Behind every rifleman, pilot, or Navy Seal, nine to 10 support personnel are required for him/her to complete their mission successfully. The Gulf War U.S. Commander General Norman Schwarzkopf titled his best-selling book, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” and no better words can describe the contribution of so many recognized by so few. This is the story of one man’s influence on the outcome of WWII, as told by his son, Joe Carter.
“My father, Howard Newell Carter … and only his mother called him Newell … went by the name Nick Carter. He was born and raised in Douglas, Ga., and graduated from Douglas High School. I believe it’s been renamed Coffee County High School. The Carter family is from that area, with a census recording that goes back to pre-Civil War days. My grandmother was the only female to graduate from her high school, class of 1917. Dad completed two years of business schooling at South Georgia State College before joining the Navy in March of 1941. With war on the horizon, he got in early and took basic training at Norfolk. The military was gearing up for WWII so the Navy had several basic training facilities at the time.
“After basic training, he remained at Norfolk as a yeoman in administration due to the typing ability he mastered in high school and college. In 1942, Dad was sent to Reykjavik, Iceland to serve under Capt. Daniel V. Gallery, who captured U-505.”
Note: Later in the war, Capt. Gallery commanded the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal. Under Gallery’s command, his Task Force sank German submarines U-544, U-68, U-515, and captured U-505 off the coast of Africa on June 4, 1944, D-Day in Europe. U-505 is still on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
Carter continued: “Dad left Iceland in May of ’43 and went back to Norfolk. He liked Norfolk and enjoyed being assigned to the air station. In January of ’44, he was assigned to the Navy ship, USS Antaeus. She was a cruise ship from 1932 to 1941 called the SS Saint John until purchased by the Navy for $2.7 million in 1941, then renamed the Antaeus. She served as a sub tender before being converted to a troop ship. My father kept track of everyone on the ship, which included the regular crew and all passengers. Every time someone came aboard, he had to write (type) up a list of passengers. Every time someone got off, he had to write (type) up paperwork to transfer them off the ship. It was like a non-stop bus.”
Note: Carter mentioned computers were coming online during the war, the early IBM days, with read cards and wide papers with sprocket feeds on the sides. Passengers coming aboard had the IBM-type paperwork; passengers off-loading had to be given typewritten paperwork by Carter’s father.
He continued: “The Antaeus sailed up and down the East Coast transporting Seabees to Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the lend-lease bases in the Caribbean being constructed to assist the war effort. Dad was on that duty for about a year. You know, he was a perfectionist, always critical of my typing ability. He was very conscientious of anything he had to present to his captain, the work had to be error-free. He’d redo everything. Other yeomen were on the ship, but Dad would always check their work and always redo it for the captain. Anything that went to the captain, went through Dad.
“Dad wasn’t the chief yeoman. Dad’s chief yeoman, of course they called him ‘chief’, had been pulled out of retirement, as had many of the yeoman onboard. Dad’s chief was assigned to the ship when the Navy first purchased the vessel and stayed on it throughout the war, all five years.”
The final conversion: “Dad’s ship pulled into the Brooklyn Navy Yard in December of ’44 to be converted to an ambulance hospital ship. The conversion took about three months, from January to March of ’45. Among other things to be done, they had to remove the guns and the gun tubs. Hospital ships were not allowed to be armed, plus operating rooms were installed and other necessary medical facilities and supplies. It was an ambulance hospital ship, not a fully operational bigger hospital ship. The bigger hospital ships were better equipped, but the ambulance hospital ships could keep our soldiers alive until the ship returned to an onshore hospital. Dad’s ship was renamed the USS Rescue.”
NOTE: A bit of irony. His father’s ship was renamed USS Rescue as an ambulance hospital ship to help save lives; the first vessel named USS Rescue was used as a Navy brig (jail) in the early 1800s.
Deployment: “They set sail for Hawaii to have cables installed to run the bowman’s chair or a stretcher from ship to ship. The Rescue first went to the huge anchorage at Ulithi. Dad didn’t mention Ulithi, but I found out a lot by requesting his records from the National Archives. The military records lost in the fire in St. Louis were Army and Army Air Force files, the Navy files were in a different location.”
NOTE: July 12, 1973, a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center destroyed approximately 16 to 18 million official military personnel records of those who served from 1912 to 1964.
Carter continued: “My uncle’s records from the Army Air Force were destroyed as were my grandfather’s files from WWI. I found my wife’s grandfather’s name on a ship manifest held by the Navy showing he went to and came home from France plus his unit number. My dad’s dad spent his time at Camp Gordon, not to be confused with Fort Gordon, during WWI in a suburb of Atlanta. He married my grandmother during that time in 1918, and my dad came into this world in 1920.
Dad’s hospital ship, the USS Rescue, was the last hospital ship to be commissioned in WWII. The two hospital ships we have today, Mercy and Comfort, were converted from super tankers, so they have plenty of room for wards, beds, operating rooms, chopper pads, etc. I’ve heard rumors the Navy will not build hospital ships in the future, that these are the last two since modern transportation is much faster.”
NOTE: The Mercy and Comfort are presently being deployed to assist in the fight against the coronavirus.
