The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Robert Mackey [June 6, 2003], Transcribed and edited by Robert Mathes between June 7, 2003 and July 17 2003

Robert Mathes:

I am Robert Mathes from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Oak Park Vet Center. The date is June 6th 2003. The time is currently 11:15 AM. I am currently with Mr. Robert Mackey. I am here to interview Mr. Mackey for the purposes of a Library of Congress History - Oral Interview. As a partner with the Library of Congress these oral histories are conducted with World War II vets quite often here.

Judge Mackey, could you tell us please, during your World War II experience who you served with during that time and approximately what years were you active - on active duty during World War II.

Robert Mackey:

Do you want all of my assignments - my orders from different places?

Robert Mathes:

No. Just generally the branch of service you served with and when you were on active duty.

Robert Mackey:

The U S Navy, the Supply Corps

Robert Mathes:

And you became active in the U S Navy at approximately what?

Robert Mackey:

1942, I was Commissioned.

Robert Mathes:

1942

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

Okay, and you completed your active duty approximately when?

Robert Mackey:

45 - September, 1945.

Robert Mathes:

September, 1945. Okay, thank you. Could you describe, please, how you happened to get involved with the military in World War II. What were the circumstances that brought you to join the Navy?

Robert Mackey:

Well they had an office - the Navy had an office down at the Board of Trade and I went down there and got an application for this -

I was in Business Administration at Northwestern, so I applied for the Supply Corps and I got the - whatever the subscription and so forth and filled it out and eventually they commissioned me.

Robert Mathes:

Prior to being Commissioned, did you have to go through any kind of training to be a Naval Officer?

Robert Mackey:

Not prior to that time, no.

Robert Mathes:

Not prior to that time. You mentioned this is 1942. Do you recall what month in 1942 you made your initial ...

Robert Mackey:

I think it was in October, but I didn't go on active duty 'til May of '43

Robert Mathes:

May of '43. When had you completed your Bachelor's Degree at Northwestern University ?

Robert Mackey:

At that time in '43 but they automatically eliminated our finals, so when, we graduated there in June, I think, at Northwestern I came down and participated in the graduation.

Robert Mathes:

In June of 1943?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

Right, so ...

Robert Mackey:

From Northwestern

Robert Mathes:

From Northwestern and, at that point, did you then go on active duty with the Navy?

Robert Mackey:

I was on active duty at Great Lakes

Robert Mathes:

At Great Lakes. Could you talk a little bit about that experience?

Robert Mackey:

Well I was in the Dispersing Office there - participated in the Procedure - went out to around the boot camps and paid the people that were in boot camp - paid them and so forth

Robert Mathes:

What was it like going from being a college student, civilian to being a Naval Officer handling money?

Robert Mackey:

At that time I didn't handle money

Robert Mathes:

You didn't handle money. Was the transition of going into the military difficult?

Robert Mackey:

No

Robert Mathes:

No. Anything you can recall of particular interest during your first 6 months to 8 months or so on active duty?

Robert Mackey:

Well, in September of that year '43, I got orders to report to Harvard Business School - the Navy Supply Corps School at Harvard University. And then they - they put us through about 'til the end of the year the procedure that the Supply Corps had to go through - the pay day deal and the mess, the mess hall, all the Supply Corps of the Navy was our course - in a 6 months course.

Robert Mathes:

Was this training strictly for Junior Officers like yourself entering the service or for others?

Robert Mackey:

I think most of them were in class with me. We had a big class. I think they were mostly probably Ensigns and Lieutenant J.C.'s.

Robert Mathes:

And so you were at Harvard University?

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

And so were you actually domiciled at Harvard?

Robert Mackey:

Right! They gave us room in the Business School. They put us up there. We had an assignment of our room and desk and all that sort of thing - then, in the morning, we'd march over across the - to the buildings where they had the school rooms and so forth

Robert Mathes:

Through that experience, did you make any friends that you kept for sometime afterwards?

Robert Mackey:

No, I didn't have any friends I kept, although, naturally, while I was in a room there with two or three other Officers and so forth.

Robert Mathes:

And upon completing the School at Harvard, the Supply School at Harvard, where did you go after that?

Robert Mackey:

I got orders to N.A.S. Beaufort, South Carolina.

Robert Mathes:

That's (stands for) Naval Air Station?

Robert Mackey:

Yes!

Robert Mathes:

And what was your job there?

Robert Mackey:

Well, my job there was the Warehouse Officer - then I also had the mess - general mess there and I also inspected the gasoline and all that sort of thing and - while I was there at a -1 had the division and so forth - at supply

Robert Mathes:

And what was the function of that particular Naval Air Station?

Robert Mackey:

There were airplanes there. Airplanes were patrolling the Atlantic there for (German)submarines. Then, they also had airplanes they were training on - anyway there were planes there - then there were also PBV's, Patrol Bomber Vega's, and they were all operating out of that Station.

Robert Mathes:

They were all operating out of that - and you say - you say

Robert Mackey:

And it was SVD's. They had Scout Bombers Douglas. They were trained with

Robert Mathes:

SVD - Could you tell me what that stands for, again?

Robert Mackey:

Scout Bomber Douglas

Robert Mathes:

Scout Bomber Douglas - and those were aircraft that were stationed at Beaufort also. You indicated that they were searching and tracking for submarines. Was that a common kind of operation at that point?

Robert Mackey:

All over the East Coast; they were patrolling the East Coast on the Atlantic there. I don't know where it started for NAS Beaufort but it probably entailed up to North Carolina and down to Georgia, I suppose

Robert Mathes:

So this was a fairly significant coastal patrol operation that the Navy...

Robert Mackey:

They were also training there with training aircraft

Robert Mathes:

They were training - they were training new pilots?

Robert Mackey:

Right!

Robert Mathes:

I see. In that particular aircraft?

Robert Mackey:

That's right!

Robert Mathes:

How much time did you spend there?

