B y Rick Stanton
Through the years, my Dad (Richard Wilcox Stanton) would tell stories about his time in the U.S. Navy during WWII. The stories were mostly humorous, but once in a while he’d tell of something a bit more serious (like the time a piece of shrapnel fell out of a quiet sky impaling the deck of the boat right next to his foot). Dad never liked taking us to see fireworks. He said he saw the “real thing” during the war. As I got older, I understood that better. My Dad unexpectedly passed away on April 28, 2011, at 88 years of age. He did have a good run. I was fortunate to sit down with him a couple of months previous and take notes of his service to our country . This is his story …
Dec. 7, 1941, 19-year-old Dick Stanton was driving his Model A Ford over the Esopus Creek heading towards Kingston. As he was on the bridge, he first heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor over his radio.
On June 1, 1942, Dad walked into the recruiting station in Catskill and joined the Navy. He didn’t want to wait for getting drafted. He figured that in the Navy, he would have a better chance of sleeping in the same bed (and not in a ditch) and that the walking would be limited. He told the recruiter he wanted to fly, and of course the recruiter said sure he could fly. (This is very funny now, because for my whole life, Dad was afraid of heights and never ever went in a plane.)
Boot camp was spent in Newport, R.I., for eight weeks. This was less than half the peacetime boot camp. The only remotely “Navy” activity there was some rowing and swimming. An aptitude test during boot camp showed that Dad was mechanically inclined and was best suited for gunnery school.
Gunnery school was for about eight weeks at Michigan City, Ind. There, he learned to fix guns, take them apart, and put them back together. Trips would be made to Chicago to go out on Coast Guard boats and fire guns. Dad passed the test and became a third-class gunner’s mate, otherwise he would have become a general seaman.
A list of available ships was posted. Dad choose PT (Patrol Torpedo) boats as he wanted to be on the “fast little boats.”
Now it was back to the PT Boat base at Newport for more training. That was finally the first time he was on the ocean in a boat. He stayed there for a few weeks until a new boat became available.
Dad was assigned to Squadron 16 and was sent to the Higgins factory in New Orleans to pick up the new PT boat. It was PT-224. This boat was a PT-200 class motor torpedo boat. It was 78 feet long, had three Packard 1,200-horsepower gasoline engines and had a speed of 41 knots. Its armament was four 21-inch Mk XIII torpedoes, two 20mm and one 40mm guns.
PT-224 was placed in service March 19, 1943. Squadron 16 was split in two. Half (six boats ) were sent to Europe. Dad’s half went in a different direction. First, it was to the Panama Canal Zone (where he remembers meeting a PT boat Capt. Alfred Vanderbilt). They reached the canal too late in the day to pass through as the submarine nets weere already in place for the night.
Squadron 16 had to anchor at sea for the night. Well that next morning, they realized they were in the wrong place … a U.S. minefield.
After passing through the Panama Canal, they headed to Seattle, Wash. On the way, there was a stop in San Diego to have radar installed on the boats.
A typical PT Boat had eight men and three officers. PT-224 had an additional two radar men. Officers were typically 22-23 years old. The “old man” on PT-224 was a radioman, Ed Brady. He was 26 years old. The crew typically consisted of a cook, two radiomen, two gunner’s mates, one torpedo man, three engineers and the officers.
While in Seattle, PT-224 blew an engine. That gave the crew 10 days with nothing to do while repairs were made. During this time, Dad remembered seeing the salmon run in small creeks. He could actually reach in and grab the salmon by hand.
From the fall of 1943 to spring 1944, Squadron 16 was stationed at Attu at the tip of the Aleutian Islands. There had been Japanese there before. While there, one Japanese air raid occurred. Also, a Japanese cruiser was approaching, but due to rough seas, it never got in range of the PT boats. They did experience 40-foot seas once (think the crabbing boats on “Deadliest Catch”) and hit a whale once.
