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POSEIDON AND THE PC
The Letters of Lt. Paul W. Neidhardt
By Gary W. Neidhardt
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Gary W. Neidhardt
All rights reserved.
Introduction and Background
Paul W. Neidhardt was born on November 7, 1916, to a modest family who lived on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. His father didn't work much during the depression, and Paul ended up having to help the family out financially by working a paper route at a very early age. He graduated from Fenger High School on 112th Street South in Chicago at the tender age of sixteen, having been promoted a grade some years before. He entered the University of Illinois in the fall of 1932. (How this education was financed remains a family mystery.) His talents were soon recognized, and he joined a number of college activities, many of which he was destined to eventually lead. Having been in Army ROTC in high school, he immediately joined Army ROTC at the University of Illinois and rose to the rank of cadet colonel to command the brigade during the 1936–37 year, which consisted of at least 3,500 students.
A newspaper article read, "In addition to this distinction, Colonel Neidhardt is president of the Rho Chapter and senior news editor of the Daily Illini, one of the country's largest student publications." He was president of his fraternity, Theta Chi, and was involved in a number of other campus activities.
In April 1936 he met Phyllis Lucille Burns, born on July 2, 1916, in Peoria, Illinois, where she had lived all her life. Our best interpretation of the letters he wrote to her during that summer indicates that he was committed to her from the very start. She, on the other hand, seemed to continue to date other men, including a boyfriend who ended up graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1940.
Phyllis had entered the University of Illinois in 1933 with a high school sweetheart who didn't have the financial resources to join a fraternity and couldn't travel in the circles that Phyllis pursued. She started off being rather shy, but soon it was not unusual for her to have a date from six to nine in the evening and then be picked up for a second date during the same evening. She eventually went steady with a boyfriend right up until near the end of her sophomore year when she met Paul. When Paul became cadet colonel in mid May of 1936, he asked Phyllis to be his date at the upcoming Military Ball. Phyllis wrote that was "something about which I have always dreamed but never thought might ever happen to me." Paul also offered her his pin at that time, but she refused.
In the summer of 1937, after graduating with honors from the University of Illinois, Paul went to work for General Electric as an advertising copywriter in Schenectady, New York. He wrote to Phyllis throughout her senior year at the University of Illinois while she dated and enjoyed numerous honors of her own, such as earning one of three "most popular on campus" awards and becoming president of her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi. She was also a member of the Mortar Board, Inc.—the National College Senior Honor Society—and a member of the Torch student newsletter, honors that carried much distinction during those times.
While in Schenectady, Paul became a second lieutenant in the Army Calvary Reserve on December 27, 1937. Meanwhile, Phyllis graduated from the University of Illinois in May of 1938 and decided to pursue her masters in psychology at Columbia University in New York City. The 1938–39 academic year at Columbia was filled with exciting weekend visits by Paul to Phyllis in Manhatt an. In June of 1939, as Phyllis was graduating from Columbia, Paul transferred within General Electric from Schenectady, New York, to Cleveland, Ohio. In December 1939, he went to work for D'Arcy Advertising Company with offices at 1142 Terminal Tower Building on Public Square in downtown Cleveland.
Paul seemed to be proposing marriage from the time he and Phyllis were together at the University of Illinois. Phyllis, however, didn't seem terribly interested in the subject, and as they were going to be apart because of his graduation a year ahead of hers, she didn't seem in any hurry to become tied down. Then, upon going to Columbia, she still wanted to remain free. In early March 1939, Paul's letters indicate that he had formally proposed to her. She apparently remained uncommitted but interested. Sometime in the following months, she did say yes.
They were married on April 20, 1940. They spent part of their honeymoon at Mammoth Caves, Kentucky, before they moved to a rented cottage in Willoughby On The Lake within walking distance of Lake Erie. Soon afterward, they lived at 4417 Groveland Road in University Heights, Ohio. Every indication was for a bright future for them as Paul had become a young up-and-coming advertising executive.
Paul attended two weeks of Army Reserve training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, a few months later, in the summer of 1940. It was here that he learned the contingency plans were that the United States would be involved in the World War. Army reservists, he understood, would be among the first officers sent overseas. He learned that the vast majority of West Point graduates would be retained stateside for purposes of training the huge numbers of new soldiers who would be entering the service. He resigned his Army commission effective February 25, 1941, which was just about the same time he learned that he was going to be a father. His daughter, Carol Burns Neidhardt, was born on September 16, 1941.
After Pearl Harbor spurred the United States to declare war, Paul started seeking an officer's position in the military, possibly to avoid the potential of being drafted, but also because he was motivated, as so many were, to defend our country. He requested to serve even though there were deferments for married men with children at the time. He applied to the Army Air Force without success. He applied to the US Naval Reserve in late April 1942 and was accepted. On June 16, 1942, he received orders dated June 9, 1942, to report to the central armory in Cleveland, Ohio, for a physical. He took the physical the next day. Having passed the physical, he was ordered to naval training school at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, where he reported on July 1, 1942, with the rank of ensign.
Paul was to serve in the United States Naval Reserve for the next three and one-half years until late November 1945. He left his wife of two years and their ten-month-old daughter when most every able bodied man was dedicated to joining the military to serve his country but also to ensure that if he did serve, he would serve as an officer. His letters, which follow, document this service in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during the great worldwide war.
Paul received his initial military training in Ithaca, New York, for a little less than two months. We know very little about this period. We do have a group picture that clearly shows Paul third from the right in the fourth row.
Next he received orders to report to a training school in Northampton, Massachusetts, beginning in September 1942 for duty as an instructor. Just what he was instructing isn't known, but having been an officer in the Army Reserves may have provided qualifications for his six-month assignment. Soon after he arrived there, Phyllis and daughter Carol joined him in Northampton, leaving their Cleveland property behind. The pictures that follow, which were taken at the famous Minuteman Bridge, had to have been taken during this period. In March 1943, he received orders to report to South Boston, Massachusetts, for "temporary duty under instruction," and Phyllis and Carol traveled to Peoria to be with her parents. Apparently the new duty made their moving with him unfeasible.
The first time he ever got near an ocean after he joined the navy seems to have been in South Boston. Though we have Ensign Neidhardt's orders, which provide an arrival and departure time for this duty, no correspondence between Paul and Phyllis has survived.
On May 22, 1943, he received orders to report to the Submarine Chaser Training Center by May 29. He must have proudly given this news to Phyllis, and then asked her to bring Carol and stay with him in Florida.
Paul's letters were often meant to bring love and comfort to his wife, Phyllis, as well as to comment on current news events as he learned of them. To bring clarity and understanding to Paul's letters, light first needs to be shed on a subject that very few people, including many military historians, seem to pay much attention to: life on a patrol craft (PC) during World War II and the training it took to be qualified to be an officer on a PC.
The task of a PC hardly puts one in the spotlight of the history of the war; convoy escort duty involved traveling at the extraordinarily boring convoy speed of eight knots for day after day. Not that many PCs ever chased an enemy submarine. Upon completing a convoy escort mission, it was highly likely that the next mission for a PC would be to go right back to where it had come from to travel with ships headed the other way—again cruising at monotonous speed. That activity is hardly the type of scenario that led to any exciting war movie starring John Wayne or Henry Fonda. Nevertheless, Paul was to experience more excitement than he bargained for before his service was over, and not from the enemy he expected.
The 173-foot, 10-inch patrol craft was designed to relieve the much larger capital ships, such as DD destroyers (340–370 feet, crew of 273 men) and DE destroyer escorts (at least 300 feet, 15 officers, 200 men), from duties where their firepower and capabilities might be wasted. A PC was designed as an anti-submarine warship (ASW) complete with assorted depth charges, some of which were dropped from the stern, others of which were shot from guns from starboard or port. There were two forward-throwing antisubmarine devices called mousetraps on the bow. The ship also had a three-inch gun, a 40-mm rapid-fire Bofors gun, and two 20-mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft machine guns. Designers claimed that these ships could effectively fight an enemy submarine on the surface; however, "all hands on a PC feared such an encounter with a submarine. Most submarines threw a shell farther and delivered a bigger wallop that did the 3-inch gun on a PC."8 So the hope of a PC captain was to attack a submerged submarine and to be one of a group of ships so that the enemy submarine wouldn't try to fight it out on the surface.
Because of the rather mundane role that PCs so often played, their abbreviation is not nearly as well known as the much smaller but more dashing wooden PTs. PCs weren't considered to be ships large enough to be worthy of having a name.
Only a few PCs were built beginning in 1939. The vast majority of a total of 361 ships was produced between 1941 and 1945 in sixteen different locations across the country, including some inland sites that today wouldn't be thought of as likely, such as Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where Paul came aboard PC-1172, on which he would serve for eighteen months. The very last PC built during World War II was built in Portland, Oregon, and commissioned as PC-814 on June 5, 1945. Paul Neidhardt became second in command as an experienced PC officer. Of the 361 ships, twenty would be damaged and fifteen would be destroyed. Paul would be on one of the ships when it was destroyed.
A typical patrol craft had a crew of just five officers and sixty enlisted men. With all of these ships being built, many crews needed to be trained in a hurry. The training facility was created in Miami, Florida, and it was there that Paul reported in late May of 1943. Most of a PC crew were USNR (Naval Reservists), who were always given printed orders that contained the word temporary. Some regular Navy were assigned to PCs, sometimes referred to as "The Donald Duck Navy," and when they were, they "showed disappointment or resentment when the Navy did not assign them a capital ship. Some regulars feared that duty on a PC would take them away from combat and would diminish their naval career prospects." While Paul wasn't a "ninety-day wonder" when he reported for duty in Miami, as he'd been in the Navy for eleven months, the assignment of being a Navy officer on any kind of ship had to have been very new to him. Previously he probably had captained nothing more than a rowboat.
There is no way of knowing what kind of relationship Ensign Paul may have had with a famous personality who founded and commanded the Submarine Chaser Training Center (SCTC)—"Old Blood and Guts" Lieutenant Eugene Field McDaniel, Annapolis 1927. This officer commanded this school, which trained 50,000 officers and enlisted men during the war, sometimes training the five officers together with most of their sixty crew members.
Eleven Miami hotels housed the men on Biscayne Boulevard during what was typically about a sixty-day training period. Married men apparently could arrange other housing. Paul had brought Phyllis and his daughter Carol down to Miami. The following picture was published in a local newspaper about them. We know that this picture was snapped after July 1, 1943, because as of that date, Ensign Neidhardt had been promoted to lieutenant (jg), which corresponds with his entry into the Navy exactly one year earlier. Though the picture here has the address only partially displayed, another picture shows their address to have been at 14th and Meridian in Miami Beach. Apparently taken the same day as the picture in the newspaper article were these additional pictures, which feature Phyllis wearing the identical dress and tiara, as well as Carol giving a salute:
A typical SCTC week for officers loaded them with the following schedule:
1. Twenty hours of ASW instruction
2. Three hours of medical knowledge
3. Eight hours of seamanship and ship handling on board a Training Center YP
4. Seven hours of communication, radar, and navigation
5. All Saturday at sea for gunnery drills
6. All Sunday at sea for gunnery, communications, or command procedures, and
7. Three written examinations.
With this seven-day workweek, just how much quality time was possible for Paul and Phyllis during this period seems obviously quite limited except for evenings.
The estimates of the number of men being trained at the SCTC during the time Paul was there is somewhere between 150 to 2,500 officers, and between 6,000 to 9,000 enlisted men.
Despite the rugged training schedule, they did have additional time to take these vacation-like pictures taken in front of 1425 Meridian.
On August 11, 1943, Paul received orders to report to the US Naval station in New Orleans, Louisiana, from which he would travel up to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to help bring PC-1172 from Lake Michigan to New Orleans. Soon afterwards, Phyllis and Carol would return to Peoria, and Paul would become one of the junior officers assigned to the sub chaser PC-1172.
We have records of Paul taking a train from New Orleans up to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on August 29 and 30, 1943, to join PC-1172, as shown above.
The three-inch gun is clearly visible above with the fifty-three-foot mast. The hull of the ship consisted of 5/16-inch welded steel plate. "Crews joked that this thin hull was 'Just thick enough to keep out the water and small fish.' They also said it protected the ship from tin fish—torpedoes. 'Her hull is so thin a tin fish can go right through without exploding.'"
Paul was assigned the task of accompanying the ship from Lake Michigan to New Orleans, and a copy of orders suggest the ship departed on September 18 or immediately after. This voyage was accomplished "via Lake Michigan, the Chicago and Wabash Canal, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans." The ship was then commissioned on October 6, 1943. "She then proceeded to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and completed shakedown there just before Christmas. From Guantanamo she went to Key West and joined with PC-1251 for the return passage to New Orleans, tying up on 11 January 1944."
The first letter we have written by Paul directed his wife Phyllis to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and she apparently visited there for a little more than two weeks.
Following are the 115 letters of Paul W. Neidhardt. Comments necessary to clarify and explain events are included in italics. Footnotes are included as necessary to elaborate on or support the information in the letters where deemed appropriate. Chapters that are written by the author are not italicized. These have been written to cover known events in months when there are no letters, which often means Phyllis and daughter Carol were with Paul.
Letters of September, 1943
Letter #1 Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin "Drive Carefully Honey"
Assistant Supervisor of Shipbuilding, U.S. Navy Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
September 1, 1943
At the end of this letter I will tack on a good set of routing instructions as I can get. I know that the last 125 miles should be via Wisconsin Route 42, from Milwaukee up. I'm trying to figure out a way for you to avoid both Chicago and Milwaukee traffic. I have asked Dad to get what dope he can.
The cottage is exactly 3 miles from this spot. It is 15 feet from the water's edge of Sturgeon Bay. It has facilities for at least 5 people. Bedding furnished. Ordinary-type ice box. Oil stove. Screened porch facing water. Boat furnished.
The town is small, but food shopping looks better than Miami. This is the heart of a cherry growing section.
All in all I see nothing to prevent you're having a pleasant time. I think there's a girl handy to watch L.W. evenings. There is one movie house in town.
Quite a summer, no? Two vacation spots in one season is not bad. I think I'll be able to enjoy it a bit with you.
Drive carefully, honey. I will expect you to wire me the day you are coming. Assuming you leave at 9 a.m., you should be able to make it in 9 hours. Therefore I will stand by at the Hotel Carmen, waiting for you after 5 p.m.
Follow Route 42 right through the town, down the main drag, and you will see the Hotel on the left side of the end of the street (Cedar Street).
Here is a set of routing instructions, which I think will be best for you. If you get twisted up around Milwaukee, just remember to head east toward the lake and you will pick up 42 or US 141 These I think will mean a minimum of mileage and traffic.
Excerpted from POSEIDON AND THE PC by Gary W. Neidhardt. Copyright © 2013 Gary W. Neidhardt. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
List of Letters.................... xiii
List of Photographs.................... xix
1. Introduction and Background.................... 1
2. Summer 1943.................... 11
3. Letters of September, 1943.................... 19
4. Letters of October 1943.................... 33
5. Letters of November 1943.................... 53
6. Letters of December 1943.................... 71
7. Letters of January 1944.................... 103
8. Letters of February 1944.................... 139
9. March through August of 1944.................... 167
10. Letters of September 1944.................... 187
11. October and November 1944.................... 201
12. Letters of December 1944.................... 203
13. January to March, 1945.................... 207
14. Letters of April 1945.................... 211
15. Letters of May 1945.................... 217
16. Letters of June 1945.................... 231
17. Letters of July 1945.................... 243
18. Letters of August 1945.................... 249
19. Letters of September 1945.................... 271
20. Letters of October 1945.................... 287
21. Letters of November 1945.................... 323
22. Epilogue.................... 329
23. Bibliography.................... 339
24. About the Author.................... 341