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Interview with Ernest M. Phillips [1/28/2003]

Tom Swope:

This is the oral history of World War II veteran Ernest M. Phillips. Mr. Phillips served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was with the marine detachment on board the USS Northampton. He served in the Pacific Theater and his highest rank was corporal. I'm Tom Swope and this recording was made at Mr. Phillips' home in Lakewood, Ohio on January 28th, 2003. Ernest was 83 at the time of this recording.

Tom Swope:

Where were you living in 1941?

Ernest M. Phillips:

In 1941 I was already in the service.

Tom Swope:

You were already in. When did you go into the service?

Ernest M. Phillips:

I went in the service in November of 1940.

Tom Swope:

Did you enlist or were you drafted?

Ernest M. Phillips:

I enlisted. I had been out of high school a couple of years and I had been working driving a gasoline truck.

Tom Swope:

Now, did you enlist because you thought war was imminent or was there another reason?

Ernest M. Phillips:

I -- you might say that I did. As a matter of fact, you might remember there was a draft number pool, number one in each county in the United States.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

That's the one they drew for me.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And I knew I would be one of the first drafted. And the draft would be started about three months after I joined the Marine Corps. In 1941 the -- I believe the draft started.

Tom Swope:

So you went in in November of '41 into the --

Ernest M. Phillips:

No, no. November '40.

Tom Swope:

'40?

Ernest M. Phillips:

1940. Uh-huh.

Tom Swope:

Tell me about your training.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, it was pretty tough then. There wasn't any need to be hurried about it so they took about 13 weeks. Of course, they shortened that later on during the war, as you know, but the -- we had about 13 weeks. Actually, 12, I guess, we were there, a week longer for assignment. But it was pretty rugged.

Tom Swope:

Where did you train?

Ernest M. Phillips:

San Diego.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

But I enlisted in Houston, Texas.

Tom Swope:

Is that where you were living at that time?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, I was living in a place called Nacogdoches.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And that's where I was -- I had just finished school and that's where I was working.

Tom Swope:

That wasn't Pendleton, was it?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. Camp Pendleton was established later on. That was San Diego boot camp.

Tom Swope:

So any memorable incidents from your training that you could share?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's sons was there. He had -- his group of raiders was there and I had an experience of being on the same field with him. What was his name? Franklin, Jr., wasn't it?

Tom Swope:

Perhaps.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

He led a raider outfit.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right.

Tom Swope:

So did you talk to him?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No, I didn't. I had one experience there that I might tell you about if you'd like.

Tom Swope:

Yes.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, in boot camp you never see an officer or any of high rank, but a first sergeant came over after me. And that was a lot of stripes. I had never seen that many stripes on one individual. And I attracted a lot of attention that day. Because he came after me by name and everything and says that the major would like to see me. Now, that's pretty high up for boot. So I was only happy to go along. I hadn't done anything wrong that I knew of. So I went over and I no sooner got inside than I found out I had done something wrong. It seems that I had been receiving draft notices and, of course, the first thing I did was pitch 'em in the wastebasket. I found out I shouldn't have done that. {Laughing} So in the course of the conversation he threatened me with the fact that he would make me available to my draft board in the morning, and when I -- and then he followed it up with, "And wipe that smile off of your face." Because that was the happiest day in my life, I thought, to be out of boot camp and back home as a civilian for a few days. I think anyone in the Marine Corps that's been through boot camp would appreciate going back home for a few days.

Tom Swope:

You were getting these draft notices at the camp?

Ernest M. Phillips:

At the camp, yes.

Tom Swope:

Didn't they check the address before they sent out the draft notice?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No.

Tom Swope:

Oh, my.

Ernest M. Phillips:

But I got a real, real dressing down for that.

Tom Swope:

Anything else happen during your training that stands out?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Not very much. We -- we got up -- well, the first thing -- the first day I was there I decided I was in the wrong place because I was expecting that somebody would meet me with a set of blues, the beautiful uniforms that I had seen at the recruiting station. Everybody wore a nice set of blues, you know. And as I looked around I saw everybody with their head shaved and a cheap sweatshirt and a pair of overalls and a pair of field shoes. And as I looked out the window, somebody was out of step and there was a man with a stick and every time this fellow's heel would come back he would hit the guy's heel. I said, "Gee, this is the wrong place for me." Well, about five years and five days later I was out. But it wasn't pleasant being in Marine Corps boot camp in case you haven't heard.

Tom Swope:

Well, tell me about that. No, I haven't heard.

Ernest M. Phillips:

That's it. We had about 12 weeks of that.

Tom Swope:

Of that kind of thing?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right.

Tom Swope:

Did many guys wash out?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, every day somebody would drop out as far as from either exhaustion or something of that sort, you know, but -- somebody would fall over but they'd pick him back up and put him back in. Very, very strenuous. I was hard as nails when I finished that.

Tom Swope:

What kind of things do they do to you to toughen you up?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we had calisthenics in the morning starting at five o'clock in the morning. We had calisthenics for a long period of time and the period got longer and longer, you know, pushups, like 16, and I think we were up to about 50, and regular exercises that people do, except they were a little more strenuous than I have ever seen them. And then, of course, running around the track. Almost like training for football, I'd say.

Tom Swope:

What was your outfit?

Ernest M. Phillips:

What was it?

Tom Swope:

Your outfit. What outfit were you in? Were you not in a --

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. We were just in a platoon. I think I was in Platoon Number 72.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And at that year Parris Island was closed down for repairs and San Diego was the only boot camp, so, as you can see, that there's 72 platoons times 60 people.

