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Interview with George Adkison [6/8/2004]

Michael Willie:

Today is Tuesday, June 8, 2004, and this is the beginning of an interview with George William Adkison, at the Erlanger Health Links West office, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mr. Adkison was born on August 27, 1927, and is now 76 years old. My name is Michael Willie, and I will conduct this interview. Mr. Adkison, could you state for the recording your name and its spelling, please.

George Adkison:

George William Adkison, A-D-K-I-S-O-N.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And during which war did you serve, Mr. Adkison?

George Adkison:

World War 2.

Michael Willie:

And in which branch of the service?

George Adkison:

Merchant Marine.

Michael Willie:

And what was your highest rank attained, sir?

George Adkison:

Quartermaster.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Where were you born, Mr. Adkison?

George Adkison:

Covington, Tennessee.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And explain where Covington is.

George Adkison:

It's the county seat of Tipton County. It's 39 miles from Memphis, north of Memphis.

Michael Willie:

All right. And tell us about your family. Did you have any brothers or sisters growing up?

George Adkison:

Yeah, I have one brother.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Older? Younger?

George Adkison:

He's seven years older than I am.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, you were born in Covington. Were you raised there, also; did you spend your formative years there?

George Adkison:

I spent the first 25 years there.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So that's pretty --

George Adkison:

(Laughter.)

Michael Willie:

What did your parents do; what did your dad do for a living?

George Adkison:

My dad was a farmer.

Michael Willie:

Okay. I guess that made you a farmer, too, then, didn't it?

George Adkison:

Well, not necessarily.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Did you graduate high school Mr. Adkison?

George Adkison:

Right, right.

Michael Willie:

Okay. What did you do after high school?

George Adkison:

I finished high school in May of 1945 --

Michael Willie:

Okay.

George Adkison:

-- and I went in the Merchant Marine in June.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, was your brother in the service at that time?

George Adkison:

Yes, he was. He was inducted in 1942. He spent 20 years --

Michael Willie:

Wow.

George Adkison:

-- in the service

Michael Willie:

All right. In the Army?

George Adkison:

In the Air Force.

Michael Willie:

In the Air Force. The Air Corps, I guess.

George Adkison:

The Air Corps.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, what made you decide to want to join the Merchant Marine?

George Adkison:

Well, at the time I finished high school, I just -- I'd heard -- The Merchant Marine were recruiting a lot of people at that time, and I had heard that you didn't have to do a whole lot of basic training.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But I was wrong. (Laughter.) And that you would ship out pretty soon.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right.

George Adkison:

And so I applied, and was sent to Birmingham -- was called to Birmingham, Alabama, for a physical.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And so I rode the bus to Birmingham --

Michael Willie:

Okay. Let me ask you something real quick, before I go on. What did your parents feel about you going in? Now, your older brother was already in.

George Adkison:

Right.

Michael Willie:

And regardless of whether you think it's going to be a lot of work or whatever, it's still dangerous; right? I mean, there's still ships being shot, you know, being taken down.

George Adkison:

Why certainly. The war in Japan was not over. In fact, it had just had VE Day in May of 1945.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. And everybody's kind of bracing for a big, big, big --

George Adkison:

Big thing to go in Japan. And of course my parents had to sign for me. But they figured that by August of my birthday -- I was just 17, but by August, that I would probably be inducted into the service anyway.

Michael Willie:

Uh, huh.

George Adkison:

And possibly I wouldn't even -- It might have been Christmas that year before I would have been inducted. I don't know.

Michael Willie:

That's right. And you wouldn't have your choice, either; right?

George Adkison:

I wouldn't have my choice; right, right.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So I guess it's a pretty easy decision at that time.

George Adkison:

Well, it was. I didn't think I was going to go as quick as I did. When I got to Birmingham, they gave me this physical and they said go home and be back in two days to be shipped somewhere.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

George Adkison:

To one of the training centers.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

And so another fellow from Memphis there, and I, said, "Man, by the time we get home, it's time to come back." So they said, "Well, we got some shipping out today." So we got on the train that night and was in New York the next morning.

Michael Willie:

Wow.

George Adkison:

At Sheep's Head Bay, New York.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned. All right. Where is Sheep's Head Bay, now? Is that --

George Adkison:

That's on one of the islands. I don't know. I guess -- I don't know whether it's Long Island or not.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, had you been away from home to this extent --

George Adkison:

No.

Michael Willie:

-- before?

George Adkison:

No.

Michael Willie:

Well, this is almost like an adventure for you; right?

George Adkison:

Right. Right

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, you said there was another fella there from Memphis. I guess you guys probably hung around, I mean, for just --

George Adkison:

Well, no, he was put in a different division than I was, and I don't know whether I even saw him again.

