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Interview with Wright S. Travis [11/20/2007]

Ellen K. Bassett:

This interview is taking place on November 20th, 2007 at the Cook Memorial Public Library in Libertyville, Illinois. My name is Ellen Bassett and I am interviewing Wright Travis who was an underwater demolition swimmer in the Navy during World War II. Mr. Travis was born on June 1st, 1915 and currently resides in Libertyville, Illinois.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Mr. Travis did you enlist or were you drafted?

Wright S. Travis:

Drafted.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And what were you doing at the time?

Wright S. Travis:

I was working.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Where were you working?

Wright S. Travis:

I was working for the Lawrence Warehouse Company in New York.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And what was your job there.

Wright S. Travis:

I was a warehouse salesman and inspector.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Do you remember the year?

Wright S. Travis:

I think I started with them maybe in ’41.

Ellen K. Bassett:

How old were you when you were drafted?

Wright S. Travis:

Well it was 1943 so I was 28.

Ellen K. Bassett:

28 years old when you were drafted?

Wright S. Travis:

Born in '15 and drafted in '43 so it’s got to be 28.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Were you married at the time?

Wright S. Travis:

No, no, no.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Did you pick the Navy or were you drafted into the Navy?

Wright S. Travis:

You never get drafted into the Navy, when you’re drafted, normally, they sort of throw you into the Army, normally.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So how did you end up in the Navy?

Wright S. Travis:

Well there was a chance that day when I got drafted, among you know, probably about a couple hundred other people, somebody did get up and say, 'Today we got an opportunity if anybody is at all interested in the Navy put your hand up,' and I put my hand up because I would have preferred to be drafted and be in the Navy rather than in the Army. I didn’t want to go into the Army. It was too much...the Navy far more appealed to me.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So they took you obviously, you were lucky enough to...and how soon before you went off to basic and where did you go?

Wright S. Travis:

I was sent to training camp at Samson, New York which was what you call a boot camp.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Boot camp, okay.

Wright S. Travis:

In Samson, New York which was I think on Lake Geneva, one of the five Finger Lakes in upstate New York, beautiful, beautiful country. It was Samson, the Navy base at Lake Geneva.

Ellen K. Bassett:

What do you remember about basic?

Wright S. Travis:

Not a hell of a lot. I only recall one thing that had an effect; the barracks in which I wound up, with a lot of other guys, we were all thrown together, we all had to do our calisthenics together, room together and do all this other stuff, but we had a wonderful guy who was kind of the leader, he was a Navy Chief, Chief Petty Officer, and he ran everything that we did. He was the guy in charge. So he talked to us the first two or three times that we all got together. He introduced himself and said this is what we’re going to do blah blah blah and ultimately he said, 'I am going to have to have one or two of you guys kind of be an assistant to me,' and bang he picked me! I don’t know why, we never seen one another before. So that’s all I can remember about boot camp, old chief picked me out.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And you were his assistant then?

Wright S. Travis:

I was his assistant.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And what did you have to do as his assistant?

Wright S. Travis:

Well I had to take the guys out 6:30 in the morning and give them calisthenics out in the campus.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So you were a popular guy?

Wright S. Travis:

Oh boy.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And how long were you there?

Wright S. Travis:

I can’t remember Ellen, I don’t know whether it was more than...might have been anywhere from three to five months. I don’t really remember you see, a boot camp, most of your work was calisthenics, getting you fit. But they did have a few classes to try to school you in Navy traditions and blah blah blah. Even the Army, they all had training schools for what you might become once you become part of the regular Army or the regular Navy; whether you wanted to be a cook, you go to cook and baker’s school, if you wanted to be a quartermaster, or if you wanted to be a singleman, and so forth you were sent to various training schools after boot camp.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Got you.

Wright S. Travis:

Well, I had a peculiar problem. We were not very well-to-do and at the time I was drafted, I was almost the sole bread and butter earner in the family. My sister had a job too. My father had had a nervous breakdown. So I was the only one bringing in any income, so when I was drafted it was a hell of a blow to the family. So all I wanted to do was to get into whatever school I could get into where you could come out with a higher rank, so you got a higher pay. That was just my only thought and this nice guy, the Chief in charge, he said he had just come out of training school and I said, 'Where did you come out as a Chief?' Because in the Navy you go Seaman, Third Class, Second Class, First Class, and then Chief; before you go up to become either an Ensign, First Lieutenant, blah blah blah. So to come out as a Chief was damn high for an enlisted man to come out and I said, 'Well, where did you come out as a Chief?' He said, 'P.I. school,' and I said, 'What’s that?' and he said, 'That’s physical instructor school.' In Bainbridge, Maryland the Navy had this physical instructor school and he said they’re turning out Chiefs because they were sending them out into the fleet because we were just at war at that time. They were sending them out to the fleet to go aboard ship and then train men aboard ship through calisthenics and all that other stuff. That’s how they used these fellows from physical instructors’ school to turn them out as physical instructors. So I found out from him what that was all about and so I put in to go to P.I. school and they took me. After I got through at boot camp, I went down to P.I. school.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Where was P.I. school? So at that time you didn’t know you were going to end up doing what you wound up doing?

