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Interview with Richard Newman [12/29/2002]

Christine Zendeh:

Today is December 29, 2002. We are in Estero, Florida, interviewing for the Library of Congress Veterans' Project Richard L. Newman, my father. I'm Christine Zendeh. I am going to be conducting the interview with my son, Alex Zendeh. We are going to be talking with my father about his experiences as a Merchant Marine in World War II. Dad, can you say your name, and your dates of service, and your age now, and how old you were when you went into the Merchant Marine?

Richard Newman:

I am -- my name is Richard Newman, and I live in Estero, Florida. I was born February 14, 1921. I went into the Merchant Marine in July of 1942. I went to -- reported to the United States Merchant Marine Academy and was sent to sea after two months of basic training for a period of six months; at which time I served as a cadet aboard a merchant ship and when I returned after that six-month trip, I re-entered the Academy for eight months of study. At the conclusion of which, I was eligible to sit for my third mate's license examination, which I passed. And after graduation from the Academy, I was commissioned in United States Naval Reserve as an ensign. At that time, I had the choice of joining the Navy as an ensign or remaining with the Merchant Marine. However, the Merchant Marine is -- was at that time and still is, the supplier of material for the world. And at that time we needed to supply the Army's and the Navy's overseas with material. And that, of course, was sent with cargo ships (cough, excuse me) and with tankers. Since our education was well rounded between the experience we got as a cadet aboard the ship and the education we got, equivalent to 10 months at the Academy, the Navy really wanted us to stay in the Merchant Marine where we could do a much better job than in the Navy. The Navy was able to commission college graduates and train them in 90 days for specific jobs. In those days they called them the "90-Day Wonders." They needed officers who were more well rounded to stand and watch on the merchant ship because a merchant ship only carries three deck officers and three engineering officers in addition to the master and chief engineer. So there are very few officers, and each officer has to be well rounded in all aspects of the case. At the Academy, we studied such things as navigation, cargo handling, ship construction, rules of the road, signaling, almost every subject that you can consider. And, of course, added that on top of the practical experience we received at six months at sea really gave us a much more rounded education and, therefore, we were more useful in aboard cargo ships than we would have been in the Navy.

Christine Zendeh:

Now, can you give us the dates that you started your service, and tell us about your first run that you did for the Merchant Marine during World War II?

Richard Newman:

Well, I started service in July of '94 -- of '44 -- 1944. Pearl Harbor was on December 7, 1941. I was in school at the time and they permitted us to finish our academic year which brought us to June of '42, and I went into -- I elected to go into the Merchant Marine Academy at July of '42 right after the end of the school year. The reason I selected the Merchant Marine was because of their promise that you would go to sea as a cadet and then that you would get -- be eligible for your license and could sail. I -- boy in those days travel was not very great. Airplanes were just coming around to being a means of, of, of travel and, certainly, you had to have a lot of money to go anywhere in those days. We were coming out of the Big Depression. As a boy I wanted to travel, and this gave me the opportunity to do it and to serve my country at the same time. So, I found that most attractive and that's why I joined. Now, you asked me about the first run. I was a cadet in basic training for two months. That was about as basic as you could get you just --

Christine Zendeh:

Working, right? Continue.

Richard Newman:

