Where in the World is Bora Bora?
Having put the Panama Canal and a riotous liberty behind us, the Crouter headed out to sea taking a southwest course. It was the usual destination "unknown," at least to most of us on board. This was one time I don't recall being told, after underway for a time, where the culmination of the trip would find us. I do know that when at the Panama Canal, we received orders to report to the Commander in-Chief, Pacific Fleet (turned out to be at Nouméa, New Caledonia).
Day after day turned to weeks (at least into the second one) as we continued in a southwesterly direction. It may have been eleven or twelve days or so before we finally reached land, having covered what may have been something like 4,600 [nautical] miles or more [about 5,300 statute miles] (could well have been more than twelve days).
For years and years I've labored under the evident misconception we found ourselves in Tahiti; but the ship's [History] sent to all former crew members states that we stopped at Bora Bora. I still think we were there, but I can't wager on it.
[Editor's Note: Bora Bora and Tahiti are both part of the Society Islands of French Polynesia. Bora Bora is one of the Leeward Islands and Tahiti a Windward island. It is about 160 miles southeast by air from Bora Bora to Pape'ete, the largest city on the northwest coast of Tahiti. So the author wasn't very far from Tahiti. It may be that an officer or someone in navigation mentioned they were headed for Tahiti since that name would have been more familiar to the crew.]
One thing is for certain! Bananas and coconuts were plentifuland inexpensive. Consumption of considerable quantities of these had two ways of reacting to the digestive system. First, if one would eat bananas until stuffed, it was supposed to cause a binding effect. Then, eating coconuts and drinking the juice inside them was (we were told) to act as a "loosening" of the "binding." I can't be sure, but it seems to have worked that way. I know bananas and coconuts were all over the ship.
A sad part of visiting that island, and one which probably kept sailors in hand, was the fact islanders had what is called "elephantiasis," a disease which causes swelling [among other parts of the lower body] to the genital area to the point males can't walk. They merely sit with legs spread, a massive growth protruding. Not all residents had it!
Another disease prevalent there was one spoken of way back in Biblical times. That was leprosy. This presented an even more hideous sight as people without portions of their face and limbs walked about. Since the Bible accounts told of these people keeping clear of others, I didn't want to get very close to them. It may be that the disease is not communicable, I don't know. I do know my medical dictionary relates there is a relationship between elephantiasis and leprosy, and that makes sense considering both were abundantly present there. [Note: This editor would like to know which book stated that and exactly how it did so. The only relation seems to be some similar effects on the skin (symptoms), but we found no relation in the causes of these two different diseases: Leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) is caused by a bacteria such as Mycobacterium leprae, and although it may be spread by nasal droplets (sneezing, coughing or close contact) is not as infectious as once believed. Elephantiasis, however, is caused by thread-like parasitic worms (referred to as Filariasis) and is spread by black flies or mosquitoes. There might be a correlation between those who contract these disorders and a weak immune system, but other than both being generally tropical diseases, they are very different.]
Leprosy attacks the nervous system to the point those infected have no sense of feeling to limbs or outer extremities. So they rub, scratch, and bump their limbs and other body parts, actually wearing them away! The stubs left is what presents the awful sight. I'm afraid I couldn't handle living among them and seeing that on a daily basis.
In Tahiti, or not, the island at that time had little more to offer to sailors than the bananas and coconuts. There was almost no place to shop or dine, or drink for that matter, thank God, or business areas to explore. The waters near the shoreline were loaded with coral growths and clear, clean water, however.
On to New Caledonia
From Bora Bora to New Caledonia was another long stretch of many days underway [which may have been further than shown in our map below, due to various reefs and atolls not to mention enemy subs in the area]. But the city of Nouméa was a paradise. Beautiful women everywhere and shops and places to dine made the difference. At least so we thought upon arrival.
As it turned out, Caledonian women (who were a mixture of French-Polynesian) were as beautiful as we'd heard, and more so. Just one thing, however. They had no, absolutely no, contact with military people of any sort whatsoever. The best looking guys, even those with money to burn, found these women could not be dated. And in the long run, it was to both our advantages overallthe sailors and the women! What may have led to their decision to react to military people is uncertain, but it could have been governmentally initiated or it could have been the strong control of the males there. It did work!
In speaking of the shops and places to see I gave this place a rather positive rating. The real truth is that while on the lookout for a place to buy an ice cream cone or dish, there was none to be found. Yes, the women were beautiful and there were things to see while walking about town, but the best I can really say about the place is that I'd been there.
