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William Obitz

Oral history interview conducted by Daniella Romano

May 18, 2009

Call number: 2010.003.045

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DANIELLA ROMANO: That, that changes everything.

BILL OBITZ: Put it on and it works better.

DANIELLA ROMANO: [laughter] Okay. Thank you very much for joining us here today, Bill. Um, we are conducting an oral history interview with Bill Ortiz.


DANIELLA ROMANO: Obitz. Oh sorry. We're conducting an oral history interview with Bill Obitz, of the USS Missouri first tour, World War II, um, at the USS Missouri Association Reunion, in September 2009. Bill, can you please spell out your full name for me?

BILL OBITZ: William, W-I-L-L-I-A-M, Obitz, O-B-I-T-Z. No middle name.

DANIELLA ROMANO: And also, just for the recording, I'd like everybody in the room to introduce ourselves. My name is Daniella Romano, and I'm the Director of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Archive.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: I'm Mike Weidenbach, Curator of the Battleship Missouri.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Bill, can you please tell me where and when you were born?


BILL OBITZ: I was born in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, [date redacted for privacy].

DANIELLA ROMANO: Happy Birthday.

BILL OBITZ: Thank you.


BILL OBITZ: I always have a party at my birthday, mostly. [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: [laughter] You like to have a reunion of sorts --

BILL OBITZ: Reunion for my birthday.

DANIELLA ROMANO: -- for your birthday. Can you please tell me what is your family background?

BILL OBITZ: My family background?

DANIELLA ROMANO: Like where your family comes from, or where, where, you were born, just to give me an idea, like what your mom and dad did.

BILL OBITZ: I was born in Pennsylvania, Plymouth, Pennsylvania, in 1926. And my father, he was a coal miner, worked in the coal mines for about 30 years. And when I was three years old, we moved to a farm, and I was raised on a, on a farm 2:00in, eh, rural, out of Plymouth, about 10 miles in all. And I joined the Navy -- my first enlistment, I, was September 1, of 1943. And I went through the whole physical aspect, until the very last doctor, and he looked at me and he said no, I can't, we can't take you. I'm going to turn you down. He said go home for six months, and then come back. I said, why, what's wrong with me? He said, there's nothing wrong, but you're five foot two, and you weight 107 pounds. He said, you're just a little small for it. I said, well I'm big enough! He said, no come back in six months. So I went home for six months, and I was eating anything and everything I could get my hands on, and I put on a whopping 10 pounds, so I went 3:00in at 117. And there was no fat on me, all muscle. [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: Um, when did you come to the Brooklyn Navy Yard? Where did you enlist, first of all?

BILL OBITZ: I enlisted in Wilkes-Barrie--


BILL OBITZ: Pennsylvania, and I went to Sampson, New York for, uh, boot training. And, eh, that was in March, March seventeenth, of '44. And, yeah '44, and then I, we went to, uh, Newport, Rhode Island for, uh, gunnery training, firefighting, and we, we were there, oh I don't know, a month or so, and then we, we went down, in New York, in Brooklyn Navy Yard, and we were billeted in the annex, and we used to go from the annex, over to, uh, the yard, and work, 4:00work on the ship, mostly, uh, putting stores on. And it had a lot of, lot of provisions to go on. And I was assigned, uh, after, after November, or June eleventh, I was assigned to the butcher shop as a mess cook, and I spent five months in there, learning how to cut butter and cheese. That was the big thing that we -- that I had to do.

DANIELLA ROMANO: What was, what was a typical menu, actually, on board ship, and, and --

BILL OBITZ: I couldn't --


BILL OBITZ: -- I couldn't, I couldn't begin to tell you that. I mean, we had, we had powdered eggs for breakfast, and, which I gave up eating breakfast after, when you put an egg on your tray, and it bounces in the air, that , that, that is not -- for a farm kid that had fresh eggs when he wanted them, it's a big 5:00difference. And, and powdered milk was something else I didn't approve of. You know, I used to have, I used to have five cows I milked in the morning, before -- [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: You're used to fresh produce.

BILL OBITZ: That diet, that diet wasn't really one I liked. But all in all, I think they, I think they fed good. In port, we would have occasionally a steak and eggs for breakfast, um, which wasn't bad. And just beans, and hash, and whatever they happen to have on hand, I guess.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Um, if you went to school, if you went to gunnery school, and then you're a mess cook, what was -- what was your actual -- what was your position on board?

BILL OBITZ: I was a deck hand. And keeping the deck bulkheads clean.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So, what would that entail, going to get --


BILL OBITZ: Well, in, in the morning before breakfast, you would have to, um, go up and scrub the deck, wash the deck down, get that clean, and then you went and had your breakfast. That's the work that had to be done first.


BILL OBITZ: Famous call: "All deckhands report to your station. Man your broom. Clean sweep down, 'fore and aft'." Now you hear that every morning.

DANIELLA ROMANO: They just felt the need to remind you what your duty was?

BILL OBITZ: No, they would tell you what, what to do.


