World War II
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Searching for the U.S.S. LSM 245
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SEARCHING FOR THE
U.S.S. LSM 245
This is the story of my war years, from before I went into the service until I was honorably discharged and returned home to Columbus, Ohio, and resumed my education at Ohio State University. But mostly it is the story of the days I spent aboard the Landing Ship Medium 245, as jaunty a little ship as ever sailed the seven seas.
It has also become a matter of grievous concern to me that our ship has not been recognized as operating in a war zone and participating in operations under combat conditions. We landed personnel and reinforcements of tanks, half-tracks, ambulances, wire-layers, munitions, bulldozers, and other vehicles in close support of our troops on many occasions. We participated in the first wave of landings at Serangani Bay, Mindanao, PI, in what is generally recognized as the last armed landing of World War II. We sailed through enemy-mined waters on our first trip to Japan within days after the war ended
This tale has become a search story now, many years later, when I can find only brief traces of the crew or the officers, and scant mention of this once dauntless little vessel on the internet or in the literature. Aside from two small snapshots taken aboard the ship, I know of few other pictures. There are none in the Navy Department archives. [See photo and letter submitted March 10, 2010, under TRAINING CRUISE ABOARD THE LSM 159.]
Surely, there are a few survivors. It is my fondest hope that some of them will find this site and relish the old memories.
- Tom Thomson Tour of Duty If ships are like women,
Then my loss is the greater,
Since there was only the one
That I really knew, and
In a peculiarly perverse way,
Loved. So if that analogy
To a female is correct,
Then the salt water sailors
Were right, and
Like the country boy
Back on the farm for years now,
I nourish the old memories.
- Tom Thomson
I was in the eleventh grade at North High School in Columbus, Ohio, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A crisis with Japan had been brewing for months and, on the other side of the world, Hitler had been terrorizing Europe for years. Newspaper headlines were full of these events, and it seemed that every time you turned on the radio you would hear Der Fueher ranting and raving, and the newsmen analyzing the latest developments. I rvividly remember commentators such as Raymond Grahm Swing, Elmer Davis, H. V. Kalterborn ,and Edward R. Murrow bringing us the latest news about all these horrendous events.
We lived at 61 West Eleventh Avenue in a house that Paul Shaefer, the noted Ohio Botonist and his family, had once lived in. My brother David was attending the University of Chicago, so it was just my mother and me - and an occasional roomer.
Across the street from the OSU campus, the house
at 61 West Eleventh Avenue. I lived here through my high school years
and until I went into the service. It has long since been torn down.
After I graduated in 1942, I worked a few months in the Project-Coordination Department at Curtiss-Wright out on East Fifth Avenue in Columbus. I worked on the graveyard shift,and mornings I took a couple of classes at OSU.
I had followed the course of world events closely for a long time and kept what I can only describe as war scrapbooks for almost ten years. These consisted of newspaper and magazine clippings pasted in college-style composition notebooks, and they date all the way back to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Japanese invasion of mainland China, the Spanish Civil War, and the many facets of the German rampage of terror. Included in this latter category: the invasion of Poland, the occupation of Norway and many other countries; Dunkirk and Calais, the occupation of France and the Low Countries, the North African Campaign, etc.
For a few months, between high school and entering the Navy,
I worked at the Curtiss-Wright plant in Columbus
The world was being devestated and I had long wanted to do my bit to set it it right again. After high school, I had tried to enlist in the Merchant Marine, the Navy V-12 Program, and the Navy Air Corp, but my dear mother had refued to sign my papers. In my frustration, I even moved to the downtown YMCA for a couple of weeks. Looking back on those times as a father, I can now understand her fears.
I have also forgoten to mention that there were powerful conservative political forces in this country that were determined to keep us on the sidelines and out of these global conflicts.To put it bluntly, they loathed the leadership of President Roosevelt. Japan provided the wake-up call and it wasn't until then that we also declared war on Germany and the so-called Axis. You see, it wasn't until Pearl Harbor that the entire county woke up to the very real dangers all around us.
So it was that I bided my time, periodically visited the draft board to make sure I wasn't overlooked, worked in the defense plant, and got a few college credits. Finally, my age group came up and I was categorizedas a voluntary inductee and had my chice of services. On December 10 1943, I reported to the old post office building (which still stands at State and Third Streets in Columbus). On December 17, I reported back and along with a bunch of other fellows was bussed to Union Station. From there we went by train to Great Lakes Naval Training Station for Boot Camp. My militarycareer had finally begun.
At Great Lakes I went through basic training which included lots of push-ups and other kinds of calisthentics, learning some naval savvy like what a knot is and how to tie a few of them, including one called a granny knot, and there was another one called a sheep-shank,which I'm too embarrassed to even ask what it was for. I'm kidding. The sheepshank is used to shorten a pice of line. Anyway, I learned them all, and a lot of other stuff about the history of the navy, and then a lot more push-ups and knee-bends to make sure we stayed stiff and sore. There was some kind of virus going around and, of course, I got it and ended up in the infirmary for a couple of days. Hey, that wasn't bad. Might even have been the best part of boot training. Just kidding again.
On Feb. 1, 1944, I came home by train for a two-week leave, then back to Great Lakes.
100 GALLONS OF COFFEE!
23 February, 1944, Barracks 207, O.G.U. Great Lakes Naval Station Illinois. This makes our sixth day of KP, and my second day as coffee man. I make 100 gallons of coffee for each meal.
I am six feet, one inch tall and yesterday, I weighed 172 pounds.
A great deal of the snow has melted. Our chow hall is overlooking Lake Michigan. Except for a little shore ice, the lake is open. Herring Gulls are numerous. Also long lines of low-flying American Mergansers offshore. For dinner tonight we had sausage patties, creamed sweet potatoes and gravy, peas, soup, apple sauce, cottage cheese, ice cream, bread and butter, and coffee. Can't say they're not feeding us enough.
29 February, 1944: Still waiting for a draft that never comes. Signed a pay check last night which means I'll probably be here at least another week.
Had a fairly good 35-hour liberty in Chicago last weekend. Met a WAVE. Had a necking party with a cute little high school girl. Drank some beer. Went to a couple of movies: Gung Ho, and a horror double-bill.
2 March, 1944. After evening chow yesterday, went over to the bluff overlooking the lake. Between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, I counted 335 American Mergansers, 5 female Goldeneyes, and about 100 Herring Gulls.
On Feb. 16. I was subjected to a variety of tests and it was decided that my aptitudes might make me a candidate for being a quartermaster, which in the navy is a navigator with a bit of communications skills thrown in for good measure. So it was that on March 8, I left Great Lakes on a North Shore train to Chicago, then aboard another train for a long ride to Newport, Rhode Island. Why Newport? Because that's where a Naval Training Station is located - at Coddington Point on beautiful Narraganset Bay. I went to Service School there, learning to be a Quartermaster and still found time to get into Newport , have a few beers at the famous Blue Moon, and even get up to Boston a couple of times.
Newport was a beautiful area and whenever I got a chance I walked along the ocean, including the famouis cliff walk that meandered past the mansions of the rich and famous - although many of them were damaged by a hurricane that had swept up the coast a few years previously. Thus, I was also able to get in a little birding. One Saturday I went to Boston with a friend named Woody who was in my classes. He had a girlfriend who lived there and we met up with her for a while, had lunch and walked around sightseeing. Went to a famous seafood restaurant whose name escapes me for the moment.
Newport Cruisin' Oh, are there good lookin' girls in town?
I'll say there are!
Are there wild women hangin' around?
I'll say there are!
And have they captired us kids
And are we all on the skids?
Are we? I'll say we are
And did we fall for their big blue eyes -
just like the skies?
And did we tell 'em a bunch of lies -
Beneath our sighs?
Are we sad and got the blues
Causes we've had this Newport cruise?
Are we? Like Hell we are!
Some of the birds I've seen:
Great Black-backed Gull 4, Herring Gull, 100s, European Cormorant 7 , Black Duck 4, Greater Scaup 100+, Red-breasted Merganser 22, American Goldeney 6,Song Sparrow 1, Starling, and Engliish Sparrow.
7 May, 1944: South of Newport, R. I., (several ponds, Cliff
Walk and Tower Hill). Black-crowned Night Heron 5, Black Duck 2, Sparrow Hawk 1, Killdeer 5, Greater Yellowlegs 1, Pectoral Sandpiper 1, Spotted Sandpiper 3, Herring Gull 2000, Laughing Gull 200, Common Tern 40, Mourning Dove 3, Chimney Swift 1, Flicker 7, Rough-winged Swallow 6, Barn Swallow 30, Blue Jay 3, Crow 5, House Wren 3, Catbird 16, Brown Thrasher 10, Robin 50, Starling 5, Yellow Warbler 30, Northern Yellowthroat 2, English Sparrow 10, Meadowlark 2, Red-winged Blackbird 50, Baltimore Oriole 1, Purple Grackle 10, Cowbird 2, Indigo Bunting 1, Goldfinch 10, Towhee 12, Chipping Sparrow 1, and Song Sparrow 3.
On May 10, we left Newport for the long, long train ride to Gulfport, Mississippi, where we arrived on the 12th. Wow! This was fun! The furtherest south I'd ever been. To my eyes it was like the tropics. I managed to get to New Orleans one weekend, and into Gulfport a couple of times. One late afternoon, a friend and I investigated a lonely country road that led deep into the bayou country, back to an ancient little cemetery with a bar nearby, a primitive wooden structure with hanging oil lamps inside and a rough-and-tumble - but friendly - crowd of locals. It was dark when we made our way back to the main road, and on the way we heard the eerie calling of chuck-wills-widows.
IMPRESSIONS OF GULFPORT Bright sun, blue sky,
Streets crowded with sailors,
Lovlies in scanty bathing suits.
Biloxi Drive curing along the shore,
Stately moss-covered trees,
Old houses, modern hotels,
Ice cold, ripe red watermelon,
Fishing boats, crab boats
Fortresses roaring overhead,
Cumulous clouds piled up
Staked down to a dusty lot,
A carnival raises its voice
And lights up the sky,
As Octopus and Whip
Throw people dizzily around
A rattling, man-made orbit
On July 8, 1944. we left Gulfport for the Amphibious Training Base at Little Creek,Virginia, where we arrived on the 10th. I was beginning to feel like a seasoned traveler by now - and a fairly gung-ho swabbie. After arriving, for about a week we were shuttled about between Paradise Island (Portsmouth, VA. and St. Helena (Norfolk, Va. One exciting day when we were back at Little Creek, a full-scale hurricane blew up the coast and threatened to blow us all out to sea. A few hours after the worst was over,I was walking around the base and saw my first-ever Black Skimmer flying about over the huge puddles of water inside the camp. While at Little Creek, I went over to the Norfolk Air Station one day and hitched a ride aboard a Marten Marauder. This was my first airplane ride, and for a couple of hours I thrilled as the plane towed a target sleeve somewhere over some coastal anti-aircraft batteries.
Sometimes, in my free time, I would walk down to the waterfront docks where a small armada of amphibious craft, including many LSMs, were tied up. At nighttime it was especially exciting. The ships were almost like living entities, maybe like giant prehistoric animals, tethered there, looming up in the darkness, generators humming, red and green lights blinking, sometimes strains of music emanating from somewhere deep in their interiors.
A VISIT TO NEW YORK CITY
A few weeks later, I hitched another ride on a North American Trainer that was flying to Fllyd Bennet Field. The pilot, Ensign Birch, was a likeable chp. What a thrill that flight was, especially when we made a stop at Lakehurst, New Jersey,and flew past the giant dirigible hangers. My mother was visiting with my Aunt Virginia in New York, so I was able to spend the weekend with them before heading back to Little Creek, this time on a night train.
On my first evening in New York City, my mother, my cousin Bob, and I went uptown to see the sights. We ate at a Child's Restaurant, then went to see the film, Arsenic and Old Lace. That night I slept until the follwong noon on a wonderfully soft, luxurious bed in a nicely furnished hotel room. What a difference a day makes!
