Reaction to Pearl Harbor

Joining the Navy and Cleared for Submarine Duty

Submarine combat

Being Depth Charged

Qualifying on Submarines

After the War

Surface Attack on a Patrol Craft

He Knew Where We Were


Emil Schoonejans was born in 1925 in West Hoboken, now Union City, New Jersey. He lived in Union City until 1942 when he graduated from high school and went into the Navy. Schoonejans was listening to a football game on the radio on Sunday 7 December 1941. He learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when the news broke in and announced it. He had never heard of Pearl Harbor. His father was upset because he had lived through a portion of World War 1 in Belgium. It was very shocking to him. Schoonejans's father was married twice. He is the first child from his father's second marriage. His father and his father's first wife lost two children. After the death of the second one his father came to America. When he had saved enough money he sent for his wife to join him but she died soon after arriving in America. His father was single for about three years then married Schoonejans's mother when he was 40 years old. He had two sons, Schoonejans was the first and another son who was about 18 months younger than him. Schoonejans understood what his father was going through. He had already lost two sons and was now facing a war that he may lose two more in. That was Schoonejans' reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor. His father never said anything about his feelings until Schoonejans came home from the war.


Emil Schoonejans volunteered for service in the Navy. He originally wanted to go into the air force. He and a buddy decided that they did not want to wait to be drafted so they went to Journal Square to the recruitment office for the Army Air Corps. They took at least two days of testing after which they learned that enlistments had been closed. They decided to try to get into the Navy’s flight program. They Navy was smarter than the Army Air Corps had been and swore them in before telling them that enlistments were closed for flight school. Schoonejans and his buddy had both gone to service schools and were both interested in machinery. They were both sent to torpedo school but at different bases. After torpedo school, Schoonejans went to advanced torpedo school and was rated a Torpedoman 3rd Class. During the advanced part of the torpedo training he saw a notice stating that volunteers were needed for submarine service. Schoonejans liked PT Boats but liked submarines better so he volunteered. He failed his physical because he had astigmatism. He went back to school and the next week he saw that the notice was still there. He tried again but got the same doctor who again said no. He went back to school and returned the third week which was the last week of torpedoman school. Again he got the same doctor but this time the doctor talked to him before doing the examination. He told Schoonejans that if he got duty in submarines one of his duties would be as a lookout. The doctor checked his eyes again and he passed. Schoonejans was assigned to a submarine and got lookout duty. The first time he called something out they were in the South China Sea. It was Schoonejans' first war patrol and the Burrfish's [Annotator's Note: USS Burrfish (SS-312)] fourth. The Burrfish made six war patrols. Schoonejans was aboard for patrols four, five and six. Before being qualified in submarines, the only jobs he was to do were helmsman, bow planes, stern planes or lookout. After being qualified he would stand his watch in his rate in his room. During his first war patrol he spotted something. They were normally submerged all day and surfaced at night. Night lookout duty began with someone shaking the lookout to wake them up and telling them not to open their eyes. They were then handed a pair of red plastic shield glass [Annotator's Note: red goggles] to help maintain their night vision. Once they got out onto the bridge they took off their goggles and used binoculars. One night Schoonejans reported a red light on the horizon. Everything was blacked out at the time so it was surprising to see a red light. It looked like the port running light of a ship. He reported it to the officer of the deck and told him where the light was. Everyone aboard the boat had a nickname and Schoonejans went by Skee. The officer told Skee to keep an eye on it. The officer of the deck yelled down to someone in the conning tower. He asked the quartermaster who was standing next to him if he saw it. Nobody on either side of the boat could see what Schoonejans was reporting. It turned out to be the planet Mars rising.


