USS Mississippi photos

“My Navy Story”

World War Two

 by Louis E. Van Slyke, Chief Machinists’ Mate, USN
as narrated to my son, Henry Van Slyke, Summer of 2011

My grandfather was 8 years old when the Civil War ended.  He lived in northwest Missouri near the Kansas border, where the infamous Border Wars happened.  He was orphaned as a child.  Courthouses and family Bibles were burned, so there aren’t any records of the family before that War.  I don’t remember him talking about his parents much.  He would stay with anyone who would let him go to school, and he would work for them the rest of the time.  He was staying with a widow one winter when some Union soldiers were camped nearby.  The widow was a Union sympathizer so she baked a big pan of biscuits and told the boy to take them to the Union camp.  He didn’t have a coat so he hurried to the camp.  When he got to the camp, some officers gladly received the biscuits.  The boy was standing there in his shirtsleeves in the cold and one of the officers asked him “Where’s your coat, boy?”  “I don’t have one.”  The officer dug out an old greatcoat and gave it to the boy, who thanked him and went back to the widow’s house.  Grandfather said that was the warmest coat he ever had, he could walk through the snow-covered woods and never feel the cold. 
In his later years, Grandfather made himself a comfortable wooden rocking chair and he would sit in the front room and read his Bible every afternoon.  I still have that rocking chair.

My wife’s ancestors include several Confederate soldiers from East Texas.  One was in the 25th Texas Cavalry, four others were in the 13th Texas Cavalry, and some were in the Home Guard.  One ancestor was in the 10th Virginia Infantry in the Revolutionary War.

My mother’s family is traced back to Elder Brewster on the Mayflower in 1620 and to England and France before that.

  I was born August 25, 1919, at home on the farm near Amsterdam, Missouri.  I went to the one-room schoolhouse in town, ran track in high school and went to college for a while.  My oldest sister pretty much raised me.  Mom was kind of high-strung and nervous, Dad was fiery half-Irish and half-Dutch.  He would joke, “Half Irish and half Dutch don’t amount to much.”  As a small child I had long curly blond hair and the ladies at church loved it.  One day Dad said he would ‘make a boy out of that girl’; he got some not-very-sharp shears, took me out on the concrete porch and cut the curls off.  As they fell the wind rolled them over to the edge and they fell into the dirt.  Next Sunday the ladies asked where my curls went and I truthfully replied, “The wind blew them away.”

I was 9 when I caught a 5-lb carp in the river with a cane pole.  I got it to the bank, pulled it onto the ground and sat on it until I could get it by the gills.  We had a good supper that night.

For my 12th birthday, Dad got me a .22 rifle that would shoot shorts, longs and long rifles.  I always got shorts because the shells cost less, 16 cents a box.  I shot squirrels to help feed the family.  Our house was 2-1/2 stories, 13 rooms, with framing of black walnut, originally built by a State Senator; it had peaks and such on the roof.  There were 4 bedrooms, all full.  I slept with my oldest brother Roy, who pulled all the covers if I didn’t keep a tight hold.  Once in a while he would bring home a drunk friend who would sleep in the middle, which was already crowded as it was a ¾ bed.  Roy got married pretty soon and moved out so I got the bed all to myself.


“Boot Camp"

In the summer of 1941, we heard that a military draft was going to start on September 1, with the only choice being Army or Navy.  I went ahead and enlisted there at Amsterdam on August 3.  I knew about being on the land, having done farm work all my life, so I chose the Navy.  At the recruitment office, the officer asked me if I wanted the regular Navy or the Reserves.  I said “Oh, the regular Navy, I guess.”  Later I found out that if I’d said Reserves, the enlistment would have been for four years instead of the six I was now committed to.

Another man from Amsterdam joined the Navy at about the same time, so we were sent to boot camp together.  A car picked us up at Butler, MO and took us to the Brown Stone Hotel in Kansas City on August 4.  We registered just like we were regular guests, and they gave us a few dollars for meals.  When I signed my name on the register, the clerk said there was a woman with the same last name who was employed at the hotel.  I talked with Mrs. Van Slyke for a while; she asked me to keep an eye out for her son who was in the Marines, in the Medics.  I said I would but I didn’t expect to ever run into him.  We officially signed up with the Navy at the Kansas City, MO office on August 5.

