Storekeeper to Gunner

By Charles Nelson, Rons 19, 20, 16

Charles Nelson, PT-Boat Gunner Photo
Charles Nelson, PT Boat Gunner

I enlisted in the Navy September 7, 1942 S.V. 6, went to Leavenworth, Kansas, October 1942, had my physical and was sworn in to the navy that day. In November I got a letter from the Navy Draft Board to report to Farragut, Idaho, December 29 for boot camp. I was in Company 3244 Camp Hill, the fourth company that was built there in 1942.

After seven weeks, we had a 70day furlough to go home. Back to Farragut for shipment to California, Treasure Island for Overseas. Was there for five days waiting for troop ship to come, that was February 1943. Left there the first week in March, stopped in Hawaii, picked up some troops, then landed in New Hebrides.

I went to the PT base and put in for PT boats. Four days later we were put on a ship and landed in Green Island PT base. I worked in the warehouse. I was a seaman first class. Rons 11 and 12 were patrolling there at the time so I got to see some 77 foot Elcos and Higgins 78 footers. The squadrons were patrolling New Ireland, New Britain, Rabaul, and New Georgia. Ron 19 came there so they had some more help. I was there about one week.

One morning the air raid siren went off and everyone was running for cover so I jumped in a foxhole.

There were 2 twin 50 calibers, so I cocked and started firing. I was scared and shaking. Bombs were dropping all around. A chief jumped in and said, "keep on firing and I will feed the shells." I hit one but he didn't go down. Oil was leaking out of the engine pretty fast, though.

After the air raid we went to chow hall and had some coffee. The chief said you did a good job for the first air raid. He said, "I was shaking, too-everytime there was an air raid."

About four days later I was called to the squadron office and the boat captain asked me if I would take a crewman's place on the port turret 50 caliber. We had a pretty good night-two patrol boats and two barges.

PT-235 Photo

PT 235 at the Pier
(Provided by Al Fleischer)

About five days later we had another air raid. There were four Jap planes dropping bombs. One of them came between me and the beach, so I kept on firing and I hit him in the engine and cockpit. He was on fire and he fell out in the ocean about 15,000 yards and the chief said, 'you got him, good shooting." I was still shaking.

Two days later I was called to the base office and asked if I would take another patrol as gunner that night on the 122, I think. We were patrolling down the beach and saw a dark spot coming right at us. We couldn't make it out. Then two five inch shells hit the boat and we were on fire. We had to work fast to get all the charts and maps out of the wheelhouse when the other boat came back to pick us up.

Two men were hit really bad so we got them on board the other boat. As we got away from the boat it blew up- so much explosion that we could feel it under the water.

We got back and the men were sent to Manila Hospital. We are lucky to be here today as we all could have gone with the boat.

Ron 19 left for Vella Lavella and I went with them and worked in the Warehouse. Then I was assigned to the 235 boat as stern line man and port turret gunner. Lt. Nugon was skipper and Lt. Fons was second officer. They were real good officers and well liked by the first crew.

In April we left for Rendova, then on to Bougainville and Treasury Island. We were the only squadron patrolling there so we had plenty to do. The second patrol we headed down to Ferguson Passage and Blackett Straits. On the way three planes came out from behind the palm tress. When they dropped a few bombs, we started firing. They came around for a second run and tried to land on us. Then one was coming right at my turret. So when I saw the cockpit of the plane I fired and got him before he got me. Then I hit him under the belly, he went over and he fell out in the ocean. Hansen got the other one with the 20mm.

About a week later Lt. Nugon was sent back to the states, so Lt. Fons was the skipper and Ens. Prideaux was second officer. After the first crew left in July we got some new crew members on board so Donadt and I became the oldest. We made our last patrol to Choiseul before Lt. Fons left and sank a Jap patrol boat that night. A gun barrel went bad on the 30mm so Mertz and I took out the old one, threw it over the side and got a new one from the ready box. We changed it while we were under fire. I went back and took over my gun turret and was hit by some shrapnel and a shell hit me on the leg above the ankle. I kept on firing. After we got back the next day we went into drydock to have some new pieces put on my gun turret as I had a few holes in it after chasing the patrol boat. We sanded the bottom and painted on new red copperoid which tasted like sugar when you had a cigarette. Lt. Fons left two days later for Stateside, so we were put in Ron 20 before Fons left and we got a new skipper, Lt. Jeffrey, a good officer. We got orders to sail for the Philippines for the invasion, so the 235, 235, 237 were put in Ron 20 and other boats were put in other Rons. About twelve boats left Bougainville. We went to New Guinea, Finschhafen, Hollandia, Aitape, Baik, and Mios Woendi.

There new engines were installed and a 40 mm put on the stern. That was September 1944-up through Leyte, Tacloban, then to Mindoro PT base .

Charles Nelson, PT-Boat Gunner Photo
Charles Nelson

We hit a hurricane on the way and was that rough- 25 to 30 foot waves. Only two or three boats had damage. We made it to Mindora on the 6th of October. After a few days we started patrolling, before General Mac Arthur got there for the invasion in November 1944.

We got a new skipper, there. We were one of eight boats at one end of the island and eight boats were at the other end-Lingayen Gulf and Surgao Straights.

After it was all over, we took it easy for a few days. We had a nice Christmas dinner and New Years's party but we were still patrolling and going out to pick up survivors. When a plane crashed into the ocean, all the boats took turns.

In March of 1945 we got a new skipper Lt. Fleisher. He was a good captain and a real nice officer. We all got along well with him. Had a few patrols after Lt. Fleischer came aboard. Then one day we got orders that fifteen boats were going to the invasion of Borneo. We left Mindoro Island for Sarawak Borneo with two destroyers and a PT tender arriving in April and started patrolling and hauling prisoners to the stockade. While were there the Germans surrendered. Then Donadt was sent home and I was the oldest crew member.

In September I was sent back Stateside for a 30-day leave, glad to be back home for awhile after 2 1/2 years. After my leave I had to report to Fargo Building in Boston for PT and submarine men reported for new assignment and discharge. I was all ready to go home for discharge in December but I got frozen in for four months and was sent to the cruiser USS Helena CA75.

The above article (from the November issue of "All Hands") is used with permission from WW II PT Boats Museum and Archives, Germantown TN.


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