Growing Up in Dallas

Joining the Navy, Boot Camp, and the USS San Francisco (CA-38)

Shipboard Duties, Pearl Harbor and Guadalcanal

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

The Slot, Coral Sea, Midway and Tarawa

Supporting the Marines on Tarawa, Survival at Sea and Seeing War

Treating Wounded and Performance of Duties

Race Relations at Home and in the Navy

Leaving the Navy, Fight in the Slot, and Reunions

Reunion Groups, Discrimination and Reflections

Settling Differences and Anything Can Happen

Burial at Sea

The Loss of the USS Juneau (CL-52)

War is Not a Thing of Beauty

Treating a Casualty on the USS San Francisco (CA-38)

Encounter with Dorie Miller

Opinion on Race and the Future of Humanity


Eugene Tarrant was born in Ennis, Texas. When he was three, his family moved to Dallas. His mother and father figured that they would have better opportunities in a big city. It was a complete change for Tarrant; he was used to big, wide open spaces. He spent a lot of time fishing on his grandmother's farm. He and his brother would pick his grandmother's cotton. Tarrant found out that prejudice was very strong in the South. Going to Dallas opened up a different feel for him. His mother and father separated when they moved to Dallas. He didn't realize the significance at the time. Tarrant's mother was a talented cook and she only cooked for rich white families. Tarrant grew up in a white neighborhood because of his mother's occupation. Most of the rich people had servants' quarters. It was very rare to see someone with gas in their home. Tarrant's home had gas, running water, and electricity. His mother's job took him out of the black community. He would see other African-American kids at school and then after school he would head home to the rich white neighborhood while his peers headed home to the ghetto. Tarrant did not have many friends because he did not go to the African-American neighborhoods. North Dallas had everything he and his family needed. They had their own schools, theaters, restaurants, and churches. Tarrant felt he was cheated, because he did not have a way to practice sports with any of the white kids. He had white friends up until he was 11 or 12, but then they stopped coming over to play. Tarrant was not stupid, he knew why. His mother was very dedicated. She wanted her sons to get the best possible education. Tarrant finished high school in 1938. He was second in his class of 300 people. Even still, he did not receive a single scholarship offer. If he had been closely related to the African-American community, it may have been different because then people would have known who he was. Tarrant's mother was busy making a living and cooking meals for her employers and couldn't attend after school meetings and such. Tarrant played four sports in high school in addition to being a scholar. The Depression was bearing down in the mid 1930s. He had an after school job at a cleaning plant, it paid seven dollars a week. If Tarrant had a father in his life he may have gotten better advice. He settled on joining the military. He wanted to be a Marine. His mother did not know anything about the military, but she talked to her friends about it. Tarrant got no guidance from his mother. He went to downtown Dallas to the recruiting stations. He liked the uniforms of the Marines.


Eugene Tarrant went to join the military when he was 18. He was in good shape, about 175 pounds. A sergeant asked him, "What do you want here?" He thought it was a heck of a greeting. The man informed him that the Marine Corps "Didn't take you guys" and to "get out of there." He then went to the Army recruiting center and was informed that they would not be taking recruits for another six months. He then went to the Navy recruiting station. The man at the Navy gave Tarrant an aptitude test that was supposed to take an hour or two. He completed it in 15 minutes. The man was blown away by him because he almost made a perfect score. The lieutenant in charge looked at him and the sergeant and said, "That is too bad, too bad he's colored." He questioned this and was told that if he was not black he would have been sent to Annapolis and the Naval Academy. He was told they wouldn't accept him, but that he could join the Navy. He went home and told his mom what had happened. She encouraged Tarrant to take a crack at it. He went back and took the physical. This was in July 1938. On 2 July, he was headed to the Navy. He and four other African-Americans were sent to Norfolk, Virginia. He stayed in Norfolk for four months. He took all of the training. They were taught close order drill. They were even taught how to operate a whaleboat. He thought that things were not going to be too bad. After four months they were sent aboard a ship called the USS Henderson (AP-1). It was a troop transport ship. Black and white soldiers were mixed together on this ship. They left Norfolk in October 1938. They dropped off soldiers at different points between Norfolk and the West Coast. San Francisco was the last stop. When they got to San Francisco, He and about five of the men were sent to the USS San Francisco (CA-38). He would go on to spend the remainder of his naval career aboard that ship. He was thrilled when he saw the San Francisco. It was not as big a battleship. Tarrant recalls that it was a menacing ship. There were about 30 African-Americans aboard the ship. They were all assigned to the S Division, or Supply Division. It handled all of the food. They had general cooks, which he was never assigned to. They had cooks, bakers, and storekeepers that were all a part of the S Division. He was a mess attendant. His job was to serve and take care of the officers. He had to clean their quarters, serve them food, and basically be on call for whatever they needed. Tarrant would actually serve the officers' food. He rebelled against this kind of service. He could've stayed in Dallas to do that. He spent some time in the brig for refusing orders. A man named Green, an old timer, pulled him aside and said, "You can't win. You cannot beat the Navy." Green warned him that it would not be good for Tarrant to be dishonorably discharged and have that follow him for the rest of his life. He advised him to do his time and get out. He settled down, but he was not the only African-American to rebel. He then became a galley worker after a couple times in the brig.


