USS Nitro Association crestUSS Nitro (AE-2/AE-23) Association
From the autobiograghy of
F. William Cooper (Ensign - Lt, 1941-1943)
USS Nitro AE-2 Chapter

Frankly, I do not remember what I put down as first choice for duty upon graduation but I am positive it was not the USS Nitro to which my orders directed me. The USS Nitro, AE 2, was a couple of years younger than I. The AE means Auxiliary-Explosives. She and her sister ship the Pyro, AE 1 were the only two ships that the Navy had built, up to that time, for the sole and only purpose of carrying ammunition.

The Pyro had been laid up for years and the ammunition needs of the United States fleet were supplied exclusively by the USS Nitro. When I reported aboard that spring day of 1941, she was in Norfolk, Virginia, and about to enter the Navy Yard for an overhaul. She needed it. The Nitro had been traveling for years. Back in those pre-war times, duty on the Nitro was about as good as an enlisted man or the Captain could get. For the Captain it was a rest billet. A leisurely assignment between command of a capital ship, usually a battleship or cruiser, and promotion to Admiral. For the enlisted, it meant about as comfortable quarters and as good food as could be found in the Navy. For the regular Navy officers, it was a great assignment also, but only if they did not have high-career ambitions.

The Nitro was, in effect, a freighter. We had guns, of course, but nothing that a man-of-war would take seriously. For fire control, it was the watch-the-fall-of-shot method. Not much different than what John Paul Jones used. This was not the place where an up-and-coming officer would like to be wasting his time. The Nitro traveled alone. There were no tactical maneuvers with other ships. Of course, if one liked the idea of having Norfolk, Virginia, as home port and sailing from there to the Caribbean to visit Guantanamo Bay, St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, San Juan Puerto Rico, and Panama, but seldom being there, and making regular and leisurely cruises along both coasts, the Caribbean, Hawaii and thence to the Philippines, it was another story.

This suited me fine, and that is exactly what the Nitro had been doing for years. After the overhaul, our first voyage started out as more of the same. It didn't end up that way as we were nearing the fall of 1942.

When I first reported aboard, I discovered that I was intended to be the replacement for a Chief Engineer who had just been detached. It was quite flattering to think that someone thought me competent to replace a Lieutenant Commander in the regular Navy but just because somebody in the Bureau of Personnel was nuts didn't mean that the Captain and I were. This was a turbine driven, twin-screw ship of some ten-thousand tons and it was going to go out on the ocean. Way, way, out on the ocean, and an economics major from Dubuque was not the person to be in charge of all that machinery even though he had learned to memorize some math problems.

Thank heavens that was the Captain's opinion, it was certainly mine. So I became the Assistant Engineer and Mr. Lenart, a Chief Warrant Officer (the same rank as the guy who got me into this) became acting Chief Engineer. Later I was to learn that the Chief Engineer didn't have to know much of anything anyhow as the Chief Petty Officers had all the competence required to run the engineering department.

For instance, out of five chiefs in the engineering section, the junior man didn't have twenty years in the Navy; he had twenty years on the USS Nitro. It is probably a good thing that I didn't realize this as I did go to work and eventually learned something about marine engineering. Had I known that it really wasn't necessary, it would have been awfully easy to just go through the motions and become, in essence, a freeloading tourist. When I say that it was fortunate that I did not realize how much talent was available I mean it, because it wasn't available much longer. When the war started that December, all these highly-able technicians were quickly pulled away and sent to more important jobs on more significant vessels. By then I had to know it was about.

In the late summer of 1941, we sailed from Norfolk for the Caribbean. This was the start of my first and last pre-war cruise on what was purported to be a naval vessel. I say "purported" intentionally. Any officer so inclined took his car along. These were all stored on top of the hatch covers between the main and first deck, safely out of the weather. Nice, huh? On most nights, when the sea was calm and the weather pleasant, dinner was served on the fantail under an awning with music piped in from the movie shack. Following dinner, it was movies, again on deck, but under star-and-moon-lit tropical skies. This kind of life could get to you.