That afternoon, while we were doing some more sightseeing, Mother and I went in a little Catholic cathedral, Our Lady of Innocence, right off Broadway. To my Protestant eyes the interior was unusually decorative with many candles burning, some of them in red glass containers, the overall effect being kaleidescopic, pulsating, weird/. The altar and the front of the worship center was white with two life-sized biblical figures, At the back of the room, there was a large sculpture of Christ on the cross. An elderly woman was on her knees in front of the figure, fervently caressing the chipped, guilded toes of the Savior.
While walking along Fifth Avenue, we ran into Stuart Allen and a young lady friend of his who was also from Columbus. He had been in New York since March and was doing some kind of work in the theatre. He expressed the opinion that Columbus, Ohio was a very limited place and that he would probably never go back to live there.
Uptown, downtown. Mother and I walked on. Seventh Avenue. Sixth Avenue. Broadway. Fifth Avenue. Park Avenue. In and out of department stores. and shops. We walked until we were exhausted. We went in the impressive Pierpont-Morgan Library and looked upon the beautiful, colorful prints and photographs in rare old books. Flaming red, bright orange; clear, shining yellow , glittering gold painted on the exquisite gilded pages. I glean all these details from my journals, but for the world of me I can't remember what my mother looked like, how she wore her hair, how much gray was in her hair, and all the rest. I can't remember what our conversations were. It is all lost in time, and in the long run, those things would have been more important to me than all the rest put togehter.
Friday evening, I went dowtown with Mother, Cousin Bob, and Aunt Virginia and they left me at the Stage Door Canteen. Noisy, smoky, and packed with jitterbuggingg couples who reminded me of microscopic amoeba gyrating around, I had a soft drin and went back out into the cool night air where I could be alone with my thoughts. Walking past a theatre, I hesitated, looked at the billboards, and someone who worked there waved me on inside. Wonders what a uniform does in wartime. I also thought how proud my mother must have been walking around with me, a handsome(?) dark-haired young man in a U. S. Navy uniform - or so it seems to me now, looking back far across the years. It's like viewing soeone else's life.
Anyhow, I went into the theatre, found a seat, and watched the stage play School for Brides. After the play was over, I walked around for awhile amongst the theatre crowd, reveling in the excitement of the moment. I had just crossed a street when a dapper, well-dressed, middle-aged little man approached me and inquired if I had a light. After continuing up the street a few steps, I became aware that this man was right behind me. Within a few moments he came up to me and asked if he could buy me a drink in the Hotel Astor which we were standing in front of.
I should have known better - I had my suspisions - but I said ok because I was alone with no one to talk to, so I followed him into the Astor bar where we each had a small Southern Comfort which came to a dollar and a half and which he paid for. "Mr. Dapper Dan" had also engaged another sailor in conversation, extolling the virtues and the "vim and vigor" of American sailors (I bet!) so I excused myself to go to the head, went back through the lobby and out onto the street.
Later in the evening, I met four sailors and five girls who were out on the town. With nothing better on the horizon, I went along with them to the Hotel Lincoln where they had a couple of rooms. It was a fun evening. Some drinking and a lot of sexy smooching, but no sex. When I left to go back to my hotel in the wee hours of the mornign, I was still a virgin. A tired virgin. Worked up and worked over, but still a virgin. Damned!
Saturday morning, my cousin Bob Clark and I took the subway up to the American Museum of Natural History. I was totally fascinated with everything that I saw and would have liked a couple of days to have gone through the many exhibits at my leisure. That afternoon, all of us, except Da, went to Radio City Music Hall. If I'm not mistaken, the movie showing was based on one of Louis Bromfield's books, and I believe it was titled The Rains Came. And, of course there were the famed Rockettes, a stage full of beautiful women all kicking in unison.
I will forever remember that wonderful weekend and it was with mixed feelings that I boarded a train that would take me back to Virginy and the Spartan existence at Little Creek.
A drawing I made of the Quanset huts we lived in
at Little Creek, Virginia.
Here's are some memories that I have retained:
August 19, 1944 -
Captain's inspection this morning was really rough. We were on the lower athletic field instead of the customary parade ground. The best part, it wasn't too long. It was cool, even though the sun was out in a clear blue sky. Planes of many types - Thunderbolts, Hellcats, Helldivers, Catalinas, Marauders, Liberators, Avengers, etc., - were continually thundering overhead.
The inspecting officer was a Lieutenant-Commander whose chest was bedecked with ribbons. He was a handsome man, not much over 30 or 35 years old, and he had a trim mushache. The inspecting party would stop in front of each and every man and scrutinize him from head to toe. They were after neckerchiefs in particular. I got by ok, stuck out my chest, pulled in my chin, and looked straight ahead. Boy, what a relief when they had passed by.
This afternoon I had three navigation classes on compass correction, deviation, etc. It became very boring (and hot) and I became very sleepy. Saw a sanderling at the beach this weekend. Barn Swzallows were noted flying around camp. I'm reading Needle to the North, , a story of sub-Arctic exploration in the Hudson Bay region.
I heard that we had entered Paris - I'm not sure, I haven't seen a late paper or heard the radio. Old Blood and Guts Patton is stuffing hard militarism right down the throats of the Germans. I think that the war in Europe will be over before the coming of winter - and that is what most people are saying. I hope so. As far as my seeing action is concerned, I think it is a certainty. It will be in the Philippines, somewhere on the south China coast, or maybe somewhere in the East Indies. The thought of invading Japan proper is beyond the limits of even my fertile imagination . . .
August 22, 1944: I went to Virginia Beach yesterday with Booth. We had a rough time of it getting there. The trip which can usually be made in fifteen or tweny minutes took us two hours. After finnaly getting there, we had some dinner. I got a nice burn on my hand from a pack of matches that flared up while I was lighting a cigarette and, last but not least, we pooled our money and bought a bottle of Puerto Rican rum from three women who were in the restaurant.
Most of our time was spent walking around looking at the sights, which meant mostly gawking at the bathing beauties and estimating their relative attractiveness on a system based on one hundred percent. Well, I'm sorry tosay that most of them scored around thirty-five percent. The liquid level in the bottle of rumslowly lowered along with our spitits (at first), Later, however, there was an unprecedented change in this state of affairs: The lower the rum got, the higher we got. .
Later in the evening, we picked up a couple of women - walked along with them - all the while my sensual desires rushing up like the breakers crashing on the beach, with the same results. We spent a few pleasant hours with them, then said goodbye.
We got a luft part way back to camp. It was after midnight now and here we were stranded out in the forsaken countryside, on a seldon used back road, drunk as coots, staggering along, singing songs with only the stars as an audience. Eventually, we did get a rise all the way back to Little Creek with a couple of NCOs. As soon as I hit my sack, I was out like a light.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt completely refreshed with no resemblence of a hangover. Strangely enough though, I did experience a little light-headedness during the day. I've never trusted rum since then.
TRAINING CRUISE ABOARD THE LSM 159
On September 20, 1944 while we were at Little Creek, our crew went aboard the LSM 159,for a 2-week's training cruise on Chesapeake Bay. The 159 and its crew had seen action in Europe. The captain's name was John Kennedy, no relationshio to John Fitzgerald Kennedy's family that I know of. He had once been a fighter pilot and later been on two ships that were sunk. I liked him a lot, and I liked the way he ran his ship which resulted in an easy-going and relaxed atmosphere. All his crew members seemed happy and they all seemed to do their jobs in a competant manner. I wrote in my jpurnal that he reminded me of Tom Harmon, the University of Michigan star football player. I also wrote that Kennedy and our own skipper, John Mauter, didn't get along, and that when they were both on the conning tower at the same time you could see the sparks fly.
Some of the birds I recorded while on this cruise included: Herring Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Flicker, and a Cedar Waxwing and a Black-throated Blue Warber that flew over. The following birds actually landed aboard the ship for varying lengths of time: Catbird, Parula Warbler, lots of Cape May Warblers, Black-throated Green Warbler, several Blackpoll Warblers, a Redstart, a Vesper Sparrow, and several White-throated Sparrows. The Parula Warbler was flitting around my feet on a drizzly morning as I was putting up the union jack.
A few days later, around October 9, we left Little Creek for a cross-country train trip to Los Angeles and its port, San Pedro, where our ship the LSM 245 was being built.
Can you believe I don't have a decent picture of my ship, the LSM 245.
This is a sister ship, the LSM 247.
[March 11, 2010]
Mr. Tom Thomson,
LSM 245 - Courtesy of Henry L. McDonald
My name is Daniel McDonald. I am the eldest son of Henry L. McDonald who served with you on the U.S.S. LSM 245. During the last years of my Dad's life, I read him your "Searching for the U.S.S. LSM 245" and "Letters Home." Although my Dad was blind and couldn't read your diary himself, he really enjoyed having me read it over and over to him. I want you to know it brought him a lot of enjoyment and it brought back additional memories of his experiences during World War II.
Thank you so much for sharing your diary with so many. Everyone in my family has read your stories and letters. It really helps our youngsters understand both the boredom and the horrors of war.
There was a passage in your journal - "A few days later, around October 9, we left Little Creek for a cross-country train trip to Los Angeles and its port, San Pedro, where our ship the LSM 245 was being built. Can you believe I don't have a decent picture of my ship, the LSM 245."
While collecting my father's belongings upon his death on March 2nd of last week, I noticed a photo he had kept all these years. I thought you should have it.
Thanks again for making Mac's last few years enjoyable.
Daniel McDonald email@example.com
A Two Week Leave
I had never been further west than Chicago and Great Lakes, Illinois, so this trip was really exciting. We went through Cincinnati, had a stopover in St. Louis, where we enjoyed a night on the town, including a visit to a burlesque theatre - WOW! - and then across the seemingly endless plains and prairies of the midwest and west, until we dipped down into the deserts of the southwest and finally, on October 13, our train rolled into Los Angeles. Since our ship was still under construction, it was easy to get a two weeks leave, so I hitched rides aboard several navy planes - usually C-47s - to Columbus. I went to a dinner meeting of the Wheaton Club, the all-male naturalist's society at the downtown YMCA. I had been elected into this organization when I was a senior in high school. Years later I would become president of the group, and later still, I would resign, in protest of their exclusion of women from their macho ranks.
Went out with my brother David one evening, and on another day I visited the Curtiss-Wright plant. My old boss Bob Studer showed me around and treated me to lunch over in Building 3-A. Another day, I dropped in the museum at 15th and High to say hello to my dear friend and mentor Ed Thomas. I was fortunate to meet Dr. Walker from the OSU Research Center at Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie who was there in Ed's office. He was very friendly and invited me to visit the Center at any time. A few months later, while at sea aboard the 245, I received a gift from him – a copy of The Birds of the Central Pacific.
It was awfully good to be home because in all probability this would be the last time until the war was over. One thing was for sure, it would be the last time before we sailed overseas. My mother, a widow, was awfully nervous about the whole situation and, looking back on it, who could blame her? I did my best to reassure her before I left on a Saturday night at 0200 from Port Columbus aboard a Navy C-47. Ironically, the end could have come in those early morning hours in a fiery explosion over Columbus. There were half a dozen GIs aboard plus the crew of two. We took off and headed west, which took us toward downtown Columbus. As I looked out the window I could make out East Broad Street and a number of familiar landmarks. Then, I suddenly noticed that the cap on the wing's gas tank had come loose and was fluttering about at the end of its short chain in the slipstream. What was more alarming, vapor was coming out of the open hole, rolling down the wing perilously close to the fire-spitting exhaust pipe. I rushed up to the cockpit with the news and the co-pilot darted back to my window, took one look, turned pale, and scrambled back up the aisle to the cockpit. I figured we were just about over Parsons Avenue when a few second later the plane circled around, the port motor was shut off, the prop feathered, and we limped back to the airport. A little late getting off, but a possible big bloody blowout over Columbus had been averted.
