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Interview on experiences in World War II

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Ellis County Historical Society

Ellis County Historical Society

Veterans of WWII Oral History Project

Interview with Joe Locker*

June 13, 2006

Conducted by Janet Johannes**

*Hereafter referred to as LOCKER

**Hereafter referred to as JOHANNES

<Opens with a picture of medal case. Cuts to a picture of a fire truck>

JOHANNES: I'm Janet Johannes. It's June the 13th, 2006. We're at the Ellis County Historical Society and doing an interview with Joe Locker, Jr., part of our World War Two Oral History Project. Would you state your name your age and your address please sir?

LOCKER: Okay, my name is Joe Locker, Jr. I'm eighty-one years old and I live at 1900 Maple Street, Ellis, Kansas.

JOHANNES: And where were you born?

LOCKER: I was born in Trego County.

JOHANNES: And who were your parents?

LOCKER: Joe Locker, Sr. and Mary Locker.

JOHANNES: Where did you go to school?

LOCKER: I went to grade school at Sunflower; it was a country school. Then I went one year to high school.

JOHANNES: And how did you meet your wife, maybe I should say are you married?

LOCKER: Yeah. Yeah. We were neighbors.

JOHANNES: And how many children do you have?


JOHANNES: What are their names?

LOCKER: One of their names is Pam, and Pat. They're both girls.

JOHANNES: I guess I knew that too from yesterday. Where are they now?

LOCKER: Well Pam lives in California and Pat live south of Ellis on a farm. And, yeah Pat teaches, she's a teacher, she teaches. She's married and got two children.

JOHANNES: What branch of the service were you in?

LOCKER: What's that?

JOHANNES: What branch of the service were you in?

LOCKER: I's in the Navy.

JOHANNES: What was the highest rank you got?

LOCKER: Seaman first class.

JOHANNES: And how come, did you enlist in the Navy or were you drafted?

LOCKER: I enlisted.

JOHANNES: And why did you pick the Navy?

LOCKER: I don't know I always wanted to go to sea I guess.

JOHANNES: How old were you when you enlisted?

LOCKER: Eighteen.

JOHANNES: And what year?

LOCKER: 1943.

JOHANNES: Where did you take basic training?

LOCKER: Great Lakes, Illinois.

JOHANNES: And what was that like?

LOCKER: What was that like?


LOCKER: Well I don't know I didn't have no problems with it they done the only run you a lot and everything but I was in good physical shape so it didn't hurt me.

JOHANNES: What did you think of your instructors?

LOCKER: What's that?

JOHANNES: What did you think of your instructors.

LOCKER: I thought they was okay, yeah. They could go up there and do that rifle exercise and just keep going and I kinda respected them for that because that rifle gets so heavy, you couldn't get it up, that rifle exercise. You probably know about that. Yeah, you stoop down, you get back up, and then pick it up and bring it up here. Then if you, you would get three demerits like if your bunk wasn't made up good or your, had some dirty clothes you know. After you got three demerits we got what they called a happy hour. That's where they run you around the drill hall for an hour holding a rifle above you head like that.

JOHANNES: For an hour?


JOHANNES: For an hour?

LOCKER: For an hour. Yeah. You didn't let it happen a second time. Yeah it got, that rifle, your arms was pretty well locked up and it was hard to get them back down.

JOHANNES: and after you got out of basic training where did you go?

LOCKER: Well I went to home on boot leave for nine days and then I went to Gulfport, Mississippi and I was there for four weeks and then after that I went to Deland, Florida and caught my first ship, the Crawford W. Long. It was a Liberty ship.

JOHANNES: Explain what a Liberty ship is.


JOHANNES: Explain what a Liberty ship is.

LOCKER: Okay that was a ship was developed back in the late 1800s. The engines were and they was steam and the way the engines worked it was real fascinating how the engine would work. They had three cylinders and one engine was a twenty-four inch cylinder, the other one was a forty-two inch cylinder, then the last one was a seventy-two inch cylinder. Well the first cylinder got the full shot of steam and it would push it down and when it come back up it still had plenty of steam so it exhausted over into that, did I say forty-eight inch cylinder. Well when it got back up, it had enough steam where it would push that seventy-two inch cylinder down and when that seventy-two inch cylinder come back up it would exhaust back into the water, into the boiler, back into the water storage. Yeah that's the way it worked.

