Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Uncle He Never Met: Norfolk Resident Recalls Relative Who Perished During Pearl Harbor Attack

By Max Lonzanida
HRNM Public Affairs Officer

A cigar box contains letters and telegrams from the West Coast and Pearl Harbor, newspaper clippings of the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbor, and a locket with a photo of the uncle he never met. These were some of the mementoes shared by 72-year-old Michael Jacobs of his uncle, Boiler Maker Second Class Wiley James Petway. Twenty-three-year-old Petway paid the ultimate sacrifice 80 years ago when his ship, USS Oklahoma (BB 37), sustained torpedo hits and capsized at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Michael Jacobs reads from some of the letters and telegrams from his uncle, Boiler Maker Second Class Wiley James Petway. (Max Lonzanida)
That uncle is interred locally at Hampton National Cemetery. Jacobs shared some of his insights on his quest to learn more about Petway’s life and service to our nation: “My uncle died eight years before I was born. I was named after my uncle. He was known as James, and my first name is James. James Michael Jacobs,” he began as he laid out some envelopes on the table containing letters and telegrams Petway had sent home.
Wiley James Petway, shortly after enlistment in the U.S. Navy. (Courtesy Michael Jacobs)
Petway was born on December 29, 1918, in Wilson, North Carolina. Jacobs reflected on his family’s move, before his birth, to the Hampton Roads area: “You either farmed or you didn’t [in Wilson]. It was pretty much like that. That’s why it was a migration up to this area because the shipyard was really big. . . . The whole family migrated: grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle. Dad worked in the shipyard.” The family’s move to Portsmouth was tied to the influx of jobs at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

In the years leading up to 1941, Newport News Shipbuilding and Norfolk Navy Yard were bustling with new warship construction. Sixteen of the warships present at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 were constructed in Hampton Roads. Amid the activity of workers, one might think that Jacobs’ father would have probably seen, worked on, or been around one of those warships that would eventually be sent to Pearl Harbor.

Records show that Petway enlisted in the U.S. Navy on May 21, 1936. He first reported aboard Oklahoma on October 2, 1936. At the time, Oklahoma was in the process of shifting operations from Norfolk to the West Coast and then eventually to Pearl Harbor. The battleship arrived at Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1940.
USS Oklahoma (Hampton Roads Naval Museum)
One letter, dated April 1938, describes Petway’s time on the West Coast. Jacobs read his uncle’s words: “This place is alright [California] for a visit, but duty here is not that good. After we get to Long Beach, the ship will stay for about a month and then we will go to Bremerton for 3 months. It rains all the rest of the year. I’m sending you a snapshot of myself, I tried to grow a cookie duster while on the cruise and you may think I was drinking chocolate malt, maybe I’m not a man yet. Tell daddy hello for me.”

On June 15, 1940, Petway married Gwen Evans in Yuma County, Arizona. Gwen, Jacobs noted, was the aunt he never met. Jacobs brought out a browned envelope dated December 3, 1941, mailed by his grandmother to Petway at Pearl Harbor. The letter never reached its intended recipient and was returned. Jacobs read the words written by his grandmother: “It won’t be before about 6 more weeks when you and Gwen will be coming here [to Norfolk] to visit…If you find a surprise in here, then it won’t be a surprise anymore. $150 as a wedding present for you and Gwen.”

That wedding present, along with his mother’s words, never reached Petway, as he was one of the 429 Sailors who perished when Oklahoma sank. On December 7, 1941, over 2,000 U.S. service members perished. The majority of those were the 1,177 U.S. Navy Sailors who died aboard USS Arizona (BB 39). At the time of the attack, USS Oklahoma was one of the Navy’s oldest battleships. Oklahoma was built in Camden, New Jersey, and commissioned in May 1916. The battleship was among the first of the Navy’s large combatants built to burn fuel oil in its twelve Babcock and Wilcox boilers. Petway would have stood watch and tended to those boilers, which supplied power to the battleship. Oklahoma was also one of the first to have its boilers, engine spaces, and magazines enclosed with 13.5 inches of reinforced armor belt. This reinforcement, however, was no match for the torpedoes dropped by attacking Japanese aircraft. Oklahoma bore the brunt of torpedo strikes and strafing runs and capsized.
USS Oklahoma, capsized at Pearl Harbor (NHHC)
Petway was aboard Oklahoma when the ship capsized, and he died immediately, just twenty days shy of his 24th birthday. He was one of the 35 Sailors whose remains were initially identified and buried at Oahu’s Nu’uanu Naval Cemetery and Halawa Naval Cemetery. Eventually, over 400 of Oklahoma’s Sailors would be buried at 52 locations spread over the two cemeteries from December 9, 1941, through June 27, 1944. The burials coincided with efforts to upend and salvage the ship.

