Groton’s Greatest Generation
During the years 1999 – 2002, as part of their study of World War II, eighth grade students at West Side Middle School undertook the task of interviewing members of “Groton’s Greatest Generation.” They asked their grandparents and their neighbors to share their memories of World War II. What they discovered were stories of heroism and patriotism, which they recorded, paraphrased and turned into web pages which were featured, with the subjects’ permission, on the Groton Public Schools website. The students concluded that the times between 1941-45, some of the roughest in history, were met with great acts of sacrifice and bravery.
Although the webpages came down some time ago, many of these pages survived. Shared here are the stories of men and women who served on submarines, worked at SUBASE NLON, or worked at Electric Boat during World War II. Sadly, several of these individuals are no longer with us, which makes these documents more precious to those of us who benefit from their legacy.
Sea Stories: The USS Wahoo (SS-565)
Command Master Chief “Bud” Atkins, USN, Ret.: National Holland Club Chairman
During my first tour in the Navy, I was stationed on the USS Wahoo (SS-565), a Tang-Class submarine out of Pearl Harbor. That was a time that I saw first-hand how the forces of nature can affect the US Navy.
We had a lot of men on shore that night; over a third of the crew was gone and only two officers were left on the sub. Reports kept coming in saying that the conditions that night were just right for a tidal wave and that we had to get ready. A lot of the recommendations were to tie up the sub to a larger freighter in the harbor and wait it out. However, the captain made the call to go out. With barely enough men onboard, including myself, the USS Wahoo set out to sea.
The tidal wave hit suddenly. I could feel the entire vessel drop as the wave swept out the water from underneath our keel. The loud boom meant that we had hit rock bottom and we were rolling on our side. Within seconds, the submarine was filled with the sounds of alarms and rushing water—I could feel my entire weight supported on the bulkhead—the sub had rotated 90 degrees to her side.
After a few seconds, I felt another lurch and I was back on my feet. The wave had crashed back on the boat and the Wahoo was right-side up again– submerged and afloat. Even though it was a relief, the smell of smoke onboard was still getting stronger by the minute. The entire sub went into general quarters. I could see the Chief of the Boat yelling at other sailors to make sure the power plants and sail plane controls were back online. Reports from the bridge were saying that two sailors had ended up in the water. Apparently, they had fallen off the top of the submarine between the waves.
After a few hours, everything leveled out. The crew onboard put out the fire and stopped all the flooding. Between the two men overboard, one was lucky enough to swim to a buoy, the other ended up on a current that carried him to the shore. Luckily enough, some Coast Guard boats were in the area and ended up picking up the two. It was a great thing that those Coasties were around.
At the end of the day, this wasn’t the craziest thing that has happened in my time in the Navy– but like a lot of the things about the submarine service, I’m not allowed to talk about them. However, the time the USS Wahoo was hit by a tidal wave would be a night I would never forget.
Written by Jessica K. and Monica J.
When World War II started, Arnold Jordan was only in ninth grade. He was too young to work, but he held a job at a grocery store and at the post office. He didn’t really know much about the war. In fact, he didn’t really care for it because nobody knew about it right away. It had to be told to them.I t did, however, upset him when word got out that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and bombed on December 7, 1941. Arnold Jordan had been at his future wife’s house when Groton heard about it. Luckily, Arnold Jordan didn’t have any friends or relatives in Pearl Harbor at that time although, he did know a boy who was killed at Pearl Harbor on the battleship Arizona, who had graduated from Fitch High. His name was William Seely.
Arnold Jordan and his family weren’t prepared for the drastic changes that the war would bring them because the U.S. wasn’t involved in the war that was taking place in Europe. There was shortage of food. Peanut butter and meat became hard to get. Most families always came home with Spam. Besides lives being changed, Groton was also changed. Houses were built by Fitch High during the war. Those houses were supposed to be temporary houses that were to be torn down after the war. They are still there. Before the houses were built the land was flat. They were potato fields where Arnold Jordan worked in when he was high school. “The Sub Base was smaller but it has gotten larger since then,” Arnold said.
