Pt. 15: After the Shakedown Cruise

Before we present another letter from Red Toon, we want to show a picture that we just discovered from the Toon collection. Meet Ensign Alton W. Swift from Claremont, CAL. He was the Engineering Officer in Leon’s boat group in March  1944. In his previous letter Red had commiserated with Swift: “someone is continually  yelling for & at him…”.

Red sympathized. As followers of this blog will recall, he had been the previous engineering officer. As the man responsible for the performance of Leon’s 26 landing craft, engineering was a key position in the boat group.

Officer-Swift Final

Ensign Alton R. Swift

Ensign Swift does look a bit weary!

Red Toon wrote the following letter while Leon was moored at Pier No. 4, Berth 26, Norfolk Naval Yard for final repairs following her shakedown cruise. We enjoyed Red’s account of several officers’ wives travelling from New York to Norfolk for last-minute leaves with their husbands before Leon put to sea. We believe those wives were Joyce Swift (Ensign Alton Swift) and Betty Smith (Ensign Jimmy Smith). Stories about desperate, last leaves are familiar to all of us who have read Douglass Reeman’s novels about ships and the sea in WWII!

March 9, 1944

Dearest Wife:

What a day this is. I know I’ll be able to call you long before this letter gets in your hands so any news contained herein will be old stuff to you.

We seem to be completely fouled up here aboard ship. We’re a part of ship’s company and we aren’t a part of ship’s company, we don’t know who is our boss from one day to the next. First it’s Joe seems to be in charge, then this fellow Reitze, the debarkation officer I told you about in the previous letter who incidentally seems to have studied the ship to shore manual pretty well the past few days & may turn out all right. He still insists on fouling up our movements but seems to be able to learn through his own mistakes.

Got two letters from you and one from Ticknor. Mail is more an item to me then ever. We’re docked for repairs but won’t be here for long. Joyce and Betty had quite a trip to Norfolk, left New York six in the morning and got to Norfolk at midnight. 18 hrs.!! They had quite a wait then for their husbands. We docked yesterday & will leave again before long. Won’t be here over five days at the most which means they will get together only twice. I’m going to stand watches for Swift here in port so he can get out oftener but will go ashore one night to call you.

We had a nice “excursion” in our ship but had to work pretty hard . She’s pretty fast and very well armed and we tried every maneuver the Captain could think of.  The first day out was the roughest and I came as near getting seasick as I ever have. Got over it though and can stand her slow roll & pitch as well as I can the small boats.

We have a nice library aboard and I have managed to read a few of them. Standing watches underway is a lot of fun. Of course, all of us are very green at it but we’ll catch on in time. The only disagreeable part of it was the weather. It was wet & cold & rough. Remind me to tell you some time where we were. We aren’t to keep diaries or anything but I know I will remember where I have been. Everywhere we go though looks much like the place we left.

We’ve had quite a time here today. Got a lot of supplies, etc., & ran into the usual deal when we got back aboard. No one had made any arrangements for bringing the material aboard so it’s still in the boats.

We had a visitor today. An investigator of these situations aboard these ships. He claims something may be done about the thorn in our side, Mr. Reitze, & maybe too about the spots.  Here’s still hoping.

I’m so glad Janice is acting better now & I know she is the sweetest baby in the world (don’t tell her I said so). She couldn’t be otherwise with the mother she has & I know that more & more every day.

What kind of car does your dad have and where is ours? I’ll write to the State Dept. about the title transfer so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with your license plates.

All my love


We add several postscripts. We’re pretty certain we won’t hear Red describe standing watch as a “lot of fun.” When working four hour shifts, standing watch quickly became tedious, mind-numbing duty.

Also, we are reminded of the organizational challenge of integrating a 141 man boat group (who have been training together for nine months) into a larger ship’s company. I still recall a young boat group sailor, Bill Janega, telling me in 2012 about his dual work assignments aboard ship. Sometimes he had boat duties under the supervision of a boat officer, and other times he had gunnery duties under the gunnery officer. He found it very confusing.

Finally, I have never heard of the term “investigator.” Nevertheless, someone eventually got the boat group personnel assignments straightened out. Deck log entries for later in 1944 list:

Lt. John W. Reitze, Gunnery Officer

Lt. George A. Robinson,  Debarkation Officer

Lt. (jg) Joseph B. McDevitt, Boat Grp. Cmdr. and

Lt. (jg) Francis W. Toon, Asst. Boat Grp. Cmdr.

Picture Credit: Toon Family Collection

A Reservist’s First Promotion: Red Toon Letters (Pt. 8)

In early November, 1943, Red Toon was still at Little Creek VA learning how to (man)handle the Navy’s landing craft before heading out to the Pacific. Sometimes he had time to write long windy letters home, and sometimes he wrote just a short note. This one was a short note, but he sent big news.

Novmber 3, 1943

Dearest Wife,

Have been pretty busy this week too. Got your letter saying you made it. I’m awfully sorry I couldn’t be home when you took Janice in. Maybe it’s just another grandchild, but I bet they loved her. I had sorta dreamed about carrying her in myself to show her off to my folks. Sentimental I guess but I’m awfully proud of my family, my wife & my daughter.

I got a watch for Jack but don’t know whether he’ll like it or not. Its shock proof anti-magnetic & waterproof. Its also automatic, that is need never be wound. I don’t know what Jack will think of that. It doesn’t have a sweep second hand but I couldn’t find anything else. Notice when you get it if it’s still on correct time, I’ll set it before sending.

Now for some good news. I got a promotion of sorts. I’m now Assistant Boat Group Commander in charge of Engineering. Engineering of all things! Mr. Terry and I were the two picked from our group. I knew he would be one of the two but my getting it came as a very distinctive surprise. Its a break in a way, it means a spot promotion to Lt. j.g. when we pull out so I’m very much pleased. It also carries a lot of added responsibilities & in Engineering at least will certainly contain some headaches.

I started this letter after Taps last night & got chased to bed so am finishing this morning. Nearly time for muster. Will send M. O. for $50 probably some time today.

I’m glad you got a suit. I wish I could see you in it. I wish I could see you. I love you.


For many servicemen, especially those youngsters away from home for the first time, missing special family occasions made for hard duty. Red had already missed the birth of his first child, Janice; now he had missed her first visit to his parents’ home in Cisco, Illinois. A year or so later, somewhere far out in the Pacific, Red’s cabin mate, Joe McDevitt, would learn of the birth of his first child too. Shared experiences like that brought men close together.

So Mr. Toon and Mr. Terry became Joe McDevitt’s first Assistant Boat Group Commanders. But we’ve heard about Mr. Terry in earlier letters. He began his career with the boat group but was such an accomplished navigator that he  would be transferred to their ship’s navigation team.  So from November of 1943 Joe McDevitt and Red Toon worked together as a team. The Boat Group Commander led the first wave of boats to the beaches; the Assistant led the second wave. Between them, the mission was always the same: Boots on the beaches…any beach, anytime.

We searched Red Toon’s album and found  one picture of Mr. Terry. He is pictured below with two other officers. They are from left to right:

Lt. (jg) Jesse Schwartz (bottom), Boat Officer & Watch Officer, Baltimore MD

Ensign Charles R. Reeve, Boat Officer & Boat Gun Officer, Winton Merced Co., Calif

Lt. (jg) Orville W. Terry (right), Asst Boat Grp.  Comdr. & Boat Communications Officer

Schwartz Reeve Terry CLEAN

Lt. (jg) Orville W. Terry (right) August 1944





Meet Five More Sailors From the USS Leon

Thanks to the family of Irwin Goldstein, we now have pictures of five more sailors who served in the Pacific during WWII. As always, if you recognize names or pictures of one or more of the young men below, please contact us!

S1c Irwin Goldstein was a member of the boat group aboard the attack transport USS Leon. Fortunately for all of us, Irwin took lots of pictures of his buddies when they were on leave from April 1944 through January 1946. (Most of his buddies—though not all—were members of Leon’s boat group.) Then Irwin did the most wonderful thing… he put names on the pictures and saved them for us!!

Irwin’s family has shared those pictures with us, and we have confirmed the identities of a group of those sailors as crewmen of the Leon. Here are five more of those handsome young men who served hard duty in the Pacific.

Al Kraft

This is S1c Albert P. Kraft from Amherst NY. The other three members of Al’s boat crew were Frank F. Usefara, Albert T. Kauffman, and Raymond A. McClary. Their supervising officer was Ensign Leon S. Eckman.

Anthony Visconti

Meet S1c Anthony A. Visconti. Anthony’s boat crew also included Gilbert R. Ward, William H. Vieau, and Henry V. Mayer. Commanding officer: Ensign Alton R. Swift.

Ed Baker

Here is S1c Edward Baker from Chicago IL. Ed served with Dorries J. Byars, Edward O. Cathcart, and Emmitt N. Droll. Ensign Paul S. Kemner was their direct superior.

Ernest Johnson, Coxswain

This is Ernest M. Johnson from North Adams MA. He served with J.C. Biesterveld, Harold O. Hausrath, and Gerald E. Dreaver under Ensign Paul S. Kemner.

Farrell Thomas J (2)

The last shipmate is S1c Thomas J. Farrell, address unknown. Ensign Sam Seidel supervised Thomas and his crewmates: John Frederick, Edwin G. Howell, and Raymond J. Manley.

These men trained together with the rest of Leon’s crew to perform the key mission of the amphibious forces: Putting the boots on the beaches… Any beach, any time!