Veterans History Project
Paul H. Roberts Yeoman/2nd Class US Navy Korea War, 1952-1956
November 10, 2021 | View PDF
Paul Roberts was a college student at Wayne State University in Wayne, Nebraska. When not in classes, he would return home to Albion, Nebraska to help with his dad’s plumbing business. He was also an athlete who could run. At the end of three college semesters, he had sustained a knee injury which hampered his running ability.
At about the same time, the Selective Service Board had sent him a draft notice. Before going right into the service, he was involved in an automobile injury accident. The Selective Service people allowed him 6 months to recover so that he would be fully physically capable of military service.
The postponement gave him time to assess his situation. He knew he was going to be in the military so he chose on his own which branch to serve in. He went to the US Navy recruiting office. There the sailor-in-charge told him that they weren’t really supposed to enlist someone who had been drafted, but since he had three semesters of college, they could make an exception.
Paul passed the physical examination and completed the rest of the paperwork. In two weeks he boarded a train for the long ride to San Diego, California. There was only one other young man on the train having the same destination as Paul.
On arrival at the San Diego Naval training Center, it was a different world! After taking a second physical, there were shots (injections) to get, have a nice haircut, clothing issued, and learn where to eat and sleep.
The new sailors were assigned to training class 013. The building was one story and there were about 100 men assigned there. Most of the men in the group were from South Carolina. Training lasted 8 weeks and on graduation, a two week furlough was granted so Paul took another train ride back to Grand Island then home to Albion.
Returning to Navy duty, Paul arrived at Long Beach, CA. He had been assigned to the USS Whetstone (LSD 27) for sea duty. After Navy inspectors completed a review of the Whetstone, major defects were noted and the ship had to go in for repairs.
Paul was quickly transferred to the USS Helena (CA-75) a light cruiser. She was about 607 feet long. She could carry a load of 12,403 tons of cargo. Among her firepower were15, 6 inch (150mm) guns. The USS Helena was an extraordinarily durable ship.
She was hit by torpedoes in Pearl Harbor and later in WWII in the Pacific part of the war; she sustained extensive damage in the Battle of Kula Gulf. The Navy was very adept at repairing its ships. She was fit for duty in reasonable short time.
There was no advanced training after boot camp. Prior to going to sea, young men went right to work with on-the-job training. In a short while, Paul had begun doing clerical work and had to deliver a message to the officer in charge of the track team. Paul did as he was told and did happen to mention to the coach that he was a college level runner. The coach asked him to try out, then and there.
After getting into some running shorts and shoes, he raced against the others. Paul outran their best runner by 6 yards! The coach wanted Paul to transfer to the team. Right away the coach changed the starting blocks for Paul’s starting position. Paul objected to this odd move. The coach directed that that was how it was going to be, so Paul resumed his clerical duties.
Paul’s first duty on the ship was in the engineer room. This room was positioned amidships on the third level. Very soon after getting aboard the ship the information was broadcast that the USS Helena was deploying to Japan then on to the war in Korea.
Paul was asked if he could calculate mathematical data. Replying in the affirmative, Paul was tasked with learning about the fuel and oil capacity of the ship. He had to know as much as he could about his responsibilities.
A trained crew went out at the same time each morning to complete their measurements and provided their information to Paul. Using “tank tables” he got very squared away with the information. His job was to make a daily report to the ship’s command advising them of the fuel levels.
Every day, sometimes there was a need for more that one report a day. In his off time, he read several books. He had written several letters but the mail service was sporadic if at all. Men could get to the top deck to check out the night time star show.
Moving back to being enroute to Korea, The USS Helena and others sailed about a week to Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. They took on fuel and provisions and stayed there for about a week. Because of his unique position/assignment, Paul had to leave the ship to make arrangements for repairs, parts, and provisions.
On one occasion, an electrical panel went out. Paul and the Chief electrician went to a Navy repair shop that was unoccupied at the time. They found a new panel that was exactly what they needed. After switching the name plates on the piece, the two then unloaded their nonfunctional panel with the new one and hauled their prize back to their ship. Problem solved! (There was no response from the repair parts bay, so…).
After leaving the Yokosuka Naval Base, the USS Helena joined Task Force 77 which then sailed to Korea. Her big guns fired at enemy targets near the southern Korea shoreline. The accurate Navy gunfire found vulnerable spots on troop trains. The working operational plan was the shoot out the lead engine of the train, then the rear of the train.
Once finding out that their train was stalled and more rounds were coming, the enemy soldiers fled on foot into the nearby hillsides. The finely tuned cannons loaded with anti-personnel rounds located the fleeing men. The ship could and did fire from ten miles away.
A US Navy mine-sweeper was unfortunate enough to locate underwater explosives. The mine detonated directly under the ship, flipping it over and causing the deaths of many of our sailors. Soon there after, the USS Helena and other key ships nearby, fully demolished the Korean coast line in that area.
The Helena remained in this area and played an active role for five months. An enemy round struck the Helena. The round was a lucky strike that was on a delayed fuse. It struck a bulkhead near Paul’s office area and blew up. The damage was certain but not lethal for the sailors.
While in the battle, the ships of the task force were subject to two typhoons. The first lasted two days. At the engineer’s office, things were fairly stable. On the second blast from Mother Nature, the USS Helena was able to get out of the area and went north away from the storm. She sailed north as far as possible in much calmer seas.
In November 1952, the ship was released from Task Force 77. She sailed to the Philippines and to Hawaii . In time, the ship sailed into the repair docks at Mare Island.
Paul worked in the Navy facilities at Stockton, CA. He found work and life to be pretty good there. Upon discharge from active duty, he was required to be a member of the Navy Reserve. In a few months, he obtained an early out to enroll in college at the University of Nebraska. Paul eventually moved to Sidney, NE. He had earned a degree in petroleum engineering and worked for the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission.
Yeoman 2nd Class Paul Roberts, great job!
Thank you for your service!