, troop and resupply convoys.

INTERVIEWER:   American troops?

CALHOUN:   Well we occupied Iceland you know with Marines in ’41.  So we kept them resupplied and then later we began escorting convoys to England, but we never got all the way to England.  We would turn them over to the British escorts about 300 or 400 miles west of the United Kingdom, west of the British Isles.

INTERVIEWER:   Before we get onto that European side, I just was wondering what was Hawaii like at that time?  Did you see a tremendous buildup there?  Was it a huge base?

CALHOUN:   Well Honolulu and Pearl Harbor were hives of activity, very, very cognizant of the developing situation with Japan and very suspicious of anything Japanese at sea.  We frequently suspected that fishing boats that we encountered were really Japanese agents and it turned out they were.  We actually boarded a couple of those in the latter part of our stay in the Pacific, but were not able to find any documentation of anything that would make it appear that they were engaged in nefarious activities.

INTERVIEWER:   But the rest of Hawaii was still pretty off the beaten path?

CALHOUN:   I would say the rest of it was busy and we saw a lot of activity on the part of Army Air Force personnel at Hickham Field seemingly coming into Honolulu for liberty or whatever they called it in the Army, more than we had at first.  So it did appear that there were increases in the number of Army Air Force personnel at Hickham Field.

INTERVIEWER:   In balance to that, you’ve moved now to the European side.  Where were you when you got word that your colleagues had been bombed at Pearl Harbor?

CALHOUN:   Due to superior planning on our part (laughter), we were in Bermuda.  Actually we had become bosom buddies with the USS Wasp, the first Wasp carrier and we had plane guarded for the Wasp for months, nine months.

INTERVIEWER:   This was mainly in the Caribbean?

CALHOUN:   No, in the north Atlantic and they conducted a lot of carrier qualification training.  So everyday was flight operations.  For the destroyers that was hard running because the carriers had to launch their aircraft while they were heading into the wind in order to create enough wind over the deck to enable them to take off.  So if you were leading the carrier as any submarine warfare escort and the carrier hoisted his fox flag, it’s a white flag with a triangle, red triangle, the minute that pennant went up, you knew he was going to conduct flight operations.  That’s what it meant, F for flying.

If you were up ahead, you immediately turned and started back to where you’d have to be when he came to his new course.  He would hoist that thing with two blocked, that had meant he had turned his rudder, and he was beginning to turn and you would have to get ahead of him.  Well he’s making 30 knots so we would have to run at 33-34 knots to get ahead of him.  Believe me, that burned up a lot of fuel.  The fuel expenditure curve went like that when you’ve got about 25 or so.

So we got to become very familiar with flight operations.  When the new carrier appeared, that was the USS Long Island, we were assigned to plane guard for her and that’s what we had been doing when we went into Bermuda. 

INTERVIEWER:   How did you and when did you learn of Pearl Harbor?

CALHOUN:   Well of course Pearl Harbor was on a Sunday.  We were at anchor in Bermuda at Hamilton.  We received a message from Pearl Harbor, air raid Pearl Harbor.  This is no drill.  And then we began to get elaborating messages in which more details followed.  We still had the commodore aboard.  He went into orbit demanding messages that we had no business breaking and in many cases didn't have the key to the code to break it (laughter).  He didn't think there was any reason why he should not be getting the same messages that the fleet commanders got.  We accommodated him with as many as we could translate.

INTERVIEWER:   These were your friends back there.  I mean you must have known many of those people that were under attack.

CALHOUN:   I did, I did.  Not long after that, I went to gunnery school aboard the USS Wyoming, an old battleship that had been used for training missions for years.  I made three cruises on it, midshipman crews.  They converted it to a training ship after the war had started.  One of my fellow students was Bill Ingram, a classmate, who was a star halfback at Navy and son of Adolph Ingram who at that time as I remember was a four star admiral and who was given some south Atlantic command.

Anyhow Bill had been aboard the Oklahoma.  And that’s when we received our first eyewitness account of what it had been like at Pearl Harbor.

INTERVIEWER:   He survived.

CALHOUN:   He survived and told us about it and a very astute observer who made comments.  He briefed the senior officers of the Wyoming and of the gunnery school which were attending and said in essence, “I know that you want to do your best, but this is a young man’s war and you had better let the young men take it because you’re not going to be up to it”.

INTERVIEWER:   Interesting.  What do you think he was driving at?

CALHOUN:   I think he had probably observed habits in terms of readiness and some of the habits were more dependent on their attitude toward standing in the fleet competition than in the actual readiness and that this attitude had left, or had at least had something to do with our being caught flat-footed at Pearl Harbor.  I didn't mean to digress that much.

INTERVIEWER:   No, that’s fine, that’s very interesting.  So now the war has been declared.

CALHOUN:   The war has been declared.  We’re in Bermuda and we’re thrashing around trying to find out what’s going on and keep the commodore informed and the next thing we knew we were ordered to get underway and form up with a task force that was dispatched to Martinique because there were French warships on Martinique. 

They were afraid they were going to make a dash for it and turn themselves over to the Germans.  So we went down to Martinique and we blockaded these ships for about a week while negotiations took place.

INTERVIEWER:   And what were the results of the negotiations?

CALHOUN:   The results were that the French agreed that they would demilitarize the ships and they did.

INTERVIEWER:   And how many were you talking about?

CALHOUN:   There were two cruisers and there may have been an aircraft carrier, but I don’t think so.

INTERVIEWER:   That’s a lot of fire power to take out of the war then.

CALHOUN:   So Martinique is over and we return to the United States.  We went into Charleston on Christmas eve, Godsend.  I got to see my wife, was with her on Christmas and we left on the 27th.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh my goodness.  She was able to come down to Charleston?

CALHOUN:   She was living in Charleston.

INTERVIEWER:   Along with a lot of wives I guess.

CALHOUN:   All the wives of the Sterret were there in Charleston.

INTERVIEWER:   Now what was the name of your group so we can get that down?  In other words, you were in a unit.  What was your unit number, were you the 5th unit of the 8th Army, that kind of thing.

CALHOUN:   Well we were of course units of the Atlantic fleet and then we were broken up into squadrons and divisions.

INTERVIEWER:   There were two fleets, that’s how they would address it?  You were either in the Atlantic fleet or the Pacific fleet?

CALHOUN:   Yes and with the advent of the war what had been operational entities like divisions and squadrons were more or less done away with.  They retained them for administrative purposes.  So you still considered yourself a member of a division, but the division was, for the most part, dispersed into various task groups which were comprised of all varieties of ships depending on what task the group has been assigned. 

So most of our task group assignments were carrier task groups.  We therefore made a couple of trips to the UK where we were met 300 miles or so west of England by the British where we had two battleships with us, the Washington and the North Carolina and the Wasp, the carrier, probably four or five cruisers and 15 destroyers or so.

INTERVIEWER:   And you didn't run into U-boats on that particular trip then?

CALHOUN:   None.  We never were sure whether that was because they simply had been diverted to other theaters where they were being afforded the opportunity to sink more shipping.  I’m sure that any U-boat skipper would have given his right arm to trap one of those big ones because we were carrying troops.

INTERVIEWER:   Now you’re still the communications officer at this point in your career?  You said you’d gone to the gunnery school.

CALHOUN:   Until we went to Capa Flow in ’42.

INTERVIEWER:   Tell us were Capa Flow is.

CALHOUN:   It’s in the Orkney Islands above Scotland in the North Sea more or less.

INTERVIEWER:   Major naval base.

CALHOUN:   It was at that time the home base of the British home fleet.  We operated as a unit of the home fleet.  We were actually assigned ten British sailors to be our signal because they were familiar of course with all the British signal system.

INTERVIEWER:   So you were a joint operation.  The group was a mixture of American and British ships.

CALHOUN:   And Canadian. 

INTERVIEWER:   So what became your job at that point?

CALHOUN:   I then became the gunnery officer because the former gunnery officer was dispatched to take over as the executive officer of another destroyer, a new destroyer.

INTERVIEWER:   Did your captain and exec stay the same through this time period?

CALHOUN:   No, we had lost the first captain before we moved from Pearl Harbor back into the Atlantic.

INTERVIEWER:   And yet did you still have a sense that your camaraderie is fine or did you start to see…

CALHOUN:   We did have the complication of the division commander and that was a problem because while it didn't bother people of my level, of course I didn't want to be chastised, but he didn't worry me.  He did worry the skipper because he was right on top of him all the time.  He was on the bridge most of the time.

INTERVIEWER:   And he was a high ranking officer.

CALHOUN:   And he was much senior to my skipper and he was very critical.  He was critical of everyone.  It didn't matter who it was (laughter).

