Western Union Telegrams, December 1942

The day was drawing to a close on December 4. Chores were nearly done when a lone vehicle approached the farm home of Lester’s family. The driver bore a telegram for CF Harris from Arlington, Va.

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The Navy department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Lester Frank Harris fireman first class US Naval reserve is missing following the capsizing of a motor whale boat in Narragansett Bay on December second. If remains are recovered you will be notified and every effort will be made to conform to your wishes regarding disposition. Further details probably will be communicated to you by his commanding officer. Sincere sympathy extended to you in your great sorrow.             

     Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of naval personnel

Even without today’s social media, news of the family’s unfolding sorrow spread like wildfire in the close-knit farming community. Hardly a soul remained who hadn’t heard the news when a second telegram arrived on December 10, the birthday of Lester’s sister Frances.

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Supplementing our dispatch of Dec 4 1942 The bureau of Naval personnel  has been informed that your son Lester Frank Harris fireman first class USNR previously reported as missing lost his life in line of duty as result of submersion when a motor whale boat capsized December second. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecovery of remains is not probable. Further details will be sent you by his commanding officer. Sincere sympathy extended to you in your great loss

                 Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of naval personnel

Refusing to believe the news could possibly be true, the folks carried on, rising each day with the hope that Lester would contact them and all would be well. Lester’s brother Wallace, then seventeen years old, recalled decades later, “When we were notified of the accident and his probable death I could not believe that it had really happened. I kept thinking, ‘This is not real. I must be dreaming. When I awaken I’ll find it’s a dream and that Lester is really alive.’ Eventually, I came to accept the fact that it was no dream; that we had been separated, completely and irrevocably by death.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn an effort to learn what had actually happened, Lester’s mother carried on a furious correspondence with his buddies Harry Haring and Joseph Feingold. Haring dissuaded her from trekking to Newport, assuring her there was little she could do that wasn’t already being done. He wrote, “No, Mrs. Harris, I’m sure that there is nothing to be gained in coming to Newport. It’s cruel I know but it’s hopeless. A body will rise after the third day and then if not recovered it again sinks. I’m afraid the sea will not give up her bodies until the final day. For a man of the sea, Mrs. Harris, there is no finer resting place than the sea when the man sails.”

By the end of December, Lester’s personal effects had been shipped home. Included in the shipment were several sets of his navy uniforms both white and blue; bedding; towels; a sewing kit; a shaving kit; a shoe kit; two bundles of books; a slide rule; a gauge; miscellaneous letters and stationery; and “one unopened package addressed to Mr. Harris.” He had never opened the Christmas package sent by his sister.

That Christmas surely was a difficult time for the family. On January 3, 1943, one month after the ill-fated accident, Lester’s family and friends gathered for a memorial service. It was to be the first of two funerals for him. Over the weeks and months after the accident, several of the sailors’ bodies were discovered and identified. In July 1943, seven months later, a body was found and determined to be that of Lester. The presence of Lester’s personal billfold with a water-stained photo of Josephine aided the final identification of his remains.

Another set of telegrams brought the final news, this time to Mr. and Mrs. C F Harris.

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Supplementing our dispatch of December tenth 1942 the bureau of personnel has been informed that the remains of your son Lester Franklin Harris fireman first class US Naval reserve have been recovered. Please telegram collect to the Bureau of Medicine and surgery Navy Department Washington DC whether or not you desire to have remains sent home or interred in any National or Naval Cemetery you may select without cost to you. If sent home all expenses of preparation encasement and transportation will be prepaid to destination and reasonable necessary expenses not to exceed fifty dollars will be allowed towards funeral expenses subject to reimbursement by the bureau of medicine and surgery navy department. If the body is sent home please advise whether or not you desire an escort to accompany the body. The department extends its sincerest sympathy to you in your great sorrow.

                     Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs Chief of Naval Personnel

His parents must have responded immediately, as requested. Of course they wanted him to come home. Another telegram arrived the following day.

