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Interview with James August Riddle [12/27/2011]

Lisa Shoalmire:

Good morning. Today's date is December 2nd, 2011. My name is Lisa Shoalmire. I am conducting an oral interview of Mr. James August Riddle. This interview is being conducted at Cowhorn Creek Estates in Texarkana, Texas. The court reporter today is Melanie Harris. Our veteran this morning, Mr. James Riddle. His date of birth is January 3rd, 1918, and he served in the United States Navy. And it looks like, Mr. Riddle, your dates of service began in July of 1937?

James August Riddle:

Yes, ma'am.

Lisa Shoalmire:

And you retired in August of 1957?

James August Riddle:

Yes, ma'am, 54 years ago.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, Mr. Riddle, what's your present address?

James August Riddle:

5415 Cowhorn Creek Estates, Apartment 121.

Lisa Shoalmire:

And where were you born?

James August Riddle:

Mount Pleasant, Texas. Well, no. Let me restate that. It's Titus County. We ended up -- I lived in Mount Pleasant, but I was actually born at Wilkinson. You don't find that on the map any more. They lost their post office years and years ago, and if you drive through, people will tell you -- you ask for Wilkinson, oh, that's Sugar Hill, you go down the road. So Wilkinson doesn't exist any more, but --

Lisa Shoalmire:

And what were your parents' names?

James August Riddle:

Alvin A., August, and Annie Adeline. They were both A. A. Riddles.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

James August Riddle:

Yes, ma'am. I had two brothers, and we each had two sisters.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Okay. Would you care to explain?

James August Riddle:

There were five children.

Lisa Shoalmire:

All right. Now, did you grow up there in Titus County?

James August Riddle:

I did and went to school at Mount Pleasant High School after -- I grew up on a farm, and we went to a two-room school, rural school until the seventh grade. And then we combined with Mount Pleasant High School for high school. Elementary school, back in those days, there was not a middle school. We went to elementary school. I went to the seventh grade and then went to high school in Mount Pleasant.

Lisa Shoalmire:

All right. Did you graduate from high school?

James August Riddle:

No, ma'am. I got kicked out of school on my senior year for an incident at a football field.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Incident at a football field, okay. Well, all right, did --

James August Riddle:

Well, it was -- I really -- I really didn't get kicked out. I was asked to leave, because back in those days, school personnel were allowed corporal punishment, and I was expected to receive corporal punishment for that incident on the football field. And I told him no way. You know, my daddy don't even, you know, whip me any more. So I was asked to leave.

Lisa Shoalmire:

All right. Well, did either of your parents or any of your siblings serve in the military?

James August Riddle:

Brother was in the Army, younger than me.

Lisa Shoalmire:

And what was his name?

James August Riddle:

His name was Louis Carr, C-A-R-R, and my youngest brother, Albert Hamilton, served in the Air Force.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Y'all didn't have anybody in the Marines? Well, I guess the Marines weren't in the -- so you covered the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy?

James August Riddle:

To a Navy, a Marine was a guy that would wear a 48 coat and a four hat.

Lisa Shoalmire:

I see. Now, how did you end up -- or where did you enlist?

James August Riddle:

I really got involved with the Navy in Marshall, Texas. Some of us high school boys, summertime, we just out kind of hitchhiking around, walking down through Marshall, a recruiter standing at the door of his office jumped -- there were four of us, and he started a conversation with us and offered to let us take an examination for the Navy. And we laughed at him, and, you know, made fun of the situation. Well, you guys probably couldn't pass the test anyhow, which was, you know, the gauntlet, he threw down the glove. And we took his test. I scored high enough on it that he told me his quota was filled, and he couldn't do a thing about it. But if I would take the letter that he would give me and go to Dallas, to the recruiting office in Dallas, they would sign me up. They had room. And I'm a teenage boy, and I'm out of school. And so I thought I'd check it out. I went up there, hitchhiked to Dallas, went into the recruiting office the next morning. This officer in charge looked at that letter, read it through, and had me take the test again a second time, and swore me in. And that afternoon I was on a train going to San Diego, California, signed. I was a new recruit in the Navy.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Was this something you had ever discussed with your folks or had contemplated before seeing that recruiter there in Marshall?

James August Riddle:

My folks didn't even know where I was for over a week. We got out -- got to San Diego, and they immediately put us in quarantine. We had to get shots and all that kind of stuff, and back in those days, the Naval Recruit Depot was divided. They had a fenced-in area that the new recruits went into, and they got a series of shots. And we stayed in that and did drills and everything daily, in that quarantine station for 30 days. Then we went into the main base and finished our recruit training. We had to stay three months up there. And so when I got out of the quarantine area, I could write my folks, and I wrote my folks and told them where I was and what had happened to me. That's when they realized where -- or that's when they found out, you know, what had happened to me.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Had you traveled very much before you got on that train to go to San Diego?

James August Riddle:

No. Family a little bit, just vacationing a little bit, visiting. Back in those days, we didn't have the modern means of travel that they do now. We had, you know, Model T's and Model A's, and you didn't go very far and very fast in those vehicles. Then I was a farm boy, you know, those early years anyhow.

Lisa Shoalmire:

So you went to San Diego. You had some quarantine time, and then did you go ahead and start boot camp at that time in quarantine? And how did those next three months go?

James August Riddle:

After that, the rest of the time for boot camp we went up in the main base, and we finished our drilling and training and everything. And when we graduated from boot camp, then we got assigned to our duty stations where we happened to be.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, what did you think about that boot camp experience?

James August Riddle:

Well, it was new and strange, but it wasn't anything I couldn't do. And after you kind of get accustomed to it a little bit, you have a tendency to look forward to the next day, can I, you know, continue to do what I'm doing now, then I get better. Then now you spoke of the Marines, Marine recruits, we called it MCRD, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, was adjacent to the Naval Training Station in San Diego at that time. And the story went around about the drill instructor in the Marine Depot that didn't like the way some of his trainees were reacting. So he lined them up and started them marching, and he marched them out in the bay until their hats floated. So we didn't care much about the Marines. Now, that's -- I can't verify that, but that was a good strong rumor.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, after you -- do you remember any of your instructors from boot camp?