Jacobs discussed how his family was notified of his uncle’s death, noting, “I think they got a telegram [about his death]. Other than that, my grandmother was beside herself. Greatly depressed.” His grandparents’ marriage eventually dissolved, in part because of the devastation that fell upon the family in the aftermath of his uncle’s death.
Wiley Jacobs (father), Melba Jacobs (sister), Lydia Eason Petway (mother), Ann Jacobs (sister), Wiley James Petway (Courtesy Michael Jacobs)
Repatriation stateside began after the cessation of hostilities. Petway’s remains were among the first to be disinterred and brought to Oahu’s Schofield Barracks. From there, his remains, along with caskets containing 3,012 deceased service members, were loaded aboard the Army transport ship, USAT Honda Knot. Honda Knot was a C1-M-AV1 type merchant ship, one of over 200 built for the US Maritime Commission during World War II. The 338-foot-long cargo ship was originally constructed to transport cargo; however, on this occasion, it was assigned the solemn role of transporting the first sets of remains to the West Coast as part of the Army’s operation to bring home deceased and buried servicemembers from overseas. The operation would transport over 233,000 deceased service members home from 1945 to 1951.

Honda Knot departed Oahu on September 30, 1947. As was custom, every ship at Pearl Harbor brought its flags to half-mast and crews rendered honors as the ship departed. The transport steamed at a top speed of 11 knots and reached San Francisco on October 10, 1947. An aerial escort of 48 fighter planes flew over the vessel before dipping their wings and banking away. A Coast Guard cutter, along with a Navy warship, escorted Honda Knot to its anchorage. Waiting on shore was a crowd of thousands of civilians and service members, many of whom were family members of the deceased. San Francisco’s mayor, Roger Lepham, led a memorial service, which was attended by then Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan and General Mark Clark, Commandant of the 6th U.S. Army Corps.

Petway’s remains arrived in Hampton, Virginia, on either October 21 or 22, 1947. A newspaper article, with the headline, “Five War Dead From This Area Brought to U.S.,” detailed Petway’s arrival and subsequent burial. Another newspaper article titled, “War Hero’s Funeral at Hampton Tomorrow,” read: “Funeral services for a heroic victim of World War II will be conducted graveside in the National Cemetery at Hampton tomorrow [October 24, 1947] at 1:30 p.m. The body of Wiley James Petway, Boiler Maker second class, U.S.N., who was killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, arrived this afternoon after a long journey homeward from the Pacific. He was aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma, awaiting transportation home for a 30-day furlough after having decided to re-enlist for another four years. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. W.E. Petway, 428 West Twenty-seventh street.”

Jacobs noted, “I don’t know why [my uncle] went into the service. I don’t if he decided if the military was a job and it was a way out of North Carolina. I don’t know if he was patriotic and if there was a call to defend our country. I know what was important is that he went in, he served his country with honor, and he paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

Let us remember Wiley James Petway and all those who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor eighty years ago.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

In the Collection: Life Vest and Mess Kit from the Second World War

By Toni Deetz Rock
Deputy Director/Curator

In 2013, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum accessioned an interesting artifact into our collections. We accepted a life vest and mess kit (2013.007.213.1). The two artifacts are set in a shadowbox and the plaque reads, “USED BY MAURY A. NOTCH / A SURVIVOR OF THE USS HORNET / 10-26-42 / ALSO SURVIVED USS PRINCETON / 10-24-44.”

Maury A. Notch survived two ship sinkings with these items, his U.S. Navy-issued life vest and mess kit. (HRNM)
The life vest is a design known as a “Mae West.” The design includes a lightweight rubberized outer casing, and canisters of gas activate when needed to inflate synthetic bladders in the interior. Straps are located in strategic places to keep the vest in place during use. Peter Markus, an American business owner from Minnesota and an avid boater, patented the design in 1928. Markus intended to create a more comfortable life vest. He recognized that many people avoided wearing the older kapok or cork models because they were extremely bulky and restricted physical movement.

