World War II Recollections by Andy Misura
Sept. 1942: Quit school at age 16, finished 9th grade. Mom started me in school at 7 years old instead of six because she said I was too little and skinny. She said she felt sorry for me. Went to work in the Dye House @Berkshire Knitting Mill. All us kids went there or to the cotton mill. Got 40 cents per hour. Mom gave me $2.50 for spending out of which I had to pay for my trolley fare of 7 cents.
Stepped up with a job at Reading Optical Co. This paid 50 cents per hour and was closer to home. Then found a better job at Parrish Pressed Steel in the gun shop. We made chassis for canons. I was a Drill Press Operator making about $55.00 per week. This was high wage due to wartime. Kept $5 for spending and gave rest to Mom for the family. It was common for kids to quit school and go to work to help the family. My pals were already in the Army or Navy and I wanted that.
Spring 1944: Went to Navy Recruiter. Failed very quickly because of Amblyopia (lazy eye). They said "Try the Army, they will take you." I wanted ships - not the Army of Air Force. Heard about the Coast Guard and their recruiting drive. Went there and they gave me a physical which I passed. While filling out papers I had the time to study their eye chart and memorize it. They never caught on or didn't care. There was one catch: I had to accept duty as a Stewart's Mate. Recruiter said "the Coast Guard has only small ships. The outfit doesn't want to mix colored steward's mates with the small number of white crew members. That's why we are looking for white steward's mates." It's hard to believe now but this is how it was. There was a second catch: I had a document for Mom or Pop to sign permitting my enlistment. Mom wouldn't sign. I argued and pointed out how I'd get drafted in the Army and live in a foxhole, dirty, lousy chow. I talked to Pop. He decided to sign and Mom backed off. Returned to recruiter with signed papers. He gave me 2 weeks to quit work, straighten my affairs and report for duty. Mom cried. That made me feel bad.
July 12, 1944: Date of my enlistment, duration of war plus 6 months in US Coast Guard Reserve. Reported to Coast Guard Recruiting Station at Philadelphia. Received orders and train ticket for transportation to Coast Guard Training Station, Manhattan Beach, NY.
Followed instructions and had no trouble finding Boot Camp. Got processed, found my assigned barracks and bunk and waited. Next morning got instructions and they never seemed to end. Hollering all the time; we are all dumb and on and on. Got Boot haircuts, issued uniforms (stenciled clothes with name and serial number).
Most of all I remember the great chow. At home we ate like that only on holidays or weddings. There was dessert at every meal. Milk, fruit, meat, vegetables, salad. WOW!
Then the boom came down. Infantry drill, marching, yelling, scolding. Yikes! We all got used to it. A bad thing started after lights out and Taps when the "south rebelled." Some rebel kid says "Damn Yankees." Someone replies with a dirty remark and it escalates. Company Commander comes in, lights go on and we are ordered to "attention" stand there in our skivvies for an hour or more. All of us are paying for something we had no part in. To this day I wonder how nuts those rebel kids were and continue to be. They just will not drop it.
Training was around 4 weeks. All the scuttlebutt concerned PF crews (Patrol Frigate). PF crews were already formed, standing by for their ships. Patrol Frigates were about 165' long, slow, and bobbed around like corks. Very bad. They did convoy duty and weather patrol in the North Atlantic. Stories were told how, in the winter, men had to pound ice from the weather decks to keep from capsizing. Only good thing was they tied up in the States or England. Nothing was said about Amphibious Duty, and after completing Boot training, that's what we got.
A cadre of 12 got orders for Amphib training at Camp Bradford, Va. A truck picked us up with our gear. We were dropped off at Grand Central Station, checked our baggage and were led to the station restaurant for chow. We began studying the menu when a nice colored waiter gently advised us that Uncle Sam has our meals all picked out for us. Therefore we didn't need the menus. I forgot what we had but it was real good chow.
The train took us to the Chesapeake shore on the Maryland peninsula. Ferry boat to Norfolk was boarded. My first voyage. Thrills. Wanted to go to the bow while touring the ferry but there was a cable with a sign, "Colored Section." My first experience with segregation. The darkies seemed contented and happy. I went back to the stern.
Off-loaded from ferry. With our gear we boarded trucks. (By now we had more than we started out with because they joined our cadre along the way). Old colored men were sitting in the shade watching our progress; all the while making nice comments, laughing and being friendly. They were an improvised welcoming committee and made us feel good. I still chuckle over their nice remarks.
Transported to U.S.N. Amphibious Training Base, Camp Bradford, Va. where we received our quarters. These were pyramid tents accommodating 6 or 8 guys per tent. The walks were wooden "deck boards." We had orders to swab out the decks inside the tents every morning before breakfast. We called a "rearranging the dirt" as everything was sandy, dusty, or muddy. No amount of water hauled in buckets from a distant faucet could change this.
Training consisted of running in the soft sand, entering the Chesapeake water, infested with jelly fish, rifle range and things like that. Regarding the jelly fish, we were told to get used to them as we may encounter such creatures if we have to abandon ship. At the rifle range, during nomenclature (oh how they like that word - nomenclature) a Chief Petty Officer (CPO) gave a speech. Those of us nonsmokers had to laugh. He says "there is no smoking on the firing range. Those of you who are just dying for a smoke, please notify me. I'll gather the men around you and we will watch you die." One wise guy sarcastically cracks "HaHa." Then the CPO got flustered, started yelling to try to find this wise guy. Then gives it up. Once again there is peace. This kind of stuff never stops. But it helps alleviate the boredom.
They had a mock-up of an LST there. It consisted of painted lines, to scale, resembling the ships. There were 20 millimeter and 40 millimeter antiaircraft guns, communication, wheelhouse - stuff like that. We did "dry firing" of going through the motions of firing. Also intercom traffic, which I did with them stinking head phones which squashed me ears and hurt like hell. This was all very, very boring.
There was something called "Marlinspike Seamanship" classes. We learned splicing, knot tying, rules of the road and lots of other boring stuff. It just went on and on. To receive watch standing experience, they placed us at so many different spots that they were running out of things to guard. They even put guards at the toilets (heads). I guarded a head from mid to four (midnight to 4 A.M.). Drunken sailors would be coming on off liberty to use the heads and they always sympathized with us, wanting to know why no one watched Pearl Harbor like we were watching the heads.
We got liberty but Norfolk is a rotten port for liberty. Went to Virginia Beach. It was winding down from their tourist season. It was better to drink alcohol free beer at the base and watch a movie.
There came the day when orders were cut for transport to Panama City, Fl. There was no boot leave, which was supposed to be customary. We got no leave from Camp Bradford either.
The ride to Panama City was nice. The signalmen and radiomen were caught cheating at cards when they tapped out Morse code telling each other what they had. We traveled by Pullman, 1st class. That was neat. At Tallahassee, Fl. We transferred to a dilapidated old circa 1889 train creating an opening for many wise cracks. We arrive at Panama City. Truck picked us up and unloaded us at the Navy Base where we got on an LCVP (small landing craft titled "Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel," also called "Higgins Boat.") Then out to LST 789 - our new home.
There followed daily exercises like shake down, group maneuvers, beaching the ship and lots of man overboard, fire rescue, battle stations (referred to as General Quarters), collision, and other drills which names elude me now. DRILLS, DRILLS, DRILLS!
I got seasick, EXTREMELY sick for three days. Got over it and never got sick again - not on the LST anyway.
Finished this part of training. Sailed to Gulfport, Mississippi. Got liberty. Terrible place. Filled with low life, itinerant, drunken shipyard workers with more money than sense - Oakies from Oklahoma, transients.
Ham, a nice colored Steward's Mate says: wait up, Missouri, I'll go ashore with you." We go to a movie and Ham somehow got separated. Later, on the ship, Ham tells me that after buying his ticket, and usher stops him and says Ham must go to the balcony where colored people sit. Ham was pretty mad. Coming from New Jersey he didn't know about Jim Crow rules. I didn't either. He was a good guy and I felt sorry for him.
There was a huge aircraft carrier tied up across from our dock. We couldn't figure out why it was deserted. Many years later I read that this flattop was a French ship. It was impounded at the beginning of the war. An agreement with the Free French government and allies guaranteed that this carrier would not be used for the war's duration. What a beautiful ship - wasted. But strange things happen in international politics. By war's end, this ship, I'm guessing, was scrapped. It most certainly was obsolete by then anyway. The name of the ship I never knew or else have forgotten.
Pontoons were secured to our hull. They welded brackets above the water line, set the pontoons on these, then with cables, held them in place vertically. The pontoons would be launched at some invasion site for use as docks, barges or even outboard engine propelled barges. Also, they installed them as causeways on beaches to facilitate the unloading of Amphib vessels.
Next it's on to New Orleans. All of us were surprised to see brown, muddy water far out in the Gulf of Mexico about a day or more before entering the Mississippi River. Our pilot was picked up and away we went, up to New Orleans where we tied up in a shipyard.
Workmen boarded us to begin inspections for any malfunctions which may have showed up during our shake-down cruise. As these were identified, repairs were made. There were modifications to the coning tower. The twin 40 MM gun tubs on the bow and other adjustments to the engine and propeller shafts were affected. Lots of things like that.
