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Robert Milligan Graves, interviewed by Nicolette Graves on 25 April 1999 in Longview, Washington.  Graves was stationed at Camp Bennion at Farragut, Idaho from 1943-44.

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Robert Graves is flanked on either side by two unknown soldiers. Photo courtesy of Robert Graves.

Interviewer: Nicolette Graves.
Interview with Robert Milligan Graves concerning his experiences at Camp Bennion,
Company 695, US Naval Training Station, Farragut, Idaho, from 1943-1944.
At his homein Longview, Washington
Sunday, April 25, 1999

 

NG: And I have here your orders to report for induction, and it's dated July 27, 1943, and that was your preliminary order?

RMG: Yes . . . that was when I was ordered to report for my physical examination, I think.

NG: So how old were you then?

RMG: I was eighteen.

NG: And then after you went through that, what happened?

RMG: Well, after I was in Portland, Oregon for my physical examination we were taken up there on the train from Klamath Falls [Oregon] - and following our examinations and our acceptance for service; why, we were given orders to return home and spent some time back in Klamath - I think about a week it seemed to me, and then we were ordered to report to Farragut Naval Training Station in Farragut, Idaho. So I proceeded up there arriving there in early September for boot-camp training. And we arrived there, as I recall, sometime early in the day, around... in the morning sometime, and were taken to the building where we were issued our uniforms and all of the various personal things we were going to be using while we were in boot training [coughs]. And that was the last we saw of our civilian clothes - they were shipped back to our homes.

Then we were taken to a barracks where we were assigned for our - what would eventually become our training company. And - on arriving into the training area, we [were] greeted by a lot of the so-called old veterans who were there, or preceding us in a lot of the other barracks, and they jeered and hollered at us, and called us various names which were used for new arrivals, which was kind of an intimidating experience for all of us, but we survived and uh, were shown into the barracks and assigned our bunks, and uh, told to get our belongings kind of together there. And given some instructions on how to store some of our things and make our beds, and various things. And then that, that pretty much took up, I think, most of the afternoon, and then we were taken to dinner [coughs], had our first navy mess which seemed pretty good to me. During the depression we didn't eat too well at home. But uh, anyway, after dinner we uh had a meeting with our new company commander, a man by the name of Day, a very fine man I thought, who became our ruler for the next eight weeks, and uh, was in charge of all of our activities. [046] Uh, and he informed us that uh we would be having lights out pretty shortly - as I recall it seems to me like it was about eight-thirty or nine o'clock that there was taps, no more lights and quiet and uh we'd be wakened the next morning like, I think, about four-thirty or five. So uh, I mean when taps comes, lights are out and that's it, and we were told to be, you know, very quiet, but one of our uh group decided that it was a good time to act up a bit in the middle of the night, and uh started doing a lot of hollering around, and making a bunch of funny jokes and so on, and uh disturbing everybody's sleep. [057]. But it didn't last too long because the powers-that-be came in and got the whole troop up, our whole company, and ushered us outside onto the drill field and ran us around the drill field about four or five times in the middle of the night in our underwear. And it wasn't real warm as I recall! But uh, we all got the message that uh, if anybody screws up we all pay, and uh that was something that we all (coughs 064] needed to learn quickly, and uh I don't think we had anymore of those kind of problems.

But uh, and the next day we finished kind of getting organized as I recall, and we were given instructions on how to fold our clothes, and what would be worn at certain times, and - and uh what time most everything was going to happen to us and when our meals were and when we had to go to bed and what instructions we were going to be having, and that sort of thing. And uh, and what we were going to do to maintain our facilities, we had - we kept the barracks, did all the cleaning, that sort of thing, mopping the floors, cleaning the latrines, and uh, washed the windows inside and out [076]. Every Friday, as I recall, was Field Day which we did all of those things and all the mattresses were hung out the windows to air out and ..... So that was pretty much what we had to learn about taking care of ourselves and our facilities.

The rest of the time we spent uh doing marching drills and learning to work as a unit and as a group, and uh - uh, doing all kinds of things really. Then we had instructions in all kinds of nautical things, knot tying, and some seamanship things, and uh. . just various skills that we probably would need on board ship eventually [088]. And we had rifle practice and uh quite a lot of physical activities, boxing and wrestling and judo and swimming - everyone had to swim - had huge swimming pools and before you could get out of boot camp, you had to swim. [And so] I was fortunate enough that I knew how to swim but not all of them did, and I remember one fellow, well more than one, who could not swim, and they were told to jump in the water, and uh I saw two or three actually faint from fright, and they had to be - eventually they had to do it - they did, and we had to jump off of some big scaffoldings too [100], as I recall, like you were jumping off of a ship I guess. So that was, for me it was fine, I always loved the water, but some people were very intimidated. But it was a very essential thing - a lot of those fellows I'm sure ended up in the water in the ocean, and uh so it was necessary, and you had to learn how to tie various rescue knots and things like bowlines to help you get out of the water. And uh I guess uh - well, we, we did rowing on uh Lake Pend Oreille. The navy had some whale boats down there, and we went down and manned those as a crew. I don't remember how many of us - there must've been probably about six or eight of us in each boat, I think, - they were pretty good-size boats beautiful place, I remember it was about as pretty a lake as I'd seen I think - I really enjoyed that part of it [113]. But the scenery up there, the area's very nice, it's a beautiful area really. So, anyway that was pretty much our activities during those eight weeks; a lot of marching and physical conditioning, calisthenics and uh, other athletic type things. Didn't have much time for any amusements or anything, it was mostly just sleep and eat and train and ....