Eugene Tarrant would clean up the compartments of the mess attendants and things of that nature. He met a few Filipinos who were assigned as cooks. He learned a great deal about cooking and some language from those men. Tarrant was getting promotions as well throughout this time. He knew he was not going to stay in the Navy. With about seven months left in his service, Tarrant began to send his transcripts to the University of California. His plan was to enroll in school after his discharge date which was 2 July 1942. On 7 December 1941, Tarrant's whole world changed. He had seven months left in the Navy and had been accepted at Cal. His spirit really sank after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He knew he was going to be stuck with the Navy for awhile. The San Francisco [Annotator's Note: USS San Francisco (CA-38)] was called to battle stations, but there was not much that they could do. Tarrant notes that ten battleships were present, five were sunk, the other five were heavily damaged [Annotator's Note: four of the eight battleships present were sunk]. The San Francisco was strafed numerous times. Tarrant and his shipmates helped to save whoever they could. The harbor was on fire because of all of the oil. For about three days after they were getting ready to go out and find the Japanese fleet. Most of the ships including destroyers, carriers, and 25 of their cruisers were in good shape. They were in pretty good shape despite the severity of the attack but did not have any battleships. The Navy, at the time, believed that they had to have battleships as the main weapon. The Japanese proved, however, that the carrier was going to dominate the naval scene. When the war started, Tarrant's life changed completely. At this time he was still serving in the galley. One of his officers asked him if he wanted a promotion. Tarrant said he had no intention of being promoted, which would mean he would be promoted to steward. The man told him he wanted to make him the captain's cook. It opened up different doors for Tarrant. The captain is the top man in the Navy. The captain is the master of his ship. The worst naval battle Tarrant encountered was off of Guadalcanal. They gave him a menial job, but in time of battle, everyone is required to help the ship fight. Tarrant was a fuze setter on an antiaircraft battery. There were eight of them on each side. The fuze setter determines how long the fuze will burn for. Sometimes Tarrant would set a four or five second fuze, and sometimes he would set it for ten seconds which would be at a target very far away.


[Annotator's Note: Eugene Tarrant served in the Navy as a captain’s mess attendant aboard the USS San Francisco (CA-38).] They took a lot of casualties as well. The Navy is unlike the Army because the Army upper echelon sits behind the lines. In the Navy, the bridge contains all of the high ranking officers and they are there in the thick of battle. The San Francisco carried an admiral, a captain, first lieutenant and executive officer. They controlled the guidance and the firing of the ship's guns. They encountered a Japanese super-battleship called the Yamato. The Yamato ended up blowing the bridge off of the San Francisco and killing all of the high ranking officers. The only officer left was McCandless [Annotator's Note: Bruce McCandless, Medal of Honor recipient], who was a lieutenant commander. McAndless had to take control of the ship. Tarrant still gets chills when he talks about the battle. When the bridge was blown off, the men had to figure out how the ship was going to be commanded. The next morning there were over 200 men laying dead on the ship. Tarrant recalls helping to bury the men at sea. They had to make sure that the bodies were properly identified. They spent their time putting men in bags. All races were killed aboard the boat. Everyone was together. Tarrant had many men die in his arms; some called him father or mother. Tarrant learned how quickly life can be taken away. It made a different man out of him. They were in 17 Naval battles. They received the Presidential Unit Citation. Very few of the San Francisco's engagements were at nighttime. The San Francisco was offshore at Tarawa. Their job was to provide support for the landing. Guadalcanal was the first major engagement for the United States. Tarrant was able to learn about all of the engagements they participated in because of his post next to the captain of the ship. Tarrant overheard Callaghan [Annotator's Note: Rear Admiral Daniel Judson Callaghan] discussing morale on the ship. He believes that Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt] felt like the United States had to intervene at Guadalcanal because of the importance of Australia. Guadalcanal was key to the success of the United States at the beginning of the war.


