Stories from the USS South Dakota




September 18, 2000

As “Bud” Robinson’s neighbor for the past thirteen years and a 1958 to 1962 “Navy Vet”, I consider myself fortunate. Not too many people can claim to have “been there”. Arthur Robinson is one. Then and now come together, with the SoDak community, in preserving the memories of and sacrifices made by so many whom fought to give us what we enjoy today. I sit in awe listening to his stories of “Then”. I would feel remiss if, even in a small way, I did not share some of his reflections with the BB57 family.

Arthur Robinson, Leading Seaman Quartermaster, “N” Division, went aboard the U.S.S. South Dakota (BB57) on 23 March 1942 and left 26 January 1945, after ten engagements. As many, during their service time, he became known by names other than that given when they popped into this world. His were Bud, Stretch and Speed. Got “Bud” from his mother, “Stretch” from his appearance (6’3”+ tall and all of 170+ pounds) and “Speed” from when he, one day, had been asked to pick up a car for “Officer Transport”. On arrival at the gangway he was coming in a little fast and skidded in the sand and gravel before coming to a stop. At this, the Executive Officer, who was waiting for the car, remarked, “Who do you think you are, Barney Olfield? After that, he was “Speed” Robinson.

Speed was Helmsman for two years and had the wheel for most bombardments/engagements, as well as all refueling from Tankers and to Cruisers. He was wounded during the Guadalcanal engagement while on lookout at one of the seven stations above the conning tower. These rectangular openings, three forward, two to port and two to starboard, can be seen in the superstructure above the conning tower, the overhanging structure above the bridge. A shell passed under his seat, which looked like a bicycle seat on an arm that swung out from the bulkhead. The shell killed a shipmate behind him and cut the steam line going to the ship’s whistle. He received steam burns on his arms and hands, as well as shrapnel in his left leg. Two years later, Speed was awarded the Purple Heart, which was presented by Admiral Hanson. Speed recounted some tales including not quite so secret “Crew Brewed Concoctions” and the “Open Safe Incident”.

Although heard secondhand, the “Safe” story, fact or fiction, was still humorous. After the Guadalcanal engagement, battle damage was being assessed. In officers’ quarters, an open safe was found (not sure if Navy issue). It wasn’t clear if the safe was opened by a “Concerned Individual” during the battle or opened by an “Unconcerned Enemy Shell”. Who really knows? The contents were found to be medicinal in nature (between 90 & 100 proof). Speed heard some of the contents were damaged, but some was salvaged. Apparently, according to scuttlebutt, all concerned had a good time. No one was ever “Put On Report”. Should anybody wish to ask questions, swap stories or just plain reminisce, contact “Bud”, Speed” or “Stretch” at the address below: Arthur Robinson 54 Grand St.
Highland, NY 12528
For those who feel more comfortable with the internet, pass on a message to me,
John Wade (jawade@address.com), and I will see that he gets it.

Charles Cavell, QM1c, was part of the BB-57 transient crew from Tokyo Bay to US.
He purchased the bookmarks outside the fence at Yokosuka naval shipyard at Tokyo Bay
He was part of the decommissioning crew of BB-57 at the Philly Naval Shipyard in 1946.
The ship was put in drydock in Philly in preparation of decommissioning and mothballing.
There were about 70 crewmen that took part in the decommissioning—one of his jobs was painting the Admiral’s quarters, that is where he found the flag in the overhead, wrapped in brown paper.
His Liberty card is one of the last issued from the ship.
He took all pictures of BB-57 except the one he is in, standing at the bottom of the bow.

I sent Mr. Cavell a thank you letter, with BB-57 letterhead, for sending the flag.
Now that I have scanned all images, I will send the originals to Dave Witte.

AT 12, I FOUGHT THE JAPS

By Calvin Leon Graham
as told to Mack Brandewiede

He's got four years to go before he can get back into Uncle Sam's Navy, but Cal went through plenty in his seven months at sea.

