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Interview with Jesse W. Dunnagan [6/9/2003]

Gary Swanson:

This is Gary Swanson with Americans Remembered interviewing Jesse W. Dunnagan at his home in Prairie Village, Kansas, on June 9, 2003. Mr. Dunnagan served in the Navy. His last rank was Master Chief. He was in the Navy from February 14, 1940 to July 1, 1970, thirty years of service. He was born March 26, 1921. He was on a battleship that was at Pearl Harbor, the USS California, on December 7, 1941. And doesn't he look good in his uniform? Well, Dunny, where did you grow up as a kid?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Newport News, Virginia. I was born in Tennessee a little bit, but Newport News. I went into the --

Gary Swanson:

Were you in a Navy family? You were right there.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no. My dad was in the Army. It wasn't a Navy family, no. I went into CCC. I was born and raised during the Depression, and there was no jobs to speak of. I worked for a milk company for seven bucks a week, midnight 'til two in the morning -- I mean until seven in the morning, delivering milk. And then I heard about the Civilian Conservation Corps, and I went in that up in the mountains of Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I heard guys talk about joining the Navy and what a great deal. And so when I got out of that, I said, "That sounds good to me." Because I worked for that milk company a year, and he said, "Hey, you're doing good. We're going to give you a raise." So I got a dollar. No, 50 cents. That's what it was.

Gary Swanson:

Well, you went in the Navy when you were eighteen then, but tell me about your family. Did you have a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, I had a stepmom. My mother died in 1937, double pneumonia. I had a stepmother. And my dad, he ran a service station when I went in the Navy. And a half sister and a full brother. My brother is the one I told you that heard I was killed and joined to go on my ship, which wasn't reported as being sunk.

Gary Swanson:

So it was -- actually, it was kind of tough economically as a family growing up; wasn't it?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, boy, yes, it was.

Gary Swanson:

So as soon as -- did you finish high school?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, my dad -- I was going into junior year, and my mother died, and my dad pulled me out and put me to work.

Gary Swanson:

And then you said, well, I'm not doing any good here, I'm going to go join the CCC camp --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Exactly.

Gary Swanson:

-- where I'm sure you learned a lot and probably grew up quite a bit too.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

So you're eighteen then. You decided to join the Navy. So where did you join the Navy?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Norfolk, Virginia.

Gary Swanson:

Which is right there, very close to where you'd grown up.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Chesapeake Bay, right, Hampton Roads.

Gary Swanson:

So where did you go to boot camp then?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Right there.

Gary Swanson:

You never left home to go to boot camp. Well, you weren't far away, but you were miles and miles and miles away; weren't you?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, right.

Gary Swanson:

Yes. So you finished boot camp. Did you get along all right in that?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Did you like boot camp?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, yeah. Yep, easy. After my dad working me, the boot camp and the Navy was a ball, easy.

Gary Swanson:

So after boot camp, what'd you do? How did they decide what you're going to do?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Well, after boot camp, I got leave and went home for a few days and then went back and went back in and they put me on the USS Pyro for transportation around through the Panama Canal to the USS California would be my ship, based in Long Beach, California, BB-44.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. And it was -- so you caught it in Long Beach then?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, Long Beach, yes.

Gary Swanson:

And then you sailed --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I beg your pardon. No, it wasn't in Long Beach. It was in a Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington, and then it went back to Long Beach. Yeah. Thanks for the correction.

Gary Swanson:

So you went up to Bremerton and caught your ship.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes. Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Were there many guys from your same boot camp class that were assigned to the California?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

One guy went with me from my -- the others went to other ships.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

One guy from Alabama.

Gary Swanson:

So you were probably pretty pleased to be getting on a big battleship, to be assigned to a big ship.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

That was probably exciting for you; wasn't it?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Absolutely.

Gary Swanson:

Thinking about it, I mean --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

-- there wasn't any war at that time.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No.

Gary Swanson:

So you caught the ship in Bremerton at the Navy--

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The Navy Yard.

Gary Swanson:

-- Yard, came down to Long Beach, and then where did you go on the California?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Then we went right out into Hawaii, and we maneuvered, had maneuvers, gun practice, all kinds of naval maneuvers in and out of there. And then we would come back after so many months for R & R in Long Beach.

Gary Swanson:

Sure, because Long Beach was the port, was home port.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Right, exactly.

Gary Swanson:

And then did they change the home port for the California to Pearl?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, they did. Yeah, they did in '41, a few months before December the 7th. They said: We're going to change our port. We're going to go to -- cancel all liberty, four hours, call in, see if it's been extended. We're not going to be caught like the Russians were in 1901 when the Japanese at Vladivostok almost ruined them, sank their ships. We're going back to Pearl Harbor and be ready. So that's what we did.

Gary Swanson:

Even -- you were a lowly seaman, of course, at that time.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, sir.

Gary Swanson:

But was there any talk among the ordinary guys, you and the other seamen, that war was going to be imminent? I mean, were we concerned about that?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No.

Gary Swanson:

Did you know about that?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No. Consensus on the ship was -- including the officers -- if we go to war, the Japanese will be -- six months, and it will be over. We'll have them taken out in six months.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

And I thought it was the greatest life in the world. Plenty of good food. I was on the rowing teams, rowing sailboats, and a great place.

Gary Swanson:

So for a poor kid from Virginia that came out of CCC Camp --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

In the Depression.

Gary Swanson:

-- that was probably pretty good.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Great, great.

Gary Swanson:

Three squares a day and a good room.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Absolutely.

Gary Swanson:

And great companionship.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yep.

Gary Swanson:

Even paid you to do it.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yep, paid me to do it, and the petty officers told each other, "You don't have to watch that guy. He works like a dog. Just tell him what to do, and he'll do it." I thought, "Man, this is easy." The only hard work was the ammunition part, and that would be off the ship. And I put in for them, get a little heavy exercise.

Gary Swanson:

So as a seaman in 1941 -- actually, the end of '40 and early '41 -- how much money were you making?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Let's see. When we come in, it was $21 a month, and that was only four months. It went to 36 bucks a month.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

When I made seaman -- that was apprentice seaman. And then you made SN. And then I made seaman, a big jump, $54 a month.

Gary Swanson:

You earned big money then.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I was one of the first ones to make seaman. And then if you went to petty officer third, you went to 60 bucks. But money went a long ways then.

Gary Swanson:

So you moved up pretty quickly, didn't you? Now, why do you think that was?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Well, because I was a good worker, and nobody had to watch me or anything like that, and I took right to it, and it was just a gravy train for me.

Gary Swanson:

Yeah. So you liked the Navy.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I liked it.

Gary Swanson:

How did you do on that first -- of course, you'd been around the water all your life, but was it kind of rough seas going to Pearl from Long Beach?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, nothing, nothing, no, not at all, nothing. The only -- other people, guys got sick, come up there and throw up over the sides. The only time I come even near getting seasick was when I got the new destroyer out of New Jersey, and we went to the North Atlantic to look for subs, and that's a rough place. The ship was going like this. And the mainmast director, the foremast on the ship, battle stations -- and everybody else up there got sick but me and the gunnery officer, and we were going like that, and I wasn't sick, but I wasn't feeling real good, and the gunnery officer said, "Gunny Dunnagan, would you like to go down below?" "Yes, sir, I would." That's as close as I ever came.

Gary Swanson:

And that was before -- that was after boot camp.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, that was after Pearl Harbor.

Gary Swanson:

Oh, was it after Pearl Harbor? Okay.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, when I got the new destroyer.

Gary Swanson:

So you were running maneuvers out of Pearl, and you didn't know -- all you did is what you were told. You didn't know there was going to be a war that was right away.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no.

