Charles Serr Writes About West Coast trip May 1939
Chas. Serr, who has been in the U.S. Navy
for the past six months and who recently made a trip to Panama on the USS
Pennsylvania, has returned to the United States. It was expected that his crew
would remain in New York to attend the World’s Fair, but the secretary of the
Navy has ordered their return to the west coast. We have asked Charles to write us some news
about his experience and he starts out with the following:
0930 – The bugle sounds quarters! All men come
up to fall in. The bugle sounds assembly. Men fall in, line up and come to
attention. The division officers come out and pace to and fro upon the deck.
“Well men,” he says, “We have a rather serious
order here. Most of you have been expecting for the past four months to see the
World’s Fair. It’s a disappointment to get this close. Well, the order is this.
We have been ordered back to the west coast.”
(Reads from the Secretary of the Navy, Swanson)
“To the officers and the crew of the flagship USS Pennsylvania. Your ship, the
USS Pennsylvania, has been ordered back to its base on the west coast as soon as
possible. Take on provisions and food at Norfolk, Va. The flagship is in command
and will lead the fleet.”
The men take on looks that are hard to describe.
They are disappointed, doubtful, surprised and sorta speechless. Some are
wondering if they are going to war. To others, it means they will miss their
leaves and the World’s Fair.
The men are dismissed from quarters and at once
the sailors make this the main and only topic of conversation. Some begin
cussing the secretary of the Navy, some Hitler – in any event, it is a blue
bunch of sailors. The men that were on leave each received a telegram telling
them to return to their ships by Wednesday. To them it must be still a greater
Next day, the USS Pennsylvania weighs anchor
and arrives the following morning at Norfolk, Va. No sooner is the anchor down
than the barges come alongside and provisions are taken aboard. On the other
side an oiler is pumping oil through an eight-inch hose into our tanks.
Wednesday morning see the fleet steaming up.
Three shrill blasts on the sirens followed by a long deep whistle. This means we
The Pennsylvania steams out, leading the long
line of warships, cruisers, destroyers, battleships and all transport and
aircraft carriers. Soon they gather in formation. Battleships in the center,
cruisers and destroyers take their places on either side. Out of Chesapeake Bay
– away from our eastern coast –where to?
We have a promise from Charles that he will
write some interesting news from time to time on his trip. We know our readers
will be interested in them.
Tells of His Thrill on a U.S. War Ship On a cruise to Panama, Haiti and Cuba
Kennebec boy a new slant on life.
Chas Serr, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy six
months ago is now on a cruise to Panama and Haiti. He was just off the coast of
Cuba March 28th (1939) when he wrote the following interesting letter
to his mother.
Mother: June 13, 1939
Tomorrow ends our Gunnery season! I hope! We
fired the Broadsides and Machinery guns yesterday. Today we fired the Big Guns
and the Broadsides. Boy! What a racket! I shouldn’t say this because I didn’t
actually hear much because I was down below in the handling rooms. It just
sounded like something beating on an empty barrel. But, the old ship rocked and
shook until I thought it would tear apart.
I’m going to tell you just what happened ever
since we got up at 0400 this morning. As soon as we crawled out of our hammocks
we started getting ready for sea. We left the boats behind, pulled in the boat
booms and drew up anchor. Soon we were out to sea.
Everywhere in the ship things were being taken
down and stowed. They took all of the glass cases apart in the library. They
took down all of the light globes, mirrors and packed these and the plates,
cases, radios, anything that was liable to be broken. All the mess tables and
benches that are stowed from the overhead were folded up and left lying on the
floor. Lockers that were loose were unbolted and tied to the bulkheads.
Everything was made secure. The quarter deck seemed to be a mass of junk, with
everything taken apart and tied down. The Movie Machines were packed and hung
from the overhead by so as not to be jarred. All the life lines, mooring stays,
davits, beams, chains, tripods, and everything on the weather deck was taken
down and secured. In general, everything was a mess.
At 9:30 they passed the word to “Prepare to
lauch the airplanes.” This meant that the time had come when we would soon fire.
