The papers of Robert E. Clogston document his service in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War from November 1950 to March 1954. Clogston was from Williamstown, Vermont and was known as Butch. Clogston was stationed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Argentina Newfoundland, Port Lyautey in Morocco, and Trinidad in the British West Indies. He was a builder in the Navy and helped with construction on military bases. His first letter was sent from the Recruit Training Center in Davisville, Rhode Island on December 7, 1951. His letters were addressed to his parents.
Clogston was stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from January to May 1952. There he wrote about being well-treated as a sailor along with the spraying of DDT to control disease, the accidental crash of a PBY in the bay, and the presence of the USS Missouri at the base for a time. He often wrote about the captain there who they called “The Old Man.” The men often spent their designated liberty time off hunting, fishing, and playing ball.
After returning to the training facility in Rhode Island, Clogston was stationed from mid-August to December 1952 in Argentia, Newfoundland where he lived in an APB (barracks ship) with 900 other men. “That’s darn crowded I can tell you,” he wrote on August 18, 1952 after arriving. There were about four showers for every two companies of men on the ship. Clogston wrote about the rainy, windy, and foggy weather in Newfoundland. He spent a lot of time digging holes and trenches in the mud and rain, and also wrote about the imprecise work of the other men. He wrote, “The “Old Man” is out for speed rather than quality.” He also wrote about the “Old Man” getting people in trouble during inspection for not having haircuts and how much he missed “coon hunting” in Vermont.
In January 1953, Clogston was back in Rhode Island at the Masonic Service Association’s Hospital Visitation Branch where he had blood tests and x-rays done on his lungs due to a persistent cold. He then spent February and March in Davisville working at the training facility and often took his liberty time off in Boston. He loved going to see baseball games. At the end of March 1953, he boarded a ship for Cuba, He wrote in his letter when they arrived in Guantanamo Bay on April 2, 1953, “The transport we came on is a United Nations transport and had 3 or 4 hundred Puerto Rican Army men aboard that had just came from Korea. So we dropped them off in San Juan, P.R… Boy, that looks like a pretty place.” At this base, he was assigned to the carpenter shop. He was in Cuba through the end of May 1953.
In early June 1953, Clogston was sent to Trinidad on the PNT Thomas to work on ship engines with a small group of other builders, steelworkers, mechanics, and electricians. He was stationed there during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain on June 2, 1953 and wrote about costumes, dancing in the streets, and other celebrations due to Trinidad still being a colony of Great Britain at the time. He also wrote about visiting the zoo, seeing the Wisconsin (the biggest ship in the world at the time), and spending a day driving around the island with a couple of other navy men. They rented a car for $6 for the day. Their work was finished in mid-August 1953 and the men returned to Cuba.
Clogston was stationed at the Naval Air Station Port Lyautey in Morocco from the end of 1953 through at least March 1954, when his letters in this collection end. Clogston and the other men temporarily stationed in Morocco lived in huts. At the time in 1954, Morocco was a protectorate of France. At one point, there was an inspection at the base looking for pistols because one of the men had been selling them to Morrocans. He wrote, “The French do not allow the Arabs to have guns.” He wrote about not being fond of French food and their tradition of long, drawn-out meals. On March 6, 1954, he wrote about hearing word of an Arab bombing in Casablanca and the shooting incident at the U.S. Capitol building by Puerto Rican nationalists on March 1, 1954.
Clogston’s letters end on March 24, 1954 when he was still stationed at Port Lyautey. He told his parents he was to be discharged in May. In general, the writing of “Butch” to his parents is about the weather and living conditions where he is stationed, the passage of time, the pay that he will send them after payday, how fast the letters are coming and going, and various tests, inspections, and appointments. He has a fairly business-like tone, but cracks jokes every now and again. He writes about missing home in Vermont.
The following description and partial transcription of letters was provided by the seller:
“Recruit Training Command U. S. Naval Training Station Newport R. I.
November 30, 1950.
Dear Mr. Clogston: Robert was transferred on 18 November 1950 from the Recruit Training Command, U. S. Naval Training Station, Newport Rhode Island, to his new duty station. His new address is as follow: Naval School (Builders) Construction U. S. Naval Station Port Hueneme, Calif. Sincerely Yours, (then the signature). T. H. Hederman. Captain, U. S. Navy Commanding.”