The U.S. and British military quickly adopted the model patented by Markus. The U.S. Navy made one adaptation to the original design: the Navy began producing the vests in a bright yellow color. The bright color would allow rescue teams to spot survivors more easily in open water. Navy fliers were the first to adopt the use of these vests, followed quickly by all other services. Although the life vest was highly profitable before WWII, Markus cancelled his patent, allowing the U.S. Government to produce the vests without paying additional royalties.
This hand-written label, "M A Notch," identifies the owner of the life vest, CAPT Maury A. Notch, USN, SC, Ret. (HRNM)
These life vests saved countless U.S. lives during the Second World War. One striking example is this specific life vest, which stood witness to at least two significant events of WWII. It is marked with the name “M A Notch” and is stamped with the manufacture date of June 1942. The bottom of the mess canister has a handwritten note, which reads, “USED THIS AS A / SURVIVOR OFF / USS HORNET OCT 26 ’42 / NOOMEA, NEW CALEDONIA.” Noumea, New Caledonia, was a critical supply stop in the South Pacific during WWII.
The mess kit is labelled to commemorate the sinking of the USS Hornet (CV 8) on October 26, 1942. (HRNM)
USS Hornet (CV 8) is known for launching the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and participating in the Battle of Midway. During the Solomon Islands Campaign, Hornet participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. There, Japanese torpedoes and dive bombers damaged Hornet badly, and the ship eventually sank. USS Hornet remains on the ocean floor, and until recently, the ship’s exact location was unknown. It was located in 2019 near the Solomon Islands. Maury Notch was deployed on Hornet at the time it was sunk, and he was among the Sailors who evacuated to safety.

Two years later, almost to the day, Notch was aboard USS Princeton (CVL 23). Princeton supported the occupation of Baker Island and conducted strikes on Makin and Tarawa the same month. In October 1944, at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese attacked USS Princeton. Princeton burned for so long and so brightly that the U.S. Navy torpedoed the ship to keep it from being a beacon to the enemy.

We do not know much about Maury Notch’s career. We do know he was a Supply Corps officer, survived both sinkings, and retired with the rank of Captain. More research into his time aboard both ships is still needed. This set of artifacts stands as witness not only to Maury Notch’s experience, but to the experience of hundreds of U.S. Sailors in the Pacific during World War II.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Book Review: Sea Stories, My Life in Special Operations

By Admiral William McRaven
Reviewed By Captain Alexander Monroe, USN (Ret.)
HRNM Docent and Contributing Writer

In Sea Stories, Admiral William McRaven has written a well-organized, powerful book in which he performs a number of valuable functions. The title Sea Stories is misleading because it has a connotation in the patois unique to the Navy, which means the story is embellished to meet the intent of the teller. The admiral’s stories are, by contrast, real. He shows his personal sacrifice and involvement in his arduous initial training as a SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) special operations officer, an experience shared by all SEAL personnel, officer and enlisted. He describes the wide variety of situations in which Special Operations forces apply their training. Most important, he provides an inspiring catalog of events worldwide which, taken together, show the Navy’s institutional response to the novel challenges of unconventional warfare where one fights against often un-uniformed yet dangerous adversaries. The book gains meaning because of his personal involvement in many of the evolutions of which he writes.

McRaven immediately engages the reader’s attention by linking his personal growth and testing as a nascent high school track star to his indoctrination as a special operations officer. The common thread in the experiences is the necessity for overcoming the difficult aspects of a situation under pressure. He notes doing this through the intercession and encouragement of a devoted coach, Jerry Turnbow, who inspired him to greater effort to break a school record in the one-mile run. He was later inspired by the often profanity-laced exhortations of instructors in BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal) training, reputed to be the most strenuous indoctrination syllabus in the armed forces. He describes what he considers the most important objective of BUD/S indoctrination: to push trainees to their limit and beyond, “to eliminate those unsuited for the world of the special forces operator.” It entails giving encouragement to others as team players in the final stage of a seemingly insurmountable task: surviving Hell Week, the capstone of initial SEAL training.

