Santa Paula Times

Don Ball

World War II veteran recalls his
time as a Navy quartermaster

December 09, 2016
Santa Paula News

There’s a lot about Don Ball’s life that he says simply happened by chance. 

“I think back now about some of the stories I have,” says the 89-year-old Ventura man. “And I realize, ‘hey, if that hadn’t happened, my life would be completely different.’”

Ball’s childhood in Oakland, Calif., was simple. 

“We had everything we needed,” Ball recalls. “I didn’t know about the Depression when it was happening. No one had any money. But now I look back and see pictures of me and my sister in a suit and dress for church and wonder how my parents did it.”

Ball’s father was a wool buyer, and travelled to ranches throughout central California every spring and summer. He had a rich history as a quartermaster for the Navy in World War I. Ball’s mother, Violet, who proudly went by “Vee,” was a homemaker.

“My dad would be gone for three months out of the year buying wool around the state,” Ball says. “It didn’t make my mom very happy, but he did well for the family. He also worked as an oil truck driver to make a little extra money.”

Ball was never the type to engage himself in many extracurricular activities. But while attending Oakland High School, Ball had a chance meeting with another student named Bob Alderson who invited Ball to join the Kiwanis Club.

“All of a sudden I was motivated to become more involved,” Ball says. “People knew me. They  knew my name. Girls talked to me. I was the yell leader. I was popular. I’d say meeting Bob really changed my life.”

Ball graduated from Oakland High in the spring of 1944, just shy of a year before the War in Europe would end. 

“We all knew that one way or the other we were going to end up in uniform,” Ball says.

Out of a group of eight friends, two went into the Army and six into the Navy. Ball was among those who enlisted in the Navy.

“I wanted to be a quartermaster,” he says. “If it was good enough for Dad, it was good enough for me.”

Ball says he was able to request to attend quartermaster school in Gulf Port, Miss.

“Early in the war they put you where they needed you,” he says. “But they loosened up a bit toward the end when I went in.”

Ball completed his training as a quartermaster and was sent back to California to a holding camp before boarding a troop transport ship in San Francisco in the summer of 1945. The war in Europe was over, but there was still work to be done in the Pacific.

The ship docked at a holding center in Guam alongside the Battleship New Jersey, and Ball was assigned to the 396 minesweeper. Then came the announcement that the War in the Pacific was over.

“I was painting along the side of the ship, dangling on this wooden bench that was lowered by a scaffold,” Ball says. “The announcement came through and everyone began to yell and cheer and celebrate on deck. But they forgot about me, so here I was, dangling on the side of the ship yelling to be brought to the deck so I could celebrate with them. Eventually someone saw me and helped me up.”

Ball continued, “A lot of pressure was taken off us guys when the war ended,” Ball says. “But we still didn’t know where we were going to end up.”

Their first stop was Nagoya, Japan, a port that continues to serve as a manufacturing and shipping hub.

“There was a lot of rubble and a lot of damage from the war,” Ball says. “We spent six months sweeping mines in that area. We never had a mine explode.”

Ball and the crew aboard the 396 had a second six-month assignment in Japan, then headed to Shanghai, China, and minesweeping duty along the mouth of the Yangtze River. 

“Shanghai was a great city to have liberty in,” Ball recalls. “A lot for us to do and see.”

The crew’s final assignment was in the Phillippine Islands, and from there, the ship was decomissioned.

“We were lucky timing wise for our service,” Ball says. “Not a lot to report. Our biggest action was in surviving two typhoons. I remember going to sleep before I was to report for watch duty, and waking up to this huge storm. It was a 135-foot boat, so relatively small, and when I headed to the deck I could see land. Seeing land, for a sailor, is such a huge relief. Normally I’d go the main deck, then quickly climb to my watch station. But not in this storm. One wrong move and I could have been overboard. And no one would have found me. It was by chance that I made it in one piece.”

Ball was the only person who showed up for watch duty that night. The captain, he says, had given an order to stay below decks. But Ball was asleep, preparing for his shift, and missed the orders. When he reported for duty, the captain, Ball says, was surprised and impressed. 

“We boarded a troop transport and headed back to San Francisico,” Ball says.”I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from a ways out and I knew I was home.”

Ball was discharged from active duty at Treasure Island near San Francisco. He enrolled in courses at the University of California, Berkeley, and majored in business. Upon graduation, Ball began a more than 20-year career in the insurance business, during which time he met and married his wife, Joan. They welcomed “two dynamite daughters,” as Ball describes them, and eventually four grandchildren.

Ball spent a few years living in Maryland where he became involved with the Elks Club, serving as a liason to the local Veterans of Foregin War facility. 

“I remember walking into the building and it just smelled old and musty,” Ball says. “Everything about it was old.”

So many years later, when his daughters suggested he check out the Veterans Home in Ventura as his next residence, Ball was hesitant. 

“I just told them ‘I’m not interested in those places,’” Ball says. “But my daighter said it was new, so I checked it out. I’ve loved every minute of my life here. The camaraderie is great. It’s just a great place to be.”

His life at the Veteran’s Home, Ball says, just happened…by chance.