Liberty was great here except, since we were dumb kids, we didn't know where to go. Some sights like the French Quarter attracted us. I saw Peter Lorre walking down the street with a small crowd accompanying him. The circus was in town. Admission was free to servicemen. We had to sit on the ground or mats at the base of the fence that separates the bleachers from the performance area. We sure like that.
One night, on Canal Street (I think that's the main street) a crowd was hollering and chasing someone. They crossed the street. There was a cop trying to protect a colored man. People were swearing and kicking him. We got away from there. Never did find out what he did if anything.
The big job at New Orleans was loading an LCT (Landing Craft Tank) on to our main deck. It had a crew of a dozen or so men with an ensign as its skipper. The LST absorbed these guys as part of our crew pending the time that their LST was launched. This craft sat on greased timbers much like the launching ways in shipyards. It was to be launched at some future invasion.
Some of our crew received 2 weeks leave. I didn't get leave which made me bitter but I learned to live with it. Now it seemed like we were ready for the Pacific. Down the river we went, to Panama Canal.
Liberty here is wild. Servicemen all over the place. Cheap Honky Tonks selling cheap souvenir trinkets at high prices. Drunken sailors, Shore Patrol, Military Police, everything is here. Hundreds of ships. Going through the locks was very interesting. There was nice jungle scenery. I got to see it all as I worked in officers' country and ran out any time I wanted.
From the Canal we ran north to San Diego. We stopped there for one day but none of us knew why. Then we went on to Los Angeles. Fairly good liberty here. Went to Long Beach. Tourist season was winding down. Rides were shut down. It rained, locals called the liquid sunshine. Went to the famous Hollywood Canteen. Leo Carillo of western B movies said some jokes. There were some other entertainers that I forgot. While watching the show we sat on the floor. They did good. No one can fault them for trying to make us feel good.
The bad part was trying to get back to the ship. Our small boat only made one run in at 11 P.M. one run back. We had to pay for a water taxi to get to our anchored ship if we missed the 11 P.M. return run - most sailors did. We paid for it waiting for the water taxi and the ride out trying to find our ship I the dark.
Time came to head out. Now we traveled in convoy with black out rules, no lights topside. There were about 18 LST's and a smaller number of LSM's and LCI's escorted by a couple of mine sweepers and 3 or 4 destroyer escorts and destroyers. Ships formed up in four columns. The convoy heads for Hawaii. The destroyers put on a superb show as we sailed out. They steamed between our columns from astern at a fairly good clip, rolling, pitching; their salty sailors standing with their arms folded, leaning in rhythm with the rolling ships, nonchalant. It was as if they were watching us with disdain.
Then as they neared the head of the column they went to full speed. Their loud sirens went woop, woop, woop followed by a long blast from their horn. They left us like we were standing still. It was as though they were yelling "let's get them bastards." Man, that was an impressive sight to see them racing to their assigned positions. I sure envied them tin can sailors. I think every one of us was jealous.
DRILLS, DRILLS, DRILLS. While close enough to shore, a plane was sent out towing a target sleeve. Our gunners practiced their aim with live ammo (my general quarters station was at the fantail as a talker (ammo passer for the twin 44 MM's)). Once, a sleeve got floating down when someone hit the tow cable. Everyone cheered. The CPO pointed out that if the gunner was a good shot, the sleeve never would have come down. The target was missed when the cable parted - and don't lead the target too much because the next thing to come down would be the tow plane itself.
We arrived at Oahu and saw the beautiful Diamond Head. What a sight that was. Entered West Loch and tied up bow first to mooring buoy and secured with line to LST's on either side of us. At the upper end of West Loch (they spelled these channels "Loch" not "Lock") divers were working. Scuttlebutt (rumors or water fountains are scuttlebutt) had it that 7 LST's blew up here while loading ammo about 6 or 8 months prior to our arrival.
Many years later I read a book telling how this disaster could have been avoided by using facilities where ammo loading would be carried out in remote areas having greater space between ships. Lots of people got killed before this came about.
Good liberty at Honolulu and Waikiki. Waikiki had a nice R&R site. The Navy took over an estate at the beach. There was a wall so only servicemen were welcome. There were games, partying, a beer garden, swimming - even surfboards. However, most guys preferred "Hotel Street" in Honolulu where Honky Tonks abounded. The reason was, surroundings here put military life further behind for a little while. Sailors, soldiers, and marines were thick. They crowded the stupid souvenir shops and arcades.
When I went on liberty I was always curious to see the submarines tied up in "Pearl." Their conning towers were full of all kinds of Jap ships painted on with a record of how many of each they sank. Many years later I read a lot of books re these submariners. They really endured a lot. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel was taken over by the Navy for the use of strictly submariners only. They deserved that. A relief crew came on board to clean up and refit these subs while their permanent crews stayed at the Royal Hawaiian and relaxed, resting up for their next ordeal.
What made me laugh was sailors lining up to buy small cans of pineapple juice from vendors in their trailers. It seemed to me that fresh pineapple grown right there in Hawaii is the way to enjoy this fruit. After all, these canned pineapple juices could be bought anyplace. So I bought a pineapple from some store ashore and started eating it like anyone would eat an apple. Bit right into the rind, chewed it and ate that. It was messy.
People were staring at me, laughing. I wondered what they were laughing at. Then I noticed a pink coloration on the pineapple where I was eating. It dawned on me that my gums were bleeding from the spiny rinds I was chewing. No wonder they were staring and laughing. I had no knife so I ripped the thing apart the best I could and ate only the fleshy part after that. What a mess. There were faucets placed around the dock. I cleaned myself up that way. Fresh pineapple no longer appealed to me as they were too hard to eat. But neither did canned pineapple juice.
Orders came down to sail with our flotilla to Maui. At Maui we spotted Amtracs scooting along the beach, then turning toward us to enter the water. We were about to load Amtracs on our LST from the sea. This was tricky. Amtracs were maneuvered close to our ramp so that they were aligned fore and aft with our ship. Lines were secured to stern cleats, one line to each side. There were 12 to 15 men on each line. These men put a strain on both lines at the direction of a CPO. At the same time a marine crouched on the forward Amtrac deck, gave hand signals to the two operators inside the cab. This guy watched the wave action. So did we. When the wave peaked, the operators gunned it while we pulled. This timing had the effect of lifting the Amtrac and lowering it onto the ramp.
A near tragedy occurred when an Amtrac began skidding sideways into five of the sailors handling the line. There was screaming. Arms were outstretched to hold off what seemed to be a fatal squashing of bodies. These guys were caught between the bulkhead and the tractor. The alert marine on the Amtrac's forward deck quickly got the machine stopped. There were lots of sheepish smiles on all of us. Never more were any guys caught like that.
Unloading was not so complicated. Only the two operators and the director were involved. They timed their move with the wave. When the wave peaked they gunned the machine forward so it gently allowed the machine to proceed with a descending path into the trough, then up the next wave and away they went. The tragedy: Timing was off with one crew. They went straight into the trough, the wave went over them. Filled the well deck with water and down they went. The marine on deck was rescued but the two operators were trapped. No one dwelled on this. The operations continued as though nothing happened. We never learned if they ever made an effort to recover the bodies and Amtrac. After these landing drills, we returned to Pearl Harbor. Got some more liberty.
The after section of our tank deck was loaded with supplies and secured. We returned to Maui to pick up Amtracs and marines from the 4th marine division. Shoved off to learn the next day that we were to hit Iwo Jima. Blue dye was boiled up in which we dyed white hats and skivvie shirts. This was supposed to lessen our visibility on deck. Camouflage.
When our convoy left "Pearl" we had no more shows put on by our escorts. Now, we were told, when a show is put on it will be for real. We got a pep talk to be alert and all that jazz. Model airplanes, made of wood, were studied in off duty classes to become familiar with our planes as opposed to Jap planes. The same things with ships, only the ships were picture silhouettes, not wooden models. There were drills galore. Whenever anyone got to sleeping good a drill was sounded. The guns practiced by firing into the five inch shell burst that the destroyers fired.
We had a dog mascot. As soon as a drill went off she began to shake. Then she ran below, headed for the after steering room in the stern. Someone always helped her. The noise of the steering mechanism and being below kept some of the gun noise down. But she continued to shake in fear until the shooting stopped. She never got over it. The crew picked her up in New Orleans somewhere.
Our ships made stops at Kwajalein and Enewetok. These stops were made to replenish fresh water, fuel, and ammunition. At these islands they had what they called "yard vessel." It could be YG for yard garbage, YO for yard oiler, YW for yard water, YT for yard tug and I don't remember what all. Each ship hoisted a flag or flags depicting their needs. After topping off all our tanks, the convoy got underway for the invasion of IWO.
D-DAY: We saw flashes from the bombardment early on the day of the invasion. Marines were eating breakfast, steak and eggs. This was Feb. 19, 1945. One of the marines made himself known, John Bern, a neighbor from Reading. Me and his kid brother were good friends in Jr. High. John got wounded but survived.