[Annotator's Note: Eugene Tarrant served in the Navy as a captain’s mess attendant aboard the USS San Francisco (CA38).] The San Francisco had to intercept the Japanese ships coming down the Slot [Annotator's Note: the narrow course from Rabaul southeast through the Solomon Islands]. After they took care of the Japanese ships, the San Francisco had to provide fire support for the Marines on Guadalcanal. Almost all of the action was geared towards supporting the Marines. Japan's idea was to control all of the South Pacific. Japan was outgrowing the space they had and that is why they expanded their empire. Their orders were to protect the Marines during the day and night. Another battle they took part in was the Battle of the Coral Sea [Annotator's Note: 4 to 8 May 1942]. The San Francisco was with the Helena [Annotator's Note: USS Helena (CL-50)] and the Juneau [Annotator's Note: USS Juneau (CL-52)]. Tarrant witnessed the Juneau get hit by a torpedo [Annotator's Note: on 13 November 1942]. The Sullivan brothers [Annotator's Note: five siblings from Iowa who were all killed aboard the Juneau] were aboard that ship. The San Francisco was high in the water, the torpedo went right under the San Francisco. Pieces from the explosion rained down on the San Francisco. Tarrant heard later that there were in fact survivors but he did not personally see any. Tarrant was present at the Battle of Midway [Annotator's Note: 4 to 7 June 1942]. Japan avoided the terms of the Washington Naval Conference. Japan had battleships with 18 inch guns. The United States ended up sinking all three super battleships. Tarrant notes that if they got within close enough range, the super battleships could not depress their guns low enough to shoot at the American ships. Midway was a different battle because the fighting was during the daytime and it exclusively involved airplanes. Tarrant's job was to be a part of the defensive circle surrounding the carriers. Midway helped reinforce what the Japanese proved at Pearl Harbor, that planes would make the battleship obsolete. The San Francisco was hit by a 500 pound bomb but it did not detonate. [Annotator's Note: Tarrant switches back to Tarawa] The San Francisco's job at Tarawa was to provide support for the Marines landing. The Marines miscalculated the tide.


The Marines had to land about a thousand yards short of the beach at Tarawa. Eugene Tarrant recalls the San Francisco's [Annotator's Note: USS San Francisco (CA-38)] guns firing in support of the landing. Tarrant notes that it was a particularly harsh landing for the Marines. Blood was running in the sand and in the water. Tarrant has a hard time recalling some of the islands because they all blended together. The blueprint for taking each island was the same. It was a naval bombardment followed by a landing. Tarrant recalls strafing for hours in preparation for these landings. Once the Marines or Army pushed inland, the fire mission would change for the San Francisco, and if the island was too small then they would stop. The San Francisco would receive fire orders from Marines or Army on the ground. Tarrant notes that when ships blow up they usually have survivors. If a ship was sunk at night the survivors would not be rescued until the situation allowed it, which usually meant reduced enemy presence and daytime. Some men would float around in the ocean for hours on end waiting to be rescued, that is if the sharks did not get them first. Sailors were issued large knives in case they went overboard. It was at least something to strike back at the sharks with. War is not a thing of beauty; it is a lot of suffering. A person can go without sleep for three or four days. There is food, but it cannot be cooked. Sometimes the men would put uncooked hot dogs into a big pot and eat them. War is a terrible thing because it takes the best and the brightest. Man loses all his sanity when they start fighting and killing each other. It gets to the point where one sees enough of it that one is immune to it. There are two duties in the Navy. One is an individual's special duty and the other is military duty. Military duty is geared towards protecting the ship. Guys would ask Tarrant how he came out of the battle.


Eugene Tarrant has certain memories from the war that have stuck with him to this day. One night off of Guadalcanal, Tarrant had a memorable moment. His second job, besides being a fuze setter, was to help the Pharmacist's Mate administer morphine or whatever they needed. Tarrant heard a man yelling, "Please help me, please help me." One of the guys was pinned in a damaged gun mount. Tarrant asked the man where he was hit and the man replied, "I'm hit on my shoulder." Tarrant tore his shirt and grabbed his shoulder and the man's shoulder came off in his hand. Tarrant did not panic. A big stream of blood came from the man's arm socket. Tarrant made a fist and put his hand over the wound to stop the bleeding. It is something that one never forgets. They used the deck below to store the wounded. Tarrant went around and consoled the wounded. When Tarrant went through training he remembers the officers emphasizing completing one's duty. It left an impression on Tarrant that people have such a disregard for human life. He learned later that there are good people who will treat people like humans. The wars that are being fought today supercede the war that Tarrant fought. It is a changing world. He still is haunted by his memories. On one deployment, Tarrant did not see a single thing. He had very little free time aboard the ship. When it was dark, no lights were on. No smoking was allowed during blackout conditions. Naps were also not allowed, no matter how little sleep someone got. Tarrant was a boxer, he would go to the gym and work out. Tarrant met a few Caucasian males who he became good friends with. Most of the time though, he stuck to his division when it came to social time. During his leave he fraternized mostly with other guys from the S Division. Every now and then they would have friendly communications. They always worked together as a team. All of the men were dedicated towards keeping men alive and keeping the ship afloat. There is no time for prejudice. There was no privacy on the ship, everyone knew what everyone was doing at all times. It could be five in the morning and there would be a line for the bathroom. No one got out of line on the ship for fear of punishment. It was a deterrent against prejudice.


[Annotator's Note: Eugene Tarrant served in the Navy as a captain’s mess attendant aboard the USS San Francisco (CA38).] The United States, especially the South, was a very prejudiced place. It was only after the Martin Luther King era did things begin to change. In 1942, the Navy began to enlist 13 African-American ensigns. They were trained at Tuskegee. The rumor was that they were going to install African-American officers. Tarrant expressed his interest in being able to apply to become an ensign. A month later Tarrant found out the African-American candidates were taken from college. They began to use the African-American officers later on in the war. Leonard Roy Harmon was a friend of Tarrant. Tarrant was with him when he died. He distinguished himself in battle by saving three or four guys. Harmon later became the namesake of a destroyer, USS Harmon (DE-678). Dorie Miller [Annotator's Note: US Navy Messman 3rd Class Doris Miller] was aboard the USS West Virginia (BB-48). He distinguished himself in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tarrant knew Miller. At Pearl Harbor, they would go to a bar called Two Jacks, which was the African-American bar. It was run by an African-American man who had a place in San Francisco after the war. Altogether, there were about 80 African-Americans out in Honolulu. They would drink with each other and tell stories at Two Jacks. There were two places African-Americans would go in Honolulu. One was Two Jacks and the other was a restaurant named Theresa's Place. Theresa was a black woman and she served red beans and rice and friend chicken. Tarrant did not know Dorie Miller that well, but when they were on leave they would run into each other. Miller had received the Navy Cross for his actions at Pearl Harbor. Miller was told that he could go home and function as an exhibit for recruiters, but he wanted to remain at his post. Miller said he was going to win the Medal of Honor, that is why he wanted to stay in. Miller was a big, tall guy; a typical Texan. Harmon was from Cuervo, Texas. Miller was put aboard an escort carrier and was killed aboard that escort carrier. Tarrant could see the changes coming in the Navy. When he was getting ready to leave the Navy in 1945 he was still the captain's chef. Captain France [Annotator's Note: US Navy Captain Albert Finley France, Jr.] was his last captain. He wanted Tarrant to stay in the Navy; he guaranteed him a commission. Tarrant, meanwhile, was packing up his suitcase.


The captain [Annotator's Note: Captain Albert Finley France, Jr.] told Tarrant that the Navy was going to be different one day. Tarrant told him no, that he already had plans. [Annotator's Note: Captain Finley tried to convince Tarrant to stay in the Navy by offering him a commission. Tarrant refused because of the racial segregation and discrimination prevelant in the military at the time.] He, in the meantime, had gotten married to a girl from Kansas. Tarrant got married towards the end of the war; he assured his wife that he would make it back. He informed his captain that he was 25 years old and that he wanted to get on with his life. Tarrant walked out of the Navy at that point. Tarrant discusses how Admiral Callaghan [Annotator's Note: US Navy Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan] had gotten an order to intercept the Japanese ships that were coming down The Slot [Annotator's Note: the narrow course from Rabaul southeast through the Solomon Islands]. Tarrant was candid with Callaghan and told him that the mission seemed hopeless. Callaghan told him "This is what we are going to do." Tarrant passed on to his buddies that they were going to have a tough mission. He told his friends all they could do was pray to God. A lot of people have the idea that the San Francisco [Annotator's Note: USS San Francisco (CA-38)] sank, but it never did. The San Francisco was decommissioned in 1947 in Florida. It was put out of commission and scrapped. The bridge of the San Francisco is at a place called Land's End outside of San Francisco. They have memorial services there. Last year they only had 14 people. Their reunions started in 1975 and were discontinued in 2011. They started off with about 600 people. They even had their own association, the USS San Francisco Veterans Association. Tarrant was voted Vice President of the Association. He was not looked down upon in the ship's association. When the group incorporated themselves, Tarrant was named Vice President. Tarrant had to ask some of the black guys to come; they expressed their fears of coming to the reunion. Tarrant was able to convince about six of the African-Americans to come. They had a reunion of about 50 guys in England. They were closer after the war was over then they were when they were at sea.


