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  • Tyler Folkmann

Oral History Interview with Irving Clarke

Interviewer: Tyler Folkmann

Interviewee: Irving Clarke

Date: 06/05/2022

Interviewee age: 98


Irving Clarke, c. 1943-1945
Irving Clarke, c. 1943-1945

WHEN DID YOU JOIN THE NAVY?


When did I join the Navy? I joined in 1942 and I was a freshman in college at the time. I was 18 years old, and I signed up in the Navy for Officers Training. I was commissioned finally as an officer when I was 20 years old. They had a program going for people who were going to be officers. In those days the Navy thought every officer ought to have a college education, so they had a program called V12 that let you take regular college courses although you were in uniform at the time in doing it.


So I was in that program located at Williams College where I was enrolled as a civilian. But they didn't quite let me finish my senior year. They called us out early because by that time the war had progressed quite a bit and the United States had built so many ships that had to be manned they didn't have enough crew to man them all, so they called some of the officers earlier then they would normally have done.


WHAT WERE THE FEELINGS OF YOUR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS ABOUT ABOUT ENLISTING AND SERVING IN THE WAR EFFORTS? WHAT DID YOU FEEL ABOUT ENLISTING?


What did I feel about enlisting? Well, I felt, you know, everybody between 18 and 36 years of age was going to have to do something in the military if they qualified medically. So you kind of looked around to see what choices you could make and I chose Officers Training in the Navy. I think my family approved of it. They knew I was going to have to serve somewhere and they were kind of glad it was in the Navy, because in the Navy you at least have reasonably good food most of the time and you didn't encounter the enemy very often. So it had some advantages.


DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEMORIES OF YOUR TRAINING THAT STAND OUT?


Of the training? I guess not particularly. As a midshipman, they taught you everything about a ship and how to operate it and so it was quite interesting. It was a 4-month program at Columbia University as a midshipman and they taught you everything: navigation, engineering, and all kinds of things that you needed to know. It was followed by radar school in Florida. It was really quite a different life for me.


I think my service in the Navy was probably the most important event in my life because it was so different, and so sort of exciting, and a little bit unfortunate as I'll get to it later, but anyway I really enjoyed the Navy. I even thought about staying in the Navy after the war was over, but because I hadn't finished my college education I wanted to go back to civilian life and do that.


WHERE WERE YOU STATIONED, WHAT SHIP?


Well, I was assigned to a destroyer (USS Bache DD-470) and we served in the Pacific Ocean during the last year of the war.


USS Bache (DD-470) off San Francisco, California on 16 January 1945. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection. James C. Fahey Collection. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Photo #: NH 95932.
USS Bache (DD-470) off San Francisco, California on 16 January 1945. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection. Photo #: NH 95932.

The United States had taken back a lot of the islands of the Pacific that Japan had occupied and I participated in the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa which were the last two battles of the war.


Our participation in Iwo Jima was rather simple. You’ve seen the picture of the five marines that put the flag up on top of the mountain at Iwo Jima? My ship arrived on the second day of the invasion and there was that flag up there. That is one of my great memories of seeing that flag, that looked so good to us.


Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press

It was a little misleading because the island really wasn't very well occupied at that point. That was the second day of the invasion and it turned out the Japanese really had outstanding defenses. They had dug caves in the mountains and had artillery in the caves that they would bring out at night and fire on our troops that were out sleeping on the ground. It took several weeks before we occupied the whole island. But I just mention that flag because everybody is familiar with it.


In Okinawa, it was a little different situation. The Japanese were sending suicide planes to Okinawa to try to sink ships and most of the suicide planes carried a bomb and they would try to crash into the ships. The Navy set up 14 radar picket points all around the island of Okinawa. They were usually about 50 miles away from the island and they put two destroyers on each picket station. The destroyers were supposed to identify the suicide planes as they came in, pick them up by radar, and if they came close enough to us we fired at them. They tried to crash into the destroyers because they wanted to clear the destroyers out of the way so that their other suicide planes could get into Okinawa – practically the whole Pacific Fleet was there.



American LCTs unload supplies on Yellow Beach near the mouth of the Bishi Gawa river on 13 April 1945 in Okinawa. See part of the Pacific fleet in the background.
American LCTs unload supplies on Yellow Beach near the mouth of the Bishi Gawa river on 13 April 1945 in Okinawa. See part of the Pacific fleet in the background.


We had shot down about 10 suicide planes, but the tenth one hit our ship and caused a great deal of damage. We had 49 crew members killed and about 25 of them injured. That was a very depressing situation. But the ship did not sink and we managed to get towed into Okinawa and got some repairs there, and then the ship sailed back to the States for complete repairs after that.


That was not a desirable experience to go through but it certainly is one that I think of a lot and remember pretty well.


WHERE WERE YOU DURING THAT?


I was the Combat Information Center officer, CIC officer they call him, and the CIC was where the search radars were located. So we would spot targets and report them to the Gunnery Department, which had their own radars for gunfire purposes. As the target got closer and within firing range they would open up fire and their guns were usually controlled by radar. We also reported them to “Delegate”, the code word for a CIC at Okinawa which controlled fighter planes. I was a CIC officer and stood regular four-hour watches, and then when the ship went to general quarters I had a battle station in CIC. I was in charge of what was going on there.


The day that we got hit by a suicide plane started with our picking up a radar contact about seventy or eighty miles away. We picked it up on the radar and we got two plots on our chart and then it disappeared. I finally remembered that back at radar school they had taught me “don't give up when a target disappears off the radar”; the Japanese had learned to come in and go down as low as they could go close to the ocean and the waves of the ocean interfered with the radar pick up of the target at that point so you really lost contact with them. I knew that but I knew that the two points we had were headed right for our ship.


At that point in time I was in charge of two Marine Corps fighter planes, and so I vectored them out about 20 miles and said “orbit and watch the ocean level for suicide planes”. Sure enough, they did that, and pretty soon they've spotted them and in no time they shot them down. So I felt kind of good I had actually had something to do with getting rid of 3 suicide planes.


I ought to mention to you too that I had an older brother who was killed in World War II. He was in the Army Air Corps. He was the co-pilot on a B-24 bomber. That was a big four-engine bomber which was used considerably in the war. They had been raiding Japanese-held islands and they were pursued by fighter planes and his plane was shot down and the entire crew was killed. That was a very unpleasant tragedy for me and my parents.


Kenton H. Clarke III. Brother of Irving Clarke. Second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Served in the Pacific as a co-pilot of a B-24 bomber; killed in action in 1944.


CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU FELT, HOW YOU KNEW YOUR SHIP WAS HIT, AND WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARD?


I knew we were being attacked. Of course, our guns were firing, but this one plane finally hit the ship and carried a 500-pound bomb and it did a lot of damage. There was a big bang when it hit, and the whole ship shook a little bit, and the lights went out, and the radar stopped working. The lights came on again right away because we had an emergency power generation system. The damage from the bomb was severe. It hit just above the main deck level and above the engineering spaces and it blew a hole in the deck and it damaged two of the engineering spaces.


Destroyers have four engineering spaces, so the two that were damaged were completely damaged. Everything in them was damaged and that’s where a lot of our casualties were. There was a fire in one of the spaces but it got put out pretty quickly. There was some flooding and as the ship rolled you could feel the water sloshing back and forth and it increased the roll of the ship. It gave a funny feeling and made you wonder if we would sink.


We didn’t know for a while if it was going to flood the engineering spaces or not but apparently, they got that fixed pretty well. It must’ve been water just coming in through the evaporators and they got those shutoff, so we didn’t get any more water. We worried for a while whether the ship was going to sink or not, and finally the captain announced that we were not going to sink and everybody felt a little better.


WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE ATTACK? WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO DO?


Well, there wasn’t much for me to do because our radars were out of commission. So I went and helped the doctor. The officers’ dining room was used as the central dressing station for wounded people and it was just full of all of the people that had been injured. And he lost two of his assistants. There were four assistants for the doctor, two of them were back where the suicide plane hit, and were killed, so he was short of help and I helped him. He had me going around pouring water into the mouths of people who were kind of half-conscious.


A lot of these people from the engineering spaces were scalded from the steam and they really were in very bad shape and their skin was hanging loose and some of them were half-conscious. Anyway, he had me going around trying to pour water into their mouths because they needed that. But I do remember one case where I couldn't get this guy to take water and the doctor said “Irv don’t spend any more time on him, he’s not gonna make it”. I kind of remember that as a rather sad situation.


There was a lot of damage from shrapnel. When this bomb exploded it sent little pieces of metal flying through the air and that caused a lot of damage on people that were exposed to it, praticularly people that were topside, and it did a lot of damage. These pieces of shrapnel would go right through a metal wall.


DID ANY PIECES OF SHRAPNEL COME BY THE CIC?


No, we were pretty well protected from it, but there was some close by. Just across a little hallway from CIC was the captain’s cabin and it got several holes in it from shrapnel, so we weren't very far away from it.


Eventually, the other destroyer that was on station with us came alongside and helped with everything, and I think even took some of the most badly injured crew onto their ship. Then they tried to tow our ship back to Okinawa, but the towing didn't work very well. They finally got it working but the progress was very slow and finally, a tugboat came out from Okinawa and took over the towing job and it worked a lot better.


And so we went into the naval base at Okinawa which had been set up there and were there for I don’t remember how long, but they did some repair work to our ship so that we could then sail back to the United States and get repaired completely. We took the crew ashore to attend a memorial service. I have a vivid recollection of hundreds of bodies from damaged destroyers laid out on a temporary burial ground – each covered by a white sheet. There was a brief service for them that I remember quite well, and that was an extremely sad and unpleasant experience.


AFTER THE WAR DID YOU EVER RETURN TO THAT GRAVESITE OR ANYWHERE ELSE YOUR SHIP HAD BEEN STATIONED?


Well, no except that I did once go to Hawaii on vacation and I did visit Pearl Harbor. That’s where I first went aboard the ship, but I didn’t visit any other places that the ship had been.


After the war, I was assigned to a different ship and we did go down to the Caribbean islands on that ship, but I wasn't really visiting any wartime sites, but I did see some interesting places.


IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT NAVY LIFE THAT YOU PARTICULARLY LIKED?


I think I liked the feel of the ship in motion, although occasionally you got a little bit seasick if it was too much motion. Destroyers were rather narrow ships and they wobbled from side to side quite a bit and then pitched up and down quite a bit when the ocean was rough so it wasn't always pleasant, but if it was reasonably calm why it was very pleasant.


And we went to a lot of different islands and places, although I didn't see a whole lot of places because we were just involved with small islands in the Pacific which didn't amount to much. I got ashore once in the Philippines and on Guam. Guam had become a great big naval base by that time, and we went ashore there. So I didn't see as much of the world as I expected to, but after the war, I was held in the Navy for almost a year after the war ended, because they needed people to man the ships that they had.


At that point after the war we had come back to New York and our ship was in New York still getting repaired when the war ended. After that we went down to the Caribbean and went around a few of the islands down there, so I did see a little pleasant sightseeing but that was about it.


I was in New York when the war ended and you've seen the pictures of the people out in the street that night demonstrating, and kissing all the girls, and getting free drinks at all the bars. I was there in the middle of that and saw that.


DID YOUR SHIP EVER CROSS THE EQUATOR?


Not while I was on it. When we came back to the States we landed in San Diego, and about half the crew got off including me, and went home and the rest of the crew took the ship down south of the equator and through the canal and up to New York City. We had to go back to New York City for repairs because all of the West Coast naval stations were filled with ships that had been hit by suicide planes. I think the newspapers reported that the Japanese were hitting our ships, but they didn't say how many they hit, and they didn't give you much detail of it.


I have recently read that kamikazes sank 36 U.S. Navy ships and damaged a much larger number. Most of the sinkings were in the battle for Okinawa. We used to joke about it a little bit, we used to say “Well the Navy has so many destroyers they’re dispensable so they put them out on the picket stations”. Well, that wasn't of course really what they did. They used the destroyers because they had pretty good firepower and they didn't involve huge crews like bigger ships would have and so it made sense to use destroyers for that.


DID YOU DO PICKET DUTY OFF OF IWO JIMA TOO, OR DID YOUR SHIP HAVE A DIFFERENT ROLE THERE?


At Iwo Jima, we escorted convoys of supply ships mostly from Guam to Iwo Jima and we went back and forth a couple of times doing that. The Japanese were not coming in with suicide planes very much, and they may have done it a little bit at Iwo Jima, but generally speaking, it hadn't started yet. But it did start off in a big way at Okinawa. Okinawa, of course, was closer to Japan than Iwo Jima and it was also close to Formosa and China where Japan had air bases.


WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT MILITARY LIFE?


I don't remember anything that was particularly bad about it. The food was not always terrific, but there was food every day.


No, I can't think of anything that was particularly bad about Navy life; I kind of liked it. I felt very lucky to be in the Navy rather than the Army where you would be ashore – particularly our troops that landed in Europe and were facing the German troops all the time. In the Navy you don’t face the enemy very often. You meet up with him for a couple hours every once in a while but that's it, so I liked it better.


DO YOU RECALL THE NAME OF YOUR SHIP?


Yes it was the USS Bache and the number of the ship was DD-470. It was a Fletcher-class destroyer. Fletcher class ships were built in the early part of the war and then there were other destroyer types that were slightly improved that were built during the latter part of the war, but they were not too different from the Fletcher class.


Photograph of the USS Bache on January 16, 1945 in San Francisco.
Photograph of the USS Bache on January 16, 1945 in San Francisco.

One of the things about a ship, particularly a destroyer, is it's terribly crowded. It's a very narrow ship and it's got a big crew of three hundred and some people and they're all on this ship that's about thirty feet wide and maybe 300 feet long or something like that. Well, that's a lot of people to put in that much space, so it was very crowded.


As an officer, we lived a lot better than the rest of the crew did. We lived in staterooms with three officers in a stateroom. We were in bunks one on top of the other and it was not bad for us. But the enlisted men in the crew, they lived in great big quarters that were full of bunks that were stacked up about four or five high and they had very little space other than their own bunk. All they did was sleep there and most of the rest of the time they were standing watch. It wasn't altogether pleasant for enlisted men, I would say.


AND HOW DID YOUR SHIP GET THE NAME? IS THERE A SPECIFIC REASON OR HISTORY BEHIND IT?


I don’t know. There was somebody named Bache who had been in the Navy, and had served I think in the Middle East and Asia. I don't know much about him and why he had a ship named after him. All of the destroyers were named after people that were in the Navy or that have been in the Navy. Anybody that had done anything unusual got a destroyer named after them and this guy did. I don't know why, I suppose I knew that at one time but I’ve forgotten it.


George Mifflin Bache (1840-1896), for whom the USS Bache was named, served in the US Navy during the Civil War. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
George Mifflin Bache (1840-1896), for whom the USS Bache was named, served in the US Navy during the Civil War. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


DID YOU EVER COME HOME ON LEAVE?


Yes, a few times I did. Every once in a while when in the U.S. we got a week off to come home. At Christmas time, for example, a certain percentage of the crew could go home for Christmas and spend a week at home. I got home a few times during my active career.


WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF GETTING HOME LIKE? DID YOU HAVE TO TAKE A PLANE?


Well, yeah. After the war was over and I was either in Florida or down in the Caribbean I flew home a couple of times. When we landed in San Diego, I flew home from San Diego.


All they had in those days was DC-3s so the plane from San Diego to Chicago landed at about five different places and it was really a local flight and so I got to see a few states that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.


I have visited every state in the United States except Oregon. For some reason I've missed Oregon – never been there. Some of those states were visited while I was in the Navy but others at other times


AND WHAT WAS HOME LIKE WHEN YOU CAME HOME?


I came home in June of 1946. I did spend the summer at home doing more or less nothing and then I went back to Williams College in September and finished my senior year. Then I went on to graduate school at Harvard Business School and got an MBA there. When I graduated from there I went to work, and worked for Swift and Company.


You probably don't know Swift and Company. It doesn't exist anymore, but it was the largest meat-packing company. I went through a training program there first, but pretty soon afterwards was given a job in the treasurer's office managing its pension fund. We managed the pension fund internally at Swift and Co. and it was a $600 million pension fund, so it was a fair amount of money. We had a little crew of several people that managed it, and we later on set it up as a separate company so that we could take in outside business as well as continuing managing Swift's money and I became president of that subsidiary. So that's where I was until I retired in 1979.


DID YOU NOTICE ANYTHING THAT HAD CHANGED ABOUT HINSDALE SINCE YOU WENT TO THE WAR?


I don't think I noticed much change during the time of the war, if that's what you asked, but of course, there’s been a lot of change since. In fact, it seems to be back during World War II and during all of my time growing up in Hinsdale, it was not as wealthy a community as it is now. It was really a better distribution of people of different incomes and I think that's not so much the case today. I think you're better off when there is a distribution of people. As a kid growing up you know what people with different incomes are like and what their limitations are and you learn something from them. I think that was an advantage as far as I was concerned.


But I don't think I remember many changes during the war. I think everything stayed just about the same. The building of houses stopped and, of course, everybody had gasoline rationing and a lot of people's jobs changed. They stopped manufacturing a lot of the consumer things and companies switched to making some kind of war products so there were a lot of changes of that kind going on, and that involved people moving in many cases. So that was some change that did go on.


WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU HAD TO READJUST TO GOING BACK TO CIVILIAN LIFE?


I suppose there was, I don’t remember feeling that at the time particularly. Well of course it was very different from life in the Navy, but it was just back to the same old thing I had grown up with.


IT WAS AN EASY TRANSITION THEN.


Yes. I didn't feel like it was an unusual change or a big surprise or anything. I think it was an easy transition. I don’t think I had any trouble returning to civilian life. I spent the first two months at home before returning to college and I just enjoyed doing nothing for quite a while, and I do remember that. But no, I don't think I felt like it changed my life greatly.


DID YOU RECEIVE ANY COMMENDATIONS OR AWARDS?


Well, no. I got two Battle Stars for participating in the Iwo Jima and the Okinawa invasions, but those aren’t really rewards, they were just participation stars and I didn’t get any other citations or anything.


YOU WERE A MIDSHIPMAN AND THEN PROMOTED TO ENSIGN, CORRECT?


Yes, I became an ensign. And I was an ensign through most of my career. The very last month that I was on active duty I got promoted to lieutenant junior grade, so that was what I was when I left the Navy. But I really served most of the time as an ensign which was rather unusual. I think they would not have had an Ensign in charge of the CIC of a destroyer if they had anybody that was qualified to do it that was older, but they needed CIC officers and they sent us to CIC training school and we learned about it and they put us to work.


DID YOU GET THE DOINGS DURING YOUR SERVICE TIME?


No, no I didn’t.


DID YOU GET A NAVY PUBLICATION?


Not really. When I was at sea we did get a news broadcast that came to our communications department of our ship and it was something put out by the Navy just with the news of the day on it. If you wanted to go and read it, you could, but you know we didn’t often do that. So I didn’t really get a lot of news.


WHAT WAS THE AVERAGE AGE OF THE CREW ON YOUR SHIP, WOULD YOU SAY?


Well, I would suppose in their early twenties. There were a few older members in the crew, but a lot of them were just about 18-19 years old. So I would say, if I had to guess, 22, maybe.


WHAT WAS AN AVERAGE DAY ON THE SHIP? WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE?


Well you were standing watches, you had four-hour watches, and you were either standing watches, or eating, or sleeping pretty much. You didn’t really have much time for anything else. Officers also had to censor the crew’s outgoing mail and spend some time helping their crewmen with their studies for promotion.


SO WHAT WAS THE SCHEDULE LIKE? WHAT TIME DID YOU WAKE UP? WHERE DID YOU GO?


Well, because you had these four-hour watches, the watches changed from day to day as to what time of day you’d be on watch. So sometimes you were sleeping in the daytime, sometimes you were awake on watch in the nighttime and it varied a lot. So I can’t say there was any standard daytime activity other than standing watches.


SO WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOU WERE STANDING WATCHES?


Well because I was the CIC officer I stood watches in CIC. I wasn't there all the time, but that's where my duty was when I stood watches. And then when we went to general quarters that is where I went. So that was pretty much the way the watches worked.


YOU SAID YOU REALLY ENJOYED YOUR TIME IN THE NAVY, FOR THE MOST PART. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GREW BECAUSE OF YOUR SERVICE?


Do I feel like it changed my person? Well, it probably did, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about that very much. I don’t think I felt like I was changed by it, but I suspect I was without really knowing about it or thinking about it. It was a very different experience, very exciting experience, and, except for the damage we had, it was a very pleasant experience. I even considered staying in the Navy but I had to finish my college education and so I elected not to stay in the Navy.


As I look back 75 years I realize that my Navy experience was the most important and exciting experience in my lifetime. I think about it far more often than anything else I did in life.

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