Photo: USS Shaw (DD-373) explodes during the second Japanese attack wave
Interview with Bunny Wayne Chambers About his World War II experiences
Born April 24, 1915 De Leon, Texas
Conversation exactly as told by Bunny Wayne Chambers to Rusty Macon Weber on October 19, 2003
Now let me ask you this. There's a lot of side things, should I tell all of those? There are a lot of side things that are unusual, and nobody else had one exactly like I had.
At the, well, I probably need to tell that, because to me, that's the most important thing that happened to me because I was teaching school.
I had started my fifth year of teaching, and my brother and a cousin came to where I was teaching on the 14th of September 1940 and wanted me to go with them to Dallas and join the Navy Reserves.
Now the reason why, and I'm telling you this, is that all three of us had signed our draft papers and had our physicals, and we were eligible for the Army draft.
None of us were married, so they came and wanted me to go with them on Saturday the 15th to join up. They had a hard time convincing me, but I gave in, and the next morning we went and signed up.
And the last thing the commander asked if anybody had any questions and I said, "I do."
I asked, "Do you think they will call me into the service anytime in the near future?"
And the commander said, "No. Go back to your teaching and forget about it."
I went back, and one month to the day I got my orders.
Now, they got theirs fifteen months later.
But, I got mine one month, and then they, now this is what I'm wondering.
I went to school, and I went to school aboard the Battleship New York at Norfolk, Virginia, then I went to school aboard the Battleship Illinois at New York.
I think all of that need not even be there, but I was commissioned an Ensign the sixth of June in nineteen hundred and forty one.
Now, my life was a mess from beginning to the end. Another boy and I, we had met and we were always together, and when I was commissioned, he and I were sent aboard a Navy transport called the Haywood. It was in San Diego, and we were supposed to report the 1st day of July in 1941.
We went there and reported in to the commander at the base at eight o'clock, and he said, "Well boys, the Haywood is not in port." He says, "We don't know what has happened to it, and we don't know when it will be here, but you both report to my office every morning at eight o'clock until the ship comes in."
So we did every morning. The first morning, "He says no it's not here," the second morning, "No," the third, "No," the forth, "No." Then on the forth morning he says, "No, but the Navy has changed both of your orders." "Chambers he said, you are supposed to go aboard the destroyer Henley, and Joseph (Childs), you are to go aboard the destroyer Jarvis, and both ships are in Pearl Harbor _ now I'm just asking this, this probably needs to go in there. He says, "I'll put you both on a transport and send you to Pearl Harbor."
And we reported in on the 15th of July of nineteen and forty-one. We reported, and that's when I reported aboard the Henley, and then I was there, of course I was _ now the important thing is about my brother. He was called fifteen months after I got mine, and I had a cousin by the name of M. T., and they came there where I was and wanted me to sign up.
On December 1st, nineteen forty-one, I had a letter from my brother saying that he had finally been called into the Navy and he says there putting me in Naval Intelligence, He says, I'm being put on one floor of the Alexander Young, our offices are on one floor of the Alexander Young building in downtown Honolulu.
He says, now I'll be there sometime the first week of December nineteen forty _ one. And he says, When you come into port on Saturday, come down and we'll have the weekend together.
We came in at eight o'clock that morning, and at twelve o'clock, I went down and met my brother. We had a wonderful day _ twelve hours. He wanted me to go and spend the night with him, and I told him, no, I'll go back to my ship and I'd see him the next morning at nine o'clock.
Then the next morning at nine o'clock _ now, this is an interesting thing that happened. The next morning at twenty minutes before eight o'clock, general alarm sounded inside my ship. I dressed immediately, and my job was in the engine room. Just as I walked out of the room, the quartermaster of the days duty came running through the ship saying "I made a mistake. I should have pressed the button to call the officer, but I pushed the button that sounded the general alarm."
Now this happened just before eight o'clock, so I turned around and went to my room and went to bed. Just as I was lying down, the general alarm went off the second time.
You know what I did, I said, "That sucker's done the same thing again. I'm going to get that sleep." But no more than that thought ran through my mind than that same quartermaster came running through the ship saying Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor.
That was December seventh nineteen forty one
To me, that was one of the most unusual things that happened the whole thing. And let me tell you this. Now there's not but, every weekend at noon, seventy five percent of the crew was given weekend liberty. Of course that meant that that morning there was only twenty five percent of the crew. Most every officer was ashore except the one's that had the duty.
I remember the guys name, it was Lt. Flack, and when he, that morning when that sounded, he went to the bridge and I went to the engine room, and he called me and says, "Fire up the boiler, we're going to get out of Pearl Harbor."
We did, we fired `em up, and we got underway in twenty minutes. Now that's unusual.
We got under way _ we didn't take down and disconnect, we just jerked trough from our anchor and headed for that - We had been under way for one minute until they announced over the spout _ now me, all my experiences, I don't get to see anything, you know, cause where I am, I'm down in the engine room. But they called me, and when we got underway and told me bout this, and so that destroyer dropped his bombs, all of them missed, and we got by that, and then we started on to go out of the harbor.
