WWII (1943-46)

“You Just Missed Them … ” – Reporting For Duty

Memory from: Lieutenant (j.g.) William T. Barnhouse

Setting the Scene

In the 1954 feature film The Caine Mutiny, starring Humphrey Bogart, there is a humorous scene in which the character played by Robert Francis reports aboard the wrong ship. With the hundreds of U.S. Navy vessels moving throughout the Pacific Theater, and the hundreds of thousands of personnel amongst the various armed forces, it is not hard to believe that one could get lost en route to a duty station on a constantly shifting war front. Lieutenant (j.g.) William T. Barnhouse, in this interview with curator Timothy C. Rizzuto and his wife Margaret Barnhouse, recounts the adventures involved in chasing down his new assignment through the Pacific and the difficulties of reporting aboard for the first time.

The Recollection

Bill Barnhouse: When I reported aboard … [It had] been months and I’d just gotten married. I hadn’t gotten any mail from home because I went to New Guinea, Australia, Espiritu Santo. Couldn’t get paid because I got paid in Australian money. I was at Victoria Park in Brisbane, Australia, and I needed some money. I went over to the pay [Payroll Office]. I’d go and show ’em my orders and I’d say “I’m trying to go to the USS KIDD. Can you tell me where it is?” They went back in … and they looked and the guy came back and he said, white as a sheet, he said, “I can’t tell you where it is. It’s a military secret.” I said, “How am I gonna get to it if it’s a military secret?” And he said, “Well, I just don’t know. You’ll just have to wait here and come in and report every day.” And they [the KIDD] didn’t come here. I was staying in a tent. We had a Bachelor Officers Quarters [BOQ] at Ascott Racetrack in Brisbane. They just had rows of tents for bachelor officers quarters. My tent was one of ’em out in the infield of the racetrack. I was asking the other day and that racetrack is still there and still used. So anyway, I went over to Victoria Park and they wouldn’t tell me where the ship was. An old sailor there told me, “Buddy, don’t you know how to find where a ship is?” I said, “No.” He said, “Go to the post office and find out where they’re sending the mail. The post office always knows.” I said, “Will they tell you?” He said, “Not out the front door.

Go around to the back door. They all come out and take a coffee break and a smoke break. When they come out, sit down with ’em and chit-chat a while and tell ’em that you’re married and your wife is pregnant and that you want to knowóand you don’t know whether the baby’s been born yet or notóand you want to know where they’re sending the mail.” I said, “Will they tell ya?” He said, “If you tell a sad enough story.” I got paid in Aussie money, and I went to the post office and I sat down. And sure enough, along about every 30 to 40 minutes, they’d come out to smoke and drink a cup of coffee. And so I started talking to ’em and finally I told my sad story. And this guy said, “Why, sure, I don’t mind telling you where we’re sending the mail.” And he went in. He said, “We’re sending it to Espiritu Santo, but we’ve got an order to stop sending it there. But we don’t have have an order where else to send it it.” So I said, “Oh, great! How do I get to Espiritu Santo?” He said “Well, down on the river in Brisbane, there’s a seaplane leaves every morning at 0500, then flies to Espiritu Santo; takes mail and some supplies.” And I said, “And passengers?”

He said, “Maybe out about four seats in the cargo section. If you’ve got orders and there’s space, they’ll take you. But it’s pretty hard, as an Ensign, getting space because it’s by rank. You’ll probably have to go out every morning.” I said “At 0500?” He said, “Yes.” So that night I went over and checked out of the BOQ. I said, “Leaving at four o’clock in the morning. How do I get to the seaplane base?” The guy said “There’s an electric tram that runs on the hour and it’ll take you right to the seaplane base.” So I got up the next morningóby then I’d shipped all that stuff home. I even took my typewriter, remember? … I took my typewriter and all my white uniforms. I even took my overcoat with me too. Shipped it home; got a box and shipped it home. That night, packed all my gear, got up the next morning, put on my uniform, checked out. And, if you notice, officer’s raincoats don’t carry any insignia. Raincoats all look alike. Top coats carry insignia. So I got up the next morning and it was raining. So I put on my raincoat, my hat cover, … grabbed my suitcase, and walked about a half-mile down to the main gate. A big stone gate; beautiful. And as I walked through the gate, here sat a station wagon and a driver. When he saw me coming, he leaped out of the car and he ran over and grabbed my suitcase and opened the back of the station wagon and threw my bag in there. He said “Going to the seaplane base, sir?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “I was sent to pick you up.” I said, “Isn’t that nice.” And he threw my bag in and opened the door and I got in.