Entertainment, ice cream, womenall this aside, our main purpose in coming to New Caledonia was to report to the Commander of the Pacific Fleet. And that goal was accomplished on September 3, 1943.
For the next seven months we engaged in escort and screening duties in the Solomon, New Hebrides, and Fiji islands. We participated in the consolidation of the Northern Solomons, escorting a light cruiser bombardment force to the area of Bougainville Island where we encountered fire directed at our ship by a Japanese shore battery off Cape Torokina.
About this time, our first skipper, Lieutenant John E. Johansen, was relieved of duty by William M. Lowry, on November 8, 1943.
It may have been the tremendous stress of duty in combat zones which led to so many command changes on many vessels. I know we ended up with four different skippers in a little over 2½ year's time. I'm sure there were those who also spent their entire wartime career on the same vessel as well.
[When] searching [in an old 1967] encyclopedia for islands we touched upon or stopped at, there were a number of them not listed [there]. [So,] I'll give a short rundown of some of them: Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, the Treasury Islands, Munda, Efate, the Fiji's, Eniwetok, Majuro Atoll (Marshall Islands), Ulithi (Western Carolines [the Caroline Islands]), Kossol Roads (Palau Group), Formosa, Nansei Shotō, Leyte, Okinawa (the 'biggy'), Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Pearl Harbor (Hawaiian Islands)and many, many others.
The first mention in our ship's [History] of a depth charge attack on a sub is listed as being on December 2, 1943, when we caught another sub on the surface and attempted to ram it (remember the one I spoke of while on our shakedown cruise to or from Bermuda?). This occurred between Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo. At the time of writing the ship's [History] no official evaluation of that attack had yet been made.
Our third Commanding Officer came aboard on February 19, 1944. He was Lt. George W. Worth of Arlington, Massachusetts, relieving Lt. William M. Lowry as commander. All our skippers, as far as I can recall, were U.S.N.R. (reserve status, not regular navy men).
One reoccurring condition which took place while we were anchored in the harbors at Guam and Saipan was the testing of aircraft from those land bases. Since some of the aircraft evidently were just being kept running so as not to lose airworthiness from disuse, many of them (daily) crashed into the sea before returning to the islands. This became so commonplace that sailors no longer thought of it as something unusual, maybe not turning from whatever duty they were assigned to take a hard look.
This same thing happened while in the presence of aircraft carriers, planes coming in to land and missing the deck, or taking off and pitching into the sea. This seemed more tragic to me, offering a greater possibility of loss of life than those circling the island and harbor. Oftentimes while underway, seas got rough and winds prevailed which made landings on aircraft carriers most hazardous.
Sailor's Sabotage? Back to the US for Repairs
Maybe with good reason, another episode not listed in the ship's [History] is the fact our main engines were burned out by sea water leakage into the engine's lubricant. It was being investigated as to whether this was an accident or if this was a result of sabotage by one or more of the motor mechanics who worked in the engine room and who wanted to get the ship back to the Sates. Salt water does not act as a lubricant! Scuttlebutt ran rampant on the ship when it was said someone might be in for a General Court Martial if the responsible person or persons were found. As I recall none ever were (no lie detectors used in those days).
Barely limping back to the West Coast, we reached Hunter's Point Navy Yard sometime in late April or early May of 1944. Our top speed using the auxiliary engines was something like seven or eight knots, and with thousands of miles to cover, it seemed to take forever.
Another reason we were in need of major repair which could not be done in one of the dry docks at sea was the fact many of the seams in the hull of the ship had split open from the constant dropping of depth charges and pounding onto the water in rough seas. Our hull, as I recall, was only something like a quarter to five-sixteenths of an inch thick.
Had you been on a ship when depth charges were being shot over the side with "hedgehogs," and others were rolling off the fantail, you'd know what I mean when I say the explosion literally raised the fantail out of the water. This was especially true if the setting was for a shallow depth (nearer to the surface). You can imagine the constant impact of such force having a negative effect on the hull and its seams.
Now we come back to Ruth, the girl with whom I'd fallen in love and who lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Remember her?
You must keep in mind that from the time I left Boston in July of 1943 (at least that's what the ship's [History] says), Ruth and I had been corresponding. I mean heavy stuff! "Dearest Darling"; "My Sweetheart"; "My One and Only"; these and similar headings accompanied each and every letter (going both ways) along with long, mushy stuff from heading to close. Had we met during that time, a marriage would have ensued immediately.
