Dick Warner

Richard Elon “Dick” Warner

Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Warner, US Navy (Photo courtesy of Katie Burke)

Dick Warner grew up in Piedmont, CA. He became an Eagle Scout and Sea Scout, which sparked his interest in sailing and the Navy. After graduating from the University of California – Berkley ROTC, in 1938, he entered the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Lieutenant Richard Elon Warner, in 1942, Commander, SC-631, (Photo Courtesy of Katie Burke)

Warner completed sub-chaser (SC) training and then served as skipper of the USS SC-631 from 1942-1943.

In September 1944, the Navy assigned Warner to become executive officer of the destroyer escort (DE), USS Kendall C. Campbell, before it left for the Pacific Campaign.

While serving on the Campbell, in June 1945, he was awarded the command of his own ship and transfered to another destroyer escort, USS George (DE-697).

After discharge from the Navy, Warner stayed in touch with his crew through Campbell reunions. In 1994, he participated in the Destroyer Escort Commander Oral Interview Project at East Carolina University.

Dick Warner passed away on February 8, 2005 at his home in California.  His daughter, Katie Burke, gave me permission to share some of her father’s stories that were documented during his 1994 interview.  I’ve paraphrased these below:

AWOL as a New Dad

Dick Warner: I became the commander of my first ship, the sub-chaser SC-631, on my 27th birthday in 1942.  We were located in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and from there headed down to Cape May, New Jersey. Before daybreak, we met up with a convoy of forty merchant ships being escorted by a solitary Canadian Corvette, which was a very small ship.

When we contacted the Corvette – we were welcomed and then quickly thanked — as though they said tag, you’re it. We became the convoy’s escort leader!

After that, we had orders for Morehead City, NC, Charleston, SC, then onto the Sub-Chaser Training Center in Miami, FL.  We were badly needed in the Caribbean Sea so did convoy escort runs to Guantanamo, Cuba and ended up at the Panama Canal.

Richard Elon Warner with his wife, Marion Fuller Warner (Photo Courtesy of Katie Burke)

In November, we went to San Diego, CA, where I found out about the birth of my first daughter, Linda.  She’d been born six weeks earlier. Unfortunately, my ship was in drydock for repairs in Point Loma.

I was very excited to see my wife and our new child.

Me: “I want to go see my wife and new baby.”

Navy: “You’re in hack. You can’t go.”

So, I got out on the highway in my nice uniform with two gold stripes. The first car that went by gave me a ride all the way up near Berkley, 500 miles away, where my wife was staying with her parents. I was having a nice visit with them until the third day when the MPs knocked on the door. I was AWOL, and they put me under arrest. At the Naval Air Station in Alameda, I had to face the Board of Review. They would determine my fate to stay a lieutenant or become an apprentice seaman.

Five admirals questioned me, “What have you got to say for yourself?”

“I hadn’t seen my new child and my wife. Our orders were to go to the Pacific very soon. Yes, I was told I couldn’t, but I just did it anyway.”

I figured if these five admirals were in my position, they would have done the same thing. Turned out they said, “Yes, we would have, but don’t do it again.”

My New Captain and the Ice Cream Machine

 In 1944, the USS Kendall C. Campbell had just come back from shakedown in Bermuda, and I was called to take over as executive officer. I reported to the captain, who had ultimate responsibility for the ship. During my very first meeting with him the captain said,

“I don’t give a darn what you do with the ship, but I want an ice cream machine.”

I went ashore to the supply depot and, to my dismay, discovered ice cream machines were not allowed on destroyer escorts. Later that evening, at the officer’s club, I happened to sit next to Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. He was the skipper of the MOORE, DE-442. He had shaken down with the Campbell and asked, “So, how are you getting along with the new skipper?” I told him about the ice cream machine. Franklin turned to one of his junior officers propped up at the bar and said,

“Have we got one on ours?”

“No.”

“I’ll call my dad.”

Nice to have family in high places.

Within minutes, the President of the United States was on the line to his son, talking just like any other father would.

“Son, right here in the Oval Office, there’s three or four guys with lots of gold braid on them, but none of them know anything about ice cream machines. I’ll have to call you back.”

Twenty minutes later, Franklin, Jr. went to the head, and the telephone rang. I answered it, and it was his father, the President.

“This is President Roosevelt.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is Frank there?”

“Well, he went to the head. He’ll be back in a couple minutes.”

“Tell him that I’ve got an ice cream machine for him, and it’ll be in Norfolk when he arrives in a couple days.”

“Just a minute, Mr. President. We need two. I’m the one who put Frank onto this idea. I’m the exec on the 443, and my skipper told me he wanted an ice cream machine.”

“Okay, we’ll get you one too.”

