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America Builds Up: The Bremerton Naval Yards

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 24, 2023 3:02 am

America Builds Up: The Bremerton Naval Yards

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 24, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, teacher, organist, choir director, and World War II history buff Anne Clare tells the story of how World War II impacted a small Navy town on the West Coast.

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For cleaning tips and exclusive offers, visit Bona.com slash BonaClean. Music This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com Up next, a story from our regular contributor, Ann Claire. Ann is a teacher, organist, and choir director. She's also a World War II history buff. You can find her stories at TheNaptimeAuthor.wordpress.com Up next, a story on the Bremerton Naval Yards in Washington. Here's Ann to tell the story. Music On October 30, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a campaign speech in Boston in which he said, I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again.

Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war. Of course, with hindsight, we know that didn't last more than a year because... We interrupt this broadcast and bring you this important bulletin from the United Press. Flash, Washington. The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. However you look at it, this was a huge change, a huge impactful event in American history. It had a profound impact on, really, everybody in the country.

But in different places, it hit differently. One place that had a really interesting historical connection with the whole Pearl Harbor attack and with the way World War II would change the U.S. is the town of Bremerton in the state of Washington. Music Now, Bremerton's not a big metropolis. In fact, it largely grew because of some navy connections. It's across Puget Sound from Seattle. It's on the Kitsap Peninsula, which is a little peninsula sticking out from the larger Olympic Peninsula. And since it's on Puget Sound, it does have access to the Pacific Ocean. Which is why in 1891, it was picked to be the site for the Puget Sound Naval Station, which was the first naval establishment in the Northwest. Which was a pretty big deal because at that point, if U.S. ships needed major work, they would have to go all the way down to Mare Island in California or they'd have to go all the way up to British Columbia. So this gave a facility where American ships could be tended on American soil.

Music Now, over the years, the yard grew and changed significantly. Back in 1928, it had work on the very first U.S. aircraft carriers, the Saratoga and the Lexington. Actually, the Saratoga spent enough time in Puget Sound that eventually it got the nickname Sarah from the workers there. And as the fleet was authorized to build up by Congress in 1934, there was more work again in the yard for the people who were there. On the invasion of Poland in 1939, FDR declared a limited national emergency and they dug more dry docks for ships and expanded the ones that were there and began preparing to be able to build ships themselves.

They also became involved in something called de-perming. See, once Germany went to war with Britain, Germany started mining British shipping lanes and they'd used magnetized mines, which of course is a problem for any ship that's going through those areas. So one of the jobs that was done in the shipyard area was creating these big electromagnetic coils that would actually de-magnetize the hulls of ships so they wouldn't attract mines, ideally. Also, the battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were getting overhauled and repaired during this time, which kept about 6,000 employees very busy. Now the first real look at war that Bremerton got, the first first-hand look, as it were, was actually through a foreign visitor. The Yard hosted the HMS Warspite in the summer of 1941. This British ship had been pretty badly beaten up in the Mediterranean and had limped its way across the Pacific to Bremerton, which was kind of exciting for the citizens.

They got to host these British sailors and a lot of them invited them into their homes and tried to show them hospitality and were naturally also very curious about the ship, though the Warspite kept up pretty strong security, even stronger than the shipyard itself had had in past days, because times were changing. But still, even though it was a look at war, a look at people who'd experienced it, war still felt fairly far away until December. December 7th in Bremerton is, according to memories of people who were there, a pretty nice day for December in the Pacific Northwest. People were working on houses, coming home from church, out and about with friends, going to their jobs, when word came through that Pearl Harbor had been hit. And unlike some different parts of the country that were farther away, Pearl Harbor was not an entirely unfamiliar name to the people in Bremerton. And it was a bit of a shock, because while Hawaii, mileage-wise, is still a good distance away, just geographically, it felt uncomfortably like, I guess you could say, like a neighbor had been hit. And they wondered, the people of the area wondered, if they had been hit. And they wondered, the people of the area wondered, if they might be next in line. Bremerton, the yard, is where the damaged ships would come. They had the facility, the only place on the West Coast, really, that would be able to repair any damaged battleships. So as soon as word came out that Pearl had been hit, people started looking to the skies.

They were concerned. And you're listening to Ann Clare, who's a teacher, an organist, and a choir director, but she's also one heck of a World War II expert and buff. When we come back, more of this remarkable story of Bremerton Naval Yards. These kinds of stories happened all around this country, as the arsenal of democracy was put into high gear.

More of this remarkable story, Ann Clare telling the story of Bremerton Naval Yards, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Learn more about their clean standards and shop Clean at Sephora Beauty at Sephora.com. And we return to our American stories and the story of the Bremerton Naval Yards with Ann Claire. When we last left off, the people of Bremerton, Washington, where the Bremerton Naval Yard sits, had just found out that Pearl Harbor had been hit. And big changes to this town were imminent. Here again is Ann Claire to tell the rest of the story.

There were a lot of changes. People tell stories of changes in the ferry routes because back in those days, just like now, there were ferries back and forth from Bremerton to Seattle quite frequently. One person wrote about hearing shots while he was riding the ferry home and walking out to see a rifleman standing on the front of the boat firing into the water. Because if there were mines in Puget Sound, he hoped that they'd get detonated. The war spite, which was still docked in the yard, was turned around to face seaward. And every afternoon, 4 p.m., it would be disconnected from all of the lines that connected it to the land and all buttoned up just in case they had to go into some sort of combat situation. They started parking barges in front of the different dry docks to try and put up some sort of barrier to protect the ships that were being repaired.

