CHAPTER FORTY THREE – AUGUST LEE BERGMEIER
Revised 13 November 2019 by Lawrence Eugene Vaughn Jr
Table of Contents
- August Lee Bergmeier
- 1920 Census
- 1930 Census
- 1930 U.S. Census
- 1940 U.S. Census
- Age Confusion
- Pearl Harbor
- Treasure Island
- Richard Lee Bergmeier
- Edward Leon Bergmeier
- Arlene Mae Wilson
August Lee Bergmeier
When Lee, as he liked to be called, was born on August 31, 1924, in Nauvoo, Illinois, his father, William, was 36 and his mother, Elizabeth, was 37. In the 1930 census, household members included, his mother and father, William and Bessie Bergmeier, Marie, William (Jr), John H, Myrtle, August (Lee), and Margaret Bergemeier, and Robert (John) and Mary Hickman. The household was at 113 Oak Street in Dallas City, Illinois.
Lee Bergmeier was a very gentle man who had experienced much personal loss and parental suffering during his lifetime. He had lost three adult sons; two to early deaths, the other to estrangement. He had came from a very poor farm labor family, and commented that his family was so poor he was usually barefoot in the summer.
Lee’s father, William George Bergmeier was born on November 19, 1887, in Fort Madison, Iowa, son of George Bergmeyer [also spelled Bergmsyer] and Catherine (Kate) Mary Heimann. The 1900 U.S. Census gives us a lot of information about the family as of that date. They lived in a rented farmhouse on a farm in Appanoose Township, Hancock, Illinois, where George worked as a farmer, probably a laborer.
George and Kate were born in Germany, had migrated to the U.S. in 1884, had lived in the U.S. for 16 years, and that both could read and write (German), but neither had yet commanded the English language. They married in 1887, three years after migrating, and had been married thirteen years on the date of the census. George was 40 years old and Kate was 32.
They had seven children at that time, Willie, age 12, Anna, 10, Stephen, 9, George, 7, Kate, 5, John, age 2, and Joseph, 8 months.
William “Willie” George, Lee’s father, tried farming on his own, but later occupied himself as a farm laborer for as much of the spring, summer and fall seasons as he could, and a general laborer during the winter. He and Bessie had six children in 16 years. William died on June 3, 1957, in Dallas City, Illinois, at the age of 69, and was buried in Nauvoo, Illinois.
The 1940 census, Apr 9-10, Dallas City, Hancock IL, listed August Bergmeier, age 15, (suggests his birthdate was 1924-1925.) He indicates that he was not attending school, and that he had completed 8 years of school. He was currently working 40 hours a week as a laborer. He had worked ten weeks in the previous year, 1939, earning a total of $60. Also listed in the home in 1940 were his father, William, age 52, Bessie, 53, William G, 22, John H, age 20, and sister, Marilyn, age 7. August gained an extra three years of age since the previous census, ten years earlier!
As a teen, Lee suffered a serious abdominal rupture due to performing hard labor, but the family couldn’t afford the cost of the operation to repair it. He related that when he showered at school, the other boys made fun of his rupture, and he became quite sensitive about it.
There is confusion about Lee’s age due to census records that indicate he was born in 1925 or 1928, and he related to the author that he lied about his age to join the Navy. He needed medical attention because his hernia had worsened and he wasn’t able to perform farm labor any longer. He also related that the surgery was performed without any anesthetic, and the Navy doctor that was sewing him up said, “You want to be a man . . act like a man.” He was pretty sure that he passed out during the procedure.
On 7 December 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan, and around 6,000 sailors were training at Great Lakes. This grew to 68,000 in six months; by September 1942, over 100,000 sailors were training at Great Lakes.
Lee was among them, having enlisted at the end of the following summer. The base grew to 1,600 acres (650 ha) in the next 10 months. By mid-1943, there were over 700 instructors at the Class A service schools
United States Navy Armed Guard
United States Navy Armed Guard units were established during World War II in an attempt to provide defensive firepower to merchant ships and troop carriers. Some of the Navy’s most skillful gunners were placed on the freighters to provide minimal fire power to protect the ships.
This was done because of the constant danger from enemy submarines, surface raiders, fighter aircraft and bombers, and because of the shortage of Allied navy warships necessary to provide the merchant vessels with adequate protection.
