Under Age Enlistment at 16

by Bill Crawford


In 1943 we were all caught up in "Patriotism" and I just couldn't wait to get into the Navy. I took a bus from Houston, Texas to Mobile, Alabama and went to the recruiting station to sign up. As I was large for my age they told me all I had to do was get my parents to sign and so they did when I said I would not return home. 



Boot Camp at Sampson NTSC

Geneva, New York on the Finger Lakes


Sampson Naval Training Station was constructed in 1942 and was literally a city within itself. There were 58 miles of roads, 468 buildings, 10 miles of rail tracks that connected to the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Water supply system with five million gallons per day capacity. Drill halls 625 ft in length and 120 ft wide. Each contained a 75' X 50' swimming pool. 

The original base was completed in September 1942 and commissioned in October 1942 with the arrival of the first group of recruits. A total of five Recruit training units were constructed for the Navy in WW-2. 


Training of Recruits


Training companies consisted of 112 to 130 recruits and remained in training averaging from 4 weeks in early 1944 to a normal time of six to eight weeks as demands for ship's crews decreased after VE day.


A total of 411,429 Navy recruits were trained at Sampson from 1942-1945.   (Navy records)


From Recruiting Station Mobile, Alabama to Sampson Naval Training Station:


We were placed on a train and rode for three days until we arrived at Geneva, New York at Sampson Receiving Station for boot camp. That's some experience. These very large buildings had a large room with several hundred blocks painted on the floor with a number. Each man was placed in a block and told to remove all his clothing and put everything into a cardboard box. After enlistment your street clothes were shipped back home paid for from your first navy pay as well as all the other items given as tooth brush and paste, soap, shoe polish, razor and blades and insurance. Pay was $50 a month as a recruit. 


The number in the block where you were standing was painted on your chest and that was used to track you all day long. You had only a small ditty bag in which to carry your few personal possessions that you were allowed to keep. 


You went through several physiognomy interviews and if no problems, on down the line to take your physical and shoots. Shots were given in both arms two at a time step forward and two more in each arm. 


It's December and very cold outside but we were standing around without a stitch from early in the morning 0630 until about 1500. So now we start with a mattress cover and down a long line where you were measured for uniforms.


Clothes and other gear were being tossed at you at every step along the way. At the end of the line we put on our undress blues took the oath of allegiance to the US of A and now we were in the NAVY….


Took the sack of all our gear and marched off to the assigned barracks. If I remember correctly there was 130 men in each barracks and listed as a training company. It was marched off to every function, chow, drilling, training, from 0500 until 2100 hours. 


Time was consumed by taking test for class "A" schools. Drilling with our wooden rifles, swimming pool and high jump with a life jacket into the fire in the pool, gas mask, VD films, inspections, standing watch or mess cook duty, cleaning barracks, head, washing clothes with brush and don't forget that most important bucket that was always present. Rolling clothes and packing a locker and sea bag. 


Now boot camp was supposed to be 6 weeks. After one week they cut off a week and so on until after 21 days we had completed our boot training and off to the "A" school or direct to the fleet. 


(Sampson WW-2 Navy Veteran's have a web page that has a history of the base. More information may be obtained about this NRTC facility by logging on to their web site (Sampson Navy Veterans.com)


In late 1943 and early 1944, Boot training was accelerated to meet the needs of new ship construction. I was scheduled for 6 weeks in boot training but completed my stay in 3 weeks and then off to the assigned training school in Bedford Springs, Pa.


After boot training, many of the Navy Personnel were sent to training schools that were provided to train the new Navy recruits in a specialty required for all the different skills to man and operate a vessel in the performance of his duty. These include seamanship, gunnery, communications, ship operating and maintenance, engineering, sonar, radio, radar, electrical, cook & baker, fire fighting, damage control and other skills. These schools were generally of 4 to 16 week duration. I attended a radio operator training school in Bedford, Pa. and the Submarine Training School in New London, Conn.


Keystone Radio Schools of Philadelphia, PA, was one of the contractors who taught the NTS radio operator school classes. It was located in a Resort Hotel in the mountains at Bedford Springs, Pa. (The "Mountain Navy" was our slang name for this location)


Six sailors were assigned to each room with three double bunks. A common bath between each two rooms so everyone had to limit their time in this area to a very few minutes. Cleaning duties rotated each week.


A typical day started at 0530 with morning calisthenics, clean room and make up bunks, chow, and morning muster at 0800 then off to classes until 1130. We had typing, INT Morris code, operating procedures, radio repairs, signal flags, flashing light, aircraft recognition, and other naval seamanship classes. Lunch 11:30 to 1300 hours. The older classes did everything first so new arrivals were always last to eat, laundry, cleaning, etc. 1300 to 1600 hours more classes. 1600 to 1730 hours-close order drill cross country running, swimming in season and other sports. At 1800 hours chow and study and other necessary choirs until 2100 hours. Taps and sleep until the new day. Monitors and fireguards walked the halls of the buildings after taps. If anyone was talking or making noise, the OOD would have the six sailors up and dressed with leggings and issue a rifle and you in turn walked a penalty tour of two to four hours in all type of weather. I don't remember any room having to walk a second time after the first walking tour.