-- because -- in any event at the end of the two months, I was sent to Portland, Oregon from Kings Point, New York, by train to catch a ship out of the Kaiser Shipyards. In those days, they would turn out Liberty ships every 30 days, which was an incredible feat in those days. When I reported aboard the ship Henry Villard, S.S. Henry Villard, I reported to the Chief Mate, which was my point of reporting, and he turned out to be a man in his 80's. A man by the name of Charlie Lincoln. Charlie Lincoln had been a master in sail and had been retired. But, he felt that when the war came along, it was his patriotic duty to go back to sea. And the Captain of the vessel had been his boatswain when he was a Captain and he, therefore, felt comfortable going out as Chief Officer for his Captain. Since cadets were assigned to the Chief Mate, he is the man I reported to. He was a very ornery, tough, outwardly distasteful man, but he turned out to be a genuinely wonderful person. I was assigned to his watch, of course, because he wanted to give it to me, and I took what he gave and he turned out to be just, just magnificent. We became good friends, and he taught me every minute of the day. It was a wonderful experience. We sailed from Portland, Oregon to San Diego where we took on bunkers and then sailed to Wellington, New Zealand. The ship made 10 knots, which is a little bit better than 10 miles an hour over land, and it took us 23 days to get there. From there, we sailed to Aiden, Arabia where we went up the Red Sea (inaudible) a little bit at a time. It took us seven days to navigate something that should take a few hours because our destination was Suez, and we all carried munitions and if we had too many ports -- too many ships in the port with munitions aboard it would have been a tragedy if we got hit from the air. At the time, Rommel was on the verge of taking Cairo. Montgomery's forces were defending the City and we were bringing munitions and other material to Montgomery. Montgomery ultimately threw back Rommel and African desert but it was quite an experience. After discharging our cargo -- were in Cairo for about three weeks -- we were in Suez about three weeks but due to the fact that I had a wonderful boss, I was able to get a lot of shore leave and would spend a long time in Cairo and then we would sail down. Of course, the Suez Canal was closed, so we called about the Cape of Good Hope and came up to the Bayou of Brazil where we loaded -- where we loaded our cargo box site for the States. While we were in Georgetown, British Guyana, or coming to Georgetown, British Guyana, Mr. Lincoln came down with an illness, and he was put ashore. I went ashore with him and put him in the hospital, and stayed with him for a short time. And then when the ship was ready to sail, he was unable to go with us, and I came back as third mate. Captain having promoted each of the other mates above and made me third mate. Which means that I stood a regular watch from 8:00 to 12:00 and had my same responsibilities that any other mate would be until we got there. That was the first voyage. When I got back to Kings Point after this voyage took eight months I got our advance training and continued our studies until December of '43. That was then at the last about September -- no from eight months and then in December '43 which at that time I was eligible for my -- to sit for my license which I did. Upon graduation from Kings Point, I received my third mate's license and my commission in the Navy.

Christine Zendeh:

Dad, do you want to tell us about your -- what the other voyages that you had during the war?

Richard Newman:

Well, as I said before, the Navy asked, really requested us to stay in the Merchant Marine where we would be more value than we would be Navy. So, I went to get a job as a third mate, and I went back to the same shipping company that I had sailed for as a cadet, filling out the application and believe it or not an odd thing happened. The Captain of the ship that I had been on as a cadet walked in while I was filling out the application. And he said to me, "What are you doing here?" I told him I was applying for a job as a third mate. I got my license. So he said, "You're hired. You're my second mate. I need a second mate." I said, "Captain, I only have a third mate's license." He said, "It's alright. The war is on. You'll pass." So, second mate is a navigation officer -- each mate has a responsibility of serving for eight hours on the ship, for eight off, but the responsibilities are divided. The chief mate really runs the ship and is responsible for all of the equipment on the ship and the upkeep of it. The second mate in addition to his standing his watch has a responsibility of navigation, and a third mate has responsibility for safety equipment and that sort of thing. So, he said, "I know you can navigate because you did it when you were a cadet, you can certainly do it now. I need a second mate and you're it." I said, "Wonderful" and I went aboard the ship. Well, I no sooner got aboard the ship for a week or so and the Captain said he just got leave he's going home. He had a personal problem. He's going home to Oregon and he wouldn't be sailing with us. So, I said, "Okay" and another Captain come aboard and the other mates -- I stayed on as second mate and we sailed to Murmansk. We went first to England and Scotland. Took on bunkers and we had formed a convoy, sailed north of Norway and Sweden. We were about 100 miles of the North Pole and during the summertime so it was all daylight to Murmansk. That was a very, very bad run. The Germans' submarines were out defending against delivery of cargo to the Russians, and they had both submarines and air cover and we lost a lot of ships. Fortunately, ours got through and it was, it was just a tough experience. But, we got back after the run and we sailed for home. Difficult experience we had on that trip in addition to the Russian run is when we formed up a convoy in Scotland Belfast, Ireland, I reported to the bridge on a 12:00 to 4:00 watch, and I hear the third mate say to the Captain, "Okay." I'm waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. So, I got up about 10 to 12:00, and I'm waiting for the Captain, for the third mate and the Captain. Still my eyes are adjusting, and I hear the third mate say to the Captain, "Okay, Captain, we got a u-boat, go ahead, to bed we're fine." And I'm seeing that a convoy isn't formed and we are anything but fine, and I'm saying to myself that isn't like a third mate to do that to me. He's going off watch why would he send the Captain below? So when my eyes had adjusted just before 12:00, I went over to him and said, "I'm here to relieve you." He said, "I'll stay on with you that way. I had to get rid of the Captain. He was drunk as a wort," and I said, "What are our orders on the convoy?" He said, "I haven't the vaguest idea. We just have to try and stay from getting hit, and not hit anybody else." So, we kind of floundered around until dawn and then we got a signal as to where we're supposed to be and we got into the proper position. When we got back the Captain lost his license over it, and we had no recrimination about reporting it. But that was probably worse than the Murmansk run, that experience, but that was it. Then when we got home, I met your mother. Then the next trip was to bring pontoons into the Normandy Beach Head where the invasion had taken place. So, we -- in between, I sat for my second mate's license, and I got my second mate's license, and I had enough time in to get to qualify for that examination, and with that I became Lt. JG in the Navy. But, again, I stayed in the Merchant Marine, and we went aboard to the invasion of Normandy, and we loaded pontoons for the experience -- for the invasion what they did was pulled the pontoons off our decks, latched them together, put an outboard motor on them, and used the pontoons to fairy the cargo from the ships into the beach, so we were stuck there for about -- I shouldn't say stuck, but we were there for about three weeks while the pontoons were being taken out as they were needed. And during those three weeks was another interesting experience. The beach had been landed and had been taken, and fighting was going further inland and to see the planes go over in the morning from London -- or from England, and come back in the evening was just wave after wave after wave, and it was an incredible experience just watching those ships -- planes go back and forth, but it was not an unusual experience for us. We discharged our cargo and then we set back to sail to go back to the States, and we arrived back in London in September 27th, I think, of '44, and at that time I was reassigned to -- as an instructor at the Merchant Marine Academy Department of Marine Navigation. I served there until the end of the war in approximately the summer of '46.

