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Interview with Robert Abbott Coates [10/12/2001]

Troy Reeves:

Today is October 12,2001. This interview is with Robert Coates, it is being held here at the Idaho State Historical Society Library in Boise, Idaho. The interviewer is Troy Reeves. This interview is part of the Veterans History Project. Bob, for the record, they want you to, say for the tape, what branch of service you served in, what war, and what rank you achieved during that war? So, if you can start off with that and then we will move back to something else.

Robert Abbott Coates:

I am Robert A. Coates and I served in the United States Navy from January 17, 1941 to December of 47, a total of six years minus a little less than a month, I served in World War II. When I was discharged from the Navy I was an electronic technician, First Class.

Troy Reeves:

Now I want to backtrack just a little bit because this is actually our second interview. We kind of finished around the time you were getting ready to graduate from high school, and I was wondering if you could talk about what your plans were, first off did you have plans to go to college?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, during high school, of course this was during the Depression and it was, times were tough. I was perfectly aware that a person needed an education, I did not want to herd sheep the rest of my life and that is what I had been doing, since I was real small, about 10 or 11 years old. My father had the sheep ranch [and] I was given the job of herding sheep; started out herding the drys?, those were the sheep that had the lambs taken off of them because they were real docile and lazy [chuckles], and it did not take much in the summer time to do that.

From there I graduated on up into herding ewes and lambs, this was in the summer months. When I started high school by that time we, my father was lambing sheep where we lived in Carey [Idaho]. So I did not go out for sports because when school was out I had to be home doing chores, and the same way every weekend. I did not participate in sports but I made up for it in the summer time by hunting-I did lots of hunting when I was herding sheep.

Troy Reeves:

So hunting, and maybe fishing, were those your sporting activities?

Robert Abbott Coates:

That was my sporting, hunting and fishing. And, I would have to say that--I would not say that I was a very good fisherman, but I always prided myself in being a pretty good hunter. I could, in fact in later years I had an offer that-I would be in the mountains and not on flat land. But in the mountains I would walk a horse right into the ground; I could take off on a trot and never quit, up, down or whatever. I cannot do that now, but I could then [chuckles].

Anyway, going back to high school--by the time I, as I said, I did not go out for sports--we had a class, I think at the time when I graduated, [and] I think it was the largest class that they had in Carey, I am not sure of that, but as I recall, it was. We had 19 students which was quite large for a little school like Carey.

Carey has not changed. Today Carey looks the same as it did then; it hasn't changed at all. There is maybe a few homes [that have] moved in, but very few. The schoolhouse is in the same-it is not the same school building but, in fact the trees around the schoolhouse were, that was our project in my senior year when I was class president. We wanted to do something so we planted Coniferous trees around the schoolyard.

When I graduated from high school I did not want to work for my father because I had to get money to go to school and I knew that it would be very difficult for him to give me money. I do not know if he--I think he believed in education, but I got my encouragement from my mother, not my father [chuckles]. So I was very fortunate; I got a job on the surveying crew and I made the total sum of $3.00 an day. That was big pay because before that the only job I had ever had working for pay was in the early [19]30s--I worked on a haying crew all summer. I got a dollar a day, and 50 cents a day for my team. My dad let me take one of his teams. We put up hay all summer, lived in tents, and did our own cooking. Every Sunday, we got Sundays off so we could go fishing, so that was not too bad.

Troy Reeves:

So could you maybe just briefly explain what your job was on the surveying crew?

Robert Abbott Coates:

I was a chainman.

Troy Reeves:

And could you explain maybe what a chainman does?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Okay. In surveying they have someone that runs a transit and when you measure off it is done with what you call a chain. So you have two people running chain and you have the supervisor that runs the transit. So it is just a matter of measurement of land, and it was for the government, but I am not sure what agency it was. But I did not work on it very long because it was a rainy spring and I only got paid when I worked.

One day it had been raining and raining and raining and I had not been able to get too much time in. I was in town and there was a person there that was visiting an old friend of mine, and this person came along. The sheriff was there and I was visiting with him and another friend and he asked the sheriff where he could find a sheepherder. The sheriff said, "Maybe you could talk this young fellow into herding sheep for you." [Chuckles] And the guy said, "No, I don't hire kids."

Anyway I thought that was the end of that. Then I heard him talking to the sheriff some more about it, I heard him ask the sheriff where he could get a good experienced sheepherder. The sheriff said, "You just turned down the most experienced sheepherder I know." And he said, "That kid?" And the sheriff said, "Yes, that kid." So he said he would pay me half pay and I had told him in no uncertain terms that I--my mother--digress for a minute, she said the only thing I ever picked up from those sheepherders was their language." [Chuckles].

But anyway I told that guy I would not go out, but I did tell him that I would take the job and within ten days time if his lambs were not doing better, and he was not satisfied, [then] he did not owe me a thing. If he was [satisfied] I wanted full pay, which was $60 a month; in those days that was big money. Well anyway I spent the rest of the summer herding sheep. Then that fall I went to Utah State Agricultural College and [I] enrolled in the school of forestry. I stayed there until my money ran out and then I had to quit, so I went through the first two quarters; they were on a quarter system. Then I had to quit and come home; I could not get a job.

So I had come back and I was helping my father and at that time, that fall, that was the fall of 40 I was hauling hay, a friend of mine, he and I were-my dad and his dad had a herd of sheep together at that time and we were hauling hay for these sheep. Both of us decided we did not like that future too well. He had just graduated from high school, he graduated a year behind me, he graduated in the spring of' 40 and I graduated in the spring of '39.

Anyway we decided we would join the Navy, so we went down to Twin Falls to go in the Navy. They gave us a preliminary physical. There was about six of us from Blaine County that went down there, and the only two guys that passed the physicals--my friend Frank Elliott and myself. Because you could not have a cavity, your eyes had to be 20/20 [vision], and you could have absolutely nothing wrong, period. And they were strict because they had lots of people who wanting to get in the Navy because they could not get a job.

But then we were put on a waiting list and that was in November I think. In January they called us down and we finished taking our tests, and they sent us to Salt Lake, and from Salt Lake we got sworn in in Salt Lake City January 17, 1941. From there they had some other kids from Utah and around and they put me in charge of them probably because I was six months older than them or something [chuckles].

They put us on a train and sent us to San Diego, so that is where I started off in the Navy, the Naval Training Station in San Diego. And it was worth noting, I think, within six months after they had turned these other friends of mine down because of little minor things-and this was well before the war had started, things had changed, and they were taking them too. It was tough when you-six months, and it kept getting easier and easier [chuckles]. Of course, that is understandable.

