Hugo Valadez

HugoValadezPhoto

Hugo Valadez
3rd Class Machinist – U.S. Navy
U.S.S. Allendale – World War II
Asiatic-Pacific Theater
(1943 – 1945)

Hugo Valadez was born the day after Christmas, on Dec 26th, 1920, in Oakland, California. His father and mother came from Mexico to the U.S., his father in 1919 and his mother in 1920. She traveled by ship and Hugo said that he was nearly born on board. The family had relatives in Oakland who acted as their sponsor. When Hugo was about a year old, the family moved to San Francisco and that’s where he grew up. They lived in the Bayview district and during his youth the residents of the area were generally Maltese, French, Greek and Chinese. “It was a Heinz-57,” Hugo laughed.

This was during the Great Depression. “Times were hard,” Hugo said, but Hugo’s family lived better than most because his father worked at one of the slaughterhouses and was able to bring home pieces of meat, and his mother was a good cook. He also remembers that trucks used to come to the houses of the people in poor neighborhoods to deliver groceries.

Hugo attended Mission High School where he became interested in the machine shop program. His first job following high school was a position as an apprentice machinist. In 1944, Hugo joined the Navy. Asked why he chose the Navy, he said, “Because I like the water!” He also could see that if you were in the army you were going to have a rough time. “In the Navy, you always had a bunk, and you always had a shower, and you always had food.”

In basic training “they toughen you up and you learn how to march.” There were eight soldiers to a tent house. They were given weapons training, part of which included teaching them how to operate Japanese machine guns, in case they ever needed to. They were also taught how to survive if they got ship- wrecked, a lesson Hugo still remembers. “They always told us, look at and see what the birds eat. If the bird eats it, you can eat it.” Hugo said that after basic training he never held a weapon because he was always in the engine room of the ship.

Hugo started as a throttleman. His job was to make sure the engines stayed at a certain rpm. He stood four-hour watches on the throttle, and when his shift was over, he had to take temperatures and check the oil throughout the engine room. Hugo later became a 1st Class Fireman and then a Machinist 3rd Class, a rank for which he had to pass an examination about the machines and how the ship operated. He said that the Chief Warrant Officers on the ship were very helpful when he was preparing for the examination. By the end of his service, he was able to ‘put the engine on the line,’ which was to start the engine, a complicated process that involved making sure oil and water were circulating through the system and watching the steam pressure.

He said that it was always very hot in the engine room, so hot that many of the crewmen discarded much of their standard uniform. “My uniform for the day was an old pair of shoes, an old pair of dungarees and nothing on top.” The ship used to make water for the boiler. The boiler water had to be purer than drinking water, or else the boilers would salt up. The ship also produced its own electricity. There were two huge steam-turbine power plants in the engine room that produced about 500kw. They needed the electricity to operate the electric motors of the cranes that they used to move landing craft on and off of the ship.

Their home port was Hawaii. Hugo was there just after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He said that there were still ships sunk all over the channel, big ships that got torpedoed. He recalls, “That was a sad, sad situation.”

The ship’s company was about 500 men, and the ship could carry another 3,000 personnel. Hugo never got seasick, but the troops in the hold often did. He told of how he liked to go out on the stern of the ship to watch the waves. And once they hit the edge of a typhoon. “I’ve never seen seas so high.” The water was so rough that during the storm two destroyers capsized and the crews were lost.

The Allendale had four holds and carried a lot of cargo. On one trip they filled the lower part of the holds with barrels of aviation fuel, and loaded ammunition on top of the barrels. “We carried kind of a delicate cargo.” The whole crew was holding their collective breath all the way to their destination.

He said that the food on board the ship was quite good and that they had “a hell of a good baker, when he was sober.” They also had ice cream. One day, Hugo recalled, “We were out in the Pacific someplace, I don’t remember where, and a squadron of PT boats came up and one of them radioed the ship and asked them if they could spare them some water because a PT boat doesn’t have anything aboard. I mean they’re living out of bags or whatever. Anyway they pulled alongside of us, so, they put a line overboard and gave them all the water they wanted. So they all stripped down and then took a shower right on the deck and then they gave ‘em a lot of food because we had three huge refrigerators. Big. I mean walk-in jobs. So they gave ‘em food and they gave ‘em ice cream. Unheard of in the Pacific!” laughed Hugo. “I’ll never forget that one.”

Showing us documents from WWII, Hugo showed what ribbons he was given for different engagements. They were the American Theater, Asiatic- Pacific, Philippine Liberation and Victory Medal World War II ribbons. He had two uniforms, one for regular duties and one for shore leave. The shore leave uniform was tailored to him and was better looking than the inspection uniform.

Hugo still has the card that commemorates his having passed the equator. Hugo said that the Allendale passed the equator on its way to New Guinea, where it picked up Navy ex-prisoners. The Allendale brought them back to Hawaii “to fatten ‘em up… They were just skin and bones.” When the ship passed the equator the crew couldn’t have the usual ceremony because of the danger of submarine attack. They received the card nevertheless.

Near the end of the war the Allendale landed a lot of Marines at Okinawa. That was the first and last time Hugo saw the infamous Japanese Kamikaze aircraft. One time, he remembers, the Allendale was standing by about a mile from the beach when Hugo saw a kamikaze ram into two LSTs that were unloading troops. The ships were destroyed, or at least severely damaged. “That’s what the kamikazes were doing. Because that was their last stand. After that they were through.”

Luckily, the Allendale was never attacked. After Japan surrendered, the Allendale  was slated for decommissioning, and the ship headed to the east coast of the U.S. It traveled through the Panama Canal and up the Caribbean to Norfolk, Virginia where it was decommissioned. Hugo traveled back to California by train. In the period between the Allendale’s decommissioning and his discharge, he worked on a tug boat stationed in Yerba Buena Island. It was an old tug with a steam engine, and it was used to go to the different anchorages and pick up the sailors who were being processed at Treasure Island.

After the war, Hugo and his wife lived in Richmond and then San Francisco, finally settling in the house they still live in now in San Anselmo. Their children grew up there and now live in the Bay Area. After his discharge, Hugo first found work as an automotive machinist. He said that at that time there were no new cars available, “So everybody was fixing the old clunks!” He later worked for the city of San Francisco as a heavy-duty mechanic, repairing the bigger trucks. He retired from there.

Hugo now belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. He recommended that young people learn computers and learn them well. He ended our interview by showing us a photo of the impressive dragster that his son built and now races. It appears that Hugo’s son has inherited his father’s talent with machinery. 

Interview by Michael Assmus on June 1, 2013.

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