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Captain Willard G. Triest, USNR (Ret.) (1905-1989)

Captain Willard G. TriestBased on six interviews conducted by John T. Mason Jr. in July and August 1982, the volume contains 229 pages of interview transcript plus an index and appendices. The transcript is copyright 1977 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.

Captain Triest joined the Civil Engineer Corps in 1941, and his first assignment was the design and logistics for building a secret base, "Bobcat," as a refueling station in the Christmas Islands. He describes the construction of an airfield, hospital, tank farm, and loading facilities on Ascension Island. In 1942 he headed the work of the Seabees at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, and then was sent to Tulagi as a trouble shooter to rebuild the esprit de corps of the 27th battalion that had fallen to pieces. The  rejuvenated battalion built facilities at Emirau and Guadalcanal--fighter air strips and a base for the Marines. Captain Triest completes his description of accomplishments of the Seabees during the war with a recounting of roads and a supply depot constructed in Okinawa--while working behind the lines as the Marines drove the Japanese off the island.


An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).


John T. Mason, Jr.: Take them from industry?

Captain Triest: Yes, because as I said there were none available in this part of the country at all on account of the ship­building business.

John T. Mason, Jr.: I take it from this that the normal operations of Standard Oil and others came almost to a halt?

Captain Triest: No, because these men were drawn one at a time from numerous operations around the world, so it really didn't affect them. In other words, nobody is indispensable and if they drew one man out of an eight-man office and another man out of six, and another man out of four, it really wasn't very much of a wrench as far as they were concerned. Charlie Adoue had just completed a job and so had Duddleston, so that those two men had not been reassigned.


Anyway, we took a sleeper to Washington. By pre-arrange­ment we were to meet Admiral Moreell and Captain Huntington on Monday morning at eight o'clock. We arrived about five minutes of eight and van Leer was jumping up and down in the Bureau of Yards and Docks and so was Captain Huntington, and they said, "For God's sake, the Admiral and Admiral King are waiting for you upstairs. The chief' s room number if 4645." At the same time, I had brought “Admiral" French, my secretary, down because every spare moment I was dictating memorandums to her and the idea was that she could transcribe them when we were there, and be available to take more dictation. I was in the meantime covering all this with orders to the contractors. So I said, "If you'll give 'Admiral' French a desk and a typewriter she can go to work while we're busy.” Okay, so that was that.Admiral Ben Moreell


I went up with Duddleston to see the admiral. Duddleston was still in civilian clothes, of course. We went into Admiral Moreell's office and his chief of staff, a commander, jumped up and said, "Oh, my goodness, yes, the admiral's wait­ing for you." He knocked on the door and Admiral Moreell opened the door himself and right behind him was another very distinguished admiral whom I learned was Admiral King. We walked in and I introduced them to Duddleston and Admiral King said, "Come in Son, come in. Just the man we're waiting for." And as I stood there, Admiral King put his arm around one shoulder and Admiral Moreell put his around the other shoulder and the three of them walked to the window - to the admiral's desk - where they all sat down. I stood there first on one foot and then the other while they talked to him, and they began describing the job immediately.


As he sat there, with his hat in his hand, Duddleston said, "Well, gentlemen, I'm still a civilian. I'm not cleared for this sort of thing." The admiral said, "Pay no attention to that. We'll take care of it. Triest, you can be excused now. We'll talk." So I went down to the Bureau of Yards and Docks and for about three hours talked and dictated some more and discussed the job with van Leer and Captain Huntington.


Then they called me back upstairs about twelve or one o'clock and Admiral Moreell said, "Triest, Duddleston is going to join us and I want you to get him in uniform by five o'clock this afternoon."


"Yes, Sir."


So I took him down to see Commander Perry who was our liaison between the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Bureau of Personnel. Commander Perry said, "What's this all about?" and I said, "I've got a man here that I've got to get in uniform. He is going out to Bobcat, and it's extremely urgent, as you may have heard, and I have to have him in uniform by five o'clock."


"What!" he said, "that's impossible. You know the proce­dure around here."


I said, "I'm sorry, Sir, but if you'11 just call Admiral Moreell he'11 tell you himself." So he dialed and said,\


"Chief, Lieutenant Triest is down here with a man he wants - yes, Sir, yes, Sir." And that was that!


He started filling out the necessary forms, name, address, education? "High school." "You know this is impossible.


I can't get a commission for a man who hasn't had a college education."


I said again, "I'm sorry, but you heard the admiral."


"Yes, I heard him."


He filled out the form a little further and then said, "Now how about the letters of recommendation? I've got to have five letters of recommendation." I said, "Well, Admiral King will give him one, Admiral Moreell another, Captain Huntington and Commander van Leer and I'll give him one." More disgusted grunts and then, Okay, okay. How about a physical?" I said, "Well, Sir, he hasn't had a physical, obviously." He said, "Well, take him down to see Captain So-and-So in charge of the infirmary on the first floor." I went to the infirmary and spoke to the Chief who was the captain's chief yeoman, and said, "I'd like to speak to the captain," and he said, "I'll take care of it." I said, "Maybe I'd better speak to the captain because this is a rather unusual and urgent matter. I have to have this man in uni­form - a complete physical and in uniform in about two and a half hours. I just think I'd better talk to the captain."


So I was ushered into the captain's office, and here was a big, florid-faced gentleman. I told him my problem and he said, "This is highly unusual." I said, "I appreciate that, Sir, but it has to be done." So he said, "Well, how about his physical qualifications?" and Duddleston said:


"Captain, let me interrupt. I'm color blind, I'm flat­footed, I'm knock-kneed, I have less than half my teeth, and whatever else may be wrong, I don't know, but I'm in fine shape."


He said, "This is impossible. You know that," and I said, "Yes, Sir, I know. Would you mind calling Admiral Moreell and he will straighten it out." So he called Admiral Moreell and he said, "Chief, Lieutenant Triest - " and the same rigmarole - "Yes, Sir, yes, Sir, right away."


So he called his staff in and gave them instructions to give Duddleston a physical and make it as complete as they could within an hour’s time. He successfully passed with eight waivers.


At four o'clock, then, having reported back to the Bureau of Yards and Docks, the thing was underway and I went back to New York to get on with my work and Duddleston was to call me at seven-thirty. In the meantime, I had called my tailor in New York and gave him the story and ended with his promise to keep three men overtime to fit the uniforms. Duddleston was to call me with his measurements by five o'clock and was due back in New York by 10.

John T. Mason, Jr.: By ten the next morning?

Captain Triest: No, ten that night. From five thirty then until ten we had to get him in uniform and ready to go.

He called on schedule and he had two secretaries in the Bureau of Yards and Docks taking his measurements according to the tailor's instructions over the telephone - the height, chest, waist and there was a bit of a do when the tailor asked for the inside leg measurement and so on - and I relayed these to the tailor.


John T. Mason, Jr.: Did you have any great problem in recruiting the neces­sary welders and so forth for the project?


Captain Triest: Just let me give you one little story.


When Duddleston arrived in New York at ten-thirty that night, "Admiral" French and I went with him to the tailor's where literally he was fitted to his clothes. They were com­pleted except for one or two small things, but by eleven o'clock he was ready to go with three or four packages which we helped him carry. There he was in uniform with his cap on at a jaunty angle –

 John T. Mason, Jr.: Did he know how to salute?

Captain Triest: He'd had no indoctrination whatsoever. We got down on the sidewalk and he said, "Say, you know, I don't even know how to salute. What do I do when they salute me?"

I said, "You just follow them. Here's a man coming right now. There's a gob across the street, standing there with his hands in his pea jacket. You start across the street when he does and you just watch him, and when he salutes you, you answer. Don't salute first. Wait till he salutes you and you answer."


We stood there with great amusement watching Duddleston itching to go, waiting for the light on 52nd Street and Madi­son Avenue, and as the light changed the gob started to cross the street and Duddleston, too. We could see Duddlestons right hand getting ready to salute all the way across the street. In the meantime, the gob had his hands still in his jacket and his white hat cocked at an angle, and a big plug of tobacco in his mouth. As he walked across the street, his eye caught Duddleston, and he turned his head the other way and let out a big plop of tobacco juice, didn't bother to salute, or raise his hand or anything, but Duddleston was so anxious that he saluted anyway! We just stood there and roared, absolutely roared. I was in uniform, too, you see! It was a terribly funny incident.


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