MEET OUR VETERANS: Gene Stone (Colfax, Texas)
Aboard (SS194) Sea Dragon Submarine
Aboard (SSD213) Greenling Submarine
“I participated in one war patrol and spent 7 months aboard the SS-194, Sea Dragon Submarine. I saw a “Sally” Japanese plane heading for us It was November 1944.” Gene Stone
“I was born November 7, 1926 on a country farm in Mineral Springs, Arkansas. I was the only child.” Recalled Gene Stone from his home in Colfax, Texas.
“My grandmother and grandfather raised me. I picked and hauled cotton, plowed and did regular farming. We had 53 acres. I went to school and made it thru the 10th grade. I was 16 years old when a friend of mine named Billy Collins decided to join the Navy. I had to get my grandmother to sign for me to into the military. I was going to go get Hirohito, the Japanese Minister who bombed Pearl Harbor. I wanted to take him on myself,” said Gene with a laugh.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was well coordinated, well-planned and no doubt a surprise to the US military that were stationed there. That was the plan, after all. But the attack – and the recovery – could not have been possible without the key players for both Japan and the US at the time.
Japan in particular is renowned for its strict discipline in the Imperial Japanese Army and even before the war, the army was feared by all around the world, both for the brutal treatment of prisoners and those who refused to fight, and for the devotion of its soldiers. This was even more so the case during World War II, epitomized by the 5,000 plus war crime trials that were held. It’s believed that many of the soldiers were so tough on others due to the brutality they faced themselves during their strict training regimes and discipline (including insufficient food and harsh beatings).
Who held the reins? Emperor Hirohito was the 126th Emperor of Japan and ruled from 1926, right through until his death in 1989 and he is known for the role he played in the lead up to Pearl Harbor. In 1940, Japan sent troops to French Indochina and the US responded by setting up economic sanctions on things like oil and steel. Ultimately, this led to Hirohito consenting to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hirohito claimed to have been powerless when it came to the war itself, falling behind the generals and admirals. It was on August 15 1945, that Hirohito got on the radio and announced the surrender of Japan.
(EXCERPT FROM PEARL HARBOR VISITORS BUREAU WEBSITE)
Surrender and New Constitution
In September 1945, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hirohito broke the precedent of imperial silence and announced the nation’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces. Japan lost 2.3 million soldiers and an estimated 800,000 civilians in WWII. General Douglas MacArthur, who was made Allied commander, was sent to Japan to oversee its rehabilitation. The country found itself occupied for years by the United States, who introduced democratic reforms. While many wanted Hirohito to be tried as a war criminal, MacArthur made a bargain with the emperor that included the implementation of a new Japanese constitution and the denouncement of imperial “divinity.”
(excerpt from BIOGRAPHY.COM)
“They were taking just about anybody for the military back in those days,” said Gene. “When the Japanese attacked I just didn’t have enough knowledge as to what was really going on. As I grew older I thought the best thing I could do was join the Navy. I didn’t want the Army, it was too rough for me, and the Marines, I didn’t care about them,” said Gene. “Billy said let’s go join the Navy and I said, all right let’s go.” They both signed up in Texarkana and went to boot camp in San Diego. After boot Gene attended Quartermaster School in San Diego, California.
“From there is when I got into the subs. Back in those days you had to volunteer to join the submarines. They sent me to the Destroyer base in San Diego. They put us on the USS Henry Failing. It was an old transport.
They took us up to Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Why they sent us up there I don’t know, we stayed there for about a month. Then they put us on the U.S.S. Beaver, and old submarine and brought us to Pearl Harbor, recalled Gene. “My friend Billy, he thought I was crazy for going on a submarine,” laughed Gene.
Why did you want to go on a submarine? He laughs, and says, “I really don’t know, I can’t think of a special reason why. Maybe it was on the count of the money. You got a little bit more money when you got in the subs. If you had a fleet post office address you got fifty per cent more money. I might have gotten about $50 or $75 dollars a month. But I was on a sub, so I didn’t have any place to spend my money at. There was really no special training for my MOS on the sub,” Gene said.
A United States military occupation code, or a military occupational specialty code (MOS code), is a nine-character code used in the United States Army and United States Marine Corps to identify a specific job. In the United States Air Force, a system of Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC) is used. (excerpt Wikipedia)
“When we were at the destroyer base, they began to train us and put us on the SS18 boat. We went out to sea on the 18 for about a week and a half. Me and a friend of mine got into the forward torpedo room we had a bucket between us. He would throw up in the bucket, and the sub would roll and the bucket would come over to me and I would throw up. Boy did I get sick. After that trip I never got seasick again,” laughed Gene.