But now it was different. I had folks and family to consider in the short leave I'd have. They'd be shocked hearing that I was having a girl meet me while at home and that she was coming from Boston. So I went home without contacting Ruth at all.
The author on leave (late April or early May, 1944) with his sister Dorothy. She's wearing a "Jr. Wave" outfit, and the author has what we believe to be these two ribbons on his chest (left to right); though we cannot be certain, having only a B&W photo:
In San Francisco
Back for duty on board ship after the leave had ended, there was still plenty of time for liberties in the San Francisco area. It seems we were in for about a month at Hunter's Point Navy Yard.
Two meetings with women (along with other guys on one, and alone on another), resulted in much less activity on my part. Maybe I'd learned something from my prior misbehavior, or maybe I didn't appeal to them that much. Whatever it was, I was glad it ended that way. I was not, however, finished with the drinking bit.
Reminded of Earlier Incident in Boston
One time I recall heading into a long, narrow bar which was scarcely lighted so that it was difficult to find the washroom. I noticed men staring and gawking and turning their heads as I walked to the back. It finally hit me! These are "queers" looking for a date or a "make." Remarks were made as I walked in and out, making me sick to the stomach. I hated what their M.O. was in life more than I can saynot that I'm that different today. The reason? It's because I'm going to relate something that happened in one of my liberties (alone) in the Boston Commons, that historic setting.
I was broke as usual and just taking in the sights of the gardens when an Army or Air Force officer approached me (Army, I think) asking if I cared to join him. I had in mind he meant he was "buying." We walked around having all the non-commissioned guys saluting this guy while I walked with him. It felt good to gain such respect. He eventually said he had some liquor at his hotel and invited me to accompany him there. All the while I kept asking if he knew of any girls we might take along for a dinner or to his place. He avoided the question to where I was slightly annoyed, even a little suspiciousbut still naive.
When we got to his hotel, all the employees addressed him as though he were someone special. We took the elevator up several floors to his room. Once there, he suggested I take a "nice cooling shower." But I refused (several times) and asked when he was going to bring the drinks out.
Whether he made a move or a suggestion which awakened me, the result was the same. I stormed out of the room saying something like "You're nuts!"
Taking the elevator back down to the street level, I shouted to the operator, "You've got a 'queer' in there!" I don't think he was overly shocked to hear my revelation. They all probably already knew it.
All that to say, when I was in that bar it became my second encounter with homosexuals. I'd never, before the Boston experience, known about such people and their lifestyles. It was totally contrary to my thinking, and it almost made me nauseous.
Sick way to leave the Ship
Before closing out San Francisco liberties, I want to show how some people's thinking can become even more perverse than what mine was (and some were surely that).
One of our crew members, a guy who was nice looking, but who portrayed a certain amount of femininity in his mannerisms, came back to the ship one day just before we were to ship out. He went to sick bay, turning himself in as one who had contracted syphilis or some other venereal disease. The unbelievable part of the story is that he told us he deliberately stayed with a woman known to have been a carrier of the disease so he could avoid going back to sea and war duty. Sick, sick, sick!
Guess I was wrong (maybe not, though) about his femininity. But anyone who'd do what he hadin my opinionneeded more than physiological treatment!
Back to the South Pacific
On June 1, 1944, the ship again got underway for duty. Leaves were completed, repairs made the ship seaworthy, and we were ready to resume duty where we'd left off a month back. But our assignment had been changed.
Hunter's Point Navy Yard behind us, and the Pacific before us, we proceeded to the Central Pacific, having been assigned to escort duty between Pearl Harbor and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. This was during the time of the invasion of Saipan.
A month or so later (July, '44) we conducted the search for a sub, the U.S.S. S-28. It had failed to resurface after a practice dive. A regular Navy Commander of Submarine Division 41 was assigned to our ship to oversee the search. We did eventually find five oil slicks, but no survivors or debris were found. It was another of the sad events in my navy life!
Thinking of the sailors who were trapped in that sub, and knowing what they must have felt and thought, was almost maddening. We just looked about helplessly while they no doubt hoped and prayed something could be done to bring them back to the surface. It is incidents such as this which are fixed in my memory, uncomfortable as such thoughts can be.
Pilots and Crews Rescued
The next order to duty was to act as a training ship for submarines operating out of Pearl Harbor. While assigned to this task, we were called upon for rescue work. An SB2c Helldiver had crashed into the sea, and we were to try recovering the crew. We were guided to the location by search planes, but by the time we arrived, it was already dusk.
This rescue attempt became more complicated by a damaged PBY which had landed to take the SB2c fliers aboard, and was then damaged by heavy seas in an attempted takeoff.