When Arnold Jordan was a senior at Fitch High at age 17, he and some friends decided they wanted to join in the Navy. As soon as he was old enough, they joined the Navy, then returned to finish school. After he graduated from high school (which was on D-Day), he had to report back. “I had to go through a variety of schools,” Arnold said. He went to boot camp in 1944. He later entered sub school at the Sub Base. After sub school, he traveled to the West Coast to go to an Underwater Sound School for subs. There, he learned how to read sonars. After he had gone through that, he had to go through damage control school.
After having to go through a variety of schools, he was assigned to a relief crew on a subtender that was to be shipped out to Guam. Arnold Jordan’s parents weren’t really concerned about it, because all the parents knew that there would come a day when their sons would have some role in the war. Arnold Jordans’s experience in Guam were a little easier then many other servicemen because they didn’t have to fight or have to worry about being killed. Some days were long, some short. Some days were spent on hard on work, some just on relaxing. “When you were on the subtender, you weren’t allowed to drink beer. One day when we were on the subtender, they had announced that the war was over and each of us was allowed to have one beer.”
Arnold Jordan stayed in Guam until the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan. They went to several other countries afterwards to test systems. Arnold Jordan was a little over 20 years of age when he came back to Groton after the war was over. He made it back in time for Christmas in the year 1945. “If we didn’t have the war, Groton would be extremely different. I would probably do it all over again. But, like I said before, back then all the parents knew their sons would go to war.”
Grace Hitchener was born in 1915 in Bradford, Rhode Island. Grace attended school in Bradford then moved to Westerly, Rhode Island with her parents, brothers and sister. Grace attended Westerly High School for two years. Grace then got a job as a domestic for a doctor in Norwich, and later worked in Westerly. When Grace first started working she earned pay at $1.50 and later her pay went up to $6.00 a week. When Pearl Harbor was bombed Grace was in Norwich but didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was.
Many people couldn’t use too much gas, because it needed to be used during the war, which lasted from 1941-1945. Everyone was so happy and couldn’t wait until the guys came home. Grace remembers ration coupons for sugar, eggs, butter and gas for people with cars. If they didn’t have coupons, they weren’t able to get their food. For this reason, people started to make “victory gardens.” The victory gardens would have potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. The food they bought had to last a long time. They only got a certain amount of coupons. Grace didn’t have an automobile because they cost too much.
Since they didn’t have televisions, they listened to the radio to know what was happening during the war. For entertainment Grace would go to the movies sometimes and watch her favorite movies which were Westerns. Grace remembers,”Sometimes I would go with my friends dancing at Burlingame in Rhode Island.” At Burlingame Grace would dance with the guys who were in the war. “We would usually dance to classical music.” That’s all the entertainment that they had.
When everyone found out about World War II, they were shocked and disappointed. Both men and women were involved in the second war. Troops were shipped to Germany and Italy. Grace’s neighbors, were in the military. Also Grace’s brother-in-law was in the war. Grace’s three brothers took the test to be in the war, but only one brother, Edgar passed the test. Edgar was in World War II, and his role was a machine gun operator. Edgar received a ‘purple heart’ which is an honor.
Women played an important part in World War II. In the Navy women would be called WAVS; in the army they were called WACS. Women did secretarial work, cooked, and were in the medical forces of the army.
During the war Grace had a job as a painter of submarines at Electric Boat in Groton, C.T. She remembers many other woman working there as well doing jobs such as pipe fitting and welding. Although there were laws for equality, Grace remembers the segregated troops in the war. She never heard about the “Tuskegee Airmen” until after the war.
Although many people say you weren’t allowed to talk about the war, Grace remembers her brother, Edgar, writing letters to her about the war. Grace remembers that air mail started then. Air mail helped many men and women keep in touch with soldiers over seas.
Grace now at the age of 83, lives in Mystic and is a member of the Groton Senior Citizen Center. She says, “To this day I receive Christmas cards, letters, and pictures from the family members of different jobs where I used to work. To me that’s very important.”
Written by Angela R. & Sophia B.
During the war, Lil Garcia, lived at home with her parents on Poquonnock Road in Groton. She was engaged to man in the military, Danny, but had refused to marry during the war years.
