CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Charles John Hoffmann Sr. was born in June 1925 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He had always wanted to join the Navy. After three years of high school, Hoffmann enlisted on May 22, 1943 at the age of 17 and was formally inducted on June 1. His father and half-brother joined the Navy at around the same time. Hoffmann would go on to serve in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) aboard the USS Minneapolis and attain the rank of Gunners Mate 2nd class.
Hoffmann was initially assigned to basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois. He recalled that the training was originally scheduled to be twelve weeks long but was cut to six weeks. Hoffmann and the men he trained with were sent off to war in the Pacific. Asked if he had any special recollections of basic training, Hoffmann stated: “…on June 14, 1943… we ran from sun up to sunset, because one of our shipmates left things hanging out on the clothing line… sometimes we even ran while we ate”.
After leaving Great Lakes, Hoffmann and his comrades were sent to Pleasantville, California. They arrived at night. Hoffmann did not realize they were at a port until dawn broke, and he saw a flotilla of warships. That morning he received assignment orders to join the crew of the heavy cruiser Minneapolis, which had been repaired after having been damaged in Pacific fighting.
Hoffmann told the interviewer that he recalled that the crew of the Minneapolis was supposed to be 700 sailors, but that there were more men than that on board, making living conditions rather cramped. He said that when he first boarded there were no bunks available, so he had to sleep in a hammock, an experience he remembered as “interesting,” saying: “You learn to sleep with your feet hanging down, not up in the air. It was fun, although you never got a good night’s sleep, as there was always someone joking around doing something.” The “joking” included having water balloons thrown on him while he slept. All in all, though, Hoffmann recalled “that was a fun time, but later it got a bit more serious.” Interestingly, he later learned that his father had been part of the Minneapolis prior to his own assignment.
Hoffmann’s first job on the Minneapolis, which returned to the war in August 1943, was as a hoist operator, but he moved up to become a member of and then leader of a five-inch gun crew. He first saw combat in October, when the Minneapolis was fired at by Japanese guns on Wake Island. Hoffmann remembered that “you learned quick” during such an experience. Following Wake Island, his ship kept moving on, supporting numerous amphibious operations in the Pacific. Another encounter that he remembered vividly was the battle of Surigao Strait in the Philippines.
After many battles, including the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands and others, the crew of the Minneapolis was allowed a rest and recreation stop at an island occupied by US troops. Hoffmann remembered the visit as “fun times,” spent drinking green beer and playing football in a foot and a half of water, before heading back to the war. He also recalled that he and his shipmates would distill their own alcohol out of yeast and fruits aboard the ship. Hoffmann said “It was strong stuff. Half a cup and you were out like a light.” On one occasion he went ashore on Guam and filled up ten five-gallon oil cans with 180 proof alcohol.
After firing thousands of shells during the island campaigns, the Minneapolis returned to Remington, Washington, to have its gun barrels relined and to undergo overall refitting. While in Remington, the crew received 21 days of shore leave. Hoffmann took the opportunity to return to New Jersey to marry his girlfriend, returning with her to Remington, where she stayed until his leave ended and then returned home. The Minneapolis returned to the Pacific Theater, served off the coast of China and was present at the Japanese surrender of Korea.
Hoffmann recalled that the Minneapolis was the ship originally assigned to transport the atomic bomb, but the duty was transferred to the USS Indianapolis. The Indianapolis delivered the bomb to the Army Air Force and, on its return voyage, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank within 12 minutes. Out of the 1,196 men on board, 300 went down with the ship. Although 900 survived the attack, they were adrift for four days and many died from dehydration, salt water poisoning or shark attacks. The thought of the Indianapolis’ fate brought Hoffmann to tears, and he said: “I consider myself very lucky… because we were supposed to carry that atomic bomb, and they gave it to the USS Indianapolis instead of us… that was some FUBAR they pulled with that ship.” He continued, saying “that could have been us… every time I think about it I get upset”.
On Dec 5, 1945 Hoffmann was discharged at the Naval Training center at Lido Beach, Long Island, New York. On his return home he began to look for work. He ended up working for his father, who had been discharged before he was and had started a Petroleum Equipment Company. Hoffmann subsequently took over the family business which, at the time of his interview, was run by his sons and grandsons.
For his service, Charles Hoffmann was awarded the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal with two silver stars and one bronze star, the Navy Good Conduct Medal/ World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two stars, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Honorable Discharge Button and China Service Medal. In his later years, he returned to Hawaii with his wife to visit a memorial that honored the men who fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the war.