Interview with Gilbert Leroy Walls 1993-04-12

Material Information

Interview with Gilbert Leroy Walls 1993-04-12
Walls, Gilbert Leroy ( Interviewee )
Osorio, Ivan ( Interviewer )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
St. Johns County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
St. Johns County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'St. Johns County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
Resource Identifier:
SJ 016 Gilbert Leroy Walls 4-12-1993 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text

This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.

This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limits the amount of materials that may be

For all other permissions and requests, contacat the
the University of Florida.

GW: Gilbert Walls
IO: Ivan Osorio, interviewer

GW: I came out of CCC in '39 -Civilian Conservation Corps-

Nothing doing, jobs were getting kind of lean, so dad kept

asking, "get a job today, get a job today." I got tired of

hearing that so, finally, I thought about joining the service.

Went down and tried the Navy; they took me in at 21 bucks a


IO: Were you stationed in Pearl Harbor all that time?

GW: Yeah, I went from Newport, Rhode Island, took a train clear

cross country and boarded the USS Phoenix in Merritt Island Navy

Yard around Oakland, California;. and after that we cruised to

Pearl. There we picked up a troop transport -not a troop transport-

second civilians to the Philippines before the war. Then in

September '41, before the war, we took approximately 400 civilian

workers -poor souls- out to the Philippines. And they were there

when the Japs got there, so I don't know what happened to them.

After that we came back to Pearl -after we made that excursion

over to the Philippines-, and then we were there during the

attack. We were at Pearl Sunday morning.

IO: Were you awakened? What were you doing?

GW: I was topside. I was a boot crew. I was the bailhook on the

captain's gig, and we were tied up to the starboard boom. I'd just

come over to get a fresh pail of water to go down and wash off

the canopy on the gig. And then we see the planes come over. They

had big meatballs on the wings; that's what they called them


IO: Meatballs.

GW: Yeah. "Goddamn," one fella said, "it's a heck of a time for

attack on a Sunday morning. Look, they're even dropping sandbags!

Splashes!" He turned this way and I said, "Look at the meatballs!

They ain't our planes! They're Japs!" That's when we first knew

about it. A few minutes after that we see the battleships go up

in smoke and all that. That was the beginning of it, the first

time we knew they were there. We had awnings up over the deck to

keep the sun from getting the tar out of the teakwood tied up

there. We had to take knives and cut down the tarps so we could

get to the ready lockers so we could get the guns ready. We had

no firing pins in the guns; we had to get the firing pins out of

the ready locker -and we had the ammunition in the ready lockers-

before we could fire. All that took about five minutes, before we

could fire. We got on our way on auxiliary steam. We'd keep steam

in there for ship utilities, and that's what we got on our way

on. We finally got a good head of steam once we got out of the

channel. We passed the Arizona burning, and in front of us was

the Nevada. She (the Nevada) was the only battleship to get under

way. She was headed out and got a bomb hit in the stern, lost her

steerage, and she ran aground on what used to be Barber's Point,

but now I think they renamed it Nevada Point. To keep from

sinking in the channel the Nevada ran aground purposefully. We

were in back of her. We passed her and went on out before they

shut the sub net. We went on out. We were out for three days;

then we came back in to see what damage was done. We didn't know

on our way out; we knew there was a hell of a lot of damage, but

we didn't know the extent of the damage until we got back in.

I0: You went out immediately?

GW: Oh yeah, We got on our way and just got the hell out of

there; that's what we had to do.

IO: What did you do over the three days you were out?

GW: Looking for the enemy, whatever was out there. We were on

four-on/four-off -for two days- watch. It was like condition one

all the time. We were looking for somebody, but they were gone by

then, naturally. We were the biggest ship that got out. There was

another cruiser, a Raleigh class, she got out, and a bunch of tin

cans got out. But we were the biggest cruiser that got out.

Nobody else got out.

IO: And you had no contact by radio with anybody?

GW: You mean with the Japs?

IO: No, just with any base on the mainland.

GW: Oh, yeah, we kept in contact. And when we came back in we saw

the damage done, it was six inches thick of oil floating all

around the harbor.

IO: By the time you came back in, it was the ninth or tenth?

GW: We came back in about the middle of the week, maybe Wednesday

or Thursday. That would be around the tenth or eleventh. We saw

motorboats dragging a line pulling a body. There were all kinds

of thing in there, so much oil in there you didn't know what was

going on. There were no carriers in there; we were lucky. There

were eight battleships in there They were all tied up by Ford

Island; they were all perfect targets. They (the japanese) came

in from the East and headed for the West and got that whole row.

The Nevada, she saw action later on. She got fixed up, But the

Arizona, the Utah, they were just gone. The Utah was a target

ship to begin with. They dropped sandbags on her. She was an old

World War I battleship. She rolled over on her side. So did the


IO: The Japanese hit it (the Utah) thinking it was a regular


GW: Yeah. They just came in.... If the carriers had been there we

would have been out of luck. They'd have hit every carrier in

there. We were lucky; we were tied up in the back of Ford Island.

They didn't concentrate on us. So we were lucky to that extent.

I'll show you a picture in a while...I've got a book in there

that shows us coming out past the Arizona. Well, before Pearl....

I'll show you two pictures: one of the ship with portholes and

one without the portholes. They must have expected something

because when we came back from the Philippines, at the end of

September, little barges were coming along the side and they had

already-cut steel plates and they were taking our portholes out

and putting steel plates in there and welding them, closing all

our portholes up, every one of them. Then we went out on maneuvers

out there off Pearl and there was no smoking topside -this was

about a month or two before Pearl Harbor (was attacked)-, no

smoking topside, no movies. Went out there for two weeks, and we

come in for a week: we go out for two we come in for a week.

This is maneuvers: gun drills, shoot at the other ships' tow and

sleds, all kinds of maneuvers out there.

IO: Were they planned beforehand?

GW: They must have expected something 'cause we were really

tightening down like we were getting ready for something. If it

was peacetime we needed the portholes. They plugged the portholes

up. We went out to sea. There was, like I said, no movies, no

smoking topside at nighttime; they were just getting you in

training, getting you into habit. We had nightfire drills. We

were shooting starhells in the air, the targets would light up,

then we would concentrate on the target underneath the starshells.

And all this...we did that a solid two weeks (when) we'd go out.

IO: This was all during peacetime?

GW: It was in peacetime, yeah.

I0: There was no explanation given?

GW: No. We didn't question; we were just going through heavy

training. All our ships at Pearl were out there doing that. We

had maneuvers. We had one fleet against the other fleet. We

wouldn't fire at one another; we'd try to zigzag and outmaneuver

one another. Our subs were out there; our carriers were out

there. We were getting ready for something. But they never told

us. We were a lot better trained by doing that, regardless of

whether we lost a lot of lives at Pearl -I think it was over two

thousand something.

IO: So you think FDR knew?

GW: Somebody knew something was going to happen, because they

were really putting us through the grind out there. It was two

weeks out, one week in. We'd come in and take aboard more

ammunition, more stores.