James August Riddle:

Oh, good grief, no, lady. That's -- no.

Lisa Shoalmire:

All right. So when you completed -- now when you completed boot camp, this was 1937; is that right?

James August Riddle:

Uh-huh (yes).

Lisa Shoalmire:

Now, at that time did you have any contemplation about the world events and was that -- did that enter your mind at the time?

James August Riddle:

Oh, we discussed it. You know, a bunch of sailors, kids, young teenagers, everybody was, you know, join the Navy and see the world. Even those DIs in the training, in the recruit depot there where we were working, they keep reminding us, you guys, you young guys, these were old instructors. They had been in -- you know, several of them had three hash marks on, which is more than 12 years. So, and they'd tell us, you young guys, you get out here, you get on a ship, you know, you see the world, a girl in every port and all that kind of stuff. We heard things like that repeatedly. That for, you know, an 18, 19-year-old kid, that's exactly what you're looking for.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Very attractive.

James August Riddle:

Yes, ma'am.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, when you completed boot camp, what was next for you?

James August Riddle:

I got assigned my first duty was the U.S.S. New Mexico battleship in Long Beach Harbor, sat right inside the breakwater there. Let's see, there were five of us, and the best I can remember is the California was on one side of us. We called that the prune barge. West Virginia was on the north side of us, and the -- well, I can't remember which -- from then on. I just remember those two. But I had a cousin on -- the Arizona was there. This cousin was on the Arizona, and he was ahead of me. He was older, and he had been in almost a year, because in December we got opportunity to take a few days and go home. And he and I went back home together. He lived in Mount Pleasant, same place I did. His father and my mother were half-brother and sisters. So -- and he was older, and he had been in longer. We went back and had Christmas in '37 with our parents, he and I both did. He had managed to get football tickets for the Rose Bowl, and, for, you know, the Rose Bowl game at the end of '37, '38. We got a -- boarded a Greyhound bus together the day after Christmas, the 26th day of December, and went back to our respective ships so we could go to that football game. And then I went from the New Mexico to the Marblehead. It was a light cruiser. The Marblehead was escorting the 4th Marines to Shanghai. The Panay had been sunk, and the 4th Marines were being sent to China. And they had a lot of what we called short-timers. They take -- transport in those days made about 10 knots, and it's a 30-day trip from San Diego where they were starting to Shanghai. And then you're going to be out there a while, and time coming back. So there were people that did not want to leave San Diego, some of those older guys, and their enlistments were going to be up, or their -- for whatever their reasons was, they were called short-timers. They didn't have enough time to serve to make the trip out there and come back. So word went out in the fleet for volunteers to take those short-timers' place, and, you know, I had been in just long enough to, hey, go to China and get paid while you're doing it, and, you know, you see the world, really see the world. For a kid like me, boy, I grabbed it. I volunteered, and, sure enough, I went. We went out there, and we got out there, discharged the Marines. The troop ship left, U.S.S. Shawmut. It was an old World War I horse carrier, and it left going back. And the Navy department decided that they'd leave the Marblehead out there instead of it coming back. So we stayed. And we stayed, and we stayed. The Navy department decided that they needed to show a force of a lot of places in the Orient that American men of war had not been in since Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. So we got to go to Singapore, to Australia, to India, to Burma, to the Straits Settlements, to Tahiti, to Hong Kong, up and down the coast of China, Shantou up to Chefoo, over to that coast of Russia where Vladivostok is. Back in those days they called it Archangel, but the name was changed on it. But we cruised around, and I'm seeing the world. I could have stayed -- could have came back. We had 30 months was our normal tour of duty. I could have come back, but, shoot, I'm seeing places I had read about in history books and heard about and thought about, you know, talked to other guys about. I had no reason to come back. I was seeing the world, lady.

Lisa Shoalmire:

What were your impressions when you first encountered that area, Asia and that area? Was that a culture you were familiar with?

James August Riddle:

Everything was strange and different, because out there -- I got acquainted with several -- in fact, we, they'd let us -- our ship would let us hire a guy to come aboard and do things for us by the day.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Like a valet?

James August Riddle:

Kind of day labor.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Yes, sir.

James August Riddle:

And some of these people when we are laying at anchor in port, especially in Shanghai, a lot of people don't know it, they think Shanghai is on the coast, but it isn't. It's way up the river. And we'd go up the river and set up in the middle of the river and would go up and down, up one side and down the other one, going in and out and all. We're lined up. We called it man of war row, the Augusta and the Marblehead and the Deucalion, the Canberra, we'd be lined up in the middle of the river. And we'd maybe stay there 30 days at a time, not even move. And rather than do the normal grudge ry, we thought of it, as some of the stuff that we had to do on board ship to keep everything ship shape, we could hire somebody to do it for us. And where a coolie laborer unloading a transport full of charcoal, and in those days, they had no gas, Nitro gas in Shanghai, in fact, no sewage or nothing there. They collected it during the night, and they had -- we called it a honey barge that went up and down the street early in the morning and picked up all of this waste, human waste and everything. That even went on their gardening, their -- you know, we were told quickly, you know, don't -- be careful what you eat on the beach because, you know, it's not what you normally get on board ship. There's no comparison. So, and, too, it could be -- it could cause illnesses, that type thing. But those guys unloading those colliers that came in there with the charcoal on it, they had a -- we called it a yo-yo pole, went across their necks, had a yoke on it that fit over their head and out, and they had a line hanging down to a basket on each end of that thing that they could balance it. And we'd notice that these coolies, they're actually day labor, and they were pretty much homeless people, because we could see them. If we're late getting back aboard ship after a night ashore, come back, you know, three or four o'clock in the morning, these folks are sleeping in the doorways and all, laying on the street up against the building and all. They're the same coolies that are unloading those ships. And we got to noticing that those two baskets, they come down balanced, the load even, go into the warehouse, come out, and they usually carrying one of those baskets up in front of him. He's got it up. The other one is kindly -- they had swung that yo-yo pole around a little bit, and the other one is hanging down behind him, or they got a hold of it and pulled it around front. But they go back on board and go up the gangway that was arranged for them to go back aboard and get another load, and got real interesting as to why they keep carrying that one. And we realized that it was kindly union labor, I guess you could call it, beginning of union labor. They had a rock in that thing. They carried a load in one side and a rock in the other side, made the job last twice as long.