Robert Mackey:

About 6 months

Robert Mathes:

Mathes: About 6 months

Robert Mackey:

And then I was ordered to Washington DC. And then they were going to send me overseas to the CBI - China, Burma and India -War Theater of Operations - and something happened - had problems with the CBI, so they gave me orders to the Missouri. I went down the hall. They sent me down the hall there with the personnel office where they assigned me to the USS Missouri.

Robert Mathes:

Prior to that now, you say you initially had an assignment that was cancelled to the China-Burma-India theatre. Do you have any idea what you would have been doing in that capacity?

Robert Mackey:

No, not really

Robert Mathes:

Anyway, it didn't materialize

Robert Mackey:

That's right!

Robert Mathes:

And then, as you indicated, you got orders to the USS Missouri

Robert Mackey:

That's right!

Robert Mathes:

From a little background, I understand that the USS Missouri was an "Iowa Class" Battleship and was basically brand new. Is that correct?

Robert Mackey:

Yes - it was commissioned - they had just come back from their "shake down" cruise when I went aboard.

Robert Mathes:

So were you one of the first set or crew of officers?

Robert Mackey:

No, I relieved another officer in the disperse - I was assigned to the dispersing officer on that ship and I relieved another officer

Robert Mathes:

And you relieved another officer who had that duty prior to you?

Robert Mackey:

Right!

Robert Mathes:

So, as I understand, you were at the Pentagon in Washington?

Robert Mackey:

The Pentagon wasn't even built then

Robert Mathes:

Not the Pentagon. Help me out!

Robert Mackey:

The Navy Department

Robert Mathes:

It was the Department of the Navy. So you were actually assigned to Department of the Navy, in Washington - got your orders to go to the Missouri. And when did that happen?

Robert Mackey:

It was in December of '44.

Robert Mathes:

December, 1944.

Robert Mackey:

'43 - December of 1943

Robert Mathes:

December, 1943. So how did you feel about that?

Robert Mackey:

Well, I felt better - going on a Battleship, that was good duty, because they asked me when I was there, what I wanted - destroyer, or a carrier or a battleship; so I picked a battleship.

Robert Mathes:

So you got what you wanted.

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

Did you have a choice about what battleship?

Robert Mackey:

They didn't mention the name of the battleship.

Robert Mathes:

I see. But you had the choice of the type of boat you'd be on

Robert Mackey:

Yes, ship!

Robert Mathes:

Ship! I was in the Air Force. Please excuse me! You were assigned then to the Missouri. Do you recall, actually, when you first went onboard?

Robert Mackey:

Bayonne, New Jersey - about a week later.

Robert Mathes:

What happened then?

Robert Mackey:

Well, I took over the job of Dispersing Officer and then we put to sea and we went along the Atlantic Coast there. We were practicing antiaircraft procedures and they assigned me to the gunnery division for general quarters. I had a section of 40 millimeters - and then they also assigned me the coding board that was condition three and we went along the Atlantic Coast down to the Panama Canal

Robert Mathes:

Can you describe a little bit about what the coding board was?

Robert Mackey:

Coding board - they wouldn't let any enlisted men in that particular area, but their radio would send some messages then they would bring them into us and we had to work out the code. What it was - it was like a typewriter with wheels on it - about three or four, six different wheels and depending on what date it was, in particular, what area it was in the coding and so forth. So we could in-code and de-code.

Robert Mathes:

And the purpose of the coding was to keep messages encrypted and secret?

Robert Mackey:

Between the various areas of the Navy

Robert Mathes:

It was to protect the security of the information being transmitted?

Robert Mackey:

I understand no one ever broke that code

Robert Mathes:

No one broke the code

Robert Mackey:

So it was a pretty good code!

Robert Mathes:

That was an additional responsibility as an Officer?

Robert Mackey:

And there were wheels on that machine, about eight of them, I think we got to replace and place based upon the area of transmission

Robert Mathes:

It sounds like it was quite technical to manage this machine

Robert Mackey:

All you had to really do was be able to find out what the code is, What it is and be able to do typing - be able to type

Robert Mathes:

So that was your function mostly - is making sure you could type in what you needed to?

Robert Mackey:

Right.

Robert Mathes:

As you described earlier, Judge, you were going on training missions, cruises, up and down the Atlantic at that point?

Robert Mackey:

Oh no! We were going out to the Pacific, but we had to go down to the Panama Canal to get out.

Robert Mathes:

I see! So you were going into the South Atlantic into the Panama Canal?

Robert Mackey:

Panama Canal, right!

Robert Mathes:

What was that like, going down to and through the canal?

Robert Mackey:

Well that was an experience. You noticed that canal was pretty narrow; in fact they made the ship so it could just fit through the canal.

I think we had about two feet on each side. And, of course, we had the procedure of the canal where they lower and lift the ships. There were different levels in the water of the Pacific and the Atlantic and they had a lifter lower the ship to abide by that

Robert Mathes:

Were these different locks that you went through?

Robert Mackey:

There were some locks, yes.

Robert Mathes:

How long did it take, do you recall, to actually get all of the way through the canal?

Robert Mackey:

A couple of days.

Robert Mathes:

That long! Were your sailors allowed shore time during that period?

Robert Mackey:

Not at that time. No.

Robert Mathes:

Do you recall - was there some urgency to get into the Pacific quickly?

Robert Mackey:

Well, they were getting ready for the Philippines and Iwo Jima and so forth - so they were trying to assemble as many ships out there as they could produce.

Robert Mathes:

As a Junior Officer, were you very aware of the "big picture"; the plan so to speak for your particular ship?

Robert Mackey:

I was somewhat aware. I remember when we got to Pearl Harbor,

I went over to a base there where the Marines showed me what they were doing and I looked at the map and I said you'd better go up to the Bonin Islands, which was where Iwo Jima was - and they wouldn't comment if they were going to these or weren't going there, but that was somewhat secret at that point

Robert Mathes:

So the big picture - you had a pretty good idea but some of the details were classified.

