Prewar Life to the Navy

Segment stub for 70073

Postwar Navy

Why He Joined the Navy

First Cruise to Midway

Operation Crippled Chick

Postwar Navy Changes

Closing Thoughts

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William Helm Sturman was born in April 1924 in Elida, New Mexico. He had two brothers and two sisters. During the Depression [Annotator's Note: Great Depression; a global economic depression that lasted through the 1930s] everybody lost their jobs. Franklin D. Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States] was brought in to solve it. They did not know they were poor even though they had very little. His father was a rancher. Sturman's mother was the oldest of nine daughters whose father was a county judge in Texas, William Helm Bell. Sturman had a good life and graduated from high school in 1941. The draft act had just been passed [Annotator's Note: Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, 16 September 1940]. All 19 year olds had to register. Sturman was only 17. His buddies decided to join the New Mexico National Guard and Sturman went to New Mexico State [Annotator's Note: New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico]. The Guard [Annotator's Note: National Guard] unit was federalized as the 200th Coast Artillery [Annotator's Note: 200th Coast Artillery (AA)] and went to Bataan [Annotator's Note: Bataan, Luzon, Philippines] and Corregidor [Annotator's Note: Corregidor Island, Philippines]. Every single one of them was captured or killed. He had several relatives that wound up in Japanese prison camps. Sturman was in ROTC [Annotator's Note: Reserve Officer Training Corps] in school and failed the physical due to high blood pressure. When the war started on 7 December [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941], the ROTC went in full uniform. He went back to his second year and enlisted in the Navy who accepted him. He went to boot camp in San Diego [Annotator's Note: San Diego, California]. Sturman got top scores and could pick his school. He wanted to be a gunner or to drive the ship. They told him they wanted him to go into aerology [Annotator's Note: the study of the atmosphere], a weatherman. He went to Lakehurst, New Jersey and trained to be a weather forecaster. He graduated shortly after the battle of Midway [Annotator's Note: Battle of Midway, 4 to 7 June 1942]. The Navy was making aircraft carriers by putting decks on other types of ships. Sturman was assigned to the USS Copahee (CVE-12).

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By the end of the war, William Sturman was a Third Class Petty Officer. He used the G.I. Bill to attend New Mexico State [Annotator's Note: New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico], where he got his degree. The Navy asked him to be a Civil Engineer. He said he thought he was too old. They made him a JG [Annotator's Note: Lieutenant (junior grade); O2]. He went to Port Hueneme [Annotator's Note: now Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California] to the Seabee [Annotator's Note: members of US naval construction battalions] headquarters and was assigned to an Amphibious Construction Battalion. The Korean War [Annotator's Note: Korean War, 1950 to 1953] was breaking out. They had pontoons they carried on the sides of LSTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank]. They took MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur] ashore in Inchon Harbor [Annotator's Note: Inch'ŏn, South Korea]. Sturman eventually got command of his own battalion. He took them to Midway [Annotator's Note: Midway Island, US territory] and then to Adak, Aleutian Islands [Annotator's Note: Adak, Aleutian Islands, Alaska]. After that they went to Okinawa [Annotator's Note: Okinawa, Japan] in support of the Vietnam War [Annotator's Note: Vietnam War, or Second Indochina War, 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975]. He applied for post-graduate school. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer says he was in nuclear submarine design.] Sturman was selected for the University of Illinois [Annotator's Note: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Champaign and Urbana, Illinois]. The atomic bomb tests were being done at Eniwetok [Annotator's Note: Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands]. They were testing structures and the University was contracted to analyze the tests. They were tasked with designing buildings that could withstand atomic blasts. He got his master's degree. He did not graduate from his class. He was requested to be interviewed by Admiral Rickover [Annotator's Note: US Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover; nicknamed Father of the Nuclear Navy]. Rickover told Sturman he was wasting his time. He returned to the University to find he had orders to report to Rickover at Knolls Atomic Power Lab in Schenectady [Annotator's Note: Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, New York]. He worked in structural dynamics. They had a contract to design the water cooled reactor. Sturman returned to Washington [Annotator's Note: Washington, D.C.] and said he did not want to do civilian work any longer. The Navy sent him back to the Civil Engineer Corps. He spent most of his time in the Pacific and did three tours in Washington. He traveled the world and loved it. When he was at Guantanamo Bay [Annotator's Note: Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba], Castro [Annotator's Note: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and President of Cuba from 1976 to 2008] cut their water off [Annotator's Note: February 1964]. Sturman got desalination equipment and they made their own water.

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William Sturman and a buddy liked the Navy and just picked it to join. He wanted to see the ocean. He was old enough to just go without his parent's permission. He went to San Diego [Annotator's Note: San Diego, California] to boot camp. It was a whole new world. His year of college helped him get good test scores. Almost all of the graduates went aboard CVEs [Annotator's Note: escort aircraft carriers], Kaiser Coffins [Annotator's Note: nickname for the ships]. Sturman was assigned to USS Copahee (CVE-12). He was told he was going to be drawing flight pay. He had to get flight time in while in port. When he went to get in the plane, the propeller wash blew open the parachute and it went down the runway. They loaded up airplanes. They were primarily a resupply ship for the larger carriers; more or less a shuttle for aircraft. They hit all the combat islands. All of the carriers he supported are legendary like the USS Midway (CV-41) and the USS Hornet (CV-12) and more. They could not keep up with the task force. They followed along. He was never in any combat area of the carriers. When the Marianas [Annotator's Note: Mariana Islands] were invaded, he was anchored off Saipan [Annotator's Note: Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands].