His next letter is from December 7th, 1951 and he’s in Davisville R. I. in camp and says he’ll be leaving January 9th for Cuba and says he will be there about 4 months. Although he lists his return address as New York, he’s writing from overseas. His return address reads, “Robert E. Clogston Jr. BUCN. S25-49-08. MC8 #4 Co.-D Hut-40. % Fleet Post Office New York, N.Y.”
There’s quite a bit of fascinating news between the pages of these letters especially because he travels to so many incredible places as you will see in the following quotes…..
“Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. January 15th, 1951 (which I think he means 52’) 6:30 evening.
Dear Mother and Dad, Well, we’re beginning to get straightened around a little bit now. We haven’t got any lockers or anything in the barracks but we are living fairly comfortable. The hut we have has double racks. Some of the rest of them only have the single canvas ones. Old McCullough and I have bunks over each other and it seems like home again……Boy the dust and dirt really blows around here during the day. It blows so some of the time that you can’t see. The ground is coral (?) but there seems to be about 2 inches of sand on top. The days are pretty darned hot if it wasn’t for that breeze coming in off the ocean……We eat chow with civilian contractors and some Cubans…..We don’t have much of a ships service but you can get bare necessities there. There are only about 50 air corps men here. According to the plans in time there is going to be a big jet air strip here. There is a short strip here now. That is one of the jobs being down, lengthen the air strip for jets…….I will write again the first of the week. Hope you are all fine. Love Butch.”
“February 1st, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Leeward Point.
Dear Mother and Dad,….A jeep with a spray rig just went by spraying for disease and the hut is full of D. D. T. and diesel oil. The wind was blowing just right so it drifted right in the door. This morning we had a bit of excitement A PBY crashed out in the bay in the direction of the main base. It was coming in for a landing. It hit the water twice and went end over end. About the minute it hit it burst into flames. It must have burned for 5 or 10 minutes and then sunk. They were out there with crash boats and a helicopter picking up the men. They all got out and I guess only one got hurt. He burned his face a little. They busted there way out through the tail as near as I could find out. There were five men aboard…..The new chow hall is coming right along. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were using it in less than a month. They are building tables and putting in plumbing and steam tables, etc…..The jet flyers have been practicing around here every nite. From evening chow till after taps they zoom around in formation once in a while you see them doing rolls, etc……Guess that’s about all. There hasn’t much happened since yesterday anyhow. Love Butch.” (Softball games, painting a 40 foot water tower, USO shows)
“February 5th, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Dear Mother and Dad,…..The big battle ship Missouri is in down here now. Boy, that’s quite a ship. That’s the one they signed the J-p (Short for Japanese; he writes it out) peace on you know. The ship here go out on maneuvers each day. They have target practice out on the horizon. Each morning you can hear them firing. There are destroyers, destroyer escorts, carriers, cruisers and now the Missouri. Those big guns make a lot of noise. Each night they all come back. They leave about 6 A.M. each morn. I see the Missouri isn’t in yet tonight. Maybe it’s gone for awhile…..Hope you are all fine. Love Butch” (He said he’s heading back to the states in June for a couple of months. He’s still working on building the barracks.)
“March 20th, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Dear Mother and Dad, I meant to write last night but didn’t feel like it. Yesterday afternoon I got a typhoid shot and boy it really hit me. I run an awful high fever all last evening and nite and my head nearly split. I had fever enough so just rolling over in bed made my head throb. Most of the day today I’ve had enough fever so I was a bit light headed. That typhoid shot always did bother me. Everything is as usual here. We have the forms all in for the second barracks. We will put them tomorrow. Then I guess we will go back and start building the first one. I’ll be glad to get joining side walls and pillars. I was getting a little sick of putting in the postings….The day before yesterday a mechanic chief died. They found his body floating in our swimming pool. The pool is just a big hole dug in the beach. They found it about 11:30 A.M. Seems he and another chief were drinking heavy that morn. I guess he drank a lot. I don’t think he drowned or he wouldn’t have been floating. I think he probably had a heat attack going into the cold ocean water. They performed an autopsy over at the hospital. He was a new middle-aged chief we picked up in Davisville…Boy, that’s some crew we’ve got on our boat. You remember my saying, we have a 50’ motor launch manned by our own crew. They run it into a slip over across that was too small for it. It wedged right in and they had to get the air station crash boat to pull it out. Then one Sunday they took a church party out to the Coral Sea. The old man and a bunch of officers were in the back and when they went by under the sewer pipe someone flushed the toilet and drenched the old man and a couple of officers. An ensign had manure on his collar and they most all had toilet paper on them. The pipe should have been secured but it wasn’t. I’d like to have seen it…..Hope everything is all right there, Love Butch.”