Gary Swanson:

I guess nobody knew, or we would have taken better preparations. So let's go forward to December 7th, 1941, in the morning. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, absolutely. I would like to mention just before -- when we come in that Friday, a strange thing happened. I don't know where it came from. We'd been firing our guns, practicing. We were on the broadside guns, five-inch, and they said, "The next time you get an order to fire, use live ammunition," and nobody could believe it. And they never said why. But we come on in and had liberty that Saturday night, Saturday until -- liberty was up at midnight. They had false things in the paper that sailors were drunk and all of that. Only married people, and there was a few officers and very few enlisted men could stay overnight. So Saturday night, I had the duty. So Sunday morning, I went to liberty. Well, the inspection was so strict, you had whites, and if you had a speck on there or your hat wasn't quite square, or your shoe shine wasn't glistening like a Marines', you had to go back and wait for the next boat, which would be another twenty minutes to go to fleet landing. So we stayed by our lockers waiting for liberty call at quarter to eight, and we kept our whites laid out on our locker doors down in the third deck waiting for liberty, and then we'd put them on real fast and take off up to the quarterdeck to be inspected by the officer of the deck. And ten minutes later, they come along, and we said: Why come liberty ain't ..." and everybody starts bitching: No liberty. What's the matter? And about five minutes later, we were -- all of a sudden, they said -- the general alarm went off, and it said, "Air raid, air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is no drill." Wow. So we throwed on our white shorts and T-shirts and, zoom, we were headed for the battle stations.

Gary Swanson:

What was your battle station?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Up in the mainmast, 125 feet in the air, on the secondary battery director. That wasn't -- we had no radar then or anything like computers then. It was just a director that the guns -- we would train it, and the guns could put their mechanism, and the ordnance could follow it. Better optics. We had good optics.

Gary Swanson:

So you got to your battle station, and was it apparent to you before you got to your battle station that something was happening?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

You bet.

Gary Swanson:

How soon did the realization hit you that the Japanese planes were on top of us?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

As soon as I come out on the quarterdeck, I saw a Japanese plane about 200 feet heading for us, or 300 feet. I could see the red ball on the side, and I knew what that meant. And I could see the pilot. And I thought -- the first thought that hit me was, "This must be just so that they're trying to scare us or something." And then I started going up to, climbing the mast, guys ahead of me, and we were machine gunned as we went up, and then I got on up to my station, and by the time we got up, I barely got up there, and the first torpedo got us, and the ship vibrated and shook, and that was scary, because we'd been on heavy seas, and that big old 44,000 ton ship barely moved. It was, you know, like a stable platform.

Gary Swanson:

So describe where various ships were on the Battleship Row. We know about the Arizona, because it's still there, and it was in the very last berth.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

It was the very -- we were at the other end, yes.

Gary Swanson:

So from the Arizona back to the California, which was your ship, where were the ships positioned?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Okay. Arizona, and then the Nevada, which got underway. It was by itself, single. And then there was four of them doubled up. There were four of them doubled up. Outboard was the West Virginia next; and inboard of her was the Colorado; and then next was the Oklahoma; and inboard of her was the Tennessee. And then there was a high-octane, NEOSHO, oiler, high-octane gasoline, between us. And then we came next by ourself, the California.

Gary Swanson:

So you were the closest to the mouth of the harbor.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Exactly.

Gary Swanson:

And if they'd -- if they'd hit the oiler -- because if they'd hit the oiler, it would have been all over; wouldn't it?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

It was unbelievable they didn't hit the oiler. If they'd hit the oiler, the whole place probably would've went up, including Ford Island. They didn't touch it. But then the NEOSHO was sank sometime later in the South Seas. She got sunk.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. So we know the Japanese got the Arizona. Which of the other ones did they get and which -- you said the one ship sailed.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The Nevada.

Gary Swanson:

The Nevada got away, sailed out of the harbor. How about the -- what happened to the other ships?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The other ships, none of them got underway. The others -- the Oklahoma turned over, and I watched the people, what looked like little miniature people crawling up the hull as it went over, and they cut them out until they finally found dead people the next few days. And the other ships were heavily damaged, smoke, oil all over the place. And then the Nevada got underway. The interesting thing, the commanding officer, the captain, was not aboard the Nevada. The senior officer present was an ensign. He did not know anything about -- very little about the bridge at all. The admiral give him orders, "Get underway," every ship that could. He told the chief quartermaster, who probably had about 16 years in, and his station is on the bridge, and he knew about all -- everything all up there, and he told the quartermaster, "Chief, you get this ship underway. I'm giving you an order. I'm turning it over to you. I know I can't do it." And this chief quartermaster got the ship underway, and he come alongside of us, and we watched it, and it was -- it was almost just jumping up in the air, they were firing so fast and furious at the Japanese. The Japanese, of course, smart, concentrated on them. They didn't want her to get out and probably thought, well, we'll sink her right here in the channel. That will block all of the other ships. But they ran into ground on Hospital Point to keep it from blocking the ships getting out.

Gary Swanson:

The Nevada ran into ground.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, the Nevada.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Did the Japanese make a second pass and a third pass, or was it basically a one pass, and they were out of there?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no. They made several passes, several torpedoes -- many torpedo planes and dive bombers strafing us in the second attack, big attack, and finally the high level bombers that dropped on us. And the leader of them was Fuchida. After it all happened, he begged the admiral in charge of the Japanese to, "Let's ..." when they went back to their carriers to refuel and so forth, "Let's hit them again. We can take them." And he says, "Let's take them." And they could have. They could have took us. And the admiral said, "No, we've done what we were supposed to do," and turned and headed back for Japan, thank God.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh. How about --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

That night, all that night, the rest of the day, any time a plane came in -- we shot our own planes down. Any time a plane came, just a barrage of antiaircraft fire went up. We abandoned ship.

Gary Swanson:

The California, you abandoned ship?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We abandoned ship. We had to swim under water because the oil was thick, on fire, all this bunker oil, fuel oil, and we swam under water, and we would come up, part the oil like this, catch a breath, and then go back under, and then swim to Ford Island. Fortunately, Ford Island wasn't very far away, real close. We were more to what they call the quays, or they pronounced it keys, q-u-a-y-s, and we were more to those.

Gary Swanson:

So the Japs didn't care about Ford Island. They just wanted those --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, yeah. Oh, they strafed every plane on there, yeah, yep, yep.

Gary Swanson:

They took out what they could.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, they took out practically every plane on there. All the airfields got it after -- about the same time we got it.

Gary Swanson:

Are you conscious -- were you conscious, Dunny, of being scared to death when all of that was happening, or were you just reacting based on your training?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

It would be like when Russia, we was at the Cold War and talking about nuclear bombs. If they said nuclear bombs are on their way to hit us, how would you have felt then? I know I was in Newport then. Was I scared? Yes, I was scared. Was I praying? You bet your life.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh. But you were able to get down from way up high where you were.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

And where had the California been hit?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

It had been hit mid -- one bomb went midship, went through what they call a two-inch protective deck of steel, and then went down to a four-inch armored deck, and then exploded; and then two other bombs, one forward and aft of that, and three torpedos right in the side, set low enough to go under the 14 inches of armor belt. See, why we were bunched up is because they thought it would be sabotage; the local Japanese population would sabotage the ships. That's why the planes were all lined up close to each other. That's why we doubled up like that. And why we didn't have a torpedo net out, nobody figured that a torpedo could be fired in the Pearl Harbor, because it was too shallow. A torpedo goes down, way down, and then comes up and then goes, and Pearl Harbor is only 40 feet, at the best, and where they launched the torpedos wasn't that deep. And so they had modified their torpedos, made them light, bamboo rudders and so forth, where they would not go down that far. So that's why we got -- the ships all got sunk. And then we had all of the double bottoms opened up, which would have helped if they'd been closed. We did not have time to close them.

Gary Swanson:

How many men did you lose on the California?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We lost less than a hundred. I think it was 90 something, yes.