Wright S. Travis:

No, no, no never. P.I. school was in Bainbridge, Maryland.

Ellen K. Bassett:

What was that like?

Wright S. Travis:

It was pretty neat, it was pretty severe. You were hard at work all the time doing all kinds of stuff and you had to find how to control a large group of men and giving them training whether you are going to take them on a run or a hike or put them through calisthenics and so forth you had to learn how to control a whole group of men in physical instruction, in physical exercise. So ultimately to graduate you had to get out in the middle of this enormous campus that they have and they put one man up on a stand and he had to lead the whole damn place in a training exercise and you were judged on how well you did it. But anyhow, I found out at the time when I finally graduated they weren’t turning them out Chiefs anymore, they were turning them out only as Second Class. Not even First Class. I guess the Navy didn’t want to spend that much money so you didn’t graduate as a Chief any longer, so I graduated as a Second Class Seaman.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And that was the highest rank you got?

Wright S. Travis:

At that time.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh at that time.

Wright S. Travis:

They gave me a rank of Specialist A. I don’t know if I got it here or not.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Specialist A, so that’s what you wore on your uniform?

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah, the three stripes is for First Class and I got out as Second Class, but anyhow while I was there, at one time there was a notice put out that there were two recruiting men here who would like to find out if anybody in this whole damn place has had any interest in doing some work in rough water or small boats. Anyone who was a good swimmer or likes work in small boats, they’re looking for people who are interested to maybe get a few recruits, so anybody who’s interested come to this meeting at such and such a hall. So hell, I’ve always loved the water, I always did. I love waves I love just thrashing through waves all my life. So I went up and there were probably I don’t know thirty, forty, fifty fellows who came and they had an Army Lieutenant, Fred Wadleigh(?), and a Marine Lieutenant, Lieutenant Sullivan. Nifty guys. Lieutenant Sullivan was made a Lieutenant in the field at Guadalcanal when they were fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal and losing so many men. He was a sergeant then, but all his men around him were killed so they made him a lieutenant, boom on the spot. And Sullivan was some guy I’ll tell you but I can always remember him and when he spoke his hands shook just like that, because of all that stuff he went through there. But anyhow they just said they were looking for volunteers or people who were interested in that kind of stuff, but they did say it’s extra hazardous duty and they wanted people that liked the water and so forth. So when their presentation was over, they said anybody who is interested stick around. There were only about seven of us that stuck around and I was one of the seven. So they took a lot more details about what experience I had in the water and so they said, 'Well, fine, there’s a possibility you may hear from us.' That was all. I heard nothing more until I was getting ready to graduate and I got a call into the commanding officer’s office and he said 'Travis, I’ve got orders for you to report to Camp Pendleton, California on such and such a date.' And I said 'Well what did this come from?' He said 'I think in all probability it came from that group of people that you stayed and discussed that waterwork.' This was probably three, four weeks back. He said, 'This came from the Navy but' he said, 'I’ve got these orders, it’s very mysterious to me and I don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to do when you get out there.' But he said, 'You’ve got two weeks leave coming and you report to Camp Pendleton at such and such a time.' So that was my introduction because believe it or not at that time I had been recruited into the O.S.S. The O.S.S. was looking for people who wanted to do that kind of work. The O.S.S. stands for the Office of Strategic Services. It was very little known at that time at least for the public at large. So I got out to Camp Pendleton but on the train out there, there were five other guys that came from Bainbridge, from P.I. school whom I didn’t know in P.I. school at all. There were five of us all told and I got to know them pretty well. As a matter of fact, one of them, Hank Weldon, came from P.I. school and he was the guy I stood up for when he got married. He came from P.I. school with me way, way, way back. So we reported to Camp Pendleton and Camp Pendleton is a marine training base. So we were sent into the marine training base and we went down to their stores and were given all marine clothing, all their drill uniforms and all that kind of stuff. And then we were sent up to this base at San Clemente that was nothing but a bunch of fishermen shacks. And we trained there for several months, but at that time we found out that we were in the O.S.S. and they named us the maritime unit, just out of the blue. So that’s how the whole thing started. And then we trained there for a long time and we trained with the paddle boards. Then we were sent over to Catalina and we trained on Catalina for probably six weeks or something like that, and at that time I got married.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Where did you meet your wife?