Michael Willie:

Okay. But as far as getting out there, at least you had somebody to talk to; right?

George Adkison:

Well, it happened to be that -- Of course, I didn't know him at that time, but from right here in Chattanooga.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned. And, unfortunately, he passed away about a year, year and a half ago. But we bunked. My name was Adkison, and his was Barker, and we were on the bunks together. I think he was on the bunk above me, and I was in the middle bunk. There was three bunks in the training. And we became friends, being close there, and actually, we shipped out on two ships together.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned. Okay. Now, you go to Sheep's Head Bay? Is that what you said?

George Adkison:

Yeah. Sheep's Head Bay, New York, was a training base.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, what are you actually doing at the training center? What kind of training are you getting?

George Adkison:

Well, we got, as I say, a lot of calisthenics, and obstacle courses, and climbing ropes, and swimming. And they taught us how to survive in water, you know, if the ship went down.

Michael Willie:

Were you a pretty good swimmer at that time?

George Adkison:

Yeah, I was a pretty good swimmer. But, you know, being a swimmer, you give out in a little while, and they showed you that you take your dungarees -- we wore dungarees -- and get them wet, and tie knots in each one of the legs, pull them over your head to get air in it, and pull it, and then you would float.

Michael Willie:

Really?

George Adkison:

Yes.

Michael Willie:

Isn't that something. I never heard of that.

George Adkison:

That's what you did.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned.

George Adkison:

And, of course, we had -- On the ships there were armed guards from the Navy, but we were trained in anti-aircraft, too. We had 30 hours of training in that anti-aircraft.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now let me ask you this: At that time, the Merchant Marine isn't actually considered a branch of the service; right?

George Adkison:

That's right.

Michael Willie:

But you're still getting training, just like you are a branch of the service.

George Adkison:

That's right. That's right.

Michael Willie:

That just doesn't figure.

George Adkison:

Yup.

Michael Willie:

I mean, it took a long time.

George Adkison:

Took us 52 years before I was considered a veteran.

Michael Willie:

Right. Which, you know, I mean, you think about it, it's more than just a peace of mind, it's also a lot of benefits and things like that, that --

George Adkison:

Well, of course, we were too old by that time for, really, the GI Bill. Fortunately, I can be buried in the national cemetery.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And presently, I can get my medicine through the VA.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

And so that is the two benefits. But as far as going to school, I was too old. All of us was over 75 years old by the time we got these benefits.

Michael Willie:

That's right. And I mean, you're risking your life just as much as anybody else.

George Adkison:

Right.

Michael Willie:

But let's get on past that. So how long does the training actually last?

George Adkison:

Well, I was there from June the 25th until about the -- about the 17th -- no, about the 19th of August, right after VJ Day.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

George Adkison:

So August the 15th was what they considered VJ Day.

Michael Willie:

All right. Okay. So you finish your training, and then you ship out.

George Adkison:

Well, got on the train again, out from New York, and went to New Orleans. I believe it was Bay St. Louis was the name of the place, just out of New Orleans.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And, boy, was it hot. And we were in this camp. And then they shipped some of us out to different places, but they shipped us, me and this friend of mine, over to -- not Pensacola, but -- oh, what's the resort town there near Pensacola? Panama City.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

George Adkison:

There was a shipyard there, called Wainwright Shipyard, and this was the last ship that they built at Wainwright Shipyard. And Wainwright was named after General Wainwright. And we took the ship over to New Orleans. In fact, I got off the ship there in New Orleans, and registered for the draft.

Michael Willie:

Really?

George Adkison:

Yeah. And the little lady asked me, said, "Well, why wasn't you here earlier than your" -- My birthday was August 27th, and this was September the 1st. And I said, "Well, I was out there in the Gulf on a ship, was the reason I couldn't register any earlier." Of course, my -- that was shipped back to my hometown, you know, for draft purposes.

Michael Willie:

Right. Right.

George Adkison:

And when I was called up, I was in France. (Laughter.)

Michael Willie:

All right. So you're on the Wainwright, and what do you guys have --

George Adkison:

No, that was the shipyard.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Okay.

George Adkison:

The ship was called the SS Charles H. Cugle.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, at this point, is the war over in Japan, or is it -- are they still bracing for it?

George Adkison:

Supposedly, the war was over in Japan, but --

Michael Willie:

So --

George Adkison:

But -- but -- as you well know, the Japanese didn't have cell phones, and a lot of the Japanese on the islands was still fighting on.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And as far as the seas were concerned, the oceans -- like we were in the Mediterranean, and in the English Channel, and off the coast of Spain and France and so forth, and it was floating mines still floating, that had broken away from the moorings.