Christine Zendeh:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add to your time spent in the Merchant Marine? I have a question about -- did you have, did you have arms? What kind of defense did you have on your boats, and did you, did you engage in fighting on the boats that you were on, or how were you defended?

Richard Newman:

Well, a merchant ship is not built really to defend itself. We had a 5-inch caliber gun and a cannon aboard, but the Navy puts an armed guard crew aboard, and this consists of about 12 or 14 men with one officer and ensign, and the armed guard crew mans the guns so the gun is a 5-inch cannon plus some machine guns on the wing. So, the Navy takes -- the armed guard supplies a defense of the ship. We, at Kings Point, we were trained to operate guns. We had training on them but we were not really greatly qualified to do it. We were exposed to it; that's about the best you could say. We really had to depend on the armed guard to do it. The defense -- the first trip as a cadet was without, without a convoy until we got to Trinidad where Sidney is. A convoy was formed up for the first time to bring us up to New York. At that time Caribbean was known as a Caribbean Swimming Pool because u-boats had operated so completely in the Caribbean, but we sailed without an escort of any kind from on the first trip until we got to the end of the voyage in Trinidad, Wellington -- Trinidad is West Indies -- into New York. The rest of the time after that I got my license, we had enough vessels to have a convoy, and by that time they had come up with carriers, which were much smaller ships but could take a couple of planes. And between the destroyers who guarded the convoy, and the planes who could operate off the small carriers, this was our protection. It was very good except on the Murmansk run, at least for our particular convoy, the convoys that I saw action on. Did I do anything personally as far as the defense of the vessel is concerned? Negative. Nothing.

Alex Zendeh:

I have a question. Would you say overall the defense was -- or your safety was enhanced by being in convoy where there was more chance of attracting attention or sailing alone? You probably didn't have enough runs to find out, but it seems to me one ship by itself would be safer than a bunch of ships.

Richard Newman:

One ship is safer by itself if it's undiscovered. If it's discovered, it's dead because it hasn't got any protection at all. That brings me to a scarey thing that, for me personally, scarey. I've always been afraid of ladders and heights on ladders. Flying a plane is no problem. I piloted my own a plane; to get your license you have to learn to stall it and do all these things and that never bothered me, but to climb a 10- or a 12-foot ladder, I just get scared. And when we were sailing alone at the top of the mast, main mast on the ship, is a look-out spot. And the Captain decided that somebody should be in that spot at dawn and dusk so that we could look out. It's called a crow's nest. So, that the person in the crow's nest would have a greater horizon, a greater view, than anybody else on the ship. Although we had lookouts, the crow's nest, he thought, at dawn and dusk should be manned. That meant that somebody had to climb up the ladder, up to the top of the main mast, step onto the main mast, and go into the crow's nest and conversely coming out had to, had to come out of the crow's nest, step out of the main mast, and climb down the ladder. So, of course, the most useless person aboard was the cadet, so that was my assignment. I was scared to death there was nothing I could say about it. I wouldn't dare say I was afraid. I certainly couldn't not do it or look for an excuse not to do it, so I did it. So, I sat there every day from San Diego to Wellington, New Zeland, from Wellington, New Zeland to Aiden, Arabia and, belive me, that was frightening. I did learn one thing on it that a mate said to me, "And don't forget, never forget, one hand is for the ship, and one hand is for yourself. Never let go of that ladder." I've always used that on ladders ever since. (Background voices.) You asked me about Murmansk experience there and it was, it was a very profound experience because the first time we saw Russia, of course, we had heard all about what was going on in Russia. The thing that I observed mostly was the use of women on the docks, which I had never seen before. They had women sweeping the roads, sweeping the docks, loading and discharging cargo, running the winches, and in those days, that was something that, you know, just wasn't done. The difficulty -- the discipline was tremendous, you know, all over the world longshoremen would every once in a while break a case and somehow the cargo in that case gets loose on deck, and usually something in the carton disappears. And if it only happens with one carton, you turn your other -- you turn around and don't see it. If it happens more than that, then you, of course, you bring hell on it. But for one carton, you're better to keep peace aboard the ship and get things unloaded and discharged the way they should. But the thing I noticed in Russia is, if a case was broken and anybody took anything out of the case -- for example, I saw one woman grabbed a handful of sugar, and a soldier aboard took his butt of his rifle and brought it down alongside her head like it was, like it was, just a piece of putty. It was just real cruelty. Another thing is we were given shore leave, but we had no money because we couldn't take our dollars ashore. And they gave us what they called a bonus for coming to Murmansk. That is, the Russian Government gave us their money which was, of course, worthless. So all we were able to buy with the Rubles that they gave us were the war bonds and that sort of thing for souvenir. There was just nothing to buy. Another interesting thing is what the Russians called the U.S.O. And we were invited to the U.S.O., or the Russian equivalent of the U.S.O., and there were girls there, and entertaining, and so forth, but none of them spoke English except if somebody made a -- if one of them cracked a joke, they laughed but when you tried to talk to them, they didn't speak English. Of course, if you brought a magazine ashore it would immediately -- American magazine -- it would be immediately confiscated. So that was the way Uncle Joe ran it at the time, and that's how it was. That was Murmansk.

Christine Zendeh:

And do you know who Uncle Joe was --

Richard Newman:

Uncle Joe is Joe Stautton. We used to call him Uncle Joe.

Christine Zendeh:

Okay. (Laughing. Brief pause.)

Christine Zendeh:

I was just asking my father about the German subs outside of Murmansk.

Richard Newman:

Well, German subs everywhere were a, were a terrible tragedy to the Merchant Marine. We're at the beginning of the war, that's why the Merchant Marine was so slim. People didn't want to go into the Merchant Marine. It was considered among the most dangerous projects to go to sea. In those days, German submarines were all over the Atlantic and England and France. Well, England. France was already out of it, but could not have continued unless they got supplies from the States. There was just no way it could be done. And the Merchant Marine had to supply the material, the machinery, the equipment for the men, the food, but the Merchant Marine had to be the suppliers of all things to the -- everything that was produced in this country for the war had to be brought there. And the only way you could bring it there in those days was by ship. Planes weren't equipped to have cargo planes like we have today. Besides that, even if you did, you couldn't have all those planes. So the Germans obviously knew this, so their primary attack was to cut off the supplies so that they could cut off all of the supplies to Europe, to England, and that was their primary objective. And they did their best to accomplish that objective. Our losses as a Merchant Marine were very heavy. I went with three lads from a small town that I lived in at that time, Woodmere Island. The three of us, we didn't go in together, but I saw them there. There we were preliminary cadets together. The other two never made it to their cadet cruise. One of them -- your mother was a very good friend of their family.

Christine Zendeh:

What was his name?

Richard Newman:

Cavelli -- Carelli. They never found ship; they never found it. The other lad from our town, his name was Hollander, Max Hollander. Neither one of them came back from their cadet cruise. It was really, you know, it was -- well there was a fourth man, Edward Weiland. He made it back. So two of us did, and two of us didn't. That was about the percentage.

Alex Zendeh:

I got a--

Christine Zendeh:

I wanted to ask you about the size of the ships, and the names of the ships that you were on.

Richard Newman:

Oddly enough, I was on the same ship on all three cruises, all three voyages. I started on the S.S. Henry Villard and, as I told you, when I came back, I got my license, and I was hired by Captain Levy. It was for the S.S. Henry Villard, and I stayed aboard the Henry Villard for the third trip. So all of my trips were on the same Liberty ship. However, the Liberty ships were all the same, 441 feet in length overall. Naval tonnage is measured in three different ways. As net tonnage, gross tonnage and dead-weight tonnage. I guess the best description really is a dead-weight tonnage, which as you know is (inaudible) law says a body displaces it's weight in water, and a Liberty ship loaded displaces 10,000 tons of water. So that gives you an idea as to size and what it will carry.

