By Jennifer Martin - email
Clifford Wiggins enlisted in the Navy in 1943 when he was just 17 years-old. He would serve as a torpedo man aboard the USS Craven.
"We were to sink ships that was the primary thing to do. But we had other assignments too, like depth charges. At certain times you were on the gun too," Wiggins recalled.
Their first destination was Hawaii.
"From Hawaii I went to the Marshall Islands. That was the first engagement, battle. We just got there, about 50 Japanese planes came out to greet us, so we were firing at them from all sides. It was kind of hectic, I'll put it like that," Wiggins continued.
Conditions aboard the destroyer were less than ideal.
"It was crowded. The guy in the rack behind me couldn't turn over. We had one period where there was only two meals a day that was very small. That was beans and rice with a little slice of bread. We ran out of bread and had weevils in the bread," Wiggins said.
The Craven served primarily as a support ship in the Marshall Islands.
"We would escort the carriers. Escort them to another battle station, another island. All we done was engagements from one end to the other. I went 6 months without ever getting off of that ship. It was fairly constant because we were, depending on the Japanese, how much they cooperated or didn't cooperate. The really worst one was the Battle of the Philippines Sea. The Japanese fleet had come out and we went in to cage it. Lost a lot of planes and everything. We were young and wasn't afraid of the devil," Wiggins recalled.
After about a year in the Pacific, Wiggins earned two weeks leave and then left with the Craven, headed for the Mediterranean. The ship performed escort, training, and transport duties, until the end of the war. After the Craven was decommissioned, Wiggins began serving aboard the Newman K. Perry. The ship took him back to the Marshall Islands.
"They sent me on down there for the atomic bomb test. They wanted to know what it would do to surface ships. All they did was tell us to turn our heads and of course the mushroom cloud went up and you feel the shockwave and all."
After about a month, Wiggins was finally able to return home. He worked briefly as a machinist and then at a newspaper until he retired. He looks back on his service with pride.
"Proud of it. I'd do it again," Wiggins added.
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