Troy Reeves:

I have a couple of things I want to ask about what you just said. The first is as you were getting ready to join the Navy, or thinking about the military, do you remember having specific thoughts about what was going on in the rest of the world?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Oh yes. I was--I think for a small community--every day in school we discussed, we would have current events. And my mother belonged to what they called a book club, they called it the "Carey Progressive Club," and they would get together about every week and discuss books and current events and I would listen in.

I was a real avid reader because when I was out with the sheep by myself, the only way I could keep from getting lonely was read--everything I could get a hold of I would read. I think we were pretty well aware of what was going on in the outside world. I knew that Japan was in China "Raising Cane" with the Chinese; I also knew that what was going on over in Europe.

The reason I had picked the Navy was because Utah State was a federal land grant college, and it was mandatory that you take R.O.T.C. if you attended a land grant college anywhere in the country, I knew this was true for Idaho and Utah. I picked Utah rather than Idaho because they had a very good school of forestry. And when I picked the Navy-I was in R.O.T.C., and I did not like the looks of those packs that those guys [carried]. I knew absolutely nothing about any branch of the service except for the fact of my experience in RO.T.C., but I thought, "No, I am not going to do that." I joined the Navy.

Troy Reeves:

So, just to clarify that being in the R.O.T.C. made you not want to be in the Army?

Robert Abbott Coates:

That is correct.

Troy Reeves:

Just a couple more kind of non-military related questions. Did you have aspirations to become a forester, is that why you chose?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, I wanted to get into range management and they had a real good school in ranger management, probably one of the best [schools] in range management. I think maybe that the University of Idaho maybe had a better school in timber management, but range management, Utah State took their hat off to anyone, and that is what I wanted to get into.

Troy Reeves:

Just to clarify, at that time, Utah State University was actually Utah State Agricultural College?

Robert Abbott Coates:

That is correct.

Troy Reeves:

You kind of answered this in that last question, as you were getting ready to join the Navy did you think that you were actually going to be somewhere fighting?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, it never even entered my mind about--I remember thinking back and I do not recall about ever thinking about combat, or anything like this. I think that is why it was such a big surprise when we--it was real hard for me to accept when December 7th was here.

We had been gearing up for everything else, getting lectures, and every thing else. But still, when the real thing hits you, it is--well I am sure that you, or anyone else that had witnessed what had happened here a month ago [September 11, 200I]--the shock. This was the same kind of thing at Pearl Harbor; you were just tough.

Troy Reeves:

You said earlier that when you were sworn in, you were kind of the person who became in charge of some of the other crews?

Robert Abbott Coates:

On the shipment from Salt Lake City to San Diego they put me in charge of this contingent of "would-be" sailors [chuckles]. Then after I got to San Diego, the Navy-as soon as they got enough people to make up a company, and the company consisted of about 120 or 130 men as I recall.

As soon as they got that many men then they would start that group of people and then call it a company and they would start that to recruit training? We had two chiefs that took over this company and they selected--I do not know on what basis, I felt that because I had herded sheep, they selected me for what they called recruit company commander. Well, Navy Chiefs are notorious for being lazy, so all the duties of the company--they would come there in the morning and I would take the company out on the grinder and drill them, and go through all the orders they gave me every mornmg. So that was my job through recruit training, as recruit company commander.

Troy Reeves:

What was easier or what was harder, herding sheep or keeping in line teenage would-be sailors?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Herding sheep--they do not talk back. The big thing there was there was quite a few sailors there from Texas, and Texans-being Texans-they thought the world revolved around them or whatever. They had a place down they called the Gravielle Hall, it was a gymnasium. And so every night you-they were very strict persons and they did not swear, there was no gambling, absolutely none, and no fighting.

But every night they got invited down to Gravielle Hall for them Texans to take their-[chuckles]. Anyway, this went on for quite some time and I will admit that I got some pretty good lickings. Finally I guess there was a kid that, sort of big kid, I was not that big. I could hold my own with most of them, but some of them whipped me pretty good [chuckles].

But anyway this big kid, one night he just-the lights were out [and] we were in the barracks and everybody was in bed. And he gets up and he starts hollering. I was going to get the Master Arms to make him shut up so that I would not see what he had to say. What he had to say was from now on anybody that wanted to challenge me down at the Gravielle Hall was going to have to whip him first. So that was the end of that-the Texans, they did not want-he was a big guy, tougher-than-tough so they decided they would not pick on me anymore. Yes, herding sheep was easier.

Troy Reeves:

So is this Garrelley Hall, was it like?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Gravielle.

Troy Reeves:

Gervielle?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, Garvielle Hall.

Troy Reeves:

Could you maybe spell that?

Robert Abbott Coates:

G-R-A-V-I-E-L-L-E, something like that.

Troy Reeves:

Was that, did it have a boxing ring?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Oh yes, it was a gymnasium.

Troy Reeves:

So is that what you are talking about?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, they had a ring down there and so that is where you could settle your differences down there--you got the fist, if you went that far. And, of course those guys-I never considered myself, because no one was big enough, and that was not my nature anyway. But those guys-- because I represented authority to them, they did not like that. So there was nothing they could do except take it out on me because [if] they were going to challenge they would just take it out on a recruit. Well, I was a recruit C.O. so I was a logical candidate; but I got through.

Troy Reeves:

Maybe if you could, we have already kind of talked about it but maybe a specific question about what it felt like to be in the military the first few days?

Robert Abbott Coates:

I enjoyed it, just thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I would have to say that except for a few experiences even during the war, as tough as it was during the war, I liked the Navy and when I first went in, I was thrilled to death; I really was. I liked, I have always been one who liked to know where I was going, [and] I could see where I was going in the Navy. My whole idea in the Navy was I had to go in on a 6-year investment, and I did not like that, but it was all I could do.

They did not have anything any shorter. They did [have] one for kids. If you were under 18 you could go in on what they called a "kids-cruise". And when you reached 21, they would discharge you. But [since] I was 19 that did not apply to me. I had the idea that was what I would do. I would save my money, [and] when my enlistment was over I would go back to school; that what my intentions were. In fact, that was the only way--my mother, of course, she did not have to impress me, but my mother [unintelligible] is that I was guaranteed that I would go back to school when I got out of the Navy, or she would not have signed the papers. Even at my age, I was not 21 so.

Troy Reeves:

So for you it was more of a means to an end?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes.

Troy Reeves:

You would simply use the Navy and go back to school; maybe even get involved with forestry or something?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, and go back to school.