“March 22nd, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Dear Mother and Dad…..I wrote some about our boat crew in my last letter. Last nite they took it out and run it aground and rammed the docks at M. A. S. Bay. We’ve got a hot bunch of sailors…..Love Butch.”
“May 13, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Dear Mother and Dad, Well this is the last of my writing paper and will probably be the last you’ll hear from me till we get to Davisville…..We board ship Monday. I’m on a loading party so I’ll have to work some. However I’ll be able to board in greens where the rest will have to wear their white uniform. M. C. B. # 7 will be here Monday to take right over where we leave off…..You probably know there is going to be 2 battalions going back on the same ship, MCB#8 goes back with us. They have been working on main side across the bay. We are still working tropical hours, getting up at 5 A.M. Imagine we well till we leave. Hope you are all fine. Love Butch.” (He’s back in the states at the end of May in the Boston area and then by August back in Davisville Rhode Island)
“August 18th, (He’s in Argentia, Newfoundland)
Dear Mother and Dad, Well, we’ve finally arrived and what a place. I tried to call you Tuesday night before we left but the line was always busy. I should have written but didn’t get to it. We had a good trip up. It shouldn’t have taken but a day or two but we left Thursday morn and got here Sun. morn. They held gunnery and man-over-board drills all the way up. Boy, I caught a lulu of a cold in the ship…This morning we got off the ship and came aboard this APB which we will live on while we are here. It’s a converted LST and counting the ships Co. there are 900 of us on it. That’s darned crowded I can tell you. There are about 4 showers for every two companies of men…..the liberty is nearly all base liberty. There is an Army base, marine base, air corps base and Navy base all bordering each other. You have to have dress uniform and liberty card to go from one to another. We have a large gym, swimming pool and all kind of recreation on the Navy base though……Love Butch.”
“September 25th, Argentia Newfoundland,
Dear Mother and Dad,….I’m still building manholes etc. They have quite a lot of the apron poured. They have done a messy job of it though. Their exp. joints are crooked and don’t look good. They started pouring before the first steps were cured and broke off a lot of corners and edges. The “Old Man” is out for speed rather than quality. The more he gets done while we are here the better his reports look. It puts a feather in his cap. The past week there have been a lot of admirals around here. First there was a two stars here and now there’s a three star. They have been inspecting the whole base. It seems funny we didn’t have a personal inspection. The other night I was sitting in the mess hall aboard ship playing cards and the “Old Man” and the rear admiral walked through. You should call attention and stand but no one said a word or made a move…..I guess we’ll be in the states for Christmas…..Love Butch.”
Dear Mother and Dad,……We had a bad plane crash early this morning. I guess it happened about 1 A.M. It was a big 4 motored bomber. It’s one that stationed here on the base. It was foggy as the devil and they were bringing him in by radar as near as I have heard. Some way they lost him and he missed the end of the runway. Boy what a mess. The biggest piece there was the tail. There were somewhere between 11 and 16 men aboard. Seven of them are dead now and the rest in the hospital. It threw the pilot clear but he ended up with no head. One man walked away from it. Boy he was lucky. They worked two hours getting the guys out of the wreckage. It was lucky it didn’t burn……Love Butch.” (He’s building and working on some kind of big transformer vault. He’s been to the doctors to get some x-rays for a few spots on his lungs and they are hoping it’s not TB. In January of 53’ he’s in the Masonic Service Association hospital.) SCAN Jan 23rd letter and 24th letter
“January 27th, The Masonic Service Association Hospital Visitation Branch (letterhead)
Dear Mother and Dad,…When anyone “checks in” here they give a routine examination. Monday they took a urine sample and I got a blood test etc. in the morning. At 1 P.M. I went over to the main building and had an x-ray. That’s about all I’ve done since I’ve been here. Our last weekend while some guys were on liberty I helped out doing dishes in the ward kitchen but I wouldn’t have had to. The corpsman sent me down to the main building yesterday afternoon with a stretcher case to be x-rayed. They grab us once in a while for something like that……Love Butch.”
