Marshall Ralph Doak Chief Pharmacist's Mate United States Navy
Typhoon, Tanker Explosion
Typhoon in the Philippines
It was about this time, the Fall of 1944, that the big typhoon hit the Philippines. The typhoon was so bad that we'd lost two destroyers that had been swamped and sunk. They had their boilers blown up as water got in on their smokestacks. One of the carriers had its flight deck bent. We were based at Ulithi at that time. We went into the middle of this typhoon because one cruiser, the USS Reno, had been torpedoed and it was in danger of sinking. Our Captain was on the bridge giving wild decisions. He was stone drunk and jeopardizing the ship and everyone's lives. The XO got a hold of me and said, "Chief, what can we do?" We called over and said we'd take aboard survivors from the Reno. Personnel on the Reno said that they were safer on their sinking boat than they would be on our ship. Turak and I made an agreement to bodily take the Captain off the bridge, and we took him off fighting and scrapping. We actually threw him into his cabin and locked the door. Mr. Turak took over the bridge and did a masterful job. He finally got what we call a monkey fist over.. We got the initial line over and pretty soon we got the two inch steel cable over. We were able to tow it in the rough sea and I think it took us two days to get in back to Ulithi. I have often wondered if our removal of the Captain from the bridge been considered a mutiny?? Now we had another problem in dealing with the Captain. Turak had saved the Reno. My relief hadn't shown up yet. Turak and I went together. We went up and opened the door to the Captain's quarters and he was there in bed. He got out. Turak pointed his finger at him very threateningly and said, "If you ever jeopardize the lives of the crew of this ship again, I'm gonna tum you in to the Admiral real quick." Captain Gunn said, "Mr. Turak (that was the first time I'd ever heard him say that) I can promise it'll never happen to you again." We left him and within two hours he'd gotten shaved and cleaned up, and got into his motor launch and away he went. Maybe three hours later I was at my desk when I heard the blinker lights on the bridge. This was one of the few times we were anchored in Ulithi. The messenger came running down to Mr. Turak and he said, "You've got your orders." The Captain had made sure Mr. Turak could not make one complaint against him. Navy law is such that if you're gonna make a complaint, you have to be a complement on board that ship. Once he had his orders, he couldn't make that complaint. Within two to three hours the Captain was back on board and stone drunk again.
Tanker Explosion 20 November, 1944 USS Mississinewa, A059
Probably the next day, Turak hadn't left yet, we were underway in the harbor. I don't know who was on the bridge. A big fleet tanker got torpedoed and blew up. We were within 600 to 700 yards of it, and the only ship underway in the whole damn harbor with the whole fleet in there. I found out later (in 2005) that the tanker was torpedoed by a new Japanese manned torpedo. I often wondered how a sub had gotten through the nets, but the manned torpedo stayed right on top. They had a little cockpit on the top of the torpedo. I saw the Japanese admit this is how they did it on TV. We were the first ones to the ship and fighting the fire. We were pickin' bodies out of the water. I musta had 15 bodies on board. The ship was still afloat and burning and I couldn't believe there were no survivors. I stacked up the bodies on fantail. A group of us went on board the tanker. I'll never go aboard anything now without a lantern. We got down into passageways and thought we could hear some of the crew tapping. We couldn't get to them. The hatches were sprung and we couldn't get them opened. Then we got word the tanker was sinkin'g and now we had to get out. It was pitch dark and which way to run? You start stumbling through. I finally saw daylight and got out and they'd cut the lines because it was takin' our ship down with it. We left men we couldn't get to. I had to make out death reports, Form "N" on these people and a lot of them weren't identifiable. We got rifles out to sink anything on the surface. They kept shooting at one item they couldn't sink. They sent the motor launch over to it. They finally drug it back and it was a small body with the top of the head blown off. Pretty soon another landing craft came over and took all the bodies, but this was only after I'd finger printed and done all the death reports. I believe that the last body found was that of the Japanese pilot of the Kaiten Manned Torpedo. His name was Sub-Lieutenant Sedio Nishina, a co-developer of the Kaiten and a hero in Japanese history. Not knowing this at that time, I assumed he was a US sailor and he was buried at sea with God's blessing and all other honors as an American sailor.
A day or so later, I received my relief on board and I was so happy. Captain Gunn called me up and thanked me. This was in December of 1944. I was about to board the aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, to take me back to the states.
A Medic's Stress
Being the only medical staffer aboard ship could be a challenge. I was on individual duty as the first aid man, and I didn't know how far I could go. This is a lot of stress on a medic that's all by himself with 150 men and 10 ofiicers. I've done trauma surgery and tbis and that, but I was always worried about liability. I wrote to the Bureau of Medicine. I wrote to the Navy Department. I never could get an answer from them. One day I ran into Dr. Gilliam out in the Pacific. We were on the USS Wakefield together when the war started. We spent the afternoon talking and that was my main question to him. He said, "Marshall you can go as far as you need to go. There's no limit. After we stop the hemorrhage and shock and so forth is when we make our mistakes as doctors. Now we've got to determine which patient comes first, it's called triage. This is important. Sit back, have a cigarette, and evaluate the situation. Ask yourself, "Where do I go next?" I know you're gonna be criticized for this, but this is where we make mistakes." This was quite an education for me. We had quite a conversation that one afternoon. It made me feel a lot better and I stopped worrying about it. I did what I could do and that was it. Dr. Gilliam and I had to euthanize my good friend Paul Cronce at Singapore. He stated that we alternated the morphine shots so we will never know who administered the fatal shot. He said that you shouldn't feel guilty under those circumstances. It had to be done, and I agreed. A weight had been lifted off my "mental" shoulders.