BATTLE stations!

Nervously I stood at my post as second-loader of a .40 mm. ack-ack and scanned the dark clouds hovering over the Pacific. Thirty-two hours later, I had my first glimpse of the enemy, as suddenly Jap fighter planes, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes swooped down at our task force from all directions.

I saw a torpedo plane headed straight for our battlewagon. Seemingly the pilot released his deadly cargo directly at me. Was I scared? Plenty! But the Jap had misjudged. The torpedo shot over our heads and dropped harmlessly into the sea. The Jap showed us his tail in an effort to escape. We let him have it. One of his wings came off and his plane plunged into the ocean. After that, I never knew what happened to him as my attention was forced to the other Japs attacking us.

Our bombers had done such damage to some of the enemy carriers that their planes had no place to land and they began trying to crash-dive on our deck. That was when we really opened up with all we had. Not even one enemy plane managed to get through the curtain of death we raised against them. When finally the Japs got enough and quit, we saw that the Bat-tie of Santa Cruz had cost us the destroyer Porter and that the carrier Hornet was listing badly. As we helped rescue the latter's crew, I decided that grade school back in Houston, Texas, was pretty tame compared with the Navy.

Almost since I could remember, I'd wanted to be a sailor. Perhaps it runs in the family. All three of my brothers are in the Navy. Anyway, after Pearl Harbor, I devoted a lot of effort to obtaining my mother's consent. Finally, in August, 1942, she signed the papers, although much against her will, as naturally she believed I should remain in school.

I was only 12, but I weighed 122 and stood 5-2. When I went through the recruiting office routine, apparently nobody doubted that I was old enough to be a Navy man and as I left for the West Coast I was the happiest I've even been in my life. I was a Navy man! A boot camp mate was the only one to question whether I was old enough for service. I flared up and socked him. He got in a stiff punch that busted my lips. I came back with a couple of solid ones before they separated us.

A transport trip to Pearl Harbor was followed by a month of scraping paint off a battleship in dry-dock before I was ordered to sea aboard the South Dakota. My second major battle was off Savo Island in the Solomons. We knew that the Japs had us greatly outnumbered and that they were trying desperately to relieve their men at Guadalcanal, but we were determined to stop them.

Six hours after we went to battle stations, the fight began. It was a night action and turned out to be a slugging match between surface forces. Unlike my first taste of battle, I wasn't scared during this one, even after I was slightly wounded. That happened as I was carrying a message to an officer. I heard someone yell, "Down!" and I hit the deck behind some heavy shells. I heard a terrific explosion and felt something strike the back of my head. For a moment I was groggy. Then I struggled to my feet and delivered the message.

I was among about thirty ordered to rescue duty. I came across one of my best friends, Red Hezil, with his head blown off. For an instant I was sick. Then I got burning mad. Later, I consoled myself with the thought that some of the hell we gave the Japs was in return for my pal. Our ship accounted for a Jap battleship and some enemy cruisers and destroyers. This victory cinched Guadalcanal for us. After seven months at sea, I arrived back in this country at an East Coast port to learn that my grandmother had just died. She had always been very close to me , and though leave was denied me I felt that I simply had to attend her funeral. I had no money, so I started hitchhiking home. I arrived the day after my grandmother was buried.

I went straight to the Navy's recruiting office, told them what I had done and that I wanted to return to my ship. Then my mother took a hand. She said that I should be in school and revealed my true age. The Navy Personnel Bureau's investigation verified that I was born on April 3, 1930 and so I was discharged with a clean record.

Perhaps I should return to school but I won't until we've won this war. The Navy was good to me: I came out and 22 pounds heavier. I'm strong and healthy and I'm working as a welder's helper in a shipyard. At an American Legion bond rally, I was commended by National Commander Roane Waring and I've been talking with a top Hollywood executive regarding my appearance in pictures to further the war effort. So it looks like my course will be to help build ships and leave it to my older brothers to fight them until I'm 17