Gary Swanson:

And you had -- at a full complement, what did you have? Five or six hundred?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no, no, closer to about 1,500.

Gary Swanson:

1,500 on a battleship?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

And in wartime, they would go up to 2,000.

Gary Swanson:

So the captain said, "Abandon ship." So that meant every man for himself, I guess, and you just jumped off into the water and then swam --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The boats we had took the wounded. Yeah, we just jumped off and swam to Ford Island, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Can you remember the --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Most of the captains -- I don't even know if the captain was aboard. Most of the captains and admirals had not got -- were over on the beach, because they lived there, and they hadn't got back.

Gary Swanson:

Sunday morning.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Sunday morning, and the boats hadn't begin to run, and they were coming back later.

Gary Swanson:

Do you remember -- I mean, you were swimming for your life through that oil to get to Ford Island, and you made it, and do you remember when you pulled yourself up, you know, on a dock or a deck or something there, and looked around, can you describe what you saw and what was going through your head at that time?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

It was like I just saw an inferno, and I just couldn't believe it. It was just like a nightmare, like a nightmare, and all that night, the same way. You know, we were ready for an invasion. We thought there was going to be an invasion, which actually, as I told you, they could have had an invasion if they had came back.

Gary Swanson:

Did any subs get into the harbor?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, there was a one-man sub that got in there and was sunk, and there was one, of course, that sunk outside the harbor early that morning, and the destroyer reported it, but it never got to the high command, and they disregarded it.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

So it was trying to follow this destroyer in in his wake and close -- because they had a torpedo net they closed after the last ship got in, and she wanted to come in and follow it real close, but this destroyer got a contact on it and dropped depth charges and rammed at it, went forward to ram it, and then seen oil come up, and it went to the bottom.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh. Did you see, I mean, a lot of men in the water, I mean, from these various ships --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Absolutely.

Gary Swanson:

-- along Battleship Row?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes.

Gary Swanson:

Did we lose a lot of the guys who went into the water abandoning ship and who for some reason didn't make it to Ford Island? Did we lose a lot of men that way?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We lost people on the Oklahoma that dived off as the ship was turning over. They dived off and hurt themselves and drowned. And we lost a few people that way. You were supposed to be able to swim to get in the Navy then. I don't know why, my best buddy on there couldn't swim, and he'd got in about 1937. I don't know how he did it, but --

Gary Swanson:

Did he make it?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

He made it. He got shrapnel here in the throat, and one of the gunner's mates saved his life by putting pressure on it and holding it until he could get him to the sick bay or to the hospital, but he did make it. And, then, we couldn't fire our guns because there was a secondary battery. And we could fire torpedo planes. What we would do, we would fire ahead of their path and make a big splash, and they'd run into it and crash. But we would hit the population of Honolulu and the Navy base if the shell went on past the plane and didn't hit the water. So we couldn't fire.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The big guns couldn't fire. And we had obsolete weapons. We had 50-caliber machine guns. Later on we got 40 millimeters and Bofors and Swedish 1.1's, but we didn't have modern guns, and even the antiaircraft guns on the California, and most battleships, were not the newest, the newest row in the new battleships, what hadn't got out there, the new destroyers. We had the old five-inch 25's. The shell and the powder was one projectile. And later on they come out with a 5 inch 38, which we had on the destroyer, which were much more modern. And the Japanese had super optics. They didn't have radar. We had just got radar. It looked like -- we didn't know what it was. It looked like a bedspring, a big king size bed with no cover, and it spun around, and we called it the admiral's bedsprings. That's all we knew about it.

Gary Swanson:

How many men did we lose at Pearl Harbor on December 7th?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

There was, all tolled, Army and everything, almost 3,000, yep.

Gary Swanson:

So you managed to swim across to Ford Island amid all that chaos, and you looked back, and it was nothing but a big inferno.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Right.

Gary Swanson:

So how did you get regrouped? I mean, what was the manner in which that was accomplished?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We just got together there with the senior petty officer and made foxholes, and we had machine guns, and stayed there all night.

Gary Swanson:

Were you expecting another raid?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, we were expecting, actually, an invasion. And then those B17 flying fortresses had come in. One of them, I think, was shot down, because every plane we thought was Japanese. When one gun fired, everybody opened up. The sky just lit up like daytime.

Gary Swanson:

So what happened the next morning?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The next morning, we began to reassemble and divide us up, and they took some of us and put us back on the ship preliminary to getting the gear and raising it all. And then they decided to take the antiaircraft guns we had, and they transported them to Hickam Field, a short distance away, dug out parapets and set them up, and we went over there and took them over, and we trained the Army. There was no Army/Air Force then -- the Army had no way of strafing the Air Force. And we trained after a while for them to take over. An incident happened over there. There was a parapet of dirt, and we'd have four-hour watches. We lived in tents. And the thing was, when somebody relieved you, you'd say, "Who's there," and they would give the password, and then you'd say, "Come on in." So this one gunner's mate, his best buddy was relieving him. He had the midnight -- eight to twelve watch. And his buddy come around twelve, and he challenged him and said, "Who's there," and he says so and so, and he says, "Password," and he give it, and he said, "Well, come on in," and he jumped in, and he -- he had one inside the gun, your 30-caliber with bayonet fixed, and he jumped right on the gun, and it went right up between his testicles and his buttocks, and he died right in the gunner's mate's arms, screaming, horrible, and it was one of his best friends.

Gary Swanson:

So you went over and you took the ship -- you took the guns off the California.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes.

Gary Swanson:

Had you sunk the California then? I mean, was it --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The California was sitting on the bottom, but the bottom was shallow.

Gary Swanson:

Did we sink it, or did the Japs sink it?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We sunk it. We deliberately sunk it.

Gary Swanson:

But it was not going to -- it was going to be in the way, and it was not repairable.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no.

Gary Swanson:

Right.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Not repairable onboard there.

Gary Swanson:

Yes, there.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Because it was patched up there enough to be towed to the --

Gary Swanson:

To Bremerton or somewhere --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Bremerton, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

-- you could have fixed it.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

There's only one Navy Yard on the East Coast.

Gary Swanson:

That must have been a sad sight, to see your ship go down.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, absolutely. Oh, yeah, absolutely, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Well, then what happened?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Then we -- the Army took over finally, the Army/Air Force took over, and all of us were transferred to different destroyers, and me and one other guy, we went to a new destroyer in Kearny, New Jersey, which was just commissioned.

Gary Swanson:

They took you back on a ship, a troop ship?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, yeah, no airplane, took us back on a troop ship, yeah, and we took a train ride from San Francisco to New Jersey.

Gary Swanson:

And caught a new --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

A new destroyer.

Gary Swanson:

What was the name of that one?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

McCalla, Lucky Mac, DD-488, 1650. It had four 5-inch 38's, one set of five torpedo tubes and depth charges, the big 50-gallon drum types, two of them rolling them off, and high guns that shot off, and on each side smaller ones. And then we, of course, had shakedown cruise, which are your degauss, so you're not magnetic. And we had test runs and all of that. And then we headed on down -- finally we got called out to action because there was subs out off of New York. So we escorted some ships from New York to Brunswick or someplace, and that's as close as I came to getting seasick. And then we came on down and --

Gary Swanson:

Were you ever under attack by submarines in the North Atlantic?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no, no, just in the Pacific.

Gary Swanson:

So you were an escort.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

You escorted ships.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

And when did you then leave for the Pacific again?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Just in about a month or so, very shortly, very shortly -- we were commissioned in May. We made Guadalcanal in late August or September.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. So you got back to Pearl in May or something like that.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes. We stopped in Key West, and we got torpedoes loaded on in Virginia, and then we stopped at Key West and checked out there. Key West, I'd never been there before, of course. And we then went through the Panama Canal and then headed to Hawaii, and then we went right for Guadalcanal. We got there in late August, just before --

Gary Swanson:

You were escorting troop ships and --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no, we headed right there for action. There was no troop ships going. They'd already landed troops.

