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Interview with Paul Reffstrup [n.d.]

Gary Rhay:

Why don't you tell us where you are from and how you got into the Merchant Marine. That would be a good place to start.

Paul Reffstrup:

Okay. My name is Paul Reffstrup. That's R-E-F-F-S-T-R-U-P. Reffstrup. And, of course, I'm mostly being known as "Paul" because nobody bothers with the last name. So I was working in Copenhagen. And then one day I said, "Well, I will be going to -- I want to go to sea now." And I tried -- I mean, I was a machinist. I was a machinist journeyman at that time, and I had studied marine engineering on during my apprenticeship time and when I went to school. So I was ready for that, and I went and signed up. I didn't have official papers, engineering papers, but I -- they took us on as junior engineers. And so I left Denmark on a new ship in 1938. And the ship was brand new and the crew was -- a lot of the crew was brand new. And we took off from Denmark, and it took us 18 days to cross the Atlantic, which is a long time. But that was because everybody was careful with the brand-new ship. And we were empty and it was bobbing around.

It was rough weather. And, of course, I can tell you that there was one week that, my first week to sea, it's miss -- it got out of my memory totally because I have no idea what happened. I mean, I was seasick. And when you start in as a Merchant Marine and you are seasick, they say, "Keep going." So, you know, I kept going. And we had a lot of work to do. Because on the brand-new ship, I have likened it to -- I have seen some of the new schools. My son went to two new schools here, and they don't have any equipment in their right place, and they all got to be built up. And that was the case on this ship. All the stuff, the spare parts and things that we had, it was just in a pile. And we had to get it placed and fastened down and so on. So it was not the best time of a ship at all, but that's the way it was. So we got to the United States.

And I do not remember what town we went to first, but we were on the East Coast. And so we loaded -- well, that really takes us into that. We loaded up in New England. We loaded cotton, of all things. And why we loaded cotton in New England, I have no idea. And that was destined for -- I think for Africa. I'm not sure. But then we went from there to Texas City and loaded scrap iron. And so I'm one of the people who hauled the scrap iron for Japan, which we got back later in '41. You know, we got the scrap iron back. So I did that. I hauled two loads over there like that. And it was great experience for a young fellow to come aboard and sail. And the first six months I was out, I went clear around the world. And we were clear around. We went through the canal with the scrap iron and went to Japan. And from Japan to the Philippine Islands, and to India, and through the Red Sea and back to the United States in the first six months. It was a great experience.

You could not beat that kind of a trip. And one of the things we had in the cargo from India on the way back was black sand for Dupont, and that went to, I believe, Wilmington, Delaware. And then we also had 300 monkeys from India. Live. You know, and we kept -- we fed them. You know, they were in cages. And when we were -- I think they unloaded them in New York. I'm not sure. But they dropped the cage, and so one cage of monkeys got loose in the warehouse and run all over. And, of course, it got in the paper. And everybody came down to see the ship, you know, that Danish ship with the monkeys aboard. Well, the second trip -- I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I'm sure we go back to Japan now and again, because I was there an awful lot. See, this is in '38 and '39 and '40.

We went to Japan many times. And then I wound up in the hospital in Japan with a big boil on my leg. So that ship, I was probably aboard that ship for about a year, I'm not sure, but about a year I think I was aboard. And then out of Japan -- first I got another Danish ship out of Japan, and he was going French into China it was called in those days, and that is Vietnam today. And we loaded coal. And we were on our way to Italy with the coal from Vietnam. But the war, it went into Poland, and so we got orders to go back to the United States. And so when we went back from Vietnam to Japan, I got back in the hospital, so I didn't get on that ship anymore. So I was back in the hospital again with my leg, that got worse. And then I -- after -- when it healed up, I got on the Norweigian ship, and we went to New York. Now, in New York, I met an American fellow who was on there, on the Norweigian ship. And this is before the war yet. You know, this was 1940 -- I got a little lost -- it must have been '39 or '40, yeah.