Before the war, Lil was a ‘working girl’ at the thread mill in Groton. She helped to produce thread for material that was shipped out for making war uniforms. Later, Lil began working at Electric Boat in Groton. During the war, women started working at factories and other places where men used to work. This was in order for the country to continue to function while some of the men were away fighting in the war. Women were encouraged to work more during the war than before because production needed to continue as it had been before the war. Once the war started, people’s views about women workers began to change drastically because they were needed.
Mrs. Garcia worked at E.B. for four and a half years until she was laid off. Then she took an exam to work at the Sub Base and was hired to do typing and to keep records for the diving tower which is now torn down. After the war she was laid off and was transferred to Lower Base to type records of the men going in and out to sea-duty. Then she left and got married.
Mrs. Garcia fondly remembers life with her family. She enjoyed quiet pleasures with her family — sledding, cooking on Saturdays, and just spending time with them. “You tried to be as happy as you could,” she said. Mrs. Garcia enjoyed going to the movies and to a nice old theater on Poquonnock Rd. “We had family life more than we do today!” People valued their families more than ever. They tried to spend as much time as possible with loved ones. One never knew when a family member would be drafted. “We had no cars. I walked to the library and walked to church.”
Mrs. Garcia remembers rationing and the ration coupons. Many foods were not available or were expensive to buy. “I never ate so much Spam in my life! My mother was a good cook. We ate a lot of fresh vegetables.”
During the war, Mrs. Garcia’s fiancé was captured by the Germans and taken prisoner of war. The news of his capture did not reach home for some time, and he was listed as missing in action. “My husband was missing in action. I was not married to him then, but he was missing in action for six months. I was home, of course, and my nephew at the time was a little kid. He came over and told us that my husband, Danny, was missing in action. We were all getting ready to sit down and eat dinner, and forget it. I went into the pantry and cried.”
“My husband was the last one to see another young man carried away in a stretcher. For more than twenty-five to thirty years we got a Christmas card every single year for thirty years. One day I said to my husband ‘You know what, honey? You know what I’d really like to do? I would like to go visit that Mr. A.A. Wickenden. He had been living in Montreal but had moved to Massachusetts. We found the house. He was living in a home. When we saw him, he was 92 or 93 years and very alert. My husband answered all the questions he wanted to answer. We went to see him just in time, because he passed away. He had a little book of poems he had written. He told his daughter he wanted Dan to have the book. The poems were dedicated to his son.”
Mrs. Garcia was sad about the men having to leave their homes to fight in the war. “I felt badly when the war started because all the men had to go and be away from home, and I was a home type of person.” She disliked violence and thought a lot of the war was unnecessary. She said,”It was a sad life, because you felt bad when you had young men from your own hometown that were either killed or shot. You know, you just couldn’t wait for it to be over!”
When the war finally ended she married Danny Garcia who had returned from a German prisoner of war camp. It was a happy time for her because she could now settle down without the worries and fears of World War II. “Happy! Oh, the men that came back alive!”
Written by Thomas J., Chris K., Vanessa L. and George P.
Mr. Small was born in a very small town called Carmel, which is in Maine. Carmel is twelve miles from Bangor. His dad worked for the postal service and made good money so he had life pretty easy. When he graduated he worked at an AMOCO gas station and ran the gas station for a year and a half. Mr. Small went to Carmel High School. There were a total of eight people in his graduating class. The class started with 20 students, but because it was a farming area, students dropped out to work on farms.
He went back to school to participate in a post graduate program to play basketball. They were knocked off early in the county play offs because there weren’t enough players so he had to go back to work.
Mr. Small went to Bath Iron Works. He began working in the ship yard as an apprentice machinist. He also continued to work part time at a gas station. At Bath Iron Works his starting salary was 40 cents an hour.
In 1940, Mr. Small came to Groton to visit some friends. He decided to apply for a job at Electric Boat (E.B.). Mr. Small was interviewed by Bill Jones who later became Vice President of E.B. “Our common point was our 1940 Chevys. He had a convertible and I had a two door sedan. He hired me and gave me a raise from 40 cents an hour to 67 cents,” Mr. Small remembers. He worked seven days a week and twelve hours a day so there was very little time to do anything. At this time Mr. Small married and began to work at the Victory Yard which was located where Pfizer is today.
