Estherville native Wes Eide tells of his time in the Navy
Wes had just graduated high school when he enlisted in the United States Navy in July of 1942. Wes’ father Thomas Eide had served in World War I in the Army in the Philippines and Siberia. Thomas signed the permission slip allowing Wes to enlist at age 17.
Wes said boot camp was supposed to be 13 weeks. He only went five weeks.
The future crewmen were given an IQ test and the top 20 percent was sent to school in Dearborn, Mich.
“We went to school in the morning and worked in the shop in the afternoon,” Wes said. While Wes worked with a lathe and grinder, the plant made tanks, jeeps and other vehicles for the war effort.
He remembers being on a troop train to Norfolk, Va., on Christmas Eve 1942.
Wes’ first tour of duty was on the U.S.S. Denver where he served from December 1942 to November 1943.
The Denver sailed from Philadelphia on Jan. 23, 1943, and arrived at Efate, New Hebrides in the South Pacific on Feb. 14.
Its first action was at Kolobangara in the Solomon Islands on March 6, where the force sank two Japanese ships.
While patrolling in the South Pacific, ships and their crews were rotated for leave to Sydney, Australia.
When it was the U.S.S. Denver’s turn, Wes said Admiral William Halsey came aboard.
“We were all in our dress white uniforms and he came on in khaki dress and we didn’t get to go to Australia,” said Wes.
On the last day of October 1943, Denver sortied from Port Purvis with Task Force 39 to intercept an enemy force attempting disrupt the landings at Cape Torkina, Bougainville. In the resulting battle, on Nov. 1-2, the American ships sank one enemy light cruise and a destroyer and damaged two heavy cruisers and two destroyers while four other enemy ships broke off envy.
Wes said three 8-inch shells hit the Denver, but none of them exploded.
The Denver crew, including Wes, shared in the Navy Unit Commendation awarded to her division for its outstanding performance in battle.
Wes said he was a firefighter on standby during battle.
With ships continually being built and deployed during the war, crewmen were often transferred.
“We had so many ships that we couldn’t have just new people on them, so I was transferred to the U.S.S. Rudyerd,” Wes said.
The transfer was fortunate for Wes as the Denver continued on to Cape Tookina. It was hit by an aerial torpedo during a heavy air attack. Power and communications were knocked out and 20 men were killed.
Wes’ scariest moment of the war didn’t come during a battle, but in the midst of a typhoon.
That was in December of 1944. On Dec. 17, 1944, the Third Fleet ran into a typhoon and it claimed three destroyers and 790 lives.
“We rolled over so far, I didn’t think we were coming back,” Wes said. “There were winds up to 185 miles an hour that tore off the life rafts on the flight deck.
“My watch was on the throttle. We were rolling over so far, we had to shut the propellers off and just drifted.
“The next day, the planes went out and located the life rafts and dropped smoke bombs” so the rescue crews could find them.
Wes remembers one fellow crewman from Arkansas that liked to smoke and had 31 pipes in a bag.
“He said if I’m going over, I’m taking them with me.”
Life aboard ship was like a small city with over 1,200 crewmen.
Wes remembers eating dehydrated or powdered eggs.
“Beans for breakfast was the best breakfast we had,” he said. Between battles and duties, Wes said he played chess and cribbage. They also showed movies.
Roaming around the South Pacific the weather was often hot.
“In the engine room, it’d run around 130 degrees some days,” Wes said.
The advantage to life on ship was there was always a place to sleep.
During his tour on the Rudyerd, the ship went from Iwo Jima, Philippines, Okinawa and Formosa (Taiwan).
An observation Wes made about his service is that he received $50 per month at the beginning of his enlistment and received $75 per month by the end of the war-a total about $3,000 for the duration. The Japanese that were interned in camps in the U.S. received $20,000 during same period.
After 3 years in the Navy – 2 of those at sea-Wes wasn’t aboard ship when World War II ended.
“I was sitting in Arnolds Park on a 35-day leave from San Francisco to Boston,” he said. “They blew the sirens, and I didn’t know why. We asked someone what was going on and they said Japan surrendered.”
After staying in Boston a couple weeks, Wes went to naval school in the Great Lakes area. Then he went to demobilization camp in Minneapolis for two weeks before being discharged and returning home Dec. 15, 1945.
He and his wife Mavis have lived, worked and raised their family in Estherville.