Michael Willie:

Right. Right.

George Adkison:

And in fact, the Merchant Marine had, after August the 15th of 1945, between then and December the 31st of 1946, ten ships were sunk.

Michael Willie:

Yeah.

George Adkison:

And 13 others were damaged by mines.

Michael Willie:

Right. And --

George Adkison:

So just because they said the war was over on August the 15th of 1945, was not so.

Michael Willie:

And that's not even accounting for accidents and for weapons; right?

George Adkison:

Right. Right

Michael Willie:

You've got more on top of that.

George Adkison:

Right.

Michael Willie:

It makes it no less... But as far as the war was concerned, they had had VJ Day, and then you were at -- When you went into New Orleans on -- was it the Cugle? Cougar?

George Adkison:

Cugle, C-U-G-L-E.

Michael Willie:

C-U-G-L-E. Okay.

George Adkison:

That was named the after some -- All the ships, liberty ships, or most of the ships, were named after a person, most of them were.

Michael Willie:

Right, right. Pretty much somebody who died; correct?

George Adkison:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

So where do you go from New Orleans, then?

George Adkison:

All right. From New Orleans we were told that we were gonna load up with airplane parts to go to Japan.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But we went up the coast to Norfolk, Virginia, and carried that brand new ship and tied it up.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Let me ask you this, though: Once you actually get out -- When you load on the Cugle, was this the first time that you had actually been on the sea before? Did you have any trouble with seasickness?

George Adkison:

No, I didn't. But, boy, some of them did.

Michael Willie:

I've heard nightmares, where people wanted to die.

George Adkison:

I know one fella on there was near my hometown, he was from Brownsville, Tennessee. He's passed on now, I understand, too. But he got so seasick, just on the six days going up the coast, that when he got up there, he got off and went home and joined the Army. (Laughter.)

Michael Willie:

Yeah. People have told me, they said when they first got seasick, they were afraid they were gonna die; then after a couple of days, they were afraid weren't gonna die.

George Adkison:

That's it.

Michael Willie:

All right. So instead of heading out to Japan, then, you go up the coast, you go back up to Norfolk.

George Adkison:

Right.

Michael Willie:

Just tied it up?

George Adkison:

Tied that ship up. We called it the boneyard, up the river there in Norfolk, or -- I don't know what that town is. Chesapeake Bay or whatever.

Michael Willie:

Right. Right.

George Adkison:

Yeah. And then I went home for a few days.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And this friend of mine that was on the ship, Barker, that lived here, we decided to meet in Mobile, Alabama, in a certain -- a week after we were home or something.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And so we met in Mobile, and got on another ship in Mobile.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, how long do you have? When you get off, how long do you have to get --

George Adkison:

Well, we weren't like the Army or Navy or anything. We were on our own.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

See, a lot of people said that the Merchant Marine got a lot more pay than the Army or the Navy did. Of course, when we were in basic training, we got 50 dollars a month, is what we got. But on the ship, we were paid more.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And then we did -- If we were in minefield waters, we got some extra pay for being in harm's way.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But a lot of people thought that the Merchant Marine got all this much more pay, but when we went on furlough, we paid our own way, we paid our own meals.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

If we were in port waiting on a ship, we had to stay in a -- it wasn't motels in those days, it was hotels. I'd stay in the YMCA until I got a ship or something like that. But we had to pay our own ways. And that's where a lot of these service people thought we were, in the other service, thought, well, we had it too easy, you know, and we were getting this better pay. But we were having to pay for our own -- We didn't have any fringe benefits.

Michael Willie:

Right. Right. Well, it all fits in with that same theme, that not being registered as a service.

George Adkison:

Right. Right.

Michael Willie:

And I think part of it, too, was they said your food was better.

George Adkison:

Oh, yeah, we had good food. Now, I have to admit this. We had a refrigerator there, and I was in the deck department, and you'd be on the different watches, you know. You was on four, off eight, on four, off eight.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And I liked the four-to-eight shift most, but I was on all of them. I was on twelve-to-four and different ones.

Michael Willie:

Right. Right. Because you basically take your turn; right?

George Adkison:

Yeah, right.

Michael Willie:

All right. So where's the first place you actually get to? From Mobile, where do you go?

George Adkison:

On that particular ship, we -- it was a tanker, and we went to -- it's down in Texas. I'll be doggoned...

Michael Willie:

I don't remember. Somewhere.

George Adkison:

Well, anyway --

Michael Willie:

Corpus Christie.

George Adkison:

Corpus Christie. We went to Corpus Christie, Texas, and loaded with gasoline.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

George Adkison:

And they said it was fuel for airplanes, is what they said. And we took it to Cherbourg, France.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, how do you feel about being basically a floating explosive?

George Adkison:

Well, if you hit one of those mines, you could understand what would happen.

Michael Willie:

Right. I mean, was there any -- Did that make you nervous, or did you --

George Adkison:

I was a kid. I didn't think nothing about it. (Laughter.)

Michael Willie:

And did you say you loaded on there with your buddy Barker then?

George Adkison:

Yeah, mm-hmm.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And that's nice.

George Adkison:

Yeah, yeah.

Michael Willie:

That kind of helps it out. So what did you guys do? You're basically working four hours --

George Adkison:

We were in the deck department, of course, and I said we went to -- I forget the name of the other town, but it was on the east -- the west coast of France that we took the other half of the load. We just unloaded part of the ship at Cherbourg, and then we went down the coast to -- I don't remember the town -- and left the other part of the gasoline.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, when you actually get in, are you able to get out and check it out and look around, or are you just there long enough --

George Adkison:

Oh, yeah, we could go into town at night while they were unloading. But usually, with gasoline, they unloaded it pretty quick, you know. I can't remember, I think we were only there at each place one night, you know.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But I remember we went into town, because we got on the -- the town was torn all to pieces, Cherbourg was.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

George Adkison:

It was really torn up. And soldiers were still there. This was in -- let's see; I'm trying to think -- September -- I guess it was October of '45, and there was a lot of soldiers still there. In fact, we got on a jeep to ride on into town from out there. Those guys would just let us ride, you know. Of course, we wasn't in uniform; we was in our dungarees, usually, is about all we wore, you know, was dungarees.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

I recall even in October, it was cool over in France. It was cool.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm. Right. And I'm sure I had on my pea coat, is what they called it. We had uniforms about like the Navy, you know, the Coast Guard.

Michael Willie:

And then over in France, I mean, this is once again where the country boy going over to the -- I mean are you looking for souvenirs, looking for anything in particular, or are you just trying to see as much as you can?

George Adkison:

Well, no, on that trip. I made another trip to France.

Michael Willie:

Okay. A lot of people say when they went before, even people who were, you know, the ground troops, they said they didn't really appreciate everything that was around there until they got home.

George Adkison:

Oh, yeah, I should have. Should have gotten souvenirs and so forth, you know.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But as I say, Barker wasn't with me on this other trip, but I don't know whether you want me to go ahead and tell you this trip or not, but --

Michael Willie:

Sure. Sure.

George Adkison:

This particular trip was kind of odd. I got the ship in New Orleans, and this was in '46, and we went over to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and they loaded -- It was a liberty ship, and they loaded it with coal. Now, why coal in Lake Charles, Louisiana, I don't know. But it was a train, and they unloaded it with drag lines out of the train. Took nine days to load that ship, night and day. Night and day. Oh, it was hot on that ship, the mosquitoes was bad. So we left, and I didn't know where we were going at first, but they said we were going to Italy. Well, we got out in the Gulf, and had just gone through the Keys, and spontaneous combustion started in that coal.

Michael Willie:

Really?

George Adkison:

Right. So we had to batten down the hatches, just cut off all the air to the coal. Well, of course, it was smoldering down there and creating heat. So we had to -- we had like fire hoses, and was pumping water out of the ocean, and we constantly, for 24 hours a day, had to keep water on the deck to keep it from buckling or something.

Michael Willie:

Man.

George Adkison:

And to top it all off, we got out over halfway, and one of the engines, or one of -- went out, one of the boilers went out. By the way, a lot of those boilers on those ships were made right here in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Michael Willie:

Really?

George Adkison:

At Combustion.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned.

George Adkison:

Combustion made a lot of boilers for the Merchant Marine, for the merchant ships. A lot, most of them, were made right here in Chattanooga.

Michael Willie:

I hadn't heard that.

George Adkison:

You hadn't heard that before. But they made worlds and worlds of them, for the liberty ships especially, and the other ships, too.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned.