And so we decided that I would go home with him. We paid off in New York, which was totally illegal for me. I could not do that. That was not legal, but in those days, as long as you were not a criminal, I mean, you could usually work a lot of it, and I did pretty good. So I went to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles on to Venice. And I stayed for a while. And I actually got a job in a shop there, because I'm finished machinist then. I have no problem getting a job. The war hadn't started. I worked around there for a while. But then after a while, I got changed jobs a couple of times. And then they come from the office and says, "Well, do to the war, we got to see your birth certificate." Well, there I was stuck, you know. I didn't have it with me. And it would have been my doom if I did because I was to prove that I was an American. Because the war was beginning to start, and we were doing war jobs, you know, in the machine shops. So I moved around a bit.

And then I hear that my old ship, the one I had left Denmark on -- the name of it, by the way, was Northwest. In Danish, that's spelled N-O-R-D-V-E-S-T, Nordvest. And that means Northwest. That was the name of the ship. So I hear that that was in Grace Harbor up by Holcomb, Washington. And so I was up north there anyway and looking around. And so I went out to see the boys. And I come out there and I find out that the ship had been impounded and -- by the government. Because by now Hitler had taken Denmark, and that made us enemy aliens. I was an enemy alien for a while. And, of course, I was a man without a country. I couldn't leave and I couldn't stay. So -- but I got a job in Tacoma like nothing. You know, I could go anywhere and get a job in those days. The first thing you have to do is to find a place to live. If you find a place to live, then I have to just go down the street and get a job. That was that simple.

Now -- and so I also contacted the Immigration, and they told me all. They were very polite. And I admire the officials, the Immigration. I admire them. Even though they had slips in -- and now, don't forget, I'm an enemy alien. And I went up there. And I told them who I was and what I was doing. And so a short time after that, I get a polite letter from them. And said, "Well, we give you 30 days to get out in lieu of deportation." So that was that simple. Okay. So my old ship, the Nordvest was being re-outfitted by the government and put on the Panamanian flag. And the officers had been staying aboard, but the crew -- the crew were all in jail while they were impounded. And so I went with them when we left Grace Harbor, and we went -- we went from there to South America. So we went to Chile, Tocopilla. And we went there for nitrate. Now, you know what nitrate is? It's cheaper than day rate.

Gary Rhay:

Okay. A load of nitrate.

Paul Reffstrup:

Okay. So we got the load of nitrate in Chile. And I can tell you that the ship after it was recommissioned, so to speak, under the Panamanian flag. It was then called Alan A. Dale, the same ship. And so -- but Chile was an interesting place; Tocopilla in particular. It's a very small town, and it is right out by the water. And then the Andes Mountains is right in there just a few miles in. And it never rains. And it had not rained there -- it was seven years since the last shower. And prior to that there was a 35-year span. So they had two showers in 42 years. And so nothing grew there, and that is why they were able to produce the nitrate, which they could not have done in the rainy season, you know. Okay.

So we loaded that and then headed back. But now we had to go to New York -- I think on the East Coast anywhere. I'm not sure where we went with the nitrate. And we got up there and unloaded that. And then the ship was then due to go to Maramag (phonetic). So it went immediately into a shipyard and got outfitted for war in the big way, you know. And that meant concrete on the bridge, and all over it was encased in concrete, and mounted two guns on there. And so -- so I thought, "No, this doesn't look good to me." And I thought -- I quit the ship again. I had liberty to do that.

And so with another friend of mine, he was a radio operator, and we quit. And then we wound up at Standard Oil office, and they put us up in a hotel in New York. And we were there for about two weeks. And I don't remember where he went. But after about two weeks, I got on the tanker out of New England, and that tanker just ran from New England, mostly from New Jersey, I think, into South America. So we went from -- we went from New England to Cartagena. Cartagena in Columbia. And then we went from there over to Aruba, the Dutch island of Aruba. And there was a big refinery. So the crude oil that we picked up in Cartagena was refined at the refinery.

So we were unloading in Aruba, and then loaded with final fuel oil for airplanes, I think, out at sea. I was -- all this time I was in the engine room, and there were many of those things that went on. And the purpose of the ship, I have no idea what it was because it was not my business. Anyway, so we sailed five trips with that thing, and then it was time to go and dry dock in on Staten Island. So we were there for three weeks and had a lot of work done on the ship. And, by the way, the tanker was an old German-built tanker. It was a fine ship, up-to-date with the gauges and things of that thing that I worked with. It was beautiful. And --

Gary Rhay:

What was the name of the ship?

