USS Hornet Survivor Vet Richard Nowatzki Shares His Incredible Story Part Two: Today, we are sharing part two of the interview we had the privilege of recording with WWII Vet Richard Nowatzki. Tune in now as he shares with us stories of his incredible military career, including being one of the survivors of the USS Hornet and The Doolittle Raid. You won’t want to miss today’s episode!
Air Date: 04/19/2019
Guest: Vet Richard Nowatzki
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Faith And The Culture
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, always doing that from a Biblical, historical, and Constitutional perspective.
We’re here with David Barton, America’s premier historian and the founder of WallBuilders. Also, Tim Barton, national speaker and President of WallBuilders, and my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state legislator, national speaker, and author.
If you were listening yesterday, you know that yesterday and today we’re going to be heavy on a historical perspective because we got a very special interview.
Yesterday we had Mr. Nowatzki for the first half of this interview.
David, before we jump back into the interview from yesterday for those that they didn’t get to hear it—I mean, we even got to hear him talk about the scene on video—the guys that found the Hornet, just a just a few weeks ago, they found it and they took him to his very gun turret.
I mean, incredible that they could show him on video his very target where he had been on that ship. I think they were three miles down when they had those cameras on it, on that sunken ship.
18,000 feet deep! 18,000 at that, three miles—Rick, you’re exactly right—and they could take him to the gun turret where he was, throughout that stuff. That was absolutely amazing.
And to hear him describe that, and knowing that he was going to see it, and having to be quiet before it went on CBS and National News… the whole story was just remarkable. From Jimmy Doolittle all the way through to the sinking, to find the ship again, just a great story.
We’re going to pick up right where we left off with Richard Nowatzki, World War Two veteran who served on the USS Hornet—and on other ships as well, the rest of the story is amazing as well. You don’t wanna’ miss it. If you missed the first half, go to WallBuildersLive.com today and you can get that right there in our archive section.
Here we are with Richard Nowatzki.
When we abandoned the ship, the ship had a list towards the starboard side. I was on the starboard side, we were listing to the starboard side. When I abandoned ship, I had to go up the sloping deck to get to the fantail. Now, on the right hand side—we’ve been in the battle, it started about 9:00 in the morning and this was late in the afternoon. It’s started to get dark, and the blood from the dead sailors was running down the side, so there were sharks along the starboard side looking for the meat. So you didn’t dare go down the starboard side, you had to climb the ship and go over the port side, which is what I did.
When I went by my ladder which went down to where I lived, my compartment, I had 40 bucks in my locker. I grew up in the depression. Forty bucks was a month’s pay. I looked down that hatch, and I could see some bomb damage down there, and I had to make a decision. Should I go get my 40 bucks or not? I heard a plane coming over, we were still under attack.
I thought, “Am I going to risk my life for 40 bucks?”
I went up to the fantail, and down a rope, and swam away from the ship.
But when I saw my gun, all those memories came back.
So I said, “Okay, if you want to go down there, there’s 40 bucks in my locker. You can have it.”
It just kind of came up, you know?
I remembered that was quite a decision for a guy that grew up in the depression, where a dime was a lot of money, to leave 40 bucks on a ship and not take a chance to rescue it.
Wow, wow. How neat though, for you to be able to, first of all for you to be one of the first ones to find out that they found the Hornet, and then for you to get to actually see the images of your gun where you served. That had to be incredible.
I never told anybody that they’d already found the Hornet. Then I say—that was the end of January, and then they knew, it was February 12th the same day. You said they were going to release it. That they revealed that they had found the Hornet.
Wow. Well catch me up on what you did when you came home. When you got home from the war, now did you come home after the Hornet was sunk, or did you serve longer?
That’s when the adventure started.
But Wait, There’s More!
A destroyer picked me up and took me to New Caledonia, a French Island, and the Marines were having a time on Guadalcanal. It was a toss up whether they were going to hold on or not. President Roosevelt was trying to prepare the people in case we got our butts kicked there.
