Syd Calish

First Engineering Officer of the Whitehurst

Ensign Syd Calish, 1942

Syd Calish 2000

I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and there the depression was tough although myfather had work  through most of it. My mother died in 1929 when I was eight and my brother was only 6 months old so my father spent most of his time and energy on the baby. Thus, we were not close until after I graduated from Cal in 1941. In 1936, my father moved to Long Beach, CA to work for a relative and I went to Rockville Center, Long Island to finish high school living with an aunt and uncle and a cousin who was a year younger than I. After graduating from South Side High School in June 1937 I went to Long Beach to join my family. I did not get to the Bay Area until 1938 so I can't say much about the depression. After I went to work for Chevron in late 1945 I heard a lot about those years and how Chevron (then Standard Oil of California) had a work sharing plan that kept as many people as possible on the payroll. That's something they would not do today with the emphasis on shareholder return. 

I attended the University of California in Berkeley, graduating with a BA in Chemistry in May 1941.  I knew Andy Foreman [for whom the USS Foreman (DE-633) is named] at Cal as we were classmates but in different curricula. I can't remember anything special about Andy Foreman except to be surprised at his death.  I should have gotten a BS but could not do a required lab course as I was working at two jobs while going to school.   

Almost as soon as I graduated from Cal, my father and brother returned East to wind up in Boston. I stayed in the Bay Area after that.  I then went to work for the Fuller Paint Co. in San Francisco as a paint technologist, but also signed up for the V-7 program in the Navy. I had always wanted to go Navy and actually wanted to attend the Naval Academy.  My father never served in the military, I believe he was medically exempt with a heart condition although he lived to be 76. He never gave me any advice when I signed up for V-7, it was better than being drafted. 

Immediately following Pearl Harbor I received orders to report to the Naval Academy on January 5, 1942 for four months training as an Engineering Officer. It was a memorable experience. At graduation I was commissioned an Ensign and was ordered to Navy Diesel School at Cornell University for four more months. That was also a memorable summer as we were the last class to have absolute freedom after hours and on weekends. Subsequent classes were more regimented and restricted. I then had duty on two diesel powered mine sweepers until April 1943 when I was ordered to the Sub Chaser Training Center in Miami, FL.  

I was in the Atlantic on the mine sweepers. The first one was only 98 feet long and built on a tuna boat wooden hull. It worked out of Staten Island and we swept for mines out the busy NY Harbor Channel as far south as Atlantic City. This was through the winter and it was rough and cold.  The next ship was a 220 foot mine sweeper but other than drills we never swept for mines but were used as convoy escort out of Norfolk to the Caribbean ports. We got as far as Recife, Brazil. I was supposed to be the Engineering Officer but there was a Warrant Machinist on board and the Captain was a mustang ex-warrant and would not let me do my job but had me standing deck watches. That was OK by me for the experience. I was only aboard for one round trip before I was sent to SCTC, Miami.  Four more months plus two at the GE plant in Syracuse to train on the turbo-electric power plants to be used in the Buckley class DE's plus one more at the Navy Boiler School in Philadelphia. I think most of the prospective Eng. Off. from SCTC attended Boiler School.  The GE school in Syracuse was like an engineering lab course in any school in the Navy or vocational school.  It was taught by both Navy and GE personnel and had lots of hands on work. But it was only 9 to 5, 5 days a week and I had relatives in Syracuse.  Back to Miami to wait for assignment as the Engineer Officer of a new DE. I got the Whitehurst back home in San Francisco and reported there in September 1943.  

The commissioning ceremony was very simple as there were many of themgoing on at the shipyard and not many of the ships company had their families with them. LCDR James R. Grey, USN accepted the ship as its commanding officer. I don't even remember the details or whether there was a band present. I do not have a copy of the program if there even was a formal one. 

Not everyone aboard the 634 got sick the first time we went out the Gate, but I sure did. I got seasick every time we went to sea after being in port a while. It took about 36 hours to get my sea legs and then it was OK. When it was really rough I was too scared to get sick such as the time we went through a typhoon. Actually the first shakedown cruise to San Diego was as  bad as the typhoon. The DE was not a very stable platform but it could tolerate rolls of over 45 degrees. 

We had some problem drinkers on the Whitehurst but they were usually the older enlisted men. We had one very senior Chief Radioman who filtered an aftershave through bread for his kicks. I don't think we had any officers that drank while aboard ship but our ASW Officer (he died when we got hit by the Kamikaze) drank a whole case of beer at one sitting. 

Stewards Mates were taken for granted in the Wardroom and they were all involved at mealtimes. They were usually a good bunch of guys and I believe were treated well. Some of them were excellent cooks. Most of them had GQ stations other than in the Wardroom and were on gun crews, ammunition handlers and even in damage control. The Whitehurst had a silver plate set I think was monogrammed.  

I much preferred the DE duty and would have liked an even bigger ship. Steam was much easier on the Black Gang than diesel because there was less preventive maintenance. There are few moving elements to a boiler and turbine generators and motors go round and round, not up and down so there  is far less wear and tear. Some of the diesel DE's has four 16 cylinder engines and two eight cylinder generator sets, that’s 82 cylinders to inspect and maintain. The Black Gangs on the diesel DE's had far less shore leave when in port than we did. Then there is the noise, vibration and exhaust stink of diesels. Guess which one I preferred. When not at GQ, the engineer officer worked during the day and slept at night. As Engineering Officer I rarely stood deck watches although I qualified to do so while on the smaller mine sweepers.  The daily routine for an E. O. was quite boring unless there was a problem or we were at GQ or in a drill. Every morning, first thing I got reports from the Oil King as to the fuel supply and fresh water available. I then reported this to the Captain.  

