SF3 Abraham Lincoln Palmer
Naval Construction Battalion “Seabees”
3rd Class Shipfitter
WWII – Europe and Philippines
Dr. A. L. Palmer passed away on October 28, 2015 at the age of 93. Thank you for your service, Dr. Palmer!
Dr. Palmer has been a Baptist preacher for almost 70 years, but before he served his church congregations as a pastor, he served our country as a Navy Seabee in World War II. Here is his story…
” …so we’ll stop the general chatter and I’ll tell my life story — as a veteran of World War Two.”
I want to hear all about it.
“Well, it’s not as exciting as others…”
It doesn’t matter. My theory is, is that everybody had a part to play [he nods] and…
“… I was available – to give my life – as everybody else was – if they called me…
So far everyone I have interviewed has had a totally a different role and I’ve enjoyed hearing what role they played, so…
If you want to start at the beginning …
“… well the beginning of my military career I was twenty-one years of age — and I knew that it was coming and I was working nights some and the electrician at night was the chairman of the draft board.”
“And he came to me one evening and he said, ‘Palmer, I can’t protect you anymore. You’ve got to sign up and go in. I’d recommend the Seabees – you’ll get a rating — you’re already a welder.’ And he said, ‘I think, that would be a wise move — the war is pretty well over…’ ”
“So I did! I signed up in the US Navy Seabees and I was a third class shipfitter – which means I was up above those lower things where you have to mop floors — [he smiles] and I was sent to Camp Peary in Virginia. And there I was trained by a Marine who was a good guy, but he did not bend. [He chuckles] And so we had good training there. But, oh, it was hot.”
“So after we finished training there, they shipped us to a base in Rhode Island and we didn’t stay there very long.”
“And then they shipped us down to the state of New York on the beach at Long Island and they put us there – they left us there for nine months, with nothing to do, and I had liberty every other day – and in New York City – and everything’s paid for because you have a uniform on and I took advantage of that. I assure you I was in New York every other day, and had a wonderful time.”
“Now after that, they decided to send us to Europe. I don’t know why, but they did. And I had been in a car wreck about six years earlier and when they examined me they said I needed some operation on my nose before I could go overseas. I said, “Whether I go overseas or not, let’s have it. It’s free!” And it was. They operated on me — it was a wonderful thing, because I had a messed up nose all my life. I had a stopped up nose, see. They whittled it out pretty big. And that was good.”
“We sailed over across the Atlantic and landed in Glasgow, Scotland. And the amazing thing to us was how late it got dark. We’re not used to that. We’d cover the windows and finally get to sleep. We didn’t stay there long and we got on a train and crossed England and loaded onto a boat to cross the North Sea there and went in to Cherbourg, France.”
“We unloaded there and they had no place to put us, so we went up back of the city on a hill and lived in tents for some days and they finally figured it out to empty a nun’s quarters to put them somewhere else and put us in those nun’s quarters. And we lived in those quarters the rest of our time while we were there.”
“Now my work there – I didn’t just do nothing. I did three things, basically. One thing I did – probably more unique than anything – I worked with war prisoners – German war prisoners in LaHavre, France which was north of where I was. And LaHavre was bombed mercilessly during the war. It was just pulverized. And I worked putting up small docks for boats – and that didn’t last long.”
“And then I was assigned to assist the electricians and the plumbers in fixing up the chateaus. They’re going to be occupied for some of our officers. We fixed up the chateaus to where they were livable. That was interesting because they were old and they had lead pipes. I never learned to do it, but the plumbers would do what we call “wrap pipes,” and that is a very difficult thing – to wrap two pipes together with lead and when you get done to have no leaks. It’s an art. So I was around those guys doing that.”
“And we didn’t stay long there and they sent us back to the states. And it was November when we arrived and we got home and had vacation until January 1. And then we had to report to the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago and we were assigned.”
“And we were reassigned to the Philippines [to Manicani Island] to work on the world’s largest floating dry dock. It was brought out there in pieces and we put it together. It was in nine sections and the wing walls would stand up like this [holds verticle hands out] and at the top of that, we were welding those together.”
“And my job as a welder, I operated a union melt track welder which was a welder that operated automatically. It ran on a track and an arm reached over and the rod was there to weld and I kept flux in there. And my job – instead of holding the rod, was to keep this machine adjusted to where it was doing the welding for me. It welded at a constant pace and never stopped to put in a new rod or anything because the machine was set up to – I’m keeping it loaded and it’s doing all of that.”
“And so it was very hot up there where I worked. I’d have to stand on 2x4s and it was not uncommon to see those things catching on fire. It was that hot up there. But we had a job to do, so we did it.”
“We lived on Manicani Island and it was not a bad place to live. They put up a bunch of tents and a dining room and the things we needed to live. I fit in very well there — always did with the troops.”
“And to break up the monotony, I organized a softball team on the island. And we had another group on down the island and we’d play them a time or two. It was fun.”
“So we just kept doing our job and while I was there, in September, my mother died.”
“– unexpectedly. When I said good-bye to her, she was in real good health. She died of a heart and sugar diabetes problem. And of the nine living children, I’m the only one who was unreachable as far as coming for the service. And so I received word that my mother died and that was after the war was over. And around October, I began to request privileges to come home, which was my right to do. And it took about a month for the Salvation Army to verify and find out for sure that my mother is dead. So they did and I came home.”
“I came home around Thanksgiving and I was to have the rest of the time off until Jan 1 because the war is over.”
“And then they tell me to report to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. And I report there and they assign me to be a Navy policeman – a shore patrolman in Chicago. And so I moved into – well the Catholics there have a building there by the Great Lakes – it’s a lot of things – a women’s college I think and offices and things, but anyway, they cleared some floors for the Navy to put there policemen there. So I lived there. And the Chicago policemen added some training in addition to the training we had already had about guns, warfare, and protecting yourself – you know, staying alive and putting the other guy dead and all that stuff. It was quite an experience because I had the assignment of being in charge of the big train station because [everyone] traveled by train back in those years. We traveled occasionally by airplanes, but airplanes were few and far between compared to what we’ve got now. So I was in charge of that big station and had a couple of guys work with me. And so I did that for about two and a half months and then I was discharged. And it was a good experience, however, I am not cut out to be a policeman. I can stop fights and I can check papers and do all the things you need to do, but it’s not what I want to do in life.”
It wasn’t a good fit for you.
“Oh, no, no, no. I don’t want to have authority over other men like that. That was it.”
“So, then I was honorably discharged from the Great Lakes Training Station and sent home.”
What year was that?
“That would have been…’46. I came home in ’46. My mother died in ’45”.
“I think there are veterans that deserve our best. I traveled and lived in Europe and I can tell you, to see all those graveyards over there is very sobering to me – so many Americans had to die to keep the world free. It makes me more dedicated.”
“So that’s my story.”
Thank you for your service, Dr. Palmer.