Emil Schoonejans volunteered for submarine duty on 11 February 1943 and was called up a week later. He did not have a typical submarine school experience. He did not go to New London [Annotator's Note: the US Navy's primary submarine school in New London, Connecticut]. He went to torpedo school in Great Lakes [Annotator's Note: Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois]. Advanced torpedo school and submarine school were in San Diego. The only difference was that they did not have a tower. They still had to learn to use the Momsen lung and to be under water without panicking. They were put in a swimming pool by themselves with a Momsen lung and left there for a while. They also had to learn all of the rooms and each of the rates other than their own. Schoonejans knew torpedoes but he did not know the tubes, batteries, or engines. He had to learn all of that in ground school. Schoonejans qualified in submarines. It was expected that new sailors would qualify during their first patrol. From the beginning of one patrol to the beginning of the next was roughly 90 days. There were a couple weeks of preparation, trial runs and testing. After that they were on their way to their assigned station where they would spend 30 days unless they ran out of torpedoes and had to return early. Schoonejans was in the aviation industry for 30 years after he got out of the Navy. One day he was talking with a friend about the difference between a successful patrol and an unsuccessful patrol. His friend stated that if they returned it was a successful patrol. Schoonejans explained that it did not work that way. Of the three patrols he made only one was successful. They sank a tanker and shot up a gun boat. The other ones they were on they were just lucky to get back. Schoonejans lives in New York and is the president of the Runner Chapter Submarine Veterans of World War 2. He was aware of the Ling [Annotator's Note: USS Ling (SS-297)] being in New Jersey and likes visiting and showing people around the submarine. Schoonejans and the president of the Gudgeon Chapter [Annotator's Note: in New Jersey] took part in the same action one night during a two submarine wolf pack attack on a harbor patrol craft. If the target was not worth a torpedo they would go after it with their deck guns. The Ronquil [Annotator's Note: USS Ronquil (SS-396)] had undergone modification or overhaul. It had a five inch 25 deck gun [Annotator's Note: five inch, 25 caliber gun]. Schoonejans's boat [Annotator's Note: the USS Burrfish (SS-312)] had an older four inch deck gun. They had been part of a six boat patrol and thought they were heading for home but they were diverted to Saipan where they got new orders. The six boats were to go out in pairs and sweep a certain area of the sea of sampans and any patrol craft. Those vessels carried radios that could alert the Japanese mainland when American bombers were on their way. During the attack Schoonejans was posted as a battle lookout. The Ronquil fired first. Her deck gun was mounted aft which was the choice of the captain. When he did he may have used a proximity fuse because the shell from the new five inch gun detonated over the tail of the submarine putting a hole in the hull. He immediately had to retire from the battle so the Burrfish finished the job. Schoonejans got a good example of fire control. His boat had a four inch 50 mounted on the bow. He watched as they shot one over the target, one under the target, and every shot fired after that was a hit. They shot the boat to splinters. Before they destroyed the ship they were taking return fire and two of the men aboard Burrfsh were wounded and received Purple Hearts. Schoonejans served under two skippers aboard the Burrfish who had two different attitudes. The skipper aboard for patrol four was old school and was more defensive than aggressive. He was happy to sink the tanker and patrol craft until a sailor near him was wounded. By the time the second man was wounded they had stopped the return fire from the enemy ship. That was his story of battle surface. Battle surface was much more exciting than attacking a ship with torpedoes. Guys below have no idea what is going on.


[Annotator's Note: Emil Schoonejans served in the Navy aboard the submarine USS Burrfish (SS-312) and was rated a Torpedoman 2nd Class.] Their second skipper was a younger man who had trained under the Tang's O'Kane [Annotator's Note: USS Tang (SS-306) was skippered by then Commander Richard O'Kane]. O'Kane had trained under the Wahoo's Morton [Annotator's Note: USS Wahoo (SS-238) was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Dudley Morton]. Those guys were aggressive. His skipper was very aggressive and shot at a lot of things. Schoonejans believes that this was because they were getting close to the end of the war. One time they were shooting at a very small ship and a very bad thing happened to them. The sea was very choppy and they were making a submerged torpedo attack in the daylight. They skipper called the torpedo room and told them the depth he wanted the torpedo set to run at. Then he called and changed that depth several times. Finally they got the order to fire. They fired three torpedoes and heard three explosions. The explosions came way too early for them to have hit the target. When a torpedo is fired there is a mechanism in the tube which catches the huge air bubble that results from the compressed air used to launch the torpedo. That mechanism failed on all three of the tubes they had fired. Not only did the Japanese vessel they were shooting at see the explosions from the premature torpedo detonations, but they could see the big air bubbles on the surface. All they had to do was draw a line from one to the other and they would know exactly where the American submarine was hiding. They did. The Japanese ship kept the Burrfish down for 18 hours. He knew exactly where they were and it seemed like he would never run out of depth charges. Submarine sailors say that a click can be heard just before a depth charge goes off. That click can only be heard if the depth charge is a little ways away. Aboard the Burrfish that day they could not hear any clicks. In the after torpedo room is a launcher for a decoy. After a while the executive officer set a decoy charge and launched it. The decoy was supposed to travel a distance away from the submarine then start making noise. This one did not. It sat right over the Burrfish and started making a terrible racket. The Burrfish had again told the Japanese warship exactly where they were. There must have been several vessels up there because more than 60 depth charges were dropped on them and they were all very close. Later they launched another decoy but it had the exact same results as the first. The exec [Annotator's Note: executive officer or second in command] was Ken Wilson who was a full lieutenant at the time. Schoonejans' boss, Wade Hickman, asked the exec if he could try it. This time it worked like a charm. It was a tough spot and they were lucky to get out of it. No one who has ever experienced a depth charge attack is an atheist. Schoonejans communicated with God that day and every time they were depth charged. They were depth charged many times. When they were rigged for silent running they shut off anything making noise and people took off their shoes. If they had to talk they would whisper to each other. The depth charges were close. They shattered light bulbs and would shake the cork off the inside surface of the hull. It was very scary.


