The Shipyards

In 1943, while I was in Army boot camp, the family moved from Gardena to Palos Verdes. WWII galvanized the nation in patriotic unity. Americans coped with rationing, planted Victory Gardens and salvaged everything imaginable. Every able-bodied man and woman either joined the services, volunteered, or went to work in some productive way to support the war effort.

The Port of Los Angeles was a major contributor in supplying and sustaining the troops. My dad was foreman on a crew building, Liberty Ships, and later, Victory Ships for California Shipbuilding Corporation at Terminal Island. When I returned from the Army, Dad managed to get me a job working on another foreman's crew as a shipwright.

I worked in the shipyard from September to December of 1943. My dad and I both worked the swing shift so it was an enjoyable time for me, and a great convenience getting to and from work. Since we were employed in war manufacturing, we had the added benefit of additional ration stamps.

It was always satisfying to see one of the ships we had worked on, being christened and sliding down the ways. The ships were assembled from sections prefabricated in various shops around the harbor. The sections would then be transported to the dry dock and added to the vessels piece by piece. My job, as a shipwright was, precisely spotting each piece, as it was lowered into place.

As the sections were maneuvered into place, on my signal, a welder would tack the plates in place and we would then move on to the next section. Other welders followed behind welding each seam. By the time I quit I actually was beginning to know what I was doing.

It was amazing casualties in the shipyards were as low as they were. I recall later thinking how much safer I felt at sea than I did in the shipyard. Not only was there a risk of falling, or being crushed by the massive sections of steel, but until the deck plates were installed, tools and debris would frequently fall from above.

During my time at the shipyard, I was enjoying life in the tepid winter climate of Southern California. I was working at a job I enjoyed, dating, spending time with my family and playing checkers with my dad.

In spite of good wages and being with my family, I just wasn't happy. I often thought of my Gardena School mates who went into the Army at the time I was drafted. There were so many of them at Fort Knox that when walking around the base, it at times seemed almost like I was back at Gardena High. Maybe I was just more patriotic than I realized.

When I told the Colonel back at Fort Knox I wanted to join the Merchant Marine, I really just wanted out of the Army. Little did I suspect one day I would actually end up joining but join I did, bringing to a close my career as a shipwright.

Stories of Philip A. Mehan - Written by Scott Dawes © 2005-2009