We went by train to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, about 20 miles from Chicago.  There was a P&E electric train that went to Chicago but we didn’t get a chance to go there for many weeks.  I spent the first 6 weeks in the mess hall.  Work started at 4am, then cleanup was from 6-10pm, then we marched back to the barracks where we’d clean our clothes, shower and sleep.  We never got enough sleep in those days.  We had two sets of clothes; we washed the dirty set and hung them up to dry while we wore the other set.  The officers had some trick questions and we learned pretty fast to keep quiet.  When they asked if anyone in the company had been a truck driver, several men raised their hand and found themselves pushing big carts around the mess hall with the plates and silverware, setting the tables.

Henry Ford worked with the military to set up a training school at the Great Lakes facility.  It was to train men to be machinists, and some machines were set up in an aircraft hangar.  I went through that training school.  Ford wanted to pay the men but the military refused.  Ford contracted to pick up the base’s garbage, which he burned to provide steam and electricity for the school, and made a lot of money that way. 

We learned about sleeping in hammocks by rigging them on pipe frames about 3 feet off the ground.  Some men fell out but since it was only 3 feet they didn’t get hurt much.  Sometimes one man would start to fall and would instinctively reach out and grab something which turned out to be the next hammock, causing him to fall and that man would reach out and grab the next hammock and then a whole line would fall like dominos.  Most of us learned to sleep comfortably and not fall out or grab the next hammock.  When it was cold I slept fine with just two blankets, one under and one over. 

When it got cold up there it was really cold thanks to the humidity of the lake.  Temps were below zero and the wind would whip in off the lake and cut right through our clothes.  When we went to the warm classrooms straight out of the cold, it was hard to not fall asleep.  You’d fall asleep without even trying.  One officer was really disliked because he would look in the windows and write down the names of men who fell asleep, then he’d turn in the list; those men got lots of extra duty, such as night guard duty.  I took my turn at guard now and then.  We were issued 1903 Springfields; there were some Garands around but we got the 03s.  We were to keep them loaded but not put one in the chamber.  We marched back and forth about 50-75 yards in snow 3 feet deep or more.  One man, who must have been a city boy, was working the bolt while on guard duty and somehow fired it.  The bullet went through the side of a barracks, went through 4 pillows right under the men’s heads, then through a man’s ankle who was sleeping reversed, then hit a steam pipe.  Nothing happened to the man who accidentally fired the shot, but his commander was shipped off.  We were sort of glad about him getting shipped off since he was the one who took names of men who fell asleep in class.

The river was so polluted it wouldn’t freeze.  A man slipped and fell in, and he had to scrub a lot to get the smell off him.  There was a glue factory across the river that stunk.

We learned to march in formation.  I was the next-to-shortest man in the company, the shortest man was next to me and we were at the end of the line.  The shortest man had a peculiar way of walking and marching -- his head would bob the opposite way from everyone else.  The commander would see his head go the wrong way and halt us and chew the poor guy out for being out of step.  We’d start up and the same thing would happen. Finally, one of the drill instructors watched the man from the rear and saw that he was in step with everyone; it was just his head that went opposite.  It’s just the way he walked. On Navy Day we marched in parade.  We wore high-top shoes and leggings, which prevented foot blisters.  If you wore low-cut shoes, the top of the back of the shoe wore a bad blister on your foot. 

I didn’t hear about the bombing of Pearl Harbor until that evening.  I’d gone into Canada on a pass and on the way back I was picked up by a car full of young ladies who looked classy like sorority girls; there was a college nearby, they were probably students there.  I got in the back and they asked me if I’d heard about Pearl Harbor; I said no, I’ve been in Canada.  They told me about it, and dropped me off at the gate.  After that the base was on alert, more guards were posted.  One night a few shots were heard and the entire base went on alert.  We weren’t issued any weapons so all we could do was stay in the barracks.  It turned out that it was just a man shooting pheasants in the brush near the base, shining a flashlight in their eyes so they would sit still.  It didn’t happen again.

