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Interview with James McDonald [Undated]

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. This is an interview with James McDonald. The date is the 30th. We're at James' residence, 149 Sales (ph) Hill Road. James was born 11/16/30.

James McDonald:

11, 11/6.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

11/6. I'm sorry.

James McDonald:

Put a slash in there.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. All right. And that looks like all I have to say. Okay. So let's begin then. Okay. So you were enlisted; right? You enlisted?

James McDonald:

I was in the Reserves in '47.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay.

James McDonald:

And I stayed in the Reserves and I tried to get out -- I tried to enlist but I couldn't because they lost my records.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh.

James McDonald:

So it took them a year and a half, almost two years before they finally found my records. I went to see the, the CO, I went to see the captain. I guess they wound up on some admiral's desk. They finally were going to make some up, but then they, they found my old, my records. When they did, that's when I went into the -- went in.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So where were you living at the time during your --

James McDonald:

I was living in Providence at the time.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. And what were you doing, just Seabees or were you doing any other jobs or --

James McDonald:

No. I was, I was already working, I was steel working at the time there. I had a job doing steel work.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So why did you decide to join the Navy?

James McDonald:

Well, I wanted to join for quite a while.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And at the time things were going on, so I was interested in being a part of it.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So that was -- so the Navy was the thing that you wanted to do?

James McDonald:

Well, the Navy -- I wanted to be in the Seabees in the Navy because it was construction.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Construction. Yeah.

James McDonald:

So that's what I followed up on. I was a Steelworker Petty Officer 2nd Class in the Navy in the Seabees.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. Yeah.

James McDonald:

And it was more construction and less formal than the, than the regular Navy.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And that's what I was interested in.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So tell me about boot camp. What can you remember about boot camp?

James McDonald:

Oh, boot camp. Yeah. I can remember that. That was in Bainbridge, Maryland. That was called at the time Pneumonia Hall.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah?

James McDonald:

Because everybody had pneumonia, one sort of a bug or another. We all wound up, the whole company that I went in with, there wasn't one left at the, at the end of the 12 weeks.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

We all wound up in a hospital. I was there for two weeks. And after that you go retraining into another group of guys that come from all the different, different corps, and then you finally graduate with those.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And it was never the same people you started out with.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So we went through the regular training. You know, you had rifle firing and, and swimming, everybody had to swim and so forth. One guy, it was funny, a friend of mine, George Farfinger (ph), he couldn't swim. And they said, "You have to do it." So we finally get to the point where we met the chief that was trying to teach us. He says, "Chief," he says, "if he can walk across the bottom without bobbing up," I says, "will you take him?" He said, "If that's the case, we'll do it." George had the type of physiology that he was like a lead weight. And he, he jumped in, he ran to the bottom -- and he walked to the -- fell to the bottom, held his breath, walked across the width of the pool and jumped up. I pulled him out on the other side. He couldn't swim.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

He was like a piece of lead. And that's part of the training right there, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. So that was basic naval training?

James McDonald:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So how did --

James McDonald:

That was all part of it. You went to classroom, you went on the firing line, you had to swim. They showed you how to throw your -- knot your pants up or your hat and throw them over your head to make an air, an air pocket so it would help you survive if you had nothing else. So it was all part of the deal.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So how did, how did Seabee training differ from the basic --

James McDonald:

Well, it was all construction. After that, I went to California and Port Hueneme, and that's a Seabee school. And there's an A school and a B school, and I think I went to the B school. You go to B first, then A. It was just the reverse for some reason. And so then you went through welding, rigging, how to put up Butler Buildings, Quanson Huts, all that type of thing to do insofar as I was steel working. And all the other trades were there, too: The electrician was there, the builders were there, the plumbers were there. But I went through the steelworker part of it right there. And that was eight months over there.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Wow.

James McDonald:

In fact, there were no planes at the time there. Everybody went out by train.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Wow. So Seabees are trained, as far as I know, Seabees are trained to build and to fight; right?

James McDonald:

Yeah, that's true, too. Oh, yeah. We had -- mostly what we had was the light, the light piece, light rifle. It was a .25 so that you didn't have something heavy to carry around with you. So the .25 rifle was your protection, so to speak, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So do you remember your, your chiefs? Do you remember your instructors? You know, what were they like?