An Army major came over to the survivors camp where we were, and the Army gave us some tents to live in. And he made an announcement that they need to reinforce the Marines, so they put me in the army, ran me through a warehouse, gave me a rifle and a set of khakis.
That was your basic training. They sent you to the warehouse to get your gun and your khakis?
I was out on a ship, the Crescent City troop transport, and four days later we make a landing on Guadalcanal to reinforce the Marines. I was in the Army. That night I ran into a Navy officer on Guadalcanal and he told me he was from a torpedo boat squadron—-P.T. boats.
So I asked him, I said, “What are you doing on Guadalcanal?”
He said, “No, this is Tulagi Island.”
Now, he thinks I’m in the army. \
“Any Japs on Tulagi Island?”
“Not now. They’re gone.”
I said, “I’m in the Navy,” so he starts chewing me out for not telling him right away.
“Wait a minute, I’m like an orphan. I survived a carrier.”
I help him roundup 30 guys that I knew were in the Navy, and he said to me, “Well, who should we check out with?”
Four Days in the Army
“We never checked in with anybody. They put me in the Army. Nobody knows my name. If we join your torpedoes squadron, you’ll notify the Navy Department that we’re here.”
So we march away from the Army. I don’t know if the Army’s still looking for me or not.
So you had one day in the Army.
Well, actually it was four days on the transport. It took me that four days to clean that rifle, it had been put away in 1918. It was an Enfield rifle.
From World War One. They called it cosmoline. They cover it with cosmoline, and it turned, over the years, into a hard plastic. I had to scrape it off to get the gun to be able to shoot, and I knew I hadn’t been that great at the rifle range, but it was too late to practice now.
I spent a year out there with the torpedo boats, with the P.T. boat—squadron 2 and squadron 3—and with those two squadrons, we got 13 ships that we sank, including one submarine.
At night the Japanese usually come down and bombard the Marines. In the daytime, the aircraft on Henderson field would keep the Japanese away. But at night, they’d come down and shoot up the Marines, and land troops
The P.T. boats were there just trying to intercept the things at night. That was the whole battle there.
They finally secured the island. The Japanese finally gave up and pulled out. I think it was January or February of 1943. Here I was on Guadalcanal, and all along the time we were there, we would capture the Japanese rice, and the Japanese called it starvation island. They were starving.
We were living on what we could steal from them. My normal weight, I was down to about 118 pounds, I normally weighed about 140. After a year down there, I finally got sent back to the states for Christmas, a year after we were sunk.
Were you discharged at that point, or did you come home and then had to go back?
Well, I had malaria several times on Guadalcanal. Those are very bad islands to live on, terrible islands. They got all kinds of diseases out there, malaria, elephantiasis, they have snakes, and they even had komodo dragons out there. Those things could take down a deer.
Anyway, I got back in and I got 30 days leave for Christmas of 1943, and then I had to report in at a P.T. Barracks at Melville, Rhode Island.
When I was there, they put me in another squadron that was going to go to the Philippines, and we went down to the Panama Canal.
On a little island, 12 miles out in the Pacific from the Panama Canal called the Taboga Island, and Taboga is where the P.T. boats would do their final training, and from there they would go to Philippines. Well, when I was on Taboga, my malaria come back. So they grabbed me and put me in a sick bay and put a net over me.
I told the guy, “It’s a little late for a net.”
Protect the Mosquitos
He said, “You don’t understand the problem. We don’t have malaria on Taboga island, but we got the mosquito here. If one bites you, you’ll start an epidemic.”
Like Typhoid Mary.
So they transferred me out of Taboga to Panama. Panama wanted to get rid of me, so they sent me to New Orleans. Nobody wanted to be around me because I had malaria. Anyway, when I got to New Orleans, the Navy had me for six months on limited duty. I couldn’t leave the base. So they sent me to where I was the nearest to where I enlisted. I enlisted in Chicago.
They sent me to an air station just north of Chicago, Glenview Naval Air Station, where they trained pilots. So I was up there for a short time, and they decided to put German war prisoners on that base to work.