To continue: “Dad’s ship was sent to support the invasion of Okinawa in 1944. They would load up with as many patients as possible then sail to Guam, which was a big hospital area late in the war. His ship was part of Task Force 38, Admiral Halsey’s 3rd Fleet. Off Okinawa, any ship was a target for the Japanese kamikaze (suicide) pilots, and that included hospital ships. On one occasion, the Rescue was offloading patients via the cable lines from another ship when that ship was hit by a kamikaze. They don’t think Dad’s ship was targeted, but shrapnel and debris peppered the Rescue. His ship caught shrapnel and debris several times from destroyed kamikaze planes.
“International law states a hospital ship is supposed to ‘light up’ at night to identify itself as a hospital ship, but being a U.S. Navy ship in a combat zone the Navy hierarchy said, ‘Don’t dare light up at night.” I’m sure other vessels in the fleet wouldn’t have appreciated a ‘lighted target’ in the area.”
It’s over: “When the war ended, the fleet was sent elsewhere until Tokyo Harbor was cleared of mines. The Rescue sailed to Guam, unloaded their sick and wounded, then sailed back to Tokyo Harbor to participate in the surrender ceremony. The larger hospital ships, the Benevolence and Marigold, were the headquarter ships for the ambulance fleet. The Rescue was dispatched to various ports where POWs were held prisoners for forced labor, both military and civilian personnel. All our Allies, especially Filipinos, were treated and military personnel were transported to the large hospital facility in Yokohama or one of the two large hospital ships. Dad listed all the patients on his ship.
“There were several POW camps around Sendai, Japan and Dad interviewed the yeomen POWs. He said it was like interviewing a skeleton. The POWs were not treated well or fed well. Some had been POWs for four years. The ship’s galley had to gear up to get these guys nourished and get their weight back up. Dad said it was difficult to listen to some of their stories.
“It was around that time that the Rescue changed commands. Robert Twining had been given a captaincy with the outbreak of war. He had retired in 1938; a graduate of the Annapolis Class of 1916, a WWI veteran and now a WWII veteran. He retired again in 1945 and passed away in 1995 at the age of 100. He was well-liked by the crew. The new commander was not well-liked, a reservist, and the crew didn’t think much of the guy.
“The Rescue spent all of September ’45 as an ambulance, then traveled to Guam to unload a few POW patients that were from Guam. The hospitals on Guam were shutting down and all the medical personnel were hitching rides back to the states. Dad said his ship was overloaded with medical personnel. First they sailed to Pearl Harbor, then to San Francisco. Dad finally left the Rescue to serve in post-war hospitalization.
“In January of ’46, Dad joined the crew of the light cruiser USS Montpelier and served as the captain’s yeoman until she was decommissioned in 1947. Dad was among the last to walk off the ship. Then he was sent to the Philadelphia Naval Yard and discharged from the Navy in February. I was born the same year.”
“Yeah, me too. A very familiar story.”
“Yep, two baby-boomers, we are. Anyway, my mom and dad had both served at the hospital in Samson, N.Y., but not at the same time. Dad was there in late 1944 for a short time, and Mom was there from April to October of 1945. She worked in the burn ward. Burns are the number one injury aboard ships, boiler rooms, combat fire, you name it. Mom was a public health nurse when she joined the cadet nurse corps. The Army and Navy had the same sort of program. She served from 1941 until 1945. The military at the time had first dibs on nurses. It was the last time Mom served in a burn ward. She didn’t say much about it, but I guess we can understand why. She went back to public service as a visiting nurse, much like all the home nursing going on today.”
The Glenn Miller Orchestra? “Oh, I wanted to mention that my little sister’s son, my nephew, plays trumpet in the Glenn Miller Orchestra.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“Nope, the Glenn Miller Orchestra is still active, still playing worldwide.”
“Interesting. What did your dad do after the war?”
“Dad went into sales. First for a dairy, then a carpenter, then as a car salesman. The production lines were retooling after the war from building tanks and jeeps back to building cars. Dad died at the age of 58. He outlived his dad who died at the age of 49.”
“Were you in the military?”
“Yep. I joined the Air Force in 1967. They gave me a language test, which I passed, then they sent me to Syracuse University to learn Russian. After a year, they asked for volunteers to learn Arabic. I raised my hand and they sent me to Monterey.”
“Where did you serve?”
“Fort Meade, to the NSA (National Security Agency), followed by Medina AFB in Texas, now called NSA, Texas, plus Georgia and Hawaii. But everything has changed now.”
“Knowing Arabic, what did you do?”
“Translated Arabic to English, mostly overseas duty.”
“All kinds of official places.”
“In other words, you can’t say.”
“Being a veteran of Air Force Intelligence, I think you and I signed the same type of ‘keep your mouth shut’ agreement.”
“Exactly. But I have a funny story for you. I worked alongside two Arab linguists at the NSA who had been in the Army before I got there, but were now civilians. When they graduated from Arabic language school at Monterey they got their first orders: Vietnam. This was in the mid-’60s, and nobody spoke Arabic in Vietnam, and I doubt if anyone in Vietnam speaks Arabic today. Both of those guys were assigned to NCO clubs as bartenders. Now there’s money well-spent, don’t you think?
“Sounds about right.”
“Well, I retired in 1996 and have been active in the Boy Scouts. First as a Cub master when we were in Turkey, later as a Scout master in the states, then as advancement chairman. My boys, or course, are no longer in Scouting, but I’m still active serving as webmaster for this area and serve on the Eagle Scout review board. Of course, now everything is closed or canceled due to the coronavirus, but we and the nation will survive. My wife worked alongside me at the NSA. She’s retired, I’m retired, I stay busy, hey … life is good.”