George Adkison:

Anyway, we had to pull into the Azores, the islands of Azores, and we still had to keep the water on the deck. That's all we did, day and night, keep that water on those decks. And they fixed the boiler there in the Azores. I don't know, we were there two or three days. I can't remember the number of days. Then we took it on to Italy, and I cannot remember the name of the town. They said it was twelve miles from the Swiss border. It was up in the northern, northwestern part of Italy.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And, you know, the Germans had built big things there. As I told you, they took nine days to load it with drag lines. This thing would go out on runners and drop down a big bucket and pick that coal out of the holes. In 24 hours, they unloaded what took nine days to load. And, of course, that coal was smoldering, but they took care of it some way, I know. And that particular trip was kind of odd. It was a -- The carpenter on the ship, he had intentions of marrying a girl there in Italy. So he loaded up with a lot of cigarettes -- you know, you'd get big money for cigarettes back in those days, especially lire, and francs in France, and lire in Italy, and all these commodities you could get big bucks for on the black market. And, boy, he had a ton of money, and he told me, he said that he was going to go marry this girl, or go see her --

Michael Willie:

How long had he known her?

George Adkison:

Evidently, he had been there before.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

George Adkison:

Evidently, he had. He lived in California.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

Well, he had some, well, amateur radio equipment, and he told me, he said, "I'll box this up, and when you get back to the States, will you send it collect to my brother in California?" And he jumped ship there in Italy. And one of the guys in my watch got sick, and the boatswain on the trip there, he and the first mate got into an argument or a fight or something, and the boatswain, as we were leaving the port, now, he actually took a line and swung ashore and stayed there. Crazy. It was crazy. Well, to tell you about this guy that married the girl, I mean, that got off to marry the girl, when I got back, well, I did mail this, and I got a letter from his brother, later on. This was probably after I got out or something. But I did get a letter from the brother, and it said that his brother had married this girl in Italy; that she had gotten passage to the United States, and he stowed away on another ship and got back to the United States, and they were living in California.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned. That's something.

George Adkison:

And this seaman, he was an elderly man, lived in New York, that was on the watch with me, that got sick. But when we left Italy, we stopped at the Rock of Gibraltar to let him off, and we came out. You know, later I got a letter from him, and he was back in New York, and he said, "The Limeys like to starve me to death while I was on the Rock." That's what they called the Englishmen, you know. And that particular ship, as I was talking about, we took it down to Morocco; Sofa, Morocco. It looked like sand they were putting in that ship, but it was really phosphate, they said. So we took that load of phosphate up to France, and we took it to Ruan. You had to go through Le Havre and down to Ruan. Me and another fella on the ship, we took off early one morning and got on a train and went into Paris. We spent the day in Paris.

Michael Willie:

Really.

George Adkison:

And of course I didn't have a camera, but I did get some photographs and so forth. We just visited the Eiffel Tower. The -- By the way, the train going into Paris -- This was in '46; we would still go over these bridges and so forth, and the bridges had been bombed during -- mostly by the Americans, the bridges, and they would barely go across. They had fixed them up, but you could just barely go across. But you get into Paris, Paris was not bombed at all.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

And we spent the day. As I say, we went to the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and Eiffel Tower, and all these places. And Paris had more -- By the way, we passed a plant on the way into Paris, just outside Paris from Ruan, a Ford plant. I mean, it was Ford -- had big signs, Ford -- was manufacturing cars there in Paris.

Michael Willie:

Boy.

George Adkison:

Okay.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So you're in Paris now. You've probably got some money. I mean, at that time, do you hold your money or do they hold your money before you get off and...

George Adkison:

Well, as I said, I didn't smoke, and we could buy a carton of cigarettes for 60 cents.

Michael Willie:

Wow.

George Adkison:

On the ship.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And you could have two cartons a week, so I built up quite a few cartons of cigarettes, and when I got over there, man, I had a bunch of money. I mean, when you sold them on the black market. It was -- There was people that would come on your ship as soon as you got on dock, and most of them were in robes like priests. I don't know whether they were or not, but they were the ones that was buying the cigarettes.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. From you they get a better deal; right?

George Adkison:

I don't know. Anyway, this fella and I rode all over Paris in that taxi, from every one of the points in a taxi, and it didn't cost hardly anything. I mean, we had a bunch of money.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. What were the French people like? Were they gracious to the Americans?

George Adkison:

Well, the ones I met were friendly and all, at that time. You know, I -- I'll get to Brest. But anyway, we rode the train back, and then we took the rest of that load over to -- of phosphate over to Brest, France. Now, Brest was torn all to pieces. And even in '46, there just hardly wasn't anything left in Brest. And I went to a dance there one night in Brest, and it -- the people were all friendly, you know. Of course, I couldn't speak any French or anything.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

Some of the girls could. Could speak English.

Michael Willie:

Well, I imagine you were probably pretty popular. I mean, you've got a little bit of money, got a little pocket money, an American over there.

George Adkison:

Yeah. I remember going to that dance, and they played Sentimental Journey. They played a lot of American songs that were popular at that time, the orchestras did.

Michael Willie:

Did Sentimental Journey make you want to go home?

