WW II letters home, January 14, 1942

I have been remiss in posting Kenney’s letters home. Last we heard from him, it was October 22, 1941, and he had just gotten himself into a pickle with the law. He proudly wrote to his father that he was able to resolve his kerfuffle on his own with a little help from his shipmates. Then, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and his letters seem to taper off. It’s possible there were others, and they just got lost. Fortunately, Kenney’s ship, the U.S.S. Colorado, was the one battleship that was not present at Pearl Harbor that tragic day. They were safely away at Puget Sound, Washington undergoing a retrofit. Here is Kenney’s next letter in our family collection.

Envelope post dated 15 January 1952

Mr. & Mrs. K.W. Rhoades
4011 North 30 St.
Omaha, Nebraska

January 14

Dear Folks,

Just a few lines to let you know I’m still in existence and feeling fine. Hope you are all swell too. It has been quite a while since I last wrote you hasn’t it? However, there still isn’t anything I can write about. I’ve tried to write 3 letters to you but the censor sent them all back, to much dope I guess. I am taking quite a chance and writing this on the beach, mailing it from the Y.M.C.A. so don’t mention it in your letter.

Bill is here now and we have been going ashore together. Sure seems like old times. I got your Christmas box O.K., it sure was swell and thanks a lot. I also want you to thank all the others for me as it is too hard to write now. Tell them their thoughts were sure appreciated and thanks an awful lot. I got Dicks pictures O.K. I sure would like to have helped eat that dinner. I am sending Dicks graduation gift at same time I send this letter.

They didn’t take out for my allotment last pay day. Would have sent you a money order but didn’t have much left anyway. However, you should start getting my $30 checks, which are for you folks to do as you see fit and use, about first of February.

Well my time is about up and guess I will close. Please don’t worry about me if it is a long time between letters. I take care of myself and if anything should happen you will be notified immediately, so no news is good news.

Love you you all,

The reasons behind censorship? Aside from the defensive preparations underway at the shipyard and surrounding town, five of the battleships at Pearl Harbor were sent to Bremerton, Puget Sound, for repairs and were nicknamed the Ghost Fleet of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese thought these ships had been damaged beyond repair during the Pearl Harbor attack. By December, two of the five had arrived at Puget Sound and were undergoing repairs.

Accessed from the PSNS & IMF Flickr album. Note the upper right photo, taken February 1942 of the USS Maryland (background) docked next to the USS Colorado (foreground, showing the deck only). An unknown smaller ship is seen between the two.

Tennessee was the first to arrive at PSNY on Dec. 29, 1941. Maryland arrived the next day. Both ships departed on Feb. 25, 1942. A remarkable turnaround of only days. – Salute, December 1, 2016

What was life like at Bremerton after Pearl Harbor?

BREMERTON CENTENNIAL 1901-2001: We Can Do It!: A nation enters World War II, and a patriotic city does its duty (excerpt below)

The night after the Pearl Harbor attack, Bremerton conducted its first blackout. 

Elsie Sayler, who lived on Perry Avenue, remembers walking to the drug store during a blackout and looking from her neighborhood toward the familiar shipyard. It was invisible in the dark.

That was my first year by myself … it was scary,” said Sayler, now 94. Her husband had died the year before, and she later would go to work at the Navy yard. – Elsie Sayler

For a short while, anti-aircraft guns could be heard practicing at [Puget Sound Naval Shipyard] every morning at 9. After the shock of Pearl Harbor, people were expecting the worst.

PSNY was the only shipyard in the Pacific able to handle repairs of large battleships and aircraft carriers. Its loss would have worsened the situation for the already devastated fleet. It was believed to be an obvious target.

On Dec. 14, the 202nd Coast Artillery arrived in Bremerton with anti-aircraft guns. They deployed throughout the city, in schoolyards, parks and, sometimes, even in back yards.

Diann Fox of Bremerton has this photo on her wall, which family friend George Wraith took of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1942. The lights were used to look out for potential air raids from Japanese planes. (Photo by George Wraith, courtesy of Diann Fox, image accessed from the Kitsap Sun, Photo Tells a Story of Post-Pearl Harbor Bremerton, by Derek Sheppard)

The battleships USS Tennessee and USS Maryland, two so-called “Ghost Ships” that the Japanese believed were destroyed at Pearl, arrived for rebuilds and modernization at the end of December. New construction at the yard was bumped down on the priority list, and the two battleships steamed toward the Pacific 53 days later, rebuilt and modernized.

The 303rd Barrage Balloon Battalion arrived in early January 1942 and deployed hundreds of the 60-foot, winged dirigibles throughout the area. Approaching aircraft were meant to get tangled and disabled in their anchor cables. A grenade was attached to each cable so that it would slide down at impact and destroy any plane that touched it. The dirigibles were floated with highly explosive gas, and they tended to break away if not brought down during stormy weather.

Defense measures included regular testing of smoke pots to obscure the shipyard to incoming enemy aircraft. Ferries had to stop while anti-submarine nets strung between barges were lowered for passage.

Julie McCormick, 2001

Bremerton — Thumbnail History (excerpt below)

Five of America’s warships damaged during the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, were towed or limped under their own power into what was then called Navy Yard Puget Sound for repair. Soon the city fashioned itself “Home to the Pacific Fleet,” and its population ballooned to as many as 80,000, including more than 32,000 shipyard workers. With most working-age men being sent off to fight, they were replaced in the shipyard by wives and girlfriends, marking a major cultural shift and helping give rise to World War II icon “Rosie the Riveter.”

Bremerton during this era was filled with young people, and with the shipyard running three shifts, dances were held at all hours of the day and night, including afternoon USO-sponsored affairs on the decks of dry-docked aircraft carriers. But housing all these new people was a challenge that was never fully met. Two housing developments, Westpark and Eastpark, were built early in the war by the federal government and a third, Sheridan Park in East Bremerton, somewhat later, but they didn’t nearly fill the need. Tents and trailers abounded, and people lived in converted garages and chicken coops. “Hot-bedding,” in which workers on different shifts would alternate sleeping in the same bed, was common. By the end of the first full year of war Bremerton had 69 apartment houses, four hotels, three hospitals, six theaters, six dance pavilions, and nearly 6,000 students enrolled in its schools.

John Caldbick, 2010