After visiting Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where we picked up the First Defense Battalion of the Marine Corps, as passengers, we proceeded on to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. From there we continued on to Panama and, after brief stops at each end of the canal and eventually dropping the Marines off at San Diego, we headed north along the west coast to Bremerton, Washington, where I had a reunion with Gus Kerndt. He was nearing the end of some special advanced course the Navy was running and Gus was looking forward to graduation and sea duty.

From my now vast experience, I spoke quite highly of the latter. I knew life on the Nitro was considerably different than that on the Wichita but then, I hadn't been an officer on the Wichita. This was the last time I saw dear Gus. He graduated shortly afterward, ordered to the USS Sims; a destroyer that was sunk by the Japanese, not long after he boarded her, in the battle of the Coral Sea. There were only 13 survivors.

We worked, or played our way back down the west coast and were about five hours out of Balboa, on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. That ended the pleasure-cruise business and the Nitro resumed her proper role as a Navy ammunition ship. Away went the awnings, off went the movies and music, and out went the lights. We went to war.

We had some ammunition business in Balboa but nobody was very happy to see us. In fact, they wanted us the hell out of there as fast as we could go, not knowing where the Japanese fleet was heading from the Hawaiian strike. The authorities, whoever they were in the American Zone of the Canal were not very well organized that 7th of December. I drew shore-patrol duty at the Ancon police station that night and never before or since have I heard so many confusing and contradictory orders being yelled about. Among other things, I heard one order to shoot out the lights of a hospital because someone couldn't find a proper switch. Most of my time was spent in trying to get sailors on liberty back to their respective ships. The news of the attack had spread very rapidly, of course, and the only men who hadn't gone back immediately were those too drunk to say from what ships they had come. This meant trying to see their liberty cards so we could deliver them and, all in all, this was not much fun.

The next day we transited the Canal and, after doing a little more ammunition business, prepared to depart for Norfolk. When we cleared the Atlantic end of the canal, it would be nice to say that the USS Nitro went to war but, in the interest of accuracy, I can only say that we henceforward participated in the war.

Our commanding officer was Captain Burt Chippendale, a regular Navy four-striper. He was in the tradition of previous C.O.'s, an efficient and conscientious officer.

The Executive Officer was of a type, sorry to say, not unique in that peacetime navy. "Shorty" Milner, as he was universally called behind his back (Commander to his face) had been only a couple of years behind the Captain at the Naval Academy but, in 1941, was still a Lieutenant Commander. He had devoted his naval career to becoming an expert on women and whisky, and by my observations, pursued this goal with considerable distinction. Milner was a true martinet on such matters as dress for liberty parties, inspections and military honors, but for such mundane matters as navigation, gunnery and engineering, he knew less than when he left Annapolis.

"Blackie" Thompson, our Navigator, was a Lieutenant from the Merchant Marine Reserve and, as a seagoing Captain from U.S. Lines, was more than well-qualified for his job. He was no engineer or particularly knowledgeable in ordinance but he was a superb seaman and administrator.

Rounding out this brief description of the top brass in the deck-officer department would include Mr. St. Martin, and neither I nor anyone else ever called him by any other name. Mr. St. Martin was also a Lieutenant from the Merchant Marine Reserve. He was Nitro's First Lieutenant and, with the exception of Gunnery, Communications, and Engineering; the maintenance and operation of the rest of the ship were under his supervision and control.

The only other deck officers pertinent to this story were all reserve Ensigns. Joliden and Austin from the Merchant Marine and Hunnewell and Roper from Harvard and Yale NROTC units respectively. Joliden was St. Martin's assistant and the others, with the exception of Joe Roper who was Communications Officer, headed deck divisions.

The various duties and responsibilities to which I have referred are essentially housekeeping chores. Once the ship got underway, all these men had operational duties. These additional tasks consisted of standing watch as Officer of the Deck or as the assistant to same. During his four hours on the bridge, the Officer of the Deck has the authority of the Captain and the concurrent responsibility for the safety of the ship.

As we headed out into the Caribbean from Panama, the Destroyer USS Hamilton was detailed to escort us back to Norfolk, Virginia. The Hamilton was a converted four-stacker similar to the fifty ships the United States turned over to Great Britain in exchange for fleet bases. She was making her maiden voyage as an escort under wartime conditions but, of course, had considerable experience in multi-ship operations. Her Captain and Navigator came aboard for a lengthy session on the details of the voyage and the zigzag plan Blackie Thompson had chosen.

All past experience on the Nitro, once she got clear of port, was to put the bow on the rhumb line, adjust the R.P.M. of our twin screws to 106 and, barring some other ship wandering across our course, forget the subject until our objective was reached. Blackie's choice for a zigzag was a two-hour plan. It was detailed on a small card with even-hour courses on one side and odd-hour courses on the other. By making course changes at the minute dictated by the appropriate side of the card, the ship would be back on the rhumb line at the end of two hours. The process would be repeated until we arrived at our destination. Any idiot could carry out the procedure, well, almost.

We headed out into overcast skies and rain squalls. At nightfall, the weather had worsened and rain fell heavily. Blackie got no evening celestial fix. By the time St. Martin turned the watch over to Joliden at 20:00, it was pitch black and the Hamilton could only be dimly seen as she maneuvered back-and-forth across our bow as the Nitro carried out her zigzag plan.

Jim Hunnewell had the midnight to 4 a.m. watch. When he arrived on the bridge to relieve as Officer of the Deck, there was no sign of the Hamilton. On being informed by Joliden that the escort had not been seen for a matter of hours, Jim inquired as to the Captain's reaction. Joliden replied that he had not reported the matter. This situation was promptly rectified, and both the Captain and the Navigator were on the bridge within seconds.

God knows the Nitro had nothing as esoteric as radar and even though the Hamilton was a destroyer, she was much too old and tired to rate such gear at this early date. In questioning Joliden, it quickly became apparent that he was completely confused about the odd and even sides of the zigzag card. He had been carrying it in his hand and upon glancing at it from time-to-time, would change course no mater what side he happened to be looking at.

The poor old Hamilton had been having trouble enough keeping station on us in such miserable weather but when Joliden went wandering off on his erratic course changes, it became impossible. We never saw the Hamilton again on that trip and it wasn't until the weather cleared a day or so later, and Blackie could shoot some stars, that we even knew where the ship was. Luckily, at our relatively slow speed, four hours of aimless meandering couldn't get us into serious navigational trouble.

On this run back to Norfolk, we had a bit of a problem in the engineering department. Not personnel trouble, as on deck, but plant trouble. We had only one condenser which received the exhaust steam from our turbines. On one side of the tubes was seawater whose coolness condensed the steam on the other side to hot water for return to the boilers where it would be reconverted to high-pressure steam.

The condenser had not been retubed for years. New construction of ships had much higher priority for the cupronickel tubes than we could compete with. We developed a salinity problem in our boiler-feed water or condenser discharge. The cooling saltwater in the condenser was under pressure as a pump forced it from the sea while the hot water, condensed from steam, was under a vacuum as another pump drew it out. As a consequence, any tube developing a pinhole leak admitted saltwater into the condensate. In sufficient quantities, this would ruin our boilers and, in essence, put the entire power plant out of operation.

This was no new problem. During the last overhaul, although a complete retubing job had been refused by the Bureau of Ships, old tubes already plugged because they were contaminating the feed water and all others which developed leaks under hydrostatic test, were replaced. It was a matter of the same old problem and unless we could get a complete re-tubing job, it would mean going back to plugging the offending tube on arrival at Norfolk.

When we did arrive, priorities had not changed. After the plant was shut down and the condenser had cooled to uncomfortably hot, we had the manhole covers removed and applied water pressure to the tubes. Two proved to be leaking and were plugged; engineering department ready for sea.

During 1942, we traveled the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States. Always we were alone with one of the old destroyers as escort. We stopped regularly at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Guantanamo Bay, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Panama. All-in-all, I transited the Panama Canal fourteen times on the Nitro. In addition to these voyages, which became routine, we made one stop in Bermuda and one in Argentia, Newfoundland.

During the course of one of these early trips, Joliden made another bad error. It was a submarine contact, real or imaginary, by our escort of the time. Instead of swinging the ship either dead for or directly away from the contact, to present the smallest target, he swung her broadside. In the minute or two it took the Captain to get to the bridge, utter confusion had developed from a series of contradictory orders issued by Joliden.

While we had experienced a number of supposed submarine warnings from escorts, this happened to be the first when Joliden had the deck. No harm resulted and, in fact, in all my time on the Nitro, I never saw or heard reported any positively proven instance of a submarine in our immediate vicinity. It was enough, however, for the Captain to decide that the ship was not safe in Joliden's hands. Eventually all discovered that Joliden was an aging and sick man.

With the detachment of Joliden, we were short one watch stander as Junior Officer of the Deck. I got the assignment and was delighted. There had been practically nothing of a functional nature for me to do when the ship was underway. As a practical matter, about the only thing going on in the engineering department other than routine occurred in port. This always consisted of plugging condenser tubes.

Up to this time, I had been a student passenger in the engineering department. Now I became a student in deck duties and, while I continued to do the engineering paperwork, I had regular bridge watches to stand while underway. Ever since joining the ship, I had been Standing Officer of the deck watches in port but, as all Ensigns did that, it was certainly not onerous. About all it amounted to was noting meteorological data in the proper columns and listing the arrival and departure of various vessels and individuals which, presumably, might be of interest to God knows who. I had stood quite a good many of these watches as, in spite of our many trips, we spent a fair portion of our time in port.

Usually this time was passed in Norfolk where off-hours were spent at the Officers Club on the naval base. My free time was normally in the presence of Jim Hunnewell with whom I had become well acquainted and whose company I enjoyed. Several times, too, I had taken brief weekend leaves to visit Ann Startt in Baltimore. We had been courting for a few years, chiefly by mail, and in June of 1942 we were married. We didn't get many opportunities to see each other during the remainder of my days on the Nitro but it was more frequent than the remainder of the war made possible.

We had not been married more than a couple of weeks when, to my considerable surprise, I was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and got a medal. Not a real medal, of course, just a campaign medal but it was a thrill to put it on. In peacetime, it would have required a matter of years of service as an Ensign before such a promotion. The war obviously accelerated the rise-in-rank process. An ignorant young officer, such as I, had no conception of the needs of a fleet expanding at a tremendous rate.

Meanwhile we continued to be plagued with condenser tube troubles. I still had responsibilities in the engineering department even though Hunnewell and Blackie Thompson were converting me into a deck officer as rapidly as they could. By this time, a lot of tubes had been plugged and the heat transfer surface considerably reduced. Also, it seemed that each time we got into port there were more tubes to be plugged than the last. We had, on several occasions, arrived in port with the salinity level of condensate discharge at a critical point. If one or more tubes had gone, it would have been necessary to shut down the boilers.

The inevitable happened on Captain Chippendale's last voyage as our Commanding Officer. We were returning from Newfoundland when things got critical. As usual, we were proceeding alone with one escort and were far out to sea. Over a period of weeks, we had instituted a schedule of evermore frequent checks on the feed water. Mr. Lenart and Bogan, the Main-Engine-Room Chief Machinist's mates were practically living down below. I just checked in from time-to-time to be updated on the dire state of affairs and the progress of rectifying the problem.

It was well into the night when it happened. The last test showed the level of salinity too high to live with. Either several more tubes had developed small leaks or one had a serious rupture. Unless the plant was shutdown within minutes, feeding that stuff into the boilers meant priming and a useless power plant. There was no choice. Captain Chippendale ordered all stop.

Radio silence was in effect but our escort had to be advised that we would be dead-in-the-water until repairs could be performed. I don't know the Captain's emotions were but our signal lamp was the only means of conveying information. The North Atlantic was not the place to be flashing shipboard lights in the early winter of 1942. We were in German U-boat territory and our vessel a sitting duck. However, he did it and immediately joined us in the engine room. All hands topside went to general quarters but, in reality, we were quite helpless.

It evades memory how long it took to get those tubes plugged (three had gone) but it seemed like months. Lying stopped with most auxiliary gear shutdown; we could occasionally hear the screws of our escort as he passed nearby pinging away for submarines. Needless to say, it was a most uncomfortable feeling, far below waterline, in a dead ship with tons of ammunition as the cargo load.

In actuality, the job was done quickly. God knows the men doing the work had had practice enough. Our ominous position made the time of reparation appear endless. By the time we passed the word to the bridge that the engine room was ready to answer bells, I was more thoroughly drenched in sweat than ever before or since in my life. When we got into port after that one, we received a much-needed and far-overdue re-tubing job. We also welcomed aboard a new Chief Engineer and a new Captain.

The latter two changes in personnel were not unexpected as we had received the usual copies of their orders. During the course of the re-tubing job in the Norfolk Navy Yard, we did get some other changes in officer staff that were not anticipated. Two of my fellow Junior Officers of the Deck, who were also of my rank, were detached and two new V-7 Ensigns came aboard as replacements.

When we next went to sea, heading for the Caribbean once more, our underway Officers of the Deck were Mr. St. Martin, now a Lieutenant Commander, Jim Hunnewell, Milt Austin, and Joe Roper along with our new Commanding Officer, Captain Johnson USN. Eventually we anchored in the explosives area in Guantanamo Bay, our accustomed home there, and began unloading ammunition onto the barges that were perennially alongside when we were in port.

Within a few hours of our scheduled departure, two-sudden and completely-unplanned-for occurrences took place on our officer roster. Captain Johnson was detached immediately with orders to assume command of a squadron of destroyers. Joe Roper, who had made a bit of a reputation for himself as a top- flight communications officer, was also detached suddenly and received orders as staff communications officer for a mine sweeper group. No replacements were available and our orders to sail the following morning were unaltered. So we sailed, with Shorty Milner as acting Captain.

To replace Joe Roper as underway Officer of the Deck, there was only myself, and I was technically still an engineering officer, or one of the two new Ensigns. I knew mighty little but someone apparently figured these two knew even less so, as we got underway the following morning, I found myself as Officer of the Deck with the four-to-eights. This is the favorite watch at sea and generally goes to the senior watch stander. In my case, I got this as no favor but as a matter of common sense. During these hours, the Navigator is on the bridge getting his morning and twilight fixes and Blackie could at least keep a partial eye on me.

Leaving or coming into port the duties of the Officer of the Deck were really quite normal. The Captain, Executive Officer and Navigator were all on the bridge as well and the Captain had the con. The real responsibility was never turned over to the watch officer until the ship was safely at sea and on the course for wherever she was headed. However, I had been around long enough and had qualified men such as Thompson and Hunnewell beat into my head the importance of doing my homework. Well, before my watch, I had studied the chart, checked the tides, currents and familiarized myself with the various other details involved in taking the ship out the channel and to sea.

As far as senior officers were concerned, I had the bridge to myself in accomplishing the many little bits of business prior to getting underway. The ship's boats to be gotten in, gangways up, departure permission obtained, assurance the engine room was ready and the anchor heaved to short stay were a few of the many details to be attended to. On one occasion, just as the latter chore was being accomplished, Blackie Thompson came on the bridge. There was no sign of Shorty Milner. I called the Captain's cabin and received no answer nor could I reach him at the Executive Officer's stateroom. Not knowing what else to do, I sent a messenger with my report that the ship was ready to get underway. Shorty was finally found walking a couple of dogs he had promised some nurse he would bring back to the States. When he finally arrived on the bridge, I reported the status of the ship and he relieved me of the con and ordered the forecastle to heave around the anchor chain.

A few minutes later, the anchor broke ground and Mr. St. Martin reported the ship was underway. Shorty's order was for all- ahead one-third. It looked like a huge expanse of water directly ahead of us but, a quarter of a mile away was a long, shallow mud bank. As the passage to get out of anchorage area lay off to port, my own preplanning had envisioned left rudder with ahead on the starboard screw and back on port. I was alarmed. Was it possible that Shorty hadn't looked at the chart? The ship gradually assumed way and Shorty gave no other command. I was horrified. This was my first-ever Officer of the Deck watch underway and I did have responsibilities for the ship. I don't know if I ever would have had the courage to countermand Shorty because Blackie Thompson stepped in and did just that at that instant. He ordered all-stop and then he backed down. Shorty said not a word. Blackie simply took over the con and took the ship to sea.

The only other times I saw Shorty for the remainder of that voyage was on the bridge going in or coming out of port. On no occasion whatsoever did he utter a word. Blackie Thompson was actually commanding the ship.

By the time we returned to Norfolk, things had shaken down to the new operating order in quite good fashion, with Graham, our Chief Boson's Mate filling in for assistant Officer of the Deck where we were one officer short. Graham ran a small gambling casino in the armory, about which none of the officers was technically aware, where he and his cronies regularly fleeced the many enlisted passengers we almost always had aboard. The time he had to spend on the bridge probably cut into his income but Graham was patriotic and put up with it as part of his war effort.

From this time on I had no more engineering duties aboard the Nitro. I requested, and received, a change in my qualifications designation from strictly engineering to both deck and engineering.

I have no idea as to whom had been peeking during our travels between the near disastrous departure from Guantanamo and our eventual return to Norfolk but officers' duties were reshuffled on arrival. Shorty was detached for shore duty, Commander Ragonnet USN reported aboard as our new Commanding Officer, Blackie got a spot promotion to full Commander and became Executive Officer. A few weeks later he assumed command upon the departure of Ragonnet. Jim Hunnewell took over the duties of Navigator. Mr. St. Martin was detached and, on February 11, 1943, I became the ship's First Lieutenant. Less than a month later, I was promoted to full Lieutenant.

By this time, I had been aboard the Nitro for almost two years and our duty roster for both officers and enlisted crew had changed drastically. All the senior petty officers in the engineering and deck departments were long gone and their positions filled, in large part, by promotion from below. Former seamen were petty officers and former firemen were water tenders or Machinist Mates. Former Ensigns such as Jim Hunnewell and I were now heads of departments. Once again, such rapid promotions were commonplace in the war.

At this point in script, I would like to mention one incident that was probably a great irritation to someone and admit my responsibility in the matter. The statute of limitations having long expired, I trust it is safe to do so.

On the Nitro, we almost invariably carried both officer and enlisted personnel; not too many of the former, as bunking quarters were limited, but quite a lot of the latter whether we had bunks or not. The wardroom made out splendidly on this arrangement. Throughout the passengers' stay aboard, the officers' mess was credited with the food allowance for such officer passengers as we carried. The same was true of the general mess for the enlisted passengers aboard. In practice, when we had a lot of passengers, the food was the cheapest we could get away with and the minute we dropped them off, we dined royally on what we had saved up from their accumulated rations allowance. This was not my sin. I had nothing to do with it. I admit only to enjoying the end result.

My misdeed concerned the sleeping arrangements for the enlisted personnel. For the period of time I was First Lieutenant, we had all kinds of space on the first deck that was never used; ideal for erecting stanchions and bunks to accommodate two or three hundred men. Instead, they were expected to use hammocks but there was no way these could be suitably slung. Our shipfitters could easily set up bunks but getting our hands on the stacked bedding was even harder than getting the condenser retubed.

I have forgotten the date but it was during a stay at the Norfolk Navy Yard. We were tied up alongside one of the piers and due to get underway the following morning. Directly across the dock from us was another vessel in the midst of what was obviously a high-priority job. In fact, I had been keeping an eye on her for a week. Conditions aboard were utterly chaotic. Most ships in overhaul look that way but really are not. This one was in such a state of disarray. So much new gear was being delivered to her that they could not handle it. A lot of supplies were simply dropped on the dock without control or proper inventory. Nobody, but nobody was keeping any control over it. The items I had been watching for over a week were, of course, bunks; hundreds of shiny, beautiful bunks. Just what the Nitro needed, right?

The USS Ancon, command ship for the invasion of Africa and Europe, if you are still looking for 200 bunks, they sailed from Norfolk the morning the Nitro did. What a coincidence!

Ever since getting my new classification as being qualified for both deck and engineering departments, I had aspired to more interesting duties than the Nitro provided. While I had moved rapidly up the ladder in both rank and responsibility, I looked with constant envy at whichever of the old bone-yard destroyers that happened to be our escort of the moment. They really weren't much but they looked great to me at that time. Clearly, I wanted more than I was stuck with aboard this ammunition ship.

Throughout stopovers at the Norfolk Navy Yard, I attended various gunnery schools and had a reasonably decent background on light aircraft weaponry and at least a nodding acquaintance with 5-inch 38's then used on smaller warships as dual-purpose guns. All this made me feel that I had a reasonably good chance to get a transfer form what was essentially a freighter to an honest-to-pete man-of-war. As nearly as I can remember, I put in three requests for transfer to destroyer duty during that winter of early 1943. All were turned down.

It was quite discouraging. The turnover among our Ensigns and Junior-Grade Lieutenants was fantastic. As soon as we could train them to be reasonably competent, in would come their orders, sending many off to fighting ships and there I sat. By the middle of April, 1943, I decided to take matters in my own hands.

On the eighteenth of the month, I took a couple of days leave and went to Washington to see the detail officer for Lieutenants at the Bureau of Personnel. After relating my tale of woe, to which he was a sympathetic audience, he agreed that I had a point and stated that, in fact, there was a pressing need for junior officers with my experience. New destroyers were coming out of the yards faster than qualified people could be found to man them. After about a half-hour conversation, I was virtually assured of transfer orders to a destroyer. That is as far as it got for, at this point, my newfound ally had my file pulled. After one glance, he told me that, regrettably, there was nothing he could do as my file had been flagged.

This term meant nothing to me and he explained that it identified me as a key officer who could not be transferred unless a suitable replacement was available. In a continuing discussion, it became evident that, so far as deck officers were concerned, Jim Hunnewell, who was also flagged and unaware of it, and I were little more than glorified training officers. In essence, we were deemed competent to keep the ship running reasonably well while new Ensigns came aboard, eventually made Junior-Grade Lieutenants and then received orders for more important duty.

My disappointment must have been quite evident as the detail officer asked me if I had ever considered submarine duty. My reply to that was that it had never crossed my mind. He then did something that he probably was not supposed to do. I got the word that any request for such duty took the matter completely out of his control.

This gave me something to think about on the train back to Norfolk. While still trying to get through the "90-Day-Wonder" school at the Naval Academy, we had gotten a lecture by some dolphin wearer about the advantages of that service. My mind being so much devoted to current problems, I paid virtually no attention to his comments. Now it appeared clear that the only warship I was likely to serve on would be a submarine. By the 21st of April, I had made up my mind and by May 5th of 1943, I had orders to submarine school in New London, Connecticut.

For more information about the autobiography by F. William Cooper contact:
his son John Cooper at

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