BILL OBITZ: Which was, yeah, after a while you get used to it.


BILL OBITZ: And it -- I, I, I was -- I really wasn't anybody to try to get ahead. I just drifted through, because we had one of the meanest boats and mates 7:00the Navy ever had.


BILL OBITZ: It was nasty. [laughter]


BILL OBITZ: I mean he would walk in the compartment in the morning --


BILL OBITZ: -- and holler to get up --


BILL OBITZ: -- and he would walk through, turn and walk back through, and on the way back, if you wasn't up, he would grab you, whether you're top bunk, bottom bunk, or wherever, and you came out. They didn't call him Big Mike for nothing. But --

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you ever get grabbed? Sorry.

BILL OBITZ: No, no, no, no, I -- I knew better than that. [laughter] At 120, and, and him 200, nuh-uh.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Aw. [laughter]

BILL OBITZ: My mom didn't raise no fool. But give him credit, yo, he had -- had had -- he had a hard job, there's no question. I mean he didn't have to do it quite as hard, but he got the, he got the job done.


MIKE WEIDENBACH: What division were you in?

BILL OBITZ: What division? Eighth.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So you came to the annex, March seventeenth?

BILL OBITZ: No I came there, uh, let me say, approximately around June the first.


BILL OBITZ: Some, somewhere in that time area, I don't know exact date.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Okay, so then shortly before the commission?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, right.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you spend much time out in Brooklyn while you were -- before the commission, did you have any free time?

BILL OBITZ: Oh yeah, we, we were -- we had liberty, uh most every night.


BILL OBITZ: And we, we just fooled around. [laughter]



DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you go out to dinner, to clubs, dancing?

BILL OBITZ: No. We used to go up to the parks, and should I say, girl watch --


BILL OBITZ: -- girl hunt, or what, whatever.


BILL OBITZ: That was about the biggest thrill, to date.


DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you meet any women who worked in the yard?

BILL OBITZ: No. They would be older women, for us to work in the yard. They'd have to be nineteen, twenty years old, and we, we're only seventeen and eighteen. [laughter]


BILL OBITZ: So, we can't -- we can't go for older women.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Mm-hmm. Where would you go to try and find the girls, up in the park, or --

BILL OBITZ: Up in the park, oh yeah.

DANIELLA ROMANO: -- in the park.

BILL OBITZ: They usually come looking for guys, and --


BILL OBITZ: I never did make out though. It must have been my slowness.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Sorry about that. [laughter]

BILL OBITZ: [laughter] I couldn't run fast enough.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you, did you have friends who did, dud well with --


DANIELLA ROMANO: -- women in the neighborhoods?

BILL OBITZ: I would imagine. They had happy faces.


BILL OBITZ: They must have been all right.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So, tell me what it was like when you first saw the Missouri.

BILL OBITZ: When I first saw it, that's the first ship I ever seen, to be honest 10:00with you, because I've never around the sea shore. They had very few in, in Pennsylvania. Rivers wasn't big enough. I have, so, wow! You know, and it was, it was big. And the strange part, when we first, the very first time we moved, going out the battery, a buddy and I, we walked up in the bow, and you could feel the vi -- the vibration. I said, wow, feel, feel, just feel that! You could feel yourself shaking. And we wondered how it was going to be like, when we get out in the rough sea. If you were lucky, man.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Huh. Why do you think it was shaking?

BILL OBITZ: It's just -- they, they vibrate a little bit when, when they're moving. When you first -- but after a while, you don't even notice it.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you say that you were out with a buddy, or with Buddy?

BILL OBITZ: I had a -- had a buddy of mine, name of Richard McHale.



BILL OBITZ: And we were like twins. Wherever there was one, there was, there was the other one was there, the whole time, and when we got discharged, he went one way, and I went the other, and I only seen him once after that. Because he, uh, well he continued his drinking, and I didn't. And the last time I seen him, it was my wife's graduation, and we were at an amusement park, and I see him at one of the stands. I went over, and talked to him, and he said, what do you say we, uh, go out and hang one on? No, I don't do that no more. I said, see that girl over there. He said, so it's a girl, he said, they never came between us before. I said, that's the one there. And that was sixty-two years ago, long time. And 12:00she's going through a hard time right now.


BILL OBITZ: Yeah she's a survivor of cancer, and it's been rough for two years.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Uh-huh. How's she doing now?

BILL OBITZ: She's coming along better.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Okay. She looks great. That's the woman who I met downstairs?


DANIELLA ROMANO: She's lovely.

BILL OBITZ: She used to be more so. But now, she's, she's hanging in good.


BILL OBITZ: But -- she's going to be all right.

DANIELLA ROMANO: When did you meet her?

BILL OBITZ: When did I meet her? Um, May the thirtieth, of 1946. That's, that's when I met her.


BILL OBITZ: At -- she lived next door to my sister, and uh...

DANIELLA ROMANO: So you went back to Virginia?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, back to, back to, um, Pennsylvania.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Pennsylvania, excuse me.

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, and that's, that's, that's where I met her in. The strange 13:00part was, I went to school with her sister, and I, I never knew her. And when I knocked on the door, her sister opened the door, and I looked, oh my God, not you, you know. [laughter] But, it wasn't her, it was her younger sister.

DANIELLA ROMANO: [laughter] You didn't like her older sister?

BILL OBITZ: Um, not really. [laughter]


BILL OBITZ: She was, eh, nice person.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Yeah, you get along better with her. You've been part of her family for many years.

BILL OBITZ: Many, many years, but she's passed away a number of years ago.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Mm, I'm sorry to hear that. So, what -- tell us a little bit about what it was like to be on board, once ship was underway, what were your first experiences at sea?

BILL OBITZ: Eh. [pause] Our first experience with her, our first, uh, cruise out 14:00was to, uh, Trinidad, for our shakedown cruise, and that's where, uh, I first heard, uh, sixteen-inch guns fire, and live, live twenty millimeter, actually off the ship, we had gunnery practice down there. And that was kind of a new experience. They used to -- plane used to pull a sleeve behind it, and we'd shoot at that, which a lot of guys shot towards the plane, but, uh -- well, that actually happened to me once, uh, and I didn't know it. I was firing, and I couldn't hear, and a guy was telling me to stop, cease fire, and I kept firing, and I'd get whacked alongside the head. There are destroyers over there, and I'm -- I'm lobbing, lobbing for the destroyer.


BILL OBITZ: Never heard that we hit anybody. I'm lucky I'm a bad shot.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So you were a gunner?


DANIELLA ROMANO: On the Missouri...



DANIELLA ROMANO: As well as being deckhand?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, the, the twenty millimeter was our battle station.


BILL OBITZ: I didn't actually operate the -- I wasn't the gunner on the twenty, because I, I was -- I loaded the gun, and the other, had a kid from Brooklyn, was the gunner. After the kamikaze hit, he wanted me to take the gun. Uh-uh, you ain't strappin' me in there. [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: Why did he want you to take the gun?

BILL OBITZ: Eh, because he couldn't get loose, when you -- to fall down. When the plane hit, he, he backed up, and the more you backed up, the tighter it got. And he couldn't get loose. And, uh, I know, I, I pushed him forward, and unhooked him, um, after it was over with, but he didn't want to get in that position again. Like, no I'm not taking no gunnery out. I'll stay right here and load it for you. Just like this morning, when they said about burying a body two 16:00days, it was next day. Next. Over time, things changes.



MIKE WEIDENBACH: -- how did it work, uh, between your duty, your, your raiding, your, your, your deckhand, and battle stations?

BILL OBITZ: What do you mean, how did it work?

MIKE WEIDENBACH: How, how, how was it that people were chosen to be -- to do different battle stations?

BILL OBITZ: Well, the eighth, uh, division, they took care of all, all the twenty millimeters. There was 180 of us, in the division, and they just assigned so many people to each, each gun, and when, uh -- no matter what you're doing, when the quarters went off, you went to your, uh, your battle station. I stood watch on the port side, by, by the whale boats, up -- that's, that's taken away 17:00now, there was a, used to be, uh, five twenties up there, and we sort of gun watched there. But at, at general quarters, I was over on the starboard's side by turret three. I often wonder, why I didn't stay there, but you'd be on watch, and you came off, and you'd have to leave there, and rush to your battle station.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Can you tell me where you were, when the kamikaze hit, and did you see it coming?

BILL OBITZ: I was approximately, from here to the wall, when the plane --


BILL OBITZ: -- when the plane hit. It might have been a little bit closer, but that's was when the plane hit.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you see it coming?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah. As he was coming in, you could see, he was firing his machine gun, you could see it hitting the water, and then I could see the red hub on his 18:00propeller, that's the last thing I remember, and then we hit the deck, and he hit. Yeah, it was close.

DANIELLA ROMANO: What did it feel like?

BILL OBITZ: Oh, I, I didn't feel anything. There was no -- he wasn't heavy enough to give us any damage. And the strange part about that, that there was April the eleventh. Weeks later, I get a letter from my sister, and she's writing, and she said that, the whole family is concerned about my brother. He was on an LST. They said, we don't know where he's at, or what he's doing, and we're afraid, but she said, you, we're not worrying about you, we know you're all right, dated April the eleventh, the day that -- wouldn't that have been awful for her, if that got returned, if something would've happened? That's the 19:00way faith works. Yeah, that, that was, -- that was close. A lot of guys don't believe that, but, uh -- and he, the body landed there on, on the deck.


BILL OBITZ: Yeah, he was cut in half. Mike, Mike can testify that, you got the pictures. And I never believed that he hit into the cargo net, I, I mean, the light net. They claimed he did, but I, I can't -- I can't -- I can't believe that, because I seen him washing on the deck with the fire hose, so I don't know where -- a lot of things, it happened so fast, you don't remember afterwards.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: I asked you before, but when that plane was coming, what were you thinking, and why -- why you, you didn't run of course, but [laughter] what...