“After Dutch Harbor and Pearl Harbor they then sent us out to Midway. I was a Quartermaster in the Navy,” said Gene recalling his early days in the Navy.
The duties performed by Quartermaster, (QM) include: conduct weather observations;
determine compass and gyro error; compute tide and tidal current data; keep logs and records; determine their ship’s position by visual and electronic means; compute times of sunrise and sunset; follow the nautical rules-of-the-road to prevent collisions at sea.
WORKING ON A SUBMARINE
“Teamwork is very important on a submarine. I had a lot of different jobs. You had to learn how to start the motors or anything on the sub. I was cross-trained. If the Captain was there and he said he needed something taken care of and you were the only person there, you took care of it. The longest period we stayed out on a sub was 63 days,” recalled Gene.
“I had to learn everything on that sub. They would put blinders on some people and ask where was the air line located in a certain department? You would look for a pipe and grab it and then pull the blindfold off. That was the type of training you got. You go by the engines to get to the after-torpedo room, if the mechanic was in that room at the time, you would ask him how to start the engines. He was happy to show you. You never knew when an emergency might happen on a sub so you had to be prepared for anything. The torpedo man was the same. A quartermaster had to understand his job too. You just had to be one person in that old submarine,” said Gene.
HOW DO YOU GET SELECTED TO WORK ON A SUBMARINE?
“When we were in Quartermaster School they gave us an opportunity of where we wanted to go. They asked, “Did anyone want to join the submarines?” I wasn’t there that day. I had a bad cold and I was at sickbay. A friend of mine answered, yeah, Seaman Stone, he wants subs.” They said, “that’s good we are going to take your word for it. They asked me the next day did I want sub duty, and I said yeah,” said Gene shaking his head.
“Out of the 120 that was in that school, four of us went for submarines.”
His wife Bobbie said,” he told me the only criteria was that you couldn’t be too tall.” Gene followed up, “They didn’t want a person that was really tall or too fat. The doors in those submarines are were not very big. For three people we had two bunks. One of those Quartermasters were always on duty so we only had two people sleeping at any one time. We were on four-hour shifts,” recalled Gene.
“When I was on one of these four hour shifts I would be up on the conning tower and the bridge. We had four-inch guns up on the deck. We had more torpedo’s in the forward than the aft part of the torpedo rooms. Once the torpedoes are armed and launched you can’t unarm them. You have a little switch to arm them and once you hit that switch you better have some way to get rid of them. Sometimes a torpedo would be fired and it would lodge in the tube. Fortunately, we never had one do this on our sub.
We didn’t take showers very often. Fresh water was hard to come by. We made our own water. We had a way to make sea water into fresh water. The water was good for drinking. We could only stay submerged for no more than thirty-two hours. At that point we had to come up regardless of what was up there. I spent a lot of my time on the bridge, up on the conning towers.”
A conning tower is a raised platform on a ship or submarine, often armored, from which an officer can conn the vessel, i.e., give directions to the helmsman. It is usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility of the entirety of their ship itself and of ocean conditions and other vessels. (excerpt military.wikiia.com)
“The Quartermaster and the signalman were the same on a sub. The conning tower is the portion of the submarine right on top of the hull. The hull of a sub is like a cigar, it is easy to roll. The tower is a semi control room. The officer of the day, the radioman and the Quartermaster spent most of their time there.
My job was to receive messages, send messages and keep up the daily Quartermaster books. Every hour you made a notation of what went on the ship and what you saw. That was just daily routine,” explained Gene.
“When the war started we were down in Manilla. Towards the end of the war when I was stationed on the Sea Dragon we didn’t see that much action. Most of the Japanese ships had been sunk by then. I made the last patrol aboard the USS Sea Dragon (SS-194).”
JAPANESE PLANE DROPS A BOMB ON US
“I recalled a time when I was on the conning towers and saw a “SALLY” heading our direction.”
The Japanese Army, operating units usually called their aircraft by their year-type designations, or contractions thereof. So “Sally” was called Type 97 Heavy Bomber.
“We had just left Midway in the Pacific and the captain told me to pay attention, and I did. I was fortunate that the war was so close to being over but we were still at war. The main objective was search and destroy on the Sea Dragon. We had a code and it was printed on the conning tower. If you saw an enemy plane approaching, you would send that pilot a code. If I had seen that plane early enough I could have sent that code. I don’t know why the lookout didn’t see him before I did. The Captain happened to be on the conning tower bridge with me at the time. At first, he told me he thought that was ours. It did drop a bomb on us and we were able to dive in time,” recalled Gene.
“We had four large diesel engines on the Sea Dragon. The reason for four was that if for some reason one or two went out you still had two engines to get you back to port. They were called Fairbanks and Morse Submarine Diesel Engines. We lost 56 submarines during WWII, so they were always looking for us.”