The ship's record reads: "After several attempts were made in the rough sea to rescue the planes' crews, the PBY sank, spilling the men into the sea." But as I (and this is unofficial) remember the incident, we actually bumped into the PBY and "helped" it to sink. It couldn't have flown away, anyway; it's just the saving-face way this was written that caused me to list my opinion.
During the rescue attempt of those men, ten in all, another frightening discovery was made: As the ship pulled closer to the PBY, schools of sharks were seen swimming under the floundering men, presenting an even greater danger than had previously existed. To offset this danger, small arms fire was used to drive the sharks off as rescue attempts continued.
We had a gunner's mate second class on board who was quite husky. His name was Ed Bernik. He dove (or "dived" if you prefer) into the smashing seas and began swimming toward the exhausted swimmers to give aid.
While this was taking place, two of the ship's officers, Lt.(j.g.) John F. Cykler and Lt. Nat Brown had attempted to float a raft to the downed crews. In the process of that attempt, the officers were also cast adrift.
Eventually all the downed crew members and the ship's officers were safely returned to the ship. Ed Bernik's bravery in that rough sea and in the presence of those sharks surely called for some sort of commendation.
Fall, 1944: A Very Sad Time in my Life
Last Letter from Ruth
Ruth Ashcroft, my one and only true love whom I'd so carelessly abandoned in my fear of certain marriage, began to again warm up to writing to me. In time the letters returned to the kind we'd been exchanging in the past.
It should be said that I initiated the return to writing by letting her know how bad I felt about not agreeing to meet her in Chicago. I also didn't want to give up that loving relationship we'd built in all those months, and I thought that given proper time, we really would probably marry one day. Her sweetness in accepting my apology made me feel all the more that she was meant for me!
As happens in real life situations on a regular basis, the late fall of 1944 turned out to be a very sad time in my life. Our ship hadn't received incoming mail for some time (we moved about so much), and on this particular day I received several pieces of maila most precious commodity to a serviceman overseas. I eagerly glanced at the return addresses to see which I'd want to open first, and in spotting Ruth's as one of them, I knew it'd have to come first.
It began, "Dear John." You've heard of such letters being used in jest, but this was of the genuine variety. The introduction left no doubt in my mind I wasn't going to like what I'd learn in that letter.
Ruth had met a U.S. Coastguardsman. She didn't say when or how. She had been writing to me as though everything was patched up, but now she had found another. I couldn't believe what I was reading. "How could this be?" I reasoned. "Would she have done this same thing had I met her in Chicago and went back to sea saying we should put off marriage until a later time?"
In later years I thought of how I wished I'd saved that letter. It would have come in handy right now to list exactly what else Ruth had to say in it. In any case, this romance was over for good!
Only God knows what was in Ruth's heart and whether my absence would eventually have led to the same conclusion had I not miscued at Chicago. Maybe I didn't know her as well as I thought I had. After all, a one night romance followed by correspondence didn't give me much to go on. I did save her picture for years until one day my wife said she'd seen enough of it. I guess I kept it to show others that a beautiful woman such as that had once considered marrying me. Beauty really is what the old cliché calls it, "skin deep."
All that to cover just the first letter I'd received. There were two of the remaining three which gave bad news, too.
News About Phil
The next letter which I opened was from Mom and Dad. It could have been that my sister Marie did some of the writing for them, though I remember seeing Mom's handwriting mostly. I wondered what news might be coming from home and thought it'd be good to get some cheering-up. I was wrong in thinking there'd be anything in that letter which would accomplish that goal.
As I recall, the greeting was immediately followed by the main purpose of the letter, to tell me my brother Phil was listed as "missing in action" somewhere in the mountains of Italy. This had happened some sixty to ninety days before Mom and Dad received a telegram from the War Department. That meant he could be alive, or he could be dead. Naturally, most, having the human nature we do, take on the worst possible scenario; I certainly did!
Telegram to author's parents about his brother Phil (See here for more about Phil.)
[So] for that day, I'd lost Ruth [and] also my older brother to the war. I'm sure it must have caused mental stress and embitterment, coming as it did in a double dose of bad news!
Murder Never Solved
If you can think back to the place I'd mentioned meeting Emily Wnuk, the sister of the girl with whom I worked at the Western Electric Company, and the one who visited me at Great Lakes Naval Training Center while my folks were there (boy, this is a long sentence!), this third letter I opened came from Emily's sister.
