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Interview with Augustus Prince [10/20/2004]

Judith Kent:

Today is October 20, 2004. This is Judith Kent speaking from the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast, Florida. Joining me today is Augustus Prince, who was born on [birth date redacted].

Augustus Prince:

January 11.

Judith Kent:

Mr. Prince now resides in Palm Coast Florida and our cameraman today is Dr. William Kent.

Augustus Prince:

It was January 11, 1924.

Judith Kent:

Eleventh? Thank you. Change that. Welcome to the Library of Congress Veteran’s History Project. Thank you for sharing your story.

Augustus Prince:

Well, thank you for inviting me.

Judith Kent:

Okay. Would you tell us the branch of the military--

Augustus Prince:

Yes.

Judith Kent:

--in which you served?

Augustus Prince:

I was in the US Navy USS Santee CVE-29. It’s a carrier escort...

Judith Kent:

And during what period was that?

Augustus Prince:

Let’s see... it was 1944-- 18 months-- to 1945.

Judith Kent:

Okay.

Augustus Prince:

The specific month I...

Judith Kent:

No, that’s ok. And your rank?

Augustus Prince:

Radarman, second class officer.

Judith Kent:

Okay.

Augustus Prince:

Petty officer.

Judith Kent:

All right. Let’s go back to the beginning now. Tell us about your family of origin.

Augustus Prince:

Well, I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My father, Augustus Prince, mother, Jeanette Prince. I have- I had- two brothers. One is deceased, Eugene and Walter, and we lived in Philadelphia practically until I graduated from high school then went into the service.

Judith Kent:

You hear a lot about family values these days. What were some family values that were stressed at home?

Augustus Prince:

Well, I guess it was-- I was from a single parent home and my mother stressed discipline, first of all, honesty, and also education. I still remember ___ times when I’d come home from school, and she would work two jobs to support my brother and I, and she would ask 'have you finished your homework?’ Now, my mother only went to fourth grade, so she couldn’t help us with our homework. And, naturally, we would say yes because we wanted to get outside and go play; so she would say 'read the Bible.’ So, naturally, we did our homework and I think it paid off later on because I realized the importance of education and it certainly has helped me since then.

Judith Kent:

Okay. Were there subjects in school that you liked particularly?

Augustus Prince:

Math and science.

Judith Kent:

Okay. What was going on in your life just before you entered the service?

Augustus Prince:

I was working at Sun Ship yard in Chester, Pennsylvania, which is interesting because the ship I later served on was built at Sun Ship.

Judith Kent:

Oh, really?

Augustus Prince:

And, that’s another story, I guess. But at least that’s where I worked there after graduating from high school. I didn’t have enough money to go to college so I was going to work until I had enough funds to go to college, but in the interim, I went to the service.

Judith Kent:

Okay. And why the Navy?

Augustus Prince:

I think it was because my brother was in the Navy, to be honest with you. He went in ahead of me and I chose the Navy.

Judith Kent:

As an African American were there...

Augustus Prince:

When I went in there was still discrimination in the armed services and later on, just after I finished my basic training, I think it was President Truman opened up all areas in the Navy to minorities and I chose radar school, primarily because I was interested in electronics at the time-- anything which dealt with science and as it turned out, I was accepted to go to radar school. I was the first black radarman in the Navy and served on the carrier. So, I have some pictures and newspaper articles ___+.

Judith Kent:

Do you remember the first day you arrived at the ship?

Augustus Prince:

Yes. Maybe I should give you a little background.

Judith Kent:

Okay.

Augustus Prince:

In radar school, I was top in my class-- only black-- and I think there may have been 50, 60 radarrmen and the procedure was if anyone needed radarmen, any of the ships in the area needed radarmen, they would come to the radar school, naturally. And usually I was the one who was given the papers to go out, to take two or three other radarmen with me. And three times I went out and three times I was sent back because for some strange reason they had sent more 'quote’ than they needed. So, finally the last ship I went out, and subsequently served on, was the USS Santee CVE-29. And I’ll never forget Lieutenant Fergus, who was commander of the ship’s radar, I asked him-- I said 'if I serve on your ship, will I serve as a radarman?’ And he said 'you finish radar school, that’s where you’ll be.’ And I did...and I did very well.

Judith Kent:

Good for him, then. He had the courage--

Augustus Prince:

I have letters from his son...

Judith Kent:

Do you?

Augustus Prince:

That-- I finally located him and I’ll give them to you because he was the one that gave me the opportunity. I didn’t think I would be so emotional about this, but when I look back ___+

Judith Kent:

What a turning point.

Augustus Prince:

--he was very instrumental. And to give you a little more background; one of the ships that I was denied the chance to serve on was sunk two, three...about three months later. I’m not gloating about that--

Judith Kent:

No, no.

Augustus Prince:

--but the point ___ that somehow, maybe it was someone looking out for me. So, that’s what I did. I served as the radarman and I was on my watches I usually was the one that was in charge. And CVE-29 was one of four CVE ships. They were the Santee, my ship, the Chenango, the Suwannee and there was one other... I have it here...let’s see. Chenango, Sangamon, Santee and the Suwannee. There were only four CVEs since ___ converted oil tanker with just a flat top on it. We had one five-inch gun; well, we had two. But, we did very well as far as our fighting was concerned, got quite a few--

Judith Kent:

So, it wasn’t as hard, just some of the area--

Augustus Prince:

Oh, no it wasn’t, it was called a carrier escort--

Judith Kent:

I see.

Augustus Prince:

--it wasn’t one-- although we served with other, the bigger ones, like the, let’s see, Lexington-- I have them listed here... Enterprise, Princeton. They were all the biggies; we were the smaller ones...