The book is a rendition of operations in which the United States Navy, often in cooperation with other nations, has applied military power to attain goals to include ensuring national safety, if not survival. McRaven uses various situations requiring rapid response to emerging threats as well as those requiring complex, highly sensitive preparation. An example of the first operation is the seizure and inspection of SS Amuriyah, a hostile merchant vessel thought to be carrying contraband to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Supported by USS Ogden (LPD 5) and USS Brewton (FF 1086), a team fast roped onto the ship, stopped it, and subdued a bellicose master and hostile crew. The operation, fashioned in about 72 hours, was a success because of total dedication of the SEAL team to mission completion, though it could not be ascertained beyond all doubt that no contraband had been found. McRaven notes in justifying abandoning detailed R2P2 (Rapid Response Planning Process) planning that, “all the staff work on the world doesn’t get you better results than what the experienced officer knows intuitively.” The operation was executed “without any major injuries to either Americans or Iraqis. He later emphasizes another key ingredient in carrying on unconventional operations exemplified in dealing with pirates who seized the SS Maersk Alabama. That is: “factors unfold quickly—you give authority to the ground commander and hope that will win the day.” A second type of operation, shown in the effort to remove Osama Bin Laden, known as Operation Neptune’s Spear, requires planning of a detailed sensitive nature involving the same considerations. Operators must take risks to accomplish the mission.

Admiral William McRaven (Official U.S. Navy photo)

The most moving chapter of the book, “The Next Greatest Generation,” describes his visit to the U.S. Army Hospital, where he visited special operations personnel wounded in the line of duty. Some of these gallant soldiers required intensive hospital care to survive the long journey to CONUS medical facilities. His description of the injuries sustained by one young soldier, who is connected to a multitude of life support appliances, is devastating to the reader and clearly affected the admiral. It renews his admiration for their “tremendous sense of determination, ebullience and lack of self- pity” in facing catastrophic injuries. The abiding lesson for the nation, made at various points in Sea Stories, is that its citizens, like special warfare operators, must be “imbued with an indomitable spirit, a true belief that tomorrow will be a better day—if only they fight and never give up.”

Certain aspects of the book may be distracting to the reader unfamiliar with military patois. The use of coarse language throughout, though sometimes good natured, may be offensive and tiresome; however, it gives it authenticity that is required. The author generally strives to define unique military/Navy terms and acronyms. It might, however, be useful to have a separate glossary of terms and expressions not known to the non-military reader.

In summary then, Admiral McRaven has fashioned an engaging volume well worth the reading. It clearly shows what he quotes from Helen Keller in the page immediately preceding the table of contents that, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Navy Aid After the Vietnam War: USS Lynde McCormick in the South China Sea

By Zach Smyers
HRNM Educator

After ten years of fighting and the withdrawal of United States combat forces, in 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. In the aftermath of the conflict, large numbers of the South Vietnamese population attempted to escape the country, many of them by sea.

North Vietnamese forces enter Saigon, 1975 (

In 1979, USS Lynde McCormick (DDG 8) was deployed to the Western Pacific. What began as a routine cruise for the guided missile destroyer quickly became a humanitarian mission when the ship encountered multiple groups of refugees from Vietnam. Boiler Technician Senior Chief Tom Dandes, a crewmember aboard Lynde McCormick at the time, recalled, “People fled Vietnam out of fear of retaliation for supporting the United States during the war.”

USS Lynde McCormick (

Even though the war had been over for four years, large groups of Vietnamese people continued to flee the country. Their goal was to escape Vietnam, make it to international waters, and, if possible, reach the Philippines. The refugees used various types of vessels, most of them far from seaworthy. Many of the boats were overcrowded, resulting in unsanitary conditions as well as shortages of food and water.

From April 15 to April 21, 1979, Lynde McCormick aided refugees adrift at sea. In addition to the dangers of being on the open ocean, various groups of pirates operated in the South China Sea. Senior Chief Dandes remembered, “We saw lots of different kinds of boats that could have been pirates. Unless you saw them [the pirates] committing the act, it was really hard to determine who was who.” In addition to pirates, Lynde McCormick also encountered hostile Vietnamese gunboats, despite U.S. involvement in Vietnam ending four years earlier. Dandes recalled, “At least twice they performed mock attack runs against us and the whole ship went to General Quarters. We were operating in international waters, but I think they just wanted us further away from Vietnam.” When Lynde McCormick encountered its first group of refugees, Dandes noted, “The first boat had between 84 to 86 people in it. They had no food, no water, and the pirates had taken everything from them and left them adrift. They were adrift for at least three to four days.”