Paul Reffstrup:

The name of the ship when I was sailing on it was Harry S. Seidel. Harry S. Seidel, that was the name of the ship when I sailed with it. It no doubt had other names earlier, but that's the way I knew it. Okay. So after three weeks in dry dock, for some reason -- and I have no idea why -- I would think that it was a guardian angel on my shoulder or something that said, "Well, I'm not going with you." And I picked up my beanbag and left the ship. And on that next trip, that ship was sunk down off Venezuela, with a torpedo in the engine room on my watch. So that was a little bit exciting right there. Well -- so I got out of that. And that was the time when the Germans were going -- were coming over to the West Coast in the beginning of the war. You know, because this -- this has got to be -- I don't know why it was. But it must have been '41.

Anyway, the Germans were all in the war, you know. We were in ___ with the Germans already. We had not -- we -- Oh, while -- while I was on those runs was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, while I was doing that, so it must have been right around '40 or '41. You know, in there, you know. Anyway, so I got off the ship in time, and I met some of the guys. They lost two guys, but I'm convinced I would have been one of them. And then -- then I'm walking across there at -- in New York from one office to another, looking for jobs, and here I meet a guy that was captain -- no, he wasn't a captain. He was mate on one of the -- on the other ship I had been on. And so he said -- yeah, he was captain on the salvage boat now. And so he said, "Why don't you go down there and ask for -- see how they are standing with jobs." So I did.

I went want down and talked to the chief engineer, and I got hired on the salvage boat. Now, a salvage boat, it doesn't mean a superfast thing. And the owner of this one was Mary Chapman and Scott in New York. And they have sea salaries and they have construction jobs all over the country. (?It was used countries?). And we -- I did get aboard. I got -- I was third mate. I was third engineer aboard there, and -- and in view of getting ready to go to Greenland. Now, the boat itself was an old, old boat. It was built in 1910 in Spain, and it had been a fishing boat up off Iceland, out of Iceland. And it was a steam -- a steamboat with a -- I don't know if you are familiar with the term "up and down steam." That means it's not a turbine. It's a steam engine. And so that's what it was. Very old fashioned and very slow.

The best we could do was eight knots, you know, when we were lucky. And then to put a big boom on it so that we could use it for salvage and hoist things. And we had divers aboard, and we had air pumps aboard. And, you know, we could do the trick. Whatever is necessary. We could not -- it was not a tugboat, but people in doubt. And so our first job was go to Greenland and work on the boat that was run on the rocks up there in one of the fjords in Greenland. And it was loaded with cryolite. And cryolite is a sodium-looking substance that was used for aluminum production and very much needed at that time. So we got -- I got aboard there. And the first thing we go, we go to Halifax, I think. And then up to St. John's up there, and St. John's Island by Newfoundland. And there we formed the convoy to go to Greenland. And when we left that morning, we was going -- well, we were sailing until about 9 o'clock that night, and then we were attacked by a submarine. The convoy, that was probably 12 or 15 ships in the convey, and we were going up through the strait and -- and there, the shooting started at 9 o'clock at night or so. And we could not do anything about it because we had no more power. We couldn't go faster to get out of there. But many of them -- there was Canadian corvettes with us as guards. And they was going in and around all over and dropping (Dep) charges. And our little ship was popping up, you know. And my wrenches was falling off the ports down in the engine room because they were popping up. But -- so the thing I had to do was, I had oil. I was on watch, and I had an oiler and a coal passer and a fireman, you know, aboard down there -- I mean, down in the instrument room with me on watch. So I sent them up because, you know, we couldn't do anything anyway. And so one person had to be in the engine room to shut off the engine in case we get hit, because otherwise the propellor would shut off the lifeboats. If they sent the lifeboats out, the propellor would shut them off. So that was -- nothing happened. And then pretty soon things got a little more quiet. And the captain, he just pulled over to a thing there called Belle Isle, and anchored. And so we stayed there until morning. And everybody else had left because some of the ships could make 30 knots, you know, so they just got out of there. But there was one ship sunk, and that was primarily a Norweigian -- it was a Norweigian ship probably with the Norweigian officers but with Puerto Rican crew mostly. So those -- that was very common in those days, that you had them all mixed up like that. And, of course, Panamanian flag. And I think we were on the Panamanian flag. I'm not -- I don't remember for sure, but most likely. And that was politics, what flag you were on. And so the next morning we picked up 41 men out at the water out of -- with lifeboats that, you know, that had been sunk. Their ship was sunk. And then we picked up two Navy guys. And they just simply jumped overboard because their Navy tanker was damaged, not sunk. But the torpedo had hit the front end of this Navy tanker, so they fell or jumped overboard, and they were picked up too. Now, we were in trouble because we are up there and it's fall. It's -- it's got to be late October, got to be in October. And the only thing -- the only people that were right there in that neighborhood was fisherman that come up for the summer, and they had left to go home -- or were leaving. You know, they were just right at the time. But then pretty soon we find that beautiful little harbor, and the captain pulled in there. It was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. A natural harbor. You know, a small inlet, and then there a was large place inside there. And so he pulled in there. And immediately some lifeboats come out with some people aboard. And they say, "Oh, you are here to pick us up." And no way. We were trying to get rid of the 40 people we had extra, because we already had a crew of about 80 people aboard, you know. We had two crews on this ship, a salvage crew and a ship's crew. So we were about 80 or 82 people aboard there anyway. On a small ship you only carry 1,000 tons. And I don't know if you have any idea, but I think it was 180-foot long or something like that. It was not a -- it was a small ship. Of course, it was just an old fishing boat. So these people thought we were there to pick them up. On the contrary, we were there to let the others off, which was impossible. We couldn't do that.

So, therefore -- and we had radio silence. And I don't know how they got ahold of the Canadian Coast Guard, but they finally did one way or another. And then the Canadian -- we were there for three days, I think. And then the Canadian Coast Guard came and got the survivors from the other boat. The people that came out to us on the lifeboat were from a troop ship sort of -- or, rather, it was a big passenger ship from the President's Liner passenger ship, and that had been sunk in the same place 12 hours earlier. And these people were survivors from that, and there was a lifeboat from the President's Liner. So they came out and found out what the score was. And so it took three days for the Coast Guard. And then when we got rid of all the survivors, then we continued our trip to Greenland for our job.

And we hit the roughest seas, the roughest North Atlantic that we could possibly get. And it was -- we just held on. The whole trip you have to hang on with one hand and do your work with the other one, and no time to look for submarines because you had all you could do just hanging on. And then even the front office, or our head office, we knew that -- we found out later that they thought we were lost. And everybody, you know, our wives and everybody thought we were gone. And but we made it up to Greenland, and so that was cleared up. And then we were there -- the whole trip lasted three months. We went up and worked on this ship that was sitting -- sitting, half of the deck was sticking out of water and the rest of it was under water. And then these -- this salvage crew that we had aboard -- see, I belonged to the ship's crew. But the salvage crew knew what they were doing and they built cofferdams and pumped the water out and sealed up the bottom.

The divers went down and blasted away the rocks that were sticking through the ship and patched it up and pumped it so it starts coming up. Well, it started coming up but then it went down again, and so there were more holes. And then before we could get much further, an iceberg came down the fjord and wiped out everything we had done. So we got called home. And so the whole trip was for nothing. But we got back to New York, and then we start working after we stopped in New York for a while.

Oh, I got to tell you a funny thing. When -- we have this ship. We go to Greenland on a three-month trip. Everybody let their beard grow. And so if you let your beard grow, your nose gets just a little button here in the middle. And coming back, and as we getting close to Halifax, you start shaving. And then you start looking at all these strangers that you had never seen before with those big noses in the middle of their face. It was an amazing sight. And then there was one more little thing that happened in Greenland while we were there.

Of course, I speak Danish, and many Greenlanders speak Danish. And I was ashore one night up there, and so I was invited up to a house for a cup of coffee. And, as usual, I had a deck of cards in my pocket. I was doing some tricks. And here -- here is an old grandmother Greenlander. And she came in, and I was doing tricks. And then pretty soon she crossed the cell and said something in their native language. And then she ran out of the room. And so I said, "What's going on here?" And she said, "You are the devil." And she was not going to be in the same room with me. So that was that story. Well, anyway, we got back to Halifax now --

Gary Rhay:

Before we get back to Halifax, tell me about that amusing story where you were out on deck one night. The most scared you ever were.

Paul Reffstrup:

That's coming up.

Gary Rhay:

Oh, okay. Tell me about you taking a picture of somebody across the street.

Paul Reffstrup:

Yeah. That was before that. When I was really young and I bicycled from Denmark to Paris and back, I took a picture of Hitler on the way in 1936. That's a different story. See, that's long before I --

Gary Rhay:

I understand. I just thought that was interesting. So you actually took a picture of Hitler across the street?

Paul Reffstrup:

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Gary Rhay:

And last thing before we go back to Halifax, tell me what it was like in Japan before the war.

Paul Reffstrup:

Oh, beautiful. The only thing -- the only thing that I didn't like, and nobody else liked, was the officials, the shore officials. But the people, they are just lovely people. And, you know, they would do anything for you, before the war. Yeah. But the officials were mean. You could take two packets of cigarettes ashore. But they would stamp them, and they would be sure to stamp them hard enough to smash every cigarette. You know, that was their purpose. So, you know, that type of thing. Yeah. But the people, they were lovely. And another thing was, I have been there several times, you know, and so I would learn laboriously how to ask for things in Japanese. And so I do it. I meet somebody on the street and ask for certain directions or something, and then they turn around and answer in perfect English. So those things are what happened in Japan.

Gary Rhay:

Let's go back to Halifax.

Paul Reffstrup:

Okay.

Gary Rhay:

And go on from there.

Paul Reffstrup:

Are you ready?

Gary Rhay:

Yes.

Paul Reffstrup:

So from Halifax we were ready to go back to New York. And this is shortly before Christmas. And my wife -- I got married just before we left, and -- I got married in July, and this is in the fall of the year '42. And so she stayed in Holcomb and worked while I was gone on this trip to Greenland. But she came over to New York. And so we were re-outfitting the ship after we got backed. We pulled into New York. And with Mary Chapman Scott, that's their homeport, you know. And then we were sent to -- sent down south.

We were sent to -- in those days it was called Fort Pierce. I don't know if it's Fort Pierce today, but it's right where Cape Canaveral is today. Right in there somewhere. And we were working on a wreck down there, and our job was primarily down there was to flatten out the ships that the Germans sunk. You are aware that the entire East Coast you have what you call the Atlantic shelf. Very low water. I have no idea how many miles, five, ten miles out. Very low water. And when I say very low, I mean, from 50 to 80 feet deep. And the ship -- part of the ship would stick out when they sunk. They would just sit there on the bottom. And the Germans sank a lot of them.

We could see them -- when we were going down the East Coast, we could see from one ship to the next when you were sailing down the East Coast -- sticking out of the water. Well, we would be sent out to flatten one of these things out. Most of the time that's what we did. When we went out there, the first thing, the divers would go down and they would take off the name plate off the ship. This would guarantee that we had the right ship, for one thing. Then they would bring up the safe from the captain's office. And then they would bring up the anchor and the anchor chain. And then they would usually go to work and flatten it out, if that's what we were sent to do. On one occasion we had had one that was loaded with Army tanks and machinery for England. But -- and there we took out two Army tanks. We took them up out of there, and it was then decided that they were damaged too much by the salt water, and so they just continued that route. And they just blew the whole thing up, but --

Gary Rhay:

Excuse me. So when you say you flattened them, how did you flatten them? You just blew them up, then?

Paul Reffstrup:

Well, the divers go down -- you have a ship. The ship is usually just sitting flat on the bottom.

Gary Rhay:

And go ahead and address the area as you are doing.

