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Interview with Robert Bevan Montague [2/3/2005]

Carl Raymond Cox:

Hello, and welcome to the Veterans History Project. My name is Carl Cox and we are here with the Voluntary Resource Management Service of the VA San Diego Healthcare System at the VA Medical Center in San Diego, California. I am the volunteer at this facility. I am the producer, and I will be the cameraman and your host conducting today's interview. Today's date is February the 3rd, 2005. And today's guest is a veteran of World War II. Please welcome Mr. Robert Montague.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your full name.

Robert Bevan Montague:

Robert Bevan Montague.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your date of birth.

Robert Bevan Montague:

April 3, 1921.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Please state your current address.

Robert Bevan Montague:

2803 Mission Village Drive, San Diego, California 92123.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Which war did you serve in?

Robert Bevan Montague:

World War II.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Which branch of the service did you serve in?

Robert Bevan Montague:

U. S. Navy.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was the highest rank that you achieved?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Photographers Mate, Second Class. Interviewer Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Robert Bevan Montague:

I enlisted.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Where were you living at the time that you enlisted?

Robert Bevan Montague:

In San Diego, California.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me why did you decide to join the Navy?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, I was previously working for a military organization, training Air Force pilots, and I sort of had a kinship with the military, that way. And the war was on and I was mad and like everyone else we decided that to help our country.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me about your boot camp training experience.

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, it was an experience, and I don't regret a minute of it. Even though I had some sore muscles, naturally. But, because of my ROTC training in High School, I was made a Company Commander of my Boot Camp Platoon and I was sort of in the forefront in that ca ... in that instance.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was your first duty assignment after boot camp?

Robert Bevan Montague:

It was a Photographic School in, in Pensacola, Florida. It was a Photography School Basic, went on to a second school, which was Advanced Photography. We really learned even the chemical analysis of the processing film that we used, from then I went on as chosen in the top five to go to Motion Picture Camera School. And that was because in High School days I use to shoot movies of the football games from the Coaches to analyze their teams, and I had some acquaintance with actual business-like photography, and photography school.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was your first duty assignment after your schooling?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Ah, I hate to say it this way, but I did so well in motion picture camera school that I was selected one of three fellows out of the class to join the 20th Century Fox crew, which was shooting the documentary on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, which at the time was suppose to the Enterprise, called the 'Fighting Lady', and that was the name of the film they were producing. 'The Fighting Lady' with actors playing some of the parts. It was life aboard ship, the way it really was. The narrator. the narrator was Robert Taylor.

Carl Raymond Cox:

In what year was this?

Robert Bevan Montague:

It must have been in '43, early '43.

Carl Raymond Cox:

And how long were on that assignment?

Robert Bevan Montague:

It was about three or four months.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was your duty assignment after that?

Robert Bevan Montague:

There was an organization called Combat Photos, actually several organizations that operated out of the Secretary of the Navy's Office. And at the time they were in the China-India-Burma, Burma Theater. But two of their men got killed and so they brought the unit back and they were looking for replacements, and I was one of them. And Cook was another one, and you may see his photo later. This is a photograph of my Combat Photo Unit number 1 Group. It was formed under the Secretary of the Navy's Office to document what's happening on the Pacific Area, for Newsreel Theaters in the United States. Ah, this is me on the far left at the ripe old age of 25, next to me is the, Doug Jones, who was former Still Photographer with 'Look' magazine. Commander Earl Coldgrove, who was head of the Walt Disney Still Photography Department. And Lou Cook, who had a Film Exchange in Production Unit in Seattle, Washington.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was your next duty assignment after that?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, after we were organized and picked up our gear and equipment and everything in Pearl Harbor, we went aboard the U.S.S. Essex. And our Commanding Officer, Earl Coldgrove, herded us around and, and tried to get us bunks to sleep in. But we didn't even have that available.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Did you see combat?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, if you want to call flying over enemy territory with them shooting at you and you shooting back and dropping torpedoes, yes, however, I, I've always thanked the good Lord that I wasn't given a ground position like those poor Marines who had to go ashore, hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye fighting. This is a photo of me at the old age of 25 aboard the U.S.S. Essex. My prime assignment was to fly in the belly, so to speak, of a Torpedo Bomber and shoot action out of the port and starboard sides, also, out of the tail. They, they removed the gun mounts from those positions and placed this special camera that snaps into position in the fuselage.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me about some of your most memorable experiences aboard the U.S.S. Essex.

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, they were all an experience, all exciting and interesting, and you know, people have asked me were you afraid, and I wasn't afraid at all. I was in my element. I just felt fine. But we do have exciting moments when your adrenal... your adrenaline gets flowing. I would say I had three experiences there. Number one was on one of our flights over Saigon and a, the bay there. Ah, we either ran out of gasoline in the plane because they extended their, their sortie too long or it was hit by a fire and lost our gasoline. At any rate, we had to ditch. We had to make a water landing. And so, that was quite an experience there because the plane under me sank within two or three minutes, and the pilot yelled at me, 'get up, try to get outside and get on a raft, Montague.' So, I followed his orders.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long were you in the water?

Robert Bevan Montague:

It was about a day or a day and a half. And it was the China Sea in January 25th, cold, and and a we were in up, two of us, the pilot and I were in a one-man raft. We lost track of the gunner, who was in the upper turret, but he was later picked up. I was picked up by the destroyer, 'The Sullivan's', named after the five Sullivan brothers who were killed during the early part of the war. They decided never to put the families together again, because of the death. So, I was picked up by The Sullivans and returned aboard ship, soaking wet.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Were there any casualties when the, when you had to ditch?

Robert Bevan Montague:

No, we were worried about the one chap, but they did find him. Some of the youngsters may not know what kamikaze's are, but they are the suicide pilots who took their own lives like the suicide bombers today and crashed into anything that was a warship, especially were after carriers, because of all the aircraft aboard the aircraft. That kamikaze landed on the forward part of the flight line, which at the time was loaded with about 80 airplanes, all fueled, all armed with bombs and torpedoes. And a, it didn't, it was just, just forward of the aircraft, so it didn't wipe out any of the aircraft, but we all got shook up because of right in front of us it made a big hole in the deck, and in those days we had wooden decks. But within 24 hours the deck was repaired and flights continued. This is me on the deck of the Essex, as in a lot of the jobs there is a lot of waiting to do. Here I am standing by waiting for the go ahead to get into my aircraft for the next sortie.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me, how long were some of these flights that you made when you were aboard the Essex?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, of course, it depended how close we got to the, where the action was, like shipping in the bay and so forth. Usually it was no, no less than a couple of hours to get there. But sometimes it took longer and that's probably one of the reasons why I had to ditch was the longer flight. Flying home from one of the sorties in formation with the other torpedo bombers, we noticed a red streak burning down the side of the airplane right outside the ball turret, gunner's position up top. We assumed that it was blood. And so all the way home we had to look at that knowing that he probably was dead. We got aboard the ship and the damage to the ship, the plane, not the flight damage, but internal damage, and of course, the gunner was dead. And it, on a carrier you don't have big repair facilities. You can't repair a whole airplane that's badly shot up. So, the decision by the Captain was to throw the whole thing overboard and use the ship as the gunner's coffin. So, it was a very memorable and touching sequence in which I shot the story, 'Burial At Sea', which was used widely as a complete little featurette in the newsreels

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you remember the name of the gunner who died?

Robert Bevan Montague:

No, I am sorry I don't.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was the food like at sea?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, carriers being very large and very many people, up to 500 people feeding. That's, that works out with a four meals a day, about 13 thousand meals a day. They usually bake about a thousand loaves of bread a day. But the food, actually, was very good. And I can't say that it was, it was gourmet, however, it was good, fine solid food and we were never hungry.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Did you ever have an opportunity to go on leave?