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=URTEL SEVENTEENTH NAVAL HOSPITAL NEWPORT RHODE ISLAND DIRECTED FORWARD REMAINS YOUR SON LESTER FRANKLIN HARRIS CONSIGNED TO YOU AT DUNLAP ACCOMPANIED BY NAVAL ESCORT WITH TELEGRAPHIC NOTIFICATION GIVING DATE ROUTE AND SCHEDULED TIME ARRIVAL HOSPITAL ALSO REQUESTED HAVE JOSEPH FEINGOLD ACT AS ESCORT IF PRACTICABLE LETTER FOLLOWS.

=BUREAU OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY NAVY DEPARTMENT.

                                                                 

Though no confirmation of Joseph Feingold’s attendance is among the existing memorabilia, it’s nice to think that Lester’s last journey was accompanied by his good friend. He had come home at last.

This photo is labeled "Lester's Navy Friend." He is not identified by name, but this is likely to be either Haring or Feingold.
This photo is labeled “Lester’s Navy Friend.” He is not identified by name, but perhaps this is Joseph Feingold who may have escorted Lester home in 1943.

The family and friends gathered again for a second funeral on July 24. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis one completed the solemnity, for there was no hope remaining that Lester might one day return to favor all with his friendly smile and warm hugs. He was gone.

I wonder if anyone read from his high school salutatorian address during the service. He spoke these words before his classmates at their graduation ceremony:

“When a ship starts on a voyage, it is loaded with fuel. If the ship is large or the voyage long, stops may be made at several fueling stations. . . .Ships are always in danger of being veered from their course by storms, of running onto hidden reefs or rocks. . . .However a ship does not by any means sail blindly. It has a pilot, lighthouses, and buoys to guide it and mark the dangerous spots.”

Nobody knew better than Lester how dangerous the sea could be.

Gherardi at sea

As time passed, Lester’s story was told to a new generation. Thus, his nephew and niece (Frances and Gloyd’s children) and three nieces (daughters of Wallace and his wife Helen) learned the story of their uncle’s World War II service. The pain still showed in the somber faces and the irony persisted. The most poignant detail ended the tale. “And he wasn’t even supposed to be on that boat.”

But he was.

Lester Franklin Harris, 1918 - 1942
Lester Franklin Harris, 1918 – 1942

 

Though evidently Lester was one of the last of those fifteen sailors to be found, there was one more body discovered in August 1943. It was damaged beyond recognition and unidentifiable. According to a Wikipedia article (referenced under USS Gherardi), the final body was identified conclusively through DNA analysis in 2006, more than sixty years after the accident. Those remains were determined to belong to Raymond Johnson, the coxswain of that whaleboat. Two other sailors have never been found.

The Wikipedia article described a 2006 plaque commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of the fifteen sailors, commissioned for the US Navy Memorial in Washington, DC. Names of all fifteen sailors are listed on the plaque. The USS Gherardi received five battle stars for World War II service. In 2004 the USS Gherardi Association dedicated a plaque to her service from 1942 through 1955, claiming “She safely returned all those who served in combat.”

Sadly, she didn’t have the same good fortune in protecting her sons from a storm off the coast of the homeland.

Storm in Narragansett Bay

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          On the afternoon of December 1, 1942, about three dozen sailors left the USS Gherardi for a few hours on liberty. The ship was moored to a pier at the Torpedo Station Annex, Coddington Cove. This is located about four miles north of the Government Landing, Newport, Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay. The sailors left the Gherardi in two motor whaleboats. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALester’s buddy Harry Haring was on duty as engineer in one boat. Off duty and taking advantage of his shore leave, Lester rode to shore in Haring’s boat. He welcomed the chance to stretch his legs on the streets of Newport and planned to shop for stationery and envelopes. Perhaps he also hoped to find a few gifts to send his family for Christmas.

        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    The sailors were to report back to the pier for a return to the ship by midnight. Sometime during the evening hours, a storm brewed at sea, moving into the bay. By midnight the waves churned wildly off the pier. Raymond Johnson, age 18, the coxswain of the second boat, conferred with Haring for a few minutes. Concerned about the inexperienced fireman on his boat, the coxswain requested assistance. Haring, confident that his friend Lester had mastered the skills needed to operate the diesel motor through any weather, asked Lester if he would lend a hand.

