During the year he served on PT-305, Benedict “Ben” Bronder did not wear the crossed cannons of a gunner’s mate or the silver bar of a lieutenant junior grade while performing his daily duties or at his battle station on the forward 20mm; instead, he wore the three red chevrons and white crescent of a baker 1st class. He was one of the most important members of the crew.
A native of Foley, Minnesota, Bronder enlisted in the US Navy on August 26, 1942. Following basic training, he attended cooks and bakers school, where he graduated at the top of his class and was given his choice of assignment. Because he was color blind and had no fondness for the cramped spaces of submarines, Bronder chose the Patrol-Torpedo Boat School in Melville, Rhode Island.
Only the top graduates from each rating school were allowed to attend the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center at Melville. Service on patrol-torpedo boats required the best from each sailor and officer. Physical conditioning, individual skill, and the ability to learn everyone else’s jobs were basic requirements for service.
PT service was rough. Boats often operated from advanced bases or tenders. Limited facilities onboard and on shore meant each boat’s crew had to learn how to adapt to their environment and position in the supply chain. The PT’s size, coupled with Bronder’s uncommon rating, almost kept him from serving on a PT crew.
The commissary branch of the US Navy was responsible for provisioning and preparing food for enlisted men. This branch consisted of three ratings: ship’s cook, ship’s cook (butcher), and baker. Because PTs have only two electric burners and a small refrigerator in their galleys, sailors with the ship’s cook rating were usually assigned to boats. Bakers were usually assigned to the squadron base force. As a baker, Bronder was sent to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 22 in New Orleans as a member of the base force.
Bored and disappointed that he was not assigned to a boat, Bronder got a lucky break that transformed his wartime experience. While transporting food from the navy base in Algiers, Louisiana, to the boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 22, Bronder started chatting with some officers. After asking about getting assigned to a boat crew, an officer replied that he was not happy with his boat’s cook and would gladly get him assigned to his boat, PT-303. When the orders arrived, instead of being assigned to PT-303, Bronder was to report to PT-305. The officer from PT-303 explained that the officers on PT-305 had heard Bronder was a good cook. One of those officers happened to be the squadron personnel officer and he used his position to get Bronder assigned to the 305.
With the addition of Bronder in December 1943, the first crew of PT-305 was complete. Bronder quickly fit in with his new crew on the 305. Soon, they set off with the other boats of MTB Squadron 22 to Miami for shakedown and then traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, for deployment to the Mediterranean.
Faith and religion are often on the minds of young men about to go into battle. It was something Bronder cared deeply about. Bronder’s good friend, Torpedoman’s Mate James Nerison, joked that Bronder was always trying to convert everyone in the crew. Bronder even went as far as to institute a swear jar, requiring the offender to put money in the jar each time a curse word was uttered.
The jar never lived up to its intended purpose. Tolerant of their banter and steadfast in his convictions, Bronder’s faith never wavered during his time on PT-305—it even had an influence on one of his officers.
One pitch black night, the 305 was cruising on patrol when suddenly the intense light from a star shell instantly turned night into day. Expecting a deluge of artillery shells at any moment, the crew tensed up under the concentrated light. Bronder, looking forward from his general quarter’s station on the bow 20mm cannon, saw an object in the water dead ahead. He waved his arm and shouted, “Mine ahead! Mine ahead!” Heeding his warning, the captain turned the 305, missing the mine by feet as well as a second mine directly behind it.
Days before this incident, Bronder had a conversation about religion with the boat’s executive officer. The officer had dismissed religion, saying it was good for keeping little kids in line but not much else. After barely missing the mine, the same officer approached Bronder saying it was something more than luck that helped him see the mines. He said that any time Bronder wanted to go to church to pray for the men of PT-305, he would approve his pass. In an effort to get the officer to join him at church, Bronder responded in reference to the crew: “Eleven guys, one guy going to church . . . I think he needs a little help.”
The executive passed on the offer of attending church, but promised to approve the pass for Bronder to continue praying for the men of PT-305. When not at his battle station, Bronder served above and beyond his original purpose on PT-305 as the ship’s cook. He was rare among PT cooks. Due to their small size and limited facilities, PTs relied on a base to provide most services, including food. The small size of the galley meant the majority of PT cooks just prepared sandwiches and coffee for crewmembers during a patrol. Most meals were taken at the base mess hall. Crew members remember Bronder somehow cooking full meals, baking bread, and even making donuts. He made life on the boat better by preparing full meals for the crew to eat together, and always kept them filled with bread and sweets.
Benedict Bronder’s character and talent contributed to the close bond that the first crew of PT-305 had with one another. Serving on such a small vessel required flexibility and intelligence from each crew member. Bronder is an example of the type of sailor that made the PT service special. Following the war, Bronder attended school to continue developing the skills he had learned in the Navy, focusing on cake baking and decorating. A man of many hobbies, he continued baking bread, every day, well into his 90s.