In her memoirs, Leora Wilson wrote: “There was no work for anyone. The ‘Great Depression’ was on and men were idle all over. One or two of their classmates were joining the military services. The boys thought that would be a good thing to do, but their mother and father didn’t like the idea for some time, but times were getting worse and we finally agreed that it was better than idleness, although it was hard to let them go. Some boys with nothing to do were getting into trouble. Their father signed the papers for them to join the Navy.”
Leora: “Delbert and Donald left in February 1934 for training at Norfolk, Virginia. They got leave after some training and came home for 10 days. My, how good it was to have all our family home again. They were assigned to a cruiser, the Chicago. It was the same ship a schoolmate, Howard Benz, was on. They were glad for that.”
The Wilson brothers finally had enough to eat, something worthwhile to do, and a paycheck. They were also able to send home a little money to help pay for school books for their five younger siblings. And coal to heat the house the Wilsons were renting in Dexter.
Leora: “They got to sail all up the east coast of the U.S. and west coast to Alaska, down on the west coast of South America, and to Hawaii on their training cruise. There was lots of letter writing back and forth.”
When docked at New York City, Del and Don were shown around the city by their uncle, Perry Goff, one of Leora’s brothers who lived there at the time. I wonder what their parents thought when they wrote home that Perry had not only given them a tour of the city, zipped around on the subway and up the Empire State building on a fast elevator, he’d bought them a fifth of wine for $4 and all the beer they could drink. Delbert was 19, but Donald wasn’t quite 18. Uncle Perry had paid for everything. “What the hell,” he told them, “I made 128 bucks on the horses yesterday.”
I don’t know what their parents advised them about drinking or smoking. Clabe and Leora had only asked their sons to promise not to get tattoos.
Delbert and Donald Wilson
The Wilsons didn’t know it at the time but their cruiser would head through the Panama Canal that October, headed for Long Beach, California. Leora’s only sister lived not far away, as well as two more Goff brothers. The Wilson Navy brothers took turns writing about being invited often for dinner and taking trips with their uncles to see the sights of Southern California, including the Rose Parade.
The USS Chicago (CA-29) was lost during WWII on January 30, 1943. Terrance G. Papravak, Jr. is writing a book about this ship. This post from his website tells about the lost of the cruiser.