I was a First Class Boatswain’s Aide by that time, and none of the Chiefs on the base wanted this job.
They asked me if I’d take it, and I said, “Yeah, I’ll take it.”
So they had twenty two guards, and every morning the Army would bring me 328 German war prisoners, and we’d break them up into 22 partitions and they’d have little jobs, and every night the army took them back. So I had every night off and every weekend off. It was a great job.
At the end of six months, we were training pilots there flying these little biplanes, yellow tails, like Sterman planes. So I took a test to become a pilot and passed it, and I passed the physical, but they told me, “You have limited duty. You can’t fly unless you get off of limited duty.”
Discharged and Korea
So I went into the hospital to get off limited duty.
Corpsman told me, “Hey, you were on the Hornet? The Flight Sergeant there is the Captain in this hospital.”
He was on the Hornet, so I figured I am going to have no problem at all. An old ship mate will certainly take me off limited duty.
I went to see this Captain after all, and explained the situation, and he said, “No, your war is over.”
“What do you mean my war is over?”
“I’m going to discharge you.”
“What are you talking about?”
I signed up for six years when I joined, it had only been four, I was ready to make Chief Boatswain before I took the pilots test.
I said, “I’m not a reserve, I’m a career man.”
It was late ‘45, two weeks before the war is over, he shoved me out of the Navy, and I’m in Chicago looking for a job.
How long were you home before you were brought back into the Navy for the Korean War?
Five years. They started to draft me into the Army when the Korean War started, so I contacted the Navy and stayed out of the Army. I was back in the Navy as First Class Boatswain. I went down to San Diego.
We took a destroyer out of mothballs, and went to Korea with it, I spent the Korean War with that destroyer up until we got torpedoed.
Well, they said that.
We had a subcontractor that morning, but nobody has submarines but the Russians.
Well, we saved it, got hit near the stern, killed 26 guys and wounded 40. I got wounded on this ship, and we saved the ship, and got it into Japan so we could dry dock.
Reserve or Regular?
But the day before we got in, the Russians announced that they had given six submarines to the Chinese the previous year. That kind of muddied the waters. If we claim we were torpedoed they could say, “Well, it was the Chinese.”
So the Navy said it was an enemy explosion of undetermined source, could have been a torpedo or a mine, because they don’t want to go to war with Russia.
And that was the end of that.
The Navy released me to inactive duty, and I went to work in the shipyard. I worked there for four years. Now, in those days, you can retire on 20 from the Navy, but you get, if you’re out over 30 days, you lose it.
So I had four years of war, and two years in Korea, six years. I couldn’t use it because I’d been out of the Navy over 30 days. Well, in 1956 you start counting broken service. So I went back in.
I think, “I can retire in 14 years.”
I was a first class. But when I went back in, I found out that they had too many Boatswains and didn’t need me. So they cut me from first class to third class, cut me back two ranks, but they were regular Navy and they offered me that I could have been a reserve, one of the Seabees, climbing towers as a steelworker, but I ask him, “Is that regular Navy?
They said, “No, reserves.”
“I want regular Navy, because I want to retire.”
Well, I found out that if you were in a frozen rank, which I was in—they had too many of us—I could convert. So I did.
World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam
I went to school in Treasure Island for a year and converted to electronic technician, and then I made my third, second class, and first class. So became a First Class Electronic Technician.
I had an aptitude for this, I didn’t realize it before, but I had a natural aptitude for electronics, I became very successful in it, and I made Warrant Officer, I was trying to make Chief, but when I made Warrant, I jumped over the Chiefs. I was at the helm.
After I’d been a Warrant for quite awhile, I got an offer from the Bureau about if I wanted to be an Ensign.
I said yes. They backdated it to when I made Warrant. In those days you had to be an Ensign a year and a half. Well, when they backdated, I only had to be an Ensign for three months.
I became a Lieutenant. I kept getting all the advancements on the schedule, and when I retired at 50, I was a Lieutenant Commander.