Vietnamese refugees found by the Lynde McCormick (Lynde McCormick cruise book)

The crew of Lynde McCormick rendered aid and assistance to the refugees. Dandes recounted, “We were told, if the boat was seaworthy, to give them whatever they needed: fuel, food, water, and a compass heading to get them in the right direction. A lot of them sank their boat on purpose so they could be picked up by us.” He continued, “A large group of people was brought onboard the ship, and then we transferred them to the USS Okinawa (LPH 3). The people were in bad shape.” Okinawa was an amphibious assault ship with a larger sick bay, allowing for more robust medical assistance than Lynde McCormick. Reflecting upon the deployment and his experiences, Dandes said, “I was sickened by what people can do to each other. They were being preyed upon by their own people. When they were onboard the Lynde McCormick, a lot of the crew donated their uniforms to the refugees so they could have clothes.”

Vietnamese refugees aboard Lynde McCormick (Lynde McCormick cruise book)

On June 20, 1982, Lynde McCormick was operating in the South China Sea, off the coast of Vietnam with two other U.S. Navy ships. According to Lynde McCormick’s deck log, an unidentified vessel opened fire on the ships with a machine gun. USS Turner Joy (DD 951) was struck by small arms fire (Turner Joy was one of the vessels involved in the beginning of the Vietnam War in the Gulf of Tonkin, August 1964). Lynde McCormick returned fire with a .50 caliber machine gun, and the unidentified vessel fled the area. This incident appeared in the New York Times on June 23, 1982.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Vice City: Norfolk in the Second World War

By Alec Bright
HRNM Volunteer

Sailors, soldiers, marines, airmen, and merchant marines came to Norfolk for the naval station, army base, and new naval airwing stations, while blue collar workers, merchants, and women came to Norfolk to try and earn a living in the city’s growing economy. For some women this meant turning to prostitution. Prostitution in the city meant that, “Norfolk became nationally known in the early years of the war as a city of rampant vice with few redeeming qualities.”[1] Pressured by the federal government to curtail all manner of vice, including the rise in prostitution, local law enforcement struggled to deal with this particular consequence of the wartime boom. Until mid-1942, Norfolk’s leaders were left on their own to control what the federal government deemed a “crisis.” Finally, when concerns about vice in Norfolk garnered the attention of national media outlets, the federal government offered its aid, putting an end to the problem it had caused.
On October 19, 1941, the Virginian Pilot ran an article called “Nests of Vice Elsewhere.” This article captured the growing problem of vice spreading to the surrounding area. (Virginian Pilot)

The economic uncertainty that came to define Norfolk was particularly distressing for women, as finding employment that could cover the ever-rising cost of living was near impossible. Challenged to find any meaningful employment, their male counterparts could simply enlist if necessary.[2] In dire need of income, an increasing number of women turned to prostitution. In the 1940s, prostitution became the focus of national campaigns aimed at warning people of the dangers of spreading venereal disease, as well as moral campaigns against the solicitation of sex led by Evangelical sectors of the United States. Before World War Two, Norfolk’s city officials and its police department agreed that a segregated vice district should exist to keep prostitution and venereal disease in a controllable environment. Their plan allowed four hundred prostitutes to work on East Main Street in downtown, provided they were in brothels adjoined to city-sponsored medical facilities. Prostitutes were required to get their health checked weekly and carry a card certifying their health. If they kept to their end of the deal, police rarely worried themselves about the events on East Main. As more people flooded into Norfolk, monitoring and administering the city’s vice policy became increasingly unrealistic.
Tattoo parlors were another popular destination for Sailors visiting downtown Norfolk. This image shows famous tattoo artist “Cap” Coleman, who practiced on East Main Street in Norfolk. (Sargeant Memorial Collection)

Despite efforts to provide entertainment that was legal and “moral,” these events were largely considered a joke amongst Sailors and soldiers in the city.[3] In early 1940, City Manager Charles Borland, Mayor Joseph Wood, and Police Chief John F Woods worked simultaneously to retain authority over the now growing segregated vice district on East Main Street. Apart from seeing that the women stayed inside their district, the local police had little to offer in terms of policing and by November 1940, visiting the brothels downtown had become so popular among Sailors that the Navy began to complain of rising numbers of venereal disease among its service members.

