Early Life

Training and the USS Foote (DD-511)

Peleliu, the Philippines and Okinawa

Okinawa

Reaction to the Atomic Bomb

Postwar Life

Memorable Events

Rewards and Accolades

Reflections

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Wilbur Rogers was born in August 1925 in Jonesboro, Louisiana, the youngest of six boys and three girls. His wasn't a prosperous family, and Rogers worked all through high school at a service station, but he said he enjoyed his high school experience. Three of Rogers' brothers were in the Navy and one was in the Army. Rogers remembers the Sunday of the Pearl Harbor attack. His dad was hovered over the radio, and the news came as quite a shock. A student of history himself, their father was both interested and concerned about his military sons. An immediate effect of the war that Rogers noticed was the rationing of gasoline and tires, which restricted travel. When the war broke out, Rogers couldn't wait to turn 17 so he could get his father's signature on enlistment papers, and although Rogers had no real experience on the water, he didn't think of joining any other branch of military service. When that day came, father and son traveled to the Monroe, Louisiana recruitment office where Rogers went in on a minority enlistment. He was called up a couple of months later. The Navy provided Rogers with a train ticket for New Orleans, Louisiana for his swearing in, and once he was on his lonely way, he began to wonder if he might have made a mistake. The Navy had also given him 35 cents for breakfast, and Rogers remembers dining at the Kit Kat Restaurant. Then he was bound for San Diego where he would undergo basic training.

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Wilbur Rogers moved easily from civilian to military life because his pre-enlistment days were more strenuous than that of most other guys. But it wasn't easy to get through the three months of boot camp. From basic, Rogers spent 16 weeks in fire control school. He first saw his ship, the USS Foote (DD-511), in dry dock in San Pedro, California; it impressed him as being small for a crew of 330 people. Rogers remarked that the ship had a bad roll and pitch, meaning chow was Spam sandwiches in foul weather. They trained up and down the coast of California, and actually left the United States from San Francisco, California. They knew their first stop would be Pearl Harbor, but had no idea where they would go from there. When he first went aboard ship, he operated the ballistic section of the main battery computer. He soon decided he didn't like the job's dangerous location and got himself moved to the 40mm director. He qualified and was put up on the flying bridge. He was forward, port side, where he could see what was going on; but he was exposed to the weather, and said that when they were at Okinawa, it was cold. Rogers said a destroyer typically has some 18 fire controllers on board who are scattered throughout the ship. He liked the guys in his fire control gang, and stayed in contact with most of them after the war. Rogers said there was a degree of pride in being a destroyer sailor.

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When the USS Foote (DD-511) got to Pearl Harbor, Wilbur Rogers remembered they stripped the 20mm off its fan tail and added about 50 tons of munitions for the invasion of Pelelieu. They left at high speed with the cargo and arrived close enough to the island to anchor. The battle was ongoing but Rogers didn't see any action. As soon as they offloaded, they were sent out to rescue a downed pilot. The Foote went on to assist with the invasion of the Philippines, and the first time they were under fire was an air attack, late one afternoon. Although it lasted only about a quarter of an hour, Rogers said it felt like it took all night. Rogers said he'd be a fool to say he wasn't scared, but he was also excited. He has a narrative written about what it felt like to be in support of the 6th Army in the Philippines during the retaking of the islands. Rogers said it must be remembered that his destroyer was manned by kids with an average age of 19.7 years. Their captain was 28; young, but very good. He won the crew's respect when the Foote was off Okinawa, running radar picket stations, with pall bearers [Annotator's Note: mechanized landing craft meant to pick up survivors] following a mile or so behind, which was pretty disheartening. The captain was trying to avoid leaving a phosphorescent wake that would guide a Kamikaze to its target. At one point, they spotted a Kamikaze in range, and the captain instructed the torpedoman to kick a smoke pot over the fantail. The Foote sailed quickly away, and the Kamikaze pilot died diving onto that smoke pot. Another memory that sticks in Rogers' mind involved shooting down one of those Kamikazes. Rogers said it happened really fast; he began shooting and hoping he would hit him, or at least get him to pull up and go away. Rogers said it was exciting, and the plane came so close he could see the pilot slumped over in the cockpit. It is one of Rogers' most memorable moments, firing on the enemy and knocking it out of the sky. Someone presented him with a piece of that plane at a reunion. Rogers said you can plan for battle as much as you want, but all bets are off when the first shot is fired. When asked how he reacted to the realization that Kamikazes were willing to kill themselves to take him out, Rogers said he was willing to help any Japanese pilot to give up his life.

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At Okinawa, Wilbur Rogers' ship [Annotator's Note: USS Foote (DD-511)] was part of a radar picket station, a system implemented to provide notice to soldiers on the beach that an aircraft raid was coming. For Okinawa, there were 15 stations with three destroyers on each picket station, and it was called the Okinawa Ring of Ten. The invasion of Okinawa was a massive amphibious operation that took place on 1 April 1945, a Sunday that was both April Fools' Day and Easter Sunday. Rogers said that at first the picket stations helped make the landings pretty easy going but it didn't take long for things to harden up. So many destroyers were hit that the Navy set up Wise Man's Cove where the destroyers could be patched up, bodies taken off, and, if they could still float, sent back to sea. Rogers said he went into le Shima with the only reporter covering the operation, Ernie Pyle. Pyle lost his life during that invasion. Rogers described Okinawa as a bloodbath, the Navy's worst experience of the war. Rogers personally witnessed a Kamikaze hit the seaplane tender USS Curtis (AV-4) at Wise Man's Cove. His thoughts at that moment went to the question of how many men were killed. Rogers' closest call came when a plane he shot down hit right next to his vessel. Rogers thought that considering they were boys, his crew performed well, and that it is amazing the outcome was so great for such young soldiers. Rogers does a lot of looking back these days, and says it all seems like a bad dream. It was a bad situation for a young man to go through.

