Richard Berry Richard Berry

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

As told to Adia White


 After you were there for a couple of months you were used to the sirens going off all the time — when you were in Honolulu you were very conscious that there was a war going on. In bombing Pearl Harbor the Japanese had devastated many areas that you saw every day. It could happen again at any time.

— Richard Berry

A Navy man

When I got out of high school the war was still going on. I was 19 and it was 1944.  I knew I would probably be drafted, but I stuck around until I got my draft notice.  My dad was an auctioneer and my mother was a practical nurse, and we lived in Fresno, California. I had two brothers, Bob and Neil.

I was drafted for the army but I wanted to be in the Navy.

At the time, my older brother Bob was on the USS Midway at war in the islands.  I wanted to follow him. I went down to the Navy office in Fresno to ask if I could join the Navy instead.

The officer asked me, “Have you gotten your draft notice yet?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, have you gotten your physical?”


“Well then, we’ll take you!”

I suppose they let me join the Navy because I hadn’t been formally pulled into the Army yet.


Christmas 1946, makeshift office in a Pearl Harbor hangar

Training in San Diego

Boot camp was quite a thing. There were all these young kids, just out of high school, and I was one of them. They take you in and the first thing they do is run you through a barber shop and give you a buzz cut. They cut off all your hair. Some of the guys even cried. I didn’t cry, but I didn’t like it either.

Next they gave us our California Arc serial number – your service ID. I still remember mine to this day. They don’t let you forget that number. After that they assign you a barracks. There’s an upper and a lower barracks, about 60 people in each. So that’s 120 people in the one building.

They split you up into units of 24 people, and each unit has a master sergeant in charge. Every day you go out and you march and he’s the one that takes you on your march – left turn, right turn and so forth. You do a lot of marching.

Because my older brother was in the Navy he taught me a trick. He told that when they asked if anyone had experience delivering mail, I should raise my hand, so I did. Everyone had to clean the bathrooms, the kitchen or the barracks and those things were not very pleasant to do. I just went out collecting the mail.

All I had to do was go to the post office and bring the mail back to the barracks. I handed the mail out during roll call, and then returned the rest of it to the post office. Because of that I got out of some marching. I got to buzz off for a while, waste a couple hours of time.

In boot camp we went through what was called a landing procedure. That’s what they did in Okinawa. We went on to a small landing craft that wasn’t very large. It was about 40 feet long and 10 feet wide – a bunch of guys all cramped in there together. There was a ramp that went down in the front and when the ramp went down everybody would run off together.

When our ramp dropped and we ran out, I was up in the front. When I stepped out, I thought I’d be stepping onto sand but I stepped down about four feet deep into water. I was underwater down there and everyone else came piling out on top of me.

I climbed up out of the water and it was sure a shock. We were supposed to run up out on the beach and flop down with our rifles.

That was our training on the landing crafts and I’ll tell you it wasn’t very pleasant. I was tromped on by about 40 guys before I got out of the water. There were a couple other guys up in front like that too. Even if you were a big guy, if you sunk in you still got trampled on.

After the initial training, boot camp became a little more like the Army than the Navy because they handed you rifles and taught you how to use them. Then you did all of your marching with a rifle on your shoulder. You presented arms – took the rifle out, then put it back again. We opened the clips for the inspection of arms.

Once we learned how to operate the rifle we all went to the rifle range. We all shot rifles and earned scores on our hits.

Some guys became sharpshooters because they were really good at it.

I wasn’t a really good sharpshooter, but I was a great mailman.

En route to Okinawa

I entered boot camp on Nov. 29, 1945. We were supposed to be in training for six months but in 12 weeks we were done. They needed replacement overseas because the war was winding down.

Japan had not surrendered yet, but they had a lot of R and R, or people who were rotating duties. There were a lot of people that were drafted in the service at that time. When their draft was up they did not want to stay in the service.

They put us on the train and they sent us to Treasure Island, which was the debarkation point. We got on the train at night and in the morning I was put on a ship to Okinawa for what purpose I didn’t know. We had just invaded Okinawa.

I didn’t want to go to there because a friend of mine from high school who was 18 joined the marines a year earlier and was killed there.

The ship ride over was horrible, it was a small troop ship and the bunks were four high.  It was crammed and you stayed in close quarters even when you went up on deck.

It wasn’t pleasant at all; there was a lot of seasickness. The floor was full, you couldn’t walk anywhere without stepping on vomit. You didn’t have any way to go where you wanted to go. If they called you, you could go up to the deck for a half an hour or so. There was someone cleaning all the time. I’m glad I wasn’t one of those crew members.

The ship stopped in Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and they called my name out among 200 other guys and they took us off the ship. There were about 1,700 of us on board. I got to get off the ship and they sent me to a school in Honolulu. We were sent to Oahu, Hawaii to Camp Catlin, the fleet training center.

I had graded really high in mathematics so they sent me to quartermaster school.

I never did find out what happened to the rest of the crew in Okinawa. It was still a hostile island at the time.

It was a dangerous place to be and I never found out what they did or where they went or anything. I just knew that I was lucky enough to be hauled off to school.

Office crew of ComNatsPac, 1946

Office crew of ComNatsPac, 1946

Quartermaster school

Quartermasters were a rare breed because you had to be very good at math.

A quartermaster reads the charts and keeps the ship on the chart that it’s supposed to stay on; you have a diagram and a compass and so forth, and had to be really good at mathematics to read all these charts. Well, I didn’t want to do that so I asked if there were any other classes I could take that would help me in my life after the service because I hadn’t planned on making it a career.

The guy said they would send me to yeoman school for clerical work because I already knew how to type. I spent six weeks at Camp Catlin and I came out of there as a first-class seaman.

I graduated second in my class and the first two people had top pick on the opening on the bulletin. I picked the naval air transport service they call that ComNatsPac. That’s commander of naval air transport of the Pacific fleet. When I got there to report for duty they said they had an opening in the air traffic coordinator’s office and I took it.

I had two commanders. One was the air traffic control officer and the other was the naval air transport officer. I was their clerk. We coordinated all the planes coming in and leaving.

I stayed there for two years in that same office, which was stationed on John Rodgers Field. John Rodgers Field was the airport for the commercial airlines but at that time it was taken over by the Navy for their duties.

We had barracks close to our offices so we were like civilians going to work every day for our job and going home at night and that was it.

We had a beach right on John Rodgers Field, a private beach for all of the servicemen in my unit. Right across from the office there was a secretary who was gorgeous.

Of course, any female is gorgeous when you’re in the service.

Life in Honolulu

You couldn’t see Waikiki but you’d ride on a bus and go into town and end up at Waikiki. You could go to town two or three times a week. There wasn’t much in town but you could get off of the base. We hung out at Trader Vic’s. That’s where most of the servicemen hung out because it was a wild little place.

They had a canteen where you could get beer. There were quite a few marriages there. I wasn’t surprised because the servicemen were very popular with the locals.

There was also Canal Street downtown. There were all these little shops and you could take pictures holding a Hawaiian girl. It was all supported by the service men because they were the only ones there at the time. No one wanted to vacation in Honolulu.

There were aircraft drills daily. Sirens would go off and whether it was a false alarm or just a drill to get back to your stations, you wouldn’t know.

After you were there for a couple of months you were used to the sirens going off all the time — when you were in Honolulu you were very conscious that there was a war going on. In bombing Pearl Harbor the Japanese had devastated many areas that you saw every day. It could happen again at any time.

After I was there for about five months in ’45 the Japanese surrendered and there was a big party in the downtown. Everybody was there. I never got kissed so much in my life.

Those were happy days.


Bantam-weight champ

You didn’t have a whole lot to do in Honolulu. During the war there wasn’t a whole lot to do anywhere. I had boxed in the YMCA in Fresno where I went to high school, so I joined a boxing club while I was stationed in Honolulu. I was pretty good in my weight class, Bantam weight. I never lost a match in my weight class.

My first match I boxed a guy named Yanenza. He was a welterweight, but I thought I could beat him anyway. He left me lying through the ropes! That was the last time I boxed someone out of my weight class and the last and only bout I lost. I was a really good boxer and it took me about 20 bouts to obtain Bantam weight champion. I only had 20 bouts, and you only fight about once a month. That lasted about the whole two years I was there. I practiced four to five times a week.

My last boxing match was about six weeks before I came home. In the service the boxing is not like professional boxing. The gloves are like big pillows. If you knock someone out with one of those you’ve got to hit really hard.

Then there was Sad Sam Ichinose. I don’t even know his real name, but that’s what they called him. When he found I was finishing my service he said, “Come see me, I’ll get you a place to live. I’ll put you up and you can box professionally. You’ll make a lot of money.”

But I didn’t want to do that. I went to a couple of professional fights in Honolulu. They would put a ring up the football fields. And those fights were brutal. They were not nice and I didn’t care for that.


After the war

My duty at ComNatsPac was the very best I could imagine, but I was still happy to get out. I received the World War II Victory Medal.

When I got discharged I didn’t get to fly home like a lot of people I helped get onto planes. I had to get on a ship and it was pleasant and clean, and it wasn’t overcrowded. It took five days to get back home, but those five days seemed like a year to me.

When I came back home I joined the 52/20 club. With that you get $20 a week for 52 weeks to get yourself settled and everyone called it the 52/20 club because that’s what they gave you after you got out of the war.

I came back to California, went to work to work for Sears for 30 years in Fresno and Visalia. Visalia was an ideal town for a single guy because there were bars all around the town. That’s where I met my wife Dawn.

I had just hired a friend of hers and she told me one night, come have a drink with us at the Flame after work, and I said, “Sure, I’ll stop by.” That’s where I met Dawn.

She refused me a couple of times, but then we dated for nine years and then got married.

Twain Harte beckons

I came up Twain Harte in 1978 and married my sweetheart Dawn on Feb. 25 of that year at the Eproson House in Twain Harte.

I built houses as a way to make more money. I was what they called a spec builder and I was able to finance my own business that way. I bought two lots right next to the lake.

Then I built this house and once we moved in, we stayed from then on.

Dawn and I still go to the gym about three times a week. I’ve always been a very active person. I still am.

I have two daughters from a first marriage and a stepson and stepdaughter, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

At home with Dawn

At home with Dawn

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