After boot camp, I was sent to the South Pacific, traveling on a hospital ship.  My friend from Amsterdam was there.  When we approached the equator, we knew about the initiations by King Neptune and didn’t want any part of that so we hid in a lifeboat and pulled the canvas cover over us.  We could see out a bit and watched all the goings-on.  After the decks cleared we snuck out and went below.  When you go through the crossing initiation, they give you a card from King Neptune and if you are on another ship that crosses the equator, you can show that card and you don’t have to be initiated again.  The next morning my friend and I went to the Marine giving the cards and gave our names and got our cards.  We never let on about being in the lifeboat.  One Marine standing around the table heard my name and said they had a guy in their medics with the same name.  It was the son of the woman back at that Kansas City hotel.  That was a million to one, running into him.  We sat and talked a lot through the trip.  Then I ended up on the USS Mississippi.

BB41, 40,000 tons, keel laid April 5 1915, launched 1917 .  Main armament was four turrets, each with three 14-inch guns.  Peacetime complement was 1200 men; at war we had 1800 men.  The captains changed a lot, it seemed like there were a lot of up-and-coming desk jockeys looking for some sea time to advance their careers.  Only one captain we had was really good at it and had spent a lot of time at sea; he was a fighter.  There were some 3.3 inch guns but they jammed so much that they were changed for 40mm guns, which were electrically controlled had motor-driven tracking and were good out to 4000 yards.  They were fed by 4-round clips, the gunners kept dropping them in, clip after clip. 


“I got all the good jobs”

 I started out in the engine room, Fireman Third Class.  Before I was assigned a battle station I’d go watch the ammo passers for the 5-inch guns.  The shells looked like a big 30.06 shell.  A man down in the magazine opened a crate of shells and put them on a hoist which took them up to where a man grabbed them and put them on a conveyor that took them over to where a man loaded them onto the hoist that took them up to the guns.  My battle station turned out to be in the boiler room.  Maintenance of the boilers took a lot of work. 
  I got all the ‘good’ jobs, like cleaning out a tank where some “Bunker C” had leaked into.  You take the leavings of refined oil, it’s almost like tar, mix it with just enough diesel to pump it, and you’ve got Bunker C fuel oil.  There were 15-20 of us in the tank, mopping it up with diesel.  There was one entrance to the tank; a blower was putting some air into the tank but with only one entrance, it didn’t do much good. 
  In each boiler room there were 4 boilers -- two steam and two water/steam.  Burners were underneath, with firebrick around the burners.  The tubing to the burners would get tar and ash on them; we’d have to scrape it off.  Access was through some small square holes in the firebrick.  (One fat boy couldn’t get through the holes; he drank any kind of alcohol he could find, including hair oil and aftershave.  We heard submariners would filter alcohol from the torpedoes through a loaf of bread; they called it “pink lady”. ) There were 9 burners, with the tubing arranged in a triangle.  They had to be scraped while hot because when they cooled the gunk was too hard to scrape.  We used a 30-foot “saw” with mild teeth to get the tar/ash off the tubes; we ran the saw in at an angle along the tubes.

Another ‘good’ job I got was on the refueling gang.  The ship could hold one million gallons of fuel.  It cost about a dollar a gallon.  At sea, destroyers came alongside for refueling and tried to hold steady in the seas.  The Mississippi would be steady, no rolling or pitching, but the little destroyers would be rising and falling and trying to stay close to our side.  We used a boom to pass over the refueling line.  If the destroyer helmsman wasn’t careful the bow would catch a wave and it would quickly shear away from our ship, breaking the fuel line.  That was a big mess.  It would go all over the sides of both ships and part of the decks.   When we were done, the lines were switched at the pump to suction the leftover fuel out of the line – they called it “line up a suction to clear a hose”. 
Later I was assigned to the pumps that moved the Bunker C to the burners.  All of us below decks carried a flashlight; if the lights went out it was pitch dark.

Almost all the men drank coffee.  It was ready in the mess hall 24 hours a day, in two big Silex makers.  I didn’t like coffee so I got a pound of tea leaves and drank tea while they drank coffee.  On the boiler condensate tank there was a level gauge with a valve at the bottom; it was clean 180-degree water and it made good tea in my mug.

The ship was full of interesting machinery and systems; I was curious about it so I went all over the ship and learned everything I could.  I went down to shaft alley and browsed around.  I knew the men down there.  There were four propellers, powered by steam turbines through a reduction gear.  There was at least two of everything, pumps and spare parts and so on, because at sea it had to keep going.  There was even a secondary 8” drain line.