But in the meantime, I wound up in Vietnam and I was—so I was in World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam.
No kidding! But how long were you in Vietnam before you retired?
I was there a year, and I got a message for the Bureau.
If you’re a Commissioned Officer, you have to have a physical within 30 days of your birthday each year, or they’ll kick you out. Well, my birthday is in June. June 28. I’d forgotten all about that. Anyway, I got the message in the Bureau, “Hey, it’s August.
You haven’t submitted your physical yet.”
“You Lost Half Your Blood”
Well, I had a look around, and where can I get a physical? I was in Bangkok, Thailand and they said you can go to the embassy here and they can do it. So I went to the embassy.
They had a German guy they had hired as a doctor, and he gave me a physical.
Then he kept looking at me, and he said, “You look a little pale. Have the nurse get another blood check before you leave.”
I said, “Well, did I pass the physical? I got to get this note to the Navy.”
And he goes, “Well, we won’t know till I see your blood test.”
So the next day the nurse called me and says, “You come back, you’ve got a problem.”
So I went back, and the guy said, “You lost half your blood.”
“How did I lose half my blood?”
“We don’t know, that’s what we’re going to find out.”
They did a barium enema. When I brought those things back it showed my intestines and then all of a sudden they stopped, and then they started in again.
He said, “There’s a gap in your intestines. This shows that there’s something growing there, and here probably dripping blood in your stool. When you have a bowel movement, that’s where your blood’s gone. So you you know what that is?”
“Is it cancer?”
“It always is.”
So it turned out that they were going to operate on me in Bangkok, but it has an Army hospital there, I said, “Yeah, I’m going to call the Navy and see about getting this operation back in the States.”
5 Percent Survivor’s Rate
So that’s what I did. And they showed me the report. They thought I could fly Pan Am and report into the Navy Hospital in Oakland. If they don’t want to operate there, they will operate here in Bethesda.
So anyway, I flew back to Oakland and went in a hospital and they checked me and operated the next day. It was colon cancer, 5 percent survivor’s rate.
Hey, wait a minute, you’ve been on the Hornet, that was sunk, and you survive that. Then you get torpedoed in the Korean War, and you survive that. Then you go to Vietnam for a year, you survived that, and you get colon cancer, you survive that. You’re ninety—what? Ninety six now? Ninety five?
Ninety-five years old.
I want to hang out with you. That’s pretty impressive.
Twenty five years ago, I was 70. My number two sons want me to tell them about the olden days.
I realized I didn’t know anything about my folks, so I think of all of Great Depression, World War Two, Vietnam, all trying to make a living. I think I will write my autobiography. So I wrote my autobiography.
In 2012, when I started giving my talks at the Hornet museum, they heard about my book and they wanted copies.
I said, “Well, I couldn’t get anybody to publish it, so I learned how to do it and publish it myself. It’s out of print, I’ll print up a bunch of them.”
The Navy Major
They wanted one hundred and fifty copies. So I, to get the price down, did 500 copies. I gave my hundred and fifty as a donation. Whenever I give talks I sell a few books.
I’ll tell you what, give me an address and I’ll send you a book. A complimentary copy.
Well thank you very much. I’ve sure enjoyed getting a visit with you, and what an amazing story.
This book has been well received over the years, and I see them, even though I couldn’t get anybody to publish it, I see my used books advertised on Amazon for 2-300 bucks. For a used book.
When I was in Vietnam, I was a Lieutenant Commander, and it was an Army, Navy, Marines, and civilian all mixed up in this communication, we were handling communications out there. So I worked for an Army Colonel and an Air Force Colonel, and I had an Air Force Captain working for me. We had a lot of Army Sergeants that did all the clerical work. Well, they couldn’t see what a Lieutenant Commander was, so they called me a Navy Major.
So when I wrote my book I put Memoirs of a Navy Major. That’s the name of my book.
Well, Lieutenant Commander, thank you for your time. Thanks for coming on and sharing with us. We’re going to take a quick break. Stay with us, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
We Want To Hear Your Vet Story
Hey friends! If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live. Once in awhile, we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people.
