Dad’s Memories of His Service in the Navy During World War II

Andrew John Kostakos, Navy, World War IIWithin a week of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941, I went to volunteer at the Navy Recruiting Station at 50 Church Street so that I would have a choice about my military service.  It was a madhouse there as men and boys were very eager to enlist and serve their country.  The very first preliminary medical examination given was an eye exam.  I was told to read the third line up from the bottom of an eyechart on the wall.  I couldn’t read it and was then told to walk up to the chart until I could see it.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the floor was marked with varying lines to determine your vision.  I was rejected because my eyesight was not 20/20.  At that time the Navy was very fussy and did not accept volunteers with less than perfect vision.  I was very upset because I was afraid I would be drafted into the Army, and I hate the Army!

In 1943, I received a notice to go for a physical examination at Governor’s Island.  When I was put through a medical exam, doctors found a hernia and stamped my papers “rejected.”  About four months later I received a second call, but I was rejected again.  I even received a third call and was also rejected.  In l944 I went in for a fourth time and all my papers were there.  The doctor pointed to my medical records which indicated the hernia and said, “Aren’t you going to fix that hernia?”  I said, “No.”  He got a little aggravated, picked up a stamp, and put “accepted” on my papers.  I handed my papers to a serviceman who asked me if I wanted to go into the Army or the Navy, and I said the Navy.  He looked over at a Navy officer nearby who nodded his head, and I was finally in.

I never did get that hernia fixed on my own.  I went home for a 14-day leave after boot camp to help my father at the store.  One night when I was working, one of our customers, who was a doctor, came in and said, “Andy, I haven’t seen you for a long time.” I said, “I’ve been in the Service.  Three times they rejected me and the fourth time they accepted me.”  He asked if I had a hernia, and when I said yes he said, “That is a serious thing.  A hernia is a tear in your stomach wall and the intestines come out.  When you lie down and go to bed, the intestines go back into the stomach.  But sometimes when you’re up and about, the intestines get twisted up and become abnormal.  That’s called a ‘strangulated hernia’ which can kill you.”  He insisted I have it fixed immediately upon returning to Sampson Naval Base, before I was sent overseas.  “When you go back,” he said, “the first thing you should do is go through sick bay and complain that you have a pain in your side.  They’ll examine you and then operate.”

When I returned, I did go to sick bay.  When a doctor examined me and said, “You have a hernia,”  I replied, “Really?”  He immediately had me sent by ambulance to the hospital and I was operated on a couple of days later.  Years later, I had an appendix operation and a second hernia operation on the other side.

Most people didn’t want their sons to go into the Service, but it was an obligation.  My father wasn’t upset but he accepted the fact that I eventually did have to serve.  My mother was a little sad, as I imagine all mothers are, but when you have to go, you go.

It was May, l944 when I went to Cook’s School in Stamford, Connecticut, where I learned nothing.  At Stamford, we got the best meats and foods, but there was no one who could cook properly.  At that time, we used to cook in big quantities, and it’s different cooking that way rather than preparing individual orders.  I never got along with any of those in charge because I resented how they tried to teach me how to cook — the methods they taught were wrong as far as I was concerned.  I was annoyed at their attitude — regardless if something is right or wrong, you have to do it their way with no if’s or but’s about it.  I imagine that if you were able to cook for an officer, that would be the only time you could specialize and do it your way.

After training, I was assigned to Norfolk, Virginia.  Getting a ship assignment usually took four weeks.  After three months, I was still not assigned.  I got mad.  If I was supposed to go on a ship, I wanted to be on a ship, not stuck in a small town.  I went to the office and complained, and found out that my records were lost.  If I hadn’t gone, I would probably have been stuck there for two more years!  After sixteen weeks of waiting, I finally was assigned to a hospital ship, one of three in a unit.  There were four cooks, one head cook and three other helpers.  It was remarkable what could be done on those three ships.  There was enough equipment to set up a l00-bed hospital anywhere.  The ships had their own generators, beds and medicines.  Navy men could set up an emergency hospital to care for sick and wounded men any place in the world.

We set out from San Francisco to a meeting point in the Pacific.  One day we looked out and saw hundreds of ships:  destroyers, cargo ships, and other war ships to escort us to the Philippine Islands and protect us.  If those ships weren’t there to guard us, enemy submarines would have wiped us out.

I never saw any action, and I’m glad.  Because the military sends people to a destination ahead of tim
expected in August but we arrived in June.  There was no advance preparation made for us and no need for our services, but there was no place else for us to go.  We arrived early and were sent into the woods to cut down trees and put up tents for our quarters until it could be determined where we would be needed. e rather than have them delayed, you often found yourself where you were really not needed after all.  That’s what happened to us.  Our convoy was

The Japanese were pushed out of the Philippines and soon after we arrived, the war ended.  We never did use the hospital facilities.  We just sat around, waiting for orders.  When we learned that we would be heading back, everything had to be sold — equipment, food, bedding.  Absolutely nothing was to be brought back to the United States.  Whatever wasn’t used or sold was dumped in the ocean.  Natives came in with w
I couldn’t wait to get home.  The Philippines were hot, muggy and rainy.  The worst part of the day would be about 11:00 in the morning when the heaviest rains came.  About a half hour after the rain stopped, everything dried, but then the air became steamy.  It rained like this on and off several times a day.  Many men didn’t take care of themselves.  They walked around with wet clothes and socks, and contracted a fungus.  I had three or four pairs of shoes and kept changing several times a day to prevent foot problems. ads of money (I have no idea where they got it from) and bought all kinds of items.  Even I sold a carton of cigarettes for $4.00.

I got out of the Service in May, 1946.  There were opportunities to go to school, but I went back to my father’s store [my grandfather, John Andrew Kostakos,  owned a seafood restaurant in Brooklyn, New York].

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