Original Document
Original Document
Edwin Kendrick, Recollections of the Philadelphia Navy Yard during World War II, 1999.

Charles Hardy III: How did you get into the shipbuilding business?

Edwin Kendrick: Well, you're talking about before World War II now. I just got out of high school; it was about 1939. And there was a lot of kids hanging around with no jobs so I took an examination for to get on apprenticeship in the Philadelphia Naval Ship yard and as a matter of fact there was about 48,000 kids all without jobs that took the examination and I think 100 of us got the job and I got started down there in August of 1939 and went through the apprenticeship. It was a four-year apprenticeship, but then the war came along and working overtime and so forth I was able to do it in 2½ years. And I got my apprenticeship in "42. At that time we were in the war and I was a mechanic. They were bringing people into the yard who never even saw a ship, didn't know what they were standing on and what not, and I as an apprentice boy had charge of maybe 20 or 30 different guys who were in there, maybe to dodge the draft or whatever, but they were in there and I was trying to tell them, "You do this. You do that," and so forth and so on. And that went along for a couple of years because I was single at that time, I was eligible for the draft. I was number, I think, 15 in the original draft and I would have been drafted if I wasn't working in the Navy yard, so I was deferred because of the fact I was helping the shipbuilding. And then I finally got drafted into the Army and I served in the Army for not quite a year, and the war was over and then I came back and I went to the University of Pennsylvania and I graduated there and I went back into the shipyard and I got a job as an engineer with the Northern Division, Naval Facilities Engineering command. And I worked there up until 1980. I wound up as director of the Maintenance Division, and at that particular time, 1980, I had 40 years and 7 months. …

Q: Describe for me if you could, what the yard looked like when you first arrived there?

Kendrick: I thought I was very lucky to get a steady job, in the civil service, in the ship yard. Very lucky to be in an apprenticeship. And you see the thing is that the fact that I was an apprentice, I didn't have to stay in that building 40 hours. In other words, one day a week we used to go to school, and as a part of an apprentice, you didn't have to work constantly in that particular job, they would send you out to the ships, and send you out to new construction and things like that. As a matter of fact, one of the new jobs I worked on, on the new construction, was the U.S.S. New Jersey. I was on the launching party of the Jersey when I was there was probably about two years in the Navy yard. But I was down below. I don't know if you are familiar with the shipways. Okay, you have a ship on there and they build a whole ship on there and it's on like an incline plane and is it's all blocked up with all kinds of gear and things to hold it on that shipway but when it gets built and there's a launching then they cut all that stuff away and they finally wind up where the ship is doing nothing but laying on a greased platform and it's just one thing that's holding it. It's like a big steel belt that's up there and when the girl, lady, or man, who ever it is, does this, there's a saline burner, burns that belt and it goes down the ways. One of my jobs was to be in there while they were getting ready to launch the ship. You see, we had these blocks, like wedges, that would raise the ship up, and a lot of us in there would use a big log that maybe two or three were just going like that to hit the wedges, so to raise it enough to get the ship to where it's just on the sliding part of the thing there. And that was my job on the U.S.S. New Jersey.

Q: And that was launched one year after Pearl Harbor, right?

Kendrick: That's right. I think it was 1942 that the New Jersey was launched. Yes.

Q: Now you were there when the war broke out?

Kendrick: Yes.

Q: And the shipyard simply exploded in size.

Q: When did that take place?

Kendrick: Well, I guess in 1941 was when we got in the war, in December 1941. There was always, I think, a feeling certainly in the Navy that something was coming. And I got hired in "39 and that's when they started building it up and we all at that time got into over-time and started building ships. So we were doing quite a bit of construction before the war even started, in anticipation of what was going to happen. But then Pearl Harbor came along, that's what caused the whole thing to really jump up. When we got in the war, that's when they start bringing in 7 days a week, around the clock and so forth, guys were doctors, lawyers, salesmen, anything, were coming in there, not so much even to make the money, because they'd probably make more outside, [but] to dodge the draft. To get in there so you wouldn't have to go in the draft. Because you were building the ships for them.

Q: So a lot of draft dodgers found a reason–

Kendrick: Well, some were. I wouldn't say a lot, but there was some. Well you can see, a doctor, why would he want to go in there and start building ships? He wouldn't know whether he's standing on steel or wood or paper. People like that actually came in for one reason. So they wouldn't have to go into the service. …

Q: Now, during the early war years, women and blacks also started showing up in the yard?

Kendrick: Oh, women. Oh my. When I first started there, there was no such thing as a woman in the shipyard. Before I was drafted in the service, we had women welders, you would always think about a woman who would be, if she was walking across the floor or something like that, you'd put a rug under her feet or something like that, or make sure she didn't hurt herself, they were out there with the big welding cables pulling them, like the real heavy things, pulling them, welding plates up, doing whatever they had to do. Working four shifts, three shifts, and so forth and so on. Did almost everything that had to be done. Most of them were welders. The women were doing that.

Q: Why welding?

Kendrick: Because it's easy to learn. In other words, they weren't able to maybe construct a ship, but it just is simple to put two pieces of plates together. You bring them in and send them to welding school and let them practice in there for maybe a couple of weeks or something like that. And then when they got enough skill in that, they would let them be what they called "tackers." Tackers would just put little welds. The big welds would be done by an experienced welder. But they would be tacking. So you as a ship fitter would want to put these two plates together. You would say to the girl, "Tack there. Tack there." Then you would have it all set and then you would send it over to a regular welder and he would weld the plate up.

Q: What did you think when you saw the first women showing up in the yard?

Kendrick: It was kind of difficult. Like I say you think of a woman, you got to watch where she steps when she goes out and things like that, and they were doing things that you wouldn't even believe a woman would be able to do, pulling cables, and lifting things, and things like that. And working 7 days a week around the clock and things like that. And you mentioned about the colored. There were not too many blacks in those days, but when the war opened up, they came in, and they did a good job. They were good workers. Very good workers.

Q: Did you work with any black guys?

Kendrick: Oh yeah, plenty of them. I had a black apprentice boy in my apprentice class.

Q: What can you tell me about him?

Kendrick: Well, he was a fellow that was very happy to get the job, and he was a guy who would do almost anything as far as work was concerned. A lot of people would say, "I don't want to do this. I don't want to do that." He would do anything. He was a fellow who was very cooperative, and of the class, I think we had in our class, I think 50 apprentices with one black.

Q: One black?

Kendrick: One black. And he was an apprentice also. He passed the exam. See again, you passed the exam as you are on the list. And he was one in our class, we had 50 and they weren't all 50 ship fitters. Maybe 10 were ship fitters. Maybe some were electricians, some were plumbers, and whatever. But he was a ship fitter and a very nice guy.

Q: Now, you were a good South Philly boy.

Kendrick: Oh yeah.

Q: Irish.

Kendrick: Yeah.

Q: And you're working in the shipyard, and all of a sudden these black guys start showing up.

Kendrick: As far as I was concerned, they were welcome.

Q: Really!

Kendrick: Oh yeah, sure because they were good workers. The blacks were good workers. Now, the ones who didn't do as much as they could was probably the women. You had to help them. In other words, there was cable to be pulled, a welding cable to be pulled, maybe across a slab and so forth and so on, you had to help them do that. The blacks they'd pull it and do it themselves. No, the blacks I knew were very, very good people.

Q: Did they work in integrated crews or did they keep them together by race?

Kendrick: They mixed right in the group. No segregation or anything like that.

Q: Because I know, where was it, was it at Sun Ship they segregated them during the war.

Kendrick: I don't know about Sun Ship. I don't know. It could be. You're talking about the Federal government now. The Federal government don't go for any of that stuff. Never did. And today it don't, didn't in those days either. If you were a mechanic, you were a ship fitter, you got the same wages, he got the same wages as I did. You went to the same restaurants, the cafeteria that I did. I sat beside them in the school. There was no reason why you would even think anything different about them. …

Q: During the war, any characters stand out? Any colorful characters working in the ship yard with you back during the war days?

Kendrick: Oh yeah. Sure.

Q: Can you tell me any of those stories?

Kendrick: I remember one fellow he was a helper. You know what a number writer is? He didn't care about how much money he got because a helper got not too much money. He didn't worry about that. All he says, "I don't care what happens. All I want to do is be able to be in there." Because he would have those pockets, the long pockets that he would have full with money in there. He would go around, they were playing the numbers, give him a number and he would write it down for you and his pockets would be so full of change he could hardly walk up the stairs. And I remember, after the war was over, in "46, they were going around and saying, "Look, we got to lay you off, things are over and so forth. I don't mind you laying me off, just let me come back in the yard. Just let me come back in, that's all." But there was all kind of people like that, all kinds of things like that.

Q: I heard you got up to 47,000 people down there, in the war years. That's a whole city.

Kendrick: Oh you wouldn't believe.

Q: 47,000 people, I mean, that must have been–

Kendrick: I don't know where you got that number, I think there was more than that, from what I heard. I heard 60,000. It depends on when you're talking about, what period and so on. … When they'd blow the whistle, if you're standing beside a ship that's under construction, let's say, right before quitting time, there's not a noise. Everybody stopped. There's always while there's construction, there's riveters, and burners and everything, a whole lot of noise. But then when it gets near 4:30, very quiet. And you don't see a thing. I remember the officers used to stand on the gangways, watching. Because they didn't want anybody leave before 4:30. But once that whistle blew, boy those officers had to get out of the way because they come down that gangway. Like I say, I broke thermos bottles coming down the ropes and the ladders. And then the problem is to get in and out. And here's an interesting thing. In those days there were automobiles. It's quitting time you go out the gate. And if you are starting towards the Broad Street gate you go slow but you go right out. If there's a stop, the question would be "Why are we not moving?" There's a long line. Well, the word comes back, they're searching the cars. A lot of people used to take stuff out, whatever they can. So they're searching the cars, you know, everybody that had anything in the car would just get rid of it on the side. And what they used to do then, the Marines, they'd take a truck around and pick up all the stuff that was in their cars and put it back where it had to be.