JOHANNES: What was your job?

LOCKER: What was my job, I was a gunner. We stood watch and we was trained gunners. That was just our job. Yeah we'd stand a four hour watch at a time, four on and eight off, you know. Yeah, We had binoculars and you was always scanning the sea a lot of that time there was a lot of submarine activity, you know, so you was always scanning the sea, you know. Then you would change off with binoculars because they would suck your eyes out after so much time of, you know, looking through them.

JOHANNES: Did you spy submarines?

LOCKER: What was that?

JOHANNES: Did you spot submarines while you were on watch?

LOCKER: The biggest share of the time the sub would spot the convoy and called their buddies in and they attacked after sundown. They was low in the water, we couldn't see them. You know they always show the sub kicking up a periscope and then pulling it down? It didn't work that way.

JOHANNES: How did it work?

LOCKER: They'd just spot the convoy and then at night they would come in, in a wolf pack and they was real maneuverable. You know they could run, go in between the convoy or go back, you know, in between. A ship is hard to turn and the sub, why they weren't too big. It was really fascinating the way those subs was built. I guess they got one at Chicago, a sub, you know, that they captured. Most time they weren't captured, you know, they sunk, and a bunch of brave boys on those submarines.

JOHANNES: Were you ever torpedoed or attacked by submarines?

LOCKER: No, no we was never, well we was under, under attack but we never was torpedoed. We had a miss one night, just missed the ship. Torpedo.

JOHANNES: Did you hear it?

LOCKER: Yeah. See it would only run out so far and then they would sink. See when we got air cover, once we got air cover you didn't have to worry about subs. The only thing after we got out in the black pit, what we called the black pit, that's where we didn't have air cover any more. That's where the subs would hang around in there, you know, and they had what they called milk cows. What they would, subs could stay out to sea and these, they would meet with this what they called a milk cow, that was a ship with torpedoes and fuel and food, you know, for the submariners so they could stay out to sea, you know.

JOHANNES: So they re-supplied the submarines?

LOCKER: Yeah, they supplied the submarines, yeah.

JOHANNES: Were there any casualties aboard ship? Were there any casualties aboard any of the ships?

LOCKER: What? No, no.

JOHANNES: Did you have doctors on the ship?


JOHANNES: Who acted as medics?

LOCKER: The purser, he was, the purser, he was the guy who kept the records you know and stuff like that and he kept, he had stores, medical supplies, yeah, yeah. He was a merchant seaman.

JOHANNES: So there was mixture of merchant seamen and military, was there a mixture of merchant seamen and military seamen on the ships you were on?

LOCKER: Oh yeah, yeah both. Yeah, both merchant seamen and Navy, yeah. Now these merchant seamen weren't necessarily all citizens.

JOHANNES: Of the United States you are talking about? Of the United States, citizens of the United States.

LOCKER: Yeah they weren't yeah, see we had a couple guys, were foreigners who were serving on merchant ships while, when the war started so they just stayed on, you know, yeah. Yeah, we had a cook who couldn't speak English.

JOHANNES: What nationality?

LOCKER: He was a German. Yeah.

JOHANNES: Do you know if he had mixed feelings?

LOCKER: I don't think so. We got a long with him good, he didn't try to poison none of us.

JOHANNES: Where were these ships that you were on. What part of the world were you in?


Okay, I was in Atlantic, I was in the Mediterranean, I was in the Pacific. Well that pretty well covers it, doesn't it?

JOHANNES: That's most of the world yes.

LOCKER: If you want to call the Red Sea. I was in the Red Sea, too. I went through both canals.

JOHANNES: Okay you went through both canals?

LOCKER: Yeah and I'll tell you how that happened. We left Norfolk, Virginia and we went to Italy, yeah I think it was to Italy, yeah and then I think we in the Mediterranean, then from the Mediterranean, the Suez, yeah, through the Suez that put us back where in the Atlantic. Well that one time we went through both canals, no we didn't we went through the Suez. I went through the Panama Canal when we went to Australia. You know I got to think, that's been a long time ago.