Unbelievably, I just had the distinction of talking to the President of the United States.

Several days later, coming into the Chesapeake, here came a couple of big barges who delivered our ice cream machines.

Frank Roosevelt, Jr, President’s Son

Hell of a guy, he operated a good ship. When Frank’s father died, he didn’t want to go home. But he got orders and was transferred. He was a good guy. In Panama, when we got through the Canal—he was a great ship handler–he just brought it right up and parked it. Boom! He went ashore, and they came back with a pretty good truckload of liquor.

Kamikazes and Action in Lingayen Gulf

When we were coming through Suragao Straits in the Philippines, we got into our first attack — suicide planes. In CIC (Combat Information Center), we had them all plotted. It was serious because we were vulnerable, just two ships abreast. We weren’t in a large formation because the Straits were narrow. There was some shore fire coming at us, too. It was at nighttime; and there was a slug of suicides. The gunnery officer was pretty good. We kept giving him the details and telling him where to put the fifties {fifty caliber machine guns}.

We endured a whole series of attacks. The destroyer escort, DE-441, took a suicide plane right alongside of us. That’s when the Omnibay got it, and a friend of mine was killed; two also died on the bridge of the California.

We went onto Lingayen Gulf and then Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima wasn’t bad for us. One time, we went into Saipan and took a pretty good licking, but Iwo Jima was okay. We were anchored right there, and we saw that flag go up on the hill. We were the mail boat of all things, anchored, after having been there for ten days.

Japanese Surrender

We went into the Yokosuka Navy Base about ten days before the official surrender. We received a radio dispatch–we were right in there–to cease all offensive operations. Everybody relaxed; and all of a sudden, we spotted a one-man torpedo submarine that was between us and the destroyer escort on the other side. The DE beat us to it and hit him. It had been launched by a mother sub, and we didn’t get credit for the sinking. That may well have been the last submarine sunk during World War II.

Protection from Air Crew Men

I give all credit for our survival to the air coverage we got from the pilots and other air crew men.  It was interesting, years later, while at a Campbell reunion, I realized one of the attendees was an ensign we had picked up. He was off the Hogattbay and had gotten shot down. The Campbell  picked him up, and he was most happy about that. We probably salvaged thirty or forty aviators.

Young Sailors

These young guys from North Carolina–their daddies were bootleggers and raised terrific mechanics. They’d get an old Ford V-8 and soup it up so it’d go one hundred miles an hour. When we got them on board, maybe ten of them had never had shoes on before. There was a lot of illiteracy. One of the good things I did (not to belittle the education system in North Carolina) was to help the young sailors with their literacy. They really wanted to learn, and we taught them  how to read and write.

End of the War Souvenirs

We thought the Japs were going to defend right to the end. Thank goodness for Truman and the atomic bomb. We saw the bloom of the first one when we were down that way. We saw it, though we didn’t know what it was. We heard there was a mysterious bomb, which we couldn’t believe. Then, they let the second one go four or five days later, which to me was a godsend.

We did the typical raising hell while we were in Yokosuka Navy Base.

There was an old battleship, Japan’s last one. It was sitting in the mud in Yokosuka, and a whole bunch of us went over and found the sake locker. Guys got souvenirs off the ship, typical.

Later, on the Campbell, all of a sudden I heard this frantic voice:

“Fire in the after magazine!”

They sounded the General Quarters. That’s the worst thing you can do. I was in my skivvies. I had a fire extinguisher on my deck so went running back there with it. However, everybody was trying to get off the boat and climb onto the next ship. I stopped at the gangway and yelled,

“Belay General Quarters. Gunner’s Mates and anybody who’ll volunteer, come on back. We’re going to that after magazine of the 5-inch gun.”

I entered where all the projectiles were on shelves. The crew handed them up to the gunners. The whole damn thing was on fire. There was a guy named Nickerson lying on the floor. I got him out, then we extinguished the fire. We didn’t know whether the thing was going to totally blow or not. We had to haul Nickerson off the ship and to the hospital because he was badly burned.

The Japanese gas signal lantern that Nickerson brought back as a souvenir from that battleship caused the fire. He went down in the after magazine to try it out, and it blew up on him.

We were burnt a little bit, but not bad. I hugged the guys who had the guts to come back and help.

Nickerson was lucky. I saw him years later at a reunion.

Warner after the War

Following World War II, Commander Warner joined the Destroyer Escort Commanders Organization (DECO) and participated in raising funds for restoration of several ships. Dick worked tirelessly on the museum ship named the USS Slater in Albany, NY. He contacted many of his former DE associates and their families to secure donations.

  • Citation – created by Donald Lennon, ECU Manuscript CollectionRichard E. Warner Oral History Interview (#OH0146), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina,