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Dick Pollock

Dick Pollock

My World War II Service in the U.S. Navy

As told to Chace Anderson

Dick Pollock, age 19

Dick Pollock, age 19


I had seen enough newsreels to know the Army wasn’t for me. No sir. I didn’t want the infantry. I figured it would be much better to be on a ship, and that’s why I signed up for the Navy.

— Dick Pollock

Home

My homecoming from the war wasn’t that eventful. I didn’t feel like a hero or anything. I remember I was separated from the Navy at San Pedro, and my dad came down to pick me up.

We went back to the old place in Inglewood where I grew up. Our street was one block south of Century Boulevard next to the old Hollywood Park racetrack. Of course they’ve abandoned that now.

When I walked in the door, I sure was glad to be home. But gosh, it seemed small. The house that had seemed so big when I was a boy then looked very small to me. I thought to myself, “Is this really where I grew up?”

Dick at age 1

Dick at age 1

Growing up

I think I was a mistake when I was born in 1926. You see, I had two older sisters and three older brothers, and the youngest one of those was six years older than I was. I came along after everyone else had a head start.

My dad, Roscoe Pollock, had bought that little half-acre back in 1916 so that he could qualify as a farmer, status that he told me kept him out of the draft during World War I. By the time I was born, he had a successful business delivering ice from his own truck. He would buy 300-pound blocks from a company in L.A. called Frozen Steam and deliver to people with iceboxes. The blocks were scored in 50-pound increments, and if someone didn’t want a whole section, Dad could break out a 25-pound chunk called a “shooter.”

We lived in a very small, almost shack-like house on that property until 1932 when my mother began agitating to get a better house. So we moved about eight miles up toward LA into an area that had nice Spanish-style homes.

We stayed there for a couple years until the Depression really hit. We were going to lose that house, and the woman who owned it, or so the story goes, was not only going to take it back but was also trying to take the old shack on the half-acre we had left behind. As it turned out, my dad had homesteaded that place – or so he told me – so she was unable to take our old property, and in1934, we moved back to where we had lived before.

Eighth grade class photo; Dick is in back row, third from right

Eighth grade class photo; Dick is in back row, third from right

Grammar school

I went to grammar school at Center Avenue School, and why they called it that I can’t say – there was no Center Avenue anywhere nearby. Century Boulevard, about a block over from our place, led to Mines Field – what is now Los Angeles International Airport.

Back then they held these yearly air races around pylons, and there were parachute jumpers – all kinds of things out there. One day we went out to see the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. All I remember it this silver thing going up into the sky and floating away.

Mines Field became LAX, and our house was on the approach to it, so lots of planes went right over us. Burbank had wanted to get the big area airport, but it was too close to the mountains. They had too many problems there with fog and airplanes running into mountains.

At the end of our street was a plot of ground about a mile square that was farmed by a number of Japanese families. A lot of my buddies all through grammar school and into high school were Japanese, and if you look at my eighth-grade class picture, you can see that a third of the class was Japanese. They raised celery and all kinds of vegetables. They had their own wells and reservoirs that were full of cattails. As kids we often went over there to catch crawfish.

After Pearl Harbor all those Japanese disappeared. I often wondered where they went. Interned, I guess. I never saw any of them after that. I heard one man was so incensed he went back to Japan after the High school

I went to Inglewood High School all four years. It was a really great school with two indoor swimming pools and an agricultural farm about three blocks away. I was on the track team each year but was not a great athlete. I did it mostly so I could get sixth-period PE. I’d say I was just an average student, but the one thing I took in high school that really helped me was typing. That got me a good job in the Navy.

During the Depression, the ice business fell off so badly my dad couldn’t make any money, and for a while, he was out of work. He became a bookkeeper and would do the books for a number of small businesses. During tax season, he’d ask people to let him do their income taxes, and he’d split any money he was able to save them.

I should mention that I was raised Christian Scientist by my mom. My dad didn’t follow any religion, but he went along with it. I don’t really know how we managed it, but the six kids were raised without any medicine. I remember we took cards to grammar school to exempt us from any inoculations.

I would sometimes take my mom to church, and I heard the interpretation from the Bible that explained the Christian Science approach. It is where Christ told his followers, “You can do these works as well as I can,” meaning the healing, I guess.

I hate to say it, but I think my mother’s influence on healing led to the early demise of some of my relatives because they didn’t do what they really should have done with medical care.

