Can you describe the Harding and some of your jobs onboard?
There were four five-inch guns – 38 caliber guns – .50 caliber machine guns, also torpedo tubes and Y-guns. For antisubmarine defense, we rolled 600 pounders [depth charges] off the fantail , and the Y-guns shot out 300 pounders [to port and starboard]. There were 40-millimeter antiaircraft guns and various other caliber guns for defense. On my special sea detail watch — I’ll use Casco Bay Harbor, Maine, as an example, the entry channel was mined to keep submarines out. We had to keep within the channel for us to go in. One of the duties that I had was JA talker on the bridge. A JA talker repeated orders from either the officer of the deck or the captain. The captain had quarters off the bridge. What usually happened was there was an ensign on port and starboard sides to call in ranges and bearings on various buoys or other objects, so we’d know where we were in the channel. The executive officer was there with a chart. As I repeated the bearings to him, he would mark our positions. On watch detail, I relayed orders to various parts of the ship, combat information center information, for example. When we were at sea, all sorts of exercises were practiced.
We did a lot of preparation. For instance, there was a submarine base at Portsmouth, N.H. We would go out with submarines and have war games with them. Planes from Brunswick Naval air station would come pulling targets behind, and we would fire at those targets — 5-inch guns, 40s and other caliber anti-aircraft guns.
We did a lot of preparation. For instance, there was a submarine base at Portsmouth, N.H. We would go out with submarines and have war games with them. Planes from Brunswick Naval air station would come pulling targets behind, and we would fire at those targets — 5-inch guns, 40s and other caliber anti-aircraft guns. There was a wolfpack of German submarines working out in the North Atlantic, and we went out with a carrier to see what we could do, but the weather got so cold and so rough that was kind of a waste of time. It was too rough for anything. And cold. We didn’t use the main decks. To get from the rear of the ship to the front we’d have to go along the superstructure. So when it got very rough, the lower decks weren’t used.
When did USS Harding leave for Europe?
Well let’s see, it was really just until we sailed overseas, I think March of 1944. Some of the boys at that time were growing beards. After we came back to Portland, Maine to get the task force going, everybody thought we were going to the Pacific, and some of those guys had a mohawk haircut and the worst looking beards. But anyway, when we found out we weren’t going to the Pacific, we joined the task force headed for Normandy. Next thing we knew, we were in Belfast Lough, in Northern Ireland and we dropped anchor there.
Did they tell you where you were going before or after you left port?
Well, we knew we were going to Europe. We had to refuel from, I believe it was the [cruiser] Tuscaloosa, a ship that had ample fuel. When we wound up there in Belfast Lough, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower came to the battleship Texas and gave a little speech. We stayed two or three days before we left and we were able to go ashore at liberty. The people there were some of the poorest people I think I’ve ever looked at. They were all selling their Irish linens and such. Our sailors who had beards shaved to look a little more presentable. They did this by choice, but there might have been some orders.
When we wound up there in Belfast Lough, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower came to the battleship Texas and gave a little speech. We stayed two or three days before we left and we were able to go ashore at liberty. The people there were some of the poorest people I think I’ve ever looked at. They were all selling their Irish linens and such.
Who were the commanders of the Harding during your time there?
Palmer our captain, was from Charleston, S.C. and he was an Annapolis graduate – full commander. Our executive officer was from Florence, S.C., so we also had an Annapolis man. And we had a doctor from Michigan. It was a mixed crowd, we were from everywhere, but most of the crew were from other parts of the country and they always called me “Rebel.”
What training did your ship do for the D-Day invasion?
From Belfast, we went out into the Irish Sea and up into Scotland. We were two weeks or more there, preparing for the actual invasion. Combat conditions were what was practiced. When practice stopped, we were in one of those firths and I went up to the bridge, and all I could see was a green mountain sticking out of the water, sheep grazing, thatched-roof cottages. It was such a peaceful view. You could have turned the clock back centuries. And after all our preparations there was quite a serene feeling. After that, we went down through the Irish sea, we had some submarine contacts. We dropped depth charges, but they were in vain. From there, we went on down to Plymouth Harbor. As we approached Plymouth, from a distance, I thought I could see airplanes, but it was barrage balloons with steel cables. Plymouth had been bombed, and it was a big pile of rubble – except where Sir Francis Drake did his bowling. That part escaped. The dockyards at Devonport had escaped, but many things were underground in Plymouth.
We got shore duty there. I was in the second liberty party. The first had gone into an English pub as fast as they could get – and became dog drunk on that English beer – or whatever it was they were drinking. When they came back aboard, we had three men on the deck being hosed down to sober them up. Later, I went ashore. As I was getting on a bus … lo and behold there was a boy from Hendersonville I knew. I stopped and talked to him. He was in the Army, and he was at Vickerage, which was a receiving station for the Army. As I proceeded, I ran into another boy that I worked with in Hendersonville at the A&P store! Another one from Hendersonville. It doesn’t stop there. We had a good time. Then I went back to the ship, and we were right beside the Coast Guard ship Bayfield. And there I saw Herbie Justice, standing guard duty, for Goodness sake. I saw three boys from Hendersonville the first time we went to Plymouth. The Plym River and Tamar River meet there and they have pretty good currents. We were going down to Slapton Sands where there were some LSTs practicing, but German E-boats sunk some of them. Our arrival was after the fact. They were gone already. All the ports, channel ports, where so chock full of our ordnance. No wonder; you know what wins wars? It’s ordnance. England had so much of our equipment it was ready to sink! Before we went to Portland Weymouth — this is where we left from for the invasion — the Luftwaffe came over and dropped flares and a few bombs. But mainly they were dropping mines in the harbor. We went to general quarters, but we didn’t do any firing. We couldn’t understand why we weren’t firing back. We found out later that we shouldn’t do that, they left all that up to the shore batteries, who had antiaircraft batteries. Plus, we had some P-38s not far away. But anyway, they did that two nights in a row and they were chased off each time. After the raids, getting rid of the mines was the main activity.