Sailors compelled to get artistic after Pearl Harbor assault

With COVID-19 precautions in place, historian Joe Todd has been unable to conduct interviews with veterans. This is the fourth installment of an interview with veteran Paul Goodyear, which Todd conducted on April 17, 2002, in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the Eisenhower Library. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

(The interview picks up with Goodyear on Ford Island after swimming there from the capsizing USS Oklahoma.)

Todd: What did you do when you got ashore?

Goodyear: A bunch of us were just standing there. We were scared and lost. Some officers came to us and suggested that we find transportation and take wives and children to the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) at the end of Ford Island near where the Arizona blew up. There were houses there where the officers lived. We found a truck and took people to the BOQ. I’m sure they would have rather seen the Japs than us because we were filthy, dirty, oily and wet and asking them to get in the truck. After we had taken all the women and children to the BOQ, we knew the Japs were going to invade and we wanted to protect ourselves. We went down to the seaplane hangar. There was a guy there and he gave us a couple of rifles and a .30 caliber machine gun, but it wasn’t assembled. He also gave us a couple boxes of ammunition for the machine gun. It was still in Cosmo line, so here are a bunch of Signalmen with a machine gun and we have no idea how to put this thing together. One of our guys had been in the Mounted Cavalry before the Navy and he knew how to assemble this thing. We went up on top of the fire tower and got this machine gun assembled. We got it together and we squeezed off a couple of rounds to make sure it was going to work. Well the whole goddamned island started shooting. I bet there was half a million rounds fired in just a few minutes. Some guy yelled at us and asked what we were doing? We told him we just wanted to see if the machine gun worked. We got our fannies chewed out over that. Some guy came around looking for Signalmen. We told them we were Signal. There was a telephone line from Ford Island to the Navy Base, but they were afraid it might be cut if a ship sunk. We were told to put up a signal tower. That signal tower consisted of eight or 10 of us. We had no flags or no light, but we sat up there ready to send signals.

Paul GoodyearPaul Goodyear, retired

T: What did you do for meals?

G: Monday, we went to the Navy Base at the Mess Hall. Marines were there to keep anyone out that didn’t have identification. Everything we had went down with the Oklahoma and we could not get on the Navy Base. We did not get on the Navy Base until almost Christmas.

T: What did you do for food until Christmas?

G: We stole what we ate. We still had this truck and someone would try to steal this truck every night. We had to strip the truck so it wouldn’t run every night then put it back together in the morning. Of course, we had stolen the truck in the first place. They were trying to lighten the California to float it. Everything was being taken off and placed on a floating dock next to the ship. Marines were guarding this stuff that came off the California. We would drive down there and walk out to the floating dock and say “working party to pick up supplies.” We pretended we were working parties. I’m sure the Marines were just as scared as we were and they said, “OK”. We had a couple of 2nd Class Petty Officers. We began scrounging all the gallon cans we could find. We didn’t want ammunition or anything else. We just wanted gallon cans. We would throw them in the back of the truck and start to take off. We were told we had to sign for the stuff. We signed Lt. Harry Truman or any name we could think of. I’m sure they knew we were phony, but as I said, they were just as scared as we were and didn’t care. We took the cans back to where we were sleeping. We would get up in the morning and someone would say, “What are we going to have for breakfast?” Someone else would say, “let’s have bacon and eggs.” We would then open two gallon cans. We never did find the bacon and eggs. The cans had no labels because they had been under water and all the labels had washed off. We would have asparagus, apricots, corn and anything that was in the gallon cans. For three meals a day, we opened two cans. We had no utensils, so we ate with what God gave us, our hands. I got a bath on Monday, the 15th. I saw the USS Indianapolis come in and there was a guy on board that I had gone to Signal School with. The Indianapolis docked and went down and got on a ferry and went over to her. We had no one in control of us, we were just hanging around. Our ship was gone. I stood on the dock and asked permission of the officer of the deck to come on board and get a bath. The Indianapolis was spit and polish and here I was filthy and dirty walking up the gangplank. That ensign looked at me and I was just an apparition. They had been in Pearl only a couple of hours from the states and were looking at all this destruction and I come walking up and asked permission to come aboard. He almost lost every tooth in his head. I think I had a pair of khakis on that I had been living in for a week and was filthy beyond belief. He didn’t let me aboard ship, but sent his messenger for the captain. I asked to see my friend who was in the crew of the Indianapolis. My friend came and also the captain. The captain asked, “Tuck, do you know this man?” Tuck said he did, that he had gone to school with me. The captain then said, “take him down to the Master at Arms and get him some clothes and a bath. I was tickled to death that I was going to get a bath. The captain then told Tuck to report to him within the hour that I was off the ship. We started walking across the deck and the captain yells, “Tuck!” I thought that son-of-a-bitch has changed his mind. I didn’t have a hat on or anything. The captain says, “Take him down to the mess hall and get him a meal.” I could have kissed that captain. I got a bath, new clothes and the cooks fixed me a real good meal. I had meat and potatoes and everything. I have had some good meals since then, but that is the one I will remember the rest of my life. You have to remember, a lot of the guys didn’t have a chance to eat that morning of the attack and then we couldn’t get in the mess hall. I went back to Ford Island and I had clean clothes and had a good meal. I stayed there until mid-April. I had no records so we couldn’t get paid. In April, my name came up on the payroll. I had four months’ pay coming. I had $240 coming for those four months, but they shorted me $12. I went to the paymaster and asked why my pay was $12 short. That paymaster looked at me and said, “How do I know you didn’t draw advanced pay?” Well it was virtually impossible to draw advanced pay. To this day, the Navy still owes me that $12, which is a week’s pay.