George Adkison:

Well, it led to being sentimental, you know.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But that was quite a trip, that particular trip, anyway.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, when you sign on with the -- when you sign on with the Merchant Marine, is this basically you were in as long as you want to be in, or how does that work?

George Adkison:

Well, yes. If you stayed home too long or something, you could be drafted.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

The only reason, really, that I got out, I believe it was on my birthday I signed off of the ship in August 27th of 19-- It was that particular ship, I guess, of 1946, and I went home, and then I went back to Mobile, was going to catch a ship. Well, when I got in port at Norfolk again, with that particular ship we had carried that coal to Italy, they were having a strike. I don't know whether it was just a longshoremen. It could have been just the longshoremen that was having the strike, but the Merchant Marines wouldn't cross their lines, you know. But anyway, I went home and stayed two weeks, and I went back to New Orleans -- I mean to Mobile, and went to the union hall to get a ship, and they said, "Well, where were you during the strike?" I said, "I went home." I said, "I couldn't afford to stay and pay while the strike was going on," you know.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

So, "We're having a meeting tonight. You'll probably get fined or something like that." And I said, "Well, I don't have to take this," so I went home. (Laughter.) And, of course, you know, when the Korean War came on, we had to all reregister again.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And a bunch of the guys that had been in the Merchant Marine, as you well know, were drafted.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And I would have been.

Michael Willie:

Right. I mean, no service record; right?

George Adkison:

We had a certificate that said -- In fact, I got a copy of it right here -- "Substantial service." And it gave the time you went in and through the time you resigned or left. And it said, "Substantial service." But that didn't mean anything.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

Didn't mean a thing.

Michael Willie:

Right. It was just a piece of paper.

George Adkison:

And as I say, of course, I got married in 1947, and my first child was born in 1948, and I can't remember, I don't know whether it was '49 or '50 we had to re-register. And they put me in 4A, not 1A but 4A, because I was married and had a child, or I would have been drafted. But a lot of the guys that served in the Merchant Marine, served years in the Merchant Marine, and got out, during the Korean War they were drafted into -- A lot of them, lot of them

Michael Willie:

Right. Now, let's go back to the time when you were actually -- when you were a short time in Ruan, and still in the Merchant Marine. You said you'd be four hours on and eight hours off. What did you do in your free time there? Did they have activities? Was there recreation or things?

George Adkison:

Well, if you were on a certain shift, like if you were on the on the 4-to-8 watch, that morning, after you got off of watch at 8:00, you would go on deck duty, scraping paint, or painting, or doing something like that. I was in the deck department. And so you did some chores during the day. And, of course, you'd go back on at 8 -- 4 in the afternoon, and go till 8, and then you go to bed, of course, because you had to get up at 4.

Michael Willie:

Right. No kidding.

George Adkison:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

And you talked earlier about the food, too.

George Adkison:

Oh, it was good food.

Michael Willie:

Are you getting fresh vegetables? Are you getting milk and ice cream and stuff?

George Adkison:

Well, they would freeze the milk. You know, it was in cartons, and it would be frozen. But they'd thaw it out, you know. Yeah, we'd get milk, and had coffee and cold cuts, and... See, in the Merchant Marine you had mess men and cooks. Mess men. You had the deck department, the mess department, and the engine room department. And the mess men would take your order. You'd have a menu. You'd have --

Michael Willie:

Did you get good service?

George Adkison:

Yeah, man, you got good service. I'm telling you, that's one good thing about it. And, of course, when they'd get to a port and get some fresh vegetables or some fresh fruit, too, like in Italy, they would put on fresh fruit.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And, of course, the meat had always been frozen and everything. But we did have good food. That's one thing.

Michael Willie:

Now, was there any particular place or places you visited that you thought, once you got out, you would want to go back and visit?

George Adkison:

Well, I would probably have liked to have gone back to France. You know, just to visit. And Italy, too, yeah. Now, Morocco, I didn't care about going back to that hot place. You know, I didn't care about that. But of course, I was on the coastline ship, too. We was carrying -- it was a tanker, and we carried oil or gasoline to Baltimore, New York. I'm trying to think of where we filled that ship up with gasoline somewhere down in... I don't know whether that was at... That might have been at the Lake Charles. No. I can't remember all the... It was a coast-wise ship. And on that particular one, I was quartermaster on it, and the quartermaster steered the ship.

Michael Willie:

Right. Not like in the Army.

