My Marine Corps Journal 1937-42, Part 10:West coast and sea duty

-A A +A
By Ron Van Stockum

[On May 24,1938, immediately after graduation from Basic School, a short ceremony lasting only a few minutes, I departed for my next duty station, USS Tennessee (BB43), a battleship based off San Pedro, California. I travelled with a classmate by auto as far as St. Louis. There I took the train to Portland, Oregon where my parents met me for the drive to their home, about 50 miles to the north, in Longview Washington,. In order to save travel expenses I had taken a coach rather than a Pullman sleeping car.


In Longview, during college vacations, I had pulled lumber off the chain in one of the giant mills of the Long Bell Lumber Company, headed by lumber baron Robert A. Long, formerly of Shelbyville, Kentucky. (See Postscript)

Marine Officers were reimbursed for their individual travel expenses at the rate of 8 cents per mile, with 4 dollars added per diem for each day of travel In addition to travel time for change of station, we were allowed four extra days, called “proceed.” Thirty days paid leave were allowed each year. As a result, I was allowed five days travel time to San Pedro, California, home port of USS Tennessee, four days proceed and 30 days leave, a total of 39 days.]

June 9, 1938

Memorial Day I left for Seattle on the train... The Smith Tower’s 42 stories didn’t seem so imposing to me on my return from the East. [In addition to spending time with my parents, I travelled to Seattle to visit friends at my alma mater, the University of Washington and to Bellingham, farther north, where I had attended grade school and the first semester of high school.]

[Longview, June 13, 1938]

... dad drove me to meet Dr. Starr near Headquarters Camp for Weyerhaeser [Another immense lumber company]. Went up to Camp 7 with “Doc” to see logging operations. We hiked into the woods to see the “Unit” which, by means of “donkeys” and cables, hauls logs from piles and loads them on cars. They really manhandle the logs. Also saw the felling of several trees. The loggers work hard, make good money, and eat like kings.

Left on train for L. A. on Monday 13 June at 8 P.M.

[Southern California, June 15, 1938]

Arrived L. A. morn of 15th. . . Rich Epler [brother of Florence Epler with whom I had been “going steady”] picked me up in the afternoon and drove me to Hollywood. The family is almost back to normal after the tragedy of a month ago.

[Shortly after I had left for the Marines a year before, this very artistic family had moved from Seattle to Carmel-by-the- Sea, California, a small community frequented by writers, poets and artists,

Florence’s father, a talented poet and scenario writer for motion pictures, hadn’t come home one night, so she and her brother went out to a place where he often used to sit and write. Looking over the cliff they saw his crumpled body on the rocks down below. The circumstances of his death remind me of the title of his book of poems, Impatient Seas, which contains beautiful wood block prints by his daughters.

Following this tragedy, the family had relocated in Hollywood.

This was a family of significant artistic achievement. Florence, was an excellent painter and her younger sister, Venetia, was even more skillful. Later the two sisters achieved national fame, placing their distinctive religious paintings and murals on permanent exhibit in California galleries and creating the “Life of Christ” mural, reported to be the Western Hemisphere’s largest religious mosaic. Venetia created many portraits, her most famous being one of President Dwight Eisenhower, which hung in the White House during the Nixon presidency.]

June 16, 1938

Flo and I hiked through Griffith Park to the Observatory and back through Griffith Park.

June 17, 1938

Venetia and Richard drove me to San Pedro and then to Long Beach where I caught a boat to my ship the “U. S. S. Tennessee.”

I was (and still am!) one bewildered young man when I clumsily saluted the quarter deck and stepped over the side. The officers, junior and senior, treated me very kindly. [When boarding a ship of the US Navy, one must first salute the Quarterdeck, near the stern where the flag is displayed, then the Officer of the Deck, requesting permission to come aboard. Usually this takes the form of a continuous salute. In the Navy of those times, a salute could be rendered only if covered (wearing a hat or cap) and if uncovered one would stand momentarily at attention for both formalities.

My 31 years of active service in the U. S. Marine Corps included nearly five aboard ships of the Navy, a length of service at sea that exceeded that of most of my colleagues. Contrary to popular belief, marines and sailors were not constantly in conflict. Sailors frequently referred to marines as “sogers” (soldiers), but this term had a connotation of respect.

The U. S. Marine Corps and the U. S. Navy are separate components of the Department of the Navy. The Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Naval Operations, heads of their respective services, report to the Secretary of the Navy; both serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In 1938, when I reported on board USS Tennessee, there was only one American fleet: the US Fleet based on the West Coast, with its Battle Force centered about 12 old battleships and 4 aircraft carriers based off San Pedro California.]

June 20, 1938

[Left the Tennessee, after a weekend aboard, for Gunnery School in USS Nevada, another battleship.]

[Postscript: Robert Alexander Long (1850–1934), born in Shelbyville, Kentucky, was one of nine children of Samuel M. Long and Margaret Kinkead White, who owned and operated a 300-acre farm in Shelby County.

In 1887, he and Victor Bell 1887, formed the Long-Bell Lumber Company in Columbus, Kansas. The company then branched out using balanced vertical integration to control all aspects of lumber from the sawmills to the retail lumber yard. As the company expanded it moved further south before heading west to Washington State where it established an enormous lumber mill, one of the largest in the world .

Here, in 1921, on the north side of the Columbia River, not far from the Pacific, Long planned and built a complete city that could support a population of up to 50,000 and provide labor for the mills as well as attracting other industries.

My parents moved to Longview in 1933 when I enrolled at the University of Washington. At that time, there was a modern railroad station, never used as such, a beautiful hotel and an attractive shopping district surrounded by numerous developed, but vacant, lots. The recession of 1920-21 and the Great Depression, which started in 1929, had retarded growth.]

Next: Naval Gunnery School and life aboard a battleship

Ron Van Stockum can be reached at ronvanstockum@mac.com. His five books, including the latest, My Father British Sergeant Reginald G. Bareham (1894-1916) and The Battle of the Somme, sold at the 2015 Kentucky Book Fair, are available locally at Sixth and Main Coffeehouse and Terhune’s Style Shop in Village Plaza. They are also available, nationally and internationally, at Amazon.com by searching “Ron Van Stockum.”