Robert Mackey:

Yes, that's right!

Robert Mathes:

Were not open to discussion. So you went from the Canal to the Hawaiian Islands?

Robert Mackey:

San Francisco

Robert Mathes:

Oh, okay, to San Francisco!

Robert Mackey:

We were moored there for a week or so.

Robert Mathes:

Were you able to get off the boat - excuse me - the ship at that time?

Robert Mackey:

I had liberty - went to the Top of the Mark and all that stuff.

Robert Mathes:

So you had an opportunity to spend some...

Robert Mackey:

And I took on some cash. I went to the Federal Reserve and got some cash for the ship

Robert Mathes:

That was part of your function, to load up with some cash

Robert Mackey:

I had two safes there in my office. Two pretty big safes

Robert Mathes:

Did you have any assistants helping you with these, managing things?

Robert Mackey:

I had score keepers, yes. I had a Chief and four or five enlisted men who were keeping the records and doing the computing and so forth with pay

Robert Mathes:

It sounds like you almost had a little department that you ran

Robert Mackey:

And they also assigned me to the ST division which was all the Negroes on the ship. All they did was wait on officers, change our laundry and make our beds and so forth, but the ST's we had in general quarters, they were assigned to guns and mission orders.

Robert Mathes:

The ST's. What did ST stand for?

Robert Mackey:

Steward Mates.

Robert Mathes:

Steward Mates. Okay

Robert Mackey:

They were mostly Blacks. There were some Filipinos.

Robert Mathes:

Mostly Black and Filipino naval personnel who had those functions. At that time I take it, that was all Black Naval Personnel were allowed to do.

Robert Mackey:

That's right!

Robert Mathes:

So you were in San Francisco for a week.

Robert Mackey:

Approximately a week

Robert Mathes:

Had you been there before - what was that like?

Robert Mackey:

That was my first trip to San Francisco. It was a good liberty, you know.

Robert Mathes:

When you say liberty, did that mean that you would have day passes and then go back?

Robert Mackey:

Go off the ship - do what you want to do - go to the Top of the Mark - and also I went to fire school there to - fire training where they taught us how to put out fires on the ship. That was about a week instruction there.

Robert Mathes:

Was this kind of a normal training?

Robert Mackey:

There were a group of men from the Missouri that were assigned to it - to the fire school

Robert Mathes:

So this is normal training that you would go through before you would go into a combat zone?

Robert Mackey:

Right.

Robert Mathes:

Just so people knew what to do in case you were subject to a fire of some kind?

Robert Mackey:

Right.

Robert Mathes:

So you were in San Francisco - a week of liberty

Robert Mackey:

It might have been two weeks, I don't know

Robert Mathes:

But a pretty good piece of time

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

You said it was good liberty - enjoyable - what happened then?

Robert Mackey:

Then we went out to the Pacific - we headed for Pearl Harbor

Robert Mathes:

Headed for Pearl Harbor

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

How long did it take to get from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor?

Robert Mackey:

About a week, I guess.

Robert Mathes:

Did you go escorted, unescorted - how did that work?

Robert Mackey:

I think we had a couple of destroyers along with us and then we were working on the guns all the time, practicing anti-aircraft

Robert Mathes:

You continued to practice anti-aircraft

Robert Mackey:

They would fly sleeves over - we would shoot at sleeves.

Sleeves would be carried with an airplane - we'd practice shooting at the sleeves

Robert Mathes:

They're called sleeves?

Robert Mackey:

Yes!

Robert Mathes:

And that was your practice?

Robert Mackey:

They were tailed behind an airplane

Robert Mathes:

Oh, I see, I see. So with the anti-aircraft guns - you could actually hit these sleeves?

Robert Mackey:

That's what we tried to do! We really couldn't hit anything until we got out in "Indian Country". When we got out of Pearl Harbor, then we started shooting pretty good.

Robert Mathes:

You called it "Indian Country". That's where you were more in the war zone - considered yourself that -so what - you went to Pearl Harbor - how much time did you spend there?

Robert Mackey:

Couple of weeks.

Robert Mathes:

Couple of weeks. Couple of weeks again. For what purpose?

Robert Mackey:

Well, we were taking on supplies and then construction and well I played golf while I was there and we had liberty there at the Officers Club and I think I had to get some money there to - to bring aboard and we took supplies aboard the ship and all that sort of thing.

Robert Mathes:

Was that kind of a relaxed time?

Robert Mackey:

Well, when I went on liberty, yes - but when we went aboard we had the routine to go through - pay days and all that stuff

Robert Mathes:

Sure. So you had to maintain that normal function. Did you, in Hawaii, for instance - your sleeping quarters were on the Missouri and you'd return, I take it - you didn't stay downtown?

Robert Mackey:

Right, we had what we called "officer's country" - they'd give us special rooms.

Robert Mathes:

Okay, okay. Special rooms on the Missouri?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

This was your own quarters, your own area on the ship, right?

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

Two weeks in Hawaii, as you recall then.

Robert Mackey:

Approximately .

Robert Mathes:

Had you been there before?

Robert Mackey:

Never been there

Robert Mathes:

So what did you think?

Robert Mackey:

Well, I was on Waikiki Beach - I remember I went out and played golf and when we played golf they had shelters on each tee because it would rain for a short period of time and then it would stop raining. So then I went over to the Officers Club. I remember I met a few people I knew in the Officers Club there from different ships and Marines to. And I went up to the compartment and we studied these charts, as I mentioned, looking at the Pacific and so forth.

Robert Mathes:

Had you played golf as a young man - high school or college?

Robert Mackey:

Yes, I played a little golf

Robert Mathes:

So, it was easy to pick up and play?

Robert Mackey:

So they gave us a set of clubs - they allowed us to go out

Robert Mathes:

So they made it pretty easy.

