Lester’s days are filled with activities, learning his new job, and orientation on the ship. The discussion about his assignment is crucial to his future activities. Haring must have decided to hold out for a lifeboat assignment with the diesel engine training. Lester volunteered for the refrigeration crew when no others stepped up. This will prove important in days to come.
August 27, 1942
I am over in the sail locker tonight and am not busy so will start a letter. I don’t work in the sail locker very much now as we have been going on board ship the past two days. It isn’t nearly ready to go but we go on board and look around to learn where things are at.
You have no idea how many men are working on her or how crowded it is. Everything is very compact. We were assigned to jobs today and it looks as though I would have to take care of the refrigerator system. That will be a good job but I was hoping to get on one of the lifeboats as they have the only Diesels there are on the ship. Haring, one other fellow, and myself are the only ones that know the Diesels but when they asked for refrigerator men, I was the only one that spoke up. Haring had it in school along with me but he slept most of that course.
I have been very fortunate in getting good jobs so I shouldn’t complain. Our ship is to be commissioned on September 15th so I will start drawing sea duty pay then even though we won’t be going to sea for some time after that. Sea duty means an increase of twenty per cent in pay or about ninety-three dollars per month. That will be pretty good wages. My bond and insurance takes out twenty-two dollars every month.
We seem to have a nice bunch of officers, however we don’t have our captain yet. My chief seems very nice. He and I went aboard another ship today to look at her refrigerating system. I am on the auxiliary crew and we have charge of the upkeep of the refrigerating system, reducing valves, air compressors, the galley (kitchen), the laundry and the lifeboats. There are only eight of us including the chief so I guess we will have enough to do.
There are lots of airplanes flying around all the time, all day and part of the night.
Haring and I went on liberty together last night. We went first to a town shop where he had ordered a suit of tailor-made blues but they weren’t ready for him. I had a suit of dress blues cut down so they would fit me better and bought a suit of tailor-made whites. The whites cost five dollars. Regular issue whites cost a little over three dollars but they are worth the difference.
After we left the tailor we started out to find Independence Hall. On our way we heard music coming from someplace. As we crossed a narrow street, there was a merry-go-round mounted on a one-horse wagon. About eight or ten children were riding the wooden ponies. An old man, an Italian I think, was furnishing the motive power to turn the merry-go-round by operating a crank such as is on our corn-sheller. Men and women were crowded around to watch and listen to the music. I certainly never expected to see anything so old-fashioned back there though the whole town seems antique. This was out in the Italian settlement, in the older part of the city. The sidewalks are of brick or stone, rough and broken. Some of the streets are paved with wooden blocks, about four by six inches, set on end. They seem to make a good road. I think I have told you that the houses set right up to the sidewalk and are joined together. They have no lawns or separate homes. This is all the older part of town which I have been describing to you. As we walked along the sidewalk we could look right into their rooms. I wouldn’t like that, would you?
We continued our search for Independence hall. Finally we stopped and asked a cop where we could find it. He surprised us by telling us that we were looking at it right in front of us. It looked like a new building to me. It was dark by that time so I am going back to see it in the daytime and go inside. Haring and I are planning on going to New York this week-end so I’ll tell you what that little burg is like. We are going on the week-end so that if we get lost we will have time to get back. I must close now but will write again. Don’t forget to put my address as it is on the envelope.
I received your letter today so will try to answer it. I got letters from you and Josephine and a card from Aunt Mabel. Josephine had written her letter the twelfth and sent it to the Lakes. I got it today. So you see that it is just as well that you didn’t write and send it to the Lakes. I wish we would have some cool weather as it is hot and sultry here. I’m getting used to my hot room so that it isn’t too awfully bad. Its nice that Josephine and Kenneth were able to visit Melvin though I was quite surprised since Mabel has just returned.
You said that dad and Wallace were helping Ross to thresh. It seems pretty late to still be threshing, isn’t it? I saw a few small fields of oats still in the shock on the trip back here. Yes, this has seemed like a long week though I don’t mind my work. In fact, I don’t have to do a great deal of work.
I get up at 0530, clean up, eat breakfast at 0615 and go over to the sail locker and stay until six or seven at night. I work from eight until ten and from one until three-thirty in the afternoon. We whip ropes and make eye splices in ropes and take care of the hammocks that the boys turn in after they scrub them. We take care of the hammocks all day long, whenever they bring them in. There are lots of dirty hammocks that are sent in from the barracks that no one claims so boys with extra-duty have to wash them. They wash about two hammocks apiece. One boy got into trouble of some kind and he has to scrub 52 of them. I’m sure glad I’m not in his shoes.
James Hedgepath has been quite fortunate in getting furloughs, hasn’t he? It seems that he has been home several times. Yes most of us are in good shape but I don’t know just where the credit should go.
It is surely too bad about Mr. Stewart and for the rest of the family too. I’ll try to write to him soon. I had been thinking about writing to Leslie but don’t have much to write about yet. Is Norma in Denver now? I suppose Carrie enjoyed her trip. It seems like there is lots of travel now.