Tom Swope:

60. Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

So that would be the number of marines. Actually, that's all that was brought in there during the entire year. The Marine Corps -- actually, the entire Marine Corps was smaller than the number of police in New York City.

Tom Swope:

In 1940.

Ernest M. Phillips:

In 1940. That's right. Now, they did start to expand in 1940, as you well know.

Tom Swope:

So at that point in 1940 there were less than 500 that came in? You're talking about --

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes. Yes, less than 500. Yes.

Tom Swope:

Excuse me. Less than 5,000.

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. Let's see.

Tom Swope:

Take 72 times 60 and do the math.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Yeah, that would be 4,500.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah, Yeah. Uh-huh.

Tom Swope:

All right. So then you continued to train in San Diego or did you go train somewhere else?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. I spent a few days in what we called sea school and then I was transferred to Mare Island, California. Mare Island, California I went aboard ship, at least I was destined to go aboard ship. I was to go aboard the USS Northampton but the Northampton was in dry dock at that time and pretty well torn up so there were not -- they didn't have facilities for us. And I had a job. They called it chasing prisoners. The penitentiary was there at Mare Island, the Naval prison, and that's what I did there.

Tom Swope:

So these were service prisoners, navy guys?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Navy, yes, uh-huh.

Tom Swope:

And how long did you do that?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, probably six weeks. Six weeks to two months, not over that.

Tom Swope:

This would be sometime in 1941 you were doing this?

Ernest M. Phillips:

This is '41, the spring, January, February of '41.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And at which time then I did go aboard the Northampton and we set sail for Pearl Harbor by way of Long Beach and another stop or two.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh. What kind of ship was the Northampton?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Heavy cruiser.

Tom Swope:

All right. So you arrived in Honolulu and Pearl Harbor sometime in --

Ernest M. Phillips:

In February.

Tom Swope:

-- February of '41?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Uh-huh.

Tom Swope:

What was life like in Honolulu at that time?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, it was overcrowded and -- like when you went to the YMCA to buy a coke or something you stood in line. We went from Pearl Harbor to downtown Honolulu aboard a train. This was a narrow gauge train with no roof and it went out through the pineapple fields and the sugar cane fields and that's the way we got downtown.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

I understand that a few months after I left Pearl Harbor or just before the war or just about the time the war started they did take the tracks up and then they used buses, but at that time we used the train to go. I think it cost five cents.

Tom Swope:

So what kinds of things did you do for fun when you got to Honolulu?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, there was the YMCA and going to the beach and all of that sort of thing. We had -- at that time we were anticipating a war with Japan and we had to wear our gas masks. We had to take our gas masks with us. A gas mask was part of your attire back in those days. And everywhere we went there we were, that big bag under our arms, out on the beaches. I remember on Saturdays we would go to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, one of the hotels there, and they had by radio Hawaii Calls and it was all the hula girls out on the beach with -- we'd go there on Saturday. At least that's where I would go. And, of course, I had a buddy that went with me. There weren't too many -- men outnumbered women, I think, about 80 to 1. So --

Tom Swope:

What was your job on board ship?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, I had more than one starting in. I was what they call the hot shell man, When the shells came out. That was the lowest job you could have, naturally, handling the hot shells that came off the five-inch gun. And from there I went to a fuse setter that set the fuse for anti-aircraft, you know, so the end of the five-inch gun would explode the shells. The five-inch gun would explode at a certain time and I set the fuses according to the data that I received from the control tower. And then I was what's called a trainer, and that's the one that trains the -- pointer is vertical up and down and the trainer is horizontal.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And they're two people, and when they get on target one pulls the trigger. Whoever sees that they're on the target first pulls the trigger.

Tom Swope:

Was those jobs usually done by marines?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. Half of it -- we had four five-inch guns. We had four five-inch guns and we had 10 men to a crew. That meant all the loaders. It took three or four guys to bring the shells as fast as we could fire. And those shells weighed about 85 pounds, I think. Don't hold me to these. But that's the way I remembered them, weighing 85 pounds. And the first loader, he was the biggest man with the most muscle. He could go all day loading those five-inch shells into the breach. And I remember quite well when you put the five-inch shells in the breach and then you rammed them home, but you had to see his hands first before you could do that because you could easily catch his hand and as soon as he threw his hands up and you saw his hands in the air then you were able to ram the shell into the barrel of the gun and you're ready for action. And we must have been able to get off 10, 15 or shells a minute that way. At five inches, that's quite a lot.

Tom Swope:

Did you have any accidents?

Ernest M. Phillips:

We didn't on our gun or on our ship that I know of. I do recall that during the war we had shot at several things we shouldn't have shot at. {Laughing}

Tom Swope:

Can you go ahead and tell me about that and --

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, one of the ships up ahead of us it seems dropped a shell overboard and it was floating to where it was bobbing up and down and they started hollering, "Periscope." Well, we had about 20 rounds shot at this shell thinking it was a periscope, and by that time someone was on the phone hollering, "Hold your fire. That's not a periscope." But... {Laughing}

Tom Swope:

I'm curious about when you said you were handling hot shells. What did you do with those?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, the shell is hot when it comes out.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And you have asbestos gloves on.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh. And just restack 'em and reuse that in any way or --

Ernest M. Phillips:

No, they're sent back to be refilled, I presume is what happened to them. Right.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And, of course, that became a problem during the war, really, what to do with the hot shells, and I believe the last battle we were in we made provisions for that. We had a netting where we threw the shells in the net. And there's an interesting story about that if you'd like to hear that.

Tom Swope:

Yes.