The bilges were covered with metal grating and every so often we’d have to clean the bilges with a sort of fox-tail brush.  Trash would drop down through the levels and end up in the bilges.  We kept ‘good house’.

I took drafting back in college, and I had my drawing gear with me on the ship, and still have it now.  I drew a chart of the lines in the engine room.

We got paid every other week, usually in 2-dollar bills.  You went to see the paymaster, gave your name and service number and got paid.  If you couldn’t remember your service number you didn’t get paid that time so you had two weeks to learn your number.  I made $21 dollars a day, one day a month.  That’s what we would joke, anyway.  It was really $21 a month.  I studied and advanced up through the grades, getting a raise each time.  I made Chief near the end of the war. 

One place I hung my hammock was in a passageway.  I slept there pretty well except for some wiseguys who bumped the bottom of my hammock with their heads.

We learned fast to take care of our feet.  If you got a blister, it was painful.  If you got an ingrown toenail, you either trimmed it yourself or wedged bits of cotton under it so it would grow upwards.  If you went to sick bay with an ingrown toenail they cut out nearly the whole toenail and then you were really suffering.

The ship had a water purification unit that made plenty of drinking water.  Showers and toilets were salt water.  Taking showers in salt water for so long would give you sores, and after they healed you didn’t have hair there.  That’s why the hair is gone off my legs.

I got a letter from the draft board while at sea.  They said I had to sign up with them or they would turn my name over to the FBI.  I didn’t answer it, and never heard anything more from them.

Because I looked so young, I had to show my ID in some places.  Even with the picture on the ID, sometimes they didn’t think I was old enough.

When we went into a berth at a dock, a pilot took control of the ship.  3 or 4 tugs towed us into place parallel to the dock, and then they would drop the cables and gently push the ship toward the dock at a pace slower than a snail.  Even at that slow speed, when the ship reached the big pilings, they would bend back a ways then come back upright.   Leaving the dock went faster, but it still took 3 or 4 tugboats.  There was one crew for getting under way, another crew for anchoring.  At some anchorages, the anchor would drop at the spot they wanted the ship to be, chain would pay out until the ship stopped, and then the chain would be taken up until the ship was over the anchor.  I could hear the anchor chain rattling from the engine room.


“In Action”

We were in the Aleutians, and logged about 25,000 miles in 3 months’ time.  One time, we were circling on patrol and crossed the Date Line many times.  You’re supposed to keep up with that in the log, changing the date each time, but after the first few times they quit that and concentrated on the patrol.

The ship bombarded a lot of Pacific islands before the infantry went ashore. 

Around March 1943 we escorted the cruiser Minneapolis back to Pearl Harbor and got some repairs made on our ship.   While that was being done, I went to machinists’ school there and got my First Class Machinist rating.  The school took longer than the ship repairs, so the Mississippi left for the South Pacific while I was in the school.  They sent me back to the ship by way of several ships.  One was a supply vessel that had been a peacetime cruise ship, it had fancy woodwork inside.  Another was a tender, stationed in a harbor between two islands that had some mountains; we had to go ashore to cut down trees so the trunks could be used for floating docks.  They didn't give us any water to take ashore so when we got thirsty we cut open some coconuts and drank the juice.  At the Hebrides Islands I transferred to the USS New Mexico, a sister ship to the Mississippi.  She had been refitted in the 1930s at about the same time as the Mississippi, but by now she wasn’t much like her sister.  It was going to be a while before I could catch up with the Mississippi so I joined the New Mexico crew in the machinery division.  The New Mexico had cots, which had to be folded up during the day.  I was used to my hammock but the cot slept pretty well.  By the time we got near the Mississippi, the chief offered me the ‘best job on the ship’, on the forward fresh water hold, if I’d stay with the ship.  But I wanted to go back to the Mississippi.  My old chief on the Mississippi came and got me and I rejoined the ship.  I always wanted to get into the machine shop, but never got in that crew until after the war.  During the war I was always in the machinery crew. 

 The ship was putting into Hunters Point at San Francisco for repairs, October 1943.  The standard UOD was dungarees and shirt.  When we got close to the bay, Admiral Nimitz ordered us to change to dress whites.  We still had work to do, so men were chipping and painting topside in their dress whites.  The machinery crew didn’t have to wear whites.