Gary Swanson:

They'd already landed at Guadalcanal.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes, they had already battled troops.

Gary Swanson:

So you went over there to lend some fire power to the --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Fire power to the Japanese ships that were coming down there at night called the Tokyo Express. And we went there in August. We got there in late August. Just before we got there, four of our ships, one of them -- the Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria, and Canberra, which was an Australian heavy cruiser, cruisers, heavy and light cruisers, had been sunk in about 15, 20 minutes, one after the other, in the first battle called Savo Island, which is a little island right off of Guadalcanal.

Gary Swanson:

Was this after the Coral Sea?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no, this is before that.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. Go ahead.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, before that. And they sunk these ships so quick in night action, they just went down. Almost all hands were lost. So, naturally, we were scared to death. So then we maneuvered around there, and all of a sudden, October the 11th, the night of the 11th and 12th, in the morning, we got a radar report, plus planes, that a Japanese task force was coming down the slot and that we were to be there and intercept them. So, of course, we were scared to death. So we waited there, and it was after midnight, a black night, and they got radar contact with them, and then we had a battle, and we -- we had cruisers, and we sank a heavy cruiser. We got credit for maybe an assist -- not a ship assist, but a heavy cruiser and a destroyer by ourselves. And that was the first surface battle that the United States Navy won, got credit for winning in World War II, called the Battle of Cape Esperance.

Gary Swanson:

Cape Esperance?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Esperance, our second Savo. Our first Savo, we were wrecked. And soon as the -- the battle was over, and we stopped them, and we retreated, and they called the roll, and the Boise, a light cruiser, didn't answer up. So the admiral sent back a ship to look for it, a junior ship, and we were the junior ship. And we always called ourselves 88 Investigate. And so we went back to look for the Boise, trying to find her, and we see a ship in the distance on fire burning. We thought probably that was the Boise. So we have one boat, a 26-foot boat is all you can carry, a 12-boat, and I was the coxswain of that. I was the coxswain. And we lowered that from the davits with me in it and with a gunner's mate and a gun and an ensign and a fire party, and we headed toward this ship. We didn't know what it was, black night. And when we got about, oh, two or three hundred yards from it, we stopped the boat, stopped the boat, and this ensign swam under water and came up, and then came back, and it was one of our destroyers, our sister ship. It was the 489, the Duncan. We were 488. It was the Duncan. And she was still moving, and it was burning, and it had abandoned ship doing 10, 15 knots, moving in a circle. And the guys were scattered all over. The rudder had jammed, and they had no communication with the fire room. So the captain had to give the order to abandon ship. So we went back to our ship, and they told us to come back and see if we can put it out. We put a fire party aboard. They tried to put it out, got some of it under control, and we started picking up survivors. Guys were in the water. Some of them, sharks had got them. We all carried buoy knives, sheath knives. We started picking up survivors. I'd get a load, take them back to the ship, picked it up with the davits, take them off, go back for another load. They determined then that they might be able to salvage this ship. We were still picking survivors up, and the ship got a sub contact, a Japanese sub. So the senior officer present afloat, an admiral, give the order, "Get the hell out of there." So we got our party back off the ship, left the poor guys right in the water, and headed back and hoisted aboard and took off.

Gary Swanson:

How many trips were you able to make to bring guys in that one boat back to your ship?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, probably 20, 25 then, or maybe more. So we left --

Gary Swanson:

But you only had one craft to do it with.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

One boat is all we carried, all the destroyers carried, one boat, one boat, on the starboard side, the right side. And so then the next morning, daylight, first light, they said, "Go back and pick up survivors." We went back -- no sub contacts -- and commenced picking up survivors again.

Gary Swanson:

There were still survivors?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, they were still there. They had been swimming toward Savo Island all night long. The tide was against them. They said they couldn't, you know -- it was just like water against the tide.

Gary Swanson:

So they found something to hang onto.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, they had their Kapok jackets on, and some of them had their Mae West inflatables, and they had been in the water ever since about one o'clock in the morning, 2:00, and some of them had -- their life jackets were there, and they'd slipped out, and they went on down and drowned. So we commenced picking them up again. We picked everyone up we could and determined that -- went back to the ship, and then we were still spotting them. We had guys up on the mainmast and high points on the ship with 30-calibers looking for sharks, to shoot sharks off. And all of a sudden, as the rail board had unloaded them, somebody heard a scream, "Oh, my God, help me. The sharks are eating me up," screaming, pierced. "Oh, my God, please help. The sharks are eating me up." So they pointed to me, for me from the ship which way to go. So I headed over that way, and when I got near it, I saw the shark was laying over this man. He had a Kapok on and a rubber life jacket, and this shark was laying on -- a shark's mouth is like that. They usually turn over to bite. He was laying on top of him. And as I got close enough, they thought he would move. They couldn't shoot, because they thought they would hit the guy. And he didn't move. And so I rammed right into him, and I rammed the bow of the boat into him, and he moved off, and we picked the guy up. You could see the bones here. His thighs and his hands were shredded, bleeding. He was -- Hansen was his name. I still remember it. He was a gunnery officer, Lieutenant J.G., of the Duncan, the ship that was sunk. So we give him morphine, took him back to the ship. He lived, but he was crippled. We heard he was crippled the rest of his life.

Gary Swanson:

How many men were you able to rescue from the Duncan in the morning at first light?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We got the rest of them. We got the rest of them. We stayed there until about noon.

Gary Swanson:

How many, would you estimate, guys you were able to get?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The crew was probably about close to -- oh, probably about 300, close to 300.

Gary Swanson:

Oh, my.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Minus whatever drowned. And then they decided that we would pick up a sampling of Japanese, because Japanese were mixed in, all around. They wasn't right there, but they were there too. And so they said, "We need a sample of Japanese for, you know, information." So they pointed to me from the boat again where these two Japanese were. So I headed over there, and what I saw was shoring material, four by fours, timbers, about ten foot long. That's what you use as your bulkheads. All ships carry them. And I saw two of these. And then this place -- Solomon Islands was the -- Palm Island Pete and all of these sub companies leased or paid for the coconuts, full of coconut trees, and a lot of the coconuts floated out, and the hull, the big hull is brown. Well, the Japanese are short and brown anyway, and even out in the sun in the South Pacific, they got browner yet. So when I seen the shoring material, all I thought, it was two or three coconuts right next to them. And being Japanese, I didn't have no pity for them anyway. We had all this propaganda they were pulling knives, hari kari, and stab you and all this. So I ran right into one of them, and then he moved, and the bodies showed up. There was three of them. Two of them were soldiers, fairly small, like you'd picture Japanese, and one was a husky guy, like a sumo --

Gary Swanson:

How did they get in the water? How did they get in the water?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The ship was sunk. It was one of the Japanese ships that was sunk.

Gary Swanson:

It was one of them -- you sank that?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

That night, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

That's one of them you sank.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes.

Gary Swanson:

And these were survivors?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We sank that, a cruiser and a destroyer.

Gary Swanson:

So you saw three in the water.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

There was many more in the water, but we wanted to get these three.

Gary Swanson:

So what did you do? Did you get those three?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We got those three, took them back to the ship. You wouldn't believe this. Most of the guys had never seen a Japanese in their life, and we had all these propaganda films, they'll hari kari, they'll stab you, they'll do this, that. When they raised the boat up to deck level, every guy on the ship was there with buoy knives pulled, 45's, submachine guns trained on them like it was Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd or Jessie James. The whole ship, trained on them, ready to murder them. Well, these Japanese were -- when we picked them up, they were going like this, "Thank you," yeah, and --

Gary Swanson:

They were scared, of course.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We had to give them -- they were scared to death. We carried them out on stretchers, and all of these guys were expecting they were going to attack, they was going to fight right then. It was comical, a comedy right in the middle of the thing.