And one minute later, they spotted one of those little two men submarines. I don't know if you remember about those, there were many of those in the harbor, and they spotted one of those and we dropped our depth charges on it _ I don't know if we sunk it, but when we did, we left and went out of the port.
Oh, I didn't tell you. Do you know how many days it was before any orders were issued to any ship? It was Wednesday at noon before any orders _ I'm just putting that in right now.
Sunday to Wednesday, no orders.
Now we got out of port and we said, "Well where we going?" so we decided we were going to go to Waikiki Beach down at Honolulu _ the famous beach. And we did, and we steamed backwards and forwards, and we did that until just before noon, and we saw two men signaling us from the beach, and we said, "Who are those men?"
And finally they recognized them and they was our Captain and Executive Officer. It was that long before they were notified. You see, they owned their homes, and it was four hours before they ever knew that Pearl Harbor had happened.
But they had gone to Pearl Harbor to get the ship and they told them that it was down at Waikiki Beach. And they came onboard, so that was one of the best things that happened to us. We steamed back and forth, and at five o'clock that afternoon, we went back into Pearl Harbor, and picked up the rest of the crew.
Now this was an experience. So we picked `em up, and now we got all our crew and everybody. Now that's still on the seventh, and it's, oh, about six o'clock that afternoon. The Captain called me and says, I have already talked with the keeper of the stores, ship's stores, and the head of the galley, and I want you to take them and go to the ship's store and get all of the supplies we need.
Of course he knew we'd be leaving. So we did. We left and got them and came back, and when we got to where the ship was, the ship wasn't there. So we asked the ship right by and he said when they saw one of those little two men subs, they left and went to sea.
Well, there we were loaded with all those stores, and this whole mess in Pearl Harbor. And we said, "What are we going to do with them?" So, somebody said, "Let's just find a ship."
Now, I'm going to tell you this, now that was the most hardest things, cause after all of this uprising, and all the ships that had been hit _ well, not all of them, but so many had been hit and were on fire and everything, and here we were in this little canoe all in the middle of this, but you know, we never got a scratch.
So we took the supplies, and we said we're going to give them to somebody. The first ship we stopped at, there were three carriers that came in, and the first carrier we stopped at, they said they'd be glad to take them, so they took them.
Then we said, "Now where are we going to go?" Well, we went to ships landing. What ships landing is, when any ship comes into Pearl, they go to ships landing and get transportation throughout the whole island.
Well, we tied up, and that's where we spent that night. We did that, and our ship _ now we had a loud speaker that gave us good information, and about ten o'clock, it told us that our ship had returned. We went back and got on board, and for us, everything was just smooth, and we got our orders to go to San Francisco and then back to the war again. Now is that too much? That covered two days.
I went in the fifteenth of July in nineteen and forth-one, and I got home the twentieth of December nineteenth forth-five, and I got one ten day leave in that whole time. I was at sea all that time, other than that ten days.
Now I changed from the destroyer to a battleship to a heavy cruiser. Two of them I went back to the States, one of them I went to Pungent Sound, and the other one I went to New York, but just as soon as we got there, I went to a new ship and we went back to sea.
The destroyer was the Henley, the battleship was the Tennessee. Now there's a story behind that.
The Tennessee was one of the ships that was heavily damaged at Pearl Harbor. Right after that, they took it to Pungent Sound, in Seattle, and one year later they had repaired it, and improved it, and I was sent to there, and got on it, and we left and took it on its trial run and took it up to Alaska, and on over to Russia, and then got orders to go from there to the South Pacific and re-take all the islands that the Japanese had settled on in the Pacific.
Now that was our duty on - oh, I forgot to tell you that on the destroyer we went to Guadalcanal _ that's the first island we went to after we left Pearl Harbor that day, and ah, that was south of the Philippines and just west of Australia. It was a strategic island because it put us in such a position that it gave us a good place to work, but it was one of the most difficult things that happened because being so close to the Philippines, every day we were attacked by Japanese bombers from the Philippines. We were at that island for one year, but finally succeeded, and everything got by.
While we were there, the first thing that happened was the Blue _ now the four destroyers were the Blue, the Henley, the Helm and the Jarvis. We were the four that always worked together as a group. And our first order after Pearl Harbor was to go there and help when the Marines landed at Guadalcanal, we was to be there and the squadron was to remain there just to be a guard there just for the Marine base there. And that was our job there. Course, the whole channel there was covered in ships, and battleships were in and out, but we stayed there.
Now, our first casualty was the Blue. The Blue and the Henley, the one I was on, was sent to go to sea because a transport from the United States that was coming to this island bringing supplies and we were to meet it to escort it in, and just as we got to the straits a torpedo hit the Blue in the stern and just blew the stern off, and of course, it was out of commission, but fortunately, only nine men lost their lives.
But, it happened at three o'clock in the morning, and of course, the admiral came in and told us, our ship, to stay with the Blue til sunup. But he told the supply ship, "I think you can make it on to where the Marines are. You go ahead." And they did, and they made it. And we stayed until sunup, and then the admiral told us, take all the men aboard your ship, then you tow the Blue to the open sea and fire a torpedo at the Blue and sink it. He did this for fear that the Japanese might capture the ship.