Paul Reffstrup:

The ship is sitting flat on the bottom. And then the divers go down and lay a string of dynamite right around the deck, right on the edge of the deck, all the way around. And when you set that dynamite off, the sides go out and the deck goes down. And that's it. So that's usually what happened. Of course, there's always -- each situation is different, and so that's what I say when I say flatten them. And then we had one that had a lot of black powder aboard for some reason. It had two charges of it. And it was sent back to the experts in Washington, D.C., and asked what would happen if this stuff has been underwater for three or four months, what's going to happen to it?

And they said, "Well, go ahead and set it off and let's see what happens." And we set that thing off. And we set it for -- the dynamite was down there. I don't remember how much dynamite, probably 800 pounds of dynamite later on there. And then they had 6,000 feet of wire, ignition wire so the starter there. And they poured -- we moved six miles away with the main ship, and they were at four miles away with the motor lounge where they set it off from. And they got wet.

And it was what I can imagine what the atomic bomb looked like. Because it was this much, and it came and went up and then went up again, you know. But that was the thick powder. But normally with the small charges we would set off, the divers would continually set off small charges. We would usually stand by with a motor lounge, and then go out and get the fish that came up. And we had fresh fish all the time. You know, it was just so easy to go out and get the fish there that way. Well, we worked out around with that stuff for -- I was there for three and a half years in the war time. And we were headquartered at Fort Pierce, and in Key West, and in Tampa, Florida. Those were our headquarters, which we were located in those places and sailed out of there. While we worked, there was one job we worked on for a long time.

We unloaded 6,000 tons of king ore on a ship that had run, that run into our own mines. And it had cotton -- no, maybe it was tobacco. I don't know. Anyway, there was a bunch of the stuff on top of their ore. And when the divers would open up the hatches, these bundles would come up and they would float away, and they would set off mines, because we were working right in the middle of a mine field. And then we would be unloading all that king ore until we finally unloaded the ship. And then we took that into Tampa, and then we blew the rest of the ship up. It was a Luckenbach ship. Oh, and this salvage boat, the name of the salvage boat was the Harjurand, H-a-r-j-u-r-a-n-d. Harjurand was the name of it. And, like I said, I'm sure it was on the Panamanian flag all the time, but I couldn't be absolutely -- I can't remember that. Okay.

So I was there until -- I would say until sometime in '43. I was three years on the three and a half years aboard that boat. And then I quit because they wouldn't even talk to me about sending me over to -- they had a boat in Port Angeles, Washington. I wanted to go to the West Coast. And they wouldn't even talk to me about it. So I said, "Well, forget it." Oh, and one more thing. You haven't forgotten who I was. I was and still am a Dane, and I was still just a machinist. I was -- I was sailing. Now, I was promoted to first assistant engineer because of the circumstances and I knew how to do it, but I didn't have the papers because I was not a citizen. And so I was -- I think it's called I was working on dispensation. And I was entitled to wear a uniform of lieutenant commander of the Coast Guard, which I didn't do because I thought I would be -- what's the word? What's the word when you pretend to be something you are not?

Gary Rhay:

Masquerade?

Paul Reffstrup:

Yeah, but that isn't the word I'm looking for, but that's the same thing. See, I didn't want to be caught like that, and I didn't want -- I'm not much for uniforms anyway, so -- anyway, I didn't have a uniform, but I was a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard. That was my job on this ship. Well, anyway, I quit and I went to the West Coast. But it was while I was on there that we were sailing down the East Coast. And I'm standing at the rail one evening, and I'm seeing this streak coming at me from the ocean, coming in. "Fire one. Fire two." I saw them coming right at me, and to get to within 15 feet of the boat and made a right 90-degree angle.

And so, of course, they were not torpedos, they were (torpos). But -- but I would -- I could not move. I stood there. Anyway, now I went to the West Coast, and it didn't take long before I got our other ships over there. The West Coast, of course, was the home of my wife. She was from the West Coast, so that was the only reason I wanted to come over there. And now I sailed. And the first ship I was on, I believe, was the Stetson Victory. And it was a troop ship. And so I sailed a troop ship. But now we were already sailing troops home from the Far East. And I will never be able to keep that straight what ships I was on over there now.

But, anyway, we were bringing troops home. And there was one trip home and it was foggy all the way. All the way it was foggy. We were going what you call "the great circle." So we were coming from Japan and going over at the great circle. And you were blowing the horn all the time, blowing the whistle all the time, day and night. And then one morning I was just getting off watch, and I could hear that the bells were ringing in the engine room. And they were full speed ___ all of a sudden. And I look out my porthole, and here it just missed the big ore ship. And that would have cut us right in two, you know, had we hit it. And we had 2,500 troops aboard. And, you know, we would have lost two-thirds of them. And but they were standing out front saying, "Hey. Hey." But, actually, they had no idea how close they were. And so that was a scary moment there, and I think that the deck officers had to go to quite a court trial over that. I don't know exactly what happened and why.

What happened, I don't know because I'm an engineer and I don't know those things. And I was on other ships. I was on the -- I was on the -- oh, what was that name? That was the C-4, and I was probably on an oar, Marine Dragon, and that was another troop ship. But I was on one where we took -- where we took cargo over. We took cargo over there before they dropped the bomb because we were -- we were at Okinawa when they dropped the bomb. We were laying outside there waiting to be unloaded, and there was 100 ships in there, Merchant Marine and Navy ships, laying right there for anchor. And I heard Bob was telling about this plane that came over. And we had him, and he was there ten minutes before 2 o'clock every morning. And he would -- they would -- they would stop all work and turn off all the lights and then lay a smoke screen, and then get everybody out of their bunk that was sleeping so you can see how effective that little plane was.

He was going 20,000 feet. Nobody could shoot him. And he wasn't hurting anybody. And that happened every night that he came over. And that's why we were laying there. But that was another long trip. Three months laying there waiting. And so -- I guess when I came back from the Marine Dragon, that's getting close to being one of my last trips, I think, that I did in 1946. I sailed until 1946, and I was probably -- I can't think of any more stuff now that pertained to it.

Denver Collins:

Let's see if he has any further questions for you.

Gary Rhay:

Well, how about, are there interesting engine room stories?

Paul Reffstrup:

Well, there's one when -- and that was on my second time across the Atlantic where I'm still pretty green, you know, because I had just been to sea for six months. And I'm the junior assistant, and so I'm working with an engineer. And we were on watch from 8 to 12. And at 12 o'clock we changed watches. At 12 o'clock we also changed oil tanks because -- so they can keep track of the consumption. Now, lots of the oil, diesel oil that was used, this is -- this is on the T-sledge, a lot of diesel oil that was used is being used as cooling oil, so that is being circulated and sent back to the tank, and that meant there was four or five different lines going to the tanks.

And there's one tank sitting here and one tank sitting there. And every day, you know, they got pumped up from the big tanks below. These are called settling tanks. And they were pumped up and filled up every day, you know. So you have to change them over. So there's some going in and some going out is, and there was quite a few rounds. And it was my job to take them. And, of course, I blew it. I'm -- I missed some valve. You are supposed to open one a little bit and then close another and all of that. And then pretty soon the light goes out. And pretty soon the big engine stopped. And when the light went out, then all the alarms goes off because certain machines don't get cooling oil or cooling water or the whole thing stops. The whole thing was black. Absolutely out. Black. And at midnight out in the middle of the Atlantic.

And, oh, boy. That was a rough thing, and all because of my inexperience. And then all the engineers came down with their flashlights. And took 15 minutes, then we had everything started up again. And they all -- everything was fine. They went back to their bunks. And the next morning the chief meets me in the hallway. And he says, "You know what happened last night, don't you?" "Yes." I said, "Now I do." So he said, "Just don't do it again." And that was it. But that's -- that was a critical thing to stop a ship out in the middle of --

Gary Rhay:

Ship shut down in the middle of the ocean. But then you said that there was another thing?

Paul Reffstrup:

Hmm.

Gary Rhay:

What about maybe favorite ships? Least favorite ships? That kind of stuff?

