Joining the Navy and Preparing to go to Sea

Navy Training and Commissioning USS Midway (CVE-63)

At Sea Aboard the USS Midway (CVE63)

Battle of Leyte Gulf

Kamikaze Strike on the USS St. Lo (CVE-63)

Assignments After the USS St. Lo (CVE-63)

Postwar Life and Two Typhoons

Kamikazes

We Blew Ourselves Apart

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Orville Bethard was attending Washington High School when he learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Navy and was sent to Farragut, Idaho for boot camp. There, he was asked about his background experience. Since he had a background in electrical work he was sent to Iowa State College to a Navy electrician school there. From there he was sent to San Diego to the gyro compass school after which he was sent to Bremerton, Washington where he went out on a training carrier similar to the one he eventually went out on called the Casablanca [Annotator's Note: USS Casablanca (CVE-55)]. The crew aboard the Casablanca taught them what they needed to know about serving on an escort carrier. From there, Bethard was sent down to a Navy base at the mouth of the Columbia River where his ship, the Midway [Annotator's Note: USS Midway (CVE-63)] was docked. After reporting aboard, there was a ceremony and Bethard became part of the original commissioning crew. He owns one plank from the flight deck [Annotator's Note: members of the original commissioning crew are known as plank owners]. They went from there to various places up and down the coast. The ship was empty of supplies and ammunition so they had to loaded up equipment then steamed to San Diego which was to be their home base. In San Diego the ship was loaded down with aircraft and steamed to Australia where they dropped them off. Then they returned to San Diego. While they were at sea the ship was decommissioned and renamed the St. Lo [Annotator's Note: USS St. Lo (CVE-55)] so the name could be given to a large carrier. They began flight training their aircrews off of San Diego then steamed for Eniwetok where they joined up with three other carriers and a group of destroyers. They then took part in the invasions of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. The Japanese carried out numerous attacks on them both day and night.

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When Orville Bethard graduated from high school he was 19 years old and eligible for the draft. He did not like the idea of being a private in the Army and being sent to Europe so he decided to join the Navy. He liked the idea of going to sea, having a warm bed to sleep in, and having regular chow. He also thought that he would learn more about machinery aboard a ship than he could anywhere else. The training he received at Iowa State College was more advanced that what he had in high school. He also learned about the various tools he would use aboard ship. He got to school in the dead of winter and it was cold and snowing. Bethard contracted pneumonia and was put in the sick bay for three weeks. When he got out he was put in a different group than he had gone in with. When Bethard's ship was commissioned there was a ceremony performed by the officers. When the ceremony was completed, the ship officially became the USS Midway (CVE-63). Before that it had just been CVE-63. Bethard learned to write a check in boot camp. It was one of the trivial things they learned. In Iowa, they were housed in a new dormitory. Every morning a bugle was blown and they all got up and went outside for calisthenics. After that they had chow. Everywhere they went it was a new experience.

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After Orville Bethard went aboard ship [Annotator's Note: aboard the USS St. Lo (CVE-63)] they went to Australia where they had to go to a bank to exchange their American money for Australian money. Bethard went into a movie theater but walked out when he realized that he had already seen it. He spent his time walking around. He stopped at an open air market before going to the dock to take the whaleboat back to the ship. From Australia they headed to Eniwetok where they trained for the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. This is also where the convoy for the invasions was formed. Eniwetok had been captured shortly before they got there. It was a good deep anchorage. Bethard's ship was a direct current ship which caused problems. The electrical system had a tendency of grounding out. Moisture would cause fuses to blow out. Along the length of the flight deck are lights that pop up. The rain and salt water would get into them and blow fuses which caused them to not pop up. When that happened, the pilots who were landing at night could not see them. One of Bethard's duties was to maintain and repair them. Bethard was also the battery technician. He was a third class [Annotator's Note: Electrician's Mate 3rd Class] by the time he left Iowa State College. His position was in the battery room beneath the flight deck. The batteries were to take over if the ship lost power. He was also responsible for checking and recharging the batteries in the lanterns hanging all around the ship. Later, Bethard made second class. He had a small crew and they would repair the direct current fans all around the ship. One night they were attacked at night off Saipan. They sent out some fighters which chased off the enemy planes. When the planes returned to their carriers, Bethard's ship was the only one with working deck lights. They landed planes from all four carriers. During that night attack the Japanese tried to bomb the ship but missed. In that area there were two daylight attacks and one at night. They did not have any torpedoes fired at them there but they did later at Morotai. They went to Manus Island where the armada was building for the invasion of the Philippines. While the armada was building, several of the escort carriers were sent out with a destroyer escort to Morotai to cover the landing there. A Japanese submarine came up astern of them and fired two torpedoes. They missed Bethard's ship but hit one of the escorting destroyers. Other destroyers dropped depth charges and may have sunk the enemy submarine.