Ernest M. Phillips:

We had -- this netting had been set up, and, of course, understand now, this is the final night that I was aboard ship because that was the night the ship got sunk, we were torpedoed, and when we were torpedoed those people who were usually in the highest points found themselves up in the air and one very large marine disappeared into the air and they said -- called him Humongous -- Mongous is gone, he's gone, he -- it was 30 feet down until he would have hit the deck of the ship, you know, hit the steel deck, you know, 30 feet down, we lost him, we've lost a man. And about -- and he was a fuse setter also. And about that time here he came back to his job as a fuse setter. He had been caught in that net when the torpedo hit. And, of course, I'd already been blown overboard, you know. I wasn't even on the ship at that time because the same explosion that got him also got me but instead of him going overboard he went to the net that was hanging to catch the hot shells. And, incidentally, my gun did not fire a shot the night we were sunk because all of the action was on the other side of the ship, on the left side of the ship or the port side of the ship.

Tom Swope:

Was this net kind of suspended or --

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, yes, suspended in the air.

Tom Swope:

In the air --

Ernest M. Phillips:

In the air, yeah.

Tom Swope:

-- with lots of shells in it?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Uh-huh.

Tom Swope:

That's where he landed.

Ernest M. Phillips:

That's where he landed. Yeah. {Laughing}

Tom Swope:

Let's go back to Hawaii before we continue on with that.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Uh-huh.

Tom Swope:

Did you have any sense that Hawaii would be a potential target for the Japanese?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, I knew it would be an easy one, and I did with a lot of concern read the daily papers about what was going on. And I think if you'd asked any private or seaman second class, seaman third class, whatever, apprentice seaman, they would have told you the best time to attack Pearl Harbor would be Sunday morning. We were all always amazed at the attitude that we had with our drills. It seemed that the officers brought their wives and so forth aboard the ship and we would have a -- sound general quarters, a drill, while they were there to amuse the crowd, you know, and we were a little bit edgy about things like that but it seemed like that our superiors were not taking seriously the threat of war.

Tom Swope:

So do you remember what you were doing on December 6th, the day before the attack?

Ernest M. Phillips:

December the 6th we were out at sea returning to Pearl Harbor. We were supposed to have already returned to Pearl Harbor but we had had a few mishaps on our way. Actually, we had been to Wake Island because Wake Island had spotted a Japanese fleet in the area and the word that we got, and I saw the dispatches, actually, that said that we were concerned that the Japanese fleet was in the vicinity of Wake Island and that we had dispatched four cruisers, a carrier and eight destroyers to Wake Island and it was expected that when we went to Wake Island, which was our territory, that the Japanese would leave. However, we found out later the Japanese were not too concerned with Wake Island; they were in route somewhere else, and that somewhere else was Pearl Harbor. So --

Tom Swope:

So then --

Ernest M. Phillips:

-- we did -- we did let off -- we let off 16 F4F Grumman fighters, and those are the Grumman fighters that made history and you may recall reading about the 16 Grumman fighters that were there.

Tom Swope:

Tell me that again. Refresh my memory.

Ernest M. Phillips:

They were fighter planes and they were the very latest fighter planes. We had nothing on Wake Island except old, obsolete even, two-wing planes, you know, called biplanes then, and they were old fighters from the '30s.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Rooster, buffalo and things of that sort. And we took the most modern planes that the navy had, 16 of them, and took them to Wake. And as you perhaps remember the sad, sad history of those planes, they eventually were every one shot down, and I think every man and pilot in them was killed of the 16 that we had, but they did cause a lot of damage to the Japanese.

Tom Swope:

So when did you get back to Pearl Harbor?

Ernest M. Phillips:

We came back to Pearl Harbor -- well, we left Pearl Harbor December 7th.

Tom Swope:

Okay. So you came -- you got back in on the 6th?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. We got in on the 7th and we left on the 7th. We only stayed in long enough to fuel and provision and took right off again. We took off in the middle of the night. And at the -- well, actually, we patrolled. We thought we were chasing the Japanese back home but we weren't. Let's face it. We had one carrier and they had six. We were staying out of their way as much as possible.

Tom Swope:

So how long after the attack did you arrive at Pearl Harbor?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we were trying to get into the harbor on -- on the day of -- on December the 7th. We were going to get into channel formation at -- I believe -- in four hours from eight o'clock in the morning. I think we were due to arrive at one o'clock or something of that sort. So, of course, that interrupted it when we turned and went the other direction. We were close enough to Pearl Harbor that submarines from the Japanese were still in the area, and we did have submarine contact several times during the day before we -- but we finally did have to come into Pearl Harbor just before nightfall and then we provisioned ship and immediately got out of the way.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

They had cleared the harbor where ships could come in and out. They did that very rapidly. The Nevada, USS Nevada, was -- actually had run aground in the middle of Pearl Harbor. So they cleared that away and we were able to get in and we tied up alongside a tanker on took on fuel and took on what ammunition we needed. We needed very little ammunition because, remember, we hadn't used any. And, of course, we did have to take on provisions.

Tom Swope:

What did you think when you saw the mess at Pearl Harbor?

Ernest M. Phillips:

It was probably the most profound thing that I have ever seen in my life was the devastation that was there, almost unbelievable to have seen Pearl Harbor three weeks before everything was intact and then to see that everything nearly was completely destroyed. We'd been hit with the force of about six carriers, I understand.

