Sixteen million American’s served during World War II. This is a brief snapshot of my Uncle Frank Meyer’s journey. History, like millions of those, combines periods of trivia and drama. I’m not sure of his exact enlistment or discharge date in the Navy, but I know Francis James Meyer had quite the expedition. I’ve been blessed to read his intimate, wartime letters to his parents, his Gram. sister June and younger brother Tom during duty from September 1944 through April 1952. I found these letters in my parent’s attic while visiting their home in New Jersey about twenty years ago. They were in an old suit case of my grandmother’s. Upon opening the old, heavy leather suitcase, I received a big whiff of mold or old ink; I can’t quite describe the smell. I asked my parents if I could keep the letters and they agreed. It surprised me that my father didn’t want to keep them. So, it brings me pleasure to write this blog about my uncle’s military career and bring his letters to the forefront for someone else to enjoy.
I typed highlights of Frank’s letters by date in black below. He wrote as if he were having verbal conversations with his family in these letters; I’m sure it brought them all a sense of normalcy. They were all very close. Sometimes just writing a letter to say he had nothing to write about was a common occurrence. Frank had wonderful cursive and always ended his letters with “Your loving son, Frankie”. The blue italic print is taken straight from Wikipedia and other internet research data to collaborate information about the history of what happened on his particular ship (red font) or world news (blue font) during my uncle’s service. The letters generally mesh with the historical data from Wikipedia.
9/29/44: Sampson, NY. The beginning of my Navy career.
9/28/44: WWII. A roundup in Bratislava orchestrated by Alois Brunner captures 1,800 Jews and puts an end to one of the most successful underground Jewish organizations during the Holocaust, the Bratislava Working Group. The Jews are deported to Auschwitz, where most are murdered.
9/23/44: I attended church. Asked for “Lefty” Joe McCartney and Jimmy Mulligan. I met Helen Degnan’s brother Joe. I also met 3 other guys from Orange and West Orange, New Jersey.
10/7/44: I’ve been on guard, had my first series of shots and had dental work done.
10/9/44: Lefty McCartney and I finally met.
10/11/44: I got my work recommendation’s. 1. Electricians Mate 2. Range Finder Operator 3. Gunmen Mate. I was told I have a great chance for school.
11/6/44: We went through gas drills. It was very scary but I made it through with ease.
10/11/44: The U.S. Air Force bombed Okinawa.
11/8/44: Today we had Anti-Aircraft practice; we basically worked on our shooting skills. Tomorrow we will be doing Abandon Ship drills. You have to jump from a tower and swim with your clothes on. Then use your denims as floating devices.
11/9/44: More Abandon Ship drills. Then boxing at the gym. I boxed and won to a 15 lbs. plus boxer. I surprised myself and my fellow buddies!!! I was actually pretty good.
11/17/44: While part of convoy Hi-81, the Japanese landing craft depot ship Mayasan Maru was sunk in the East China Sea by the American submarine Picuda. Some 3,856 lives were lost in one of the highest maritime casualty counts of the war.
11/18/44: I was appointed to a PO in charge of 20 men. I’ve been recommended for Electricians Mate which I’m very happy about.
11/23/44: Frank sent his folks a message stating “he couldn’t receive mail after this note”.
11/30/44: Firefighting drills. I really enjoyed this…I’m not sure why? I guess it was a challenge.
12/44: The American destroyer Ward was hit and abandoned by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft in Ormoc Bay.
12/12/44: I’m stationed in Norfolk, Virginia currently. We will be here for 3-4 months.
1/24/45: I went on board one of the biggest aircraft carriers in the world, The Bonham Richard. What an honor. I wish Tom could see it!
1/26/45: Finally assigned to my ship; a Destroyer named USS John E. Bole.
I’m not sure if letters were misplaced or not written during this period of time. We will never know.
4/7/45: I’m sitting here smoking a White Owl Cigar; it’s putting me into a trance. I’m back on shore. I saw some friends docked up next to us from a ship from Norfolk.
6/13/45: We are in San Francisco, CA. How is your Victory garden coming along?
7/22/45: I’m so sorry to here about Uncle Gus passing away.
8/25/45: I’m so glad to hear the war is over!!! I have been laid up with a bad ankle for a while.
John A. Bole joined a cruiser-destroyer force on 8 September off Jinsen, Korea, to cover the landings of troops at that important port. She remained until 25 September, and arrived three days later at Saishu To, south of the Korean Peninsula, to accept the surrender of the island and demilitarize it.
9/3/45: After we left the Philippine’s, we went to Okinawa for about 2 months.
