Family, Memoirs.

Burt Ferguson Remembered: WWII

-Family, W. Burt Ferguson

Taken prior to Operation Anvil, per Burt.. Attrib: W. Burt Ferguson, Family. Click to view enlarged picture

My father-in-law Burt died recently, and before he died, we, Cindy, Scot and I, had some conversations with him about his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Burt faced, along with all other male high school seniors in America in 1943, the military draft for the World War II conflict immediately following his graduation. He chose to enlist in the U.S. Navy right after graduation, rather than waiting for the draft, as did so many others.

-Family, W. Burt Ferguson

Attrib: W. Burt Ferguson, Family. Click to view enlarged picture

He and his fellow recruits were shipped off to Farragut Naval Training Station, Farragut, Idaho, on Lake Pend Oreille, north of Coeur d’Alene, where they went through boot camp.  Burt completed boot camp on September 13, 1943.

-Family, W. Burt Ferguson

Attrib: W. Burt Ferguson, Family.

For advanced training, he was assigned to signalman school on the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois.  The actor Tony Curtis was also assigned to this school, and he said “I learned Morse code, and I learned how to wave semaphore flags so that if all else failed we could communicate messages on the open water.” Burt became a proficient signalman, particularly with the signal light, and in the use of symbolic flags that were hoisted for standard messages; he felt the instruction was first rate. He graduated from signalman school in March of 1944.

From there he was sent to Solomons, Maryland, on the lower Chesapeake Bay, to a nucleus crew base, where personnel were gathered until they received their ship assignments. The base was isolated by water. When Burt arrived, there were no bunks available, but a sailor pointed to a bunk and said, “That guy is going AWOL tonight, so you can take his bunk.” The sailor did indeed go AWOL by swimming from the peninsula to the “mainland,” and Burt had his bunk. After ten days, his crew was formed and assigned a ship.

-Family, W. Burt Ferguson

Attrib: W. Burt Ferguson, Family. Click to view enlarged picture

Burt traveled by train to Orange, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico, to board her. The keel of his ship had been laid down in February 1944, at the Consolidated Steel Corp Shipbuilding Division there in Orange, launched in March of 1944, was commissioned on April 1, 1944, as USS LCI(L)-954. Burt and his fellow sailors took the USS 954 out on a shakedown cruise, then out of the Gulf to Miami, and on to Newport News, Virginia, where the ship was refitted from its usual mission as a large infantry landing craft into a specialized communications vessel. While waiting for the refitting, he and his pal Bill Childress went on a three day leave to Raleigh and Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Bill’s father was a local politician. Burt long after remembered the pervasive segregation of blacks from whites that was the old South.

-Family, W. Burt Ferguson

Attrib: W. Burt Ferguson, Family. Click to view enlarged picture

The USS 954, with Burt aboard, finally set sail for the Mediterranean Sea, just before D-Day, on June 1, 1944. They landed in Bizerte, Tunisia, in North Africa, south of Sardinia. Burt was able to travel for several days to Algeria. From there, they cruised the Mediterranean as part of a small fleet, for which the USS 954 served as the primary communications vessel, generally in the Tyrrhenian Sea and around Sicily.

-PD-USGOV,

USS 954, lower right, Naples, Nisida, Aug 9, 1944. PD-USGOV. Click to view enlarged picture

They stopped in Palermo, Sicily, and then went on to Naples, which was more or less to serve as their home port.

-PD-USGOV, DA, CMH

45th Div wading ashore near Ste. Maxime as part of Operation Anvil. Attrib: DA, CMH, PD-USGOV.

By early August, they were assigned as support to the upcoming invasion of southern France, called Operation Anvil. Anvil (later called Dragoon) was intended to open up Marseilles and Toulon as supply ports, and help drive the Germans from France; it was primarily a U.S. operation with infantry from the Seventh Army, with assistance from the British, French colonial forces and the French resistance, under the overall command of U.S. General Devers. The initial invasion was performed just by US troops. On the night of August 14th, the fleet, including battleships and cruisers, left Naples, lights out, for the Gulf of Leon, east of Toulon and west of Cannes. All signals were astern to minimize the chances of discovery by the enemy. Army Air Corps planes supported from bases in Italy. Battleships and cruisers fired guns and rockets to soften enemy resistance. Early on August 15th, the seaborne invasion commenced across many beaches, centered on the beach of Cavaliere, and is considered a successful operation. Burt’s ship received fire, but suffered no serious damage. USS 954 participated afterword as part of the beachmaster operation. US954 anchored in the old port of Marseilles while shore fighting was still audible on the shore.

-Family, W. Burt Ferguson

Attrib: W. Burt Ferguson, Family. Click to view enlarged picture

With the end of Operation Anvil, the USS 954 continued to support various reconnoitering cruises in the Mediterranean for the remainder of the war. Burt, during the lulls, would train other signalmen. He never was given leave while in Europe, although he was once promised a visit to Paris; it never materialized, to his enduring regret. The USS 954 finally returned to the U.S. on the 1st of August of 1945; he was given immediate leave, flew to Portland, Oregon, where he was when the war ended in Japan. Burt’s ship remained on the East Coast for the duration of his service, during which they cruised up and down the coast, and stopped once in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The USS 954 survived a hurricane at sea, off Cape Hatteras; the storm was so violent that his ship was sometimes so far from vertical that men were walking on the bulkheads (or the vertical walls of the ship)! Burt was finally honorably discharged from the Navy in March of 1946 as a First Class Signalman. He loved the Navy, and felt it was a “first class organization.”

-Family, W. Burt Ferguson

Attrib: W. Burt Ferguson, Family. Click to view enlarged picture

One thought on “Burt Ferguson Remembered: WWII

  1. I am trying to locate the Wood family, related to Stella Wood Ferguson. I inherited photos and documents of Wood family, but I am not a relative. I have beautiful photos of Stella and so many letters, postcards, a diary, etc.Please email me at kristin.guin@gmail.com.

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