Early Life, Enlistment and Assignment

Southern France then Sevastopol

Service in the Pacific and China

Southern France, Italy and Performing Duties

Staying in the Navy and Postwar Service

Bombing of the USS Catoctin (AGC-5)

Reflections

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Howard Fox was born in Albany, New York in 1925. He grew up during the Great Depression, and lost his mother when he was just a boy. His upbringing was done by his father and the Marines at the military academy he attended. His father, a World War 1 veteran, advised him to join the Navy if he wanted good food and a place to sleep. Fox enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and went to boot camp in Sampson, New York. He had training at a radio school in Ohio, and was sent to new construction for the USS Catoctin (AGC-5). When he first beheld the ship, he thought it was very impressive. He participated in its shakedown cruise off of Cape Hatteras. Because he preferred being above decks, he requested and was granted a change of assignment from radioman striker to signalman striker. The ship steamed on to the Rock of Gibraltar, and along the way, nearly capsized; it was out of balance due to radio and radar equipment topside. At Gibraltar, Admiral Hewitt came aboard and commented that a near miss could sink the Catoctin. The ship was loaded with scrap metal to bring it lower in the water, and less likely to tip. Fox traveled to Italy and to Sicily, landing in Naples, to prepare for the invasion of southern France. The Catoctin hosted many dignitaries, including the King of England.

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Howard Fox said that after the invasion of Normandy was underway, the USS Catoctin (AGC-5) was used as an amphibious radar communications control ship for the invasion of Southern France. Fox remembered the invasion came off very well, but one night soon after it began, he saw Allied planes flying over, and realized they were violating a red zone. They were soon followed by enemy aircraft and everyone had to hit the deck. The ship took a strike on its fantail, and there were casualties. The captain decided not to bury the dead at sea; instead they were laid to rest at the nearby cemetery on shore. Fox described an incident that happened the night after the attack that involved German torpedo boats that tried to sink the Catoctin. The torpedo boats were intercepted, but the ship slipped its anchor and started to drift toward the beach, and it was Fox who sounded the alarm that kept the ship from beaching. Fox thought they would go next to the Pacific; to his surprise they headed for the Black Sea, and the way was loaded with mines. They docked at Sevastopol, and Fox said they were treated like prisoners by the Russians, so the crew mostly stayed on board ship. At the time, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin [Annotator's Note: American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian Premiere Joseph Stalin] were in conference at Malta. There were celebrations that followed, and then the Catoctin sailed for the United States, where Fox was hospitalized for hernia surgery. After he got out of the hospital, he had a few days leave, then went right back to the ship.

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Howard Fox sailed on the USS Catoctin (AGC-5) through the Panama Canal to the west coast and Hawaii. He rode out the typhoon of 1945, which was so bad that at times the ship's screws were out of the water. The convoy wound up at Okinawa in the 7th Amphibious Force under Admiral Barbey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Vice Admiral Daniel Edward Barbey], with Marines on board preparing for the invasion of Japan. Fox thanks God that it was then that the atomic bombs were dropped; the ship then went on to accept the surrender of the Japanese in Korea. Afterward, they weighed anchor and went to Tsingtao, China. The Russian Communists had taken over China, and when the Allies went ashore to accept the surrender of the Japanese there, they were fired upon, a story that never hit the papers, and the surrender was not perfected. The Catoctin went on to Peking and Shanghai, and then back to the United States, where Fox was discharged. He immediately signed up for the reserves.

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Howard Fox was with the Seventh Army going into France, serving on the USS Catoctin (AGC-5), the amphibious command ship that was tasked with directing the invasion of Southern France. Aboard were Commodore Tuttle [Annotator's Note: British Air Marshal Sir Geoffrey William Tuttle] from the British Air, General Patch [Annotator's Note: US Army General Alexander Patch] from the U.S. Army, and Admiral de Lemonnier [Annotator's Note: French Navy Admiral André-Georges Lemonnier] from the French fleet; Admiral Hewitt [Annotator's Note: US Navy Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt], the Eighth Fleet commander was also aboard his ship. In Italy, Fox worked on a Christmas party for the Neapolitan orphans. Naples had been hit pretty hard, and the civilians scavenged food and coffee grounds from the ship's garbage buckets on the pier. On leave, Fox went to Rome for an audience with the pope. Then the ship went to Sicily for repairs and continued on to the Black Sea and Russia. All the while Fox performed the duties of signalman. Fox commented that in European waters he used "mer.sigs." because in the European Theater they often had to correspond with merchant ships, and that code worked very well. After his hernia surgery, Fox couldn't climb, so the Navy sent him to school to be an interviewer and classifier. When he got back on the Catoctin, his captain wanted every man in his crew tested by the psychologist, doctor, chaplain, and himself to determine proper duty assignments. Fox helped administer and chart the tests, and was promoted to Third Class Yeoman and Classifier. He also made the ship's announcements. While in port, Fox was in charge of issuing liberties; at sea his battle station was aft, on secondary command, an open position kept at the ready in case the bridge was knocked out. During liberty, Fox liked to go to the beach, no matter where he was. He performed these duties until the end of the war.

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Howard Fox liked the Navy so much that after his discharge he joined the Navy Reserves. He was called up in 1950 to serve in Korea, and advanced to Chief Data Processor (DPC). During the Vietnam War he served as a recruiter at the reserve center. He got out, but rejoined the reserves again, and he became a staff recruiter. At 55 years of age, he was invited to go back to active duty, and went back for three years recruiting in the northeast. He was released when his wife became seriously ill. In 1955, he joined the New York State Navy Militia, and retired as a Lieutenant Commander. He had 33 years total in the U.S. Navy. Fox commented that when he boarded the USS Catoctin (AGC-5), the vast majority of its crew was relatively green.

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The night the USS Catoctin (AGC-5) was hit by the bomb, Howard Fox was on the bridge, copying messages and reading lights. He remembers that Commodore Tuttle [Annotator's Note: British Air Marshal Sir Geoffrey William Tuttle] came up and wanted Fox's helmet, but Fox refused to give it to him, pointing out that Tuttle should have brought his own helmet. Fox said the German E-boats [Annotator's Note: a fast motor torpedo boat] were all over and really blasting, and he needed the protection. On that occasion, Fox recalled, a young sailor in a Higgins boat [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel or LCVP] was circling the Catoctin, attempting to lay a smoke screen to protect the ship, but when the bomb hit, that sailor was killed. Fox could hear the bombs hitting the deck, and didn't want to look up. Fox knew they had damage from the sounds and the screams. Immediately afterward, he went aft to see if he could help; in some cases it was just to hold a guy's hand; more than a few were dead. After that surprise attack, there were always fighters in the air to protect the ship. Fox said he was scared, even though he had been trained in what had to be done.

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Howard Fox loved the waters and he loved the Navy. Like all his friends who enlisted for service in World War 2, he wanted to help his country, even though his father would have preferred he didn't join. Fox said the war made him grow up very fast. He realized he could die, and saw some of his friends die. But he lived on to raise a big family, and values his long life.

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