Of course in those days there was no Medicare and all that good stuff, and no one could afford a doctor. But that was great for us…we didn’t need them. I probably first saw a doctor in the Navy, and then not again, I guess, until I married my present wife.

Dick, San Francisco Bay

Dick, San Francisco Bay

Pearl Harbor and the Navy

In 1941, I was a sophomore in high school. I remember the day in December when I was visiting a friend up the street from our house, and the news came on the radio. That’s how I learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I ran all the way home and told my mother and father what I had heard. Now my dad had a low opinion of Japanese forces. He was just a farmer from Missouri, and other than the Japanese farmers nearby, he only knew Japan from the cheap things they imported to us. He must have equated that with their ability to wage war; his response to my news was, “It’ll only last a week.”

All the guys my age knew we’d be going into the service as soon as we graduated from high school. I had three older brothers. Jack, the oldest, had a wife and three kids, and he worked in shipyards, so he was exempt. Robert had gone to UCLA and then into the Army’s Officer Candidate School, and he became an officer. George was in the Army Air Corps.

I had seen enough newsreels to know the Army wasn’t for me, and I didn’t want to take a chance on being drafted into it. No sir, I didn’t want the infantry. So while we were still in high school, a buddy and I had the physical and signed up for the Navy, agreeing to go in as soon as we graduated.

I didn’t even go through our graduation ceremony but got on a bus on June 18, 1944, and headed to San Diego for about three months of boot camp.

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To the Pacific

The most miserable night I ever spent was the first night I spent at sea.

After boot camp, we were loaded onto a converted merchant ship called the MS Island Mail and headed for Hawaii. On those ships you had to step over a six-inch partition between each compartment designed to keep water from sloshing back and forth between sections.

The so-called “shower area” was deep in both water and vomit that first night. It was dark in there, and everybody was sick, including me. I thought, “Oh, my God, why did I ever join the Navy?” Fortunately, I soon got over that.

After two weeks in Hawaii, we boarded the same ship for Manus Island off the coast of New Guinea. I didn’t have a duty station at first, so most of my time on the Island Mail I just sat around, gossiped, slept and waited for the next meal.

Once I remember they put out a call for artists, so I volunteered. It turned out they needed someone to write the word “Butts” on cans to be used for ashtrays.

It was hot on the crossing, always hot. They wouldn’t let us sleep up on deck because so many guys smoked, and they thought lighting up might give away our position to the enemy. Down below, our bunks were just a pool of sweat.

USS Barnstable

USS Barnstable

USS Barnstable

Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. Army had been driven from the Philippines in March 1942, which led to the fall of Corregidor and the eventual Bataan Death March.

Once safe in Australia, MacArthur vowed to return, and when the Island Mail arrived at Manus Island in October of ’44, they were putting together an attack fleet to take MacArthur and Allied troops back to recapture the Philippines.

We were assigned to ships alphabetically, and those whose last names started with “P” were assigned to a fairly new attack transport called the USS Barnstable, named after that county in Massachusetts.

Shortly after boarding, I heard two officers talking. One said, “I’m looking for a storekeeper striker.”

I piped up, “That’s me, sir.”

When he asked if I could type, I answered quickly, “Yes sir.” He took my name and soon I was called up to become a storekeeper on the Barnstable. I spent the rest of my time in the Navy working in military supply on that ship.

I did lots of paperwork, keeping records, typing requisitions and doing various other things to make sure the ship’s stores were well maintained. We sold clothing and shoes and any other type of supply the officers and enlisted men might need.

Battle

The attack fleet was huge. Aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers; just so many ships. The Barnstable itself had 18 Higgins boats and four larger craft that could carry small tanks, but we just carried troops wherever they would fit on the ship.

We arrived at Leyte at first light on October 20 and launched the landing craft. As they circled, we put nets over the side of the ship, and the troops climbed down and into the boats to go ashore.

I remember a Jap plane came in and flew over the fleet early that morning. He was low, maybe 50 feet off the water, checking out what we were doing. We couldn’t shoot at him because he was so low. When he got to the end of the fleet, he went over the jungle and was gone.

At that point I was glad I was not on one of those nets. Our troops met Japanese resistance, and there was fierce fighting on shore. I remember standing on a gun mount with binoculars, and from a mile off the coast, I watch the mess those boys encountered.

We left Leyte that evening just about dark. In fact we left so quickly we had to pick up some of our landing craft once we were underway. Guam had been liberated from the Japanese a few months earlier, and the Barnstable headed there to pick up troops and take them to New Caledonia for R&R.

Well, those troops never got their R&R. Once they were on board our orders changed, and we took the poor guys back to the Philippines as reinforcements for the assault there. Again, I was thankful for being in the Navy.  Off the Philippine coast at night, you’d see star shells go up and all the tracer bullets in the jungle. I was safe on board a ship where I could take a shower and go to bed in my bunk.

For the next six months, the Barnstable picked up and delivered Allied troops around the Pacific. In the New Guinea area we made stops in Hollandia, Manus Island and Sansapor. We went to Morotai, and then we headed back to Leyte and Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines.

I was promoted from storekeeper striker to storekeeper 3rd class and then Storekeeper 2nd class. The cooks and the bakers were part of the storekeeper unit on board ship, and we all helped keep things running. The food on the Barnstable was good and we ate well. Because we were always unloading troops, we often had lots of extra room to store supplies and we had big freezers.

The meals were pretty standard and didn’t vary much from week to week. The same day each week we had beans for breakfast – every time on the same day. We had steaks and chicken, and we often had what we called mutton – lamb or sheep that came from Australia. We even had ice cream, though you had to eat it first because when you went through the line, they put it on your hot tray in hot weather, and it wouldn’t make it to the end of a meal if you didn’t eat it right away.

I slept in a compartment where bunks were three high, and when I first went on board in New Guinea, I was one of the low men on the totem pole. Usually new guys on board were given the worst bunks, but mine was good from the start. You see, when they assigned me to a compartment, I threw my gear on the bunk I wanted and left. Nobody questioned me.

If I had stayed by the bunk, some senior guy would have kicked me out of it and taken it for himself. When everyone settled in, I came back and my stuff was still there. I kept that middle bunk the whole time I was on the Barnstable.

Sept. 1945, Manila, USS Barnstable cooks, storekeepers; Dick in second row, second from right

Sept. 1945, Manila, USS Barnstable cooks, storekeepers; Dick in second row, second from right

Okinawa

In March of 1945, we picked up troops in the Philippines and headed for what would be the largest amphibious invasion in the Pacific campaign and the last major conflict of the Pacific War, the 82-day battle of Okinawa.

It was on our way to Okinawa as part of a 1,300-ship fleet that I first saw kamikazes attacking our ships. I remember sitting up near a gun mount with binoculars watching the Japanese airplanes. I could see bombs come out and splash in the water. I never saw a kamikaze actually hit one of our ships, but I did see a ship right after it had been hit by one.

The invasion began on April 1. As troops went ashore, the Barnstable and many other ships made smoke in the harbor to minimize visibility for any Japanese planes that might attack. The Navy provided artillery support, and at night as the ships would shell locations ashore, the 16-inch rounds were hot and glowing, and you could see them going through the air toward the island.

Storm at sea

On October 4, a typhoon began to develop in the Caroline Islands, and the reports said it was headed for Okinawa. The Barnstable left the harbor there on October 5 and was at sea when the edge of the typhoon passed us. I want to tell you, it was spooky. There were huge waves we rode up, and when at the top, the screw came out of the water and you could hear it rev in the air. The ship, believe it or not, would actually flex in the middle when we were on top of a wave.

At 18, I suppose you’re a little too stupid to be scared, but I have to admit, I was more frightened then than at any other time in the war. When I think of it now, it really scares me. When that ship would flex, you just imagine it coming apart at sea.

Back in Inglewood during my last year of high school, I worked in a Long Beach shipyard for three months, and I worked on four different Liberty ships made from sections that were welded together. They could really turn them out, but they were well built. The Barnstable in that typhoon stood the test.

After stops at Guam and Pearl Harbor, we next headed to San Francisco and three weeks of leave. Toward the end of May, the Barnstable resumed its duties as a troop transport, and made calls to Eniwetok, Ulithi, and various ports in New Guinea and the Philippines.

On July 30, about a week before the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, our ship was a couple miles off the coast of New Guinea when it ran aground on a coral reef that had not appeared on the charts of the area.

All the troops and tanks and any moveable supplies were off-loaded onto other ships, and we threw our blocks of concrete ballast overboard in an effort to refloat the Barnstable. We had tugs out front trying to pull us loose. Finally after 61-and-a-half hours, the ship was freed from the reef.