Back to California
It was a long and arduous trek getting back to California. From Columbus we got to Kansas City early Sunday morning and found they had a lot of west-bound cargo and wouldn't have any room for passengers. We heard there was an army plane at the municipal airport, so our party of about six was whisked across country about 30 miles in a stationwagon. When we got to the airport, we found we had just missed the plane we wanted. We waited around the airport for a military plane due out that afternoon and four of us actually got aboard. There was a Navy Lt. jg, a Navy yeoman, an army private, and me. Imagine our consternation when we got dumped at Oklahoma City to make room for high priority freight. Lucky for us. a Long Beach-bound C-53 was about to take off. Aboard this plane were the household possessions of a a Lt. Col., plus several other passengers. We left Oklahoma City at 10 pm and touched down at Albuquerque New Mexico at 01:30. The last hour we were in the air, we nearly froze, the temperature dropping down to nearly zero. According to my journal, we had been flying at 12,000 ft. We spent the night at the airport, where we got sleeping accomodations, and we departted the next morning at 10:00 LST. We paszsed over the giant meteorite crator and I wrote that we were also passing over wild, scenic country, a large lake, and many smaller ones.
Scraps of Information and Memories
2 November, 1944: Aboard the LSM 245, berthed in Western Pipe and Steel Shipyard, Wilmington, California: Our ship was commissioned today. There were a number of officers aboard, the captain's girlfriend, an elderly lady (perhaps his mother), and shipyard workers. The ship is in pretty good shape and will probably be ready for our shakedown cruise within a week. Most of the fellows seem to be in good spirits. Bill Glazer seems sort of low. He's pretty young and he's probably homesick. He tries to make up forr his mental attitude by acting tough. Still, as I think about it, he's a lot quieter than he was back at Little Creek. The Captain of our ship is William J. Mauter, Lt. jg, The Executive Officer is a Mr. Robbins, the Gunnery Officer is Robert Allen, and the Communications Officer is Thomas Whaeatley. There were at least one or two other officers and when I remember their names I will post them here.
Scuttlebutt has it that we will leave December 25 for Pearl Harbor. I guess this is it! At last, I'm on my own ship, a vessel intended to plough up onto the eneny's beaches. My bunk and locker number is 39. I am in the amidship crew's compartment down near the wardroom. Lacy got up a pretty good chow today: chicken, broth, mashed potatoes and gravy, lettuce salad, peas, pie, and milk. I started keeping the rough deck log today. There is something about this damned navy that's hard to explain. I hate and dispise it all at the same time, yet - there's something about it that gets into you. I don't know what it is. New horizons, perhaps. Or the age-old romance of ships going down to the sea.
I jotted down some of the birds I saw in the area: Western Gull 3, California Gull 2, Ring-billed Gull 25, Branndt's Cormorant5, Brown Pelican 6, Western Grebe 1 (breeding pluage).
A Girl Named Nikki
One evening before our ship was launched from its berth place, I was on liberty and just stuck around San Pedro, a rough and tumble little port city if ever there was one. I probably went into several bars - I don't even remember how many - but in one of them I met an attractive gal named Nikki.
Niki was a twenty-eight year old brunette, about five-feet-six inches tall, and exceedingly well-built. She was pretty and had a bright smile that matched her personality.
From the bar we moved to a booth where we sat close together and engaged in a little preliminary smooching. While we had a couple more drinks, she told me that she worked in a nearby shipyard.
By now it was getting on toward eleven o'clock and Nikki asked me to take her home.
"It's not very far," she said. "Just up the hill aways."
I don't have to tell you that I was more than happy to take her hom but, after all these years I don't have the foggiest idea how we got there. Maybe we flew. All I remember is that she lived in a little efficieny one-floor apartment that was part of a complex built on a great hillside that overlooked San Pedro Harbot with its myriad of twinkling lights from the shipyards.
I do remember vividly that we rolled and wrestled around on a daybed in her livingroom for half the night - and never once did she let down her final guard. We had a couple more dates and they all resulted in the same scenario repeating itself again and again. A lot of of kissing and findling, twisting and turning, moaning and groaning, but no sex. I remained a virgin.
Not long after, our ship was launched and I said farewell to my newfound love. We exchanged addresses, and I never saw Nikki again.
Funny thing, though. During the course of the next year - while far out in the Pacific - I received many letters from Nikki and in all of them she described in the most sexually graphic terms you can imagine whatshe was going to do to me when we got together again.
And, like I said, I never saw her again.
Landing Ship Medium Statistics
(558 LSMs Were Built During World War II)
Length overall: 203' 6"
Breadth overall: 34'
Draft, full load:
Fwd. 4' 3"
Aft. 7' 3"
Fwd. 3' 2"
Aft. 6' 2"
Light: 513 tons
Landing, full load : 734 tons
Seagoing, full load: 912 tons
No. of frames: 41
Medium tanks 5
Heavy tanks 3
Pay load (max.) 165 tons
3 November, 1944: Went up to the office in the shipyard to today with Signalman Loftin to work on charts. The Chief Quartermaster who works there is a nice guy. He is crippled in some way and has a brace on one leg. I never asked him what had caused his disability. While we were correcting charts he asked if we needed any help. The charts we were working on were of Japanese possessions and there weren't many changes to be made. The Chief said, "You boys will have to go out and make the real corrections, then I'll change them on the charts back here."
7 November, 1944: I'm sitting up in the chart room with the headphones on listening to the election returns. As things stand now, Roosevelt has approximately 57% of the popular vote.
8 November, 1944: At sea, bound for San Diego. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected president and remains in the White House. He will have a Democratic House and Senate working with him. The greatest goal, the climax of his already terrific life lies ahead for Roosevelt. The role: peacemaker.
On the way out of the harbor at San Pedro, I saw a bird sitting on a float that almost certainly was a Black-footed Albatross. About 50 seals were lazing on nearby pontoon floats. Also cormorants and several California Gulls. The sea is calm and blue. The sky is clear but there is a low-lying fog that limits visibility.
10 November, 1944: Aboard the USS LSM 245, San Diego, California: This morning there was an inspection of the ship by officers of the base here. Results of the inspection will be posted in several days. I am now reading The Sea Wolf by Jack London. Our ship's library has a good number of titles.
Captain Mauter seems to be pretty pleased with his crew. "As far as I am concerned," he said, "I have the very best LSM crew there is!" He mentioned that a number of men would be getting rates on December 1 and every month thereafter. I don't know if I am included or not. I do know that I am getting impatient.
Tomorrow, we get underway for the first part of our shakedown cruise. We will be at sea four days. Saw another Western Grebe this morning. Western Gulls predominate around here. Several hundred ducks of some sort were far out in the harbor. The sky was overcast all day and several times there was a light drizzle. Late in the afternoon, I went down to the galley and René , our cook, gave me a cup of hot coffee. I really needed the coffee to keep me awake. Before he came into the Navy, René was a short order cook somewhere. He makes really good candied sweet potatoes!
11 November, 1944, Aboard the USS LSM 245: We had some rugged weather today. Rained or drizzled most of the day. Got underway about 8:20 this morning and followed the flagship X4166 out into the channel along with several other LSMs. A strong wind had sprung up, the waves were choppy and there was quite a swell. Our little ship started rolling and pitching , the spray flying back over the bow onto the well deck. I was on the flagbag all day with McLain. Whipping the hoists up is a lot of fun, especially when we get on the ball and beat all the ships around us in getting our signal flags flying in the wind.
I saw at least 200 Brandt's Cormorants flying low over the water. Also several hundred Western Gulls, a few Ring-billed Gulls, a number of unidentified terns, two Pintails, several pelicans, six Greater Scaup, and I saw what were probably some kind of scoter all day. Also what might have been a Red-throated Loon.
It rained most of the day which didn't add much to our creature comfort. When the ship was rolling heavily, we really got knocked around. I enjoy it though; I brace my feet on the wet deck and counteract the ship's roll by leaning way over in the opposite direction. The halyards and flags were difficult to work because of their newness and the rain. The snaps were oily and hard to work with. I worry a lot about my mother who keeps writing and telling me to ask for a discharge.
Ahhh! you should see the beautiful, large picture of Donna Reed that I have in my locker. And to think that I met her in that little cafe in the foothills of the Silver Lake district one rainy night - that I went home with her and got to know her! Ever since, she has been my ideal of the All-American girl and someday I hope I can marry someone as beautiful and charming as she was. On second thought, maybe a few girlfriends would be the best way to go - before I get married.
THE EPISODE OF THE BIBLE-TOTIN' YEOMAN
Although most of the men, with the exception of the officers, had trained as a crew for the better part of a year, if my memory is correct, there was no yeoman on board when we were first commissioned. Since the duties of the yeoman aboard our ship were essentially secretarial to the officers' needs, he came aboard about the same time they did.
I forget the name of the fellow who came aboard our ship to fill this rate, but I will never forget him. He was tall and he had a beard. So help me, he looked impressively like the commonly accepted image of Jesus. And to make the comparison even more compelling, he was very religious. He belonged to an evangelical church somwehere in California.
On his first day aboard, he ate with the rest of us at the tables in the aftercrew's quarters. But never again. Ever after that he would go through the galley, then take his tray full of food to his little cubbyhole of an office and eat there. He objected to the language regularily used during our mealtimes. Particularily, the habitual use of the f-word, which might well have been the most commonly used word on our ship, habitually used as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, participle,, and probably all the other parts of speech.
When he wasn't working, he would type scriptures on little cards and he would walk about the deck memorizing them. Over the course of time, I got to know him and had a number of interesting conversations with him. I was startled and taken aback when one day he told me that everyone on our ship was going to Hell. "Including you?" I quipped, half jokingly? "Of course not," he replied, rolling his eyes heavernward. "I'm not a sinner."
"Well then, that must include me," I kiddingly replied. "You will have to judge that for yourself," he answered. That son of a bitch, I thought to myself. Who does he think he is? I didn't have to ask him what had brought on this doomsday prophesy. While we were in San Diego, the officers and men of our ship were divided into two liberty sections, which meant that half the crew had liberty one night, the other half, the next night. So, half the men were ashore on any given night, which meant a lot of guys were returning to the ship every night in various stages of drunkenness. But without even asking him, I knew what had really gotten under his skin. Many of the men were going to Tiajuana and indulging in sex with the many prostitutes in that border town. And the good 'ol Navy, every ready to protect its men, had prophylactic kits available when they returned to our ship.Therefore, every night there was a litter and a clutter of cellophne wrappers and squeezed out little plastic tubes all over the head (the ship's bathroom). Interestingly enough, probably as a consession to the Catholic Church, the Navy did not issue condoms to any of its personnel.
The Bible-totin' yeoman must have related his predjudices to many others because his prediction became common knowledge aboard ship. So you can imagine how surprised everybody was when the Shore Patrol came aboard two days before we were to sail overseas, arrested our yeoman, and took him away. Another yeoman reported for duty the next day.
The rumor mill churned out every story that the human mind could invent as to why our Bible-totin', prophesizing yeoman was arrested. Strangely enough, it was many years later, in a conversation with my friend , Dave Mackey, a Navy veteran, that we finally figured out the real reason. We figured the stories had gotten back to our Captain and he couldn't afford to have a man aboard who was spouting off that we were all going to Hell -when we were sailing off to a combat zone. Hindsight is sure wonderful!
12 November, 1944: Aboard the USS LSM 245: Rain squalls most of the day; rough duty outside the harbor. Birds seen: Western Grebe 3, Red-throated Loon 1, Western Gull 700, Ring-billed Gull 200, Bonaparte's Gull 75, Royal Tern 1, Forster's Tern 75, Brandt's Cormorant 300, California Brown Pelican 25, Scaup Duck 10, Surf Scoter 200, Western Willet 10, Long-billed Dowitcher 1.
