For 22 years, Englewood man served as Navy yeoman around the world
From the end of World War II, through the Korean War of the 1950s and halfway into the Vietnam War, late in the 1960s, Granville Pennypacker served as a yeoman, a Navy administrator, in strategic hot spots around the world.
“I joined the Navy in 1946 at 17, before I graduated from high school, took five weeks of boot camp and signed up for Submarine School at Pearl Harbor,” said the 83-year-old former sailor, who now lives in Englewood. “I went to work on Admiral Watkins’ administrative staff at Com Sub Pack in Pearl at the time.
“When we got to Pearl the harbor was pretty well cleaned up. However, there were still four inches of fuel oil floating on the surface of the bay from the Japanese’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack. They tell me there were 12 and 14 inches of oil floating in the harbor right after the attack. So the oil had dissipated considerably by the time I arrived.
“Honolulu was a Navy town. We enjoyed ourselves very much. We even stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on a couple of occasions,” Pennypacker said. “What I was doing as a 3rd class yeoman was helping put together the final war reports for the Submarine Service during WWII. It was a tough job requiring a considerable amount of detailed paper work.”
In 1947, he re-enlisted in the Navy. Pennypacker was transferred to Adm. Radford’s Sea Pac Fleet, also headquartered at Pearl Harbor. He worked there for six months until reassigned to the United Nations-run Trust Territory for the Pacific. This organization was responsible for administering all of the islands in the Pacific once held by the Japanese during WWII.
“I became part of a Civil Administration Unit. We were sent out to these islands — Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Palau and many others — to produce an inspection report on how the islands and their inhabitants were progressing,” he said. “Each of these units was run by a lieutenant commander in the Navy and included a doctor and four or five administrative Navy enlisted men.
“I was assigned to the Chief of Staff of the Territories. We hit all the islands under his control. One of the most important areas we administered was the island of Tinian,” Pennypacker said. “When we arrived there in 1949, it was just like the United States military had gotten up and left. There were B-29 bombers, lots of American fighter planes and tons of equipment and machinery abandoned on the runways and in the buildings on Tinian. No one was living on the island, no one was in charge.
“It was quite an unnerving sight to see all this stuff just left there. In machine shops tools were still right there in the grease where they had been left,” he said. “It was our job to take a survey of all this equipment.
“There was a chief boatswains mate who approached the chief of the territory and asked if he could salvage all the copper left behind in the equipment,” Pennypacker recalled. “He signed a contract that allowed him to split the revenue from the sale of this copper with the Navy. He got an old tugboat and a barge and put the scrap copper on the barge and took it to Honolulu, where it was sold. The sailor became a millionaire in no time.”
During their inspection of these islands the administrative staffs, run by the Chief of Staff of the Territories, provided the native inhabitants with medical care and food. Their plight was dire after the war and chaos left behind by the fighting increased the plight of the native population.
“In 1949 I re-enlisted for another two years. It was during this period I met my wife-to-be, Reva. We decided to get married in Pearl Harbor on the Fourth of July 1950,” he said. “On June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out and I was assigned to a destroyer, USS Hamner (DD-718), and spent the next two years aboard ship off the Korean peninsula.”
Pennypacker’s matrimonial plans were put on the back burner until the Hamner sailed back into Pearl in 1953 at the close of the Korean War.
“On the way back from Korea I got orders to report to AFSWP. Nobody knew what it was. It turned out to be Armed Forces Special Weapons Project based in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We worked on the first top secret atomic explosions in Pacific Islands after WWII.
“The military was going to explode an atomic bomb underwater for the first time in the harbor at Enewetak. The island was evacuated before the bomb went off.
“I was aboard the command ship USS Mount McKinley at Enewetak Atoll when the bomb went off. We were six or seven miles from the explosion with our backs to the bomb wearing dark glasses,” Pennypacker said. “There was a huge bright light and the shock wave from the blast hit us about three seconds later. The shock wave knocked some of the guys aboard ship down.
“After the explosion they told us we’d probably all be sterile. I had three kids,” he said with a laugh. “We caught a plane back to Washington, D.C., after the blast and wrapped up our business there.
“Then I was assigned to the Military Advisory Assistance Group in 1954. It was the job of this group to help the Thailand Navy and Army build up. I was stationed in Bangkok, Thailand. By 1954, I was spending a lot of time in what was then called French Indochina in what was to become Vietnam.
“After the French were thrown out of Vietnam, the country was split into North and South Vietnam in 1956. It was about this time I returned to the United States and reported to the Naval Recruiting Station in New Orleans.
“It was during this period I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire career in the Navy. We had one kid who wanted to enlist, but had never gone past the seventh grade in school. When he came to see me he was 17 and because he hadn’t graduated from high school we couldn’t enlist him,” Pennypacker said. “He took the Armed Forces qualification test and aced it. I talked to the commander of the New Orleans recruiting station and told him, ‘This kid was sharp and would be an asset to the Navy.’ We got the Bureau of Naval Personnel to enlist the kid under a waiver.
“After he got in the Navy he graduated number one in his boot company. He went into electronics and graduated number one in the electronic school. Then the Navy came out with a program for highly qualified enlisted people. This program paid for college and he graduated from Perdue University Magna Cum Laude with a degree in electrical engineering. It felt like I had accomplished something recruiting this kid. That was what we were all trying to do at the New Orleans Recruiting Station.
“After New Orleans I got orders to attend the Naval Justice School in New Port, RI. This was the first Navy school I had ever attended. My family and I ended up in Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico. I ran the legal office there for three years. It was a really nice station for a family because it had all the amenities.”
It was at this point Pennypacker tried to retire from the Navy. He had 20 years in the service, but the Navy would have none of it. Shortly before he decided to hang it up, he re-upped for another six years.
“As a consequence I was made an instructor in recruiting at the Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Md. When I got there I rewrote the curriculum for that school and a similar school in California.”
Pennypacker tried once more to retire, but was told he had to spend the next six months at the Naval hospital in Philadelphia. He was sent back to duty after the hospital and on July 28, 1968, he got his orders for retirement from the Navy on Aug. 1 of that year. He served 22 years in the Navy and retired as a chief.
“My wife and I came to Englewood in 1983 and I worked in home sales for the builder that built my house until I reached 75 and retired for good,” he said. The couple has three children, Granville Jr., Peggy Jo and Valerie Ann.
If you have a war story or a friend or neighbor has one, email Don Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 941-426-2120. For more war stories, visit donmooreswartales.com.