Despite protest from local leaders, on January 1, 1941, at the behest of the federal government and the Navy, the brothels on East Main Street were ordered to close or face prosecution.[4] As a result, houses of vice sprang up throughout Norfolk and the surrounding county. Policing prostitution became nearly impossible for the Norfolk police department and “chaos and crisis, not order and control,” came to describe public health and criminality in Norfolk, as vice infiltrated all corners of the city. An October 1941 article in the Virginian-Pilot explained that “all over Ghent and in other sections of Norfolk, little nests of vice have sprung up.”[5]
East Main Street was the most popular street for Sailors to visit. Restaurants like the Krazy Kat drew Sailors in for a variety of entertainment. (Sargeant Memorial Collection)
Even with successful raids against brothels across the city, the problem persisted because there was no penal structure to punish offenders after they were arrested. In the first six months of 1942 there were over 1,000 arrests for prostitution and 995 convictions; however, with only one jail, the majority of the offenders were released back onto the streets within days. As the problem escalated, the Navy found that 75% of new venereal disease cases recorded in Norfolk were contracted from tourist cabins outside the city. Often, the reported location was near Sewell’s Point and Cottage Toll (Tidewater Drive), a region policed by only three officers from Norfolk.

Public opinion of Norfolk was at an all time low. In the popular magazine American Mercury, noted journalist Blan Van Urk wrote an article titled, “Norfolk – Our Worst War Town,” in which he laid out the challenges of policing vice and controlling the spread of venereal disease in Norfolk. Several articles ran in the Virginian-Pilot and Norfolk Dispatch newspapers echoing the concerns of Van Urk and giving a voice to the local population. Finally, in the middle of 1942, the Navy began to use its own police, the Shore Patrol, to enforce anti-vice measures and bring harsher punishment to Sailors than the local police could. At the same time, pressure mounted on the federal government to act as more of America became concerned with the reputation of one of its Navy towns.

On April 7, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the creation of the President’s Committee on Congested Production Areas. Soon after, in a joint raid carried out by Norfolk Police, Shore Patrol, and federal agents, 115 arrests were made, 55 of which were Sailors, all charged with vice-related crimes. The Committee, along with the Federal Works Agency (FWA), quickly went into action and worked to address such crime through the construction of adequate hospitals and jails.

In 1941, the venereal disease rate in the Navy had been 107 per 1,000, by 1943 the rate had dropped to only 37 in 1,000. The Navy taking responsibility and federal efforts led by the FWA and FDR’s Congested Production Areas Committee had changed the face of Norfolk’s vice issues for the better. Finally, after three years of pleas for support from Norfolk’s officials in constructing adequate facilities for those caught enjoying the vice districts, new hospitals and jails were constructed outside of Norfolk’s city limits, finally meeting the needs of the area.

Ultimately, a problem fueled by wartime activity and then national pressures required direct federal intervention for relief. Before World War Two, Norfolk’s segregated vice district operated with tacit approval from the city within a controlled environment. It was the pressure put on the city by the Navy, federal government, general population, and the tension in Norfolk created by the population increase that caused prostitution and vice throughout the area to spiral out of control. Once Norfolk’s issues reached the national consciousness, the federal government was obligated to provide aid in regaining control of one of its most important wartime centers.

[1] Pippa Holloway, Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia: 1920 – 1945 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 167.
[2] Charles Marsh, ed. The Hampton Roads Communities in World War II (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1955), 255 – 256.
[3] Marvin Schlegel, Conscripted City: Norfolk in World War II (Norfolk, VA: Norfolk War History Commission, 1951), 6.
[4] “Segregated Districts to go, Borland,” Virginian Pilot, November 8, 1940, 2.
[5] Virginian Pilot, October 19, 1941, sec. 2, p. 1.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

A Recruit's First Year, 1910-1911: The J.T. Van Zile Journal

By Katherine Renfrew
HRNM Registrar

Cover of the J.T. Van Zile journal, 1910-1911 (Van Zile/HRNM Collection)
Jesse Tate Van Zile, “Musician, 2nd Class, USN”, sent this journal home to his family in Athens, Alabama on March 12, 1911. He had kept a daily, detailed record of his first year of Navy life in Hampton Roads, where he was stationed aboard the receiving (training) ship USS Franklin at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Jesse Tate Van Zile, “Musician, 2nd Class, USN, 1918. (Van Zile/HRNM Collection)