13 November, 1944: Aboard the USS LSM 245: San Diego, California: Threatening weather most of the day. Cleared for awhile during the afternoon. Birds seen: Loon 1, Western Gull 250, Ring-billed Gull 75, Heerman's Gull 1, Bonaparte's Gull 50, Royal Tern 1, Forster's Tern 15, Brandt's Cormorant 100, California Brown Pelican 10, Scaup Duck 50, Surf Scoter 30, Snowy Egret 1, Sanderling 8, Western Willet 1, Long-billed Curlew 3.
Worked on the flag bag all day. McClain and I are really kickin' em up there today. Only had one beaching on Coronado Island. It's been great stuff out there the last three days. Rain and wind, a moderate swell, and white-capped waves tossing the LSMs around like chips. I love to stand on the quarter deck and brace my legs when the ship starts rolling and swinging and sway in the opposite direction. For all of its ungainliness, this little ship cuts right along. Maybe "ploughing" is the right word, and throwing out a long, turbulent wake.
And these lines from Omar Kyam were in my journal at this point:
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the dust descend;
Dust into dust, and under dust to lie,
Sans wine, sans song, sans singer, and sans end!
15 November, 1944: Southeast of National City, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Birds seen: Ring-billed Gull 1, Western Gull 10, Western Willet 1, Killdeer 5, Mourning Dove 3, Turkey Vulture 1, Desert Sparrow Hawk 1, Red-shafted Flicker 2, Black Phoebe 2, Western Meadowlark 12, Brewer's Blackbird 25, House Finch 5, Goldfinch sp. 1, Gambel's Sparrow 50, California Shrike 1, Audubon's Warbler 25, Western Mockingbird 4, California Thrasher 2, Western Gnatcatcher 1.
20 November, 1944, Aboard the USS LSM 245, 0245: Signal watch. Could it be true that one doesn't know himself as well as a casual observor knows him? I've been wondering how I appear in the eys of others. My character? My physical appearance? Do I really know myself? It's true that most people are all too inclined to drift through life, never taking a bearing, never a sounding of the uncharted waters they pass through. Never determining their position.
In my case, I have at least two objectives in mind for my own good. First, I am determined to keep a strong, healthy body. Second, I'm going to try to abolish all timidity, In recent months, I have made great strides in this direction, but the time has now arrived for the tempering of the steel. I must strive for firmness and the ability to make decisions. Too long I have had a "dependent" outlook. That came from being babied and overly protected by my mother.
The "all of me." is no more than the total of my aspirations. To stand tall and straight, clear-eyed and at ease under all conditions is a major goal. I must look to the future and chart my course. I dare not drag anchor. I must not drift. I seek purpose in this life I have to live. I shall temper the steel for the test!
We're now in the second week of our special training. Today we had refueling practice, came alongside LSM 271 to play the part. Also practiced passing the mail. A nice day, but things were pretty fouled up on the flag hoists. McClain got chewed out by the skipper for a sloppy hoist. Yesterday, I got a brand new warm jacket, dark blue, with U.S. Navy on the back in white. Really nice. I saw 6 White-winged Scoters today. Same old chicken for dinner tonight.
A poem I wrote went something like this:
From the purple-veiled mountains of Mexico
From the outlines of Point Loma;
From the blue, shadowy horizon,
To the skyline of San Diego;
Rolling and pitching through the waves,
We pushed up the sparkling water,
Leaving behind a frothy wake,
Breathing in the fresh wind, exuberant,
From the joy of living!
But, how beautiful are the words to the Navy Hymn!
I will share them with you:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O trinity of love and power,
Our brethern shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them where soe'er they go,
Thus ever let there rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
And the music! A perfect blending of spiritual qualities.
About this time, we had a gas drill one afternoon while going back to our anchorage from the firing range. The skipper clipped through the voice tube in his terse voice: "Over the P.A., announce "Gas" five times, then "Get your gas masks, then "Gas" five more times. The result with one of the radiomen from a southern state drawling our, "Gas! Gas! Gas! Gas! Gas!" was very comical. Looking down from the conning tower, we could see that many of the men didn't know what was going on. So the message was piped over the P.A. system again. It sounded so funny that we couldn't keep from laughing. Finally, a lot of the men emerged on deck , hastily pulling on their grotesque looking gas masks.
One morning the U.S.S. Ranger (R-4) came sailing out of the channel, escorted by a tin can, headed for the open sea. Her deck was loaded with Hellcats. Helldivers, and Avengers. It was in May of this year that I saw her several times up at Newport, Rhose Island where she was ferrying planes to England.
Over the P.A. the other evening during chow: "Mr. Robbins is cordially invited to dinner in the weardroom." Some of Mr. Wheatley's humor probably.
21 November, 1944, Aboard the U.S.S LSM 245, Repair Base, San Diego, California: Took four amphibious "Ducks" and some soldiers aboard again today. Birds seen included: Western Grebe 18, Western Gull 25, Ring-billed Gull 100, Heerman's Gull 2, Bonaparte's Gull 400, Caspian Tern 2, Sooty Shearwater 3, Brandt's Cormorant 50, California Brown Pelican 25, Great Scaup 10, Surf Scoter 200, Forster's Tern 1, Long-billed Curlew 1.
I wrote to Mary Juszli and Martha Cook recently. To Mary, I outlined my philosophy of life. These were both girls I briefly met at train stations as we tootled our way across the country. What great morale-builders, they were! The smiling, attractive young women who flocked to the train stations to wave to the passing servicemen, maybe talk to them briefly, maybe even exchange addresses.
Beautiful weather! It's a treat to go out to sea on days like this!
22 November, 1944. 10:00 am to 5:00 pm: Hitchhiked south of San Diego , hiked along the edges of the old coastal marshes, then over to Imperial Beach, Silver Strand, and Coronado Island. Fair and warm. The bird list I kept included: Western Grebe 8, Ring-billed Gull 500, Bonaparte's Gull 3, Caspian Tern 5, Forster's Tern 25, Brandt's Cormorant 30, California Brown Pelican 5, Baldpate 100, Shoveller 150, Pintail 50, Scaup sp, 100, Surf Scoter 500, Ruddy Duck 8, Great Blue Heron 1, American Egret 15, Snowy Egret 8, Avocet 40, Baird's Sandpiper 4, Least Sandpiper 75, Western Sandpiper 2000, Marbler Godwit 250, Greater Yellowlegs 40, Western Willet 40, Long-billed Curlew 25, Black-bellied Plover 75, Killdeer 30, Black Turnstone 2,Mourning Dove 10, Desert Sparrow Hawk 1, Burrowing Owl 1, Black Phoebe 3, Western Meadowlark 10, Brewer's Blackbird 20, House Finch 5, Willow Goldfinch 3, Western Savannah Sparrow 50, Song Sparrow 1, Pipit 200, Western Mockingbird 1, Bush Tit 10.
Thanksgiving Day, 23 November, 1944, 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm: East of National City to Clearwater Lake: Fair and warm. Birds seen: Western Grebe 10, Pied-billed Grebe 3, Western Gull 75, Ring-billed Gull 3, Brandt's Cormorant 1, California Brown Pelican 2, Teal species 1, Shoveler 10, Goldeneye 5, Bufflehead 3, Ruddy Duck 10, Western Willet 1, Quail sp., 3, Mourning Dove 1, Marsh Hawk 1, Western Red-tailed Hawk 1, Golden Eagle 1, Prairie Falcon, Desert Sparrow Hawk 2,Belted Kingfisher 1, Red-shafted Flicker 5, Flycatcher species (1 light grayish-brown on back, slight wing bars, whitish throat and breast, underparts of a rosy hue) 4, Black Phoebe 1, Bi-colored Redwing100, Western Meadowlark 20, Brewer's Blackbird 20, House Finch 10, Green-backed Goldfinch 2,Song Sparrow 2, Cedar Waxwing 12, California Shrike 1, Audubon's Warbler 45, Pipit 25, Western Mockingbird 2, Bush-tit 3, Western Gnatcatcher 1.
1 December, 1944. the U.S.S. LSM 245 Aboard U,S.S LSM 245, 1810, anchored off Oceanside, California: Worked on the smooth deck log most of the day. Still have a lot of it to do. I'll put in some work on it tonight during my 8 to 12 watch. We took on three amphibious "Alligators" today. They resemble tanks somewhat but are open and are used mostly for carrying troops. They look very peculiar treading their way through the water. To get them on board, we heaved them two lines which were crossed. We then pulled them into position on the ramp. As each one came up the ramp it reared up, appearing very ominous, then slammed down on the wet well deck. The crews (Army) are in the troop quarters. Each 'gater has a name printed on the front in yellow letters. They are: Davy Jones, Angel Ann, and Smooglin' Smiles. (Not too sure about that last one.)
3 December, 1844. Aboard the U.S.S. LSM 245, moored at Destroyer Repair Base, San Diego, California: Today is a Sunday. Except for the fact that we had chicken for chow today, it would be like any other day. Reveille was at 06:45, chow down at 07:30, with fried eggs and bacon, grapefruit juice, oatmeal, bread, butter, and coffee. The eggs were greasy, but - so what? We came down from Oceanside yesterday afternoon. There was a brisk wind blowing and the sea was choppy. Our ship pitched and tossed, rolling from side to side as the swells surged under our shallow bottom with a grand splashing.
Poor Jimmy McClain got sick from the very first and crawled under the hatch on the quarterdeck and there he stayed for the entire trip. Bill Glazer got sick too but he didn't get as glum as he usually does. When we were in sight of Point Loma, with the wind on our starboard quarter, he couldn't keep his food down any longer and he leaned over the side. Up came his noon chow. No sooner was it out of his mouth but the wind caught it and sprayed it all over the aft part of the ship. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he crawled in beside Jimmy and there the two of them lay completely miserable.
7 December, 1944. Aboard the U.S.S. LSM 245, Repair Base, San Diego, California: Just came down from the galley, where I foraged for a little grub. A bowl of diced pears, apple pie, crackers and peanut butter being the bill d'fare. We had a bull session on guns in the forward troop compartment tonight, with Mr. Wheatley and the skipper presiding. Had a demonstration of winding an ammo magazine up to the desired pressure. The welders on board put up the pipes for our special halyards. Worked a good part of the day on publications. Finished the Coast Pilot for South America, and Radio Navigational Aids.
I went to Tiajuana twice in one week.. On this second occasion, I went with Jim Lapari. If I remember right, Jim was a signalman striker. I believe he was from Detroit. We got one ride of several miles duration, then had to wait twenty minutes or more before we were picked up again. A black woman was driving this car, a suave Mexican guy sitting beside her in the front seat. In back, where we were told to sit, was a wiry Negro man, probably about thirty. He said he was a prizefighter. He was so drunk he wouldn't have known the difference between Tuesday and Saturday. But he wasn't so iinebriated that he didn't worry about the woman's careless driving along the mountanous road approaching Tiajuana. Truth is, she was probably a little tipsy herself.
"Baby, take it easy on the curves!" he screamed in a high-pitched raspy voice..
"Baby!" he would yell again and again. Sometimes there was apprehension in his voice. At other time, abject fear.
Looking at us, he said, " That woman can't drive worth a damn!" Then he whined, "She's my wife," which was somewhat of a surprise to us, what with this Mexican guy sitting next to her up front, and no telling what he was doing with his hands.
Presently, the Mexican turned around and handed the prizefighter a bottle of whiskey from which the prisefighter took a long swallow. Then another.
"Are there any houses open down here? he finally asked with a lopsided grin.
"Sure," I replied. "Hundreds of them. They're all over the place." I didn't have to think twice to answer that one.
Just a few days ago I had lost my virginity down here in Tiajuana. Now I felt like a veteran - and already here I was passing insider information on to a stranger.
"The truth is, "I told him, "there are hundreds of prostitutes down here. They're of all ages. Some are young, some are younger, some are not so young. Some aree pretty, some are prettier, some are not so pretty.