BILL OBITZ: I guess we're like hypnotized, or something. We just stood there, and we stared at it. And, uh, I told you, Dixon was going to kill me, for he said, I was screaming for you guys to get down, and you stood there, he said, like idiots. You, you, you just stood -- I guess we were paralyzed or something, but all of a sudden, we, we dropped.

DANIELLA ROMANO: You had seen planes hit other ships.


DANIELLA ROMANO: You had seen other --

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, the carriers, I'd seen them get it quite a bit. I'd also seen, uh, the Franklin, the aircraft carrier. I actually seen that bombs drop and hit that ship, and that was an -- that was -- that was an awful, awful thing to see. That ship blew itself apart. And nothing you can do.

DANIELLA ROMANO: You towed it back, didn't you tow it?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, they, they towed it back. I don't know how they ever made it, 21:00but they towed it back.

DANIELLA ROMANO: It came back to the Brooklyn Navy Yard --


DANIELLA ROMANO: -- too, for repairs.

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, it was, it was tore up.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Awful photos.

BILL OBITZ: I, uh, oh years later when I was, I was driving charter bus part-time in New Jersey, and we went to Philadelphia, and walking in the museum, with the young driver with me. I'd seen the aircraft carrier, it, it was shot, and went to flames. I said, I'd seen that happen. Did you seen that happen? He said, you damn, old, liar you, you. I said, I'm telling you, I was there! And I couldn't convince him that it was true. He dropped two bombs, and then he made a, he banked left, and the, and the overhead cap shot him down.

DANIELLA ROMANO: What did you think about the announcement that the kamikaze 22:00pilot was going to get last rites and burial at sea?

BILL OBITZ: That didn't bother me at all. I mean, I had no hard feelings about that. It didn't -- it didn't mean anything. And, and they -- they made the flag. They worked all, most of the night, and they made up a Japanese flag, and they dropped him over.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: Do, do you know the details of who made the flag, and --

BILL OBITZ: No, no, I don't, I --


BILL OBITZ: The guys in the sail lockers, or wherever, they would, but they, they made the -- they made a flag up.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: So it was sewn, a sewn flag, it wasn't painted or something?

BILL OBITZ: No it, it was sewn.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Were you at the ceremony?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, it was about -- it was about between our gun tub, and the forty millimeter, that's where they dropped him over. That's what people, the 23:00couple from Japan that came over, and interviewed, they want to know, what was my feelings. Like, the guy said, uh, if you had the opportunity to, to talk to a kamikaze pilot today, what would you say? Would you be mad at him, or, I said, how could I be mad at him? He was doing his job, we did ours. Just that we didn't do that kind of stuff, that they did. But I had -- I had good times on the ship. When we were in the Philippines, I was sitting on the deck, and swimming was, oh, you couldn't go off swimming off the ship for nothing, that was a no-no. And I'm sitting on the deck, and I'm looking at the water, and oh, it looked so good. So I just rolled, and I fell. I drifted back to the, we had a 24:00boat, uh, ramp out, and I grabbed ahold of the ladder, and I climbed up, and the officer of the deck was there. He had me for five charges: abandoning ship, swimming [inaudible], and he'd gone on. He said, why? I said, I didn't abandon ship, and I didn't go swimming. He said, well, you just -- I said, I was looking at the water, and I got dizzy, and next thing I know, I hit the water. He said, all right, I'll let you go by now, he said, but don't you ever get dizzy again. [laughter] And that's one of the few guys that went swimming off the ship. I know we shouldn't do it, but I --

DANIELLA ROMANO: That's a long drop.

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, but it was good when you hit it. [laughter] There could've been sharks there I don't know. Didn't really care. And after, after the war, 25:00uh, when we went over to, went to Turkey, I, I was a boat coxswain, and I was, used to run the liberty parties in, into shore for liberty, and, and back.

DANIELLA ROMANO: You went to Turkey for...

BILL OBITZ: The ambassador --


BILL OBITZ: -- passed away in, in the early '40s, and we took him, took him back.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Where were you when you heard about the Japanese surrender?

BILL OBITZ: You mean, uh, on the ship?


BILL OBITZ: I don't know if, if we were at general quarters, or not -- we were having quite a bit, at that time. And nobody really -- just glad it's over with, that was all. I mean, we, we were happy when we heard about the bomb dropping, because I know we were going to go, the next one would, would've been Japan 26:00itself, and that would've been rough. Okinawa was bad enough. That was what, fifty-some days we were there. And every, every, every day you had, in the nighttime, they'd come in and drop, uh, aluminum foil, and they'd pick it up on the radar as a airplane, so they sound -- sound general quarters, you'd go up to the gun, you'd be there maybe for a half hour, well it was nothing. You go back, you go to the bunks again, and maybe an hour later, boom, boom, boom, boom, you're back up. They did it, on and off, throughout the whole night.

DANIELLA ROMANO: The Japanese were putting all the --


DANIELLA ROMANO: -- aluminum foil out, to keep you awake?

BILL OBITZ: Mm-hmm. Yeah. They were sneaky. Anything to keep you on edge. I know 27:00I used to, I used to watch the radar. As long as that kept circling, it was all right, but when it stopped, and then it would flip back a little bit, and then it would hone in, you started towards your gun station because you knew something was coming.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So you could see the radar, in general quarters?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, it was up on the, on the mast, uh, just the mast itself, not the, not the screen or anything.


BILL OBITZ: And that kept, kept revolving, and when it picked up a signal, it would, it would sort of stop, and then hone in on to it.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So did everybody kind of have their eyes on the mast?

BILL OBITZ: Quite a few, that was, uh, especially on a twenty millimeter, and, and the forties, they were exposed. The five-inch people was all right, they were inside. But your lookouts, and your twenties and forties, they were on the deck.


DANIELLA ROMANO: So they would be the first ones to know that there's something to deal with --


DANIELLA ROMANO: -- and they would get, get on it right away.

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, they used to have us up there, when they bombarded with a sixteen inch, we used to crawl back under the overhang, and I actually fell asleep while they were bombarding. It didn't -- it didn't bother me.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Were you at the ceremony, at the surrender signing?

BILL OBITZ: Mm-hmm. I didn't see anything. I was --


BILL OBITZ: -- I was after a look out, back in, back in the fantail sort of.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So you didn't see any of the officials?

BILL OBITZ: I'd seen them coming aboard, a few -- just a couple. Wasn't interested, that much, to tell you the truth. If I knew then, what I know now, I'd probably be up there asking for autographs. [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: But you knew it was the end of the war.

BILL OBITZ: Yes. That's, that's the part we -- we knew what was going on, but 29:00we, we were going home, that's what, that's what we wanted.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you go back to New York? Did you do Honolulu, and then come back to New York --


DANIELLA ROMANO: -- to go home from there?

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, that's when I got off at New York, and went, went home, and for Christmas, for -- had about twenty day leave, I think.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you stay for Navy Day? Were you up in Times Square?

BILL OBITZ: No, no. I, I didn't get that. But coming into the harbor, with all the fire boats, that was -- that was a beautiful sight. They were pumping the water in. You were driving, going under, that, that was nice.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Oh. And people.

BILL OBITZ: Oh, people, people, after the war, they, they'd lined up for blocks, and blocks. In, uh, in, in Pearl, they, they were there, and, uh, the first liberty party went off, everybody in whites, and then in the afternoon, they had 30:00to come back, and the second liberty party went off. Well, that was a new Navy and the old Navy then. Boy, they were coming back, what a bunch of souped up guys they were. They were, they were drunk. [laughter] Oh, they, they were crawling up the ship. As a matter of fact, the exec had a, a crane sitting there, with a, a stretcher onto it. The guys who couldn't walk, you'd lay them in that, and swing them aboard. And I'd seen one, one guy, as, as true as I'm sitting here, was coming up the gangway, on his hands and knees, and the officer of the day told the guy, get him out of there, and the exec was there, and he said, let him alone. He's making it. That's just his feeling. There's a lot of experience. But people, people would, would wait for hours to get on there. We 31:00were wondering why? What's, what's so great about it, you know? We're finding out what's so great, but the only thing was -- uh, wife's not here, so she don't care anyway, but five days before I got back to the States, the girl that I was going with got married. Boy, did I drop her in a hurry. I had nothing more to do with her. That, that, I said, that was it. [laughter] Yeah, five days before I got back.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Who did she marry? Someone you knew?



MIKE WEIDENBACH: How did you find out?

BILL OBITZ: When I got home. And --

DANIELLA ROMANO: Why wasn't he serving?

BILL OBITZ: He never did go in. As a matter of fact, he was, uh, at the train station when we were leaving, and he said, uh, we'll see you when you're back, 32:00and we'll try to take care of things while you're gone. No truer words were spoken.


BILL OBITZ: No, a lot of guys didn't go in. You wondered why, but...

DANIELLA ROMANO: Well you, you enlisted? Yeah.

BILL OBITZ: Yes. Yeah, well my father was a World War I vet. He'd lost a hand in, uh, France, and my brother was in, and I was in, and my brother-in-law.

DANIELLA ROMANO: How did things go with your brother on the LST?

BILL OBITZ: Everybody was good.


BILL OBITZ: My brother, he was in the invasion of, uh, Normandy, he was under LST. He didn't think much of battleships, except they were too big, and -- not true Navy. LST, we see the deck, wayward going over rough waters. And them ships 33:00is only good for one trip, and they got that out, and they were satisfied.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So how many -- how many trips did he make?

BILL OBITZ: He, he made quite a few with them. Well, he was, he was in the armed guard at first, and he had the Russia run, on the merchant ship. They, they -- I think they lost one ship, that he was on. Uh, my sister was a welder in the Navy yard too.

