Little did we know when we commissioned the USS Norris (DD859) at a ceremony at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in San Pedro, California, in June of 1945, that the war in the Pacific would end soon with the explosion of two atomic bombs over Japanese cities. At that time the word in the fleet was, "the Golden Gate in '48." We knew nothing of an atomic bomb that would change all that. We frilly expected, all 300 or so of us, that we soon would be headed for waters off Japan to support an invasion of the home islands that was bound to be costly.
Some of us had wives and children at the ceremony, and as we watched CDR Terrence Andrew Nisewaner formally assume command, we wondered if we ever would see those loved ones again.
With the ceremony over, the Norris headed for San Diego and a 30-day shakedown cruise that would see naval experts critiquing our every move from engine room to Signal Bridge. It was about as sleepless and exhausting a month as this 29-year old ensign had ever undergone CDR Nisewaner and the executive officer, LCDR John Hoefer, drove us day and night to achieve a 4.0 grade. I don't suppose we achieved that, but we did pass with flying colors.
So we headed for Pearl enroute to the South Pacific where we would join the Seventh Fleet to prepare for the assault on the home islands of Japan. But not far out we suffered a major engineering casualty and headed for drydock in the builder's yard. There we sat high and dry until war's end. Those crew members who had seen battles at sea could rejoice. Some of us who had come to sea duty late felt somewhat sobered by the idea we had missed it all.
A few of the longtimers quickly received separation orders after VJ Day, including LCDR Hoefer, who in civilian life was an advertising executive in San Francisco; LT(jg) Robert Hoffman, communications officer (a mustang), and LT(jg) Gerald "Gus" Conley, electronics officer, also a mustang. A few sailors found to their regret that they had joined the regular navy and not the naval reserve so they had to wait until the end of their enlistment period. Such a one was Bobby Brown, quartermaster.
Although only an ensign, I became communications officer, and LT Richard White III, an Annapolis grad, who had been gunnery officer, became exec. LT(jg) Richard Lindsey, also an academy grad, became gunnery officer. VJ night was something to remember for many of the crew. But not for me. I caught the 8 to 12 watch that night. But the lucky ones wound up in Hollywood, and some claimed to have been entertained by movie stars. As duty officer, I did countenance a violation of regs that night. We acquired a bottle of something that helped the duty section through an otherwise dull evening. I expect there was a poker game or two in the engine room and elsewhere on the ship.
With repairs finished, our orders sent us to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay where we assumed duty as a training ship for new recruits who would man the destroyers yet to come. Several replacements came aboard, including LT (jg) Allan Wolfe, assistant gunnery oficer, and LT (jg) Kearley, assistant communications officer, plus a number of enlisted personnel. For three months we sailed out under the Golden Gate bridge with a bunch of green enlisted and officers being trained in CIC, communications, engineering, gunnery and overall destroyer life.
It was football season, and on Saturdays the captain would arrange for the fmal torpedo practice run directed by Ensign Richard Wright to head us squarely for the Golden Gate so we could reach Treasure Island in time to get to the University of California stadium in time for the big game. It wasn't exactly tough duty, those three months, and we even had a grand and glorious ship's party at the famous Palace Hotel, A little too glorious, in fact. Because not enough female escorts showed up to make the sailors happy, and things got a bit out of hand. The hotel management presented a bill for damages and let us know we would not again be welcome.
Our next duty took us to Pearl Harbor, once again for training ship duty. There we spent Christmas, and many a Norris crewmember got a sample of the true Aloha spirit. We did erect a Christmas tree over the quarterdeck at the head of the brow. We always moored to buoys in Middle Loch and had to pass by the wreckage of the BB Utah and weren't far from the sunken Arizona, grim reminders of what had happened there on 7 December 1941. On one quiet Sunday, with the captain and XO ashore, a call came over the 1MC (the speaker system): "Will the chicken with the day's duty lay down to the galley and wade through the soup." A commentary on Navy chow, of course.
Fighting was still going on when we passed through Guam. And there we saw the hull of the famous Battleship Oregon, the heroic vessel of the Spanish American War in the decisive naval battle off Cuba. The Oregon had been a museum in the Portland harbor but had been taken back by the feds and the hull used as an ammunition barge.
Heading west from Guam, we received orders by radio to proceed to Hong Kong where we would join the USS Floyd B. Parks (DD784), a sister destroyer, in becoming part of an allied flotilla with the HMS Duke of York as our flagship. At the time the Royal Marines had taken over from the defeated Japanese. But within a few weeks the Royal Navy assumed command of the Crown Colony at a colorful ceremony called a "tattoo and retreat." LT (jg) Kearley and I were part of the U.S. delegation. There was still heavy damage in the Central and Kowloon sections, but the grog shops were going full bore.
The Norris had two duties in Hong Kong: help preserve the peace and provide communication between South China and Shanghai. Each night a junior officer and enlisted personnel were assigned to patrol the streets of Hong Kong. On one evening two of us noticed a circle of Chinese men gathered around a lantern. We thought it must be a gambling game. As we grew close we found a street corner dentist was extracting a tooth from a suffering patient who squatted before him holding the lantern. The others were interested onlookers who gave a triumphant cry as the offending tooth came out. The Norris also patrolled the South China coast while conducting training exercises.
The second duty was to carry military personnel of Chiang Kai Shek's army to Shanghai along with supplies. On one voyage north the Norris was a veritable United Nations. Captain Nisewaner had aboard an American Commodore (later, Admiral Jackson, commandant of the l3th Naval District); a British army colonel, a French army major, and a Chinese naval captain.