There is one place," I continued, "where I went a few days ago that was actually a city block of walled in motel-like two-story structures with the main entrance in a slightly bigger building with a little red neon sign out front that says Hotel Regis. Inside, it's like a maze with tamped down earthen areaways with maybe hundreds of servicemen milling around - and almost as many women. Sometimes, if a woman likes the looks of one guy, they pull him by the arm, sometimes somewhere else. Sometimes two woemen pull one guy in opposute directions. I was beginning to feel like a tour guide. In the back of my mind I was thinking a C & W song title, something like: "I Lost My Virginity at the Hotel Regis."
Grinning, showing a lot of his white teeth, the prizefighter took another long drag on the bottle then handed it back to the Mexican.
I couldn't help but wonder what the relationship of these three people was all about, and decided I didn't give a hoot what it was. The best thing was to not even ask. Suddenly, our right and up ahead, I could see the twinkling lights of Tiajuana, the border town, the city of sin, I grinned from ear to ear as I thought what our Bible totin' yeoman would think of all this.
Presently, we came down out of the hills and arrived at the border. Here we had to change all of our money into two dollar bills and silver dollars. Then, after showing our papers to the Shore Patrol, we crossed into Mexico. We said goodbye to the three lost souls who had given us a lift and started walking around. Tiajuana is mostly a city of curio shops. The main street is lined on both sides with scores of such places. They sell American-made watches, great quantities of Mexican jewelry, including a lot of attractive turquoise stuff.
Jim and I wandered around from one dive to another. Some of them fairly respectable, others not. We had a couple of drinks: a Zombie, a Singapore Sling. Then we followed a zoot-suited fellow down a side street, through some deserted shops, down a dirt incline and, finally, we arrived at a small house. A shack, actually. When we went through the door we were accosted by two pretty young girls who wrapped their arms around us .and pulled us into adjacent bedrooms. In the little front parlor, sat an old woman and an old man - and a dog.
Such adventures as these don't exactly raise your opinion of yourself, but maybe it is part of growing up. Or, maybe it was part of growing up in war time. Awww! Let's face it. The girl I was with was attractive. I felt like I was more of a man afterwards. It was an honest transaction which is more than the circumstances in some marriages. It cost me three dollars. Hello. Goodby. And looking back on it, the riskiest part of the night was that car ride through the mountains.
One other thing. It suited my nature a helluva lot more than the proposition I received from a Lt. Commender at the bar in the El Cortez Hotel one evening. I told hime that it was nice talking to him about literature, but thanks, no thanks, to his proposition. My sexual preferences are exclusively geared to females, I told him. Sailors sure see the world in more ways than one, don't they!? Damn!
Mid-December, 1944, Aboard the U.S.S. LSM 245, moored at Repair Base, San Diego, California. One year ago today I was sworn into the Navy. I guess I'm fortunate in staying in the state for so long. It's all in the luck of the draw. We have a cute little puppy aboard. We named her Suzy and everyone from the Captain to every crewman is crazy about her.
30 December, 1944, Moored at Pier 5, Naval Repair Base, San Diego, California: Had liberty today starting at 13:00. Went over to the coastal marshes west of Cjula Vista. Stayed out until about 18:00, then came back to the ship. Here's a list of birds I saw: Eared Grebe 2 (1 dead on shore), California Brown Pelican 1, Fallaron Cormorant 5 (2 dead on shore), American Egret 6, Snowy Egret 2, Great Scaup Duck and Surf Scoter (rafts of several thousand), Marsh Hawk 1, Duck Hawk 1, Desert Sparrow Hawk 1, Semipalmated Plover 1, Killdeer 10, Black-bellied Plover 500, Black Turnstone 3, Long-billed Curlew 30, Wandering Tattler 20, Western Willet 60, Greater Yellowlegs 1, Lesser Yellowlegs 20, Least Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper 2000, Marbled Godwit 1500, Sandering 20, Avocet 50, Western Gull 6, Ring-billed Gull 20, Bonaparte's Gull 30, Heerman's Gull 2, Forster's Tern 1, Black Phoebe 4, Say's Phoebe 1, California Horned Lark 50, Bush Tit 5, Orange-crowned Warbler 1, Audubon's Warbler 50, English Sparrow 100, Western Meadowlark 8, Brewer's Blackbird 5, House Finch 50, Western Savannah Sparrow 20, Gambel's Sparrow 5, and San Diego Song Sparrow 5.
One Black-throated Gray Warbler seen at National City park last week.
22 December, 1944: 77 Western Grebes out in the bay!
A sentiment Scribbled:
I would gladly forsake everything only to be able to follow my beautiful and always amazing birds around the world. To delight in their rhapsodies of song, to marvel at their beauty of plumage, to study them in their every mood.
If any one thing in this world in which we unwittingly find ourselves was to convince me of a creator - it would be these - the plover taking wing from the shore, the wildfowl climbing into a winter's sky, a flash of color marking the flight or oriole, or tanager, or warbler.
To these creations, perhaps deserving the title of "divine creations," I dedicate my life.
Toward the end of December, 1944, Moored at Pier 5, Naval Repair Base, San Diego, California: No one knows yet exactly when we will leave the States. It won't be long though .
The time of departure approaches and for the first time in my life (like so many others) , I will be going overseas.
That there will come a day soon, however, when we will move down the harbor, past the clustered buildings of San Diego, past the Coronado Island Airfield, and on into the channel past Point Loma is a forgone conclusion.
At long last, will come real adventure, travel, and all the rest . . .
I saw in the paper today that the LSM 20 was lost in the Philippines. It is the first LSM that I have heard of being sunk.
Went aboard the LSMR 190 recently and saw Ken Johnson. He has gotten his rate. These Landing Ship Medium Rockets are really potent little ships. Floating powder kegs is more like it. They have a super-deck built over the well deck which is lined with little rocket launchers. On the fantail is a 5" gun in a housing. It's a wonder the ship doesn't buckle and fall apart when they fire it.
One day, I saw the carrier Henshaw Bay out in the bay. A couple of other carriers pulled out recently. Lots of APAs around.
One morning, Lipari and Booth got in a fight in the head. This happened after they had gotten into a heated discussion about somethingor other. Lipari had stalked out when Booth picked up a wet rag and slung it at him, hitting him in the back of the head. Lipari turned around, swearing and yelling at Booth, both of them now mad as wet hens. Lipari rushed back through the hatch and started swinging. They were at each others' throats when we finally pulled them apart.
Nighttime impressions: Corsairs, their exhausts spitting, navigation lights on, come thundering up off the airfield. Powerful searchlights criss-cross the sky over San Diego and finally come to rest on a high-flying aircraft. The plane shines like a bright star as the lights catch it from different angles. Out in the water, red and green buoy lights flash. A bell bouy sounds its dismal clanging out in the channel.Twinkling lights ashore stretch far down the shore. In back of us is the great dark shape of Point Loma - and beyond, the open sea.
2 January, 1945, Naval Repair Base, San Diego, California: It's rather peculiar that the sunsets here are rather humdrum, while the sunrises are often startling in their firely colors. January 5 is the date set for our sailingWhether we will pick up a cargo somewhere on the coast or go right over to Pearl Harbor is anyone's guess. Spent two enjoyable evenings with Lee Cohen, Yeo 3/c, a little Wave I met on the base. She's extremely cute. She reads the latest novels, likes good movies, enjoys traveling, and seems to be a really nice person. I'm sorry we're leaving so soon after I met her. But, that's the Navy!
We loaded ammo aboard today. Loading the heavy cases was easier than unloading them. Tomorrow will probably be my last liberty in San Diego.
Looking back on it, I now remember that the cruiser Indianapolis was in the harbor.
From the ship's log:
6 January, 1945:
0000: Moored to north side , Municipal Pier (Pier B), LSM 271 moored forward, LSM 17moored astern.
1425: Crew mustered on dock. All hands present or accounted for.
1445: Set special sea detail.
1555: Cast off all lines.
1600:Underway to form. columns.
1607: In column formation as follows: LSM 271 (OTC), LSM 173, LSM 167,(Unit guide of 2nd section), LSM 245, and LSM 325.
1608: Secured special sea detail.
1615: Proceded through channel - various courses and speeds.
1627: Passed through inner submarine net.
1633: Passed through outer submarine net.
1637: Passed abeam of Point Loma light.
1638: Course: 172 T degrees, standard speed.
1655: Course set at 240 T degrees, standard speed.
1745: Changed course to 270 T degrees, standard speed (11 k)
1930: Changed course to 249 T, standard speed.
Our cargo consisted of 700 drums of asphalt and five small boats.
13 January, 1945: The first light of day Monday morning, (1/15/45) should reveal the island of Hawiai. By noon Monday, we should reach Pearl Harbor. The last two days have seen a decided increase in the temperature. It is very pleasant standing watches on the conning tower - warm and balmy. At night-time, the other four ships going over with us are dim, phantom-like shapes in the distant darkness. The easiest way to pick them out on very dark nights is to look for the white of their wakes. Our own wake is a pretty sight to behold. Dancing, leaping crescents of foam leap back from the onward-pressing bow. Some nights there is a great deal of phosphoresence making the water sparkle and glitter in the water like carelessly thrown cascades of diamonds. Sometimes there will be a flashing light effect as a flying whisp of spray reveals its mysterious beauties.
The air is good and pure. The skies are full of puffy clouds by day and ablaze with brightly burning stars at night.. All that has gone before seems remote. Little things take on greater importance - my daily work, three meals a day, small talk - in contrast to the great, endless ocean. However, my anticipation is keen on the prospects of adventures and experiences looming in the future.
15 January, 1945: Moored in Middle Loch, Pearl Harbor: The long sea voyage is over.
For two days have been tied up at Iroquois Point. Our cargo was taken off and we now have an empty well deck.
22 January, 1945: Moored in a nest of ships in the Middle Loch, Pearl Harbor. I went into Honolulu yesterday for the second time. It involves a great deal of time and effort to go on liberty from Pearl Harbor. We have to wait on a liberty boat sometimes for an hour or two, and then the trip to the fleet landing takes about twenty minutes in the Higgens Boats furnished for the purpose. From the fleet landing, which is near the entrance to the vast Naval Base, you have to take a bus which will get you to Honolulu in another fifteen or twenty minutes. The Higgens boats are navy assault boats used for landing men from APAs. Some of them can even carry a tank or other kind of vehicle. When used as liberty boats, about a hundred sailors are packed onto the craft. Then away we go with an occasionaL big splash of spray descending on our heads.
From the Middle Loch to the Fleet Landing is a distance of several miles. At first, we head straight down the channel, nests of LSMs, LCIs, LCSLs and numerous destroyers scattered along the way. Then we go past the Naval Air Station echoing with the roar of many planes, yellow-painted Maurauders, blue-and-gray Helldivers, Avengers, Hellcats, and Dauntlesses. I also saw some of the new Curtiss SCs on pontoons.
On Ford Island, we turn to the starboard and proceed into the East Loche, scene of the greatest damage during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. The impressive Koolay range of moutains rear into the sky to the north and east of Pearl Harbor and form a fitting backdrop to this mighty naval fortress. While we have been here, fairly strong easterly winds have prevailed, blowing in over those mountains, pushing dramatic masses of cumulous clouds up into the sky.
To the southwest, on the other side of the rich central plain, are the Waianoe Mountains thus closing in the low basin in which Pearl Harbor is located, like a pearl in an oyster. The land is bountiful, providing a wonderful contrast of green and rich brown colors under the vivid blue sky. Along the water's edge, there's an abundance of palm trees. In the murky waters of the harbor itself, multitudes of flying fish break the water's surface and, like Icasus, go sailing through the air for a few feet, only to fall back into the water again.
In the East Loch are dozens of APAs, many of them loaded with Marines, ready for sailing. I remember that the long, sleek battle cruisor Alaska was anchored there, and the battleship New York. Also the cruisor Vicksburg, the refloated and repaired Oklahoma, the giant aircraft carrier Enterprise, and an assortment of smaller carriers, airplane tenders, modern new submarines, and every other conceivable kind of craft.
The fleet landing is a long dock where there is a constant coming and going of liberty boats and hundreds and hundreds of sailors and marines awaiting the arrival and departure of their particular boats. Most large ships use their own boats for taking personnel ashore.