The first thing which fell out of the letter was one of those announcement cards (or whatever they are properly titled) which give data about someone's death. I quickly turned it over to bypass the descriptive data so I could see whose picture would be on the other side. I almost dropped to the deck when seeing it was Emily's picture. The birth/death dates were listed along with her name under the picture.
Before reading the letter and the inserted newspaper clippings, I had to take a deep breath. "How could all this happen to one guy in one day? Lord, give me strength; I can't hack it!" I prayed.
Regaining my composure, I continued by reading the letter and the newspaper clippings to see what had happened.
The newspaper articles told of a tryst in which Emily evidently was to meet an acquaintance, boyfriend, dateor whomeverat a specified place in [Gage] Park. I've since lost or misplaced those newspaper clippings, so I can't be certain, but I think this may have occurred toward late afternoon when work hours were over.
She didn't come home that night, so Emily's sister called the police department to report her missing. By that time (early the next a.m.) the police had already found Emily's bludgeoned, bloody body shoved under some shrubbery in the park. Much of her hair had been pulled from her scalp as though in a ferocious battle for her life. All identification had been removed, so the sister had to identify the body.
From the time I'd last seen Emily at the Naval Training Center, I really never intended for ours to be anything more than a friendship. But having read of her demise in that cruel manner, my heart went out to her sisterand, in a way, to Emily in her last moments of life. Man's inhumanity to man; a mystery I'll never understand. Nor do I understand how such crimes can remain "unsolved."
Later: Hopeful News
Sometime later I got another letter from my folks telling me they'd received another notice from the War Department advising them Phil had been listed as a prisoner of war.
He said he and his men (he was a sergeant of some sort) were atop a hill or mountain where a crevasse dented the top, allowing protection or cover.
In reading earlier accounts of Phil's disposition as compared with mine, in later years he maintained that same composure. He never was a braggart as I tended to be if some accomplishment had been reached. So it didn't surprise me when years later I was told by sister Marie he kept the diary he'd written all those months in the prison camp to himself. To this day I don't know what really transpired in his capture or what prison camp life was like.
Someone had told me Phil had reached the rank of a Staff Sergeant (maybe even one step higher, not sure). "Ranks," he was supposed to have written, "are quickly achieved in combat when squadron or platoon leaders are killed. Someone has to take their place, and that's how I went from a private to where I am now."
One thing I recall hearing of his prison life dealt with food and cigarettes and Red Cross packages they'd receive occasionally. Since he didn't smoke, he'd exchange the cigarettes for something edible. Whether he said this or not isn't certain. But I had heard from someone, somewhere, that prisoners hard pressed for food in certain camps, those near to starvation, caught mice and rats and ate them to stay alive. I can see where that just might have happened.
One last thing before closing out Phil's capture, he did receive a Purple Heart for what I'd always thought was some kind of wound he'd gotten in battle. But he is supposed to have stated it was merely for "frozen feet" he'd received the award.
Since I don't know the date of Phil's subsequent repatriation, there's no point in trying to list it in a time sequence later on. It seems it was in the spring of 1945 when Germany's military was on its way out, and the allied forces were taking great strides toward ending the war there. He eventually was discharged in something like August of 1945.
The turmoil of bad news letters over and my hours filled with duty time to occupy my thinking, I got back to the everyday shipboard life. And some of the stories of that life follow.
There was one tall, lanky Southerner on board our ship who had a distinct drawl, one which was similar to that which Williams had, though even more pronounced. He presented a comical appearance by his large, "flappy" ears to go along with a smile that was almost as wide. He was a happy-go-lucky individual who never gave anyone the idea he was unhappy about anything. I liked him.
In port one day and a swimming party authorized, Self (the first name I can't remember) got up on the yardarm of the ship to jump into the water. That yardarm had to be at least sixty feet or more from the level of the water. It must have been that most of the ship's officers had gone ashore, as I doubt this would have been permitted under normal circumstances.
Self jumped off, clowning all the way down by wildly moving arms and legs and shouting silly remarks, hitting the water with an enormous splash. That was a very dangerous and daring fete, if not "unwise."
Another thing about Self was his singing. When mail would come aboard and he'd receive none, he'd sing "No latter today, love; I have waited so long...!" The "latter" was his verbalization of "letter." Since many found themselves in the same boatno letters receivedthey tended to feel comforted by the humorous manner in which Self entertained them.
A year or so back I'd gotten a letter from a former shipmate who said he'd gone on a tour of the Southeast U.S., looking up former shipmates as he traveled. In looking for Self, he learned he had passed away. No details were given as to what had happened to him. I know he was a little younger than I was when we were shipmates.