Q: So this would be wrenches, hammers, pipe?

Kendrick: Whatever. The old story is, it's kind of amusing that they used to say, that when the Navy yard whistle blows, a lot of those houses in South Philadelphia used to shake, because of what was in them. Whatever that was in there, belonged to the Navy yard. …

Q: I know in a lot of industries, different shops would attract or be dominated by men of different ethnic groups.

Kendrick: Sure.

Q: Italians over here, Poles over here, Slavs there.

Kendrick: I didn't see anything like that. Certain trades had certain ethnic backgrounds. For instance, like in building cement finishers, a lot of them were Italians. They seemed to go for that. The colored people seemed to become more in the lines of riggers, lifting and so forth. They were strong and they could lift and work the cranes and things like that. I don't know if there's any other nationality that would–I think the Scotsmen were pretty good, as far as ship fitters are concerned, they are the ones that came from the Clyde, that's on the other side you know. Any of those that came from the Clyde, they were damn good ship fitters. Other than that I can't think of any other particular nationality that worked that way.

Q: So you worked with some Scotsmen from the Clyde?

Kendrick: Oh yeah, sure. They were very good. They were forever building ships over in the Clyde. And when construction started over here, a lot of came over here in this country. And a lot of them were supervisors that we had, working for us in the shops and so forth. I knew a couple of them that were very good. They knew how to go about building a ship, they knew the things to do, how to go about it, and things like that. …

Q: Can you paint me a picture in words about what was going on at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during the Second World War?

Kendrick: Well I guess you can say there was a lot of activity, but it was a lot of fun too. A lot of parties after work and so forth. A lot of camaraderie in there … because they had a common reason for being there, that was building the ships. And beating the Japs. That was the whole thing and most of them got together and because of that they would go out drinking together and they'd go to parties together. … Everybody had a common objective, to beat the Japs. Win the war. That was the objective. Everybody was doing the best to do it, to accomplish that.

Q: Would you say that the New Jersey was the most significant ship to be produced at the yard during the war? I guess the Wisconsin also was–

Kendrick: No. I was going to say. The three that I would say, in the war, was the Washington, the New Jersey and the Wisconsin. I worked on all three of them. And I would say they were all probably the same kind of ships. I would say that I wouldn't know if one would be better than the other. Most of them got in the war over in the Japs, and as far as one was better than the other, I think they were pretty much the same.

Q: When you were working on those three ships, what sort of sense of urgency was there about getting these built as quickly as possible? Because I know during the early years of the war it looked like the United States was on the ropes.

Kendrick: Normally people don't like to work more than 40 hours a week. None of us do. But because of the war you had to do what you had to do and we were all very happy to work 9 hours, 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. I can remember working 70 straight days, 10 hours a day. 70 straight days.

Q: 70 straight days?

Kendrick: You had to. Yeah. Sure. You do what you can to beat the Japs and that's what it's all about. Not only me but a lot of people did the same thing. Yeah. Sure.

Q: Did any people come down to give you all pep talks or to sort of –

Kendrick: Oh, all the time. There was all kinds of actors, actresses coming down there, mostly selling war bonds. What they would do is they would say, "Okay, there's going to be a war bond drive." In front of maybe Dry Dock 4. It was always at lunch time because that's when you weren't working. And they would have maybe, I think John Wayne was down there. They had several actresses down there and so forth and so on. They would say, do what you can, buy the bonds so we're going to try to help the people who are overseas. We would have bonds taken out of our pay, every week. As a matter of fact, I used to have the last bond–when the war was over, you sell the bonds. I saved the last one. I still got it. I think they used to get a $25 bond taken out every pay. It was $18.75 for a $25 bond or something like that.

Q: This was voluntary?

Kendrick: Oh yeah. But the pressure was on. I mean, look, you've got to beat the Japs, right? We need the money. There was pressure put on you but you didn't have to do it.

Q: Seventy 10-hour days in a row?

Kendrick: Not only me but we used to all do it. Sure. This is work that had to be done. Particularly this happened when they were getting ready to invade Normandy. We were building the ships down there they were going to put on the beaches at Normandy. Those were the times that everybody was working their heads off. We weren't sure where they were going–it was a secret. But we knew they were invasion barges. It had the drop in the front.

Q: These are landing crafts?

Kendrick: Landing crafts, yeah, we built those down there. That's what I'm talking about. The ones the boys got aboard, and they'd put them up in a beach and the top would go down. We built those down there.

Q: The landing craft, that's a small vessel.

Kendrick: Yeah. I would say it might be 75- to 100-feet long, by about 30 feet wide or something like that. All it is is a hollow in there with the thing that drops down in front. And the guys would get in there, and they would push them up on the beach, and they would drop the front and they would just go ahead. You've seen them in Normandy and places like that. … They were simple, there's nothing to them. They were standard things. How long it take? I'd say, a week, maybe, something like that. It wasn't much to it. It wasn't anything complicated. No big engines or anything like that.

Credit: Edwin Kendrick, interviewed by Charles Hardy III, March 8, 1999. Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard Oral History Project. [Interview on deposit at the Philadelphia Seaport Museum]
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