            Haring knew his friend well. Lester, a cheerful, easy-going and competent fireman, agreed to help. The whaleboat carrying seventeen sailors, including Johnson as coxswain and Lester, as engineer, launched at 12:05 a.m. the morning of December 2. The sailors hunkered down against the driving wind as the boat headed into the bay, toward the Gherardi.

            Haring’s boat left ten minutes later. After an hour’s grueling trip, an easy forty minutes in fair weather, they arrived at the Gherardi to learn the first boat was still at sea. The officer of the deck was informed and search lights were played on the water in the hopes that the men would see the lights in case they had blown off their course. After a half hour of no success, the naval and civilian authorities were informed about the missing boat. Eventually, the crew of the destroyer had to abandon efforts to locate the missing sailors when the storm intensified. In the early hours of December 2 it even threatened the safety of the Gherardi herself.  After a steel mooring cable parted, the unusual procedure of securing the USS Gherardi to the dock with the anchor chain was initiated.

            The following morning, the wreckage of the whale boat was found washed ashore. Two bedraggled sailors clung to the boat. Fifteen others were missing. Lester was among the missing.

            Though details of the whaleboat’s fate remain unclear, some believed that the whaleboat collided with an object in the water, a rock or a buoy. “The collision likely stove in the bow and stopped the motor,” Joseph Feingold wrote to his friend’s family. Lester must have worked madly to restore power to the diesel engine, but a large wave swamped the boat, followed by another which capsized it.

The diesel engine (under showcase for display) which powered the motor whaleboat.
The diesel engine (under showcase for display) which powered the motor whaleboat.

            The two sailors who survived the storm were identified as strong swimmers. Lester surely could swim, as he spent many summer hours in the river which ran through his family’s Kansas farm. But he was not lucky enough to cling to the boat, and he was hardly prepared for a dip in the December waters of an angry ocean.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            Lester lost his life with fourteen other young sailors that fateful night off the coast of Rhode Island. I wonder how long he fought in the water. Was there a moment when he realized he was not going to make it home again? Perhaps his last thoughts turned to his family, their recent Thanksgiving dinner followed by his father’s fifty-first birthday on that very day. He might have imagined them, smiling and laughing around the dining table, his mother carrying in a basket of steaming butterhorn rolls, or pulling his father’s favorite pie from her wood-burning oven to complete the dinner menu. With his characteristic gentility, he might have found himself overcome with sadness for them. He’d not even had a chance to say good-bye. Perhaps in that last split second, he bid them a silent farewell as the waves tossed him mercilessly in the churning sea. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs he thought of his mother, he surely sensed the devastation she would bear at his death. Perhaps he spoke to her silently. “Mom! I’m sorry.”

            And then at the very end, perhaps his thoughts drifted with a heavy longing to Josephine, his beloved fiancé. What would she do now?

            Josephine.

                                    Josephine.

                                                                                Josephine.

The Last Letter: November 25, 1942

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Dear Folks,

I expect that you will get this just about on Dad’s birthday so I’m sending my best wishes now. Have you had much snow yet? I can’t tell you anything about the weather here.

PICT0612

Have you heard any  more about Soltz Prichard? I can well imagine that military life would be quite hard for him. I have known one or two fellows about like him but so far as I know, they are still sticking it out in the navy.

PICT0862What would all of you like to have for Christmas? I don’t have much of an opportunity to buy anything but I want to send something to all of you.

It is time for me to go to work now so I’ll send this on its way.

Lester, and probably most sailors, visited the ship's post office frequently.

Love to all

Lester

 

None of them knew it at the time, but this letter held the last words Lester would ever share with his family.

Note from Boston dated November 17, 1942

November 17, 1942

Dear Folks,

At last I have time to write a letter.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFive of us came down to Boston for a few days to attend a fire-fighting school.  We didn’t get here in time to start in the first day so will just get in on the last day of it.  Don’t know what we will do this afternoon.  We have spent half the morning trying to get our baggage and have finally got it.  We didn’t have blankets of any kind last night and it got cold in here.  We covered up with our peacoats and still froze.

Had a good breakfast of grapefruit, oatmeal, doughnut, an egg, toast, potatoes, bread and butter.  That is more than we have aboard ship, especially after we have been out for a day or so.  We are up there for practice in drills and gunnery.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo days is the longest we have been out of port.  We will be there for some time yet.

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I like the country fine, it is very pretty with the islands, rocky coasts and tree-covered hills.  But I don’t like the town.  There isn’t anything to do in it.  I’ve been on liberty there only once.  I’ve got rocks from three different places for you, mom.

I don’t have your letters with me so don’t remember what questions you asked me.  It is rather hard to write letters and not say something that would be censored.  We aren’t supposed to mail anything ashore though we can send post cards with the name of the town if they are censored.  We are in the bay that was on the card I sent you.  Howard’s ship is still there but he was transferred, wasn’t he?

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I received Frances’ package and one from Josephine but I haven’t opened them yet.  Hope I get a chance to do some shopping pretty soon.  We get liberty only about once a week, don’t get off the ship until sixteen thirty and have to be aboard by one forty five.  Quite a number of the boys are “aos”, so the rest of us have to stand more watches.  I can’t complain though because I haven’t stood many watches yet.  It gets a little chilly but not too bad, sixteen above the other night.  We were issued woolen underwear, heavy socks, and a suit of clothes that are rain and wind proof.  I don’t think it will be too bad this winter.

Have you ever received the cacti that you were supposed to get?

It is fifteen hundred now and all of us have been asleep all afternoon.  We haven’t anything to do except write letters as we can’t go out on liberty until sixteen-thirty.  Two of our officers are here also and one of them tried to get liberty for us at noon but didn’t succeed.

I must try to write some more letters so will say good-bye to all.

Love to all

Lester

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Letter Posted November 8, 1942

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Dear Folks.

Today is the fourth of November but I’ll probably write a few lines when I have the opportunity as I don’t know how soon this will be mailed.  I’m feeling fine and haven’t been too seasick!

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Mom, did you get the little cactus plant yet?  I bought one for you the other day and the florist was to send it to you.  There were some in pretty vases but he was afraid they wouldn’t stand shipping.  I hope this isn’t the same as any that you have.  If I had liberty now I could get you a rock to go with the cactus.

I don’t know of any boy that won’t get anything for Christmas, though there will probably be a few who won’t get a box.  I know lots of the fellows but only a few quite well.

I won’t be writing often because there isn’t much news I can tell you.  We will get our mail fairly regular now, I think.

Do you have the corn shucked yet?  Has it been cold yet?

Paul, I enjoyed your letter.  Yes, I have been taking more rides, three times during last night.

Love to all.

Lester

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Gherardi on the Move

From:  Lester F Harris F 1/C

USS Gherardi

c/o Postmaster

New York, N.Y.                                                                  Saturday nite  October 31. 1942

Dear Folks,

I received your letters a couple of days ago but the past week has been quite busy for all of us so I haven’t been able to get any letters written.  A couple of weeks ago I was caught up on nearly all of my correspondence but I’m behind again now.  Be sure to use the new address as we are leaving soon.  I think I’ll have a chance to send some letters again in a few days.

We went out to Chesepeak Bay on Thursday and came back Friday afternoon.  The water was smooth and we had a nice trip.  We saw lots of ducks in the river and bay.  Suppose we could have hit any of them with our five inch guns and machine guns?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weather was clear most of the way and there was some very pretty scenery along the river.  We saw a three-mast sailing boat that was fishing.  It was a novel and pretty sight.

Paul asked what kind of a bed I sleep in.  Well, it is just the width of the mattress I sent home. It is made of steel tubing and the bottom is wires spaced about four inch each way with springs at the ends.  It is pretty comfortable.  Three of them fold up real close together during the day.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt night when we let them down there isn’t room to sit up or draw up our knees.  A few of the boys have awakened during the night and tried to sit up suddenly and they bump their heads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can’t find your letter right now and I can’t remember any other questions you asked.  One of the boys is going ashore pretty soon so I’ll send this with him.  He is a young “rebel” from Georgia and you can sure tell that he is from the south.

