Earnest R. Cella
Gunners Mate 3rd Class
U. S. Navy
WWII US Military
Dates of Service: 1942 - 09/1945
Gunners Mate, USS Cleveland

Earnest was born in Shreveport as the youngest of nine children to William McFarland Cella and his second wife, Minnie Viola Hunt. His father, an officer in a company which owned the Strand Theater, moved the family to Borger, Texas, to run a theater there, but returned to Shreveport after about a year. After losing his theater job in the Depression he supported the family with a number of jobs, including digging ditches, driving a garbage truck, and working as custodian at the state fairgrounds. To make spending money, Earnest dove into water holes to retrieve golf balls at Lakeside Golf Course. He was paid a dime each. He also caddied at the course, and delivered purchases for a drug store and messages for Western Union. At home the family raised a garden and kept a milk cow. He recalls his mother as a good cook who prepared meals on a wood stove. On weekends, his father cooked. "We'd eat strictly Italian," he says. The family illuminated the house with coal oil lamps, and kept perishables cool in an icebox. His mother washed clothes in the yard in a "big, black iron pot" over fire. "We were about as poor as you could get but I didn't know it," Earnest says. By high school, however, he began realizing the family's economic condition, especially when he looked at his sparse wardrobe. "We were poor and I didn't have any clothes to wear. That's one reason why I joined the Navy so young." He recalls the outrage in the nation after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor. "They might as well have just come over here and spit on us," he says. "I remember going down there the first time I tried to join the Marines, and it was a line clean around the post office, guys waiting to get in. Everybody wanted in. I was afraid the war was going to be over before I could get in." Earnest enlisted at age sixteen in the U.S. Navy in July of 1942, and completed boot camp in San Diego, California. In September of 1942 he married Dixie Jane Jeter. (They would have six children, fourteen grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren. She passed away October 31, 2005.) Earnest was sent to gunnery school in Virginia, and then assigned the USS Cleveland (CL-55), a light cruiser on which he served throughout the war. Others on board were just as young. "They just looked the other way as long as we could do our jobs," he says of officers in regards to underage sailors. Earnest was assigned as a loader on a 40-mm gun. His duty at general quarters was to drop clips of five, twelve-inch-long rounds into the weapon. Early in the war, when the ship sailed into the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, he recalls supplies, munitions, and equipment were scarce. "We didn't have any food. We didn't have any fuel, didn't have enough ammunition. We didn't have any airplanes that would fly," he says (Towards the end of the war, however, shipboard conditions, including ample food, got better, he says.) In the Bougainville landing, the ship nearly ran out of ammunition. Men stood on deck, firing forty-five pistols at attacking Japanese aircraft, he says. He was several months at sea before he received mail. He had little to write home about, however, because so much was censored. "All she'd get was `Dear Dixie' and `Love,'" he recalls of letters to his wife. Meanwhile, he was sending "every penny" of his pay to her, which she used to buy the couple a house. Aboard the Cleveland, Earnest fought in some of the major naval campaigns of the war in the Pacific. They included, among others, Guadalcanal, Battle of Rennell Island, Bougainville, Battle of Empress Augusta Bay (for which the ship won the Navy Unit Commendation), the Philippines, and Okinawa, where Earnest was located when the first atomic bomb was dropped. He recalls hearing scuttlebutt about "this bomb that was going to end the war." Concerning the conflict in Europe, he says he "didn't have a clue." Earnest was discharged in New Orleans in September of 1945. Back in Shreveport he took classes at Centenary College. He spent most of his career in automobile bodywork. For his service aboard the Cleveland, Earnest received fifteen battle stars. In addition, he was awarded two more from the government of the Philippines.