JOHANNES: When you crossed the equator to go to Australia….

LOCKER: Well there wasn't much to do when we crossed the equator. At the time that we went across the equator you wasn't supposed to have the full crew at one place at one time at that time. You would never have your full crew in one area of the ship at one time yeah so we didn't have no initiations, but I got my shellback card because we went through the King Neptune's and Queen /Guenevere's/ territories I guess, seas.

JOHANNES: So you weren't initiated?


JOHANNES: You weren't initiated?

LOCKER: No, no, but I got my card, my shellback card so that kept me from any future ones. But that's all I done for about thirty months, was out to sea. At sixteen months you could get shore duty, but I liked the sea so I kept going to sea, I liked the sea. And during the, after the war was over with that's the most peaceful place you can be, even with the lights on, and air was real fresh, you could leave everything open. See you couldn't light a match outside at night. We had the blue bulbs in our /focusals/, that's where we slept and we never let a bright light shine in our eyes and then we'd, who ever was on watch had to stay up on watch with you for fifteen minutes till your eyes got, you know, used to, you know, the darkness. Then if you seen an object, and couldn't identify it, you'd either look to the right or the left of it.


LOCKER: I don't know they told you to look to the right or left. You know.

JOHANNES: Did it help you identify it then?

LOCKER: Yeah I guess, yeah, if you had, see a lot of times it was so dark, so black and dark outside that you couldn't see the hand in front of your face and then they had a signal light, what we called a /Naldis/ gun, it was like about this big around and about that long, It had a stock on it like a rifle and at night you could point that at another ship and they was the only one that could see it. Then you would blink, pull that trigger and blink Morse code, you know. And if it wasn't right on that other ship you couldn't see it, you know, blink that Morse code.

JOHANNES: That's pretty clever. I know at the beginning you put your medals, they took a picture of your medals and that's one for each of the…

LOCKER: War areas, yeah, and the other one's a good conduct I think, yeah, yeah. One, two, three, four, then the good conduct, and that's my dog tag there, that's my ruptured duck, you got that when you were discharged, that went in to label your suit we called that the ruptured duck that one right there. Yeah when you got that ruptured duck you had it made.

JOHANNES: How long were you in the service?


JOHANNES: How long were you in the service?

LOCKER: Three years and one week. Yeah I got out on the point system. I had a real lot of overseas points so I got out on the points system, yeah.

JOHANNES: How did you keep in touch with your family?

LOCKER: Letters, letters but then all my mail was censored.

JOHANNES: Did it, how old was your mail when you got it?


JOHANNES: How old was it when you got it?

LOCKER: I don't know when I'd get mail, I'd generally get a pack about that thick, you know. And that probably the same way, I don't know with my folks, I don't know, the letters I sent home got all cut up, see all the deals cut out like this. You know. `Bout the only thing they could see was I'd put up here some where in the Pacific or somewhere in the Atlantic and that they wouldn't cut out. So…

JOHANNES: Yeah, big oceans.

LOCKER: The big ocean, yeah. Last time I was out was fifty-four days, took old Liberty, we left from Galveston, Texas and Took the canal and fifty-four days later we was in Australia, Melbourne. And we unloaded down there and went to Adelaide and took on a load of wheat and that wheat we took to Messina, Sicily, you know. It was all in sacks, you know it was all it sacks, yeah. That was to keep the Italians from starving to death, `cause the Germans they lived off the land. They would move, they'd take whatever they could with them `cause I don't know whether there was anything in front of them when they was withdrawing or not.

JOHANNES: What kind of things did you usually carry or transport on the ship?

LOCKER: What we'd carry? Well the first ship I was on, we was loaded with all bombs, yeah.

JOHANNES: What did you think of that?

LOCKER: I don't know, we just didn't think nothing of it. I don't know, we just, I guess we didn't know any better. We was sailors, we weren't…

JOHANNES: Did you transport people ever?