The men who worked at E.B. couldn’t go into the military because they were needed to build submarines for the war. Then in October, 1944, Mr. Small was drafted into the Navy and sent to boot camp in the Sampson, N.Y. area when he was 24 years old. Later he was sent to Pearl Harbor. Mr. Small was a machinist in the Sub Repair Unit. He worked with machines such as the one called the “Herty Gerty.” One day a chain on one of the submarines hurt Mr. Small seriously enough to send him to the hospital in February, 1945.
In August, 1945, Mr. Small was discharged from the Navy. He returned to Groton to his wife and son. They then bought a house and started to live in the City of Groton, CT.
“The military training was good for all of us. When I came out in August of 1945 they really rolled the carpet out for us because we were heroes coming back,” said Mr. Small.
Mr. Small left Electric Boat and began to work for an electronics company as a draftsman. Then Mr. Small used the G.I. Bill to go to college at night, starting at New London Junior College which is now Mitchell College. He studied engineering. He returned to E.B. assigned to the Electrical Design/Engineering area while continuing his part time school. He retired in 1984.
Written by Kathryn G. and Zach M.
We often forget to recognize the men and women involved in the war. Yet each and every person that contributed is special. One such person is Warren Wildes.
Mr. Wildes grew up in Noank with one sister and three brothers. His oldest brother was an officer in the Army, his second brother was in the Navy, and his third brother was in the Air Force. Mr. Wildes attended Fitch High, which is now Fitch Middle. He had a small job at the A&P in Mystic as a stock boy and cashier. His dad worked as a carpenter, but during the war he worked at Electric Boat as a defense plant worker. His mom was a house wife. She didn’t go to work at a factory or any place during the war but that doesn’t mean she didn’t contribute.
On December 7, Warren was on his way home from Hartford, listening to a football game on the car radio. All of a sudden there was a newsbreak which said that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Warren says, “We knew there was going to be a war. We were all excited. It was a shock, though.”
Warren remembered that they had to block out their lights at night so when the enemy submarines or planes came by they didn’t know where to attack or bomb. “I remember you had to put a light coat of paint across your headlights to sort of dim the light,” Mr. Wildes said. “It was kind off gloomy, but the people were vary good about it.”
When Warren was eighteen years old he decided to go into the Navy. He signed up on his birthday and went into the Navy right after that. “Every young man that was old enough was anxious to join the service. Of course, I did.”
First Warren had boot camp in New York. That’s where he got most of his physical training. Then he went to electrical school at the Purdue University in Indiana. Then, of course, came submarine school. He said “Well, I enjoyed the physical training. It kept us in shape, although there was a lot of studying.” There was a lot of studying, especially when it came to electrical school. Thanks to all that hard work Warren ended up being ranked as an electricians mate third class. After that he got on a submarine and headed for the Pacific.
During Mr. Wildes’ time in the Navy he got time off, or liberty, from the boat and went to a lady’s house in Sacramento, California. She gave him food and a place to sleep . He said, “She treated me like her own son. She was like a home away from home. Every time we got liberty near Sacramento we always went to her house.” She made an impression on him because of her kindness. This is an example on how Warren says the American people gave one hundred percent toward the war effort.
On the submarine Warren had many jobs. He did the usual readings on all the system meters, and he brought coffee to some of the men on the submarine. He also got to “blow out the sanitary tank . It’s like flushing out a big toilet,” he says.
One of the submarines he was on was the Flying Fish. It was the last peace time submarine built On the submarine the men kept track of how many Japanese ships they blew up or damaged. They put flags on the side of the ship. Every time they blew a ship up they’d put another flag up. Boats were known for how many flags they had. The rising sun was used to indicate capital ships. Others flags were used for merchant ships and destroyers. Whole flags meant they were sunk and partial flags indicated the ships were damaged or disabled. Mr. Wildes said they blew up some small patrol boats but nothing big like a aircraft carrier . “One time the officer let me look through the periscope, and I saw a ship that we had hit with torpedoes. I saw it sinking with its tail end in the air.” The most dangerous situation that Warren was in was when the Japanese dropped depth charges on his sub.
One of the most exciting things that happened was that they picked up a Japanese man out of the water. When they picked him up he was wearing only his underwear, and he was half frozen. They kept him chained up in the torpedo room. He was a private in the Japanese Army. They fed him and treated him okay. They didn’t beat him or anything. He was just another human being. Warren says, “He was on board when the Japanese dropped depth charges on us, and he was pretty nervous just as we were.”
At the end of the war, Warren’s submarine was heading out on patrol in the Pacific. They were half way there and heard that the war was over so they turned around and headed back. “There was just tremendous celebration in the sub. We were all so happy. I was anxious to get home.”
But was the bomb necessary? Was it really necessary? Warren says, “War is war and you have to try and end it any way you can. It did leave a lot of devastation but it certainly saved a lot of American lives.”
Warren went on to have a family of his own. He went on to have children who attended West Side Middle School in Groton. They also attended Fitch High School in Groton. He didn’t stay in the Navy but went on to do other various jobs such as carpentry and other business things. Warren presently lives in Groton.
“There was just one-hundred percent of an effort made by the American people. It really was a national effort and every one did his or her part in the war. The American people really gave it all that they had and it was just a total effort on the peoples’ part. We couldn’t have done it without the support of everyone.”
Written by Eddie G and Kyle V.
Robert A. Jordan was born in New London on June 3,1927, but his roots are in Groton. His family had lived in Groton since the 1700s. Two of his great uncles were the famous and heroic African-Americans who lost their lives in the Revolutionary Battle of Groton Heights which ended in massacre at Fort Griswold in 1781. “I was a descendent of Jordan Freeman. He was a bodyguard or manservant for Colonel Ledyard. Lambo Latham took the name of Captain Latham because he was a manservant.”
Mr. Jordan’s own parents were from Groton. His father was born on Monument Street in 1890, and his mother was born in 1894 on Morgan Court. While he was growing up his grandparents lived in Groton and he fondly remembers coming to Groton to visit. “I used to go from New London over to Trails Corners here in Groton over the footbridge. The Groton bridge used to swing out. The operators used to get mad because just before it swung out we would jump on it and get a ride. They didn’t like that. It only took us ten minutes to walk from New London to Groton to go to my grandmother’s house.”
Mr. Jordan’s mother died when he was three so he was brought up in New London by his father. The New London he remembers is different from the one we see today. “Main Street was beautiful. I wish they had it back. On the corner of Main Street, they had New London Grill, Woolworth’s, Kresge, Grants, and G.M. Williams. It was a wonderful thing to go down and see everybody and talk. I grew up in a neighborhood of Italian folk. When we fought in New London we fought with Italian kids. They were tough. They would chase me right into the house. We enjoyed one another. We had a good rapport. Nothing violent. We would just get mad at each other, tell each other off and that was it. The next day it was forgotten.”
Mr. Jordan lived through the difficult times of the Depression. His father was often out of work and they needed to move frequently. In fact, he attended almost every school in New London before finishing at Chapman Tech. His home contained no radio and, in fact, had no electricity. Still, his memories of those years contain many good times. “After the crash of ’29 everybody was in the same boat. Nobody was rich. We were all poor so consequently we had more compassionate, more understanding, more loving neighborhoods. Everybody, no matter what race, was in the same situation so we wanted to help each other. I lived on Stony Hill. It was called the Depression but we grew up in exciting times.We didn’t have anything. Now you have everything and everybody’s depressed. We had nothing growing up, but we didn’t know that.
“We made our fun. We played kick the can, ring-a-levio, and king of the mountain. I would sell papers to the office buildings. I sold the Boston Record. I sold the Day papers. On Saturdays I shined shoes. You could go to the movies for a dime and stay all day. We could go in at 12:30 and stay until eleven o’ clock. They just played them over and over and over. Ten cents got you Fox news, two cartoons, the star spangled banner, and two movies. They had three movie theaters in New London. They had the Victory, the Crown, and the Capitol.”
During the Depression Mr. Jordan often went to Riverside Park. “During the Depression, during vacation I went there everyday with a bar of soap. It was over there behind the Coast Guard. They had a pavilion there and we had our picnics there. I took a bar of soap because we lived in a cold water flat. We didn’t have central heating there.”