INTERVIEWER:   (Laughter) He was an equal opportunity criticizer (laughter).

CALHOUN:   He didn't discriminate (laughter).  And that was interesting because I observed a complete change in attitude on the part of our commanding officer when we left the Atlantic and left the division commander.  Overnight he was different person.  In the Atlantic, he had been a martinet, lived by the book. 

We had a lot of fascinating experiences with the British home fleet.  They were great ship handlers and I was envious of the way they handled their destroyers.  Destroyers are supposed to be handled with speed, dash, verve.  Our skippers, who were remember now a generation or so earlier, they had grown up during a period when the United States Congress was very stingy in its allocation of funds to the Navy and it had become politically damaging for any officer to damage his ship because it cost money to fix it.

So there was no way to have a mishap with a destroyer and not have it be your fault.  They lived with this.  The result of which was that they handled their ships as though they were, and they were, afraid of bumping into something.  So they wouldn’t go close when they were supposed to.  I observed the British skippers completely different.  They were free spirits.  I attributed that to the fact that they gave them the latitude to handle their ships the way they should be handled.

An example of that was during our first at sea period with units of the British home fleet, we returned to Capa Flow.  We’d been out for about a week and there was of course an anti-submarine net guarding the harbor.  Incidentally a U-boat had penetrated that net a year or so earlier and the British warship that was sunk by that submarine was still on the bottom with its mast visible above water, the Ark Royal I think was the name of it. 

Anyhow they opened the net to let us come in and at that point the British flagship hoisted the signal and I’m the officer of the deck at this point and I’m on the bridge and in inquired of the British sailor what does the hoist mean.  He said, “It means scatter, sir”.  I said “What”.  He said, “Scatter.  You know, sir, scatter”.  I said “Well what the hell are we supposed to do”.  He said, “You’re supposed to scatter.  You’re supposed to head for the hole”. 

I looked around.  There were 20 destroyers going full flat out for this hole.  It was only wide enough for two ships.  (Laughter) I looked at the captain.  I thought he was going to jump overboard.  We didn't try to win that bet (lots of laughter).  Anyway a few days later, we had the opportunity to go aboard a British destroyer for a party.  The party itself is another story.  It would take an hour to tell about it. 

But in the course of that evening with them, I got to talking to the skipper of one of these ships.  I told him I was real interested to know what happens in the Royal Navy after having executed the signal “Scatter” two of these destroyers get to the hole at the same time and there’s a collision.  He said that nothing happens, it’s an operational matter.  “We just repair it and go on our way”.  I asked him if he knew what would happen in the United States Navy.  Both skippers would be court-martialed.  “Oh no”, he said, “No, you have to do it that way”.  And he’s right.  You did have to do it that way.

INTERVIEWER:   With style.

CALHOUN:   And as the time went on, I could see that we were beginning to take that same attitude.  By the time I got to be a skipper, that was the attitude. 

INTERVIEWER:   So you’re doing duty in the north Atlantic.  Are you looking for submarines?  Are you doing escort?  What is your main…

CALHOUN:   No, I’d say our main thrust at that point was to ready ourselves for surface action because of course the reason they kept that home fleet up there was in order to intercept any sortie by the British battleships.

INTERVIEWER:   Which were stationed in France?  There were some in Norway, weren’t there?

CALHOUN:   Well there were some up in Norway.  I should mention the fact that we had the flag lieutenant from the Warspite on the Sterret while we were on Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, as an observer.  He was lieutenant commander.

INTERVIEWER:   From the British HMS Warspite?

CALHOUN:   Yes, Warspite, which was in Norway and was bombed in Norway and took a hit down their stack.  This officer’s name was Lieutenant Commander Carnes, a laid back individual.  One day at the ward room table I said, “Commander, I understand you were on the Warspite”. 

He said he was.  I said, “Were you aboard when she was bombed in Norway”.  He said, “Yes I was”.  I said, “Well what happened.  I understand you took a 500 pound bomb down the stack.  That must have been terrible”.  He said, “Well (in British accent), it was rather nasty”.  (Laughter).  Anyhow he later became a four star admiral in the Royal Navy and had duty in Buckingham Palace as the head of protocol.  Often missed him.  He and Watso, our exec, hit it off beautifully. 

