My Service Career
by Marion David Ellis
In 1941, a number of men from Hendricks (MN) were called into service. After we (Alicia and Karin’s grandparents-Marion and Orcella Ellis) were married that year, I was reclassified, which gave me about a year extension. This was very fortunate for me as a number of the men I should have left with were either killed, wounded, or captured. One of my best friends at that time was killed in Italy.
I joined the Navy on October 24, 1942 in Minneapolis. I was sworn in at the Presbyterian church on Hennepin Avenue and left the same day for Great Lakes Naval Training Center. My four weeks at Camp Dewey consisted mostly of getting all the shots and a lot of marching. Some evenings we would be entertained by such talent as Captain Eddie Peabody, a banjo player, and Clyde McCoy, a fine trumpet player.
After about a 10 day leave, I left for the Naval Training Center at Millington, Tennessee which is about 20 miles north of Memphis. I spent 26 weeks there training to be an Aviation Machinist Mate. In April, while awaiting the arrival of our first child, I was almost assured that I could get leave to go home after I received the news.
When the telegram arrived saying that Patricia (Alicia’s mom) was born, I went to the personnel officer with my leave request, who turned it down. I then asked the Red Cross for help but to no avail. Their reasoning was that this was not an emergency. I would not graduate with my class and therefore would be delayed being sent overseas. This was one of the biggest disappointments of my entire naval career.
After graduation about the first of June, I left by train for Treasure Island, California via El Paso, Los Angeles and up the coast. Then it was what was called “hurry up and wait.”
About July 1, I received orders to go by train to Port Hueneme near Oxnard. I boarded the USS Mormacport on July 3 and sailed for 15 days without seeing land. We sailed a zigzag course to avoid enemy submarines. I was seasick for eight days and lost 15 pounds by the time we arrived at New Caledonia.
While waiting for more orders I worked on a crew building storage sheds for war supplies. Across the fence from us was a leper colony. They would stand there all day and watch us work. A pitiful sight.
Sometime later, I boarded the USS Tryon, a hospital ship, and wound up at the Hebrides Islands. Both of the ships I sailed on were later sunk by Japanese submarines- fortunately, not while I was aboard.
From there I went by Navy destroyer to the Fiji Islands. My sleeping quarters consisted of the sky and a steel deck and the trip lasted three days. Here I was assigned to Scouting Squadron 67, which consisted of SOC3, scout observation, and SBDs- scout bomber planes. Our duty was to patrol for enemy ships and submarines. I worked in the hanger and on the line most of the time but had to fly at least four hours a month to receive flight pay.
While stationed here, we received a number of damaged planes from the carrier USS Lexington, which was sunk at that time. We had to repair the bullet holes, broken cables, and send them back into service. We also received a number of men who were rescued from the ocean. The closest town was Nandi where we had our laundry done and also could get a meal of steak and eggs.
While stationed here, I was sent to Australia for rest and recuperation (R&R) for a week but we were fogged in for another week. Spent the time in Brisbane and Sydney which are really nice towns. I also sent some things home from there, including mother’s first diamond ring.
We also experienced a hurricane while in the Fijis with winds over 100 mph and heavy rains. We lost about 1/2 of our barracks, fortunately not mine. We all spent three days in the big brick hanger, except when we were trying to save our planes. We tied bombs, trucks, and whatever else on the tails which we pointed into the wind and saved all of them. The only casualty was a radio man who went out to check the weather. The wind picked him up and dropped him on his head, receiving a concussion.
After about eight months, we heard that our squadron was being disbanded and we were hoping to go stateside. Instead, some of us along with 10 SBD’s were sent to Emirau Islands which are 45 miles from the Japanese base of Kavieng and 3° from the equator.
While in transit, the crew rode in two C47 planes with five planes following each one. One of the SBD‘s had an oil pump failure and crash landed in the ocean. We circled until he got his life raft onto the wing before the plane sank. He joined us a few days later after being rescued by a destroyer and being scared by sharks.
Our housing at Emirau consisted of pushing a hole into the jungle with a dozer and pitching a tent. We had many visitors both day and night, including mosquitoes, mongoose, and rats. We also had a PT Boat squadron (patrol torpedo) stationed there. About the biggest action they were in while I was there was a raid on Kavieng one night, returning with a goat.
After two weeks we were again transferred and this time we really thought we would be sent home. Instead we wound up at American Samoa. Here I was assigned to a crew on one of two PBY‘s there, first as a Second Mechanic and later as Flight Engineer. The planes- patrol bombers by Consolidated- were amphibians, landing either on runways or water. Our duties were mainly to carry mail and some passengers between the islands. One week we would fly to Wallis and Funafuti islands, a trip of two days and 10 hours each way. The next week would be to Aitutaki and Penryn Islands. We carried a crew of 10 and 1,200 gallons of gas. Also, about 2,500 pounds of mail. Needless to say, after loading the mail by hand in 100° plus weather, I had no trouble keeping my weight down.
About the end of December 1944, I finally got my orders for stateside. While waiting for transportation, I was asked to take one more trip to Tahiti to pick up an American missionary who is terminally ill, also his wife and an American civilian, who was drafted.
Tahiti is about 45 miles from Penryn Island, so we combined the trips. There was no landing strip there, so we landed on the water, my first and only experience. We were met by the French Navy and a lifeboat. Tahiti is by far the most beautiful place I have ever seen. We were to leave the next day but our pilots, Lieutenant Taber and Lieutenant Murphy, were not in “flying condition“ so they radioed back saying we had engine trouble. The next morning, after checking out the plane I really did have trouble. After changing plugs on one engine while hanging about 10 feet over the water, I got the plane flyable and we left the next morning.
Shortly after I got back to Samoa, I got a flight to Honolulu. While waiting for transportation I had a great reunion for three days with brother Lavern, who was stationed at Barber Point. I could not leave the base, so he spent the time with me.
I finally boarded the USS General W.C. Langfitt, a troop carrier, and after six days sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge- a great site. After a few days at Alameda I was finally homeward bound by train to Minneapolis. The reunion there cannot be put into words. My wife, whom I hadn’t seen in two years, Patty, whom I have never seen, Dad, Mom, and sisters Lorena and Elmira were all there.
After 30 days leave, I headed back to Oakland to another school in advanced mechanics. I’ll always remember that school as it’s the only one I ever finished at the top of my class of 45 students. While there, President Roosevelt died and Harry Truman took over, and the war also ended.
After school, I was assigned to the Oakland Naval Air Station, which was also there. My duty was to inspect engines prior to installation and also the R5D planes (C54) which were used to bring the wounded back from the Pacific. I happened to view a basket case one day, which is a person without arms or legs.
Mom and Patty joined me while stationed there. We had a wonderful life and met a lot of new friends. We bought a 1935 Oldsmobile from a Navy friend who lived there. The $500 car brought us all the way home and lasted about five years besides.
There was a ruling that any serviceman that preferred the job they had left could have it back once home, so we just figured Minneapolis would be our home again. Finally, on October 12, 1945 I received my discharge at Oakland and after disposing of our furniture, we packed the car and headed for home – Orcella, pregnant again since the first night she arrive in Oakland, Patty and I. (Orcella was pregnant with their son Roland, born in December of that year, who is Karin Ellis’s father).