Melrose Park Memories

Digital collection of historic Melrose Park artifacts

Daniel Flanagan

Daniel F Flanagan

Name: Daniel Flanagan
Date of Birth: December 27, 1922
Birth Place: Chicago, IL
Dates of Service: 1942 – 1946
Branch: US Navy
Prisoner of War: No

Audio Interview

Veterans Memorial Project
Veterans Memorial Project
Daniel Flanagan

Interview Transcript

Today is March 18th. This is Margaret Flanagan of the Melrose Park Library in Illinois. Also present is Heidi Beazely also of the Melrose Park Library. Today we will be speaking with Daniel Flanagan of Hines, Illinois. Dan is a World War II veteran who served in the Navy from 1942 until 1946. This interview is being conducted for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.

Okay, let’s go ahead and get started. Dan, why don’t you tell us a little bit about when and where you were born and tell us about your family and your siblings.

Okay, I was born in Chicago, Illinois, December 27, 1922 and lived all of my premarital life in Austin, on the West Side of Chicago, and had three brothers and three sisters so I was the seventh, right in the middle, and Dad was thirty-seven when he married my mom and she was twenty-seven, so he was pretty elderly by the time I got to the teen ages, but he was always around and they were a great couple. I loved them very much. What else?

Can you tell us where you were when you heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Yes, I was in our home on the West Side of Chicago. It was about noon and we were listening to the radio and the announcement came across that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the first thing that came across my mind was that now my brother Pat’s going to go to war. He was my oldest brother. And, that’s where I was.

Did you think that you yourself would have to go to war?

I didn’t give that a thought, no.

So, your worry was for your brother?

Yeah, sure.

Did he end up serving?

No, he did not, he was in the service industry, heavy manufacturing, whatever you want to call it, so he was exempt, also he got married about a year before Pearl Harbor, so he was exempt on a couple of stances.

What about your other brothers?

Well, Neal, the next in line to him as brothers, was in the seminary. He became a priest and then my younger brother was not of age. He was about ten years younger than I.

So, what made you decide to enlist?

Well, the war. I recognized that the country was in a desperate situation, as well as the whole world with the crazy man over there, and just figured it was my duty to get into it, so I did.

Do you remember where you went to enlist?

Yes. This was about the middle of 1942 as I recall, and I went–I wanted to join the Navy Air Corps, as a pilot– and went down to take the interview, application, physical and so on, and I ended up being rejected because I was, didn’t have enough weight. I was too light. I was about 116 pounds, and so I was sent home and said [to myself], “beef up.” So I went on a bananas and banana splits, and whatever might–I thought might-milkshakes-whatever might help build up my weight, but I’m not disposed that way so I never did put on enough weight. So, after I went through that, I decided, what the heck, I’ll just go in and just join the Navy, so that’s what I did. I was lucky that a program was initiated that–they were looking for people with some sort of electrical knowledge and background to go into radio technical school and I applied for that and qualified, so that’s how I went in as a radio technician.

What was your background that would qualify you for that?

I think just general high school, I didn’t really know an awful lot about it, but I knew enough about it to pass the tests.

How did your family react when you enlisted?

Well, they were proud, and no mother or father wants to see their son going off, but it was all part of the society then, and the culture, and what was going on in the world.

Did most of your friends enlist, also, or were they drafted?

Most of them enlisted, yeah.

Was it a communal thing?

Pretty much so I guess you could say. Because of the conditions nobody wanted to be thought of as a slacker or a coward or whatever. So, it was community in that sense.

And, most everyone thought it was a cause worth fighting for?

Sure, oh yeah, it was a war worth waging.

So after you enlisted in the Navy, where did you go for Basic Training?

Great Lakes Naval Training Center, North Chicago.

What was it like?

Well, it was a whole different world. People were, young men were coming in from all over the, all over the country really. Guys that were from the East Coast and the West Coast, from Seattle and down in Kentucky and Mississippi, it was a real hoi polloi, and very educational.

Had you met people from different places much during the course of your life?

Hardly at all, hardly at all. That was a time when people didn’t move around. A big vacation was going up fifty miles to a lake.

But you were from the area so you were probably considered a city boy?

I guess so, but I made a lot of really good friends and–no difficulties, no troubles.

How long did basic training last, do you remember?

It was on the back of that picture, when I got out. Do you still have that picture?

Probably just a couple of weeks, or a couple of months?

No, no, it was at least three months. Well, it was about three months.

When your training was done, where were you sent?

I was sent to the radio technician’s school in Chicago itself, based at the Naval Armory, which at that time was at the foot of Reynolds Street. And I attended school there until sometime in March of ‘43.

So, that was nice, you could still visit home and see your family for a while?

Oh, it was great, great, and date your mother. Yes, it was very fortunate, very, very fortunate.

Had you ever been away from home before?


So that was your first extended stay away from home?

Absolutely, yeah.

And that was an eye-opener?

Oh sure, it was an eye-opener and an education. It was good for me.

And after school, then where?

I went down to the radar training school in Corpus Christi, Texas. Got there April 1st and stopped at New Orleans on the way down with a train full of guys and stayed over night and crossed Louisiana and Texas to Corpus Christi, Texas which took about, oh, overnight, anyway.

Do you remember what New Orleans was like back then?

I remember it somewhat. It was a tropical experience, which I’d never had, the palm trees and so on and so forth. Very lively, but we were just kind of sightseeing, at least I was.

And you all travelled there by train?


And what were the trains like, crowded?

Oh yeah, heck yes, but ours, I think was all service people, but I’m not sure and it was chilly when we left Chicago—oh that’s something I wanted to mentions about the Great Lakes, these kids, they’re coming from all over the United States and a lot of them from Southern areas, or Western areas where the climate was a little bit different. And they arrived in shirtsleeves and that’s all they had. And that–it took about a day or so to get uniforms issued, and they were cold. They were cold, get in chow line in the morning, you know, about 6 o’clock in the morning and cold, cold, and there they were, standing out there shivering.

So, when you got to Corpus Chrisi, Texas, what did you do there?

Well, I went to the school which was as I said radar technician school, learned all about radar, how to use it and also how to maintain it, that was the technical part of it.

Did you have any jobs while you were there or was it all schooling?

All schooling, yeah.

And how long did that take?

That was from April till November.

And after that?

Went to Patuxent River, Maryland, Naval Air Station there with mostly sea-based planes, sea planes. It was on the river which feeds into Chesapeake Bay.

And what did you do there?

I practiced my trade.

You worked on the planes?

Yeah, a lot of retrofitting. These were bisized twin engine planes—Martin Maryland planes—and some of them had to be completely stripped and then refitted with all the cabling, all the wiring, whatever goes into making an airplane, not just radio-wise, but all the motors, the engines, everything about it. Anyhoo, that’s what we were doing.

And were you part of a big crew of people?

Yeah, yeah. Maybe thirty of us or so.

Did you get close to any of the people?

Oh heck yes, very close, made some good friends. We were bunked together in, you know, a large bunkhouse, but get to know everybody and about them and learn about life and it was quite an experience.

Did you get to travel to Washington D.C. or any of the other locales?

Yeah, my sister was married to a naval officer who was stationed in Anacostia, which was like Washington D.C. and I used to get to visit them about once a month. Take a bus from maybe about forty miles up from, up to Washington itself. Once I got out to—I can’t think of the name of it—Norfolk, Virginia, my cousin, Don Kennedy, mother’s cousin, was there after having suffered something in the seas, and anyway, so I got in there for a while, otherwise, not much. But I got home to Chicago every month.

How did you manage that?

Just part of the way things were set up there.

So everyone had a weekend off a month?

More or less, yeah.

Not too bad.

No, no.

Did the navy pay for you to travel back and forth?

No, no I had to pay for my own transportation.

What did you do for recreation?

Oh, you name it. There was everything, baseball, basketball, just everything and anything, touch football and so on. There were sports—although they had visiting USO troops and programs and stuff like that. Big swimming pool, it was quite good, and the weather down in Corpus was very warm and pleasant, cool off in the evenings.

What about in Maryland?

What about what?

The weather?

