Military

“The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes — eh — a little bit longer.”
― U.S. Navy Seabees Construction Battalions WWII

Four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, my dad, Robert William Haws, turned nineteen. I’m sure he saw the handwriting on the wall when FDR declared war the next day. His older brother, George, had enlisted in the Army prior to Pearl Harbor, but Bob knew, as an unmarried young man, he was likely to be called up early. He registered for the draft 16 February 1942.¹

Rather than wait to be drafted, he decided to take matters into his own hands and enlisted on 19 August 1942. That allowed him to choose the service branch he wanted (Navy), instead of whatever Uncle Sam decided. He always said he chose the Navy because the uniforms fit better than Army uniforms, but it made sense for a couple other reasons. As a teen, he joined the Sea Scouts, so had experience with that. Great Lakes Naval Base (the nearest training center) was only thirteen miles away—not too far from family and girlfriend.

Robert Haws as a Sea Scout. Year undetermined, but around 1938 or 39, maybe? Sea Scouts currently encompasses ages 14-20, I don’t know if it was different in the late 1930s

According to notes my mom made, Bob had five weeks of “boot camp” at Great Lakes, followed by nine days leave before starting Storekeepers School back at the base. That service school lasted sixteen weeks, completing on 22 February 1943.

Storekeeper Class, January 1943, Great Lakes. Bob Haws is 2nd from the left, in the 2nd row from the top. In the middle of the bottom row is Cliff, destined to be a life-long friend.

Bob left Great Lakes four days later, and was on a train headed for the West Coast 4 March 1943. My parents were a pretty serious item at that point, and Mom was willing to get married before he left. He said no, he didn’t want her to possibly be a widow, potentially with a child to raise. Nor did they get engaged, because he didn’t think it fair for her to be tied down while he was overseas. Her behavior would have been under scrutiny at home, whereas his—not so much. He didn’t plan on “misbehaving,” but realistically, what happened in the Pacific could stay in the Pacific. They exchanged lovers knot “promise rings,” however, and wrote regularly.

The next part of his timeline is a little sketchier. Bob & Cliff left San Francisco the 29th of April aboard the USS David Gaillard (hull# 441, built in Richmond, California).² The ship crossed the Equator on 10 May 1943, but due to security concerns, Bob’s Neptune certificate lists the longitude “secret,” headed for “A mission of war in the South Pacific Ocean.” He may not have known the longitude at the time, either.

Neptune certificate for crossing the Equator the first time. The original exceeded my scanner bed. It had to be scanned in sections and stitched back together!

The ship was headed for New Caledonia. Bob and Cliff made a practice of stashing a couple pieces of fresh fruit in their “ditty” bags, which presumably would go with them if they needed to abandon ship. They put that day’s fruit in, and ate the fruit they’d put in the day before. A number of Liberty Ships had sunk, some due to possible enemy attack, some due to fatigue failures.  My metallurgist brother educated me about those issues in 2005, but Bob & Cliff wouldn’t have known reasons in 1943. They just knew there was a risk, and didn’t want to starve, waiting to be rescued. Fortunately, it never came to that!

My mom’s notes next mention he was in Noumea, New Caledonia, on 29 May, which fits with her comment that it was a “31 day trip from the states.” They lived in tents in the hills, and had pesky mosquitoes. Orders arrived 24 June to leave for the New Hebrides—specifically, Air Center Command, Navy 140 on Espiritu Santo (now the island of Vanuatu).

