April 2006 Richmond Va
Interview conducted by James Triesler
Well I’ve been asked a few times since WWII to recap one or two of the moral essences of interest to the average person of the day. My name is Joe JS Black. I was born in 1920 down in Virginia, and I went out to high school. I saw the war was coming out in 1938; it was pretty obvious the war was gonna begin because England was already at war. I had a friend who joined the navy. We liked [chuckles] ships. So we joined the navy, and I did seven years in the navy, and then later on, a total of 35 years in the National Guard infantry divisions. I retired finally as a major in the civil core.
One of the interesting instances that I’ve been asked about on occasion was just before the war, WWII, started Pearl Harbor Dec 7, 1941. I’d been in the Navy three or four years and I was on the USS WASP, which was a new aircraft carrier. None of us had been in battle at the time, but we were in Bermuda preparing to obviously be in a war. Although we didn’t know that the Japs were gonna bomb us, [chuckles] it was pretty obvious from the way that things were happening on the ship, like taking out all the portholes and welding them up with steel plates, [chuckles] that something was gonna happen. We were doing some flying, I flew a lot as a Red Sea radio gunner in dive bombing outfits mostly’ and this morning they were catapulting planes off the carrier at sea and a squall came up and they took us off the catapult and moved us back. The squall, which usually only lasts about ten minutes, was followed by a beautiful sunny morning, everything soaking wet of course.
I was sitting on the leading edge of the wing of the plane waiting for catapults again, and playing around as kids would, I had on my life jacket and the life jacket on each side had a little loop hanging down that when you pull has two little C02 bottles you have in there that inflate the thing if needed. So while I was sitting up there just waiting I took them out took one of them out and it was punctured, so I threw the bottle down to Jim down in the catwalk and said, ‘Hey Jim run down and get me a bottle, that ones punctured.’ But after getting back up I checked the other one [chuckles] and it was punctured too. Which you can do accidentally the little loops are hanging down and you have to be careful not to pull them accidentally just walking around the ship. So he ran down and got me another bottle so in just a few minutes later they put us on a catapult and prepared us to launch. And in order to launch the planes on a carrier, as you know the catapult exists of a little hook sticking up out of the deck around which they hook a cable like sling up on the wheel of a plane and throw it off. But it makes the tail end fly up in the air so they have to have a device to hold the tail down so the plane goes off at deck level. So they hook this device like your arm from the plane tail to the deck, hook it down so it can’t fly up, and then when the pressure gets to a certain amount the pressure releases because the catapult slings it and the plane goes off level.
Well the night before apparently we had and during night flying they had gonna, some kind of a fracture in the tail section, and so when the catapult threw us slung us off it kept the tail most of it on the deck so we went straight up in the air. And I found myself popped maybe 2 or 3 hundred feet, maybe more, I don’t know where. I could look down, I saw we were floating and were gonna, I looked back saw the carrier down there. And I know it was going to go in and I just threw my left arm in front of my, as we started down, I threw my left arm in front of my head and immediately I found myself deep in the water. And so deep, and now Bermuda you can see a long ways down, but it was black we was down so far, and I had made the dumb mistake of putting my parachute harness on my shoulders. I didn’t hook it; I didn’t put my leg straps on either. But it was easy in that back to put them on for some reason, we flew all the time, just automatically put them on sitting on the deck. But there I was deep in the water in the water trying to, I didn’t have any sense of direction, I wasn’t hurt, and I wasn’t feeling bad. But I had come to a little air in there apparently and I was trying to get that harness off of my shoulders and I could hardly move my arm because of the water pressures. But anyways it must happen very fast because when I couldn’t get it off I said to myself, and actually perfectly, thinking perfectly clear, that I must be a cagoose and I pulled those little straps and immediately found myself floating around in the water with the piler holding my head by my hair back so my nose would be above water.
And the WASP was already stopped and laying two about a quarter mile away, the whale boat was already out there, and they took me and put me into this boat, turned me up-side down [chuckle] and let the water run out and put me in a sick bed for several weeks with a full time attendant because I had a I had a draining on the on the pillow that the doctor said was spinal fluid, I had two ruptured eardrums and a fractured skull. And oh I felt pretty good. He said we’ve gotta do what we can for you now with soccer, with they had soccer drugs at the time so we gotta try to stop this hole up, its about an inch down into your forehead and if we don’t try to do that now, later on in life you might find yourself climbing the telephone pole automatically, so we gotta do what we can to try and get it straight, which they did. So um, after about 6, 7 weeks they put me on a, took me off somebody got all my equipment I’d been in bed I was weak, they got all my gear. Somebody lives on the Blanch, carried us over to the USS Melvin which was a supply ship laying in Bermuda waiting and carried us all back to the US in a in about a couple weeks time. And I got to the US, and its, [chuckles] it’s a heck of a thing to say during the war, but I went onto Danville not home for sick leave, and. Mom and dad well, the war broke out that night Pearl Harbor happened. So there I was in bed I was feeling ok, but I was still weak.
And I cut the story off there, I rang, but the interesting part about that was that the president was on the radio telling every all service men to return to base as soon as possible. And so I called the base my orders saying to report to the commanding officer and they allow the station in Norfolk if the WASP wasn’t in. And so I called him and he said, “You’ve done your duty, and we know where you are, so go ahead with your leave and if we need you we’ll call you.” And I said, “Well I, I.” Well first I [chuckles] talked and I said, “Well I’m ready to come back, but my Grandmother died yesterday and I’d like to stay for the funeral.” Well normally you’d get a big laugh out of that because the military always had a some kind of a [chuckles] some kind of a screwed up story about getting extra leave, but I said I said, “That’s the truth.” So he said, “That’s fine, you stay there, you’ve called in and we’ll let you know.” So they would assume. So that’s where I was on Pearl Harbor day [chuckles].
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