WWII Oral History Interview
Date: August 26, 2002
Veteran: Roy H. Walker
US Navy, USS Pybus, USS Wake Island, (CVE 65)
Interviewers: Dave Dombroski & Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
Roy Walker was born in Brooklyn, New York in May, 1925, and lived there until 1938. He then resided for a while in Scotland, where he witnessed the launching of the ocean liner Queen Mary. After returning to the United States, Walker lived in New Jersey, where he graduated from high school in Teaneck. His father was an architect at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which influenced young Walker’s choice of service branch during World War II. He joined the Navy in December, 1942.
Walker attended five weeks of basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois. He recalled that despite the heavy snow he experienced during boot camp, he was not issued any rubber overshoes or galoshes. He believed that his Boy Scout experiences held him in good stead in getting through those and other difficulties, however. Following basic training, Walker completed Gunnery School, after which he was assigned to work on the flight deck of the Escort Carrier USS Pybus. The Pybus was transferred from United States to British service in the summer of 1943, and Walker was reassigned to the USS Wake Island, another Escort Carrier armed with Grumman F4F and General Motors FM-2 “Wildcat” fighter planes.
Walker was stationed between bridge and flight deck and sometimes on the flight deck itself aboard the Wake Island. Equipped with radio earphones, he worked starting at 5 a.m. assisting planes to take off and land. As the carrier crossed the South Pacific in December 1944, its aircraft conducted anti-submarine air patrols every two hours. Wake Island planes attacked a number of enemy vessels, sinking six. Walker recalled that the equipment he used and the medical care available on his ship were very good, and he did have need of it on one occasion. During one of the aerial attacks of the USS WAKE ISLAND, Walker was thrown to the deck by an explosion. His headset's mouthpiece jammed into his mouth, and several of his teeth were broken. For exercise, crewmen played basketball below deck, moving planes around to provide playing room. Ashore on island visits, they played baseball and softball. Walker remembered seeing two USO shows, one featuring Eddie Duchin and his big band.
During the invasion of the Phillipines, the USS Wake Island was attacked from the air by Japanese planes. The ship shot down twelve attacking aircraft and its fighter planes destroyed more of them. One nearby vessel was hit by a kamikaze suicide plane and had a twenty by forty foot hole blown in its side. On April 3, 1945, during the invasion of Okinawa, the USS Wake Island was hit by two kamikazes, but survived the attacks. Walker showed the interviewer a photograph of damage caused by one kamikaze and commented that the deck of his carrier was made of wood and burned readily. When the deck was afire, he worked moving planes out of the way. The Wake Island had a good reputation as a fighting ship. Admiral Clifton Sprague told the escort carrier’s commander that his ship “tops them all for efficiency, smoothness and good judgment.”
Following the invasion of Okinawa the USS Wake Island was ordered back to the United States, riding through two typhoons on the way home. The heavy storms blew several planes overboard and caused other damage as well. After his return from overseas, Walker was assigned to an air base near Los Angeles, where he worked storing, or “mothballing” aircraft no longer needed for immediate service. He was discharged from the Navy on May 20, 1946, at the age of 21.
Roy H. Walker married in 1948, then purchased a home and attended Patterson State Teachers College with the aid of the GI Bill. He received the following awards: Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with 3 battle stars, the Europe-Africa Campaign medal with one battle star, American Campaign medal, Philippine Liberation medal, Navy Commendation medal with 5 stars, Combat Action Ribbon and the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal.