WWII veteran Richard Hardy recalls his days as torpedo man

By MARYLOUISE SMITH | Lebanon Daily News, Pa. | Published: August 4, 2013

MYERSTOWN, Pa. — At the age of 19, recent Myerstown High School graduate Richard Hardy thought he was going to be a printer. But the year was 1941, and Uncle Sam had other plans for the young man.

Realizing he was about to be drafted, Hardy decided to enlist, instead.

"I wanted to make certain I got in the Navy," Hardy said recently, while relaxing in his Jackson Township home. "And I got the Navy; a lot of people who wanted it, didn't."

But instead of setting type, the Navy decided Hardy was needed for a bigger job: hunting enemy submarines.

"I was not mechanically inclined, but they gave me torpedo school," Hardy said. "As it turns out, I excelled at it. I really enjoyed it."

Hardy, 89, was first sent for torpedo training at Newport, R.I.

Out of a class of about 160, Hardy's efforts brought him to the top of his class; he was one of the top 10 men in testing results.

Upon graduation, his girlfriend, the former Rachel Spangler, came up to Rhode Island to visit him, and the two decided to get married on the spot.

"She called her parents for written permission, and we got married in a Lutheran church," Hardy said.

In September, the couple will celebrate their 70th anniversary. Parents of three daughters, they have 12 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.

His wife found a job in a laundry, and Hardy was shipped to Houston.

There, Hardy lived in a shipyard while the ship, a destroyer escort, the USS Willis DE 395, was being built.

"That was so we'd know all about the ship — like which compartment to escape to if you were hit," Hardy explained. "The escorts were built in World War II for the Navy, and they were faster and more maneuverable than a Destroyer."

Many of the new recruits became seasick, but Hardy says proudly he wasn't one of them.

"I had never been on the water in my life," he said. "But I loved it. Our captain was easygoing, and he kept the ship in great shape all the time."

That was Capt. Atterbury of Philadelphia, Hardy recalled. Atterbury came from a wealthy family and wanted his ship to be pristine as a yacht.

"We kept it clean for him," Hardy said. "And he kept us on the ball."

After the destroyer escort was built, Hardy and crew did a shake-down cruise to make sure the vessel was shipshape.

As soon as the ship got the OK, they sailed to the North Atlantic. Bermuda was the sailors' home base, where they'd pick up their food and other supplies, he said.

"Our job was to hunt submarines," Hardy said. "We protected the aircraft carriers. Our group sank 12 German submarines and one Japanese submarine that got up in the North Atlantic. It was quite an experience."

The entire crew of the Willis received the Presidential

Citation in Newfoundland for sinking that many submarines, Hardy said. "There was a lot of pomp and circumstance," Hardy recalled. "It was nice."

Most times, survivors of the enemy subs that were hit were few. But once, Hardy recalled, his crew picked up about a dozen German sailors from the sea after their sub was torpedoed.

"We pulled them in off the water with ropes, and some of the men (American sailors) even dove in to save them," Hardy said. "Mostly, though, there were no survivors."

The Germans had to strip down and were given long underwear to put on while they waited to get shipped to a military prison.

The waters of the North Atlantic were that cold, Hardy said, that the Germans were happy to doff their wet clothing.

The prisoners were confined to a cabin with guards stationed by the door until they could be transported off the ship.

Most of the time it was a "wait, watch and be vigilant" type of service, Hardy said.

The torpedoes were on the second deck, and while sonar was used to search for submarines, the torpedo man was also expected to do visual checks for the enemy subs.

"You watched visibly for subs; you'd see the wake in the water or the periscopes," he said. "Even though we relied on the sonar, you would sit on the torpedo tubes and visibly look for them. But it was OK; you were glad to do it."

Not all sailors had the type of visual acuity it took to get the job done, Hardy said, recalling one incident of mistaken identity.

"One of the men thought he saw a mop floating in the water. I looked and said, 'That's not a mop!' It was a periscope, and so — Boy! Did we scramble then," Hardy said.

The end result was one fewer German sub in the sea.

"My job was to drop the depth charges," Hardy said. "We damaged them so badly that we destroyed the subs."

"It was quite interesting. I loved it, but I was young and foolish then," Hardy said. "There was some danger, because the Germans were sinking everything in sight, including merchant ships. That's why we were sent out there, to protect the merchant ships. Germany had a lot of subs."

The Japanese sub that ventured north was carrying a load of rubber to deliver to Germany, Hardy said.

"Part of our job was to fish things out of the water for evidence that the sub was hit," Hardy said.

The enemy knew that debris were being looked for, so to make it look like they had been hit when they were actually moving along unscathed, the Germans and Japanese would "shoot things up in the water" for the Americans to find in hopes they would believe the sub had been destroyed and move on.

"They'd make it look like they were hit," Hardy said "They were tricky."

One day, as the ship was tracking a sub, Hardy was getting the torpedo tubes into position as the ship rolled, and his wedding ring caught on a bolt, tearing off the ring finger of his left hand. Since only a medic was on board the ship, he was taken to a hospital in Bermuda to recuperate. That injury ended Hardy's torpedo days.

After a short leave at home, Hardy was sent to the Philippines to serve at a Navy supply center. There, Hardy and the other servicemen slept in tents on the island in a wooded area.

"The Japanese were above us, and we could hear them still shooting, but we didn't have any involvement," Hardy said. "They were being driven back (by the Allies)."

Hardy contracted malaria while he was in the Philippines. He served just two months short of three years in the Navy.

The Myerstown lad who became a Navy torpedo man was discharged on Dec. 4, 1945. As a civilian, he returned to printing, and managed Boyer Printing for many years.

"I'm not a hero; I'm just a guy who did a job," Hardy said. "It was a great experience — but only for the young!"

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