> Chapter 2
|Chapter 2: Navy Years (1933-1937)
“If the American nation
will speak softly and yet build
and keep at a pitch of
the highest training a thoroughly efficient navy,
go far.” —Theodore
I was proud to be a seaman, but I can’t
say that I enjoyed everything about serving in the United
States Navy. It proved to be extremely restrictive for
this 18- year- old farm boy. While standing guard on long
hours of watches or squeezed into marginal sleeping accommodations
I grew lonesome for home. If it had been easy to do, I
might have hitch-hiked back to Sheldon, might have stuck
my feet under my parents table once again for some home
cooked grub, and might have climbed into my comfortable
old bed upstairs. But in the Navy I learned the discipline
required of leadership and something else unexpectedly
of a practical nature- the tecnique of dry cleaning, a
trade which I pursued profitably for several years after
my discharge. During the four years that I served I saved
approximately $2,000 – something my commanding officer
said had not been accomplished by any enlisted man he knew
of. At every opportunity I stood watch for other seaman
who would rather go ashore on liberty than earn a few extra
dollars on duty. I sent every pay-check home for my mother
to deposit into my account at the First National Bank of
four moths in San Diego at the Navel Training Station I was
assigned to the battleship U.S.S. California, third division.
My gun station put me in the Powder Room beneath a 14-inch
gun at #3 turret. I worked in one of the ship’s four
turrets, each sprouting with three 14-inch guns. Each gun
was loaded with power in a compartment inside each turret
which was covered with 14 to 16 inches of armor plated steel
to protect the 40 to 50 men who were loading the guns. Each
monster was loaded with a projectile about four feet long.
Four bags of powder were put in back the projectile. The
breech was then closed so the gun pointer could set his sights
on the target. He would then close the key and Wha-a-a-am!
With a recoil like that, the 2,00-pound projectile was sent
into the heavens and could travel for 20 miles to the target.
The first time this Iowa farm boy saw the recoil, heard
its thunder and felt the shudder I wished that the recruiting
officer in Des Moines had sent me back to the farm. But
before I could have second thoughts the Gun Captain leaped
onto the platform and opened the breach. Compressed air
spewed out smoke like dragon’s breath. I quickly
grabbed another bag of powder. With a smile, I realized
that I was part of a team manning a 14-inch gun that might
one day be called upon to help defend this great country
of ours. It was just another day of life in the Navy.
Those big guns will never be used again, nor will the
battleship U.S.S. California sail against the enemy. Today,
computerized rockets are launched many miles away from
their targets with sophisticated propulsion apparatuses
and guided with super-sensitive electronic gear answering
to satellites hundreds of miles above the earth. They travel
for hundreds of miles to their targets with pin-point accuracy.
On this cruise I ran into Bill Sweeney who had trained
with me at the Naval station in San Diego. We became fast
friends in the 3rd Division and kept in touch until Bill
died in 1997.
Pacific Fleet in the Atlantic?
orders from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his
second year in office arrived in 1934 onboard the U.S.S.
California. Our Commander-in- chief had decided to send the
entire Pacific Fleet of 98 ships – 12 battleships,
many cruisers, destroyers and supply ships – to the
East Coast. Ours was not to question why. Such orders had
not been carried out since the First World War a decade and
a half earlier. Navy ships were always anchored in the Los
Angeles Port near Long Beach, California and in San Diego.
Several times a year they all went out to sea for battle
maneuvers with veteran sailors and swabbies onboard. I wondered:
How could such a mass of steel pass through the narrow Panama
Canal? I soon found out.
As we prepared for the historic voyage I made a interesting
discovery: Athletes onboard were privileged to eat at a
special table. They were served steaks, hor-d-oeuvers,
and desserts that the general mess never had on its menu.
You can be on the roster of the race boat crew, the boxing
team, and the wrestling team. Soon, I, too, was enjoying
the culinary delights of the Navy’s mess hall for
jocks. I didn’t know then the heavy price I would
pay later on for my snap decision.