Troy Reeves:

Can you describe or talk about the training involved?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes the first two weeks you were in the quarantine, no liberties. You were quarantined from the rest of the Navy base. So I guess for obvious reasons he has to come down with some dreadful disease, whatever, I never did figure that one out. Then your routine is pretty much the same. You would get up--there were people that were designated. I had people designated that were Master Arms, there were platoon leaders so everybody had their duty. Barracks would get cleaned and we would fall-up and muster, make sure if it is.

Then I had to turn that into the yeoman and make a report. We would march down to the chow hall, have breakfast, and come back from the chow hall. Then we would-whatever, a lot of time was spent in close order drill and there was a lot of time spent just learning seamanship, learning knots and terminology of the Navy and how to use a compass, just general things that you could imagine that the Navy would require. Then at the end of 16 weeks, we graduated from boot camp. And when you graduate from boot camp, it was a big ceremony.

They would have a big parade on what they called the grinder, a big parade ground, we called it the grinder. When I graduated there were three companies that they had the ceremonies for. I do not think that we all graduated at the same time. I am not sure, but I know that there were three companies that graduated. I think what they did is they held one before; I think my company was in the middle or something, and then they had a lot of dignitaries come in for the big ceremony. And then at that time, we had been given so many tests, you were taking tests all the time.

The Navy was a very competitive organization. One thing that I liked about the Navy is what I had seen in the Army, and this may not be entirely true, I do not know this because I was not in the Army, but what I saw of it, I formed an opinion, right or wrong, but a lot of times you would get an advancement, if you would, on the basis of what somebody saw, or liked what you were doing. I entered into the Navy. You were required to study, and you were required to take a formal test, and some of them were pretty tough. I think the best example you would have to get an advancement in rating, to go from one rating up, [progress up].

You would have to have so much time in the rating that you were in. You would have had to finish the course of study for the next rating. Then you would have what they called a practical factors test. That was a test to make sure that you could do all the things that were to be expected of you, [it was] a supervised test too. Then you would have your superior give you a grade on your performance. The last thing you took was a formal examination.

When they put all those things together, that would determine whether you got advancement or not. I think the best example I could give you there was when I got out of boot camp I was given, I was an apprentice seaman in boot camp, [and] when I got out of boot camp they automatically gave me a Seaman 2nd Class, which went from $21 a month to $36 a month, big pay. That was big pay back in those days, it really was, for me it was. All the other kids [unintelligible]. When I was Seaman 2nd Class, then I started studying for Seaman 1st Class. In those days you had to make Seaman 1st Class. It was a rating and just what the name implies, it was to learn seamanship.

I felt that they did not have time for that, so you learned your specialty in whatever your specialty was and that is it, which I thought was kind of a shame. After all, we should be a sailor. But anyway, to go back, when I went up for Seaman 1st Class I had to meet all those requirements. Then I had to take a competitive exam and it was in--I was on the old Nevada, which was part of Battleship Division One. And, I was on the U.S.S. Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arizona; Arizona being the flagship BAT DIV ONE.

They had about, as I recall, they had somewhere in the vicinity of maybe less than 20 openings for Seaman 1st Class in the whole division, that was three battleships. These battleships had a pre-war compliment of about 2,000 men each. And there was 200 to 300 guys that took the test, so they were pretty choosey. It was not them, it was whatever your score was, that was it; I made it. But, if you did not make it the first time, then you could keep going, keep trying, but I made it the first time I did not have any problem. I think a lot of it was because I was a fast reader. When I started school I could out read any teacher I ever had; my mother taught me how to read, and I like to read. I think [because] I can read real fast I had an advantage on a lot of kids when it comes to taking tests.

Troy Reeves:

So when you graduated you became Seaman 2nd Class?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes. They automatically-that was the only thing the Navy ever gave you, a Seaman 2nd Class from Apprentice Seaman. When you got out of boot camp, then you were automatically given Seaman 2nd Class. Anything you got from then on, you had to earn.

Troy Reeves:

So you could have conceivably been Seaman 2nd Class the whole six years you were in the Navy, and the whole 5 1/2 years you had in the Navy?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes.

Troy Reeves:

Okay, so by the time you graduated if! am doing the math right, we are probably looking around May of 1941 ?

Robert Abbott Coates:

That is right.

Troy Reeves:

So even by this time you are personally still are not thinking about what is going-in terms of you are going to be involved in a war?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, at that time when I graduated, depending on some of the scores on some of the tests that we had taken while we were going through boot they gave me a choice of schools and I could take any school that I wanted because I had a pretty high score, what they called a GCT. I had the highest score in our company by quite a bit so they gave me any school that I wanted and I picked radio because I thought it would be something that I could use after I got out. I knew nothing at all about radio, but it kind of fascinated me.

So, I picked that and that was kind of a mistake, I picked that as number one choice and my number two choice was a pharmacist which is the same as a, we call them hospital corpsman, so I was given my first choice. But then I took a test after I made the choice, I was given a test for aptitude in Morse Code; I did not do too good at the aptitude test, [chuckles] I just barely passed.

So then I was wondering if I picked the right thing. I could have dropped out but I thought "No, I made my decision, and I will stick with it and try to tough it out." So I went 4 months into radio school in San Diego, I did not get to go home, everybody else got to go home for 10 days or 2 weeks or whatever, I do not recall, after they got out of boot camp. I didn't because I went onto school and I was not the only one, there was several of us out of my company that went onto different schools.

Troy Reeves:

So how did this all work? By that I mean you are in a school but you are in the military too?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Oh yes, it is a school [that] is held by the military on the base. And you went to school 5 1/2 days, and early in the morning you would put in a good 8 hours of school. That is not counting lunch hour, it was actually 8 hours, except on Saturday, it was only 4 hours.

Troy Reeves:

Could you just maybe give an overview of what a typical day was during your 4 months in radio school?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, a typical day would be I would get up and have breakfast, march to the chow hall, everything was in formation, and you had to march in formation. You would go to chow hall, you would march back to the barracks, get your school things, and then march to the classroom [ for] whatever class you were taking.

You had different classes, they had classes that you would sit in maybe one day you would spend half of the day practicing Morse code, sending and receiving. And then maybe the other half of the day they would spend teaching you Radio Theory, Radio Physics if you would. The Navy had a-they were-that what another reason I chose the Navy because everybody said that the Navy had the best school than any other branch of the service, so if a guy wanted to learn something, that was the place to go.

Troy Reeves:

So that must have put you roughly somewhere into September when you graduated?

Robert Abbott Coates:

That's right, it was in August.

Troy Reeves:

Now were you trying to become Seaman 1st Class at this time too?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, all I trying to do at that time was get through that radio school. And then when I graduated from the radio school then I got the orders to report to Long Beach, California. They had a little station down there at Long Beach to await the arrival of my ship which was to be the USS Nevada, but I was given what they call a delay-in-route which allowed me to go home for two weeks.

So I went home for two weeks, came back to Idaho. And then from there I went back to Long Beach, California, and I reported in at-they had a little station there, [it was] just a building at Terminal Island in Long Beach. Terminal Island is still there, but they do not have that little base there anymore; they called it Roosevelt Base, and it was a little airbase they were just starting to build. I was there until, it was about a month. What we did there, they had bomb boats, they were about the same size as a PT boat, but they had real heavy steel armor on the deck and they would use those.

They were a pretty fast boat, and they had a crew of about 5 or 6 of us, and I was on the crew of one of those boats. We would take them out and they would dive bomb us with sacks of flour, not bombs. And that is why they had the steel deck; we would get underneath that steel deck and see if we could outmaneuver those dive bombers that were practicing on us. I was there for about a month, that was it. That was a good duty. We took one of those, we were not supposed to do that, we took one of those boats and converted it into a fishing boat, so we spent a lot of time fishing [chuckles].

Troy Reeves:

Just a couple of things before we move forward. What was it like returning to Idaho even for those few days after being involved in the military?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Well it is such an entirely different world for me, I am not saying for everybody, I just speak for myself. I got back and I thought, "Geez," when everything is so orderly in the Navy, everything is on time, and I liked that.

I guess that is the reason why the Navy appealed to me; I liked orderly things and I liked that atmosphere of the people that are around. Sure, they were kids just like me, but I think most of them had about the same outlook as I did. Most of them were in there to get an education and at the same time save enough money to further their education on what we called the outside world, but it was not a prison, not at all.

Troy Reeves:

Just to clarify, after you graduated from this radio school, did you get some sort of classification or certification?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, I was still a Seaman 2nd Class, but I got the classification as what they call a

Troy Reeves:

Radio Striker. I was allowed to wear a badge; in fact I had to wear it on my uniform to signify that I was a Radio Striker. It [the badge] was a--you have seen that--I think I have a picture of it--it is radio waves I guess.

Troy Reeves:

Okay. Just kind of like three squiggly lines come together at a point?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes.

Troy Reeves:

And that was on your uniform?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes. In fact, in the Navy you could tell what a person-that stayed with me all the time I was in the Navy. Even after you, that by myself signified you were a striker. But if you had one chevron under it that said that you were 3rd Class, two chevrons under it was a 2nd Class, and three chevrons was a 1st Class, and then the top thing that you could get in those days which was the 7th paygrade, they closed the chevron off on the top and that was the chief; that was as far as you could go as an enlisted man. But that was the insignia for a Radio [Striker].

Troy Reeves:

What was it like, or what were the similarities or differences fishing in Idaho creeks and streams than fishing out on the Pacific Ocean?

Robert Abbott Coates:

A lot of difference, [chuckles]. I just fished with a willow pole in those days in the little Idaho streams. But we went first class on that boat, we went over and buy a hook and crook we had some-they had put in enough money to buy a couple of-I think they were Ocean City reels-I had never used a reel in my life. I had never used a reel in my life, I did not know what a reel was [chuckles]. But there is a big difference because they are big fish; we were fishing farther [ out].

Troy Reeves:

Did you or the people you were with really catch them?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, we would bring them back and had a little mess hall there, had a company of marines there. It was kind of-real relaxed, they were just building it, and the marines were there just for obvious reasons, for security. We were there waiting for a ship to come in. Of course, they are not going to let you sit around and do nothing; they will make you work. So work was to go out on those bomb boats. Whenever we had a chance we would take this one out, I do not think they knew we had converted it to a fishing boat; what they did not know would not hurt them [chuckles]. Anyway we would bring those fish back in that little galley; the cooks there would cook them for us so everybody there would have a fish to eat.

Troy Reeves:

What types of fish, do you remember?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, I think mostly, as I recall, perch, ocean perch; we never caught any big fish.

Troy Reeves:

When did the USS Nevada come?

Robert Abbott Coates:

It came in, as I remember, I think it was in September, I went aboard the Nevada and I was assigned to the "CR" division that was a communication/radio division. Because it was on a large ship, most smaller ships just had the "c" division for communications, but the Nevada being a large battle ship, they had to break it down further. They had the "CR" division, in the "c" division they broke it down into signalman, quartermasters.

Quartermasters in the Navy are navigators; in the Army they are supply people. Yeoman, which are secretaries if you will, radio, men, and quartermasters were in the "c" division. But in the old Nevada they broke down, each one of those had their own separate little division. And I was in what they called the "CR" division. I lucked out because I did not have an affinity for code, and I struggled [with] it. When I had to-I got by, I passed the test on code, but that was a pretty weak link for me. I just always wondered whether I was going to pass or not because they were pretty tough. You had to be able to send and receive, as I remember, about 25 words-a-minute without any errors.

That is fast, in order to graduate from that school. But when I worked on the Nevada, they put me back in the repair game because you were a radioman but then they broke it down. In the Navy you had the people that operated the equipment then you had the people that took care of it, and I went into that part of that. And there was no differentiating, you took the same examination. The only thing was that when you had taken an exam they would give you-the written exams were all the same. But when they would give you a practical factors test, they would give me a break on my code, but they were real tough on me when it comes to the theory in Physics.

Then, the reverse was true for a operator. They would be lenient when it come to their theory and stuff but they were tough on the code. It was more than just code, it was all the procedures, how to write message, and all the different things that you had to do in communication. We did not have teletypes in those days, and radio was just coming in. They [radios] did not have-very little voice radios, mostly what we called CW Morse Code.

Troy Reeves:

How long did the Nevada stay in this new base before you guys?

Robert Abbott Coates:

They had just come in, they were just there long enough to refuel I guess, took us on and headed for Honolulu because that is where the Pacific lead was based in Pearl Harbor.

Troy Reeves:

At that point were you still Seaman 2nd Class?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, at that point when I started, I immediately started studying for Seaman 1st [Class], as soon as I went on board. Up until that time I had been too busy studying, getting through school. But that time I started really trying hard, so just as soon as they let me, in fact I think I cheated a little bit, kept after as much that they finally let me go ahead and take the test so I made Seaman 1st [Class] that was really something else. Boy, I better be careful about what I say.

