Early Life, Enlistment and Joining the USS Helena (CL-50)
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Repairing the Ship, Return to Action and the Loss of the USS Helena (CL-50)
Service After the Loss of the USS Helena (CL-50)
Fred A. Aldridge was born in Orlando, North Carolina. After graduating high school in September 1935 he enlisted in the Navy. He chose the Navy because times were hard and he had an older brother in the Navy. His parents had six kids at home and they were happy to get rid of one more of them. [Annotator's Note: Aldridge laughs.] Boot camp was interesting to Aldridge. There, he learned to march, how to dress and how to obey orders. After completing boot camp, Aldridge was sent to the USS Helena (CL-50) as an electrician. He was responsible for keeping all of the electrical gear aboard ship in working order. He worked under a chief petty officer. In the years prior to America's entry into World War 2, the Helena made stops in South America and ended up in Pearl Harbor. The men aboard the Helena never gave any thought to the war between Japan and China.
Sunday, 7 December 1941 was just like any other Sunday for Fred Aldridge and his fellow sailors. When an alarm sounded around eight in the morning, Aldridge and the rest of the crew [Annotator's Note: of the USS Helena (CL-50)] went to their museter stations. When anotehr alarm sounded they scattered. Aldridge's brother, who had only been in the Navy for about three months, went to his battle station in the engine room and was killed that day. As Aldridge ran to his battle station, he was knocked down and wounded in the knee but got up and continued on to his station in the gun mount. He recieved the Purple Heart for his wound. After arriving at his battle station he does not know what was happening outside because the mount was enclosed. The brother he lost was the youngest of Aldridge's siblings. Aldridge remained at his battle station until late in the afternoon. Aldridge's battle station was in one of the ship's six inch gun mounts with which they were not able to shoot at the attacking aircraft. When he finally left his battle station they were concerned that there may be additional attacks and nobody knew where the Japanese fleet was located. Fortunately, there were no more attacks. When Aldridge went out on deck, the deck was covered with shell casings and other evidence of the battle. Later that day a group of American aircraft flew in and were fired on.
The day after the attack [Annotator's Note: 8 December 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor], Fred Aldridge and his shipmates set about cleaning up the ship [Annotator's Note: the USS Helena (CL-50)]. The ship had been torpedoed and the resulting blast had killed his younger brother. The Helena could not get under way because all of the ship's major machinery was flooded. About a month after the attack they were able to get the Helena into a dry dock. A few weeks later they got the machinery running again after which they returned to the United States for more significant repairs. Before leaving Hawaii, a memorial service was held for those killed in the attack. After repairs, the Helena returned to the Pacific. After taking part in 19 engagements, the Helena was sunk. Aldridge was aboard the Helena from the time she was built until she was sunk. The Helena was sunk during the night battle in Kula Guulf when she was hit by four torpedoes. The ship broke in half and Aldridge just walked off the ship into the water. After four hours in the water he was picked up by a destroyer then dropped off at Espiritu Santo where he lived with the SeaBees [Annotator's Note: members of a naval construction battalion].
After the battle [Annotator's Note: the Battle of Kula Gulf on 6 July 1943 during which the USS Helena (CL-50) was sunk], Fred Aldridge and the other survivors were sent back to the United States. Aldridge was assigned to a submarine chaser and spent the rest of the war chasing Japanese submarines and mines. Most of the 19 engagements he took part in aboard the Helena were against Japanese shore batteries. During all of the engagements, Aldridge's job, as an electrician, was to keep the ship's electical systems running. He did not enjoy the work but there is nothing else he would have particularly preferred to be doing. In his down time, Aldridge would play cards. He also had chores to do. At the time, Aldridge thought that the Japanese were rotten and that the dropping of the atomic boms was a good idea. They ended the war.
Fred Aldridge decided to stay in the Navy after World War 2 because his family was growing up and needed educations. He had gotten married while he was serving aboard the Helena [Annotator's Note: USS Helena (CL-50)]. While serving during the war he managed to get back to the United States a few times and he had two kids by the time the Helena was sunk. The Navy reported him as "Missing in Action" to his wife. He still has the telegram. His wife supported his decision to stay in the service after the war. He does not recall where he was stationed after World War 2 and was not involved in the Korean War. Aldridge's most memorable experience of World War 2 is the sinking of the Helena and spending time in the water at night. Aldridge was already in the service when World War 2 began and he does not feel that it changed his life in any way. He is proud that he served. World War 2 was different than wars of today. In wars today soldiers don't know who their enemy is. Before the war, they made a few interesting stops but once the war started that came to an end.
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