Dear Mother and Dad,…..I left the hospital this morning at about 11 A.M. They furnished transportation down to the wharf and I took a boat over to here. I would have had about a two hour wait for the regular crash boat but a commander of the carrier “Cabot” let me ride over with him in the Captains gig. That’s riding in style, huh! The “Cabot” is tied up on the opposite side of the pier from us. I spent all afternoon checking back in and getting settled……I went to the office to check on taking the rating exam. They had sent my examination over to the hospital. Now they are going to send a “speed Letter” to try and get it back in time…..Love Butch.”
Dear Mother and Dad, I guess I’d better write tonight as I may be fairly busy starting tomorrow. I’m on a working party on the way down to Cuba. We start mustering with the work party tomorrow morning so we may start getting stuff ready to go aboard ship even though the ship isn’t in yet. I imagine we will chip paint etc. on the way down too, especially if it’s a Navy ship. It will be a 3 or 4 day trip if we go directly down and don’t stop anywhere…..They have me assigned to the carpenter shop when we get there and I think that will be a break. We’ll be building a lot of frames but at least we won’t have to put the damn things up. If I don’t care for it I’ll always be able to change to the barracks crew. Boy, a lot of guys are over the hill these last few days per usual. I don’t see what they get out of it but a lot of trouble but maybe they do. There are a couple in the brig now waiting for special court martial’s. Love Butch.”
“April 2nd, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Dear Mother and Dad, Well we just got in this morn. We left Davisville last Friday night and got in here this morning at 10 A.M. The transport we came on is a United Nations transport and had 3 or 4 hundred Perito Rican Army men aboard that had just come from Korea. Some dropped them off in San Juan, P. R. We only stopped off there about 4 hours. Boy, that looks like a pretty place……Lou Jenkins, former boxing champ, is in charge of troops in the ship. Things have hanged some but not too much here. One barracks is done and there are a few more buildings around. There are a lot of “Air Dales” on Seaward now. There are 3 squadrons of jets operating off the strip. I understand there are also a lot of marines here as ground crew for the jets. So we won’t be quite so much to ourselves…..Love Butch.”
“May 22nd, Guantanamo Bay,
Dear Mother and Dad……I hadn’t heard anything about that Trinidad trip until today. I’m still going when they go but no one knows anything definite yet about the departure date. In a way I guess I’ll be glad to leave. Things are getting pretty darned regulation around here. We have to be out of our rank 5 minutes after reveille. The hut captain in each hut is responsible to get everyone up. If a man goes ax report for not getting up the hut captain does too far not getting him up. When we have duty we have to muster 3 or 4 times a day. I have the weekend duty so I suppose we’ll muster a dozen times…….Love Butch.”
“May 26th, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Dear Mother and Dad, Well, I guess this is the last letter you’ll get form me here. We are supposed to leave Saturday on the troop transport “Thomas.” At any rate we go aboard it about noon Saturday. Yesterday afternoon we went up to sick bay and got yellow fever boosters. There are seventeen of us and a mixture of builders, steelworkers, mechanics, and electricians (mostly electricians) we are taking all our own tools and equipment down with us……We will work 5 ½ days a week and I hear the living quarters are good. Tomorrow we are going across the bay and look at a generator like the ones we have to dismantle and bring back here. They are big ones standing about 7’ high or more and the diesel engine weighs 50 tons alone……A new warrant officer and a chief will be in charge. I’ve heard the officer expected a lot of work but is a pretty good guy. The chief said we should get back here by the last of August. We may or may not get here in time to go to the states with the rest of the battalion. All in all, it sounds like a good trip to me…..As I understand it they are closing down the base down there in Trinidad. I don’t see why as it seems to me pretty good protection for the canal from the south…..Love Butch”
“June 1st, Trinidad.
Dear Mother and Dad, Well we just got off the ship this morning about 10:30 A.M. Boy, it looks great so far. Our quarters are on the second deck of a big concrete barracks which is three stories high. The living conditions seem real good. We have big metal lockers, very nice showers and head facilities and the chow hall is just off in the next room. Our laundry, ships store etc. are all in the same building or a wing to it. So everything is pretty handy. The base sets right at the bottom of the mountains at the edge of the ocean……I haven’t looked around the base much yet but will later on this afternoon. There are big doings in town all this week with the Queens Coronation etc. Warrant officer Cobb, the guy in charge of us, just stopped by to see that we were squared away…..Love Butch.”