Liberty was given after Captains inspection from 1200 on Saturday until 2200 Sunday. You must maintain a passing average in all radio and naval training subjects and had neither demerits nor any rule infraction. Should you not meet these regulations, NO liberty was granted and you attended makeup classes until you were back on schedule with the rest of your training company. Bus service provided to rail connections for Harrisburg, Philly, Pittsburgh or other close by cities.




When the Navy decided that you could be trained for any task that they had elected you to attend, Then you would go to class day and night until you learned that task. NO ONE WAS ALLOWED TO -"WASH OUT"- of this Navy Training School. You may be retained and dropped to the next in line training company, but you were not going to leave this base (even on liberty) until you learned to be a "Radio Operator" because the Navy had selected you for that school and you were going to succeed. At the end of 16 weeks and completion of the training, we were given assignment to our next destination for duty or more training. 




Out of a class of 30 men, we were assigned as follows: 20 men were sent to fleet marines and amphibious operations at Ocean Side, California to direct naval gunfire from the beaches with the invasion landings in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Several of my classmates were killed on this assignment. Five of the top grads were sent to Teletype school, and five other grads went to Submarine Training school in New London, Conn. I was one of the 5 volunteers selected for Sub Training.


Submarine Training School

New London Submarine Training School


Arrival in New London and assigned to CPO Charlie Spritz's Navy until assigned to training group. (CPO Spritz was in the US Submarine Navy in WW-1 and leading Chief Petty Officer at the submarine base school).


The Sub school was divided into the Upper Base and the Lower Base. New arrivals were assigned to the upper base barracks. The lower base was the operating subs and crews. 


Saturday morning inspections were held in the mine depot. All personnel would display their Navy ID cards as the inspection party passed the rows of sailors. 


Upon my arrival at my first inspection, I was given 10 days restriction for having an ID card with a broken plastic cover. (At this date & time in WW-2 they did not issued laminated cards. A photo and typed information on a plain card then the ID's were inserted into a plastic shield and attached with a brad). 


Now 10 days were a long time in working off as we had 1 out of 3 liberty. The bad part about restriction was you had to pack up all your possessions into your sea bag and go to the "Blue Room" located in the lower base where they had a bed check every 30 minutes. Next day, you repacked the sea bag and returned to your normal barracks and unpacked into your locker. So this routine continued until you had worked off your restriction. 


During your restriction you did many different cleaning jobs. One day you would holy stone the wooden deck of the USS Falcon (submarine rescue vessel), clean the bilge's, chip and paint as required. (A good thing about this assignment was it had a small crew and the chow aboard was like going to a first class restaurant over the base chow hall. We were fed lunch on the ship during assigned workdays.


Another little job was waxing all the training building's floors. These were covered with red wax and they used a large electric buffer. Now, not having electricity for most of my early life, I had no idea how to operate this monster. That thing would pull me all over the place and my work area looked like quite a mess. I guess that I entertained the "on lookers" enough and someone with the same past experience taught me the manner of control over this beast.


All the barracks floors were waxed every day using Johnson bars (a polisher attached to a broom handle) The Sub Base was "A real spit & polish Navy".


We had to learn all about submarine operations, having training simulators that had working control panels just like a real submarine. They moved by hydraulic action with large cylinders under the platform. All instrumentation, every valve, all piping was remembered and used by all trainees. We learned what to do in torpedo attack simulations, and all our normal duty stations aboard the submarine. Damage control under simulated conditions (water flowing into the boat under pressure and having to repair the leaks)


You had to learn escape procedures and go up through the escape tower training by entering into an air lock at the bottom of the tower and then after water flooding the air lock, you had a Momsen designed re-breather to make your way up through 100 feet of water. You stopped at every 10 feet at a knot on a rope tied to a floating buoy, and counted to 10 to equalize the pressure as you ascent to the top of the tower. 


The next part of training was to take your first dives on the old WW-1 subs 0 type boats, R type boats and P type boats, then to the S boats. Every time I made a pressure change, my nose would bleed. The Navy doctor said I would need to have surgery to try and stop the problem and it still may not correct the bleeding so I elected to just go to another type ship.


I was transferred to pier 92 in NYC Naval Receiving Station then on to NOB at Norfolk, VA. Arrived early one morning and was told my assigned vessel DE-577 was in port and they put me in a 40 footer with a lot of other transits and started down the rows of ships in port. At last after nearly 8 hours of riding around, another radio operator and I were the last ones dropped off on a pier and with my sea bag in hand, I walked up the gangway and stated:


Billy J Crawford SN 273-06-I7, "S I/C RM, reporting aboard for duty Sir"'.


And so my tour of duty on Alexander J. Luke DE-577 began in mid 1944 and the ship left for North Africa the next morning with a convoy.