We always had great respect for Watso because he was able to hold his liquor.  I never saw Watso drunk.  But Lieutenant Commander Carnes, took him ashore one night and had to help him back aboard.  We were really very much in awe of Lieutenant Commander Carnes (laughter).  After that, he was something.

INTERVIEWER:   So you’re in the north Atlantic.  How long was that duty?

CALHOUN:   We stayed there until April of ’42 at which time we made a dash from Capa Flow down to the Mediterranean and the Wasp, which we were escorting, carried a deck load of Spitfire aircraft to deliver to Malta so we went into the Mediterranean.  It was a British carrier with us, the HMS Eagle.

INTERVIEWER:   Now was this just prior to the African campaign or during the campaign?

CALHOUN:   Well April of ’42, I’m not sure of the advent of the African campaign.

INTERVIEWER:   Not yet, it was later than that.

CALHOUN:   But anyway, but Malta was being pummeled every day, daily, by German bombers.  In fact, did you know that the whole island of Malta, the entire population of Malta, was awarded the Victoria Cross as a result of the way they behaved.  It went on for months and months.  So they had lost a number of Spitfires and needed to have the fighter complement reinforced and we went down there with the Wasp.  The Wasp carried, as I remember, about 60 Spitfires.

INTERVIEWER:   So they were just delivering them?  They were going to leave them there?

CALHOUN:   We took them within flying distance which was about 300 miles west of Malta and we had fully expected to be greeted with German aircraft, but apparently the Germans had not gotten wind of our presence and they did not bother us.  Those fighters incidentally arrived at Malta during an air attack and shot down several German bombers.  I had great respect and admiration for the Spitfire pilots who had never flown from an aircraft carrier before and weren’t sure at all that they would get off the carrier safely and then didn't have tail hooks so had they had to be recovered, they would have to go into the barrier.  That happened to one of the aircraft that were launched that day.  He returned and he landed safely.

I had great admiration for them.  There they were a couple of thousand miles away from home flying these land fighters off of a carrier, a foreign carrier, one they’d never seen before and arriving over Malta in the midst of an air raid having to fight their way in and then landing to fuel because they were almost out of fuel when they got there. 

Okay we came back from there, went up to the Orkney Islands again to Capa Flow.  We were then relieved except for our commodore who volunteered to become the squadron commander of a squadron that was going to remain there.  He volunteered their services to go into the Murmansk run.  My roommate was the gunnery officer on his flagship.

INTERVIEWER:   That’s the one up in Russia?

CALHOUN:   Around the north Cape.  And they were having terrible experiences on that run.  So when I saw my roommate, we went alongside of his ship in order to transfer to him all of our 5-inch ammunition because we were leaving.  We would go back to the States where we would replenish.  They were anticipating lots of air action so we had to transfer all this.  

First thing I said was “Hey Ozzie, looks as though you’re going to become a hero” on the Mer-Man’s Run”.  He said, “Yeah, a dead hero”.  (Laughter).  Then I told him that we were transferring all of our projectiles and all of our powder to him.  Incidentally in the last inventory, we had three projectiles for which we had no powder and there was a day when that would have been a serious problem in the US Navy.  At this point, nobody paid any attention.  I don’t know what had happened to the three cans of powder.  He said, “Don’t worry about it.  If it gets that bad, we’ll throw those last three at them”.  (laughter)

INTERVIEWER:   Did he survive that run?

CALHOUN:   Oh yeah, he ended up being a captain, had command of a cruiser, the Canberra I think it was and retired and went to work in Chicago as Mayor Daley’s port director.  He  hired him because they were losing millions of dollars worth of cargo at the port which was being pilfered and called him and told him he wanted him to do this job. 

He said that it wouldn’t be the safest job in the world.  Somebody may decide that he was in the way.  He took the job and the first year he was there, this pilfering went down by something like 80% less than they had the year before.  I visited up there shortly after he’d gone there and I took a cab from O’Hare to the hotel where we were having a conference. 

I said to the cab driver, “I have a friend up here in Chicago.  Used to be in the Navy with him”.  He wanted to know who that was.  I said, “His name is Vern Saballi”.  He said “Captain Saballi, hell, he’s doing a great job.  He’s the new port director you know” (laughter).  Even the cab driver knew about it (laughter). 

INTERVIEWER:   So you head back to the United States.  That must have been great.

