Early Life and Serving on the USS Catoctin (AGC-5)
Ship's Refrigeration Man and Prior Early Life
Redeployment to the Pacific War and Postwar Service and Career
Sidney Maiten was born in September 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. He enjoyed his early life there. He delivered newspapers as a youth. He had three brothers. The two older brothers served in the war. It was a good life. Maiten was in the Navy for over three years and served aboard the USS Catoctin (AGC-5), an invasion command ship. It did not make the landings in Normandy. The ship was off the Riviera in Southern France. Maiten was a gunner's mate on a 40mm [Annotator's Note: Bofors 40mm automatic canon]. He was a first loader. He constantly fed the weapon to keep it firing. That was his battle station. The Germans targeted his ship because of its assignment as a command ship. The battleship Iowa [Annotator's Note: USS Iowa (BB-61)] was further out in the Mediterranean. It fired on German artillery positions. It often met with success in eliminating enemy emplacements. Near Toulon, France, the Catoctin ran aground during a storm and had to be towed off. After the Germans dropped bombs on the ship, Maiten's rating was changed to refrigeration mate which was also called machinist mate during that time.
Sidney Maiten says he had an important job on his ship [Annotator's Note: USS Catoctin (AGC-5).]. He was in charge of all the ship's refrigeration which included making ice cream. If the crew missed out on ice cream, they would be ready to go after Maiten. Luckily, that never happened. [Annotator's Note: Maiten chuckles.] The ship suffered an aerial attack from German aircraft when its smoke screen was dissipated by winds. It made the ship a perfect target. The previous refrigeration man was killed in the attack. Maiten knew something about refrigeration so he was named the dead man's successor. He slept over a refrigeration unit. It was a dangerous place to be if a refrigeration unit malfunctioned and threw a piston directly above. Maiten had gone through his initial training in Newport, Rhode Island. He originally slept in a hammock. Unlike some of the men, he never had any difficulty sleeping that way. He selected the Navy because two of his brothers were in the Army. One, a medic, was killed in the Hurtgen Forest when he stepped on a mine while going to render aid to some wounded soldiers. The second brother survived the war after serving with the 6th Division. Despite having episodes, he lived to 75 years of age. Maiten was nearing 90 years of age at the time of the interview. Maiten signed up for the Navy after being counseled by his two brothers not to go in the Army. Maiten was a Sea Scout and always loved the water and boats. He wanted to become a sailor even before his brothers suggested it to him.
Sidney Maiten and his ship [Annotator's Note: USS Catoctin (AGC-5)] sailed to Sevastopol for the Yalta Conference. President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] met with Churchill [Annotator's Note: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill] and Stalin [Annotator's Note: Russian Premier Joseph Stalin]. A special ramp had to be constructed for the President because of his disability. Maiten served as an alternate chauffeur for Admiral Ernest J. King. Prior to the famous picture of the leaders being posed, Stalin insisted that the Allied color guard had their weapons inspected by one of his generals to assure that they were not able to fire. Maiten posits that Stalin may have been worried about being killed. [Annotator's Note: Maiten laughs after making that claim.] Stalin was a bad man. The palace that would house all the different countries was initially occupied by the color guard but when the major world leaders arrived, the subordinates were moved up to the attic and slept on cots. [Annotator’s Note: Maiten chuckles.] Maiten learned to take whatever came along. It was a good trip. He liked it. The drives he took into Yalta on leave were perilous because of the tight roadways going up the steep mountain. It was scary, but he made it even though the wheels sometimes hung over the sides of the cliffs. Maiten's shipmates are mainly all gone but some of their family members stay in touch. When Maiten and his buddy encountered a Russian soldier, lack of a common language became an obstacle. They managed to communicate through Yiddish. Maiten's ship was based in Naples and would deploy for various missions from that location. The berthing at Naples consisted of a sunken Italian warship. Mussolini [Annotator's Note: Italian dictator Benito Mussolini] did such a bad job that he was hung upside down because his own people did not like him.
Sidney Maiten sailed on his ship [Annotator's Note: USS Catoctin (AGC-5)] back to the United States from Europe after boarding 900 nurses. That load created a ballast issue for the ship. After reaching the United States and discharging the passengers, Maiten was granted a 17 day leave. He liked being at home but soon deployed to the Pacific. It was a different set of circumstances. It was dangerous because the Japanese were not giving up on the fight. The ship made its way to Inchon, Korea. The Catoctin spent quite a bit of time in the Pacific. Maiten's brother lost his life serving as a combat medic [Annotator's Note: he was killed in the Hurtgen Forest as a member of the 78th Infantry Division]. After the war, Maiten considered making a career of the Navy but his parents talked him out of that idea since they had lost one of their three sons already. They provided a car for him as an alternative. During snowy weather, he hit another car with it. Maiten parlayed his shipboard experience in refrigeration into a postwar career in air conditioning and refrigeration. He retired after 50 years in that field. Maiten still visits with members of his former employer. [Annotator's Note: Maiten ends the interview by sharing some images and notes with the interviewer.]
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