At daybreak the marines boarded their assigned Amtracs. Others went over the side into our small boats. They circled until ordered to the line of departure. Two or three marine officers remained behind. They were talking to their men via radio and coordinating the action with the other marine units. They went in around noon to be with their men. All hell broke loose. There was so much shelling and bombing that only dust and smoke was seen - not the island - except Mt. Suribachi.
In they went. Ashore they formed lines and advanced toward the airfield. We could see this going on. The airfield had junk planes dumped over the bank. That's where the marines were heading. We saw explosion all over the place. A gap would form in the line when marines got hit. They'd close up the gap and keep going. There were phosphorus shells going off - spectacular. Amtrac flame throwers were whooshing flames back and forth. Marine flame throwers were doing their thing.
The marines from our ship had ASTONISH assigned for their call letter. Astonish-1 was calling Astonish-2 for assistance. They were really catching hell. We heard they crossed the island by the end of the day, thus cutting off Suribachi garrison. All night long there were flares with parachutes to light up the place. One of the marine's ammo dumps was hit. What a mess. It was blowing up, dying down, then blow up again. Shells flying, tracers zooming.
D+1: LSM's landed but called back when one of them had his bow hit. Lots of explosions. Saw Jap tracers firing from the base of Suribachi. They hit one of our planes which dove straight down and crashed into the water on the other side of the island from us. Not sure but I think the flag went up on Suribachi D+4. I don't remember if ships were blasting their horns. I do know everyone was very happy to see the flag up there. LSM's with rockets were blasting the Japs at the base of Suribachi.
D+2: Reserves from the 3rd or 5th division, I forgot which, were sent into the turmoil. There was never a lull. Too much going on.
D+3: The LST's get orders to beach the ship and unload cargo. I'm on the bow watching our approach. Bow doors are open, ramp is up. We run over a dead Jap (read 40 or 50 years later he was an observer on a beached Jap ship). He was in the smoke stack yelling coordinates to another Jap below who relayed to their headquarters. Some smart marine officer got 5 or 6 marines to board and search the wreck. They found the Japs, killed them and heaved their bodies over the side. One of them we ran over.
Hit the beach in the morning. A bulldozer made a causeway of sand to our ramp and unloading began. We helped marines unload; others manned the ship's guns. Every once in a while a shell would explode but I don't remember any near us. I watched some go "pfft" and flash. There was so much noise. I guess those flashes were Jap mortar shells going off.
Once or twice off shore in formation some antiaircraft fire headed toward us scaring the hell out of us so that we'd hit the deck, then crawl around to the lee side of the deck house for protection. Afterward there were sheepish smiles around and wise cracks. Our skipper, Lt. Mulvey, gave orders to keep the galley open around the clock to feed any and all marines who came aboard. Three marines came on who were shell shocked. One was violent, screaming "move over buddy" and "here it comes, move over." He had to be put in a bunk and strapped down. The other two were mumbling, moaning and later just sitting and staring.
I got to visiting with a marine who just finished eating. He told me he knew where a lot of Jap canteens and other souvenirs were. Next thing I knew I was following him ashore. We wandered around. Lots of marines were lying about. I thought they were sleeping or resting but they were dead. Lots of carnage. The place smelled awful. What has always stayed in my mind was the marine lying with his head upon his right arm with the hand up in the air and the high school ring on the finger. I could only think what a waste. He got hit on the left side of his neck. It left a gaping hole. That has never left me.
Soon I heard yelling behind us. Turned around to see marines behind a 105 mm howitzer waving us off so they could fire. I got out of there fast. A gun crew member came to me after firing a umber of rounds, to ask what I was doing ashore. I told him I was following a marine who was to take me for Jap souvenirs. The "gunny" said, "That guy is nuts - shell shocked. He'll get you killed - get away from him." He pointed to red flagging sticking out of the sand and said "that's placed there because it may be a mine. Don't be walking where you see the red flagging." He was a real nice guy. Said "you shouldn't be here. It's better for you if you return to your ship." I thanked him and went back to my ship. Funny thing was, no one aboard the ship noticed I was gone. Some other guys also went ashore. No one else said anything because there was just too much turmoil.
I returned to the bow and watched what was going on. What I saw horrified me. Marines piled on a skid like cordwood, were being taken to a trench by a dozer. They were going to be buried side by side. Later they exhume the dead and give them a decent burial. They had to do this to avoid disease and pestilence. So many young guys, it's so sad.
We stayed overnight beached. The next day we backed off and returned to our off shore position. This was to help out with fending off expected Kamikaze planes. We had a pretty strong antiaircraft capability. The orders came to make smoke. Bogeys (Jap planes) were coming. The small boats cruised around the ships making smoke. Our ship had smoke generators on the fantail. The smoke was acrid, making it hard to breathe. A CPO said it was better to choke a little than to be dead. All the ships made smoke along with the small boats. You couldn't see anything. We never saw any Bogeys either.
More of the same smoke, Bogey alarms, general quarters. The protective destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers were doing a good job of keeping the Kamikaze away. The battleships were closer in, to land fire power when the marines called for it. Destroyers and rocket firing LSM's and LCT's were closer in laying down heavy barrages. What a mess. We went to sea with a destroyer and replenished it with ammo. They secured lines and handled this by breaches buoy.
Feb 24: We got orders to depart Iwo and head for Guam. Arrived at Guam 2 or 3 days later. I can't be sure how long it took. We form up with other LST's and cruise out at 12 knots or less, escorted by destroyers and subchasers.
At Guam the three shell shocked marines went to the hospital. They shuffled around in a daze and couldn't talk. Sure felt sorry for them. At Iwo, a small boat went by us with a load of wounded marines. They were on their way to the hospital ship; either the USS Relief or USS Comfort. I don't remember. One marine was waving his bloody arm at us hollering "I'm going back to the States." He was laughing; poor guy had to be in shock. Anyway, that's a hell of a way to earn stateside eligibility. The hospital ships were fast filling up, so by taking those shell shocked guys back to Guam, it helped relieve the load. Other ships also brought back casualties.
No place for liberty in Guam except Gab Gab Beach. There was swimming, two or three warm beers and that was all. There were guys playing volleyball or baseball. There was always that and no one could play them games very well.
Back at ship there were some army soldiers aboard to do some kind of stevedore work. A colored soldier was goldbricking. He fell asleep on the pontoons that were secured to the side of our LST. He must have accidentally rolled off the side to fall in the drink. He came up missing. No one could be sure what happened. A haphazard search was undertaken with negative results. The next day a bigger search effort was gotten underway. Divers were called in. Before long the guy was found floating under the overhanging pontoons. His face was gashed badly. Apparently he rolled over and fell into the water. The shock must have caused him to come up violently for air. As he did so, his face smashed into the overhanging pontoons causing him to drown. No more was said about it. Things like this happen and no one makes a big deal out of it.
We went to Saipan to pick up tanks. Took them to Guam for service. Nothing but swimming at Saipan. Not even warm beer. While leaving Saipan, we passed Tinian where B-29's were taking off to bomb Japan. We watched one B-29 stall, crash and explode. Black smoke was seen even after we lost sight of land. Left Guam for Leyte, Philippine Islands. I don't remember the dates. We anchored off the beach, many bum boats surrounded us. They wanted to trade. Those Philippinos were so poor. We threw them biscuits and stale bread, which they grabbed out of the water and wolfed down. These bum boats were outriggers with sails. They were in business. Our stuff was taken ashore and sold to poor natives for outlandish prices.
The Philippinos liked to say, "we no natev, we are Philippino." They didn't like to be called native, I guess because there were wild people who lived in the boonies still.
We beached the ship and were allowed to go ashore for a few hours. There was nothing but poor villages and poor people - depressing. Interesting to see how they lived but very sad. We went back to our ship rather quickly.
It was time to practice for the next operation. We thought it would be Formosa. No one knew for sure. Army soldiers were picked up this time. They practiced loading tanks. We'd sail out some distance and pick up fully loaded troops by setting out the cargo net. The troops would rest then go over the side into the bobbing small boats (LCVP's). They go through the exercise of Line Departure and hitting the beach. Our ship would then hit the beach to unload the tanks. This was repeated a few times.
There was a small control shack at the bow where an officer sat. He could see the entire tank deck and ramp. This officer operated a traffic light. There was a strict procedure for loading and unloading vehicles. There was not much of a chance for things to go wrong.
After invasion rehearsals the "grunts" loaded the after part of the tank deck with munitions and other supplies. Then on came the tanks. Finally the army soldiers boarded. Most of these guys saw lots of action in the Philippines and South Pacific. We backed off the beach, formed our convoy and headed out. Next day we were told that Okinawa was our next stop. No one heard of it or knew where it was.
April 1, 1945
D-Day: We arrived at Okinawa. All hell was busting loose at dawn. Our battlewagons, cruisers, destroyers, rocket ships and planes were working over the landing beach. After a big breakfast the troops went over the side. They landed and we got good news that they met little resistance.
There was a diversion with amphibs and ships of the line on the SE shore. They got hit bad. One of my buddies from boot camp lost his LST. Ten marines died working in the tank deck when a suicide plane rammed thru two bulkheads to explode in the tank deck. I was told this by my boot camp pal. He was transferred to our ship after his LST sunk. I don't know what became of him. I thought he was sent back to the states with other survivors.
The other thing was, a soldier on our ship refused to go ashore with his buddies. He was a southerner. The thought of hitting the beach with his unit was just too much for him. He hung around disheveled, not talking to anyone, desultory, just roaming around. That afternoon two MP's came aboard and talked him into climbing down into a small boat. He obeyed. No one knows what became of this guy - probably ended up in Leavenworth.
Then we stayed at GA (battle stations) all day. Reports keep coming in that Bogeys are coming. At night we kept two hours on and four hours off (or 2 on and 2 off, I don't remember) to watch for Jap suicide boats, we never saw any. Don't know if they hit anyone. I read, years later, that there were hundreds around but they didn't get very far.
D+1: We launched our pontoons. The Seabees took them over. A cruiser behind us was lobbing shells into the island. The noise was bad but we were glad to see the tracers arcing into them Japs. Everyone's at GQ. Bogey reports keep coming in. We see tracers and ack-ack puffs far away.
D+2: The LCT was launched. It consumed most of the day as it was quite complex. Our ship had to acquire a sharp list by pumping tanks. The LCT was on greased timbers and launched sideways like in shipyard. It went off perfectly. Now we have lots of room.
D+3 or D+4: We beached the ship, unloaded tanks and supplies. We got to roam the beach but not much there. Homes blown up. Cemeteries not touched. They bury their people in concrete mausoleums. When the flesh putrefies and leaves only bones, the Okinawans collect the bones and stow them in big covered jars and set them on shelves in the mausoleums. Three of four sailors from another LST got a goat. They tried to sneak it aboard for a mascot but an officer stopped that. It provided some good laughs. Our ship stove a hole in the bow from grinding on a coral head upon beaching. We are told that we got a double hull to protect against that. It worked - no leaks.
D+4 to 16 April: We hand around to provide additional anti-aircraft cover against Kamikaze's. Everyday they come. A lot dive but miss. One day the suicides came in our anchorage. Lots of shooting. Shrapnel from our barrages come splashing down after being spent. A guy next to me says "Awww." I look and see a Jap plane crash into the superstructure of a big cargo ship (APA, I think). The people in there were al killed. The ship stayed afloat and was towed to a different anchorage.
One day the Japs come over trying to hit any ship they could. A Jap dive bomber (VAL) came looking us over when our 20 mm gun crew slammed tracers in his belly under the cockpit. I saw tiny explosions where the shells hit. The Jap turned upside down into the drink between us and an LST to our port side. Our LST got official credit for this Jap (the Jap VAL is an identical copy of the Nazi Stuka with Greenhouse Canopy and fixed landing gear).
The following happened. I saw it happen - no one is proud of this but it shows how nuts guys get. There were many "dog fights" going on. Our pilots always seemed to out-fight these suicide pilots. We'd see the Japs flame up and drop. A Jap plane got hit. It seemed like slow motion, the Jap went into a spiral descent with smoke trailing while our pilot circled him to make sure the Jap was finished. When our pilot saw the Jap was indeed gone, he leveled off and came between the rows of ships in our anchorage. He was pretty low, wigwagging his wings to all our ships. For no reason and without the order to commence firing, all hell brakes loose and our ships splash this hero. It's sickening. I was a talker and ammo passer so I know what I saw. I am sure no one on our ship fired as the skipper was very strict about firing without first getting orders to fire. We had hundreds of ships within range so anyone could have fired on our guy. It is so sad. Word goes out that our pilots are told to stay away from our ships because this can happen. But that's no consolation. Sailors get scared, excited and go nuts. A lot of quietness prevails. Everyone feels bad. It bothers me to this day even though I had nothing to do with it.
To illustrate the panic that sometimes grabs people, here's Ham, a Stewart's Mate, a young colored kid. We go to general quarters. Bogeys are headed our way. Ham straps himself into the 20 MM ready to fire. He leans back to point his gun up. His helmet falls off. He neglected to secure the helmet strap under his chin. Orders to commence firing comes in. The helmet is rolling out of his reach. Ham yells for me to retrieve his helmet. I'm engrossed in looking for Bogeys headed our way. Ham yells all the more and I wake up but not before nearby gunner from Texas hollers "you nigger S--of B----, start shooting." Ham also wakes up and helmetless, he gets to shooting all over the place like he was trained to do. Meanwhile I pick up Ham's helmet and during a cease fire, I help to get him helmeted. Later on Ham remarks that the Texan didn't need to call him that. There was never anymore said about this and Ham never again neglected to secure his chin strap.
We got word that the Jap battlewagon, YAMAMATO, got sunk along with virtually its entire accompanying fleet. Only one or two destroyers survived. This armada was on its way to destroy us at Okinawa in one final suicide gasp. Happily our planes sunk the Bastards so that they got to see their dead pals in Yokosuni Shrine.
April 16: Finally, we for a convoy and head for Guam. For some unknown reason we are sent to Ulithi. This is a vast Lagoon filled with ships. Battleships, carriers, cruisers, "cans"; everything. Hundreds of ships. The small atoll called MogMog had it's natives removed and MogMog became famous. This was set up as a recreation area for the fleet. Hah. Two cans of warm beer and a long wait for the boat to take you back on a long ride to your ship. It was a joke and everybody made fun of MogMog. But it was a welcome break to go ashore and sit in the shade on the sand.
Now we got a fleet anchorage that gets harassed by a lone 2 engine Jap plane at night. He comes from bypassed Yap, the biggest Jap base in the Pacific. He's a nuisance because we all go to GQ while search lights go on. They pick him up, only he's out of range. Some ships shoot at him for practice but it is frowned upon because of all those ships at anchor. There's no sweat with this guy.
While on our way to MogMog I saw an AKA (Attack Cargo Auxiliary) whose number I forget but recognized as my brother Mike's ship. When I returned I mentioned this to an officer (Mr. Searcy) and he got permission from our skipper to take me to Mike's ship. They communicated by blinker and I went. Had a nice visit with Mike. He was a Boatswain's Mate First Class. The story behind Mike is he enlisted for 4 years in 1942. Had boot training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station. He served in the Panama Canal Zone for a while, then got shipped to the Galapagos Islands. He was assigned to a crash boat there. Mike was unhappy there - wanted to be in action. It didn't sit well for him to see his kid brother, four years his junior, out in hell's half acre and him at some rear, forlorn area. Worse yet, his kid brother is in the "Hooligan Navy" (US Coast Guard) and Mike's in the "Big Outfit," the Regular Navy (I am only a reserve).
Mike and I would write to each other and he'd ask "Where are you and that shit barge now?" There was censorship at that time so I couldn't say, but Mike knew that Amphibious Ships would get mixed up in invasions. Somehow, Mike managed to get on an AKA, a big cargo vessel that also got involved in invasions. Only thins was, the war was coming to a screeching halt, but no one knew that yet.
While on Mike's AKA, USS Medea, I heard his skipper yell "We're getting underway." WOW. Fortunately we only moved further into the harbor to a new anchorage, but it was a long haul for our LCVP to come get me. The boat crew wasn't very happy. To me, it was worth the visit with Mike. He and some of his shipmates broke out a gallon can of fruit cocktail and we had a "banquet."
Orders came down to proceed to the South Pacific. All these trips were in convoy with escorts; destroyers, destroyer escorts, mine sweepers, patrol craft. There were submarine alerts, Bogey reports, anything to make trouble. Those destroyers did a great job running around protecting the convoy.
This was called a "milk run." There were trucks, cranes, bulldozers and all kinds of heavy equipment left behind on those islands, by-passed as our forces continued north. Our group was to pick up this equipment and transport it north for use at newly won islands.
May 31, 1945: We crossed the equator on our way to Manus Island in the Admiralty Group. We all got a work over as Pollywogs; then achieved the distinction of becoming Shell Backs. It was fun. Even our skipper got hazed but his treatment was gentle.
I had to blow a bugle after going thru the ritual. When I stopped tootling, the hose was turned on me. They assigned this bugling to me because I used to like blowing the bugle, alone, on the fan tail. I didn't know it bothered them. Didn't even know they heard me. Anyway, I stopped playing the bugle after this. It was all good fun. After we became Shell Backs, we turned our wrath on our tormentors by hosing them down, including King Neptune, who was acted out by a sailor who had previously crossed the equator.
Manus Island had a bog lagoon. There British carriers, cruisers, destroyers and other ships anchored here. The British had a nice club at their base where we got invited to let off steam and drink beer. Those British sailors were very friendly. I don't know if we picked up any equipment - can't remember.
About this time I had a heart to heart talk with XO (Executive Officer, 2nd in command). My job as Stewart's Mate was probably the best job on the ship. A Stewart's Mate cleaned up officer's country, made up his bunk, took his stuff to the laundry and cleaned the heads. We served them chow, made coffee and did whatever they asked. In return, the officers would treat us kindly. They'd ask, never demand, us to do things which in most cases they didn't have time to do themselves. If we screwed up we caught hell and we deserved it. Our skipper was a lawyer in civilian life with his office in Manhattan. His home was in Hartford, Conn. He was a wonderful man.