Gary Swanson:

Well, if those three are living today, I bet they're glad they saw you.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Exactly. Well, we put them in the brig, and two of 'em -- they all turned down our meal that night, and then the next time we had rice, I think they took that. They commenced eating. And one of them got a stomach ache. Now, we had an old country doctor, an officer from Arkansas, and I think he must've been pretty smart, because I think -- I don't know, but I think he put some bad food in this heavy one's food, because he got a stomach ache, and they all couldn't speak English, and he kept pointing to his stomach, and the doctor, "No comprendo. What's the matter?" And it went on two or three days, and finally he come out in plain English and says, "My stomach is killing me." He spoke good English. Come to find out, he was a commander on the Japanese ship, probably the commander of the destroyer. He had been educated at the University of California and spoke perfect English. The other two were soldiers. So we turned them over to the Marines on Guadalcanal. So I can imagine that they had their go at 'em.

Gary Swanson:

Did we just leave the others in the water? We didn't search for anybody else.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We didn't search for them, no. We left.

Gary Swanson:

We had business to take care of.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah. We left, yeah. We were joining the task force --

Gary Swanson:

So that was the Guadalcanal.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, the Duncan, we couldn't save it. So we sank -- torpedoed it and sank it. We put two or three torpedoes in it and sank it so the Japanese couldn't get it.

Gary Swanson:

Uh-huh. So after that, what other invasions -- you participated in ten in total so ...

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, yeah, yeah. Another amazing incident, we went into -- further up into -- well, what we would do at night, what I was going to tell you, (unintelligible), the Japanese owned it really. A few nights later, they had us go to -- just for information, we went ahead and anchored to Ford Island, cut branches of palm trees, and would hide our ship, disguise it, and just watched and noted what came down through there, battleships. And we asked the Marines what they feared the most. You had airplane attacks. They said: An air attack is like a tornado; it comes over and gets you or don't. Battleships will come out there, Jap battleships, two in the morning, commence shelling, and stay there for four or five hours, shell after shell. They said it would just drive you -- you go buggy. One goes over your bunker, another one goes on the shore, the next one is right near it, almost on -- they feared that. So then the next thing we hit was -- they told us -- we took Rangers to hit a Japanese island in the middle south, further up, and those guys -- I don't know how many we had; as many as we could take on the destroyer -- they didn't want -- they were scared to death our ship was going to sink, and you couldn't have paid me to get off that ship, nice boat, good food. And they were scared to death. The poor guys were scared. So we landed. They went over the rope, the rope ladders, and into the inflatable boats, and they landed on this island. They were supposedly going to take it. And we left. And they were all wiped out. Every one of them was killed. There was too many Japanese there.

Gary Swanson:

What island was that? Do you remember?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I can't remember the exact island, but it was in about the middle south. There were so many of them, I can't recall which one it was. And then later, we went to -- went around Rendova Island, and the thing there was amphibious troops had -- the Admiral McCauley was an amphibious ship, and they had landed troops in there, in this gulf, but the word was that -- to all of the other Navy ships and everything around, airplanes, there would be no American ship in there after sunrise -- sundown. But the McCauley, the transport, got hit in there, and she couldn't come out. So they sent us in there to save the admiral, see if we could save the ship and save the men. So we went in there -- it was sort of a moonlight night, fairly, a little bit of light. We were at battle stations on our guns. I was on gun one, right up on the bow, the trainer, and they said, "Relax at your battle stations." So we all got on deck, and we get permission to have a smoke. I didn't smoke, but the other guys smoked. We just relaxed, and all of a sudden, pssshh, here comes a torpedo right at us. It missed the bow just by feet. You always fire them in threes. Here come another one right at us. Oh, my gosh, it missed the stern. Here come the other one right in the middle of the ship, right in the middle. We all laid flat on the deck. We thought, this is it, we're gone. And we're laying there and thinking, "What happened? How come I'm not in the great by and by," wherever it is? And it went under us. It probably had been -- it almost -- it shook you up so much. It went under us. And then we heard the roar of a -- we thought it was a plane that took off, and we heard that it was Kennedy's Japanese -- Kennedy's PT boats that had fired them, and I can't vouch for that 100 percent, but the reason he did it, he had word that there'd be no American ship in there after sundown. So then we got the hell out of there.

Gary Swanson:

So you're saying it's friendly torpedoes that almost took you out.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Friendly torpedoes, yeah. And he reported -- or the Torpedo Post reported sinking a Japanese or hitting a light cruiser. They had set them a little too deep, thinking we were a light cruiser, and they had set them to go under us. So we got the hell out of there, and then come back later and come back in and got the people off of the McCauley.

Gary Swanson:

Were you able to save the McCauley?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, they saved it, yeah. And then another time in the south near the Fiji Islands, the SS Cape San Juan, SS Cape San Juan, it was a troop transport, Afro-American troops, all of them, engineers and all of them, had been sunk with thousands of troops aboard. So they sent us a PT boat -- a seaplane had landed and picked up a few. So we landed to pick up all we could. We picked up -- Gary, we picked up 600 of them. They would come up to the rope ladders and all and just pass, and the ones out on the outer fringe, some of them were so scared and all desperate, they would climb over the shoulders of the others. They drowned some of each other coming out. So the captain put a petty officer there with guns, and if anybody does that, they would be shot. When we pulled them aboard, the guys kissed the deck. They were so -- they had been there all night long. We put them down. They went into our bunks. They had oil all over them. We had a nice bunk, white blankets, and we put them in there, and my bunk was just soaked with oil. But, anyway, then they come up after we left topside, and the ship began to wobble like a cork, too heavy, so we had to order them down below and put a man with a gun on each hatch, and if anyone comes up, just stay down. And then we landed on Fiji Island or somewhere and took them to shore there. That was quite a coincidence. And then the Army give us new blankets.

Gary Swanson:

So then where did you go?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Then -- well, then the invasion of Iwo Jima. We bombarded that. Tarawa, that was a rough one. All we did was -- you know, planes hitting at us and bombarding, shooting, before the Marines went in.

Gary Swanson:

Did you take any Kamikazi pilots?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, we didn't take any Kamikazis at all. We had them come at us, but --

Gary Swanson:

But they missed your -- or chose another target.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, pretty close, but they did miss us. We did shoot down a plane, and they sent me out to pick up the two pilots, the two aviators, and they were rough guys. We picked them up, and they didn't want to come aboard, and they had to force them onboard, and then when they would go down to the ladder to put them in the brig -- we had a brig -- they would grab onto the handhold and hold it. You had to break them loose. They were really, "Die for my country." We finally got rid of them, two heavy-hitters that the Navy shot down. And then we had, of course, many more submarines, and we would roll along at night, and we had four hours on and eight off, continuous, and you did your work after that, or condition three, or a condition closer to battle, four or four all, and I was up in -- my battle station was gun one, and -- well, let me get to this before we -- Are we going to run out of time? We were firing at Japanese landing barges somewhere in the Solomons, and the director is on it, and we're in automatic. You just pull the lever. And I'm on the gun looking through the ports, through the optics, and seeing we were firing at these barges, and there's a bigger ship sitting there, a huge one, and I wonder, "Why aren't we firing at that?" So I did something which is actually -- we never do it -- I took my lever and took it out of automatic and trained it over on this bigger ship, and we unloaded on that and just pulled it apart, and then I put it back into automatic.

Gary Swanson:

Did you sink that ship?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah. Well, it was partially beached. We burned it, took it apart.