T: What were you doing on Ford Island up to April?

G: We were just there, hanging around.

The USS Oklahoma at the Puget Sound Naval Yard in Washington, September 28, 1940.

T: Whenever you saw the upturned hull of the Oklahoma, what did you think?

G: It didn’t bother me that much because you look one way and there was the Utah, the other direction was the Arizona then there was the Oklahoma. There was so much destruction, you got used to it. At first, we could hear noises from the ships. Right after the attack, we could hear pounding from the kids inside the ships. The last guys were cut out Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, those still inside were dead. Then we head other noises. I’m sure it was the ships settling and stuff falling but it was eerie. We knew the bodies were still in the ships and that is what bothered me.

T: Your name appeared on the pay list in April and what did you do?

G: A couple of days later I saw a notice that I was to report to the Indiana for transfer. I reported to the Indiana and the guy asked where my sea bag was? I told him I didn’t have one. He said I couldn’t come aboard without a sea bag. I left and came back in a couple of days with a sea bag. I stole everything. I had more names on my uniforms in my sea bag then the Indiana had names on their roster.

T: Where did you get the sea bag?

G: I stole it. We had to steal everything. That is how we lived. We had no money and didn’t have a liberty card so we couldn’t go anywhere. Some of the guys helped us. One would loan us his liberty card and another would loan us a set of whites so we could go on liberty and another would give us a couple of dollars. One time I would be a ship Fitter First Class. The next time I may be an Apprentice Seaman and the next I may be a Fireman. There was not much to buy. Food was running short on the islands and there was no booze to buy.

T: When did you go aboard the Indiana?

G: Three days after she was commissioned. I came back to the States and went aboard her at Norfolk.

T: What did you do on the Indiana?

T: I was a Signalman. You have to understand, there were only about 300 guys on the Indiana that had ever been to sea and the rest of the 2,000 crewmembers had never been to sea. They would send a guy up and tell us to make a Signalman out of him. There was so much confusion and work on the Signal Bridge. It was still being wired, so we went to the dock or somewhere on shore and began training these new Signal guys. There were five or six of us training these new guys. We could see the ship was almost ready and being shaped up. I had never had leave and I went to the division officer, a lieutenant, and requested leave so I could go home. He was smart, his father was an admiral and he was going to make admiral. He said he couldn’t give me leave. I told him the ship was about ready and I had 60 days leave coming, 30 days regular leave and 30 days survivor’s leave for the Oklahoma. I told him I would like to go home on leave, but I was going home either way. He looked at me and told me to come back tomorrow. The next day he said all he could get me was 10 days. I was satisfied with that. I went home to Detroit and was tickled to death. When it was time to go back to Norfolk, I went to the airport. I reported in to the ticket counter and said I was ready to go. The guy asked if I had qualification or a rating? All I had was a ticket I bought in Norfolk. He gave me a phone number to call and I did. They asked me a few questions and was told to go back to the ticket counter. They gave me another ticket for a DC-3. It carried 20 or 22 passengers. I was sitting in the back of the plane and we took off for Cleveland from Detroit. I was told by the time we got to Cleveland I would be cleared for Norfolk then on to Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., and on to Norfolk. I didn’t know you had to have priority. We got to Pittsburgh and there was a little activity on the airplane. There were two crewmembers and a stewardess assisting a naval officer off the airplane. He was not happy. He had some high-level meeting and he couldn’t understand why a 3rd Class Petty Officer was taking his seat when he was an officer. One of the crewmen told him I had a higher priority. I didn’t know about priorities at that time and didn’t know what was going on. I got back to the ship and we took off so I was lucky to get back in time.

T: What did you do on the Indiana?

G: First, we made a couple of shakedown cruises off Portland, Maine. As I said, only 300 of us were sailors and the rest were farmers who had never seen the ocean before. We sailed around and came back in every night. Eventually we got orders to go to the South Pacific. We went down to Panama on the Atlantic side about 4:00 in the morning and there must have been 200 or 300 ships waiting to go through the canal. I knew this was going to take a while. By sunset that day we were through the canal and out of sight of land. We had priority because Guadalcanal was just starting up.

T: What did you do at Guadalcanal?

G: We sailed up and down the islands. Every night at 4:00 in the afternoon we started heading south, and every day the Japanese would start heading south. We were both heading south and we made damn sure we didn’t see them and they made damn sure they didn’t see us and this was every day. Then at 4:00 in the morning we would start going north and the Japanese would start going north and we made sure we never saw each other. I was on so many ships during that time period. I was on board the Indiana when we collided with the Washington at Kwajalein. We lost eight or nine guys and the Washington had 20 or 30 feet of its bow missing.

T: What caused the collision?

G: I don’t know, but they ran right into our starboard side and one of our steel plates was sticking out 20 or 25 feet. The next morning we found a desk from the Washington on our quarterdeck. The pens were still in the holder and the picture of his girlfriend was still sitting on the deck.

T: Where were you when the war ended?

G: Camp Pendleton training for the Joint Assault Signal Company. They hit the beaches and put up signs during the invasion to tell people where to go. The Joint Assault Signal Company are the first ones on the beach, not the Marines, but their life expectancy was about four seconds.

T: When did you get your discharge?

G: I was one of the first ones out. You had to have 44 points to get out and I had 144 points.

T: Today when you hear USS Oklahoma, what do you think of?

G: I love the Oklahoma. It was a damn good ship and we lost a hell of a lot of good men.

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