My heart to heart concerned me wanting to get into the black gang (engine room). I was assured that if I proved myself by carrying out my Steward's Mate duties conscientiously, I would be recommended to Fireman First Class. But I would also be required to work as a Fireman Striker. This meant that in my spare time I would have to spend time working with a Petty Officer and assist him in his duties. I got to work with an Electrician's Mate. I checked batteries, started the emergency auxiliary engine periodically, helped replacing and repairing electric motors, kept records, cleaned engine spaces and a lot of things like that. I liked this better.
Actually, Steward's Mate was lots easier and I ate what the officers ate. I got lots of sleep. The officers treated me nice. Other "white hats" would ask us to get them extra desserts and other favors. I was nuts to give this up, but I wanted to me macho.
The next stop was Russell Islands. These islands were separated by narrow channels which were very deep. We picked up some construction machinery here.
We next continued through the historic Coral Sea, "Iron Bottom Bay," with Savo Island before us. Guadalcanal was to the west of us. Tulagi was to the east and that's where we tied up. We saw the "fuzzie wuzzies" with their red, yellow and orange hair. No one was allowed ashore. There was nothing to go ashore to. Only some grass shacks. Besides, we were told malaria was a real danger here so we were better off staying aboard ship.
Left Tulagi, headed for Numea, New Caledonia. Liberty at Numea was o.k. There were souvenir shops all over the place. The Navy had a beer garden open only to military personnel. It was a fenced in spot down town. Nothing memorable.
Three or four officers went deer hunting. They brought back two does. We had venison to eat the following day. Deer on New Caledonia were considered a pest because there were so many. They had no predators. There was no closed season or limit. Either sex was fair game. That's what we were told.
Supplies were replenished at Numea. While loading the food we saw this meat wrapped in gauze, frozen. It was the size of deer quarters, never saw that before. What we didn't know was this meat was mutton, sheep meat. The guys derisively called it goat meat. Already they were bitching, saying they wouldn't eat it. There were also cartons of rabbit meat. I read 50 years later that Australia made an agreement with the U.S.A., that in return for the use of Australian forts and bases, our country had to accept their products of export (in this case, mutton, rabbit also). How nervy. Our guys are saving their country from Jap occupation and, to thank us, we must eat their goat meat.
Later, during the voyage to Guam, we threw it over the side. No one would eat it. I ate it. Didn't like the mutton but the rabbit was good - didn't have onions in it. Spoilage became evident when the gauze on the meat became slimy. The rabbit went also. There was never any more goat meat taken aboard after that.
One other interesting thing on the return trip to Guam: During the mid to four watch, I went topside to the onion locker, opened it (it wasn't locked) and threw every stinking onion over the side. I was tired of it. They cooked everything with onions and I hate them. Two cooks came to accuse me when they missed their onions. I took the offensive and challenged them to produce the evidence. When they realized I wasn't scared, the cooks said they were going to lock up the onions with lock and key from now on. If I broke the lock to destroy the onions again, I'd be charged with destruction of government property. Big Deal! It ended up on a nice vein because whenever they cooked with onions after that, they would set aside some plain meat for me. Since, being a Steward's Mate allowed me free access to the galley, I cooked up the meat for myself I a small pan. Those cooks turned out to be nice guys even though their name, Belly Robbers, still fit them. Yes, I never had any more troubles with onions on the LST 789.
I can't remember exactly when, but during this return trip one of the guys became afflicted with appendicitis. Our LST had a physician on board because we were the LST flotilla flagship. The other LST's didn't warrant a doctor. The idea being if a sailor needed a physician's attention at sea, the doctor aboard our ship would transfer to the ship in need by Breeches Buoy or, if in calm seas, by boat. So all the other ships had were three Pharmacists each. I'm not sure, but I think there were 50 LST's in a flotilla.
Anyway, this was an emergency. Surgery was needed. Since we were way out at sea, the operation had to be done immediately. The doctor began studying his medical books. Us Steward's Mates turned to converting the wardroom into an operating room. We set up the operating table. The electrician's mate rigged up the light over the table and we scrubbed, swabbed and scrubbed some more. Tables, bulkheads, everything was washed. That evening the operation took place.
We Steward's Mates were allowed to watch from the pantry. We stayed in the pantry and peered out of the serving window. One pharmacist's mate administered ether. He held a can over the patient's head. The ether dripped into a gauze compress placed over the patient's nose and mouth. The other two pharmacist's mates assisted the physician. As the operation progressed, the victim would groan occasionally. Then the doctor would nod to the guy applying the ether, signaling him to drip more ether. I remember how the skipper chose a course for smoother sailing as those LST's were awful rough riding ships. We knew when the procedure was over when we saw the doctor sewing up the incision. The patient was taken below into the sick bay where he made a nice recovery. We put the wardroom back into its normal shape. When we got to Guam, the patient was sent to a hospital, after which he went back stateside. Two other guys were sent stateside after this trip. One guy came down with malaria. The other guy, an Electronic Technician's Mate, lost his mind.
Re: malaria. We were required to take Atabrine tablets for malaria prevention. A dispenser was placed at the end of the chow serving counter. Only a very few guys would take them. They said their skin turned yellow. I took them sometimes, one tablet per day, I think. Since few guys cooperated, a Pharmacist's Mate was assigned to dispense the Atabrine at the end of the chow serving counter. The men would take it and as soon as they got out of the Pharmacist's sight they'd spit them out. A lowly 3rd Class cook this business and decided to do something about it, even though it was none of his business. This cook was an Italian, well liked, and had a good sense of humor. He got a mess of these Atabrine tablets and threw them in with the green beans. The green beans became a sickly yellow color. They tasted awful. No one could eat them. He was bound and determined that we would get the Atabrine into our systems, but the plan didn't work. When we served the officers these Atabrine green beans the officers were furious. Our skipper ordered the cook into the wardroom. "Eat those beans," the Captain ordered. The cook wouldn't eat them saying that he hated his own cooking. There was silence. The officers were awkwardly fidgeting. It seemed to me they wanted to laugh. Then our skipper came up with a solution. He ordered the cook to break out frozen steaks for the entire crew, thaw them and serve the steaks the next day. There followed a really bad chewing out which thoroughly scared the cook. He was a lucky guy not to get a court martial. After this there wasn't any fussing over who took the Atabrine tablets. I noticed that the officers didn't take them either. The guys just didn't want them.
The main deck and tank deck were loaded with construction machinery and we shoved off north for Guam. At Guam we unloaded the machinery and hung around with lots of other LST's. Scuttlebutt said we were gonna hit Kyushu next. That's the southern most island of Japan. I remember a small boat tying up by our gangway to deliver some officers for a conference. The coxswain looks familiar. One word leads to another and we come to find out we used to hang out together at the Angelica Dam. Eddy (Edju). Don't remember his last name. He lived in Millmont. He hollers up "Andy." I'm looking down at him and yell, "Edju." Then he says, "I thought you were in he Coast Guard." I answered, "I am." Then Eddy asks, "Then what the hell are you doing way out here?" That didn't go over well with my shipmates. Eddy never meant anything by this. He simply thought the Coast Guard never left the States. We got it straightened out. It was nice to see him. He was a good guy, sober, hard worker, capable. After the war he saved his money and bought a house before most of us even had steady jobs.
One day orders come down to load Amtracs. We were to start maneuvers. Before we got to do anything, rumors came that the Japs were putting out peace feelers. No one believed any of it. A few days later, sure as heck, the Japs surrendered. Boy, everyone went nuts.
Some fools began firing AckAck guns, only it didn't last. They got stopped I a hurry. I wasn't too excited because I knew we wouldn't be heading stateside soon. That night three or four nut heads on our ship loosened a 20mm gun and its mount and heaved it over the side to celebrate. Next day there was an investigation. The culprits were soon identified. A hearing took place. Those responsible had their pay deducted for the cost of the 20mm gun. Charges were dropped. The sunken 20mm was recovered, cleaned and remounted as though nothing happened.
Soon after all this excitement, word comes down that we will be loading Seabees and their machinery to transport them to Japan - a Navy base called Yokasuka. This is accomplished and we all sail for Japan.
August 28, 1945: We arrive at Sagami Wan. I recorded the date in my prayer book because I knew this was a historical time. War ended on Wednesday, August 15, 1945.
Sagami Wan is a huge bay which leads to Tokyo Bay. Sagami Wan is filled with our war ships: carriers, battlewagons, you name it. We are not there long before orders come down to proceed to Yokosuka Naval Base. At Yokasuka we see the remaining fleet at anchor, which the Japs managed to keep afloat. They looked pretty depressing.
Our LST beached at a seaplane ramp. There were two Jap officers to greet us. It must have been terrible for them. I never could figure out why they were even there. One of them shortly took off somewhere to escape his embarrassment.