On May 1, 1934, every ship on the United States Pacific
Fleet was amassed on the West Coast entrance of the Canal.
Twenty-eight hours later, every ship had gone through the
isthmus and was heading north. At Porta Bella in the Atlantic,
we had our first boat race. Twelve of us oremen, pulling
like mad for two miles, came in second. Then onboard the
U.S.S California, we made stops with the fleet in Guantanamo
Bay, Cube, and at the Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Depot before
arriving at the Hudson River in New York where all the
ships passed in review near the U.S.S. Pennsylvania because
out Commander-in-Chief was onboard that vessel.
The next day thousands of us sailors paraded up Fifth
Avenue in New York City as ticker tape fell from high rise
Buildings. We felt highly honored because the last time
this happened was seven years earlier in 1927 when Charles
Lindbergh returned form his historic non-stop flight to
Paris. Then on to Newport, Rhode Island, where our rowing
crew lost several more boat races.
At Norfolk, a tall Texan named John Longmire came aboard
with new recruits. John, Bill Sweeney and I became inseparable.
The three of us were all the Third Division Mess Cooks
for a time and often went ashore together.
The U.S.S. California sailed with the fleet to Long Beach,
arriving on September 10, 1934. From there we moved up
the coast to San Francisco and thence to the Bremerton
Navy Yard near Seattle for a major overhaul. On December
30, with thought of home, I went ashore with a 30-day pass
in my pocket and boarded a Greyhound Bus for Sheldon, Iowa.
The Iowa snow and cold weather reaffirmed my earlier decision
not to make my home in the Hawkeye State.
Back in Bremerton I was shocked to hear the Seaman Longmire
had mastoid operation at the Naval Hospital. He seemed
to be his jovial self when I visited him, even talked about
returning to the ship soon. But John died during the night
after I visited him. His parents requested that I accompany
his body back to Rockdale, Texas. There I met his sister
Saphronia, a 17-year0old girl who began bombarding me with
letters. After my return to civilian life I stopped by
to see Saphronia at the request of her mother. By that
time I had met a girl back home in Sheldon whom I planned
to marry, but this didn’t slow down Saphronia. Her
mother called me “son” and Saphronia kept churning
out her letters. We kept in touch with Mrs. Longmire until
she died in 1965. Saphorina married and moved to Vermont
My salary as Seaman Second Class paid $1.20 a day, $36
a month. I studied hard and raised my rank to the next
grade, Seaman First Class, earning $56 per month. Exams
were mandated every six months. When I became eligible
to take the tests some 500 other sailors in the entire
battle fleet took the exam with me. I came in second of
all those who completed the exam.
I frequently stood watch for other sailors, receiving
about $1 per night. I also scrubbed their clothes for 25
cents a bucketful of whites, shorts, and T shirts. Nearly
every dime I made went home about every three months. Mother
opened a bank account and watched admiringly as those dribbles
climbed to nearly a $2,000 – a sizeable amount of
money in those days of depression.
Onboard the newly-overhauled U.S.S. California we sailed
out of Bremerton on April 1, 1935 to join the Pacific Fleet
in Honolulu 10 days later.
on the ‘Quincy’
in Long Beach, our homeport, Bill Sweeney showed me a bulletin
informing us of some new cruisers that would be commissioned
early in 1936. We both rushed to put in a request to be sent
to the U.S.S Quincy in Boston, Massachusetts. Chuck Morris
joined us and we all sailed away on the U.S.S. Henderson,
a naval transport, to be part of the crew of this new cruiser.
Another trip through the Panama Canal…a short stop
at Cuba… and finally – Boston to board the Quincy.
This sine ship was 630 feet long with nine 8” guns.
