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Albert Berger
US Navy World War II
by by George M. Hurley.
Mr. Albert (Al) Berger will be 92 years of age in August 2009. He recently agreed to be interviewed regarding his World War II experiences in the Navy. During his long time residency in Ocean City, MD he has been involved with the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Dept and the Ocean City Lions Club and his Synagogue as a very dedicated member. His business background has included retail stores, real estate, and development. His most recent achievement involved assisting his sister Martha in developing the Martha’s Landing complex in West Ocean City. He was interviewed by a long time friend,George M. Hurley.

Hurley: Al, how long have you lived in Ocean City?

Berger: Came out of the service in November of 1945. Spent that winter in Florida and in March of 1946 I
Became a permanent resident of Ocean City.

Hurley: Was your family originally from Baltimore?

Berger: Originally from Baltimore.

Hurley: When did you decide to join the Navy?

Berger: I had been working at the Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard as a welder. I had the feeling I should go in
the service. We were building Liberty Ships and LST’s….landing craft for tanks. I was told that I
could count on employment for the next ten years. All of my friends and my brother had
volunteered. I decided to try and get in the Navy SeaBees. I talked to the recruiter and he wanted to know what kind of work I did. When I told him he said, “We can’t take your application because you are necessary for the war effort. This was in the latter half of 1942. In November I quit my job because the union representative was giving me a difficult time for not joining the union. I was satisfied with my job. I started getting the worse kind of jobs. They’d put you in a tiny cubicle and you had to wear a mask because of the asbestos…smoke from the burning of the welding rods which had asbestos on them. I just thought that this is the time for me to quit. When I told the Recruiter that I was not working he accepted my application for the Navy SeeBees. I was called for duty in March of 1943.

Hurley: Where did they send you?

Berger: Williamsburg, Virginia where they were training SeaBees. Our training was 90 percent marine
training. We did have some naval non-commissioned officers who trained us in seamanship, but
most of our training was by marines.

Hurley: Was it like a regular boot camp?

Berger: It was boot camp. We were there for six weeks and we were sent to Davisville, Rhode Island for
advanced training and six weeks later to Shoemaker, California for further training.

Hurley: Where did you go when you went overseas?

Berger: We left out of San Diego and went to Hawaii….to a place called Barbers Point. It was on the island
Of Oahu and the facilities were not ready for us. Our battalion was the 109th Naval Construction
Battalion. Our first assignment was to build Quonset huts for our own battalion, plus two other
Battalions that were supposed to land within the next week. Well, in a matter of, I think, eight days
……we stayed on board the ship…..the barracks were built.

Hurley: You got them all done in eight days?

Berger: Yeah. For 1800 men. I can’t remember whether it was 60 or 65 men to each Quonset hut, but
They moved along pretty quick. Basically I was assigned to personnel. Office work. Why, I
Don’t know, but I accepted it because that is where they assigned me.

Hurley: What year did you get to Hawaii?

Berger: The end of ‘43. We had Thanksgiving Day on board the ship. Rough! Standing at a counter eating
Your dinner while someone else next to you is throwing up from seasickness. . Hard to imagine, but
It did happen. Those are experiences.

Hurley: Where did you go after Hawaii?

Berger: Our first assignment was going to the Marshall Islands at the Kwajalein Atoll.

Hurley: I know of Kwajalein atoll. I was on a navy propeller transport plane that had to land there to refuel
coming home from the Philippine Islands.

Berger: Roin-Namori.

Hurley: How many men were stationed there?

Berger: When we got there, none. We were D plus 2 invasion. The Marines had been there for two days.
Before the marines landed, the island had taken a pounding from the ships off shore for maybe three or four days. Not much left that you could see. It was pretty much worked over and you didn’t see a tree or anything there that was living as far as you could tell. But when we landed we were told to be careful because they thought there were still Japanese on the island. And there were. After a day or two some would come out at night. Our patrols killed two or three. On the fifth night there the Japanese planes bombed us. They had a bomb called a daisy cutter, which exploded before it hit the ground and it would…..the shrapnel and fire….it would burn everything.

Hurley: Did you take casualties?

Berger: We lost some men. In fact, one man that I knew personally went off his rocker when the first bomb
struck. He started running and yelling: “The Japs are coming!” To make a long story short, he
wound up running into the ocean and drowning.

Hurley: Al, where did your battalion go after the Marshall Islands?

Berger: We were in the Marshall Islands for four or five months rebuilding the air strip (the one you landed
on,) and building quarters for the men who would be stationed there. We were sent back to Hawaii
for rest and recuperation. We had barracks at Mauna Loa Ridge which overlooked Hickam Field.
We had the opportunity to stay at the Royal Hawaiian hotel for a week. While at Nauna Loa Ridge
Barracks some of the guys got into trouble drinking the wrong kind of alcohol. Two of them went
Blind. Our battalion was ordered to Guam in the Mariana Islands. We were on Guam for quite a
While (performing construction work.) The next thing I knew it was August of 1945. woke up
[one day] and the radio was saying: “The war is over.”

Hurley: Al, what were your thoughts upon learning the war was over?

Berger: I had mixed emotions. [They] used the atomic bomb, which I had never heard of before. I
understood it demolished an entire city and wiped out 90 percent of the population. But in
thinking about it, well, we were getting ready to invade Japan. Probably we would have lost
more people and Japan would have lost more people than the bomb destroyed. So, in hindsight
I think President Truman did what he did because he was all about the saving of lives.

Hurley: Were the natives on Guam glad to see you?

Berger: I think I didn’t see any natives. We stayed in an area that we were assigned to. There was a town
named Agana but that was where the battalion commander and the officers had huts. We lived in
some Quonset huts. It was an experience.

Hurley: Did you ever see any boyhood friends overseas?

Berger: I did run into a friend who had become a naval officer. I ran into him in Honolulu and the first thing
I said to him [when I saw him,] was: “Sam, Sam, can you get us some booze?” I think stateside
booze was $7.00. He said, “sure.” We met at the officers quarters in Hickam Field to get the bottle,
went back to the barracks and we had a ball. We had fun.

Hurley: When did you get home?

Berger: Let’s see, the war was over in August. I got home on November 9th, 1945. The 109th Naval
Construction Battalion stayed intact because it had work on Guam that had to be finished. Since I
Was a pencil pusher and had 30 months of overseas duty plus the right number of accumulated
Points I was one of the first to leave the battalion.

Hurley: How did you get home?

Berger: We were transported on a ship to the west coast and I took a train back to the east coast. I had
Orders to go back to Bainbridge for discharge.

Hurley: So you were discharged at Bainbridge?

Berger: Yes. And when I told Dr. Frank Townsend later , he said: “I must have checked you out. [Of
Course] I did not know Frank then. He became my doctor for over 40 years and we were good
Friends. [In later years] we used to meet and walk the boardwalk together twice a week.

Hurley: Any final thoughts regarding your time in World War II?

Berger: I was glad that I did what I did and I know we lost numbers of men in the Pacific, but I think we
lost a lot more in the European phase of the war.