Tom Swope:

What did you feel personally?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we were devastated. We were almost -- it was almost impossible to believe the damage that had been done, that every ship there had been hit, many were sitting on the bottom and several ships were just completely torn apart, the worst of which, I guess, was the Arizona, and the Oklahoma was almost as bad. The Oklahoma was turned completely bottom side up and the bottom of the hull was showing and people were still inside, they were still cutting them out with torches, because they were air-tight compartments, as you well know.

Tom Swope:

So then you went back out that evening.

Ernest M. Phillips:

That night.

Tom Swope:

That night.

Ernest M. Phillips:

I think it was after midnight.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh. What was your mission when you went back out?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, of course, we were never told. No one phoned down to tell me, a private, what we were going to do, but we surmised that we were patrolling and we -- we thought at that time we were -- we -- we were not in a position to understand just how -- what a big force the Japanese had hit us with and we thought we were -- we thought we would be out running them down and that we would sink everything that came to Pearl Harbor and we would sink everything right away. As you know, that was impossible because the Japanese threw everything they had at us. They had eight carriers. We had eight also. And they had six of them there and we did not have -- we did not even have four carriers in the Pacific. We only had three carriers at that time on the Pacific.

Tom Swope:

Was there fear that there was going to be an invasion?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes. Yes. We were even fearful of it that night.

Tom Swope:

So what's next then?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, during the night -- I mean, we had several incidents that happened during the night. I recall I was on the phones and I understand a sack blew up against a fence and one Army outfit cut down on it, whatever the figure was on the fence, and punctured a tank in the tank yard. And everybody was very, very what you call trigger happy. Anything that moved they shot at that night. And we left, of course, during the night/early morning and we understand that even after we left that people were trigger happy for another couple of weeks anyhow and anything that moved at night they shot at it. So we were on our way then and later on, I guess, maybe the next trip out, we went to a place to shell an island, a Japanese-held island, in the Marshall and Gilbert group, which was our first action, real action, during the war.

Tom Swope:

What did that feel like when you were first actually under fire?

Ernest M. Phillips:

That's a strange feeling. It's a strange feeling to see the first enemy plane, really. You know there's one up there and you know he's shooting at you. And we had that. We had an air attack one time from one of the planes and they were float planes but they did strafe the ship. Nobody was killed but we were strafed. But we did shell an island named Wotje.

Tom Swope:

Wotje?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Which was called Wotje Atoll.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Wotje and Kwajalein. We shelled those islands. And we caught the Japanese by surprise there. That was the --

Tom Swope:

Would that be -- I'm trying to remember. Is that early '43? Is that right?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. No. That was early '41.

Tom Swope:

'42, rather.

Ernest M. Phillips:

I mean '42.

Tom Swope:

When you were shelling down?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes. Yes. That was --

Tom Swope:

In the Marshalls, right?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah. That was --

Tom Swope:

Is that -- go ahead.

Ernest M. Phillips:

See, the war started on December 7th, 1941. Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And we went to there in -- actually, we went to the Wotje, Marshall and Gilberts --

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

-- in February, I believe, January or February, to shell Wotje.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And that was a very happy experience. We took them by surprise so that -- they sent a tug out to help us in the harbor. And I understand there was something like 16 ships in the harbor and we sent destroyers in and they sunk all 16 ships. And we were able to shoot up their gun defenses by -- they weren't manned until they saw us that we were not friendly ships, and the tug that came out to help us in the harbor, we, of course, sank the tug and then we shelled their barracks and things of that sort. And then we did use our five-inch guns. I was -- we were actually firing our five-inch guns because the eight-inch guns was going all the way through the barracks before they would -- and they didn't explode, so we couldn't -- the eight-inch were ineffective. They were exploding when they hit the ground after they had gone through because the barracks did not offer enough resistance to explode the shells. So we had to use the five-inch guns. We got so close in we were even shooting with rifles. That's how close we were.

Tom Swope:

Totally caught them by surprise, then.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right.

Tom Swope:

Wow. So this would be very close to the Doolittle Raid, then, a month or two later?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Three or four months later.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh. What did you think when you heard that news?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we didn't know. We were with the USS Enterprise.

Tom Swope:

Oh. You were with the Enterprise. Okay.

Ernest M. Phillips:

We were with the Enterprise, but, you know, the Enterprise did go to Tokyo with the Hornet. A lot of people are not aware that --

Tom Swope:

It escorted the Hornet.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah. Halsey was -- Admirable Halsey was aboard the Enterprise. Doolittle was aboard the Hornet with his -- with his 16 B-25s. Now, we saw the planes on the Hornet and we noticed that they never launched and recovered aircraft and we didn't know why, and then as we were on our way to Tokyo and probably pretty close to Tokyo they did tell us where we were going and what we were going to do and that the planes on board the Hornet were not actually navy planes, they were the Army Air Force planes and they were B-25s, and they even used Doolittle's name that he would be leading the 16 bombers over Tokyo. So we did go then into -- we were going to go pretty close to Tokyo but we thought our position was reported and so we did not get to go as close as we thought we would be able to go.

Tom Swope:

Were you close enough to see the planes take off?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, yes. Yes. We were the leading ship. And the planes came right over us when they -- right alongside of us as they took off. And it was nip and tuck.

Tom Swope:

What was the reaction of the crew when they saw that plane go over?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we groaned and grunted as they left the end of the carrier. We had a pretty high wind in front of us, what we call a head wind, and, of course, the spot we picked was at a place where they did have a head wind in order to get the planes off, because we had to go into the wind, in a very stiff wind, and I understand that day that the wind was around 45 or 50 miles an hour, and we went into that. Then, of course, you add the speed of the plane as it came down the runway of the carrier. And they were able to take off. I think they carried four bombs each. They did not carry a full big load of bombs for that reason that they could not have taken off if they had been completely loaded because they were too heavily loaded with gasoline. This is what we were told and I believe history has indicated that's correct.

