Shirley Temple and her (short) Submarine History

Posted by Rebekah
Feb 11 2014

Saw the news this morning of child actress Shirley Temple-Black’s passing. Another golden age icon gone.

While I’m reading all these news reports about Temple, I’m noticing that one of her many accomplishments that’s being (I’m sure inadvertently) overlooked is her support for the military, before and during WWII.  It’s not surprising really, as many stars at that time did anything they could, and many did it quietly, with no press releases or announcements.  The only reason I stumbled across it was from a tiny photo.

USS Flier’s Chief Radioman was Walter Joseph “Bud” Klock, originally from St. Paul, Minnesota.  He joined the Navy to get training and work, but also support his single mom and little brother.  The Submarine Base in Honolulu was a far cry, in distance and environment, from his mother’s little apartment, and Klock wrote her frequently, sending all sorts of accounts of this things he was doing. (Two years into his hitch, he wrote home complaining that it was a cold 60 degrees in Honolulu that winter’s day.  I wonder what his mother, still in St. Paul, thought of that!)

Prior to WWII, servicemen like Klock, even aboard submarines, were allowed to take photos aboard, and write home talking about what they were doing and where they were serving, and Klock, armed with his old camera, sent dozens of photos home.  Sometime while he served on the massive ARGONAUT, Klock got to see a performance by Shirley Temple, and snapped a photo of her being escorted across the deck of his boat to send home.

After WWII started, letters from Klock became fewer and shorter.  Fewer because he could only send letters when he was in port, and shorter because the Navy had all sorts of rules against mentioning place names, ship and boat names, personal names of other servicemen, any information that could identify military tech in case a spy intercepted the letter (which, in the submarine force’s case, the entire boat was the latest technology, so nothing to see here!), and on and on and on. Some men complained that the only thing you could do was write, “As of today’s date, I’m somewhere in the world, doing something I can’t tell you, and I’m still breathing and healthy.  How are you?”

Klock sent his last letter home in mid-July, 1944, and died with the Flier on 13 August, 1944.  His mother and wife Velma, kept all of the letters, which were passed on to Klock’s nephew, whom Walter never had an opportunity to meet.

Klock’s nephew allowed me to see and transcribe these letters before their donation to the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon, Michigan. While sorting them and putting them in chronological order, I found that fun little photo of Shirley Temple, in the late 1930’s (August 11, 1937: see update below), visiting the USS Argonaut (likely in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu).

Taken in the late 1930's when Temple was between 8 and 11 years old, then submariner Walter Joseph "Bud" Klock took this photo of Shirley visiting the USA's largest submarine at that time, the 358 foot Argonaut. To the left, the Argo next to a "standard" sized (between 207 and 240 feet) S-boat. The Fleet Boats of WWII were still largely in the planning stages, but would still be a good forty-six feet shorter than the Argo. Argo was lost with all hands on 10 January 1943. She would retain her "largest submarine" record until 1959 when the USS Triton (SSRN-586 ) and USS George Washington (SSBN-598) were commissioned, coming in at 447 (Smashing Argo's record) and 381 feet long, respectively. Photos courtesy of the family of Walter Klock.

 

Temple was thirteen when WWII began for the USA, and seventeen when it was over.  As an established celebrity, and moreover, a celebrity associated with positive, feel-good movies, she was valued as a morale booster for the country and the military. She worked for War Bond Drives, in both America and Canada, in her movies, making personal appearances, and serving and performing at the famed Hollywood Canteen.

The Canteen was a restaurant/entertainment venue for servicemen regardless of race (this was a segregated time period in American History, so a racially integrated venue, even for working servicemen, was extremely unusual) that was staffed and headlined by Hollywood’s best and brightest.  Chaired by Bette Davis, who had no problems calling personal celebrity friends from all over Hollywood, including from multiple studios (something that got her in trouble once, but as usual, she quickly pointed out that if the Hollywood head’s had trouble with their stars working together, doing their bit for the boys in uniform, she’d have no choice but to follow their wishes…and then call a press conference!  Studio heads promptly decided they had no problem with it!) celebrity chefs, anything and everything to entertain the boys. At one point, apparently, when meat rations were too scarce for The Canteen, Davis even called DC to inform them that as the Canteen served servicemen, she should be allowed to get better rations to serve them.  DC made that happen. Temple was one of her regulars, holding signs pointing the way, serving punch or cake, and performing. (Check out the link for tons of pics and a great story about the Canteen.  It was really something!)