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[Annotator's Note: Orville Bethard served in the Navy as an Electrician’s Mate aboard USS Midway (CVE-63), renamed USS St. Lo (CVE-63), and was part of Taffy III during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.] At that time there were only four escort carriers working together. Then they formed Taffy III. Taffy III was made up of six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts. They went in with MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General Douglas MacArthur] for the invasion [Annotator's Note: the invasion of Leyte in October 1944]. They were the northern most of the task groups. Every morning they went to general quarters because that was the danger time. Bethard's general quarters station was as the bridge electrician. He was positioned in a crow's nest above the bridge next to a 24 inch search light with several lookouts. Every morning for the first three days they were on station they followed the same procedure. They went to general quarters and launched their aircraft, most of which were carrying depth charges. Occasionally, the planes would bomb targets on land in support of the troops ashore. The third day was the day they were sunk. On the third morning, the radar picked up a fleet approaching them. Bethard looked back and could see the Japanese fleet about 25 miles away. They did not know if the approaching fleet was American or not so a signal man signaled with the big searchlight. Moments later the Japanese ships opened fire on them. The Japanese fleet had four battleships, including the biggest battleship in the world, the Yamato. The Yamato had 18 inch guns which could fire projectiles that weighed a ton and a half more than 20 miles. All of the battleships were firing at them but missing. The Japanese shells had dye in them so when they hit the water the water colored with various colors. This way, they could see where they missed and correct their aim. The skipper of Bethard's ship would steer for the location of the shell impact [Annotator's Note: this is a naval maneuver known as Chasing Splashes] so when the Japanese gunners corrected their aim they would miss with the next salvo. Bethard watched as three shells flew overhead and hit the water right next to his ship. A part of one of the shells landed on the deck of the Midway and rolled around on it for a while. That was how close the rounds hit. The destroyers with them ran between the carriers and laid a big smoke screen. The escort carriers had a maximum speed of 18 knots, whereas, the Japanese ships could do 30 so the enemy ships were gaining on them. Once the escort carriers turned into the smoke screen Bethard could not see what was going on around the ship anymore. Bethard read that the destroyers attacked with their five inch guns. They also fired their torpedoes and scored some hits. They tried to use their five inch guns to hit the pagodas where the controls were. The book [Annotator's Note: Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James Hornfischer] tells the whole story of the battle from both sides. The Japanese had four battleships, eight heavy and two light cruisers, and 11 destroyers. Taffy III had six small aircraft carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts. They got shot up pretty bad and some of the destroyers and destroyer escorts were sunk. The Japanese fleet did a lot of damage but were put off by the American aircraft attacking their ships. Some of the American planes had nothing to attack with but made attack runs anyway. Taffy II was behind them and sent their aircraft into the fight too. Between the planes and destroyers and not knowing where the main American fleet was caused the Japanese to turn around and leave. One destroyer came out of a rain squall and opened fire on Bethard's ship. The enemy ship got too close though and the 40mm guns began shooting at it and chased it back into the rain squall. Some of the ships were hit but Bethard's ship did not have a scratch at that point.

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The Japanese left so the ship [Annotator's Note: the USS St. Lo (CVE-63)] secured from general quarters. Orville Bethard was working on the shell hoist for the five inch gun when general quarters sounded again. This time the attacker was a lone airplane. The plane made a bombing run on the ship. Bethard did not see the bomb being dropped but it penetrated the wooden flight deck and exploded on the hangar deck. Bethard was told that the Japanese pilot then crashed his plane into the ship. The explosion on the hangar deck blew the ship apart. Just before the torpedo bay blew up, flames poured out of the side of the ship. Bethard jumped up on the flight deck and ran to the hole in it to look down into the hangar deck. He could see a lot of fires. A couple sailors were trying to drag a fire hose so Bethard gave them a hand then went to his general quarters station on the bridge. Right as he got there the torpedo bay blew up. After the torpedo bay blew the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship. They threw knotted ropes over the side then climbed down and dropped into the sea. Bethard dropped into the water then swam away from the ship. He had not gone far when the bomb bay on the ship blew up. After that, there was no saving the ship. Bethard tried to inflate his life preserver but it was rotten. He swam over to a couple rubber rafts but swam away when he saw that they could not be inflated. He finally found a cargo net with cork floats with some men around it. Bethard and the others spent about three and a half hours then were picked up by the Dennis [Annotator's Note: USS Dennis (DE-405]. The Dennis had four shell holes clean through where Japanese shells hit but did not detonate because of the thin skin of the ship. The ship was taking on water so Bethard was sent below to help out on a bucket brigade. The Dennis was a small ship but still picked up 500 survivors of the St. Lo. They headed to an island where a base had been established. On the way, the sonar detected a submarine and fired a pattern of hedge hogs at it but missed. Bethard does not know how long it was between the time the St. Lo was hit and the time he abandoned ship. I could not have been more than 15 minutes or so. He was pretty far away from the ship when the main bay exploded. Bethard watched as the St. Lo sunk. As he watched it sink stern first he made a comment about losing his home.