Wright S. Travis:

I met my wife at a wonderful place called the Screen Actors’ Guild Camp. This was a wonderful place put up for entertaining servicemen who were out there around the Los Angeles area. Just give them a good time whenever they got a liberty or a leave or something like that. And Virginia went there one day with a friend of hers because she knew the lady, Mrs. Carpenter, who really ran it. And she and this gal were sitting in this large dining hall that we used, it was almost empty and to make a long story short, I was supposed to play tennis with a buddy the next day, but I said, 'Les, I haven’t got any shorts to play tennis in, I just got my marine greens.' He said, 'Well, I’ll see if I can round up some and find out if somebody here can do anything.' Virginia and her friend were sitting at a table so I guess Mrs. Carpenter went up and said, 'Look there’s a guy out here, he’s one of these marine guys, is looking to find out if there is anybody who’s interested to take his marine long greens and cut them off and make him a pair of shorts so he can play tennis.' So that’s how I met Virginia. (laughs) Talk about weird stories.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Was she in the service?

Wright S. Travis:

No, no, no, no, no she was teaching school.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So while you were stationed in the Bahamas...?

Wright S. Travis:

No, this was when we were in San Clemente but that was also part of the time we were going over to Catalina.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh Catalina, okay, that’s when you got married.

Wright S. Travis:

In between, because we only went to Catalina during the week then we got a transport that took us back to the mainland over the weekend.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Alright.

Wright S. Travis:

So we got married one of those weekends.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And other places you did training were...

Wright S. Travis:

Well, after Catalina, they sent us to the Bahamas, that’s where you saw the picture with Edward. They sent us to the Bahamas and we trained there and then finally we were supposed to be kind of a very elite group. And part of our group was detached and sent to England. That was the first platoon and then the rest of us were supposed to go out to the Pacific and they were supposed to find some kind of a special job for us. So we got aboard a boat and went out, got to Pearl Harbor and, I don’t know the whole story none of us really knew the whole story, but apparently General MacArthur apparently had a meeting with our skipper, Lieutenant Choate (?) and they had apparently didn’t see eye to eye and so finally MacArthur said, 'I don’t think I want your unit.' Boom. So anyhow, there we were, I don’t know how many of us, forty, fifty or so, in a sense stranded there. We were looking for our mission and at that time apparently we were personna non grata because MacArthur had charge of everything out there, even though the navy was interested in us. So finally, what they did was they sent us from Pearl Harbor over to the island of Maui which is where the underwater demolition teams were being trained. Now these men in the underwater demolition teams were not the O.S.S. like us at all. These men were mostly Seabee’s that had trained at Fort Pierce, Florida and other places in the states and they were making up these teams called underwater demolition teams. Their job was to go into landings, into beaches to try to clear the way before a landing is made by either army or marine, to clear all obstacles out of the way to make it easier for them to reach and get up on the beach. So what they did was, because we were all good in the water, they made us part of one of the U.D.T. teams. So I became part of U.D.T. 10. And then we just stayed in the Pacific for several months, did a lot of training out there and made seven landings.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So the first place once you were done with your training, you were sent out to the Pacific?

Wright S. Travis:

We were sent to Pearl Harbor, yes.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And you were, were you aboard a ship then?

Wright S. Travis:

Well we were sent out on a transport sure, on a navy transport and then they put us in a barracks at Pearl Harbor while all these higher-ups were deciding our fate.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Alright, well once you went out when you would go on a mission, were you stationed somewhere in the Pacific besides Pearl Harbor or were you stationed at Pearl Harbor for the duration?

Wright S. Travis:

No, no. Pearl Harbor we just saw that one time when we were finally sent to the Pacific and they didn’t want us, immediately they shipped us over to Maui. And Maui is of course, right off of, because Pearl Harbor is part of Oahu and so Maui is another one of the Hawaiian islands.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So from Maui...

Wright S. Travis:

Maui is where we departed to make all of our war time landings.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh, really so you were more or less stationed at Maui then.