Its speed was 32 knots and it was manned by a crew of 650
Before leaving Long Beach for my trip to Boston, I enjoyed
a two-week visit with my brother Rich and four other Iowa
Dutchmen: Ben Kamphoff, Arie Van Nyhuis, Dick Ten Kley
and Meg Rolston. My friends informed me of a certain Nelina
Hoevens, a new girl who had moved to Sheldon with her parents
and one brother. I heard her name frequently during our
visits together. I sensed that Ben was quite fond of her.
He bought her some gifts while he was in Long Beach.
The construction of the U.S.S. Quincy was delayed so
on April 1, 1936 Bill Sweeney and I caught a bus for home – he
to Denver, Colorado and I to Sheldon en route back to Boston
where we patiently awaited completion of the Quincy.
my first Saturday night back in Sheldon, Rich and I went
to town with all the farm boys in that vicinity and hung
around “The Rustic Mill”. Ben Kampkoff sat in
a corner booth waiting for his girl to arrive. I had been
told that I had met Nelina a year earlier but I could not
remember the occasion. Before long I looked up and observed
a beautiful girl entering the café. She looked our
way with a big smile. Then she headed for our booth. “This
is the girl I’m going to marry,” I decided then
and there. I spent all Sunday afternoon with Nelina, and
so began a serious relationship that led us to the alter
on July 26, 1938 and more than sixty years of love and affection.
During those three weeks I met Nelina’s only brother,
Adrian, and spent approximately five minutes with him.
None of us realized at the time that within six weeks Adrian
would leave this earth and be at home with the Lord for
eternity where his weak heart would be made strong. Today
his malady could no doubt be corrected by modern surgical
Now it’s April 9, 1936. Back at the Boston Navy
Yard I was assigned to the 3rd division as pointer on Quincy’s
No. 3 Turret – an eight-inch gun. Great pomp and
circumstance accompanied the commissioning of the ship.
Fifty-two years later, in 1988, a book was published written
by Commander Grady F. Mesemer titled, “The History
of the U.S.S. Quincy C.A. 39.” My name appears on
page three as “A Plank Owner” (the name for
men who were on the ill fated ship when it was commissioned
in 1936). The Quincy was sunk on August 9, 1943 near Savo
Island in the Guadalcanal area. The loss of 386 souls,
in addition to many more wounded, marked the event as a
by a Monster
July 20, 1936 we left Norfolk, Virginia on the shake-down
cruise to England, France and Holland. En route we received
orders to go to Gibraltar to protect American interests in
Spain and pick-up American tourists who could not get out
because of the Civil War. We witnessed bombing at Alicante
Majorca (a Spanish island) but never got to England or Holland.
Being one and a half inches too tall to be in the Navy,
I caught the eye of a recruiter for our onboard boxing
team. I had some success when competing with fellow sailors.
In Majorca, the German battleship Graf Spee invited our
boxing team to a match onboard their ship. This was all
before the Nazi blitzkrieg in Poland which ended all relations
between our country and Germany.
When I saw my German opponent I knew I was in big trouble.
If I had been able to read the words on his robe I would
have known to fake some illness. Later, when I woke up
on a mess table, the boxing coach told me the words on
his robe read, “German Fleet Champion”. I resigned
from the boxing team on the spot and lost my privileges
at the athletic mess table.
History in the Making
Gibbons, a celebrated news reporter, came aboard our ship
and sailed with us for a few days. He informed us that we
were “very fortunate to be here to see ‘history
in the making’”. The Germans were helping General
Franco using the civil war as a proving ground for a second
world war. Gibbons’ assessment proved to be prophetic
truth. The Graf Spee would be sunk within two years in Montevideo,
Uruguay. I wonder if the Fleet Boxing Champion was aboard.
The Quincy returned to Boston on October 5,1936 for repair
of items which today we would call “the punch list”.
In Boston on shore leave I spent a day with my classmate
Emmett Mullin. He was at the Yale School of Law. I had
a few visitors during my tour of duty with the Navy. Emmett’s
appearance was a memorable event.