My first impressions of Honolulu were rather disappointing. It struck me as a combination state fair, frontier town, and Oriental village. Howver, in all fairness, that was my impression of the business district. Out along King Street are a number of handsome buildings, and it is quite beautiful on the way out to Wakiki Beach. There are also mamy attrractive residential sections of the city.
It would seem that there are more Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans combined than there are native Hawiaians. The streets are overflowing with sailors in their summer whites. The "Hawiai" stamped dollar bills won't buy much. There are all kinds of shops, jewelry stores, souvemir stores, honky-tonks and so forth. They must rake in a lot of money from the servicemen.
Yesterday I bought a book on Hawianian birds for $3.50. It seems to be the most authoratative work to be had. The colored plates are reasonably good and the text is sufficient to acquire a fairly good acquanitance with the local avifauna. I haven't seen too many birds as yet. A Hawiaian Stilt, many Mynahs, (an imported bird from India), a couple of striking Brazilian Cardinals (another imported species), lots of small barred doves, two diminutive White-eyes, and some unidentified shorebirds. Also Black-crowned Night Herons and Cardinals. Several Blue-footed Boobys were seen off Oahu.Tom Maicheck, Radioman 3/rd, told me he thought he saw Bill Rolifson in Honolulu the other day. He doesn't know him personally, but remembers him from when Bill was coming to see me fa lot to talk about books at Little Creek.
Looking back a few weeks: While we were in San Diego, I was getting a letter every day from Nikki up in San Pedro. I have already talked about this, but it might deserve a few more words.The tone of her letters is very serious and she seems to be very much in love with me, that is, if she isn't feeding me a line. Nikki is a good girl. She has a nice figure. In fact, she is built solid, along the lines of Betty Grable. Her face might not be her fortune, but that is a cruel thing to say. Actually, she's not too bad to look at. I doubt if she's a virgin, even though I didn't score any notable success in that department. She proved to be very passionate, and her letters all go to show the same thing. That she has designs on me is beyond a doubt. In several of her letters she expressed a desire to come down to San Diego to see me. If not to get married, what?
I don't love Nikki. That is, I don't love her except when I'm in her arms and pressed hard up against her lovely body. Two nights I slept with her at Manning Homes, up on the hill overlooking the great string of shipyards spread out below. Both nights she resisted my demands of real ove - who knows? Maybe she is a virgin! For long hours at a time, we lay sprawled on a day bed in her tiny livingroom up there, lavishing kisses on each other in the dark, proclaiming our love. But now that I'm away from her, in her letters, she sounds like a raving sex maniac. Comes right out and says all the sexy things she would like to do. Are all women like this?
I'll never marry her, but maybe it's a mistake to think that. Maybe this lanky, attractive girl would be very good for me, would give me a family, and a lot of pleasure - but I don't feel like giving up my personal freedom at this stage of the game. That can wait. I've got a lot of things to do yet. I want to have a purpose in my life beyond propagation and being domesticated. Marriage will have to wait.
Today was pay day and I drew the magnificent sum of $31.00. Then I had to pay back ten dollars that I had borrowed. I still owe Hanson ten, but being a very swell guy, he told me to wait until we're way out in the middle of nowhere when money won't mean anything, then pay him. A few nights ago, Jim Lipari and I donned the gloves and slugged it out on the welldeck under the hot, white light of a searchlight. The fight was pretty much a draw, but I think Jim was more tired than I was.
23 January, 1945: My birthday! I'm 21! Today I am a man! Wow!
24 January, 1945, Middle Loch, Pearl Harbor. I went over to the base this morning. Bought over five dollars worth of small stores, and a copy of Birds of the Central Pacific Ocean for $2.30. Saw two immature Black-crowned Night Herons along the shore this evening. Also a Sanderling, and a number of Pacific Golden Plover. Also a bird that looked like a Black Turnstone.
The Russians are surging ahead. Latest reports have it that they are 130 miles from Berlin. It is difficult to believe that the war has taken such a turn. It seems only a short time ago that the Germans were hammering at the gates of Stalingrad.
The Memory Talker
"I wonder when the war will end? I wonder if I will live through it?" Then I jotted down, "Don't speculate on the future. Live in the present!"
"Yes," I wrote, "but it makes you feel a little uneasy to regard the possibility that you will never write '1946' at the top of a letter."
Then, jokingly, I wrote, "If it will ease your mind, write a letter tonight and date it 1946!"
Or 1956. Or 1966. Or 1996. Or 2006.
"That's absurd!" I appended.
Finally, I concluded, "My perceptions of time are also absurd. I reminded myself again that I had to live the present fully. and forget the future, and then I wrote "The future is more dead than the past." That is surely wrong, but who knows?
25 January, 1945, Middle Loche, Pearl Harbor. Evidently invigorated by my mental exercise yesterday, I scrawled the following poem:
Rise up, Man!
Stand on your two feet,
Breathe the air,
Survey all before you.
What do you see?
A world fit to live in?
Man and woman and child,
Laughing under the stars?
No, no - you see nothing
For your eyes deceive you
You are weak and led astray
By your own eyes -
And though processes.
Give me the lonely sea,
For it tells no lies.
Let me listen to bird song
For it has no pretenses
No excuses, no fears.
Give me these things . . .
Wooah! I'm beginning to sound like the Ancient Mariner.And more than a little disillusioned. I wonder why that is? Maybe because the world has been at war for most of my lifetime - certainly all of my mature years. Why shouldn't I think like that? Then, I jotted the following lines down on a pice of paper. They might have been precipitated by conversations with one or another of several shipmates, or maybe discussions I had with the yeoman who was taken off our ship. That entire episode - all that led up to it, and the aftermath - affected me deeply. Anyway, here's what I wrote:
You asked me if I believed in God,
I don't remember exactly what I replied.
I do know that you doubted,
That your doubts were as great as your fears.
I think I said, suppose you were to die,
Who would remember you, and for how long?
Life is swift and always speeding,
Already we are not so young.
I impressed you with the idea of evolution.
Of men and animals, and always the sun.
I forgot that life is like a song,
And even though it dies away,
The memory lingers on.
Or, there is a possibility I was memory talking to Bill Rolifson, an interesting fellow I first met at the Navy Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island and stayed in touch with all the way through our training at Little Creek, Virginia.
More Memory Talking: I wrote a letter home tonight
headed "Central Pacific,"
And I started it, "Darling Mother."
There wasn't much that I could say,
But, oh, my love was so strong
For that brave woman.
It reached across the seas,
And the continents -
It's lonely out here, far from home,
But, I know it's lonelier still
For that devoted little mother of mine
Back home in Ohio.
26 January, 1945, Middle Loche, Pearl Harbor. Some more reflections on my recent birthday.
I can now vote.
I can now walk into a cafe or a bar and legally buy a drink.
I can now do a lot of things, when and where I want to without anyone's consent.
I am now a man and in one way I'm sorry. Not that I would go back, but now I realize that by gaining freedom, you also lose a lot of freedom.
Destroyers were moored all over the Middle Loche, frequently in nests of three or four ships. Many were of the sleek, trim Fletcher class. They come and they go. There were also destroyer escorts mixed in with them. One day we proceded over to the West Loche. There were several dozen destroyers and destroyer-escorts and, if I remember correctly, the cruisors Vicksburg and Detroit, plus a seaplane and a submarine tender. What I had thought was the Oklahoma apparently was the U.S.S. Maryland and the scuttlebutt had it that there were a total of five or six battleships, several carriers, including the Enterprise, and literally hundreds of support ships. A formidable task force! I also remember that the battle-cruiser U.S.S. Alaska was present.
We Almost Get A Sub
At one point, while manuevering through the loches, we almost broad-sided a surfaced submarine (one of ours) that was approaching us at an intersecting channel off our starboard (right) bow. So that means we were on the sub's port (left) side. All the Rules of the Road clearly state that the ship to the starboard has the right of way. Stated another way, of the two ships, we were the ship on the port side of the other ship and we DID NOT have the right of way. So what did we do? W just continued putting along - until at the last minute, our Officerr of the Deck saw that we were going to ram the sub and shouted down the voice tube, "STOP ALL ENGINES!," followed almost immediate with 'REVERSE ALL ENGINES!" Our ship lurched about in the churning water and the sub slid regally by - barely twenty yards in front of our bow. The sub's O.D. was standing on their conning tower shaking his fist at us and yelling invectives that it was just was well we couldn't make out. I will not say who our O. D. was, but you can guess.
30 January, 1945, Moored to starboard side of LST 834 at dock, Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, T.H. Our mission: to take on army personnel and gear.
15:03 Set special sea detail.
1511: Cast off all lines from LST 834.
1514: Backed out of mooring berth.
1520: Proceded through Kewalo Basin Channel.
1555: Laying to about one mile off Kewalo Basin.
1610: LST 834 acting as flagship, forming column; base course set at 210 degrees, speed 10 knots. LSM 245 the last of three ships, following LSM 90.
1618: Bearings taken for departure fix: hotel cupula 081 degrees; pineaspple tower 005 degrees, Hickman Field Aero beacon 013 degrees.
1840: General Quarters
31 January, 1945, Underway, O.D., Ensign Wheatley.
0000: En route Pearl Harbor to Funafuti Atoll, Ellice Islands, with six LVTs, 2 army officers, and 40 men.
5 February, 1945. Course 2150 true. Approximate position 20 39~ N, 172003' XV. At our present rate of travel we will cross the equator this evening about 1800. Yesterday the weather was squally with low stratus clouds flying before a strong south-east wind, occasional rain showers and a choppy sea. The first several days out I saw a few Laysan Albatrosses. Today, the bad weather seems to have passed for the sky is again blue and the sun warm. Practically no one wears a shirt anymore and a lot of the fellows have made shorts out of their dungarees.The Captain isn't too keen about all this casual attire.
Flying fish are abundant and I am still amazed at how they wing their way over the waves, sometimes when the wind and waves are right for considerable distances. The 'wings" are transparent and they have a long tail which seems to be barbed. The last few days I've seen some individuals that are probably 12" long.
11 February, 1945. En route Pearl Harbor to Funafuti Atoll. At daybreak on February 8th we could see the low-lying islands of Funafuti. Attention was first drawn to the islands in the half-light of dawn by the flashing white light from the Funafuti lighthouse. After general quarters and a fast breakfast I hurried topside again and by now the sun was rising and the islands were well defined against the horizon.
As we stood off the entrance to the atoll, I saw some individuals of the White Tern flying about. This is a beautiful bird, both in gracefulness and beauty of plumage. I saw perhaps fifty of them while we were at Funafuti.
The crew and most of the doggies we are transporting are out on the deck to soak up all that's to be seen. Our flagship, the LST 834, has indicated she wants a pilot aboard before entering the anchorage. In about twenty minutes a small motor launch brought the pilot out to the LST and once again we are ready to enter the atoll.
The pilot was needed to steer our flotilla clear of the treacherous underwater shoals and reefs. Funafuti Island is only about six miles long and in most places only a few hundred yards wide. It is the largest of the islands here and it, along with dozens of smaller islands, form the large circular atoll. All of the islands are thickly covered with coconut palms and dense vegetation. On Funafuti island there is a naval station and an operational airstrip has been cleared.
The water in and around the atoll is a deep, clear blue and in some places there are swathes that are a magical turquoise color. As we entered the lagoon inside the atoll we noticed several sharks darting about in the water and myriads of tiny fish. I also saw a starfish, what looked like a stingray, and many jelly fish shining weirdly in the water.
Funafuti is a part of the far-flung Ellice Islands. They were never occupied by the Japanese, perhaps because they weren't considered of enough importance. Later, however, after the United States had established a base here and Funafuti became the greatest anchorage in the world the islands were the object of many air raids.
After entering the lagoon we proceeded to tie up to a tanker for refueling. Nearby were two oilers, a destroyer escort, and several small craft. After refueling we went up the lagoon a short distance and dropped our bow anchor.