NG: Getting to be a unit?

RMG: Learning to work as a group, and uh, perform as a teammate which is extremely important as everyone in the military understands. And along toward the end, we were given a brief liberty, finally, and a few dollars and were able to go into Coeur d'Alene and Spokane and spend a little time which was really a nice reward after the weeks of training [130]. But uh, it was a very good time - we took over the duties of heckling the newcomers when our time came, and so we thought we were pretty salty.

NG: [Laughs]

RMG: But when we graduated the formations of all the companies out there and the regimental review, is a very impressive ceremony, and I felt very proud to be part of it. So that ended up the boot camp training, pretty much. And then I was assigned to go to electrical school - my boot camp training was in Camp Bennion which I think is the first camp built - I'm not sure but I believe that's true. Anyway, my electrical training was at Camp Peterson and I uh was there until March of the next year [1944], going through that, and made a lot of good friends there and had some - a lot more liberties and enjoyed the time there very much.

NG: Was that the one where you got the car?

RMG: Mmhh. Yeah that was... [chuckles]. We bought a car, several of us who kind of hung around together. We had trouble getting into [coughs]. [159] [chuckles]. Before I got out of that boot camp there, I was gonna talk about those rifles, wasn't I? I forgot about that.

NG: Oh yeah.

RMG: I guess we can go back, huh?

RMG: [sighs] Oh, I was starting to talk about the car, wasn't I? Anyway, we always had trouble getting into Spokane and Coeur d'Alene when we had leave, or liberty, and so a group of us bought an old car, a Model A four-door sedan. And they made one other trip without me - I wasn't able to go on liberty, but the first time I went, why, we were driving down the highway towards Coeur d'Alene and we heard a big thump in the back, and we looked out the window and saw the left rear wheel passing us on the left-hand side, just rolling down the highway faster than we were. The left wheel had come off so consequently, of course, the car had come down on the axle finally. And as far as I know, the car, we just pushed it off the side of the road and it's still sitting there as far as I know - we never saw it again [laughs] [176]. We all left Camp Peterson shortly after that [laughs] so I guess we never really had any need for it anyway.

But one of the things I was going to mention earlier when I was talking about boot camp, a friend of mine that I have met here in Longview, was an electrician who worked on the building of Farragut, and he was asking me if I remembered the rifles the guards carried around the guardhouses. And I said, "I sure do, I carried one of them." And he says, "Do you remember that they were just wood?" And I said, "That's right, that's all we had was wooden rifles!" [chuckles]. We marched everywhere with those rifles, all the time I was there. I don't know why we had to use wooden ones, maybe they were short of rifles in the service, I don't know, but the only time we ever were able to fire a real rifle was on the firing ranges when we had target practice. Anyway, the wooden ones were plenty heavy enough for us to carry around and do our drills with anyway, so we weren't unhappy, but if anybody had ever tried to escape, why, I don't know what we'd have done - I guess hit 'em with it or something. [laughs]

NG: Hit 'em with the butt.

RMG: [laughing]. Yeah [195]. So, the other thing that he mentioned to me or asked me about, was how cold it was up there, and I said, "I really remember how cold it was." I found out he was there at the same time that I was, working on these buildings, and...

NG: It was the winter of '43?

RMG: It was the winter of '43, right, and it was extremely cold, and uh a lot of snow, a lot of wind I remember, and just icy. But we were out doing calisthenics and marching and everything, in that ice. It didn't seem to make any difference and I don't remember really feeling it all that much. I know it was cold but it was never bitter to me, but I know a lot of people thought it was really bad. But uh, the incidence I remember that cold was my mother came up to spend Christmas with me, and stayed I think, in the Davenport Hotel in Spokane and some friends and I went in and we all spent Christmas together. In fact, I just remembered, one of the fellas that was with us - he was from Minnesota - and his folks had sent him some venison, and we took this to the hotel and they fixed it for us for dinner. [216]

NG: That was nice.

RMG: Yeah. So that was kind of neat. But uh, anyway I really - I enjoyed my time at Farragut very much, was very proud to be part of my company and enrolled in the navy schools and so on. I felt that the navy did a great deal for me physically and mentally, and gave me a lot of good basic training to live my life by, really. So I was always very proud to have served.

NG: Where did you go after you left Farragut?

RMG: I was ordered to Camp Shoemaker in the San Francisco Bay area. It was -actually it was a port, embarkation camp really, where people were assigned to various things overseas, and I was there for about - not very long, just a few days as I recall. [238] And uh, everyone was anxious to get out of there because they were really kind of temporary facilities, and no one was there for a very long time. There wasn't anything to do, you didn't have any duties or anything, you were just waiting to go. Anyway, I was just there a few days, and I was assigned to a ship, the USS Bowers, which is a destroyer escort, a brand new one, it'd just been commissioned. It had just come back from her shakedown cruise, actually. And I went aboard her on the 24 March [1944], I think it was. And in a matter of three or four days, we set sail for the South Pacific. I spent the rest of my - well, not all of my time there, I guess, but quite a long time.

NG: Down there?

RMG: In the South Pacific then, yes, yeah. So, anyway, we got to use all of our training that we got at Farragut. I was an electrician on the ship. In fact those ships - I'm sure one of the reasons I was assigned, electricians were assigned to that ship in greater numbers was that they had turbo-electric engines and electricians actually operated the engines on the ship. That's what I was doing - one of my duties anyway [262].

NG: And the ship was hit by a kamikaze?

RMG: At Okinawa, yes, uh-huh, yeah. When we left San Francisco, we went -proceeded down all - we ended up eventually in New Guinea, [?]and the Marshall Islands and Admiralty Islands, the Caroline Islands, New Guinea, the Philippines and ended up in the invasion of Okinawa finally, and were struck by a kamikaze there, and came back to the States [in May of 1924] - May 25 of 1945 we got back to the States.

NG: Close to the end of the war?

RMG: Well the war ended in August, yeah. [coughs] The ship was taken back to Philadelphia to be converted to a high-speed personnel destroyer, to carry troops to invade Japan. But the war ended and we never had to do that.

NG: But you would have been on that then?

RMG: We would have been on there, oh yes, yes.

NG: You stayed with the ship you were on?

RMG: Yes, it was after it was all redone, I stayed with the ship, and was - we were all through with our shakedown cruise and getting ready to head back to the South Pacific, when the war ended, mmhm.

NG: And when did you leave the navy?

RMG: December 21st, 1945.

NG: [It's] something that stayed with you?

RMG: Oh yes, [laughs].

NG: [It's] not going to go away, either?

RMG: No.

NG: If you get to go back to the Farragut reunion, maybe you'll see some people you knew.

RMG: I'd love to do that. I'm having a reunion of my shipmates in San Diego uh, the 10th through the 13th of September, and I think this thing is almost the same time.

NG: It might be.

I could maybe - I don't know. I'm trying to figure that out [laughs].

NG: Let's see, is there anything else? Is there anything else that you can think of about that time? Did people make good friendships - I mean was it the people that you would -obviously you wanted to keep in touch with?

RMG: Oh yes, I made some very good friends, I think. And as I said some of them, I wish I knew how to find them. Of course the friends I made on the ship are still - we're still all very close, and have gotten together every year for a number of years now. But the - some of the fellows that I met at Farragut were very good friends, and we really - in fact I have some addresses for them, you know, [laughs] fifty years ago, but I don't think it's - no way they - well they were just kids, they didn't have any homes or anything you know, so I would have no way to....

NG: They still lived with their parents?

RMG: Yeah, I don't know - there may be some avenues where I could find them, I don't know.

Were they from all over?

RMG: Mmhh. One of my very best friends was from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's in that picture I showed you. He's one of them. Yeah, they were - well the fellow that -which we had the venison from, he's from Minnesota, and there was another fellow from Minnesota. A lot from San Francisco.

NG: Were there quite a few from Portland?

RMG: Uh, in boot camp there were a number of us, but in service school they seemed to come from everywhere, of course there were just a few from here and a few from there. I don't know how they selected the recruits to go to Farragut. I know people from the Midwest came out there also. But a lot of people from here went to the Midwest for some of those boot camps too, so... I don't' know.

NG: No rhyme or reason?

RMG: No, just wherever they had the vacancies, I guess. But I never heard of Farragut, Idaho, until I ended up going there, well it wasn't there hardly, I guess.

NG: No, it wasn't there till after Pearl Harbor.

RMG: Yeah, yeah. So, I'd no idea.

NG: I think there was a big influx of young men who wanted to join up after Pearl Harbor.

RMG: Oh yes, yes.

NG: So that probably increased the [numbers]?

RMG: We were all afraid the war was going to be over before we got in it, you know [laughs].

NG: No such luck.

RMG: No, well that's all right. No, I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything.


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