Wright S. Travis:

That’s right.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Wright S. Travis:

We were stationed on Maui all the time we were out there although a good part of the time we were actually aboard ship.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So you would be out...

Wright S. Travis:

Out at sea to make a landing or whether we were making an invasion or then they would send us down to...well they sent us to two or three places and we spent Christmas...I can’t remember...I ought to remember where I spent Christmas.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Well when you mentioned the training, what kind of specialized training did you get for this job?

Wright S. Travis:

Well, I don’t think we really got too much specialized training. For a time they trained us in the use of a breathing apparatus, a unit that you slung on your back and you could attach it to your nose and so forth so that you could actually breathe underwater. It was called a Lambertson Unit and now they use them in snorkeling and all that kind of stuff. But we were trying out the first ones, but they found out that it did not work. It was too cumbersome and so the training we got out there was nothing more than calisthenics to stay in condition and to swim just to make sure we maintained our ability. But we didn’t really get any further specialized training.

Ellen K. Bassett:

What kind of equipment did you need then in order to do your job? If you were going out on a mission, what kind of equipment did you have?

Wright S. Travis:

A pair of shorts and a pair of flippers on our feet, a knife in our belt and after we had made a reconnaissance and decided that there was a coral reef that we ought to blow up or there are some of these ties that the Japanese put in to try to stop the landing craft from coming in, they’ll have to be blown up, when we went back and reported all of this then we went back with these flat packs of explosives and all the wiring to attach from one guy to another all up and down the beaches to blow up these things. So that’s the equipment that we had.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So you had to set up the explosives?

Wright S. Travis:

Sure.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Is there any chance that you could have, that something could have happened with these explosives?

Wright S. Travis:

Well, they’re pretty well safeguarded yeah. Never happened.

Ellen K. Bassett:

You didn’t have a wet suit or anything?

Wright S. Travis:

No we didn’t need them, the water was warm enough. A wet suit you need really when it’s really colder water. No, every one of our landings, we just had shorts on.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So it was warm enough.

Wright S. Travis:

That’s right.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Tell me about some of your more memorable or some of the landings that you remember that stick out in your mind.

Wright S. Travis:

I don’t know, they were pretty routine.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Well you had mentioned two, Leyte Gulf?

Wright S. Travis:

Leyte Gulf?

Ellen K. Bassett:

What happened there? What did you do there?

Wright S. Travis:

Nothing really happened there except that...I think we were just damn lucky because actually we could spot Japanese in pill boxes shooting at us. We could spot them from you know four, five hundred yards offshore in the water. But we were one of the very fortunate teams out there, on all our landings we never lost a man.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Wow, on the U.D.T. 10?

Wright S. Travis:

One U.D.T. 10 right.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Was that fairly unusual?

Wright S. Travis:

Very, because U.D.T. 9, I think it was at Leyte, they used to assign a beach, we were covering Blue Beach and you’re covering Green Beach and some other team is covering Yellow Beach, and so forth. Team 9 I think, had the beach next to us and they got hit by a whole series of mortar shells and they lost two or three men. And they were probably no more than half a mile away.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Wow so that could have easily been you.

Wright S. Travis:

Oh it could have been. Sure, could have been. So we were just shot full of luck.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Were you ever attacked at any point?

Wright S. Travis:

No.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Never?

Wright S. Travis:

Never.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And no casualties?

Wright S. Travis:

Well we lost three men but they were on a specific extra hazardous duty, they were put aboard a submarine and put aboard a Japanese island for reconnaissance work.

Ellen K. Bassett:

This was three guys from your group.

Wright S. Travis:

That’s right.

Ellen K. Bassett:

What happened to them? Do you remember?

Wright S. Travis:

[gesture]

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh, beheaded or...okay...oh that’s terrible.

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah, I pointed one of them out there in that picture with the paddleboard, that was Bob Black he was the one that was older than me, just a little bit older. Bob got it.

Ellen K. Bassett:

That’s terrible. Were you ever injured in any way? During a dive?

Wright S. Travis:

Negative, I had lots of occasions where, you know you almost pass out because you’re down so deep at times.

Ellen K. Bassett:

How deep did you have to go?

Wright S. Travis:

Oh, I don’t know, maybe maximum sixty feet.

Ellen K. Bassett:

But you didn’t have a...

Wright S. Travis:

We didn’t have a breather or anything else on no, no, no. We just held our breath.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Sixty feet, you’d be under quite a long time then.

Wright S. Travis:

Sure it was.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Well how long could...