No bunk available so my first few days I was quartered with sea bag and hammock in the aft- steering on top of the screws. You never have lived until you ride the fantail of a DE under way and try to sleep the small amount of time allowed between watches if nothing else is going on. 


You remember "GQ" morning and night. According to the time of year when daylight or darkness would determine when the GQ alarm would sound. You would just finish the 12-to 4 watch and there would only be a few minutes until GQ alarm. Then you could stay up to several hours at your station depending on area of the Atlantic or Mediterranean and convoy that was under escort. Compartment cleaning, morning chow, ship routine until time to go back on watch, try to catch a few winks after mid day watch, gunnery practice and lots of noise. Four or five hours a day for sack time were the normal routine.


As a Radio operator, we had to monitor all radio traffic sent from Washington DC which never stopped 24 hours a day. No matter to which ship or division the message was intended, even on the other side of the world, we had to copy all messages continuously during our watch. It was at least 8 hours a day you typed the code and dispatched the message to the Captain if it was directed for our ship or division.


Having lived my youth on a ranch in Texas, I was used to riding bucking horses. Trying to sit in a chair and type in the radio shack of a DE sure reminded me of some of the horses I rode and sometimes got thrown off as we did the rock and roll in the old North Atlantic. 


Destroyer Escorts had the same equipment and required the same space and layout of the radio shack.


Radio operators stood a four-hour watch with eight hours at other ship activities, as sleep, GQ, meals, and general duties that all crew members took part. Deicing, gunnery practices other training.


The Radio shack was located high on the bridge structure and therefore was subject to large movement in heavy weather conditions. The chair legs were inserted into clips (small-bore pipe) welded to the deck to prevent sliding. A strap was attached to the back of the chair arms on each side and secured to the desk on each side of the radio operator to keep him in place when the ship rolled as we sailed along, and believe me a DE is always rolling, even in a calm sea.


DE sailors should have been paid for both flight and submarine pay. Sometimes in the air and sometimes under water, but for sure always hanging on to something for support.


Navy personnel were always training. Crews had to learn teamwork and every individual had to do his part to make the crew a success in the safe operation of the vessel to which he was a crew member.


"Damage control and fire fighting"


Fire schools were very realistic with concrete structures built like ship compartments, engine rooms, carrier hanger deck with several tanks on fire to simulate planes. They set about 600 or more gallons of diesel fuel on fire, gave you a hose and smoke mask, sent you into the compartment and you stayed until the fire was contained. Navy training gave me a great feeling confidence of knowing what to do in an industrial fire in oil related industry where I worked after my naval service). 


At general quarters, a ship's cook may handle ammunition, another on damage control team or gunner. All crew members either continued on ship operation or manned the action or defense systems. 


I was a radio operator and one of my GQ station was "fan tail talker" near the depth charge racks just aft of the 3.50" main gun that fired directly over my head and that was a hell of a loud noise. The wadding from the fixed ammo would always set my life jacket on fire if the gun fired over my head.


Another assignment was talker for the 1.1 machine gun. The worse gun ever invented. The tracers would land sometimes just off the main deck. It missed fired many times, I don't remember but very few times that it functioned as designed. It could not even shoot down a gooney bird. We would have done better if everyone had a 1903 spring field rifle and fired by volley. Lots of live fire with all guns during convoy or antisubmarine patrols. All the shells fired in the sky had to come down, sometime near at hand to crew members topside at battle stations.


I was promoted to RM3/c on Jan 1, 1945 and remained aboard the Luke until December 26, 1945.


The ship left on shake down cruise after our departure from the Brown shipyard in Houston December 7, 1945 in route to New Orleans where 50% of crew went on 10 days leave. When I returned to the ship after 10 day leave ill, I had to go to the Navy Hospital in New Orleans for surgery. 


I remained at the Naval Hospital (Lake Front) in New Orleans until my discharge, as I did not have my medical release to return to duty before the ship sailed to continue the shakedown cruise to Kingston, Jamaica and other island ports.


One of my assignments while awaiting release from the hospital, was to replace burned out light bulbs in the hospital wards, Nurses and Wave's quarters. I had two German prisoners of war who were captured in Rommels Africa Corps (army) and who were working in one of the programs that let them work and be paid US .80 cents/day. They were just two German youths who said they had been drafted into the army and were in no hurry to return to Germany in early 1946.


The Nurses always had a sweet roll and coffee for us as we passed each day on our appointed rounds.


While at the Navy Hospital, A doctor who was treating many prisoners of war who had just arrived from Japanese prison camps ask me to type up medical records so these men could be discharged and go home. He said the war is over and I need someone to type up medical records, as I do not have a typist available to help me. If I request that you remain as ship's company to become my assistant would you agree and when the work is done, you can go home.


I decided that might be a good way to contribute some good to the Navy before leaving active duty. I remained at the hospital until all of the former POWs were processed and on April 6, 1946 1 received my battleship discharge and went home to Houston on the train.


In 1950 I was re-called to active duty for the Korean War and served another 24 months of active duty.