Red Toon Pt. 16: Introducing Officers of USS Leon

As Leon and her accompanying destroyer escort, USS Blackwood DE 219, made their way to Pearl Harbor, Capt. Adell worked the crew hard to make a company of them. From All Came Home (p. 160):

“In the open sea between Norfolk and Panama and then on the 12-day run from Panama to Pearl Harbor, the little escort and the big transport practiced the maneuvers invasion convoys would use, frivolously, with only the horizon to bound them in.

For many officers and men it was the first time out. They got the feel of the ship and the feel of the sea. They also got the feel of foreign liberty in Panama and never forgot it – because for 14 months there was never another liberty like it.”

Red  Toon soon met all of Leon’s officers, most of them newly trained reservists like himself. Throughout their next two years of service together, he took pictures of many of them, and—fortunately for us—wrote the names on the back.

We begin introducing some of these young men below along with any information that we have for each. Most of this information is drawn from copies of the ship’s log found at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

As always, we ask our readers out there: If you see someone below who you recognize, perhaps your dad or your uncle or a grandpa—please contact us! Let’s share some stories and pictures.

Firstly, meet Lt. Commander Leo T. Atkinson, Engineering Officer. He was the third ranking officer aboard ship, responsible for maintaining the ship’s propulsion system as well as her life support systems, including, e.g., fresh water, heating & cooling, electrical power, and others. He hailed from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Atkinson Exec Officer jpg

Lt. Commander Leo T. Atkinson

Three officers pictured below include two junior engineering officers who reported to Atkinson. We hope that we have identified them correctly as (l – r):

  • Robert T. L. Jones, Lieut.(jg), Engineering Watch & M Div. officer, from Sanatorium, North Carolina
  • Bob P. Roberts, Lieut. (jg), Asst. 2nd Div. officer, from Fort Madison, Iowa.
  • Michael Hubona, Lieut., Asst. Engineering officer, from Charlottesville. Virginia. (Readers of earlier posts will recall that Mike Hubona was a bridge partner of Red’s.)
Jones Roberts Hubona jpg

Officers Jones, Roberts and Hubona

 

Finally, we believe the two officers below are a pair of Lieut. (jg)s: Roger L. Johnson and Gordon R. Williams. Johnson was a radar officer from Maywood, Illinois, and Gordon was a communications officer from Los Angeles, California.

Johnson Williams enhanced

 Officers Johnson and Williams

 

Our last picture is of three boat group officers who had trained under Joe McDevitt at Ft. Pierce. They are:

Jesse Schwartz, Lieut. (jg), Asst Boat Grp. Commander, from Baltimore, Maryland

Charles R. Reeve, Ensign, Wave Guide,  from Winton Merced County, California

Orville W. Terry, Lieut. (jg), N Div. Officer and Asst Navigator, from Orient, New York

Readers will recall from earlier posts here that Orville Terry was originally appointed Joe McDevitt’s assistant boat group commander along with Red Toon. But Terry was such a proficient navigator while in training that he was transferred out of the boat group into the navigation unit. Then we suspect that Jesse Schwartz was  appointed assistant boat group commander in Terry’s place.

Schwartz Reeve Terry jpg

Officers Schwartz (front), Reeve and Terry

 

More pictures from the Toon Collection to come.

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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

       Warren

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

Pt. 14: Red Toon and Leon Go To War

Leon was an attack transport designed to deliver assault forces to the beaches of enemy-held strongholds. She was 492 ft. in length and 69.5 ft. at her beam. She could transport a fully reinforced regimental combat team plus supplies and equipment needed during those crucial first days of an assault plus 26 brand new boats for delivering troops and supplies to the beaches. Any beach, any time.

Leon was commissioned on February 12, 1944, Capt. Bruce Byron Adell commanding. The picture below—taken later when Leon was serving in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater—is the only one we have of Capt. Adell aboard Leon.

Capt Adell enhanced

Capt. B. B. Adell USS Leon

 

Adell’s first responsibility was to organize and begin training the ship’s new company of 51 officers and 524 sailors. This was no small task for several reasons.

Most of his new crew were young and right out of boot camp or training programs. Most were youngsters who had never been to sea. Remember Frank Tunney’s story? (See blog post dated May, 29, 2017. The minimum enlistment age for naval volunteers was 18 years. However, youngsters 16-17 years old were often able to earn acceptance.)

Furthermore, many of Leon’s crew had not yet reported for duty when she was commissioned and would not for some weeks. For example, Joe McDevitt’s boat group, her largest division, wouldn’t arrive from advanced amphibious training at Ft. Pierce, FL, until February 19. Other divisions, including the medical unit,  would not report until Leon had left New York and arrived at Norfolk, VA.

Nevertheless, forming the men into a company and testing a new ship began immediately with a shakedown cruise in Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay. Its goal: to familiarize the men with their new vessel and to ensure all the ship’s systems were functional. Yard time followed in Norfolk to iron out the kinks, e.g., winches fixed, rigging changed, equipment recalibrated.

Countless personnel problems arose…all sorts of jurisdictional, administrative and chain-of-command issues. That was expected no doubt when 500+ men were thrown together and rushed to sea aboard a new ship. Red Toon described several problems in the boat group in a letter written during Leon’s shakedown cruise.

March 3, 1944

Dearest Wife,

I’m still looking for a letter from you, why don’t you write two in one day and send one regular mail and one air mail so we can see what difference if any between time elapsed.

I don’t have too much to do with boat engineering right now, but sure feel sorry for Swift. Troubles can develop even with new boats and someone is continually yelling for and at him. There are some people who apparently feel that he should be able to wave a sort of magic wand and make these engines perform as the books would lead one to think they will. Too many people believe what they read is more important and more correct than what others have learned from experience.

We are all having our troubles. One of the biggest problems now seems to be getting orientated. We were led to believe many things that are apparently not true. For one thing we thought our “boss” was to be Mr. McDevitt & he himself, I’m sure, felt the same way. Now we find that another man is running the show. The pity of it all is that Joe knows his business & knows it well, the other man doesn’t. This other fellow however has been in an invasion, so he and his ribbons say, and to think that any of us “greenhorns” would know anything at all that he doesn’t is almost sacrilegious.

Just another “normal” situation, we spent several months of intensive work with our men getting them ready to do a certain job in a certain way only to have our work tossed lightly aside so someone else can have things his own way. His own way differing from ours because we have gone by a definite plan of instructions which he has been either too lazy to read or too stupid to assimilate.

We don’t mind too much ourselves but do hate it because of the men. Our crews are admittedly a tough bunch but also willing and capable as long as they feel that their officers are “on the ball” & are backing them up. Right now they are somewhat confused.

Well that “bitch” is out of my system so I feel better except for one thing. I’m very sure I’ll keep these shoulder boards & so will Joe keep his. It’s a long story and I’ll tell you about it someday but I’m sure you’ve guessed by reading between the lines what the situation is.

On reading this letter over I feel it very stilted and not at all warm and human and loving as much as I would like it to be. Blame it on the censor. I, like you, don’t quite relish someone else reading my mail but remember he won’t read yours.

All my love

   Your husband Warren


Credit: picture from the Toon Family Collection