This is an interview with Ward Keller. He enlisted into the Navy during World War II and was a radar specialist on anti-submarine patrols in the Caribbean Sea on the USS Wilson.
Q: Just for the record, Im Vincent Chou and Im with my partner John and we are interviewing Mr. Keller in the folding door area at Wayland High School, and the date is May 24, 2002.
Q: Can you state your name?
Mr. Keller: Ward Keller.
Q: How old were you in 1941?
Mr. Keller: I was born in 27. Who is good at math? 14.
Q: Where were you born?
Mr. Keller: Fort Matlida, Pennsylvania.
Q: And were you raised there too?
Mr. Keller: I was there until I was 16. We moved to New Jersey at that time, in 1942.
Q: Did you enlist from Massachusetts? Or did you move here afterwards?
Mr. Keller: No, I enlisted from New Jersey, and I was discharged into Pennsylvania because my mother moved back to Pennsylvania.
Q: So did you volunteer to enlist?
Mr. Keller: Yes I did.
Q: And you choose the Navy?
Mr. Keller: Yes--I had never seen an ocean. We did not have any oceans in Pennsylvania. But actually if you want the truth, I had enough credits to graduate but I found out that if you went into the service they had to give you a diploma anyhow. I never liked English so that was one out I had.
Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany in the 1930s?
Mr. Keller: I followed it very closely: on headlines most of the time in those days, mostly by newspapers because we did not have TV in those days.
Q: Did you have any specific reaction to the war before the United States joined?
Mr. Keller: Oh everyone was really "Red America" in those days, and they did not like the Germans. But both my mother and father came from Germany at one time, years ago.
Q: What do you remember from the attack on Pearl Harbor?
Mr. Keller: I remember that very distinctly. Everybody hated Japan at that time, especially. Every American had the same idea: go kill them.
Q: Did that have anything to do with why you enlisted? A lot of people have compared the Pearl Harbor attack to September 11 and the resulting fervor to enlist in the armed forces.
Mr. Keller: Yes, and display flags and all that stuff. I would say it is about the same.
Q: So what were your feelings about the American declaration of war?
Mr. Keller: Roosevelt was president, for 13 years I guess. Everybody like Roosevelt and when he declared war everybody was for it.
Q: Did these feelings change during and after the war?
Mr. Keller: Initially, but you get lazy, or whatever you want to call it. Time passes by and you do not think about it as much as when it was happening.
Q: Why was it that you choose to join the Navy?
Mr. Keller: Well I was raised in Pennsylvania, so I never saw the ocean, and even though the dangers of the war, sinking of a ship in cold water where you would not last very long, I just did not like the idea of sleeping in the mud!
Q: What about saying goodbye to your family and your loved ones? Do you have any stories or recollections of that?
Mr. Keller: When I went into the service? I skipped school on a Monday, me and this other guy, and I found out that you take your physical on a Wednesday and I talked my mother into letting me sail on Friday night. That was one of those things that just happened. But the guy I was with never passed the physical, so I was by myself. I had tears in my eyes when I went by the Statue of Liberty.
Q: How did you feel about leaving your family?
Mr. Keller: See my father left my mother when I was six years old. I was the oldest of three and I never knew my father, so I was raised as the man of the family. So, it was not that hard.
Q: Do you remember anything about boot camp after you enlisted?
Mr. Keller: Yeah boot camp was not very enjoyable. We had sixty men in the company and sixty men above us in another company, and it was like you see in the movies: hurdles and crawling ropes. We screwed up on the final exam, so we had to spend two more weeks: 16 weeks all together.
Q: So it was 16 weeks before you could go on a ship?
Mr. Keller: No I did not go on a ship immediately. I went to radar school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was from boot camp into the hotel. I wanted to stay there forever.
Q: So what did they teach you?
Mr. Keller: How to operate radar. It was a very interesting job on the ship because I was in what they called the combat information center. Everything went on there, and there would be a line of guys outside wanting to know what was happening. It was elementary radar compared to what it is today.
Q: What was the radar mainly used for? tracking other ships?
Mr. Keller: Yes, basically we had what we called the SG Roger, SG Radar, Sugar George they called it for short. It was just a flat screen and something would show up out here. We would get the range counter out and track it. Take a bearing every minute or so. Then we would get the course that it was going on. It was the same with the SR. The Sugar Roger was for aircraft search. We had this big glass board, and a guy would stand behind it. He would read off the bearings and a guy would mark it and track it, so an officer could look over there see exactly what was happening. They were teaching aviation guys down there to fly. We would send them out and practice tracking them with other planes. They were called bogeys. It was training, but they were supposed to be the enemy. It was a very interesting job.