James McDonald:

Yeah. I remember one guy, the one in Bainbridge. He had just come off a destroyer after 12 years. And he said the only way he could get off the destroyer and get on land was to teach us apes.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

So he took, he took it, and that was the only way he could get, get short duty. Because once you're a chief like that and you're on the destroyer, you are valuable at the time there and they didn't want to let him go unless he did this one thing.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So now we're getting more into the time in Korea now. Where did you go? Did you go overseas after basic training or --

James McDonald:

No. I came back to Rhode Island.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

I volunteered to go to Korea, and all the build ups were filled. They said they didn't need us. So myself and either three or four other guys came back to Davisville to MCB1. You know, we picked up our, picked up our company there, our battalion, rather. So that's what I was in, MCB1.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So you just pretty much stayed in Rhode Island and just basically --

James McDonald:

Oh, no. No. No. Rhode Island is what we would call -- that's your base of operations.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And we'd stay there probably for two months, get everything prepared, then we'd go overseas again. I went down to Cuba and I went down to, what, Port Lioti (ph), I went up to Argentia. So there's different places. And they also had the -- I was scheduled to go to the South Pole, but then I got out at the time. My time was up. My -- I was in seven and a half years at that time.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Wow.

James McDonald:

And that's when I met your grandmother.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

I knew her before, but that's when I met her. Otherwise than that, I would have stayed in.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So that was your job as a steelworker. So what did you do when you went to different countries? What did you do as a steelworker?

James McDonald:

Well, we made housing, we made marine housing down in, down in Guantanamo Bay. That's where they're keeping all those prisoners now.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And we made marine housing down there. So with the marine housing, we worked with the builders and we did all the rod busting, all that, all the steel work for that there. It was actually cement foundations. We put in, we put in all the rod, we cut it up and so forth like that. We had a ripper dipper (ph) where we'd get all that stuff, we'd bring it up to the site and then they would, they would pour the cement. And there was always two steelworkers, myself or somebody else, had these big hooks and you kept hooking it so that you'd shake the cement as the builders were pouring the cement to do that there. That was part of the job, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So I understand that you yourself didn't go into Korea and see combat; right?

James McDonald:

No, I didn't.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Okay. So --

James McDonald:

You've got to know that everybody that goes into combat has five or six people behind the lines supporting them.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Whether they're in the states or wherever there are. If one man is there, there's five men back here. And that's just, that's just the way it is.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So did anyone from your unit go over to Korea?

James McDonald:

No. There were some fellows that were there that came into the unit.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

But they didn't go from the unit over there. Our, our assignment was five or six different locations, like I say, Gitmo, Argentia, the South Pole, Port Lioti (ph), and a couple of others I can't remember. But this battalion was assigned to about six different places, and they would deploy you every, every month -- every, every couple of months, and you'd go there for either four to six months. Then you'd come back to Davisville and stay there for another month or two, then they'd ship you out again to another place. So that's -- and that goes the same with all the battalions. Each one had so many different places. And, like, we would go, number one would go to, went to Gitmo, and I think number seven took over from us for two weeks and then we'd leave and seven would do what we were doing.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

And then we'd go someplace else, take over for somebody else for a week or two for the transition, and then they would leave and we would do what they were doing. Whatever the, whatever the project was.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. Yeah. So tell me about some of your most memorable experiences. What did you do that really stands out when you went overseas?

James McDonald:

Well, up in Argentia I saved a guy in a 150-foot radio tower. He froze.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, really?

James McDonald:

We were tearing down -- it was 100-foot towers and it was three 150-footers. And I was scheduled to go up, but I was doing some groundwork at the time. So another guy went up to start making some hookups and stuff like that, and he was a little over 100 feet up there and he froze.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

He just -- you know, sometimes that happens with people. He probably looked down and wasn't used to it and he looked down and that was it.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. Yeah.

James McDonald:

So I went up and I got him. So I just had a -- I walked him down.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah?