At 10:00 General Quarters sounded, “Everyone man
their battle stations.” The gongs were ringing, the bugle blurted ot, “General
Quarters”. Men started running, up ladders and down through hatches and doors,
each man going through his work like a piece of machinery. It takes very little
time and soon all stations are manned.
I’m down below in the handling room for turret
No. 4. The officer in charge calls for silence and proceeds to tell all men what
to do, all the precautions to take. We al know them yet he gives us this again
in case there is any doubt in our minds. We go though a dummy run … all works
like a clock.
Everyone is tense and still waiting for the time
to come. The gong, “Send up powder!” Men jump. They are shaky and nervous. Cold
sweat breaks out on their bare chests as they carry bags to the hoists.
Twenty-four bags are going up. There is a roar as air is sent up to be blown
into the guns. A strange silence overtakes the men as they wait for the final
salvo. The ship shakes! It rocks and heaves! There is a dull rumble and everyone
starts breathing again. A chatter is taken up and everyone starts talking at
once. “There’s nothing to it!”, they shout. They send up more powder as salvo
after salvo is fired. The men now think nothing of it. Soon it is all over and
the men go up to another deck where they can get some fresh air and smoke.
The Broadsides now spot their targets and start
firing. These make more noise because we are up another deck and the doors are
not dogged down.
It seems funny how everyone gets the clammy
feeling just before they fire and yet down there, there is nothing to it. The
A.A.s give a sharp crack. This hurts your eardrums much more. Of course you
don’t notice any vibrations of the ship from these guns, but when the turrets
fire you’d think the ship was going to fall apart. The closer you are to a gun
when it goes off, the less concussion you feel. If you were half a mile away it
would knock you head over heels, while being a few feet from it you don’t feel
any force whatsoever. If it weren’t for this, we wouldn’t be able to stand up to
them when we fire them.
Tomorrow, after we fire the Anti-Aircraft guns
in a divisional Baker Run with the West Virginia, our Gunnery days are over
until next October. This don’t mean that we leave the guns alone. We’ll keep on
practicing two or three times a week in order to keep up to par at any time we
are needed . It don’t matter what time of the day, week or month, we will still
be as efficient as we are now.
It seems as if this would be an awful lot of
work, doesn’t it? I know, I thought so before I came here. It really is quite
simple. Every man has a job to do and there are enough men to make each job an
easy one. This way a man can last as long as is needed. Clockwork! That is the
way they work. If part of a clock breaks it don’t work So does this. If one man
fails to do his job right it will be the same way. We either miss the target or
let the gun go dead till its ready for action again.
I don’t know if you like me to talk about all of
this firing or not. I thought you would. It might help to explain some of the
things you don’t know about.
If you are worrying about me when we are firing
– well don’t because I’m safer here than in my own backyard. They have every
safety precaution when they use these guns. They have officers standing around
to see that they are carried out. They haven’t yet had an accident because of
these precautions failing – it’s always someone else’s carelessness. Just like
the boys who went to sleep under the breech of a gun. That was his fault .. not
How’s everything at home? Still cold? We’ll
probably be changing to blues next week as it will be cold at Annapolis. Did you
get the folder? Our letters will be closer for a while now. We leave the Bay
Friday and will be at Annapolis probably until Sunday or Monday.
a real vacation July 1939
Robert Serr, James Abdnor and Gene Armstrong
who went to Rapid City to take in the sights in the Black Hills, returned home
Monday afternoon. The boys expected to spend the Fourth at Belle Fourche but
they were a trifle too liberal with their spending money the first few days and,
consequently they got low on funds and decided to trek for home before their
funds were completely exhausted.
Just the same, the boys report having had a
fine time and declare the old flivver performed wonderfully both going and
Mrs. Sadie Serr, Bobby and Connie left Friday
for Rapid City where they joined Mr. and Mrs. Ward Myers on an overland trip to
California. They will visit many points of interest and visit with her son,
Charles, who is in the US Navy. After attending the football game in the Rose
Bowl on New Year’s Day, they will start for home.
U.S.S. Pennsylvania Box 6-B Long Beach, Calif.
