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"School Starts October, 1943"
Submitted by Frank H. Stephan MM1c USN

When I returned from the General Motors Diesel School in Cleveland Ohio, I reported to the dock at Todd Shipyards in Brooklyn, N.Y., where I had been previously assigned for fitting out duty to the submarine tender AS 22, USS Euryale. When I reported to my Division Officer Lt. Harry E Burke, he asked me how I liked the school. I told him that I thought it was very interesting and that I enjoyed it very much. “Fine”, he said handing me a sealed envelope, “take this over to building three at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and report there every day for the next three weeks. They will explain everything to you”. Our ship was still in the final construction phase at the Navy yard so I didn’t mind the change in scenery. At Todd we spent each day inside a huge warehouse.

At building three a marine guard looked at my envelope and had another marine escort me into an elevator at up to the fifth floor. We walked along the corridor to a plain door, which he opened and we went into a small office and then up to a large safe. He put his hand into a sleeve and engaged something, which made a bell ring and a light on top of the door blink He pulled the safe door open and told me to go inside. A Lieutenant greeted me and examined the contents of the envelope. He explained that I was to study and learn electric coding machines so that I could service them as required repair them and that each submarine would have one coding machine on board and that if the coding machine failed the submarine was out of service because they could not receive or transmit any information. I would be responsible to keep all of our squadrons machines in proper working order. He also told me that everything in that shop was top secret and I could never discuss anything I saw or heard outside of that shop. He then took me to a bench on which there was a machine, some tools and a thin workbook. He then explained how the ciphers were created and transcribed and how the machine was arranged to cipher or decipher a message. He said if I had any questions he would be glad to answer them but otherwise I should work by myself and memorize everything because there would be no information I could take away with me.

After three weeks, the Lieutenant gave me a small canvas bag of tools and wished me good luck and goodbye and I went back to my Division Officer on the pier at Todd Shipbuilding. Mr Burke took me aboard our ship, which was now alongside the pier. He unlocked an outside door forward on the starboard side of the main deck and said here is your new home Stephan I saw a small compartment about eight feet square with a locker and two three feet wide safes on one end a work bench across the other end. On the bulkhead opposite the door, attached to the overhead by chains was a bunk. I was happy to note that a metal air duct would keep controlled temperature air circulating into the shop. There was a large fluorescent light over the workbench that lit the entire room and a comfortable high stool finished the décor.

The Navy did an excellent job of furnishing the personell for our ship. Almost all of our technicians were excellent in several skills. As a machinist mate first class, I was a toolmaker, a machinist, a gas engine and a diesel engine mechanic a crash boat and crash tuck operator, a rigger, a crane operator and a diver and last but not least I was a Movie Machine Operator. I had attended the movie operator’s school while I was stationed at the Air Station in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, where I assisted in the design and construction of the Theatre and Stage where we could have vaudeville shows in addition to movies. I learned most everything in the four years in the Navy plus almost two years in the Naval Reserve.

When our ship landed in Brisbane, Australia our communications officer had me delivered to a US Army Teletypewriter school for training. There was a possibility that that service would be required on that type of equipment. After three days they decided I had all the education I might need.

My day started at 0600 when the scullery boys started work on the pots and pans under my workshop. We were required to pass inspection at 0800 so that gave me lots of time to take care of me. After quarters we went to work in the machine shop or engine overhaul or on the submarines, which were tied up alongside for service. When a submarine returned from Patrol the crew would come aboard the tender where they were assigned temporary living quarters. Our ship had the facilities for the men to relax, get medical or dental checkups and just have a change of scenery for about three weeks. In that time the repair force, which I was a part of, would overhaul the machinery and reprovision and refuel the vessel. We would have from four to seven alongside except when underway. Lunch was from 1200 to 1300, supper 1700 to 1800 and we had movies in port at 1800 to 2000. I operated the movie every night but I played music for an hour before. After movies we put everything away and secured the ship. Because I was a first class petty officer I had security watch every fourth night from 2200 to 2400.My duty was to patrol the midship area of the ship carrying my pistol and flashlight to assure myself that the ship was safe and that there was nothing out of control. When off watch I was then subject to call by any of the communications officers of any submarine that experienced a problem with their coding machine as I only could work on it when the traffic was low in the boat and there was no one in the radio room.

As you can see my time was my own. I was my own BOSS and only the Captain, the Admiral and I had our own stateroom. Plus I received four dollars a day for running the movie.

Another small detail! I went to sea with five full length cans of movies each which consisted of five to ten reels of thirty five millimeter film that had the visible part of the of the picture coated on each frame. The coating was very sensitive to moisture and the picture would wash off if saturated. If they were wet, they were history and unless I could give a reasonable account of what caused their demise, I was responsible. To get new films, new in that the personnel on board had not memorized them, I became a trader. When the ship moored in a new harbor or a new ship came into our view, the signal men, we had no women in the Navy in World War 2, would alert me and I with a signalman and his Flags or his Signal Light, would call the other ship and try to work out a trade for a movie that would please the six hundred or so bored sailors that I was to entertain that night. Our total men on board was about sixteen hundred but with every space taken we were very crowded.

Movies always started promptly at 20:00 at the convenience of the Admiral or the Captain except special, educational or movies that might be classified which required a private audience. After evening chow I hustled up to my movie shack that was on the upper most deck on the ships after deckhouse that enclosed all of the equipment that I used. When the ship was being fitted out and I accepted the position I worked out a satisfactory solution to the problems. A steel booth housed the two DeVry Arc lamp Projectors, a film storage locker, the music amplifiers and tape and record players and completely wired sound system. The yard people did a very capable installation for our ship and it worked perfectly for the two years I served aboard.

When I arrived at the booth I would select music to entertain the early birds. After their requests were carefully noted and arranged, I would please some who came to the well deck just for the sounds. Usually some of the men would practice their dancing while others would do muscle building. Then I would check my arc lamps, wind the movie for tonight, which had been advertised on the bulletin boards with the orders of the day. We always received the movies in their cans with the film backwards, which forced us to rewind them. The film passing through my fingers would tell me if it was spliced or torn or needed repairs which then I could attend to. So when I ran the film through my machines, it worked properly and no body called me names or messed me up. There were times when we would receive a heavy rain shower while the movie was on, but it never chased my audience! The men never blamed me for weather but rather the quartermasters would be responsible.

Movies were outside only in port. At sea underway we would darken ship at sundown so movies were then shown in the mess hall. I would shut off the machine which had an incandescent lamp and change to another reel. Everyone was desperate for movies! Then we did not have music before the flicker as there just wasn’t time . We just kept ourselves busy!

Hope my story brought back some pleasant memories.

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