QM Allen and I were back on the fantail taking soundings with the lead-line when the first of a number of native boats came alongside. These native boats consisted of deeply cut wooden frames that almost looked like hollowed-out tree trunks and lashed to them were horizontal frameworks of sun and sea-bleached poles and out-rigging, dismantled masts and sails.
The natives here are Polynesians. They are handsome enough and arc very friendly. In one boat was a grizzled old man with wavy pearl white hair, a broad wrinkled face and complxion the color of dark mahogany. His eyes were large and widely-spaced. His nose was typical of these people, being heavy and foreshortened. It was this man's right leg, however, that riveted my attention. It was swollen several times its normal size and his foot was large and misshapen. I guess that this unfortunate fellow had elephantitus, a disease in which parts of the body, usually the legs, become greatly enlarged. It is caused by parasitic worms that block the flow of lymph.
In the boat with this man were two native women. One had on a cotton dress, bright orange in color. She was pretty and the first thing I noticed were her strong white teeth. The women were all modest, decently clothed (What was I expecting?) and had a fair understanding of English. Most of them were smoking cigarettes and had more packages of Luckies and Camels in their boats than most rationed drugstores back home.A variety of bracelets, necklaces, headbands and ornamental shells were being offered for sale or swap. I bought an attractive brcelet made of many small shells for a dollar.
I went down to my locker and came back on deck with seven packs of chewing gum which really got the natives excited. They were gesturing and grinning broadly, and some of them mimicked the chewing of gum, moving their jaws vigorously, then grinning for all they were worth. I finally traded the gum for an attractive bracelet and a headband made of tiny shells.
This afternoon we went swimming in the clear blue water of the lagoon. About 1800, we weighed anchor and proceded out through the ring of islands. Shortly afterwards, the soft, silent darkness of night descended and the stars appeared in all their glittering splendor. Venus, shining brighter than any of the stars, was on our starboard side. Ahead of us, rising in the tropical night sky was the Southern Cross.
12 February, 1945: Bound for Noumea, New Caledonia. I spent until 0830 this morning in the sack (which is unusual) except for an hour during General Quarters which was at 0500 this morning. Before that, I had the mid-watch. Sometimes I wonder how well I will be able to recall in later years the great pleasure I derive from being afloat on this ship which I love very much. I have discovered, too , that I love the sea. I love the sea in all its many moods, stormy as well as calm, caprisious and choppy as well as when the swells are long and sophisticated like the strokes of an artist's brush. We take the path to war. Sea, ship, and sky. How peaceful everything is on the surface, and how casual. It is almost beyond comprehension to think of all the events and disruptions in the lives of so many men and women that have resulted in our being here.
I have seen White-tailed Tropicbirds several times lately, sometimes flying right over the ship.
About this time, I made a list of personal virtues to strive for. They went something like this: Strrngth of character and the ability to make decisions.
Cleanliness of body
Cleanliness of language.
Avoid excessive talk.
Ambition and purpose.
Work hard, and don't waste time.
Order to life, work and leusure.
Do not eat or drink to excess.
Obtain a satisfactory philosophy of life.
Be sincere in everything.
Have a sense of humor.
Be objective and fair.
Do not be self-content.
Do not be overcome by emotion.
Make friends but do nott let them take advantage of you.
Read and write and sketch.
14 February, 1945: Arrived Noumea, New Caledonia. Rugged picture postcard country with pine-clad mountains, deep gorges, many small islands through which Wodin Channel and Havannah Passsage twist their way. One of the higher points which I identified from our navigation chart is Ia Mountain.
Impressions of the Port of Noumea: The hospital, the busy nickle works along the hillside, the strange, crowded and poverty-stricken dwellings of the natives, French Tri-colors all about; pine trees and palms, rugged, dark mountains swathed in clouds and mist; silver gulls; a beautiful cathedral, the Government House, and the Quartier Latin, a residential suburbof attractive homes;.fresh produce from New Zealand - watermelons, cuccumbers, potatoes, corn - ships in the harbor scuttled by the Free French, discharged army personnel and vehicle, and mail call!
14 February, 1945: En route from Noumeaa and arrived at Tulagi and the Hutchinson Creek anchorage on Florida Island, the Solomon Island.
23 February, 1945: We arrived at Hutchinson Creek on Monday the 19th about 1300. During the afternoon of the 18th, we had the island of San Cristobal off our port bow and during the night we slipped by the smaller islands of Olawa, Aliti, and Olu Malau. At times we were so close we could actually see the outlines of some of these wild and remote islands in the dark.
Daybreak dawned cloudy and threatening to rain. On a course of 310 degrees true, we worked our way up the western side of Malatia, while twenty-five miles off our port beam we could just make out Guadalcanal.
A few minutes after chow, the rain came down in torrents. Just minutes before it started raining, I saw my first FrigateBird soaring overhead in front of the advancing storm.
I'll never be able to explain it but I've known that someday I was going to see the Solomon Islands Maybe because of my war scrapbooks. Or maybe the movie. Too many Jack London books. Maybe wishful thinking.
From the U.S. Coast Pilot, H.O. 165: "Guadalcanal Island, located southward of Florida Island, is about 60 miles in length, east and west, and has an average width of 25 miles. Toward its eastern portion, the island rises in lofty mountanous masses, which are frequently enveloped in clouds. They are estimated to be over 8,000 feet high." As we approached Florida Island, looking for the entrance to Hutchinson Creek, I saw a pair of white cockatoos rise up from the steaming jungle, then flutter back down again.
2 March, 1945: Moored to Philips Peninsular Fuel Dock N. One. Hutchinson Creek is a wide , completely land-locked body of water surrounded with thick jungle .There is a primitive native village at its upper end., consisting of a dozen or so round thatched huts, and a centrral fire pit for cooking. Many of the inhabitants wear their bleached hair fluffed up in a style similar to what would be called an Afro at a later date in the states. Clothing is rudimentary, some of it maybe furnished by the Brits over at the airfirld on Tulagi.
There is a broached two-man Japanese submarine along one short of Hutchinson Creek, and when we are anchored nearby we have great fun swimming around it. One day I swallowed half the Pacific Ocean when I was swimming underwater and came face to face with a sand shark. He was good-sized, but these are the ones that are more vegetarian
The jungles are criss-crossed with trails and when I was exploring along various paths, it seemed like I had been doing it for years.
Other birds seen, in addition to the White Cockatoos: Red-and-White Eagle-Kite, White-headed Hawk, Red Parrot, Gray Shrike, Red-eyed Starling, Black Heron, Island Towhee, Pacific Golden plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Roseate Tern.
Mr. Robbins, our Executive Officer, has applied for a transfer. If I remember rightly, this is the result of an altercation on watch, underway, between Mr. Robbins and the Old Man. The signalman and I had to jump on their backs to separate them.
Finished the smooth deck log yesterday in good shape. The men have been painting all week - which is a lot of foolishness. We have the best looking and newest looking ship around here as it is. I continue to get letters from Pat and Mickey.
It is very hot today. Right now the temperature is 105 degrees F.
Here's what I would like right now. A cold bottle of beer and a baked ham sandwich with lettuce om rye. Or, a cold glass of milk and a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Also some fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy.
3 March, 1945: Beached in Hutchinson Creek, Solomon Islands. Corrected charts in Portfoloio 40 this afternoon.
More bird records: A Rock Dove, off Guadalcanal, lit on the mast of our ship. Some kind of a pigeon - quite large, with a whitich head and a reddish tinge on the underparts and bluish above. Flocks of as many as 25 seen.
I'm becoming a better swimmer. I do 100 yards easily and could probably swim several times that - or more. Had four cans of beer last night.
7 March, 1945: Anchored in Hutchinson Creek, Florida Island, Solomon Islands. This anchorage is really crowded with amphibious ships. There are well over two dozen LSTs and over a dozen LSMs present. We've been here ever since the 19th of February. I wonder what's going on? There's no doubt in my mind that we'll leave for someplace in the near future - and that we will see action.
It is almost 1900. The sun has gone down and the sky is the color of old pewter. The water is almost black. Hutchinson Creek, I would guess, is about the size of Buckeye Lake back home , only it is proportioned differently. As I look across the water, the many ships at anchor are slowly swinging, swinging. Red aircraft warning lights glow up on the masts and cast their reflections in the water. There are white anchor lights shining too.
9 March, 1945: Anchored in Hutchinson Creek, Florida Island, Solomon Islands. The last couple of days there have been over 50 LSTs anchored here and about 16 LSMs. Enough for a landing invasion, if you ask me. I wonder why we don't get on with it? Why doesn't our ship, the LSM 245 sail out of here with one of these flotillas that come and go? Why aren't we loaded with men and vehicles of war and headed for some enemy stronghold? I'll probably never know the answer. But I grow impatient. I want to be in the thick of it. I want to help win this Gawd-damned war, not just be a spectator.
According to my notes, I went back in Purvis Bay to the AG 70 to get some mimeographer HQ forms, but I have no memory of how I did this. By small boat, probably. Saw 6 or 7 destroyers, 3 DEs, 2 repair vessels (the Vulcan and one other), 2 ARDs, and one Landing Ship Dock. Also about 20 APAs and KAs.
It certainly seems like this is part of a large task force. It is said that Tulagi harbor is full of ships, including a couple of British carriers and a cruiser.
Yesterday, I saw an eagle. Tremendous wing-span. Brownish all over. Head lightest. Tarsus heavily feathered. Soaring over the water, he circled lower and lower and, then when he was just above the water, he folded his wings up, his body dropped into the water for anb instant, and he came flapping away with a fish in his talons.
11 March, 1945: Anchored in Hutison Creek, Florida Island, Solomon Islands. And religion is the result of geographical separation, influenced by whatever dominating minds that might have created and crusaded for it. All of this modified by the passage of time and the influence of outside thought. Its ceremonies, its doctrines, and its references are as naturally local as a man in Brooklyn saying "boid" for bird.
12 March, 1945: Left Solomons for Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides.
14 March, 1945: Arrived Espirito Santo (613 miles).
A War of Words
14 March, 1945: Pekoa Channel, Luganville, New Hebrides, SW Pacific. Arrived here this afternoon. Lots of military installations, coconut groves, not many ships, no women. The only birds seen were some rather large swifts over the fuel dock area, and several Man-o-war Birds this a.m. Cloudy and raining most of the afternoon.
One of the seamen is in solitary confinement for five days. This was the result of a strange and comic episode on the way here. The OD was the Captain and we were engaged in some course changes. Speaking into the voice tube, the Captain gave the new compass heading to the helmsman below, whose voice came back: "Can you repeat that, sir? I didn't hear you."
The Captain responded by shouting into the tube, "Get the shit out of your ears!"
The hapless and clueless helmsman shot back, "Get the shit out of your mouth, sir!"
Well, you can see the outcome. Five days confined to one of the cramped quarters below deck with no sustenance other than bread and water.
What's going on here? In the wake of all this, my only thought is: I wish I was back in Columbus, Ohio, back in school at Ohio State, back where I could chase some pretty girls. Broad and High streets downtown would look really good right now.
21 March, 1945: Anchored in Pallikula Bay, Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides. Left Pekoa Channel yesterday morning with a load of supplies and some personnel of APA beach forces. Proceeded over here through a sudden squall that whipped the sea into a frenzy of flying spume and drenched the forward part of the ship with great sheets of spray.
We had to avoid an area that had been mined, otherwise we could have made it in half the time. Yesterday and part of today, we unloaded the Buffalo vehicle we had aboard. Rain and more rain, hardly any sunshine this for days on end. A few days ago, I hitch-hiked along the muddy shore road past Luganville. I visited a small Limey airfiled. The only planes visible were Catalinas.
Close to the airport and extending along the shore was a village made up of Javanese, Tokenese, and French subjects. Very small people, many of whom seemed engaged in the laundry business. Their houses are little low-roofed structures, little more than huts. There was a flimsy little temple, painted bright orange, red, yellow, and white - and trimmed with gold leaf.