Tom Swope:

At that point you knew their target was Tokyo?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes.

Tom Swope:

When did you hear the raid was successful?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, probably within six or eight hours after they were launched off we were getting messages, and I believe -- we listened to Tokyo Rose. Tokyo Rose was quite easy to pick up in that position. And even she indicated that they had bombed Tokyo.

Tom Swope:

Do you remember what she said?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No, I don't. I don't remember.

Tom Swope:

She obviously --

Ernest M. Phillips:

We didn't have a radio and we always had to hear what somebody else had heard, you know.

Tom Swope:

Did you ever get to hear her firsthand on the radio?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, yes. Yes.

Tom Swope:

What types of things would she talk about?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, she would -- you'd be surprised how accurate she was. Tokyo Rose would say, "Northampton, we know where you are," and so and so, we know what you're doing and we know what you're going to get when you hit a certain island or so forth, you know, and she'd tell about all of our buddies that had been killed and all of that. And oftentimes she was very accurate. I don't think that the management of our ship and everything appreciated the fact that we did listen to Tokyo Rose but we did, and usually half of the things that they told were true.

Tom Swope:

Did it bother the guys at all what she said or did they just take it with a grain of salt?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. They took it with a grain of salt.

Tom Swope:

Did she play good music?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, yes. Yes. Oh, yes. Our favorite songs. But remember, we couldn't pick up many good stations anyhow, so sometimes Tokyo Rose was the only thing in the world that we heard, because it was beamed to us, and I presume that extra strength on the transmitters were...

Tom Swope:

All right. What's next?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, I don't know. We had -- we were in about six battles, I think, before we -- before we were sunk, the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, and then, of course, when Wake Island was in the hands of the Japanese we came back and shelled it again and we shelled Marcus Island in March, and then in June, of course, the Midway battle was forming.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh. Were you involved in that?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, yes. Yes. We were with the Hornet and -- we had permanently joined the Hornet then. We replaced one of the ships that was with the Hornet. What they did is they took the experienced ships and mixed 'em in with the -- you remember the Hornet was an Atlantic task force. They came from the east coast. Then they -- they were -- they were joining us for good then, the Hornet was, and so then the Hornet was in the Midway battle also. All of our carriers were in the Midway battle except the two or three that were on the east coast. So -- but the -- you know that the Hornet got sunk, then, on October the 26th in the battle of Santa Cruz off Guadalcanal.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh. Anything else you remember about the Midway engagement?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. I remember the Midway was a pretty happy time for us. I know one thing that we did. We were launching and recovering aircraft at night, which you never did before, but we had completely dominated the sky and every Japanese plane had been shot down and every carrier had either been sunk or so badly damaged they couldn't launch and recover planes, and we were launching and recovering one plane after another as fast as they could load bombs on them to get back to the ships that were on fire. And, of course, they could be seen at night, those ships, and that was a very, very happy time for us then. But we had lost the Yorktown during the day, you know. Yorktown was sunk by enemy planes, torpedo planes. I believe that it was also there where Lieutenant Gay had lost --

Tom Swope:

Lieutenant George Gay, right?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah. He had lost his entire -- all of the torpedo planes in his squadron were shot down. That was the last use of the torpedo plane, really.

Tom Swope:

Yeah. Now, your cruiser would recover the planes?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. We had four of our own planes. We had --

Tom Swope:

Okay.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Our planes were float planes. There were four of them and they were float planes and they were used actually as spotters for artillery and they are also used for submarine patrol. They patrolled out in front of the task force. The task force is actually four cruisers -- three or four cruisers, eight destroyers, and in the center, of course, of it is the carrier, and that's what you consider a task force.

Tom Swope:

And you pick them up with a crane, I assume?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes. As the ship turned --

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

-- they threw out a net and put 'em in a net, hooked, and the crane came and took them back aboard ship. We had four of those planes, two on the catapult all the time ready to shoot off into the air.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And then two standing by to be picked up and moved on to the catapult.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And that was, of course, in addition to the carrier planes which were launched off of the carrier, about a hundred planes, from 80 to a hundred planes on the carrier depending on what size the carrier was.

Tom Swope:

So what's next after Midway, then? Would that be Guadalcanal?

Ernest M. Phillips:

After Midway was Santa Cruz and Guadalcanal. Yeah.

Tom Swope:

All right. Tell me what you can about that battle.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we were -- we were more or less backup crew at Guadalcanal. We were -- we didn't do any of the shelling, the ship I was on. We were in back in reserve. That's when we got hit in Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz was just prior to, of course, the Guadalcanal landing. Then at the Guadalcanal landing we had -- ships other than ours were the ones that went in to do the shelling, but we didn't receive any -- no ships were damaged during that. Now, just a few days later the Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria and Canberra were all sunk off Guadalcanal, which was called the first battle of Savo Island, and we were within a couple hundred miles of there when that happened. And --

Tom Swope:

Go ahead.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And, of course, the same thing happened to us under the same circumstances later on.

Tom Swope:

In that area?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right.

Tom Swope:

Tell me about that, then. Is that when you were torpedoed?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right. You want me to tell you about the night we were sunk?