Gary Swanson:

You took care of the rest of it.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We took it apart. Another battle we were in -- okay. On this gun, gun one, you have a trainer, that's me; you have a pointer, which shoots the gun this way; and you have a gun captain. You have a first shell man that holds the shell when it comes up from the magazine into the chamber. And then you have a powder man that takes the powder bag and puts it in there. The gun captain closes the breach, and then he's ready to fire a fire, correct to refire. And then you have a hot shell man that catches the hot shell when it fires like this and makes sure it goes out the hot shell hole, which is about this big in the bottom of the -- there's two hatches, one on each side, which you dog down, eight dogs, six dogs, levers. So we had just ceased fire and were still steaming along, and the gun captain -- you're not supposed to smoke any time. It's GQ, no lights. The gun captain, you know, would say, "If you have to take a smoke, hide it." And the guys, one of them would be out of cigarettes, and they'd even ask me -- and I didn't smoke -- "You got a cigarette?" So I had got these little explosion things, and I'd put it in a cigarette, and one of them asked me for a cigarette, and I'd give it to him, and all of a sudden, "Boom." And the thing -- everybody would jump and almost have a fit. The gun captain couldn't do nothing to me because it was illegal to let them smoke anyway. And I'd get a laugh out of that. But, anyway, the thing that happened was that we had just ceased firing at these Jap ships that were going along, and we were still in the gun at battle stations, ready at the gun, and the gunnery officer, a little -- a guy called Roper from South Carolina, J.D. Roper, and he was the gunnery officer, and he said -- word come over the PA system, "Oh, my God. Stand by for a collision. Oh, my God, stand by." And I looked out of the trainer's porthole, optics, and I first saw what looked like a fast freight train in a path that's coming right at us. Oh, boy. The next thing, a ship hit us. We were going full speed or pretty close, pretty fast, and this ship is coming straight at us. We collide. It takes us about 15 frames from the bow back clear almost into the main magazine under us. It almost took our gun, just missed taking us all. And whoever was up in the bow went. I think we lost a few people who was up in there. And when it hit, we all, you know, wanted to get out, get out of the gun, because what happened, the ships hit, and then it jammed alongside. We tried to open these hatches, and they were jammed. We looked, and everything was warped. The doors were warped. So we all dived out of the hot shell hole. Later on, we found out the doors wasn't warped. It was our imagination or something. They were okay. There's this ship alongside, no lights on either one, jammed into us, jammed together. And we pull out our buoy knives. Going back to the old sailing ships, it's going to be hand-to-hand combat. All of a sudden a person appears on this other ship, and it's an American sailor. It was the Patterson, one of our own destroyers. We had had our rutter jam, and it went out of line, and they were coming right for us, and they hit us right head-on. So we finally broke loose, got loose, and patched up the ship -- there was a crew that did that, Damage Control -- and we were towed back, headed back to Pearl Harbor, had to watch for sub contacts, sub contacts. They patched us up with a temporary bow.

Gary Swanson:

What ship was that you were on then?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The same one, the McCalla.

Gary Swanson:

The McCalla.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Lucky Mac, DD-488.

Gary Swanson:

How far from the hot shell hole -- where did they go? In the water?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The hot shell hole just went out to the main deck, and then it would just lead to the water, yeah. We just dived down that. So we were towed back to -- we went back to Mare Island Navy Yard, which is near San Francisco, Mare Island Navy Yard, ship yard. The only battleship ever built there was the California. When they launched it, it went ashore, because it was so shallow. So they never built another ship there. But we went in there for repairs. So we're all saying, good, liberty -- this is 1943, right near Christmas. In fact, we got there, I think it was Christmas Eve. And we all think, we're going on leave. I'm going home to the East Coast, Newport News. The guys are -- everybody's all happy. We had a little bit of leave, ten days, five, and everything. It would take that long. Heck, the ship was completely -- an eighth or a sixth of it was gone. We pulled in right on the Navy Yard, and there sits the whole bow, "488" already wrote on it, all ready to go, all built, cause lights and everything. They put us in there and welded that thing together. They give us one night liberty. I didn't get liberty; I got shore patrol in Vallejo, which was a stinking hole full of bars and B girls, and, boy, was I -- I was teed off. And what they had, it was so bad that it had the paddy wagon going up and down the street. And every time I passed a sailor or somebody who had his hat on not square or something, I would grab him and say, "You're under arrest. Get in the paddy wagon." Or if he was okay, I would trip him and say, "You're drunk." Boy, I was mean. I was wrong. I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry to today I did it. But I put in a bunch of guys. I was just teed off because I seen I wasn't going to get to even get any --

Gary Swanson:

So they were all -- they had the Lucky Mac all fitted up and ready to go in a day.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, all built, yeah, before we got there. Yeah, before we got there, yeah. So when I got -- at midnight, liberty was up, and when I got back to the (Chokra) Headquarters, the chief there says, "Are you Dunnagan?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "There's a whole bunch of guys here in the brig looking for you. They want to take you on." And so, man, I was mad. I went back there, and I said, "Okay, start, one at a time. Come on out." And I was in good shape then. I was -- I had been a boxer in the Navy. And not one of them come out.

Gary Swanson:

Good for you, huh?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Good for me. So we went on and sailed to San Diego for trials and --

Gary Swanson:

Now, was that a new ship, or they'd repaired the one that you came in on overnight virtually?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

They repaired it overnight, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

They had what was ready to be done to it, and they put her together.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, just the bow, maybe a tenth of the ship or, whatever, an eighth, and just welded it back on there and had it all ready to go. So we went to San Diego and got liberty there. And something somebody -- we all ate something that give us all the runs, so you couldn't find a head in San Diego that night that wasn't occupied by sailors. So we finally boarded the ship and headed back out and went back to the South Pacific for action.

Gary Swanson:

So how much time did you spend on the Lucky Mac altogether?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, I spent -- let's see. I spent from 1942 to 1945.

Gary Swanson:

Well -- and, so, by then you were probably ready for, oh, Peleliu and the Philippines; weren't you?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, yeah, the Battle of the Phillipine Seas was invaded with Mariana's turkey shoot where the ships or pilots just -- airplane pilots just shot Japs, hundreds of them down. You see, by that time, the fleet was so big, here we are, you could look around the horizon, and that's all you could see way out. Even past the horizon, you would see our ships. When we went down there in the Guadalcanal, we were so skinny on ships, it was pitiful, but by this time, we had command.

Gary Swanson:

And you'd taken -- well, you'd taken a lot of the Japanese ships out by then too.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, and the planes, so many of the planes. That's when they started the Kamikazis. Now, the Kamikazis were -- they didn't sink a ship if they hit a big carrier, but they'd put it out of commission. So one blink put a ship out of commission. It was bad. So it was a blessing when Truman dropped the atomic bomb. It was a blessing.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. You did participate in the Invasion of the Philippines?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. And so then you were ready, I'm sure, "We're going to Tokyo. We're going to Tokyo Bay," or something.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

And then before that happened, they dropped the bomb.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

They dropped the atomic bomb, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Now, you didn't know an atomic bomb from anything at that time.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No.

Gary Swanson:

But when you heard that we dropped the big bomb, what did you think? "We don't have a bomb that big to cause damage"? What did you really think?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

We were amazed. We just couldn't believe it. It was amazing. We said, "Thank God." We were really happy. And then the old battleships got their revenge, the California, the Tennessee, in what you call the Battle of Surigao Strait in the Phillipines at night. Admiral Olendorf was the one that was in charge, and he executed a classic maneuver in Navy battle -- Lord Nelson had -- I think Nelson had invented it -- crossing the enemy's T. So what you do -- all the ships steam in line. Now, you've got two forces. So the idea is you cross the enemy sea. Here's the enemy. You cross it this way. Now, all of your ships can fire on their lead ship, every one of your ships. Their lead ship is the only one that has direct fire on you. Some of the others might try to get a shot off sideways. So all your ships concentrate getting the enemy ship, and then the next one, getting the next one, and just chop them on down, and we got all but -- one battleship or cruiser got away, and a plane got it. So them old battleships got their revenge at night. My brother was aboard --

Gary Swanson:

Oh, that was the resurrected California.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The resurrected California.

