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Interview with Andrew Higginbotham [7/8/2004]

Becky Blair:

July the 8th, 2004. We are at the home of Andrew Higginbotham in Cataula, Georgia. My name is Becky Blair; I'll be doing the interviewing. Sue Wofford is doing the taping. Sheila Burkes and Barbara Jones are helping with the paperwork. Mr. Higginbotham is a veteran of World War II. He served in the Navy, and his rank was --

Andrew Higginbotham:

Boatswain's Mate, Third Class.

Becky Blair:

Okay. Mr. Higginbotham, were you drafted or did you enlist?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Enlist. I quit my junior year in high school and went and joined.

Becky Blair:

Okay. Where were you living at the time?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Tarrant, Alabama.

Becky Blair:

And why did you join?

Andrew Higginbotham:

I wanted to go, get out of school.

Becky Blair:

And why did you pick the Navy?

Andrew Higginbotham:

I always liked the Navy.

Becky Blair:

What did it feel like, your first days in service, your first -- your boot camp or your training? How was that like?

Andrew Higginbotham:

We had boot camp at Baltimore, Maryland. And right out front there at Washington, D.C. And it was during the boot camp, we were all either quarantined or restricted to our barracks. One of us -- one of -- me, and I believe his name was Art, got the cat fever, they call it. And there was quarantine for that. And somebody stole something out of the barracks, it was another sailor. We was quarantined for that, restricted to that. And during that time, it was muddy up there. There wasn't nothing but mud out there. And you'd go out there and marching in it. You had to put on rubber galoshes and -- had a string. We put a string on them because had to tie them on. That mud would suck you out of your shoes. They would make you duck walk if you messed up, and that was really mud in that mud.

Becky Blair:

Do you remember any of your instructors?

Andrew Higginbotham:

No, I don't.

Becky Blair:

So how did you get through boot camp then?

Andrew Higginbotham:

We was discharged from up there. We came back to home. But they misspelled four on our checks. And I've forgotten exactly how it was, but had to stay up there two, three more days so they could make our checks out. Supposed to have been $40 or something like that, and they spelled f-o-r-t.

Becky Blair:

Fort dollars, huh?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Yeah. F-o-r-t-y. Wasn't spelled full u-r-t-y.

Becky Blair:

Okay. And you served in World War II; is that correct?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Yes, ma'am.

Becky Blair:

Where exactly did you go?

Andrew Higginbotham:

On our first tour of duty, they sent us to the Aleutians. NFS-65, naval refueling station. We was up on a Battery 405, and we trained at Virginia Beach pulling that gun. The Army had trucks to pull their gun, but we had to pull them by hand out in that sand. And it's set up to see how fast we could set it up and start shooting. That officer would tell us, Pull, and we'd grab it and start pulling it. Attention. Commence firing, and we'd start setting up. We almost beat the Army over a length of time.

Becky Blair:

What was your job?

Andrew Higginbotham:

I was a first gunner. I stood up there and I was the one that got to shell the gun, .40 millimeter gun. They'd hand me the shell, about that many, and you would stick it into the gun.

Becky Blair:

Did you see combat?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Never did saw combat.

Becky Blair:

While you were in _____, can you tell me how you stayed in touch with your family?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Writing.

Becky Blair:

Just writing?

Andrew Higginbotham:

They'd sent me about, oh, five, six pages full, and they'd put their footprints on them and like that. And then after we came back from the Aleutians at travel time, I tell you I married my wife. I went to San Pedro then. And they finally sent us up to Astoria, Oregon, where they was building their mine sweeper, YMOS 424. And there was one more after us, it was the last one. 425 was built after I was. Then after it was commissioned, we came down -- back down to San Pedro, and they had us _____ for mines outside of Pedro back and forth. And then we went to Fort Wayne and would sweep for mines up there. Then they shipped us overseas. We was headed for Hawaii, and three days out, we got word that the war was over. We got to Hawaii, and then we went on to Guam, Saipan, Santa Rita, wound up at -- in the -- let's see -- Okinawa. And on -- let's see, November, October, I can't remember the day, but they had a typhoon. And during that typhoon, we had broke one -- a bow anchor and so started driving, going around and around our mother ship. And then we got too far out or something or other and we hit a reef, knocked a big hole out of the ship. And the officer, just as soon as we hit, he hollered, Abandon ship. We all abandoned ship. Abandon ship, and we all run out. They're fixing to turn the lap boats off. And I told them, I said, Now, they're not _____ to the sea painter, they call it, the line on the _____. They call, say, Tie them up. Next time they said, Take that _____ off. So they did. They throwed the lifeboats over. And when they did, that wave _____ lifeboat gone. You didn't have a chance to go get it. And we were standing on deck, and this -- can't remember his name -- he jumped over the side. And when it came back over on the left side and went _____ way, I jumped. And when they -- boys on the ship saw how I was doing _____, they wouldn't jump. And one time -- the first time I jumped, after I saw what it was doing out there, I was going to swim back to the ship, try to make it back to the _____. And I saw the ship just wallering back and forth and back and forth, and I said, No way. If I got up close enough, it would roll over on me. So I just went ahead and swam the other way, because them waves was -- looked 90 feet high to me. And those boys that stayed on, they blew off that reef and blew up on Catika Suma (ph) -- something, island. And they was right on the side of it, already washed up to the island. And one of the boys, Kenison (ph), jumped over the side with a line and went over there and secured it to where he could. And the rest of them got off and went on that line. And they went over the hill there to get on the windward side where it wouldn't blow on them. And there was four of us reported missing. After I was in the water about five hours, LST 169 picked me up. But I had a pair of _____, and I stood up on a reef. And they were just pushing me on my feet. And I looked over my shoulder, and there came a wave, like I say, it looked like it was a hundred feet high, and it got ahold of me and it turned me every way but loose. And every time I could come up, I would get a breath of air. But then it just _____. And I just floating in the dark, it seemed like. I called up to the Lord. I said, Lord, I haven't even seen my baby. My wife was pregnant at the time. I said, If I'm going to die, let me die fighting. So I was battling it up, and I finally come up and off the reef. About an hour later, I got _____. I run into this sailor and it happened to be Johnson. He was off of my ship. And one of you would hold on to the other one and _____ ships. And the one that you was holding on to would close his eyes because the water was hurting your eyes. And after about _____ close to_____ ship. They tried to throw us life rafts out and lifeboats. But they'd let the boats out -- I mean, rafts out before we got there and just threw them in the water. They was gone. We couldn't catch them. And we saw this ship, and I thanked the Lord for that. He had lost his bow anchor. And he put that LST 169, put the port in and the starboard engine to the rear, and he turned the bow of that ship into our path, _____+ right at the bow. And they throwed us some life rings down there. Mine in my left arm. And Johnson, they was pulling Johnson up the side. They got up so far, and they hollered, Turn it loose. And I don't know -- I saw his rope then coming down. And they hollered, Turn it loose, turn it loose. So I turn it loose. And they pulled me on up, set me on the deck, and I was so weak, I couldn't stand up. Came in there to the chow hall and laid me down on a bed. And what really scared me was one of them said, You better check his feet, they just bleeding blood. And that scared me. They checked them. That coral had cut me. And the first thing they did, give me some _____. I never will forget that, because I didn't drink much then. I didn't drink any. And they went around on the other side of the island, and they reported they had picked up a survivor. _____ went out. And they couldn't send out any more messages. They went on the island to unload, and boys on the ship, there was four of us missing. And they picked out -- that must have been Menlen (ph). He was the First Class Fireman, because he always had to look. And I told him, I said, Why didn't you all think of me? But anyway, they finally got word to him where I was at, and they shipped me back to the ship. It was laying on its side on Atuka Shima (ph). And they put some of us over there in different shifts. We was dismantling it -- and blow it up. They couldn't get it off that reef. You could walk half a mile out there on a reef, if you could take it. But we unloaded it all, and they blew it up and decommissioned it.

Becky Blair:

What about the one they pulled out with you?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Oh, yeah. Well, they was pulling him up, Johnson. And he fell back down in there and the next wave took him on off. They never did find him. His brother was over there at the time too. He was an Airman in the Air Force. He came over and talking to me. And they was flying out there and flying out there.

Becky Blair:

So they lost the other three? They didn't never find the other three?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Huh-uh. We lost four. Yeah, we lost four. Waggle (ph), he was -- he got on a big old raft -- hold -- forgotten how many men, 18 to 20 men -- that during the storm, he shot up all of his flares. Couldn't nobody see him or either get to him like that. Then he got to praying for another raft, and, sure enough, another big old raft run into him. He latched onto both of them, and he waited till it calmed down to do that. And then he started shooting up his -- he was 20 miles from Okinawa out in the ocean then. But he got safe. And then four of them was on a small raft. It was blowing them towards shore, and there was a gun boat laying up almost, just rolling back and forth. And it -- the men on that ship said that that raft come over carrying them boys and throwed them up further on the island there. And he was all right. I go to church down there at -- on Wayne's Road there, Kirkland, yeah, Kirkland Baptist. And Leon Sanders, our treasurer, we got to talking one time, and he was on Okinawa, on the island when that went through. So we were there at the same time.

Becky Blair:

When you were in service, were there any entertainers that came out to entertain you, or did you see any entertainers or . . .

Andrew Higginbotham:

No. I wasn't chosen to do that. We was in the Aleutians at that time. Each, we had four batteries, four guns, 40 millimeters. And you picked, see which one of you got to go to A-DAC (ph) to see Marlin (ph) --

Becky Blair:

Brandon?

Andrew Higginbotham:

She's blond-headed.

Unidentified speaker:

Marilyn Monroe?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Yeah.

Unidentified speaker:

Good old Marilyn.

Andrew Higginbotham:

And they put a performance on over there, and I didn't get to go. I wasn't chosen.

Becky Blair:

How did you all entertain yourselves?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Nothing much up there in the Aleutians. It was cold up there, but it wasn't like down south here. It was a dry cold. We caught a little old fox one time. And my gun battery was right at the foot of this big old mountain. I'd get up every morning and run up it and back down, get exercise. And we had to take -- one gun crew that was on top up there, we had to take them groceries. We'd pack it up the roadway. We'd get up there and give it to them. Then we'd take a piece of that box and fold it up and get out there and slide down it. You get up going good fast. You didn't know what you was going to hit. And lieutenant kept telling us, Now, this is the way you go down. He'd stay up with his heels, walking down that mountain. We'd just sit down and take off. Then we made sleds, some of the boys up there did. They'd come down on those sleds and leave them there at the -- our hut, Quonset hut. Well, we wasn't in a Quonset hut; we was buried, buried our sleeping quarters. The gun was covered with a tent that you rolled back. We were underground. And they'd leave them there, and the officer of the island had them come up and chop them all up. And then they got some barrels; they was skiing on them. They outlawed them. And we caught a little old fox, baby fox, one time. We never could tame that joker.

Becky Blair:

I hope he didn't bite you.

Andrew Higginbotham:

No, he didn't bite us. We finally turned him loose.

Becky Blair:

Was there any particularly humorous or unusual events? I know those were kind of unusual right there, but is there anything particularly humorous that stands out in your mind?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Yeah. We were up there in -- they released us. The Army come back in and took over the guns, and we wasn't having too much to do. And at that time, when we was on the guns, we got -- they gave us six bottles of beer each in the gun crew. And they'd stick them outside in the snow. But I sold mine for a dollar apiece, because I didn't drink.

Becky Blair:

So you made some money on that.

Andrew Higginbotham:

Yeah.

Becky Blair:

Do you think of your fellow comrades or your officers very often? Do you ever think of the guys that you served with?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Yes, I do.

Becky Blair:

Do you stay in touch with them?

Andrew Higginbotham:

I did with Battery 405, which I was in, I keep in touch with them, because they still live in Birmingham and Clanton, Alabama. Robert Cook lives in Clanton, Alabama. He was my best man at my wedding.

Becky Blair:

Do you go to any reunions with your --

Andrew Higginbotham:

No, I haven't.

Becky Blair:

Do you belong to any of the veteran's groups at this time?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Huh-uh.

Becky Blair:

When your service ended, did you go to work or did you go to school afterwards?

Andrew Higginbotham:

I got home about 11:30 that night. At about 5:00 in the morning, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. It was my uncle, wanted me to come to work. So that's where I worked part-time, the service station. Yeah, you gotta come to work, gotta come to work. So I went on back in there and got ready, and I went to work that morning and worked till time to -- I could start back to school and finish my education. I went a year and a half to finish up my high school, graduated in 1947. And I was working part-time in the afternoon. And they had this plating business, Carson Plating business, and I was working the afternoon shift after I got out of school, all down there by myself. And my wife, she'd already had the baby; it was born two weeks after I got home. And, well, Pat, my daughter. And we had some time down there. She would come down there with Pat and had her in her thing there. And Ruth would read me my lessons while I was plating that stuff. Don't make no noise. You just put it in there and let it plate a while, so many minutes, and take it out. She taught me everything. She couldn't -- there wasn't -- let's see. Math? It was one of those teachers -- Ms. Jones taught it. But you just get up there and read stuff, make up stuff. And she'd test you on what the other pupils did. And I couldn't hardly do that. Ruth couldn't do that for me. So when I graduated, they all said Ruth should have gotten hers too, because they knew her writing, turned in that homework and stuff.