George Adkison:

No. You were helmsman, I guess you'd call them. Same thing.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And I know I was on the wheel, taking that particular ship up the -- I believe it was the James River there in Mobile, and we tied it up. We called it the bone yard for these ships. This was in '46. And I stayed on that ship, just me and one other guy, and a purser and the captain. I never did see the captain. He stayed in town, I guess. I don't know where he stayed. And we would go down and get mail. And we tied up to another ship, but we didn't have any power on our ship, but we could eat on the other ship. Because it was summertime, we'd sleep on our ship, and we'd go over there and bathe and everything on the other ship.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And I know I was on that wheel for a long -- all the time. And we did run aground, but this pilot -- Of course, you always had a pilot in ports, to take your ships in, you know. In and out. You had -- the pilots would come aboard. And I know we ran aground. It was a tight fit going up that. You know, ____+ And boy that thing would shake. And them guys in the engine department said, "What in the world was happening up there?" Said, "Y'all worked us to death going forward and backwards." (Laughter.) I know the pilot told me, he said, "You're doing a good job." He said, "This is just tough to go up this river here."

Michael Willie:

Right. And that's -- And working after that; I mean, that's pretty good training. I mean, is there any thought you might want to go into the Navy from that point, with that kind of training?

George Adkison:

No, I didn't think about going into the Navy. As I said, if it wouldn't have been for that strike going on and everything, I would have probably gone back to the Merchant Marine, sailed again. And then I had some thoughts about going into officer's training or something like that, or -- In fact, a captain gave me a -- wrote me a letter to go take my AB license, get my able bodied seaman's license. I took it over in Mobile, I took it over to the Coast Guard there, the letter of recommendation, and they said, "You're too young."

Michael Willie:

Well, that stinks.

George Adkison:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Well, I was going to say, it was during that time, they're really lowering all the people, they're getting rid of all the people around --

George Adkison:

Yeah. Well, now, shortly after that, of course, everything was going on in Japan, you know. The -- And it was a lot of troop movements and such as that. A lot of the guys got on troop ships, carrying troops back and forth. Because the occupation of Japan was new people that had been drafted. Men had been going in late '45 and '46 --

Michael Willie:

Those were occupation forces.

George Adkison:

Those were occupation forces.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And supplies. And actually, there was a lot of them still in the Merchant Marine at that time, and it was pretty busy. Because a lot of the older ones had gotten out, you know.

Michael Willie:

Right. Right. So although, with a twist of luck, as it were, you ended up getting out, I mean, is it basically you don't look back after that, or did you regret it?

George Adkison:

No, I didn't regret it. As I say, I got out in '46, I got married in '47.

Michael Willie:

What did you end up doing after you got out?

George Adkison:

I had worked at a dry-cleaner there, during high school.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And --

Michael Willie:

Is that in Covington?

George Adkison:

Uh-huh, in Covington. And the man that I had worked for, that had owned it, had sold it to an Air Force pilot. The man that bought it was a pilot on a P-38, those double -- You got one up there? Yeah. He was a pilot on one of those, and he had gotten out of the service, and he had bought this place, and, of course, his mother and my mother had worked together, and, of course, he knew I had worked at the cleaner, so I went back to work there at the cleaner.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But shortly after that, I went to work at a restaurant. It was a drive-in, and the man that owned it built me a house right beside it, to look after the restaurant and all, and my child was born there.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

George Adkison:

By the way, that child, my first son, served in Vietnam. He spent 18 and a half -- I mean 13 and a half months in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he's passed away now, but not from -- I don't think it was from Vietnam. He had muscular dystrophy. He got married after he come back, worked at Combustion, had two children, and he come down with muscular dystrophy, and he passed away in '94 -- I mean '95. My wife passed away in '94, and he passed away in '95. But he spent 13 and a half months over in Vietnam, and I was real proud of him.

Michael Willie:

And that's got to be tough to let him go; right?

George Adkison:

Yeah. Of course, I have -- he had two daughters, and they, the oldest daughter had two sons, so I have two great-grandsons. And my second daughter -- or granddaughter, she's expecting her second granddaughter, so I'll have two great-grandsons and two great-granddaughters. And my other son, which was younger -- In fact, I was down at Furman this weekend. She graduated from Furman, my granddaughter, got a B.A. degree down there Saturday night, at Greenville, South Carolina.

Michael Willie:

South Carolina.

George Adkison:

Yeah, mm-hmm.

Michael Willie:

Are you close enough, then, to where you can see your family?

George Adkison:

Oh, yeah. I see my -- My son lives in Kennesaw, Georgia, he's a professional engineer, and I saw them. In fact, I spent the night Saturday night with him in Kennesaw, and my grandson was there. My grandson goes to Lee University up here, and he's a junior, I guess -- No, he's a senior this next year, at Lee University. He just turned 21.