Judith Kent:

So, where did you join the ship?

Augustus Prince:

In San Diego, Port Loma-- forget what date it was ___ and we left immediately for ___ Hawaii.

Judith Kent:

What was your first impression of the ship?

Augustus Prince:

I was very impressed; the thing I was concerned with was, at that time, since they didn’t have any...the only minority, blacks, were cooks and bakers and they all had to sleep in a segregated area and Lieutenant Fergus always said 'you sleep with the rest of the crew,’ which ___+ and I got along very well, in fact, I was sort of...how can I put it...admired, in many respects. I taught a lot of the other radarmen their algebra and geometry and what-not because I did have a little more education and it paid off because they began to respect me. Incidentally ___+, did I tell you I was Middleweight Champion of Task Force 58?

Judith Kent:

No.

Augustus Prince:

Boxing. That’s an aside. I couldn’t find some of the pictures; I have them somewhere, but it was interesting, because I always said 'well, I’m going to get out and I’m going to be a boxer,’ well, my mother took ___+.

Judith Kent:

No way.

Augustus Prince:

No, she came down to the-- I guess I’m getting off the path...

Judith Kent:

That’s okay.

Augustus Prince:

--she came to the gym one day when I was going to practice for ___ and she pulled me off by the ear. I was so embarrassed I never went back. That’s, of course, that also said that wasn’t for me. Later, I went to, you know...

Judith Kent:

So, athletics has always been a--

Augustus Prince:

Oh yeah, yeah. It’s still, yeah, yeah. But, not boxing.

Judith Kent:

No. So what was the first combat that your ship encountered?

Augustus Prince:

I think it was ___+? No, Okinawa. That was the big one. Okinawa. That was really big, in fact, that was the largest Navy encounter in World War II, anyway. I think one of seven naval casualties were at Okinawa. I remember first, before we got to Okinawa, we had to, I guess, take care of a few other places; like I think we went to Saipan and a few other...Guam-- and I was at sea three months without seeing land and that’s why today I said I don’t think I want to go on ocean water--

Judith Kent:

No cruises for you.

Augustus Prince:

--no cruises for me. I’ve seen enough water in my time. But Okinawa was the big one and there we encountered... kamikazes...lost a few men...

Judith Kent:

What would a typical day, if there is such a thing, be in combat for you?

Augustus Prince:

Well, a typical day would be, you had a watch and, usually was a four hour watch, four on and four off, and it varied. Usually during the watch, you were either what we called the ship’s... --anyway, we had what you called the CIC, that’s combat information center, that’s where you set in front of the radar screen and you would watch the radar go around and pick up any incoming enemy planes. Then you had the bridge watch, that’s what I would say, so then information that was sent from CIC up to the bridge, we could plot it so we would know exactly-- and we had a commanding officer, or whoever’s in charge, he could see exactly what was going on as far as whether we should scramble that aircraft to protect... so that was the main thing at Okinawa, I think, and we also later-- well, I guess I’m getting ahead of myself-- we stayed at Okinawa until we heard the fact that the... we were getting ready to go to Japan, that’s right--

Judith Kent:

For the invasion.

Augustus Prince:

--for the invasion of Japan and they had three units they called Federal One, Federal Two, and Federal Three; I think we were Federal Three which we were going to Northern Japan because they gave us all ___. And en route we heard that a bomb had been dropped; we were only 60 miles from Japan and we thought it was Tokyo Rose kidding, you know, because we used to get her and she would play some nice music like that, but then she said someone said a bomb had been dropped and it was at Hiroshima. We were only 60 miles away. So then we got orders just to circle. And then, I think we...-- a week later Nagasaki was hit and that’s when the war was declared over, but we still weren’t sure. So we stayed in the Sea of Japan maybe two or three weeks, I think, finally ___ go to Honshu, I think it was, to check, the planes went up to make sure. And we found out later that the Japanese had, I guess, all their planes ready, about four or five hundred suicide kamikazes ready, because they knew we were going to invade, of course the bomb made them change their mind, after that we sailed to Formosa, Taiwan to pick up Australian prisoners of war. And that’s what we did most of the time--

Judith Kent:

Bet they were glad to see you.

Augustus Prince:

Oh, yeah, you’re not kidding. They were really glad they were emaciated and their legs were bloated, they couldn’t even put on pants. But they were really glad to see us and I think we took them back to-- was it Guam or Pearl Harbor or ___+ anyway then we went back to pick up more, so that’s what we did most of the time after the war was over.

Judith Kent:

Did you have any shore leave during that period?

Augustus Prince:

Yeah, the Philippines...I have some pictures-- I went Guam, Saipan. I don’t think-- we didn’t get a chance to get off at Okinawa, some people did but I didn’t. In Japan, I didn’t get any leave in Japan, because there were two reasons; one, I think, was that they weren’t too sure at that time whether there would still be some people on the ___+ Saipan, that’s where they found that-- lot of Japanese didn’t even know the war was over; they were hiding in these caves... the war was over, but I didn’t get a chance to go to Japan. But Philippines, Guam, Okinawa; these were the South Pacific experiences I had.

Judith Kent:

Joined the Navy and saw the world.

Augustus Prince:

Yeah, well at least the South. And I can say I learned a lot, I grew up in the Navy. And I think the most important thing I learned was I’m as good as anybody. I owe that to Lieutenant Fergus. Even today, I still think... when he told me, he said 'you finish radar school and that’s what you are.’

Judith Kent:

You earned it. You got it.

Augustus Prince:

Yep.

 
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