Some of the guys began walking down the ramp and that started it. More of us followed. We began exploring, heading for town. We passed Jap policemen stationed about, who, upon seeing us approach, turned their backs to us for whatever reason I don't know. In town we ransacked some houses, vandalizing, taking anything we felt like. The Jap civilians took to the hills thinking we were going to rape and pillage. We would never rape and had they stayed home we wouldn't have pillaged either.
Before long marines were on the scene to restore order and ran us back to our ships. This was a good thing. To this day I feel remorse over looting, but much as I hate to remember it, the damn thing took place. No one likes to talk about it. Although it doesn't justify what happened, we were all kids and madder than hell. Everyone knew of the atrocities the Japs pulled. Besides, no people were involved, only some property, and it was promptly stopped.
All this was taking place before the surrender was signed. There was still uncertainty on what those fanatical Japs would do. So in order to create more mischief, some of our guys began training our twin 40's on Jap soldiers near their barracks located in front of our ship. The Japs quickly make themselves scarce. One Jap unknowingly comes out to pick some vegetables growing aside the barracks. Our guys beginning hollering and training the empty twin 40's on him. He puts his hands up and runs like hell for the barracks. We all laugh like hell. Cruel? Yes, but we were mad. No harm was done. Nobody was even remotely thinking of hurting anyone. But the Japs didn't know that.
Left Yokosuka and returned to Guam. I think we loaded up with soldiers and vehicles, can't be sure. Anyway, we sailed with our new load for Kure. There was a big shipyard there on the Inland Sea.
While cargo was being unloaded we visited a nearby Jap air base. Over a hundred planes of all sorts were disabled and set up on their noses. This was in accordance with allied surrender instructions. That way those crazy Kamikazes wouldn't be able to fly into destruction. Yokosuni Shrine was where they would go after killing themselves, there to be among their stupid warrior pals who made banzai charges and flew suicide boats, planes and subs. We got some souvenirs from these planes.
A call came over the PA system for those wanting to see the atom bomb destruction at Hiroshima. I think this was November, 1945. We boarded our LCVP and headed for Hiroshima about 25 miles away. There was a truck at the dock to take us around the city. Everyone was pretty quiet. It was sad and appalling. The Japs were bandaged, wandering around, looking for who knows what. I remember a table set up on sawhorses at the head of a big set of stairs in front of a sizeable concrete building. Windows and doors all blown out, but the building still standing. Five or sox women were behind the table rolling rice into balls. A line of people at the base of the stairs were waiting to get something to eat. It's awful remembering. How terrible.
But lots of us wouldn't be here today if Truman would not have ordered those two bombs dropped.
Not long after we returned to our LST. We shoved off, back to Guam. At Guam we got the best news ever. We are going home. The Homeward Pennant was strung out and away we went. We stopped at Pearl for refueling, then continued on to San Francisco with Homeward Pennant streaming. One thing that felt good was to be able to ignore war time blackout procedures. We ran with lights on at night and no one cared.
At Frisco about twelve of us were released with orders to report to Coast Guard station at Alameda, Calif. The rest of the crew proceeded to sail the ship to New Orleans for decommissioning. I was detached December 22, 1945.
It didn't take long for us to be granted 30 days leave. Boy, it felt good to be going home. I never had a leave, this was my first one. I was very excited. It was about this time that my fireman rating came through; I was no longer a Steward's Mate.
I returned to Alameda Coast Guard Station after my 30 day leave. My brother Mike and I still corresponded. His letter was there telling me that he was in the Oakland Naval Hospital. He accidentally shot himself in the hand with a 45 service pistol. While on watch at the quarterdeck while they were tied up, Mike got to examining the hand gun. For some inexplicable reason the gun went off. The bullet went between the bones of his left hand. I went to see him at the hospital first chance I got. I hid a pint of whiskey in my jumper to bring some joy into our lives. When I saw Mike his left hand was in a cast up to and including the wrist. Mike was pleased to see me. At his suggestion we went to the Head to visit and sip the booze. There wasn't any other place we could drink without getting caught. It was fun.
After Mike got better we both pulled a couple of liberties together and drank beer. I took Mike to a bar which served me beer without asking for ID. I was still too young to drink alcohol. Later, Mike was assigned to an aircraft carrier. He didn't like duty on the huge vessel. When his enlistment expired, he quit the Navy. Mike tried working in a mill in Reading. There had to be something on our genes that gave us an aversion for factory work. Mike quit the factory, a stinking tannery job on Canal St. in Reading. He got his Merchant Marine Able Body Seaman's Document and sailed on an oil tanker for Standard Oil Company. He made lots of runs between Aruba, Venezuela, Brazil, and the States. Then his ship switched runs to New York and Bremerhaven. It was this later run that he got washed over the side of the tanker in rough weather. His body was never found. This happened sometime around June or July 1948. I can't remember the date. I do know I was on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter "Gentian" whose home base was Cape May, N.J. Mike survived WW II only to lose his life in peacetime. What a terrible blow it was to our family.
When I returned to Alameda Coast Guard Receiving Station I expected to be discharged. I had more than enough points. Looking back, I can't figure why I wasn't discharged at Philly, where I enlisted. Instead of letting me go, I get orders to report to Seattle C.G. Receiving Station. O.K. I don't mind. I'll see the West Coast scenery. It was beautiful country. We followed the Sacramento River, saw Mt. Shasta and enjoyed seeing those big mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
Now I'm told I'm going north. Hey, that's Alaska. A nice Spar (female Coast Guard) said, "Look at this kid's record. He's been all over hell's half acre. They shouldn't be sending him north." She was really nice. Her remarks cheered me up. I wanted out by now. SO I went to personnel and explained, or tried to, how I have sufficient points for discharge. The wise guy Yo-Yo (yeoman) said, "Don't give me any of your shit sailor, get your gear and report to the C.G. Cutter Unalga." I forgot to mention that I was assigned to the U.S.S. Murzim on March 2, 1946. It was a Liberty Ship (designated an ammunition ship). Reciprocating Steam Engine. This would be my first experience in the black gang.
After about a month the Murzim sailed for Seattle to be decommissioned. We never went anywhere. We were anchored by a remote island in Puget Sound. That was if the ship blew up only the crew would be lost. At Seattle there was a Navy base where we left the sorry tub. Left it on April 7, 1946. It was after this that they sent me to Alaska. By gosh, they just would not let me go home.
(Back at the Personnel Office). When the Yo-Yo mouthed off at me I decided not to fight it. I waited to see a little of Alaska and this opportunity might never come again. The Unalga treated me as a member of the crew. I didn't need to stand any watches as they had a full crew. I had the run of the ship and made the most of it. (April 10, 1946 to May 5, 1946 was my short assignment here). What a wonderful scenic trip it was up there through the inland water way.
Our destination, Ketchikkan, was dismal. It was sunless, damp, cool. One of my buddies had to be flown back to the States. He had an asthma attack and could hardly breathe. It was not weather to brag about. The receiving station fixed me up with a bunk in the barracks. I'm hanging around-nothing to do. Three or four days later I am summoned to Personnel. It was unreal: I am informed that I'm to be shipped further north. That I am to report to supply, where I will be issued cold weather gear. When I asked where, north, he wouldn't tell me. Aleutian Islands probably. Was I that important that they refused to check out my record? I was way overdue for discharge.
Anyway, I didn't argue. Instead, I drew all the cold weather gear they'd give me. There was some pretty good stuff which served me well when I went to Paul Smith's. I drew the clothes, packaged them and mailed the boxes home - another free bonus.
Finally some smart yeoman catches on. I go to personnel filled with confidence for I have no intentions of going "North." I'll never forget how this guy looks at me incredulously and asks, "What the Hell are you doing up here?" I told him my story, how no one wants to let me go. He laughs and says, "I get it. You want a free trip to Alaska." He apologetically tells me that the Unalga won't return for two weeks so I'll just have to hang around; tells me to stay out of trouble. That's easy to do. The bars are really cruddy. Sidewalks of "Ketch" were boards like you see in westerns. I couldn't stand to look at the pitiful Indians drinking at those seedy bars. The Indian ladies, in the bars, were especially disgusting - pathetic.
Mostly I spent the time fishing, walking the streets, watching salmon running up to spawn. Ketchikan folks were in a dither. I was told that a commercial ship was expected any day and people were running out of snuff. When the supply of snuff is plentiful, they are spending their welfare money on booze; therefore there's no cash to stock up on snuff. Now they are running short on snuff and there's no more available till the ship arrives. Problems, problems, problems.
The trip back to Seattle was uneventful. At the Personnel Office in Seattle, a nice yeoman arranges for me to be discharged there. He explains that I'll get paid mileage to Philly. By traveling coach I'll save money as mileage is computed with Pullman accommodations, with meals in the dining car. I slept in my seat and ate sandwiches. I don't remember how much I made. $300.00 seems to stick in my mind, which was a lot of money back then. (My discharge was dated May 20, 1946. FINALLY). The way this was finagled was, I filled out a form requesting discharge in Seattle because I wanted to attend college at the University of Washington. When I pointed out that I didn't even graduate from high school, the yeoman said not to worry, no one asks.