LOCKER: On my last ship, the troop transport, my last ship was a trooper.

JOHANNES: Okay and were they all service people that you were transporting?

LOCKER: Yeah, yeah it was a troop transport. We, it was real fast, we'd just get escorted out of, maybe a day out and then we'd run alone. Yeah it was a well armed ship, it had four three-inch fifties on it and it had one four-inch fifty, it had six twenty-millimeters on it, you know. Yeah that was a mean ship. Yeah we could have took about anything on. That four-inch fifty, that baby hit hard, I'll tell you. It was a full cased shell, that shell was this long, and I was the first loader on it. I'd grab the base like this and the other part laid in my arm. Then you'd lean down and put the deal in the breach and turn and shove it back in, you know, and there was a brass band around the projectile on the back. You had to drive it hard enough where it would go into the lands and grooves and what you call lands and grooves that's them little grooves that you see in the gun to make a shell spin, yeah.

JOHANNES: Did you always carry American troops?

LOCKER: Yeah, yeah, biggest share of the time. We took some Brazilians home one time, Brazilian GIs, but a lot of them was hurt. They had, Germans had found out what line they were in so they throwed everything they had into that line to demoralize the Brazilian people, you know. So a lot of them boys was, we had two basket cases, you know, basket case, guys with no arms or legs.

JOHANNES: So did you take them back to Brazil?


JOHANNES: Did you take them back to Brazil or…

LOCKER: I took them back to Brazil, yeah. You know on those picture I showed you that time in my book, see we was taking them off the ship. Yeah.

JOHANNES: Did you always have all the supplies you needed aboard ship?

LOCKER: Oh yeah, yeah. I'll tell you I think the merchant seaman, I think they were top cooks, yeah. They weren't what you call belly robbers. You know belly robbers is? That's the guy that serves you rotten chow. <laughs>

JOHANNES: You were in a lot of war areas. Did you feel a lot of pressure or stress?

LOCKER: Well some stress but really not a lot, but we was under stress at times. Yeah when there's planes coming over, yeah you're gonna be having some stress. But a lot of times we'd be warned that they was coming and we'd put the convoy under a smoke screen, we'd pull smudge pots behind the, behind the ship and they'd turn the air down on them engines and when they turned down the air they'd make a lot of smoke too. Yeah by the time, everything would be covered with soot. You'd have to wash everything down after one of them deals. Yeah. Yeah, a lot of times you'd hear the planes go over, they couldn't see the convoy and they'd tell you to hold your fire. Don't give your position away, you know.

JOHANNES: Just wait for it to clear, for the airplanes to go on?

LOCKER: Yeah, yeah because it's hard to hit a plane way up there, you know. A lot of guys, we had some of the ships was firing at the sound and was wasting ammunition.<laughs>

JOHANNES: Did you do anything in particular for good luck?

LOCKER: No, not really.

JOHANNES: What did you do in the shift that you had off for entertainment?

LOCKER: What we'd do? When we had liberty?

JOHANNES: Well, I was, yes that'll work. I was thinking of on the ship too.

LOCKER: Oh, onboard ship about the only thing we done was play cards. And when we went ashore, you drank whiskey.


LOCKER: And you know every sailor had a girlfriend in most ports he had a girlfriend, you know.

JOHANNES: I looked through your album. I'm just gonna move on here, I looked through your album so I know you have pictures. Did you take the pictures or did somebody else take them?

LOCKER: We had a kid onboard ship that took the pictures, he had a, but the, the gunnery officer took charge of the camera because we weren't allowed to have a camera, and he took charge of the camera and the film, and the film processed and then given back to whoever took the pictures. Now we took some pictures of a, transporting a guy out at sea from one ship to another, a Coast Guard cutter. We had a kid that had appendix attacked and this coast guard cutter pulled up besides our ship and we shot a, with a /Lyle/ gun a line over to this Coast Guard cutter that we pulled heavy, we pulled a heavy rope over across with that line and then we put him in what we call a breaches boy. It was a deal with pulley on top that he set in and these guys on the cutter, they had that, the ship was rolling, didn't know how to keep the rope tightened up, they was all lined up on that deck. The whole crew pulling on that rope to keep it tight, you know they was walking back and forth to keep it tight.