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Wilbur Rogers' ship [Annotator's Note: USS Foote (DD-511)] and crew were preparing for the invasion of Japan, but the Navy had something else in mind for him. One morning Rogers was paged and the executive officer told him he had been selected for segment seven of the Navy Officers Procurement Program. It was not how he expected to leave the Foote; he hardly had time to tell anybody goodbye, but he went back to the United States gladly. When he got back to San Francisco, he heard about the dropping of the atomic bomb, and everyone was celebrating. Rogers said it was great to see the United States again. [Annotator's Note: Rogers chuckles heartily.] He was traveling by train when the second bomb was dropped, and everyone got off the train in Portland, Oregon to celebrate again. He ended up at Farragut, Idaho, a receiving station run by German prisoners of war. There was no longer a need for him to go the officers' training school, and the Navy didn't know what to do with him, so he was given 48 days' leave, and had a warm reception back at home.

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Wilbur Rogers' discharge was based on the convenience of the government and was affected at New Orleans, Louisiana on 28 December 1945. He signed up for the Naval Reserves to get out a day early, and today Rogers says that was a bad move. He used the G.I. Bill to go to Louisiana Tech. [Annotator's Note: There is a break in the dialog at this point.] Rogers said he could not have gone to college without that financial aid. He married, and his stipend was increased, and when he had a daughter, it went up again. Rogers recollects how the postwar life of the USS Foote (DD-511) went. It was hit at the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, where 55 feet of its fantail was blown off. To get back, it was towed by an oil tanker for 48 days. Rogers' one regret was that he did not come back home with his ship through the Canal Zone to New York. It arrived around Navy Day, and on that occasion President Truman [Annotator's Note: Harry S. Truman] reviewed the fleet of 50 Navy ships tied up in the Hudson River. The Foote was eventually sent down to Charleston and decommissioned. It was ultimately purchased by Southern Scrap of New Orleans, Louisiana, cut up and sold to the Japanese. Rogers said it was an unfair demise for that warrior.

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Wilbur Rogers likes to tell a story about a pigeon. [Annotator's Note: Rogers grins briefly.] After the invasion of the Philippines, his ship [Annotator's Note: USS Foote (DD-511)] was in charge of patrolling the mouth of Lingayen Gulf. It was stormy one day and a carrier pigeon landed on the flying bridge, and showed no inclination to leave. A crew member who had been a pigioneer determined the bird was male. When, a couple of days later they found eggs on the bridge, that guy's reputation as a bird expert was ruined. The pigeon stayed on board for a while, and the captain thought it was a good omen. It disappeared when they were stopped alongside a tender for supplies. Rogers' theory was that when they got close to land, the bird went back to the beach. Another story he recalled about the same area had to do with orders to intercept a convoy of four cruisers and eight destroyers. The fleet changed course, much to the relief of everyone on board. Rogers was there when the USS Spence (DD-512) was lost in a typhoon in the Philippine Sea. It was the Foote's sister ship, and 790 boys were lost when Halsey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey] took a wrong turn on bad weather information. Rogers complained that nobody knew about all this until after the war; the news that reached the public was what the Navy wanted the world to know.

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Wilbur Rogers laughs at remembering the reward for picking up a downed pilot: ice cream. For each man a ship picked up, it was issued ten gallons; it took about 30 gallons for everyone to have a couple of scoops. Often, the ice cream had melted to milk before it could be consumed. Once when Rogers was peering through his binoculars, he watched his own brother's plane veer off the aircraft carrier while attempting a landing, then saw him climb out of the plane and stand on the wing. He was relieved to know his brother was safe. It was as close as the two got to each other during the entire duration of the war. At another point, the crew was taken aboard an Australian cruiser Shropshire [Annotator's Note: HMAS Shropshire] which had a great store; every sailor got a pair of shoes and a ration of rum according to his rate. A sentimental memory, Rogers recalls that his dad, who was in his 70s at the time, met him at the train station when he came home. Rogers was the first of his father's sons to return from the war. Thinking he was a man of the world, Rogers suggested they take a taxi home, but his father walked Rogers through the small town, stopping at every open door to announce that his "baby" was home. Rogers said he was reduced from a combat vet to a "baby" in half a block.

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Wilbur Rogers said that everything he did [Annotator's Note: during his time in the US Navy] was before he was 21 years old. He couldn't legally buy a beer, and hadn't yet voted when he got out. Rogers believes it is important to have a museum to remember the Second World War. When it was in its formative stages, he had opportunity to look over Stephen Ambrose's plan for the museum. Rogers hoped he would name it something other than the D-Day Museum, and is gratified that now it has changed names and appeals to far more people. Rogers never met Ambrose, but has all his books. His opinion is that young people should be taught about the war, and has spoken to groups and given tours on the subject. Seventy years later, Rogers remembers his war experience in minute detail. His message to Americans who watch this tape at some future point in time involves the quote, "young men fight wars; old men start them." He thinks there will never be another effort like World War 2, and is sure that the greatest generation saved the world.

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