Alex Zendeh:

Did you say loaded?

Richard Newman:

Loaded. Yes. It has five holes, has five cargo carriers running from bow to stern. Housing is midship, that's about the best description I can give of it.

Alex Zendeh:

I was wondering, I was wondering when you were in convoys, your destroyers, you said and whatever else you were with, what could they do to protect you? It's like, if a -- I mean, I don't understand how you protect against submarines. I guess, that is what I am saying.

Richard Newman:

Well, the destroyers carry bombs that operate under water called depth chargers and they -- that bomb under water, that depth charger, creates a concussion which is sufficient to cave in a shell of a submarine. So that if a depth charge operates in the area close enough to the submarine, it will damage the submarine. So if a submarine is either spotted or a torpedo is launched from a certain area, the destroyers, which are very fast comparatively speaking, can go over to that spot and start dropping depth chargers. And they have a pattern that they work out so the sub goes any way, that discharge sub, discharge the depth chargers. Now, depth charge, even if it doesn't hit a target, if you're the target, you don't want to be there. So the u-boats generally, if they were close, by fire their subs and get out of there -- fire their torpedos and get out of there. They wouldn't stand around or stay around and try to continue. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't, but at least that's what the destroyers did to -- when the planes toward the end of the war -- when you're lying on top to start a convoy, they would take off and they would carry depth chargers and drop them in the area that the submarine -- that they hope the submarine had been operating. There were a lot of kills made of submarines, and it eventually was quite formidable. Now that's your -- your convoy was made up of, like, a marching parade. You had ships alongside -- you had columns of ships that may be, say, four or five columns abreast, and four or five columns deep, and you went off like a rectangle, in a rectangular form. You had a station in the convoy and a difficult way of keeping that station was with the officer on watch. You -- if the ship ahead of you got ahead, you put the -- you called down to the engine room and told them to up their revolutions. If you started to come up on the back of the ship, you slow down. You told the engine room to slow down. It was very nerve racking. More ships I think were lost due to collisions in convoy, than due to due to submarines. It was a high risk, very -- it was remarkable because you couldn't carry lights. You had -- in the dark nights, you were operating in the dark and all you could see was a watch of the ship ahead of you, and if you got close to a ship on the side of you, the watch of the ship aside of you, there were no lights.

Alex Zendeh:

How close were you supposed to be?

Richard Newman:

Supposed to be -- it depended upon the visibility and depended upon the -- really upon the visibility and the speed of the convoy. If the convoy was at sea and everything was going smoothly and you were making 10 knots or so you could drop -- during the day, you could put a little space. But if you got too far behind, a destroyer came up to you and said closer, get closer because a Commodore was in the lead ship and would tell us -- would signal the destroyer, or signal you if he could if it was daytime, if we had a signalman aboard. Of course, we weren't taught to read signals. But thank God we had someone with us usually who could read Morris Code by blinker light if it was during the day. At night it had to be by radio because you couldn't send message by blinker.

Christine Zendeh:

Was radio unsafe?

Richard Newman:

No. Radio was safe.

Christine Zendeh:

Submarines couldn't pick it up or --

Richard Newman:

It didn't matter. Suppose they heard, tell get ship number 42 closer to ship number 40 or, you know, tell number 36 to get closer, or to speed it up a little bit. That sort of thing. That's not going to mean much to a submarine command. (Brief pause.) I was asked if there was anything else I want to say and, of course, since I was graduated in 1943 which was the first graduating class of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, I've often had chance to reflect politically as to whether, you know, as to whether or not the expense of keeping a Merchant Marine Academy is proper, or whether it should be done away with, or is unnecessary, or not be supported by the Federal government, or how it should be handled. There have been times of warsterity during non-war years and I say well, do we really need a Merchant Marine Academy, or should this industry pay for itself. And now you have -- today, you have Iraq problem. You have the problem in the Middle East. You have the problem in North Korea, and you see the cargos that have to be taken from the United States to other countries and you realize how important it is to this defense of the country. So, it is important to have a line of officers who are capable to taking these ships to the destination, and it is an important thing to remain, and to be supported by the government. And I think now is the time that, you know, I've reflected on it for many years. And I think for the wars that have occurred since World War II to realize that we really need a strong Merchant Marine, and it has to be government supported or it will go away. (End.)

 
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