Robert Mackey:

Yes. Then we spent time on Waikiki Beach and all that sort of thing

Robert Mathes:

Now this was nineteen ... late '44...early '45?

Robert Mackey:

Yes - it was '44

Robert Mathes:

What was the scene like in Hawaii here prior to, I guess, kind of the big push up towards Japan?

Robert Mackey:

There were a lot of military personnel wandering around the streets

Robert Mathes:

A lot?

Robert Mackey:

Yes. And the Marines still. They would come back after they had a procedure. They would come back and stay around Pearl for R amp; R, whatever

Robert Mathes:

So Pearl was kind of almost like a home base?

Robert Mackey:

That was where the CINCPAC was, Commander-ln-Chief, Pacific

Robert Mathes:

Okay, and who was that at the time?

Robert Mackey:

Nimitz

Robert Mathes:

Admiral Nimitz?

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

As CINCPAC then, was he also responsible for Army and Air Corps?

Robert Mackey:

He was just the Navy

Robert Mathes:

Just the Navy. Who was responsible, at that time, for the Army and Air Corps?

Robert Mackey:

Well the Army wasn't in the Pacific very much.

Robert Mathes:

The Army was not there much.

Robert Mackey:

MacArthur was operating out of Australia, and I think they went up to New Guinea and they occupied New Guinea and then later on in time of a - taking the Philippines - they came up to Leyte Gulf there.

Robert Mathes:

Okay. But his command, by comparison, sounds like it was quite a bit smaller than Nimitz's

Robert Mackey:

Yes. They didn't do any island hopping or anything like that. It was all Marines. There was one instance where the Army participated with the Marines in invasion - forgot the name of the island. And the two Generals were 'Smith', the Marine General called 'Howling Mad Smith' and there was an Army General called 'Smith' and the Army had the center of the function and the Marines had the two outer areas. The Army couldn't get off the beach, so I remember Howling Mad Smith went back to Spruance who had the 5th Fleet then and said 'get the Army out of here so we can take the island' and (Admiral)Spruance called the Army back out and the Marines were able to proceed then

Robert Mathes:

Sounds like from what you are saying that the Marines and Navy didn't think much of the Army's abilities to move ahead.

Robert Mackey:

No. No one could have taken Iwojima but the Marines. I don't think the Army could have ever done it.

Robert Mathes:

It was that tough!

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

You said you spent a couple of weeks in Hawaii in preparation - got a chance to do some golfing - meet up with some colleagues in preparation

Robert Mackey:

Of course we were supplying the ship and that - and there was some work being done on the ship to

Robert Mathes:

Oh is that right?

Robert Mackey:

Yes and something - I don't know - they were doing a lot of hammering during the day. I know that!

Robert Mathes:

Again, this was a brand new ship

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

They may have been just making sure everything was battle ready?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

So you left from Hawaii. Where did you go from there?

Robert Mackey:

We went to Iwojima.

Robert Mathes:

To Iwojima.

Robert Mackey:

At the time we went around Iwo Jima and went to the coast of Japan - ended up sixty miles off of Japan and then we returned to Iwo Jima for the invasion

Robert Mathes:

You went sixty miles off the coast of Japan and were you engaged in any kind of?

Robert Mackey:

No - we were looking for engagement - maybe we thought maybe some ships -Jap ships might come out to help Iwojima but no, we didn't have any contact with them

Robert Mathes:

It sounds like - were you looking to kind of interdict any supply ships or anything else?

Robert Mackey:

I think we were there to see that nothing came out - any reserves for the Japanese on Iwo.

Robert Mathes:

So you were trying to contain any Japanese activity going South to Iwo Jima? You said there was no action of any kind.

Robert Mackey:

No, there wasn't.

Robert Mathes:

After you left your patrol off the coast of Japan, you'd indicated you set sail South to Iwo Jima

Robert Mackey:

Iwo Jima was pretty much West of Japan - Southwest of Japan. Not West!, East!

Robert Mathes:

East! Got you! Okay. So what did you do - what was your role? - the Missouri's role in preparation for the?

Robert Mackey:

Oh, we bombarded the shore and so forth and looked for aircraft and all that

Robert Mathes:

Was there much naval activity other than bombardment going on?

Robert Mackey:

There was no contact with Japanese Navy at that time

Robert Mathes:

No contact.

Robert Mackey:

No. But the Marines had a tough time on Iwo.

Robert Mathes:

But your mission - your role was to provide bombardment and soften up the island some?

Robert Mackey:

Right, and protect it in case that something came out from Japan. They still had somewhat of a Navy at that time.

Robert Mathes:

So you had that role also. To guard against Japanese Naval forces coming and re-supplying?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

How long did you maintain your posture around Iwojima?

Robert Mackey:

Well, until it was over. I forget how long it took for them to take it. Maybe a week or two.

Robert Mathes:

Week or two. Were you in a position to get regular battle reports and other information about how things were going during that time?

Robert Mackey:

Yes, we got some reports and of course I saw the flag waved there on Suribachi

Robert Mathes:

You saw that. You saw that was up?

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

How far off the shore were you?

Robert Mackey:

Oh, a couple miles

Robert Mathes:

Couple miles. Did you see that with binoculars?

Robert Mackey:

Yes, right.

Robert Mathes:

That must have been quite something?

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

So after the Battle of Iwojima

Robert Mackey:

I think we went down to Ulithi then. Ulithi was a port where we re-supply and all that while the facilities were needed for the ship - we also went on liberty to Mog Mog Island

Robert Mathes:

Mog Mog.

Robert Mackey:

We had some beer aboard locked up. We sent the beer over there with formaldehyde in it. That was a recreation at that time.

Robert Mathes:

Mog Mog Island. I never heard of Mog Mog, was it?

Robert Mackey:

Nobody ever heard of - it was a small island we could go swimming there - a little bar with some beer and that was it

Robert Mathes:

That was it?

Robert Mackey:

And I met some old friend from Northwestern that was there to

Robert Mathes:

Oh, is that right!