Becky Blair:

How long were you in the service?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Right at three years.

Becky Blair:

When you came back from the Aleutians, where did you go?

Andrew Higginbotham:

San Pedro. They gave me blade orders. It wasn't charged as leave.

Becky Blair:

What did you do there? What was your responsibilities there when you was in San Pedro?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Well, we -- they'd use us in the chow hall. And they put me on a boat, 40-foot boat, that transported the sailors down to the coast there at Long Beach. The sailors there at the bay, they'd take them down there for when they was off duty and stuff like that. Well, they had one of the boys standing guard duty at the barracks, where the WAVES were.

Becky Blair:

You enjoyed that then, if it was where the WAVES were.

Andrew Higginbotham:

That was Virgil. That was my other good friend. He's the one that lives in Birmingham. Virgin Godwin. He met his wife -- he stood up when -- he met his wife -- anyway, they met his wife. Three days later, they were married. Still together there in Birmingham too.

Becky Blair:

What did you go on to do as a career after your time in the service?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Let's see, when I got out, then went -- after I quit and went in the service, I had been working with my uncle, like I said. When I got back out, no way he'd let me come back. But anyway, they had a training program going on over at school, and I got in on that. They'd find you a job and send you to it, let you work there. And this guy that was in charge of it got me the job down there at Carson's, and I worked there a while. Then I quit him, because we had set up copper plating in there. Those copper fumes was about to get me. And one of the boys got to spitting up blood. So I finally quit HY Carson's and went to my cousin, to his oil company there in town, and I drove a gas truck for him. And work got slack, so I went to Greenville, Mississippi, where my sister lived, my youngest sister and her husband. He was on the police force, so I went down there and joined the police force down there. And I was there about two years. I quit and came back and went back to work with my cousin driving truck. My brother had started driving for him also. And I got a chance -- they gave me -- a friend of ours said Southern Natural Gas Company, compression station, out there had an opening. They said, Now, when you come out, they said be sure to tell him you were in the Navy and he'll hire you, because you've been a painter. That the all I did out there at that time. [Interview interrupted by a telephone call.]

Becky Blair:

Okay. So you've gone to Southern Natural Gas.

Andrew Higginbotham:

And I went up there on Friday. Talking to Mr. Owens. He asked me all kinds of questions. Then he asked me, he says, Do you drink in excess to your two brothers? I told him, no, I did not drink. He said, Well, be here at Monday morning, go to work. I went there and worked then. And during that time, one of the men down there at the Shell plant come up there and asked me to go to Chattanooga with him. He had been promoted to Chattanooga, and he was trying to get me to go to Chattanooga with him and drive one of his trucks, gas trucks. I said, No, I'll just come to work out here. I can't do that. And, Young, my cousin had come out there with him. And I told Mr. Owens what they wanted. And next time he saw Young, he told him, he said, Don't you never come out there and try to get one of my men. And so they knew Young real well. And then over here at Elesley (ph), they was building a new plant over there. Mr. Harris, our assistant superintendent, made superintendent over at the station here. And he wrote and was telling us about the place. He said, Yeah, a third of the town burnt down last night. There was, I think, three stores up there at Elesley at that time. There was one across the road over there next to where you turn to go on 315. But anyway he said a third of the town burnt down. Then they asked me and two others if we want to transfer down there. Mr. Harris wanted us, wanted me, Burleson (ph) and Harvey Barnes, and all three of us moved down there October the 19th, I believe. Anyway, us three was the only one that made it down there in time.

Becky Blair:

Do you stay in touch with any of your -- you said you stay in touch with a few of your guys that you were in service with. Do you go to any reunions or anything?

Andrew Higginbotham:

No.

Becky Blair:

Okay. Can you tell me how your service in the Navy, how it influenced your -- the rest of your life, what kind of influence it made on your life?

Andrew Higginbotham:

Well, I had some good friends and some good times with them. It made me realize what you're missing when you don't have the Lord on your side, I know that.

Becky Blair:

Mr. Higginbotham, I want to really thank you for your service to your country and for taking your time to do the interview with us today.

Andrew Higginbotham:

You're welcome.

Becky Blair:

Thank you so much.

Andrew Higginbotham:

Thank you.

 
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