Fleet Machine School Puuloa, T.H. April 29, 1941
I feel just like a conscript! Boy the change
I just went through makes me fully realize how one feels to leave home and go
into a makeshift camp. I knew I was getting to go to the Fleet
Machine Gun School and so was quite anxious for the time that I should go.
I received word Monday that the following day
was the day I go so I packed my sea bag with what I needed. The following
morning with lots of delay they paid us (three of us, Shorty Owens, C.D.
Bolander and myself.) I was put in charge of the group and I received
my orders to proceed to Fort Weaver landing via government transportation which
was our own small motor whale boat.
I gave the officer of the deck my orders which
he checked and handed back to me, and we received his permission to leave the
ship. We walked down the gangway and threw our bedding and sea bags in and
jumped aboard. About half way to Fort Weaver Landing we were
overhauled by the Armed boat patrol and the informed the coxswain to keep his
course on the inside of the channel as they were laying mines for practice and
training purposes. When we reached the landing we piled out pulling
our bedding and bags behind us. A Marine officer took my orders and directed us
to throw our gear over in a pile with some others from ships, which we did.
We sat around waiting for other launches and
boats to pull in with their quota of men for the school, and during the wait our
heat seemed to get unbearable so I turned to the shade of a palm for help. This
helped a lot, but it seemed somehow that I needed water and there was none to
be had – except in the ocean and you can’t drink that. Now I know how the
Ancient Mariner felt when he said, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to
drink.” It must have been more or less my imagination
cause I soon forgot how thirsty I really was.
During this time a little narrow guage, diesel
engine train, open air affair came purring ‘round the bend from behind a bunch
of ferns and shrubs and everyone goggled at its awe as it was a strange
contraption, but never the less, transportation. We all boarded the make-shift cross between a
trolley and train and were soon rattling off for Puuloa (Poo-low-ah) camp.
The vegetation reminded me of the dense jungles
I had seen in Panama but they were well cleared of underbrush as if they had
turned a bunch of CCC boys loose on it.
As we rambled on I took special notice of the
concealment and camouflaged anti-aircraft guns. What really struck my eye and
what I had been watching for was the mammoth 16-inch naval railway guns. They
were mean looking and yet fascinating as they pointed out toward the sea,
protecting the harbor. I shuddered as I thought of what they could do to fleet,
then pushed it out of my head as I knew they could never be used against us.
Other things I noticed were large hills with
trees and shrubs growing all over them, but they all had large thick doors
leading into them and railway sidings went inside, too.
The little rattling train finally slowed down
and soon stopped at a road crossing. “End of the line,” a soldier in fatigues
cried out and everyone grabbed their bags and started for a cluster of brown
tents and make-shift buildings. The first thing that made me weary was a long
hike with a couple hundred pounds on my back in soft sand. I thought I left dust
behind when I left South Dakota.
Soon our little party came to a small green
building where an officer told us where to bunk down. Either he was all mixed up
or we were too tired to pay attention because we all scrambled for one of the
tents, anyone. Shorty and I got one of the middle ones. There was about 50 tents
and two men to a tent.
As we checked over our tent we noticed only one
bunk so we went out and grabbed up one out of another tent before somebody
settled in it. They had to go down and draw out a wooden cot. We soon had our bedding spread and our mosquito
netting rigged. Then we kicked off our shoes and ducked under the netting and
oh! how good it seemed to lay there relaxed and to wiggle the dust from between
This pleasure was interrupted by a loud clanging
of heavy irons. This meant only one thing to me and I was out of that bunk and
into shoes in nothing flat. I hadn’t spent a year in a CCC camp for nothing,
therefore I knew, whether the tone was the same or not, that that noise was chow
I hurried out of my tent after arousing my
companion to join the throng. I immediately knew where the mess hall was because
the men were all running in only one direction so I joined them. After waiting for five or ten minutes we were
permitted to enter and filled up the tables that held the steaming food. My feet
followed my nose to the table, which held fried potatoes, scalloped corn, liver
and bacon, fresh baked bread, hot gravy and pumpkin pie.
As a rule, I never care for liver, but I
actually devoured along with firsts on the rest and seconds on the corn. The
change from a battleship to open air plus the walking with two heavy bags gave
me quite an appetite. (Those conscripts must eat Uncle Sam out of house and home
… maybe that’s why we’re running into debt.
