Interview by Robert C. Daniels
Morris Page was interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun starting at 12:30 P.M. on 29 November 2005. The interview lasted 31.23 minutes. Morris was eighty-one years old and legally blind at the time of the interview. He was accompanied and assisted by his daughter, Linda Page. In addition, Mr. James Laird of the Waupun Historical Society assisted in conducting Morris’ interview.
What is your full name? Morris Page. P A G E. There’s only two Pages in the phone book. I and my twin sister.
I know a lot of people that were born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home. Yeah.
Where and when were you born? I was born in Campbellsville, Kentucky. Moved from Kentucky to Wisconsin in 19…, oh, ‘29, I guess.
Were you born in a house? Yeah. At home.
What day were you born? August 27th.
And what year? 1924.
Did you move to Waupun when you moved to Wisconsin? No, Beaver Dam. Well, Milwaukee, and then we moved to Beaver Dam after that.
Who were your parents? Eugene and Bertha.
Do you have any brothers and sisters? I got a twin sister.
What is her name? Marie, right (looking towards his daughter, Linda Page, for confirmation)? (Linda replies: “Right.”) Jesus Christ (in response to his memory). (Linda: “Watch you language, now.”) Yeah.
That’s okay. Where did you go to school? Well, in Beaver Dam. Wasn’t it (looking at his daughter)? (Linda: “Yeah, Beaver Dam High School.”)
Did you graduate from high school there? No.
What is the highest grade that you went through? Tenth grade, I joined the Navy then.
Did you attend college? No.
What was it like for you growing up? I don’t know. I don’t understand yah. I joined the Navy when I was seventeen and I grew up in the service, I guess.
What were you doing just before the war? Going to school. (Linda: “You were also working a couple jobs, weren’t yah?”) No, I…, yeah, I worked on the side.
Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? Oh…(wondering). No, I can’t remember.
When did you join the service? In 1940…, 1942, I think it was.
And you were seventeen years old then? Yeah.
You quit school to join? Yeah. I wasn’t going to school anyway, I was skipping too much of it.
That is kind of young. Did they allow you in or did you have to…? The Navy you could join when you were seventeen, and the Marines.
And you joined the Navy? Yeah.
What made you decide to join the Navy? ‘Cause the Marines turned me down, I was too…, I only weighed, ah…, I don’t know how many [pounds]. I was too light and too small, and they didn’t take me. So I joined the Navy. It (the recruiting station) was right in the same building, and dad took me over there and I joined the Navy. He had to sign for me.
What did he think about your joining the Navy? It was okay with him.
What was your rank in the Navy? Seaman First Class.
What is a Seaman First Class? What do they do? Well, I was in the amphibious force, it was a small landing craft, so that’s all we did was take care of that landing craft.
Did you have a specialty other than just Seaman First Class? No.
Where was your boot camp at? At ahhh…(wondering). God darn it, right here in Wisconsin, ahhh…(Linda: “Great Lakes?”) Great Lakes (Illinois).
Do you remember much about your boot camp? No.
Did you go to any other schools? Well, no. Just Beaver Dam.
Could you tell us what you did, where you went in the Navy during World War II? What ships you were aboard? I was on five ships. And the first one I got on was (USS) Harry Lee. And that broke down, and I got put ashore in Virginia Beach (Virginia). We slept in a tent there and did odds and ends. And that’s where they started the amphibious forces right there. They used to have air plane engines in them. And then they set up for Gray marine diesel, because that was too dangerous, the gasoline ones.
What ship did you go on next? Well, after…, we stayed at Camp Bradford there and we was…, taking ships through…. Magnetic mines, you had to take them through and de-magnetize them. A series of maneuvers, and that took…, magnetic mines couldn’t, wouldn’t go after them then. Do you understand me?
Yes, exactly. Okay.
And Camp Bradford, that was in Virginia Beach? I don’t know. (Linda: “That was Virginia according to your paper, here.”) Oh, yeah? (Linda: “Yeah. He was on five different ones, I don’t know if you want me to help him with that.) No, I was on, I’m naming the ships.