Tom Swope:

Yes.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Okay. Well, we were told when we left the place called Espírito Santos that we were going into Guadalcanal to meet a Japanese fleet that was landing -- that would be landing troops at Guadalcanal. So we took off from Espírito Santos and headed for Guadalcanal. Now, you must remember at this time they were starting to tell us what we were planning to do. They passed the word to everybody on all the guns. At that time they had learned to tell the crews what our missions were before we started out. At one time they didn't do that but as the war progressed they were telling us what we would do. So we were told that we were to meet troop ships and to try -- we were going to try to get in between the fleet and sink the troop ships at Guadalcanal that had a complete army aboard. And at this time they came in between Savo Island and Guadalcanal and that's where we met 'em, and I believe they had something like eight destroyers, and as you know, history does recall that we made some terrible mistakes. We didn't -- we only fired when they said fire. But I understand that when we did meet the Japanese that night the admirable did say, "Hold your fire, they're friendly ships." Well, they weren't at all friendly because we got two torpedos in our side, and that was -- we had already received two hits and we had actually ships that had -- were severely damaged. The Pensacola was on fire from stem to stern and the New Orleans was shot half in two and the Minneapolis was shot half in two. We had five cruisers and all of them sustained heavy damage that night except one. I believe the Honolulu was the only ship in the fleet that did not sustain heavy damage. But -- as a matter of fact, we had actually fewer casualties than some of the ships that weren't sunk. END OF SIDE ONE But, anyhow, I guess about three minutes after the battle started we took our first hit, and within -- actually, within the first hit, within 15 seconds we received the next hit, and it was in a very vulnerable spot where we were hit on our left side or the port side of our ship.

Tom Swope:

All right. You were hit on the port side of the ship?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Hit on the port side of the ship and immediately took a list. And I have understood from reunions and things of that sort that when we were listing so badly and we were pumping water on the fires that actually we were pumping the very top of them with the water, which was the oil, and we were actually pumping oil on the flames and we set our own ship on -- instead of putting the fire out we actually was fueling it, because we had fuel oil instead of water in the water pumps, and they discovered that during the -- and we cut off all pumps and had to fight the fire minus our own water pumps, and the fire had -- I think we -- we finally got the fire out but by that time I had been completely blown over the side and I was swimming in the area. And, of course, there was some strange things that did happen then. I swam to Savo Island that night and the natives had picked me up out of the water and they took care of me the next day, and then I was able to semaphore another navy man, and I did semaphore that we were on this island and they did send a PT boat after us at. At three o'clock the next afternoon we were rescued from the island. But in the meantime, our ship had sunk stern first in the air and gone down about 1:30 or -- actually, you know, it was still visible for two or three hours after it was completely submerged and only the stern was sticking into the air and finally it went down. And then I got to observe part of the battle. But most of the battle was really over by that time. It lasted about 20 minutes. Which I understand is about the length of time that naval battles last, 20 minutes.

Tom Swope:

Did you lose any buddies that night?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes, I did. I lost a real good friend in the fire room. We were a pretty close-knit group in the marines. We had 43 of us aboard ship and we made friends with some of the navy people. I had a good fireman. I'll never forget his name. His name was Gillis and he was in one of the fire rooms that took the torpedo and -- which was actually in a boiler room, you know, where they operated the ship.

Tom Swope:

What did it feel like when that first torpedo hit? What's that sensation?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we were -- felt like we were going up in the air, and things were flying around everywhere, including the men, material and shell cases and boxes and everything, and we had no sooner gotten that until another shock, and with the second one I guess it came right under me and exploded. Actually, the opposite side -- we got more of the force really than the side that it hit. For some reason, you never know which way that force is going to go. And -- but we did not lose a man, actually, thanks to that net that I told you about.

Tom Swope:

So any idea how far you were flung off the ship?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, not very far because I remember that I caught onto the side of the ship as I was going down, and by that time we were listing way over to the port side and you could almost walk down the side of the ship because the ship was -- with two torpedos in it, it's in bad shape and it's listing to where the side of it now almost becomes the top side, you know. So...

Tom Swope:

Did you crawl back on and ______+ or try to?

Ernest M. Phillips:

So that was the end of us as far as the war was concerned.

Tom Swope:

Where did you go next, then?

Ernest M. Phillips:

They sent me to a rest camp where they had a lot of survivors and guys that had been in explosions and things of that sort. And, of course, you know, we had no clothing or anything. As a matter of fact, when I came back I had no underwear, no socks, a pair of khaki -- a khaki shirt and dungaree trousers and I wore those, and I had a shoe box under my arm that had a towel, a bar of soap and toothbrush and toothpaste and a razor, and those were my total possessions when I came back to the United States. And I was the original hippie. I was the only man in the United States Navy at that time that hadn't had a haircut in three months. {Laughing}

Tom Swope:

Nobody gave you any grief for that?

Ernest M. Phillips:

I was wearing my hear long, but not purposely. So...

Tom Swope:

No barber on board ship?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. {Laughing}

Tom Swope:

So then when did you get back to the States?

Ernest M. Phillips:

I got back in March, March the 1st of 1943. That's the one date I do remember. March the 1st, 1943.

Tom Swope:

How long had it been since you had seen your family?

Ernest M. Phillips:

That would be going on three years.

Tom Swope:

Where did you land when you came back stateside?

Ernest M. Phillips:

We landed in San Francisco, and they got me new clothing and I went to Treasure Island and then got what they called a survivor's leave. Survivor's leave was a 30-day leave, actually, they gave you. They didn't -- they begrudgingly gave you 30 days but that was the rule that they had established that anytime you were on a ship that was sunk that you took 30 days leave. So I came back to my family. Of course, I wasn't married. Mother and father and -- my mother and father had already received notice that I was lost at sea so they got two notices: One that I had been found and one that I had been -- actually, they got the one that I had been found before they got the one that I was lost and was that your son is presumed to be lost and then they got the one that I had been found before they got the one that I was lost. So they were very happy over that, you know. They just said we don't believe that one and threw that letter away. Telegram, rather. They were back in the days of telegrams, you know.