I think I will send a suit of dress blues home if I have a chance as I want to keep one good suit and I don’t need two suits now.

Wallace, I’ll try to look at the radio equipment and talk to some of the fellows about it. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I was in the radio room the other day but I was checking the ventilation and didn’t notice the radio much.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI do know that you would need to know Morse code for this work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Is it cold yet?  I haven’t worn my peacoat yet and my Jersey only one  morning.

Do you have much corn to shuck yet?  Tell Frances that I am leaving and I’ll try to send her a letter from my next port.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Love to all.

 

LesterGherardi at sea

Whaleboat on the Delaware River

Lester describes his first experience with the diesel engine whaleboats. He would become very familiar with these boats–perhaps too much so in the days to come.

The photos in this post all come from the USS North Carolina World War II museum in the Wilmington harbor, a fascinating place to visit for anyone in the area.

 

Saturday Night.   October 10, 1942

Dear Folks,

What is everyone doing?  I’m in the duty section this week-end so I’m staying aboard tonight.  I guess I have told you that I am in the auxiliary crew. We don’t have to stand any watches yet but we have to stay aboard so they can call us if we are needed.  The chief in charge of the engine and firerooms asked me if I wanted to get out of the auxiliary into a fireroom but I didn’t think I wanted to change. I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning my job and I didn’t want to have to learn another new one so soon.  He changed some of the others without asking them and they didn’t like it very well at first but they really have it easier where they are now.  Haring got changed to one of the firerooms.

I have a Jewish buddy that I run around with. We work together nearly all the time.  His name is Joe Feingold.  He is a second class motor machinists mate so he has charge of the diesel boats.  I am the only other one in the auxiliary gang with diesel experience or school so will probably help with the boats.

A whaleboat such as the one Lester mentioned in his October 10 letter. This one is on display on the deck of the USS North Carolina museum, Wilmington, NC.
A whaleboat such as the one Lester mentioned in his October 10 letter. This one is on display on the deck of the USS North Carolina museum, Wilmington, NC.

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Four of us, two coxwains, Feingold and myself, took one of the boats today and went up the river to town.  I had never run the boat before so I took care of the engine.

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The boats are steered by a coxswain who handles the rudder.  He rings a bell to signal to the engineer.  One bell means go ahead slowly, two means stop, three means reverse and four means full speed.  I enjoyed it a lot.  Some places the water was a little rough, but not bad. The waves weren’t over a foot high.  The most fun was when we would meet another boat and their waves hit us.  We always headed into a large wave so it wouldn’t come over the side and swamp us.  When we hit a large wave it would pick us up then drop us.  We planned on going out all afternoon but we had to bring the boat aboard after dinner so didn’t get to go.

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I don’t know why my letter was so long in getting to you.  Yours usually get here in two days though it sometimes takes longer.

I lost my watch tonight but it was my own fault.  I had taken it off in the washroom and was washing when chow call blew.  In my hurry I forgot to pick it up.  A bunch of apprentice seamen came aboard this evening and some of them came in just as I left for the mess hall.  I didn’t miss it until I had finished supper but it was gone when I got back there.  If some of the older crew had found it, they would have turned it in and I could have claimed it.  It may turn up yet.

How is the scrap drive turning out back home?  You should see the junk that is piled up in the streets here in Philly.  They had a big drive for scrap and there is sure lots of it.  It has been accumulating in the streets for almost two weeks.

Yes I got the cake from Frances okay.  It was mashed a little but it was still fresh–and good!

Yes the trains are crowded and so are all other means of transportation.  Quite often I stand up because I haven’t learned to shove quite as well as most of the people here. I also don’t like to occupy a seat when some ladies have to stand.  Men around here wouldn’t stand for their own grandmother.  Sometimes I feel like knocking their teeth out for them.

There aren’t any mountains around here or on the way to Washington.  There were some hills but no mountains.  I did see some mountains around Johnstown in western Pennsylvania as we came from the Lakes.  They weren’t very large though.  Yes, Philly is on the Delaware river.  I don’t have a map either so I don’t know much about the size of the states or the route I traveled.