Long before Survivor brought the show to Vanuatu (Lelepa Island, off the northwest coast of Efate), the United States brought the Seabees (referenced above in the subtitle) to Espiritu Santo to clear the jungle and build an airstrip. More construction followed, including quonset huts designated for the supply depot.³

My parents’ bookshelves held a 1977 book titled Journey to the End of the World: A Three-Year Adventure in the New Hebrides.8 It was written by Charlene Gourguechon and had nothing to do with World War II. Rather, she described the native people of Espiritu Santo, their culture and beliefs. Not many books are written about the island, though, so my dad bought a copy. A map of the island faced the title page, and my dad attached a post-it note at the bottom of it:

Map facing the title page of the book. Notice that my dad added a label “NSD” (Naval Supply Depot) for the NE peninsula. That caused some confusion for me. I believe it’s pointing to the wrong location, but I think I know what happened. Read my theory below.
Note on the title page: “I arrived in New Caledonia in April 1943. We waited 2 weeks for a ship to Espiritu Santo. We opened a Naval Aviation Supply Depot, the first one in the Pacific. We supplied all carrier and land based planes from 24 40′ x 100′ warehouses + jungle storage. Left for California November 1944. Dad” They actually LEFT the USA in April, arriving at New Caledonia in May.

I wandered around the Internet (particularly Fold3.com) trying to locate corroboration for the note and map label. Dad had a good memory, and  was really good with directions, so I trusted his labeling, but it had been 30+ years! The location he marked for the depot seemed a long way from Luganville, where the airstrip and port were located. To me it seemed inefficient to transport supplies to the opposite side of the island, and then back to where they started, for use or to ship elsewhere.

Fold3 had lots of documentation about the island (we’re talking hundreds of declassified pages!), including a map (below)6 of the base area. One page described the supply depot being located on Pallikulo Bay—which I promptly looked for. There it was, east of Luganville, on the tip of the “thumb.” It was a peninsula pointing north, similar to the one Dad had marked, just smaller—too small to be seen on the book’s map! While there were roads heading north on the island, nothing else I read seemed to indicate the supply depot was at the north end. If Dad had seen a better (larger) map of the island, I’m sure he would have caught the mistake himself, and corrected it.

Photo credit: Fold3.com, “World War II War Diaries, 1941-1945” 6

The Navy Muster Rolls7 on Fold3 provided a quarterly snapshot of where Bob was, and his rank while in the South Pacific:

  • 30 June 1943—SK3c (storekeeper 3rd class)4 at US Air Center, Ebon-Aviation Supply Annex, Field Torpedo Unit #17, received at Receiving Station, Noumea, New Caledonia
  • 16 September 1943—US Air Center Command, Navy 140, change in rank to SK2c, V6—”V6″ may indicate General Service and Specialists (USNR classification)5
  • 31 December 1943—SK2c (V6), US Air Center Command, Espiritu Santo
  • 31 March 1944—SK1c, V6, US Air Center Command, Espiritu Santo
  • 15 June 1944—change in rank to SKV1c, V6. US Air Center Command, Espiritu Santo. The “V” in the first part was added to indicate Aviation Branch
  • 20 September 1944—SKV1c, V6

We have a letter (undated) from D. D. Hunt, Officer in Charge, to The Commander, Air Center, Espiritu Santo, recommending that Robert Haws be promoted to SK1c, 3½ months early, effective 1 March 1944. The rational to waive the standard time was:

Haws has been in charge of building #14 with direct responsibility for the arrangement of and the development of considerable storage facilities. His good judgment in this respect has been amply demonstrated by many compliments on the appearance and outlay of his stocks. His initiative has never been dimmed by the volume or condition of the stocks poured into his building. He has assumed the qualifications and responsibilities of a first class storekeeper.

Pretty good, for 22½! Of course, he had help, and certainly wasn’t the only storekeeper on the island:

Undated (June 1943-October 1944) photo of the Aviation Supply Depot guys. Bob Haws is in the back row, far left. I don’t think we had names for the others.

Life at the Supply Depot wasn’t all work, however. The guys developed friendships with the locals: Bob Haws Like Brothers

They also had time for fun and games:

Note on back: “Shipwreck sailors or something.”
Poker was always popular, though Cribbage came in a close second. Bob Haws is 2nd from the right. One of the others is “Spike” Haessly. I’m not sure about the rest.