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[Annotator's Note: Orville Bethard served as an Electrician’s Mate aboard the USS St. Lo (CVE-63) which was sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.] From there they got on a troopship which took them to Hawaii. He had not been wounded during the attack but had cut his finger while he was on the bucket brigade. From there they went back to Bremerton where they went aboard a ship that had also been hit and was being repaired. Bethard was given a 30 day survivors leave and went home. While he had been at sea he developed an appendix problem. The ship's doctor told him that it was not severe and could wait until he got back to shore. He had his appendix removed in Bremerton. When Bethard got back all of the other survivors had been reassigned to other carriers. There was no carrier available for Bethard to go aboard so he was sent down to Shoemaker where he was assigned to the Navy's Special Augmented Hospital No. 7 which was then preparing for the invasion of Okinawa. Bethard made the invasion of Okinawa with Special Augmented Hospital No. 7. He remained with the hospital unit for the rest of the war. The unit had an opening for an Electrician's Mate 1st Class so Bethard was promoted to the position. An escort carrier anchored in the bay off Okinawa where supplies were being accumulated for the invasion of Japan. Bethard knew a guy serving aboard the carrier. They were visiting and the man told Bethard that there was an opening for a first class on the carrier. Bethard talked to the captain of the ship about transferring and he approved. Bethard then spoke to the commanding officer of the hospital unit he was with who then had to send the request to Washington. Eventually, Bethard got orders to get on the ship. He left his unit and went aboard a transport ship that took him to where his ship was supposed to be but it was not there. It had gone to the Philippines. He went back for reassignment but the war was over by that point so he was put aboard a light cruiser for transportation home. Aboard ship he was given duties. He doesn't recall the name of the cruiser but knows it was sold to the Argentine Navy and renamed the Generalissimo Belgrano [Annotators Note: this was the USS Phoenix (CL-46)]. The ship was sunk during the Falkland Islands War by a British submarine.

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After Orville Bethard was discharged he used his GI Bill benefits to take classes at Compton Junior College for a couple years then put in two years toward his bachelors degree. After his second year he started going to night school as USC. He had gotten married by then. He and his wife decided to put off having children. His wife had graduated high school with honors and wanted to get her bachelors degree. He wanted one too. They were able to use the GI Bill to get by and were both able to get their degrees. Bethard went on to go to work for the department of water and power. While serving with the hospital unit after the USS St. Lo (CVE-63) was sunk he missed being at sea. The Seabees came in and built everything so his job was to just maintain everything. He had a couple strikers that he was in charge of. He ran a line from one of the poles to a hill where a mosquito control outfit was set up to give them electricity. Bethard really missed shipboard duty. [Annotator's Note: Someone in the background talks about the typhoons Bethard experienced while at sea and on Okinawa.] The typhoon they went through while aboard ship caused waves that hit them so hard the flight deck was bent. The frame of the ship was flexing so bad that many of the cables running throughout the ship popped loose. After the storm, Bethard had to go around the ship with a welder and secure them. While he was on Okinawa he experienced another typhoon. He and his tent mates took nine empty oil barrels and sunk them in the ground then set their tent up on top of them. A typhoon hit and was shaking the tent so bad that they had to hold onto the frame.

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[Annotator's Note: This segment begins with someone off camera talking about Orville Bethard seeing kamikaze aircraft while on Okinawa.] Orville Bethard was walking through a rice field when he heard an old biplane flying over. He watched as the plane flew out toward the fleet. The gunners on the ships opened fire on the plane and Bethard could see shrapnel and spent bullets falling all around him. Before the USS St. Lo (CVE-63) was hit by the kamikaze they had never heard of a kamikaze before. The was the first capital ship to be sunk by a kamikaze during the war. Bethard was contacted by the producer of a movie about kamikazes. The man asked Bethard how one ship could be hit by five kamikazes and survive yet his ship was hit by one and sank. The St. Lo was made of light metal that the bomb passed through. It blew up on the hanger deck which set off the fuel and munitions there. The St. Lo blew itself up. Bethard does not know the total number of casualties on the St. Lo but does know that there 42 men in the electrical division, or E Division, and of those nine were killed. [Annotator's Note: The tape skips for a moment when Bethard stands up to grab a book.] The survivors of the USS St. Lo (CVE-63) get together every year. Bethard has missed some of them for various reasons. [Annotator's Note: From 1:05:29:000 to 1:09:17:000 someone off camera talks to the interviewer about reunions and the survivors of the USS St. Lo and other vessels.] Bethard has no bad memories of the war. He does wonder what he could have done but there was nothing he could do. While serving aboard ship he worked 16 to 18 hours a day including standing watch. He enjoyed the sea life. He did lose some very good buddies but is glad he joined the Navy. Bethard had two choices after the war. He could work for himself or someone else. He was influenced by seeing the officers aboard ship being served fine meals while he and the others were not. The food was not bad but it was not steak like the officers were getting. Many of the officers were 90 day wonders, having gone through a three month course after which they became officers. Bethard decided to start school and once he did he was able to see it through. Some people were able to work a full time job and take a full college schedule at the same time and get good grades. Bethard feels like he made the right choices. [Annotator's Note: During the last two minutes of this video, Bethard talks about contacting other veterans and his reunion group's newsletter.]

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