Lots of swallows flying above the palm trees and along the road, swooping down low and all about. They were bluish-purple on their backs, breasts tinged with red, with whitish underparts.
While riding down the road in everything from jeeps and trucks to amphibious craft, I also saw two colorful birds that were probably kingfishers. They had bright blue backs and wings, stout yellow bills, and white underparts.
Closer to Luganville, I stopped off at one of these curious villages. Although they are all out of bounds to servicemen, I walked back along a muddy path to a fence - just beyond which was the principle part of a settlement. The palm trees were several shades of green; vibrant, shimmering like layers of oil paint applied with a palette knife.
It is partly cloudy and there is the heavy feeling of rain in the hot and humid air. Off to one side is the channel, dark and gloomy, the purveyer of how many tales of love and death, not unlike the fallen coconuts bobbing along in the current?
A tiny, naked little boy stands in a pot, awaits a bath. I can hear other children, unseen, crying and wailing. Are any of them attended by doctors or nurses? I have no idea, but I would ferventlay hope so. It would be hard to imagine living conditions more deplorable - not as primitive as those in the Solomons, but worse because of the greater population density.
A young woman wearing a white blouse and a long, dark skirt stands at an outside sink arrangement, chopping some kind of very unsavory looking food that looks to me like hog guts. A man walks over to her and tastes the concoction. He flashes her a smile. A small child at her feet begs for a taste.
I motioned to a dark-complected little man to come over to the fence. When he approached, I made him to understand that I wanted to buy something. His eyes sparkled with renewed interest and a smile spread across his wrinkled face from ear to ear. He nodded and scurried away . I waited for a dew minutes and finally a boy emerged from one of the shack-like houses with an armful of bright colored grass skirts . My eyes grew wide when the man returned bringing with him a woman . She had a number of brassiers or tops to the grass skirts. A dollar for a top, three dollars for the bottoms, she informed me.
Finally, after much discussion, most of it done with our hands and facial expressions, I decided to buy just a top. The woman was very disgusted that I wasn't going to purchase a skirt. She kept jabbering away, showing her betel-stained teeth, indifferent to the fact that her breasts were threatening to escape from her clothing any moment. After all of the charades were done, I was out a dollar and a half. A dollar for the top and fifty cents for a five franc note.
At Lugenville there is a French hospital and a school administered by French nationals - and I imagine there is a church sequestered away somewhere. The heat is oppresive and it rains every night - so they need all the religion they can get. The mud is the consistency of thick oatmeal.
Some of us went to a couple of movies on the island. As long as I live, I'll never forget my first night ashore here when I saw the movie version of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. We had hopped into a truck that had offered us a ride to an Army PX. There we bought popcorn and soda pops, and I bought a sheath knife, a necklace of shell beads, and an attractive mother-of- pearl bracelet.
It was just getting dark when we headed up the road for the outdoor movie theatre. There were a lot of GIs in attendance, mostly from the 75th Division, and a scattering of sailors. We settled down on some benches toward the rear of the assemblage. Much of the area had tarps stretched overhead as protection from the rain. Up front was a big silver screen, and promptly at 1900 the news was broadcast over the lowdspeakers - then came the show.
As we sat watching the movie, a late release from Hollywood, the rain started, dripping relentlessly down in the darkness, and giant fruit bats, constantly chittering and chattering, flew amongst the palm trees.
24 March, 1945: Pekoa Channel, Espiitu Santo, New Hebrides. Moored in nest of LSMs alongside U.S.S. Antelope. Got my rate the first of the month. QM3/c at long last! No rain today for a change. First mail call today in a long time.
I can believe in my thoughts just as devoutly and strongly as anyone else can believe in the words of their own particular religion. And, so help me, I will try to do this - while at the same time sifting and assimilating the thoughts of others.
Does it not take more courage to pursue your own path through the unknown, to be a pioneer in your own convictions? Does this not take great courage? And, if death be my fate in this war and I die without a word of holy redemption, is this not strength and power and glory in its own right?
And, if I believe that time is but an illusion, delineated by the feeble and short spans of our own lives, and that this existence is but a happy accident, what kind of a demonic person would condemn me to eternal hell fire? And, if they should mouth such sentiments, to hell with them!
Is not the doctrine of fear - which is the basis of the Bible's teachings and admonitions - self-destructive and demeaning? And what of all the other gods and religions? Who is to say which is the truth?
Would not mankind be happier with a clear-cut logical, and rational outlook on life? Could we not begin by saying that God resides in the heart and that his name is Love? So now I take back my barb of a moment ago. I will not honor them by emulating them.
During these dark wartime days, we are all preoccupied with death, but is not death the second of two doors, one entering life, the other exiting?
And is not all life related, and does it not flow on like a mighty river?
If some of these things were realized. this life right here on earth could be the equivalent of heaven. There would be no need to hunger for some fanciful eternal life.
25 March, 1945: Left Espirito Santo for Noumea, New Caledonia.
26 March, 1945: Steamed through the Loyalty Islands, approximately 4 miles off coast of Uvea Atoll.
27 March, 1945: Port Noumeaa, New Caledonia. The sky has been dripping rain like tears - all day, and the higher mountains in the distance are largely obscured. I've been restless and miserable all day. Homesick, maybe. It is 1900 hours and I'm writing this down in the middle crew's compartment.
Glazer, Labanca, Martin, and MacDonald are playing cards, Willer Lawier is writing a letter, Lipari and Underwood are at the end of the table reading. The loudspeaker pours out the the same old melodies. We received a little package of paperback books today. As ship's librarian (and movie-master), I immediately set aside Marten Eden by Jack London, a book of poems by Carl Sandburg, and a book by James Thurber. No mail today. What the holy hell are we doing wasting our time down here on the bottom of the world when there's a war going on? When are we going to do our share? This constant waiting and aimlessly sailing around to distant ports is hard to understand.
The General Electric fans hum away on the bulkheads, pushing the stale air around. There is the constant background noise of the ship's generators. I have now been in the Navy one year, three months, and fourteen days. Somewhere over the horizon, the war progresses. New amphibious landings. Why aren't we there? Meanwhile, in Europe, the Germans are reeling back from trip-hammer blows from the Allies.
OH, MY GOSH! A NUDE GIRL!
WHAT WILL THE CENSORS SAY?
One day, when I was walking through the quaint streets of Noumea, I stopped in a shop and as I looked around I spotted a small photograph of a very pretty young girl - and she was nude! The shopkeeper implied that it was a picture of a working girl, a girl of the night, if you know what I mean. I purchased the picture for little or nothing and I was prompted to write a poem, which I keep changing through the years. I will share her with you, if you click to the starboard side of right here! ck
6 April, 1945, Port Noumea, New Caledonia. Rained almost all day. Had a heated discussion with Arthur about religion, evolution, etc., etc. These arguments usually throw me out of stride, leave me feeling diconsolate and misunderstood, although I must admit, I thoroughly enjoy them at the time.
I would say that the morale aboard ship is extremly low. In my own case, I feel restless and lost. Among the rest of the crew, there are lots of arguments, flareups of temper, yearnings to be home with loved ones - a general malaise.
The war news continues to be good. Russia has renounced her non-aggression pact with Japan, and Germany seems to be folding up like a house of cards. Here are my guesses on the end of the war:
In Europe: April 27, 1945
In Asia: December 15, 1945
Until recently, I hadn't fully realized what a colossal waste of time this ship and my shipmates are engaged in. Doing nothing, day after day. My gawd, there's even scuttlebutt going around the ship that we're going to New Zealand. I didn't know we were fighting a war down there!
The President Dies
Friday, April 13, 1945, Port Noumean, New Caledonia. Today the President died at Warm Springs, Georgia, from a hemorage of the brain. In his passing, we of the United States, as well as the people of all freedom-loving nations, suffer a great loss. This is a black day. On the very eve of victory in Europe, our Commander-in-Chief has fallen. No man in the entire world has contributed so much to so many, has welded together such a crusaders against tyranny, and instigated a hopeful plan for peace.
It hardly seems possible that he is dead. His indomitable spirit and courage made him more like an institution than an individual. Yet, most Americans were aware that he was a great individualist.
Though his body is stilled and his spirit fled, his good works remain. This is true immortality! Sounds like I should have been a speech writer.
17 April, 1945, Port Noumea, New Caledonia. Standing signal watch. Anchored off nickel works. The sky is clear, full of stars, and graced by a quarter moon. Life goes on much as usual. Got paid yesterday and sent $20 home to Mother.
I was thinking about going to the Pink House tomorrow. I've never been there, but I've sure heard a lot about it. It's famous throughout the Pacific Theatre. On the other hand, five dollars is pretty stiff (even though my desire is also pretty stiff). Also, I don't think I want to share a girl with half the Pacific Fleet - so I guess I won't go. It would have been neat though in future years to mention you'd been to the famous (infamous?) Pink House. Sort of like a fraternity.
21 April, 1945, Port Noumea, New Caledonia. Last Monday, the port section had a special liberty to visit to the Dumbra (sp ?) Fleet Recreation Park. The site is located about 20 miles inland, nestled in the heart of the mountains. A cold, clear mountain stream was damned to provide a swimming area. We took a GI can full of beer and coke packed in ice. Also potato salad, cheese and meat sandwiches, and olives.
I had the opportunity to observe a number of birds that were new for me. The commonest of these was warbler-size, olive-backed, yellow-breasted, a yellowish eye-ring, and a raspy chatter. I figured out later it was a Green-backed White Eye. I got just a glimpse of another small bird that was grayish with a coral-pink bill.
Along the stream, in a little clearing full of sunshine and pleasant warmth, I came across a pair of what appeared to be some kind of a bluebird. It was blue on the back, had orangish underparts, a white throat, and some kind of marking on the side of the head. I later worked out its identity as a Buff-bellied Flycatcher. Also saw a White-breasted Wood Swallow.
On many occasions, in the hills around Noumea, and over the harbor itself, I have seen a large, long-tailed hawk. Its general appearance: golden brown, a light and dark pattern in the wings with two light patches near the bend of the wings especially noticeable. They were often seen catching fish. I finally ID'd them as Whistling Eagles.
So it seems the most exciting part of this war for me is the opportunity to see a lot of beautiful and exotic birds! Well, I guess that isn't all bad. Probably a lot of guys out there would trade places with me in a hurry!
22 April, 1945, Noumea, New Caledonia. At the U.S. Malaria Control Center in Noumea today, I met a friendly young fellow named Warner. He is from the University of Minnesota and is also an ardent ornithologist. He has been here for 18 months and has done extensive collecting.
In Warner's workshop he had skins of an immature Marsh Hawk, a beautiful Goshawk, and a lot of other species. I don't fully understand if the above mentioned species were taken in North America, or whether they are also native in this part of the world. In a big cage were two live fruit bats.
So I am not the only one not in combat. There are thousands - hundreds of thousands - of men and women in this conflict going about their various duties all over the world. So I guess our lugging cargo around from one place to another is part of the over-all scheme of things.
29 April, 1945, Noumean, New Caledonia. Within a year, it might be quite possible I'll be dead. If that is the case, the work which I here propose to undertake will have been in vain. What I have in mind is chronicling my personal philosophy along with an outline of living. It will cover all of my thoughts about religion, the existence of a god, ethics, and living the good life.
I also will attempt to put on paper what my own moral responsibility is to make my sojourn here on earth worthwhile. In other words, do I not owe some price of admission for this strange and exciting trip on this planet through time, space, and life? And such a work should include all the great thoughts and philosophies that have influenced my own trek through life.
Hopefully, I can conclude that life is a blessing and that it is my job to make my own life more than a mere existence. In this work, I will try to avoid sentimentality and romanticism. Above all, I will try to stick to the truth - although I fully realize that there are many truths and that all are relative. Some will heartily deny this, proclaim that there is only one set of truths, but don't such harsh beliefs constitute the very things we are fighting against. Wasn't this the credo of Adolph Hitler? Believe what I believe - or die!?
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