(Sunday night)

I didn’t get to finish this last night so will try again tonight.  We fueled ship today for several hours.  A tugboat brings the oil barge alongside then the oil is pumped into our tanks.  No smoking is allowed while fueling ship.  Wednesday we are to go down the river for a trial run.  It lasts only a day, tho.

I’ll have to close now.

Love to all.

Lester

 

 

October 5, 1942

 

Monday night October 5 – 1942

Dear Folks.

Have you had any snow yet?  I suppose not but everyone has mentioned how cold it has been, I was just wondering.  We are having rainy weather here but one nice thing, we don’t have to wade around in the mud.  Most of my time is spent below decks so the rain doesn’t bother much.  Frances spoke about you shocking corn.  How much did you cut?  Did you sow any wheat this fall?  Have the leaves started to fall yet?  They are dropping here but they haven’t colored much yet.  On my trip to Washington I noticed a number of pretty red trees, something like sumac but larger.  This should be pretty country when the leaves do start to turn.  People talk about the wasteland in Kansas but there is five acres of marsh and wasteland back here for every one at home.  The corn doesn’t look as good as ours either.  The corn shocks don’t look big enough to stand but I guess they do.  The rivers are larger than the Neosho but they aren’t all timbered.  Lots of the hills are covered with trees.

Corn crop in early summer on the Kansas farm of Lester's childhood.
Corn crop in early summer on the Kansas farm of Lester’s childhood.

I saw a show the other night that I wish you folks could have seen too.  It was a marionette show and it was really good.  One of the marionettes played a toy piano and even turned the pages of music.  One couple did a dance together and lots of other numbers that I can’t remember.  Near the end of the performance the top curtains were drawn so we could watch the three men and a woman who manipulated the strings on the marionettes.  They really have to have nimble fingers.

We aren’t allowed to write, keep or possess diaries anymore in the navy.  I just thought I would mention it as some one might be planning to send them to some of the boys.  I don’t know if that affects the army boys or not.

I bought myself a belt knife when I was in town Saturday.  I looked all over town before finally finding one like I wanted and had to talk the salesman into taking it out of his show case.  I was in the machine shop Sunday, sharpening it when a couple of the officers came in and saw me so they had to sharpen theirs too.  They are really a swell bunch of men.  Today while some of us were in  the shop a call came over the speaker for Lieut.  McKinsey to please report to the quarter-deck.  Without looking up, I remarked to the other fellows, “now that’s funny, they never say please to me, it just, ‘Harris, report to the quarter-deck, on the double’”.  When I looked up, there was an officer, smiling at me.  Boy, I was sure glad he was smiling.

It is time for lights out and I’m sleepy so guess I better sign off.

 

Love to all.

Lester

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A knife Lester carried in 1942.
A knife Lester carried in 1942.

 

 

 

Commissioning of the Ship

 It was interesting to find photos from the actual commissioning ceremony of the USS Gherardi. I looked to see if I could find Lester among the faces, but wasn’t able to identify him. He does say that the ship is very crowded, so it is likely that only part of the crew is visible in the photos. The ceremony took place September 15, 1942, which was the 17th birthday of Lester’s little brother. No wonder Wallace didn’t hear from him for his birthday.

Gherardi at sea

September 17, 1942

Dear Folks.

I received your letter today and am glad to hear from you.  Thanks for sending the addresses, I will probably go to Washington on my first week-end.  I didn’t know that Alice and Irene were there.  I came out on liberty tonight, partially because I would have had to work if I had stayed on board ship.

Commissioning ceremony 2

We are living on the ship now as we moved on at four this afternoon, immediately after the commissioning ceremonies.  There wasn’t much to that.  We marched on board, the flag was raised, the anthem played, a short speech by an admiral, another speech by our captain, the guard was posted and it was finished.  You have no idea how crowded it is but I guess we will get along okay.

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We had to eat chow at the station as they didn’t have things ready for us in the galley.  I put on a clean suit of whites then got drafted to carry some stores down in the hold so I missed out on chow.  We were supposed to get some sandwiches on board but I didn’t stay for them.  I left as soon as possible as I rated liberty and wasn’t supposed to have duty today.  I wouldn’t have minded the work if I’d had on dungarees but I got my whites all dirty.  I’m wearing my blues tonight and they are pretty warm.

