Wednesday, June 18th
Richard Krotee began by telling us that in the late 1930’s the world was in economic turmoil and World War II was looming near. In 1937 Richard’s father, Walter, graduated from the University of Alabama and earned a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Reserves through the college’s ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Program). His first job after graduation was as a mechanical engineer in a sugar refinery in Philadelphia. By 1940 Walter and his US Army Reserve colleagues were aware that a fighting War had already broken out in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They knew that it was only a matter of time before the US became directly involved in the conflicts and combat. In 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor and the US Declaration of War with the Axis powers, Walter and his military colleagues volunteered for Active Duty and became full time soldiers. Second Lieutenant W.R.Krotee’s first Army assignment was to Ft. Belvoir Virginia where he worked in various Engineering Development Programs.
We asked Richard what that meant…and he explained it basically like this: The Ft. Belvoir Engineers were the Army’s Special Development Unit similar to the “Q” branch in the James Bond stories. For those of you that haven’t heard of James Bond or the “Q” branch, “Q” was a research and development branch for the British Secret Service that made crazy and unthinkable gadgets such as a Bowler hat with a built in metal ring weapon, self-destructing suitcases, and exploding pen guns. His father did not make lethal pens; however, they did work on night-vision goggles, and mobile bridges that folded up and were carried by truck and trailer (to be erected to span small rivers then re-folded and transported to be used again).
In 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, Walter Krotee became a specialist in airport defense including camouflage. One of his father’s jobs there was to develop mesh nets that would vary to match a certain environment and were used to throw over parked airplanes or cars to camouflage them. The camouflage allowed the airplanes as well as vehicles to be hidden and thereby protected while on land. As another example he explained that his father was part of a team making nets decorated in rubber leaves and other artificial plants that would be thrown over Jeeps or tanks to match the environment surrounding them whether it would be the jungle, forest, or even the desert.
One item in particular that he talked about was very peculiar: inflatable planes and tanks. Yes, inflatable….similar to the giant snow men and pumpkins you might see on your neighbor’s front lawn during holidays, as Richard Krotee described them. In Northern England in 1944 the Allies used these “dummy” blowup tanks and planes to set up a decoy camp in order to fake the enemy into believing that was where the Army’s actual invasion force was being staged, and it actually worked! This was a technique that helped make the Axis troops believe that the Allies were most likely going to attack Calais, when they really were planning on attacking Normandy….. It was a truly amazing thing to hear that his father had been part of that.
Because of his father’s frequent changes in duty assignments by the time Richard Krotee was 5 years old he had already lived in 5 different states. Richard Krotee said that he rarely got to see his father during the war years. In 1945 Walter, then a Captain, was shipped to the Pacific theater of operations where he took part in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. Perhaps if I had not spoken to Richard Krotee, I would have never even known about those things that happened during World War II.
Not only had Richard Krotee’s father had experience in WWII, but Richard also had some “war” stories of his own to tell. Richard told of enlisting into the Navy as a volunteer in a Submarine Reserve Unit in Philadelphia in 1961. The “War” at this time was called the “Cold War”
After a year of training and then completing the Navy’s Submarine School in Groton CT Richard Krotee went on 2 years active duty with the submarine fleet. His Submarine was the USS Thomas Jefferson, a nuclear powered Polaris Ballistic Missile carrying sub. The underwater limits of this sub, as Mr. Krotee described it, were due only to the human factors of the crew. His sub was 425 feet long, and about the same displacement as a Cruiser (large Navy surface ship). The Polaris subs could exceed 20 miles an hour submerged…indefinitely! While deployed (60 out of 90 days) they were not allowed contact with the outside world because of security. He went on to explain that they carried 16 missiles, each one containing the combined explosive power of all the bombs used in World War II…including the atomic bomb.
There were 41 other of these Polaris Subs spread out around the world, and their job was to counter “Cold War” threats. The mission was: “deterrent patrol”… which meant: “If you shoot us, we are going to blow the hell out of you”. And this strategy seemed to work out pretty well for them during the “Cold War years that lasted into the 1980s and ended when the USSR was dissolved. To operate these subs, all 130 men had to have special training and be “Qualified on Submarines”. This meant that all of them had to be able to perform a wide range of jobs on the sub. For example: how to shoot a missile, shoot a torpedo, start a diesel engine, or be a cook’s assistant…all of which Richard Krotee learned how to do on top of working as a Quartermaster in the sub’s navigation department.
Something interesting that I never would have imagined, is that if you weren’t on watch many books were available for reading, the sub had 1500 linear feet of library space. Reading was one way to spend your off-watch time while being away at sea for so long. Then the best part of the duty…apparently submarines are famous for having really tasty food. I would have never expected that a submarine that’s usually submerged in seas over 100 fathoms deep, would be serving steaks, lobster tails, frog legs, fresh baked bread and homemade ice cream. Although the food was nice, his sum up of prolonged submerged patrols was: “It was like being in jail…with 130 of your friends”. I could see how he could feel that way.
Once his Navy days were over, Richard Krotee worked in the drafting and engineering fields. He became an amateur SCUBA diver and enjoyed that type of undersea adventure for many years. He used his diving experiences and (with his father) co-authored a book on “Shipwrecks off the New Jersey Coast” in 1965.
And the stories of his family’s Military service have continued. A tradition of service carried on by Richard’s twin sons Mark and Rich who are veterans of the US Marine Corp.
I am so grateful that we were able to revive the WWII story of Walter Krotee through the telling of his son Richard. Also, that we were able to transition the interview to the more modern “Cold War” times that Richard was involved in and could make an audio record of his experiences.
I am grateful for all of their family’s service and for Richard’s cheerful willingness to add to our Veterans History Project.
-Nancy Louck with Richard Krotee