Henry Louis Listnan
Petty Officer First Class – U.S. Navy, Harbor Defense
World War II (1940-1945)
Hank Listnan was born on May 31, 1919 in San Francisco. Growing up in the Glen Park district of San Francisco, Listnan remembers having to deal with what he called “hardships.” He explained, “It’s unbelievable. I mean, there’s no comparison to what it is now. We stood in bread lines and food lines during the war. Ladies couldn’t get nylons. They were painting their legs because they couldn’t get stockings. You couldn’t get cigarettes, you couldn’t get anything. You get stamps, gasoline, you were only allowed so many gallons a month. And we had the blackouts.” Despite these adversities, Listnan was able to graduate from Balboa High School in 1936 and then begin work as an assistant to the purchasing agent at the Pacific Portland Cement Company in San Francisco. Pacific Portland Cement Company manufactured cement, various plasters, and gravel, some of which were used in the production of the Golden Gate Bridge. Listnan’s work experience would be essential to his attaining the rank of Storekeeper First Class (equivalent to a Petty Officer First Class) while in the Navy Harbor Defense.
Another hardship which plagued Listnan’s upbringing was the growing threat of a second World War. Knowing that a draft was imminent, Listnan enlisted in the Navy in 1940. He explained, “Well I was going to be drafted. I had turned twenty-one and they were talking about drafting. But, I selected the Navy Reserve because I would rather be in the Navy than in trenches and foxholes in the mud and the cold in the Army. It was selfish on my part, but that’s the way it was.” Listnan was no stranger to the Navy, as his brother and several uncles also served in the Navy during WWII. His mother was still, however, unhappy about his joining the military.
In October 1940 Listnan was sent to Treasure Island, CA where he was to attend basic training. Listnan remembers a high morale while at Treasure Island, mostly because the men there had enlisted rather than being drafted. He described them as “happy-go-lucky people. There was no sad people, nobody in depression or anything like that. Everyone was on an up thing. They joined, otherwise they wouldn’t be there.” Unfortunately, the influx of enlisted men also meant that there were fewer resources during basic training. Listnan should have been living on Yerba Buena, which was where the Naval base was located, but the overabundance of men led to his being kept on commandeered river boats called the Delta Queen and the Delta King. The cargo decks of both ships were lined with metal bunk beds in order to accommodate the many soldiers.
After six weeks on Treasure Island, Listnan was moved to the Tiburon Naval Net Depot, where he would help manufacture anti-submarine nets used both in the Golden Gate and in the South Pacific. Listnan was initially assigned to manual labor, where he would have to drag heavy cables and weave them into nets which were hundreds of feet long. Fortunately for Listnan, he was quickly reassigned to the supply department because of his experience at the Pacific Portland Cement Company. Listnan’s new duties included locating parts for equipment, food, and other supplies via telephone. He would also travel to Mare Island and the Naval Supply Depot in Oakland in order to obtain any other supplies. In addition to his job in the supply department, Listnan also drove the Liberty Bus, which was a commandeered school bus that shuttled men from the base in Tiburon to San Francisco, for “liberty”. Listnan decided to take this job because it would ensure him free time at four o’clock every day. This was especially appealing at the beginning of Listnan’s service, when the soldiers were only allowed free time every five days.
The purpose of the Naval Net Depot in Tiburon was to produce large anti-submarine nets which would defend harbors both at home and in the South Pacific. These nets were made by weaving heavy cables, attaching round floats to them, and then dropping them into harbors, where they would be attached to land on either side. The nets contained large gates which could be opened in order to let ships pass through. In addition to manufacturing the nets, the Harbor Defense also patrolled them in order to check for problems. Listnan’s unit’s first assignment in Tiburon was to set up a net in the Golden Gate entry which would stretch from the San Francisco Yacht Club to Tiburon.
When Listnan began his assignment in Tiburon, morale was low. Listnan’s Commander allowed his unit liberty only every four or five days, forcing them to stay in what they deemed “Little Siberia”. At the time Tiburon was fairly underdeveloped, with only a few buildings and very little entertainment. As a result, the Delta King was brought to Tiburon and Listnan’s barracks were set up aboard the ship. The Delta King was ill-prepared to hold hundreds of soldiers and Listnan recalls having no privacy and poor facilities aboard ship. Fortunately, the influx of soldiers in Tiburon led to the construction of new barracks, a galley, a dining room, and a warehouse for dances and other entertainment. In 1942 Listnan got married and subsequently moved off base to a house in Tiburon.
Listnan described the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor as “a shocker”. The general sentiment on base changed from disbelief to sorrow, especially since so many soldiers had friends who had been at Pearl Harbor. The attacks also meant changes for the Net Depot, as a declaration of war on Japan would lead to a greater need for anti-submarine nets and harbor defense. Upon later reflection, Listnan decided that the attack on Pearl Harbor was the most horrendous event of WWII.
In 1944 Listnan was drafted to the Harbor Defense in Noumea, New Caledonia, in the South Pacific. Noumea was a staging area, meaning that people were sent there before being shipped to other bases throughout the South Pacific. When Listnan arrived he was immediately assigned to the Commander Service Quadrant, where he would be in charge of arranging the transitions between personnel. This meant he would reassign servicemen after fourteen months and find a replacement for them.
Although Listnan was working for the Commander Service Quadrant, he was quartered at the Naval Net Depot, where he lived in a Quonset hut. Quonset huts, also known as Nissen huts, were made out of large sheets of metal. These sheets would be bent into half-cylinders and planted into the ground horizontally. Quonset huts were especially popular in WWII because they were portable and economical. Most of the buildings at the Noumea base were Quonset Huts.
For entertainment, Listnan’s unit could go swimming in the ocean, spend time at the beach, play tennis, or drink. Despite the comfortable conditions, Listnan remembers the morale reaching some low points. He explained, “I mean, the guys didn’t like being stuck in Noumea, although it was a French town and there were women. But we lived out in the boonies and when it rained there was mud and when it wasn’t raining there was dust. Guys will be guys, they miss their women. The morale, you know, goes down.” Despite these gloomy periods, Listnan recalled a fairly good morale among the men, mostly because, “They realized where they were, what the situation was, and they were putting up for their tour of duty. When their tour of duty was up they would go back to the States.”
In 1945 Listnan was sent to Camp Shoemaker, CA, where he was discharged from service. Upon his arrival home, Listnan looked for work in order to support his then pregnant wife. Meanwhile, he attended night classes at Heald’s College, where he studied Mechanical Engineering for three years. Although he did not obtain a degree, he did find work at Libby, McNeill, & Libby, where he worked as a shipping supervisor. Listnan later worked at the West Holiday advertising firm and the Soule Steel Company in San Francisco before settling into a career in landscape maintenance. In 2007 Listnan retired and spent time traveling. He belongs to the VFW, the Elks Club, the Marin Rod and Gun Club, and the Native Sons and Daughters. Listnan currently resides in Novato, CA.
For nearly seventy-five years Listnan’s unit continued to meet up for yearly reunions. These reunions first took place in Sacramento, where the Delta King was then stationed. They were then moved to Treasure Island, and then San Francisco. Listnan attended these yearly reunions until 2011, when there were too few men alive to continue the tradition.
Upon reflection, Listnan commented that he “really lucked out on some gravy duty.” It was in his service that he learned how to take orders, get along with other people, be trustworthy of others, live in close quarters, and generally be a better person. He believes that every high school graduate should enter the service prior to attending college in order to “learn how to take orders and learn to have to sacrifice. It’ll make a better person out of him.”
Interview by Valerie Cherbero on June 26, 2012.