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Transcript of Charles Malvern Paty, Jr.'s, Speech

Event Type: 
World War II 1941-1945

Transcript of Charles Malvern Paty, Jr.'s, Speech

Note:This speech was given at a public program sponsored by the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County at the Great Aunt Stella Center in Charlotte, NC on March 23, 2000.

Good evening! My participation in World War II began on 7 December 1941 and ended October 1945.

I feel very humbled to be speaking to you today for several reasons.

One is the thought that some of my shipmates are at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean or buried on a Pacific island, their graves never to be seen by their families. The second thought is a lot has been said and written about the combat veterans of World War II. Yes, I am a combat veteran, but in reality we are a small percentage of the total number of Americans who were in service. The non-combat veterans played such an important part in the war that we seem to forget them on such occasions as this.

I want to talk about several events of importance to me during that time. In December 1941, 17 years old, an only child, attending Central High School here in Charlotte, I carried The Charlotte News, an afternoon paper that was later absorbed by The Charlotte Observer.

On the afternoon of Sunday, 7 December, I was listening to music in our living room in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. The program was interrupted to announce that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was or its significance.

As the bulletins continued to come in, my parents and I gathered around the radio and listened. Shortly I stated that I wanted to join up. This provoked a heated discussion between myself and my parents, who intensely resisted my idea. Nevertheless, by 11 p.m., I had convinced them to approve my plan. Both were convinced that I could not pass the requirements.

At 0730 Monday morning, on his way to work, my father dropped me off in front of the Navy recruiting office. As I walked into the building I thought that I was going to look like a fool, because there would be no one there at that time of day. Well, much to my surprise, there were already 100 guys in line. I finally worked my way through the line and following a quick examination was informed that I did not weigh enough and did not have written approval of my parents. The recruiter told me to go home, get that approval, eat a gang of bananas, and come back. (Laughter) Well, I was back the next morning and passed - barely. I did eat a gang of bananas.

In a day or so a busload of us were sent off to the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Virginia. There we went through basic recruit training, which was shortened to 30 days. Upon completion, we boarded a train one night and headed out of Norfolk for an unknown destination. The next morning I looked out the window and recognized a suburb of Charlotte. We pulled into the old Southern Railway Station, and I tried to get off the train to call my parents and was immediately stopped. I was informed that no one was leaving that train.

The trip continued, ultimately ending up in Key West, Florida. There we boarded two old World War I Destroyers. Up to this point we had no idea where we were headed. Finally, as we cast off from the dock, we were told that we were headed for the Battleship USS North Carolina, which was about 30 miles off Key West. In a few hours, we were aboard the North Carolina, which was to be my home for the next 3 ½ years.

I’m going to fast forward about 6 months. It is now 10 July 1942, and we had been transferred to the Pacific and were entering Pearl Harbor for the first of many times. This was our first exposure to the real war. As we passed down the channel, the crew fell into formation on deck. We witnessed the terrible devastation as we proceeded down Battleship Row. The Battleship Utah - upside down. The Arizona, a totally destroyed carcass, sunk at her berth with oil still oozing out and the flag still flying. The Oklahoma turned upside down. In the next few days we saw the West Virginia, and the California in dry dock, with much of their sides blown out. It was obvious to us that none of the battleships we saw would be participating in this war within the next 12 months. It now dawned on most of us that the North Carolina was the only operational battleship in the Pacific.

We were still on the defensive in the Pacific. There was not much sign of that changing. However in a few days we were under way and joined a force of ships preparing to invade Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. This would be our first offensive move to start the long road back. A few weeks following the invasion by the Marines, our task force was operating a hundred or so miles off the eastern end of the Solomons. Up to this point, we had seen no enemy and had not fired our guns in anger.

On 24 August, long-range patrol aircraft detected a Japanese task force consisting of several aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers some 150 miles northwest of our task force. Our carriers, the Enterprise and Saratoga, launched a full deck load strike of aircraft to attack the Japanese. The U.S. and Japanese aircraft formations passed each other en route to their targets. Radar contacts were coming in. At 1536, that’s 3:36pm, a large group of enemy aircraft detected at 82,000 yards. Then at 1544, that’s 3:44pm, a large group now at 44,000 yards.

I should say I was assigned to the radio division, but at that time radiomen were also responsible for the maintenance of radar. Radar was still very secret and very temperamental. My battle station was in a small compartment under one of our 5-inch anti-aircraft battery directors. My job was to watch the voltage meters and turn dials to maintain a constant voltage flow to the transmitter. Not a very glamorous job. The radar scope was above me inside the director. I wore a headphone set and could communicate with the guy in the director, but we weren’t supposed to carry on any unnecessary conversation.

At 1630- with the temperature approaching, 100 degrees.