Gary Swanson:

The new battleship that they named -- renamed the California; is that right?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no, it's the same old California.

Gary Swanson:

Oh, they raised it.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

They raised it and rebuilt it, put blisters on it this wide. It couldn't come through the Panama Canal, it was so wide.

Gary Swanson:

I see. Okay.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

They did the Tennessee that way. It was all --

Gary Swanson:

So we raised the ships that we could that were sunk at Pearl Harbor --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

-- and fixed them, and then gave them new crews, and away they went. And your brother --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Every one went back --

Gary Swanson:

-- was on the ship that you --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

My brother was aboard.

Gary Swanson:

-- were on, the California, that got hit at Pearl Harbor; correct?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, because the Navy -- he got aborted, because they didn't report it sunk, and he said, "I want to get back -- " I have a photograph taken of him in the paper, crying, and he says, "I want to get at them Japs. I want to get on my brother's ship." And he got assigned over there, his orders. So he made out. Six months or more, they had raised it. They waited about a year for the West Virginia to be rebuilt. They didn't have enough dry docks. Then they had liberty there and all that. So he really made out. And I'm glad he did. So he got into it later.

Gary Swanson:

So we'd forgotten to cover -- I think when the California went down on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, the Americans took it down, though you had lost a lot of men because of the Japanese fire, and then it was subsequently raised.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Were you reported missing? You were reported missing in action, presumed dead.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Presumed dead.

Gary Swanson:

Did you ask your parents later when you got home what their reaction was when they got --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Oh, when I went home, finally went home after the war, I walked into places that I used to drink, a bar, walked in and scared people to death. They'd go, "Good gosh. I thought you was dead." Yeah. And then a guy in 1960 or something, a guy from the Newport News Daily Press -- which I used to deliver -- they still thought I was dead, and they had him pose as me -- I've got the article -- and it wrote -- it says, "Peninsula Boy Died," and he wrote it like he was me. You ought to see it, if you have time to read it. And he messed it all up. I was deep in the bows of the ship sleeping in and climbed out of his bunk, this poor peninsula boy, in his skivvies, and manned his battle station. I said, "My God." I couldn't believe it. They still thought I was dead.

Gary Swanson:

But it is true that on a monument back there to the California, your name is listed as killed in action.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes. You know like in Paris, that big huge --

Gary Swanson:

Yes.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

-- and you drive under it? They got one in Newport News that looks just like that. And I'm on it in bronze. And I took pictures of it and showed my daughter that. My cousin had seen it and had told me I was on it. And I got the book. The book --

Gary Swanson:

Maybe the reports of your death were exaggerated.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Slightly, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Thank God.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

But I was elated. But my daughter was going to try to get it off, so she went inside, and she said she was going to tell these two guys, "Hey, my dad's name's out there, and he's okay." And I said, "Hey, shhhh, just leave it." Because if I see some of my buddies, I'm going to tell them, "Hey, go take a look at that."

Gary Swanson:

Okay. So we dropped the bombs. The war was over. When had you made a decision to remain a career Naval man?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I went -- I had plenty of points, of course, to go back. I went back in -- went out in May or March -- February or March of '46, and you had 30 days you could reinlist continuous. So, looking back, sometimes I think I wish I would've stayed out and went to college, and if I wanted to come back, come back as an officer, but I decided to go ahead. I said, "Well, I have six years in." So I decided to stay in. So I had -- my girl was still waiting for me. So we eloped and took off for Hampton and enjoyed ourselves, Buckroe Beach, which is like an amusement park. They have one in Virginia. And then I got orders to go to Newport, Rhode Island, report to the Valley Forge, a new carrier, and she went with me.

Gary Swanson:

Did you serve on the Valley Forge?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, I was -- let's see. What happened? I got sick or something. I was assigned to it. I was going to. But then I went to the hospital for something. I got an ear drum puncture from a bomb, and it got infected, a wound or something. And then I was reassigned to the Fresno, which is an antiaircraft cruiser, and we took -- we went down to Uruguay for the inauguration of the president down there in 1946 for a short time. And then after I got that, I went to other ships and officer candidate school, I was an instructor, and that floored me. I said, "God, I'm going to be instructing college graduates. Oh, my gosh." Well, after about three or four days, "Oh, God, these guys, they ain't got no more than I got." And then I seen them later on on the ship, you know. They were -- some of them later on. But they'd give a party for their favorite instructor, and I'd get it every time.

Gary Swanson:

Isn't that great? So you served actually thirty years. So you were in World War II, and then did you have sea duty during Korea and then sea duty also during Vietnam?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, yeah. Vietnam, what happened in Vietnam was that I -- I'd been an instructor for three years in Newport, Rhode Island, and then I'd been at the torpedo station on a torpedo boat and all of that, and I got my orders -- I had bought a home there and all. I was on the Cascade, a destroyer, before I went to the officer candidate school. And they give me orders to report to the West Coast, USS Vesuvius -- I mean Aludra, Aludra, AF-55. So I went aboard that, and I stayed aboard that about a year or six months, and I got in the middle of the Pacific, and I got a report telling me my wife was an alcoholic, and she had had a breakdown and went to the mental hospital, and my sister-in-law had come up -- my brother's wife had come up and took care of the kids. And so I went back and -- they give you six months' hardship, and you either square it away or get out. And then I helped on the Sirius, was on the Sirius, which was a supply ship. And then after that six months, I decided, well, okay, she's okay. So I went -- they reassigned me to the Vesuvius. I boarded that in Port Chicago. And that was blown up during the war, the whole town. They had Afro-American troops doing all of their loading, and something went wrong, and the whole town was just wiped out.

Gary Swanson:

And where was that?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Port Chicago, which is in the San Francisco Bay area on the inland side. It's where we operated out of, Port Chicago. The whole town went up. They carried ammunition, and what we did was supply -- all during the Vietnam War, we resupplied the carriers at night and other ships.

Gary Swanson:

Did you do sea duty there, or did you --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Sea duty, yeah, nine month cruises, you went out, and the next one was nine months, but our relief ship broke down, and we stayed a whole year at sea. Once during the war, we went 300,000 miles in three months without the screws on the Mighty Mac -- without the screws ever stopping.

Gary Swanson:

Of your thirty years' service in the Navy, how many of them were spent doing sea duty?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Most of them. A boatswain's mate does more sea duty than any other rank.

Gary Swanson:

So what would you say? 26? 25?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Well, let's see. I had about a year and a half in Pearl Harbor. I could've had two years. And then I took a twilight cruise about two years at Jacksonville. I was an instructor about three years. And that was it, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

So it was about 24 years that you spent in sea duty.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, sea duty.