I left the ship on September 3,1937. In looking over
the list of those killed onboard the Quincy I recognized
some of the names from our Third Division. This was the
worst defeat in the history of the U.S. Navy. Survivors
are still questioning why no action was taken against those
who gave poor leadership during this battle in which four
cruisers and one destroyer were lost in a short time.
I wrote Nelina several letters from May 1936 to July
1937. Howard Cleveringa back home wrote to warn me that
Nelina was seeing her old boyfriend, Benny, again. Rich
and Howard tried to put in a good word for me, but with
a distance of five thousand miles between us I assumed
that this romance would end as did my fight with the German
sailor. I learned later that Nelina was looking for comfort
after the tragic death of her brother, Adrian. Ben, right
there in our hometown, had the advantage of that round.
When Bill Sweeney and I were transferred from the U.S.S.
California to the Quincy, another sailor, Chuck Morris,
joined us in the transfer. He was in the 5th Division on
the California so we did not know him. (There are approximately
1,200 sailors on a battleship.) Chuck became a good shipmate.
He invited Bill and me to his home frequently while we
were in the Boston Navy Yard. Chuck had a sister named
Millie who had her eye on Bill from the first time she
saw him. During every liberty, Bill would take the train
about 20 miles north to her home in Wilmington, Massachusetts,
near Lowell. Bill fell in love with Millie and didn’t
want to lose her so, they were married before our ship
left for the West Coast.
| Full ‘Steaming’ Ahead
Quincy left Boston on April 13, 1937 to join the fleet in
Honolulu via Panama. My job on the Quincy was as Coxswain
of #3 Motor Launch, and keeping a passageway clean outside
the tailor and dry cleaning shop. The tailor’s assistant,
a guy named Wainwright, was quite a boozer and did not do
his work. When my job finished I would help the tailor with
pressing and cleaning.
One day the officer in charge came in unexpectedly and
spotted Wainwright on the deck sleeping it off. He turned
to me and said, “Bogard, can you handle that press?”
“Yes, Sir”, I replied.
A few minutes later I was a presser and Wainwright was
cleaning the passageway. This job gave me an opportunity
to make extra money and to learn a skill that became useful
after my discharge from the Navy on September 3, 1937.
In July 1937, I knew I had to make a decision: Stay in
the Navy or take my discharge. I put in for three weeks
leave to consider my future plans. I had not written to
Nelina often because I had been told she was seeing Ben
quite regularly. My job in the Navy was paying a good wage
and I had saved enough money to open a dry cleaning plant
in Sheldon. The economy had hit a new low and the depression
was now in its eighth year. Approximately 15% of the work
force was still unemployed. As a nation, we still could
not see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” I
was 22 years old. It was time, I decided, to find someone
to spend the rest of my life with. I knew the one I wanted
but…was she still available? I decided to go back
to Iowa and check things out.
Sheldon I quickly discovered that indeed there was hope!
Nelina indicated that she still was very fond of me. We saw
each other frequently. On the last Sunday of my leave, as
we sat in the park at Sanborn, I made a hasty proposal. We
would be married as quickly as possible and I would stay
in the Navy for two more years. Today I realize that Nelina’s
negative response was the wisest decision we ever made together.
I returned the following day to San Francisco, quite
disappointed. My future was still uncertain, although I
had decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life
with that baker’s daughter in Sheldon. So, on September
3, 1937, I received an honorable discharge from the U.S.
Navy and headed home for Iowa. God was on his throne. All
was right with the world and in my quiet time I prayed, “What’s
On the evening I returned home Rich and I drove to Sheldon
and parked in front of a stairway that led to a dance floor
over Wolfs Clothing Store. Rain poured down that evening
so the two of us sat in the car watching couples going
in to the dance. Suddenly a couple dashed in front of the
car and ran up the stairs. It was Ben and Nelina. Ben recognized
our car and waved to Rich. Soon he came back down the stairs
and went next door. As he did so, I jumped out of the car
and ran up the stairs. I saw Nelina talking to some friends.
We greeted each other with a “Hi”, and I said, “Can
I pick you up tomorrow night?” Without any hesitation
she replied, “Yes”. I knew by the look in her
eyes that there was a future for my in her life.
That fall I picked corn for my Dad and two of our neighbors.
I had a very competitive spirit, so I picked 150 bushels
a day at five cents a bushel. One hundred bushels a day
is tops as a big day’s work. As I look back, I think
I was trying to impress my father. I made enough money
to buy Nelina an engagement ring. I gave her the ring before
her birthday on November 10.
My brother Rich became engaged to Leona Struyk. They
planned to be married and take over the farm from my parents
who were moving to Oregon with the three youngest children.
It was decided that I would drive my parents to Oregon
about November 30. Then I would try to find a job and come
back to Sheldon, marry my fiancée and take her to
the West Coast. Nelina never put her approval on this plan
but I assumed it would jell in time.
We arrived in Portland on about the 10th of December,
1937. The folks found a house large enough to accommodate
all of us. I went out daily looking for ways to make a
living. With four years in the Navy, I had some preference
in all government jobs. I advertised to buy some small
business – dry cleaning, restaurant, or bowling ally.
In the meantime, Nelina finally made it very clear: she
could not leave her parents, inasmuch as she was their
only child. I had a good lead to work in a lighthouse for
the U.S. Government. This did not excite me very much,
so I packed my bag and headed back to Sheldon via Greyhound
I didn’t fully realize that I had no home in which
to drop my bags. Rich and Leona graciously let me stay
with them until Arie Van Nyuis returned from the West Coast.
Arie sheared sheep and lived in the old Royce Hotel. I
stayed with him in an inside room, sleeping on a very small
bed with no springs. I knew this job with Arie was not
for the long pull. My bed in the Royce was much worse than
the ones I had in the Navy so Nelina and I decided to marry
and open a dry cleaning plant in Sheldon. The month of
July was chosen for our wedding. We would spend August
getting ready to open shop in September.
The Fiebig Bottling Company went broke, so the front
office became available to rent. When the banker heard
that I was going to invest all my money in a venture that
already had two competitors in town he warned me that one
was nearly broke and the other was always late on rent.
I was deaf to these warnings and went to Sioux City to
work in a plant that had the same equipment I was purchasing.
The other cleaning plants used naphthol, which was very
explosive. The cleaning tubs were usually kept in back
sheds. Our equipment was compact and trimmed with bright
chrome. We placed it within sight of the public to observe
the cleaning process. This equipment was new on the market
and proved to be both efficient and profitable.
There were some problems to work out. As I recall, either
Nelina or her father suggested that I join the First Reformed
Church before our marriage. This involved a ceremony in
which the candidate for membership would confirm his or
her faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. After confirmation,
you were considered to be a member of the local church
and of the Body of Christ. My father was a bit of a rebel
when it came to these denominational procedures. I might
have agreed with some of his views, hence the delay in
making my public confession. My brother, Rich, and his
wife, Leona, joined me that morning to go through this
ritual. Looking back some 60 years later, I see that joining
the church was the right thing to do in that situation.
Nelina had to remind me that a prospective groom always
asks that father of his fiancée for her hand in
marriage. I had already given my fiancée a ring
and Mr. Hoevens had never indicated that there was a problem.
Nevertheless, I wanted to conform to custom.
My shining moment came one evening at the Hoevens’ house.
Nelina’s mother saw me heading for the kitchen so
she quickly slipped into the living room. John warmly greeted
me. When I stated my intentions he reminded me that his
daughter was only 19 years of age. Would it not be wise,
he suggested, to wait a year? I might have mentioned to
him that night that the bed at the Royce was small and
hard. John gave me his blessing on the spot so the date
of our wedding was set for July 26, 1938.
is a debt that never can be repaid.”