Interview of Ralph Barden Transcript Number 474

PZ:  Good morning, my name is Paul Zarbock, a Staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's uh... William Randall Library.  Today is the 29th of November in the year of our Lord 2004, and this interview will be part of the Mil... World War II Military Reminiscences.  It will also be cross-indexed, uh... Interview Number 2, as part of the Health Care Delivery System.   Good morning, Sir! 

RB:   Good morning.

PZ:    Please tell me your name.

RB:  Ralph Buckner Barden.

PZ:   And, your called "Buck", is that correct?

RB:  That's right...

PZ:   Always have been?

RB:  Always.

PZ:   All right.  And where do you hail from originally... where...

RB:  Right here in Wilmington.

PZ:   Born and raised here...

RB:   Right...  one of our natives.

PZ:   All right...  and... we started off off-camera and I...  I said tell me about...  you got out of high school and what happened to you?

RB:   Well... out of high school I went to uh... Junior College in western part of the State...

Brevard Junior College for a couple of years and from there I went to Washington D.C. to go to work.

PZ:   And what year was that, Buck?

RB:   '42...   No, no...  '40... 1940...

PZ:   So the War had just started?  No, the War's started...

RB:   No, before that...  It was going... yes.  It was on...

PZ:   And you were looking for a job?

RB:   Yep.

PZ:   And what did you get for a job?

RB:   I got a job with the Chesapeake-Potomac Telephone Company in Washington D.C.

PZ:   Doing what?

RB:   Splicing cable, telephone cable, underground cable, aerial (?) cable... whatever...

PZ:   And you were telling me you were... you were on an Air Base?

RB:   I was on an Air Base in... in uh... Washington D.C.  Army Air Force Base and uh... P-40's kept taking off over my head and landing and as long as I could stand I went to the  Recruiting Office to... to sign into the Army.  And they wouldn't take me because of a couple of minor... defects... high blood pressure 140... they said that I...  and a little deviated septum.  So I was a little perturbed... I went to the Navy Recruiting Office and they bypassed both of those and took me in.

PZ:   And how old were you then?

RB:   I was uh... 22.

PZ:   22... armed with two...

RB:   No, this was 1940, I was 20.   I was born in 1920 so I was 20 years old.

PZ:    So you're... here you are, 20 years of age and living in Washington D.C., armed with two

... two years of college, is that right?

RB:   That's right.

PZ:   And by gosh, you're going to get in the Navy...

RB:   Yeah (laughs).

PZ:   Did you want to go in the Navy Air Force or just...

RB:   Yes... yes.

PZ:   Well, how did you get selected for that?

RB:   Uh... that's what I asked for and they accepted me.  Uh... simple as that... really.

PZ:   As miraculous as that...

RB:  I guess so.

PZ:   Ok, so where were you sent for... did you have to go through some sort of Basic Training?

RB:   Yes, went to Basic Training at Athens, Georgia, University of Georgia, for some uh... ground work and physical training and from there went to uh... a... Base between Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas, for what they call E-Base (?) training which is flying what we call "Yellow Perils" the bi-plane, two-wing yella' stemmer [stinger] (?)

PZ:   By the way, had you flown before, had you ever been in an airplane?

RB:   Oh, yes, I had flown before... not as a pilot but as a passenger and I was intrigued by it.

PZ:   Hmm...  So you climb into the "Yellow Peril", it's a two-seater, is that correct?

RB:   Right.

PZ:   Were you in front or were you in the back?

RB:   I was... was in the front...  the Instructor's in the back and he talked to you through what they called a "Gos Port" (?)  You couldn't talk back to him you just listened to him with earphones while he talked to you.

PZ:   And it was called a what?

RB:   "Gos Port"?

PZ:   Wha...

RB:   Don't know where it came from but that's what they called it.

PZ:   Ok, well... I've never flown an airplane in my life and very few people who are going to listen to this have done that... so, you climb into the airplane, you put on your goggles, is that right?

RB:   Yes.

PZ:   Ok, and somebody says, "Start 'er up"...

RB:  Yes.

                                                                                                                                                          PZ:   What happened then?

