Interview of Henry Flick
Transcript Number 482
INTERVIEWER: Okay, we’re here at the Jamison in North Carolina and we’re here to interview Mr. Henry Flick. Basically what we’re here to do is to find out about your service in World War II and tell us a little bit about where you were born and things like that.
Flick: I was born in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania in 1923. I went to school, high school graduated there in 1941. Then I worked for an electrical contractor in Burly, Yeager Bros. for two years. Then I enlisted in the Navy. From there I went to boot camp at Sampson.
INTERVIEWER: Where’s that?
FLICK: It’s up in the Great Lakes. I went through boot camp there and then after that, I went to Purdue University through their electrical program which was 16 weeks. I went in as a fireman 1st class and came out of Purdue an electrician’s mate 3rd class. From there I went to Portsmouth, Virginia. There I went aboard the USS Booth. She was just new and we just put her on a cruise and went out for shakedown.
INTERVIEWER: Where was shakedown?
FLICK: Down in Virginia, Portsmouth. That was the home port. After the shakedown, then we were assigned to different fleets. We escorted these fleets across. We went around the outside looked for submarines and aircraft and stuff like that, protecting the fleet. That’s the bulk of my time on ship, was as an electrician. I was either in the engine room or the motor room for three years doing about the same thing. We were always below deck.
INTERVIEWER: So you were always below deck. Some other guys told me they were outside painting and stuff like that. You were always doing electrical stuff.
FLICK: They were seamen and we were in the firemen class, like the dirty grease, we were below deck (laughter).
INTERVIEWER: So you were going to Portsmouth, you went from the United States over to Africa and over to the Mediterranean. What was that like?
FLICK: We’d escort these ships across. They had supplies and oil tankers and sailors and soldiers, Marines, whatever was in the convoy. Our job was to go around the fleet to protect that fleet. We had smokescreen generators.
INTERVIEWER: What’s a smokescreen generator, what’s that do?
FLICK: Well it started to get dark at night and our ship was on a course. If there were submarines in the area, they could track our course. So what we would do was when it would get dusk, then we’d put this smokescreen in the air where we were supposed to go to throw the submarines off. Then when we’d get it in the air, the smoke, the convoy would pull out of the smoke either to the starboard or to the port to fool the submarines. We did that night after night after night.
FLICK: That was one of our jobs. Then the other job we had was if we spotted the submarine, we were to chase that submarine and sink it. It dropped your ashcan, we always called them ashcan, they were TNT cans, when they hit metal, they exploded. They would hit a submarine and then it was our duty to look for bodies and stuff like that.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever hit any submarines at all?
FLICK: Not that I know of cause I was below deck. I didn't know what was going on up top.
INTERVIEWER: How did the Booth run, was it on oil or coal. I don’t know, how did ships run back then?
FLICK: Oil. We had an oil fired diesel engine that turned screws that generated electricity. Then we had another screw that turned for a motor and that motor was used for propellers. We had two screws. Two of these motors turned those screws.
INTERVIEWER: Was there any time that the engines failed at all or you had trouble or anything?
INTERVIEWER: Good, that’s lucky (laughter). I was talking to Mr. Sloan and he was saying how lucky the Booth was because you missed going into Normandy by one ship or something like that and then when they went over to the Pacific, they missed going to the Battle of Tokyo or wherever it was because the bomb fell basically. Did you consider yourself lucky to be on the Booth? What do you think?
FLICK: Well I figured look, you go into the Navy and when you’re in trouble, the brains of your ship are on the head of it. You go into the Army, they go ahead and they stay back. You don’t do that in the Navy. I figured I’m going where you have the brains that stay with you. So that’s what I liked about the Navy and we always had a good crew. I mean you’ve talked to these guys. They’d take the time, they were friendly people. Even their wives, you know what I mean, it was just like a big family. I mean it’s the Navy.
INTERVIEWER: Now when you guys got to Casablanca and those ports and stuff, did you get a chance to get off the ship and look?
FLICK: Yes, we always got liberty. You know, you had to take your turn. You didn't get a lot of time. But if we pulled into Casablanca and it was going to stay there for a day or two, we’d could get off.
INTERVIEWER: What was that like? Or any port, I mean was it wild?
FLICK: All the ports we ever went to, the people were poor. When they’d take the garbage can out to put it on the dock, the little kids would grab that stuff and eat it, take it home. Like if you went down the streets chewing chewing gum, the little kids would follow you until you threw that gum out so they could get it.
INTERVIEWER: Boy, that’s something else.
FLICK: I mean that’s sad when you think about it, how poor a lot of people are. We had all that waste you know.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have people on the ship in the beginning and then when it’s decommissioned, there’s a name for them, plank something…what did they tell me? Plank holders?
FLICK: Well I don’t know. I was on board the ship when it was commissioned. Then we went through the shakedown and then I was assigned as an electrician on the USS Booth. Then we started our convoys.
INTERVIEWER: Were you there when she was decommissioned?
FLICK: Yeah, down in Jacksonville, Florida, we put her out. Then after I got home, four or five years later, they called me up and wanted to know whether I’d come back and go aboard ship and put her out and make a trip with it. Well I was married then and had two little kids so I said look, I’d like to do that, but I’ve just got too many obligations. I just couldn’t do it so I just never went back. Then I guess they sold our ship to somebody overseas.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, the Philippines.
FLICK: They ran her against the reefs out there and smashed her all up.
INTERVIEWER: Were you on the ship when it went to the Pacific at all or not.
INTERVIEWER: So you were there the whole nine yards.
FLICK: The day from when she was commissioned to when she was decommissioned, I was aboard.
INTERVIEWER: And you were always running the engine basically (laughter).
