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Memories of Michael J. Karhan, '44-'45


Published in POLARIS April 1996

Although I am not a writer, I would like to join the many others who have expressed their association with Charlie Spritz, Chief of Spritz's Navy.

I arrived at the (Submarine) base on a Sunday in October 1943, and went through the orientation process. I was assigned a bunk in the barracks while waiting to start sub school.

Every morning after breakfast, we would line up for muster, after which the different ratings would be called out and grouped together. The senior-rated man of the group was put in charge of the detail and proceeded to his duty section. As new prospective submen arrived, the man in charge could change.

On this day, the detail called out prior to ours was to be sent to the water tower on the lower base. The young sailor in charge stated that he did not know where the water tower was located, to which Spritz replied, "Go to the lower base and keep walking around until you see the tallest structure. Go to it because that's the tower!"

Next came our assignment. Being a fire control striker, our detail was assigned to the attack teacher. A young second class fire controlman was the last one to join our detail and was experiencing being in charge. Spritz barked out our place of duty: "Take this detail to the roof of Gilmore Hall. Our leader stated that he did not know where the roof of Gilmore " Hall was. But Spritz barked back again: "Do you know where Gilmore HalI is?" "Yes," stated our leader. "Then where is the #?*! do you expect the roof to be?" he shouted and turned away. The old salts of a few days rescued our leader and gave him necessary directions to find our place of duty.

About a month later, we were to line up because it was payday. We were paid in an old gray building. Everyone lined up as they entered the building at one end, going past the paymaster, then out through the front door. This time, there was a lot of chatter, which aggravated the paymaster. He had his assistant pass the word to "knock it off or pay will be suspended."

Next to me were two of Spritz's master at arms (sheriffs as we called them, because they had badges). I made the mistake of telling the master at arms to knock it off. The next thing I knew, I was dragged to Spritz's office and charged with insolence. To this, I chuckled and said that this fellow doesn't know the meaning of the word "insolence." Spritz looked at me and gruffly said to wipe that smile off my face. I put my hand on my forehead and with a downward motion, wiped the smile off my face. Old Spritz was so furious that he could not speak. The master at arms wanted to throw me in the brig, but Spritz took my name and told me to shove off and return to classes. Needless to say, I missed being paid and was to be paid later as a straggler.

About a half hour later, one of Spritz's faithful "Boats" walked into our classroom, called my name and stated that I was to report within the half hour to stand "Captain's Mast" in undressed blues.

I left class, changed uniforms and reported to Commander Palmer. The Commander asked that the charges be read, upon which I said that the master at arms did not know the meaning of the word "insolence" and all I was doing was passing the word as ordered by the paymaster. Commander Palmer was furious, slamming his gavel down and telling me to keep quiet. I reacted by saying, "What is this, a kangaroo court?" The Commander in return ordered me restricted to the base until I finished all the sub school courses.

Off I went to the barracks set aside for discipline. The discipline consisted of about seven dally musters, no liberty, work details every evening and all day on weekends, and hourly bed checks at night. Newcomers were assigned to the last highest numbered bunk and as men finished their detention period, the other men moved up. The man occupying Bunk One was known as the "King." I was King for about one month.

By now I finished sub school and received my transfer orders to Pier 92. Oh, oh, the word going around was that the armed guard shipped out of there. Well I guess that Spritz was kicking my butt out of sub service.

At Pier 92, I was interviewed by a very old officer who stated that I must have done something really bad. After reviewing my record, he said he had confidence in me and that there was an opening at the Brooklyn Arma Corporation in the Torpedo Data Computer School. If I would accept going there, I would be given a months' subsistence pay and I would be on my own. I jumped at the chance, was given subsistence and told to return one month later.

I scored very high at Torpedo Data Computer School and when I reported back to the officer, he said, "I knew you had it in you. What would you like to do next?" I replied that I would like to catch a new sub out of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The officer said that everybody wanted that but he could assign me to a sub under construction at Electric Boat Company at New London, Connecticut. I said I would take it if Spritz would not have any control over me. Just like that, I was assigned to the USS Bergall (SS-320).

The crew of the Bergall slept in one of the barracks on the sub base, ate supper and breakfast at the base and ate a carry in lunch at noon at Electric Boat Company. The day was spent at Electric Boat Company in a classroom or on the Bergall as she was being fitted.

One day, Spritz saw me at the mess hall as I picked up our carry-in lunch. "You aren't supposed to be here. You better come with me" he said. I replied, "I'm assigned to the Bergall now and you have to see the Captain if you want me." These remarks created a feeling with in me that every time Spritz saw me, it would do something to aggravate him.

Finally the Bergall was finished, commissioned and sent out to sea with me still on board!

To make a long story short, I remained aboard the Bergall, made five war patrols and returned late in July, 1945 to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and had the Bergall overhauled. On our fifth war patrol, we were hit by a mine in the Gulf of Siam and sent back to the States for repairs. In December, I945, the Bergall was in the process of returning to the Pacific.

Now that the war was over, I was close to being discharged. I was asked to be transferred off the Bergall. Its last port was to be New London, Connecticut. Upon arrival there, you guessed it! Who was waiting for me there but Spritz himself! My heart sank into my shoes as I thought this guy is really out to make my life miserable. Instead, Spritz extended his hand and gave me a warm welcome. (He never noticed my "bell-bottomed, tailor-mades, white socks or boots!")

After I checked in, Spritz ordered me to his office. There he assigned me as head master at arms of one of the newest and largest barracks.

From that point on, Spritz treated me as a long lost brother. We would visit daily, he made sure that I had all the help I needed and if any men wanted liberty, it was no problem.

I do not know whatever made the change between us, but whatever it was, it made me change my opinion of a Great Chief!!

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