DANIELLA ROMANO: In the Brooklyn Navy Yard? No.

BILL OBITZ: I don't know if she worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She might have. I know she worked in a couple, because she followed her husband, he was in the Navy, and she was a welder.

DANIELLA ROMANO: What did you think of that, when you found out?

BILL OBITZ: Thought it, thought it was great that she -- and after I, after I got working, that's what I became, was a, was a welder for, for thirty years, 34:00which I, I still play around with it.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Welder, for what company?

BILL OBITZ: Many. [laughter]

DANIELLA ROMANO: What kind of -- what kind of manufacturing?

BILL OBITZ: The manufacturing company I worked for was, uh, Johns-Manville, asbestos king of the world. I worked for them for twenty-two years, in, uh, New Jersey. Thank God, lungs are all right.


BILL OBITZ: No, no asbestos, no.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Asbestos. That's great. You were telling us before, about, um, some of the feelings among other sailors, and men who had served on other ships, about a little bit of resentment, that the Missouri was the ship selected for the signing of the surrender.

BILL OBITZ: But I, I never -- I never personally had a conflict with any, any of 35:00them. I wasn't on shore that night and I never got into it. But we used to [cough] excuse me, uh, refuel destroyed every, [cough] about every third day. Hmm, throat's getting dry. And they used to, uh, come alongside, and somebody would always say, how's the shore duty up there? That was a -- that was the word that was said every time they came alongside. And our pat answer always was, if you don't shut your mouth, you won't get no ice cream. And we, we always -- we always gave them a, uh, big thing of ice cream. And we had that all the time. Big tank of a ship, we never had water hours, or when you could take a shower, 36:00or when you couldn't. We always had, shower was available. Our clothes, you take them off, and throw them in a laundry bag, and you get clean ones come back, and we didn't have to wash them. So that's what I thought the Navy -- the battleship was the way to go. I only had one disagreement with, say, with a cook. I was in the butcher shop, and I was -- I was always a mouthy kid. I always talked back. I mean, my mother, I got more slaps for that than for anything. And I was cutting cheese, and the cook said something, and I gave him a smart answer back, I don't even know what I said, and he said, I'll come around there, and just slap the living -- he tears out of the galley, he charges into the butcher shop, 37:00and I'm standing here with this knife, about this long, and I'm tapping it on the butcher block. And he seen it, and he stopped dead. And he said, I'll get you when you don't have that knife, and he turned around, and he walked away, and that was the end of it. Never any, anything else. And I looked down, I didn't realize I was doing it, but he, he, he got scared.


BILL OBITZ: I mean, if somebody went like this, with a knife, you don't know what's going to happen.


MIKE WEIDENBACH: You were -- you were telling me earlier about, um, an incident you had, after you were working in the butcher shop, going, going, going back to your bunk.

BILL OBITZ: Oh, that there was, uh, when, when -- in the Navy Yard, when we were getting it ready, and we were all working long hours, and I had whites on, and I was filthy. I had blood all over me, and, and I walked down, and I flopped in my 38:00bunk, I'm laying there, and an officer was walking through. And he looked down, and he turned at an aide that was with him, he said, what is that? He said, get him, and get him cleaned up. I'm like, I'm like, Ah! What did I do? I'm giving my lifeblood, and you're -- it's not good enough? But little things like that there, it makes you wonder. And I mentioned sometime about officer country, that if you got in there, you had to tip-toe and get out, you didn't dare get caught in officer country. Like today, the Navy, there's officers, they talk, their -- but not then. They were respected more than now.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Where was officer country?

BILL OBITZ: It was up forward, about towards the front, up in, oh, one level up. 39:00Anything painted pale green, you kept out of.


BILL OBITZ: That, that was their country. And like, when we were going into Tokyo, the deck had to be scraped down, all the paint taken off the deck, and just before we got ready to go in, they said, no, it don't look good enough, paint it gray again. So we had to paint it all gray, the ceremony's over, then we had to scrape off the paint again, just be -- the Japanese ain't going to look at the paint, but it had to be-- You think they ever got that table where they really know what table it is?


DANIELLA ROMANO: What table do you think it is? How do you know the story?

BILL OBITZ: Well, it's a mess table. Now, if you're down in the mess hall, and a 40:00couple guys come in, and they say, they want a table up there now, they'd grab one, are you going to say, wait, we've got to mark that table? No, it's, it's gone. They brought it back down, they set it up. Sometime later, they said, hey, we need that table. What table did they have? They, uh, they may have the right table. They may not have it. I mean, they brought a table over from the King George that was too small, and that was a beautiful table, but it didn't serve their purpose. So I hope they got the right one.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Did you hear MacArthur's speech?