Continue on, please. What do you wanna know now? (Linda: “Where did you go after Harry Lee?”)
Yeah. Harry Lee, that broke down and then I went to Virginia Beach, and, like I said, we slept in a tent there and did training on those amphibious forces. Then I got put in the amphibious force and stayed there until the war ended.
What ships were you on in the amphibious force? I was on just one in the amphibious force, (USS) Thomas Jefferson.
Where did it go during the war? Well, I was in the east in Europe and in Asia, both theaters. When the war ended in…, when hostilities ceased in the United States, why, we went through the Panama Canal and we went to Okinawa and made that invasion.
Were you involved in any of the invasions in the Atlantic Coast, the Atlantic Theater? Oh, yeah. The first two I was in was Salerno and Southern France…, or was it, is it Sicily? I think it was Sicily. And they were made when it was dark. You loaded up those landing craft, and when they got loaded you went out in a circle, and when they had so many boats there, why, we went ashore. All in pitch black. The only thing you could see was…, what was that in the water, the ocean water? Phosphorous?
Yes. Okay, that was kicked up. It was all you could see.
You were actually on one of the landing craft? Oh, yeah.
Did you drive them? Oh, yeah. You had four guys on them. You had two machine gunners, the guy that run the ramp, and the guy that steered it.
What was your job on…? You had to do any of ‘em. Anyone they called on, why, you did it.
Were these the Higgins boats? J. C. Higgins, yeah.
So you were involved in the Salerno landing and the Sicily landing. Yeah.
And then you were involved in Okinawa? Well, then we…, then I went to Normandy, and then I did an invasion in southern France after Normandy. Those were in the daylight—Normandy was, Southern France, that was daylight. And then we went to…, the hostilities ceased, and then we went through Panama Canal and….
Do you remember which beach you landed on Normandy, that you took the boats to in Normandy? No, you just had a color to go by, green beach or red beach or whatever that had a flag that was flying.
Do you remember which one you went to? Not really, no.
When you came back home after the war, do you remember what it was like? What the Waupun area was like when you came back home? Well, Beaver Dam, yeah. I went to work right away.
It hadn’t changed much? No, not really.
Were the people different? Well, I don’t know, I…, no, I don’t think so.
Did you take any advantage of the GI Bill? How do you mean?
The GI Bill to go to college or to go to school? No, no, no.
What did you do after the war? I went to work for the electric company, in Beaver Dam.
How long did you work for them? Forty-three years.
Wow. Long enough?
Oh, Yeah. (He laughs.)
And you retired from the electric company? Yeah. (Linda: “He was a lineman.”)
What year did you retire? 1980…, ‘87, I think, 1987.
Did you get married? Yeah, I was married before I retired, yeah.
When did you get married? There’s somethings I try to forget, and God darn I guess that’s one of ‘em (he laughs). I don’t know (he continues to laugh). (Linda: “1947.”) I guess so, I don’t know.
And what was your wife’s name? Luella.
Luella. How do you spell that? L U E L L A.
And what is her maiden name? Helmer. (Linda: “H E L M E R.”)
Is she still alive? Oh, yeah.
Do you have any children? Who?
You. Yeah, I had six daughters.
Wow. What were their names? Oh, cut it out (he laughs as he tries to recall all of their names), Linda, Patty, Barbara, (Linda interjects: “Lynn”) Lynn, (Linda: “Susan.”) Susie, and Penny. (Linda: “He used to call them by numbers, so he’s doing good [we all laugh].”)
They all live in the area? Yeah, they all live in Beaver Dam but one, and she lives in Waukesha (Wisconsin).
So I think you got some grandchildren too? Oh, yeah.
How many? (Linda: “Nine.”)
Nine in total? (Linda: “Yeah.”)
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your time in the Navy, any stories, anything you remember? Well, no. I got a buddy that was in the Farrell Company. When I walked in that one day—VFW—when I walked in that one day he says, “Were you in the service?” I says, “Yeah.” He says, “Where?” I says, “I was in the Atlantic, in Europe, and Asia,” you know. He said, “You couldn’t have been.” And really this is one of the reasons why I am over here trying to get that book wrote (meaning the book that the author is collecting these interviews for).