The journal, along with a scrapbook, photographs, postcards, cap ribbons, and music programs, all part of the Van Zile collection, provides a rare snapshot of what the local area and Navy life for a young recruit was like in 1910. It reflects Van Zile’s day-to-day activities as well as his explorations of the surrounding areas outside the Navy Yard. The first entry begins on June 30, 1910, when Jesse and his brother Leon, “left Athens, friends and loved ones to join the Navy.” They departed Athens via train to the recruiting station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their intent was to enlist as musicians, but the recruiting officer told them that the Navy was not enlisting that rate. Since the brothers did not have enough money for the train ride back home, they enlisted as Apprentice Seamen, hoping they could change their rating. Several days later, they boarded another train headed to Portsmouth/Norfolk, Virginia, arriving on the evening of July 4th. The journal entry for that day reads, “After we finished eating we were taken back to the ‘Dog Hut’ as the fellows call it and turned in our bunks to spend the night with the mosquitoes.”
Page from the journal discussing the brothers’ transfer to Musician School, July 18, 1910. (Van Zile/HRNM Collection)

The Van Zile brothers quickly learned how to “sling and lash” their hammocks, “roll and pack” their clothes, stand watch, go to the “grinder” for inspections and drills, “scrub” their “bungalows,” sleep in the “dog hut,” and serve as the “street police.” On July 18, 1910, Jesse and Leon’s hopes to become Navy musicians became a reality when they were transferred to the Musicians School. Jesse wrote, "Have finished my career as an apprentice seaman. Are through carrying a gun and through standing guard for two hours at a stretch."
Band members sailing on Hampton Roads, September 1910. (Van Zile/HRNM Collection)
Van Zile and his fellow Sailors experienced many “firsts” on and off duty. A few were: a trip to a dentist office, “bathing” in salt water (Chesapeake Bay), seeing a “Wireless Station,” and a “first glimpse of the ocean” (Ocean View). On Labor Day, 1910, he wrote, “Fourteen of us band boys got permission to use a Gov’t. cutter equipped with sail rigging and I took my first trip in a sailboat.” “Moving pictures” at the YMCA, visiting submarines and battleships in port, and attending football games between crew members and local communities were regular past times. On October 22, 1910, he attended a football game in Newport News between crew members and St. Vincent College. Before the game he explored the town and wrote, “It is the prettiest place around here. Far ahead of Portsmouth and Norfolk.”
Page from the journal discussing Aviation Day, November 2, 1910. (Van Zile/HRNM Collection)
One of the more fascinating entries was the brothers’ visit to the “Aviation Meet” on November 2, 1910. Jesse’s journal entry states, “Leon and I went to Norfolk and took the car to the Exposition Grounds. Curtiss made the first ascension just as we got to the grounds going about three hundred feet high and circling the fields four of five times landed safely….It was my first time to see an airship fly and it was fine.” Leon and his brother wrote their name “with pencil” on the “middle rudder between the planes of Curtiss’ machine.” Afterwards, they walked around the grounds and wrote their names on several of the old buildings, and in the tower at the head of the wharf.
A picture of Van Zile’s family and his “Account with Uncle Sam” is found on the last page and inside cover of the journal. (Van Zile/HRNM Collection)
It was easy to glean from the journal what was most important to Van Zile—mail, church, and pay day. Mail was mentioned daily. The entry would note when mail was received and from whom, and when mail was sent and to whom. His July 15, 1910, entry reads, “Rec’d my first mail from home today.” If he received no mail for the day, he would always state, “Received no mail.” He attended church services every Sunday morning aboard ship, and Sunday night services at the Methodist Church in Berkley (part of Norfolk). In the back of the book, the last page shows his account with “Uncle Sam,” and a family portrait. Definitely a reminder of home.
USS Utah band members, Philadelphia Navy Yard, April 1911. (Van Zile/HRNM Collection)
The journal ends with the last entry on February 28, 1911. Jesse and Leon are transferred, and leave “…for Hampton Roads to take the Prairie for League Island Navy Yard” (Philadelphia Navy Yard) where they joined the USS Utah band.