The weather in Maryland was similar to that in Washington, D.C. which was basically mild, but we had winter, we had snow. It was more or less like Chicago.

So you mentioned going home on several weekends but how else did you keep in touch with your friends who were perhaps overseas?

By mail

There were a lot of letters?

Oh yeah.

Did you have friends who were serving all over?

Well, friends and relatives, yeah, Europe and none in the South Seas that I can recall, which came later, you know toward the end. Ray Casey was in India. Kenny McNulty, who died after about two weeks over there was in Germany, and I don’t know, a lot of them just all over in different places.

After Maryland where were you sent?

To the heart of the Midwest, in Kansas. We had a naval air station there which was all land-based planes—there wasn’t enough water to float a cork. That was after I made chief and I had charge of a gang that was doing more or less what I had been doing in Maryland- retrofitting these planes.

And did you stay there for the remainder of the war?

Yes, it wasn’t too long, maybe seems to me it was about ten months. When we ended up in Japan in ‘45, yeah, VJ Day and it was after a while, after that that I got discharged, having accrued enough points, they had a points system.

You mentioned VJ Day, but do you remember where you were on VE Day and how you heard the news?

You know its funny, I can’t remember precisely, I remember where I was when Franklin Roosevelt died, but I—I was on the base but I don’t remember any particulars about it.

Why don’t you tell us where you were when Franklin Roosevelt died?

I was in an airplane on the ground, refitting it, working a crew down there, and that’s where I was.

How did that make everyone feel?

Oh, everybody was disheartened, sad, just like losing one of the family almost because he was our, you know, he was our president. Most of us were behind him—it was a trauma.

Now on VJ Day, do you remember where you were or how you celebrated?

I was in Kansas, I think, and I don’t remember an awful lot about it.

A feeling of relief?

Oh—joy. Hell it was an awful place for the navy, as well as for everyone else, but we lost an awful lot of people there and it was well, you know how they—the enemy was in that situation, they were heartless and it was good to see them taken out.

One more question about Kansas, how did the navy end up with a base in the middle of the country where there was no water?

Well I don’t know, but remember this was Naval Air Transport so part of the transport squadron was land based, so they had to have land bases to accommodate them, that’s how they ended up there. Now why particularly in Kansas–center of the country, I don’t know what it was all about. But, happily it was very close to Kansas City, and that was a great town—that was a great town.

What was happening in Kansas City then?

Oh, nightlife–that’s where the jazz was born and piano bars–and it was, it was a good slice of life. I behaved myself.

So, you joined the navy and you saw the United States.

I saw the United States, got to Bermuda a couple of times, otherwise that was it.

Why did you get to Bermuda?

Oh, I wanted to, and part of the deal–not the deal—but the complexion was that if you had time out, if you could catch a ride on a plane, you could take it, and that’s what I was able to do. In fact, we left Patuxent River, I think it was in December or January, something like that, and it was cold, it was snowy, and we got on the plane and—planes didn’t make very good time in those day so to get over to Bermuda was like an eight hour flight—and we took off and I fell asleep and we landed and I got out of the plane and it was cold and I said my gosh, I thought Bermuda was warm—here the plane had developed engine trouble so we had to go back, come around and go back and land back where we started from. I didn’t know it. The next day we did land in Bermuda and they waded out in the water to pull the plane in.

What was plane transport like back then, was it bumpy?

Yes, yeah. Are you talking about the military airplanes?


Yeah, sure and they weren’t rather luxuriously laid out you know, you didn’t have cushiony seats or anything, just kind of bucket seats along the bulkhead as they called it, the walls of the plane. It was—it wasn’t pleasant. It was cold and noisy and smelly.

What year were you discharged?

In ’46, February of ’46.

I notice that on your discharge papers that you’ve brought with you today that your name was misspelled [Flannigan], can you tell me how this happened?

Yeah, it happened because that’s the way it was spelled on my birth certificate, and it happened there on because the doctor whom we had had forever it seemed to me, and he had brought my three older sibs into the world, and for some reason he misspelled my name on the certificate. Since that’s what I had when I went in, that’s what I stayed all the time I was in the navy.

