DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM)- Many Americans know about the “date that will live in infamy”. But what about the day the President of the United States was traveling aboard a U.S. battleship when the U.S. Navy fired on it?
Bill Huber of Dallas remembers the day. And with good reason — he was there.
Huber has a handful of good friends he gets together with at the C.C. Young Retirement Community and a stockpile of WW II stories from his stint aboard the USS Iowa.
“I was a gunnery officer,” Huber said. Asked if he remembered any funny stories, he said with a laugh, “Yeah, but some of them, I don’t want to tell!”
The most infamous story is about the time they were shuttling President Franklin D. Roosevelt to his first meeting with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill.
“It’s the only time a president was aboard a ship that had a torpedo fired at him by one of our own destroyers,” Huber said with a chuckle.
The Destroyer USS William D. Porter accidentally fired the torpedo at the USS Iowa during a training exercise. “That’s friendly fire,” Huber explained readily.
The torpedo missed because the USS Iowa destroyed it with a torpedo of its own, or took a hard enough turn to avoid contact, or both.
Huber saved a couple of the newspaper articles that detailed the event decades later. One of the headlines reads, “It’s funny now.”
What wasn’t so funny is what happened to the crew that fired the torpedo. Huber didn’t find out about that until four decades later. “Our men wrote them when we were having a reunion,” remembered Huber. The crew from the William D. Porter wrote back, Huber still has the letter, with an apology and an explanation.
The William D. Porter crew said their punishment was nine months in the Aleutian Islands, a rough and remote part of Alaska.
Pointing to a sentence on the type written page, now yellowed with age, Huber read, “It was the only time in the history of the U.S. Navy that an entire ship’s company was placed under arrest.”
FDR certainly left his mark. He also left his bathtub inside the USS Iowa, which was installed for the six days the president was to be aboard the battleship.
President Roosevelt couldn’t stand taking showers. “We were the only ship in the navy with a bathtub,” Huber said pointing to an old newspaper photograph.
Huber would have rehashed all these old stories with his former shipmates at a recent reunion for everyone who’s ever served aboard the USS Iowa, but he didn’t go. Not because he wasn’t able.
“My last close friend aboard the Iowa, he passed away in December of 2011. So, they’re all gone now,” he said remorseful.
Bill Huber was born and raised in Dallas and still lives here. He’s 89 years old and in great health. “I can still walk, talk, drive a car,” he said.
And, he is the last of the Greatest Generation hoping to pass his stories down to the latest generation.
“Happy to be aboard,” Huber chuckled.
Bill Huber said the Navy has plans to turn the USS Iowa into a monument. If that happens, he said he’ll take one last plane ride to see it.