It was the Depression that led Mr. Jordan to enlist. At the time he and his father were living in a woman’s apartment. His bed was an ironing board laid out over two chairs. “I joined for three squares. During the Depression we were deprived. We didn’t have too much and we had to share and we survived but I was really a skinny kid. When I joined he Navy you could count my ribs. I had to eat a pound of bananas to reach the weight limit to join the Navy. I wanted to fight the enemy but at home it was very difficult.”
The Navy Mr. Jordan joined was a segregated one. He joined the Navy with a group of Italian friends from his neighborhood. “We were going to fight the war. They got sent to Great Lakes and I got sent to Maryland where they sent black guys to be cooks and stewards. I wanted to be a seaman with all my friends and I was so disappointed. It hurt. We felt when we went in the war we would come home after the war and we would receive all of the benefits.
“When I went to Charleston, South Carolina that was segregated,too. They had barracks for everybody, but they had one barracks for the blacks. If they called someone over the PA system they would say, ‘Jordan, colored boy, report to barracks five.’ That was degrading.
“We couldn’t go to the USO like the Caucasian sailors. We had one night. Every town we went to they had one night for the black guys. In New London it was Thursday night over on West Coit Street. They would tell the white sailors not to come around, and all the black sailors and local girls went to the USO. The girls were mostly decent people, and you couldn’t leave the USO.”
Mr. Jordan went on to be a cook in the submarine service, staying in the service for 21 years. Some of the subs’ names were the Flying Fish, Toro, the Odax, Blenny, and the Hamilton. During the war, his job on the sub was to man the machine guns when they surfaced. “The funny thing was when we first went up there, I was a young guy. I took that 50 lb machine gun and it was jumping all over the place. It came right off the stands, dropped down, and broke the engineer’s toe. He was a lieutenant junior grade. It was a wonder I didn’t shoot everybody.”
Mr. Jordan remembers that the scariest times during the war were when they listened to the depth charges. “Patrolling was scary. Some times we sat on the bottom and what was scary was you could hear the depth charges traveling in the water. Click, Click. Then you knew the explosion was going to come. It rocked the boat. You’d see lights dimming. Once we stayed down almost 48 hours, and after 24 hours the oxygen was running low. Everybody was silent, no moving, no smoking. Finally we surfaced and the air came in and we were gulping air.”
Mr. Jordan met his wife in 1947. “I first met Mrs. Jordan at USO in New London in 1947. She was at a distance, and I indicated to a friend of hers, that’s the girl I intend to marry.” They met again at Riverside Park. They were married the following year in Westerly, Rhode Island, on January 10, 1948.
When the war was over, Mr. Jordan stayed in service. “I saw young men standing on the corners doing nothing. I decided to stay in.” His daughter was born in Key West and his son was born in Quonset Point.
The segregation that had disappointed him during the war was still there when the war was over. “When I drove to Key West Florida in 1950 I couldn’t eat at the restaurants. We had to stop the milkman to get milk for my kids. I had to go across town, 2 or 3 miles to feed my family or eat crackers or things from gas stations. Segregation was not pleasant. You have to think enough of yourself that you don’t blame others. I don’t blame anybody except I know that I deserved better.”
Mr. Jordan retired from the service in 1964. Later he cooked for the state police barracks. When he left the police barracks, he went to work at Pfizer where he rose to foreman. They bought a house in Groton in 1954 where they raised their children. Today Mr. Jordan lives with his wife in Groton.
Written by Teresa R. and Shawn M.
On October 22, 1924, Tom Kiely was born to Julia and Thomas M. Kiely. The family lived in New London. He had an older sister named Julia and later would have a younger brother named William.
As a child, Mr. Kiely went to school and enjoyed playing. “When I was a kid I was growing up on Rosemary and Crystal Ave in New London. It was handy to Riverside Park. I’d go to Riverside Park and spend the days there. I didn’t even have to wear shoes. I’d run over and go swimming all through the summers. It was a great way to grow.”
Mr. Kiely grew up in the Depression and remembers the difficult times.