So the navy didn’t want to change it?

They wouldn’t, and I got into—not trouble—but I got chastised a couple of times for filling something out and I misspelled my name, although I was spelling it correctly.

After you were discharged, how did you get home?

By train from—from [I] went to Washington and took the train and got back to Chicago.

Did it take you long? Did you have to wait since there were so many other servicemen trying to get home?

No. The train time was about twenty hours.

Was anyone at the train station to meet you?

Why sure, your mother was there and some members of my family, I don’t remember who all, but I surprised my mother by coming up [and saying] “I’m home.”

What was her reaction?

Well, she was crying and welcoming.

How did the family celebrate?

Oh, I don’t know, I guess we had gatherings and so forth. Nobody had any money so you couldn’t do much.

Were there celebrations all over the old neighborhood?

Not to my knowledge, but I’m sure there were, although by that time we had moved somewhat from the neighborhood where I was when I left—not too far.

Did you have any difficulty adjusting to life after the service?


You were just glad to be back?

Oh yeah, and I didn’t—see we were engaged then, we got engaged in ‘44 and that’s a story in itself—but anyway we wanted to get married right away, but her parents said no because she wasn’t old enough, she was only nineteen or twenty, so anyway I had taken some courses, college courses, while I was in the navy and I had maybe a half a year’s worth of credits. So after, I don’t know what I did, I guess I just collected the, what was it, the 52/50 club or something like that, we got a certain amount of money every month from the government and as well as having gotten a bonus which was a godsend, but in June I started full-time summer school at Loyola and then continued with that after getting married in ‘47 and then graduated in 1949.

Before you went into the service did you imagine that you would be able to go to college?

I knew I would never go to college. It was just the way it was for most of us, because there just wasn’t, it wasn’t affordable.

So, you would say that the service had a major impact on the course of your life then?

Wow, did it ever, in all ways, in all—socially, physically, it afforded me the opportunity to get a higher education. Because when we got out in the mid forties, the economy wasn’t good, there was no housing, education was out of price, and, but it changed all of this by affording us an education whereby we could get decent paying jobs and have families and go on from there. Plus the value of the education per se, was to this day I’m benefitting from it, and through my children.

So the GI Bill had a major impact on you and most of your friends?

Oh yeah, yeah. The GI Bill was the greatest thing that ever came down the pike—maybe not quite as great as Social Security, but it was a life-changer for almost all of us.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?

Yeah, I’ve been thinking very much in the last couple of years since I’ve gotten into a residence over at Hines’ VA location, which is primarily veterans, and many of them have been disabled in one way or another by the service, and mostly in Vietnam and Korea because they’re not quite as old as I, and sometimes I feel kind of—like I haven’t done my duty by not being even overseas much less in action, and, but I think it is something that needs to be realized that anybody who went into service in World War II, and maybe somewhat particularly those who enlisted, gave up three to four years of their lives—of their social life, of their educational life, of their productivity life, and there was a lot of money made stateside during the war, it was an opportunity for a lot of people, and we gave that up. So it was our way of sacrificing, I guess, but I still wish I had gotten the other.

But most of you did it willingly?

Oh, 99% of us did it willingly, yeah, except poor Ken McNulty, he was willing but his family situation was such that he never should have been drafted, but he was.

Can you tell us a little bit about him?

About Ken? Oh yeah, we went all through grammar school and high school together, and stayed real close. Played softball together in the park, you know, all the time from the—all those years until I went in and then Ken was drafted. His dad had died previous to the war, his mother was not a money maker, she was a homemaker, and he had two brothers, so he had the three of them to care for, to provide for, which he was doing and somebody on the draft board had a son or somebody who had to go so, Ken had to go. That was the upshot of it, and he did go. I got a letter from him, he was over in Germany and I’ll never forget he was saying that that, “Yeah, we’re here and were shooting, but their not playing fair–they’re shooting back.” And about two weeks later, he was killed. His family just—his mother died—it was tragic, but it was one of those sad stories in the war—that’s about it.

All right, well, thank you very much, thanks for sharing with us today

You’re welcome.

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