The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Larry Nelson
For The Sun-Telegraph 

Veteran's History Project - Larry Nelson

Frank C. Gregg Machinist's Mate 3rd Class U.S. Navy

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is one of many American Veteran accounts published in The Sidney Sun-Telegraph. The writer, who is from Potter, is conducting the interviews as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

In all fairness, the members of the Selective Service (Draft) Board might have had a bad "rap."

They were merely doing their job by naming and notifying young men that they were going to be serving their country in the war. For the most part, those being notified were going to be inducted into the U.S. Army. Many young men thought they had better find a branch of their service to their liking. Others figured that the U.S. Army was just fine with them.

In December 1943, Frank Gregg was notified of his induction. He lived with his family in Dodge City, Kansas. He was transported to Kansas City, Mo., with eight other young guys on a day-long bus ride. He reported for his physical and at that time and place, he was asked which branch of service he wanted to serve in. (THIS was most unusual!)

Frank wanted to be in the U.S. Navy. He thought the Navy would be easier. On the day after Christmas in 1943, the people at the induction center finished their testing on this youngster and sent him on a train headed for Camp Farragut, Idaho. It's clear there were no oceans there for the Navy, but there was a big lake. This camp was used because the other two main training bases were filled to capacity.

It is now January 1944 and it's cold in Idaho. When Frank arrived at the training camp, he and the others were lined up in rows. They were marched to clothing issue where he was to get rid of his civilian clothes and issued new ones with the Navy's markings.

After the haircut, the men were re-assembled in rows and marched to their new home, a one level building capable of housing 130 men. Barracks life involved each trainee to filling the various chore jobs. That meant everyone got a chance to do KP (Kitchen Police – peel potatoes, clean, mop, etc), fire guard, and fireman.

In January, the fireman was the one who stayed up all night making sure there was enough coal in the chamber so the place was warm enough. If the guys woke up cold and found this guy asleep, it would have been a problem for the sleeper.

They also were shown the mess hall and the grinder. The mess hall is where they took their meals. The grinder is the large asphalt parking lot where they learned to march, salute, do push-ups, and love the Navy. After each training piece and before each meal, the men were marched to their barracks where they could clean up then marched to the mess hall. (This courtesy/policy was not offered in other branches.)

Frank's first meal was breakfast. They were served beans. They ate in their new uniforms and new boots. Frank had lived and worked away from home in his earlier years so being in a different place was not new. Others were very homesick.

At the rifle range, Frank was an expert. He had no difficulty in getting through the rest of the initial training. Their leader was a 2nd Class Boats man who got the lessons accomplished without screaming at the men. The leader was very insistent in making sure the men knew how to swim. This skill was to be a lifesaver in the years ahead for all the men.

In training, the men were paid $21 a month. At the end of the first four weeks of basic training they got a weekend pass and could to go off base in their off-duty blues – with a starched collar. They rode a bus to Seattle and ate the food they used to know. Frank went to two movies, enjoying the time away. Then it was back to training. Frank graduated boot camp. He was rewarded with a 10-day pass to go home and was to report next to a diesel engineering school at Ames, Iowa.

Iowa State University was a training facility for the War Department. Frank knew about power plants from his days on the farm. He had a working knowledge at a young age.

One of the training models was from the motors used to power a dirigible. When the six-days-a-week training was over, he was sent on to Little Creek Navy Base, Va. This was an amphibious training station where he and others learned to handle the LCT and LCI ships used to carry Marines and soldiers to the fight. (LCT is a Landing Craft, Tanks; LCI is Landing Craft, Infantry).

Little Creek is/was close to the huge U.S. Naval Base at Norfolk, Va. This was Frank's first look at the size of an aircraft carrier and battleships. Along the way, the men were told they were going to be going on to the Chicago area where they would be assigned to a new ship, the LSM-318. This ship was being built by the Pullman Car Company – usually maker of railroad cars. When possible, the new ship had a shake-down cruise on the Great Lakes. This was the only time Frank became seasick. There were 54 men on the ship.

When the shake-down issues were worked out, the LSM-318 was sea-worthy. They sailed it down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Fabulous!

They got a chance to get off the ship and take in the city. When it was time to sail again, they headed south and west to and through the Panama Canal. They went on out into the Pacific Ocean and to New Guinea. In that there was no cargo on the LSM 318, they loaded it with the supplies needed for war at the Philippines. They put on beans, bullets, and three medium-sized tanks. After 11 days loading, they headed for Leyte Gulf at the Philippines.

Frank's battle station was at the forward damage control site. At the front of the ship where six men could assess damage and take action. There were six 40mm guns there as well, and the sailors were also trained to shoot all the other weapons on board.

The LSM 318 unloaded the first load then met a huge supply ship where they unloaded and loaded more supplies. One category of supplies was gasoline that was needed for the military vehicles. They took that load to Leyte Gulf and unloaded. The third supply run was made as well.

On the 7th of December 1944, when the LSM 318 pulled out of the harbor, it was attacked by the Japanese Air Force units. Two planes piloted by kamikaze men, slammed into the ship. One hit in the aft part, on the starboard side, directly into the engine room. The damage was massive.

Frank was in the front of the ship. The emerging chaos was predictable. The command to "abandon ship" was put out on bull horns, loudly and often. Franks said he could see the shore from where he was. He went into the water with the rest of the crew. All knew how to swim. There were 54 men on the ship. Four were lost.

There were eight Army Landing Craft – Infantry (LCIs) boats that just unloaded men onto the beaches and were immediately in the area to pick the survivors up. The men were taken to a supply bay and allowed to rest and re-group. Frank and others returned to the states and he even got a 30-day leave. His mother had received a telegram mistakenly saying that the ship had been hit and only three men survived. She was very, very happy to know of the errors in the telegram.

Frank returned to Treasure Island and North Island near San Diego. He worked on engines and was keeping his ear to the ground when a notice came out for men who would volunteer for duty on CUB 18 (Combat Unit Battalion). After training for their mission at Miramar Racetrack, the men boarded the U.S.S. President Monroe and headed for Japan.

The Monroe was a liner that had been converted to a troop ship. There were 120 men and their equipment. When they were to get to Japan, they were to supply combat units. On the way, however, the men were notified that the first bomb had been dropped. Then the second one was dropped. Yet the Monroe sailed on the Sasebo, Japan. It would remain there for eight months where the men re-supplied the people closing down the theater of war. Here, Frank took many of his meals using a P-38 can opener to get to the goods in the cans.

Frank kept in touch with family by letter writing. When the pay was made, the Navy paid by two dollar bills. (During the interview, Frank pulled out his wallet and showed two dollar bills – still!)

In Japan, when the U.S. ships brought back Japanese personnel to be re-patriated, the men were ordered to strip down to their underwear before they got off the ship. The same process had yielded a hand grenade from a prisoner. So safety was essential.

In April 1946, Frank was allowed to depart the Navy because he had enough points to do so. One could accumulate points for being at sea so many months, and recommendations from supervisors, etc. If a threshold number was met, one had the chance to re-deploy and get out of the service. Frank was sent back on a troop that returned to the States. He was finally sent to Norman, Okla., to actually out-process. He signed out and received $174.48 in back pay, $19.94 in travel expense and $100.00 in muster out pay.

Frank went on home and helped with the farming operations. He used his skills in the mechanical trade and made his living from that.

In 1961, he moved his family to the Sidney area and remains active here. He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He remained in touch with two of his shipmates until the 1980s. They passed away, sadly.

Frank is an essential worker at Saint Patrick's Church and a fine asset to our community. There is a need to re-constitute this fine sailor with his medals, dog-tags and other "stuff." Hmmm...

The military was a large part of Frank's life and actions. He encourages young people to really consider the military as a strong option for planning their futures.

Machinists Mate 3rd Class Frank Gregg, great job! Thank you for your service!

 

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