RB:   Well... we'd take off and... uh, well... we'd go through several stages of training and he would tell us before the flight what we would want to do and demonstrate to us and then he           would turn it over to us... and to... to me in the front seat and tell me what to do and I'd try to do it like he did.

PZ:   What would be some of the things that he would do? 

RB:   Well, he would uh... make slow turns and slow glides down to a field where we would approach as if we were going to land there and uh... then uh... he'd take us out on a short navigation hop from one little town to another... such as that...

PZ:   What was the speed of the aircraft, do you remember?

RB:   (laughs) 90... 90 miles an hour, take off, landin', and flyin'... cruisin'

PZ:   (laughs) Did you like it?

RB:   Loved it!

PZ:    Were you good at it?

RB:   I...  passed, anyhow...

PZ:   You didn't crash, did you?

RB:   Didn't crash

PZ:   Well, you're good at it then...

RB:   (laughs)  I walked away from every landing... that's a good landing.

PZ:   How long before you "soloed"?

RB:  'Bout uh... seven and a half hours, I think it was...

PZ:   When you say, seven and a half hours, you mean in the air flying time.

RB:  Yes, right.

PZ:    Then you probably had class work and other stuff in ad...

RB:   Yes, yes.

PZ:   Hmm... was that scary to do it the first time, by yourself?

                                                                                                                                                         RB:   You're a little... your palms were a little sweaty, but uh... you were so proud you couldn't stand not to do it.  You were glad to get the chance to do it...  you kept waiting for that opportunity.

PZ:   You know, in movies and stuff like that... they talk about pinning the "wings" on somebody

when... when did you get your "wings"?

RB:   Oh I guess that was in Pensacola...

PZ:   Oh it wasn't after...  it wasn't after your soloed?

RB:   Well they didn't pin any wings on us... they just told us we soloed and that was it.  This was another field in uh...Winchester, Virginia and just a little overgrown cornfield... really what it was... mowed it down and made a runway out of it so that we could fly and takeoff and land.  I guess we got in about uh... a total of eighteen to twenty hours including the first eight hours of  so... of uh... instruction before we soloed.

PZ:   Ok, so after you solo you're sent off to where?

RB:   Uh... from there went to Grand Prairie which is in between Dallas and Fort Worth to fly the "Yellow Peril".  Now... I think we're not getting this backwards, are we?   I'm talking about the first CPT training out of Washington D.C., in Winchester Virginia, and then I went to Grand Prairie, Texas.

PZ:   Ok, ok...

RB:   In between Dallas and Fort Worth.

PZ:   All right... So after you're finished with the "Yellow Peril" what happened?

RB:   Uh... then we were sent to uh... Pensacola or Corpus Christi.  I... I got Pensacola.

PZ:   That was the Navy Flight Training?

RB:  Advanced Training... Advanced Training, yes.

PZ:   Did you have a choice between multi-engine and single-engine?

RB:   Yes... I had...  no, that was... that was when we graduated from Pensacola we got that choice.  I had four choices: fighter planes, dive bombers, twin engines or multi-engines, and torpedo planes... torpedo bombers.  And if you put torpedo bombers anywhere on the list you got it because nobody else wanted it and that's where I ended up.

PZ:   (laughs)  What did every... what did most the people want... fighter?

RB:   Yes. 

PZ:    So you... you put down as your first choice, torpedo bombers?

RB:   No, not first choice, its was... first choice was fighters as...  as everyone... as everyone else did and then I wanted multi-engines I think second and... and scouting next and torpedo bombers last (laughs)... but if I put it on there, anywhere, you got it.

PZ:   Ok... where were you sent for training in torpedoes?

RB:   Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

PZ:   What was the name of the aircraft?

RB:   Torpedo... It was uh... TBM Torpedo bomber... made by General Motors and uh... I think

Avenger was the name of the plane, yes... Avenger... Avenger.

PZ:   Tell me about the aircraft.

RB:   Well, it was... at that time it was  the... one of two of the largest single-engine planes made in the military... the P47 and... and the TBM, which is what I was flying, was the largest airplane... single-engine airplane made at that time.