Lisa Shoalmire:

There you go.

James August Riddle:

And they had done -- it's either that, or it doesn't get unloaded. So they got away with it, and this was in the '30s. And there are that many Chinese. You get inquisitive, you know, about the number of Chinese there, and they'd tell you quickly, people that was in the know, that you could line up the Chinese four abreast and march them into the ocean, you'd never run out of Chinese, not ever. So and a lot of the guys, I don't know whether all of us were like that or not, but two or three of the guys that I ran around with a lot of times spent a lot of time out there ashore. We would go ashore, and rather than hit the bar rooms and all, we'd rent a bicycle and ride out into the countryside. It was a different world.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, and since you were a farm boy from Texas, did you --

James August Riddle:

Yeah, and --

Lisa Shoalmire:

-- look at how they farmed --

James August Riddle:

-- I wanted to see how they did it, and we could ride way out and look the countryside over. And we could see how the people did things and everything. There was no machinery. I was even used to back in those -- we had a farm tractor, big old steel wheel, didn't have pneumatic tires on it, but steel wheels. In fact, I got in trouble because they built a highway adjacent to our farm down through the countryside going from Mount Pleasant to Pittsburg where all the chicken farming is now, all that area over there, that Pilgrim Industries all. They built this highway, and I had been driving my farm tractor from here over to the other field over there, no problem. I drove it across that new road and with those cleats on it, my daddy learned the next day that that boy don't do that. My father wasn't -- he wasn't much of a farmer. He was a railroad man. He worked for Cotton Belt Railroad, and me and my brothers and a couple of field hands did the farm work. But -- and that was another reason that I was kindly interested in leaving that countryside. Plowing a cotton row behind a mule in the summertime is not enjoyable.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Compared to shipping in to Shanghai, I guess. Well, you said you ran around with two or three guys quite a bit. Do you remember who they were?

James August Riddle:

Yeah. Let's see, Jessie Black, one of them. D. C. Turner was the other boy's name, and we called him Chub, Chub Wright, Melton Wright. Chub was a little bit heavier than me and D. C. and Jessie were. So we called him Chub all the time, and he answered to it. He didn't resent it too much, but anyhow -- and that was -- and you're talking about nicknames and all, now, when we were away from the ship, you know, we called each other by a nickname. Jessie and Dickey and Chub, and they called me Jim. But we did that away from the ship, but on ship board, you're very formal. You know, Wright, you're doing so and so. You're not supposed to, you know, or Turner, you know....

Lisa Shoalmire:

So last names on the ship?

James August Riddle:

Yep, always.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, so you spent, would you say, about 30 months, did you say?

James August Riddle:

Well, it would have been, but I'm still out there when World War II starts.

Lisa Shoalmire:

That's what I was getting to. So how did y'all hear about -- I mean, had you heard rumblings and things, or how did you hear about --

James August Riddle:

Oh, we knew we were. We just didn't know when. We lived out there with it. We -- we were -- we'd go in and out of China, and during those days, the Japanese was invading China. This was back in the '30s. Japan, little country of Japan, invaded China, and they were getting away with it. We'd go in to Shantou, and we're laying anchor in -- there's a back bay inside -- at Shantou. You go in the channel and a huge back bay back there, and the Japanese encampment was right over on the beach, just right there. We could see them from ship board. We'd pull in there and lay anchor. We'd run in -- go in on liberty at the Shantou, and the liberty ships and all go in. And we'd run into Japanese soldiers on the streets, armed Japanese soldiers. They didn't bother us. We'd go down to the water's edge down there on the sandy beach, and they're strutting around down there in a thong in front of the girls and, you know, making a big show of it. Everything is -- we go in -- we get an urgent call from Amoy, which is a little island down from Shanghai, down toward Hong Kong, and there's an American embassy down there, out on the island.

Lisa Shoalmire:

What was the name of the island?

James August Riddle:

Amoy. The Japanese were on the shore. They were right down, and he got worried. And so we go down there to, you know, make him feel better and cause them to back off a little bit. We knew eventually we were going to have trouble with them. The only thing is the people back here in this country did not, and they didn't even think about it. Well, Japan is a little bitty island. It's out there in the southwest pacific. You know, they're not going to cause us any trouble.

Lisa Shoalmire:

And what was your rank during this time, this 1937 to 1940 time period?

James August Riddle:

Well, I went from seaman recruit up to when the war started I was first class machinist mate in the engine room. And I, with just a little better than six years in, I made chief petty officer, and that was as high as I ever wanted to go. I had all the authority and none of the responsibility, you know, and so, you know -- and, you know, I wore an officer type uniform. I got out of that white hat sailor uniform, and so that -- I had reached -- and then, too, my education hadn't improved any. You know, I was still a high school dropout. I didn't become educated until after world -- well, after I retired, I used the GI bill, got a degree and taught school. And my master -- my major field was math and science, and I taught for six years, and then got to be a principal. And I did that 14. So I put 20 years in the Navy and then 20 years in the public school business.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, and I want to get to that in a minute. Let's talk about when World War II finally broke out, when was it -- were you at -- were you deployed in Southeast Asia at the time?

James August Riddle:

Okay. The day that Pearl Harbor was hit.

Lisa Shoalmire:

December 7th, yes, sir.