BILL OBITZ: No, they -- it wasn't broadcast through the ship. Today they probably would have it that way, but, the only thing we heard, that he said, uh, 41:00that he wouldn't wait for them. They, they would have to wait for him. So he made them wait on deck for a few minutes, before he came out, which I think was right. But I wish Bull had a chance to ride this horse though. Bull Halsey. He should, he should've had that rights. He carried a saddle with him. In, on -- he had on the ship, it was on a, a stand, and he was going to ride the Emperor's horse up, but they said no. That, that would've been nice.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: Do you remember, when you came back to New York, what you did when you got off the ship the first time?

BILL OBITZ: No I don't. Probably got drunk. [laughter] That, that was a -- them 42:00days, it was the thing to do. We never -- we never stayed much in New York. We used to go across to New Jersey.


BILL OBITZ: Well, Jersey City, as, as you come out of the subway, there was a bar there that had a free lunch counter, so for ten cent beer, you, you could eat what you wanted, and then you went out. So, you can't -- you can't beat them prices.

DANIELLA ROMANO: How about the girls, when you came back, where they excited to see the sailors?

BILL OBITZ: I was a very shy sailor. I -- I didn't bother girls that much. [laughter] They, they chased me away. All we had are moments. Young, good-looking guy, you can't pass that up.



BILL OBITZ: We used to go to the roller skating rink a lot, in, uh, in Bayonne, and a girl there I knew, and, uh, and then we went to Pacific, and about a year before we got back, and we went back to the roller and I seen her, I'm talking to her, and said about walking -- walking her home. And she said no, I, I don't let sailors walk me home. I said, you used to. I said, a year ago, I, I know I walked you home a couple of times. She, she said, you never did that. And I told her how to get to her house. She said, you must have. I mean, that's how serious it was.


BILL OBITZ: Out of sight, out of mind.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Mm-hmm. Hmm. Can you think of anything that I might have forgotten to ask?

BILL OBITZ: No, I think I've said too much already.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Oh, that's -- I think you were pretty discreet.

BILL OBITZ: Half of, half of that garbage is going to be deleted. [laughter]


DANIELLA ROMANO: Okay. Well, we'll do a transcript, and I'll send you this whole script, and you can tell me what you don't want to have, obviously, what you would like to have edited out. Um, but do you think that we missed any good, any good questions? Is there something that --

BILL OBITZ: No, I think you covered it pretty well.


BILL OBITZ: One, one other thing about -- after the war, after the signing, they painted on, on, on the starboard side of, of turret three, and ma-made a map, and everyday, they would mark the mileage we had to go, to get to New York, they kept adding it down. I think that should've been left there, but, uh --


BILL OBITZ: That's gone.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Anyone take a photograph of it?

MIKE WEIDENBACH: I, I, I've seen a picture of it, and I, I -- one picture, and I, I didn't know the story about it, at all.

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, that -- that was for how close we were to New York, how many more miles we had, had to go, and they'd mark them down.


MIKE WEIDENBACH: I wonder if it's still under the paint.

BILL OBITZ: I don't know.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: And what -- you, you talked about, uh, cleaning off, the paint off of the surrender deck and then repainting it?

BILL OBITZ: No -- and down on, on the other decks too, on the main deck and all, the whole, the whole thing. The whole thing they, they, they painted over.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: Oh. Because we've, we've always wondered, and we've had sailors tell, yes, we scraped it off, and others say, no we painted it, or we left it painted, and we didn't know the circumstances, so thank you for explaining that.

BILL OBITZ: And how come they don't put the flags back up on it, on the bridge, and the Japanese flags that, that represent the plane we shot down?

MIKE WEIDENBACH: Just, just because it was, we, we have to restore it to what it was last like, and that, so, that was, uh, you know, the Gulf War period, that was the last point, just, just to be consistent.

BILL OBITZ: Mm- hmm. They didn't have them on then, at the...



BILL OBITZ: Oh I thought, I thought they were on until...

MIKE WEIDENBACH: No. When, when the ship was brought back in the '80s --

BILL OBITZ: Oh, after, after the -- oh okay.


BILL OBITZ: Yeah, there was Lebanon.

DANIELLA ROMANO: That's interesting that they don't actually keep the entire life of the ship, it's just for the last commission --


DANIELLA ROMANO: -- I guess. It's, it's a new --

MIKE WEIDENBACH: Well, they, they have the ribbons.


MIKE WEIDENBACH: And the ribbons go all the way back, but, but, uh, they -- when they brought it back, and it was a, a new war, or whatever, at some point, that -- that was all new.

BILL OBITZ: Somebody decided they didn't need it, and...

MIKE WEIDENBACH: Yeah, because I think a lot, a lot of the modern-era crew, they, they, they viewed it as, you know, thirty years had gone by in mothballs, and this is a new ship, almost, and, uh, we, we've had that attitude kind of reflected recently in, in talks with the new crew, so... there's some...there's some--

DANIELLA ROMANO: Bill, can I get your contact information, so that I can send 47:00you the transcript later, and maybe follow up with any questions?

BILL OBITZ: Uh, [address redacted for privacy], Ocala --




BILL OBITZ: -A-L-O Florida. 34472.

DANIELLA ROMANO: And your phone number?