Wright S. Travis:

We had goggles on, regular goggles and one thing that we had were our swim fins and they could really make you go through the water like crazy which is a big help. But no, we had to go down and inspect whether this particular thing down there would have any detrimental effect at low tide if you know a landing was trying to be made there. So we had to make determinations whether something should be removed or it’s alright to let it go. So you had to dive down, in many places to find out whether there is something there that’s bad.

Ellen K. Bassett:

When did you do these dives, during the day? At night?

Wright S. Travis:

They put us off, well we always went in a day before the first landing was made. And of course, in behind us, Ellen, was half the United States fleet. I mean it. Dozens of carriers, dozens of battleships, dozens of cruisers, hundreds of destroyers and they’re all firing over our heads to control the people on the beach, they’re firing right over us all the time while we’re making, so we start out early in the morning at dusk to get started but the firing usually started probably maybe about six o’clock in the morning and it went on until noon or after that. But then we would go back, they’d pick us up in the P.R. boats and take us back to the Rathburn and we would have our little sheets on us where we could write down the location of things and find out whether what we found needed more work because then they sent us back later that afternoon if we had to blow up dangerous obstacles and stuff. So we swam in twice a day before the main landing the next day.

Ellen K. Bassett:

You were basically living then on the U.S.S. Rathburn?

Wright S. Travis:

Yes that was our home for months and months and months.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh.

Wright S. Travis:

Sure.

Ellen K. Bassett:

That was an old ship. What were the living conditions like?

Wright S. Travis:

Not too bad, not too bad as things go. Of course you’re all in hammocks, you don’t have a bed, you’re all in hammocks.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Were you guys susceptible to malaria or anything like that or was it denghe fever?

Wright S. Travis:

No, I never knew of any, because you would have to be I think on an island and in bad heat and stuff to get malaria and we never were long enough at one place to get it. If they got sick, they drank some lousy booze that they made themselves or something like that and of course there were several times when we went, what without getting a supply ship, so we went without all of the food that we wanted sometimes, but you always kind of made do.

Ellen K. Bassett:

How was the food in general then?

Wright S. Travis:

Fair. Just fair.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Anything in particular that you can remember that you had to eat?

Wright S. Travis:

No, I can remember there was one kind of an Australian type of butter we used, I don’t know what it was, but it was pretty awful when we ran out of everything else we were supposed to use that, it was horrible.

Ellen K. Bassett:

What did you guys do on the ship for entertainment?

Wright S. Travis:

Bill Hopper and myself and Pete Catsarumas and Nick Nicolanko played bridge all day long. All night long. All four of us.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Really?

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So how often did you go out on a mission?

Wright S. Travis:

Well it all depended on when there was another landing. If they were going to land in the Philippines, Leyte was the first landing and when that was over we were sent back to these other places, I can’t remember the names, I’ll find it, and then the next landing was probably Lingayen Gulf and Luzon and that was not for another two months.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh so it might be two months before...

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah before we had another landing. Absolutely.

Ellen K. Bassett:

How many missions do you think you did total?

Wright S. Travis:

Seven. Seven landings.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Seven landings. So most of the time you were on the ship playing bridge.

Wright S. Travis:

That’s right absolutely.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Did you have to do anything else? There were no other jobs that you had to do?

Wright S. Travis:

This thing that our skipper wrote, yeah read this number two, it’s his report that he wrote up about our various activities.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Underwater demolitions team 10 operated in the forward areas from August, 1944, until April, 1945 and participated in amphibious landing operations against the enemy at Angaur Island, Palau Islands, Alute (?) Islands, Leyte Island, P.I., Ulithi, Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Islands, P.I., Zimbalis Province, Luzon Island, P.I.. Underwater demolition team 10 was returned to the United States in June 1945 for rehabilitation leave and afterwards reported to U.S. Naval amphibious training base in Fort Pierce, Florida for temporary duty as instructors.

Ellen K. Bassett:

How long were you at sea then? You did about seven of these missions and then came back?

Wright S. Travis:

Eight months.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Eight months and you had mentioned that you had met somebody that became quite a good friend, what was his name and what can you tell me about him?

Wright S. Travis:

It might have been this nice guy named Pete Catsarumas, it might have been Pete. Otherwise it would have been Bill Hopper.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Bill .

Wright S. Travis:

It had to be Bill.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Where did you meet Bill?

Wright S. Travis:

Right there at San Clemente, when we first got out there. See, I came out with those guys from P.I. school to San Clemente. Bill at that time had gone into the coast guard. He had gone into the coast guard and he and a group of coast guard buddies of his were selected somehow by the fellows that were recruiting for the O.S.S. and they sent those guys down to San Clemente to that base where I came from the east. And I met him there. We were both strangers to one another you know we were all being put together as one group, homogenous, after a while, just like you saw us with the paddle boards and so forth. All those guys came from different places.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And you hit it off and now you told me something else interesting about him about his background, who he was related to.

Wright S. Travis:

Well, I told you about Hedda, Hedda Hopper was his mother.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Yeah and he was, actually once he got out of the service?

Wright S. Travis:

He became, Paul Drake, was his name on Perry Mason.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh, he was Paul Drake? Well how about that and he was your best friend?

Wright S. Travis:

Absolutely, oh yes.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And you kept in touch with him after the service.

Wright S. Travis:

I did, actually Virginia and I went out to California a couple of times because she had some relatives out there, in California, some down in San Diego and some just north of L.A., and every time I went out to see some friends I always saw Bill. I always saw him when he was there. He and his wife and Virginia and I used to take weekends together and stuff. Oh yeah, I can remember going, when I first got back there after the service, Bill, at that time, I don’t think that he and his wife had a house, he was living with Hedda. 79 Tropical Drive. He was living with Hedda Hopper his mother and so I used to go over there a couple of times and sat there with him and she had a pool in the backyard and I had some wonderful visits. I met a lot of very nice people there too. But one day Hedda showed me her closet full of hats. She was known as the gal with the hats. I remember she had these two great big doors in it down this hallway that she slid apart. Shelf after shelf after shelf.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So it really was true?

Wright S. Travis:

Oh it was definitely true. That was no figment of peoples’ imaginations.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So you and Bill went out on the ship together and you were together for the duration...

Wright S. Travis:

Absolutely, of my service time, that’s right.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Okay so while you were on the ship were you able to keep in touch with anybody from home? With your wife?

Wright S. Travis:

Well you couldn’t telephone anybody, but we had mail. They had mail and when you finally met the mail ship they could take all of the mail off and deliver mail when they would come, but you didn’t get mail more than, if you got it once a month you were lucky.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So you weren’t really able to keep in touch with your wife.

Wright S. Travis:

No.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Did you ever get to take a leave?

Wright S. Travis:

No.

Ellen K. Bassett:

That must have been a pretty big span of time that you didn’t get to see her.

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah it was, well I guess it was (?) when I came back.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Little over half a year maybe? Well you talked about rank earlier. What was the highest rank that you...?

Wright S. Travis:

It was first class.

Ellen K. Bassett:

First class seaman?

Wright S. Travis:

Seaman first class, yes. I was also a seamen first class, class X. That was supposed to represent the fact that we were in the O.S.S. and it was no known symbol for the O.S.S., so they ranked us that for a while. But actually, they finally decided nobody knew what the hell it was. Nobody did. So that was it. Specialist (?) meaning an athletic instructor but that doesn’t say U.D.T. or anything like that. That doesn’t give you any clue as to what this means. It was crazy. We were really an oddball outfit. There was nothing else like us in the service.

Ellen K. Bassett:

What makes you...?

Wright S. Travis:

Well there was nothing else like it.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Because of what you did?

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah, because of what we did.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Were there that many, that few teams?

Wright S. Travis:

I think probably they got up to, maybe U.D.T. 20.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh so there were very few of you guys.

Wright S. Travis:

Well of course each team, men and officers, probably had sixty or seventy men.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Would all of the men go out on a mission or was it taking turns?

Wright S. Travis:

No, no, no. There were a lot of men that had other duties besides being a swimmer or two or three men went out on a boat with us, one or two of them had to man the machine guns on the boat and the other had to have a coxswain and so forth. So besides the swimmers that went into the beach, there might have been five other men aboard the PR boat that we went...we jumped off the PR boat in the water and went in and then they circled all the time we were in, they just circled behind us way outside until they knew we were ready to come in and then they would come in closer to pick us up. Of course all of that time we were being fired on. All the time.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Yeah I can’t believe that. And how did they know, obviously with the very little equipment you had, how were you able to signal to them that you were done, that you were ready?

Wright S. Travis:

Oh, there was a way, just waving or something. It was pretty well understood.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Yeah, it seems so different, just so...

Wright S. Travis:

It is.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Did you receive any awards or citations for this?

Wright S. Travis:

Read this last paragraph.

Ellen K. Bassett:

American Theatre Ribbon, the Asiatic Pacific Ribbon with three bronze stars and the Filipino national government ribbon with two bronze stars and recommended for the bronze star award. Wow that’s quite impressive. Bronze star. For heroic services as a reconnaissance swimmer attached to the U.D.T. 10. That’s very impressive. Were you out on the boat or out in the Pacific on VE Day or VJ Day?

Wright S. Travis:

I think we were there on VE Day. I think we were on our way back to the states when VE Day came along, victory in Europe. Well we had a minor celebration aboard ship but we were at sea when that happened, so you know, it was nothing spectacular or special.

Ellen K. Bassett:

When you came back from sea, you were obviously still in the Navy, you didn’t go back out again, what did you do once you came back?

Wright S. Travis:

Well, as they said in here, they sent us back to Fort Pierce, which was the original training base for all of the Seabee’s and from there, I think we were there maybe two or three weeks. I really had no duties whatsoever. I’m serious, no duties whatsoever. I think there was a time when we manned an outlook station at the end of one of the islands off of Fort Pierce. But outside of that we had nothing to do. We always had a calisthenics class, always, that went on every day. But Virginia came down and stayed with me. We had a cottage just off the beach in Fort Pierce and she finally left to go back to school because it was September, she had to go back and start teaching. But then ultimately, in order to get released from the service to get out, you have to have earned a certain number of points and a lot of it was based on the length of time that you had been in service, together with whatever duties you had. If something was special, you got an extra point for some kind of thing. But what I finally wrangled from our skipper was I got permission to go out to UCLA, in Los Angeles, as a physical instructor. I did that because Virginia lived in Beverly Hills and it was right next to Beverly Hills. So that’s where I wound up. I was a physical instructor at UCLA for the Navy military group that was training at UCLA. So that’s the way I wound up (?) service.

Ellen K. Bassett:

As an instructor. How long were you in the service before you were able to get out? Or do you remember when you were discharged?

Wright S. Travis:

No. I was relieved from active duty on the 30th of November 1943.

Ellen K. Bassett:

1943?

Wright S. Travis:

'45, I’m sorry

Ellen K. Bassett:

’45. So you were in for two years, '43 is when you were drafted.

Wright S. Travis:

That’s right.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And '45 was when you were...

Wright S. Travis:

I was drafted in July of '43.

Ellen K. Bassett:

A little over two years.

Wright S. Travis:

And I was out in November of '45.

Ellen K. Bassett:

What did you do once your service ended?

Wright S. Travis:

Went back to Virginia and lived with Virginia for a while.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Which was where? Beverly Hills?

Wright S. Travis:

Beverly Hills. Yeah. And after that I said, 'I’d like to go home.'

Ellen K. Bassett:

And home was where?

Wright S. Travis:

Brooklyn, New York.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So the two of you moved back to Brooklyn?

Wright S. Travis:

Moved back to Brooklyn and I got a job with all of these old guys that I used to work with, back from service or some who hadn’t gone in the service. They pulled me right in so I went to work with them again.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Did you go back to school at all or ever take advantage of the G.I. Bill?

Wright S. Travis:

No.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Did you ever join any veterans organizations?

Wright S. Travis:

Never did.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Who did you keep in touch with that you had known?

Wright S. Travis:

Well, I kept in touch with several people from that U.D.T. group that I had known. Several of them, I’d say probably conservatively ten to twelve or fifteen.

Ellen K. Bassett:

That’s quite a few.

Wright S. Travis:

That I’ve kept pretty well in touch with. And I can’t remember when it started but they, probably now, fifteen years ago at least, they started having an annual reunion. And we have been having them every year and for some reason, and I’m not sure I know exactly how it started, it turned out that it was teams 8, 9 and 10, somehow been holding a joint reunion once a year. And we’ve been doing that for, as I say, maybe the last fifteen years or so. And it’s usually one man and his family or his wife from someplace wants to do it so they have it in his hometown. So we’ve gone all over the place where we’ve held a reunion. You know, it doesn’t make any difference where it was, Niagra Falls or Milwaukee or Miami or somewhere like this. Last year we went to Colorado Springs.

Ellen K. Bassett:

So you do attend these reunions?

Wright S. Travis:

Sure. And so in that way, in the very beginning, we got to see quite a few of the fellows who had been in the unit and gotten out. And then, as they got older or maybe moved away, or lost interest or something else, things changed, the people that we got together with shrunk in number.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Do they have the reunions anymore?

Wright S. Travis:

Well I said we had one last September in Colorado Springs.

Ellen K. Bassett:

How many people were there?

Wright S. Travis:

I don’t think there were more than ten of us.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Any of the men that you were very close to, are they still alive?

Wright S. Travis:

Not that I was very close to. The one that I was closest to, Pete Katsirubas, was a wonderful guy. He just died in an auto accident about ten days ago. Two weeks ago.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh, no I’m so sorry.

Wright S. Travis:

Shortly after the reunion. He and I kind of, I think between Pete and I, we kind of ran the reunions by, we kept in touch with people. We kept track of the address lists and the changes and all that kind of stuff between Pete and myself. We’ve been doing that for years. I’ve got more damn address lists and stuff than...and stuff at home. But I was really shook up with this. Really, because I guess we talked on the phone easily a couple of times a month, easily, easily.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And whatever happened to Bill Hopper?

Wright S. Travis:

He had a bad time with liquor and that turned into drugs. I don’t know really of what he died, I can’t tell you really, Ellen I’m not sure.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Was that a long, long time ago?

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah, it was, I think Bill’s been dead for twenty years.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Oh, okay. That was a while ago.

Wright S. Travis:

Quite some time. Yes. Yes.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And what did you end up doing as a career?

Wright S. Travis:

I was in that field warehousing business for a while and it was very interesting. But I had an uncle who lived in Glen Ellyn and when I was in New York, I was transferred to the Chicago office, understanding that it would probably only be a two year stretch. Then I would go back. But while I was out here, this was my favorite uncle, he was a wonderful guy, he was a manufacturer’s representative and he and another man had their own business and they were very successful and he sweet talked me into going to work with him as a salesman. So I have to take my hat off to Virginia for saying okay because that cut us off from ever going back east because I thought I was going to be with the American Express out there for two years and we’d go back. But by going to work with my uncle, that took care of that.

Ellen K. Bassett:

That took care of that. I was going to ask you how you wound up in Libertyville.

Wright S. Travis:

That’s exactly how we wound up, we came out here in 1952.

Ellen K. Bassett:

And you’ve lived in Libertyville since then?

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Wow that’s a long time.

Wright S. Travis:

Yeah.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Well that’s about all the questions I have is there anything else you wanted to add?

Wright S. Travis:

Well jeez, I don’t know.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Any other stories you want to add?

Wright S. Travis:

Trying to recall these things Ellen, it’s so difficult.

Ellen K. Bassett:

You’ve got a great memory. I didn’t know if there was anything else you can remember that I didn’t cover that you wanted to add, any other stories or anything else about your time in service. Do you think we covered it pretty thoroughly?

Wright S. Travis:

I think we did.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Is there anything you can tell me that you’ve never told anybody else before?

Wright S. Travis:

(laughs)

Ellen K. Bassett:

That sounds like a yes.

Wright S. Travis:

I don’t know if I’ve had such a situation, really.

Ellen K. Bassett:

That’s putting a lot of pressure on you.

Wright S. Travis:

No, honest to goodness, I can’t think of anything that’s...sticks out in my mind at all.

Ellen K. Bassett:

I want to thank you for coming in today, I really appreciate it. Thank you for your service to our country. You said there was one more thing you wanted to mention.

Wright S. Travis:

I’m trying to remember the date when this all started. Our maritime unit, you can read this short little inscription here.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Your maritime unit.

Wright S. Travis:

This came out of the blue and I don’t know, it was '96, '97 or '98. Around '98. There was an organization at Fort Bragg, this was where they trained all of the Green Berets, and Special Forces group and there was a sergeant in there who somehow, way back, uncovered something he never heard about before, he uncovered the work of this outfit called the maritime unit. He had been to the Library of Congress and he read some files, he got a hold of some and he was absolutely fascinated and he got two or three people at Fort Bragg interested in that and they said finally, 'We want to find out more about this group.' So what they finally did was they decided to give us this big hoopla, party, at Fort Bragg and made us part of what they called the Armed Forces Special Services Group. So here we are, all these guys in 1998 and we got out in 1943. Happened a long time afterwards. But there we are, they got as many of us as were alive as they could find and we gathered at Fort Bragg and were put through all of these wonderful things and we were all made Green Berets. I have my Green Beret at home. I’m a Green Beret believe it or not. I don’t know how these guys did it, but they did it, you can read that.

Ellen K. Bassett:

Well that’s fascinating.

Wright S. Travis:

Isn’t it? Forty years after you get out of the service and all of the sudden this thing popped right out of...

Ellen K. Bassett:

You said you were an unusual group. Yeah that’s a very interesting story.

Wright S. Travis:

Fascinating.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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