Q: What about your faith and religion? Did that have any impact on you during the war?
Mr. Keller: No, we moved so many times when I was a kid that I just went to the nearest church. There was one in our backyard one time. We played in it, in the cemetery. But we were not really religious.
Q: Were there any specific operations, missions or battles that you did?
Mr. Keller: The only thing I can think of is when we were on sub patrol down there. It was getting near the end of the war and there were not many German or Jap subs around. We found some but we did not know if they were American or not, so we did not do anything about it. We did not think there were any Japs or Germans down there.
Q: This was in the Caribbean?
Mr. Keller: Yeah. Also when we were in Fort Lauderdale, we were training guys to fly planes. We sent out five aircraft. One radioed back and said that he was having engine trouble, so they all decided to go back and we never heard from them again: all five of them. Then I heard about five years ago, they discovered five planes in the ocean down there in the Caribbean Sea. They do not know what happened. They are all there.
Q: So you were never involved in direct combat?
Mr. Keller: No.
Q: How long were you in the Navy?
Mr. Keller: One year and 18 months.
Q: Did you miss being away from home during that time?
Mr. Keller: No, I was enjoying it. We visited all the islands down there: Trinidad, we spent three months in Guantanamo Bay. We went all over the islands.
Q: What was your attitude towards Germans or Japanese on a personal level? Was there a strong hatred towards them?
Mr. Keller: Yes, in those days.
Q: Do you still stay in contact with any of the people you met during the war?
Mr. Keller: No, I do not.
Q: At first?
Mr. Keller: Yes, I had a friend from Georgia, for a while.
Q: Did you lose any friends or family to the war?
Mr. Keller: Well not physically, but I had this uncle. He went through the Battle of the Bulge, and he did not care after that. He got into some alcohol, became half blind, and supposedly died from it. He did not care what happened to him.
Q: That must have been hard on him. Do you have any memorable experiences from the war?
Mr. Keller: No, I do not think so. I can't think of any.
Q: Where you aware of the internment of Japanese Americans during the war?
Mr. Keller: No, not until after the war. It was awful.
Q: What was your reaction to it?
Mr. Keller: I could not believe it. That was my reaction. Some of them were good citizens, business people.
Q: Did you notice any racial prejudices at the time?
Mr. Keller: Blacks. Very bad because they were in the Army and Navy as servants. The ships captain had a black man. They went to cooking school and they never got a chance to really until after World War II to be involved. No opportunity. It was a surprise they enlisted at all. Maybe they were drafted.
Q: When did you become aware of the German atrocities against the Jews?
Mr. Keller: Just what I read in the paper.
Q: Was this after the war?
Mr. Keller: Yes.
Q: Did you hate the Germans even more after you found out?
Mr. Keller: No, I just hoped that everything would be straightened out.
Q: So how did you feel about Roosevelt as president?
Mr. Keller: Oh everybody loved him. Well he took the people out of poverty. He had what they called the CCC, and they let you dig ditches for money. I was in boot camp when he died in 1945 on Easter Sunday. I remember I had to be rousted up to go to a memorial service.
Q: How did you react to Truman when he took office?
Mr. Keller: He did a good job.
Q: What about his decision to drop the atomic bomb?
Mr. Keller: Oh I am glad he did. It saved a lot of American lives. It had to be done. They deserved it.
Q: At the end of the war did you anticipate future wars?
Mr. Keller: No, I spent two weeks trying to get out of the navy because I would not sign over for the reserves and I did not want the insurance money. I could see the handwriting on the walls: there would be a war in 4 years. I missed Korea by two weeks.
Q: What about todays generation of younger Americans? Do you see any difference between when you were growing up and now?
Mr. Keller: Yah I think so. I am in the VFW and I guess they guys in Vietnam got the raw deal. They do not want to be part of a club so slowly we are dying.
Q: Well do you have any parting advice for the youth of today?
Mr. Keller: Well I do not see the patriotism that we had back then, even without the war. Maybe we need something to bring us together again.
Q: Alright well thank your for the interview and your time. We are glad you could be here.
The commissioning of the U.S.S. Wilson
Civil Defense Corps Card
The Backside of the Civil Defense Corps Card
Certificate for the Citizens Defense Corps
Honorable Discharge certificate
Boat Drill on the Suaquehanna, U.S. Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Maryland
Recreation Center of the Naval Training Station, N.O.B., Norfolk, Virginia
The Parade Ground showing War College and Administration Building, U.S. Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island
Certificate of Completion of Swim Tests