Back home in Reading Pa. I return to my job at Parish Pressed Steel. The gun shop was no more, so I worked on the assembly line riveting Pontiac and Oldsmobile auto frames. How awful after shipboard life. At least on ships I felt I was accomplishing something in the engine room. It was challenging. You didn't dare goof up or things could break. In the factory there was no future, only boredom from a job I hated. So I quit.
I went back to the U.S.C.G. recruiter where I "reupped" for a special two year term. Four years was normal. They needed bodies. For me, two years was good. I wasn't sure I wanted to make a career of the Coast Guard. They sent me to Gloucester, N.J. across from Philly. Until I got an assignment, I stayed at Gloucester standing watches in the basement, tending an automatic boiler. It's exactly like a furnace in a home only bigger. Now this is very stupid. But no one took things seriously. All we did was keep the basement swept up. There was a pile of coal there from when the furnace was heated with coal. Now, with fuel oil, the only use of the big pile of coal was punishment. When a guy screwed up he was condemned to a certain number of hours shoveling coal into a wheelbarrow and wheeling it to a new pile. It is to laugh.
Orders came for me to proceed to Cape May, N.J. on April 11, 1947. I was assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk. It was disgraceful. The ship was steam driven, 165 feet long and wouldn't go more than 12 knots. The boiler would actually pant when running at top speed. Fire would back out in the fireroom from the firebox. There was never any danger. It was just that this TUB needed to go to the scrap heap.
One morning we were getting steam up to get underway. I entered the boiler to find steam all over the place. The loud hissing sound indicated trouble. There was the Water Tender 1st Class sitting calmly with his glasses all steamed up. He told me to watch the boilers while he searched for the "leak." I told him the safety valve was blowing. I have always wondered that if he found the "leak" (safety valve) would he have wired the valve shut. He was a full blooded Indian and nothing worried him. This tub was soon slated for decommissioning. It was a very good move. What a joke.
From the Mohawk I transferred to the U.S.C.G. Cutter Lilac. This was on May 16, 1947. It was an old Buoy Tender powered by a steam reciprocating engine. It was designed for inland water and not the open sea. Our cruising was on the Delaware River and Delaware Bay. We serviced navigation buoys and lighthouses. A happy ship; the crew were all nice guys. We ate good. Home port was Wilmington, Delaware.
I put in for Internal Combustion Engine school, was accepted, and on August 6, 1947 reported to C.G. Training Station, Groton, Conn. I did fairly well. We studied theory in the morning. In the afternoon we worked on engines. What's interesting is that those graduating in the top 10 had the opportunity of going on to Aerial Mechanic school. (I wasn't in the top 10). Those who failed the course had the opportunity of going to Cook & Baker school. I got 3rd Class Engineman rating.
On December 16, 1947 I was sent to a surf station at Indian River Inlet, Delaware. I wanted shipboard duty. The surf stations were responsible for emergencies when fishing and pleasure boats ran into trouble. We were called on a few emergencies; always in rough weather.
My request for sea duty was honored by assignment to the C.G. Cutter Gentian on April 25, 1948. It was diesel electric propelled, capable of open sea cruising. We maintained buoys off Jersey shore and Delaware Bay. The buoys were serviced at Gloucester, N.J. by civil servant employees. This was a great ship, great crew, great kidding going on.
We had a real scare going thru the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. I barely crawled into my bunk just before midnight when, CRASH-CRUNCH, we hit a sunken derelict.
The ship slid up on the derelict hull and assumed a severe list to starboard. Us guys below began to panic. We thought we were sinking. There were two ladders (stairs) to go topside (upstairs), both were crowded with guys trying to get out. There was yelling, grunts, swearing, even pulling at one another to get to the ladder. PANDEMONIUM. By this time the ship was high and dry, stuck atop the hull with her bow stove in. Nobody cared. The urge to escape was intense. When I got topside someone yelled "Missouri, help us get this boat over the side." Before I could do anything the XO (executive officer) on the bridge hollered, "Who gave the order to abandon ship? Get that boat back."
About this time we began to see the ship was stuck high and dry and wasn't sinking. We were all so ashamed. It turned out O.K. because every one got scared which led to a good natured kidding. No one knew what happened. It was a bad time, when guys were sleeping. This was not a good way to awaken.
At the time of all this excitement, two kids jumped overboard and swam to shore. A request to the skipper for a boat to get them was refused. The Captain said, "They swam ashore, they can swim back." Which they did. Boy, hoe they got razzed.
The following morning we were met by a tugboat which hauled us off the derelict. We limped into Baltimore shipyard for repairs. The bow had a big hole in it and the screw (propeller) had to be replaced. It was bent. There was a light blinking on the sunken hulk. It was set square on the center, so the officer on deck didn't know which side of the light to steer for. There was no way to guide hi in the proper channel and WHAM. That's how we hit the thing. No one ever found out who set the light nor why a safe channel to either side of the sunken derelict was not marked. At least we never heard. Someone sure screwed up.
Another time we were casting off, headed for sea. The sailor on the dock carelessly threw the hawser (thick rope) over the side before the ship was clear. I could see the hawser sink, tighten, then the ship shuddered and the hawser snapped. What happened was, the sailor on the dock was supposed to hang onto the hawser until all the slack was taken aboard. Well he didn't do that and the skipper couldn't see that. Therefore, the hawser got tangled in the screw and bent the shaft before it snapped. Result? We went into dry dock again.
Another funny story: We are standing around the buoy deck shooting the breeze. A colored Steward's Mate is sitting on the taffrail (that's the wide railing) with his legs hanging over the side, acting "salty." When a ship is tied up it moves in and out from the dock. Fenders are placed over the side to keep the ship's hull from scraping against the dock. No one should be sitting on the taffrail, much less with his legs hanging down between the dock and the ship's hull. This time, even though the fenders were in place, there was inadequate space for the kid's legs. Somehow the fenders slipped too low, leaving a timber protruding out from the dock. The kid's legs get jammed between the ship's hull and that timber and next thing we know he's screaming like hell. We thought he was kidding. We laughed. Then we saw the problem. We tried to push but it did no good. Finally the ship drifted away from the deck and we pulled him off the taffrail onto the deck. An ambulance took him to the hospital. It turned out OK. There were no fractures. Contusions, scrapes and much soreness nut nothing serious. He was well liked. No one ever sat on the taffrail again.
I was promoted to Engineman 2nc Class on the Gentian. Back then there was no exam to take. The Chief watched you perform and when the time came he put you up for promotion and it usually came through. While I was on the Gentian I was summoned home on emergency leave. Mom wouldn't tell me on the phone the nature of the emergency. When I get home I'm told Mike fell over the side of his tanker and disappeared. It was rough weather so a search was fruitless. Mike was 25 years old.
A shipmate of Mike's came to Reading to meet the family and tell how Mike died. He got washed over the side about 200 miles south of the coast of England. I went to the C.G. headquarters in Manhattan and talked to a Yeoman. He looked into the report that they got but could tell me no more than Mike's shipmate. Poor Mon, she took it so hard.
My enlistment was running out. Asked about reenlistment, but I said no. They even offered me duty in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was sick of the military chicken shit. That's why I quit. On December 6, 1948 I got done on the Gentian. My next duty station was C.G. Pier 18 at Stapleton, Staten Island. I finished my stint there pulling guard duty (a watchman actually) at the pier. Got discharged March 17, 1949.
Pop got me a job with Textile Industries where I drove an electric truck picking up and delivering knitting machine parts to various machine operators.
I signed up with the Naval Reserve and attended weekly meetings. I made a couple of cruises of one week each to San Juan, P.R. and Bermuda. It brought in some extra money. The Korean War broke out. Our Reserve unit was told to get our affairs in order because we are going to be called in for active duty. A lot of the guys were sick over this.
Factory work got me down again so I volunteered for active duty rather than wait to get called. Got sent to Philly Naval Station, then on to Frisco where we boarded the U.S.N.S. Darby, a big two stack transport. We sailed to Honolulu, picked up some more stuff and continued on to Guam. At Guam I got assigned to the motor pool as dispatcher.
I asked for sea duty. The best they could do was assign me to the admiral's barge as an engineer. This had to be the best job in the world. All I needed to do was maintain the engine space and keep the engines operating. I had a fireman to help me. We got along good. The Admiral hated the barge. He never used it. He would allow his staff officers to use it. Even so, it was rarely used. The skipper, a CPO, used it for deep sea fishing. He caught a number of big tuna and dorado. Mostly, I tinkered with the diesels, fire pumps, fished, swam and sailed. I had refurbished a dingy assigned to the Admiral's barge. It was fun learning to sail. I ran aground a number of times until I got the hang of it. I learned to stay clear of floating Barracks and ships. The sailors were jealous of me in my sailboat and I didn't blame them. They'd throw potatoes at me but never connected. I had it made. Did a lot of swimming and snorkeling. What a racket.
Sometimes the skipper could be a snot. He had a sheet of lead to use for sinkers. I fashioned a centerboard out of plywood. I fastened the sheet of lead to the centerboard to add to my stability, thus allowing me to sail closer into the wind. The centerboard was oversized. I designed it that way. With my snorkeling gear, and when the chief was away, I got the centerboard secured by putting the thing into the keel from below. It was then bolted in place permanently. Normally the centerboard is inserted into the keel from the surface and pushed down. My modification was never noticed.