By this time it was obvious that this enemy force of over 100 aircraft was going to attack us. This would be, as they say, our baptism of fire. My mind began to race and I thought of home. It would be a terrible blow to my parents if I was killed this day. Furthermore, I had not experienced much of life. I had never seriously dated a girl. I had never held a job other than carrying newspapers. Now I began to think of how I was going to die. Was it going to be quick, or roasted alive in my compartment, or was the ship going to be sunk and I would go down with it? All of these thoughts raced through my mind in less than a second.

At 1710, that’s 5:10 p.m., I was jolted back to reality by our 5-inch anti-aircraft battery just outside of my compartment opening fire. This was followed by smaller anti-aircraft guns opening up, and the din was tremendous. At the first sound of our guns I sort of froze. But in a matter of seconds, my training took over. I began to adjust the voltage so that the director could still pick up the Japanese planes.

We ceased firing. In about 12 minutes we had shot down about 7 Japanese and assisted on 7 more. Bombs and torpedoes had rained down on us, but none hit. The battle of Eastern Solomons was over. We had lost one man to strafing and had no wounded. Our ship had met the supreme test and had passed.

I’d like to paraphrase a line from Tom Clancy’s book Into the Storm. Clancy was interviewing a four-star general, General Fred Franks, following the Gulf War. The question was “What is it like to be shot at?” Frank’s response was “the first time is the worst. And after 5 seconds, you are a veteran.” During those 10 minutes on 24 August 1942, I probably said more prayers than I’ve said in my whole life. I also became a veteran. I remained on board the North Carolina for the balance of the war.

We used to get so tired of training exercises being conducted constantly. Even when we were off Guadalcanal with aircraft carriers supporting the Marines. But the training certainly paid off during the rest of the war. As the war continued, the ship participated in over 50 battles, firing on the enemy or him firing on us. Many of these were minor in the sense that we might have fought off an attack by one Japanese aircraft. But the fact was that that enemy pilot was out to kill me, and I had to help kill him first.

Just a couple of weeks later, on 15 September 1942, our task force was still in the same area to protect the Marines at Guadalcanal. At 1400, 2:00 p.m., I finished lunch and went topside to get some air and observe the fleet operations. I was standing on the signal bridge with a couple of other guys when someone shouted, “torpedo wake.” Seconds later the torpedo struck the North Carolina. I was knocked down along with everybody on the signal bridge. I quickly rose to my feet, and my first thought was that the ship’s going to sink. My life preserver was stored 2 decks below from where I stood at that moment.

No way to get there as general quarters had sounded. My battle station at that time was in main radio, which was 2 decks below the water line and 5 below where I was standing at that moment. Again, training took over. I could feel the ship listing as I raced toward Radio 1, thinking that the ship might capsize, and I was going in the wrong direction!

We didn’t sink though and in a short time our list had been corrected, and we were making over 20 knots. We sustained 5 killed and no wounded. We survived this episode and returned to Pearl Harbor for 2 months of repairs. The war continued for 3 more years, through bitter contests of island invasions that were costly in ships and men. In August 1945, it seemed to most of us that the war would go on for years and years. And preparations were being made to invade the Japanese main islands. But then the atomic bomb was dropped, and the Japanese accepted surrender.

At this time we were operating off Tokyo, carrying out air raids in that area and other cities in the vicinity. A message was received to provide volunteer detachments of marines and sailors from the nearby ships to occupy the main Japanese naval base at Yokosuka. I volunteered along with 100 others from our ship. We formed landing detachments and were equipped for combat with rifles, packs, food, ammunition and water. We knew there were many Japanese sailors and Marines in the naval base and that they could decide to die for the emperor.

We went ashore on 30 Aug 1945 from regular landing craft, landing on a small beach on the south side of the naval base. We could see many large brick buildings and we began a slow advance across open ground to the first one. Outside looking terrified was one lone unarmed Japanese sentry. We proceeded on inside. The building was a 2-story affair with many offices still fully equipped, but unoccupied. We took the stairs to see what was up on the second floor, carrying, as ordered unloaded rifles at the ready. On the 2nd floor we found a large telephone switchboard with 30 or more positions. Several positions were occupied by Japanese sailors who were talking to somebody. It turned out they were talking to female operators in Tokyo. We spent over a week in our occupation duties, which were quite interesting, but we were relieved by U.S. Marines and ordered back to our ship on 5 September 1945.

While we had been ashore in Yokosuka, a great event had taken place in Tokyo harbor. The Japanese had signed the surrender document aboard the Battleship Missouri on 2 September 1945. On 6 September we were underway back to Boston, Massachusetts and for myself and many of the ship’s crew… discharge!

We’d been a lucky ship. Our total casualties for the duration of the war were 10 killed and 44 wounded. Throughout the 3 years, 11 months of service, I had been home on leave one time. So ended my part in these historic battles.

If you visit the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington, you will see the only souvenir which I brought back. It is a Japanese 7mm rifle with bayonet from the naval base and is displayed in the ship’s museum area. Thank you very much.

(Editor’s note: The Japanese rifle mentioned is no longer on display at the USS North Carolina. 10/20/01)