Though I hadn't seen or heard from Self in years and years, this disclosure about his passing saddened me greatly. There were also a couple of others who had been found to have passed away in that shipmate's trip, but I didn't know them as well. After all, we were all getting up in years in 1990 when that trip was made, and I know others, too, have met their Maker even before that time.
One day I was looking through my navy memorabilia, and I came across a letter from my friend Richard ("Red" to me) Curran. He's the freckled, red-headed kid who bunked under my bunk and the one who I'd felt I had to sort of protect from others. Don't get me wrong. He was a fiery kid who could fight for himself!
In the letter he reminisced about our shipboard days a little, but he also spoke of my brother Phil and I seeing him at one of the rail stations in Chicago on his way through to Wakefield, Massachusetts. I just slightly remember that visit, and in relation to a time sequence, this is premature, too; for it happened in 1947 when I was in an airline training school. But I want to cover that story so I don't forget to list it. (Letter written in 1947not the train station meeting.)
Red had told me he'd allow me to call him "Red," but it was obvious he preferred "Richard," his real name. He told of his brothers who had city or municipal jobs in or around Wakefield and that many in the community thought they had a drag of some sort to get them. He assured me none had done that and that they'd all earned the jobs they got. He was either already on the local police force or getting ready to go on it.
Then Red went on to explain I'd met the one brother who became a county cop (I think). That meeting would have had to take place in Wakefield, so I must have made at least one trip home with him to meet his family. That trip is only vaguely in my memory. It had to have happened while we were in Boston.
What happened in the years that followed, I don't know, as I have no further correspondence to show that we communicated with each other after that. Maybe my moving about the country and into so many different jobs kept me too busy to keep up with writing. I'm sorry it turned out that way!
Back to ship's activities. From October of '44 to March of '45, we escorted convoys of mostly fast tankers in between Eniwetok and Ulithi in the Western Carolines and Kossol Road in the Palau Group. The fuel being delivered was to be used by the Third and Seventh Fleets operating out of the Philippines and to the north in the vicinity of Formosa and Nansei Shotō.
Becoming a Radar Operator
Somewhere along the way while on board ship, I wanted to explore the possibility of getting into a line of duty with more sophistication than what a seaman's job had to offer. I don't know exactly when I began the search, but I eventually found myself hanging around the signal bridge having learned the Morse code, semaphore and how to use the blinkers. But no openings existed in the signal bridge crew.
Having been a seaman first class for some time, the only way to advance in that crew or group was to advance to Coxswain and then Boatswain's Mate. That didn't appeal to me, and thus the search for another gang (as they were called departmentally).
One of the signalmen advised me he'd heard of an opening in the radar shack crew, so I checked it out and was eventually accepted for that duty.
For the remainder of my stay on the Crouter I still spent much time on the signal bridge, being given the privilege when in port to signal to other ships on which I had relatives or friends assigned. It worked better than the mails by far, not that I always got a response to my messages, however. Some of the vessels were so large it was difficult to locate the person sought, or the guys who received the message just didn't want to bother. It was fun just the same!
One of my cousins who is near to my age, served on the Saratoga, an aircraft carrier. I slightly recall having gotten a message through to him one time while in some port. We didn't get to meet, however. His name is Richard Novotney.
Being in the radar gang had its pluses. No more ordinary seaman cleanup type work or bridge watches were part of my work. I spent all my duty hours watching a "scope" looking out for any kind of unusual "bleeps" on the screen which might indicate there was a surfaced sub, a floating object, or even aircraft in the vicinity. Any such irregularities were immediately reported to the bridge where it was decided if a trip to the radar shack was necessary for an officer's observation as to whether further action needed to be taken.
One big problem I had with this gang was partly my own fault. I never was able to kowtow to anyone who seemed to demand attention or subservience. Mine was never a servile or submissive nature. And that's what I felt the two who headed up the gang looked for. We got along as far as getting the job done was concerned, but I never made any "points" in their book. In the navy (and most likely other branches of the military) it was called "brown-nosing." I'd never justifiably be accused of that!
I had my third class rating for over a year when a new man came on board, a seaman first class. He got into our gang because our Radar Technician left the ship, giving one of the second class guys a chance to take his job. That then left an opening in our gang.
This guy (and I won't use names because he might still be living and able to read this somehow) had all the qualities I didn't. He fit into this remaining second class guy's qualifications for "brown nose first class." And the three of those guys eventually made a lovely trio! (I may have exposed names by this.)