Gary Swanson:

Well, time doesn't allow us to continue. You've had some wonderful stories from World War II. You had a great military career. So you actually retired from the service in 1970. Did you retire working at that time, or did you go to work somewhere?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

They had a little program, you could do something a week or so before you go out. You could go job train or something. And so I'd -- the lady that lived next door to me tried to get a real estate license in Florida, and she couldn't pass the exam, so she asked me, "Why don't you take the exam?" So I went to the real estate boards and worked a little bit. So I went down once and took the exam and passed it, and I got into real estate, and I was a sales manager and got my broker's license. And I stayed in that a while, and finally I said -- most of your time is the weekends, showing -- you know, women buy the houses, not the men. Women make the decision. And I said, "Oh, I'm tired of showing these women around houses on weekends. I'm just tired of that." I was smart. I said, "When I go out, I want to have a house paid for, and then what I get will be enough that I don't have to work for somebody unless I want to." And my boss knew that. I wouldn't unless I wanted to. So I quit, and I spent -- I had five condos in the Exchange in Florida in Daytona Beach. Do you know what the Exchange is? You exchange it for a place to work. So my second wife -- and I married her in '80 -- my God, we travelled all over. We went to Australia, New Zealand, Cape Cod, anyplace we wanted to go. So I really had a ball. And we decided to move to Saint Augustine, which is a nice place, bought a lot that bordered the ocean on one side of the division and the Matanzas River in Saint Augustine. You can see Saint Augustine right across it. We was going to build there, and we took an exchange vacation to the Keys, and we saw the sunset there, oh, beautiful, and the sun rise, and said, "Hey, this is for us." So I bid on two lots, one in El Mirador and one in Big Pine Key, and I would have had to have bought them both if they accepted, if you got the bid you asked for it. The guy at El Mirador turned it down, and the guy at Big Pine Key accepted it. So we built a house there right on the Gulf, and it was not that far from the water, swim year-round. I was married fifteen years. We had a ball.

Gary Swanson:

Wonderful. So when did you move back to -- when did you move to Kansas City to be near your family?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Well, when I got a divorce. I got divorced. She was 23 years younger than me, but she was sort of mature for her age and all of that. I come back up here in about '93.

Gary Swanson:

Well --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I go back to Florida sometimes for the winter. My son's in Jacksonville.

Gary Swanson:

Yeah, it gets a little cool here compared to most of your life.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

So you had a wonderful military career, I mean certainly exciting. You could write a book. You probably should. And then you had a nice civilian career since then. So you decided you wanted to be with your family. Tell me about your family. You have children?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, I have my daughter here, Joan. She's 51 on June 10th. She works -- her husband's sister lives right down here. And she's married to a doctor, Dr. Appl. So they got them to come up here from Florida back in the 90's or '89. And she was in the office just as a -- manning the phone and all, and when I come up here, that's what they were doing. He was doing the accounting, and she was -- so they got tired of it, and we went to Florida for a vacation. They'd quit the job, and the office sort of went down, and the doctor called, and he told my daughter, Joan, he told her -- he says -- he said, they talked it over, and they said, you know what we need to run this office? We have it right under our nose. Joan. So they called her and told her, just name a figure, a salary, to come back. And so she give them -- she could have gotten more if she --

Gary Swanson:

So she came back.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

She came back, and she's been there ever since.

Gary Swanson:

Does she have children?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, she couldn't have children.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. But you have some other --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, my son had -- let's see. I've got two grandchildren by him.

Gary Swanson:

What's his name, your son?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Clyde, Clyde.

Gary Swanson:

And the grandchildrens' names?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Toby and Sean.

Gary Swanson:

Sean. And they live in the Saint Augustine area?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

No, no, Jacksonville.

Gary Swanson:

The Jacksonville area.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah.

Gary Swanson:

And then you have another daughter.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I have -- no, another son. He lives in (unintelligible) where the state prison is, works for there. And he has four children. He's had -- let's see -- one wife, two, three -- he's on his fourth wife. He had two children by his first wife, two girls, my granddaughters. And then he had -- the second wife, he didn't have any. The third wife, he had two more children, two boys. And then his fourth wife, he didn't have any.

Gary Swanson:

So he has four children then --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, he has four.

Gary Swanson:

Your grandchildren. So that's wonderful. It's a wonderful family; isn't it?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yep, yep. Life has been good to me. I've been blessed.

Gary Swanson:

Yes, you have. I think you have a picture of yourself when you were a young guy, and then at retirement, just a marvelous, marvelous picture. Let me -- we've got the ship in front of it there. So kind of turn it sideways. We're getting a glare. Kind of turn it. Yeah, a little bit more, a little bit more. Yeah, there we go. I wanted to get a shot of you when you were a young guy, and then you've got that imperious look of a Master Chief there on the right, probably at the time that you had retired. Show me a picture of your medals, if you would, please.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Okay.

Gary Swanson:

And we won't name them all, but you can see that you certainly served with distinction and got rewarded for that.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

The badge on here is Chief of Police.

Gary Swanson:

Chief of Police.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Master of Arms, every ship I was on.

Gary Swanson:

Oh, is that right?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Besides my other duties, I had that.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. Show me -- I think you have another picture; don't you?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I have my hat.

Gary Swanson:

We can just look at that. You don't need to put it on. Because it's World War II, Korea, and a Vietnam Veteran.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

And this.

Gary Swanson:

And Pearl Harbor Survivors' Association. I know you're proud of that.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yes.

Gary Swanson:

And, lastly, why don't you show -- this is Pearl Harbor and the --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

USS California.

Gary Swanson:

The California.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

At the head of Battleship Row. My battle station --

Gary Swanson:

Where are you?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

My battle station is right back here. You can't really see it. You can see part of it. It's the same height as back in this smoke, 125 feet up in the air. We'd already been hit. You can see we were listing over.

Gary Swanson:

I can see that.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Listing to port.

Gary Swanson:

Well --

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

And we've got a picture of the destroyer, if you want to show that.

Gary Swanson:

Do you have that?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, yeah.

Gary Swanson:

Okay. Gunny -- Dunny, what ship is this?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

USS McCalla, DD-488.

Gary Swanson:

As a last thing here, tell me, if you can remember them all, what ships did you serve on at sea from the time of your first ship after boot camp?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Okay. The first ship was the USS Pyro, AD-2, an ammunitions ship. The second ship was the California, BB-44, battleship, sunk at Pearl Harbor. The third ship after that was the destroyer, USS McCalla, DD-488, 1650 Class, new out of New Jersey, and that was for the whole World War II through -- all of World War II on that. And then after that, I headed back to -- I was assigned to -- when I reenlisted, I was assigned to the Valley Forge, but I didn't get to commission it because I went to the hospital, I think it was. And then I got the USS Fresno, which was an antiaircraft cruiser, all antiaircraft guns. And after that, the next ship was the USS Harlan R. Dixon, DD-708. We called it -- we was in what's called the ACDC squad in the Atlantic. We went to the Mediterranean about four times in six months. And after I served on that about four or five years, six, I got the Cascade, a destroyer tender, which was better duty. We went to the Med about three times, but when you came back to Newport, you stayed in the harbor. And after that -- after instructor school, then I got the Aludra.

Gary Swanson:

How do you spell that?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

A-l-u-d-r-a, Aludra, based out of Alameda, California, and it's an AF-55. "F" means a refrigerated ship. You carry frozen food and other foods and resupply the ships underway. And after the Aludra, I put the Sirius out of commission. And after that, I got my last ship, the Vesuvius, USS Vesuvius, AE-15, and that was in Vietnam.

Gary Swanson:

Well, Dunny, certainly a very, very distinguished naval career. As a parting shot here, is there anything that you would like to say about serving your country, and in particular serving in the Navy? As you look back over thirty years of service, what comes to mind?

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

I'm glad that I did it. Would I do it again? I don't know. Yes, I would have joined up after the Depression, but would I have stayed in after that six years? Maybe, maybe not. I'm not sorry, looking at it now. I'm glad I stayed, and I'm proud of it. The thing that makes me the happiest is when somebody comes up and -- particularly here in Kansas, I've seen it more -- and sees my license plate that says "Pearl Harbor Survivor," and they say, "I want to thank you for what you did for your country." Tears come to my eyes --

Gary Swanson:

Amen.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

-- when they say that.

Gary Swanson:

Thank you so much for your time.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

Yeah, when somebody says that, that makes me feel it was all worthwhile.

Gary Swanson:

Great words. Thank you, sir.

Jesse W. Dunnagan:

You're welcome.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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