Korean War Oral History Interview
Date: February 5, 2003
Veteran: Carl J. Hoffman
U.S. Navy: USS Wyandot AKA-92, Antarctica
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
Carl Hoffman was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in June, 1935 and was working as a supermarket grocery clerk in 1952. A number of his friends were leaving for military service at the time, and seventeen-year old Hoffman gained his mother’s permission to join the navy. He recalled that he had always liked boats, and he believed that navy service would satisfy his desire to travel and see the world.
Hoffman was originally assigned to boot camp in Tennessee but his orders were changed, and he spent his initial training period at Bainbridge, Maryland. After two months of boot camp, he was assigned to the USS Wyandot, a ship with a home port in Norfolk, Virginia. Hoffman rapidly adjusted to life aboard the Wyandot, an armed cargo vessel. Among other tasks, he was trained on the ship’s defensive guns. On his initial voyage the Wyandot carried no cargo but made stops in Panama and the Bahamas to load gravel and other supplies, to expand the landing strip at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. En route to Cuba, Hoffman’s vessel collided with another ship, and several metal plates were damaged above the water line and had to be repaired. On arrival, the gravel had to be shoveled off the ship, since Guantanamo had no modern unloading equipment available. After the Cuban mission the Wyandot re-supplied bases in the Mediterranean, where it ran into a late fall storm with thirty to fifty foot high waves. Two-thirds of the crew became seasick, and the ship rocked from side to side so badly that Hoffman had to tie himself into his hammock to avoid being tossed on the deck. On a subsequent cruise the Wyandot crossed the Equator, and Hoffman was subjected to the traditional ritual “pollywog” hazing. As part of the initiation he had to crawl through garbage, and then into a pool to wash the residue off.
In 1955-‘56, Hoffman’s ship was assigned to “Operation Deepfreeze I,” a mission to establish permanent bases in Antarctica. The Wyandot loaded supplies in Rhode Island and then, accompanied by Coast Guard and Navy icebreaking ships, carried men, equipment and scientists to Antarctica to study the continent during the geophysical year from bases established at McMurdo Sound and “Little America.” Once the initial personnel and supplies were landed, the Wyandot sailed back and forth between Antarctica and New Zealand on re-supply missions. New Zealand became Hoffman’s favorite country to visit, since American sailors were treated royally by a population grateful for American help in World War II.
During Operation Deepfreeze, Hoffman, by then a boatswain’s mate operating cargo cranes, received arctic special training and was issued experimental cold weather clothing and gear, including thermal boots. The cargo handling group worked twelve hour shifts and sometimes longer. When the ship froze in the ice, bulldozers and other cargo were off-loaded onto icebreakers. Hoffman’s enduring memories of his Antarctic service were seeing the sun shining at midnight and continuing high in the sky for twenty-four hours, as well as meeting Admiral Richard Byrd. He remembered that morale among the sailors was good, and that they were fed four meals daily and had access to excellent medical and surgical care -- a pilot injured in a crash-landing was brought to his ship for treatment. There was no mail delivery in Antarctica, but mail was picked up in New Zealand with some regularity. The Wyandot off-loaded its final cargo in Little America and left Antarctica in mid-February 1956 and sailed to New Zealand. It took a long meandering route -- around Cape Horn, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, with scientists aboard mapping the ocean floor along the way.
During its return trip to Norfolk, the Wyandot stopped in Uruguay and Brazil. The ship arrived home in March, 1956. Hoffman was discharged in June and then traveled across the United States. He later joined the Naval Reserve, serving for twelve years, during which time he became part of a pilot project, the Selective Reserve program. During the Vietnam-era Hoffman served one weekend a month aboard a decommissioned navy minesweeper and attended minesweeper training in Charleston, South Carolina. He received promotions up to E-7 as chief boatswain mate, and he was senior enlisted man aboard a minesweeper that passed the Operational Readiness test, qualifying the ship and crew for possible combat.
Hoffman showed the interviewer photos of his time in the service, including pictures of his shipmates, the Wyandot “Choral Crew” and band, sailors at a civilian party in New Zealand, and a map of his ship’s itinerary. He was awarded the European Occupation Service medal and National Defense Service ribbon, Antarctic Expedition medal, the Royal Order of Deepfreeze certificate, and an Outstanding Performance of Duty citation. Carl Hoffman passed away in 2005. His file at the NG Militia Museum of NJ in Sea Girt was subsequently enhanced with the donation by his twin sister of his letters home, as well as newspaper clippings relevant to his service in Antarctica.