9/6/45: The past few days, we have been escorting cruise ships up and down the China coast. None of the ships have been hit by mines thanks to us! We cruised closed to shore 1 day; close enough to see The Great Wall of China. The Wall is a great sight to see for sure! Fifty men from our ship took part in the invasion pf Port Arthur. They spoke of how shallow parts of the China Ocean was and how sharks there was.
9/9/45: Japanese forces in Korea surrendered at Seoul.
9/13/45: Jinen, Korea. We went ashore in Okinawa.
After moving to Boston to join Saint Paul, the Bole sailed on 15 May for the Pacific during the final push in the war against Japan. Steaming via the Panama Canal, she arrived at Pearl Harbor on 7 June 1945. The ship joined a carrier group in Hawaiian waters, took part in the air strike on Wake Island on 20 June, and escorted a carrier to Eniwetok, arriving on 21 June.
John A. Bole arrived at Okinawa on 29 June for picket and patrol duty; and, although ground fighting had virtually ceased, weeks of intermittent air raids and picket duty were still in store for the fleet. The ship remained off Okinawa until the Japanese acceptance of surrender terms on 15 August, then departed for the East China and Yellow Seas to support the occupation and to take part in minesweeping operations.
9/25/45: I have a new home post; Mare Island.
9/27/45: We are in route to an island north; that’s all I can disclose now. We are one of three ships. We are disarming any soldiers on the island. There are still many mines! On our way, we shot three mines, blew up one and sank two…not bad!!!!
9/30/45: We invaded the island. Upon the arrival, the Japs had all their guns piled on the docks. There were sixty thousand troops on the island. I will try to get a gun for you dad. By the way, my new alias is Foo Chow.
10/1/45: I’m on Qualport Island, Korea. Taking liberty tonight.
10/21/45: Sailing the Yellow Sea. I will be going on liberty tomorrow in Tsing Tao.
10/27/45: In Navy Day ceremonies in New York City, President Truman commissioned the new aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt and stated that American military strength would be used to maintain peace and establish “peaceful, democratic governments” in the former Axis countries.
11/14/45: Well, I haven’t written in a few weeks because I was sick. I was transferred to a Destroyer called “Tender Whitney” with Pneumonia. I lost twenty pounds.
11/16/45: I’m feeling a little bit better. I heard I will be going back to Pearl Harbor for a month.
11/21/45: On the Yellow Sea on our way back to Tsing Tao, China.
12/29/45: Koreans attacked American soldiers in Seoul to protest the administrative decision to wait as long as five years to restore Korean independence.
12/29/45: Still in China. Went ashore for some liberty time. My ship mates and I were drinking some beers when the United States decided to refuse Korea of her independence; that didn’t fare well. Things got hairy quickly! Koreans started to burn American flags, bullets were flying, we were dodging bullets and split. A riot started.
12/30/45: Still in Tsing Tao, China. We escorted two cruisers back to Okinawan. Destroyed five mines. I was promoted one rate higher, which is equal to a sergeant in the army. I will now draw $90.00 a month.
1/3/1946: The United States Department of War announced a slowdown in demobilization of U.S. Army soldiers in the Pacific theater, cutting army discharges by 60 percent, from 800,000 down to 300,000 per month. In the week that followed, American soldiers around the world protested, in the Philippines, France, Guam, Germany, India and the United States. The War Department reversed the decision as a result of pressure from the “‘Bring Em Home’ Movement”.
1/6/46: Happy New Year!!! Our ship has been on quarantine because of cases of small pox on the beach in China. I’m laying here, listening to some nice music on the radio. It feels like we are back in peacetime again. I’m really sad to hear about Jimmy Morrisey being shot up so badly; I will write him a letter.
1/8/46: The last Japanese prisoners of war in the United States departed, on board a ship from Angel Island (California), for repatriation.
1/11/46: We are sailing to Shanghai
2/10/46: I received June’s letter. Please tell her I’m not going to give her the names of any lonely sailors to write to!!! She needs to stick to the boys at her school.
2/20/46: In Tsing Tao, China again. We are getting ready to sail to Korea in an hour.
2/20/46: The veteran destroyer remained in the Far East after the end of the war to carry mail and passengers between Japan, Korea, and Chinese ports, supporting the efforts of American Marines to protect Allied lives and stabilize the Chinese situation. While at Qingdao on 20 February 1946, upon receiving a distress signal from a sinking merchantmen, she succeeded in rescuing 13 survivors. Bole departed on 5 March for San Francisco and, after stopping at Guam and Pearl Harbor, arrived on 27 March 1946.
3/20/46: I’m in Pearl Harbor now. We have been on fleet maneuvers for over a month and a half. We had some distress calls from Chinese ships. We saved eighteen Chinese men; however, the rest drowned.
3/20/46 until 5/15/46: Unknown journey
5/15/46: I’m now the headman in the “E” division and I’m sad to say, there’s hardly anyone left.
5/16/46: Our ship was involved in the Wake Island, Tokyo attack. A news paper clipping was inserted in the letter.
So, I do not have any letters from 1946 until 1950. I’m not sure where the corresponds are? If he
stopped writing or someone else in the family has the letters; it’s a mystery to me.
Following a long repair period to prepare her for peacetime service, the destroyer arrived San Diego on 10 April 1947 to begin a regular schedule of training maneuvers and cruises for Naval Reservists. She continued to operate on the West Coast, with occasional visits to Hawaii, through 1949.
11/5/50: Frank mentioned June and Eddie. June eventually marries Edward Konopka.
12/6/50: Tomorrow my ship will be commissioned. I’m glad that you took the kid to court that hit Tommy; it was the right thing to do.
1/2/50: We were on a shake down cruise for five weeks.
Recommissioned on 7 December 1950, Earle B. Hall departed Jacksonville, Florida, on 19 December 1950, for her home port, Norfolk, Virginia. After refresher training, she departed Norfolk on 29 May 1951 for a three-month northern cruise, supplying such outposts as Grønnedal, Greenland. Returning to Norfolk, she trained United States Marines in amphibious warfare off Onslow Beach, North Carolina, and in the Caribbean.
2/19/50: My address has changed, I now at a Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Virginia.
2/19/50 thru 2/27/50: We have been out to sea. Not much else to say.
3/17/50: Just finished a rescue mission off the Maryland Coast. We rescued six sailors. When we arrived in the late evening, we found the boat capsized with no trace of it’s crew. The next afternoon after dragging the bottom of the ocean, we recovered four bodies.
4/12/50: I hope Tom’s fishing pool is stocked with some fish. At least his hamster keeps him company.
4/15/1950: In what one historian describes as “arguably the most important date in PRC diplomatic history” as well as “a terrible blunder”, Mao Zedong approved Kim Il-sung’s plan for North Korea to invade South Korea, starting the Korean War.
5/31/50: I’m in NY currently. We are getting ready to sail to Greenland for five months.
6/9/50: Well, we arrived at our destination. We were met by a large ice breaker. They led us up the large river. The ice was the most beautiful site I’ve seen; the ice was light blue. The last few days have been extremely rough on the sea!!! Half of our crew have been sea sick. What amazing about this place is that it stays light for twenty- two hours a day.
6/13/50: I have been fishing every night. Two nights ago, I was fishing off the rocks on the shore and all the sudden a huge whale appeared about two hundred feet from me! What an exciting site! I’ve been mountain climbing a lot here; also sking.
6/25/50: We are going to the North Pole next week.
6/50: With the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, John A. Bole began intensive preparations for combat service. Sailing from San Diego 30 September, she steamed via Japan to join Task Force 77 off the Korean coast. With the brilliant amphibious assault on Inchon 15 September, an end run made possible by control of the sea, the tide of the ground war rapidly reversed. The nearly victorious enemy armies far to the south collapsed. John A. Bole, exemplifying the flexibility of seapower promptly shifted from amphibious attack to fire support of our advancing troops. She then screened carriers during the vital air operations, helping to support both battleline air strikes and interdiction of northern supply lines. John A. Bole also steamed with support convoys into Inchon before returning to San Diego in mid-June 1951.
7/5/50: Our ship had locker inspections today. This was done because morphine was missing. It was found in some of the boat crews bags.
8/1/50: We’re back in Thule, Greenland. We will now be an Ice Breaker Ship for all out and incoming ships. This is a top secret mission! I ‘m surprised they are not censoring this letter. We are building an Airbase for B-36 Bombers only a couple of hours away from Russia.
9/7/50: I have returned to Norfolk, Virginia.
9/17/50: Going down to Puerto Rico on war games.
10/12/50: Sailing to the Dutch Indies for four days.
10/25/50: I’m in San Juan this weekend and will be in St. Thomas next week. I’ve made second class; I’m my own boss now. I shouldn’t have any more trip overseas.
11/21/50: It was a surprise to hear Dad didn’t catch any eels in Ramson! He always catches a few.
The veteran ship was underway again for Korea 3 January 1952. Upon arrival she helped maintain the pressure on Communist troops in the stalemated land war by screening carriers during air attacks. John A. Bole also took part in shore bombardment along both the east and west coasts of North Korea, operating with British and Dutch ships. The ship moved to the Formosa Straits for patrol duty designed to deter Chinese Communist aggression there, finally returning to San Diego 11 July 1952.