“June 8th, Trinidad,
Dear Mother and Dad,…..I went to town Saturday afternoon and evening. They were having the big coronation “jump-up” with dancing in the streets. When they dance they just jump up and down and wiggle around. For music they have what they call “steel bands.” The instruments are steel barrel heads with different areas of them tempered differently. I think its fairly pretty music for the way the instruments look. They don’t look like music would come out of them. The different bands have different groups following them and where they meet they get in fights. All of them carry clubs and baseball bats. One of our guys saw a “limey” get bashed on the head with a ball bat. In the paper today it said he died. The dancing lasted from 6 A.M. till 12 P.M. I don’t see how they could go that long. Sunday morning five of us went out to Maracas Beach. It’s about 30 miles from the base. We hired a cab for $10 in native money and he stayed with us all day bringing us back at 5 P.M……All the way up you can look off for miles and miles into the valleys. The Seabee’s built the road to the beach years ago. When the base was made here it took their only good beach so it was in the contract we had to build a road to this other beach……Love Butch.”
“August 11th, Trinidad, B.W. I.
Dear Mother and Dad, Well, we’re just about buttoned up here. The ship came in as scheduled. Monday afternoon we started loading the small boxes. Today we had a pretty busy day. By 5 P.M. everything was aboard except the big “law-boy” which we brought from Cuba. A couple of guys stayed and loaded that. The ship leaves tomorrow morning at 7 A.M. All we have left to do is clean up around outside the power plant. That will take about two hours tomorrow morning. The ship we leave on leaves Thursday evening. It comes in in the morning and leaves at night. It will get to Panama Saturday and leave there Monday afternoon for Cuba. It will take us about 3 days from there to Cuba……Love Butch.” (He’s now in Port Lyautey. His letters now get further and further apart)
“November 22nd, Port Lyautey.
Dear Mother and Dad,….Friday morning at nine A.M. we had a personnel inspection along with the rest of the base. A new Captain took over command of the facilities here. An airdale in ranks across the street from my platoon passed out while standing there waiting for inspection. I’ve seen guys pass out like that but never saw one hit on the ground so hard. He was in the front row and fell over stiff as a board on his face on the Macadam road when they picked him up his eyes were rolled up toward the top of his head. Seemed like he hit hard enough to knock himself out……Love Butch.”
“February 16th, Port Lyautey,
Dear Mother and Dad,….The inspection party from C. B. last arrived Sunday so we’ve been having a series of inspections this week. The party is made up of Captain Short, Commander Gordon and some red headed Lieutenant. Short is head of the Atlantic Seabee’s Monday we had a job and living area inspection by the commander. Tuesday morn or rather, the morn, we had the same thing by the Captain. This afternoon we had a personnel inspection by the Captain and our commander. I’ll be glad when they get the heck out of here….I put in for my good conduct medal (3 years) a while ago and today 37 of us received them at the personnel inspection. They had a little ceremony with Captain Short awarding them. It will give me a couple extra points towards the rating examination. The exam for 1st class will be held next Tuesday morning. The other exams have been tough this time so I don’t know how I’ll make out……Oh! I found out the other day in the personnel office when I’m scheduled for discharge. They have a list made up and I’m to go for discharge the 7th of June so I should be out sometime the middle of June! Love Butch.”
“March 6th, Port Lyautey,
Dear Mother and Dad,…..The “Old Man” told us the other morning not to expect to leave here before the middle of last May unless the departure date is changed in the near future. If the outfit doesn’t leave till the last end of May…….I guess they are having some trouble with the Arabs again in Rabat and Casablanca. Last night a bomb was thrown in the Sultan’s palace in Rabat and there was another bombing up around Casablanca. Some of the guys in the hut played bingo in town last night and all the marines were called back and their weekend liberty was cancelled. I guess they double the guards around the base when anything like that happens…….That was quite a thing about those Peurto Rican’s shooting up congress. I just read about it in the newspaper a few days ago. I guess their trial is about over by now. Those were Peurto Ricans that tried to get the president before, weren’t they? They’ll search all the visitors for a while now probably. From what the paper said the congressman from Michigan was hit pretty bad…..Love Butch.”