Troy Reeves:

But it was not another major increase in pay?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes it was.

Troy Reeves:

How long did it take you to get from Long Beach to Hawaii, roughly?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Five or six days.

Troy Reeves:

Are there any specific memories about that?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, everything that I remember it was such a big ship and it was so difficult for me to find my way around, boy I was just lost. But they realized that, the Navy did. So they would put you, I was in "C" division, assigned to it. But they had a division they called "X" division, and they had me in there for about a week I think, as I recall, and that was just to acclimate you to the ship so you would know your way around the ship; it was a city in and of itself. The regular routine so you are expected to study all the time; if you were not studying you were working. There is no such thing as any idle time, whatsoever. If you wanted to get in big trouble, just stand around. And for God's sakes, don't ever put your hands in your pockets [chuckles]; they would probably court-martial you. They made a believer out of me; anyway, I was not going to try it.

Troy Reeves:

So while you were on the ship you were either studying to be Seaman 1st Class, and by working you mean maintaining or repairing the radio?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, the first job I was given was, those ships were DC ships; they did not have AC on them, those older ships. So everything was direct current. So they had lots and lots of batteries. My first job was-I was-that was probably as menial a task as I could get-they put me in charge of all the batteries on the ship. I learned how to take care of lead-acid batteries in a hurry.

Troy Reeves:

Did you have any problems with motion sickness?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, I was fortunate. A lot of people did but I had never had a-it just did not bother me at all. And another thing, heights did not bother me. We had-on any capital ship or any ship as far as those goes, you had two masts, fore-mast and main-mast. And between those two you run your transmission mines for your radio transmitters. Because these radio transmitters, they are pretty powerful, you could transmit clear around the world.

They had these antennae wires and tied them off with insulators on these yardarms out there. Well those insulators would get saltwater and soot [on them and they would] smoke. They did not allow those ships to smoke but every once in awhile they could not help it, the smoke would come out and get on those and accumulate all that. And they would start arcing if you started transmitting at high power.

So quite frequently somebody had to go out there, get out on the end of that yardarm and there are no nets or nothing, on a pole about that big around. You would go out there and skinny out down there and you could look down. First you would look down this way about 100 feet, look out to the ocean this way and then you would be looking out on the other side of the ship for this [unintelligible], those little ships there [chuckles].

So a lot of guys-they could not force anybody to go up there but they would ask for volunteers. So they asked me right off the bat, and I said, "Sure, if you want me to, I will go up there and do that." It did not bother any [chuckles]. So I would go up there. They would let me take a life belt and I would take this life belt on, but I would skinny out there throw out the end of that yard arm, flip that thing over and fasten yourself and then polish those insulators.

I would take a little stick, two sticks with a cloth tied to one and a hook on the other one. I would be hanging out there with one arm like this and wrapped around that thing as I could, holding on like this, and flip that across and hook that cloth and shine those insulators. They could not get very many people to do that. I guess it did not bother me, too dumb I guess. In fact I got a kick out of it because all these other guys would sit around there oohing and aahing, saying, "You would not catch me out there."

Troy Reeves:

Can you remember or do you remember your initial impressions of Hawaii as you sailed in?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, I was impressed because here again I am going back to reading out of the- being the reader that I was, I had read all of Nordoff and Halls books. So all those stories that they told about the South Sea Islands and everything. And of course I thought that was probably about as close to the South Sea Island that I would ever get. It was a lot at that time-there was just a lot of things about it.

I thought it was the prettiest place I had ever seen in my life. And the climate was--oh goodness, I fell in love with it. Just absolutely, just right now. Unfortunately at that time you could not, the only people that were allowed overnight liberty was if you had a family over there. They had what they called Cinderella duty, and I do not recall what it was, 10:00 or something like this, you had to be back to your base whether you were in the Army or Navy or whatever. You had to be back to wherever your base was, [or] your ship, because you were not allowed out at night.

They did not have hotel facilities very much, it was still fairly primitive at that time. It changed a lot between then and the next time I went back after the war was over and I had not been there for several years. I went back there I think the first time in 1976, and I did not even recognize it. But I did like Hawaii. I would, whenever I got liberty I would go over and I had a little camera, out there taking pictures-that was another hobby of mine, photography, and so I took lots of pictures and tried to learn how to surfboard and could not [chuckles]. It was a fun time.

Troy Reeves:

So those were-did you have other hobbies while you were in-while you had some leave time in Hawaii besides photography and attempting to surf?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, I would go swimming over at the beach; I would go sightseeing mostly.

Troy Reeves:

I assume you kept reading?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Oh yes, every spare minute I read. But you had to back aboard ship so I could-if I was not on liberty I was either working or studying or reading. I never, a lot of the guys in the Navy, in their spare time would, they would find someplace to hide somewhere and gamble or something like that, but I never did.

In fact I never even learned how to play cards until later. I just would not because I did not want to fall into that kind of category at all. I thought that there were better things to do than that. I wanted to do something for myself, [that] was what it was all about. Because money was short-but the Navy, so I made the most of it, and it was a good place in that respect because I did have some good schooling. And they were competitive and that is what I liked, I liked competition.

Troy Reeves:

So where did you get the books when you were in the-did the Navy have a library somewhere that you could?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, every time I would go ashore I would buy books. I had my own little library. In fact I still have some of the books today-not those prior to the start of the war, I lost everything at Pearl Harbor. But later on in the Navy I--but even then I was buying [books], but I lost them. But then I just replaced them; I still have some of those books that I bought later.

Troy Reeves:

What was between the time you got there which I assume had to be sometime in September to December 7th, could you just give an overview of what a typical day would be like, a non-liberty day?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, aboard ship. If you were in port--you were not in port very much, they were conduct-most of the time we would be conducting exercises out at sea. They were war-time exercises because we knew that war was eminent, you did not dwell on it, but every morning you would have general quarters, and that would get you out of bed. They would have reveille, well usually they would sound reveille and then right out, they would give you time enough to get your clothes on, if you would hurry.

Then they would sound general quarters. So then you went to your general quarters, your battle stations if you will. And everybody had his own little job. So you went and you stayed at your general quarters station until sunup because if somebody is going to hit you that is when they was going to hit you, so they would have a whole day to work on you. Sunup and they would secure from general quarters and you would have breakfast. And after you had breakfast, whatever your duties were for that day you were expected to.

If you were standing watch you may go in there and sit on the circuit and do nothing but copy messages. Or, you may sit in there and de-code messages. But these messages would come that were de-coded and you would use a machine to de-code them. I guess it was later on this was not true then before the war. But later on, during the latter part of the war, they had a machine that-they had it then too I guess, but I was not aware of it, maybe they did not have it-they had a machine that was top secret that they used to send messages in code, top secret messages.