Do you remember what your service number was? 3052778. I’m pretty sure that’s it. (Linda: “That’s right.”)
Wow! 3052778. That’s quite some memory. Let me tell you something. Right here, that picture (as he points to the picture imprinted on the shirt he is wearing). I asked them about the ship that I was on, and they asked me about the name of the ship and the number that was on it. And I remembered it, and they come right up with a picture of my ship. Now that’s amazing, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. That is truly amazing.
How long were you on that ship, do you remember? Yeah, I stayed on it all awhile, all awhile I was in. [Except] just while I was at Camp Bradford there for a while. Oh, I’d say I was on there, oh, over three years, that ship.
Was it a new ship when you went aboard? Well, I would say that was 19…, 1940 what (asking Linda, his daughter, who replies, “1942”)? ‘42 or something, so it couldn’t have been too old. A couple others I was on was pretty old.
Is there anything else that you could think of that you want to tell us? Yeah, I went to [the] Panama Canal, and the amazing thing to me was when you got there you was way up in the air (indicating that the lock was filled with water and the main deck of the ship was high above the lock). And we went down (inside the ship) to eat, and when we come back (out after eating) you was down, you know, you were getting transferred out of the locks.
Wow! You were laid down to the level where you could talk to people (indicting that the ship was very low in the locks and the main deck was nearly level with the top of the lock). And when you went through there’s a fresh water lake in between the Atlantic and the Pacific (Oceans). And when you go to that Lake it is a tradition that no matter what is on top side you turn the water hose on it. You wash down everything. If the captain’s there, you wash him down. You know, that’s just the way you are.
Is there anything else you can think of that you would like to say? No, I guess not.
(Jim Laird): Can I ask a question? You were both in Normandy and Okinawa? Oh, yeah.
(Jim Laird): From what I understand in World War II those were both terrible battles, just unbelievable. What?
(Jim Laird): Well, they were difficult, difficult landings…. Yeah, yeah. Typically, the amphibious force where I was on, they’d take a bunch of troops in, and then they (the Allied ships) wouldn’t fire over [us]. That protected us, you know. Really, that protected the guys in the boats when they brought other loads in. We’d load up and go back to the ship, and load up and go back to the ship, and load up. Kept it up till your ship was empty.
That was in all your landings? Yeah, the same thing. The first two, though, like I said, the first two landings in Europe was in the dark, and then they never did that after that.
Was there a reason for that, that you knew of? No. I guess, once they did it for a couple of landings, why, they found out that we can’t see—they can’t see us either—so after Normandy they was all during the daylight.
(Jim Laird): Were you with the same three other people on your…, what do you call it…?
The Higgins boat. Landing craft.
Yes. Were the four of you pretty much all together or…? Oh, yeah, yeah. You was on all different boats, it was a tank lander, there was a support boat. All of ‘em was in the amphibious force, and there was a small landing craft.
But the same four crew members, your friends…? Well, no. You could have got on a boat with four guys that wasn’t with you before, or three guys. You didn’t know who you was gonna get on with.
So you were assigned to a specific Higgins boat? No, no.
(Jim Laird): Now the Higgins boat, was that the one the front comes down? Yeah.
They are made out of plywood, is that right? Yeah, but they had quarter inch steel on the plates on the side for protection.
And you had two machine guns on ‘em? Yeah.
Were they .50 caliber machine guns? No. They were .30…, .30 calibers. And the only ones that were .50 calibers was tank landers, they had .50 calibers on there.
Were the Higgins boats in a little squadron or were there like four together or five together or certain amount, or were they…, did they run separately? Well, sometimes you went alone. We went alone lot of times. But if you was making invasion you generally circled and went in with a group. But after you got that first invasion, that first landing made, then you went in individually.
Panama Canal, I thought that was great.
(Jim Laird): Do you remember where you were at on V-E Day, when they officially announced that Europe was won? Well, I remember…, no I can’t remember that exactly. I remember the ship I was on when the war ended.
