William Goodness
Birthday: April 25, 1926
Birthplace: Nekossa, Wisconsin
Family: Frank and Opal Goodness
Branch: US Navy; Armed Guard
Post: Gunnery Crew
Rank: Gunners Mate

William Goodness

William Goodness

William Goodness

William Goodness was still attending high school when he enlisted in the Navy in April 1944. "I enlisted in April, just before my eighteenth birthday." He was excited to enter the Navy because his two older brothers, Norman and Burnell, influenced him and he wanted to serve his country.

Because William was only seventeen when he enlisted, he was put on inactive duty. However, he made a promise to graduate from high school. "Thursday night I graduated, Friday morning in the mail was my notice to report for active duty in eight days. So whether I graduated or not, I was going."

William underwent boot camp training at the Great Lakes Training Station and Gunnery school in Biloxi, Mississippi. "I was in a branch that you probably have never heard of called the Armed Guard. We were the Navy group that maintained guns on merchant ships, because Merchant Marines were not allowed to man guns or handle live ammunition. So the Armed Guard was formed to protect the merchant ships. I was a gunner's mate and I had to take care of all the guns. I had to know how to take them apart, fix them, and fire them. One of the guns I used was a `four inch fifty,' from World War I."

"After the ship would leave the harbor, we would meet other ships and form a convoy. You may have them coming from New York, some from Boston, and some from the Virginia's. The convoy would form miles out at sea at a certain designated Latitude and Longitude. However, we didn't even know where we were going. You never knew where you were going until you were out at sea and the convoy was formed. When the sealed orders were opened up. You would learn where you were going. After a while I could tell where we were going from the goods they were putting aboard ship. So we usually knew just about where we were going. I also had a code set up with my mother. If I sent a letter signed `Bill', that would mean we were going one place. If I signed `Billy', it meant another place."

"At one time, I received a package of cookies and chocolate covered cherries from my mother. I got it in July, but she had sent it in December! Since the box had to cross the ocean several times, when I took the box off, I had one giant cookie! The chocolate covered cherries, cookies and the paper were all stuck together. I ate it nontheless and it was good!

On the ship "You stood watch twice a day, four hours at a time looking for submarines, planes, and other ships. Also, every day one hour before dawn and one hour before dusk, while you were at sea, you had general quarters when the entire crew would stand watch at this time. This was the most likely time for subs to attack. Even though precautions were taken, ships were still attacked. If a ship was hit, the destroyer escorts could not stop to rescue any survivors until the action was finished. You have to realize, nobody's going to jeopardize the whole convoy to stop because stopping means you're dead in the water. You can't do anything. So those survivors were on their own. Maybe it would be days before you could be cleared to go back."

The hardest part about the service was being away from his family, especially his sister Joyce. "My sister and I were very close." The living conditions on board were tight. But, the food was always good. "You had, two or three items you could chose from or say, `Give me the works.' One ship had a baker, and when we would come off watch at four o'clock in the morning there would be hot coffee, long johns, cream puffs, and cinnamon rolls, right out of the oven. So I ate well, as you can see!" said William, patting his belly. He also had to make the best of the facilities on the ship. In order for William to do his laundry easily, he would put his clothes in "an ammunition bucket with a hinge on it. And I would throw some water in there, my clothes, and some soap. I'd tie a rope over it, throw it over the side of the ship, and then the waves would bounce it up and down" and clean them for him. "We learned to be inventive to save us from doing the work."

On one trip back to the states, William's ship was taking German prisoners to New York City. After talking to these prisoners, he noticed that they were very friendly, ordinary people. The sailors decided to play a joke on the Germans, saying that they were going to Russia. Just outside of New York City, they encountered a small snowstorm. The prisoners really started to believe they were traveling to Russia and even started to cry! When they reached the New York harbor, and realized where they were, they looked around with amazement. Surprisingly the German soldiers were told by their officers that New York City had been bombed and that there wasn't a single building remaining.

"I remember going down to British Guiana. When we were at Banana Junction, all the natives would come out in their dugout canoes. Most had no clothes. They would try to sell you bananas, pineapple, and papayas in exchange for bedsheets. What they used the bedsheets for, I'll never know! For one bedsheet, I got four great big stalks of bananas, a bushel of pineapples, a bushel of papayas, coconuts, and a little spider monkey, which I released in Trinidad. I persisted in asking for more from this native native man, who had his young daughter standing beside him. He motioned that I take his daughter too - and she began to climb the ropes on the ship. I said, `No, that's enough! The fruit was definitely enough!'"

During his service and after the war was over, William was able to visit his brothers in New York, where they were attending college at the time. The last time his brothers had seen William was when he was 15 years old. "I was still in the Navy when they got out. The three of us met in New York. We had a big time!"

"I could have been discharged in '46. But I re-enlisted for two years, so I could get my full four years of college." William was assigned to a destroyer and two aircraft carriers in the Pacific, where he witnessed sunken ships and islands in terrible condition. William served in the Navy until March 1948. After this, he went on to receive a college degree in accounting. "I always wanted to travel and see the world. The Navy gave me a lot of it. I saw twenty-six foreign countries plus I met a lot of nice people."

William's older brother, Norman, enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard on September 30, 1940. He served with the Battery B 129th and fought battles at New Guinea, Luzon, and the Southern Philippines. Norman received an Honorable Discharge from Camp McCoy, Wisconsin on August 16, 1945, as a Staff Sergeant.

William's other brother, Burnell, enlisted in the United States Army Air Corp in October 1940. He was stationed at Hickam Field in Hawaii when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor. Burnell was an eyewitness to the attack, and was also wounded. During the attack, he was running through a baseball field, when he tripped and fell. At the same time, a three bombs fell around him. Luckily, he escaped with only injuries to his backside. William was only 15 years old when his brother was wounded in the bombing. Although Burnell was safe, William and his family had no idea what his condition was. "We didn't know anything," William recalls. "We were all taking it hard." The family did not hear from his brother until three weeks after the attack.

Burnell spent eight months in the South Pacific war zone, flying out of New Hebrides and Solomon bases as a radio operator and gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress, which helped blast units of the Japanese Navy to the bottom of the Pacific.

Burnell saw action in the Battle of Midway in June 1941. In early August his plane was in the first flight of the attack on Guadalcanal. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for meritorious service in the South Pacific. He was also awarded the Air Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart. Burnell returned to the states, became a radio instructor at Casper Air Force base, and was selected to attend Officer Candidate School. Burnell was discharged in 1945 as a First Lieutenant.