In November 1943 an aft air compressor was getting hot and I was trying to find out why.  I cranked it up and it shut itself down.  I called a repair crew.  They ran a hose to a fire line and got more water to the pump and cranked it up.  About that time, turret #2 exploded.  They later figured that someone had closed a main valve in the fire line, which among other things, caused the compressor to get hot.  The loss of the compressor contributed to the turret explosion, they figured.  In the turret gun crew, the gun captain’s job is to open the breech, blow air through it to get the smoke out, and look for any burning debris or sparks.  He can shoot water up there to put out any fires.  This compressor being out of action meant low air pressure so when the man blew air up the barrel it wasn’t enough to blow it all out, and there wasn’t enough water in the fire main with its closed valve to squirt up the barrel.  The man must not have been able to see any fires, so they started loading the standard load of four 100-pound bags of powder.  Each bag has one end painted red; that was the end where some fast-burning powder was.  Some burning debris must have ignited that powder and it all burned quickly, killing everyone.  Men inside the turret were cooked in place; heavy smoke got down in the magazine and killed about 40 men.  One man died later of blisters in his lungs, another man died while standing in the chow line.  The sewing guys had to make 40-something bags fast for all the bodies.  They put a 5-inch shell in each bag so it would sink quickly.  We buried them at sea, using a mess table to tilt and send them over the side.  The ship went back to Pearl Harbor to get the turret refitted.

The ship put into the Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington in early summer 1944 to replace its worn-out 14” gun barrels.  4 years of shooting had worn them so much that the shells would tumble end over end instead of flying straight.  When all twelve guns fired a broadside the ship would jump three feet over.  We marched in parade in Seattle.

We were in the line of six battleships at Surigao Strait in October 1944.  A line of Jap ships came up the strait and there wasn’t anything left of them floating the next morning but some life jackets and some small pieces.

We shelled Bataan when MacArthur was getting ready to return, January 1945.  A friend from Amsterdam was in an Airborne division, stationed at Fort Polk, LA. , and that Airborne unit was dropped where they cut off the retreat of the Japs.  They pushed in and hunted the Japs, who had no supplies and were eating whatever they could.  The Airborne kept finding dead Americans whose bodies had their heart, liver and thighs cut out; that meant the Japs were eating them.  They reported this to G2, who denied everything.  The Airborne got so frustrated at G2’s inaction, they found 3 dead Americans the Japs had mutilated, loaded them in a jeep and parked the jeep right in front of G2 HQ.  There weren’t any more denials after that.  My friend had been hit by a mortar that landed about 7” from his foot, which mangled his legs pretty bad.  After he healed, one shoe was size 6 and the other was size 11.  He was in the same hospital as Joe Stilwell at a San Francisco Army hospital, and he saw him there; he was still in a cast.

We shelled Iwo Jima for the landing in early 1945.  The black sand clogged up the infantry’s Garands so much that crates of rifles were put on the beach so they could drop the clogged rifle and grab a clean one and keep fighting.  The first night ashore, Japs snuck into our lines and killed a lot of men in the dark.  Every night after that, we fired a 5-inch flare every minute, to light up the area for our infantry.  It was hard to sleep but nobody minded.

Right after the Iwo Jima campaign we went into Pearl Harbor for repairs and to get a lot more anti-aircraft guns. 

Two different times, a kamikaze plane hit the ship.  One of those times was pretty close to me.  May 6, 1945, we were off Okinawa.  During a lull in the fighting, some of us came up on deck from the engine room to get some fresh air and cool off.  We sat in the shade of an aft main gun turret.  There were pieces of gunpowder all over the deck; that was the bits of powder that didn’t completely burn when the guns fired.  The powder looked like chunks of charcoal, and if you held a match to it, it only sparked and smoked a little.  But in the gun, it would do the job.  A deck crew came up with a fire hose and told us to go below because they were going to wash the powder residue off the deck.  We grumbled but went below.  A few minutes later there was a big crash and ruckus -- a kamikaze hit the turret we had been sitting under.  Most of that deck crew and some others were killed, some wounded. 

Shuri Castle on Okinawa was a Japanese stronghold; it connected the two parts of the island, ‘North’ and ‘South’.  The Mississippi was ordered to destroy the castle, so we hit it for 3 days with 14-inch armor-piercing shells and HE.  The USS Missouri came up and fired two or three salvos at the castle and left; I heard later there were press releases saying the Missouri destroyed the castle.  When the infantry moved in, they found only a few shell-shocked men in the fort who didn’t put up any resistance.  The Army commander issued a commendation to the Mississippi for taking out the fort.

