Voices from the Pacific War Voices from the Pacific War

Oral Histories

Edwin Kirschenmann: One carrier and three sub tenders.

Mr. Kirschenmann was born in 1916 and raised in Acampo, California, near Lodi in the San Joaquin Valley. He dropped out of school at the age of sixteen and worked in agriculture and on agricultural machinery for the next seven years. In 1939, at the age of twenty-three and with the draft breathing down his neck, he enlisted in the United States Navy, as had one of his older brothers five years earlier. After boot camp, Mr. Kirschenmann served on USS Saratoga, CV-3. After almost three years aboard the Saratoga with his brother, Rudolph, he transferred to the submarine tender, USS Bushnell, AS-15. After one unhappy year on Bushnell, Mr. Kirschenmann was transferred to another submarine tender, USS Howard W. Gilmore, AS-16, where he served for the next four years. Mr. Kirschenmann stayed in the navy after the war and retired as a Chief Engineman in 1959. He is now fully retired and lives in Fairfield, California.

I was born in Acampo, California, near the town of Lodi–grape country. Back then it was just a post office, but since then it has grown into a real town. But since it was near Lodi I always put that down as where I came from. I was one of eight surviving children. Two others died in infancy. My father leased land to farm, then started his own water well drilling outfit. By the time I was ten years old I could operate the machinery. My father made sure we got started early in life, driving tractors, trucks, and operating machinery.
I never graduated from high school. I had a rough time in school; I got in a lot of fights. I was put back a grade for fighting and that disgusted me, so when I was sixteen I got up and walked out of class for the last time. I talked to my mom and dad and told them I would rather go out and work. Needless to say, I didn’t know you couldn’t make a living working on a farm in those days. I was just a young kid, but there wasn’t a piece of machinery I couldn’t handle.
I was getting up close to twenty-three years old when the government started talking about the draft and I was prime material for the draft. That was 1939, and with my brother Rudolph in the navy I decided to enlist. Rudolph went in in 1934, I think it was, and he stayed in until he retired, which was about five years before I did. 
I celebrated my twenty-third birthday in boot camp and when I got out I went aboard the Saratoga in February 1940. My brother was a water tender second class on the Saratoga, and had been aboard her for about four years. He was still aboard when I left three years later for another 
ship. They were trying to split up brothers anyway because of what happened to the Sullivan
I couldn’t get over the enormous size of the Saratoga. When we came up alongside of her in a little motor launch the swells took the boat up, then down, and I was trying to jump on to the gangway. Once aboard we were all taken to the hangar deck, then split up and sent to where we would spend the next few weeks for a sort of orientation, I guess it was. Being that I had a brother aboard it was no strain for me to get into the Engineering Department. Besides, I had met a lot of the guys who worked down there through my brother, even before I joined the navy. Whenever the Saratoga pulled into San Francisco I would go over there and go aboard to see my brother. Some of them had been aboard the Saratoga almost since she was commissioned in 1927. It was their home.
I ran into a lot of good people down there. A lot of them had three hash marks–over twelve years of service. They were second class and some were first class, but after the war started they started advancing much faster. I was sent down to one of the fire rooms, where I worked for a guy by the name of Shepherd. He was an easygoing guy and you could ask him questions, and he would help you in any way he could. And I wanted to learn all I could.
Even though I had an older brother on board the ship I was pretty much on my own, but I didn’t have too many problems. Only once, and that was while I was off the ship, did I have any problems with anybody. There was a guy off the ship who worked for my brother. I think he had a few too many drinks, and he told me what he thought of me. Well, there was only one way to settle something like that, so I sent him back to the ship with a black eye. I never had any problems after that.
After working in one of the fire rooms for a while I worked my way into the evaporator room–the water distilling plant for the Saratoga. I spent a year there and figured that was enough. I learned everything I needed to know. Then I went back to one of the fire rooms, but only for a couple of months. Then I requested to go over to one of the  engine rooms, which was a different kind of job entirely from being in a fire room. I was tired of firing those boilers.
I worked for a first class machinist’s mate by the name of Workman. He is still alive and lives down in Norfolk, Virginia. He had had a few years in the navy by that time and we came to be the best of friends. He took me under his wing and answered all my questions about engineering. He used to say, “Pay attention. I will only show you one time, tell you one time, and that’s it. If it doesn’t sink in then you’re wasting my time.” Thanks to him, I made second class, but that was after Pearl Harbor.
We were coming from Bremerton, Washington, and making a full-power run to San Diego when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. We were tied up to the dock in San Diego and getting ready to go to chow when word was passed that we were at war with Japan. Most of us didn’t eat lunch that day. It just jarred the hell out of us. I lost my appetite. 
We started taking supplies aboard and people aboard. That night I went ashore on liberty. I mailed a letter home, had a few beers, than came back aboard. The next day we left for Pearl. I was in the fire intake room, where the fire rooms get their outside air, when we pulled into Pearl. The first thing I saw was the Nevada up on the beach. Then we made our turn around Ford Island and I saw all the battleships. Some of them, all you could see were their superstructures, and some guns sticking out of the water. That sight took the steam out of me.
We worked all day and all night, getting stuff off and taking stuff on. I think it was the day after we arrived when we got back underway. We were supposed to take planes to Wake Island but never made it. We were ordered to turn around and come back to Pearl Harbor and the next day Wake Island fell to the Japanese. 
On 11 January 1942, we were hit by a torpedo. I had just gotten off watch in one of the engine rooms. I came up and was standing by Number-15 Fire Room and was talking to a bunch of guys when we got hit. I was standing practically right above where the torpedo hit, but on the other side of the ship. Six men were killed, and one of them I had just been talking to. He was on his way down to stand watch in one of the fire rooms. His name was Johnson and he liked motorcycles, and I used to own one. So we were talking, and then he went down to relieve his man. Neither one of them made it out when the torpedo hit. They were both killed. I went back down into my engine room, thinking something else would happen but it never did. 
We were in the yard at Bremerton until late May 1942, and were headed for the Battle of Midway, but didn’t make it in time. We later went down to the Solomon Islands to help the Enterprise cover the marines landing on Guadalcanal. I think it was 31 August that we got torpedoed again, this time off Guadalcanal, or maybe closer to Florida Island. I was standing on the “battle bars,” right above Fire Room-15 with my brother when it hit, and the torpedo hit right there in Number-15. Number-15 was what we called the “bottle-up fire room.” We kept the steam pressure up in there, but put it on line only if we needed extra steam. 
I was blown across the battle bars and hit in a corner. I had a flashlight in one hand and my life jacket and a shirt in the other. I never saw them again. My brother was just coming out of the fire room where the torpedo hit. He had one foot on the battle bars and one foot on the ladder when he was blown the rest of the way out, but wasn’t hurt. If he had delayed coming out of that fire room by fifteen seconds he would have been killed. Luckily, no one was killed. 
After I found out my brother was alright I went back down to my engine room where I could be of some use. But by that time we had lost all power and were dead in the water. I don’t know how long we were like that, but the Minneapolis came along and gave us a tow. It was pretty exciting, but I never thought I would die–never even entered my mind.
After we got under our own power again we went down to Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands for temporary repairs. A port list was put on the ship to bring the damaged starboard side up out of the water so that the damaged steel could be cut off and a patch put on. More permanent repairs were made later at Pearl Harbor, then we came back out to the Pacific. We were involved in some other operations, but then in February 1943, the navy was asking for large numbers of men to transfer to other ships and new construction, and I volunteered for a new assignment, and I never again saw action during the war like I saw on the Saratoga. 
When I left the Saratoga I was sent to Mare Island, California, where I had orders to report to the USS Bushnell, AS-15–a submarine tender. After being on an aircraft carrier for almost three years, the Bushnell was quite a jolt. I didn’t like it at all. I was a first class machinist mate and was put in charge of the evaporators on the Bushnell. Later, in November 1943, I made chief.
See, when I was still on the Saratoga I was told that when I got back to the States it would be automatic that I would get thirty days leave–“everybody does.” But when I went in to see the executive officer of the Bushnell, Cmdr. Fish, and told him I rated thirty days leave, he said, “Do you realize there is a war going on out there?” All I could do was just look at him. I had just come from out there and had missed being killed by a hair. That is what started turning me against being on this new ship. Anyway, I ended up getting only ten days leave.