JOHANNES: I'm thinking about that poor kid in so much pain with appendicitis out there in that sling.

LOCKER: Well they got him over, now they never had to operate on him.

JOHANNES: Scared the appendicitis right out of him.

LOCKER: All that stuff and didn't have to operate on him, yeah, yeah.

JOHANNES: When you were transporting servicemen you said that there were civilian morticians onboard?

LOCKER: That what?

JOHANNES: There were civilian mortician onboard on your ship?

LOCKER: Yeah, two of them. We had a, let's see, we took, brought some missionaries back one time from South America, it was down in South America some men and lady missionaries, you know, I'll keep you here all night if you want to keep talking.

JOHANNES: Well we'll wrap it up here in just a little bit. So when you were, transporting servicemen, and a lot of them, were a lot of them injured?

LOCKER: No. Yeah we did have some that were injured, we had two of them had chronic seasickness. They had them in sickbay all the time. They couldn't, couldn't keep nothing down. Soon as we got into port they could eat, yeah.

JOHANNES: What did you think of the people that you served with?

LOCKER: What's that?

JOHANNES: What did you think of the soldiers, the sailors that you served with?

LOCKER: They was the finest, the finest.

JOHANNES: Did you make some long lasting friendships?

LOCKER: Yeah, I've still got one that's alive. Yeah, I had several that we kept in touch with, one of them passed away a couple of years ago and I just talked with one of them the other day. Yeah. Don /Bridwell/ is his name. He lives up in Indianapolis, Indiana.

JOHANNES: Did you join any military related organizations after…


JOHANNES: Do you participate in their activities?

LOCKER: Yeah a little bit, yeah.

JOHANNES: Did you ever use the GI bill?

LOCKER: The GI bill? Yeah, I went to school on the GI bill for a little bit, for three years or four years.

JOHANNES: What did you do when you got out of the Navy? What did you do when you got out if the Navy?

LOCKER: Well I went into farming. I rented a farm, yeah.

JOHANNES: And how long did you farm?

LOCKER: Well, I think till 1958 I think. Yeah then the ground that I was farming was sold, yeah so that put me out of framing.

JOHANNES: We had pictures of the fire trucks that you build out of surplus military. When did you do that?

LOCKER: Well I built that when I was out of the service. Yeah that's when we had surplus, we had surplus, surplus equipment, it was all surplus, war surplus, all of that, yeah. It was good trucks. I charged two hundred and fifty dollars to build them trucks.

JOHANNES: Doesn't seem like much today, does it?

LOCKER: Yeah. And then they replaced us, when they replaced us with a truck that cost three hundred thousand. Yeah, out there where I used to live there's a three hundred thousand dollar fire truck and it won't pump any more water than this and they can't suck out of a tank, they've got to take it to town to fill it.

JOHANNES: Things aren't always an improvement I guess.

LOCKER: What's that?

JOHANNES: Things aren't always an improvement just because they cost more. What did you do after you quit farming?

LOCKER: Oh, I started working for USD 388.

JOHANNES: And what did you do for them?

LOCKER: I was their transportation supervisor and mechanic. Yeah I rebuilt all the, laid out all the routes. I rebuilt all the trucks when they needed rebuilding and serviced them.

JOHANNES: Okay we're coming to the end of the interview, is there anything that you would like to say that we haven't said?

LOCKER: Well they asked me to come to work at the bus barn, cause their busses was in bad shape so they asked me to come and work in there so, I think I worked there for fifteen years I think.

JOHANNES: Did you get any of the training, this mechanical training while you were in the Navy?

LOCKER: No. I have no mechanical training at all. I just started doing it because I had to.

JOHANNES: Do you think that your years in the service changed the way you see the world today?

LOCKER: The way I?

JOHANNES: The way you see the world today?

LOCKER: Yeah I think, yeah, self-discipline, I leaned a lot of self-discipline, let's put it that way.

JOHANNES: Thank you very much.


<tape fades out>

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