James August Riddle:

We had left the Philippine Islands and went down to Sumatra, which is Sulu Archipelago, way south, below -- you know, all the way down, maneuvered all around down in that area, went into Tahiti and around through those islands through there back and forth, and had gone back up to Borneo to fuel up. Our fuel tanks were pretty well empty, and we had gone back -- the fuel that came out -- the oil that came out of Borneo was a little different than a lot of this other country. It was green, or had a greenish tint to it, was not black, and we could burn that -- we called it bunker C crude. We could burn that in a steam-drive ship. If we heated it, we could burn it in our boilers unrefined. It was more liquid than what they get here, and, too, it was rather cheap out there. So we had gone into Borneo to fuel up, and about -- the way we got the story, about 2:30 in the morning, the radioman went up and knocked on the captain's door, woke him up, and told him that he had just picked up a message that Hawaii was being attacked, was under attack with airplanes and all. And it appeared to be Japanese. And the captain asked the radioman, he said, what have you heard tonight? And he said nothing, sir. That's the only thing that's come in. That's the only thing I picked up. And he said, on your way back up, tell the officer of the day to sound general quarters and make preparation to get under way. And, of course, that rolled everybody up, including him, and we hoisted up our anchor, got up a head of steam and went south, and got in with some other ships there. And for us then, from there on then, we met the Japanese. And my first action was in a place, we called it Makassar Straits. It was a channel that went down between islands, and we had -- we got the word. We knew where they were. The Japanese troops and all were heading down -- they were heading south, down through -- heading toward Australia, down through those islands down there, and they were going to drop them off a shipload here and there and all. And they had tied up or anchored on each side of this channel down through Makassar Straits. So the Marblehead and four stack destroyers, we had a -- we called it a real turkey shoot. About 11:30 at night, we went up through the channel. The Marblehead was a light cruiser, and it's got two torpedo tubes, one on each side. These destroyers all got torpedo tubes. So we go up the channel shooting both ways, and if they shoot at us, miss us, they hit their companion across on the other side of the channel. So, you know, we go up, and we turn around and come back. So we stopped that southern movement, and we went from there then to Australia and got everything -- we got all squared away and lined up with the other ships and all and went back up into the Java Seas. The Java Seas, the Java Sea Battle, after it was over, the Marblehead and the Boise, the Augusta had been hit in Shanghai, and they dropped a bomb on it, and on the fo'c'sle. So it had come back to the States to be rebuilt, and they put the Boise out there, which was another heavy cruiser. So we're out in the Java Seas, and 15 twin-engine planes found us. Well, they didn't have the precision type bombing then that they do now. So they come across us, and captain got our chief pilot out. And he'd say, okay, you know, how about it, when? And this chief pilot looking up, and he'd say, about now, captain, so hard left rudder. So we turned, and we could see this stick of bombs going down. They missed us, you know, about a hundred yards out there, boom, boom, boom, boom, hitting the water. And this goes on back. They turn and come back around and come over us again, and we played with them back out there for quite a while. And then the Japanese are not stupid. They got smart. They broke up in three flights of five each, this, this, and this way. Well, you can only turn so much, you know....

Lisa Shoalmire:

Big ship can only turn so much and so fast?

James August Riddle:

So eventually, you know, this stick of bombs come, and we got four direct hits right down the ship, starting just behind the fo'c'sle, back to the stern. We made the island pulling down 17 foot.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Which island, the Java?

James August Riddle:

Sumatra. We were turning, making our turn at the same time that we got the hit. So the four direct hits actually did not do, although killed about 20 men and did an awful lot of damage on the ship, but as we're heeled over, the ones that missed us, they armed -- they hit the water. And they went down, and as they exploded under water, they did more damage to the hull underneath than the direct hits did, because it ruptured our tanks and all. That's where later on we had a problem, but those tanks and everything flooded, did not flood an engine room. We lost one fire room, but we had four fire rooms with three boilers each in them. It developed a hundred and eight thousand horsepower for the -- we had four main engines, 90,000 horsepower in our engine, and the rest of the difference is for auxiliary machinery back in those days. So we had the usual. We had evaporator plants that we converted saltwater into fresh water. We had ice machines, generators that produced electricity for the ship and all, the usual auxiliary machine, our winches and everything on the top side, all of our equipment and everything, steering engines, all that stuff, it all had to have extra steam for them. They were all steam. It was a steam-drive ship. So everything had to be steam. And we actually suffered more damage to the ship from those near misses than we did from the direct hits, so far as actual damage went, because, as I said, you know, it flooded. And we put it aground, the nose aground, and finally got into a -- nose into a little -- into dry dock in Tillijac, Java. We got over to that, but we had pumped out and patched up and did what we could, you know, till we got in there. And then when we got it up, we could get the nose up above water -- it was a little floating dry dock, doesn't handle the full ship. So we had to work on half of it kindly elevated.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Out of the water?

James August Riddle:

Yeah. And do that and then back off and turn it around and change ends, you know, and do that. We got orders to return to the United States, and since we couldn't carry enough fuel to go from where we were to Hawaii, we went down around Singapore, over to India, down to South Africa. And we got into dry dock at Simon's Town, South Africa, where we -- that really got it fixed up. But we had been working our steering crews -- our steering engines and everything was out because we took a direct hit into the steering engine room. And we had just pulled a rudder mid ship and locked it in place and was steering with the engines. So we get into Simon's Town dry dock, and from there on then, we went across to South America, Recife, Brazil, and into the Brooklyn Navy yard in Brooklyn. We hit Brooklyn in February of '42.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Now, let me ask you, you said back in '37 you had a cousin who served on the Arizona?

James August Riddle:

Uh-huh (yes).

Lisa Shoalmire:

Did they -- were they serving on the Arizona at the time of Pearl Harbor?

James August Riddle:

My cousin is still on the Arizona.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, that's -- so you get back to Brooklyn. That ship gets fixed up?

James August Riddle:

We were the first man of war that had reached the United States that had seen action in '42. Boy, I got on a bond selling tour with Victor McLaglen. Some of those old -- you know, we had that type thing going on, selling E bonds. We went -- there were four of us, and I can't remember the other three guys, don't even remember who they were, but we toured with that movie crew. Victor McLaglen headed it up. We toured around all up and down through Pennsylvania, on up into Maryland, on up into, let's see, Massachusetts. We went to -- we went south to West Virginia hitting -- we were on -- just detached.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Was there any movie stars that hung out with you on that tour?

James August Riddle:

Well, Victor McLaglen was the -- he was the head guy, you know, back in those days. He was -- he played all these Air Force things. You know, back then it wasn't Air Force. It was --

Lisa Shoalmire:

U. S. Army Air Corps?

James August Riddle:

Yeah. And later on he did all those things and all that, but he was -- boy, he was prominent then. I can't even remember who all. I just remember him, because he'd get up and talk to them at first, and he was a big bluff guy, you know, very aggressive. He'd get out on the platform, and he'd get out there and get their attention. And these four sailors then that's along with him, he'd tell them, you know, I can talk to you like this, I can do this, I can do that. These four sailors back here, they can't. They've got to be so-so, you know, because we had an officer with us that took care of our -- you know, they signed, you know, warrants and all. We didn't get up -- we didn't have money, but we had a guy that he'd use a warrant a lot of times. And I've even got memories of traveling with a warrant. You go into a restaurant, and you want -- they know you're going to want to sign a warrant for them, and they going to submit for pay to the government that they may get four months from now. And you want a good meal, and the only thing available is a grilled cheese sandwich or something like that because, you know, they're not going to lose much if -- you know, waiting for that warrant to be turned into cash money. We did a lot of that. We did. We got to where that we'd go ahead and -- if we wanted a good meal, we'd go ahead and pay for it out of our pocket, and then when we get back to the base, we'd turn this warrant in, tell the pay master, you know, couldn't find anybody to take this. So turn it back into cash. It's not quite as much as you spent, but you put it in your pockets.

Lisa Shoalmire:

So when your ship got back, how did you end up in this detachment where you-all were going around selling bonds?

James August Riddle:

Well, they kindly asked for volunteers on the ship. We've all checked in. We got -- rebuilding the ship, and we got jobs to do on the ship, everybody have. You kindly want to get away from all this rebuilding that's going on, and they're looking for people that want to do things. So they ask for volunteers, if you're interested, and a whole group of us, we lined up, got up there. And they interviewed us, just kindly questioned us, I guess, on your ability to talk or whether you could, you know, tell a pretty straight story or whether you could be believed or whether you were -- could be interesting enough that you'd get people to buy bonds or whatever. I don't know. I got picked to go on to it. So whatever the reason was, anyhow, I went out on that bond selling tour with these guys.

Lisa Shoalmire:

How long was that tour?

James August Riddle:

The first one was 30 days, and we go back. And we were there in the Navy yard about seven months before they got it all rebuilt. And so we went back aboard, went back into the Navy yard, and we were actually living -- they had taken us all off of the ship, and we were actually living in some barracks over on the beach outside the base. We'd march in from -- keep from wandering off, you know, and guys, you know, disappearing, we lined up in companies and marched down to this place, and we got locked up at night. We still had the same thing that divided the ship company up into watch standers and people to look out. We'd have security. And it wasn't so much that we didn't want people coming in, we didn't want our people leaving.

Lisa Shoalmire:

I understand.

James August Riddle:

Wandering about.

Lisa Shoalmire:

So that seven months you spent in repair with the ship, was there --

James August Riddle:

I made a couple of those bond selling tours, and then finally they got everything done. And we went out winter shakedown crews down to Rio. And we left Rio, and at Recife, Brazil, we put in there. And I got orders that sent me from steam drive to diesel. And I went to Hamilton, Ohio, to the Hooven-Owens-Rentschler factory to get involved in building a diesel engine, large diesel engine, 2,000 horsepower, the big ones, because they were going to start putting diesels on ships, especially the escorts. But then LST's and that type thing, they'd have three or four of them to -- not just one or two, they'd have three or four. Smaller ships would only have two. Some of them only had one, but there were -- the Navy was buying -- or the government was buying diesels, big ones, because they could propel ships.

Lisa Shoalmire:

So were they training you to work on those?

James August Riddle:

Yeah. So I go to the factory to learn to build a diesel engine, and I left steam and never did go back to it from then on. All I went to diesel, and then from diesel, when the Seabees actually -- when the government gave Admiral Yarnell the opportunity to organize the Seabees, he was a civil engineer, and he organized the Seabees, people with skills, of course. I'm a diesel engine man already, and all -- just about all construction, you know, bulldozers, cranes, and all that stuff is diesel. So it was just an automatic step. I'm already diesel qualified. So, you know, they needed diesel mechanics in Seabees, and I'm a chief mechanic. So I ended up in the Seabees. The last 10 years of my service I was in the Seabees.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Was there -- before World War II ended, was there any other combat actions that you were involved in?