The United States Navy Armed Guard (USNAG) were largely unsung heroes. These skilled U.S. Navy gun crews consisted of Gunner’s Mates, Coxswains and Boatswains, Radiomen, Signalmen, an occasional Pharmacist’s Mate, and, toward the end of the war, a few radarmen. Most had never seen the ocean before joining the service.
One requisite of Armed Guard service was that candidates must be in good physical condition. They must have good eyes, ears and teeth. They must be able to swim. But above all they must be people put their hearts in their work, who loved their country and were willing to sacrifice even their lives for it if necessary. The Armed Guards was no place for the slacker or the malcontent.
For months Armed Guards lived aboard ship with, by comparison, highly paid merchant seamen. They had to be able to get along with men whose highest form of discipline probably came from their labor unions. Officers who served as commanding officers in charge of Armed Guard crews were expected to have the usual traits of leadership and discipline expected of all naval officers. But, experience soon indicated that a certain ability to get along with Masters of ships was also an important characteristic.
Emphasis soon shifted away from the very young officer, especially persons who knew, or thought he knew, too much about running merchant ships. The ideal Armed Guard officer was a tactful person who could look after the interests of his men and at the same time keep relations smooth between the between the Navy complement and the Master, officers and crew of the merchant ship. He was a man who could get along with people who were under great mental strain and who could win their confidence.
He was close to his gunners. He was sort of a doctor, chaplain, and commanding officer at the same time. The highly nervous individual did not last in the Armed Guard. Neither did the troublemaker nor the officer who had too exalted an idea of the scope of his duties and the privileges which the uniform conferred upon him. The calm, but not necessarily brilliant, individual often made a much better officer than the erratic and highly intelligent man who cracked in a crisis.
When Armed Guard officers and enlisted men completed their basic training they were assigned to one of three Armed Guard Centers. These were located at Brooklyn (Atlantic), New Orleans (Gulf), and Treasure Island (Pacific). From the Centers the men were assigned to ships. The final complement for a ship armed with a 5″/38 dual purpose stern gun, a 3″/50 AA gun, and eight 20 mm machine guns was set at one officer and 24 gunners, plus normally about three communications men for a total of 28 Armed Guards.
This armament was accepted as standard for ships which were going to combat zones in World War II. It goes without saying that many ships went out in the early days with less than the desired armament, and with smaller Armed Guard crews. Shortages in officers and men were met by rapid increases in the training program and at times by sending petty officers out in charge of the gun crews on smaller ships operating in the less dangerous areas.
There is more detail in Chapter 42 on the U.S. Navy Armed Guard, but, in short, Armed Guard crews served on Allied merchant marine cargo ships in every theater of the war.
The assignment as an Armed Guardsman was often dreaded because of the constant danger and the lack of supporting ships to help in an attack. Merchant ships were slow, unwieldy, under protected, and were priority targets for enemy submarines and planes.
The 1943 film “Action in the North Atlantic,” featuring Humphrey Bogart, Raymond Massey, and Alan Hale, illustrates the importance of the Naval Armed Guard and how it interfaced with the Merchant Marine crew who were in charge of their merchant vessel.
Naval Station Treasure Island is a former United States Navy facility that operated on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay from 1942 to 1997. During World War II, Treasure Island became part of the Treasure Island Naval Base, and served as an electronics and radio communications training school, and as the major Navy departure and receiving point for sailors in the Pacific aboard surface ships and submarines.
Crews would often disembark a vessel for liberty while the ship was being unloaded, refitted and reloaded, and they would reboard the ship before returning to hostile territory. Often they were assigned to a different ship altogether.
August Lee Bergmeier, 1943
Lee Bergmeier and gun crew mates in winter uniform at Treasure Island, California, 1943
During World War II, Treasure Island became part of the Treasure Island Naval Base, and served as an electronics and radio communications training school, and as the major Navy departure and receiving point for sailors in the Pacific aboard surface ships and submarines. The Naval Station also served as an Auxiliary Air Facility airfield for airships, blimps, dirigibles, planes, and seaplanes by Hangars / Bldgs. 2 & 3. The seaplanes landed in the Port of Trade Winds Harbor. For his dedicated service in developing the Treasure Island Naval Station and Auxiliary Air Facility from inception the US Navy honored Rear Admiral Hugo Wilson Osterhaus (1878–1972) by naming the square in front of the Administration Building after him.
