Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific

Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific

by Carol Edgemon Hipperson

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Radioman is the biography of Ray Daves, a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and an eyewitness to World War II. It is based on the author's handwritten notes from a series of interviews that began on the eighty-second birthday of the combat veteran and gives a first-person account of the world's first battles between aircraft carriers.

Ray Daves grew up on a small farm near Little Rock, Arkansas. Impatient with school and the prospect of becoming a farmer like his father, he joined the CCC and went from there to the navy, where he learned to use the radio to send messages, and soon found himself in the momentary peacefulness of Pearl Harbor.

Most of America's World War II veterans were not in uniform when the war began. Daves is one of the few who was. He could also tell what was happening on the bridge of the famous carrier Yorktown before it went down and of the secretive relationship between the Russian and American forces in Alaska at the time.

Carol Edgemon Hipperson's discovery of this one man's inspiring story is shared with great skill and energy. A must-read for those looking for a personal, intimate account of the events of this tumultuous time in American history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250040985
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/28/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 818,402
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Carol Edgemon Hipperson is the author of the award-winning military biography The Belly Gunner, which was the first book selected to the Library of Congress's list of recommended resources for students and teachers participating in the national Veterans History Project. She lives in Spokane, Washington.

Read an Excerpt



June 1936–September 1937

They were waiting for us in North Dakota. I saw the crowd as soon as I stepped off the train in that little town. At least fifty of them — men, women, children — were all dressed in leather with feathers and beads, head to toe. And bells. I heard bells jingling when they moved toward us. I was not afraid of them. I was just curious. I didn't know what they were going to do until they began to chant and step to the beat of the drums. The first dance was very slow and swaying, with lots of arm movements. It felt like a prayer or a blessing. As the drumbeats got louder and faster, the dancers were whirling in lines and circles all around the train station. It was more than beautiful. It was amazing. How anybody could dance like that for a whole hour on such a hot, dusty afternoon was beyond me.

No one told us the name of the tribe, and I have never known why they chose to dance for us that day. Maybe the Army or the government paid them, or maybe they just did it because they wanted to. Either way, I thought it was awful nice of them. I had never seen Native American ceremonial dancing before. The local townspeople must have thought it was pretty special, too, because over a hundred of them came out and watched it with us. And there was a little black and white mongrel puppy. He was just wandering through the crowd, like he was looking for somebody. We tried to find his owner; the station workers said he was a stray. So we smuggled him aboard the train and took him with us.

I had a window seat through the rest of North Dakota, into Montana, and across the Rockies. I'd never seen such high mountains and thick forests — we didn't have anything like that back home in Arkansas either — and I think that's when I knew for sure that my high school principal was right. When I told him I was planning to quit school at the end of tenth grade, he advised me to enlist in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). My parents had to sign the papers, of course, because I was only sixteen. I doubt that they would have agreed to it, if not for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The CCC was one of his ideas, so it had to be good. Mom and Dad practically worshiped FDR. If they needed another reason, it was me: Of their seven children, I was the renegade. My parents probably knew I would have just run away if they hadn't let me go.

I boarded that train in Little Rock in the summer of '36, along with seventy-five other guys from Arkansas. There were a few older men in my group, like in their twenties, but everybody else was under eighteen. I don't think any of us understood that the CCC was actually run by the military until we got to Idaho. The buses that picked us up from the train station in the town of Worley had Army markings, and when they dropped us off at Camp Peone, the first man who spoke to us was a captain in the Army. He was the camp commander. The assistant camp commander was an officer in the Navy. They gave us each a couple of sets of Army-looking olive drab uniforms, and all of the camp buildings had military-sounding names: the "mess hall" was for eating, the "barracks" were for sleeping, and toilets were "latrines." But we never had to salute or march around the camp or anything like that. They even let us keep our puppy. He slept with us in the barracks that night. We called him Camp Dog.