CALHOUN:   Yeah, we came into New York.  There’s still a division commander aboard named Warlick.  As we came into New York harbor, great scene you know, to come back to New York, Statue of Liberty and all that stuff, it was in the morning.  We were patrolling station which means that we were exceeding the formation speed by a knot or two and sort of zigzagging which kept us in the same relative position, but covered a wider front for submarines.

The commodore and the captain were on the bridge and I was the officer of the day.  I became aware of the fact that the commodore was unhappy about something.  I didn't know what.  The skipper with whom I had a really good relationship looked over at me and said something to the commodore.  He came over to me looking real mad. 

He said, “Mr. Officer of the Deck”, he normally said Cal, “Mr. Officer of the Deck, patrol station”.  I said, “Sir, I am patrolling station”.  He said, “God damn it, I said patrol station” which said for me for God’s sake do something so he’ll think that you’re doing something (laughter).  I said, “Oh, aye aye sir”.  So we began patrolling and that satisfied the commodore.  Of course, it absolutely squelched our sonar gear cause above that given speed of about 16 knots, it got so noisy that you couldn't hear an echo. 

But there again when he left the ship and we went through the canal, the captain, who incidentally his name was Coward and of all the names, that was not the name for this guy.  He became an absolutely wonderful skipper.  He was very solicitous of the welfare of the crew and the officers. He was always thinking about us and this manifested itself in many ways.

I remember one time before we went into the Pacific he had sent for me when I was at that gunnery school on the Wyoming, I was out in the Chesapeake Bay.  My wife was pregnant and she was having difficulty with the pregnancy.  They had told me that in the event that she hemorrhaged, they would have to hospitalize her and they would try to get me in if that happened.  Well one day after our gunnery practice, the Wyoming came in and anchored in Chesapeake Bay and out came an amphibious plane, twin engine patrol plane.

It landed on the water.  Guy called up and wanted to know of Lieutenant Calhoun was aboard.  Word came down to me because I was in the ward room.  So I ran up and he asked if I was Lieutenant Calhoun.  I said I was.  He said, “You’re supposed to get in this plane and go back into Norfolk with us”.  Of course I immediately thought something was wrong with my wife.  I went to the exec and told him where I was going.  He said, “Shove off, get off and do what you have to do”.

So I ran out and got down the Jacob’s ladder, got on this aircraft and took off.  Came back into the Norfolk air station and I went over to the duty officer and said, “I’m Lieutenant Calhoun.  I was brought back by that patrol plane.  What’s the story”.  He said, “Well you’re supposed to call this number”.  So I looked at the number and called the number and it was my wife.  She was at some hotel there. 

The captain had called her.  The Sterret had come in the night before.  Of course I didn't know that because we were out in the Chesapeake somewhere.  He had asked her whether I was back in town from the gunnery school and she told him no.  He said he was going to get me back there and sent the plane out for me.

INTERVIEWER:   Isn’t that great.

CALHOUN:   So I had another two days with her that I wouldn’t have had otherwise and then we left again, this time to go to the Pacific for the Guadalcanal.

INTERVIEWER:   So that’s the next stage.  Okay, let’s keep going.

CALHOUN:   So we went to Charleston from New York with the Sterret.  Now we’re back having just gotten back to New York from Capa Flow.  Came down to Charleston and they threw radar aboard.  We had never seen radar before, didn't know anything about it, not how to operate it, nothing.  We went through the canal and on the way, we learned how to use the radar. 

We went up to San Diego.  There we came in company with, it seems to me there were probably three or four president line liners and we were aware that they were embarking Marines.  We didn't go ashore.  We anchored and waited.  I guess we waited about a day and a half while they continued to embark.  It was the first Marine division, picked up the whole division, artillery and everything.  We took off and the Wasp again was with us.  I don’t remember the composition of the rest of the force, several cruisers.

INTERVIEWER:   A big force.

CALHOUN:   A big force.  We set sail and we didn't stop until we got to Tonga-taboo.  There we met additional large forces.  A day or two after that we were at sea on our way to a gunfire rehearsal.  We were standing on deck an afternoon after we had left Tonga-taboo and we were on our way to this gunfire exercise and we joined up with another task force.  This one had battleships with it.

Our chief torpedo man who was a World War I veteran, his name was Jackson, was standing at the rail at the lifeline looking.  So I walked over, stood next to him, leaned on the lifeline and I said, “What do you think of that, Jackson.  Isn’t that beautiful”.  He said, “Yeah”.  I said, “Have you ever seen to much naval power in one ocean at one time?”  He said, “No sir, I haven’t and I’ll tell you that I really hope we run into a couple of Japs on a raft”.  (Laughter)

INTERVIEWER:   He didn't want to go into the fight that much, huh?  So you had thousands and thousands of ships then that were just converging.

CALHOUN:   Yeah, a big force.  Of course we went back in for a critique of the gunfire exercise.  I met another classmate, the same one who was in that gunnery school with me, Bill Ingram.  He was now the gunnery officer of a cruiser.  That was the Tuscaloosa.  In fact, Bill Ingram was a character and he had one proclivity which was he had a tremendous voice.  You could hear him all over.  He was also quite profane.  I suppose he learned this from his admiral father.

Anyway when I went over to the Tuscaloosa for this critique, he was up on the forecastle (pronounced fok’sel) and saw the boat approaching and recognized me in the boat.  He called to me and you could hear him all over, “Calhoun, you old son of a bitch, pull on up here.”  (Laughter)  So we had a small reunion and listened to the critique of the exercise and went back to our ship.  Then we got underway and went to Guadalcanal.

INTERVIEWER:   And what was your role at Guadalcanal?

CALHOUN:   We escorted the Wasp while she conducted flight operations providing close air support to the Marines as they landed. 

INTERVIEWER:   Were the Japanese not present at all?

CALHOUN:   Oh yeah. 

INTERVIEWER:   So were you shooting at the same time?

CALHOUN:   No, we were not attacked at all during that first couple of days.  There was a flight of 20 some bombers that came down looking for us.  Fortunately there was a rainsquall and the OTC whose name was Reeves, ran into a rain squall and they never found us.  So we came through that all right. 

We were on the radio frequency with the pilots of the Wasp so we could hear all that was going on in the objective area and they had encountered air resistance.  There were Japanese planes there and they talked about what they were doing, who they were fighting and who was going after what, whether they were going to get this one over here and so on.  They were exulting in their comments about the damage they were doing with their bomb divers.  So we had the impression that they were going ashore with little if any resistance on the ground, but some resistance in the air.  That’s the way it did happen.

INTERVIEWER:   But I think the commander, the Japanese commander withdrew further into the hills.

CALHOUN:   He got away from the beaches and then they had their hands full with him.

INTERVIEWER:   How long were you at that station, through the whole conflict?

CALHOUN:   We stayed with the Wasp for about two or three weeks I think operating close to Guadalcanal, south of the island.  In fact, we were, our main job then was to alternate between giving any submarine warfare protection and plane guarding when they were flying off their planes.  Occasionally these people would go into the water and we would have to pick them up.  We did that many times.

INTERVIEWER:   You were still the gunnery officer at this point?

CALHOUN:   Gunnery officer.  About three weeks after the landings, we were talking on the Sterret about the fact that we were maintaining a pattern of operation that would enable any up and coming sub skipper to determine that we were operating in a geographical area without varying our location every day.  I remember saying that all he had to do was come there at 4:00 in the afternoon, wait until tomorrow afternoon and we’ll back here.

Well we were detached to go to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides to pick up resupply convoys, troops and ammunition and whatnot.  While we were gone, two days or so after we left, the Wasp was sunk by a submarine.  Of course we all felt if we had been there, it wouldn’t have happened. 

INTERVIEWER:   But there were destroyers there?  It wasn’t unprotected.

CALHOUN:   Oh yes, it was a new squadron and we complained that they weren’t going to know how the Wasp operated and they therefore would be caught with their pants down when she changed course to conduct flight operations and they wouldn’t get in position in time, so on and so on.  Probably just pure BS. 

Anyhow we continued to do that resupply business through September and October and that got very hairy in that time because the situation ashore became critical.  The whole strategic situation around Guadalcanal was such that the Japs had practically free access at night to come in, any night, bombard the airfield and land fresh troops.

INTERVIEWER:   I know they kept coming from behind.

CALHOUN:   They were always accompanied by two battleships, probably two cruisers, a dozen or so destroyers and then they would be followed by 10 or 20 destroyers with troops aboard.  The first gang would come in and do the bombarding and while they were doing that, the other troop convoy would come in and land. 

Well during those months, we encountered several shore bombardment missions which we did a couple of times with the San Francisco, a couple of times alone.  One night we undertook gunfire missions for the Marines.  They were calling for fire for these specific positions.  We could see them by their gun flashes.  We simply walked our fire back and forth about 100 yards inland and 100 yards back out.  We fired 400 5-inch shells over there that night.