PZ:   And a crew of three, wasn't it?

RB:   Yes, mm-hmm... a radioman and a gunner... had a turret gunner... right behind... my seat.   And, then a radio went down in the bilge.

PZ:   (laughs) Wasn't that the aircraft in which uh... President... Bush was...

RB:   Same aircraft.

PZ:    Shot down...

RB:   Yeah...

PZ:   Well I've seen one...

RB:   Only thing I've got in common with him. (laughs)  No... that's a bad... that's a bad phrase... cut that out.

PZ:    But, uh... I've seen them in a museum in Washington D.C. and they are one big, big airplane.

RB:   It's the largest single-engine airplane... it really is...

PZ:   What was its speed?

RB:   Straight and level we could fly... maybe... uh... 250 knots and if we put in a little glide we could get up to 350 knots.

PZ:   What would that be in mph?

RB:   Mmm... I can't interpolate right now in my head... that's much faster than that.

PZ:   How long was your training?

RB:  Uh... through Pensacola from CPT through E-Base (?) in Pensacola took about... November to August of '43.  November 20... of '42 to August of '43.

PZ:   How old were you in those days?

RB:   I was 20 when I started... and that would be... in 23... I would be 23 years old

PZ:   And, what was your rank?

RB:   Ensign.

PZ:   One of... one of the things that's of interest to me is the Crew of your... of your aircraft... did you always stay with the same crew?

RB:   We did when we got aboard ship. When we... when uh... went to an aircraft carrier we were assigned a Crew and we stayed together.

PZ:   Well, let me... let me probe a little bit about your training.  I... I assume that one of the things you were encouraged to do is to fly low and fly fast.

RB:   Yes, yes.

PZ:   What was used as a target?

RB:   Oh, we had... they had uh... destroyers...uh... uh... and out there as targets... of course the warheads on the torpedoes that we dropped were not armed.  They were dummies and uh... if it happened to hit the ship why it wouldn't explode or cause any damage

PZ:   (laughs)  I assume that many... I was going to say, many of the people on the destroyers were volunteers... you don't volunteer in the military.

RB:  No (laughs).

PZ:   What...  I've never heard that before in my life.

RB:   Really?

PZ:   Yeah... How long did that go on?

RB:  You mean training?...

PZ:   Torpedo bombing...

RB:   Every stage that we went through after we got to Pensacola... every stage that we went through in the training was dropping torpedoes... and also what we call "glide bombing".  Glide bombing was in between uh... uh... "straight and level" bombing and dive bombers which go straight down and... and... that was done by SBD's and that type plane that was built just for... that had dive brakes that opened up when you're diving straight down... and the glide bombing which was out range (?)... we could do approximately the same thing we just weren't diving at quite as steep an angle.

PZ:   And when... when you say, "glide bombing", instead of torpedoes you were armed with bombs?

RB:  Oh yes.

PZ:   How many?

RB:   Four.  Or, one.  One 2,000 pound torpedo or four 500 pound bombs or twelve 100 pound bombs.  Various loads...

PZ:   Depending upon the mission.

RB:   Yes.

PZ:   All right, let's put you on an aircraft carrier... where... what carrier did you serve on first?

RB:   Uh... the Saratoga.

PZ:   Wait, I'm sorry, I've got a question before that... who taught you how to land on an aircraft carrier?

RB:   Well... before you ever got close to an aircraft carrier... you had training in what we called "field carrier landing" procedures, "FLPC" and we learned... they mark out the semblance of a deck on a runway and you would go through the... the process and procedure for landing with a

Landing Signal Officer waving flags at you as you came in... you know(?), signal you, "you're too low... too high... too fast or too slow...".   And we learn all those signals from him, over and over again, before you ever got to a ship.

PZ:   This is such a very technical question... but I... years from now when students and scholars listen to this, it's going to be an entirely different world... as a matter of fact in terms of aerodynamics and aircraft it's an entirely different world right now. 

RB:  Right.

PZ:   Well when you came in on the landing your nose was up somewhat, wasn't it?

RB:  Yes.

PZ:   How could you see the field?

