World War II oral history interview
Date: June 6, 2001
Veteran: Andrew Himey
Interviewer: Robert Pontecorvo
Summarizer: Joseph Bilby
Andrew Himey was born in November 1925. In 1941 he was attending a vocational high school, where he was learning to be a welder. Himey recalls that when he heard the news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, he was “all shook up, figuring that, in the future, I would be involved and going into the service.” He was right. Himey was drafted on December 15, 1943 and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center on Lake Michigan for basic training. He recalled that it was extremely cold, and that one of the men in his training class hanged himself because he could not stand the pressure of being in the service. Following basic training, Himey was assigned to be a ship fitter, a job that entailed welding and other metal work necessary to maintain a ship. He had little formal training for this from the Navy, but was familiar with the work since he had studied it in vocational school.
After leaving Great Lakes, Himey went to Norfolk, Virginia, where he became part of the crew of LST (Landing Ship, Tank) #525. Once aboard the LST he was assigned a secondary job in addition to his ship fitter specialty. He became a ‘pointer” for a 20mm and later a 40mm. antiaircraft gun. Himey explained the duties of a “pointer’ and a “trainer” who aimed and moved the 40mm. gun as “one guy’s got to elevate and the other guy swings around. You got to work together on that, otherwise the gun is not very effective.” The crew used sights and tracer ammunition (which blazed in the sky), which was loaded so that every fourth or fifth round fired was a tracer, to guide the gun on target and establish the proper “lead” to hit it. Since the targets were moving, it was necessary to establish a lead in order to hit them.
LST #525 would be Himey’sie home afloat for the next three years. The LST, with a crew of twelve officers and 130 men, left Norfolk and joined a convoy that took twenty-one days to cross the Atlantic Ocean and enter the straits of Gibraltar. As the convoy passed through the straits at 4:00 AM, it was attacked by German aircraft, and one ship suffered damage. Himey got a chance to fire his 20mm gun at a plane dropping flares. The convoy proceeded on to North Africa and then Salerno, Italy. While in North Africa, Himey’s eye was injured while he was riding in a British army truck, and his ship left without him. A destroyer later gave him a ride to Salerno to rejoin his crew.
LST #525 moved from Salerno to support the invasion of Anzio and then later the invasion of Southern France. The LST carried 500 men and was also used to transport, as its name implies, tanks as well as men. Himey recalled that, at Anzio, his ship landed men and equipment in a lagoon, with a large mountain in the distance. The Germans, he remembered, had a large artillery piece called “the Anzio Express” that regularly shelled the landing area, but was eventually knocked out by American P-38 aircraft. He did not recall any of the LSTs being hit while he was there, although he and his shipmates were concerned about their vulnerability. The LST could only travel at eleven or twelve knots of speed.
In addition to taking men and equipment into beachheads, the LST also brought prisoners of war out. Himey recalls that they loaded about 500 prisoners at a time and that “they were…young kids too, about fifteen years old and all, and as they were coming to the ship they had canteen cups with them. They’d pick up the salt water just to drink it.” He added that once the prisoners were aboard they were provided with fresh water. He noted that the captured officers and pilots were treated better than captured enlisted men. All in all, Himey’s view of the POWS was that “they were there to do a job, just like me, and…got caught.’
In between invasions the crew had some free time in Palermo, Sicily. Himey recalled “this little girl, Italian girl, she was about seven years old. Her parents got killed, and her grandmother and grandfather was raising her. She used to come out there waiting for us guys to come out with chocolate candy, and she used to call it choclati. And I used to give it to that little girl, the chocolate candy, and I said to the wife [recently], ‘I’ve often wondered what happened to that girl. She’s got to be in her fifties now, if she’s alive.’”
One job LST#525 was assigned when not ferrying men and supplies was as a decoy to deceive the Germans into thinking it was hauling men and supplies in other directions. In order to confuse any German observers, the ship would load a few trucks and cover the decks with canvas. This ended with the invasion of southern France. During that operation, #525 was fitted with a temporary flight deck, on which Himey worked as a welder. The flight deck was used for light reconnaissance planes, called J-3s. After the invasion he got an opportunity to go ashore in France, where he saw a bulldozer burying German bodies
Following the end of the war in Europe, Himey’s ship returned to the United States to refit and then go to the Pacific. When the war against Japan ended, the #425 went to the St. John’s River in Florida to be decommissioned instead. Offered a chance to join the Seabees, the naval construction unit on land, Himey declined, because under the “point system” he would get out of service faster if he was part of a ship crew. He was discharged at Lido Beach, Long Island on April 2, 1946 and recalled that it was not hard getting readjusted to civilian life, as he “just took it day by day.”
In conclusion, Andrew Himey noted that he had no regrets regarding his military service, as “somebody had to do the job,” but that in a war “nobody wins…it’s sacrifice for both sides.” He concluded, however, that it was a “good idea” for young people to “get a little training, to know what it’s all about.”