The Barnstable was between New Guinea and the Philippines when atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We arrived in Manila on August 11, to load troops and supplies in preparation for the invasion of Japan.

Most people assumed there would be a massive invasion and that it would be a bloody one. We read how Japan was going to resist foreign troops with men, women and children ready to kamikaze us when we landed.

So the decision by the Emperor of Japan on August 15 to unconditionally surrender was good news for everyone in the service. We stayed in Manila nearly a month and were often given liberty to go into the city. It was bombed out and we could see lots of bullet holes in the few buildings that weren’t completely demolished.

It seemed all the Filipinos were making booze to sell to the guys in the Navy. Sometimes sailors coming back were so drunk they had to be put in cargo nets and swung back aboard. We’d get them on deck and hose them off.

In late September and again in late October the Barnstable took occupation troops from the Philippines to Japan. They let us go ashore, and there were no problems. The Emperor had said it was over, and it was over. The people knew it. There was no trouble.

I remember a stage show in Japan where Danny Kaye and Leo Durocher put on a program for the troops. The Japanese, being resourceful types, opened a lot of brothels. I didn’t go there, but a fellow showed me a ticket he brought back as a souvenir. On it, it said, “ONE TIME.”

As part of Operation Magic Carpet, our ship brought a load of American troops home to San Francisco in November and another load in January of 1946. After that we went down through the Panama Canal and up to New York and then to Virginia where the USS Barnstable was decommissioned on March 26.

Three months later in June – nearly two years exactly after I had gone in – I was separated from the Navy in San Pedro, California. That’s where my dad picked me up and took me back to that small house in Inglewood.

USS Barnstable totals in log book

USS Barnstable totals in log book

Front of ship's log Dick kept

Front of ship’s log Dick kept

Civilian life

I really had no specific plans when I left the service, but I had the GI Bill coming, and it seemed all my buddies were going to USC, so I thought I might as well go there too. My mother had always pushed me in school, and for some reason she thought I had some architectural talent. I enrolled at USC, but the School of Architecture was full, so for two years I took all the preparatory classes like history and foreign language, things I should have taken in high school, but at that time I hadn’t intended to go to college.

Architecture was a five-year course, so I ended up going to USC for seven years, and it didn’t cost me a nickel. California gave us veterans $1,000 and the GI Bill paid most of the rest of it. I bought a 1937 Ford Coupe for about $700, and that is what I used for transportation.

Donna #1

I got married in 1947 to Donna Atwood. She had been a year behind me in high school, and her family lived next door to my sister and brother-in-law. Donna and her family were Mormon, so during the summers while we were both in high school, I would go with her family back to Utah.

After our marriage, I borrowed $1,000 from my old Sunday school teacher and built a 20-by-20-foot house on my dad’s property right behind the house where I grew up. That’s where Donna and I lived while I went to USC.

Donna worked for North American Aviation over where LAX is now. During the war years, they had developed the P-51 Mustang, and when I was still in high school, we saw the initial flight of the plane right over our house. That was a thrill.

With Donna’s work and the odd job I’d pick up as a carpenter for my brother Jack in his construction business, we supported ourselves and were able to eventually pay back my Sunday school teacher for the loan.

I graduated from USC in 1953 and for the next two years, I worked for a number of architects to gain practical experience before I took the state board licensing exam. There were five different portions of the all-day exam, and if you passed them, you had to be interviewed by a committee of architects. It turned out the chairman of the interview committee was the father of one of my buddies from the college of architecture at USC, which gave me a lot of confidence. I passed easily and received my license in 1955.

Shortly after that, I bought a lot near Hermosa Beach from my brother Jack and built a house. He had bought a lot that was pure sand for $750 and sold it to me for $1,500, which was still a good price.

One of my first architectural jobs was working for Charles Von der Ahe who was building all the Vons grocery stores around Southern California. I did some work for Meyers Brothers Construction designing FHA-funded multiple dwellings. One of the biggest was Marina Gardens in San Mateo.

I could do much of the work from my house in Hermosa Beach, though I did open an office for a time with an architect named Neil Palmer near LAX. We had an interest in the development of the marina at Playa Del Rey, what many call the boating center of West Los Angeles.