The next morning, and every morning except Sunday for the next six months, the LEMs — "local experienced men" — took us somewhere outside the camp to work. Most of the time, they had us planting trees on the hillsides, which was supposed to stop soil erosion. We also dug irrigation ditches for the farmers in northern Idaho and built roads for the loggers. I'd be lying if I said I liked that kind of work, but it was a whole lot better than farming. I didn't mind milking cows and feeding chickens, but I hated the rest. I especially hated pitching hay in the barn on a hot summer day. All those little stickery pieces go down the back of your neck and get stuck in the sweat underneath your shirt.

For me, the CCC was just a way to get out of working for my dad on the family farm. It was probably also the only way. Some of the guys at Camp Peone had high school diplomas, and even they couldn't find a job anywhere else. But the CCC gave us each a five-dollar bill at the end of the month, plus a twenty-five-dollar check that we never saw because the government mailed it directly to our families. My parents could have got by without it — farmers always had something to eat, even in the worst of times — but I think a lot of families really depended on those checks every month. The older men didn't even keep their five-dollar bills. They sent those home to the wife and kids, too. I never heard anyone say this was all because of "the Depression." We just called it "hard times."

Most of us at Camp Peone were just killing time until we were old enough to join the real military. I was thinking about going into the Army myself, until I heard the Army was still using mules. That didn't sound very modern to me. I was afraid I might end up pitching hay for a string of mules. I didn't know there was such a thing as an Army Air Corps, and I'd never even heard of the Coast Guard or the Marines. As far as I knew, there was only one other choice. I started asking questions about the Navy.

The CCC officers told me all about the Navy's service schools, which sounded a lot like trade schools. They claimed you could learn to be a mechanic or an electrician or a baker, or just about anything in the Navy, and it only took four years. The camp commander told me I should try for radio school. "Son," he said, "the future is in communications. If you can get the Navy to teach you about radios and electronics, you'll never be out of work again." That was all I needed to hear. Right then and there, I decided to join the Navy, and patriotism had nothing to do with it. I doubt if I could have even spelled the word.

If anyone had told me America was about to go to war, it wouldn't have made a bit of difference. I didn't know the meaning of war. It was just History, something you studied in school. Oh, there were lots of World War I veterans around then, but not in my family. I'm sure my great-grandfather could have told me a thing or two — he was a Civil War veteran — but he died when I was four. I didn't even know which side he was on. I did get scared when I overheard my parents talk about an invasion somewhere. I went right out, loaded my granddad's shotgun, and stashed it under my bed that night. I thought I was ready if anybody tried to invade Arkansas. I think I was about ten.

By the time I got to high school, I'd heard so much war talk, I was sick of it. I tuned it out. I didn't care which country was invading which country. They were all on the other side of the world, anyway, and Current Events class was boring. The only class discussion I really remember was when the teacher told us about the Nazis and all the crazy laws they were making against the Jews in Germany. We even had to listen to one of Adolf Hitler's speeches on the radio. My classmates and I agreed that Hitler was the craziest Nazi of all. We had no idea what he was saying, of course, because none of us understood German. It wouldn't have mattered if we did. You couldn't make out the words, what with all the crowd noise in the background. It sounded like cheering, so I assumed Hitler was popular in Germany. My parents couldn't stand him. They called him "that crazy paperhanger." I guess he used to be an artist before he went into politics.

Mom and Dad were just sure we would go to war with Germany again. "It'll be just like World War I," they said, "only bigger." I don't know where they got that idea — probably from listening to Kaltenborn. Of all the different news programs on the radio, they liked H. V. Kaltenborn the best. I can't recall if my folks thought we might also go to war with Japan at that time, but I knew better than to tell them I'd decided to join the Navy. They still had it in their heads that I was going to come home and finish high school. So I wrote and told them what they wanted to hear, that I was taking classes at Camp Peone. Some of it was even true.

The CCC did offer a few high school–level courses. I took a couple in soil conservation, mainly to get out of digging ditches. I signed up for typing because the camp commander said it would help me get ahead in the Navy. He also advised me to visit the high school English teacher in Worley and ask her what books I should be reading. She recommended The Canterbury Tales. According to her, if I could read that book and pass the same test she gave her students, I would have no trouble with the Navy's technical manuals. So I read The Canterbury Tales. Took me weeks to get through that sucker, and I hated every minute of it. But it sure felt good to pass that test. I guess I just needed to know that I could.

The CCC took us on field trips, too, just like in school. The one I remember best is when they let us ride in the seat behind the pilot of a small airplane. That was my first plane flight, and I loved it. Couldn't wait to go again. When they told me that the Navy had planes, too, I was all the more determined to join up. Of course, I didn't put that in the letters I was writing to my parents either. I told them I was going to church. That was quite a stretch. I'd always been the family rebel that way, too. When Dad read the Bible out loud every night after supper, I usually went to bed early so I wouldn't have to listen. But there was that one Sunday at Camp Peone when the Baptist youth group from Spokane came out and conducted church services for us in the mess hall. One of the girls was pretty cute, too. You better believe I got her phone number.

Adeline Bentz was older than I — nearly seventeen when I met her — but that was all right. And even though she lived in Spokane, which was in the state of Washington, it was only an hour's drive from Camp Peone. I didn't have a car, of course, but the CCC bought most of our supplies in Spokane. Well, somebody had to go along and help load all those groceries on the trucks. I got to visit her two or three times a month that way. I met her parents, too. They didn't seem to mind that I was in the CCC, and they never made fun of the way I talked. Frankly, I thought they were the ones with an accent, but I never said so. I wanted them to like me, because I really liked that girl. She had a lot to do with my decision to reenlist for another six months in the CCC.

When I passed my typing class at Camp Peone, I got promoted to company clerk. That raised my pay to thirty-six dollars a month, and I got to keep ten instead of five. The best part was, I didn't have to plant trees or dig ditches any more. I just sat in the camp office all day and listened to the radio while I did the commander's paperwork. I kept the radio tuned to the music stations at first, but I soon got hooked on the news about the king of England. He was threatening to quit if he couldn't marry Mrs. Simpson, but she was married to somebody else when she took up with the king, so she was trying to get a divorce, and it was just one thing after another, like a soap opera. Every day there was some new development. Sometimes I stayed past quitting time — typed the same report twice — just so I could keep up with the king of England's love story on the radio.

I could have signed on for another hitch in the CCC after I turned seventeen, but I was anxious to go home and join the Navy. When I said goodbye to Adeline, I didn't think it was very likely that we would ever see each other again. I just promised to write and let her know if I made it in the Navy, and that's where we left it in the summer of '37.



September 1937–mid-April 1939

Okay, so I admit I lied to the Navy about my age. I thought I was old enough when I got home from the CCC, and, technically, I guess I was. But everybody in town said forget it. There were too many older guys out of work, and they were all trying to get into the military. The Navy had so few openings, they weren't even taking applications from anybody under eighteen. That's what I heard, and I was crushed. I thought about going back to the CCC for another year. My two older brothers talked me into a road trip instead. We had an aunt in Oregon; she invited us to come and stay with her until we found jobs there. So the three of us pooled our savings and bought a used Model A Ford. We packed the rumble seat with food and blankets and took turns driving.

It was about a two-week trip from Arkansas to Oregon. Some nights we slept in the car; other times we camped out on the ground by the side of the road. If we happened to be near a town, we stayed in a hotel. That cost two or three dollars a night, which was kind of expensive for three guys out of work, so we shared a single room. We never had any trouble finding a gas station — that cost around twenty cents a gallon — but there were no freeways. Some of the roads weren't even paved. I saw lots of Burma Shave signs with silly jokes and sayings, but I do not recall any posted speed limits. We didn't come across any sheriff or state patrol cars either, which was good, because we didn't any of us have a driver's license.

There were more jobs in Oregon, and the pay was better, too. Even the temporary, seasonal work paid twenty-five cents an hour. They called it "minimum wage." First time I ever heard the term. It was great money for a potato sorter. All I had to do was stand there and pick out all the green ones on the conveyor belt. It was a lot easier than working for my dad on the family farm. Around Christmastime, I got on at the soda fountain in the drugstore. That didn't take much training either, as soon as I figured out how much cherry syrup to squirt in with the carbonated water, and I was fine with being a soda jerk until I turned eighteen. That was the plan, until my brother Velton got laid off again. My eighteenth birthday was still a couple of months away when he walked into the drugstore and said, "To heck with it. I'm going to join the Navy." No way was I going to let him go without me.

We took the bus to the nearest recruiting station, which was inside the post office in downtown Portland. I sat down on the steps and started filling out the application. When I got to the blank for "date of birth," I never thought twice. I wrote "June 1, 1919." I was afraid the Navy wouldn't take me if I told the truth: I was actually born in 1920. I knew it was wrong to lie, but I'd have done just about anything to increase my chances of getting accepted. It didn't seem like such a big deal. The recruiters did not require any proof of age. They didn't even ask for a social security card, which was also good, because I didn't have one of those either. I didn't know there was such a thing at the time.

After I filled out the application, I had to take a written exam. It was all essay questions, like, "What can you do for your country in the Navy?" I think the only purpose was to prove you could read and write. When I finished that, I had to go inside the post office and take the physical. I was five feet eight and weighed 128 pounds. That's all I saw on the doctor's clipboard; everything else was just checkmarks. Next came the interview. I honestly do not know what I would have said if that Navy officer had looked me straight in the eye and said, "You're not really eighteen yet, are you?" But he never did. He just thumbed through all the papers in my file and asked the same questions I'd already answered on the written exam. That's all there was to it. He said I was accepted, but there were no openings at the moment. I was told to go home and wait for a letter. I don't know why my brother got rejected. I felt sorry for Velton. He just laughed and said he was a whole lot sorrier for me. I was the one that had to go home and tell Mom and Dad I had just enlisted in the Navy.


Excerpted from "Radioman"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Carol Edgemon Hipperson.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
16 - THE SUMMER OF '42,
19 - COLD BAY,
20 - KODIAK,
Copyright Page,

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Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Buddybuilders More than 1 year ago
Well, I have just finished the book and I must say it is a gripping story, well told. I was amazed to think that this one individual the author found, Ray Daves, saw so much - serving at Pearl Harbor, on the
submarine-Dolphin, at the Battle of Corel Sea, at Midway - on the
Yorktown, the Aluetian Islands - it's a great book! I have a real
interest in history, the Crusades and World War ll in particular. The
Pacific Theater has always fascinated me as one of the most interesting
and this account with the included excellent historical references is great! Or did I already say that? I can't imagine the amount of work this must have been. And the connection to the Northwest made it more interesting yet. Spokane, Seattle and San Diego, where we were last summer - This is real stuff. Thanks for a good read - I'll be picking this one up again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very, very good story (a fast read) one man's journey prior to and into WW II. Having served on Kwajalein Naval Air Station in 58-59 as a Air Force Teletype/Crypto operator made the story come to life. (I was part of small detachment of A.F. personnel serving with a whole bunch of Sailors, we got along fine)This story/journey of one young man who did a hell of a job; and because of him an millions of others' we have freedoms others' can only dream of. A good read for all ages...

Dick (Air Force Retired) (10 Yrs in the Pacific)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Radioman is an absorbing story of one of the quickly vanishing World War II veterans. This well written and researched account is well worth the reading time. Would make a great gift for anyone but especially those of the WWII generation.
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Bob-Lois More than 1 year ago
I have read many WWII accounts, but this is from the "regular Joe's" point of view. Very interesting reading accounts that I have read before, but from this point of view. I couldn't put it down. Outstanding!
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