Tom Swope:

They knew at that point you weren't on board a ship so you couldn't have been lost again.

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. {Laughing}

Tom Swope:

Is that right?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right. Right.

Tom Swope:

So what was that reunion with your family like when you got back?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, it was great. I mean, after all, I was a 20-year-old kid and -- I thought I was grown and -- of course, I came back with money because -- well, actually, I didn't have money because they couldn't figure out what they owed me, but eventually I did get paid and then I got paid for -- we only drew five dollars a month while I was over there in the Guadalcanal area and so forth. They didn't pay us our full wages, which was by that time 30 dollars a month.

Tom Swope:

Why didn't they pay full wages at that point?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, there was really no place to spend it.

Tom Swope:

So they just -- they held the money and then paid it at separation?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah. Right. They held the money.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And everybody got five dollars on payday. That's all they got.

Tom Swope:

And there's no place to spend it so --

Ernest M. Phillips:

No place to spend it. {Laughing} So -- but if you were in an area like in Australia or a place like that where you were going ashore then you could draw your money but you were not -- they didn't have provisions to pay you either.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

There was no -- there was no way to pay you out at sea, you know, and they couldn't go to a bank and draw out funds or anything of that sort. So -- but they could pay five dollars to everybody. I presume the officers got five dollars also. I don't know.

Tom Swope:

Was that basically just gambling money, then?

Ernest M. Phillips:

That's what it turned out to be. I didn't gamble. I never did do that. So...

Tom Swope:

What did you do for diversion or for entertainment on board ship?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, we listened to -- we had bought a combination radio and, you know, the old -- what is it? -- 78 RPM records. And we had a collection of 'em. We must have had 30, and we heard them all the time.

Tom Swope:

Any favorite titles come to mind?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, I remember one was I Want to Buy a Paper Dolly and Hut-Sut Rawlson Sittin' on the Rillerah. Let's see. Oh, I could think of 'em, I guess. And then, of course, we had the Marine Corps hymn. We subjected the entire ship to that one.

Tom Swope:

Did the navy guys get along okay with the marines?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes, we got along well. We were -- our compartment was in between the enlisted men and the officers. And we were alongside the sick bay. We had two doctors aboard and then we had a crew of what we call corpsmen, hospital corpsmen, and for us they were like doctors, you know. We had -- we had picked up casualties many times before. We picked up all of the casualties from the Hornet that were in bad condition. We had -- I understand we had 500 that we picked up of the Hornet that were -- that ranged from burns to -- well, I think we had 30 of the Hornet people died the first day we picked them up. But they were in bad condition. And we took them because we had the most doctors and the best facilities and that's the reason that we were -- and we had to rescue these people under fire, you might say, because the Japanese were still attacking us when we started removing people from the Hornet. And we -- we had to become corpsmen then and the corpsmen became doctors. I don't know what the doctors did but I'm sure they were overworked but -- they had operations to do and the corpsmen had to set bones and treat burns and sew up shrapnel wounds and things of that sort that they had received from the Hornet. The Hornet had a lot of casualties. I never knew how many they had but I know we had 500 of 'em. We had a crew of 800 or 900 and that nearly doubled the size of our crew. But we all got out of our beds and gave our beds to those who were sick, you know, who were injured, sick and injured, and even the ward rooms on board the ship were turned into hospital rooms and the officers all relinquished their rooms.

Tom Swope:

When you think about that whole experience does any other particularly vivid memory come to mind?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, none of those things have I forgotten. The only things I have forgotten are the dates.

Tom Swope:

That's right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

I remember the chronological order of things but I don't remember when it was because, you know, when you're close to the equator you don't have many seasons, you only have one season and it was summer all the time, and we were up and down the equator. You know, Guadalcanal is right close to the equator really and the Solomons and all the islands that we were interested in were near the equator, so seasons -- you forgot about seasons, and that way, you know, had it been, you know, you could say, well, we did this in the fall because we could see the leaves were falling. We never saw any leaves falling where we were or leaves turning or anything of that sort.

Tom Swope:

It all seemed like summer, huh?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Anything else?

Ernest M. Phillips:

What else you'd like to ask me about?

Tom Swope:

Well, I -- I don't have a lot of specific questions because I don't know about your specific experiences so --

Ernest M. Phillips:

I had --

Tom Swope:

-- it's up to you if you think there's something I --

Ernest M. Phillips:

The odd --

Tom Swope:

-- haven't asked about.

Ernest M. Phillips:

The odd part about it is, I didn't know anything about dates at all and I met a fellow -- well, actually, I saw where the USS Salt Lake City -- I saw where the Salt Lake City was having a reunion -- this has been a long, long, ages ago -- and it so happens we were with Salt Lake City and they sent like a resume of all the places we had been and theirs was so much more detailed than ours.

Tom Swope:

So they were always part of your task force?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. At the battle of Midway we parted.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

But up until Midway we were always together. Yeah. We were always together. But they got -- they had to have repairs. I guess they were hit and had to go into the yard for repairs and we never saw them after that. But they sure did send to me and here it says we left with the Northampton at certain such a time, you know, and all of that.

Tom Swope:

So you were torpedoed near Santa Cruz?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, now, there's a different -- it's called Tassafaronga now, I believe.

Tom Swope:

Tassafaronga.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Okay. This is close to Guadalcanal?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right.