Michael Willie:

I'll be darned.

George Adkison:

Well, how did you end up in Chattanooga?

George Adkison:

I went into the automotive sales, part sales. I was with the Gates Rubber Company first, and then I was with Monroe shock absorbers, manufacturers. I traveled. I got -- With Gates, they transferred me to Little Rock, Arkansas, and that's how I got in Little Rock. I spent 13 and a half years in Little Rock. And then I went with -- after Gates, I was with the Monroe Auto Equipment Company, which was Monroe shock absorbers. And then I was with the Hastings Manufacturing Company; they manufactured piston rings, and they had a product for engines of cars, called Casite. And I was with them, and then I went with... Let's see, what was the name of that company? I got it on the tip of my tongue. Anyway, they sold piston rings and engine parts, and they transferred me here to Chattanooga, and that's how I got here.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, did you have a list? Did you have names or phone numbers of anybody that you were keeping in contact with over the years, people that you were in the Merchant Marine with?

George Adkison:

The only one that -- I didn't; I really didn't. Just like I got that letter from this guy, I believe his last name was Schultz, from California, that married the girl. He wrote me a letter after he got back. But I, you know, just didn't keep in touch with them. The only one that, when I moved here to Chattanooga, I tried to look up Barker, and I found him in the phonebook, and we got together, and...

Michael Willie:

What about any reunions? Did you ever go to the Merchant Marine reunions or hear about any of those?

George Adkison:

No. No. In fact, we didn't hear anything about the Merchant Marine until after 1988.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

When they finally --

Michael Willie:

Recognized them.

George Adkison:

-- gave some recognition

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

And, see, we were fought by -- I don't know why the other service veterans fought us so bad, but they lobbied in Congress against us and everything. And the first thing that got things started that people were civilians, supposedly civilians, and should have been recognized as, was the WASP, the Women's Air Service. I believe it was in 1977 that they got Barry Goldwater as a champion for them, to sponsor them. It wasn't but a little over a thousand, about eleven hundred, or maybe eleven hundred and something, close to twelve hundred, WASPs. But these ladies ferried B17s, B25s and B-26s across the ocean, to relieve where the pilots were bombing -- This was in '44 -- '43 and '44, where these leads were trained down in Texas. But they were just called civilians; they were called WASPs. Now, WAVEs and WACs were part of the service, but the WASPs were not. Well, in 1977, they got veterans' status.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

But it was turned over to the Secretary of the Air Force. Anybody had to make applications through him. Well, a lot of the Air Force-related things got to status, no matter what.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

But the Merchant Marine, when we applied, well, they wanted to say, "Well, you didn't have military training. You weren't trained in weaponry." But we -- I can show you I got a certificate that I had 30 hours.

Michael Willie:

I fully inspected it. You had to, to shoot.

George Adkison:

That's right. And a bunch of them did. A bunch of them had to take over. Maybe the armed guard got shot, were out of action.

Michael Willie:

From what I understand, I've talked to a lot of people saying they were right there, feeding ammunition.

George Adkison:

That's right. That's right. And so, anyway, in '88 -- But, see, they stopped the thing as of August the 15th of -- Well, the -- We had to go to court in order to get the '88 deal, to prove that we were trained in weaponry. But the Secretary of the Air Force said, well, we're gonna cut the date off as August of 15th of 1945 for Merchant Marine. Even though I was in before August the 15th, that didn't count. You had to have a discharge from a merchant ship dated before that date. And we had thousands and thousands of men. Sheep's Head Bay was not the only place. It was a place in California and it was a place in Florida that was training.

Michael Willie:

Mm-hmm.

George Adkison:

So we had thousands and thousands. It was a 14 -- And President Truman had declared December the 31st, 1946, as the end of the war, not August the 15th.

Michael Willie:

Right.

George Adkison:

And all the other servicemen -- because there was a lot of servicemen that went in after, were drafted even after August the 15th, in the Army and Navy, and they were considered World War II veterans.

Michael Willie:

Right. Right.

George Adkison:

So it was 1998 before the Fairness Bill was passed by Congress, extending the date to December the 31st of 1946. And so it was 1999 before a lot of us got our discharges and our DD-214s.

Michael Willie:

Little consolation, that late, but...

George Adkison:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Michael Willie:

Now, is there anything else you'd like to talk about, that we didn't cover in the interview?

George Adkison:

No, I don't think so.

Michael Willie:

Anything else you can think of?

George Adkison:

No, that's it

Michael Willie:

I want to thank you for taking the time to come down here.

George Adkison:

Thank you.

Michael Willie:

You did a great job.

George Adkison:

Thank you.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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