World War II

Edward G. Madden Jr.

World War II Oral History Interview
US Navy, USS California
Date: June 4, 2003
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
Veterans History Project


Edward G Madden Jr. was born in Newark, New Jersey in February, 1924.  Madden, whose father had served in both the Spanish American War and World War I, graduated from Kearny High School in 1942 and worked as a bank clerk for eight months before enlisting in the navy in January, 1943.

Madden was initially assigned to Sampson, New York, near Lake Geneva in the Finger Lakes Region, for ten weeks of basic training, or “boot camp,” conducted from January through March in extremely cold weather.  After completing boot camp, he was transferred to the Naval Radio Training School in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he received instruction in naval radio equipment and Morse code for five months.  The fact that Madden already knew the code increased his speed in sending and receiving messages significantly.

Following graduation from radio school, Madden was assigned to a receiving station in Washington state, and then to the USS California, where he was one of a number of radio operators on board. The California, launched in 1919 and commissioned in 1921, had been sunk at Pearl Harbor, refloated, rebuilt and rearmed. During the reconstruction process the ship’s width was increased to 114 feet, too wide to pass through the Panama Canal, limiting its subsequent career to service in the Pacific. While at Long Beach, California on the California’s “shakedown cruise,” Madden and other sailors were granted daylight “liberty” passes, resulting in much drinking, revelry, and the subsequent use of sunglasses to mask bloodshot eyes from superior officers.

The USS California in 1945.

With Madden aboard, the California sailed off to war in May, 1944.  He recalled that quarters on the ship were tight, with cots stacked four high, and that he had to stand watches of six hours on and four hours off.  When the ship anchored off of Saipan in June, Madden noticed bodies floating in the water.  His job in the radio room was to listen to and decode messages from Guam and Washington, D.C., although the Japanese tried to jam them on occasion. While bombarding the shore at Saipan, the California was hit by a Japanese shell, which killed one sailor and wounded nine more.

Madden’s work was all below deck, so it was difficult for him to know what was going on above. A chaplain rigged up a sound system, however, over which he broadcast accounts of the action on deck, as well as the history of the locations the ship was passing, to the crewmen below.  Following the fighting at Saipan, the California provided fire support for landing operations at Guam and Tinian in July and August, 1944.  In August, while at Eniwetok, the ship was accidentally struck by the USS Tennessee, an accident that required ten days to repair.

While cruising across the Pacific, Madden and his crewmates were occasionally issued a ration of two cans of beer and allowed to go ashore to use the beaches on American occupied islands. Recreation while aboard ship was limited to pinochle and other card games, and the California also had a band composed of sailors who had been professional musicians in civilian life.

Beginning in October, 1944, the California played a critical role in the invasion of the Philippines.  While conducting operations at Lingayen Gulf on January 6, 1945, however, it was hit by a kamikaze plane suicide attack, which killed forty-four crewmen and wounded 155 more. Among the casualties were a number of members of the ship’s band.  The California made emergency repairs on the scene and then returned to Puget Sound Navy Yard in Seattle, Washington for repairs.  After the ship arrived there in February, its now veteran crew was able to go on liberty before returning to the war, this time at Okinawa, in June, where the California arrived during a typhoon.  Following the invasion of Okinawa, the ship was assigned to protect minesweeping vessels in the China Sea, in preparation for the invasion of Japan.  Following the atomic bomb attacks in August, 1945, and the subsequent Japanese surrender, the California patrolled the seas around Japan until October, 1945, when it returned to the United States.

Edward Madden received an honorable discharge as a Radioman 1st Class from the US Navy in January, 1946.  He also received the American Theater, Asiatic-Pacific, Philippine Liberation and Good Conduct Medals for his service.  He subsequently attended college and law school at the University of Michigan, married and had five children. He joined the VFW after the war and attended one reunion in Savannah, Georgia, where he met a group of former radio operators.  At the close of his interview Madden showed the interviewer the medals he was awarded, as well as an album containing photos from his service, which included the navy radio school in Indianapolis and the California.