No one used the thing but me. The Chief tried to sail it once but got run aground. When he tried to push the boat out, he'd got blown aground again. He didn't know enough to lower the sail so the wind kept blowing him back ashore. He wasn't around much anyway. He was married and spent most of his time at home.
Well, one day the Chief starts looking for his lead. He needs more sinkers. Oh how he searched. That lead sheet was on the keel of the little boat only a short distance away, but I wouldn't tell. I know he'd be nice to me if I got it for him, but sometimes being a snot, I thought it better to keep still about it. Besides, where would I get another sheet of ballast to compare with his lead?
One day a great deal of excitement was taking place at our facility. Cops, officers, cars all flitting about. The CPO told me to get the engines warmed up. He said, "We are going out to pick up the Jap Hold Outs." The Guamanian police had a Jap Hold Out who said there were four more, , in caves at the southern end of the Island, who want to surrender. The Hold Out would guide us there and call them to give up. We loaded a portable generator, furnished by the police, so that the electrical powered bullhorn could be used by the Jap to call in his pals.
The boat was loaded with cops, the Jap, a reporter for the Guam newspaper, and we shoved off. At the site, the Jap guide got a little excited and began hollering into the dead bullhorn. Hell, no one told me to start the generator. When I tried to start it, there was nothing. If it was our generator it would have started. Dumb cops must have been using it at home. I checked the plugs first. Whoa! No wonder. They were wet and carboned. We had no replacement plugs on board. Me and my firemen went to work cleaning them, dried them and shortly had the thing purring. I was sweating it because I never thought it would be so simple. Now the Jap began his message to his pals while we cruised the area as close to shore as we dared. While this was going on we made contact with the shore party who were searching the jungle at the top of the cliff.
Pretty soon we saw movement at one of the caves. The four Japs came out. Whatever the guide said to them was good. They were finally giving up. So the police chief and another cop got a rubber raft blown up, launched it and paddled ashore accompanied by the Jap guide. They brought back the four Hold Outs. We secured the raft and headed back to our headquarters. The Japs seemed docile, probably wondering what their future was. One of them had a knife fashioned from a stainless steel knife common in all mess halls. It was as sharp as a razor. He kept it in an improvised leather sheath on his belt. Their sandals were improvised from old tires. They wore clean Khakis. All this stuff was taken from dumps.
The Guamanians knew they were hiding out in their general area but they left each other alone. The authorities gave up looking for them because they caused no one any grief. To the end, the Japs kept thinking the Japanese empire would come back to rescue them. I have snapshots of these guys. Also, there are pictures of all the other stuff I wrote about. There aren't many wartime photos though. It was forbidden to be taking pictures, or even having a camera, during the war. Pictures that were taken in wartime were taken by authorized personnel.
One day orders came down for me to report to N.O.B. (Naval Operating Base) at Orote Point. I am going home. This is known as "Glad Tidings." Those of us who volunteered for active duty got a break. We are the first ones to be released from active duty. Those who waited until called had to remain on active duty. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth, but it was fair. Lots of guys liked the extra money they got for attending weekend reserve meetings. Yet, when called to active duty, they balked. This call-up hurt the reserve programs. Most guys simply assumed they'd never be called on active duty.
It was the same old story at home. I got work at the Reading Clothing factory for low wages, doing menial labor. However, I did one good thing. I enrolled in high school night classes. I took and passed the G.E.D. program. It wasn't much but it was a start. It occurred to me that with all of my sea duty, I could obtain my Merchant Marine papers. I quit my job and went to New York. I found the C.G. base in Manhattan where exams were held for the Merchant Marines.
The examining officer went over my papers, then gave me an oral exam. That was it. It was so easy I couldn't believe it. I left the base with my "Validated Seaman's Document." It qualified me to sail on steam or diesel ships as a Fireman, Watertender, of Oiler.
My first attempt at sailing was with the Union ships. They were rude, ignored me completely, so I went to see the Crewing Chief at the M.S.T.S., which is the Military Sea Transport Service. There I was treated with respect. They even billeted me on one of their ships where I ate and slept until I got a ship assignment. This saved me a lot of money as room and board is never cheap in New York.
From May 26, 1952 to October 15, 1952 I sailed as Oiler on the U.S.S. Sagitta. We sailed between New York and Newfoundland and New Brunswick, transporting troops and supplies. The Sagitta was not a happy ship. Lousy officers tried to treat us like we were military. The deck force got fed up and quit in St. John's, New Brunswick. They bought plane tickets and went home. The crewing section flew a new deck crew up to replace those who quit. You see, this is a civil service job, so a sailor could quit when he felt like it.
After I quit the Sagitta I took a vacation. On December 17, 1952 I signed up for the Jose F. Valdez. This was a happy ship with great chow. We performed the same function as the Sagitta. When weather warmed up, we stayed at St. John's. From there we took supplies further north to Labrador. When it thawed enough, we went up to Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island. This was all shipboard duty. There was no one allowed ashore until we returned to St. John's.
A Mountie boarded our ship in Frobisher Bay. He said the Eskimos were vulnerable to white man diseases. Evan a common cold could be catastrophic for them. There really was no reason to go ashore. It was all frozen desolation. I even wondered why I took this cruise. Truth was, crews were hard to find for this area. One reason guys would sign up for these northern cruises was to save money. By not having shore leave, money could not be spent. One guy made a 6 month cruise like this to save money to buy a new car. After he got his car, he quit sailing. We used to laugh over this. On June 18, 1953 I left the Valdez.
I was talked into duty on the U.S.N.S. Darby as an Oiler. When I went back and forth to Guam, I went as a passenger on this same ship. It was a big steam turbo-electric driven ship with 2 stacks. Excellent chow. Happy ship. At first I sailed as a Utility Oiler which was maintenance such as pulling pumps, motors, replacing valves and packing. Then I went as Evap. Oiler which was a great job - the best. While at sea I worked 7 days a week. In port I didn't work unless I wanted to. An Evap. Oiler tended the evaporators, which made fresh water from sea water. In port we got all the fresh water we wanted from the piers.
The Darby left New York for the Panama Canal (I don't have the dates on this). We then headed for Hawaii and on to Yokohama, Japan. We were always loaded with troops, dependents and cargo. We made two more round trips between Seattle and Yokohama with stops at Hawaii when I got fed up with sailing. I wanted to find work ashore and quit the sea. On August 29, 1953 I resigned and headed home from Seattle.
There was no big hurry so I took a bus. Whenever I got tired, I'd stop overnight, get a room and look the area over. Stopped at Butte, Montana, hired a cab to show me around and enjoyed a nice tour. This place was depressing. The copper mines were mostly shut down but the bars and gambling was going full blast all night long.
The next leg I met a Paul Smith's College student returning from summer work with the U.S. Forest Service. He told me all about the Forestry course at Paul Smith's. It appeared that this was my chance at a forestry job which would keep me ashore.
There was an overnight stop at another small western town which name I forgot. Stopped at St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota where I bought a suit. Had an overnighter at Chicago, then on straight thru to Reading. Stayed home long enough to repack my bag and hopped a bus for Paul Smith's, N.Y. I presented myself to Dr. Buxton, Dean of Paul Smith's. He sat me down and listened patiently while I related my past and how I needed this chance to find my way to stay ashore. Lacking a high school diploma, Dr. Buxton said, "This is highly unusual." A G.E.D. was not acceptable. Dr. Buxton gave me a break. He would admit me for one semester into the Terminal Forestry Program leading to a two year degree. The Associate in Applied Science Degree. In that semester I would have to produce decent grades. I'd be admitted under the G.I. Bill of Rights.
At the end of that semester I would need to contact the Reading High School Principal to arrange exams for my high school diploma. I already had a few high school credits from night school. I did pretty good at Paul Smiths by studying hard. Even got on the Dean's List. So I took those exams during my Christmas vacation and passed with flying colors. I went away with a letter from the Principal to present to Dr. Buxton insuring that my Pa. H.S. diploma would be mailed to me. It was a wonderful endeavor. During this Christmas vacation I renewed my acquaintance with Rose. We corresponded when I returned to college. Everything was looking great.
During my summer vacation Rose and I got married. That August, with all our belongings in two suitcases, very little money and no car, we took a bus up to Paul Smith's so that I could continue college. Rose found work, first as a waitress behind the counter of a drug store in Saranac Lake. Later Rose found better work as a secretary for a Plumbing and Hardware company. With that and my G.I. Bill allowance we squeaked by.
I got my Associate Degree. I also won an award for "Best Utilizing Material Presented." I worked 2 years for the U.S. Forest Service Research Station at Paul Smiths. Left that for higher pay with Diamond Match Co. at Harrisville, N.Y. This job was to have lasted 10 years, but after one year the project was shut down and I was out of work.
The State of New York offered me a job in the Conservation Dept. I grabbed that which led to my career as a N.Y. State Forest Ranger and eventual promotion to District Forest Ranger.
If I had to do it over, I wouldn't change a thing.
February 20, 2002, Age 75