James August Riddle:

I went in -- when changing over from one of those diesel activities to another one, I went into the receiving station back in Brooklyn again. We were slated to go to North Africa, and we were -- this Seabees outfit that I'm with now, and we were going to whatever. And we ended up out on Long Island Sound at a hotel out there waiting for the troop ships and all, getting ready to go and everybody to get checked up. And I get called into personnel, and they told me to go over to the receiving ship. And I went over there, and this young interviewer was real nice. He said, chief, you left the United States in 1938, went to China. Yep. Okay. This is 1945, and you still outside of the continental limits of the United States? Yeah, all my duties has been. We're not going to send you back overseas again. You're not? Nope. You've put enough overseas. We're going to have you -- leave you here in the States. So I got sent to -- from there to Port Arthur, Texas, as chief engineer on a hundred-and-four-foot air/sea rescue vessel that belonged to the Marine Air Corps, headquartered at Eagle Mountain Lake, Fort Worth, Texas. And we tied that thing up at the quarantine station at Sabine Pass, Texas. And when the planes -- now, they're training pilots, teaching pilots, young pilots. When they leave Fort Worth, flying out over the Gulf, they'd radio us, and we crank up and go to sea. Those young guys, those old planes that they were flying didn't always fly real good, and those young guys, sometime we had midair collisions. Sometimes the engine quit and those type things. So we were primarily -- our primary objective was to save the pilot, pick him up if, you know, and so we are -- we go to sea, get out there in the Gulf. They do their training, and we never did get the airplanes. But we saved three pilots. So, you know, that type during that period of time. And I was actually still stationed there the day that Japan surrendered.

Lisa Shoalmire:

So V-J Day you were down there in Port Arthur?

James August Riddle:

Port Arthur, Texas, already married and had a wife down there with me then.

Lisa Shoalmire:

What's her name?

James August Riddle:

Ruth. She's still with me.

Lisa Shoalmire:

That red-head girl?

James August Riddle:

That red-headed girl, 66 years later. She's not a girl any more, but she's still red-headed.

Lisa Shoalmire:

So V-J Day, did you ever -- did you -- had you already decided you were going to make the Navy a career or --

James August Riddle:

Oh, I had right at 10 years in by then.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Yes, sir.

James August Riddle:

In fact, when my -- I go from there to up in to Bering Sea, up Point Barrow, you know, Alaska, go up there. We're going to establish a base up there, and they put us ashore and going to give us a bulldozer. And we blade down that snow and ice and smooth it down for ski planes to land.

Lisa Shoalmire:

For what purpose?

James August Riddle:

Ma'am?

Lisa Shoalmire:

For what purpose?

James August Riddle:

Sea planes -- I mean, ski, ski planes to come in. They bring supplies in, going to build a base up there in the Bering Sea, for whatever. I don't know what they finally did. I think they ended up on an iceberg. Rather than stay on the base, they ended up on a berg that floated all the way through up there, but we didn't build much of a base for them. But then later on then that -- the name -- there was a line of alert towers and all lined up across there, and I'm getting too old to remember that kind of stuff. And it's too long ago. But they had stations all along through up there that we built some of those, and Seabees did. So I spent some time doing that kind of stuff. And then finally got back to down where my wife was, back down to Port Hueneme. That's a Seabees base there on the West Coast where everything goes out. We lived in Oxnard, California, during that period of time, and we operated in and out of Port Hueneme, went where they needed us.

Lisa Shoalmire:

So you were still active duty at the time of the Korean Conflict; is that correct?

James August Riddle:

Beg?

Lisa Shoalmire:

Were you still active duty at the time of the Korean Conflict?

James August Riddle:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I got to be -- I got to be -- I got another job, unusual job. I got sent to Gitmo.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Down in Cuba?

James August Riddle:

Uh-huh (yes). And my wife got to go with me, 1947. We lived on -- we went to Cuba. We laugh and say we went in there with a son, and she came in with a son and two suitcases. Four years later we left there with two children, an automobile, and five rooms of furniture. I was station fire chief at Naval Air Station in Gitmo Bay, Cuba, for almost four years, and the government, the Navy, military, you expect to relocate about every three years, unless you can swing a deal with somebody that likes you real well and wants to keep you. Then you can stay longer than that, but normally the military is a training situation continually. So you learn things here, and you go from here to another place. And you learn things different. So you expect to rotate. I left Gitmo and went to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, station fire chief, and we were just -- once you get a job like that, and that's where I was when Korea was over, at Corpus Christi. Then I went back to the West Coast, back to Port Hueneme again and Oxnard, lived in Oxnard. And from there I went to the Philippine Islands, and we started in pioneering and built that base that we gave away.

Lisa Shoalmire:

That was pursuant to MacArthur; is that right?

James August Riddle:

Well, general -- that was -- yeah, because Doug said he was going to go back, and we said we wouldn't. But we did. We spent -- we spent four years building that base at Subic Bay. We pioneered in the jungle, cut trees, bulldoze the runways, filled in the valleys and cut down the hills, made level parallel strips about 8,000 feet long to land jets, high-speed jets on. There's a guy here right now that -- he's not retired, but he was in the service long after I retired. He went in there -- he said he flew into that base several times before, you know, we give -- before we got rid of it.

Lisa Shoalmire:

And what was your -- what was your job while that base was being built? What did you do?

James August Riddle:

Well, I was a diesel mechanic, and if it had -- during -- in the Seabees, once I got into the Seabees, everything was diesel, and most diesel equipment in those days was track-oriented. So any place we went, if it had tracks on it, it was my shop. I always had a shop, and I was the head man in the shop and did kind of like a foreman. I got everything -- the material came in to us broke down. We repaired it, sent it back out. I kept a record on it, did all that, worked the crew, got the men to work, drew parts. And if we were going to go out, be deployed out to do a job that we knew what we were going to do, and quite frequently we knew in advance long enough that we could order up what we thought we were going to need to do the job when we got out. And so I could actually draw from a store room additional repair parts that I knew that or suspected that a bulldozer was going to break down or a traveling crane would have problems with. And if I thought about it long enough and could put it all down, and I could submit a GSK request, we called it, we'd get that extra stuff on board ship with us. You get out a thousand miles out in the ocean on an island, there's not a Home Depot. If you don't have it with you, and you need it, then you're either out of business, you shut down, or if you can't build it, you know, and if you've got it with you, you keep working. So the islands Adak, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Amchitka, I worked all of those islands through the Aleutian Islands up through there, every single one of them, all the way out to Attu. We built those islands up through there and all for later days, but we built a sea plane hanger, Trinidad, British West Indies. Wherever they wanted us to go, that's where we went, and we did what we were capable of doing, which was build.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, how did you -- how did you finish out your last few years in active service?

