RBT's Personal Journal

1937-1938 - USS Portland

Reported aboard the USS Portland on 1 Dec 1937

My new CO was Captain Raymond F. Christ, USMC, a close friend of Captain Brown. The junior officer was 2d Lt Hittle.

My first duty aboard besides standing guard duty was Store Room Keeper and clerk for the First Sergeant. Guess I was the only one in the Detachment who could type.

It was only a few weeks later that I was assigned as Captain's (Captain "Tiger" Lewis, USN) orderly instead of standing guard duty. Arrangements apparently had been made between Captain Brown and Christ that I be given special arrangements to study for the Fleet tests to qualify for the Naval Academy Prep School in Norfolk, VA. Two Navy Ensigns spent hours tutoring me for the test. When on duty, or if the Captain was ashore, I was even allowed to sit at a desk in the vestibule outside the Captain's quarters so I could study.

Late one evening when the Captain returned aboard, I was sitting at my desk and I had dozed off. I didn't jump to my feet until the Captain was well in the vestibule to his cabin. At that point the OOD, who had accompanied the Captain to his cabin, started to read me off for not being alert. The Captain stopped him and said he would take care of it. I never heard a word from him and I remained on orderly duty for the remainder of my tour aboard the ship.


In March, after the ship had been repaired we left Mare Island on our way to Hawaii. Early in the morning when we sailed out of San Francisco Bay it was completely fogged in. The Captain had to navigate the ship relying on the varying sounds of bells and foghorns from known locations such as Alcatraz Island, to pass safely under Golden Gate bridge. We could barely see the bow of the ship from the bridge. (I'll mention the contrast some 5 years later when I was aboard the USS Nashville)

The USS Portland was part of a fleet engaged in war games against another fleet. We spent several weeks in this exercise south of Hawaii. At the end of the Navy maneuvers Marines from the ships staged an amphibious landing at Lahina Roads. At that time, we had no landing craft but went ashore in motor whale boats and launches. These boats grounded early leaving us to jump over the side in water over our heads. Carrying our rifles and other equipment we had to trudge ashore thru the surf. The 30-caliber machine gun crew lost the tripod and cart for the gun in the surf. No way did Capt. Christ want to have to report lost equipment, so the crew made many trips into the surf before they finally found the tripod and cart. We were in our khaki uniforms, WW1 steel helmets and our leather shoes. The shoes were ankle high and were also our dress shoes. After we were back aboard ship we spent hours polishing and getting them, our issued rifles and other equipment fit for inspections. Besides spit-shining shoes the wooden stocks on our rifles were shined to a high gloss with a combination of linseed oil and a touch of lacquer. Our rifle individually issued to us was our pride and joy.

Upon completion of the maneuvers we anchored in the harbor at Hilo, Territory of Hawaii, on 30 March, for several days' liberty. We spent several days seeing volcanoes and other sites. Tom Stout, a Marine friend, and I were such "bounders" we even visited the Hilo High School which was in session. Hilo was an interesting little village. The comment I have in my USS Portland Log album is "Hilo is very beautiful and quaint. Volcanoes very impressive".

"Hilo Hattie" and her troop of Hawaiian Dancers performed for us aboard ship. She became very famous for promoting and teaching the art of Hawaiian dancing.

Taking advantage of the beautiful harbor swimming call was sounded daily on a bugle. Those off duty would dive into the water from the boat booms or boats tied up alongside. I successfully avoided being embarrassed for not knowing how to swim by doing my studying or working in the office. Still don't know how I got away with it.

Arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after our visit to Hilo. The harbor was packed with battleships, aircraft carriers and other supporting ships at anchor or tied up to the docks. It was quite a sight to see the Pan American "Clipper" (sea planes) land and take off in the harbor. As I recall these were the first planes providing passenger service to the Far East from the States. At that time the passengers would get off the plane onto a floating ramp and walk up to the small Pan Am office.

We had liberty several times. Tom Stout, had an aunt and uncle in Honolulu and they invited us to a Sunday dinner at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It was really a treat after months of Navy chow. The hotel and its grounds covered with lush flowers and trees were so beautiful. Quite different from Montana.

I have an album with all of my pictures of our visit to Hawaii, including one of the Honolulu city jail with its bamboo gate and fence. At the Dole pineapple processing plant, we were able to drink all of the pineapple juice free in their visitor center.

After our stay in Hawaii, we returned to San Francisco and the ship was put in dry dock at Mare Island Naval Station, Vallejo, CA for general overhaul and scraping the hull. We (Marines) spent a couple days over the side-scrapping barnacles until Captain Christ got us off because we were not trained for that duty. Somehow before we were relieved a bucket of red-lead paint was accidentally dropped from the scaffolding we were on, to the bottom of the dry-dock splattering all over the Navy chief in charge of the detail. He privileged us with an outburst of possibly some of the most profane Kings English and threat of finding the guilty party.

While at Mare Island I was in the honor guard for President Roosevelt when he visited the base1. Marines were lined up along the street from the Main Gate to the Headquarters with us presenting arms as he passed.

I took the Fleet exam for the Naval Academy Prep School in July and passed.

1) July 14, 1938