Image

A Teenage Shirley Temple serving cookies to the troops at the Canteen ca. 1942-43. The Canteen would close in 1944. Photo from silverscreenoasis.com

 

After the war, she married two WWII servicemen (the first marriage ended in divorce) which, all things considered, wasn’t all that uncommon.  She later became one of the first women to publicize her battles with breast cancer, and even became an American ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

A truly remarkable women, who, when she was a child, brought smiles one day to a submariner who snapped a picture for his mom, far away in St. Paul. Let this desire to serve men and women in uniform, also be a part of Shirley Temple’s remembered legacy.

(BTW, if anyone can help me date the Shirley Temple submarine photo, please contact me at ussflierproject@gmail.com  I’d love to be able to add some more context to the photo for its records)

The Argonaut’s story on this website (includes more candid photos courtesy of Walter Klock and his camera)

 

UPDATE:  Talking to another person who inherited another photograph of Shirley that same day on the Argonaut gave me some new ideas for web searches.  Thank goodness for online archives and newspaper archives.  We now have a date!  Shirley Temple visited the Argo at Pearl Harbor on August 11, 1937, when she would have been 9 years old (and a six-year veteran of the movie industry already!)  A sailor wrote an account of the visit and sent it to the Chicago Daily Herald, which printed it!  It’s an interesting little article, though as a writer, I had to laugh a little bit towards the end when he describes Temple.  It’s also an interesting note in that Temple was given an officer’s dolphin pin during her visit.  This almost NEVER happens.  I know of only a few times a civilian has been bestowed with a dolphin pin, and here one.  Enjoy!

Chicago Daily Herald, Friday, September 10, 1937, pg 8 column 2

“Bronco Forszen helps Entertain Shirley Temple

“Merlin (Bronco) Foszen, who is a member of the US Navy and is stationed at Pearl Harbor Hawaii, has written an interesting account of the recent visit of Shirley Temple to Pearl Harbor and the Submarine USS Argonaut, which gives a first hand picture of the most popular juvenile star of the movies.  Mr. Forszen’s story follows:”

“On Wednesday, August 11, 1937, the officers and enlisted men of the Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, T[erritory of] H[awaii]  were honored with a visit by Shirley Temple.

Miss Temple was due to arrive at 10:30 a.m and all Navy Children were invited to be present.  Several house before Miss Temple was scheduled ot arrive a strained and somewhat tenseness wrapped itself around the base.  Every sturdy man O’Warsman tried hard to conceal the fact that he was just a little thrilled at the thoughts of seeing the little star.  And as could be expected, most of them were down on the dock fully three quarters of an hour before she came.  At 10:35, she arrived, her car stopping a few yards from the gangway of the USS Argonaut, the submarine she was to visit.  She was immediately swarmed by move photographers, autograph hound, and ardent admirers.

Due military honors were bestowed on the little Colonel, as the boatswain piped the six side boys to a “hard salute” as she came across the gangway.  Genial Lt. Commander L.C. Walton, skipper of the Argonaut, on receiving his honored guest, presented her with a gold submarine insignia.  Following this came an informal inspection of the ship’s crew, and the topside.  Points of interest were explained by Captain Wilson, Miss Temple’s Naval Aid, and skipper Walton.

On leaving the ship Shirley gave each of the side boys a snappy salute, and walked fearlessly into the surging crowd of women and children.  She was quickly freed and slipped in to an official car.  The car pulled away and the crowd quickly broke up.  But the little ray of sunshine and happiness hadn’t left as everyone one thought she had.  The reason for this was that she wanted to see the big submarine shove off and go to sea.  As the mechanical fish grew small in the distance, Miss Temple was taken to the Submarine Officer’s quarters.  Once there she had to go through the trying and tiring experience of being hostess to approximately seven hundred small children.  They touched her golden curls, felt her white silk dress, crowded around her, inspired by her presence, and no doubt longing and praying to trade places with her.

No amount of descriptive words can adequately describe the splendid character, vivacious personality and cool nonchalance that this internationally famous little girl possesses.  She could receive pompous military men, celebrated statesmen, pious clergymen, and stately demigods and still predominate the setting with her spakrling [sic] blue eyes, winsome smile, golden hair and above all, her outstanding, electrifying personality.

Miss Temple’s visit here made many children happy and relieved many men of heavy hearts and spirit.  No one could be dull or unhappy with an enchanting bundle of humanity like Shirley Temple around. 

I would like to thank both Mr. and Mrs. Temple for the honor and privilege they bestowed on the Naval Service by this visit.

3 Responses

  1. My father, Kalman F. Bakoss (1914 – 2010) from Cleveland, Ohio, was an active crew member on the USS Argonaut submarine the day Shirley Temple visited on board. He served as an electrician’s mate EM2c.

  2. Rebekah says:

    That’s fantastic. Did he ever tell stories about that day?

  3. He said the crew stood at attention in line while she walked past them. In the 40’s when I was little, my mother often curled my hair in Shirley Temple curls. My parents loved her.

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