Although I was working hard, I was also playing a lot. Some college buddies and I bought this old tub of a sailboat – it almost sank the first time we put it in the water – and we kept it in L.A. Harbor. We would sail it over to Catalina Island. It was quite a social scene over there, and I found myself heading to Catalina often, sometimes on our boat, but also by steamer, seaplane, commercial aircraft to the airport on top of the mountain, or by private plane – just about any way you could think of.

It took me awhile to grow up, I guess. At times I was interested in being free rather than married. So the marriage didn’t work, and it was my fault mostly. Donna was a really nice person. We had no children together and divorced in 1960.

Donna #2

I was only single about three years. I met my second wife, also named Donna and referred to by my family at the time as Donna #2, at a restaurant at Playa del Rey, and we were married in 1963. A year after we were married, a friend from USC named Bob Grant began to recruit me to come to Santa Barbara to work with him at a firm called Arendt Mosher Grant. So I sold the house in Hermosa Beach and along with Donna and her three children from a previous marriage, headed to Santa Barbara.

We bought a house in Goleta out by UCSB, and in January of 1964, my son Richard was born. I worked with Bob at Arendt Mosher Grant, but at home things weren’t going too smoothly. Donna’s son had some trouble – drugs – and we came to the conclusion it would be good to move him out of the area.

In 1968 we sold our home and moved to Lake Goodwin up above Seattle, a place we had visited on vacation. I went to work for an architect there, but again it wasn’t so great at home. Finally in 1972 I had had enough. I took Richard with me back to Santa Barbara and Donna headed east to where her folks were living.

Back in Santa Barbara I returned to Arendt Mosher Grant, and I’m glad I did. The bookkeeper/receptionist was a woman named June whom I married in 1974 and am still with 41 years later.

Life with June

June’s mother and stepfather lived in Tuolumne County, and we often drove up to the mountains to visit them. After her stepfather passed away, her mom moved from Mi Wuk Village to Soulsbyville, and when her memory began to fail, she rented out her house and came to live with us in Santa Barbara.

But she was so homesick for the foothills that we decided to bring her back to Soulsbyville in 1984. We took care of her in her home until we built a house on the lot next door. And that’s where we’ve been ever since.

Not too many people up here used architects, so I initially went to work as a plan checker for the Tuolumne County Building Department. But from contacts I made in that job, I began to do enough designing that I could eventually leave the building department.

I did a lot of residences in Pine Mountain Lake, did the redesign of Sullivan Creek Landing Restaurant into the Peppery in Sonora, and designed the Morelia Mexican Restaurant in Jamestown, as well as Cover’s Bakery & Restaurant and Dr. Grabow’s orthodontics building.

At 89, I’m long past any of that work. My son Richard and his wife live in Washington. June has two daughters from a previous marriage, and together we have 11 grandkids and two great-grandchildren.

I still do all right. Fortunately, I don’t really hurt. I had a hip replacement five or six years ago. Oh, I have a little numbness in a couple fingers, and I do have a small device in me that monitors my heart. Every six months or so I go in, and they plug me into something that tells them what has been happening.

Dick Pollock at home, June 2015

Dick Pollock at home, June 2015

Reflections on the war

I was never afraid during the war; well maybe a little in the typhoon. I don’t ever remember thinking I might not come home. Maybe the Christian Science thing was good for me. It didn’t cure anything, but it was something to hang on to, something others didn’t have.

You know, from 18 to 20 are awkward years. Those were years I might have got in trouble. But the Navy took up that time, and in the Navy there was no nonsense about discipline. You knew what you had to do, and you either did it or you were in deep trouble.

In the Navy I learned to get along with people because you had to; you were cheek-by-jowl with all kinds of men. You had to deal with officers and learn when to toe the line and when not to.

Most of the guys from the Barnstable settled on the East Coast, so I never went to any reunions back there. They had an organization, and they sent me a package with a list of people from the crew, a nice photo and a hat. I corresponded with a couple buddies from the ship for a while, but I’m not in contact with anyone now. We drifted off.

I have no regrets about my military service. Absolutely none. It was beneficial from beginning to end. I don’t see how it could have been better given the situation we were in. My ship was never hit by any enemy gunfire, and I came through unscathed. And the G.I. Bill – that was a wonderful thing. All that college for nothing.

I’ve been asked about World War II, if I’d go again. I say, “Absolutely.” There was never any question about going. You just did it.

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