After chow (evening meal) was over I went back
to my tent. All the time we were eating we could look out over the ocean and the
rolling surf. So as soon as I returned to my tent I decided between a shower
and the ocean to get the dust and dirt off my tired body. The ocean always wins
cause I have to take a shower afterward to get the salt off, so this way I get
both. After changing I made the mistake to leave my
shoes behind and the small pebbles and weeds seemed to be waiting for my tender
feet ( haven’t been barefoot since I was a kid.)
I soon reached the beach. It’s only a block from
our tent, along ways without shoes. I looked at the others enjoying the rolling
surf so I ran down the sandy beach and plunged into an oncoming breaker. Swell!.
The water was fine, so I stood up and holy cats, I thought at first I had
stepped onto a Hindu’s glass bed! I didn’t leave my feet remaining on the bottom
very long. I swam to the beach and looked at my poor feet. They were okay except
for a couple of scratches. The glass beds turned out to be coral, so I learned
after that how to pick my way through a coral beach.
After my swim I picked my way back to my tent,
gathered up my clothes and toilet articles, put on my shoes and headed for the
shower. I have seen better showers and have used worse so I didn’t complain. One
thing, you couldn’t feel sleepy after using one ‘cause they were on the cool
side – and just one temperature, too. After my shower I returned to my tent to see
Shorty with an armload of magazines, chewing gum, candy, peanuts, crackers and
beer so I joined him in his first night party.
After draining two cans of cold beer and a few
peanuts and cheese crackers, I turned to writing this letter. This might well be
taken as a draftee’s first day in camp, but the difference is that when they go
in it’s new to them, confusing and so far from their home life that it’s
discouraging to them
To me, I’ve been used to a sailor’s life and the
CCC life and this is just a change, but I rather think I’m going to enjoy these
two weeks over here as I love outdoor life. The one main thing though is the
dust …it’s too much like South Dakota.
Last night I had one of the best night’s sleep
for some time. Two mosquitoes found their way into the netting somehow and I
noticed this morning that they were so fat they couldn’t get out, but I
couldn’t find any bites, so I gave them a couple of swats and got up and
Their system of reveille here is also much
different than on a battleship. They use much the same procedure as chow call
only the tone of the gong was somewhat different.
Before we had even washed up they rang the
breakfast bell so we were all soon hurrying for the green barn-like structure
called a mess hall. We al were thinking of sunny side ups and bacon but were
disillusioned with beans. Now I do feel like a conscript.
Well, that’s my arrival to the Fleet Machine
School here at Puuloa, T.H. (Territory of Hawaii.) I think that Jim will come
over next time. I will write you again real soon and tell you how I like camp
and what we all are doing.
24 Mar. 1945
CHAS. SERR GETS HIS WINGS
Naval Aviation Cadet Charles T. Serr, 26, son of
Mrs. Sadie Serr, formerly of Kennebec, has been transferred to the Air Station,
Pensacola, Florida, after successful completion of the primary flight training
course at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Norman, Oklahoma.
After three months of advanced flight training
at Pensacola, Cadet Serr will pin on his wings as a Naval aviator and be
commissioned as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve, or Second Lieutenant in the
Marine Corps Reserve.
Jim Serr, who was among the first of the
Kennebec boys to join navy, writes us a letter and encloses a clipping about the
USS Pennsylvanis, to which he was assigned and on which he was serving at the
time of the Pearl Harbor incident. He says, “Since leaving the states last
January I spent five and a half months trying to catch my ship. Spent five
months on the USS Colorado, sixty days of that was at Okinawa. I never saw so
many suicide dives in my life and it scared the heck out of me a couple of
The very day I finally reported aboard the
Pennsylvania, August 12, she was torpedoed. What a reception. I thought I would
have to make a swim of it for awhile. The war was so near over, too, that’s what
hurt. You have no doubt heard of the navy’s point system. It don’t concern me
because I have nine and a half months to do on my enlistment. I have 43 ½ points
though … enough to get out on.