James William Chapin
United States Navy, Lieutenant, USS Gregory DD802
Korean War (1952-1954)
James William Chapin was born in New York, New York on November 25, 1929. He spent his years growing up in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. His father ran an oil and pumping machinery company while his mother was a play actress who wrote plays and movies. While growing up he had seen most of the young men he knew serve in the military at one point or another. His half brother had served in the army during World War II. During his freshman year of college, he felt that he owed the country his service, so he enlisted in the Naval ROTC program at school. At first, he contemplated serving in the Marines, but then he meet Major Deegan who had been sent to recruit on the college campus. Chapin saw that Major Deegan had eight purple heats. After seeing that many purple hearts, Chapin decided to enlist in the Navy where he could get a warm meal and a bed every night. During the ROTC program, he went to some special classes where he solved artillery and geometry problems, learned about the history of the Navy and also marched a little bit. There was also a cruise during his sophomore summer, where the program participants went onboard the USS Sumner. They rotated through the different roles on the ship to get an idea of what life on a ship was like. The cruise stopped at Guantanamo, which at the time was only a refueling depot, and Santiago de Cuba, among other places. Since half of his classmates were veterans, he started to get a good picture of what serving was all about from the stories he heard. He went on to graduate from college in 1952 with the rank of Ensign.
He then went on to firefighting school in San Diego. Here Chapin learned how to combat fires both on and off ship. His first exercise was to go up through the flames and put out an oil fire. He was the lead person, and he was reliant on his partner whose job was to cool down the lead person with water. Even with the perils of moving up through fire, Chapin says that it was “an exciting day.”
In June of 1952, Chapin started his service in San Diego on the USS Gregory, which was a destroyer. He had actually requested to serve on a destroyer because the size granted him an opportunity far more responsibility. His family members were “satisfied that [he] was fulfilling [his] obligations as a citizen.” On his first night that he reported to duty he was assigned to the night watch. He was given a .45, but there were no bullets, and then he went out and took his lead from the petty officer. He thought the night was going well until someone came out yelling, “Fire in the after-berthing compartment! Fire in the after-berthing compartment!” He ran into the boat and found an unconscious man whom he grabbed and proceeded to take him up to the deck. The fire was put out, and the captain said to Chapin, “All is well that ends well.” Within two weeks of joining the USS Gregory, the ship collided with another destroyer. The Gregory was sent to dry-dock for repair and a lot of the officers were reassigned. The Navy sent Chapin to Anti-Submarine Warfare School for two months. There he learned about sonar and different weapons used to counter submarines. They then practiced formations to counter submarines in small boats.
After his two months at school, Chapin rejoined the USS Gregory in Japan. This trip from San Diego to Tokyo took 40 hours by air. They went from Travis Air Force Base to Hawaii, then from Hawaii to Wake Island to refuel, and finally they reached Tokyo. Chapin then went from Itazuke to Sasebo where he met up with a supply ship that took him to the USS Gregory.
While on the USS Gregory, Chapin was a Torpedo Officer, Junior Officer of the Deck, Junior Combat Watch Officer, and Junior Division Officer of the Second Division. After going to school for two months he worked more in the sonar room. The USS Gregory was a part of Task Force 77 and their main mission was to operate as a screen for planes to safely land. They also kept track of the planes up in the air. This entailed monitoring the remaining fuel for the planes and also knowing where the planes were located. They were also sometimes sent to Task Force 92.2, which was the shore bombardment Task Force. During their time in this Task Force they would monitor the coast and shoot when they were told to shoot. He became a Combat Information Watch Officer, which involved radar. He also became a qualified Officer of the Deck, which meant that he was in charge while the captain was off-duty. Chapin thought that the Commanding Officers were very competent, and they managed the ship and its crew very well.
After the war had ended, they went on secret orders, so secret that even the crew didn’t know what was going on. They went to the Tonkin Gulf off Vietnam. But the plans were called off, and they went to the Philippines. At this time, he was the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, as well as the Qualified Officer of the Deck and Qualified Combat Watch Officer. During his time as a Qualified Officer of the Deck, there was only one other Qualified Officer of the Deck, so Chapin had duty four hours on, then four hours off. He says he was catatonic and struggled to stay awake. At one point when they were going through the Yellow Sea, they encountered a typhoon. Chapin had to go back and forth between the walls as the boat swayed to either side.
He was discharged in San Diego in July of 1954. He finished his service as a Lieutenant. Since he had a lot of unused leave, he received additional pay and he had saved most of his money. So after being released from the Navy, he went across the street, bought a Jaguar and drove across the country. He first drove north to San Francisco to visit a friend from college who had served in the Marines. He then proceeded across the country visiting friends and family.
When he made it back to the East Coast, he wanted to go to law school. He talked to the Dean of Admissions at Harvard who told him they would be glad to have him, but he would have to wait a year to start. Chapin didn’t want to wait any longer than he already had, so he applied to the University of Virginia School of Law. He was accepted right away, so he enrolled there.
After law school he worked for a large law firm in New York City. Five years later he moved to a small law firm in Midtown, New York where he became a partner and worked for seven years, but then left. He next took a position as General Counsel to the United States Tobacco Company where he worked for 20 years.
Chapin has always supported the idea of universal service because he believes it would provide an opportunity to teach people how to get along and work together to solve problems.
Chapin was glad that he was in the Pacific because he was glad to see Asia, since he thought that he would not otherwise have had such an opportunity. He also said that his service trained him how to be a man, and he matured greatly over the time he served.
Chapin thinks that we should think about involvement first before engaging in a conflict. He also observed that we should consider how the enemy values life, as this can cause difficulties with ground warfare.
In summary, Chapin was glad that he served because he became a man, and he also found his service exciting.
Interviewed by James Stanton Leavitt on July 10, 2012.