Paul Reffstrup:

Well, there were -- it was probably the Harjurand was probably my favorite ship, the salaries boat, because there we were -- I had just got married. And we would be going down South, and we were in Florida, most of the time in Key West and Texas and down there. And, like I said, we had just got married. And then we would go out and work on the wreck. And we would be out there at most two weeks, because then we had to come in for supplies. Or we would -- or we would come in if a storm blew up, so -- and then we would be out again. And I can recommend that for a new marriage. You are having a honeymoon every two weeks, and it's just the greatest. A gradual breaking in. It's just absolutely wonderful. So that was probably -- in fact, we went so far as to say that that was our war. So it was not really too much hardship, you know, at times. We did lose a diver on one of those jobs. He went down. And he was a very experienced -- he was a Danish friend of mine. He had been diving for 20 years, and he was a big husky guy. And he -- and he went down. And working -- and they worked real hard and laid out a lot of dynamite. And then for some reason, normally they would be working down on the bottom of the ocean, say, 80 feet. And then they would go to the deck of the ship, which would be up about 30 feet. And there they would stop and decompress and equalize things and stay there for 15 or 20 minutes. I'm not exactly sure. And then they would play with the fish. They would pick off these mullets and open them. And them the fish would eat them out of their hands. And they would just have a lot of fun there. But they had to spend time there in order to not to get the bends. And so when they come up -- and that time they went up quick for lunch. And that night he got sick, and they had to rush him to the hospital in Key West. They called for the Coast Guard to come and get him. And we went out to meet him -- I mean, our boat went out to meet the Coast Guard. And they got him. And we had to go through the minefield, you know, and to clear him and get him into the hospital. And so he was there, and they put him on the decompression chamber for 24 hours to pump it up to 300 pounds and then gradually decrease the pressure to take away the bends. And he was doing fine. And so he was staying there at the hospital, walking around there, for an additional 24 hours to -- just for observation. But in that time he dropped dead. A bubble hit his heart, I suppose, and he died. So he was one of the divers from there. So that was pretty dangerous. One of my jobs was to supply air to them, to make sure that the pump's working and that we didn't pump fumes down to them, but good clean air. (Someone is coughing.)

Gary Rhay:

So just to repeat. One of your jobs was to supply air? Your job is supplying air to the divers?

Paul Reffstrup:

Oh, it was my job to keep the pumps going and to supply the divers with good clean air. Because you could not suck air in if there's a motor running right close by and you would pick up the -- the exhaust gas and pump it down to them. You know, that would be bad. So you have to make sure of that. And then supply them -- at times we had as many as eight divers working out of there.

Gary Rhay:

Why did you leave the sea?

Paul Reffstrup:

Oh, that's everybody's wish, you know. All the sailors, they just want to quit. Well, of course, now I had gotten married, and I was working on getting my citizenship papers. And I am a machinist already. So, you know, this was my next step. Absolutely. But I have worked in places where the machinist sits around and talk at lunchtime and say, "Well, you know, I'm going to have a farm." You know, they all want farms and a piece of land. And that's what the machinist wants when they sit around and talk for lunch. So one guy says, "No, I don't want any five acres and I don't want any two acres." He says, "I want a piece 15-by-15," he says, "and I'm going to paint it green, and I'm going to put my rocking chair out there. And that's what I'm going to have." So everybody wants something else when they get finished working. But the sailors, they all want land. They all want to get ashore. Yeah.

Gary Rhay:

I'm out of questions.

Denver Collins:

Okay.

Gary Rhay:

Unless there's something else that just stands out that you would like to talk about.

Paul Reffstrup:

Well, the only thing if it's of interest, you know, about myself, I would say that I have always been a -- an international-type of guy. Because I was born in Russia in the Ukraine. I was raised in Denmark. And my father, he traveled all over Europe as an engineer and was building things in construction, piers, and bridges and things. And so I always felt that I was international enough. You know, both my parents were Danish, but they spoke German and they spoke Russian and they spoke Danish. And my sister was in France, and she spoke French. And so, you know, the whole family were very international. And I felt that a person should have the right to make a living. Nobody owed him a living, but he has a right to make a living wherever he wanted to. So that's what I want to say. And I have been very lucky, and I thank God for it. (End of interview.)

 
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  October 26, 2011
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