James August Riddle:

I got paid off. I got a real soft job. I got sent down, back down to San Diego again to -- we did a thing we called Momentum Beach, self side load. We had LST's. Islands in the Pacific, most of them are volcano origin. They're rocks. There are no sandy beaches. So you're going to land troops on those islands from an LST or LSM or troop ship, however they're going to go in, it's not -- you don't just walk ashore. And if you're going to take tanks and bulldozers and that type thing in, you don't float them in. So what we learned to do was to attach framework on the side of LST's, pull a barge alongside, hook it to it, run a cable on a winch down over the side, pull it up alongside this LST, put one on each side. And you head in toward an island, get going pretty good, and you turn the cable loose and let that barge drop and stop. Well, it disengages and floats in, back down and drop the other one, open the bow door, drop the ramps, get down on that barge and shove it up behind the other one and ram them into the beach. And you got a -- you can just walk them right over, no rocks. And you drive your tanks and stuff out then. You don't tear it up. You put it right on the beach. So I'm down there in San Diego, kindly getting involved in teaching some of these young sailors how to do that kind of stuff, and I get orders to go to Chichi Jima, Okinawa, Haha and Chichi in Japan. There's islands there going into Japan. From Chichi you can see Mount Fuji on a good, clear day. It's that close. So I sent a dispatch out to the base out there asking them about availability of dependent quarters, and the answer comes back, 18 to 24 months. Well, now, I can go -- I can take a three-year tour of duty and go overseas without my family, and we called it a hardship transfer. So they cut it down to two years. Okay, 18 to 24 months, that's hardship. No family is not going to go with me. This was in December of '56, and I took my orders into my wife. She said, what are you going to do? I said, I'm going to do what they want me to do. She said, what? I said, I'm going to retire. They want a young man. I've got 20 years in. They want a young man that draws less money than I do and that can, you know, learn things they want to teach him and all. And they don't need me any more. So I went in to the commander next morning and asked -- send a dispatch to Euro personnel. And he said, what do you want? I said, I want to ask for a retirement date. Okay, what do you want? I said 1 August 57. So he said okay. So he sent it in, and it came back. Two days we got a dispatch back that on the 15th of December '56 I could retire on 20. And I went back in. The commander called me up and told me this. I said, well, I still would want to go for 1 August 57, and he said why? And I said, captain, do you remember reading in the paper the other day where that the Navy is going to start paying Social Security? We didn't pay Social Security up until those days. Oh, hey, he said, that's right, they said if you paid in one quarter, you get seven years paid up benefit. The government -- Congress did that for us. And I said, yes, sir. Well, he said, take 15th of January. That's -- you're in the quarter, you can go ahead and take the quarter. And I said, yeah, but I've been with this outfit a long time now, and what they did yesterday, they can undo tomorrow. I want 1 August 57. That gives me three-quarters. They can't say, well, we didn't mean for you to just take 10 days and claim it a quarter. Okay, he said, all right, I'll go along with you. So I sent another dispatch asking for 1 August 57, personal reasons, and they agreed. They approved it. But they changed my orders. I went to Adak, Alaska. Instead of going to Chichi Jima, I went to Adak, Alaska for six months.

Lisa Shoalmire:

And was that hardship duty up there in Adak?

James August Riddle:

Well, no. I was just up there six months, and my family didn't go with me. But I went up there for six months. I brought my family into Texarkana in 1954 visiting here her sister. I found a --

Lisa Shoalmire:

Ruth's sister?

James August Riddle:

Ma'am?

Lisa Shoalmire:

Ruth's sister?

James August Riddle:

Ruth's sister lived here in Texarkana, and we visited here. My brother-in-law was in the restaurant business here, Frank Carr out on 7th Street, Frank's Steak House. He was a Greek, and his uncles had, one of them was the Post Office Cafe. And one was Jefferson Coffee Shop, both of them in business here. And Frank went out on his own, had his own restaurant up on 7th Street. We were visiting them here, and he come in telling me about this little piece of land out that the sheriff there or chief of police, I think, one or the other of them had been in his restaurant the day before telling they're going to have an auction of tax delinquent property the next day. And he said -- we were going to leave heading back to San Diego at that time. This was in '54 that we were headed back to Port Hueneme then, and he said, you want me to bid on it for, some of those? I said, well, go and take a look. I said, I'm going to get out of the service here one of these days, and we're going to have to have a place to live. I'm not going to have base quarters or, you know, living on the economy or whatever. I said, I'm going to have to have a place for my family, so -- to start over. He said, well, you might as well start over here. We go back to California, and he called me the next day. And he had bid in on a little four-acre spot out on 71 South, way out down there for me a thousand dollars. And he said it had a livable house on it, shacky mostly, but he said you could actually live in it, cost him a thousand dollars. And I said, I'll get you a check in the mail today. And so in '57 -- we had owned this place since '54. So '57 -- '56, actually, Christmas time, I loaded my family on to a U-Haul truck, and she drove the car behind me. And we come to Texarkana, and I got them located so the kids could go to school. The schools were second semester, and I went to Adak.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, and then after you got out of the service, you said you worked back on your -- you got back to your education?

James August Riddle:

I came here, and I had to have a job. I had to -- you know, I'm retired. Actually, military, you don't retire. You get -- at the end of 20 years or 30 years whatever, you get transferred to inactive duty on half pay.

Lisa Shoalmire:

I see.