I met a buddy on the street up town so we came over to the “y” for a swim and to write some letters.  My address remains the same for awhile I guess.

I had a nice time over the week-end, or rather on Sunday as I didn’t go out til Sunday.  I went over to Camden, New Jersey as I hadn’t been in NJ yet.  As I was coming back just about noon I saw a friend “Jerry” on the sidewalk so I got off the bus and we ate dinner together.  We were in school together but are on different ships now.  We decided to come back to Philly to go on a tour of the historic places but Jerry had some friends that he wanted to see so he went to see them while I saw some more of the town.

We had agreed to meet at a certain corner and while I was standing there waiting for him, a couple of girls came up, inquired who I was amd invited me to go to their home.  They were in the family that Jerry had gone to see and he offered to eat his hat if they could get me to come back with them.  He didn’t eat his hat but they certainly didn’t let him forget his promise.  We had a very good dinner then the mister took the two girls, Jerry and myself to the War show.  It was supposed to be very good but we were disappointed in it.  After we got back to their house about midnight we had waffles for supper.  Boy were they good.  She was a swell cook. All of them were nice and a lot of fun. We stayed and visited until two o’clock Monday morning!

It was three when I got back to the station. We had a terrible time getting on the bus because of the crowd.  It was more like a bunch of animals than people.  The bus driver had to separate two women who started to fight after one had crowded the other in getting on the bus.  What a time.

Thanks for the clipping, mom.  I had read it somewhere before and I thought it very good.  Wallace, I thought about your birthday though I didn’t get to send you anything but I’ll say best wishes and many more happy birthdays.

Paul why don’t you write and tell me about your train ride?  I’ll bet that it was fun.  Every time I come to town I ride on the street car that wobbles from side to side.  In Camden I rode on an electric bus.  It was on rubber and was steered but got its power from a trolley line.  Mom, there just aren’t any rocks in town back here and I don’t get a chance to go out in the country but I’ll keep trying.

Love to all

Lester

 

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Quote printed on lower edge of the USO stationary:  “Idle Gossip Sinks Ships”

 

September 5, 1942

U.S.S. Gherardi

September 5 – 1942

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Dear Folks,

I’m having quite a time to keep all of my mail answered so I’ll answer mom’s and Wallace’s letters together.  Thanks for the card, Paul, it is very nice.  I received four letters yesterday and two more today.  I answered two of them last night but I still have several to write.

Sunday

Mail room on a lower deck.
Mail room on a lower deck.

I’m having a terrible time to get any letters written as I can’t think of anything to write about.  I haven’t been out on liberty since a week ago when I went to New York.  I went to church this morning and stayed for the broadcast by Horace Heidt and his troup.  It was called “The Treasury Hour”, sponsored by the Treasury and devoted to selling war bonds.  They read letters from boys in different camps all over the country The strange part of it was that every letter asked the people to buy more bonds.  At the start of the program it was announced that they were playing before a crowd of 5,000 sailors.  He must have been seeing things because there were only about five hundred of us there.  I guess five thousand sounded better.

Is Anne in Washington, D. C. now?  If she is there, I’d like to get her address as I think I’ll go and see Washington while I’m here.  If you could get Walter Cobb’s and Annie Millers addresses without too much trouble, I’d like to have them also.  Are there any others there whom I should know?  It isn’t too far from here.

I’m sure stiff and sore today from the exercises that we had yesterday.  We take them only about three days each week, just often enough to keep us sore.

I went to the show tonight, “The Chocolate Soldier”.  I thought it quite good.

Did you get the mattress I sent home?  I couldn’t take it on board ship and I didn’t like to just throw it away.  I’m sending you two dollars to pay for the express charges.  If it cost any more, let me know.

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I can’t think of anything more to write so will close for this time.

Love to all

Lester

Lester, and probably most sailors, visited the ship's post office frequently.
Lester, and probably most sailors, visited the ship’s post office frequently.