James McDonald:

And we had safety lines and stuff like that. But I, I just got around him and every step I just talked him down and walked him down about 110 feet, something like that. That was one of the things.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Did you get, did you get any citations for that or anything or is it just --

James McDonald:

Not that I know of.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Is it just something that you wanted --

James McDonald:

No. Something had to be done.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

The guy, the guy, hey, he could have fallen, who knows what.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

And when we were down in Cuba there, we used to go on shore patrol all the time there. That was a lot of fun, a good experience. The Cuban police at the time there were dressed all in blue and they had .45s and big machetes. They'd hang the .45 on one side and a big machete on the other.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

And when there was a big disturbance, they'd come in swinging that machete. Everybody used to run, including me.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

You didn't want to get -- they knew who we were, they wouldn't bother us, but you didn't want to get in the way of them because they went nuts.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

They'd start swinging that machete all over the place to break the fight up. And, boy, it broke up fast.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. Yeah. So when you were overseas, how did you stay in touch with family and friends?

James McDonald:

Wrote letters.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Wrote letters?

James McDonald:

That was it. There were no, no -- there were telephones, but there were really no telephones available like that, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Most of the time it was just nothing. You had to write a letter. That was the communication 50 some odd years ago.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. What was the food like? Was the food good?

James McDonald:

The food was good. We had Chief Parenthal (ph). He was, he was a good man. He put out a beautiful, beautiful spread. Yeah. And we had a beautiful salad bar from this Philippine, this Philippine 1st Class. And the only bad, the only lousy food we had was when seven took over because we got on to their mess when they were taking over, their transition period, and the chief they had, he sucked. Oh, was he cheap. He wouldn't do nothing.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah?

James McDonald:

Oh, just, you know, SOS, shit on a shingle, that's about the size of it, and that's what he was feeding us.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And for the first week it was ours and the guys in seven, "This is great." They said, "Well, wait until you get our chief." And the next week, that's when we found out what they were talking about.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So a lot depends on the person that's in charge of doing what he's supposed to be doing. But we had a great, great chief as far as in charge of the mess is concerned.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So I'm going to take a wild guess and say you had plenty supplies. You were always -- so you always had everything that you needed to do the job?

James McDonald:

Oh, there was no problem with that. No. I've got no complaints about that. We always had what we needed to do. I mean, otherwise, not, we couldn't work.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

You know, being in construction, if you don't have the supplies, what are you going to do, you know?

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. Exactly. So did you feel any pressure, any stress doing your job or --

James McDonald:

No. No, not at all.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

No?

James McDonald:

Not where I was. Not what I was doing. I never had any problem with anybody.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Not a bit.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So on September 15th the first Marines landed in Inchon and the Seabees were there too. So where were you? Were you in Providence or --

James McDonald:

September 15th? What year?

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. The first year of Korea, '52.

James McDonald:

Well, they were '51 or '52.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Well, I went in in September, as a matter of fact. I had to go through boot camp at that time, I guess.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So you were probably in boot camp while all that was happening?

James McDonald:

Yeah. Yeah. I would think so. Yeah. I would say so.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So you didn't -- did you know any of the guys that landed in Inchon?

James McDonald:

No. No. No. I ran across some of the guys later on.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

But I never did -- I never knew anybody at the time there. Nobody would know them, you know, not actually unless you were in the service for a few years before that and knew people that went over, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

So I was just in Reserves then and then I finally filed my papers. That's when I went in.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. So was there anything that you did for good luck while you were on the job or --

James McDonald:

For good luck?

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Like did you have any, you know, do anything or carry anything around with you for good luck?

James McDonald:

No. No. I never believed in good luck pieces.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

I only believed in my own abilities.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Which is, you know, just the way it was. Some people may have had what you call a rabbit's foot or something.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

I didn't believe any of that stuff there. The only thing I ever wore was a watch outside of that.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. Yeah.

James McDonald:

Even today, I've never worn a wedding ring or nothing. I just -- because of the job. A lot of people, you get into the construction job, you got rings on your fingers and you get caught, you can tear your finger right off.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Especially with welding and steel and stuff like that. That's why I never wore any, any rings. So I just never have.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So how did you guys -- what did you guys do for fun? What did you guys do to entertain yourselves?

James McDonald:

Well, that depends on where you were. You always had movies every night.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And, you know, if there was nothing else to do, you always went to the movies. And you always had a little gin mill somewhere. I didn't drink, so that didn't bother me. And in Cuba we had a skating rink down there and we had a pool hall. Most everybody had a pool hall, as a matter of fact, no matter where you went. So there was movies, there was a pool hall and a lot of guys played cards. I really, in my off moments I probably read more than anything else.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah?

James McDonald:

Because I always wanted to get ahead. So there was always these tests that you had to take in order to advance your rank and everything, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

So I used to try to ace those there. That way there you move along faster and you get more money because you get more responsibility, you get more money, you get more rank.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Plus I had my longevity. At that time they used to give you, for every two years, I think they gave you $7 for every two years you were in.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Right.

James McDonald:

That's longevity. So that's, you know, so it added up. So I was in seven and a half years, so at that time I was getting $21 .

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah?

James McDonald:

Just for being in that length of time, plus your pay, whatever it happened to be.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. So what did you do when you were on leave when you came back home?

James McDonald:

Oh, the usual thing. I went skating and just saw different people, and see your friends and so forth like that, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So did you meet Grandma when you were at home or --

James McDonald:

Oh, I met her before that. I knew her before that. But when I actually met Grandma, when I actually started going more with Grandma is when I actually got out around '54.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh?

James McDonald:

But prior to that I had, I had met her up in the rink. And, of course, when I came back to Davisville, I'd go skating so I'd see her in between. So it's not like I just didn't see her for a couple of years.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

I'd see her for a week or two or something like that, a month maybe, you know, off and on.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

And then I'd go, I'd go off again, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. How long did the -- how long were you overseas for, just a month or two?

James McDonald:

We'd go over six months at a -- no, six months at a time.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Six months?

James McDonald:

That's the average. It may be a little less, it may be a little more.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

It all depends on the deployment. But it was always figured for six months.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. So you told me you went to Cuba. Where else?

James McDonald:

Port Lioti (ph), it's over in Africa.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Africa?

James McDonald:

In Argentia, which is up in Newfoundland. And that's, as a matter of fact, during World War II in the big harbor right there, that's where President Roosevelt and Churchill met on a big ship up there to discuss what was going to happen, one of their big discussions of what was going to happen in World War II, what was going on.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

So we were right in the harbor. The fact is we were living on an LST at the time there on the ship all the time we were up in Argentia.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And the bunk that I had, there was three bunks, and the height of the ship -- the compartment I was in was five and a half feet and I was 6'1".

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, geez.

James McDonald:

So I had to walk bent over. And then the steam, the steam pipe coming up to here and then the cross section coming across here. So I couldn't turn over.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So -- and it was hot. So I had to, I had to scoot myself up and slide myself in like that and stay in that position and sleep all night. I couldn't turn.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah? So what did you -- do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?

James McDonald:

Well, that was one of them.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And then there was the banana rats down in Cuba.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Banana rats?

James McDonald:

Banana rats as big as, big as dogs, dogs, about that big, like that, with big fangs on them like that. And they're not furry. They're kind of, kind of weird. Like, they were -- their fur was kind of like, almost like a porcupine, only not as long, you know. And those were the banana rats. They were good sized and they were in the bush all the time. And a lot of the bush there is very thorny, you know. You wouldn't want to go after them anyway, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And then there was the time when a shark chased me. We had, we had swimming down there.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And they used to dump the garbage over the cliff at one end about a half a mile away and that was too close to where the swimming was. So we would swim down here and the raft was out that way. So the raft was out there, I don't know, a quarter of a mile, something like that, because it shallowed off real nice.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And I was swimming out there one day and the guy was saying, "The sharks are coming," and you could see the fin. He said, "Swim." Well, I swam like hell.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And jumped -- you know, they pulled me up on the, on the raft right there.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

So they circled around a little bit and then they eventually, they left because they called one of the guys over with a boat so they could scoot around and shake them up, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So that was the garbage raft that you went after or --

James McDonald:

Oh, the garbage, the garbage from the, from the company, they would dump it off the cliff someplace and, like, feed the seagulls or whatever like that.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

But really it was too close to where the swimming was.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah.

James McDonald:

So they kind of was a little bit careful after that.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. So what about the banana rats? You talked about them, but what happened with them? Were they just weird or --

James McDonald:

Yeah, well, they just kind of were weird. Like I say, they were the size of a small dog, about yay by yay, and they had, like, fangs on them, you know what I mean. Vicious looking things.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And I guess they -- they never would bother you. I threw a few rocks at a couple of them because they came near, near our base when we were there and they took off. But it wasn't something you'd want to find, get yourself in the bush and find yourself --

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

-- you know, against one of them. I don't know what the heck they'd do, but.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Were there any pranks that you pulled on any of the other guys or --

James McDonald:

No. I was never into pranks, to be honest with you. Some guys, some guys would do it. During, during the -- in Bainbridge when we were having our --

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Basic training?