After a year and a half overseas, the guys finally were scheduled for home leave. Bob, Spike, and Cliff transferred to a Receiving Ship (RS) 13 October 1944. Unfortunately, they couldn’t obtain passage back until 7 November! They waited and waited, frustrated by the delay. The return ship’s name is lost to us. Apparently it also had a bent screw and could make only 8 knots. Perhaps they simply tried to forget that trip?

They slid under the Golden Gate Bridge 29 November 1944. A new waiting game began, this time for seats on a train to Chicago. They finally arrived 16 December 1944. Bob’s next assignment would be states-side, so he proposed to Ardyth by mail. He could bring a spouse with him, if she wanted, but his leave wasn’t very long. She needed to make arrangements before he arrived. You’ll find that next chapter in Going to the Chapel.

My dad never joined any of the veteran’s organizations after the war. I don’t think he regretted the time in the service, but he didn’t seem to want to rehash it, either. He certainly left the Navy with a number of very good friends, despite them being scattered around the country. Their shared experience created a bond that survived time and distance.

An update to the post can be found here.

#52Ancestors


¹”Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Multiple Registrations”, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.fold3.com), Robert William HAWS, serial no. 1497, order no. 10620, Draft Board 1, Lake County, Illinois; citing WWII Draft Registration Cards for Illinois, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Microfilm Roll: 44008_14_00104; accessed 25 May 2019.

²Wikipedia contributors, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “List of Liberty ships (A–F),” https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_Liberty_ships_(A%E2%80%93F)&oldid=877812245 (accessed 26 May 2019).

Ship name  SS David Gaillard Namesake David Gaillard MC Hull # 441 Ship type standard Laid down 5 November 1942 Launched 14 December 1942 Fate Scrapped 1971

³Otto Torriero, Patrick Clancey, Larry W. Jewell, Hyperwar: A Hypertext History of the Second World War (http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/), accessed 24 May 2019, “Chapter XXIV, Bases in the South Pacific,” (https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/Building_Bases/bases-24.html), pages 228-232.

4 http://uniform-reference.net/insignia/usn/usn_ww2_enl_aviation.html

5Navy History and Heritage Command. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/u/us-navy-abbreviations-of-ww2/v.html

6“World War II War Diaries, 1941-1945”, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.fold3.com), accessed 25 May 2019, dated n.g.; Naval Air Center Command, Espiritu Santo, image 302005027; citing World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, compiled ca. 01/01/1942 – ca. 06/01/1946, documenting the period ca. 09/01/1939 – ca. 05/30/1946; Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Record Group Number 38, ARC ID: 4697018, roll 2046; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

7“U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949”, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.fold3.com), accessed 22 May 2019, Robert William HAWS entry, dated 30 June 1943-20 September 1944; Air Center, Ebon – Aviation Supply Annex, Field Torpedo Unit #17, Report of Changes, assorted images; citing Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 01/01/1939-01/01/1949; Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Record Group Number 24, ARC ID: 594996, roll 32664_b042818 of 10,230 rolls; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

8Gourguechon, Charlene. Journey to the End of the World: A Three-Year Adventure in the New Hebrides (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977).

5 thoughts on “Military”

    1. Thanks for reading! He was a pretty good guy. The “War Diaries” available on Fold3 were fascinating to page through. They were operational logs, not personal diaries. My dad would have found them interesting, I’m sure. So much of what’s been written about WWII focuses on the battles–as it should be, I suppose–that we tend to be oblivious to the support structures needed to keep those ships and planes supplied and operational. No doubt if the Japanese would have learned the location(s) of the supply depots, and could have reached them, they would have been bombed. The Seabees were attacked, I believe, when they were constructing the base.

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    1. Thank you. I haven’t spent much time there, but the “War Diaries” collection is really interesting. Not much in the way of names, but lets you see what was going on with the ship or base. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in determining where my dad crossed the equator, and can’t find my father-in-law’s Army information (other than his enlistment). Hopefully that information will work its way into their databases. Glass half full, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wrote yesterday about marine action on Peleliu and Okinawa. There’s a ton of info – not that I could have used that in the blog, but can give me a bigger picture.

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