He remembers having to repair his worn out shoes. “When our shoes would wear out we could go and buy these little kits to repair our shoes. If you had a hole in your shoe, you would go down and buy a little rubber patch so you could wear your shoes as long as you wanted.” There wasn’t much food to eat. “During the Depression I ate a lot of codfish. I had codfish soup, codfish pancakes, codfish everything because it was cheap. So I don’t eat codfish now.” But life wasn’t all bad. “We were poor, but didn’t matter then because everyone was poor. We were happy.”
Mr. Kiely enjoyed the radio. He remembers listening to Father Coughlin and the Notre Dame Games. He loved music too. His favorite music came from Glen Miller’s Band and Vaughn Monroe, music which was soft and beautiful. He often went to the movies. He saw the newsreels. His favorite movie was Casablanca. His favorite actors were Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and John Wayne.
Mr. Kiely remembers Pearl Harbor vividly. “I was on Bank Street. I ran down to my girl friend’s house when I heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.”
Mr. Kiely was still in school when the war started, but when he finished high school he went into the service. When he joined he was a lifeguard at Ocean Beach. “I joined because it was the thing to do. Everyone was patriotic. It was the thing to do to join the service, to be patriotic. I was gung ho.”
After completing boot camp in Samson, New York, Mr. Kiely went to submarine school in New London, CT. When he was in classes they would take them out on O boats and R boats. He was not scared. “The way I looked at it, ‘Hey all these other people are doing it, why not me?'”
Mr. Kiely was a gunners mate third class. “That’s when they had guns on subs.” They had five inch guns fore and five inch aft, and 40 millimeters, and 50 calibers and 20 millimeters. Guns were mounted, but some were mounted when the sub surfaced. Mr. Kiely served on the Porpoise which was based in New London. He liked being on a submarine. People on a submarine ate well, too. “We ate until we ran out.” Although the food was good, the sleeping quarters were not. “There were people hugging a torpedo when they went to sleep. There were sleeping quarters fore and aft. There were over head bunks.” Water was made through the evaporators. He enjoyed the camaraderie on the submarine. There were 75-80 people on the subs. “It was nice. You were with a bunch of guys you liked and trusted.”
Mr. Kiely was in the Navy from 1943-46, but he was not the only one in his family who contributed to the war effort. His brother was also in the Navy. His sister, meanwhile was a ‘Rosie the Riveter’ who worked as a carpenter. The war ended before Mr. Kiely saw action. “We were in Panama when the war ended. I was on my way to the war but it didn’t wait for me. And I’m glad.” He believes many lives were saved when the bomb was dropped. “Of course, it ruined a lot of people in Japan, but it saved a lot of our boys by dropping it. I think it was the right decision.”
When the war ended, Mr. Kiely returned to school. He went to New London Junior College, now Mitchell College. From 1948-49, Mr. Kiely delivered mail in Groton but soon left the postal service to work at Electric Boat where he worked for 37 years and three months. He married and had three children.
Today Mr. Kiely lives in Groton with his wife, Anna. They have traveled to Italy, his wife’s homeland, as well as other places in the United States and Europe. In the winter when the college students have gone back to school, he works as an interpreter at the Mystic Aquarium. He enjoys golf and the beach where he can often be seen in the summer.
Tom Kiely is a good man. He’s very handsome and sweet. What’s really good about him is that he helped out in the war.
Written by Robert R. and Shawn M.
William White was born in Groton in 1926. He grew up on Warner Street with his mom, dad, and one sister. He was 15 before the war started. “It was quiet in Groton. I went to Eastern Point School. That was just before the war started. The war started in 1941 and I got out of grade school in 1941 so I had just gotten out of grade school when the war started.”
During the war, Mr. White’s father worked at Electric Boat. He operated the track for moving the subs. His mother was a housewife, but during the war she worked at a mill to help. “She worked at Max Pollack. The building is still there down by Trails Corners. It was a mill where they wove thread for clothing. They put the thread on spools. The thread was used to make uniforms. It wasn’t that way in the beginning, but when the war started that’s what they did. There used to be a millpond. We used to go skating there. We used to skate a lot back then. Mill Pond was a big pond.”
As a child Mr. White listened to the radio all the time. “Radio was all we had. It was good. We listened to the ball games. We sat there and looked at the radio and listened to stories. We used to have cowboy shows and Amos ‘n’ Andy.”