I don’t remember that the Oil King had a special compartment although the fuel manifold was in a special area. He had an array of valves and pumps to use for fuel transfer. The Oil King was usually one of the more experienced Fireman 1/c and was supervised and trained on the Whitehurst by the Chief Water Tender, an old hand. 

I made daily inspections of the engineering spaces and talked to the various leading ratings about their duties or problems.  When underway I usually went into all the engineering spaces about twice a day, sometimes more. This includes areas other than the engine and fire rooms such as after steering, the gyro room, the auxiliary and evaporator flats, etc.  Engine and fire room entry was by hatches through the main deck—each was separate and there were no doors between them for safety and hull integrity reasons. 

The Engineering Office on the Whitehurst was on the main deck about amidships and just forward of a small machine shop. It was home to the Yeoman on my staff and I used it to keep up with paperwork.  There was quite a bit of paper work including reports of rating progress of the

Black Gang and other educational activity (The crew usually did 4 on and 8 off and during one of the 8 off did some studying and we had classes for rate advancement.). There was always some maintenance going on. And then there were the drills.   

When gunnery practice was going on, we were usually at GQ and some training was undertaken at most duty stations. There were more people assigned to the "E" division than were required at GQ so some of my men were in damage control, some manned 20 mm guns, some were in ammunition parties, and my Yeoman was the sound powered phone talker on the flying bridge. My GQ station was the Forward Engine Room which was standard practice for DE's and DD's.  The GQ station of the  Asst. E. O. was the after engine room.  This was a lucky spot at Okinawa.  There was a talker on the sound powered phones during GQ but routine engine changes were done by the ER telegraph. 

When at GQ we did 4 on and 4 off but most of the time the 4 off was spent  close by. That is for prolonged periods. At full GQ we were at station all the time with the cooks and stewards bringing food and drink to the stations. In many of the areas there were blowers forcing air circulation (not cooled) so they were tolerable. The worst times were when the ship was quieted so it could minimize noise for ASW purposes. Also when escorting a very slow convoy  with a following wind.  

I never went to Damage Control School as that was the duty of the First Lieutenant. While some of the Black Gang were assigned to Damage Control parties at GQ, these billets were also the responsibility of the First Lieutenant. You must remember that only about 10-15% of the time at sea were we at GQ so most of the duty was quite monotonous. 

Don't remember any leaky steam gaskets from November 1943 until July of 1945. Our biggest problem was the evaporators.  The only mechanical problem I recall is when we hit a submerged log entering Espiritu Santo and bent a propeller. We had to be dry docked for repairs. 

Most of the time we used both boilers. Maybe because we were always in what was considered combat zones. In port, when cleaning firesides while at anchor, we would secure one boiler but rarely when underway.  Boiler cleaning was done only at anchor or dockside. If I remember we tried to do it about every six months.  So there was no decision to switch from one fire room/engine room to the other. It was possible to use only one boiler to feed steam to both engine rooms and the ship could probably make about 15 knots, maximum, but anything more required both boilers.  Each main turbine-generator served one main motor that was directly connected to one of the two propellers. 

The Black Gang was responsible for making dockside connections. It usually took about 3 hours to get steam up but it could be done in one if necessary. If we were using our own generators for electricity, one boiler was already on line and we could get underway immediately while bringing the other boiler up to steam. That's one advantage of diesel (or later gas turbines) as it could give instant start. 

Outside of Hawaii and possibly a short visit to Australia there were few "beautiful and lush" tropical islands because we rarely got ashore and when we did it was to pick up mail or straight to the Officers Club. Most of my impressions were from off-shore while at anchor or cruising by. 

There were books available to both officers and crew. I think the USO or the Red Cross made them available at major ports of call. I know I tried to read War and Peace but never could finish it. I don't remember too many magazines. 

I can't remember the exact location of the chart house or if there was anything more than a closet to hold all the charts. I expect that the QM's did their work in the CIC area. The O2 level on the 634 was the standard arrangement for the Buckley class DEs.  

When the Commodore was aboard the CO used the sea cabin and the boss used the CO's. I have a publication entitled "Destroyer Escorts of World War II" that shows that the so-called Chart House was the same space as CIC and was aft of the bridge.  I remember very little about either Cdr. Thorwall or Hawes (Most often he was called Fearless Freddie. The crew picked it up from the officers.) except that they were a pain in the neck when they were aboard the Whitehurst. It was too crowded to accommodate them and staff. I don't even remember too many times when we operated with the other ships of CortDiv 40. We always seemed to be with strangers. 

I worked for Chevron for 36 years in research and in the home office as an engineer mainly in the field of lubricants and lubrication. After retirement in late 1981, I consulted for about 7 years but got tired of airports and travel to the East and Mid-West in bad weather. 

I have been to Japan only once and that as a civilian while I was consulting. I had a Navy contract and after a meeting in Australia my wife and I went to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo. I think the Japanese today are just like most of the Americans of the same generation —they have little recognition of what it was like during the WWII. They are more concerned, however, because they suffered destruction and defeat, or at least their parents or grandparents did.  We have lived in St. Helena for 20 years now and it has changed greatly. It was a charming, small farming community with not a great deal of big money here. A city of about 3500. Now it is approaching 6000 and lots of wealth dominates the area. It is a tourist destination so the Main Street is a zoo on the weekends and all summer long.  

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