I asked the question; would it be an advantage if you were submerged to shoot a torpedo or on the surface? Gene answered, “You wouldn’t have the waves below that would cause you to roll as you would on the surface. At sixty-three feet the sub is completely below the surface. The lower you would go the better to release a torpedo. At 100-125 feet you could avoid the mines.
Three hundred and forty feet was the deepest the Sea Dragon could submerge. If we got past that we were in danger. Pressure at that depth causes the sub to start cracking. If you had a destroyer on the surface you had to go as deep as you could go,” said Gene pointing at a picture of the Sea Dragon.
“I remember one time that the cook on the boat got sick and I became the cook. My favorite food in the Navy was steaks. The captain of the boat asked several if there were any cooks on the boat. No one responded. He looked over at me and said, you are the cook. I was the cook for a whole month.” Again, Gene was volunteered without having any say so in the matter.
“On a submarine the refrigerator is always open. You could eat at any time but you had to clean your mess up. We had a lot of steak and eggs when I was the cook,” laughed Gene.
“I had just gotten off the Sea Dragon when I was assigned to the USS Greenling (SS-213) and spent a short time on that sub until I retired from the Navy. I was in the military from the 23rd day of May 1943 to the 22nd day of December of 1945. I was Seaman first class when I got out,” said Gene.
“I enjoyed being in the Navy and the friends on the subs I was assigned to. I never considered the danger I was in during the war. I was young back then. Remember I was only 16 years old when I joined the Navy. If we had several encounters with Japanese destroyers maybe I would have had a different attitude,” smiled Gene.
According to his daughter Tamara Stokes, “he was very disciplined when he was in the Navy. He was a hard worker, and he taught me those same values growing up.”
AFTER THE SERVICE
“When I got out of the Navy I finished high school and got my GED. I was looking for a job. I had a cousin in Pecos, Texas and he called me and said I have a job for you if you want it. I hauled steel from Houston to Pecos, and Odessa. I was making a dollar an hour. The company was called the Galbreath Steel. I drove for them for about three years, said Gene.
“The person I was renting my apartment at from worked for the Greyhound Bus Company and he asked me all the time to come work for him. I finally accepted the job and drove for Greyhound Bus Lines for 34 years. I worked extra-board at first and drove all over the United States.”
According to Tamara, “he is a human GPS. If you are lost, or if Google can’t find it, he will ask what intersection are you at, and tell you the route to take.”
“There was a man in Tyler, Texas that owned a tour company driving busses and I worked for him and we went everywhere. It was called Lonestar Tour Lines. Whenever someone or a company chartered the bus I was the driver. I ate right along with the rest of the group. The food was all free. When the trip was over, you usually got a tip. On one trip we were gone for 18 days up to Quebec, Canada. It was a group out of Sherman, Texas. They gave me an envelope at the end of the trip. When I got home I counted eleven hundred dollars. The biggest tip I ever got,” said a smiling Gene.
Tamara added, “He took us all over the United States and travelled with mother around the world. We had never travelled like he did, so we were able to travel all over too. For many years he and my mother had an RV. It was a lifetime love of travelling, seeing places and meeting new people. He always said, that was the best education.”
“I have had an enjoyable life. One of my favorite family trips was probably San Diego, California. We have travelled up and down the Pacific Coastline several times.
“I enjoyed Hong Kong, Singapore and most of the Orient,” said his wife Bonnie. “I would like to go back to Hawaii. Spain was enjoyable and interesting too.”
“He rented him and my mom and grandmother a car and they went around Spain,” said Tamara. “He didn’t know the roads and went sightseeing a lot.” “Spain was enjoyable and interesting,” said Bobbie. “He lost about 10 pounds on that trip, driving in a foreign country.”
“Oh man, never again,” said Gene laughing.
“I enjoyed Bamph, Canada and Wyoming and Bryce Canyon and all over Colorado was gorgeous,” said Tamara.
According to Bobbie, “he has never drank, he smoked a little but quit years ago.”
“I like to work. I have so much to do, but just can’t do it anymore, said Gene. “I don’t know how I have lived to be 92. It is frustrating not to do the work I want to do.”
“I have a few do overs in my life. I would like to go back and visit Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia and that part of the country. I would like to visit California again, maybe San Diego or San Francisco.”
“He has been an awesome father, a great example,” said Tamara. “He has a great work ethic, his integrity, you can always count on him.”
“We have been married since 1972,” said Bobbie. “He is a very honest man. I could have never been on a sub like he did, I just couldn’t imagine what it was like. I have heard a lot of these stories he has shared with you.”
Gene Stone, thank you for your service, sacrifice and commitment to our country in a time of war.
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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