Vice Admiral Joe Williams Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired)
In October 1940 I enlisted in the Navy in my home state of Arkansas and then had recruit training in San Diego. I applied to be in a Navy band, but that did not work out, so I went back to the chief petty officer of my boot camp company. He said, “You’ve taken these examinations, and you stand high. They’re starting a new school in Great Lakes, Illinois—a Class A machinist’s mate school. The best students there will go on to a new school that’s being formed at the Ford River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan.” Then he said, “I want you to take an examination for that school.”
I was accepted for that course and went to Great Lakes. There we started the theoretical work in the classroom, primarily math. We utilized the course books that the Navy had in those days for fireman first class and machinist’s mate second class. We discussed how milling machines, shapers, lathes, and hand tools worked. We took a course in hand tools, concentrating on the reading of micrometers, calipers, and these types of things.
There was no hands-on training at Great Lakes. It was all classroom work. They used exploded views of machinery, from which they did their instruction about how it was designed and operated—a very innovative method for those days. We studied lubrication, oils, pumps, turbines, reduction gears, etc. We used the Bu- Ships [Bureau of Ships] Manual a lot. In those days the BuShips Manual included a great deal of technical information. Of course, we never saw the machinery in which we were being instructed at Great Lakes. This included propulsion machinery. They took us through a brief course on main turbines and boilers that lasted about six weeks.
Then we were transferred, and I went with the contingent to Dearborn in early 1941. The Bureau of Navigation [later the Bureau of Naval Personnel] had arranged with Henry Ford to establish a machinist’s school as well as a school that taught a course in diesel engines. The company had not yet converted over to war production, and they still were making automobiles. The only war work they were doing was the production of large rollers for a rubber mill they were making for the Soviet Union. Ford had built an installation for the Navy alongside the River Rouge in a comer of the plant property there. At that time the plant employed 80,000 people. When we got there, the Navy installation consisted of an administration building, a mess hall, and one barracks, with the foundations laid for another.
Once we reported in, Mr. Ford immediately took an intense interest in his sailors. And let me tell you, we belonged to Mr. Ford—not the U.S. Navy. He met us the second day and talked to us in the mess hall. He said, “This is the finest manufacturing facility in the world, and you’re going to be taught by the finest machinists in the world. I want you to get everything you can out of this, because you’re going to need it one of these days. People are going to treat you properly, and if they don’t, I want to know about it. I’m sponsoring you, and I’m trying to make arrangements to pay you while you’re here.”
That fell through, of course, so he just paid us anyway and contributed it to the Red Cross in our name. I think we got $2 a day—it all went to the Red Cross. We were drawing our regular Navy salary, but, naturally, the Navy would not permit him to pay us beyond that. My regular Navy salary at that time still was $21 a month. Ford’s workers were drawing about $5 a day at that time.
Mr. Ford often roamed about. He would stop and ask, “How’s it going?” Every Sunday he and Mrs. Ford hosted us at Greenfield Village, which was the beginning of their present extensive museum of old homes and cars. There was an auditorium that broadcast the “Ford Sunday Evening Hour” with Fred Waring and his orchestra, the Pennsylvanians. Lovett Hall had a beautiful ballroom where they had a very heavy buffet lunch for us every Sunday. Then on came an orchestra, consisting of a zither, harpsichord, bass, piano, and three or four violins. Mr. and Mrs. Ford would teach us the dances. They would lead the dance, demonstrating the steps. Then we—with the debutantes from Dearborn as our partners—would give it a try.
We were in dress blues, and the girls were in long white dresses. This would go on for about an hour, and then that orchestra would disappear and a swing band would come on—a really great band. Mr. and Mrs. Ford would leave, and it was our afternoon after that. I think it ended at 1800, but it was their treat for the sailors every Sunday.
At Dearborn we continued our academic studies and also went to work as apprentices in a tool-and-die shop under, as he had said, Ford’s best machinists. We first were taught to file. My God, I thought, I never was going to get through filing. When I finished my first course as an apprentice machinist, I then was permitted to do other things. Filing metal patterns that are going to be replicated is an art form. It taught us the importance of precision-and patience.
We next had our training on shapers. Then we went to surface grinders, and then milling machines—the most difficult of all. But I had a knack for them. They concentrated on us and did not let us sit still for a minute. There were workers on our shoulders all the time; very different from the way they were treating their own apprentices. Evidently Mr. Ford had said, “You’re going to force-feed them”— and they did. They let us work with the machines, and we were allowed to ruin things, mind you. If we ruined a piece of stock, that was fine. They told us to get another one and start over. If we set up a hob wrong and ran into the machine itself, that was okay, too. They didn’t fuss about damage—they just taught us what went wrong.
I thought our training was pretty rigorous. With no more experience than we had, it took good teachers and our undivided attention for us to learn to compute the settings for milling a gear and setting up and performing the milling. I stood first in the class, but I worked hard at it. I also pulled the number-one boo-boo.
Ford was building two engines in competition for getting the contract for the P-1 Mustang. Allison also was competing for the same contract. I was apprenticed to the machinist who would finish grinding the crankshaft journals. He, of course, would not let me touch the job, but he had me close by his side where I could not miss a word of his incessant instructions. I became bored and accidentally leaned against the lever that kept the big crankshaft securely locked in the machine as it revolved at very high RPMs. It flew out of the machine and knocked down the shop, banging and clanging off other machines and structural columns. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The old man had tears in his eyes, and I was scared. No problem! I was one of Mr. Ford’s sailors; make another crankshaft.