In fact, Mr. White was listening to the radio when he first heard the news about Pearl Harbor. “It was quite a shock. I was listening on the radio to a football game. It was a Sunday afternoon and the Giants were playing somebody down in New York. The announcement came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. All the service people at the game were told to leave immediately and go to where they were stationed.”
During the early years of the war, Mr. White was a student at Fitch High School. He experienced many of the changes that war brought to life in Groton. Mr. White remembers victory gardens. Although he didn’t have one, people around him did. They grew tomatoes, lettuce, and peas. Mr. White remembers the ration coupons and saving bonds. Black outs and brown outs were also a part of daily life.
As a young man he also enjoyed the entertainment and pastimes available in Groton. “Groton had a movie theater down near Electric Boat. We used to go once a week. The theater was on Mitchell St. in 1938. Everybody walked to the movies. We didn’t have cars, and it too hard to get gas.” He also played baseball, taking the position of short stop or pitcher depending on the game. He also enjoyed the songs of the time. “They had a lot of war songs. They used to play them all the time. There were a lot of songs about people being away, in the service, and fighting.”
Like most people of the time, he had strong feelings about the enemy. “Hitler,” he says, “was a creep. Everybody hated Hitler.” He hated Japan too. “Everybody did because they were the enemy. We mistreated a lot of people that were Japanese Americans. If they were of Japanese descent and born in America they were put in camps to segregate them from other people. They weren’t treated very well.”
Mr. White waited until he graduated before he enlisted. He graduated in the summer and enlisted in the fall. “A lot of my friends enlisted out of high school. They finished when they came back. I worked at EB that summer. I made $32 a week. They used to pay us in cash. At the end of the week you’d line up and your name would be up there with an envelope with the cash in it.”
It was the submarine service for Mr. White. After basic training, he was sent to radio school in Indiana and then returned to New London for sub school. Although he was happy to be near enough to visit the family, he wasn’t with them all the time. Most of the time he stayed on the submarine and enjoyed liberty once in a while. He remembers the submarines as being crowded but serving good food. “We used to sleep in bunks two feet apart, five or six high. Sometimes you had to share a bunk. When you were on watch somebody would use your bunk. But we ate well. They used to say submariners were fed well and it was true. The cook on a submarine had to be a baker, too. It was good. We had dishes, no tin plates. We used to have steak, chicken, and Navy beans. They used to serve corned beef hash, but I didn’t care for it. They made breakfast like your mother would cook it.”
Mr. White was a radio operator which meant he sent and copied messages. During his two years in the service, he served on several submarines, including the Pom Pom and the Rasher. These submarines were battery operated which meant they couldn’t stay under long. They had to come up to run the engines in order to recharge batteries and go down again. Every day or two they had to come up. They only went down about 300 feet. “One of my jobs was to put down the bow planes and stern planes. At that time I was so young it was fun.” There was little to do on the submarine, but they played backgammon and watched a movie once in a while. “I was mostly on training submarines, taking officers out for a week or so and training them. School boats they called them. We used to be a little afraid when they let the students take them out.”
Mr. White has mixed feelings about the atomic bomb, but believes that it was the right thing to do. “I thought it was good. It saved a lot of lives. There’d been a lot of fighting in the Pacific, and a lot of people were killed. The theory was that if they were going to invade Japan a lot more people would have been killed. This saved a lot of casualties going into Japan. In one way it was good and another way it was bad.”
After the war Bill White went to college on the GI Bill. Being in the Navy gave Mr. White the opportunity to attend college. After graduating he married Freida,his wife, in 1950. “I graduated from the University of Connecticut and it enabled me to come out and get a job and raise a family.” They had four children, two boys and two girls. The oldest, Michael, is now 49 and the youngest, Julie, is 35.
Mr. White worked for the Navy Department as a civil servant. He worked at EB as a contract negotiator. Mrs. White was a teacher’s aide at Eastern Point School. Later when he and Mrs. White had retired, they were able to travel. Mr. and Mrs. White traveled to Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska.
Over the years, Mr. White kept in touch with his buddies from radio school in Indiana. “I haven’t recently. I guess we got old and forgot each other, but for years I went to Maine and Colorado and visited people.”