James August Riddle:

And as long as they don't need you, you get that half pay. But if they ever need you, and they ever notify you, and you don't go then, that half pay stops. But if you get called back in, you go back on full active duty. So we come in here, and I went to work over at Lone Star Steel Mill over at Lone Star, Texas, didn't have a bit of trouble, went over there and got a job in the steel mill. And, let's see, '57, that started, and in latter part of '58, Texas had a right-to-work law in those open shops. And they would go on strike, go on strike, and go on strike. And after four strikes, when they'd go on strike, when the union would go on strike, we'd go on 12 on and 12 off. And I come in and told my wife that I'm going to have to find me a different job. I'm getting tired of this. Well, when we lived in San Diego, we were right there on the island, you were teaching out there. She said, you come home real early and everything. Why don't you be a schoolteacher? I said, I don't have that much education, and, besides, school teachers, you'd starve to death. Yeah, but you'd be home every night. So I used my GI bill and started in at the little college out here, Texarkana College, went there, got what I could get out there, and then went over to SAU and finished up a degree at SAU and started teaching school. I was leaving over there to come home, and the head of the education department said, you graduated, you're finishing up now, why don't you stop on the way back to -- you go right through Stamps, don't you? I said, yeah, I do. Stop there and talk to that superintendent, said he needs a science teacher. My major was science. My minor was math. And I did, stopped and talked to him. I left with a contract, come home, and we signed a contract. And I went to teach school in Stamps, taught there six years. And the job over at -- principal job over at Lewisville five miles closer became available in the spring, and I heard about it, talked to the superintendent. At that time, before integration, small schools, a lot of people did a lot of things, where principal was usually a two-hat man. And that one was. He was principal. He thought chemistry one year and physics the next year, because they only had about eight or ten students, college-bound students was all that took those courses. So he'd teach a science class in the morning and a math class in the afternoon, algebra usually. And I applied for the job, and he said -- I asked him if he had anybody. That guy had left and went to Hope, and I said, you got anybody for Dale Frank's job yet? He said, no, not yet. You want that job? I said, I'd like to have it. It's a thousand dollars, you know, more a year than what I was getting as a classroom teacher. So he said, come talk to me tomorrow in your preparation period, and I did. And I got the job. So I moved over there in the next year as principal in Lewisville, taught science and math, and then two years later we integrated. And we -- I went full-time principal, and we hired enough teachers because we had enough students then. And so the superintendent was younger, and he wouldn't dare move either. So for the next 14 years he held his job, and I held mine. We liked it. We had lived together, and so everything was fine. And I retired from that in 1980, 14 -- well, 20 years in the school business. I had got a master's, got a lot of GI bills worth, a little education, thought I got a little bit smarter, made a little more money. And between, you know, a principal's job and retired pay from the Navy, we lived pretty good.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, do any of your -- you said you had two children?

James August Riddle:

We got three.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Three children?

James August Riddle:

That third one was born -- a girl, was born in Coronado. So I had one born in the States, one born in Cuba, and one born in Coronado.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Did any of them go into the military?

James August Riddle:

The youngest daughter went into the Navy. She joined the Navy. She had started to college, went a year, come home and told us that she wanted to go in the Navy, and mama threw a fit. And she said, well, you just think about it, mama, it didn't do daddy a lot of harm. So I took her up to Little Rock at the recruiting office, and they let me swear her in. And she joined the Navy. She got into radio. From boot camp, she learned radio, and she ended up going to Misawa, Japan, at that listing station that they've got out there, recorded, you know, messages, put four years out there, got married out there, had a son out there. And then she got out, come back, used her GI bill, got her B.A. degree and her master's and went to work for Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Maryland. And from that, she went to Department of Defense, worked with the Department of Defense for a while. Bill Clinton got president. He appointed her to the CIA, deputy director of the CIA. George Bush got elected president and an admiral -- no, a general, Chappy, General Chappy recommended her for George's foreign intelligence advisor. She moved into the White House. But she served four years in the Navy and retired, and then her work after that and all, she ended up being a naval commander. And she ended up marrying a Navy commander, and he did his 20. And she finished up with 25 in intelligence, and she's retired now. But she was the only one that -- the oldest daughter, the one that was born in Cuba, married an Army man that was a chaplain, and he put 20 years in. And they retired in Hawaii several years ago, about 10 years ago, 11 years ago, I think. And he bought his childhood home in Spokane, Washington. So they live there. My son went to college and decided that he was smart as he needed to be. So he got out and went to working for an oil company and finally ended up selling Porsche automobiles at a dealership in Colorado. So my -- all three of them, he's retired. He's 65, and the other one is 63, the girl. And the youngest one is she's not quite 60 yet. She's still working.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, did you -- when you got out, did you participate and join any of the Veterans' organizations, the VFW or --

James August Riddle:

Oh, I was -- I joined the American Legion. I was post commander at Stamps, 49 over there for several years, stayed active until I came here. We came here four years ago, moved in right here in this place four years ago. My wife had a heart attack, and she had had two sisters and a brother that had had heart problems. And they had replaced a heart valve, and that's -- she went into this St. Michael's here to get a heart valve replaced, and Dr. Cannon came out of the surgery to tell me that -- he said, the leak is above the valve. It's not below, and I can repair it. So I'm not going to replace it. But when he got -- let her out of rehab, he just said, he told me, he said, I'm going to dismiss Mrs. Riddle to rehab, but I would like for her to not raise her hands any motion above her shoulders for six months. I told the oldest daughter here, and she said, daddy, what are you going to do? Well, we owned our home in Lewisville. We had been living in it since '65. She had four flower beds in the yard. It's a three-bedroom, two-bath house, and she's entertained lots of friends. And she did all that kind of stuff. I said, I'm going to go out here and see what they've got out at Cowhorn Creek Estate. If I take mama back to that house over there to do house work and work in her yard like she does, I won't have her six months. So they had a two-bedroom, two-bath down here on the first floor, back in the corner next to the woods back there, just fit us. I moved her in, and we're still here.

Lisa Shoalmire:

Well, Mr. Riddle, I think that really concludes our interview this morning.

James August Riddle:

Well, thank you.

Lisa Shoalmire:

And thank you for your service and for --

James August Riddle:

Well, a lot of it, you know, a lot of it was --

Lisa Shoalmire:

So we can go off the record. (INTERVIEW CONCLUDED)

 
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  October 26, 2011
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