Becoming a Sailor

Repair Ship Duty



John A. McCarthy was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His family moved to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. He was a high school student before the war started. He was a senior in high school when he turned 18 in February 1943. The United States was fighting against three countries at that time [Annotator’s Note: the Axis Powers were Germany, Italy and Japan]. All 18 year olds were being called into service at that time. He volunteered for the Navy with the stipulation that he be allowed to graduate high school. That was agreed to and McCarthy entered the Navy after high school. He was living with his aunt and uncle when he heard about Pearl Harbor. He heard about it on the popular Walter Winchell radio show. He found out that we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. Everyone wondered how they were individually were going to be affected. McCarthy knew it would not be long before he would be called upon to serve. His basic training was at Great Lakes Naval Training center at Great Lakes, Illinois. After basic , he and others were rounded up to be tested to see which service school they would be sent to. Those not selected for further training were to be sent to an OGU, or Outgoing Unit, and were to sea. McCarthy was one of five pulled out of 500 men selected for OGU. They were to be sent to Treasure Island. That was in 1943. McCarthy may have been pulled so he could be held out for the baseball season. With the season nearly over, he was sent to Aircraft Training Center in Great Lakes to train LST [Annotator’s Note: Landing Ship, Tank] crews. They were trained on 20 and 40mm guns. Since he did not play ball in 1943, he was held over for the next season in 1944. In June, the big leaguers were brought in to see the candidates. Big leaguer players were not drafted until 1944. The idea was to provide entertainment to civilians. He was not able to play at that level so he was sent to a repair ship, the USS Laertes (AR-20). It was the sister ship to the Xanthus and Dionysus [Annotator’s Note: USS Xanthus (AR-19) and USS Dionysus (AR-21)]. All the ships had Greek names. McCarthy went to Cumberland, Maryland to pick up the newly commissioned Laertes. From there, the ship sailed to Pearl Harbor.


John McCarthy reached Pearl Harbor on his ship [Annotator’s Note: the repair ship USS Laertes (AR-20)]. They waited for an escort convoy to form because the Laertes was a noncombatant ship. With their limited armament, they needed an escort. They waited two weeks and then Halsey said he needed repair ships in the Marshall Islands. The Laertes left unescorted. The ship followed a long zigzag course to avoid submarine attack. They were lucky and did not have any trouble. They had a couple of close calls while en route. They reckoned that they spotted an enemy submarine advancing on them. He seemed to be out of torpedoes. It appeared that he wanted to surface and hit them with his deck guns. The AR-20 sent a challenge, but there was no reply from the ship. Eventually, the unidentified ship exited the scene before the Laertes could fire upon it. They also encountered mines along the way. There were a couple of sharpshooters onboard. They fired on the mine until it exploded. It took awhile for the detonators to be hit. There was concern that the wave action would bring the mine close to the ship. The skipper was getting anxious when the shooters finally hit the right spot on the mine and it exploded. The Laertes finally reached Eniwetok Atoll. The Marshalls had been taken over in February 1944, so there was no worry about enemy attacks. Several ships protected them for the six months they were there. Numerous ships came to them for repair. The men worked eight hour shifts. A sign would be placed on the bunk to indicate that the man was sleeping. The shifts were around the clock in order to quickly turnaround the damaged ships. That saved time. About a dozen warships were repaired in the six month period. There may have been one transport ship repaired that had suffered a large hole on its side. The holes on the warships would be large and above the water level. McCarthy was rated as a gunner’s mate striker because he had worked at the Great Lakes Gunnery School. A yeoman typist was needed in the office. McCarthy knew he could do the job because he had taken typing in high school. He volunteered to help the Chief for a few days. He went in and stayed for quite awhile. He successfully cut stencils and the Chief asked him to strike for a yeoman’s rate. McCarthy heard the advantages and decided to avoid the noisy gun ranges he had been assigned to before. Afterwards, McCarthy and the Navy assessed that his hearing loss was due to the gunfire he witnessed. While at Eniwetok, he was in the office helping the Chief. He kept up with personnel and activities. After Eniwetok, the ship went to Buckner Bay in Okinawa for about a month. No ships were being hit by the enemy at that time, so he had very little work. No ships were repaired while he was there. Truman made a speech and shortly after the bomb was dropped and then they left Okinawa. The word had been passed that there was to be a big advance on Tokyo. That was mitigated by the Truman announcement and McCarthy was happy with that. McCarthy had been a gunnery instructor for 20 and 40mm automatic cannons and Browning machine guns for a short time. He then became a yeoman for two or three years.


World War II changed John McCarthy and his life tremendously. Without the war, he might have been a factory worker. He was unskilled but was an excellent baseball player. He was told by his high school coach that he was the best player he had coached in 25 years. It may have been why he was selected not to go to Treasure Island for shipboard duty after basic training. He attended college on the GI Bill and succeeded in getting a Master’s Degree. He married a lady, and they had four children. He and his wife were both school teachers. The war did prevent him from playing baseball after high school. His high school coach became a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies and urged McCarthy to see the head baseball scout. McCarthy lifted weights to strengthen himself in preparation for that encounter. He worked hard to improve his worse pitch. In doing so, he lifted weights every day instead of alternating days. He improved his weak pitch but then lost the ability to throw his primary pitches. He might have hit the major leagues if there was not a war. Without the service experience, he would not have gone to college. He may have worked in a factory as a result. Looking back, he did not get wounded and he saw very little action. He got all the veteran benefits associated with his service, and so the Navy was very good to him. The war brought people together. There were insignias that were hung in the home window to indicate how many sons that family had in the service. The civilian population had rationing, and they helped one another. That was the biggest way that the war helped the country. The National WWII Museum is important to let the young people today know more about the conflict. Every country was fighting another country during the Second World War. The exception was Switzerland. Young people do not realize the sacrifice made by the service people for the freedoms of today.

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