The Nicest Man In Town
The late Duggan Weaver knew it was "nice to be nice." He spread that message for most of his adult life as an insurance agent, Sunday School teacher, Mason, Lion, Gideon and library supporter. His multitude of friends knew him in those ways. You might not know that Duggan served our country as a member of the US Navy for nearly four years. This is a little told story of Duggan Weaver and how the events of December 7 , 1941 changed his life forever. Here is his story in his own words of that fateful day, seventy two years ago this week.
"I was working in Louisville, Kentucky living at the YMCA. I was across the street at Taylor's Drug Store drinking a cup of coffee; a boy came in and said the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor," Duggan recalled in an interview with Mac Fowler of the Laurens County Historical Society.
"I thought he was kidding, but he said, "No". I thought some crazy nut had come by and dropped a bomb. I walked across the street to the Y and people were gathered all around listening to the radio. The news caused the hair on your arm to stand up! It was a day one will never forget."
"The next day I went to work at Belknap Hardware Manufacturing Company. They distributed radios, which was very rare. Not many people had radios (especially in Dudley, Georgia. We didn't even have electricity in Laurens County). The company distributed radios all over to the place there were about 1500 employees. We listened to the news and everyone was afraid."
"That night I went to the Navy Recruiting office and signed up for the Navy. I had been turned down by the Army before leaving Laurens County and placed in 4F. The Navy took me. If you were warm, I think they would take you. I left Louisville on the 19th of December 1941. They put me on a train to Great Lakes, Illinois. The Naval Training Station at Great Lakes was running over. They issued us a few clothes, I was there two or three days and they sent some of us to the Naval Pier in Chicago, Illinois. The Naval Pier was built some fifty years before the war. It had nothing to do with the Navy. The Navy had taken it over about six months before the war. It was going to be converted to a school to handle about eight thousand men, but it was not ready and we had a solid mess. They did not have the equipment to issue dog tags and other identification. Three weeks from that day, most men had been inoculated and they were sent to sea. Sam Rundell, a fellow I had met there and I had the highest test grades and didn't go."
"They sent us back to the Great Lakes and we slept in hammock in an Air Force hangar. Then they put us in a barracks and we went to school from 8:o'clock in the morning until 8 at night. I was in Quartermaster Signal School. The later part of June 1942, they sent us to Norfolk, Virginia to broad the Ship USS Merak. They took us to Cuba. Most of the outfit stayed in Cuba, but after a few days, they put me on another ship, USS Pollux, a brand new ship on it's first run. We went to Puerto Rica, Virgin Islands and left there and went to Trinidad to a PC Base. After two weeks, they sent us to downtown Trinidad, about a block from our Naval Headquarters."
"I will never forget, we came into Key West and the Captain ordered and had me send a message "We need 150 bunches of bananas at least". We had about sixty monkeys plus some apes or whatever you call those bigger ones on board. They were for a wildlife preserve owned by one of the Roosevelts"
"The ship was loaded with we had smelted copper bars and palm oil out of Africa. It had been built to haul tung oil out of the orient. There was a fine crew on there. I loved everyone that I had anything to do with. They treated me like a King and they gave me my own room and bathroom. These Norwegians hated the Germans. This ship left Oslo, Norway, the day the Germans moved in."
"I stayed at Key West two or three days and fussed with them and fussed them. I kept telling them that Carl Vinson was our Secretary of the Navy and he was from my District and that I was going to call him. I always tried to wear my hat square and be a good Navy man. I got into a lot of real situations that were real bad. One was that I couldn't even get on a Base and get any food. The Navy had a place there that I could sleep. After fussing, I got over the fence and got something to eat. I got a man to write me a note saying "Let this man in and out whenever he wants to," After about a few days, they put me on a ship, US Kansan and back to Trinidad. I stayed there two or three days. I had to carry my entire luggage plus a lot of signal equipment."
" I left Trinidad and went back to Key West. After two or three days, they put me on a British ship,. We came to New York, then back to Guantanamo Bay. I was the only American on board. We had a strange kind of thing to happen. I would flash the lights and hoist the flag and things that the Commodore would tell me to do. There was always one American signalman on every ship regardless of what country it was from to tell the Captain of the Ship how the Navy wanted him to do. The Captain went ashore and came back laughing and said "Some man over there asked me about you being on this ship and said he'd give me every map of this whole area if I'd get you ashore." The British Captain went ashore (we had to buy our food). He came back and said that they had us down as being lost at sea for a week. The Captain and his ship were going to Nova Scotia, I told him, "Nobody's told me what to do, I don't know." The next morning, I was ready to go. We went up through the East River and there was a place there where we took on a new pilot. He said, "I expect you better get off. I don't know where we're going or what you're going to do." I got off and the Coast Guard got me and kept me all day under house arrest.
I didn't have any ID; I didn't have any orders. They wanted to know why an American sailor was on a British ship. I could talk all day about that day! I told them I had heard of the Armed Guard Center over in Brooklyn. I was not in the Armed Guard, but I thought that's where I need to be. I called the Armed Guard Center and decided that's where I should be."
I was born with a hernia; it was bad.. The Navy took me but standing all day long on those decks I was having a fit. I went to see a Dr. in Brooklyn and he told me, "Man, yeah you need to get something done about this." He sent me to the Brooklyn Navy Hospital. I got to come home to Dudley from the hospital and went back. The weather was horrible back to Brooklyn. It was January.. I had pneumonia and almost died..
I got back to Trinidad and they put me on the same ship, the Columbia. ans Army transport that they had named the Gen. Harry Rethers. I was in good shape there because they had an Army gun crew and we ran by ourselves. A few times, I put up a flag and answered airplanes or something like that. We went to British Guinea and Dutch Guinea. I was there for a few weeks and went back to Trinidad but I don't remember the name of the one I was on but it was a nice one. It was taken from Germany during World War I. They had cleaned it up and it was in A-1 shape. I got to New York and they told me I had plenty of time. I went over to the Signal Shack and I had plenty of points to go home, but we've got to have sailors, we have sent for sixty five today that had gone home. They assigned me to a tanker, the Axtel J. Byers. Our first trip was to Russia; British Isles, Scotland and we left there on my birthday, September 15, 1943. We lost nine ships, I didn't know if I would ever see Dudley again! Horrible! Horrible! I had seen ships blown up before but this was a terrible situation. We got back to New York and I thought they would let us go home. They sent us straight to Tampa, Florida for dry dock because this ship had been torpedoed before I had gotten on it. We had some Navy men on board, but I was responsible to the Merchant Captain. My job was to keep him happy. We got along fine. So I got to come home for two or three days. When I got back, we made two or three trips into the Mediterranean, three to the British Isles, five to Venezuela and eight or ten times to the Texas area" I was discharged September 14, 1945."