- Contributed by
- Carey - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Mr Henry J Fleiner
- Location of story:
- Mediterrean Sea
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 April 2004
Mr Henry J Fleiner, US Navy, and crew at Bizerte, Italy, 1945 - with their mascot, a terrier
'The Navy is OK. Spend 10 years in the navy and 7 years is waiting...'
My dad, who grew up on a farm in Baltimore, Maryland, spent about two years on active duty in the United States Navy; he enlisted before he could be drafted so that he could chose the branch of service. Before he went away on 17 January 1944 to begin Basic in Ohio, his sister gave him a diary and a photo album, which she filled with homey shots of the family, pet dogs, friends, and Mum's garden.
His 'home away from home' was a supply barge that, after crossing the Atlantic, circled the Mediterrean, going from Oran, Marseilles, and various ports in Italy.
Life was standing watch and loading and unloading supplies, and keeping busy maintaining 'the Baby' -a generator that features largely in his diary throughout January 1945 as daily he and his mates repaired it!
Despite the nervous anticipation evident in his words in the weeks prior to Basic and then deployment abroad, Dad realised very quickly how much of service is boredom, and he and his mates filled the time in between tasks as best they could. And my dad photographed everything... well, almost everything: for part of July and into August 1944, my dad's ship was in among British ships, and he ended up within 20 yards of Mr Churchill himself on 12 August, and didn't have his camera with him.
Much 'Liberty' time was taken in sightseeing - going to Palermo to see the sites, go to shows, watch baseball games; he visited the ruins of Pompeii; took in Naples at night; and went to the zoo in Marseilles.
19 February 1945: 'Went out on Lake Bizerte today; for horseplay today as usual!'
Mascot dogs, card games and choc
They adopted dogs on the ship - he's got many pictures of mascot dogs, and I think one must have been his special pal as he's helping it stand to attention in one of the group portraits of the crew! [See photograph, above.]
There were card games - blackjack and craps - dad wasn't a gambler, but he was good at winning cartons of cigarettes and tins of beer - he didn't smoke or drink, so traded the goodies for film and socks! Other things gave my dad pleasure, so much so he even noted the time they happened:
14 March 1945: 'Had a choc drink at 2.30pm.'
I am not surprised this was a special treat - he complains elsewhere of eggs 'that taste like s***' and after his first K-rations, he was 'sick as a fool.' And 'Ate C rations for the first time - hope that is the last time...'
While dad liked to take photos, he was not happy with the official shots taken of him at Basic.
25 January 1944: 'Got first G I cut. Cut in a minute. I think they ruined my hair.'
7 March 1944: 'Received photos. Look like hell.'
I have a row of proofs of my dad from the set taken at this time - his smile is definitely an exercise in lip pulling! But I also have many portraits he had made while on Liberty in Italy, having been on active duty for a couple of months, and knows what he's facing: I see much more confidence on his face. He had many portraits taken, alone and with friends, and some are in colour. He also mentions over and over again in his diary that he would only have his hair cut ashore, and no longer by buddies on deck!
Lots of photos show beautiful girls, but dad I think was a retiring character, and he admitted a great fear of disease, as he notes emphatically in his diary that many a girl was a 'swell kid' but he only held hands or stole a few kisses; there is also tucked into the pages, among beribboned locks of hair, a yellowing newspaper article on the newest use of penicillin to treat venereal disease... and he states in vulgar terms how his mates went crazy on their first Liberty in Naples after arriving overseas. At first he went along with his friends to the 'cathouses' - eventually he gave up on all that, and stuck to shows and sightseeing.
9 April 1944: 'Kept date with girl at Newport News [Virginia]. Just kissed her a couple of times. Nice kid.'
6 May 1944 [in Oran, North Africa]: 'Had personal inspection this evening...some of the boys caught hell'
6 September 1944: 'Went to whorehouse. Woman tried to get me to f*** her but no luck.'
3 May 1945 (at Liberty in unknown Italian town): 'Met Marie today. Very nice girl. Just walked around with her.'
And yes, he was with a very pretty girl who spoke English on 8 May 1945, for VE Day (which he notes in his diary was a 'pretty big day, today. End of war in Europe.') He was stood up on VJ Day - he says in his diary, 'That girl was stuck-up.'
Swabbing the decks
Painting and cleaning the ship was of course a daily and necessary exercise at sea and at port, and there are more than a few shots of the crew swabbing the decks - of an 'exhausted' pal who simply couldn't take it anymore!
Many onboard shots show towels and socks and smalls strung on lines all along the deck, on gun mounts, and from the turrets - washing was a daily ritual to stave off boredom, and dad kept careful track of what he washed every day - sometimes two towels, sometimes a shirt, and when he was really strapped for something to do, he would wash a single sock one day, and its mate the next!
1 March 1945: 'Washed four dishes and a towel today.'
8 March 1945: 'Not much to do today but wash dishes and clean quarters. Washed 2 towels.'
It wasn't all just 'loafed most of the day' even though this sentiment appears through out the diary... it is sobering to see that shortly after he began Basic he took out $10,000 worth of insurance on himself for his mum, and, despite his complaints that it took three days to drop anchor from Norfolk to begin the journey in April 1944, and his wonder at his very first at-sea sunset, his convoy was tailed by U-boats and had to drop depth charges to fight them off.
There were air raids almost nightly when his transport ship moved across the Atlantic to the French and Italian ports. He took many photos of scuttled French and Italian ships and scenes of great devastation what stand in startling contrast to his peaceful shots of empty Pompeii and the Colosseum... but that is for another time.
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