Sunday night, August 23
I didn’t get to finish this last night so will finish it tonight. I went to church this morning and have been in the sail locker the rest of the time. Did you happen to listen to “We, the People” tonight? One of the fellows knows the three sisters who were first on the program so it was quite interesting to us.
My friend’s name is Haring. You see we were picked alphabetically for our jobs. He is on mess cook duty so I’m eating pretty good. He gave me an extra slice of ice cream today for dinner.
I will send Paul a picture folder as soon as I get a stamp. Must close now.
Lester’s life changed quickly from study and preparation in Detroit to assignment on a battleship in World War II. His ship, the USS Gherardi, was a Gleaves Class destroyer. It served through WWII and the Korean War, later being pulled from service. Its story ended in June 1973 when it was sunk off Puerto Rico as a target ship. Since the Gherardi no longer exists, I will illustrate many of Lester’s upcoming letters with photos from the USS North Carolina, now a museum in the harbor at Wilmington, North Carolina. Though the North Carolina was a different class ship, one can imagine Lester roaming its decks like he did the Gherardi.
Aug 20 – 1942
I have a few minutes before going to work so I’ll write a few lines. I’m working in the sail locker now so I won’t have to do any mess cooking. The sail locker has charge of all hammocks, seabags & ropes.
I eat chow at six, ten-thirty & three-thirty. Pretty early isn’t it? I like it pretty well here now. By the way, I think that I misspelled the name of my ship. It is spelled “Gherardi”. It will be quite a long time before she will be ready to leave. It is all steam so I won’t have a chance to use my Diesel knowledge. Maybe I can get transferred later to a Diesel. I’m studying on steam every night.
Its time for me to go so I must close.
Love to all
In a document stored with Lester’s letters is a page of specs on the USS Gherardi. There is no indication who might have written this description, but it was obviously someone very familiar with the ship. The Gherardi was 348′ 3 5/8″ long, with a width of 36′ 1″. The tonnage, fully loaded, would approximate 2600 tons with an expected mean draft of 13’8″.
“The ship will be driven by twin screws, turbine driven. The rudder is of the balanced type on a streamline form, carried entirely on the rudder stock. There are two bower anchors, one port and one starboard–each weighing nearly 3000 pounds and each bent to 109 fathoms of 1 1/8” steel die locked chain. On each side is carried one 26′ Diesel powered motor whaleboat with a capacity of 24 men each. There are also 8 balsa wood floats, capacity 25 men each.
“There are two firerooms (boiler rooms) and two enginerooms divided from forward aft into fireroom, engineroom, fireroom, and engineroom in that order. The forward engineroom drives the starboard shaft and propellor, and the after engineroom drives the port shaft and propellor. Each fireroom has two high pressure boilers, numbered in order, 1 and 2 forward, 3 and 4 aft. If it is desired, boilers 1 and 2 may be used to drive the after boilers and similarly, boilers 3 and 4 can be used to drive the forward engine. Under wartime conditions we use both engines with one forward and one after boiler.
“The tank capacities are: Fuel oil and reserve–129,373 gallons; fresh water and reserve feed–25,442 gallons; Diesel oil (can be also used to mix with fuel oil for boilers)–11,336 gallons.
“Contrary to many rumors, the Gherardi will not exceed a maximum speed of forty knots by much. However, that is very fast for a surface ship of this size and type.
“The main battery of the Gherardi will consist of 4, 5″ 38 caliber guns in mounts, two forward and two aft. These guns can be elevated to 85 degrees, almost straight up, for fire at planes and are the main defense against high level bombing attacks as well as surface targets. The maximum effective range of the 5” 38s is about 15,000 yards on the surface and with their director and computor are the last word in naval gunnery.
“The anti-aircraft battery is also the latest type and consists of four 20 MM Oerlikon anti-aircraft machine guns and two twin mount 40 MM anti-aircraft machine guns. The 20s are located, one on each side of the superstructure deck and one on each side of the admidships deck house. These 20MM guns shoot a maximum of 450 half-pound high explosive shells per minute each, and are very effective against dive bombers and low-level attacks. The 40 MM anti-aircraft machine guns, located on the top of the after deck house, shoot a larger projectile and have a longer range. They fire at a maximum rate of 80 rounds per barrel per minute.
“One quintuple tube torpedo mount is located on the centerline admidships between the stacks and can be trained for attacks on either side of the ship. The latest type 21”, 21 ft. torpedo is fired from this mount on the Gherardi.
“On the fan tail are two depth charge racks holding eight 600 lb. depth charges for rolling off the stern. On each side of the after part of the ship are three “K” guns for projecting the 300 ob. depth charges to each side.
“Also on the fan tail is located a smoke screen generator, for laying down a screen. This device can be rolled off the stern by pulling a lever in case the dangerous chemicals contained are let loose by accident.
“The Gherardi, as a typical destroyer, will carry no protective armor plate that will stop any projectile larger than a .50 caliber bullet. However, a very extensive damage control system and water tight integrity have proven to be effective on similar ships so that they have been able to sustain direct hits from torpedoes and remain afloat. The well-designed sprinkling and flooding system, if used correctly, should prevent any loss by fire.”