My Dad is third from left, first row; Frank Hoeffer, Ships Cook, 2nd Class Petty Officer, USN.
January 1940, assignment to USS Oahu (PR6). Home Port Shanghai, China.
Duties included: member of the Yangtze River Patrol, Protect American Nationals and U.S. government property.
My Dad's job assignment was to prepare food for the 84 crewmen. The galley was over the fire room and the temperature was above 100 degrees. My dad split galley duties, 24 hours on, 24 hours off.
In 1940, Dad was promoted to 2nd class but he still was unable to get his family to Shanghai. In November of 1941, dad passed the 1st class examination and now he thought that he would finally be able to send for his family! In a short few weeks all advancements in ratings would be canceled due to hostilities with Japan.
While he was in Shanghai, dad had a good friend named Albert Zeiss who fled his country, Austria, to avoid capture and imprisonment by the German Storm Troopers. My Dad had an interest in making moving pictures and his friend Albert would teach him. His friend was known for his excellent work on making moving and still Pictures that he would sell to tourists and magazines. Albert lived in Shanghai. My dad liked to go ashore on off duty times and he would go see his friend Albert to get instructions about learning all he could on photography. He would store his reels of film at the American Y.M.C.A.
Dad seemed to have a very interesting time in China. He would go to places that the tourists had never been to before and take Pictures that they would buy from him to bring back to the States. It is sad to say that those reels of film and all the wonderful things he bought in China would soon be gone.
Dad had a very scary experience while on the ship. He had taken some pictures of the Japanese cruiser 'Itaka'. This is taken from his journal:
"I was taking some pictures of the Japanese ship 'Itaka', and all of a sudden, the Japanese Admiral was piped aboard the USS Oahu. The Japanese Admiral, through his interpreter, demanded to see the Captain of the USS Oahu. The Captain was waiting near the gangway and immediately made his identity known. He asked the interpreter, what was the purpose of the visit?
"It did not take long for the interpreter to let the Captain know that a serious breach of security had been perpetrated against the Japanese Cruiser 'Itaka' by an unknown member of the USS Oahu crew.
"It took some time to find out just what the security breach was all about. Meanwhile the Japanese Admiral was shouting and waving his arms around. The interpreter was trying to convince the Admiral he would convey his message to the Captain of the USS Oahu, and demanded the crew member be instantly brought before the Admiral so he could be identified by him. The Captain had the Officer of the deck pass the word and find the person who had been taking pictures!.
"As soon as I heard the word, I came up the gangway and reported to the Captain. "The Admiral and the Captain were engaged in some arm waving, and finally the interpreter demanded the films that were taken earlier of his ship.
"The Captain asked me if I had taken any pictures of the 'Itaka'. I didn't know what to say, and the Captain told me I had better tell him the truth. I knew this was my cue to acknowledge that I had been the one! I was told to go below and bring up my camera and the film. In a few minutes I was back on deck with my camera. Then I handed over the camera to the Captain. The interpreter told the Captain that the Admiral demanded the film be destroyed. The camera would be handed back by the Admiral as soon as he exposed the film (which was done).
"An argument was started by the Admiral and the interpreter told the Captain that I was to be severely punished for the deed of photographing a ship of the Imperial Japanese Navy!! Our Captain, Lt.Commander D.E. Smith, promised the Japanese Admiral he would confine me aboard the ship, and my camera would be locked up while the ship was in the city of Hankow.
"The Japanese interpreter informed Captain Smith, that was not the punishment the Admiral had in mind. It was mild by the Japanese standards, and he wanted me to be beaten like their own people. "Captain Smith explained to the Admiral through his interpreter that Navy men are not beaten nor punished in any way to cause bodily harm.
"The Captain went on to explain about the infractions of rules and what punishment Navy men get. This did not go over very good with the Admiral. The Admiral started to throw his arms up and down(when he heard)the punishment the Captain said that he would give me (suffer humiliation by being locked up in the ships chain locker and I would not be allowed to go ashore in Hankow for quite awhile). The Japanese Admiral did not seem to be satisfied with the methods of Captain Smith. At least he did see the film destroyed. To make a long story short, he did leave and later in the day, Captain Smith called me up to his cabin and returned my camera to me. He advised me to stay aboard ship for a couple of days (no doubt the Admiral would be watching to see if I tried to go ashore). The Admiral's Officer of the deck was told to have his telescope aimed on the USS Oahu and gave my description.
"I always wondered if the pictures of that ship would have been good?
"In November of 1941, while at the Patoon in Hankow, China, the Japanese cruiser 'Itaka' had delivered an ultimatum to Captain Douglas Smith, commanding us to stay at our mooring, and if the ultimatum was not obeyed, the Oahu would be sunk. Captain Smith wondered if a message could get back in time, before the ultimatum was carried out. He knew what he would do in an emergency, but he wanted the commander of the Yangtze River Patrol Boat to make it official. It was not long in coming. The answer: "EVACUATE." Barking an order to the captain of the deck, he summoned all hands to quarters and officers call.
"Captain Smith ordered the executive officer to have the crew assemble on the Platoon which acted as our deck. (Several hours earlier, the crew had assembled and was dismissed. They were mystified that quarters had been sounded again.)
"Something unusual was going on, and the best way to find out was to hurry to quarters. The ship was made ready to set sail. "The Chinese were shouting a farewell from the docks.
"All along the the muddy Yangtze River we were to pick up American nationals, Naval personnel, mail, and baggage.
"Captain Smith defied the ultimatum and sailed down river to pick up American missionaries and Standard Oil Company personnel. But Captain Smith thought he could sail down the river without a pilot. He would be taking a risk with possible loss of his ship and crew.
"The alternative would be to stay in Hankow and be detained till the war started and be made prisoners of war. It would be better to master the Yangtze River and be free men.
"The USS Oahu headed down the river for Yangtze River Ports. The Admiral of the 'Itaka' signaled he would not be responsible if the USS Oahu proceeded down the river without a pilot. No attempt was made to stop the USS Oahu as it left Hankow.
"American missionaries, caretakers of oil storage would be evacuated if they desired to leave. It is sad to say that the missionaries decided to stick out the threat of the forthcoming "war." This would be the last time we would ever see them again (I knew many and helped in an operation on a woman with a tumor). We were all sorry to see them stay, but they were confident that they would not be molested by the Japanese. Little did they know that would not be the case and they would be taken to a Japanese prison camp.
"After a fond farewell, we left Wuhu, China. We once more proceeded on our voyage".
Next stop: Nanking, old capital of China.[Next]
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