James McDonald:

-- basic training right there, yeah, it was the old warm bucket of water with the guy hanging on the lower bunk would put his hand down in the water and pee the bed.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah.

James McDonald:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was just -- it's an unconscious reaction with a person.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

You know, they couldn't help it. So after someone would go to sleep like that, you'd get a bucket of warm water and just let his arm, his hand drip into it, and all of the sudden he would wake up hollering like hell, you know. He realized he just peed his pants.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So, you know, simple stuff like that.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So what did you think of the guys that you served with? What did you think of the officers and your fellow Seabees?

James McDonald:

Oh, everybody was pretty much okay. Not, you know --

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

No guys that you didn't like or --

James McDonald:

No. No. No real hamburgers there, you know what I mean? I suppose there might have been. But you don't know everybody.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Because, you know, your complement can be, ballpark figure, somewheres around 500 to 1,000 I guess, you know, depending on just what it is. But you don't know everybody. You know, you probably know all the steelworkers. But you know some of the electricians, some of the builders because you work together a little bit, you know. But if you had a whole hut full of electricians, you know, 50 electricians, maybe you know five or six of them or something like that. Guys would get more acquainted if they played cards together, you know, and I never did. I always liked to read.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So did you keep a diary or you just read and --

James McDonald:

No. No. I never kept a diary. No.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So do you recall the day that your service ended?

James McDonald:

Well, yeah. I was, I was up in the Brooklyn Navy Yard up there, what they call -- I can't remember -- the Fargo Building, it was -- no, the Fargo Building is in Boston. It was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard up there and that's when I got out. I was up there. And I, I was thumbing my way home and this old man pulled over, pulled over to the side of the road right there, says, "Where you going?" "I'm going to Providence." "Can you drive?" "Yeah." "Get in. Drive." That was it. The guy was, I don't know, 75, something like that. And as long as you could drive, you know what I mean?

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And in uniform anybody would pick you up then at that time. There was never a problem getting a ride.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

But I drove him all the way to Worcester.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah?

James McDonald:

And then I got out, then I thumbed my way, I thumbed my way down, down the line into Providence and then down 146.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

How long did that take?

James McDonald:

What's that?

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

How long did the whole getting back from Boston to Providence take?

James McDonald:

Oh, Grandma's home. No, that wasn't Boston. That was New York, Brooklyn, New York.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, New York. New York.

James McDonald:

It was about four hours, the same time you would drive. Because I got a ride almost right away.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Oh, yeah?

James McDonald:

Yeah. Not a problem. He drove me right straight through to Worcester. So four, maybe four and a half hours. And then I got another ride from Worcester, I was on the road a couple of minutes down on 146, picked me right up and brought me right down to Providence. Like I say, at that time people would pick you up in a uniform, not a problem, old ladies, anybody would pick you up. The trust was perfect. Not today. It's another story.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So what did you do in -- hi, Grandma. MRS. McDONALD: Hi, Ben. MR. McDONALD: I'm being interviewed. MRS. McDONALD: Huh? MR. McDONALD: I'm being interviewed. MRS. McDONALD: Yes. I know. MR. McDONALD: Oh. MRS. McDONALD: I figured when I saw his car. MR. McDONALD: Yes. Go ahead. MR. FORTIER: So what did you do in the days and the weeks after you got home and after your service ended, what did you do? MR. McDONALD: Oh, I went to work.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Yeah. You know, I went to work, steel working again like that.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Any particular companies or --

James McDonald:

Yeah. I worked with Standard Die Set up in Cranston. And I stayed there until I went to Electric Boat working on the submarines down there.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

And I worked down there for, I don't know, ten, 12 years, and then after that I went pile driving.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Pile driving?

James McDonald:

Yeah. Did reconstruction, pile driving until I retired.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. You've been doing this pretty much your whole life?

James McDonald:

What's that?

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Steel working.

James McDonald:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I've been doing the steel working all my life. I do a lot of other things, but steel working was the prime thing and construction that got me the work, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So did you make any close, close friendships while you were in the service? Do you remember any of the guys or --

James McDonald:

Not really. The guys I knew, acquaintances more than anything, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

And like I say, a lot of the guys either played cards, which I didn't, or they drank, which I didn't. So I was always kind of a loner. I've been a loner all my life. I mean, that's the way it goes. I never really made close friendships, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So did you join a --

James McDonald:

Just because of the way, the way I am and what I do.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. Did you join a veteran's organization or --

James McDonald:

No. No. I didn't join anything. After the Navy I never joined a thing.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So after your experience in the military and the Navy and the Seabees, you know, what made you think about the military? What, what was your attitude towards it ______++?

James McDonald:

Oh, I had a good experience. The simple fact of the matter is if I hadn't met your grandmother, I would have kept in for 20 years. That's the way it was. I was at the breaking point. With seven and a half years, if you sign up again, basically at that time it was about four years, and that would have put me in the 11th year. Well, that's more than halfway to a pension, 20 years.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Right.

James McDonald:

I mean, you aren't going to get out then unless you have an exceptional reason, you know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So you can blame it on your grandmother. MRS. McDONALD: You blame me for ________. MR. McDONALD: Yes. If I hadn't met you, I'd have stayed in. MRS. McDONALD: Yeah? MR. McDONALD: Yeah. See. MR. FORTIER: So did you get like discipline out of it and did you get better, I don't know, I guess, a career out of -- MR. McDONALD: Well, it was a learning trip, you know. You learned different things, how to work -- well, I knew how to work with people, but you learned how to work with people and you come across different people and so forth like that.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

And if you're smart, you're learning something all the while no matter when you go in or what you do, you know. There's a certain way that you have to handle yourself in the service, just inspections and stuff like that, you know. So you've got to keep well-groomed, keep yourself healthy, keep your uniforms in good shape, your tools in good shape, you know, the whole thing like that. And the whole thing is a discipline thing, which if you just do it, there's not a problem. You know, some people can't stand it.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Like there was two guys down in Bainbridge and they were old enough physically but chronologically they were about 12.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So they shipped them, they shipped them home.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

I forgot what the term was at the time there, but they shipped them home because they couldn't hack it. They shouldn't be in the service.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

They were 18 but, 12, 12 inside.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. Mentally.

James McDonald:

There was nothing wrong with them, they were just, they were still 12 and they couldn't handle the discipline and nothing like that. So that happens in any, Army, Navy, Marines, anybody.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So why did you -- you told me that you volunteered to go to Korea but you, but everything was full. Why did you volunteer to go to Korea?

James McDonald:

Well, because I was single, didn't have any dependents. I figured that's the place to be.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

If I could go for somebody that had a wife and kids and stuff like that, well, they didn't have to go.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

It's that simple.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So were you disappointed or kind of --

James McDonald:

Well, yeah, I was disappointed because I figured, you know, they would take me.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

But it was myself and two other guys that, three other guys, there was four of all total, they shipped us back to Davisville. They says, "No deployment there for you. We don't need you there. We need you here." Like I say, you go where they tell you to go.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah. So after your service, how did that affect your life? Did you get better at steel working or --

James McDonald:

Oh, sure. The experiences that you learn, you add more to what you already know.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

So, you know, definitely it's -- that's a given.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh.

James McDonald:

That's a given.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

So, all right, is there anything else that you want to cover that we haven't went over? Anything that you remember and I haven't really asked about yet?

James McDonald:

No, not particularly. We kind of covered everything. You know, there's probably some little instance, instances, instances, but different little things that may have happened. But you have all the pertinent stuff, so to speak.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Yeah.

James McDonald:

Except, oh, in Argentia there, that's where the first radio signal from Marconi went over there up in St. Johnsbury. I went up there on leave a couple of times. And there's these big cliffs and the big, the little channel comes in like this and then cuts this right here. And on top of the big cliff -- I mean, we're talking five, six, 700 feet in the air is where he broadcast all through England the first radio signals. So that was nice to be there at that time and then see what had happened and where he had done it and so forth like that. So that was, that was pretty interesting.

Benjamin Michael Fortier:

Uh-huh. Yeah. All right. Well, I guess that concludes the interview then. We're all set.

James McDonald:

Okay. Fine. Yeah. If you got what you need, that's okay.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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