Tom Swope:

Yeah. So this would have been at the beginning of the battle of Guadalcanal?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. This was called the third battle of Savo Island.

Tom Swope:

The third battle of Savo Island. Was it before the invasion of Guadalcanal?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No. After.

Tom Swope:

After.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Everything was after.

Tom Swope:

They invaded Guadalcanal in August.

Ernest M. Phillips:

August the 8th.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

See, the first battle was even after the invasion.

Tom Swope:

Okay.

Ernest M. Phillips:

That first battle of Savo Island. Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria and Canberra.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

That was the worst losses the United States Navy had ever had.

Tom Swope:

That was when the Japanese were trying to send --

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right. And that was maybe about the 12th -- I guess that was the 19th day of August.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Okay? And then following that, of course, the Helena, the Juneau, and several other ships were sunk in the second battle of Savo Island, and the third battle of Savo Island we were the only ones that actually sunk.

Tom Swope:

Wow. So this is roughly late summer or --

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes. We must have lost about eight ships right there.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Eight to ten ships.

Tom Swope:

Wow.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Right in that area.

Tom Swope:

Well, I can't think of anything else. Anything --

Ernest M. Phillips:

I can't either.

Tom Swope:

-- else you'd like to say?

Ernest M. Phillips:

You asked me a question there a few minutes ago about what did we listen to when we had our --

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

Ernest M. Phillips:

When we had our phonograph, I guess, we called them back then, didn't we?

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

You know, we thought this was the greatest thing in the world. I mean, nobody had such a thing like that on board ship and guys used to come and listen, and we had one that was a Marine Corps hymn that had injected voiceover in it. I remember, "The wind blows cold in Iceland but the wind's blown cold before. It's not so hard in your own back yard to be set for peace or war but to face the fray half a world away is a job for the Leatherneck Corps." And then it would come on in that Marine Corps hymn, you know. And then, "Where are you off to, Leatherneck? I'm off to Iceland." And -- oh, this whole thing would go -- and we have never been able to find any other recording other than that, and they tell me that the Library of Congress would have copies of every record that has ever been made.

Tom Swope:

It should. Now, this was a thing that was narrated --

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

-- by a guy that --

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah, it was narrated.

Tom Swope:

Was the guy narrating it a famous actor?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yes. And I think it was William --

Tom Swope:

Tyrone Power?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Tyrone Power.

Tom Swope:

I have the recording.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah. But it --

Tom Swope:

I have it.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah, but it was in that recording. I got that recording. But it was in that recording where these other things were injected.

Tom Swope:

The spoken things?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

So do you have a recording of this?

Ernest M. Phillips:

No.

Tom Swope:

Okay. Well, I will -- you know what? I'll send you the copy. Who do I send it to? Because I think I might have what you're talking about.

Ernest M. Phillips:

It has a narration on it.

Tom Swope:

It has a narration on it and he's talking about marines in Iceland?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Oh, the wind blows cold in Iceland. {Singing}

Tom Swope:

I haven't listened to it for a few months but --

Ernest M. Phillips:

But the wind's blown cold before. Oh, I'd give anything to have that.

Tom Swope:

I will send it to you.

Ernest M. Phillips:

I'll send you a check. {Excited and Laughing}

Tom Swope:

You know --

Ernest M. Phillips:

If you want to hear about the war, you gotta talk to guys like me who -- incidentally, I have on very, very -- I haven't seen a battle. I'm looking through something like ________+ {laughing} and, you know, I have even to this very day and times haven't -- things happened to other ships nearby that I didn't even know about.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Ernest M. Phillips:

And, you know, we were talking about them -- some of the guys were talking about it the other day in Long Beach --

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

Ernest M. Phillips:

-- when I was there and they were telling me things. I didn't know about it. Well, wait. You didn't know? Hey, I was on the starboard side. That happened on your side.

Tom Swope:

Exactly.

Ernest M. Phillips:

You know.

Tom Swope:

The same's true with the infantry. They didn't know -- a guy, you know, a few hundred feet away didn't know what was going on over there.

Ernest M. Phillips:

I will never in my life forget the first enemy plane I ever saw.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

Ernest M. Phillips:

Never, never forget it. I am looking, you know, and I'm on lookout. Excuse me. I wasn't on lookout. I was sitting at my fuse job. You know, every gun has their own lookouts, you know, and they're responsible for a little space there they're going to shoot anything that comes into that area. And I've got my back to those people that are lookouts and I'm looking this way and I see this plane and I no sooner looked at it and I'm, buddy, that's not one of ours. That's not one of ours. And I looked at the guy and I saw that the gun captain had his eye on that plane and he is telling the crew train in on it. And his name was Burt Stolier. And I can never forget the words he said: "Commence fiwing. Commence fiwing." And there's a way he pronounced it. He couldn't say "firing".

Tom Swope:

He was from Boston?

Ernest M. Phillips:

You know, he's from New Orleans.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

Ernest M. Phillips:

"Commence fiwing. Commence fiwing." And that's the first shot that I ever saw, was at that plane. You know, they shot that plane down and --

Tom Swope:

Did they get it down?

Ernest M. Phillips:

Well, he was by himself. The other --

Tom Swope:

Did --

Ernest M. Phillips:

The other planes were on their way down also but this one was alone and he started in on that. You know, it was his side of the ship. We didn't fire. They fired but we didn't fire. And those words, I'll never forget it, but I heard 'em a lot of times after that. "Commence fiwing."

Tom Swope:

I got that on tape.

Ernest M. Phillips:

You did.

Tom Swope:

It's still rolling. {Laughing} END OF TAPE

 
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