Robert Bevan Montague:

No, when we went aboard the Essex, we never got shore leave once, except for one exception, there was an island that the ship would pass and let you off for 12 hours where you could get some beer. And unfortunately, no nurses, no. except the recreation volleyball and drink a few beers and then back aboard. But that only happened once in all the time I was at sea.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Was there anything that you did for good luck?

Robert Bevan Montague:

I said a few prayers, but that's more than luck, that's help.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was your duty assignment after that?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, because of the intense flying and the stress of the Essex and so, two of us had what they call 'combat fatigue.' And so we were brought back to the United States and put in the Naval Hospital at Long Beach, California. And we were there for two months recovering. After that, the logical move was from, from Long Beach to Hollywood, where I've had previous experience. And in Hollywood there was a motion picture unit producing training films and documentaries for the Navy, at what they called the 'Vine Street Pier,' and it was a regular studio with camera, lights, editing equipment, recording, the whole thing. This is me, again, part of my job after we came off the ship and went back to Hollywood, was shooting training films and activities relative to the Navy Training in the area.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Tell me more about that experience in Hollywood.

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, we got to work with alot of the movie stars, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, a, Bob Hope, Frances Langford, a, all kinds of movie stars because of their association with the, with the shows that they give for the Armed Services overseas and also, their, our programs out of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, which a regular program is recorded every week for shipment to overseas. I'm not actually in this photo, although I'm behind the camera. This is a photo of some of the acitivity we did back in Hollywood in, we have training and public relations and morale building. That's a Bing Crosby and Johnny Mercer on camera there.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long were you assigned to that unit in Hollywood?

Robert Bevan Montague:

That lastest about four or five months. I think the memorable thing about that is, it seems like every week or so, the Commanding Officer called us forward in front of the troops and presented us with a, an award of some kind.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?'

Robert Bevan Montague:

Yes, I was very thrilled to get two awards in behalf of the President of the United States, who at that time was Harry Truman, and a, they were the Air Medal. And they were from my flying duty and the risk that I took a, many sorties over enemy country. The other, the citation was five Presidential Unit Citations were given to our Combat Photo Unit #1, because as a team we produced a lot of newsreels for the folks back home.

Robert Bevan Montague:

What was your next duty assignment after Hollywood?

Carl Raymond Cox:

Well, it moved over into formerly the Armed Forces Radio and Television Services, transferred from the Film Unit to the Television Unit. We were doing television shows for the Services overseas and that's a the last of my permanent assignments.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long were you on that assignment?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, that was about a, three or four months.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you recall the day your service ended?

Robert Bevan Montague:

No, I recall it was very uneventful and there was no celebration on my part or anyone around me. I nterviewer: Where were you stationed when you were discharged?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Ah, I guess it was back in Washington. Yes, it was. We returned to the SECNAV's Office and got our discharge from his Unit.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What did you do in the days and weeks after your discharge from the military?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Nothing. Well, no, I had a chance to catch up with friends and family and, and a local situations and so forth. But the war with Japan was over. I was in San Francisco with that Unit out of Hollywood shooting a film. And the newspapers all carried the headlines, and you perhaps might know motion picture talk, a 'grip.' It's a guy who handles all the lights and the cables and so they call him 'the grip.' The headline at one,at one plan, one newspaper they captured our imagine was 'Grips Tighten on Nips.' The guys would yell .•. 'oh, we won the war.'''

Carl Raymond Cox:

What was your first job after your military service?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well I , I didn't go back to a previous occupations. Ah, I decided that with the information that I had gained in the service, through the schools, through experience, put me in a position to form my own little company. So, I started a company called, 'Paragon Productions,' And we did industrial films in San Diego. I produced the first Zoo show ever shot at the San Diego Zoo. A regular 13 episode television program. And a, films for hospitals, for doctors, for attorney's fee, a, cases and so forth.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long did you have your production company, Paragon?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, it a, it lasted about two or three years, but then television was coming in strong and that kind of kicked the film people out of the business locally. And so I converted to television. changed the name of the company to 'Color Video.' And we did commercials and things like that on video rather than on film. I nterviewer: And how long did you do that?

Robert Bevan Montague:

'That probably continued on for a, two or three years and I finally sold the business to a New York firm that, that was doing that thing a, sort of nationwide.

Carl Raymond Cox:

In what year was that?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Oh, let's see, '48 or'49, I believe early '50, early '50, yeh.

Carl Raymond Cox:

What did you go on to do after that?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, because of my working with film people, all those pre-war, a, post-war years, I came in contact with the a chap named Eugene Kiefer, who was in charge of film and production at General Dynamics Corporation. And I was without an active job at the time because I had sold that company, he wondered if I would come to work with them, as a film editor, that's what they needed. So, I came to work for them producing and editing film on the Atlas missile and their line of products. Eventually I moved from that to Cameraman and from that to Director and from that on up to Head of the Department. And a, we did corporate films for General Dynamics, traveling allover the world, a, shooting their different works of aircraft in Ft. Worth, and their shipping of submarines in Groton, Connecticut. Probably the most memorable thing was our affiliation with John Glenn. Ah, of course, he was ridiing an Atlas missile when he made his circumnavigation of the world three times, and we decided and were, we the company, General Dynamics, was selected because of our product and our films that we, our set up to produce to do a film called, 'Friendship Seven.' It was the complete story of John Glenn's trip. We had cameras in the capsule with Glenn all the time. We had cameramen, like myself, and three or four others stationed in spots around the world where there were Tracking Stations and followed John Glenn over. I happened to be in with the Tracking Station with Gordon Cooper, the astronaut at the time. And part of my other assignment was going to China, Phillipines, Hong Kong, Manila, Tokyo, Hawaii, a, shooting, what they called background footage. What were these people around the world doing while John Glenn was flying over the top. We had Chinese eating on their bunks, junks, and traders with kangaroos, and camel drivers with their camels. All around the world what was going on, on earth when John Glenn made his historic flight.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you belong to any Veterans organizatiions?

Robert Bevan Montague:

No, I'm not an active member, but I, I subscribe with Veterans of Foreign Wars.' I have a card and that.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Do you do any volunteer work?

Robert Bevan Montague:

That's my new love. I just can't seem to get away from carriers, Ticonderoga, the Essex, so forth. San Diego acquired the aircraft, Midway. The longest fighting ship in the Navy, 46 years of action duty. And she is now a permanent Museum in San Diego. And they put out a call for Navy men who knew something about carriers to come aboard and become a docents. And that's what I am doing now. I am a volunteer tour guide, so to speak. This is me receiving a, my certificate as a docent. That's a short word for curator, on the U.S. carrier, the U.S.S. Midway. Ah, and being presented my certificate by the Admiral.

Carl Raymond Cox:

How long have you been doing that?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Now, it's only been about three months, because the Museum has only been open four months. So, I'm getting acquainted, acquainted to the Museum as it's, it's developed, deck by deck.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, just a little sidelight. I've always been a musician all my life. I'm a drummer. I've played with alot of the big bands, too, so that's another story.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Well, tell me about it.

Carl Raymond Cox:

If you'd like.

Robert Bevan Montague:

Well, it started out in Junior High School. I was with a band in school and then I was in what's known as Bonham's Boys Band, was sponsored by a Mortuary. And had my own little dance band, we played for the 'Penny Noon Dancers,' and from there to Junior High to Senior High. I had a very well known orchestra in Senior High. I had some very well-known guys, for instance, the trombone player, Frank Comstock, wrote the theme music for that very familiar television show, 'bom-ba-bom-ba, bom-ba-bom-ba-baa.' And he wrote the music for other movies and television shows. The other was Paul Smith, excellent, wonderful piano player, who was an accompanist for me, singing star like a, Dinah Shore and many others I don't know of. But it was a, gave up when school was out.

Carl Raymond Cox:

Mr. Montague, I would like to thank you for participating in the Veterans History Project, and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.

Robert Bevan Montague:

It's been an honor to be here with you, and I hope that a, what I have to say might encourage some young people to think about a career in the military.

 
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