The Marines on board were training to climb a cargo net with full packs,  One guy fell and broke his back; he had to wear a big brace of plaster, and still had to train along with the others.  He had the cast about 8 weeks and said it itched a lot.


“On leave”

It was a few years before I got my first shore leave.  I went home to Missouri and visited with the family.  Rationing was pretty strict.  I got 4 gallons of gas and took it to the farm, and they were grateful for it.  My Airborne friend from Amsterdam who was wounded on Bataan was on medical leave back home at that time, and we went on a fishing trip down to Norfolk, Arkansas.  Another friend in Amsterdam was a mailman, and was allowed to have a car since the mail was important.  He drove us there.  We got to town, rented a boat and got a room in town.  We ate a good meal, then slept.  The next morning we went fishing.  The Airborne guy had a .22 High Standard pistol, and he used it to shoot a rabbit on the way.  We used the rabbit to bait a trotline.  Bluegill and goggle-eyes were taking the bait before we finished baiting the trotline; we kept a few, then they quit biting and we finished baiting the trotline and dropped it in.  Then we got into the boat and drifted along the bank 3-4 feet from the bank and used minnows to catch 30-40 smallmouth bass.  At the mouth of the stream we reached Rocky Point and caught a lot of largemouth bass.  We went back and checked the trotline; there was a big catfish on it.  We rested, and then went back to fishing.  That was a nice trip.  On the way back to the ship I was riding a train through Southeast Texas and looked out at the flat marshy land and said “I wouldn’t live here if they gave it to me.”  And wouldn’t you know it, I ended up right there after the war and lived there for about 35 years.


“War’s End”

After the Japanese surrendered and the armistice was about to be signed, we stayed at the entrance to Tokyo Bay with all guns at the ready, not sure if we’d be fired on or not.  It stayed peaceful, the occupation went smoothly.  The day before the signing, the ship entered Tokyo Bay and anchored just 9,000 yards off the Tokyo waterfront, in about the same spot the first USS Mississippi had anchored back in 1853. 

After the war, October 1945, we went through the Panama Canal and put into New Orleans.  Before the ship docked, I got orders to get my gear and get on a tugboat which took me to Algiers, on the east side of the river by New Orleans.  I didn’t have time to go down to the storage hold and get my pea coat and some other gear.  I had accumulated some pay so I got a money belt and put thirteen 50-dollar bills in it.  We went to the French Quarter one afternoon.  On Navy Day we all marched in parade through downtown.  Then I was sent to North or South Carolina. 

The last vessel I was on came into a base in Orange, Texas.  The ship started out to be an Alcoa ore carrier, but before it was completed it was converted to a minelayer.  Later it was something else, and when I got aboard it was an amphibious vehicle carrier. It was hot in summer and cold in winter.  I got a place on shore by Cooper’s Gully that looked like a chicken coop, for $5 a month. 

 At that base, we got the ships ready for mothballing.  There were destroyers, destroyer escorts, minesweepers, some yard oilers and a light cruiser.  First thing, the electricians cut all the power and hooked it to shore power.  Then a crew started sealing hatches and then a dehumidifier was put in.  We pulled out everything that would move.  A lot of it got dumped over the side into the river – dishes, ammo, etc.  I saved some heavy serving bowls and gave them away. 

In Orange I decided to go to church so I put on my good uniform and walked up the street to the First Baptist Church.  Mr. W.F. Burns greeted me on the steps and showed me where the young adults went.  I started coming regular, and came to BYTU (Baptist Youth Training Union) on Sunday evenings and that’s where I met Thelma Mann.  After a few weeks she asked me to be her boyfriend.  It was a tough fight but she won.  Her father was a security guard at one of the shipyards and didn’t like sailors, but he came around pretty well.  I went on church visitations with John Daly and some others, and once we visited the Mann residence.  Thelma wasn’t there, she had gone to the movies; I talked to her mother for a while.  I got a car sometimes and we went on dates.  I had just crossed a railroad track when I first mentioned marriage.  Thelma didn’t say yes right away, she had to study on it, but she did pretty soon.  A tailor in Beaumont made me a suit; I didn’t have any civilian clothes yet.  The old tailor took a couple of measurements, made some chalk marks and said it’ll be ready in 10 days.  I thought if it fits at all it’ll be a miracle.  He called 10 days later and said it’s ready.  I got on a bus and went and tried it on and it fit perfectly.  The day of the wedding I was driving along and saw a boy selling some lilies that were stuck into Mason jars, just crammed full.  They had gotten dust on them and then some raindrops so they had to be washed off; the boy sold them for 50 cents a jar so I got most of the jars and took them to the Mann’s house and washed them off.  Thelma’s mother put them in vases, they looked great.  We were married in their living room, May 19, 1947. 