I went to school for that in Vallejo, California, which was later on, but it was kind of unique. You went in there, number one they went through your background first, where you were from and everything they could about you. So they did not just pick anybody. I went to that school and you go in there and take all your clothes off, everything, and they would give you a gown, no pencils, no nothing. You go to that school and whatever you have got hid up here and could remember that was it because you could not take notes or anything. It was probably one of the more secret things they had in World War II I would say.

Troy Reeves:

When were you doing that?

Robert Abbott Coates:

That was after Pearl Harbor.

Troy Reeves:

I need to stop this.

Robert Abbott Coates:

Okay.

Troy Reeves:

Okay, so this is Tape 2 of an interview with Robert Coates on October 12,2001. We were talking a little bit about a typical day in Hawaii before December 7th so I think it is probably time now to talk a little bit about December 7th. From what I know, looking through some of the stuff you have donated to us, you were not on the ship that morning?

Robert Abbott Coates:

No, I was not.

Troy Reeves:

Could you maybe give an overview ofthe day before and lead us into?

Robert Abbott Coates:

We had, I went on board the Nevada and we had come back out to the Hawaiian Islands, and we spent a lot of our time out at sea having war exercises, that is what they called it. In fact, the morning of December 5th or 4th, I am not sure of this, but one of those days, we were going to have an attack, we were going to have a mock attack about Pearl Harbor, that was our exercise. And there were- our carriers were supposed to be with us, they were going to have a mock attack on Pearl Harbor, little did they know. But, our carriers were not there, they had been sent out to-I did not know that at the time, but they-I did not know why they were not there, I knew they were not there. They had been sent off to deliver planes to Wake Island and Midway.

So this place where we were going to have our rendezvous for our attack was believe it or not, exactly the same place where the Japanese had launched their attack, kind of a coincidence. But anyway we did not, on our maneuvers we would come in, I think it was the 5th, morning of [December] 5th, come into Pearl Harbor. And after we had secured some quarters that morning, my division officer, he gave us, and this was kind of standard, every morning they would give you a run down of what the world situation looked like and probably more, from our viewpoint than the Navy, and being in the Pacific than the rest of the world is, more time on what it looked like, with what was going to happen with us in Japan.

And they would always tell us the same old thing and of course we would believe that. A lot of these Navy officers they got the impression-they kind of wanted to have a show down with Japan because the general consensus was that in 60 days we would wipe them clear off the ocean. And the reason being that most of them were short-sighted, they could not see very good, their ships were not much good and on and on.

So we would have a lecture along that line and we had one that morning. Then the division officer, when we were excused, he called me back and told me, he says, "Coates,"-I had put in for a transfer to the Asiatic fleet. The reason I wanted to go to the Asiatic fleet is because my buddy that joined the Navy with me from Carey [Idaho], Frank Elliott, he was on that old [U.S.S.] Ogalala which was a mine layer. So we wanted to be on the same ship. So I thought well, the Asiatic fleet, only two or three ships at that time, good chance we both got-we would probably get put on the same ship.

Anyway, it did not turn out. Then, and they also said at quarters that if anybody had liberty that they should take it because who was to know how many more liberties you were going to have because war was really starting to look eminent and the atmosphere was such. Well they were telling us that so we certainly believed it.

When we got in after quarters I was on the liberty list so I took off and went into Honolulu and went shopping because it was getting close to Christmas time so I thought it would take a long time to-so I get some presents for my mother. So I went over and got some stuff for her and had them shipped out. Those little shops, you would buy gifts and they would ship them for you. Then I came back and [on] December the 6th, they were going to have an all-night liberty, which is unheard of, but for a group of us, if you wanted to go over to what they called Nanakuli Beach. This was a little Navy beach that the Navy used just around the Barber's Point from Pearl Harbor. And you would go past Barber's Point which was a marine airbase at that time and then onto Nanakuli [Beach].

The service had tents there and stuff like this and they would have beer parties and we could play horseshoes and different things like that. The reason I rated it is because I had been on the sailing team-I was not big enough or tough enough to get on the rowing team. As I say, they were competitive.

Boy, every ship was going to outdo you--everything you did was competitive and that was good. So I was on the sailing team. The warrant officer that had got me on the sailing team, he was the one that gave me the permission to go on this liberty, so that is where I was. That next morning I went down there to the little coffee shop to get a cup of coffee because the chow hall was not open.

So I went down there and this little native woman was hollering about something, I could not understand what she was saying. Finally I heard something about bombing Pearl Harbor. Well just prior to that, a plane flew real low and this kid was with me. I looked at that plane and they are always holding exercises all the time, I looked at that plane and-it was not a Navy plane, because I knew the Navy plane, "Damn Army, they are holding exercises again." And I told that kid I said, "My God, they are sure making things realistic, they even put a rising sun on that plane."

Little did I know. Well anyway, that little woman she was hollering about, so I went back and just got the heck out of there. And I got onto Pearl Harbor, by the time I got-it is not very far-by the time I got to Pearl Harbor, got a truck and got over to Pearl Harbor. I got there just, the first wave had been over the English, so they had done most of the damage by the time I got there. There was some planes, but not very many, flying around and they were shooting stuff down. And the old Nevada was out there and it had got under way, it was out in the middle of the harbor-so naturally, that was my home, that was where I am going.

So I got in a boat, there was a whole bunch of us-there was some of us from there and probably some guys who had come from town, I do not know where they were, but anyway, all ofa sudden there was a boat full of us there, just not for any particular ship. Normally they would call a liberty boat for anybody going to the Nevada or whatever, they would call out the ship but there is no such thing-you just jumped on a boat and went.

So the first ship we come to was the Nevada but they would not let me go aboard because they were underway, I could not understand it. That was upsetting to me because-I knew what was going on, and I was scared to death if you want to know the truth.

Troy Reeves:

I am sorry to interrupt, but you mentioned in your little memoirs there that you now know why horses sometimes seem to want to run back into the burning barn?

Robert Abbott Coates:

You bet. They were knocking the hell out of it because they were going to sink it in the channel, block the channel. I did not care about that, but it was still home. But anyway, they did not let me on. Then they went to some of those other ships and all these other guys were getting off and there were some other destroyers that were trying to get underway and they were short-handed and these guys were getting-hell they were getting off on any ship they could.

I guess I was too slow on the draw or something. Probably grieving over the fact that they would not let me on the Nevada for whatever reason, I do not know. But anyway, I ended up at-they had me coxswaining this boat, there was only two guys left, me and another kid that did not know better. So then I had to take that boat back to the harbor, back into, it was in the harbor, back to the dock.

They strafed the hell out of us going back in. Well anyways that was kind of a bad experience too. On those boats they had a cubby hole in the bow for life jackets. I was standing there in the center of that, and the kid back in back, he was running out that motor, out the engine, and you would give him signals by a bell. This kid did not even know what his signals were, he obviously was not a seaman, he had not had that training.

Troy Reeves:

How big of a boat are we talking about?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Probably about a 26 foot, something like that. Anyway, when they start striking it scared the heck out of me-we had to dive up there and one of those things I can think of was that there was a little cubby hole there over those life jackets. But all I could get was my head in, and I thought, this is not going to work [chuckles]. So I went back because that boat was going in circles, circling back running over and run into the ground first, run it on a coral reef.

Anyway, I have got to tell you. So then as soon as that subsided I got underneath some steps there, some concrete stairs that came down, up here are some buildings, up here an old reef?], quarters I think what they were. And these concrete stairs, I stood underneath them because I-gave me some protection-I did not like those bullets flying around.

There was some woman, I remember that, some woman just sobbing and sobbing. And I felt so bad for her because I was scared, I was not sobbing, but I admit I was scared-it was so unexpected for me, I knew what it was all about, I knew what was happening. Anyway I went back out there and started running people back and forth to those battleships that were sunk.

The Nevada in the meantime had gone on and so I was not worried about the Nevada, I was going to do what I could to help. So I was running [ferrying] over crews that worked at the West Virginia, Oklahoma, [the] Oklahoma was capsized, and they were trying to chisel through the bottom of the Oklahoma, cut through with cutting torches to get some of those guys that were trapped in there out.

Anyway I spent all that day doing that. Then that night I was there at the dock and some old chief come along there and said and said that they had a report that the Japanese-we had all kinds of reports, the water was poisoned, could not drink the water. The Japanese were landing on the other side of the island. You could not believe all those reports, just all kinds of stuff. Anyway this chief come by and told me to go up the armory and take a couple of guys with me because by that time I was 1st Class Seaman. They can tell by your chevrons, I was a 1st Class Seaman

To pick up rifle with a fixed bayonet. So I got a rifle and there was this other guy, there were three of us. There was, the Japanese were, they had a big lumber yard there in the harbor and they were supposedly, according to him, rumor was they were going to set that lumber yard on fire for a beacon for the Japanese to come in and use that for a beacon. So we went out there and sure enough I found some Japanese [chuckles].

They were, they were [more] scared than I was, I could tell that. But I was not frightened at that time, not of them, because I was doing ajob. But, I was scared of these two kids that was with me because I knew that they had live rounds and I knew that they were probably-knowing the kind of training that they did, those kids probably would not know any better, I was scared anyway. I was afraid that they would accidentally shoot me. We brought those guys in, what they were, they were yard workmen of Japanese ancestry I guess. And they were hiding, a little scared you could see a Jap, and they were cutting their throats.

That is difficult to say, but it is the truth, you cannot deny the truth whether you like it or not. People were-oh they were upset and so them poor guys-in fact we had just to digress-we had a Filipino that looked more Japanese than he did Filipino and everybody knew him. He come so close-I was not there but I was told about it later that he come so close, and a couple of guys saved him. They were ready to kill him right there on the spot; it was traumatic. Then that night I was there on the dock and some planes started coming in and everybody opened up on them, including myself. It was our own planes, of course we did not know.

Troy Reeves:

So how many Japanese lumberyard workers were there, or how many Japanese?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Just a couple was all.

Troy Reeves:

And you were able, cooler(?) heads or whatever was able to prevail and you were able to get?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, I was not going to let those guys shoot them. I was not told to shoot them, I was told to bring them in, so I brought them in. Of course I told those kids, I said, "If they try to make a break for it, absolutely do not shoot unless I tell you to shoot them guys." So I have got them out in front of me; I did not even search them because I did not-I will tell you why I did not because I did not want to get that close to them because I had heard all these rumors, do not ever get in a fight with them damn Japs because they all know Gu Gitsu and they will tear your head off [chuckles]; so I would not let them get close to me.

Troy Reeves:

So you just took them back?

Robert Abbott Coates:

I took them back over to the dock over there and turned them over to whoever those officers were. And then when those planes, when they were shooting at those planes then the next day that was so that was how I spent December 7th. Then December 8th I was still ferrying people back and forth. I was walking, I had not eaten, I did not have time to eat, and I was thirsty and everything and I had not been, I had not slept, and this was the gait, and I was walking along going over to chow hall and I heard somebody holler and it was my friend, I did not know what happened to him, all I knew is I had seen his ship was turned clear and the bottom was sticking up. And I thought, "Oh."

So I figured I had lost my buddy. [Pause]. There is Frank [Elliott], he had machine gun dugout-we did not know if those Japs were going to come in, land there or not. Anyway that took a big load off my mind; at least Frank was okay. Anyway I was busy all that day. And that night just partly getting out, I guess, excitement must have blew up or off or whatever. I went in there and laid down in a-had a little stadium and I laid down in those seats in that stadium, what they call Blocks Arena and I woke up that morning and boy, mosquitoes had just eaten me up, and I slept right through it.

No blanket or nothing I just laid down and went to sleep there on that old hard steel bench. Then I think it was the 10th, but I am not sure, they passed the word for all survivors off the Nevada to report to the Nevada. And so I went out to the Nevada, took a boat out to the Nevada and it was run aground. I got there and the skipper, the rudder was right up to the main deck, ran into the ground so it would not sink. And the old Captain, he was giving each man out his orders.

That is when I got my orders to go to the San Francisco, and it was a heavy cruiser and one of our newer heavy cruisers, it was what they called a treaty cruiser, 10,000 ton. They had a treaty with all the naval maritime nations, Japan, France, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States and they were trying to slow down the arms race is what they were trying to do. And they would only allow you to build so many ships and it had to be a certain tonnage and so these cruisers had to be 10,000 tons or less. Try to pack a heavy cruiser frame into that 10,000 ton, it was pretty difficult, but they did it. And they built, I think as I recall, there was either 6 or 7 of that class and they were the latest heavy cruisers they had built. That was called the New Orleans class.