Robert Mackey:

Other ships were in there to.

Robert Mathes:

Sounds like a busy little place during the war at that time

Robert Mackey:

Yes. The Japs were flying over and dropping beer bottles at them. They would whistle and that was about it - they didn't have much ammunition at that time

Robert Mathes:

They were dropping beer bottles?

Robert Mackey:

Yes! They would drop then down and they'd whistle when they came down.

Robert Mathes:

The bottles themselves would whistle with the velocity and the wind?

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

You were saying they didn't have much ammunition - was this kind of in lieu of ammunition?

Robert Mackey:

I don't think they were well supplied in that area - on Ulithi

Robert Mathes:

Was Ulithi and Mog Mog - were they part of a chain of islands

Robert Mackey:

Yes - they were down there in the South Pacific area.

Robert Mathes:

Okay, so these were little islands

Robert Mackey:

Well Ulithi was pretty big, I guess

Robert Mathes:

Was it?

Robert Mackey:

We never went on liberty there -just a - put in there - took supplies aboard and that was it - except for going over to Mog Mog.

Robert Mathes:

So Mog Mog was the one small island where you could get some Liberty - go off, have a beer

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

Get off the ship for a little while.

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

So this, again, as you've indicated before, was after the Battle of Iwo Jima - after the Marines had taken Iwo Jima, you went here for re-supply and some brief respite.

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

So what happened for you next? Excuse me before I go ahead -sounds like you had a chance to meet up with some friends from Northwestern.

Robert Mackey:

Yes, I met a few people there. They were on other ships

Robert Mathes:

Were they also Supply Officers like yourself?

Robert Mackey:

No, they were Line Officers. Northwestern had a Naval ROTC that produced Line Officers. Then, I think we even went to Leyte Gulf - at that time, then, we had taken the Philippines and still were fighting on them - we went to Leyte - we put in there - into Leyte Gulf - a lot of ships there

Robert Mathes:

Let me ask just for clarification - was this after the famous Battle of Leyte Gulf?

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

So that battle had been won already?

Robert Mackey:

They were still fighting it - going into Manila and so forth.

Robert Mathes:

The Missouri went then from ...

Robert Mackey:

In Leyte Gulf they had a bar set up over on the shore for us to - for recreation and so forth. There were a lot of ships in there

Robert Mathes:

At that point, do you recall about what month and year that would have been?

Robert Mackey:

I don't know for sure - probably late '44.

Robert Mathes:

We were at the time - when we had actually gone to Leyte Gulf - was the Army still engaged in fighting the Japanese at that point?

Robert Mackey:

Well the Marines and the Army were taking the Philippines

Robert Mathes:

So it was a joint operation?

Robert Mackey:

Yes. Right before that happened, you know, the 3rd Fleet went up, way to the North - they thought the Japanese Fleet would be coming down from Japan, in the Pacific and the 3rd Fleet went up there and we weren't too well protected at Leyte Gulf, and then the Japanese came through with a pincher movement onto Leyte and we knocked them out down South there with the old battleships but they came and they got into Leyte Gulf pretty much from the North and all we had there was destroyers and baby carriers and of course the destroyers went at them had the smoke screens and the baby carriers did what they had to do.

So the Japanese Admiral thought he was going into too many problems, so he retreated and returned back to his bases - bases in the Philippines which were back to the West.

Robert Mathes:

I see, but (Admiral) Halsey and the 3rd Fleet were

Robert Mackey:

They were way up there - and then there was a message sent over us one time from (Admiral)Nimitz. We usually padded our messages with 'Mary had a little lamb' and so forth - this guy who sent it from Pearl said 'all the world wonders, where's the 3rd Fleet? And when Halsey read that, he blew his top - probably.

Robert Mathes:

Had there been a miscalculation?

Robert Mackey:

Well, he figured the Japs were going to come down from the North when they came through the islands there

Robert Mathes:

But it sounds like what your saying is that it was fortunate that we had the remaining

Robert Mackey:

That we had the baby carriers

Robert Mathes:

The baby carriers and destroyers that managed to fend off the Japanese element?

Robert Mackey:

Right.

Robert Mathes:

So you went into Leyte Gulf - did you take some liberty at that point?

Robert Mackey:

We had no liberty -a small bar set upon the shore, that was it!

Robert Mathes:

How long did you stay in Leyte Gulf?

Robert Mackey:

A week or so.

Robert Mathes:

A week or so. What...

Robert Mackey:

The next thing was Okinawa

Robert Mathes:

The next thing was Okinawa. Was that quite a distance from the Philippines?

Robert Mackey:

Yes, it was pretty far. Okinawa is real close to Japan

Robert Mathes:

So it's quite a bit North?

Robert Mackey:

And, of course, we were so close they sent out the rest of the Japanese Navy at that time. The Yamoto had 1 8 inch guns and so forth and we put up our battle flag and were going to attack them, but the airplanes went and sank them before we could get to them.

Robert Mathes:

Is that right?

Robert Mackey:

Yes. Then, of course, a lot of Kamikazes came out - and that was probably the worst beating the Navy ever took - at Okinawa, because of the dive bombers - Kamikazes

Robert Mathes:

Was that the incident I am aware of after reviewing part of your history? Was that part of - was your incident - the one aircraft hit the Missouri part of that Kamikaze

Robert Mackey:

The Kamikaze came in and dropped bombs and they were getting ready to launch. That was when the Franklin - The Franklin -practically was taken out of commission - practically - and I know we sent some ships in like the San Francisco and so forth to help them, but, anyway, they rehabilitated the ship but it couldn't fight anymore. So they sent it back to the States.

Robert Mathes:

The Franklin?

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

But could it float?

Robert Mackey:

Still float!

Robert Mathes:

Under its own power?

Robert Mackey:

Yes!

Robert Mathes:

Were you in the Battle of Okinawa - could you see what was going on, not only with your own ...

Robert Mackey:

We went in and bombarded up the Northern half of Okinawa for a little bit. Then we withdrew to protect the carriers - that's what we mostly did - we had the guns there to protect the carriers - antiaircraft guns

Robert Mathes:

Mathes: So was the primary target of the Japanese Kamikazes was our aircraft carriers?

Robert Mackey:

Yes, that was the primary, but after we sank the Yamoto, the battleships were the target.

Robert Mathes:

Then the battleships...

Robert Mackey:

Then a Kamikaze came in on the Missouri on the starboard quarter and we had five inch - five inch guns were shooting at it - and they had proximity fuses so, with the ship and the plane, it was low in the water - so the water would detonate the proximity fuses - so the plane kept coming through the splashes and that - and I guess the 40's really put it down - and he hit the ship right there at deck one and the pilot flew off on the deck. I remember a machine gun came in from the plane and stuck in the nozzle of one of the 40 millimeters and the wing flew forward under the bridge and they had to put out a fire up there. And then again, we had another Kamikaze come in. He was diving right on the Missouri and I guess they steered - whoever - the Captain steered a little bit to the port and it came in and hit right on our fan tail.

We used to have a crane that would take in our float planes - he hit that and spun into the water at that time and then detonated - and I guess we had to have damage on our screw(ships propeller) there

Robert Mathes:

Were you on the deck at that point?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

So you watched this happen?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

That must have been something?

Robert Mackey:

Yes, it was a little scary.

Robert Mathes:

Yes. Must have also been quite a relief when it was over?

Robert Mackey:

When they finally took Okinawa - it was a pretty long fight,

I mean they - the Marines went up North and the Army was assigned South, and the head of the Army, General Buckner, he was killed right in the front lines - and after the Marines took the Northern area, they assigned the Marines to the Eastern half of the Southern part - and they tried to go along with the Army and they ended up fighting the Japanese way down on the Southwest corner of the Island. That's where the last stand of the Japanese was portrayed there.

Robert Mathes:

But it sounds like Okinawa, like Iwo Jima, was very tough

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

Did the Kamikaze activity stop at a certain point during the battle or did it go the whole length of the battle?

Robert Mackey:

It was a continually coming - Kamikazes - they would - our destroyer groups put them on picket ships - they would hit the picket ships - the destroyers - they would be the first ships they would see and they would dive into the picket ships

Robert Mathes:

So you were - you always had to be in watch for...

Robert Mackey:

Well, we had our radar. Radar would pick up what we'd call 'boggies' and they had the IFF (Identification friend or foe)and so we'd go out there and contain the 'boggies', so to speak.

Robert Mathes:

Were you and your ship the first to pick up incoming boggies because of your radar?

Robert Mackey:

I don't know if we were first but we had pretty good radar

Robert Mathes:

You had pretty good distance on the radar?

Robert Mackey:

Yes. Japs would drop (aluminum) foil, whatever they call it, which would try and take the radar out of position from where the plane was

Robert Mathes:

This is side two of the interview with Mr. Robert Mackey, World War II Veteran. The date is June 6, 2003. The time is approximately 12:15pm. Judge Mackey could you describe where the Missouri and yourself proceeded from after the Battle of Okinawa?

Robert Mackey:

Well, we proceeded along the Eastern Shore of Japan and we bombarded up and down that Eastern Shore

Robert Mathes:

And this was after Okinawa and prior to the A-bombs, I take it?

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

During that bombardment - approximately when was that - do you recall?

Robert Mackey:

It's kind of hard to figure the dates - it was '45 - the Surrender was on September 2nd so this was probably July

Robert Mathes:

July of 1945.

Robert Mackey:

July or August

Robert Mathes:

This was prior to the dropping of the A-bomb by some time.

Robert Mackey:

The bomb was dropped in August

Robert Mathes:

Do you recall when you first heard about the dropping of the A- bomb?

Robert Mackey:

Well I was right there in my ward room - someone mentioned it to me and - they had a bomb and it destroyed a whole city or something that's about all I thought - I did not believe it!

Robert Mathes:

Pretty hard to believe!

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

How long after that initial information - this huge bomb had been dropped - did you hear - the second bomb occurred, about when?

Robert Mackey:

A day or two later

Robert Mathes:

A day or two later. At that time then did the story become more believable?

Robert Mackey:

When the Japanese said they were going to surrender it became more believable

Robert Mathes:

Did that occur shortly after the second bombing?

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

Yes. As I understand it then, sometime shortly after that you got word that the Missouri would be the Surrender Ship?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

What did you do at that point? What did the boat do?

Robert Mackey:

Well the ship went into Tokyo Bay. When we took on some Japanese pilots (harbor pilots) who were telling where all the mines were and so forth so we could go safely into Tokyo Bay.

Robert Mathes:

I see, I see - and as you shared with me before, you had a very interesting role in preparation for the Surrender. Could you kind of describe how that happened and what you ended up doing

Robert Mackey:

Well, before the Surrender we took over a particular amount of "Bluejackets" or sailors over to Tokyo Naval Base to occupy it and then we came back - the Surrender took place after that

Robert Mathes:

The Surrender took place just a little bit after that.

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

I understand that there was some initial controversy about the actual table that was involved.

Robert Mackey:

In August, it took a couple of weeks for us to get into Tokyo Bay.

Robert Mathes:

Took a couple of weeks.

Robert Mackey:

Yes

Robert Mathes:

And you'd indicated also that you needed some support from the Japanese to get into the harbor

Robert Mackey:

That's right.

Robert Mathes:

You also, as we talked before, there were some kind of unusual circumstances about securing the table, the right table to actually have the Surrender. Could you share some of that story?

Robert Mackey:

Well the day of Surrender, September 2nd of '45 - I don't know if I had breakfast - I went into my office - I went topside and I walked along the starboard side of the ship - the main deck and they had these paraphernalia for pictures to be taken - everything else was outside the ship or a line the ship right there on the starboard side and I went up the ladder to the 01 level where they were preparing for the Surrender. I met Harold Stassen there. He was the former Governor of Minnesota and represented us in the United Nations before he came back on Halsey's staff. Halsey was the - 3rd Fleet and rode on the Missouri at that time - so - I asked Stassen "what are you doing?" or something. I knew him fairly well. He said, "We're going to have a Surrender" He says, "but the British sent us over this table and it's not big enough and I don't want it on a British table anyway".

It was about as big as a card table. And he said, "What do we have aboard?" So I said, "Well, what about a general mess table?" He said, "We can't have a formal surrender on a general mess table". I said, "Why not! We put a ward room cloth over it and it would probably look all right" So he said, "okay", so he sent a boatswain down to get a mess table - steward mate to get a cloth out of the wardrobe - green felt cloths, which we'd - after dinner we'd throw over the tables we'd played cards on that or something. So, when they set up that way - was brought up and a couple of chairs we brought up from the ward room, up from the ward room and I said, "Harold, it looks all right to me!" That's the way the table of surrender was used.

Robert Mathes:

So he was satisfied too?

Robert Mackey:

Right. Guess we had nothing else aboard.

Robert Mathes:

You had nothing else aboard!

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

And I take it you wanted it to be American merchandize? So how long - I take it you were also present on the deck for the Surrender?

Robert Mackey:

Well when they were about to have the Surrender, the Japanese newspapermen were taken aboard, and I was assigned to one of the Japanese newspapermen during that time and I took him up to the top of turret two the top of the 40 millimeters, you could see right down on to the deck there where the Surrender was to take place. And so then they'd sent out dress uniforms for the Marines that time - with their blues, because at that time all the Marines wore was khaki - and the Marines had their dress blues on and then we had the Navy - the band -we had a band on the Missouri and so forth - and then they went over and took up the Japanese who were there for the surrender and brought them aboard and then they had to come up the ladder to the 01 level -and of course, the senior men there, they were in tails, I think most of them. The senior man had a hard time getting up the ladder to get on the 01 level because he had one leg, I think. It was blown off by somebody when he was advising Japan not to go to war with the United States, but anyway.

Robert Mathes:

Let me ask you. Was he a diplomat or a military officer?

Robert Mackey:

He was a diplomat. There were about four or five in civilian clothes, and there was one General there, I remember. And he was there, to - and all behind the table, they lined up - all the countries that were involved in World War II. The Dutch and the British and the French and also the Russians and then (General)MacArthur came out, I guess he was in the Chambers of Halsey there. And he came out and accepted the Surrender. He told them to put names down and all that sort of thing. The books, we had laid out in front of them, which, I guess, were flown over from the United States, prepared for the Surrender.

Robert Mathes:

Was - let me ask you this - was because of what you're describing, was MacArthur senior to Nimitz?

Robert Mackey:

I don't know, I don't know but I think Truman felt that should -MacArthur was the right guy to take to take the Surrender at that time -of course he (President Truman) relieved him of command in Korea.

Robert Mathes:

But at that time he politically thought it would be correct to have MacArthur accept it? What a - once the Surrender Ceremony was over -what happened next for you?

Robert Mackey:

Well, everybody dispersed, you know. I went down, probably to my office, sleeping area and so forth. And then we got ready to leave Tokyo Bay. And as the Surrender was finishing and the Japanese were leaving the ship, I guess a hundred or two hundred airplanes buzzed the ship - right then, a flotilla of planes flew over the ship there.

Robert Mathes:

These were our aircraft I take it?

Robert Mackey:

Right, right! Very impressive!

Robert Mathes:

Yes

Robert Mackey:

And then we took off from Tokyo Bay - we went to Guam

Robert Mathes:

You went to Guam.

Robert Mackey:

Right. We laid around Guam for a few days. And then we went back to Pearl Harbor - and we went back to San Francisco And then over to the Panama Canal - went out into the Atlantic - And October - first week in October - was "Navy Day" in New York

Robert Mathes:

In New York

Robert Mackey:

So the Missouri went up the Hudson into New York for the Navy Day. And on Navy Day they had everybody come on board - the President, the Mayor, the Governor and everybody else - they had the ceremony and all that

Robert Mathes:

Sounds like a welcome home

Robert Mackey:

Yes, it was. And we moored then at Pier 90 and our ship was off of 50th Street

Robert Mathes:

So you moored at Pier 90 - sailors have liberty again?

Robert Mackey:

We were settled in the middle of the Hudson at the time, and later they moved over to the pier.

Robert Mathes:

At that time all the same crew was attached to the ship even though

Robert Mackey:

Some would come and go - you know but mostly the same guys were there - and then when we left there, then we went down to Norfolk, then we got orders to go to Istanbul. The Ambassador from Turkey had died. They said you take the body of the Turkish Ambassador back to Istanbul. So, we went across the Atlantic into Gibraltar and then to Istanbul through the Bosporus. And we had a big ceremony there in Istanbul.

Robert Mathes:

Isn't that kind of unusual duty in a sense for a naval vessel to conduct that kind of operation?

Robert Mackey:

Well, we were showing off the Missouri as the Surrender Ship. Everybody thought we won the war - so we went there - spent a few days in Istanbul, then we went over to Athens, stayed a few days there - went to Italy there

Robert Mathes:

Naples?

Robert Mackey:

Napoli - yes. Then we flew up from Naples to Rome and had an audience with the Pope and all that sort of thing.

Robert Mathes:

That's quite impressive! It sounds though like that the Missouri is symbolic of the victory in the Pacific

Robert Mackey:

To the Europeans anyway!

Robert Mathes:

Right.

Robert Mackey:

And then we went over to Algiers

Robert Mathes:

To Algiers!

Robert Mackey:

Yes. And then they flew us on some German junker to the French Foreign Legion way South of there and I remember the French came aboard and they said they needed some flour. I had the duty that day, so I took them all down to one of the holds there - big bags of flour.

I handed one up to them - I said, "How many do you want?" he said, "one's enough". So when we got back to Algiers, they had a party for us - had all this pastry on the table there. I said, "where did you get all this flour for this pastry?" "They're all from the flour you gave us". The French pastries all - they were very light.

Robert Mathes:

Yes. Right. Right, right

Robert Mackey:

We were entertained in Algiers - we were invited to certain houses and so forth. Then we went back and ended up in Norfolk and then went up to Maine. And then we were moored in Maine at Portland

Robert Mathes:

Okay, okay.

Robert Mackey:

And by that time I had enough time to get out but I didn't have any relief - but I had all that money and everything, so I telephoned the Personnel Department in the Navy and I said, "Send me some relief, please"

Robert Mathes:

Yes.

Robert Mackey:

So they sent up an Officer to relieve me.

Robert Mathes:

So you had enough points and time to get out?

Robert Mackey:

To get out, yes. I was one of the few left aboard, at the time, of the old crew, you know, at that time.

Robert Mathes:

So you'd spent about as much time during the war on the Missouri as anybody!

Robert Mackey:

And when I was leaving the ship they gave me 6 side boys - piped me away from the ship.

Robert Mathes:

That's kind of nice!

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

So at the point that you left the Missouri, Judge, did you then leave active duty completely?

Robert Mackey:

No, I went down to Boston and then back to Chicago.

Robert Mathes:

Now I know because you'd shared this with me before that you had a long career also as a Reserve Officer.

Robert Mackey:

Yes, well after the war I went to Law School. And then, after I was in practice, in Chicago, they had a segment of the Judge Advocate General - the lawyers for the Navy, so I transferred into that and we had meetings once a week over in the court house, and then we'd go every - every year we'd go to special duty like down in New Orleans and so forth - and then I was assigned to Great Lakes with the JAG and so forth.

Robert Mathes:

I take it then you'd left active duty, you'd left the Navy, but once you completed law school, got your law degree, you got involved with the JAG.

Robert Mackey:

We went over one time to Washington to get sworn in before the Supreme Court

Robert Mathes:

Yes.

Robert Mackey:

And while we were there, (Vice President) Nixon invited us up to visit him

Robert Mathes:

Is that right.

Robert Mackey:

The Vice President's Chambers. So we went up there and we had a conference with him for a half hour

Robert Mathes:

That's quite interesting. This was when he was Vice President under Eisenhower?

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

Yes, yes. So you completed then your military career in the reserves after you active duty time?

Robert Mackey:

That's right.

Robert Mathes:

So you are a retired reserve officer, I assume?

Robert Mackey:

Yes. I had 20 years in.

Robert Mathes:

You got your 20 years in.

Robert Mackey:

Yes, I get beer money every month

Robert Mathes:

Yes. Just a couple of questions as we kind of wrap up the your military history. In looking back, what kind of difference has it made to you in your life that you had an experience as you did in the war?

Robert Mackey:

Well it didn't make much difference. I went to law school right after that and they put us through in two years at Loyola - usually it's 40 three years in law school, but they put us in two years by going to summer school.

Robert Mathes:

I see

Robert Mackey:

We took the bar and so forth.

Robert Mathes:

But then again you went back into the Navy.

Robert Mackey:

Well when we got the JAG organized there in the Court area of Chicago, we had about, I don't know, 50 or 100 guys would be in the contingent - they were meeting once a week and so forth.

Robert Mathes:

So you had that association with those other lawyers for quite a while.

Robert Mackey:

Right

Robert Mathes:

Is that something you reflect on now - was of value to you?

Robert Mackey:

Well, it got me a pension, anyway.

Robert Mathes:

Well, okay!

Robert Mackey:

And then there was some experience like going to New Orleans and going to Jacksonville - hanging out around those bases - going to Washington - Pentagon and so forth.

Robert Mathes:

So you got some interesting travel.

Robert Mackey:

Yes. I went to the Pentagon once, then they sent me over to our Congressman. When I got there, they said "Go over and visit your Congressman, but don't go in uniform. Put on civilian clothes"

Robert Mathes:

So, as you said, in total, the military and reserve experience gives you a little beer money, at least. It kept an association going for you with the Navy for a long period of time. You had mentioned earlier, you had not chosen, as a young man at Northwestern, to join Naval ROTC.

Robert Mackey:

No I didn't.

Robert Mathes:

Is it true that you had no thoughts, prior to the war coming along, about going into the service in the Navy?

Robert Mackey:

That's right. After the war they honored me at Northwestern as the "Naval Man of the Year" or something.

Robert Mathes:

Is that right!

Robert Mackey:

Later on.

Robert Mathes:

Is that right! But this was not something you had looked forward to doing, at all, prior to the war.

Robert Mackey:

Right.

Robert Mathes:

What had you thought you would do had we not gone to the war?

Robert Mackey:

Well, I had gone to business school so I figured I'd go into business or something but then I decided to go into law school.

Robert Mathes:

Had you actually decided to go to law school after the war or

Robert Mackey:

More or less after the war.

Robert Mathes:

More or less after the war. Did you use the Gl Bill as part of?

Robert Mackey:

Oh yes!.

Robert Mathes:

Yes. One other question regarding your active time. Is there anything you would. If you had a chance to re-write history - is there anything you would do differently?

Robert Mackey:

I don't know what you really mean by that?

Robert Mathes:

Oh, I don't know - It's just a general question.

Robert Mackey:

If I didn't go to the military, I'd probably gone into business there at that time there - and then of course, some people - I had polio when I was 13 - and some people said I didn't have to go to the service - but I could have got out of it, but I never divulged to the Navy when I had that polio.

Robert Mathes:

Yes. So you very much wanted to serve in some capacity?

Robert Mackey:

Yes.

Robert Mathes:

I guess, let me stop at this point.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us