When I was discharged in August they gave me 80 days leave; that was all they could give at discharge.  I was owed 60 days more but didn’t get anything for that.

The only award I ever got was a Good Conduct Ribbon.  We all applied for various things but never got any.  If I got a WW2 Service Ribbon it should have had 7 stars on it.

I applied at DuPont for a machinist job, and the man there wouldn’t tell me yes or no.  That man had been a fighter pilot in the war.  He told me to come back in 30 days, take some time off, go on vacation.  I said I like vacation but it would be better if I knew I’d have a job when I got back.  The man said he’d call me.  So Thelma and I went to Missouri and got to Dad’s farm just after dark.  We knocked on the door, he came up and looked at Thelma and joked, “My, my, not as big as a bar of soap after a hard day’s wash.”  He and all the family loved Thelma.  We visited with all the family, fished some, and I wondered about that DuPont job.  After almost 30 days went by, the man called me up there and told me what day to come to work, and I don’t know how he got that number.  We found out later that he’d checked me out all the way from my childhood in Amsterdam through the Navy.  He talked to the Amsterdam, MO constable, L.N. Renick, who had been in World War One.  The constable told DuPont that I had never been in trouble.  But Renick didn’t know that when I was growing up I’d “watched while someone” turned over his outhouse on several Halloweens.  Renick lived about a mile out of town and I lived a mile and a half.  On snowy days he’d drive his wagon to the school and pick up his daughters, while I walked home.  My folks owned some old strip-mining pits that had filled up with water and were full of fish and some snapping turtles.  Renick liked to eat turtles so sometimes we’d catch one and bring it to him.

Thelma was a secretary at DuPont so in order for me to get the job she quit and went to work at Consolidated Shipyard there in Orange.  Husbands and wives couldn’t work at the same place in those days.  I found out later that Thelma got Dr. Swickard, the DuPont company doctor, to pull some strings and help get me hired. 

A man I worked with at DuPont had been in the Army.  Premeaux was a Cajun from Vinton, LA and could speak Cajun French, which came in handy during the war when there was a Frenchman raising cain with an American commander but neither one of them could understand the other’s language.  Premeaux got the Frenchman to slow down so he could understand him better and found out that the Americans were drawing water out of the well, washing themselves and their clothes, then pouring the dirty water back into the well.  The cows wouldn’t drink the water and weren’t giving milk.  Premeaux relayed that to the American commander and that got it stopped.  A guard was posted at each well to prevent that from happening again.  The men putting the dirty water back into the well must have been city boys who didn’t know any better.  I was raised on a farm and that would have been unthinkable there.

Another man I worked with at DuPont, Mason Harvey, had been in the Marines and had to eat so much Spam during the war that he hated it, didn’t even want it mentioned.  We fished and shrimped a lot.


This is the house we bought in 1951.  My son still lives there.  Joe passed away in 2001.


I worked in DuPont's machine shop for 34-1/2 years and retired in December 1981.  We built a house near Woodville, Texas and are still there.


note:  Chief Machinists' Mate Louis Van Slyke was transferred to the USS Heaven on February 6, 2012.

On February 10, 2012, the Veterans of Foreign Wars honored him at the service with the United States Flag, then the Sons of Confederate Veterans honored him at graveside with a musket salute and a bugle sounding Taps.

I hope you can see this.  Found it on a friend’s Facebook page.  It’s the playing of Taps at Dad’s graveside service in Colmesneil, early February 2012.  Then we fired a three-round salute.




For Dad's 90th birthday, some friends reworked a nice song by Cheryl Wheeler, "75 Septembers", changing a few words to fit Dad's life.  They recorded it in their home studio and it came out great.  We called it "90 Augusts".