Oral History

as told by

George Schwarz

U.S.S. Barnes

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor my Grandfather enlisted in the Navy as a carpenter 1st class petty officer. He was stationed in the Pacific for the last year of the war on board the Naval escort carrier, the U.S.S. Barnes: 65 officers, 516 men. He was a part of the C&R (construction and repair) division and was soon promoted to the chief position in the work crew. ---Matt Schwarz

Well, in my family after the...well, after Pearl Harbor we decided that I would be going in, even though I could have gotten a deferment for a while. But we wanted to---being raised by an immigrant father who preached citizenship to us all our lives. So, when the war came along gradually, one by one, we went in. Five of us went in. My sister was in the WACs, and she got as far as over in Africa where the command headquarters was for that part of the war. I went in the navy, I had a brother in the Coast Guard, one in the CBs (Navy assault and construction crew), and one in the Air Force. The Naval Ordinance Plant that I worked at said that they could get me a short deferment, but I decided I didn't want to do that. I wanted to go in and join the rest of the family in the war. Sooner or later I was gonna go anyways, I decided that how I wanted to go was important. (Pause) Yeah, we had to get the family represented in the navy 'cuz somebody was taking care of some of the other branches of the service. (laughs.)

The oldest one, my brother Adam, was the one that went into the CBs. My brother Joe had found out where he was at on an island in the Pacific and walked into his tent. My brother Adam looked up and said,"What do ya want?" It was a complete surprise for Adam.

[Grandma:] I think there was a little bit about that story..I think it was...Joe always loved fresh tomatoes, and I think he had a basket of tomatoes with him. As he came in the tent Adam said, "I shoulda known you right away, I shoulda known by the basket of tomatoes."

[Grandpa:] We kind of had a code between us so that we could halfway keep track of each other, you know, in letters home and such.

[Grandma:] It would be something like: "How's Phyllis doing? And we wouldn't even know a Phyllis. But Phyllis might mean Guam. And,"How's Matilda doing?"---could be another port.

[Grandpa:] We had code names for different places so that we could keep track of each other in our letters. They wouldn't catch it in my almost daily letter home to Catherine (laughs)...because you'd be talking about family.

Before I went in I had been with Hudson Motor and was working at the Naval Ordinance Plant. Very quickly got promotions there, and became a foreman of a small group. And then...Cathy and I...well, we got married. Two weeks after we got married I had enlisted in the Navy (laughs). I quit my job out there and said goodbye to them, and joined the Navy.

As it turned out, as I left my bride of two weeks and went away to war, we got there and reported on a Saturday morning. They were calling off names, and calling off names, and loading them on buses---taking them all to Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Finally, there were seven or eight of us left standing there, and so I suddenly said, "well, I guess we'd better ask." So, I went up and asked one of the officers, I said,"Sir, what about us?" And the officer said, "Oh, you guys have experience in construction and such that we need you out in Grosse Isle." I said, "Where's Grosse Isle?" And the guy looked at me like I was kidding him, I think. Then he said to us, "How would you guys like to come back Monday?" I said, "uh, okay."

[Grandma:] So my parents had moved me home, and then we'd just get settled and he comes up the street from the street car.

[Grandpa:] I expected to leave and see her lord knows when, you know. And then after our tearful farewell in the morning, there I was in the evening.

I was stationed on Grosse Isle for over a year. They had an air base there, and what they were doing there before the United States went into the war, was teaching English cadets how to fly. So when I went there, all they had there, more or less, were the English. What they were in the process of doing then was building the base up so they could train American pilots too. And that was my job to help build and maintain the base. They needed a particular kind of help out there. So, somebody made the decision...well, they said, "we'll take 'em out there and they'll get their basic training later." Later never happened, (laughs) because we gradually got it by being there, you know.

...I was stationed States-side for, oh...almost two years, wasn't I? And then I went out to the West Coast and went on the Aircraft Carrier for the last year of the war. In October or November of '44 I went aboard ship, and I stayed on 'till the end of the war. About a month after the war ended I was on there, then I got my discharge and came home.

The first place I went to...of course we stopped at Pearl Harbor. Then we were in on part of the Philippines invasion. Our planes took part in attacks and such, and we were well protected by being part of a fleet of ships. We had destroyer escorts all over the place. It was their job to protect the carriers, and they did...they did.

What were your feelings about joining the war effort, especially since you were just married?

Well, it was a thing that had to be done, as a lot of us felt. To go and defend our country---we thought it was important enough to do it in my family. Surprisingly, the wave of patriotism that swept the country...it was unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it since, or before. Of course, we never had that sort of situation again either, you know. People just quit their jobs, left their homes and went. You hadda almost be part of it to believe it---the wave of enthusiasm, the patriotism. People were lined up in the hundreds enlisting. The way we were brought into it from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor...that swept across the country and everybody was ready to fight back.

What about those that didn't share the enthusiasm?

You had the ones that were just figurin' to grab the money while it was available. At times you would speak up to them; you know, tell 'em how you felt about it. There were some around like that, like there always are. You know, everybody isn't always on one line of thinking. There were some that griped about what the war was doing to them, instead of what their effort was. (Pause) Of course, when the war ended that was another story, then everybody's figurin' how they can get home. (laughs.)

Did you see the war in the Pacific coming?

I don't think the Americans thought they were gonna be under attack in the Pacific. We just didn't believe that we were gonna be a part of that. That's why the attack on Pearl Harbor was such a complete surprise...well, we were already engaged in some some of the things in the Pacific, but nobody thought the Pacific warfare was going to strike home. Until all of a sudden it dawned on people, "Hey, that war in the Pacific is a lot closer than we thought." It drove home to a lot of people that this was not just a fight between Japan and China, and some small island countries over there. Japan was after world conquest too.

As if the Germans weren't enough. What a mess.

Amen. Pearl Harbor was a big mistake on their part. I suppose they could have made their conquests over there in their own area and gotten away with it. In that part of the world a lot of it is more of an island area. What the Japanese had done to fortify their world as they took it over was unbelievable, 'cuz they didn't just come in and occupy an area after they won a battle, they made a fortress out of it---as we found out when we got over there.

Very shortly after the war had ended the ship I was on, the Barnes, went to Yokosuka, Japan. They flew all our planes off, we anchored there and they loaded up with Japanese aircraft to bring them back to the United States for people to examine and see. And they would bring out two of this, two of this, two of this. They loaded up, completely, our hangar deck and flight deck with Japanese aircraft. It was funny, I looked it up in my book there today...it seemed to me that we were in Yokosuka for weeks. I looked in their today and found that we did all this in five days. And one of those days I went to Tokyo. The Marines and some of the Army were in there and established already. I had to caution the guys, you know, just weeks ago we were shooting at each other. The Japanese---most of them---the way they are, and the way they were then---very polite. They would put their hands in front and bow their head to you. Others you could tell weren't doing that, they were looking the other way. I just thought...well, you could run across someone who had lost their sons and daughters in the war...

But it was a chance to see first hand what our bombers had done to Tokyo, and to Yokosuka (where we'd landed there). They had just bombed the dickens out of Tokyo. Around Yokosuka everything was tunnels going back into the rock with huge gun emplacements back in there. And looking at what our bombers had done---where there was a building that could have been a manufacturing building or a base---they had leveled those things, our bombers. There'd be a residential area a block away that hadn't been touched. They were very good. They weren't over there just flying over and drop a bomb and get back, you know. They were doing a great job of it.

But if we would have had to go ashore there, and fight our way in, the casualties would have been out of this world. There would have been hundreds of thousands of lives that would have been given. And that's why when the news of the bomb came along everyone heaved one tremendous, "Unbelievable!" at first. Then said a prayer, a thankful prayer, that we didn't have to send people in. Unbelievable... 'just couldn't believe we had bombs that could do that. Well, there'd never been anything like that in this world of ours...and I know what I did...I thought it was a bad thing that we had to do, but I said my prayer that we did it to them, instead of them doing it to us. Yeah.

Was it hard looking at the destruction of the cities?

You couldn't help thinking about the hundreds of thousands, or whatever amount of people that died. That we could do it---that anybody could do it with the bombs we dropped...like I said our bombers comin' in there just did unbelievable damage. They would level whole areas, you know, blocks and blocks were just down. They picked their targets and did it.

Since you never actually went through basic training, you don't remember seeing any of the films that were produced for the soldiers or sailors?

No, I didn't because I by-passed that. But, on board ship, others going through basic training did. They were shown films on damages that had been done, and how it was done, and how to handle a like situation and such. I just got my instruction to fill me in after I was on board ship. I was one of the very few that got there without ever going through basic training, there was just a few of us that did. The second trip we made out from the States side, we had a Chief Officer that was in charge of the C&R work crew. Well, I don't know what he did or anything, but we just pulled up along side a little island and they took him ashore and left him there. And then they turned around and said, "Schwarz, you're in charge." And from then on I was in charge of the C&R work crew. What that amounted to, in my favor, was: I was a 1st class Petty Officer, and the man whose place I took was a Chief Petty Officer. So, what they did- they made me an acting Chief Petty Officer. And there I fell into a really good deal because I didn't have to stand watch with people of my own rank anymore, and I couldn't stand on watch with the other Chief Petty Officers because I was just an "acting" Chief Petty Officer. I had one of the best deals on board that ship. (laughs.) There were three or four of us that fell into that category, where we never had to stand a watch. We just did our job and we didn't have to spend half the night being on night duty. Oh yeah, I really fell into one. C&R Crew

Did your brothers ever give you any hell because of that little perk?

Oh! (laughs.) I tried not to tell them that. My younger brother Joe and I were very close together over the years, you know, especially after the war years. We'd laugh about some of those things. He was in the Army Air Force, more or less in the office end of it. Joe was one of those that applied himself and did quite well while he was in the Service---looked out for himself and his. Now, I feel sometimes this is a matter of just being in the right place at the right time.

Grandma, what do you remember of the films shown on the homefront?

I wasn't really sharp on what was going on in Europe. But I know I was amazed when I did first see the first Pathe newsreel about what was going on in Germany. I don't recall specifically any of the films during the war. Bridge on the River Kwai, but that was after the war.

You'd go to a show for entertainment, or a lot of families would get together, and try to act like the war wasn't affecting you. If you wanted to go to the show, naturally, it was only a dime to 15 cents. But you gotta think that 35 dollars a week was good pay for the men at that time.

Grandpa, what did you think of the post-1945 films about the war?

My reaction to it? I wasn't that interested in that because I'd been there. I'd seen how bad or how good it could be. As far as I was concerned, the war was over with, and that's how I wanted it. I wasn't very interested in seeing recreations of what it was. Movies we tried to go to would be...well, as musicals came along we went for that type of thing. Happy features and happy endings. The part of life that we had missed.

Somehow or other they always showed a happy ending to those things [the hollywood war films]. We were seeing the other end of it. And sometimes we'd see the dead and the wounded, and, uh...they weren't all standing around laughing and smiling. 'Cuz what we would do out there, if we were gonna make a straight run back to the States because we needed repairs or something, we would load our ship up with wounded. In the hangar we would have cots there with hundreds of wounded. It was a chance to get them back to States side because that's where we were going. And that drove the war home, even a little closer---when you'd see these guys as shot up as they were.

But today you see movies that are dramas, and they end up that way with things ending but not necessarily being happy endings. But in our day they tried to make movies always have-

[Grandma:] We like to say they stop now; they just stop. (laughs.)

What are your most engaging memories of the war?

[Grandpa:] Pearl Harbor. When I was first there in '44 I got all choked up about it knowing that here's this ship that's sunk, and there's my fellow sailors- hundreds of them down there. And I thought that's bound to happen to ya the first time you see it. But every time I went near there I felt the same way. Grandma and I went back there a few years ago-

[Grandma:] 1986.

[Grandpa:] ...1986, we went to Japan, then we went back to-

[Grandma:] No, not Japan.

[Grandpa:] ...went to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and came to where the Arizona is sunk. And I still felt the same way when I was looking at that wreckage. All I could think of was how many of my fellow sailors went down there under that bombing attack---under that surprise bombing attack. There are things you just don't forget, or how you felt about things. But that in particular, I think, made one of the greatest impressions on me.

[Grandma:] The question of the Atom Bomb, of course, would always come up. Should we have dropped it, shouldn't we have? Until it was once used, I don't think they really knew the devastation of it.

Newspaper Headlines

[Grandpa:] The Japanese were a pretty stubborn people. There were questions on everyone's minds as to would they've ever surrendered. We were doing this tremendous damage. They weren't surrendering, they weren't thinking of surrendering, I guess. But dropping the two bombs---I think that gave anyone in the Japanese government that might have, perhaps, been looking for a way to get out of this---it might have given them the thought, "well, now it's something we can take to the people and tell them why we should surrender. This is something no one's ever seen, or been exposed to before in this whole world."

After the surrender, what were some of your thoughts upon seeing the Japanese for the first time in their own element?

I wasn't expecting to find them as submissive as they were. They recognized us as their conquerors. In the streets of Tokyo, and Yokosuka too, as you came down the street they would step aside. You know, and I couldn't get used to that. I never had anybody doing that for me.

Do you feel that there was more race hate towards the Japanese than, say the Germans?

Yeah, because of Pearl Harbor; because of the sneak attack that we felt we were the victims of. I think we felt differently about the Japanese than we did about the European war. Yes, I think we did---I don't know that we should of, but I think we did.

So, you think that the way we viewed their race was really dependent on December 7th. You don't feel it went beyond that ?

I think it heightened it. I think the way we got into the war with them had a lot to do with our outlook of those people---of how those people looked to us. Maybe the fact that the Japanese people looked differently, too. 'Cuz you could go over to Europe and look at a German, a Frenchman, or whatever, and go look in a mirror. There was that different feeling. They were our enemy, but when we got into it with Japan, they were not only our enemy---they looked different than other people to us. But when someone is over there shootin' at you, killing your buddies and everything, you aren't thinking about what he looks like at the moment.

Do you think that the race hate towards Japan has diminished since the war?

The world wasn't as well traveled as it is now, ya know. In our day the East was a mystery. Communication and travel around the world wasn't like it is today. Today, you can turn on your TV and see the other end of the world, for goodness sakes.

[Grandma:] Well, those who were put in the camps...In fact, we were at Margie's daughter's wedding in Maryland and she married a Japanese young man. His parents were incarcerated during World War II, and they were both born here! So, I think that gradually...well, there are some people, I think, that will find a reason to dislike anybody. Like, we have had some acquaintances say that a lot of the resorts are being bought by the Japanese. And they resent it, you can tell by their different tone. I myself can't---I mean, I think, there's a lot of Jewish money out there, there's a lot of any nation's money out there, and it doesn't bother