[Annotator's Note: Emil Schoonejans served in the Navy aboard the submarine USS Burrfish (SS-312), and was rated a Torpedoman 2nd Class.] It is hard to explain everyday life aboard a submarine. It was just eating, sleeping and standing their watch. If they got a target they would be successful. It was hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. They spent a lot of time with their hobbies. Their primary hobby was photography. They had the facilities to do a lot with pictures. If they had a good picture they would make a copy for everyone aboard the boat. They also played acey deucey [Annotator's Note: acey deucey was a popular card game during that time]. There was no gambling that Schoonejans recalls and no drinking on duty. They did have gillie which is a beverage made from torpedo alcohol. It had a purple color which was a poison that the Navy added to the alcohol to keep the sailors from drinking it but it did not work. It took the Navy over 20 years to develop a fuel that worked right and the sailors would not drink. It took the sailors 20 minutes to get the purple poison out. They strained it through a loaf of bread. Every boat also had its own still. They did not use it while at sea. It was for when they stopped in a place where alcohol was not easily obtainable. Schoonejans helped build the submarine rest camp on Majuro [Annotator's Note: this was actually Camp Myrna on Myrna Island]. The assignment to build the camp had been given to the submarine tender Sperry [Annotator's Note: USS Sperry (AS-12)]. Sperry used its submarine relief crews to clear the beach of coral, build Quonset huts, dig latrines, make a ball field and anything else to make a nice camp. Schoonejans reported aboard the Sperry in March 1944 after being in the Navy for a year. The Sperry was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii when he reported aboard but it was immediately dispatched to the Marshall Islands to set up the rest camp. Later, the Sperry's relief crews built another rest camp on Guam named Camp Sam Dealey. After his tour aboard the Sperry he reported aboard the Burrfish [Annotator's Note: USS Burrfish (SS-312)]. They refitted about a half dozen boats while he was aboard Sperry. Schoonejans was happy when he got orders to report aboard the Burrfish which had already made several war patrols. It was exciting knowing that he would soon be meeting the crew that he would be living with and maybe dying with. He also got to know the boat and knew that it was expected that he would qualify on his first patrol. Before they got off the boat at their first rest camp they were expected to get qualified. Getting qualified was something that took up a lot of their time. They had to learn everything about the boat. It did not take Schoonejans long to learn the torpedo tubes. Even though he did not like being part of a relief crew aboard the Sperry it gave him the chance to learn the differences between each submarine. Being on a relief crew was not great duty. They did not learn all of the boat until they were on it. The rated crewmen helped each other get qualified. It was rare for someone not to qualify after the first patrol. There was a guy aboard ship who was Schoonejans's partner on battle lookout duty. He could see things that the radar could not see. He called out a mountain one day that no one else could see until hours later. He refused to learn the boat and that was not a good thing because everyone's life depends on everybody being qualified. After his second patrol without qualifying, the man was transferred off the boat. The officers would take the men trying to qualify through the boat and ask a lot questions about everything.


Emil Schoonejans was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire when the war ended. They had been sent back to the United States for a major overhaul because the boat [Annotator's Note: the USS Burrfish (SS-213)] was pretty beat up. After a stop at Mare Island they were sent to Portsmouth. When they passed through the Panama Canal and steamed up the East Coast it was almost as bad as being shot at. While they were at sea everyone was the enemy. The Japanese were the enemy as were the United States Army and Navy. When a submarine was at sea without an escort it was fair game. It was close to the end of the war but before the bombs were dropped [Annotator's Note: the atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki]. While they were heading up the East Coast they were in very heavy seas. They rotated lookouts so the guys could get some fresh air. Schoonejans was on lookout which was strange due to his rating. While he was out there a big wave crashed onto the boat. When they attempted to make their daily dive they could not. Not being able to dive was a big problem especially since there was still a war being fought. They got a big motor mack [Annotator's Note: Motor Machinist Mate] with a sledge hammer to get into the crawl space between the deck they walked on and the hull. It was his job to find out why the bow buoyancy vent system did not work. The bulkhead formers were bent. The teak wood deck had been shattered. He got into there and found and fixed the problem so they were able to dive again. Schoonejans thinks often about how the war changed his life. Things are different today than they were then. He dated his girlfriend for a year and when he turned 17 he broke up with her. He had heard about people being separated and he knew he would soon be going off to war and he did not want her to have to wait for him. He went to war and did not see her again until after the war. Schoonejans and his brother were walking through New York City one day after the war ended but they were still in the service. They were walking through the bus terminal and he bumped into the girl he had left. He could not believe his eyes. Neither could she. He asked her if she wanted to come out with him but she declined. She had gotten married and had two children. Schoonejans most memorable experience in combat was seeing the bullets being fired at his boat during the fight with the Japanese patrol craft. The two vessels were only 300 to 500 yards apart and he could see the bullets. They were both using tracers. He could also hear small arms fire hitting the hull. Schoonejans was discharged from the Navy on 19 February 1946 as a Torpedoman 2nd Class. After being discharged he joined the Merchant Marine then the Navy Reserve. He did not know what he wanted to do after the war so he went to aviation school on the GI Bill. All he knew was that he wanted to get a college education. His mother and father felt the same way. He does not think he would have been able to attend aviation school without the GI Bill.

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