When I left there in July 1941 to report to my first ship, I had been through a very intense course. When you work 12 to 14 hours a day, you get a lot of schooling in six months. Later, I found out under Admiral Hyman G. Rickover that you could get a terrific amount of schooling in six months if you work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. But we got a lot of schooling at Mr. Ford’s place as well.
E. E. “Ed” Logue
In 1940 the Navy was not looking for people. The Army was, however, and it already was drafting 21-year-olds. The Navy recruiter in Wichita said, “I’ll put your name down and give you a call.” This would have been right around the last part of November, because I did not get my call till about 2 December 1940. A couple of other guys I went to school with got on the list, too, so the three of us went together. We got on the train and went up to Kansas City. That is where they gave us our first big go-around. I figured they were going to wash me out and take those guys, but it was just the opposite: The next day they sent those two lugs home and took me. Naturally, the Navy took me on its terms, not mine. From there I went to boot camp at Great Lakes.
We were given our clothes, of course. Then we went over to our barracks, and here came this old chief boatswain’s mate, who looked like he was about 70 years old. He was our trainer, and we learned to march first and then got our rifles. I think the old man was determined to make a sailor out of every one of us, and he took the time to do it. And he did not do it in a brotherly fashion either. He came down on us, but I think it was the best thing he could have done. Right away, we learned what was expected of us in the Navy.
I never thought I was all that brilliant in school, but out of 120-some in our company I think the top six got their choice of trade school. I got into that top six—I do not know how, but I did. When I found out we were going to Dearborn, that was better yet. Before we went there, I started in my machinist’s mate school right there at Great Lakes. Henry Ford II, who was a grandson of the old man, was a reserve officer in the Navy. He had nothing to do with that school, but I saw him occasionally in the Great Lakes area. I of course never met him.
We had classroom time at Great Lakes for a month, and then they put us on a train to Dearborn. There we had an extension of what we had had before, and there was a civilian instructor who was very good. In fact, this was the school that Ford had built for us; they were his classrooms. He had a school for the children of his own men, and this school had been running for years.
If a Ford employee got killed or laid up and could not work, his kid could come and get a free education and a guaranteed job. So this was the class we were in, with good instructors. We took each piece of equipment and were made to understand how it went together, what it did, why it was needed, some of the work that was done with it, and the things you could do with it.
In the mornings we were in the classroom, and in the afternoons we each were assigned a week at a time to a machine. The main operator was there to teach you, and he had you using that machine before the week was over. There were drill presses, lathes, milling machines, grinders, and things like that. We had a chance to use everything that was in that machine shop while we were there.
The course at Dearborn was more demanding than the one at Great Lakes, but those instructors treated us great. Sometimes I would goof up and hear, “Now, son, that’s all right. Because everybody’s got to learn, so come on.” It was just that kind of that attitude—nobody jumped down your throat. It was a patient approach. I know some of the instructors probably would have liked to kick us right in the rear, but they didn’t act like it. Being at Dearborn probably was one of the nicest experiences I had in the Navy.
Henry Ford was doing something great for the Navy. I even ran into him once. He had a yacht, they told us, that he really liked. At one point she got so old they pulled her in and then dragged her out. He had them take all of her machinery (i.e., the boiler, the dynamos, and all that) and put it in a building. Now, this was the power for the lights for our barracks, and the boiler provided the steam heat. And it was all rigged up just like it would have been on board the ship.
I guess Ford had hinted that it would be nice if the boys, while they were there, could have a chance to drop in and see that. The Navy picked up on it quick, and they saw to it that two of us a day spent time there. Out of all the time we were there, you could count on doing that with one other sailor. So one day it was my turn, around March or April 1941, and I was there with a man named Jitler.
While we were there, the door opened at the other end of the long room we were in, and I thought all the gold in the Navy was coming in. There were admirals and captains, and pretty soon this tall lanky guy comes a-boiling out from among them. He looked down and saw us. He just took off and came down there, while the other guys stayed back at the door.
“My name’s Henry Ford,” he said. We shook hands and told him who we were. He wanted to know where we were from, and I told him Wichita. Jitler said St. Louis. Mr. Ford said, yeah, he was in Wichita at such and such a time, and in St. Louis just not very long ago. Now, old Jitler was smarter than I was. At that time he had a farm in Georgia where he was raising soybeans, and he also was trying to develop plastics.
Back in those days plastics were the junkiest things you could get your hands on. I mean, you bought a plastic toy one day, and then it was gone. I say that because Henry told us, “Boys, in five years you’re going to see automobile bodies made out of plastic.” I thought, Henry, you’ve been in it too long, you know. Of course, we did not tell him that, but that was what was going on in our minds. We just smiled. Then he said, “With this terrible war, who knows when we’ll get in it or if we do or what.” He said it could make a difference because we were supplying a lot of stuff overseas. Then he finally said, “Well now, because of that, it may take a little longer than five years, but you’re going to see it in your lifetime.” Nobody could have been more right.
As he turned to go, he shook hands and said, “Now, boys, if you ever see me anywhere, I don’t care if I’m talking to the President of the United States, I want you to come up and interrupt me. Tell me who you are, where we met, and shake hands with me. I want you to promise you’ll do that. Will you?” Of course, we promised.
When he left, I told Jitler, “I don’t think I’ll interrupt the President. You can suit yourself.”