Barrels of water and boxes of sand and rakes were put up around the shipyard. Tape criss-crosses were put on windows just in case blasts might blow out the glass. And people started looking for ways to create air raid shelters as well.

There were basements of some buildings that would serve, but also just in case people couldn't get to them in time, old ship boilers were brought out and cut in half to make sort of dome-shaped shelters that, at least according to the signs on them, could get 30 people inside and give them some sort of protection. In case the bombs started falling. It was just lots and lots of planning in a short time as everyone tried to figure out what we'd do if the Japanese came, if the invasion happened. The invasion by the Japanese, of course, we know, did not come to Washington state. The invasion that did come was of the U.S. Army, actually.

A week after Pearl Harbor on December 14th, lots of Army trucks started rolling into Bremerton, which was quite another big change for this Navy town. And tents cropped up in play fields and in parks and soldiers were sleeping in people's barns or garages or finding lodging in different houses and filled up a lot of the space. And that was also amplified a couple of weeks later when the 303rd Barrage Balloon Battalion rolled into town as well. If you've seen pictures of Britain during World War II, you might have seen pictures of those big silvery balloons floating above London or at the beaches also when we were doing different invasions in Europe and things. Barrage balloons were designed in Britain. These ones were actually created in the U.S. And the idea was that these balloons with the long steel cables coming down from them would actually stop planes from dive bombing or if planes tried to dive bomb, the cables could sheer off the wings of the planes and it would provide protection to the ground area. So Bremerton was full of barrage balloons.

Wherever they could find a good open space to plant one, they planted one. But the barrage balloons were an interesting addition to the town. They also caused some problems because if a high wind came up and they weren't able to bring the barrage balloons down in time, they might snap their cables and go flying off. There's quite a few stories of barrage balloon cables taking out chimneys or power lines.

And since the barrage balloons also were flammable, there was one unfortunate incident in 1943 where one actually blew on the ground and injured seven soldiers who were taking care of it, one of them critically. So all these precautions, all of these different things to protect Bremerton were changing the whole landscape of life in this town. Add to that fact the fact that the shipyard itself was trying to amp up its number of employees because there was a lot of work coming in. The town itself was getting so full that there's stories from people working at the YMCA during this time that they'd have to just go and set up cots on the gym floor, a hundred cots in the gym, and they'd all be rented out. They'd have people actually reserving seats just for a place to sleep and a place to keep their belongings while they were looking for more permanent lodgings.

Putting the cover on the pool table at night and having a couple guys jump up on there and use that as a bed. I heard stories of hotels actually renting out one bed to three different people and one person would be working the first shift and then they'd go off to work and then the next person would come and sleep and they'd have the next shift and they'd go off to work and then the next person could use the bed while they were off of work. As the shipyard was looking for workers, they just couldn't seem to fill the slots quickly enough no matter how full the town was getting. And so teenagers in town were recruited too for different jobs, which worked out kind of well because the city was so crowded that the schools couldn't actually hold all of their students at one time. So the students were going to school, in the public schools at least, in two shifts. Half of the students went in the morning, half went in the afternoon. So there was a certain amount of time for outside employment as well for the kids and it was a very, very busy time for everybody.

The yard was keeping busy with a lot of different projects, of course. There was shipbuilding and there was refitting other things. But two days before the end of 1941, the first Pearl Harbor ghost arrived in the yard and that was a pretty significant event. The ship, this ghost ship, wasn't really a ghost, but Japan had reported that five US battleships were sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, which actually the US was able to salvage, get back to Bremerton repair, and put back into the fight.

The first of these ghosts, as they were jokingly named since the ships had been declared dead and now we're back out and about, was the USS Tennessee. And it was sailing under its own power, even though it had been battered by bomb hits and also by debris from the USS Arizona's explosion. The next day, December 30th, the USS Maryland made it into port as well. The ship yard took a break from lots of other projects and put people to work on it because we desperately needed ships in the Pacific, and they were actually able to turn those ships around, get them repaired, and get them ready to fight and upgraded as well in just 53 days.

The Maryland and the Tennessee had sailed back out. In February, the Saratoga, the aircraft carrier, was back at the shipyard too because it had been hit by a torpedo, not during Pearl Harbor, but on January 11th. And then by May 1st, the third Pearl Harbor ghost, the USS Nevada, had made it to the shipyard. Just to give some perspective on the level of damage on these ships, it took about 700,000 man hours to get the Nevada ready to go into the fight again. The last two Pearl Harbor ghosts to show up were the USS California and the USS West Virginia. They had been damaged the most and they had been sunk and flooded and full of silty soil and needed quite a lot of work.

But eventually, they were all turned back into the fight. And these five ships were not at all the only ones that the yard worked on during World War II. All these workers and all these employees coming in and teaming up to work together to repair and equip these ships did a tremendous job.

There were about 32,500 employees in this workforce. And during the World War II period, they built 50 new ships and repaired 363, which was a pretty a pretty tremendous aid to the American war effort. And a special thanks to Monty Montgomery for the production on that piece. And a special thanks to Ann Claire, who's a teacher, an organist and a choir director, but she's also a World War II history buff. And we love having our World War II and history contributors be from all walks of life.

You don't have to have a PhD in history to know history or tell stories about it. And my goodness, 50 new ships. That's a crazy number of ships, folks. The story in a way of the arsenal of democracy.

The story of Bremerton Naval Yard here on Our American Story. The last time the economy looked this bad, the stock market tanked. The economy collapsed and inflation hit record highs. But at the same time, the price of gold shot up 1300 percent.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-24 20:39:06 / 2023-01-24 20:47:22 / 8

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