One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live, from folks that were in the Band of Brothers, to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived the Indianapolis to so many other great stories you heard on WallBuilders Live.
You have friends and family that also served. If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please e-mail us at [email protected] Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live!
Be Sure to Go to Our Website to See Part One
What an amazing interview. Special thanks to Richard, thank you for joining us today on WallBuilders Live, and if you joined us in the middle of today’s program, this was a two part interview, we couldn’t get it all in today.
The first half was yesterday, and you go to our website right now and get that at WallBuildersLive.com. If you didn’t listen yesterday, you have got to go listen to that program. Absolutely remarkable.
We’re back with David Barton and Tim Barton. Guys, I’m blown away. I mean, what an honor for us to get to talk to him.
Yeah. And boy, hearing some of the descriptions today, you’re on the USS Hornet when she goes down. I did not realize it took it hours to sink. He talked about how it was listing, and how that, on the close side with the water easy to jump into, there was so much blood in the water and so many sharks swarming around there, that they had to go back and go in the uphill side drop ropes off to be able to get in the water where the sharks were not there.
I never would have thought about something like.
I’d just be like, “Get off the ship! Get in the water!”
That’s a complex thing. I’d never even thought about before. And then he makes the comment and he says, “Well, my story starts after I get off the USS Hornet.”
Wait a minute.
“What Did You Go Through?”
Buckle up boys, that wasn’t even the good part. I just mean it’s about to get interesting.
He goes from being a Navy guy to being an Army guy, back to being a Navy guy.
He’s on destroyers, he’s on aircraft carriers, and now he’s on P.T. boats, and he’s doing all this P.T. service… then you find out,”And by the way, I had malaria a bunch of times while I was there and I ended up being 118 pounds, and I’m normally 140,” and you go, “My gosh, what did you go through?”
He just talks about it so casually. I just love the mentality of these guys, it’s what they did. What they had to do. They just did what we needed them to.
I’d never thought about the fact that they quarantined him not because they were protecting him from mosquitoes, they were protecting the mosquitoes from him! Because if a mosquito bit him, they would spread malaria to everybody else on the island with the blood that they took. Oh my gosh. I never even thought about quarantining him to protect the mosquitoes.
You know, during the summer, I wish somebody would quarantine me to protect the mosquitoes from me. That would be great. Not for my benefit, for their benefit. I just want to keep my worry for their good.
A Remarkable Generation
Of course it did. He goes through all of this, has all the sicknesses, and he gets all this—how do you want to say it? He gets this disabled pay of eleven dollars a month? That’s what they get for disability pay? Then they take that pay from him too.
Oh my gosh, what these guys went through.
So it is just that now he thinks he’s out, he’s retired, and then five years later they reactivate him to send him to Korea, and then they send him to Vietnam. A guy that went through all that he went through, and starts at the level he did, and ends up being a really high ranking officer in the Navy.
What a remarkable story. What a remarkable guy, what a remarkable generation quite frankly.
Bringing History to Life
Yeah, well, what a what a remarkable life. We’re so blessed that he came in and shared so much of that story with us. We’ll try to find the video and share it today as well, at WallBuildersLive.com, of him actually on screen watching as they take him to that gun turret three miles down. It’s pretty remarkable.
Just an incredible story, so much neat history there. As we talked about in yesterday’s program, a lot of people today are not familiar with Doolittle’s raid and some of those amazing things that happened. So we’re just glad to bring some of that to life through someone that actually lived through it and experienced it.
It’s one of our great privileges here at WallBuilders Live, to get to interview people like Richard Nowatzki, and we’ve got many more interviews like that at our website. If you go to WallBuildersLive.com, you can click to the archives section there and and see many of those programs, or listen to many of those programs.
Also, we have a CD that’s a compilation of some of those programs from every branch of the military, and several different wars, and just some great stories there, and that’s available for you at WallBuilders.com today.
USS Hornet Survivor Reveals His Story and More on WallBuilders Live!
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