BILL OBITZ: [number redacted for privacy] Area code is, uh, yeah 301, I believe it is.


BILL OBITZ: I very seldom call myself, and I don't remember.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Okay, well thank you very much for your time today, and for being generous with sharing your memories. It's a fantastic record, it's very important to us.


BILL OBITZ: [laughter] Sure, I mean, uh, yeah. Area code. I stopped for gas and, and, put in the area code. Used a credit card, uh, I didn't really know, why you need mine. I'm out of state, so I just punched in a number, and started to pump, it pumped, uh, thirty-one cents worth in. The pump shut down. My serial, it, it didn't match my, my cards --


BILL OBITZ: -- it said on the card, and they, they stopped it.

DANIELLA ROMANO: So it's like a credit safety thing.

BILL OBITZ: And, and I had to go in, and come out, and I told her what I did, and then I punched the right one in. And how fast they catch you.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Yeah. Well, that's -- it's reassuring in one way, because then it means that they've just got a check and balance built in, so that if somebody's stolen your card, they can't use it, at that gas pump anyway.


BILL OBITZ: No, that's, uh --

DANIELLA ROMANO: That's interesting, I didn't know they were doing that.

BILL OBITZ: Well, I hope I answered your questions.

DANIELLA ROMANO: Yep, you're always -- sit down, not done. I want to take a photo too.

BILL OBITZ: Oh, yeah.

DANIELLA ROMANO: [laughter] If you don't mind?

BILL OBITZ: I don't mind.

DANIELLA ROMANO: I think it's a good -- good way to have a complete record. Do you have any photos from your, from that time?

BILL OBITZ: What kind of photos?

DANIELLA ROMANO: Photos of you?


DANIELLA ROMANO: Okay. All right, um, actually--

MIKE WEIDENBACH: [inaudible]

DANIELLA ROMANO: Yeah, maybe try and get some of the sun out, there we go. And my little doggie is the most patient, nice doggie on the planet.

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, she's very -- very quiet while I was going on.

DANIELLA ROMANO: All right. Hi Bill!


DANIELLA ROMANO: [laughter] Okay. And then one more, just to get up close.

BILL OBITZ: If you sell them I got -- I get a percentage

DANIELLA ROMANO: [laughter] Right. We'll make postcards. There we go, that's a good one. Okay.

BILL OBITZ: I was smiling, but I don't know how.


DANIELLA ROMANO: That's nice, you look great. Thank you very much.

BILL OBITZ: No, it was nice meeting you.

DANIELLA ROMANO: It was awesome. I really appreciate that.

BILL OBITZ: I'll probably see you in a year or two.

MIKE WEIDENBACH: Oh, I hope so. At least a year, hopefully sooner than that --

BILL OBITZ: Yeah, I'd like to get back again.


DANIELLA ROMANO: All right. So long Bill!

BILL OBITZ: You take care.


MIKE WEIDENBACH: You want to --

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with William Obitz

William Obitz (1926-) was born in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. He grew up on a farm about 10 miles outside of Plymouth, PA. His father worked in the coal mines for approximately thirty years. Obitz enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and completed boot camp at Sampson, New York. He worked as a mess cook, gunner and deckhand on the USS Missouri out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After his work in the Navy, Obitz worked as a welder in New Jersey for twenty-two years.

In this interview, Obitz primarily discusses his experiences aboard the USS Missouri, where he was a deckhand, mess cook and gunner from 1944 through the end of World War II. While on the Missouri, he witnessed a kamikaze plane attack. Other topics covered include his upbringing on a Pennsylvania farm; his enlistment and training in the Navy; his time at the Brooklyn Navy Yard preparing the Missouri for deployment; and how he met his wife. Interview conducted at the U.S.S. Missouri Reunion in Virginia on May 18, 2009. Interview conducted by Daniella Romano.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection is comprised of over fifty interviews of men and women who worked in or around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, primarily during World War II. The narrators discuss growing up in New York, their work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, their relationships with others at the Yard, gender relations and transportation to and from work. Many narrators bring up issues of ethnicity, race, and religion at the Yard or in their neighborhoods. Several people describe the launching of the USS Missouri battleship and recall in detail their daily tasks at the Yard (as welders, office workers and ship fitters). While the interviews focus primarily on experiences in and around the Yard, many narrators go on to discuss their lives after the Navy Yard, relating stories about their careers, dating and marriage, children, social activities, living conditions and the changes that took place in Manhattan and Brooklyn during their lifetimes.


Obitz, William, 1926-, Oral history interview conducted by Daniella Romano, May 18, 2009, Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection, 2010.003.045; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • New York Naval Shipyard
  • Obitz, William, 1926-


  • Cooking
  • Cooks
  • Military cookery
  • Military life
  • Missouri (Battleship : BB 63)
  • Naval parades & ceremonies
  • Naval ships
  • Naval warfare
  • Shipyards
  • War ships
  • Work


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Jersey City (N.J.)
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania


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Finding Aid

Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection