WWII vet shares Charleston memories
During the period of 1942-1944, I worked in the U.S. Navy Intelligence Office at 29 East Battery in Charleston.
In June 1942, along with about 25 others, I joined the Navy at the recruiting station in Columbia. That night, I met at the train station with the others, and they were all sent to the Norfolk Training Station. But I was put on the night train to Charleston.
In the middle of the night, I arrived in Charleston, and the train backed into the main station, and I spent the night at the Timrod Hotel on Meeting Street for $5.
The next morning, I reported to the Naval Headquarters at 29 East Battery.
There, I met all of these nice people who had been bookkeepers, secretaries, clerks, farmers, judges, etc. Cmdr. Sidney W. Souers was the commanding officer of the Sixth Naval District. He later became an admiral, and was appointed the first head of the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington.
With the help of the naval personnel, I rented a room at a Mrs. Turner’s at 113 Tradd Street.
When 1 reported to Charleston, Ensign John F. Kennedy had just left the office at 29 East Battery to train to be captain of a PT boat, and later I rented the room at 15 Atlantic Street, where he had stayed while there.
Fred W. Weber, chief petty officer, suggested that Cmdr. Souers recommend Ensign Kennedy for this training. And, as many of us know, the movie “PT-109” was based on the future president’s wartime experiences.
During World War II, 1942 was a critical time. Many of our merchant ships and tankers were being sunk, right off the Atlantic coast.
We could not get the supplies needed in England and Europe to support the troops. Survivors were being brought into Charleston and our organization did the debriefing. The coast was called “Torpedo Junction.”
I had never been to Charleston, but right away I learned to love it. I spent two years there before being transferred to the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla.
After the war was over, I was transferred back to Charleston, and I helped with the preparation of “The Intelligence Manual,” which was sent to Washington to be a guide in future wars. The people in Charleston were very cordial, especially the church members at the First Presbyterian Church on Meeting Street.
We attended most of their social functions and services. Many of the church members invited us for dinner on Sundays.
We attended the movies, mostly at the Gloria Theater, as we had to walk there.
We attended the USO, and the classic music that we heard was “Mairzy Doats,” “The Music Goes Round and Round,” “Stardust,” etc.
On weekdays, the seafood peddlers were going up and down the street crying “shrimp man,” and the ladies were selling cut flowers in front of the courthouse.
Mrs. Julia Gordon had a boarding house near Water Street, and many of us ate three meals a day with her. She was formally dressed for the evening meal.
The purpose of our office was to investigate and report to Naval Operations any suspected subversive activities by our enemies.
Everyone had to be trained because none of us had previous experience or training. Everything was kept confidential or secret, and we were not to tell our outside associates where we worked.
At this time, everything is announced as soon as it happens.
J. Howard Hucks
Mr. Hucks, 92, is employed as finance manager at the Douglas Jennings Law Firm, LLC.