The next morning, the Marines went down to that artillery position.  There were 200 dead Japanese there.  Most of them were casualties of our gunfire.  That really impressed us.  We fired at air attacks when they came into bomb Henderson Field, but in most of those cases, they were too high for us, 25,000 feet or so.  There were a couple of attacks by float planes and we shot one of those down, the Sterret did.  That was our first air kill.  It was a fluke.  We never should have hit him at that range, but we did. 

Anyhow that took us through a couple of nasty surface battles.  Of course on the 9th of August, there was a terrible action where the Japanese came in and caught us flatfooted.  Some four cruisers, Quincy, Vincennes, Astoria and the Australia cruiser Canberra, all sunk in one night.  Inexcusable.  Then there were a couple of others that were more inconclusive, but neither of them were very positive from our standpoint.  We lost ships in each.

By the 12th of November, we found ourselves in there at a time when General Vandergrift had appealed to Halsey who had relieved Gormley in October telling him I can hang on here if I get the kind of naval support that we have not gotten up to now.  Halsey committed himself to do it, we’ll do it, we’ll hang on, we’ll manage to get you the support you need.  That’s where we were on the 12th of November when we got wind that first of all there was Jap air raid on the way. 

That arrived at about mid afternoon about 2:00 or 3:00.  Transports had all gotten underway from the beach because we had advance warning of this.  We formed up our protective screen around us with cruisers in closer and we were out on the periphery.  We were actually on the starboard flank of this convoy, this formation.  That is where the Japanese torpedo plane came from. 

They went up and circled around Florida Island and came in from the east.  We were headed north and the Sterret was the first ship they came to.  Twenty-one of them, Betty’s, twin engine bombers.  We shot down four of them and they all went over our heads, all 21 of them. 

Joe Foss, the Marine ace and then a major, flew into our antiaircraft fire when we were firing at one of those planes.  I don’t know how he ever kept from being shot down himself and it looked to us that the very weight of the stuff that was going into this plane must knock it down because he was just loading it with bullets. You could see the tracers and we were hitting it.  It went over our heads and landed about 50 yards on our port beam.  We shot down another one and then we had an assist with two others where there were other people shooting at them.

All 21 planes launched their torpedoes and not a single one of them hit.  Some were dropped from too high up in altitude.  They were all about 100 feet high when they came in, too high.  One plane hit the San Francisco, their gunfire control station and killed 30 sailors and one of the officers.  I forget what his job was, commander I think. 

INTERVIEWER:   So your gunnery training finally paid off there with four planes.

CALHOUN:   Yeah!

INTERVIEWER:   You felt good about what your crew did?

CALHOUN:   Oh, we felt wonderful.  But that night, we were warned that the Tokyo Express as they called it was on its way down again.  Well of course we didn't have anything like battleships.  So they formed us up and we took the convoy, supply ships and transports out to the east of the island and left them there to go back to Espiritu Santo. 

We came back in looking for this Tokyo Express, 13 ships, 8 destroyers, 5 cruisers, two of them were heavy, San Francisco and the Portland.  One of them was light, that was the Helena.  Two of them were antiaircraft cruisers which were really nothing but overgrown destroyers, 5-inch guns, the Atlanta and the Juneau.  The destroyers were the Cushing, Laffey, Obannon in that order.  The Munssen, Aaron Ward and Fletcher bringing up the rear. 

We were in single column probably just after midnight going back in passing the rest of where Henderson Field was and maybe a half hour past that, the Helena picked up the first contact by radar, contact at 27,000 yards.  Then he reported that there were two columns.  Of course we didn't have the surface search radar, nor did the flagship.  The flagship was the San Francisco where the Rear Admiral Dan Callaghan had command, another rear admiral on the Atlanta.

When these things began to come into view, we were able to pick up with our fire control radar which we had gotten after we left New York and still didn't know how to operate very well, but Shelton, a young fire controlman, had worked on that thing every day.  He lived up there and he was good.  Anyway he got the contact and he could tell from his fire control radar, which didn't show a picture, but gave tips that there were two large ships.