RB:   Well, you had to look out both sides at the same time... you'd constantly rubber necking back and forth to see exactly what was in front of you.

PZ:    And that would give you a view of the field ahead of you...

RB:   Yes, mm-hmm...

PZ:   Wi... the uh... the Flight Officer with the paddles, tell me about that again, fifty years from now people won't know what we're talking about...

RB:   He's called a "Landing Signal Officer" and he would stand at the uh... portside rear-stern of the aircraft carrier and he had a blank sheet behind him, so we could see him good, and he would use his paddles to tell us we were "too high... or too low, too fast or too slow" and help us get in the right mood for landing safely on the aircraft carrier.

PZ:   And, he himself, had been an flying Officer?

RB:   Oh, yes.  Yeah.

PZ:   Ok, so you're practicing on... on dirt landings... complete with hook (?)

RB:   No, no... well, no, we didn't use the hook on... on the "Field carrier landing procedure".  No.

PZ:   Why not?

RB:   Well there was nothing to hook to...  where to hook... on the asphalt... when you couldn't use it... it was a matter of the procedure of how to get safely on board ship...

PZ:   Would you also use this field as a take-off... training site?

RB:  Uh... no, not like taking off from an aircraft carrier... it was just regular take-off flight from any field (?)

PZ:   Let's put you on an aircraft carrier now... tell me the name of the carrier?

RB:   U.S.S. Saratoga.

PZ:   Big one?

RB:   Yes.

PZ:   How big?

RB:   The biggest... the largest!   That, and later on I was on the Lexington, the new Lexington which was uh... even bigger, even larger...  The Saratoga, now, has been uh... sunk in Biminy Atoll... I believe... one of the nuclear testing sites.  It's the Lexington is still with us... still afloat and uh... you can see her at various ports.

PZ:   Sir...  I will never land an aircraft on an aircraft carrier the rest of my life, I can guarantee you that, and I can also guarantee you that a high proportion and percentage of people who listen to this tape and hear this thing and view the transcript will never land an air... an aircraft on an aircraft carrier.  So, the first day that you were told, "Get in that airplane and fly it to a carrier..."

where were you when you took off and how did you find the carrier? 

RB:   I was in a field... up near the Lakes... what was that Lake uh.... I can't recall it right now you should have give me these questions beforehand so I could give you some accurate answers... but there were... there were uh... practice carriers on the Great Lakes... up from Illinois...

PZ:   Lake Michigan?

RB:   No, what's the other one... west of that?

PZ:   Let's see there's Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron...

RB:   Superior, I believe... I believe... I think.  Anyhow, we... we took off from land and flew out to the aircraft carriers out there and that's where our first landing aboard an aircraft carrier occurred.

PZ:   Was that the Wolverine?

RB:   Mmm... the Wolverine, I'm not familiar with.

PZ:   Ok... anyway, so you took off from dry land and landed on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Great Lakes...

RB:   And, of course, we had to take off to... once we landed (laughs).

PZ:   (laughs) Now you made mention... a sentence or two before... about... what suggested to me

there's a heck of a difference taking-off from an aircraft carrier and taking-off from dry land?

RB:  Quite a bit of difference.

PZ:   What is the difference?

RB:   Well, from land you just have whatever prevailing winds... coming down the runway and it may be zero wind or it may be 25 mph wind... On an aircraft carrier, you have that wind plus whatever winds available plus the speed of the... of the carrier which gives you more wind and the more wind you have the shorter take-off space you need.   But, you go with full throttle with uh... taking-off from the aircraft carrier... I mean full throttle... until, like one day, my wing flap closed on the starboard side and uh... my left wing flew, my right wing did not fly... this wing hit a  gun mount on the side of the ship and cart wheeled me right into the ocean.   That was out of uh... of uh... what's that Hawaiian Island base?

PZ:   Well, Hawaiian Island is good enough for me...  But... you were in an aircraft with a Crew...

with your Crew?

RB:   Yeah...

PZ:    Everybody get out?

RB:   Yeah.  I mean they got out in a hurry, too.

PZ:    I betcha'!

RB:   Yep, we found out that day you can do a lot in thirty seconds.

PZ:   Were you scared?

RB:   Too quick to be scared... we didn't get scared until it was all over with and you think back over what happened.

PZ:   But you're wearing a  flight suit aren't you?

RB:   Mm-hmm...

PZ:   And you probably have other equipment connected to that?

 RB:   Well, we disconnected all that and climbed out and got pulled (?)a .... we had a... um floating raft which would float three or four of us and we got that out into the water and floated around on that until an escort destroyer, behind the aircraft carrier, picked us up when they saw us have uh... uh...wreck into the water, the destroyer would come on and pick us up...

PZ:   So your aircraft did not sink immediately... it floated a little bit to give you time to get off the aircraft carrier and inflate the life raft...

RB:   Yes, just about enough time to get off and in that little rubber raft... not much more.

PZ:   When you got back on the uh... aircraft carrier... what were you considered... a hero, a villain, a fool... what?

RB:   (laughs) Well, main thing I wanted to know was... my idea of what happened was what they saw... and it turned-out to be the same thing.

PZ:   So, it was a mechanical malfunction on the...

RB:  Yeah... mm-hmm... you know you coulda' been killed...

RB:  Yeah, it could have happened... possible...

PZ:   So... and this raises another question... when you lose an aircraft... are there spare aircraft onboard?

RB:   Oh yeah.

PZ:   Or do you have to borrow someone else's?

RB:   Well, we rotate flying uh... each other's planes... we... there's "x" number of planes and more pilots... uh... I don't know what the ratio was but uh... other men would fly the same plane that I would fly...

PZ:   But, again, to repeat for emphasis, you always stayed with the same Crew?

RB:   Yes, same Crew... well that, if something happened to one of them you had a fill-in but that was seldom.

PZ:   But, in general, you stayed with the same Crew.

RB:   Yes, mm-hmm.

PZ:   Do you ever see any of those guys anymore?

RB:  No, I 've lost contact with them... I don't know where they are... I would really love to find out where they are and talk to them.

PZ:   Well, maybe this videotape will help (?)...

RB:   Maybe so... I hope so...

PZ:   All right, the War is still on... you're a Naval Officer, trained as a torpedo bomber or fly bomber... you got a Crew and you're going to go out and do damage to somebody.

RB:   Mm-hmm...

PZ:   Where did you go and what damage did you cause?

RB:   Well, we pulled... I guess the first... uh raid we pulled was on Wake Island and then we went from there to various islands in the South Pacific.  Uh... can't recall the names right now

I wished you give me some answers to the questions... I could have had them on the tip of my tongue... uh... Kwajalein Island [Marshall Islands], comes to mind... Roy (?) Island was in the Kwajalein Atoll...uh... Majuro, I believe, was one of them... I can't think of anymore.

PZ:   Bombing or torpedo run?

RB:   Dive bombing, mostly... torpedo bombing was for attacks on other ships.

PZ:   So you were really attacking land bases held by the Japanese, on these... on these Islands, fortifications and troop concentrations and stuff like that...

RB:   Right.

PZ:   Are they shooting back at you?

RB:   Oh yeah, mm-hmm (laughs)... I had one close call... only one trip... I had what looked to be a 50mm projectile come within about six inches of my wing locking pin, you know the wings fold up when you're on board ship to conserve space and then you pull them down and lock them in place and the projectile hit about six inches from my wing locking pin... so I don't know what would have happened if he had hit that wing locking pin... probably 'd lost that wing and uh... had an abrupt ocean landing... water landing.

PZ:   Did you ever loose any of... any of the Crew?

RB:   No.

PZ:   ... through enemy action?  

                                                                                                                                                      RB:  No... no... no, we were very lucky... very fortunate.

PZ:   What was... what was the Navy attitude towards naming your airplanes... you know... World War II the bombers frequently had named their aircraft.  Did you do that in the Navy?

RB:   Naming their airplanes?  

PZ:    Yeah, mm-hmm. You know... the cartoon on the side...

RB:   I don't know how they arrived at that... I'm not familiar wi....

PZ:   But, the Navy didn't do that, did they?

RB:   Do what? 

PZ:   Na... paint something on the side of the airplane?

RB:  Oh, oh... I guess that was individual's... choice whatever you typed on the side... I had my name on the side of mine but uh... that's about all.

PZ:   How many missions would you fly a week?

RB:   Uu... it would vary... some weeks you wouldn't fly at all... and then the next week you'd fly to or three missions... depending on where you were and what was the objective.

PZ:   What would you do for recreation?

RB:   We could play baseball, football, kickball up on the deck... we could get all the planes back at one end of the deck and we'd have a lot of space to play (chuckles).

PZ:   (chuckles) How was the food?

RB:   Very good.  Couldn't complain about the food in the Navy.

PZ:   Where were you when uh... the War uh... was uh... declared over in Japan?

RB:   I was flying on a mission to Tokyo and word came... we knew that it was over but it hadn't been officially uh... announced to us...

PZ:   Wa... how did you know it was over?

RB:   We heard rumors... on... on board ship you got all... had all sorts of radio reception... and we could tell by the newscast that it was over... but it hadn't been officially uh... handed-down to us, so the uh... Admiral who was in charge of our Task Force said go right ahead with the              scheduled flights and we were scheduled to bomb Tokyo that day... and we were half-way in there when the word came to "Cancel flight, Charlie" and the flight just disintegrated... planes flew everywhere... boys just yelling over the radio which is normally radio silence you know... but they were hollering and yelling and flying all over the sky.  Quite uh... quite a celebration!  

PZ:   Did you jettison your armament?

RB:   Yes, before we landed back aboard the plane... uh... aboard ship... if you ever come back to the ship with armament you had to jettison before you could land.

PZ:   Well, you got back to the ship and the War was over...

RB:   Yep.

PZ:   What's the world going to so with you now?

RB:   (laughs) We wondered about that... I kept thinking about going to school... but I didn't know where or what and didn't know about the "GI Bill" at that point... but found out later about the "GI Bill of Rights" and so that's how I went to school... how I went to school.

PZ:   When did you get out of the Navy?  What year?

RB:   December the 18th, 1945... Jacksonville, Florida.

PZ:   So you were out shortly after... the hostilities... let's see... they were over in August, as I remember...

RB:   Mm-hmm. Yes, yes...

PZ:   So they gave you your severance pay and...

RB:   Kicked me out...

PZ:    ... wished you the best...

RB:   Yeah...

PZ:    And... you're done...

RB:   You're done...

PZ:    You came back to Wilmington?

RB:   Yes, I did... and then I found out about the "GI Bill of Rights" so... well, before I was completely out of the Navy I was stationed temporarily at Gainesville, Georgia... just above Atlanta and I found out I could get the "GI Bill of Rights" to pay for my education so I went to the Dental School in Atlanta and matriculated there even before I was out of the Navy.

PZ:   Anything else you want to add about your military experience?  

RB:   I think you... (laughs) you've just about exhausted anything I could tell you...

PZ:   Does anybody ever win a war?

RB:  That's a good question.  Very good question... we're always... I was thinking the other night... we have been at war in this country ever since we... and before we were even formed... war has been in our background all the way back B.C.  We're always fighting somebody, somewhere.   I don't know when it will stop... I guess it never will... that's the human nature I guess, we got to fight...

PZ:   I interviewed a B-17 uh... Pilot last week and I asked him the same question and he said, "No, nobody ever wins a war... you just stop fighting for awhile."

RB:   Yeah... until the next one comes up.

PZ:   One last and final question, do you have children?

RB:   I have two girls and three grandchildren.

PZ:   Look right in the camera and give them the message what would you like them to know, ten-twenty years from now?  What have you learned from all the experiences you've had?

RB:   Uh...

PZ:   ...all the people you've met...

RB:   The best thing I can tell you is to treat your fellow man with... the best you can... just... just   always remember there's somebody else depending on you, looking at you and you have a... a good responsibility to treat your fellow man properly.

PZ:   Sir, it was an honor and a privilege to meet you!  Thank you.

RB:  You're very welcome.