Once I became a fireman third class, I had the opportunity to move up, in my ratings to fireman 2nd class, on to fireman 1st class. Then on to Water Tender 2nd class to Water Tender 1st class and on to become Chief Petty Officer as a Water Tender.
As a fireman 2nd class, my duties were to make sure the steam pressure, on our boilers, was up to 250# pressure, constantly. I also had the duty of cleaning up in the bilges, underneath the floor plates; cleaning up any trash on the floor plates; repair valves that might be leaking, and making sure when in overhaul of our boilers that the tubes within the boilers were scraped clean, and that the brickwork within the boilers was not damaged in any way. We also cleaned the inside of these tubes, by passing an adequate brush within the tubes.
As one became more proficient, and your rating went up, your duties became more difficult. You sometimes, went above, where the blowers were, and made sure they were in good working order. Added to this, you watched the water gauge on each boiler, making sure that the water was at the proper level. This was quite important, as lack of water within the tubes, could cause serious damage to the boiler. There always was a 1st class Water Tender, whether at sea or in port. At sea, there also was a Chief Petty officer, and possibly a Chief Warrant Officer.
Each boiler had eight burners, and these were lit or turned off depending on how much steam was needed during that period of time. That also meant one had to speed up the blowers, or slow them down, which meant one had to keep the stack clear. Black smoke coming out of the stack meant that you didn't have enough air to keep your stack clean. If you had to much air, it meant that your stack would show a white vapor to the outside air, and that was not good, either.
We also had an "Oil King", whose job was to make sure the ship was in perfect trim. This meant that the oil king had to shift oil from one side to the other to keep the ship in trim. He also had to test the water going into the boilers, making sure it was of the proper salinity. He had to report to the Captain, every day, on how much fuel was left in the tanks; how much was used every day, and how much water was used, by the ship each. When in port, if he had to requisition more oil, for our ship. Then he had to estimate, on how much was needed. Then he had to shift the oil from tank to tank; keeping the ship in perfect trim.
While on the USS San Francisco, I finally became a 2nd class Water Tender. While I was aboard the USS Canisteo, a later ship I was on, I was put in the position of becoming the "Oil King" of this ship.
My ship, the USS San Francisco, was scheduled to go into dry-dock on December 5, 1941. However, the battleship, having priority, was assigned to go in our place.
We were assigned to a pier near dock 1010. Across the pier, was the cruiser, the USS New Orleans. On the other side of us, were the two cruisers the USS St. Louis and USS Honolulu.
Our ship, was tied up, and the machine shop had most of our valves and pumps, in their care. Most of the small caliber guns were also in for repair.
The USS Minneapolis was assigned church duty for that Sunday.
I was below decks getting ready to go to church services, on the USS Minneapolis. A fellow fireman, J. Hacke, was in the aisle next to my bunk bed. I remember saying to him, "You know if this were real, I'd run right over you". I didn't realize then, that the Japanese had started their attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, at 0755 a.m.
Being it was Sunday, and that we were in port and our ship was in the auxiliary watch. I was not assigned on any watches for that day. A buddy of mine, Don Harmon, who went through "boot camp" with me, at Newport, R.I., had been in the National Guard and was familiar with our rifle guns. He had obtained one and was going to shoot at the airplanes as they passed by the stern of our ship. I was just about to go with him, when our loudspeaker said, "Any below decks personnel, return to their engine rooms or firerooms." We had to try and get our ship back in shape. This we did.
Our ship did not suffer any major damage except for falling shrapnel, which damaged our searchlights and the fireroom stacks towards the center of our ship.
It wasn't until late in December that our task force was ready to try and help our forces on Wake Island. However, Wake Island fell before we could get there. We then were assigned to deliver our planes to Midway Island.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, our ship, was assigned to a Task Force, and tried to relieve the men on Wake Island. We arrived too late. This happened on December 23, 1941, when Wake Island fell to the attacking Japanese.
Our orders then were to proceed to Midway Island, and leave additional planes, ammunition, and men there.
Raises in pay at that time were few and far between. I started out as an Apprentice Seaman, making $21.00 per month in salary. My next raise came when I became Seaman 1st. It went to $36 per month. Then when we were attacked, on December 7, 1941, our pay raises went to $50 per month. Eventually, when I became 1st Class Water Tender, my pay was about $136 per month. However, one must understand, our meals were free, and our sleeping quarters were free. Our clothing was at a lower price, for underwear, shoes, or uniforms.
Our first major engagement was at Salamau and Lae. Then we went through the Coral Sea Battle, and then the Guadalcanal campaign, after the Midway Battle. Our ship was engaged in many of the Guadalcanal campaigns. Our main battle was on Friday, the 13th of November. Many men were killed or injured. It was a day that young boys became men.
A group was formed in 1958. This group is called "The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association". Our motto is, "Remember Pearl Harbor, Keep Alert." To this, I am a member as one who was there. I belong to the Willamette Valley Chapter, and we run it from Corvallis, Oregon.
During my teaching years, especially around December 7th, I usually gave a talk about Pearl Harbor. Nowadays, with a VCR, I also show pictures of the attack. It makes it more meaningful for these students.
As a coincidence, my initials are R. P. H., and that could also stand for Remember Pearl Harbor (R.P.H.)
Should you go to Oahu, you must visit the Hawaiian palm trees. If you go on to Pearl Harbor, you must visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial over at the Pearl Harbor base. It is very moving to stand there, where so many sailors died on that day (December 7, 1941). There, even to this day, there rises a drop of oil from below, from the USS Arizona.