What did you think of the food in the Navy, on the ships? Good. Good. You always had something to eat and drink.
What were your sleeping arrangements? What was it like on the ships? Well, you slept in—the ship quarters was different than the amphibious forces quarters—and we had I think five high bunks that you slept in.
They were actually bunks? They weren’t the hammocks? Oh, we slept in hammocks, but only one guy in [each] hammock. Jesus Christ, guys used to sleep in…, when the first ship I was on, you had to sleep in [a] hammock. And they had them so close together and they tipped so easy that you’d reach over to grab to stop you and tip guys down just like dominos (we all laugh). Then when you woke up at morning, half of them was laying on the floor sleeping (he laughs again).
Was there a lot of people sea sick on the ships? No. I don’t think so. A lot of the army guys when we was hauling them, they were sick. But I don’t think any of our navy guys were sick. Don’t ever remember ‘em being sick.
When the amphib boats were going from one place to another getting ready, when they were on their way to the invasion location, what did you do then on board the ship? Took care of your landing craft—paint, chipped paint, re-painted. They had plenty of work for yah. Kept you busy.
Did you have any liberty ports, any time for liberty ports? To go ashore?
Yes. Well, yeah, if you was in a port. When we was in the Pacific we’d pick an island and then take like a horse tank, you know, [a] water [tank]? Fill it full of ice and then they gave us beer then. And you’d be surprised how many guys couldn’t drink beer, and you’d get a case of beer for two guys. And you’d pick a guy that didn’t drink and then get stinking drunk. Geez (he laughs).
And you go to islands to do this? Oh, yeah. You wouldn’t dare drink aboard ship. But they’d take you over to an island, and then when you got drunk they’d haul you back ashore. (Linda: “See, I didn’t know about that part.”)
That’s my old navy days coming out, thinking of stuff like that (I, the author, spent nearly twenty years in the Navy). They would give us—this was fifteen years ago—if we were at sea for a long period of time without going to shore, they would give us each two cans of beer on the flight deck or some place on board the ship. But that was it. But there wasn’t a big war going on then, either, so.
Was there anything else that you can think of that you want to say? No, I guess not. The only thing is I had trouble getting…, see, every invasion you made is supposed to get a star with it (a star on a battle ribbon for each amphibious landing the individual participated in). I got five of ‘em coming, then I can’t seem to get ‘em. I don’t know if they ran out of the material to make them or what. (Linda: “He’s been trying for a long time.”) Yeah.
(Jim Laird): Have you contacted Swenson Brenner? (Linda: “I haven’t tried him, no. We’ve been basically [checking with] the different Vets’ organizations. So it’s been quite a battle.”) Then I can’t see no more. Some things have to be bad, but the worst thing there is is when you can’t see. That has to be the worst thing there is.
(Jim Laird): Has your group ever had a reunion of your ship? Once, I think they have one every year, but I only went to one. The one in Berlin, Wisconsin, I went to. Oh, that was the first one they ever held. I was the only guy to have a picture of my ship.
Did you join the VFW or any of the Legion…? I belonged to the [American] Legion and the VFW. I am a lifetime member.
They are in Beaver Dam? Yeah.
Are there a lot of people from World War II? No. Very few. I don’t even know nobody from World War II. I’m eighty-one, and I went in at seventeen, and very few people went in at seventeen. So you can figure they was all older than me and that’s why there are so few of us left.
At one time, were there a lot of people at the VFW that were from World War II? Yeah, they are slowly disappearing.
I remember Panama Canal. When we went though there they had piers out with bananas on every pier. And then my captain sent one of the landing craft and got a bunch of bananas and we had bananas. Boy (he laughs), a lot of bananas.
(Jim Laird): Did you like your captain? Oh, yeah. See, the captain never bothered us any. Regular ship’s deck he did, but he never bothered the amphibious force, that’s a separate division.
What rank was your captain? Well, I don’t know. Captain in the Navy. There’s a lieutenant, and an ensign, a lieutenant, and I think a captain after that.
Anything else you can think of? No. I am about talked out.
Thank you. My pleasure.
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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