While at Attu, Earl Flynn came as part of a USO show. Only four men from the squadron were allowed to attend. Dad received a ticket from one that didn’t care to go. The four sailors headed off to the show in a jeep. They ended up on a smooth road. When a plane was coming in for a landing, they realized that the smooth road was really a landing strip and had to scramble to get out of the way of the plane.
Squadron 16 was sent to the South Pacific war zone in the spring of 1944. They boarded a liberty ship in San Francisco. The PT Boats were loaded on as well. They unloaded in the Solomon Islands, then headed towards the Philippines. That first invasion of Mindanao was the biggest one that Dad participated in. PT boats provided a smoke screen ahead of the invasion force. A kamikaze hit a U.S. cruiser. Dad couldn’t see that, but he certainly heard it. This is when that piece of shrapnel fell out of the sky, hitting the deck near his foot. It nearly killed him.
During another invasion, Dad remembers picking up 56 survivors out of the ocean and taking them to a hospital ship. At night, a Japanese clunker of a plane would fly overhead with the intention of disturbing the sleep of Americans below. The nickname given to that plane was “Washing Machine Charlie.”
Dec. 16, 1944, Mindoro … The following is a quote from “At Close Quarters: PT Boats in the U.S. Navy” by Capt. Robert J. Bulkley Jr. USNR (retired), 1962.
“That afternoon, as PTs 224 and 197 were departing for the night’s patrol, two planes dropped three bombs near them. The two PTs, assisted by other PTs in the bay, shot down one plane in the water, which narrowly missed the 224, and saw the other glide over the treetops on Mindoro, on fire and losing altitude.” Well, Dad always spoke about that incident. He was on the 224, and the plane was so close that he saw the pilot’s face and he got wet from the splash when that plane crashed!
Also from “At Close Quarters”: “PT 224 was placed in service March 19, 1943. Placed out of service, stripped and destroyed, Nov. 26, 1945.”
“Squadron 16 participated in the Aleutian campaign from August 1943 to May 1944. Transferred to the Southwest Pacific, the squadron had action at Mios Woendi, Dutch New Guinea; Mindoro, P.I.; and Brunei Bay, Borneo. It also based for a time at Dreger Harbor, New Guinea, and San Pedro Bay, P.I., but had no action from these bases. As part of Task Unit 70..1.4, Squadron 16 was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for action at Mindoro from Dec. 15 to 19, 1944.” Dad told me that during that action, 23 Japanese planes were shot down. Throughout the war, there were no fatal injuries on PT-224. Two men were seriously injured and survived.
Dad was in Borneo when the war was over. He was one of six to receive orders to find their own way home… yes … they were told to find their own way home. He hitched a plane to Leyte in the Philippines. Then signed up and waited for a ride on a liberty ship.
The liberty ship stopped at Pearl Harbor, and they were not allowed to get off (afraid of too much drinking, etc). From there, Dad was dropped in San Francisco. He was now given 30 days to get to the Fargo Building in Boston in order to be discharged.
Well Dad got sick on that train trip cross country. He ended up stopping in his hometown of Granville around Thanksgiving time and saw a Doc Bennett (who was also an old Army veterinarian). The doc diagnosed Dad as having “cat fever” (what ever that was).
Dad was very ill and he had the Red Cross send a note to the Fargo Building that fact and Dad would miss the deadline for arriving. Well, he ended up being listed as AWOL. He was still ill when arriving in Boston. So much so that he was picked up by MP’s as being drunk. He finally saw a military doctor who immediately diagnosed Dad with malaria. He spent 10 days in the hospital.
After that, he was told to wait his turn for discharge and got put on a work detail. Dad refused the detail saying he wanted to get discharged. He was put on report. It turns out that the head of the Fargo Building was a Lt. Commander Leaderback. Leaderback was from Dad’s Squadron 16 and they knew each other from the Philippines. After Leaderback heard the story, Gunner’s Mate First Class Richard W. Stanton was immediately discharged on Dec. 20, 1945. The AWOL was changed to excusable.
Not only was my Dad an American hero, he has always been mine.