He commented, “Two large ships in formation, look like battleships”.  When he said that, I was convinced they were probably battleships.  In the meantime, we’re continuing to head directly at them.  Their course and speed was 107 and 23 knots.  They were heading toward us.  We were headed north toward them at 21 knots.  Very rapid closing of the range.  Pretty soon I could see one of the battleships 3000 yards away.  That’s only a mile and a half.  At sea, that’s like a spud’s throw away.

INTERVIEWER:   Really! Now were your guns able to go that far or not?

CALHOUN:   Oh our guns fired 16,000 yards, 8 miles.

INTERVIEWER:   So you were already firing or not firing?

CALHOUN:   We were not firing.  We had not been given the order to fire from the officer in tactical command.  We were going right down the middle between two columns of Jap ships.

INTERVIEWER:   Oh my God, was this a suicide mission?

CALHOUN:   And the OTC had not given us any signal.  He had no plan that he put out, no advance warning about what he was going to do.  Not until we were actually 2,000 yards away from this battleship did he indicate odd number of ships fire to starboard.  Well we were in the meantime tracking that battleship on our port and bow, but we were an even-number ship.  So we couldn't fire cause he told us fire to starboard.

Even number ships fire to port, commence firing.  So we had to stop tracking that guy, turn around and here now it’s pitch dark.  We can’t see a thing.  Shelton picked up a target.  Well I didn't know what it was, neither did he.  I just said, “Commence fire” cause I knew whatever it was, it was enemy.  Well our guns were loaded with star shells because that was doctrine at that time. 

Fire the first to illuminate the target.  Of course we didn't just want to illuminate him, we wanted to hit him before he hit us.  The stars broke up on the fok’sel of this cruiser, the Nagara was the name of it, they illuminated so we fired nine 4-gun salvos at him and hit him with every one of them.  At that point, the Obannon which was at the stern of us, came up into our line of fire on our starboard quarter and we had to stop, check fire, because we didn't want to shoot the Obannon.

We turned our director around for the next target.  The next target was the battleship again.  So we started shooting at him.  We fired another 36 five-inch shells into his bridge.

INTERVIEWER:   And you survived this?

CALHOUN:   Yes indeed.

INTERVIEWER:   How many of the ships survived this exercise?

CALHOUN:   There were 13 ships that went in.  Five them were sunk, the Atlanta, that was one of the AA cruisers and four destroyers, Cushing, Laffey, those were the two ahead of us, and the Barton and Monssen behind the formation.  The Portland, one of the heavy cruisers and the Aaron Ward, another destroyer, were so badly damaged that they had to be towed to Tulagi that night.

INTERVIEWER:   And how many Japanese ships?

CALHOUN:   The battleship that we were firing at was sunk the next day.  She was disabled while we were there.  She was worked over by planes from Henderson Field the next day.  She was unable to retire.  The other battleship turned and ran which was most unusual.

INTERVIEWER:   And the other ship that you hit was sunk or not?

CALHOUN:   No, that ship was not sunk.  He was damaged badly, but we sunk a destroyer after the battleship.  We almost collided with the battleship and we had to turn to get under  her bow so we wouldn’t collide with her.  We were so close to her, 500 yards, that he couldn't depress his turret gun low enough to hit us.  We then proceeded to get away from him and that’s when we saw this Fubuki class destroyer.  The dream shot.  If you could have set this up, it couldn't have been any better.

He was on a course almost opposite ours.  He was on our starboard bow.  We were headed this way, he was headed that way.  His target angle which means the relative bearing of us from him, was 150.  So if you started his bow at came around 150 degrees, that’s where we were.  But his guns were trained fore and aft.  He hadn’t seen us.  We moved with the speed of light in the gun director and took him under fire in about five seconds.  We fired four rounds into his bridge where they hit and the next four rounds after gun mounts where they also hit. 

His whole stern exploded.  It was such a spectacular sight that I called down to the guns captains and told them to send their powder monkeys, meaning the ammunition handlers, up to the fok’sel hatch to look at what they had just done and I could hear them shouting when they saw this.  Unfortunately that silhouetted us for the battleship.  We were the only one stack destroyer in the action.  Our colors were illuminated by the fires in our number 3 gun mount which was flaring up so you could see stars and stripes up there plain as day.

He just turned around, one turret went boom and hit us with three 14-inch shells which really wreaked havoc with our crew, killed 32 and critically wounded another 18.  The doctor, who was my roommate, had his hands full.  He amputated three legs, sewed up I don’t know how many gun wounds.  Everyone of those 18 guys survived.