Info courtesy: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Station_Treasure_Island)
Lee Bergmeier (bottom right) and gunnery crew mates in summer uniform, 1943
Lee and shipmates ashore at NAS Treasure Island, San Francisco, Oct 10, 1944
GUN POINTER- Men who have qualified as gun director pointers or gun pointers, first or second class, wear a mark of cross wires of a gun sight midway between the shoulder and elbow of the left arm for men of the seaman branch and right arm for others. Gun director pointers, first class, and gun pointers first class, wear a star one inch above the mark.
In July of 2011 Lee showed me relics of the war that he had saved as mementos. There were brass casings and bullets soldered together during “the quiet times” to form the shape of familiar aircraft. His favorite was the twin fuselage Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The P-38 was used for interception, dive bombing, level bombing, ground attack, night fighting, photo reconnaissance, radar and visual pathfinding for bombers and evacuation missions, and was also used extensively as a long-range escort fighter when equipped with drop tanks under its wings.
Sleeve Insignia: Gun Pointer First Class
Right sleeve insignia: Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class (GM3c)
The cuffs of the blue jumper had a white braid trim, which indicated grade: one stripe for apprentice seaman, two stripes for seaman 2nd class, and three stripes for seaman first class and petty officers. The seamen’s branch consists of boatswain’s mates, fire controlman, gunner’s mates, minemen, quartermasters, signalmen, torpedoman, and turret captains. The other major branches were the artificer branch, artificer branch (engine room force), aviation branch, special branch, commissary branch, specialists and steward’s branch.
His ribbon bar appears to be thus:
Lee Bergmeier’s replica of a Lockheed P-38 made from brass cartridges and bullets soldered together by gun crews “during quiet times” in the Pacific Theater during World War II
The attack on Yokosuka was conducted by the US Navy during the last weeks of the Pacific War. By July 1945 the Japanese Navy’s large warships were unable to put to sea due to fuel shortages and attacks from Allied aircraft and submarines.
Admiral Nimitz ordered the Third Fleet to seize Yokosuka Naval Base in Tokyo Bay and provide a regimental combat team for immediate occupation duty. Admiral Halsey had assigned Task Force 31 to seize and occupy the Yokosuka Naval Base and its airfield.
American fighters fly in formation over the USS Missouri and her escort ships during Japanese Surrender Ceremonies in September 1945
The first ten days of August 1945 had been disastrous for Japan. Having seemingly ignored the 26 July Potsdam Declaration of Allied terms, the beaten and increasingly devastated nation’s military clung to hope that the coming invasion of the home islands would be beaten back at great cost to the invaders, making possible a more favorable negotiated peace.
However, on 6 August, the Hiroshima atomic bombing demonstrated that the “prompt and utter destruction” promised by the Potsdam Declaration was now at hand. That message was reinforced by the Nagasaki bomb three days later. A fast-moving Soviet invasion of Manchuria on the same day shattered any expectation that Japan’s large army could hold back her enemies’ conventional forces. This triple shock prompted, after several difficult meetings of his chief officials, the Japanese Emperor’s decision to end the War by accepting the Allies’ terms, a decision announced on 14 August.
Eighteen days of celebrations, preparations, prisoner of war recovery and initial occupation activities by the Allies followed, initially with considerable wariness of possible Japanese treachery.
With the Allied Fleet safely anchored in Sagami Wan, Japan, strategic positions ashore were quickly occupied. On 28 August, minesweepers and underwater demolition teams moved into Tokyo Bay to clear the way for landings. At about the same time, U.S. Army airborne forces began to arrive at nearby Atsugi airfield. On the 29th, as major fleet units entered Tokyo Bay itself, a special Navy task force began liberating Allied prisoners of war from Tokyo-area camps.
At 10:30 AM on 30 August 1945, shortly after the first amphibious forces came ashore at Yokosuka, the cruiser USS San Diego (CL-53) tied up at the base’s waterfront. She brought Rear Admirals Oscar C. Badger and Robert B. Carney to join Marine Brigadier General William T. Clement for the formal transfer of that important naval facility from Japanese to United States’ control.
General MacArthur flew into Atsugi on 30 August and set up temporary Supreme Allied headquarters at Yokohama. Also on the 30th, Yokosuka Naval Base was taken over to provide a convenient facility to support future naval undertakings. Additional Army and Marine Corps forces arrived over the next several days, providing further security.
Things went smoothly, building to a dramatic climax on 2 September 1945 in Tokyo Bay, when representatives of Japan’s government and her military signed the Instrument of Surrender on board USS Missouri (BB-63).
Lee Bergmeier was part of the American occupying force in Yokosuka, Japan on December 31, 1945 following Japan’s surrender. Yokosuka, conveniently located just inside Tokyo Bay, rapidly became a vital center for Allied naval operations along Japan’s Pacific coast. Today, over five decades later, it remains a very active base for both the Japanese and United States’ Navies.
Lee Bergmeier, Yokosuka, Japan, 1945
The names of commissioned ships of the United States Navy all start with USS, for “United States Ship”. Non-commissioned, primarily civilian-manned vessels of the U.S. Navy under the Military Sealift Command have names that begin with USNS, standing for “United States Naval Ship”. SS stands for “Steam Ship” and is usually applied only to civilian ships, although they may have a Navy component on board.
We don’t know the order of shipboard assignments for Lee during his service 1942-1946, but he recorded the following notes of where he served and upon which ships.
SS DAVID C. SHANKS
SS David C. Shanks was a troop transport during World War II. The ship was originally laid down as a Maritime Commission Type C3 ship (specifically, a Type C3-1N-P&C, or Passenger & Cargo type) by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was delivered on 24 April 1943 and turned over to the US Army Transportation Service, who named her USAT David C. Shanks. She was then transferred to the U.S. Navy for use in supporting the war effort.
USNS David C. Shanks (T-AP-180), 1943-1973 (Originally U.S. Army Transport. Shown here in Navy service, probably during the Korean Conflict ca 1950)
S.S. IDA M TARBELL
SS Ida M. Tarbell was awarded a battle star for her Naval Armed Guard crew’s actions from 24 Nov 44-29 Nov 44 during the Leyte Gulf landings. This was notably one of the greatest air battles of the Pacific Theater, and landing troops and supplies called for extraordinary measures of support from gun crews.
Leyte Gulf, Phillipines – November 1944
Up to the time of the landings at Leyte, Allied merchant ships had fared rather well in the Pacific. It is true that there had been combat and losses, but the warfare against submarines had been mild as compared to that in the Atlantic. Merchant ships had also suffered little from air attacks, for the early island bases which we conquered offered only limited air opposition, and even that was quickly neutralized before merchant ships went into anchor in large numbers.
The action in the Philippines, however, was a different story. Here, the enemy had numerous air bases that could not be easily and quickly knocked out. Here, for the first time, the enemy decided to use suicide attacks on a large scale. His bombs and torpedoes did little damage as compared with the havoc wrought by his kamikaze pilots. The nature of the campaign also required merchant ships to remain in Philippine waters for long periods of time before they unloaded.
All in all, the battle for the Philippines was, from the standpoint of the Armed Guard, the most severe action in the Pacific and was comparable to the worst days on the North Russia run, the Salerno landings, or the awful struggle at Anzio. Once again, merchant ships would absorb the most vicious attacks that the enemy could deliver and would still come out victorious. The Battle of the Philippines represented a real blow to the air and naval power of the Japanese Empire. It was, therefore, a great landmark on the road to Tokyo.
Following the landing at Leyte, Merchant ship S.S. Sea Devil was at Leyte for only a brief period from November 25 to 27. Bombs were dropped on November 26, and the ship may have scored hits on a plane. When the attack was over, two buckets of shell fragments were gathered from the decks.
S.S. Cape Lookout reported that five torpedoes were fired at her convoy on November 23 when one day from Leyte Gulf. Between November 24 and December 22 the Armed Guards on Cape Lookout went to general quarters 103 time and saw about 122 enemy planes. Bombs landed fairly close on November 25 and 26. The ship was credited with assists on November 26 and December 10, and destroyed a plane on December 6.
S.S. Jose C. Barbosa probably had a torpedo cross her bow while she was approaching Leyte. Leaving Leyte on January 1, she claimed an assist in the destruction of a plane which launched a torpedo.
S.S. Ida M. Tarbell experienced her main action on November 23 and 24. She was in the air torpedo attack of November 23 and on the next day six bombs landed within 25 yards. Fragments fell on deck, but there was no serious damage to the ship or serious injury to her Armed Guards. Her Armed Guard officer thought that his gun probably got a plane on December 22, but the ship was not credited with an assist.