The crux of the story is that this new man had been a rank under me, but by the time the ship went back to the States for decommissioning, he'd achieved a second class rating, one above my rank.
Is it possible I'm viewing what happened in a very subjective mode and that this really didn't happen the way I'm describing it? It's possible. But, naturally, I'm inclined toward thinking it took place as I've listed it. The guy who surpassed my rank was a nice guy, but I didn't like the way he got his rank.
Left All Alone
When still a seaman first class, I remember an incident which perhaps told more about my nature than I'd like to admit.
A bunch of us seamen had a beef about some kind of treatment from the Coxswain. He was a wiry, smart-aleck who had a dirty mouth, a regular navy man who thought little of those who were just "reserves." So we decided we'd go to the executive officer and air our problem. This was to be done in a collective effort by all who'd agreed to the plan.
By the time we knocked on the Exec's hatch (door), I turned around to find myself standing there alone. All the others had "chickened out."
The officer heard my story or complaint, though with grumpiness, and he concluded I had a "belligerent attitude." It was the same as trying to present your case in a court of law to a judge. He often won't let you say what you have to say, and if he does, he'll still rule against you. This meeting, I think, resulted in an insertion into my records to show I was a belligerent person. Not much gained, huh? Not much backing, either!
Hanging on the Yardarm
Though we in the radar shack didn't have to participate in "swab jockey" type work (that of seamen), we did have to maintain our own gear. One of those pieces of gear, the antenna or radar dome, was located on one of the yardarms. I remember very clearly when my turn came to get up there and hold a bucket of paint and a brush in one hand while tightly clinging to the ladder on the way up, all the while trying to do what was nearly impossible. The "ladder" was merely metal rungs going up alongside the mast. You ought to try that trick sometime if you are looking for something different to do.
I was being the usual hypocrite by acting as though it didn't trouble me, but I kept it all inside to save face and show who and what I was. The cramps in my arms, hands and legs told me what a liar I was.
When I survey the possibilities of what I could have been a part of had I not gone into the radar gang, I realize I really had it pretty soft there. We enjoyed hot drinks made from a prepackaged chocolate mix regularly, something the deck crew couldn't dream of enjoying. I don't know who managed to get it on a regular basis or how he went about it, but it sure hit the spot. After all, how many other work areas had their own hot plate? Very few! Yes, I had it pretty good there; and maybe some of the guys I berated in my story were the very ones responsible for acquiring the hot chocolate! I'm too judgmental, too often.
Ancient Order of Shellbacks
[Editor's Note: This event took place on August 11th, 1943 (before arriving at Bora Bora).]
One of the most trying times in my navy life took place during an initiation tradition for those who had never before crossed the equator, that imaginary line which circles the globe dividing the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
That tradition of an initiation ceremony centers around Roman mythology in which Neptune was said to be the god of the sea. He controlled all the waters on the earth, and thus the ceremony followed that any sailor who'd never crossed the equator beforea seasoned or unseasoned sailorwas subject to it. I believe this also included ship's officers as well, though I believe more discretion was used in initiating these guys, as "Who wants to have an officer on board who will take it out on you later?"
King Neptune was assisted by his queen, Davy Jones, and the Royal Baby in carrying out his orders during the initiation. What transpired in that day (or was it more than one?) was nothing less than demoralizing for the "polliwog" or uninitiated sailor.
The ceremony was a humiliating treatment to the polliwog in order to make him worthy of entering into the Ancient Order of Shellbacks.
The King's Baby in our ceremony was a large (around the middle) first class petty officer or a chief, a regular navy man, one who for some reason never reached top classification in my book. He had that enormous center section covered with oil and grease, and each polliwog had to kiss the Baby on that spot. This, though not the most physically painful ordeal, was for me the most trying to carry out.
Once bending (the Baby was sitting on his throne) to complete the humiliation, he'd grab your head and pull your face right down into the blubber! Oil and grease now covered your face! He'd replenish the supply of oil and grease after each encounter.
Another ordeal was the spraying of salt water from high-powered hoses, which on bare skin stung pretty effectively. This was also done while entering and exiting a long plastic sleeve through which we had to crawl. This in addition to the constant smacks on the rear as we crawled through the sleeve.
Then (as I recall) there was the court session in which the polliwog was questioned, found guilty, and punished. The punishment being a jolt from a rigged electrical (battery operated) fork which was poked at the bare and wet body, the wetness adding to the effectiveness of the jolt.
Some of the other trials led to less memorable events, one in particular being the haircutssuch as running a pair of clippers right down the center of the head. Fortunately, I wasn't treated to that extent. Maybe the guy who had that part of the initiation was someone who I looked up to and who sensed I did.
Having now become members of the Royal Order of Shellbacks and the pains (mostly to the ego) of wounds healed, it then became possible to think of the ceremony as something looked for at some future date where we'd be doing the dishing out rather than receiving it.
Today I have a large certificate measuring something like 14" x 18" which shows I'm a shellback. It gives the latitude where this occurred as 0000 degrees and the longitude as 100 degrees West. It is dated August 11, 1943. Considering the initiation, it is quite a prized memorabilia.
1[Return to Text] The author had mistakenly identified a short document in his possession as the "ship's log". Crew members received only a brief summary of the ship's history which can be found attached as Appendix H; not a copy of the actual ship's Deck Log, which could have been more than 2,000 oversize pages! Other documents, including one referred to as the ship's "War Diary" were declassified and made available by NARA on December 31, 2012. We were able to obtain a copy of this document for almost every month the Crouter was in commission (from 5-25-43 to 11-30-45) and have referenced it in several footnotes to this book.
2[Return to Text] We do not believe this to be true. US Navy Commands could reassign officers for many reasons, and COs wishing to rise in rank were often reassigned to more stressful positions. We already mentioned in Footnote 8, Chp. 17, that Lt. Johansen was soon commanding another DE in the Atlantic. And Lt. Lowry, who was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, became CO of the USS Maurice J. Manuel (DE-351); commissioned 30 June 1944 at Orange, Texas.
8[Return to Text] While there is some truth here (saltwater or 'salt corrosion' was likely involved), it appears that what was actually damaged was part of the 'scuttlebutt' (rumors) our author mentions! Under the entry in the USS Crouter's War Diary for "3-18-44" it states: "Shortly after noon both number one (1) and two (2) main propulsion generators shorted out leaving the starboard shaft inoperative. A radio message was sent to ComSeronSoPac requesting relief. ... We arrived at Espiritu Santo on March 31 and moored alongside the U.S.S. BRIAREUS. Inspection party from Force Maintenance came aboard to determine extent of damage to generators." They remained moored to the repair ship until April 4th. "RepForMaint Santo completed installation of power cable jumpers from one port main generator to starboard switchboard, to permit operation of both shafts. 1800 completed sea trials with a speed of fourteen and one half knots, using both shafts." On April 5th, they departed Espiritu Santo enroute (spelled this way in the War Diary entry) to Pearl Harbor. On April 14th, they arrived at Pearl Harbor, and departed on the 15th for "Navy Yard Mare Island". On April 22nd, 1944, they arrived at "Hunters Point Navy Yard, San Francisco, California" (their repair orders had been changed) where the Crouter remained until May 24th, 1944.
9[Return to Text] The ship's War Diary states that they departed Pearl Harbor on the 15th of April at a speed of "13 knots". As noted in Footnote 8, the Crouter had also "completed sea trials with a speed of fourteen and one half knots, using both shafts." So, the author's words "Barely limping back...something like seven or eight knots," should be taken more as a comment on how he and other crew members felt about it rather than the actual time it took (which was less than 7 days). [It took 164 hours (4:21pm,15th to 12:30pm,22nd) to travel at least 2096 nautical miles, which gives us an overall speed of 12.78 knots. Therefore, the CO must have maintained about 13 knots at sea; not being able to go that fast when leaving or approaching their moorings!]
11[Return to Text] Ed's son Tim, replied to our author's account of this story online (about 2010), stating: "I am a retired Navy man as well, after 23 years. I lived with the stories you mentioned; and many more. I [was] a Navy Diver myself... still not half the man my father was, though. Thank you for your story." In the Crouter's War Diary for May 2nd, 1945, it states: "BERNIK, E. J., 234 40 34, GM2c, USN and MROZ, J. (n), 860 67 74, SF2c, USNR, were commended at Meritorious Mast for displaying exceptional and unusual courage in the rescue of a downed aviator at sea."
Text] First, this seems like a good place to point out the following: When studying historical events, if it's important to know what truly happened, then multiple sources must be compared and weighed.
15[Return to Text] The USS Saratoga (CV-3), a Lexington-class carrier commissioned in 1927, was one of only 3 prewar carriers to survive the war, in spite of being torpedoed in 1941 and 1942, and being badly damaged by several kamikaze hits in 1945 (during the Battle of Iwo Jima).