They [Annotator's Note: Eugene Tarrant and the other officers of the USS San Francisco Veterans Association] decided to take the treasury from the organization and put it towards charity. They were also going to set up a USS San Francisco memorial chapter to continue the service. They met some influential people such as congressmen to help them set up the organization. The memorial has the entire history of the ship written in black granite, as well as all of the men who were killed during World War 2. In the South, the discrimination is more out in the open. Tarrant knew where he stood in the South. In California it is more subtle. People in California are more open to say that they are alright with blacks and that racism is not their thing, but when a black person moves next door those people would be the first to move out. The abrupt racism does not exist in California. In the South, Tarrant was well aware there were things that they could not do. In California there was a time when a black man could only buy a house in certain neighborhoods. In 1953, when Tarrant bought the home the interview was conducted in, everyone was excited. His nextdoor neighbors were German and moved out almost immediately. One day, a bunch of people were standing out on Tarrant's lawn talking. He asked the group if there was a problem. No one said anything. Tarrant spoke for them and said, "You're really not happy with the fact that my wife and I have moved here and bought this home. But I have to tell you this, we plan on being good citizens, good neighbors. I hope you will be good citizens and neighbors also, but if you don't, then I'm still here. I'll be here until my wife and I decide to go somewhere else." From that day on it was fine. Now, Tarrant is called the Mayor of Edwards Street. Even today there are only three African-American families on his street. Every year his street has a block party for Father's Day. If someone on the street has a birthday they recognize it. Ever since Tarrant's wife died, someone on his street brings him food everyday. They have been bringing Tarrant food for years; they are wonderful people. Tarrant believes that it is important that future generations talk and learn about World War 2. It was the last war that we fought that we knew exactly why we were fighting. It brought us out of the Depression. It taught people to cooperate and look after each other. The war made a big difference. There are so many wars going on today it is hard to keep track. It is keeping us in debt. America is one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world, but the question is, "Are you sure?" China and Japan have made great strides. The Middle East has oil that they know we need and are creating a stranglehold on it. Things have changed.


When asked about a general message about his service and war, Eugene Tarrant references Civil War General Sherman's [Annotator's Note: US Army Major General William Tecumseh Sherman] quote, "War is hell." People need to sit down and compromise and make concessions. War does not settle anything. If one looks back in history there has always been war. Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt] said that World War 2 would be the war to end all wars, but he just didn't know. It is not fair for every generation of young people that come along to fight a war. We have invented a bomb that can wipe out civilization. Tarrant worries about Iran and Russia. People having conflicts should sit down and have a drink and discuss the problems they are having. People only have differences in skin color because of environmental reasons. Everyone has the same color blood. Humanity has to learn that. If we do figure that out, we will survive as a race of people. A lot of the African-Americans left the South, especially during World War 2 to get better jobs. It let African-Americans know there was a way of life outside of the kind of life they were living. There were some things they were able to do during the war that they were not able to do before. A lot of African-Americans went to Northern cities to pursue job opportunities. Some of the blacks that the Southern blacks met showed the Southern blacks that there was a different way of life available for black people outside of the South. The younger generations spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement. When that movement started, Tarrant was 45 years old. He was about to go downtown to participate in the rallies but his wife advised against it. Tarrant's wife did not want to lose him, especially after she lived through the uncertainty of World War 2. She told Tarrant that he was a trailblazer and to accept his place. Tarrant did not go to the rally. Most prejudice comes from little towns where everyone knows everyone's business. In Dallas, the African-Americans had their own stores and movies. Tarrant did not see much of it growing up because he lived in an all white neighborhood. Tarrant lived in servants' quarters growing up. The change occured in those little communities. Tarrant believed that the United States would never elect a black president. It shocked him when Obama [Annotator's Note: President Barrack H. Obama] was elected. His wife was in the hospital when Obama was running for office. She only wanted one thing, to live long enough to vote for Obama; she died before she could vote. She passed several months before he was elected. Change can come. Regardless of how Obama fares in the next election, he did something that had never been done before. Some people are going to like him, some people are not going to like him, but it will resonate in the younger generations who see that anything is possible. If you're qualified you can reach for the moon. Tarrant is very proud of Obama. Tarrant believes that it is very important that people remember World War 2 by way of The National WWII Museum.

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