S.S. WILLIAM J DUANE
April 4, 1945 Lee was listed as part of a U.S. Navy Armed Guard gun crew on board the Liberty Ship SS William J Duane, which had just arrived at Seattle, Washington, having steamed from San Francisco, via Honolulu and originating at Navy Base Manus, in the Admiralty Islands in New Guinea. The gun crew supervisor was USNR Ensign George Irvin (D-V(S) [Officers of the Volunteer Reserve to the line for special service in deck duties.]
World War II Liberty Ship outfitted for a U.S. Navy Armed Guard crew. Notice the deck guns on the bow and stern.
DEPARTURE: Manus, Admiralty Islands via Honolulu. ARRIVAL: Apr 1945 – Seattle, Washington via San Francisco (Treasure Island).
Manus is an island of the Admiralty Islands, in Papua New Guinea as part of Manus Province. It is the fifth largest island in Papua New Guinea with an area of 2,100 km², measuring about 100 km long and 30 km wide. According to the 2000 census, the island of Manus had a population of about 43,000. Lorengau, the capital of the Province of Manus, is located on the island. The airport of Momote, the terminal of the Province of Manus, is located on the neighboring island of Los Negros. A bridge connects Los Negros with the island of Manus and the capital of the province of Lorengau.
During World War II, the island is the site of an observation post manned by the Australian Army. Manus was bombed by the Japanese on 25 January 1942, the radio antenna was the main target. On April 8, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army, consisting of the light Tatsuta cruiser, a Mutsuki destroyer and a group of transport ships, entered the port of Lorengau and several hundred Japanese soldiers landed on land. was under Australian mandate. The Australians were much more numerous but retreated into the jungle.
Later, in 1942, Japan established a military base on Manus. She was attacked by the forces of the United States during the campaign of Admiralty Islands in February and March 1944. An Allied naval base was established on the island, and later she housed the British Pacific Fleet.
S.S. CLEVELAND FORBES
A few records have survived from the period. One such record indicates a piece of the history of ship #2759 – SS Cleveland Forbes – USAT:
- Parent Unit: Interocean S.S. Company
- Branch: Liberty Cargo
- Locations: Darwin Harbour
- Dates: 10 June 1945 to 17 June 1945
- Transported 30 Medical Clearing Station personnel from Darwin to Morotai via Port Moresby where they were responsible for the hygiene arrangements at the transit camp. They conducted daily sick parades and provided medical treatment.
The above logbook indicates that the Forbes left her home port in San Francisco on March 26, 1945, serving several ports, including Guadalcanal on 5 July, and Pearl Harbor on August 2. In column 2, she was in port at Moresby, Australia on 21 June, and Morotai on June 30, moving to Balikpapan on August 3 and arriving at Morotai on the 6th of August, and leaving the next day for her home port.
Research about the U.S. Navy Armed Guard
The main records relating to the Merchant Marine and Naval Armed Guard during World War II are located at theat the Modern Military Records, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001, phone (301) 837-3510 .
Armed Guard Reports – commander of Naval Armed Guard unit wrote a report of each voyage.
Bureau of Naval Personnel Casualty Files – contain folder on Armed Guard casualties for each merchant ship that was sunk or damaged during World War II.
The Tenth Fleet Records contain:
- The movement report cards for the merchant ships on which the Armed Guard served. The movement report cards list the ports of call, the dates of the visit, and the convoy designation, if the ship sailed in a convoy. The cards will tell the port where each voyage ended. The logs of the merchant ships are held at the nearest records center to the U. S. port where each voyage ended.
- Loss and damage reports for the merchant ships.
- Folders for the each convoy usually containing list of merchant ships in the convoy and the escort ships, report of convoy commodore, map of the route, and message traffic.
Discharged in 1946, Lee returned home to Dallas City, Illinois, where he married his high school sweetheart, Arlene Mae Wilson on February 18, 1946, in Burlington, Iowa. They had five children in 19 years.
Lee Bergmeier Family. Created by the author from an artist’s sketch the family had made in the late 1980s
August Lee Bergmeier, 87, of Macomb, Ill., formerly of Dallas City, Ill., died May 6, 2012.
Mr. Bergmeier worked more than 45 years at Moulder’s Friend in Dallas City, retiring as the company’s president. He served as a gunner in the Navy during World War II. He was a member of First Christian Church in Dallas City, where he served as Sunday school teacher and elder for many years.
Burial with military rites was in Harris Cemetery near Dallas City. R.I.P.