Now the Japanese were pretty much in control of the Pacific at that time. So we took the men and towed the ship to the open sea and fired the torpedo. And we took the survivors to a little island just west of Australia and came back. That was the first destroyer.
The second, we got word that there were forty twin motored _ looked like our B 17 _ Japanese planes _ they noticed that there were forty of them coming to Guadalcanal to be ready for them. And they came and attacked, and in the attack that morning, the Jarvis was hit. It was hit in the bow of the ship, but it could still make ten knots. But its effectiveness was all gone.
The Captain of the Jarvis requested of the admiral to let him take it to the same island. But he said it was too dangerous, and I will not give you permission. Now this will tell you how a man acts. He kept asking, and on the forth day, he convinced the admiral to let him go. But the admiral told him. "All right, I'll give you permission, but you will be by yourself, no help, but you can go."
I'll never forget it when I watched it go around Guadalcanal. I was probably the last American to see that ship. But no one knew that though. Ten days, we never heard a word from that. And they assumed that it was sunk. And on the fourteenth day, they said it was sunk, but they didn't know from what. What sunk it.
Now this is a very interesting story. The closets friend that I had, this boy I was telling you about, he was on this ship, and of course I had visited his parents in Los Angeles before the war and everything and they got me to write a letter to his people, and I did, but they did not know where, but let me add you this _ jump to the end of the war, and they had us go through the Japanese logs to see if we could find out where the ship went down. And we did. We found out who, and it was planes from a carrier and where it went down. Now back then, of course the boy was killed, no survivors on this ship. The Navy did then after the war notify the family that they knew where their son went down.
That first year was one of the worst years I've guess I've had. Just let me quickly say, the next thing that happened to us was the Neosho and the Sims. We got from the admiral, it got hit by torpedoes.
The Neosho was a tanker, and the Sims was the destroyer escort. It got hit and sunk there at Guadalcanal, and our ship got orders to go to it and take all of the survivors aboard our ship. We did, and when we got there, the destroyer had gone down immediately. A few men from the destroyer, the Sims, made it to the tanker. And the tanker was listing. If it had listed three more degrees, it would have turned over and would have sunk, which would have been a tragedy for that area. But, we took the men, and we towed it out to sea and sunk it. That was the next thing.
Now while we were doing that though, they had the Coral Sea battle. So we missed the Coral Sea Battle, so I guess that's good.
From there, I got my orders to go aboard the Tennessee. I went on it in the month of December nineteen and forty-two, and I stayed on it one year, then I was transferred to the Quincey, which was a heavy cruiser, and I went aboard it one year later. That was in December of forty-three. And then I stayed on it until the end of the war.
And I was in Tokyo and at France. I was at France, we made both D-Day at Normandy, and then also after that, we took Roosevelt to the Crimean. Our ship took Roosevelt to the Crimean Conference if you knew about that.
That was when Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met at Yalta. And his daughter went. We picked up him and his daughter and took them to the Crimean Conference, but now, we never did get to see him. And do you know why? He was very ill. When we took him back, we got back in February, and he passed away in April.
After the conference was over and Roosevelt and his daughter returned to the ship, Stalin and Churchill came aboard our ship for about four hours.
I was assistant engineering officer on the destroyer, boiler room division on the battleship, and I was assistant engineer on the Quincy, then when I was promoted to Commander, then I went to head of the engineering department.
Now this is an interesting thing. On all of my ships, we only had two deaths.
One was on the battleship, we carried one plane and they had these catapults, and we were at Guadalcanal, no, we were at Tarawa, so when we took the island at Tarawa, they wanted him to go and guide us, and when they put the pilot in the plane on the catapult, and as they were turning around, somebody made a mistake, and the plane fell off and fell in the ocean, and you know, we never did find that pilot. We never did find that pilot.
That was the first one, and then the second one was in my department. We were in the South Pacific, and he got overheated in the engine room and he requested to go up to the main deck and no one went with him. I know what he did, he went by a water cooler and he glutted himself and passed out and died, and we buried him at sea. And that's the only two deaths that we had.
I told my brother that he should have paid the Navy. He was at Pearl Harbor and stayed there the whole time. I said, you should have paid them instead of them paying you. And my cousin that joined up at the same time, he never left the States. So here I was, the youngest of the three of us, and they drug me kicking and screaming, and I was the first one to be called up.
On my one ten day liberty, I married Charlotte Miller on the twelfth day of September nineteen and forty-four _ smack kadab in the middle of the war. She was a school teacher too. The first date I ever had in my life was with Charlotte Miller. I was sixteen, and she was thirteen. We never got to have much time together until after the war, but I thought about her all the time. I never told anyone this, but we never had one argument. We had fifty-three years together before she died.
Interview with Bunny Wayne Chambers
Born April 24, 1915 De Leon, Texas
About his World War II experiences
As told to Rusty Macon Weber on October 19, 2003
© Rusty Macon Weber
Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama
Conversation exactly as told by Bunny Wayne Chambers.
Published by U.S. Legacies April 04