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On his very first cruise aboard the USS Copahee (CVE-12), William Sturman and the crew took supplies in to Midway [Annotator's Note: Midway Island, US territory]. They were to offload the parts and supplies in the dark. Sturman was still on the barge when he noticed that it was pulling away from the ship. He was told by the crew of the barge that his people had all gone back on the ship. The barge swung under the fantail as the ship was leaving. Sturman grab the rope ladder hanging down and climbed up. He was worn out and soaking wet when he finally made it up to the fantail. The sun was just coming up. He was told he had abandoned his job. The Copahee was previously a cargo ship. It was outfitted with a deck at Mare Island [Annotator's Note: Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California] and made into a CVE [Annotator's Note: escort aircraft carrier]. The living quarters were overhauled as well. Sturman had a bunk in the aerology [Annotator's Note: the study of the atmosphere] office. He applied for two or three schools to try to get a commission but they did not come through. He did not get a commission until after the war and he negotiated to come back in. He came back in as a CEC, Civil Engineer of Command. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer asks Sturman to tell how the term "Seabee" came about.] There were contractors being overrun and executed by the Japanese. Sturman watched the movie on this at the museum [Annotator's Note: The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana]. Admiral Ben Moreell [Annotator's Note: US Navy Admiral Ben Moreell; known as the Father of the Seabees] started bringing in construction companies and gave them enlisted ratings. They formed into construction battalions. Sturman went to training at Port Hueneme [Annotator's Note: now Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California] before joining the Seabees [Annotator's Note: members of US naval construction battalions]. He went to Camp Pendleton [Annotator's Note: Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, California] for training with the Marines. He learned about Marines there and learned how to be a Marine in combat situations. That helped in Korea [Annotator's Note: Korean War, 1950 to 1953].

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William Sturman's battalion was in Inchon [Annotator's Note: Inch'ŏn, Korea]. His skipper [Annotator's Note: nickname for a unit or ship commander] was a World War 2 Seabee [Annotator's Note: members of US naval construction battalions]. He learned that many planes were not making it back to their carriers and were ditching in the ocean. Just north of the DMZ [Annotator's Note: demilitarized zone], the dividing line between North and South Korea, was Wonsan Harbor [Annotator's Note: Wonsan Harbor, North Korea]. Chesty Puller [Annotator's Note: US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller] had to pull his Marines out of North Korea and left a detachment there on Ryodo Island [Annotator's Note: Ryodo Island, Korea]. The planes were flying over that and ditching. Puller told MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur] that they could build a runway. Sturman was told to make it happen. He loaded three LSTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] and went there with a destroyer escort. They got there and were met by the Marines. Before they had the first half of the runway built, a flight of Corsairs [Annotator's Note: Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft] came over low on fuel. They refueled there. A newspaper called them Operation Crippled Chick. Oliver North [Annotators' Note: US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Laurence North] called Sturman later and asked him on his program to talk about it.

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[Annotator’s Note: The interviewer asks William Sturman if the Navy changed between World War 2 and the Korean War.] Sturman was low on the chain of command. His job did not change a lot. His primary bosses were the Marines. He put them ashore and built facilities for them. He liked working for the Marines. He met Chesty Puller [Annotator's Note: US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller] at Pendleton [Annotator's Note: Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, California]. He did not get to know him. Sturman retired after his final tour as Public Works Officer of China Lake Naval Weapons Center [Annotator's Note: Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in China Lake, California]. It was almost entirely run by contracted civilians. Sturman's job was building and maintaining facilities. The Sidewinder missile [Annotator's Note: AIM-9 Sidewinder, Air Intercept Missile] was developed there. Sturman had been to Vietnam putting MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur] ashore with the Amphibious Seabees [Annotator's Note: members of US naval amphibious construction battalions]. There was no lake at China Lake. After retirement, he wanted to continue in public works. He worked in Fresno County [Annotator's Note: Fresno County, California]. He wanted to be a director, so he got a job as Public Service Director for the City of Riverside [Annotator's Note: Riverside, California]. [Annotator's Note: Sturman talks in detail about dealing with a corrupt person in Riverside that resulted in him losing his job.]

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[Annotator's Note: The interviewer asks William Sturman why getting his first command of men in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska is his most memorable experience of World War 2.] He was the boss. His boss was in Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii]. He learned a new term, UNODIR, which means "unless otherwise directed". He never got otherwise directed. The war made Sturman a man fairly early. He liked the structure, control, and organization of the Navy. He never considered leaving it. As an 18 year old, he was afraid the war was going to be over before he got into it. He wanted to go beat those Japs [Annotator's Note: a period derogatory term for Japanese]. Two things saved his life accidentally. He did not get into ROTC [Annotator's Note: Reserve Officer Training Corps]. His friends did, and most of them made the Normandy landings [Annotator’s Note: Normandy, France landings 6 June 1944]. He found a number of their names on grave markers in Normandy. He did not join the New Mexico National Guard. Those buddies ended up in Japanese prison camps. World War 2 brought America out of the terrible Depression. Sturman went into college on the G.I. Bill. He was student body president. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer asks Sturman if he thinks The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana should continue to teach future generations about the war.] He thinks the museum gives a fantastic presentation, especially the Pacific presentation [Annotator's Note: The Road to Tokyo gallery at The National WWII Museum]. [Annotator's Note: Sturman talks about the creation of the Seabees, the United States Naval Construction Battalions. The interviewer repeats his whole story back to him and then asks what he would say to future viewers.] The main thing World War 2 did for the nation was bring it out of the Depression [Annotator's Note: Great Depression; a global economic depression that lasted through the 1930s]. He considered his whole military career a great adventure and it was all paid for by the government. He told a graduating class at Port Hueneme [Annotator's Note: Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California] about his service and told them to enjoy the opportunities. He could not have chosen a better career. World War 2 made it happen. He cannot speak too much to the politics of the war. He did what he had to do.

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