World War II Veteran: Robert A. Helgerson (Bob)

Time Frame: ca. 1940's

Like many other young men during World War II, Robert "Bob" Helgerson describes leaving school to join to the Navy. He talks about his jobs onboard ship, breaking codes, being torpedoed and being on ship that was attacked by kamikaze.
IPTV, 2008

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The thing was with the V7 program if you got your degree from college you could go into the navy and work for an officer, become an officer. They were short officer candidates in Chicago in April of '43, I signed up in April of '42 and then April of '43 they called and said they would guarantee a degree and they could come and work for an officership. I went around and talked to my professors and I think they wanted to get rid of me. So they said yes you can pass out and we'll guarantee a degree in June, which is what happened. Then I went into the navy on April 29 of '43.

Went to Chicago and this was a course that lasted 90 days and we all considered ourselves "90 day wonders", we got out and we wondered what we were going to do. But we survived somehow. I remember all the information they gave us about going on board ship, you salute the end of the ship and climb aboard and ask permission. When I got down to get on board ship, I was so loaded down with stuff I forgot to salute and I didn't even ask permission to come on board. I mean, these are things that you have ingrained and then forget. But they let me on board and I started to go work for the navy then.

The carrier, I was on a carrier called the Intrepid. At that time it was a CV-11. Since it's been a CVA-11, and CVS-11. At the present time it's a museum in NYC and they've just taken it from dry dock to have it refurbished at a navy yard. It's changed a lot since when I was on board ship. My duties on board ship were standing watch on the communications offices and it was primarily breaking messages and encoding messages that we had to send out and receive and then we had to route them to the various officers and departments that were interested. They were all classified from operational priority to priority to just slow and then they were secret and confidential so we had to wrap them up and have the messengers take them around. We stood 4 hour watches. Generally we broke messages for just 4 hours. Sat there at a typewriter and broke these messages on an electric coding machine we called them. I didn't know how they worked but they worked. And we had several different kinds of codes, we had a 5 letter code, we had a 4 letter code, and they meant different things to the communications officer, which I have forgotten now, which is probably a blessing anyway. It was an interesting job. We'd have 4 hours on, 4 hours off and 4 hours on. Then we'd have a split watch in the evening from 2:00-6:00, I mean from 4:00 - 6:00 and 6:00 - 8:00 and back on at midnight again. So you are always either smoking or drinking coffee, you hardly ever ate, and I found that I could go to sea and lose 15 lbs in about 2 weeks. But then come back to the states for repairs and then put on the weight, which was nice.

My ship duty, I had a chief by the name of Crow and he was the chief of Division 3, K3 that I was supposed to oversee and when I went on board ship I met Mr. Crow, and I said, "Crow, I'm the officer in charge of this division and I didn't know peanuts." I said, "You protect me and I'll help you all I can." And it worked out beautifully. I remember one time I was trying to get some nap time between watches and the boys in the K Division upstairs were rolling dice on the deck which was a no-no in the navy. So I called Crow and said "Crow I'm trying to get some sleep and the boys in K3 above me are rolling dice. Would you tell them to put a blanket down." I I never heard another word, it was quiet, and nobody ever said anything. I suppose if I had been a good officer I could have put them on report and given them holy heck but why do it? I suppose, I'm not a black shoe navy person, I was a reserve officer and kind of feeling my way along and got all the help I could.

Anyway, on board ship the time I was on was about 18 months and I had survivor's leaves and 9 battle stars on my ribbons. The survivor leaves came about because we got torpedoed in Truck[?] just after Valentines Day in e44. I think it was the 16th evening, the 16th about midnight. Later on we got that fixed, had to come to the states and had availability at Hunter's Point which is just south end of San Francisco. I love San Francisco. That was a survivor's leave. Then we got repaired and went back out and headed to, well we went to Truck primarily to go to [?] because we were going to go to Enowetok and attack them but we didn't get to go to that, we had to come home and get repaired. Then next engagement that we really got hurt in was the Philippines and it was a kamikaze and it got us on the starboard side. The damage was minimal to the ship and we were able to repair it and keep underway. That happened in the later part of September of e44.

Did you see the plane coming in?

No because I was in an office. And then the big one came on November 25 of '44. We got a kamikaze and it landed on the flight deck, the bombs went through down to the hanger deck and we had airplanes in the hanger deck that were inoperable but they were loaded. They had bombs and gas. So that caused quite an explosion. We had learned from another accident that you tip your ship to the port-side and all the gas and fire will drain off. If it went to the right side it would go down the elevators into your ammunition holds and blow you up. That happened I think to the Franklin so that was in our operating management that this is what they do. We did, and we were successful, except we burned, the flight deck was wood. We burned and smoked and you couldn't even see the ship for awhile, they have pictures of it. That was quite bad. We had a group of firemen from Los Angeles, De Marco was the chief and they were down on the hanger deck putting out fires when the second airplane hit, and we never did find them. They were all, I mean the whole unit of them was gone, and it was pretty sad. Then the electric, the control for the radar was hanging right under the hanger deck, and it was totally demolished and all the fellows that were running radar were gone. So we lost a lot of people on the 25th and that made us come back to the states for another availability.

While that was being repaired then in '84, '94, oh I'm all mixed up on my dates now, it was 1944 - 1945 and I stayed with the ship. Then was transferred to photo intelligence work in Washington DC in March of '45. So in '45 I went to Washington DC, oh got married on the way! We honeymooned to Washington. When I got to Washington I took my training for another 3 months and had priority orders out to Pacific Ocean area for reassignment and I had 5 days delay en route to stop at home and kiss my wife goodbye. At that time we were living in Red Oak. So I went to Omaha to get on the airplane, and who gets off the airplane but my shipmate, my roommate on board ship. He had been out and the Intrepid had been hit again and he was home on leave and going back out again. So we flew to San Francisco together. Got to San Francisco and I went to the St. Francis hotel to wait for further orders. They called me and said my transportation was available. My transportation was the China Clipper. So I got on the China Clipper that evening and flew to Hawaii. It was great. I had been to school at the University of California at Berkeley one summer in '49, er '39 and I could see the China Clipper go off into the sunset in the evening in the Berkeley hills and I just loved to watch it and I thought oh that would be great to fly. I got on it, courtesy of the government. That plane had 7 stories in it, and the top deck was a flight deck and they had cots and everything for the pilots and they had a scuttle behind in the wings where they could go down and repair the engines en route. It was an amazing airplane.


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