FLICK: It’s amazing. We’ve had all these reunions and the guy that started these reunions was from Pennsylvania, Yost.
INTERVIEWER: Oh yeah, I heard that name.
FLICK: He called me one day and said that he would like to get the guys together and have reunions and I said great. So he gave me a list of names in Pennsylvania. I took his list of names over to Williamsburg, my wife and I, and we spent a whole day over there in the courthouse. These ladies would go through death certificates to see if anybody died, marriage licenses, property deeds and stuff.
Finally at the end of the day after we went through all these different departments, I said to this one little girl, she put all this stuff on the computer for me, I said, “Let me tell you, most of the sailors that left over here met girls someplace else and never came home”. She said they wouldn’t have any record of that. So I had to go back to Yost and tell him. The girls worked their butts off trying to help me, but everything we did was in vain.
INTERVIEWER: It’s nice that you guys can get together though. It’s really nice. The impression I got from the gentleman that I interviewed, it’s a family and the bond you had on the ship isn’t broken, it’s nice. Now when you were in the engine room, how many people did it take to run the thing?
FLICK: The department I was in?
INTERVIEWER: Yes sir.
FLICK: You had the forward engine and the aft engine and it took one electrician at each one and then you had a motor in each of those rooms and you had a motor man. Now the motor was on that deck and then up one deck, the oar board was next and one electrician stayed there and manned that board. So it was four guys for a four hour shift and that’s the way we worked. Four on and four or eight off, it depends.
Then if somebody got sick, you had to fill in for them and stuff like that. So they didn't have it pinned down so they had such a tight schedule. You got time off.
INTERVIEWER: You slept in the bunks where everybody else slept or did you have to be closer to the engine.
FLICK: The bunks.
INTERVIEWER: They were telling me that the bunks were like three high and metal mesh or something. Did you strap yourself in when you were in the bunk?
FLICK: Oh you had to.
INTERVIEWER: One of these guys said they didn't and they kept falling out (laughter).
FLICK: I always slept on my side before I went aboard ship, but you soon learn to sleep on your back because that thing rolls. The straps went across here and across here and one under your armpits. You’d roll back and forth. We were just talking about eating in the mess hall.
INTERVIEWER: What was that like?
FLICK: My wife comes to the reunions you know and we go aboard these ships in the dry docks and we’d have a meal there. She said, “Boy, did they have nice dishes and nice silverware, China”. I said we had a tin pan that we’d pass down the table. The table was just a board this way with a board here and a ledge and a board back here. We didn't have any fine China.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Roland I talked to, he was telling me about a time when the ship almost … where were you for that?
FLICK: I was down in the engine room.
INTERVIEWER: Was that scary?
FLICK: See it rolled really bad. It was the end of the storm and somehow the skipper went to turn and they turned and it went way over. It came back on an even keel and then he had sense enough to turn it and go into the waves. So then we sat there like this you know. But if we went the other way, we could have gone all the way over. That would have been the end. He brought it out of it.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like it was a lucky ship it seems like. It was a good crew and as good as it can be experiences out there.
FLICK: Yeah, we had good times. When you went overseas, we went out there taking these little islands, prisoners of war. We had fun doing that. We’d go to the island and they’d have beer parties.
INTERVIEWER: This is out in the Pacific?
INTERVIEWER: And you had the Japanese prisoners of war?
FLICK: Yeah. You know they committed hara-kiri, but once in a while you’d get one of the younger ones. He’d start to cut and it hurt and he quit and then you’d take him as a prisoner. Most of them would run it right into their heart and die.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. So it was decommissioned in 1946 I think. What do you remember about the end of the war in Europe in May of ’45? What do you remember about that day?
FLICK: Well we were on our way back with the convoy. I think we came into the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Then our ship was dark blue at the bottom and light blue at the top. So they ran us in dry dock and then they gave us that there zigzag with all the different colors. Then as soon as we came out of dry dock, then we were assigned to the Pacific fleet.
Then it was a little bit different. We weren’t escorting anybody. We were just going from island to island looking for Japs or prisoners of war. We did that for I guess three or four months. Then I was discharged. Then I came back, I wasn’t married. I had to stay aboard to put that ship out of commission. The other guys all left.
INTERVIEWER: They got out, you stayed on board. Any other things that stick out in your mind that you remember that you liked or didn't like?
FLICK: All the time I was on that ship, everybody helped each other. Nobody was ever mean or nasty. It was just a friendly bunch of young guys doing their job.
INTERVIEWER: That’s what it seems like. That’s the impression I got. I’m trying to think what else. These reunions started back when, in 1993 or something like that?
FLICK: Well this is the 11th reunion so it started in ’92. The first one we had we had down in Carlisle in Pennsylvania. That’s where Dick Yost lived. He did all the arrangements. He only lived about a mile and a half from the hotel where we stayed. It worked out great. He did a bang up job.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, it’s a lot of work to run these reunions. It’s a lot of work getting people to come and organizing all the hotels and stuff, but I think it’s worth it because you guys have a great time seeing everybody.
FLICK: See my wife just died this year. She always came and right away the women all came over and said they were sorry to hear about my wife. Now they want to start their own.
FLICK: Yeah, they’re talking about it, their husbands died…so they can come to these reunions.
INTERVIEWER: That’s pretty nice. I guess in closing, do you have any World War II stories or memories or anything you’d like to close with?
FLICK: As far as the war, when you’re below deck, you got the motor running and you’ve got the diesel giving power to your board and you’ve got your headset on, I didn't know what was going on. I mean if they fired the 8mm guns, you could feel the quiver, but I didn't know what they were shooting at. I was just hoping they didn't hit us, that’s all (laughter).
INTERVIEWER: That’s great. I appreciate your taking the time to talk to us.