Construction Fitting

Sea Stories

Part One

I joined the Brooklyn Navy Yard in June of 1940 as an outside machinist. My first job was to drill and tap and install stud bolts in the forward stack. From there I worked on the installation of the steering rams. I made the pin gauges for the rudder shafts and installed the bearings for the rudder stock. I also ran a milling machine for the companionways, then the starboard anchor windlass.

After that job there was a call for all Marine Engineers for testing. I was assigned to the boilers and we studied the blueprints for about a month. I made hydrostatic test on all the eight boilers and was promoted to test engineer.

I [won’t] forget the day I got orders to light off number #1 boiler as the man who was a chief engineer got cold feet when he found out the high pressure the boilers would carry. I being young and daring got the job. I was the man who put first life in the NORTH CAROLINA.

-Donald Leslie, Machinist, New York Navy Yard


“I entered civilian service as an Apprentice Machinist (Inside) on March 6, 1939 at Navy Yard, New York. I was only 19 when I received Badge 31816 and you can imagine this was a momentous occasion for a young guy who was trying to envision his future in the bleak depression years. Our task was to learn how to construct new vessels and repair those in for repair. When you were assigned to a “gang” and to a particular machinist you never knew from day to day what vessel part you were machining. You would look at the routing tag on the casting, forging or metal stock and then get the blueprints for that operation. There were exceptions to this job shop approach. The turbine blade manufacture was so specialized that entire gangs were assigned just to the U.S.S. North Carolina manufacture.

[Later] I was working in the Inspection Department of the Inside Machine Shop X31, Building 128, under the supervision of Leadingman Gus Zannetti. The low pressure turbine had a microscopic crack which I detected using magnaflux which had just been introduced by the company as a non-destructive technique. Gus had no objection so rather than throw it into the scrap heap I kept it in my tool box. It was machined out of solid bar stock into the shape you see.”

-Leonard Silvern, Machinist, New York Navy Yard


Part Two

Rear Admiral Julian T. Burke, USN (Ret)

Rear Admiral Julian T. Burke, USN (Ret)

“In March 1941, I walked through the Flushing Avenue gate of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to report for duty. It is a pretty rugged part of town; and I looked down the street there as I walked through the gate and there I saw the first hundred feet of the bow of the North Carolina, which was sort of peering out from behind some buildings that obscured the rest of the ship. The bow was red-leaded, the ship sitting in dry dock and was about a month from being commissioned. I walked on down the street and there I found the ship in dry dock. It was covered in red lead, scaffolding all over, but so help me God, she was the biggest [   ] thing I’d ever seen. This was a month before commissioning, and we had a crew of about 1600 men, about 95 officers.

The captain, executive officer, and the principle department heads, especially in gunnery and engineering and their leading assistant, were the pick of the Navy. They were great naval officers. About ¾ of the officers were career professionals and then there was a bunch of people we’d never heard of before called 90 day wonders, and about 25 of them who were in the original crew. Most of them were from the Ivy League colleges who had gone to college and then gone to the 90 day schools, one at Northwestern and one at Prairie State, which was a branch of Columbia University. Then we started to work and put the ship in commission.”

-Rear Admiral Julian T. Burke, USN (Ret)


“Before USS North Carolina was placed in commission, her communications officer, Lt. Commander Seth Shepard detailed two young officers to prepare the ship’s allotment of codes and ciphers for use when the ship was commissioned. These two were newly graduated Navy ensigns: Norman Wyncoop and myself, Herbert E. Weyrauch.

Herbert Emil Weyrauch

Herbert Emil Weyrauch

The two of us had long been friends as members of the same class serving in the same company of midshipmen at the US Naval Academy. Our work involved safeguarding and updating a variety of publications regarding our country’s basic war policies and plans that were issued to North Carolina. We also made sure that current codes and ciphers were on hand and ready to use.

Initially our responsibilities were repetitious, even boring, yet exciting. On the accuracy of our work depended the ship’s response, at the right time and in the right place, to orders and other information received by radio: weather warnings, general orders, tactical operating orders as well as intelligence about enemy operations. Usually this information was encoded or enciphered so that it could not be used against us and our allies.

When we reported aboard for duty in connection with the fitting out and commissioning of North Carolina our shipboard code was not yet available. Instead we worked ashore in the Brooklyn Navy Year. All day long we toiled for six weeks in the shipyard’s fire-proof vault equipped with a time lock on its thick, heavy door…. This working arrangement protected restricted, confidential and secret information from all who had no “need to know.”

-Herbert Emil Weyrauch


Part Three

Roosevelt Flenard, Mess Attendant

Roosevelt Flenard, Mess Attendant 1/c

“In May 1938, I finished high school.  My chance of going to college was out because my dad died three years earlier and my mother could not afford to send me.  I wanted to go into the Navy, but I first tried earning money for college but to no avail so early April 1939, I went to the Navy recruiting office and signed up.

In mid-January 1941, I was transferred to the crew of the North Carolina. Every morning, Monday through Friday, Ensign Watts assembled us on the USS Seattle dock and marched us over to the USS North Carolina for a report detail in preparing the officers’ rooms, the wardroom, pantry and officers’ galley. [In January 1941] a senior officer came to the wardroom and asked us how we were doing. We said “wet.” We asked him to have the shipyard workers get our compartment ready so we could move in because coming over to the ship from the USS Seattle in the rain we were wet all day. He said, “that’s not good. I will take care of that now and you men can move in today.” We were the first crew on the USS North Carolina.”

-Roosevelt Flenard, Mess Attendant 1/c


Joseph “Smitty” Smits, WaterTender 1/c

Joseph “Smitty” Smits, WaterTender 1/c

“They tried to make an electrician out of me when I reported aboard the North Carolina but I’d been in the firerooms for a couple of years by then so didn’t want the change. It didn’t matter what I wanted so I went to the Electrical Division. The ship was just being built so I was told to go sweep up a compartment with a huge switchboard in it. I was just sweeping along minding my own business and saw an electrical armored cable running under the switchboard. I picked it up and lift it so I could sweep under there and I hit two huge switches with the cable. There was a huge white flash and big flash of smoke and I was knocked cold and tossed across the room. They found me and brought me around with no ill effects except a burned hand. I had shorted out half the Navy Yard and the ship too. I asked to be put back in the fireroom and was in #3 the next morning. I’ve hated electricity ever since.”

-Joseph “Smitty” Smits, WaterTender 1/c


“I was transferred to what they called a pre-commissioning detail. The Seattle was a receiving ship at that time. We were messed, ate on the Seattle. Most of our time was spent on the North Carolina going through the engineering spaces and drawing out all the different lines, the main steam line, the exhaust lines, fire and flushing lines, a few little striping lines and make drawings of them. Kids like us who were 18 or 19 years old couldn’t understand. We could go up to the log room and get all these prints. All of a sudden on September 15, 1942, when we got that torpedo and we couldn’t see our hand in front of our face and had to light off another boiler, we knew where every line and every valve was. It was training. We had an old chief warrant on there. Chief Warrant Doyle. We use to call him every name in the book. He made us do this. Until that one day, we thanked that man profusely after that.”

-Charlie Rosell, WaterTender 1/c