World War II was the most widespread war in history with more than 100 million men and woman serving in military units. Navy veteran Richard Meyer of Dayton tells his stepdaughter, Colleen Murphy, some of his memories while serving at sea during World War II.
Colleen Murphy (CM): So, since you came into our lives when you married my mom, we've been hearing all the wonderful stories you have. It'd be nice to capture all these stories for the kids that aren't here yet.
Richard Meyer (RM): Oh, yeah.
CM: I thought maybe you could tell us about when you decided to enlist.
RM: Okay, I wanted to enlist from the start of the war, which started in 1941, WWII. So, my seventeenth birthday, I went right down and enlisted in the Navy. I was assigned to the USS Shelby, which is an APA-105. We had a bunch of battle station orders. The captain came on and said, “Battle stations, battle stations. This is a drill. Man your battle stations.” This time the guy said, “Man your battle stations. Man overboard. This is not a drill.” We all ran up to the fantail of the ship and watched this guy out there swimming around. We're going forward and he's going backwards.
CM: Oh no.
RM: All of a sudden, I saw his arm up, and then all of a sudden, it disappeared. So, we think a shark got him.
CM: That was a terrible thing to see.
RM: Yeah, it was awful. So, anyhow, we went on and we're out maybe a week or two, and we hit a typhoon. It was really rough and scary. After the typhoon, right at the end of it, we had a party in the chow hall. Well, a guy was playing a piano and a couple of guys were singing. The ship rolled to the right and the piano player slid from one side of the ship to the other, and banged up against the wall, splintered the piano. It didn't hurt him, but it was funny.
CM: So, after that, you were on the ships for a few years?
RM: Two years, probably. Then they shipped me to Panama, and I got on a submarine tender, which is a submarine repair ship. We had everything on that ship you could imagine, machine shop, woodworking shop, everything.
CM: I bet you liked that.
RM: It was nice. Ice cream parlor.
RM: Yeah. And it was nice, and big.
CM: I'm remembering another story that you told about when sailors go over the equator for the first time. There's some kind of initiation, or something.
RM: When you cross the equator, if you haven't been there before, you're called a pollywog.
CM: They have some kind of ceremony?
RM: It’s like hazing. I remember on our ship you had to crawl through a barrel, a long barrel tied together. It was full of spaghetti, and they told us it was full of worms. And you had to crawl through it. Then you get on the other side and they spank you with their bare hands, giving you slaps on the back and your butt.
CM: If you had to do it again, would you join the Navy?
CM: Would you join another service?
CM: Interesting …
RM: No, I didn't care for it. It was okay during the war and right after the war because there weren’t very many regulations. But, after that, it got real strict. I didn't like that. Then, being away from home all four years is not fun either.
Colleen Murphy and Richard Meyer's conversation took place at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Tony Holloway and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.