The captain of the Bushnell was Capt. C. T. Bonney. I didn’t have much use for him. I don’t think he was liked by too many people on board the Bushnell. I know a lot of the officers didn’t like the old man either. I knew one officer–I think he was in the radio shack--told me about how the captain would come in his office and look in the trash can. If there was paper in it, he would pull it out to see if it could still be used. That used to make this officer so mad, and I would just laugh.
Another thing I remember about Capt. Bonney was, there was a chief on board with the name Cushman, and my name is Kirschenmann. If you don’t pronounce the two names clearly, they sound the same. Anyway, if I remember rightly, we were taking on supplies one day and this Cushman was in charge of one of the working parties. The captain walked up to him while this was going on and Cushman didn’t recognize his presence–didn’t salute him and say good morning. I think it was the next day, Quinter, the warrant machinist’s mate I worked for, came down and started telling me the captain wasn’t happy with my lack of respect toward him the day before. I said, “Hell, I haven’t seen the old man in days.” Then I had to go up to see the chief engineer and he said, “The skipper didn’t think much of you not recognizing him yesterday.” I said, “Well, if you go over to the repair department you will find a Cushman.” And that is how it was straightened out. It was things like that that made me not like being on the Bushnell. Plus, on the Saratoga there was a lot more activity and a lot more camaraderie.
Quinter was my division officer. He was a “mustanger” who had come off one of the subs. Whether he had been a white hat or a chief before he came aboard, I don’t know, but he had more pay and more responsibility on the Bushnell, but he also had more contact with Capt. Bonney, and I don’t think he liked that.
The Bushnell’s fire room had just one big room with the evaporators, two boilers, and two distilling plants, and I had all that to take care of, so I hardly ever left. I put a bunk down there in a generator room and that is where I slept. I never used my compartment.
While we were at Majuro a large part of the fleet was in there, and I put in a request for a transfer to any ship in the harbor, and said I was willing to revert back to first class in order to do so. The old man took that as an insult and said if he heard any more about my wanting off the ship he would bust me but not give me a transfer. Putting something like that before the old man made it clear to him I didn’t like being on board the Bushnell. It was like me kicking him in the butt.
I hadn’t been ashore in God knows how long–maybe nine months, so I went ashore on Majuro and naturally we had to get splattered. We played some baseball and got in fights. I got in a fight with a chief from another submarine tender and went to Captain’s Mast for it. It cost me my chief’s hat. I got busted back down to first class and it took me another eight years to make chief again.
When a chief gets busted it’s an automatic transfer, and that’s what I really wanted. I was transferred to another submarine tender, the USS Howard W. Gilmore, that was right there in Majuro. It was just a motor launch ride away. Everything was so different on the Gilmore; everybody was so friendly. When I went aboard the chief engineer, J. J. Stacey, shook hands with me and said, “Sorry to hear about what happened to you on the Bushnell.” I said, “That’s alright. I wanted a transfer, and I got it.” The chief I got in a fight with on the beach was on the Gilmore, and we became the best of friends. He never got busted like I did. The captain of the Gilmore, Capt. Cone, didn’t have it in his blood. He was just a prince of a man. Everybody on the ship liked him. 
From Majuro we went to Brisbane, Australia, for a few days, then to Humbolt Bay in New Guinea, then to Subic Bay in the Philippines. We stayed right there until the war ended. We played a lot of baseball down there but I didn’t get in any more fights. I always felt kind of scared in the Philippines. There was a lot of trees and brush around where we played baseball, and I was afraid there might be some Japs out there. I had heard of men wandering away from the recreation area and being killed. After a ball game, I would just get in the boat and go back to the ship.
After the war was over, I rode the Gilmore all the way to New York, through the Panama Canal. I had sixty days leave and came home to Acampo. After my leave was up, I went back to the Gilmore and stayed on her until 1948. I figured I would be twenty-nine years old when I got out of the navy, and to me back then that was an old man, so I stayed in the navy. When I retired in 1959, I still had to go to work. You couldn’t raise a family on navy retirement. I had three boys by then, so I went to work for the state of California as an engineer, and retired from there in 1979. Without the training I got in the navy I never would have gotten the job.