I have to remember a minute let's see, there was a New Orleans, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Tuscaloosa, Quincy, Vincennes, and Astoria, all those 8' cruisers, all the sister ships. And the San Francisco, the rest of them had been on the east coast and the San Francisco had been built in Mare Island(?). Anyway I was assigned to that and that is where I spent the rest of the war is on the San Francisco.

Troy Reeves:

I want to ask a couple more questions about the events around December 7th and then let you get back on the road. So basically from what you are saying, your job became kind of like a ferryboat captain?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, that is right. That is about the best way to explain it. We were just running boats, running yard workers, Navy men, back and forth to their ships, they were trying to get those people out of there.

Troy Reeves:

What did the harbor look like?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Just one big mass of burning oil. And when the flames went out there was oil all over that. And there was a lot of-kind of a sad thing too, there was lots of-to start with-there was a lot of corpses, lot of people bought the farm. And [they] were burned up pretty-you could not, I made the mistake, I only made it once, trying to pick one of them up and I could not. It was like picking up overcooked chicken, I guess that is the best way to describe it-just sad.

Troy Reeves:

So then you say December 10th is when-

Robert Abbott Coates:

I think it was the 10th.

Troy Reeves:

Roughly a few days later you were given orders to go to the San Francisco, was that an immediate, where was the San Francisco at this point?

Robert Abbott Coates:

It was there, yes.

Troy Reeves:

Was it, my Pearl Harbor geography is pretty poor, but there is Battleship Row?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes.

Troy Reeves:

Was the San Francisco somewhere?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Yes, and Battleship Row, if you look back over towards the beach, there was some piers there. The San Francisco was tied up to one of those piers. So if you look like this here, here is battleship row, and then here are these piers, and over here is a big crane and the Pennsylvania flag ship had disappeared was in there in dry dock. And then these liberty docks and stuff were here and the sub-base was right here so, to kind of give you a perspective. Well, right in here was where the San Francisco was, it was tied up to here.

Troy Reeves:

Did it not have a crew?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Oh yes, but what had happened was they were giving it a miniature yardwork and they had taken a lot of the guns off and they were doing a lot of work on it, so it was in no position to fight, or go to sea, or anything. So it was just sitting there.

Troy Reeves:

So did you and the new crew or the people who came on, did you guys have to put everything basically back together?

Robert Abbott Coates:

Well, no they had a yard working, but it did not, that is probably an overstatement I made there about having all those guns, I cannot remember what all it was that they did have, but they were putting new guns on it, or doing something, I do not recall. But they were going to do this preliminary yard work and it was going to go into dry dock as I remember.

Of course this stopped all that so they hurriedly put everything back together as fast as they could so we could get out to sea. And what happened there was the skipper of that ship, the San Francisco, he was a Navy captain. His name was Callaghan, and he had been [President] Roosevelt's naval aid. He and President Roosevelt were real good personal friends, not just acquaintances, they were personal friends.

So when the Secretary of Navy come out as soon as he could from Washington. [They] flew him out to the airway, and all these other people were the first person that he saw, really probably the first one was Kimmel, and I imagine the second one was Callaghan because he had no more than landed and I think it was just a short time he was with our ship talking to our skipper, they obviously knew each other.

So then just as soon as we could we went out to sea, and we went out there to, we were to go in and take reinforcements and stuff out to Wake Island. But anyway we got there about a day too late. We got in the vicinity of a couple hundred miles, maybe less, from Wake and heard radio reports that the Japanese were hitting Wake. They had a bunch of carriers and so the commander of the task force was in on one of the carriers, and he sent a message.

Of course, I being in the radio gang, was privy to a lot of stuff that a lot of the other people were not. And they were talking about these Jap ships near [unintelligible], and so the, I guess whether those were his orders or not, I have no way of knowing. But for whatever reason the officer in charge of the task force decided to get the heck out of there, withdraw. And so we were going to make a withdrawal before the Japs got us because they had us outnumbered. And I guess we could not afford to lose any more ships.

So there was a remote up there on the bridge and they had little remotes for radio gear. I remember I was in there on the bridge, and Callahan he says, "I am absolutely not going to," I will repeat what he said, he was a real religious man and he never swore, but he says, "I am not going to pass the word to my crew that we are running from the yellow sons-a-bitches," I think those are the words he said.

He was not a swearing man. So he had the Bos'n Mate Pipe attention on a loudspeaker system and he himself passed the word, and he says, "We are now making an offensive sweep to the east." [Chuckles]. He was not going to say we was running-he could not do it.

Troy Reeves:

Just think again, maybe one or two more things and then I will let you get on your way. We recently had on September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and then the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, and we hear on the TV how people dealt with that and have dealt with that particularly the first few days. How did you deal with being there at Pearl Harbor?

Robert Abbott Coates:

It was real traumatic for me. I think after the first initial shock, I think the big initial shock for me was when I come around where I could see Pearl Harbor and I could see what was going on, I cannot describe the feeling I had, I was in shock. And all I could think of was boy I want to go home, and my home was on that ship.

After the initial shock, it did not bother me, or apparently did not seem to. Of course I did not have anything to do right then until I got over there and got on that boat, but once I got on that boat, I was doing something at least. And that is the big thing about the Navy. A lot of guys would complain because they just- repetition, repetition, but there was a reason for that because when you get in a real stressful situation you just automatically do what you are trained to do, you do not think, you do not have to think.

Troy Reeves:

Just one more thing and again it is kind of a semi-current events question. One of the biggest movies last summer was called Pearl Harbor, and it deals with various parts of the early war including Pearl Harbor and so I am wondering as someone who was there how would you critique at least the scenes that involved December 7, 1941?

Robert Abbott Coates:

They had, some of the scenes were real. The story was not-I saw it, and it was a good love story. A lot of the things in there that why they would do those, I do not know, it is not for me to question I guess. But they did have some scenes that were real. One of the things that was so-to me was just bad, bad, bad.

One of them that probably stands out more than anything else and was upsetting to me was when they depict Roosevelt and he is standing up there and was going to give this big speech and stuff like this-you might find this hard to believe, and I am sure a lot of other people, but all the years that he was president you never knew that he was a cripple, and he would not let it be known either. And so to show something like that was hocus-pocus.

If you want to see a good movie that comes closer to depicting what happened go see Tora, Tora, Tora and that probably here again, it is a movie and you have got to take it with a grain of salt. But it was close enough that the first time I watched it I did not watch it, [I] bailed out. I have since watched it, but I had to get my nerve up.

Troy Reeves:

Well I think I am going to let you bailout.

Robert Abbott Coates:

Okay.

Troy Reeves:

Thank you very much, I appreciate it. [END OF INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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