Submarines were cramped for living spaces, sometimes hot and dark, sometimes dropped down into the deep like a rock, but when you talk to Norman McCall about living in a submarine, you®ll see a gleam in his eyes as he proudly tells about the accomplishments his submarine, The USS Jack, which sank more Japanese tankers than any other American sub with a total of 30 ships, during World War II.
Born Mar. 2, 1924, Norman McCall, spent his childhood in a small home on the bank of the Mermentau River in Grand Chenier with his parents Henry and Gladys McCall, and siblings Claude V. "Pete" McCall, Henry "T-Boy", Emma and Oma.
Norman still remembers two toys that he had as a child, both of them homemade, stilts, and a marsh buggy made with 2 x 4s and evaporated milk cans.
Those were the years of The Great Depression so Norman had to help the family, including milking cows morning and evening, spending hours every week weeding the garden, and helping with any other chores he could. In between that he attended school at the tiny Grand Chenier High School,
where he graduated with 21 other students.
Most of his early years were spent on the water, since he came from a long line of boatmen. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather,
frequent trips to Galveston. Miller would carry passengers, oranges, and bales of cotton grown on the Cheniers to Galveston, and would bring back passengers, merchandise and supplies, for his dry goods store at Grand Chenier.
Norman's father, Henry McCall, married Alcide®s daughter, Gladys Miller, and he operated a wooden single screw boat, 18' x 55', which
hauled supplies between Lake Arthur and Grand Chenier.
Norman McCall was 18 years old and going to college at Louisiana Tech, when he heard about World War II. Right away he joined the Navy's Submarine Branch. He was sent to San Diego, Calif. and went through Basic Submarine Training, Electrical School, Electric Torpedo School, and Gyrocompass School, which took about six months. From the very beginning McCall was assigned to the Submarine USS Jack.
"I didn't tell my parents that I'd joined the Navy Submarines," he said, "but having lived on the water all their lives, they probably wouldn't have been surprised."
Most men who joined the submarines during the war liked the fact that in a submarine they would be right on the front line of the war. They could shoot torpedoes at enemy ships and see the result. This seemed much better to them than being a member of a huge crew on an air carrier, or destroyer,
which were usually too far away to witness the result of their warfare.
"I can still remember the first time that I went down in a sub," says Norman, "and it was scary! I wasn't claustrophobic, but I knew my life depended on the entire crew of the sub. One wrong move could be catastrophic."
"In a submarine you lose track of time and since you're underwater most of the time, you don't know which direction you're going, unless you study the instruments on the vessel".
The first day, of the first patrol, that Norman McCall went on, he faced a new life, under water, in his new home in the Submarine USS Jack, where he would live with 83 other men, for the next three years on a submarine that was 311 ft. 5 & 1/2 inches long, and 27 ft. & 1/2 inches in diameter.
"My job description was Diesel Electrician," said McCall. "We had three shifts, four hours on and eight off. During our work time we inspected and repaired the diesel engines, the electrical equipment on the sub, and made sure the 20 torpedoes were ready to go. The torpedoes were powered by alcohol and air."
"When we had to make a quick dive underwater," recalled McCall, "it was like riding a fast elevator, but we soon got used to it. Before we went out on patrol, hunting the enemy, our Captain was given sealed orders. He could not open them for 24 hours, so we didn't know where we were going or which Japanese convoy we were chasing, until we got to our designated position.
"Our submarine, the USS Jack," recalls Norman, "received a °Presidential Citation of War® for our First, Third and Fifth Patrols, which were in the Pacific, East China Sea and South China Sea.
During the First Patrol we were following a Japanese convoy of four tankers. With speedy maneuvering, and accurate torpedoes, we were able to sink three tankers, and heavily damaged the fourth. This was a major set back for the enemy."
"The Third Patrol was memorable because we sank four tankers in 24 hours! This was in the South China Sea. It was a moonlight night and after the battle was over, our Captain surfaced and let the crew witness the tall columns of fire from the tankers, seeming to reach up to the sky."
"The Fifth Patrol, listed on our citation took place in three different areas - South China Sea, Philippine Sea and Celebes Sea - in which we sank at least two Troop Transports carrying 3,000 soldiers preparing to invade New Guinea. We actually made six more Patrols in the Pacific and in the South China Sea. When MacArthur was getting his troops ready to return to the Philippines, we were sent to patrol the shores around Manila and sink enemy ships that were protecting it."
TORPEDOS, DEPTH CHARGES & BOMBS
"Our greatest dangers were from torpedoes shot by Japanese subs, depth charges from their ships, or bombs dropped by their planes. Japan seemed to have technology as good as, and in some cases better than ours."
"Whenever we needed repair or supplies, such as torpedoes, fuel, food, or water, we would go to Perth, Australia and stay there for a few weeks until ready to return to battle."
Shortly after World War II ended, Norman McCall returned to Cameron and began a new life. He met Phyllis Donnateli, who was his sister, Emma's, roommate. He began dating her and they married in 1950. Soon they had two children, Doreen and Phillip Alan. But their wedded bliss ended abruptly in 1957 when Hurricane Audrey blasted ashore destroying most of the parish and taking 425 lives.
Among the victims were Norman's wife, Phyllis, and their two children, Doreen and Phillip Alan. The tragic story of their deaths is told in my book, "Hurricane Audrey".
After Audrey, the Bishop of Lafayette put Norman McCall in charge of the project of building a shrine in front of the Cameron Catholic Church, "Our Lady Star of the Sea". Pictures of Phyllis and daughter, Doreen, were used by the Italian sculptor as guidance for the statue of the Virgin Mary and the little girl standing beside her on the front of the church.
After the war Norman McCall went to work for Pure Oil Company as captain on an ex-minesweeper. When Union Oil bought Pure Oil, McCall bought a 50-foot crew boat and a 65-foot utility boat.
In 1967 he started his own company, McCall's Boat Rentals, Inc. and gradually bought boats to build his company. While it was expanding, Norman ran for Police Jury and served one term as a juror. He also purchased a large farm in Longville and stocked it with cattle.
As his boat business continued to expand, he built the first 4-engine crew boat in 1970, then a 5-engine crew boat in 1984, and the first 6-engine crew boat in 1989. The next year he built the first 185-foot crew boat ever delivered in the world.
In 1996 McCall's Boat Rentals merged with Seacor Marine and now McCall boats are sent all over the world, as far away as the African Coast, South America, Central America, Mexico, Quatar, Azerbaijan, where they support offshore oil and gas exploration and development projects.
After his first wife's death, Norman married Joyce Colligan and they have three children, Alan, Phyllis and Joe. Norman has been, and continues to be, active in many organizations, especially the U.S. Sub-Vets of WW II, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lions Club, Farm Bureau, American Legion and Wildlife and Fisheries. He also took up Stock Car Driving and enthusiastically pursued this hobby for a number of years.
Since Hurricanes Rita, Gustav and Ike when he again faced destruction of his home and business, he has moved his home and business to south Lake Charles but his heart is still in the land of his birth, in Cameron Parish.