We drove straight to the seaplane base and we got out. He opened the door and grabbed my bag, ran it inside, and he saluted me and said “Commander Carpenter, I’m awfully happy to have been of service to you!” [I] don’t say a word. I went in and I said, “Do you have any space on the plane?” He said “No, we don’t. Not this morning. We’re full. But you can hang around. If somebody doesn’t show up, well, we’ll get you on.” So about fifteen minutes later, he said, “Well, there’s one commander that hasn’t shown up and we’ve got an empty space.” And I’ve been afraid to tell the story…. Margaret Barnhouse: Commander Carpenter was pretty mad. Tim Rizzuto: Did Commander Carpenter get the next plane? Bill Barnhouse: I flew to Espiritu Santo and got off there and went to the seaplane base and I said, “How do we eat?” I got off and I said “Where do we eat?” They said “Oh, Bachelor’s Officers Quarters, right there on the hill.” So I walked up there and got in line. When I got to the front, all I had was Aussie money and the fellow said, “We don’t take Aussie money.” I said, “It’s all I’ve got.” He said, “Want me to punch your TS card?” I said, “Look, fella, how do I eat?” He said, “Go to the Payroll Office and get paid.” So I went down there and I said that I needed to get paid. I laid my records out.

The guy said “I can’t pay you.” I said, “Why?” He said, “You just got paid last week in Australia. We can’t pay you closer than two weeks together.” I said, “But all my money’s in Australian money.” He said, “You want me to punch your TS card?” I said, “Well, what do you suggest I do?” He said, “Well, I suggest you go down to the Chaplain’s Office and maybe he’ll lend you some money.” I didn’t want to borrow money from a chaplain, so I went back to the line; went to the end. I was standing there telling somebody my hard luck story. These guys said “Hey, you’ve got Aussie money. We’ll buy it from you!” So I stood there and sold my Aussie money, ’cause they’d never been to Australia and they wanted to send it home to brag. I stood there and sold all my Aussie money for American money and bought my lunch. Then, I went on to the post office and the guy there said, “We’ve sent our last mail out. They’ve already picked up the last mail.” I said, “Well, what do you suggest I do?” He said, “I’d go down to the dock and wait. They may send a boat back for something.” So I went down to the dock and waited. When a coxswain came alongside in a whaleboat … as each ship would come alongside, the coxswain of that boat had to call out his number and the name of the ship.

Then, they would turn around on loudspeaker and call it out so people there would know where the boat was or what group of ships it was in. So I was standing there with all my bags and everything wondering what I was gonna do and I heard him yell “USS KIDD DD-661!”. So I grabbed my bag and ran down there and jumped into the boat and I went out to the ship and we pulled up alongside. They had a sea ladder; it went over and the boat pulled up against itóabout midships; our quarterdeck was about amidships. So I crawled up the ladder. I’d read my reserve officer’s How To Report, and there was the Officer of the Deck. I said “Good afternoon, sir. Ensign Barnhouse reporting aboard for duty.” He shook hands. “Glad to have you aboard, Ensign! Let me get the yeoman.” So he called the yeoman and the yeoman said “Happy to have you aboard, Ensign. Let me introduce you to the captain.” He took me up to the wardroom and the captain came up and we shook hands. He said, “Like coffee?” I said, “Sure.” So we had coffee and he gave the papers to the chief yeoman; first class yeoman. And he said, “Well, tell me a little bit about yourself.” So we sat there and we talked about, oh, it seemed like ten minutes. The yeoman came up and leaned down to the captain and whispered in the captain’s ear. The captain said, “Is that so?” He said “Yes, sir.” He turned to me and said, “Tell me, Ensign, what ship are you assigned to?” I said, “USS KIDD, sir.” “My God, this isn’t the KIDD!” he said. “The KIDD’s the next ship over.” Tim Rizzuto: Did you ever find out what ship you were on? Bill Barnhouse: I don’t know what ship I was on, but it must have been the BLACK or the CHAUNCEY. Tim Rizzuto: Do you know the date that you reported aboard? Bill Barnhouse: May 28? So then, I was very careful [that] I was on the KIDD.

So he took me to the wardroom and Captain Roby came upóthis is an interesting story. Captain Roby took my papers. We sat down and he was such a nice guy. You know, he looked so old to us. I guess he was probably all of 35. He looked at me and he sat there a minute, and I had coffee … Margaret Barnhouse: Says “June 01.” [Editor’s Note: They have looked up the date that Mr. Barnhouse reported aboard the KIDD in 1944.] Tim Rizzuto: “Moored alongside USS CHAUNCEY at Espiritu Santo.” Bill Barnhouse: So I guess it was the CHAUNCEY. So, anyway, Captain Roby said, “Hi, son.” He sat down and he looked at my orders and said, “How old are you?” I said, “I’m 21 years old, sir.” He said, “Where’d you get your commission?” I said, “Naval ROTC, University of Texas.” He said, “Did you ever seen an ocean before you came out here?” I said, “No, sir.” And he shook his head and put his hand up over his forehead and said, “My God, I didn’t know the war was in this bad a shape!”

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