WWII Veteran Oral History interview
Date: 18 June 2003
Veteran: William Seidler
US Navy, Electrician’s Mate,
“Amphibious” USS Landing Ship Medium (LSM) 256 and USS Donner LSD 20
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
William Seidler was born in New York City in September, 1918. Prior to the outbreak of World War II he worked as a cost account clerk at the Bank of Manhattan. He was also, during the summer, a member of an eight piece band, which dissolved when two of its members were drafted into the army. Seidler, who was working at Todd Shipyards at the time, heard of the Pearl Harbor attack through a radio broadcast by New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.
Seidler had a brother in the navy and had always been interested in naval operations, so he joined the navy on August 3, 1943, and was sent to boot camp at Sampson New York. Following additional training as an electrician’s mate, he was assigned to Norfolk, Virginia as a crew man on a destroyer escort as part of the naval force designed to land soldiers and marines in amphibious attacks. Seidler broke his arm while serving at Little Creek, Virginia, however, and he was then transferred back to New York, where, in May, 1944, he was assigned to a ship under construction at Pier #90, a shipyard where his father, then living in North Bergen, New Jersey, was working at the time. The ship, a “Landing Ship Medium” vessel designated as USS LSM 256, was commissioned in September, 1944. Seidler recalled that the LSM 256 was 208 feet long and thirty-six feet wide and had a crew of four officers and forty-five enlisted men. Seidler served as an electrician’s mate, working in the engine room alongside several machinist mates and servicing two electric generators. He was also responsible for maintaining evaporators that made fresh water out of salt water for the ship’s crew. Seidler described the evaporators in some detail and noted that when the men took showers they started with salt water and finished up with fresh water.
In November 1944, LSM 256, accompanied by a fleet of other vessels, began its long journey to the Pacific theater of war. The ship sailed south to Florida, through the Panama Canal, and then north along the Mexican and California coasts until it reached San Francisco, where the sailors got shore leave to see a USO show headlined by then-famous comedian and singer Eddie Cantor. Leaving San Francisco, the fleet traveled to Pearl Harbor where Seidler got the chance to stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and hear the Ray Anthony band while on shore leave. From Pearl Harbor, LSM 256 sailed on to Eniwetok, Kwajalein, and anchored in Saipan in the Marianas chain of islands, where it picked up a shipment of 55 gallon drums of aviation fuel for delivery to the B-29 bomber base on Tinian.
LSM 256 went on to support operations in the Philippines and Okinawa, and was subjected to kamikaze suicide plane attacks, and, although his ship was never actually hit, Seidler did witness one crash into another ship’s upper deck. Seidler remembered that during his time in the Pacific war his duties aboard ship included repairing a 240 volt cable insulated with asbestos, and replacing worn generator brushes in the engine room, with occasional stints on the ship’s twenty millimeter and fifty caliber anti-aircraft guns. On one occasion, while manning a twenty millimeter gun, he shot down a kamikaze, an act for which he received a bronze star.
Seidler recalled that morale aboard ship was generally good, with adequate food, including ice cream and potatoes which had to be reconstituted from powder. He recalled being at Okinawa when he heard of the death of President Roosevelt and commented that he strongly endorsed President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb to end the war against the Japanese Empire.
Following the August, 1945 atomic bomb attacks, Seidler’s ship sailed to Tokyo Bay and Yokohama, experiencing a devastating typhoon on the way. LSM 256 anchored at a Yokohama shipyard for a while, and Seidler got a chance to see some of the devastation caused by American bombing, as well as witness local Japanese troops surrendering to Americans. His ship returned to the United States in December, 1945, where he was discharged from the navy in Seattle and traveled by train for five days across the country to rejoin his family, then living in Long Island, New York. After the war he went to work as an electrician in a GI Bill training program that supplemented his apprentice pay.
After his discharge, Seidler joined the US Navy Reserves, and, still single in 1950, he was recalled to service for the Korean War, serving on the “Landing Ship Dock” (LSD) USS Donner, also known as LSD 20. While aboard the Donner, Seidler became a motion picture projector operator, synchronizing two projectors used to show films on the ship. As a crew man on the Donner, he traveled to Europe, passing the Rock of Gibraltar and visiting Cyprus and a number of other locations in the Mediterranean. In 1951 the ship left the Mediterranean for Greenland to unload cargo at Thule airbase. Seidler was discharged for a final time in January, 1952. The USS Donner went on to a career as a recovery ship in the US Project Mercury space program recovering Ham the chimpanzee after his flight.
Out of the navy for good, Seidler met and married his wife Dorothy, with whom he lived until she passed away in 1997. He joined the VFW and the Catholic War Veterans and attended several conventions of LSM veterans. He and Dorothy traveled widely, and they were in Berlin when the infamous Berlin Wall came down.
In retrospect, William Seidler said that he had enjoyed his navy service and would do it again if young and able. He earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with one star, the Bronze Star, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the American Campaign medal and National Defense medal during his two tours of service.