USS Coral Sea/Anzio CVE57
USS Coral Sea/Anzio CVE57
Service Dates=Apr l943/Feb1946
Excerpt of personal Naval experiences from the manuscript:
THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD IS LONGER THAN I THOUGHT
FIFTEEN YEARS OF
DEPRESSION AND WAR
a musical memoir
Keith and I were now 17 years old. Part-time high school, coupled with dull defense work, was definitely not where we wanted to be. Therefore, we quit both and joined the United States Navy. "Now we'll get some action and play with the 'big boys', who knows we might even become heroes like in the movies."
We were given physical examinations and took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States Navy. We said goodbye to our families a second time, boarded a bus and were sent to the U.S. Naval Training Station at San Diego. As before, we were told it would take them 3 months to turn us into sailors as it took the California State Guard to turn us into soldiers.
"I know the routine, put another Nickel in that there machine"
So what was the first thing they taught us to do? Thats right! They taught us how to March. The fact that I was already an expert and could have taught them something about the nuances and subtle differences between the left and right foot had nothing to do with it. I had to learn all over again. Not only this, but I had taken all the inoculations and vaccinations prior to leaving the State Guard and now that I was in the Navy, they gave them to me again. The worst was the series given for Typhoid Fever. The second of three is a double dose and if you have a reaction that is when you have it. Because I had two of these double doses only a few months apart, I got very sick and when they saw my 105-plus temperature I was put into the hospital for a few days.
Important new things I learned during the three months in Boot Camp were how to tie knots and to row a boat. Both of these skills were useful to me the rest of my life. When it came to the use of firearms I had plenty of experience from the State Guard and was the only person in our Company to qualify as a Marksman on the first try. This fact determined my destiny for the rest of my naval career. I spent the next three years as an Aviation Ordnance man and was taught how to take care of machine guns, bombs, rockets, napalm and various other war tools. Additionally, I was put into the ship's Firing Squad and again performed at funeral services whenever someone was killed or died aboard ship. Together now!
"I know the routine, put another Nickel in that there machine."
When Boot Camp ended Keith and I were split up. He became a Pharmacist Mate and because of his office skills, spent most of the war doing clerical work in different naval hospitals. We didn't see much of each other until after the war ended. We did get together a time or two in Honolulu where he was stationed at a naval hospital and also in San Diego at the Balboa Naval Hospital.
I met a new friend in boot camp, Julian Dean Swartz, a.k.a. J.D. He was from Los Angeles too and lived near me at 76th Street and Central Avenue. We spent the rest of our navy days together.
J.D. and I, including some others from our boot camp company, were assigned to Naval Air Squadron, VC 33. This groups valorous war activities had already been written about in Time Magazine. We were proud to be assigned to them and be part of their organization. They were stationed at the Naval Air Station in Monterey, California. The pilots were practicing aircraft carrier landings while we learned how to arm and service the squadron's aircraft. These consisted of a small single engine fighter called an F4F Wildcat built by Gruman and a much larger single engine torpedo bomber named TBF Avenger. Later versions of these planes were built by General Motors and became known as FM2 and TBM.
The fighters were small stubby looking things and had a crew of one. Their landing gear folded into the side of the fuselage and looked strange when flying. Their armament consisted of four 50-caliber machine guns, two in each of its folding wings. The TBFs were much larger and had a crew of three that consisted of the Pilot, a Turret Gunner and Radioman. Its armament was a 30-caliber machine gun that the pilot fired on a synchronized basis through the propeller rotations. Somehow, if I had been the pilot I don't think I would have used that gun very often. It also had a 50-caliber machine gun mounted in a rotating turret behind the pilot and another small 30-caliber machine gun fired by the radioman; it was mounted in the tail and fired in a downward direction. These aircraft also had a large bomb bay with hydraulically operated doors that could accommodate one torpedo or an assortment of bombs and depth charges.
This duty lasted several months but as far as I was concerned could have gone on permanently. Never had I seen a more beautiful spot than Monterey and Carmel California, especially in those times. I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have, because when we got Liberty, J.D. and I would head for the boardwalk in Santa Cruz and ride the Roller Coaster and look for girls.
All good things come to an end, the Navy then sent us to Holtville, California where we were privileged to spend the summer. This town was only a few miles from the Mexican Border and metaphorically, 1 mile from Hell. The Imperial Valley was ideal to practice night flying with an emphasis on short carrier landings. We worked at night and attempted to sleep during the day. Air-conditioning didn't exist and when it did, was available only for officers and pilots; we weren't part of that elite group. The daytime temperatures would exceed 120 degrees. We didn't have fans. The urinals in the Heads would be full of crickets, a foot or more deep. When we woke in the evenings before work, the first order of business was to pour the crickets out of our shoes and clothes.
When this miserable summer was over we were happy to say goodbye to Holtville and were sent to Otay Mesa near San Diego. We stayed there only a few weeks while we waited for our new home to arrive at the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego.
That day did arrive and the brand new baby flat top USS Coral Sea [CVE 57] welcomed us, then immediately put to sea with Pearl Harbor our destination. Little did I realize that this ship would continue to be my home for the duration of my naval career and that I and the rest of the young boys who boarded at North Island would take part in the greatest sea war in the history of the world.
"Anchors away my boys, anchors away. Farewell to college joys; we sail at break of day, day, day, day. Through our last night ashore, drink to the foam. Until we meet once more here's wishing you a happy voyage home." Rah! Rah!
Henry J. Kaiser built the USS Coral Sea CVE 57 at the Kaiser Shipbuilding Co. Vancouver, Washington. The first was CVE 55 USS Casablanca and the last CVE 104 USS Munda. Mr. Kaiser advised the Navy Dept. that he would build 50 of these ships at his yard within a one-year time frame. This was an incredible pronouncement by this amazing industrialist and was immediately accepted. We were one of the first of the 50 built and became known as the Casablanca Class. They were originally constructed for the sole purpose of escorting convoys, but this never materialized in the Pacific or Atlantic as it was recognized they were more effective as offensive weapons during amphibious landings, especially on Japanese controlled islands in the Pacific.
Three baby flat tops with 30 planes each could launch and retrieve them three times as fast as one first line carrier with 90 planes. They were also effectively used for anti-submarine patrols during and between these offensive operations. These little carriers were ideal for warfare in the Pacific and also did an admirable job of ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) in the Atlantic. The majority ended up in the Pacific with most of those built later to transport aircraft to the forward areas of operations.
Because of the method of construction, all welded seams with no rivets or armor plate, it was also realized they were expendable, as they were cheap and quick to build. It was not surprising to hear that they became known as Kaiser Coffins. They were cranked out in only a few months. They were small, 512 feet from stem to stern and 65 feet at the beam. Here is the fun part, 800 to 1000 or more people, including flight crew lived in that small space. We got to know, love and hate each other very well.
On our first voyage we stayed in Pearl Harbor only a few days, long enough to fill the ship with provisions with a heavy emphasis on bombs and machine gun ammunition. We then joined a large task force and put to sea in a southwesterly direction. Only the top brass knew our destination. Finally we arrived in the Gilbert Islands. We were then told our job was to provide air support for the marines who were put ashore on Tarawa and Makin Islands.
This operation was a total SNAFU [Situation Normal All Fucked Up], in fact it was worse than that and should have been classified by the dreaded military acronym FUBAR [Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition]. We found out later that the marines lost over 1000 men and twice as many wounded. We outnumbered the Japanese 4 to 1, it shouldn't have happened. Nevertheless it did, and the reason was simple. The entire operation was conceived, planned and executed by officers and enlisted men who had never been in any kind of warfare before and only had the barest textbook idea how it should be carried out.
We were sailing with 2 other CVE's, the USS Liscome Bay CVE 56, our sister ship, and the USS Corregidor CVE 58. Aircraft carriers are given the most protection so three battleships surrounded us including the USS New Mexico BB-40; they in turn were protected by a bevy of cruisers and finally many destroyers. We were smack-dab in the middle of all this, how safe can you get? Nobody can touch us. BULL SHIT!
One morning before sunrise and just 4 days after D-day, November 20th, we were at general quarters, as usual. I was topside and thankful to be there, it was hot and humid down below, as we were only a few miles from the Equator. I was standing in the catwalk next to the flight deck and admiring the Liscome Bay, our alter ego. Like us she was brand-new and our twin. She was 1000 yards off our port beam.
Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion and all I could see was a huge fireball that lit up everything. Twenty minutes later the USS Liscome Bay was gone and most of the crew with it. We werent told how many of those aboard survived, perhaps for good reason and suspected there was only a handful, if any.1 It happened so fast and she sank so quickly. All we knew was, she was our sister ship and had a crew similar to ours plus our Admiral. She and the crew and the Admiral no longer existed. A single torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine did this work. Her entire aviation fuel storage tanks exploded, a quarter million gallons of high-test fuel. This event made the name Kaiser Coffin stick. I now knew what war was about and no longer was anxious to participate. Especially so, when I was told that a second fish, slang name for torpedo, missed us by 15 feet.
"I'm feeling so bad won't you make the music easy and sad
"Eternal Father! Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound 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!"
Today as I write these words I feel tightness in my throat and weep for all those seventeen-year-old boys, barely old enough to know right from wrong, who died without knowing why and only having an opportunity to experience the bare essence of life. They werent able to take part in the American Dream and enjoy the good life it promised. Their lives, like the flame on a candle, were snuffed out in a few frantic moments of confusion and panic. I found out early that wars are fought by young boys and the young are the ones who die first and in the largest numbers. It's the kids who are the sacrificial lambs and fodder for the war maker's cannon.
"We're poor little lambs who have lost our way, bah, bah, bah.
We're little black sheep who have gone astray, bah, bah, bah.
We're gentleman songsters off on a spree, doomed from here to eternity.
Lord have mercy on such as we, bah, bah, bah."
By the end of November this operation was over and we went back to the USA to see if something could be done to make these little floating coffins safer and stronger. We sailed to San Francisco and docked at the Alameda Naval Air Station, in Alameda, California where 55 years later I now live. We waited for the Admirals and Generals to plan and put together the next Pacific Operation, at the same time decide what part the USS Coral Sea would play. Unbeknownst to us we would be involved in every major operation in the Pacific theatre until the war's end. Our little encounter in the Gilberts was only a brief warm-up for things to come. Gentlemen, start your engines and Let the games begin. ITS SHOWTIME!!
What a year this was for me. I'd been in the Army, to High School, an aircraft factory worker and to war and back as a sailor in the navy. I was only 17 years old, but now an older 17. Fortunately, I still had a young boy's body with all it's urges, so was thinking of my one-week Liberty and hitchhiking to Los Angeles to show off my new campaign ribbons. Perhaps to also meet a girl. I wanted female companionship and was possessed by boy-girl thoughts. The problem was that I had begun to realize I could get my ass shot off before I had an opportunity to fill myself with the sexual bliss that takes place between man and woman, married or otherwise.
Actually, I had a very small sampling of this 2 years earlier, about 10 seconds worth, when George Hage, Johnny Keeler and I became grown-up men and drove to Tijuana, Mexico in George's 1930 Model A Ford coupe. Our first stop was the Hotel Del Rio where, for the whole sum of $1.50, you were given a fast, very fast, trip to Never Never Land. The three of us lost our cherries during this journey. Damn, that was fun and I sure as hell wanted to do it again and again. And every chance I got, I did and I did.
Ahorra, hoy soy un hombre para solamente um peso y cinquenta centavos, que gana!
South of the border down Mexico way thats where I fell in love when stars above came out to play and now as I wonder my thoughts ever stray. South of the border down Mexico way. She was a picture in old Spanish lace, just for a tender while I kissed the smile upon her face. For it was Fiesta and we were so gay. South of the border down Mexico way.
Yes, it was deep unrequited love. Rave on Dude!
Because we had now taken and successfully completed a course that could have been named War 101, we clearly understood what it was about and learned it's a dangerous endeavor making participants poor insurance risks. We seriously questioned our chances of survival and started mentally preparing ourselves to become statistics. This preparation included heavy doses of alcohol coupled with frequent trips to the "best little whorehouse in Honolulu", followed by booze and a trip to a tattoo parlor. Liberty in Honolulu had three goals, "get Screwed, Stewed and Tattooed," in that order.
Let me now tell you a little about the first item on this agenda.
It was a busy little place and must have been where the idea for the mass production assembly line was invented. It didn't have a name and was located on the second floor of a building in downtown Honolulu. It was easy to find because the line of sailors desiring entry was 3 or 4 deep and wrapped around the block. I don't remember the price, but that wasn't important, getting in and doing it was the only thing that mattered and then leaving enough time for the final two items.
Here is how it worked. Each of these little rich girls worked 3 rooms, cubicle is a better word because they weren't much larger that a clothes closet and only contained a simple cot and washbasin. While she was screwing one, the one she had just screwed was next door buttoning up the 13 buttons on his sailor pants while the new, yet to be screwed, was in an adjoining cubicle unbuttoning his 13 buttons. When your moment arrived you were told, "don't take off your shoes and socks, only drop your pants and remember breasts are private". She then flopped on the cot, flipped down a buttoned flap on the crotch of her shorts and in you went. What a great system!
Of course I never visited this place, you understand that don't you? The above description was only hearsay, including the following incident.
The head of the line was at the bottom of the stairs and the girls themselves would order up the next victim. On one occasion a girl called down loudly, "send up a little one". At that instant a short little fellow about 5'2" quickly started to scramble up the stairs. The girl then said, "I mean one with a little prick! The boy's foot froze in mid air, as he couldn't decide whether to continue or not. See, I told you it was "the best little whorehouse in Honolulu". You not only got sex, but stand-up comedy and all for one price of admission. It was a funny moment.
"Oh, she jumped in bed and covered up her head and said I couldn't find her, but I knew damn well she was lying like hell so I jumped right in behind her."
By the end of December our visit to the USA and our brief trip home ended and we headed back to Pearl Harbor to prepare for the Marshall Islands operation and our part in the taking of the island atoll of Kwajalein. History has shown we were better prepared after our Gilbert Islands blunders. Admiral Chester Nimitz who ran this show was meticulous and every detail was gone over and over again to ensure none of the Gilberts' fiascoes were repeated. Perhaps you are wondering how I knew all of this? No, Nimitz didn't consult me before making foolish moves, but I do have in my possession a letter from him thanking me for service to my country and with the salutation "Dear Neal". Some said my 15-year-old girlfriend Marilyn Moyer penned in that greeting, but I say no, Chester did it by his own hand. I confess, 50 years later I did refer to some historical information that confirmed these facts, but more importantly, I remember because I was there and the whole operation went smooth as silk.
The Japanese took a real beating with nearly five thousand dead and we only took 265 prisoners in the process. This wasn't because we were merciless. It was because the crazy fuckers would rather die than surrender and this is precisely what happened. The island of Kwajalein was littered with corpses and it was impossible to walk around without stepping over bodies. It wasn't unusual to see Americans sitting on corpses with a hacksaw to help relieve the former enemy of their teeth and ears. Many pickled ears and teeth necklaces were flaunted in camps and on ships. We really hated the bastards and knew they did worse to us when they had a chance; only they did it when we were alive. Bulldozers quickly took care of this situation. Approximately 300 Americans died, a ratio of 21 Japanese for each American death.
The USS Coral Sea was the first American aircraft carrier to anchor in Japanese waters and our aircraft were the first to land on Japanese soil. We now felt like we were going to win and it felt good.
Prior to the Marshall Islands operation, which took place the first week in February 1944, we spent most of January in Hawaii getting ready. Some of us from our ordnance group were sent to rocket school for a two-week crash course on the use and handling of these little beauties. These lessons were held at Kaneohe Bay on another part of the island of Oahu. Rockets were a new weapon and were attached under the wings of our fighter planes and torpedo bombers. These weapons were equipped with either Armor piercing projectiles, for use against submarines, or 5-inch explosive shells for subs or anything else.
Besides being very dangerous weapons to handle and load on aircraft, they were extremely effective during the softening up operations prior to actual invasion. Now our little fighters had more than just 50 caliber machine guns. They also had high explosive rockets and later Napalm, to help them do the dirty on the Japs. This, coupled with the 500-pound bombs carried by our TBM Avengers made carrier based aircraft very formidable weapons for those times.
Just to let you know how dangerous these rockets were to handle, I'll tell you a little about them. They were fired electrically and had a short electrical cord attached to the rear that was similar to the cord on your electric toaster. This male plug was inserted into a female socket on the launcher that in turn was attached to the underside of the aircraft wing.
Now here was the problem. They were known to go off with only a small static electricity charge. It only took one volt and a fraction of an ampere to do the trick. Because of this the two male prongs on the plug were shorted with a small brass clip and this clip was removed only an instant before inserting the plug into the launcher socket. This was the last procedure before the aircraft was catapulted into the wild blue yonder. When you plugged it in your face was only a few inches from the backside of the rocket. If it went off you would be left standing there speechless because youre now headless, so to speak.
The question, which now raced through your mind, was, "Is there any electricity floating around in the socket you are about to plug into?" To give ourselves more confidence the pilot was required to hold in his hand and make visible a small plug that broke the circuit in the cockpit should the firing switch accidentally be left on. Of course this wasn't enough and there could still be some electricity coursing around in the system. For more assurance we then plugged a small battery operated tester into the system and if current was present a tiny bulb would glow. Another worry, what if the bulb had blown? For more confidence, we then plugged the tester into itself and let its internal battery light the bulb. It must light and prove the bulb good. Now the big moment, say a short prayer, remove the brass safety clip and PLUG IT IN!
Over a two-year period I did this hundreds of times and even got to the point when I stopped saying a little prayer at the final instant. Would I do this today? Of course not! This proves a person can learn something useful over the passage of time and proves that as you get older, you do get smarter. At my general court martial I would have simply told the Judge, "YOU DO IT SIR!"
As a matter of fact, there never was an accident with rockets on our ship but there were accidental firings on other ships. There even was an incident where some poor soul who, under pressure and confusion, lost his head, both figuratively and literally and plugged the rocket into his own tester, rather than the rocket launcher. R.I.P.
Eniwetok, another atoll in the Marshalls was taken after Kwajalein was secured. This completed the Marshall Island operation and was finalized on February 21st, my 18th birthday. Strangely, my birthday seemed to attract important events and one year later at Iwo Jima I had another birthday, it too was accompanied by an even larger celebration, but I'll leave the details of this affair until later.
When the Japanese ran General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines, he escaped on an American PT boat at Corregidor. He left General Jonathan Wainwright and 10,000 others there to be participants in the Bataan Death March. Wasn't that nice? This event gave us our first glimpse of the unspeakable atrocities of which the Japanese were capable. Most young people today know nothing of this and never learned how cruel these people were during this march and the treatment of the survivors later. Nevertheless, MacArthur departed and uttered his famous comment, "I shall return", then set up shop in Australia. Believe it or not, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor shortly thereafter. Did he deserve it? You tell me. General Wainwright survived and was released in 1945 shortly before the Japanese surrender and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He deserved it!
In 1947 he spoke to my class at Woodbury College and I was privileged to meet him. He was still painfully thin from his ordeal.
It wasn't long before MacArthur and his ego caused disagreement within the military as to how the war should be conducted. MacArthur, on one hand, pushing for his victorious and glorious return to the Philippines and others, including Nimitz, who wanted to concentrate on other Pacific Islands and bypass most of the Japanese held islands south of the Equator. Looking back, this made a lot of sense. But because MacArthur had been appointed the head man in the Pacific, as Eisenhower had in Europe, it shouldn't have been surprising that our next operation would be south of the Equator and we would be part of MacArthur's Navy, we laughed a lot about this as he was not held in high esteem by naval personnel. He was a perfect egoist; actually Im tempted to use the word "asshole" as being more appropriate.
The Coral Sea was ordered to the Admiralty Islands in the Bismarck Archipelago to give air support for the amphibious landing operations at Hollandia and Emirau Island. These places were considered stepping-stones to the Philippines. Sure enough, MacArthur's pledge eventually became true because he made it happen. Everyone everywhere was treated with pictures of his rehearsed return where he waded ashore at Leyte in October 1944. This carefully planned event enabled us to see his trousers wet way up between ankle and knee as he proclaimed, "I have returned."
What makes me think that here was a man with the most self-interest possible and in order to satisfy it's urges, sentenced to death thousands of peons on both sides during this miserable war? I never liked this man during the war and especially after when he refused to come home. He was too occupied reveling in his new position as King of Japan. It was clear that his next move was to become "King of the USA", and deliberately delayed his return until the right moment, this designed by his prolonged absence, giving the country time to elevate him to demigod status. I'm also sure that if he had the opportunity he would have pushed for the 5th star there too and become a full-blown God in his own right.
Unfortunately for him and fortunately for the rest of the country this event never took place. He made the mistake of arguing with his boss about his desire to cross the Yulu River during the Korean War. He wanted to invade China. But the little Haberdasher and Masonic Knights Templar from Independence, Missouri proved to have a bigger pair of balls than anyone dreamed. He simply fired MacArthurs ass for disobeying the orders of the Commander-in-Chief. That must have been a terrible shock to our egocentric General but he seriously misread the strengths of our tough little president Harry S. Truman. Didn't he know that you never mess with a man who says things like, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen", and was always ready to accept his responsibilities by reminding one and all "the buck stops here".
This event finally brought old "Dugout Doug" home where he proceeded to give his famous speech, the one that ended with the words "From the old barracks ballad, 'Old soldiers never die, they just fade away'". And that is precisely what he did. Goodbye dear Douglas, you did some good but you also did more than enough damage for one man in one lifetime. Farewell.
After the New Guinea Operation we went to the Mariana Islands to give air support to the land forces that were invading the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Guam and Rota. This operation became known as the Mariana's Turkey Shoot, as the Japanese went all out and sent in everything they could muster. It seemed we were under constant air attack. Because we were an aircraft carrier we naturally were the No.1 prime target. When these attacks came, all the other carriers and their escort destroyers would steam close together so the anti-aircraft firepower from all ships could be utilized on a single plane if necessary.
It's amazing that we didn't shoot each other; perhaps we did but never knew. Our gunners shot down 7 Japanese planes and we were the target for a number of bombs but our lucky ship was never hit. Since I was an Airdale and worked topside I had an opportunity to see much of this action. I remember on one occasion when we were launching aircraft one of our pilots had a Japanese plane in his sights and started firing his 50 caliber machine guns while his plane was still rolling down the flight deck during takeoff.
During the three years I served aboard the USS Coral Sea, we had three skippers. The first was Captain Herbert Watson Taylor USN, the second Captain Paul Wesley Watson USN and the third Captain George Cannon Montgomery USN. Of the three, the most memorable man was PW Watson. This probably because he was the most feared and hated. Further, it became known to some that because of faked bravado, he was not a good leader and instead may have been a bit of a chicken.
I mention this now because of a personal observation when we were under heavy Japanese air attack during the Marianas operation. This took place on his first voyage as skipper. It was just before sunset, a very dangerous and vulnerable time. After waiting for hours at General Quarters and tracking enemy bogeys on radar as they got closer and closer, they finally hit and with a vengeance. One sailor standing on the flight deck close to me yelled up to the bridge and said: "Let's get the hell out of here!" Watson replied in a quivering voice, "We are, we are!"
You always want to hold your leader in the highest esteem for bravery and leadership, but at that instant I lost it for this man and was happy when he was relieved prior to the Iwo Jima and Okinawa operations. Perhaps I'm being too hard on him, but it was disappointing to realize he was scared shitless like everyone else.
This represented the last time the Japanese attacked our naval forces in the usual manner, that is, by bombing and strafing in a conventional way. Once they realized it didnt work and lost so many planes with little or no results they went back to the drawing boards and came up with a new idea. THE KAMIKAZE!
We didn't know or care that the word Kamikaze meant a Divine Wind and came from ancient Japanese history when Genghis Khan's armies and ships containing them were sunk while attempting to invade and conquer Japan. The poor bastards didn't have weather satellites then and had the misfortune to plan their operation during the typhoon season. The word Kamikaze was born. In my time the word only told us we were dealing with a bunch of psychopaths.
Can you imagine American pilots volunteering to fly on a suicide mission? Very dumb question, right? The Japanese didn't have difficulty recruiting pilots for this type of warfare. This clearly shows the difference between our cultures. We already knew they would rather die than be captured, as there were instances when hundreds of them would pull the pins on their hand grenades and then fall on them. There were also incidents when they ran out of ammunition and rather than be captured would do anything to commit suicide, even by pounding their heads against rocks. I read of one situation when a soldier tried to stab himself with his own knife but no matter how much he cut himself, nothing worked. He finally finished the job by placing the knife in his mouth and banging the end with his fist.
Does any of this tell you something about the Japanese mentality and why, even in the present time, they are whipping our collective asses in business and economics and will probably continue to do so?
"Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes and I can take or leave it if I please. The game of life is hard to play, Im gonna loose it anyway. The loosing card Ill someday lay, so this is all I have to say, Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes and I can take or leave it if I please."
When the Mariana operation was phased out, the power in our engines phased out too and we were ordered to return to the USA for repairs, this time it was San Diego. Of course when we heard this news we were very distressed as we were having such a great time playing war. We received the following message from CINCPAC [Commander in Chief US Pacific Fleet] specifically Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
"THE CORAL SEA AND VC-33 HAVE COMPLETED A LONG TOUR OF COMBAT DUTY WITH CREDIT TO THEMSELVES AND TO THE NAVAL SERVICE X WELL DONE X".
Do you remember that old Peggy Lee song, "Is that all there is? Is that all there is to a circus? Today I would sing, Is that all there is to a war?
One of the best things about going back to the USA was not just getting leave to go home, but having lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and meat to eat, especially milk. We loved it and missed it and drank gallons when available. I still like it and drink it most every day. I remember one occasion when I was on a work detail and we were loading provisions prior to going to sea. We were carrying cases of fresh eggs and noted markings on the boxes indicating they had been packed in 1942. This was 1944. They looked like it, smelled like it and tasted like it too. I can still see those yolks, a bright fire engine red with a touch of green here and there. However, most of the time the eggs and milk were of the powdered variety. We made milk with our "mechanical cow".
These experiences enable me now to eat and enjoy practically all kinds of food, with the exception of oatmeal of course, and by the way, I did eat it when that's all there was. I didn't like it but ate it anyway. It's easy to see how anyone who hasn't experienced hunger during their lifetime can maintain prejudices against so many different foods, with more dislikes than likes. On the other hand, it may indicate how fortunate we are to live here in the land of plenty where we can choose and pick anything we want from this huge buffet table called the USA.
I think when you compare the cuisine of all services; Navy Chow would rate the best. It was served hot, it tasted good and most of the time there was plenty of it. Usually we would get certain things on certain days and it would be different for two weeks, then they would start from the beginning and do it again. As an example, Saturday breakfast often consisted of a dish that went by the acronym SOS, this stood for "Shit on a Shingle". Frankly, I liked it and wish I knew how to make it now. It was a brown hamburger kind of dish that resembled chili and was served over a piece of toast. Another favorite was called "Creamed Foreskins on Toast". This dish, as you might guess, was made with a white sauce and contained pieces of dried or chipped beef and a few green peas here and there. It also was served over a piece of toast. I loved it and still make it and eat it with relish. Yumm!
When you had watches at night there was always plenty of hot Joe to drink, that's coffee in case you dont know. Also stacks of sliced Horse Cock sandwiches to eat. This, if you can use your imagination, was a slice of bologna between two slices of white bread. When you're hungry this is a marvelous dish and tastes very much like Filet Mignon.
So let me say this to all you finicky eaters out there. You don't know what you're missing with your silly food hang-ups. This must be God's punishment for some unspeakable sin you've committed. There is nothing better, more delicious and nutritious than a big plate full of Shit on a Shingle or Creamed Foreskins on Toast and as a snack, a very tasty Horse Cock sandwich. Fabulous cuisine. I love it and drool and salivate when I think of it. I still wolf it down like a wild dog.
Somehow, we always managed to get a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Thanksgiving and Christmas, including apple and pumpkin pies. This causes me to remember an incident that took place one Thanksgiving. We had two mascots, a dog and a cat. They naturally spent most of their time hanging out in the galley. The cooks made stuffing for the turkey and it was mixed in large kettles that were sitting on the galley deck.
I was there too, and like our mascots, for the same reasons. In this case I was wrong because our cat had a different agenda, and I noticed it standing on its hind legs sniffing the stuffing. An instant later the cat was up and walking around in the kettle. You can guess the rest because this was as close to a sand box as you could get and this little pussy lived on a steel ship. It had never seen a sand box or a garden. The cat dug a little hole, squatted, did everything it was supposed to do, and then covered it up. We all enjoyed our turkey dinner including the dressing that was made with many ingredients and spices. Some ordinary, some secret. It tasted GOOD!
My friend J.D. Swartz made an extremely smart move. When we first boarded the Coral Sea he, like me, was an Airdale in Squadron VC-33. His job was as low as you could get. He was a "Plane Pusher", in other words this job required no brains or any special talent, all you needed was a little muscle and enough fear of authority to do what you were told. This was donkeywork and donkeys were constantly required to move airplanes from one place to another. There was no other way to do this but to use slave labor.
J.D. had a great personality and was liked by everyone, he made friends with the cooks and in a short period of time was transferred into this group and started learning to be a cook. Now why didn't I think of this? Being a cook on a ship in the navy has to be one of the best jobs you can get. On one hand I was jealous of him and on the other I liked his being there as it gave me opportunities to get special favors and treats. He made me work for it though and many times I helped him with some of his more undesirable duties such a pulling the guts out of frozen chickens. It was worth it and occasionally I was able to taste some of the food that was reserved solely for officers.
After being at sea for months at a time and being on the wrong side of the Pacific Ocean, some of our mates would start acting a little strange. We called this behavior "Going Asiatic". To give you an example, we had a cook by the name of Dobbins who had the ability to stretch his balls over a ten-pound lard can. Now you might ask, what in the name of hell would make him want to do that? But then ask yourself, why did Hillary climb Everest? Because it was there! It also proved that this man had a big pair of balls and no one could argue against it. Additionally, we had a baker who amused himself by sticking his prick into unbaked loaves of bread. Some wondered why the bread slices had holes in the middle? In some cases the term Going Asiatic had more serious connotations. The following story explains.
One fellow, I never knew his name, seemed to believe he was Jesus Christ reincarnated. We never accepted it as fact but always kept the door open, it was fun to hear him preach. We named him JC. He continually complained of Constipation and one day after several trips to Sick Bay the ships doctor asked him to bend over and spread your cheeks, the doctor noticed something protruding from his anus. Upon removal it was found to be JCs toothbrush. Since it was customary to store ones toothbrush in a little plastic case, JC had apparently found a new way of doing it. The result was that he was relieved of his duties and was given a new home in the ships brig. This event brought JCs true personality to the fore, whereupon he immediately shat on the deck, took off his shoes and socks and went Ice-Skating. We now knew with certainty he was not the person he claimed to be.
"Do your balls hang low, can you swing them to and fro, can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow, can you throw them over your shoulder like a Continental soldier, do your balls hang low?"
Even though the ships officers had their own galley and dining room called the Ward Room their food wasn't always the best and now I want to tell you a little story which I call the "Steward Mate's Revenge" and this story proves it. J.D. Swartz told me he saw this event with his own eyes and I believed him. Officers had their own cooks and servants. This was long before equality between races existed. They were Negroes whose jobs in the Navy were to be Steward Mates, nothing else. They weren't allowed to do any other work and were segregated from the rest of us in their own sleeping quarters. Most of us never knew them or talked to them.
Some of the officers made the mistake of treating them like slaves, which in actuality they were. This was an error of the highest order because when an officer who was on their 'Shit List' walked into the Ward Room to order a sandwich, the scenario would go something like this, "A baloney sandwich for Lt. Grey". "One baloney sandwich coming up". Behind the wall a steward mate would open a refrigerator and sail a few pieces of baloney like a Frisbee across the deck where another at the sandwich board would pick it up. Before finding its way between two slices of bread it would visit the steward's genitalia and then be swiped up his backside. Finally it became part of a very attractive sandwich and was placed in front of Lt. Grey to relish and enjoy. Bon Appetite.
In the evenings J.D. and I often talked about what we would do when the war was over. When speculating when this event would take place it was said we would see the Golden Gate in '48 and the bread line in '49. We planned to open a restaurant together. He would do the cooking and I would run the cash register. It never happened.
"When they serve us biscuits they say they're mighty fine, one rolled off the table and killed a mate of mine, I don't want any more of the USN, gee but I wanna' go home. When they serve us turkey they say it is the best, we get the neck and asshole and the officers get the rest. I don't want any more of the USN, gee but I wanna' go home."
San Diego was more desirable than San Francisco, that is, for those of us from Los Angeles. LA was only four hours away where San Francisco was a full day or at least 12 hours. They divided the ship's company into two groups giving each two weeks leave over a one-month period. I was in the first group and after spending two glorious weeks at home with my family I still wanted more but the only thing available to those of us who were on duty would be an occasional overnight pass. The problem with this was that you had to be back on board the following morning for "muster". This meant that on a 24-hour liberty we would spend at least 8 of those hours traveling. I went to LA anyway.
This still wasn't enough so on other days I would go as well, this meant I was AWOL and would risk being court marshaled. A further risk was that if your ship sailed when you were AWOL the penalty was an automatic General Court Marshall with lots of prison time in your future. After both halves of the ship's company were back on board there were constant rumors that we would be sailing soon for Pearl Harbor but they never told us the exact time for security reasons. Each morning I would ask myself, "should I or shouldn't I". The answer always was "I should". If you are a bit curious as to why I did this and took those risks, the answer is simple. I'd already completed two tours out there and found out that war, as suicide, is dangerous and it's easy to get yourself killed stone dead. I wanted to see my mother, father, sister and friends every chance I got. Each time might be the last.
Here is the way I organized this scam. I would put on my dress blues and then put my dungarees on over the top. I would then proceed to the Quarterdeck with a barrel of trash and ask the OD [Officer of the Deck] for permission to go ashore to dump the trash. When I was ashore and on the pier I would duck out of sight and take off my dungarees and stash them in a safe place where I could easily find them the next morning. Getting back on board was just as easy as the whole routine was done in reverse. We were tied up at the Naval Air Station on North Island and it was necessary to take a short ferry ride to get into San Diego. Getting off the base wasnt a problem; all you needed was a valid ID.
The last time I pulled this trick it turned into a major disaster. The next morning as I rode the ferry back to North Island I stood on the bow staring into the fog and frantically looking for my ship. I had a terrible feeling, deep in my gut; this caper was going to backfire. I was right, it did. My ship was gone. Oh Shit; now youve done it!
At this point I was nonplussed and didn't have the faintest idea as to what I should or shouldn't do. I simply wandered around on the pier where the Coral Sea had been berthed muttering to myself, "Nunnelly you damn fool what have you done? It's going to be your sweet ass now, and you can bet on it!"
I then noticed another sailor, in his dress blues, about a hundred yards farther down the pier. We started walking toward each other and I recognized him as part of the engineering gang. The silly bastard had been doing the same thing as I. He also had his dungarees stashed nearby. Because misery loves company I instantly started to feel better.
After we camouflaged ourselves in our hidden work clothes we decided to head for the Harbor Master's Office and find out what happened to our ship. This visit turned into pure joy when we were told that the Coral Sea had only moved to another part of the island to load airplanes. We received directions, jumped on a shuttle bus and sure enough there she was.
She had finished loading airplanes and tugboats were alongside. Not only had the watch been shifted from the quarterdeck to the bridge, but also the lines had been thrown and a nearby crane had cables attached to the gangway and had taken a strain. Departure for Pearl was imminent.
In an instant we both grabbed a 20' long wooden plank from a pile of timber on the pier and at the same time I picked up a small keg of nails. We started up the gangway. Our travails weren't over as the tide had risen overnight and the gangway was setting at a 30-degree angle and presented a steep climb. The captain saw the situation and could see us struggling. He yelled over the loud hailer for the crane to slack off and the tugs to standby. He then ordered a group of officers who were standing where the Quarterdeck had been to go out and give us a hand.
Quickly, 6 guys dressed in khaki came out and relieved my new friend and I from our burdens. They had a helluva job because of the angle of the gangway and the length of the plank. It was extremely difficult to get the plank on board, especially with the Captain yelling at them over the bullhorn, it took about 10 minutes. By the time this was accomplished we were down below, had our dress blues neatly tucked away and had melded into the crowd and were once again invisible. We had pulled it off!
The Coral Sea immediately put to sea and as was the normal procedure, everything that wasn't bolted down was tied down. It was the duty of the 1st and 2nd Divisions to take care of this and make everything ready for sea. This included the latest Ship's Stores that had been brought aboard. Our plank and keg of nails were placed in an out of way place next to the starboard hangar deck bulkhead and securely lashed to the deck where they remained for as long as I can remember. I doubt if anyone took the time to ask the reason this wooden plank and keg of nails belonged on a steel ship. For a while I had a new nickname and was called "Nails" instead of Neal. Happily this didn't last too long and the whole incident was soon forgotten.
Just in time, I found you just in time, before you came my time was running low. I was lost, the loosing dice were tossed, my bridges all were crossed, nowhere to go. Now youre here, now I know just where Im going, no more doubt or fear, Im on my way, for love came just in time, you found me just in time and changed my lonely life that lucky day.
This next tour of duty was our last, longest and definitely most dangerous and was continuous until the end of the war.
In October 1944 while MacArthur was telling everyone in the Philippines, "I'm Back!" We received the worst insult of all. They took our name away from us and renamed the USS Coral Sea. Our new name was USS Anzio. We were named after the Anzio Beachhead in Italy. This commemorated the time when American forces started their offensive operation on the Mediterranean side of the European continent and fought an important battle to get a toehold there.
In those times the US Navy had a sensible way of naming their vessels: aircraft carriers were named after famous battles; battleships were named after US States; cruisers were named after American cities; destroyers were named after famous naval heroes and submarines were named after fish.
The naval battle, which took place between the Americans and Japanese in the Coral Sea, was too important for our little ship so they decided to give it to a big first line carrier that was under construction. Therefore, we now had a brand new Italian name. We were so thrilled. Unofficially we renamed ourselves and called our ship the "Big A". Didn't the brass know it's bad luck to change the name of a ship?
Some time ago when I attempted to use Computer Bulletin Boards in an effort to contact someone who sailed in the USS Coral Sea I got replies from those who sailed in the second USS Coral Sea CVB 43. No one heard of the first and original USS Coral Sea CVE 57. I had two people tell me it never existed. If they were right and I was wrong then I must have dreamt it and was beginning to wonder if there was a shrink or someone out there who could help me get rid of the bad moments and nasty mental scars I'd been saddled with all those years.
From October 1944 until the end of the year we were conducting Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) in the Philippines, specifically in support of the Leyte and Luzon operations. This meant that we sailed by ourselves with only our destroyer escorts to protect us with sonar and depth charges. All together we sank 4 Japanese submarines and 2 more possibles. We got good at our trade. Here is how we did it.
A new torpedo type of device, nickname "Fido" was developed. The workings of this unit were secret and even crew on our ship were not permitted to get near it, except people like me who were required to load it in the planes and guard it when it wasn't loaded. It was a small battery operated torpedo with a small warhead, approx. 100 lbs of Torpex, an explosive one third more powerful than TNT. It had two listening devices, one on each side that controlled its rudder and stabilizer.
After Fido was dropped from the aircraft it would float silently beneath the surface until it picked up the sound of an enemy submarine's propeller. Fido would then come alive and travel on a zigzag course toward its target, this by listening to the submarine through microphones on either side. These maneuvers would eventually cause it to hit the submarine's propeller. The small Torpex charge would do enough damage to force it to surface. Once surfaced and dead in the water the sub was a sitting duck and was easily finished off by the same plane that dropped the Fido. This was done with depth charges, bombs and rockets.
Before dropping Fido it was necessary to locate the approximate area location of the enemy submarine. The pilot would first drop a number of sonabuoys in a large circle. This circle would be large enough to give the pilot confidence that the sub was somewhere inside.
The sonabuoy had a small radio transmitter with an antenna similar to a car radio antenna. It would float on the surface with a microphone, called a hydrophone, which hung 25 feet below. Then it would float there and listen. When the pilot heard the sub he would drop Fido near that particular sonabuoy that had also dyed the ocean a bright green. Each sonabuoy transmitted on a different frequency so he would know which was which. There you have it. Once these nasty little devils were developed the Japanese subs didn't do so well. We started to knock them off with a great deal of regularity. To help us feel good about what we were doing, we were treated to movies of the kills taken with cameras we had installed in the plane's wings.
We joined the Navy to see the world and what did we see, we saw the sea. We saw the Pacific and the Atlantic but the Atlantic isnt romantic and the Pacific isnt what its cracked up to be.
Never were truer words spoken. Once I went for six months without setting foot on land. People were transferred while underway by breaches buoy. Mail was transferred the same way. Food also was brought aboard without stopping and a tanker that came along side when both were underway, refueled the ship. We did not stop until we broke down. We prayed for this but it only happened twice.
It's at this point I'd like to tell an interesting story about receiving mail, and as you know, mail call anywhere in any service was an important event. There wasn't anything more exciting than a letter from home or a girlfriend. Also, there was nothing more discouraging than not hearing your name called, especially if it might be 3 months or more before you heard that special bugle call again. Fast moving ships were difficult to find and catch. The delivery of mail wasn't high on the priority list during important war events.
One of our escort destroyers finally caught up and delivered the mailbags, and after it was sorted I received one letter. It was from my sister. She started the letter by saying, "I suppose Mom already told you about our house burning down so I won't go into it again". She then went on with a lot of unimportant things and just left me hanging there. THE HOUSE BURNT DOWN!! Several months later we had mail call again and I received a letter from my mother that was mailed about the same time as my sister's. I then got all the details. Can you imagine my torment during that time lag? My sister and I had our problems, and once it crossed my mind that she left out the details deliberately. Naw, she wouldn't do a thing like that. Would she? Happily, I was then able to overcome my paranoia and put that suspicion to rest.
The house hadn't burnt down, but did receive a lot of damage as my father, who rolled his own, left a spark in his favorite chair to smolder after he went to bed. The resulting melt down caused the chair to burn up completely and fall through the floor. They were lucky the house didn't go up too.
No letter today, I have waited since dawn, Ive waited each day since you have been gone. No letter today, all the days are so long. Oh, why dont you write I know I was wrong? Just give me one chance1 please wont you forgive. Ill love you my dear as long as I live
An interesting place visited during the war was the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. Espiritu was an important base for the Navy and a staging area for operations in the Solomons, specifically Guadalcanal. A large American troop ship, the President Coolidge, was torpedoed and sunk in the mouth of the harbor. Fortunately, the Captain was able to run the ship aground and personnel were able to just step off onto the beach. Afterwards, the ship slid back into deep water and settled on the bottom. This island group has since been given their independence from the French and British and has been renamed Vanuatu. I visited these little islands forty years later; this time I was the skipper of my own boat. Things didn't look the same. The Coolidge was still there but the difference was it had now become a tourist attraction and you could dive down and look at it for a fee.
Also, during our travels in the Bismarck Archipelago we visited the Solomon Islands, where the first major American battle in the Pacific was fought at Guadalcanal. Besides being very green and tropical my most impressive memory was when we sailed into Tulagi on the island of Florida. There was a huge sign on a nearby hill, very similar to the famous sign in Los Angeles that says "HOLLYWOOD". Only this sign had another message for every ship and visitor to see.
It said, "KILL JAPS KILL JAPS UNTIL YOU HAVE KILLED ALL THE DIRTY YELLOW BASTARDS".
Even though we eventually won the battle at Guadalcanal, there were many Japanese soldiers who escaped and were still hiding in the jungles. This sign was meant for them. We had not forgotten the atrocities committed on wounded and captured American Marines and Army personnel. The Japanese were known to take pistols and shoot the feet of captured Americans to keep them from trying to escape. They also dissected and took organs from their bodies while still alive not to mention beheadings that took place for time to time. Surely, you understand why we developed an unrelenting hatred for them? These people were savage barbarians and we treated them as such.
Furthermore, the Japanese mentality could never admit or accept defeat. I read of one battle resulting in the death of 2200 of their soldiers, we lost only a handful. The Japanese commanders sent a message to Tokyo saying, The battle wasn't entirely successful. so you see it was difficult for us to understand and deal with their mental processes.
I sailed there too on my nostalgic journey in 1985 and again on my own boat. Old sailors never die, they just get another boat. The sign was gone but you didn't have to scratch very deep in the soil to find spent cartridges and other evidence as to what went on there. Both the Americans and Japanese have erected memorials for those who died in this malaria-infested jungle. The Japanese lost 25,000 including 10,000 who died of diseases. We lost 1,600 but this does not count all those who died aboard the twenty or more American ships that were sunk in the Coral Sea, including 2 first line aircraft carriers. These figures were never made public and perhaps for a good reason. It would have put a serious crimp in the navy's recruiting effort.
In those times the navy seemed a safer, cleaner, and more civilized place to serve your country. There wasn't much appeal in being a dogface soldier with a little shovel on your back so each night you could make your bed in a hole in the ground. As it turned out the Navy took terrible losses in the Pacific. We didn't have the answer as to how we should deal with the savage and suicidal Japanese with their Kamikaze, who in desperation gladly gave their lives to inflict damage on our ships.
The only other time we were able to go ashore on foreign shores was on the island of Mog Mog. This tiny speck of sand was located in the Ulithi Atoll six hundred nautical miles southeast of Guam. It was ideal as a fleet anchorage as it was attached to a series of reefs surrounding a huge lagoon. When you were safely anchored inside it seemed like you were still at sea as there was barely any land to see in any direction, only hundreds of ships. You were still in a convoy, it just wasn't going anywhere.
To provide some recreation we were permitted to go ashore and once there were given 3 cans of the worst beer you ever tasted. Why this beer was so bad is hard to understand. By world standards American beers have always been somewhere near the bottom of the list. But the beer they gave us on Mog Mog was truly God awful, the worst of the worst. We drank it anyway because they told us it was beer and it was supposed to taste good and make you feel good too. Regardless, it was a treat to set your feet on dry land, even though this land could be measured in yards rather than in miles. Try and visualize thousands of sailors, each with three cans of beer on this little spot of land, hardly anywhere to sit down, a few scrawny coconut trees, and rivers of urine flowing by because there weren't any toilets. Didn't we have fun?
"Now all men in the trees get down out of the trees, all you men in the trees get down out of there!"
Anyone who was there will remember the above announcement that was repeated from time to time over the loudspeaker system. They weren't there to keep their feet dry; it was because a lot of those young American boys got a kick out of climbing a real tree again.
In December 1944, a few days before Christmas, we had our most frightening experience of the war and the Japanese had nothing to do with it.
From time to time we would encounter stormy weather. When this happened we would set Typhoon Condition 1, 2, or 3, depending upon the severity of the storm. Sometimes these conditions were worse than others and when you were involved in a very bad one you might say to yourself, "I thought the storm last July was bad, but this one is as bad as it can get, now I've seen it all." Not true!
We were on anti-submarine patrol in the Philippine Sea, attached to Admiral Bull Halseys U.S. Third Fleet. We were sailing alone as usual, only accompanied by our destroyer escorts and happily tucked safely away in the middle. The weather started to deteriorate so we took precautions and lashed down everything that could move with extra lines and wire cables. This included the 35 or so aircraft, half of which were on the flight deck and the other half down below on the hangar deck. All were fully fueled and armed with rockets and depth charges. If we had bogeys on the screen we would have also degassed and disarmed them. But why go to all that trouble when you're only faced with a little rough weather?
The course we were on required us to plow directly into these seas which were increasing in intensity. No one had seen it blow like this before and it was exciting to go topside and see the entire bow, up to the flight deck, go under each time we hit one of these big waves. The spray would fly the full length of the ship fore and aft. It wasn't long before it became apparent the Big A was under a terrific strain and each time it would bury its bow into these seas the ship would stagger and groan. It was noticed that the steel bulkheads between the hangar deck and the flight deck were starting to tear. As the bow plunged into these deep troughs the tear would widen and lengthen with a God-awful noise. We could see more daylight through the side of the ship. This was getting to be serious business.
The captain tried slowing down and finally to heave to and maintain just enough headway to keep our bow at a slight angle to these monstrous swells and waves. Most ships will weather out bad storms in this manner. This did not work. These seas were too steep and close together for the poor ole Big A.
While this was going on we were throwing more lines over everything that could move, especially the aircraft and many depth charges that were still lying on bomb skids at the aft end of the hangar deck. I was helping out topside and was aware of wind like I've never seen. One gust hit me and literally popped the buttons off my shirt and then blew it right off my back. The spray on my bare skin felt like hundreds of bee stings. We knew we could do no more up there and retired below into a passageway that ran athwart ships just under the flight deck and over the hangar deck. This passageway was approximately 100 feet long and about 5 feet wide and represented the entry and exit to our 50-caliber ammunition storage compartment.
Meanwhile the captain realized we might break up if we kept on this course. It was apparent we couldn't take these seas any longer and heaving-to proved futile. The engines were shut down as we ceased trying to steer a course and make headway. We had become a cork in a full-blown typhoon. The next 24 hours were the worst of my life. The storm was increasing and took us on a 500-mile journey that was not included in the "Plan of the Day".
We never knew the exact wind speed because the anemometer spun so fast it blew away when the wind was fierce enough to record 120 knots. The storm intensified after that. The Big A was in very deep shit indeed.
Once the ship lost steerageway, our broad beam was presented to the wind and seas. We started to roll, first to the port, then to the starboard. We stuck our heads through a hatch to view these incredible seas. It was a sight to behold. When we looked straight up all you could see was water where the horizon should be and the next roll we got the same view when we looked straight down. This ocean was a series of high mountains and deep valleys made of white water. One moment we were on top of Mt. Everest looking down and the next we were in the Dead Sea looking up.
Everyone knows an aircraft carrier is flat on top. The only exception is super structure on the starboard side called the "Island". This is where the Bridge and Flight Control is located. The ship is steered from here and is where the captain runs the show. I have no idea where he was during this storm but its hard to imagine him being there. Each time the ship rolled the entire island superstructure lay in the wave. Furthermore, since the stacks for the ships exhaust were also located level with the flight deck and on both sides, they too went under. We dogged down the hatches and positioned ourselves at the center of this long passageway. Because the flight deck was only a few feet over our heads we could hear the aircraft as lines and cables snapped and they, one by one, flew away without the benefit of engine or pilot.
The situation on the hangar deck was total chaos. The aircraft broke loose and were rolling from side to side, one on top of the other; each soon became a pile of twisted aluminum junk and not recognizable as an airplane that could fly. The fuel tanks were ruptured and hundreds of gallons of high-test aviation fuel were sloshing back and forth from one side of the hangar deck to the other. Many 350 lb fused depth charges were also rolling free and awash in gasoline, the fumes were overpowering. No one had to tell us the smoking lamp was out, one spark and all would be blown to Kingdom Come. Some aircraft and bombs fell down our two elevator wells. We were right on top of this and could see the whole thing through an open hatch in the deck.
At this point the only question in our minds was whether we would blow up before we capsized. It was necessary to use ropes to lash ourselves to the bulkheads in this long passageway. This, because of the steep angle of each roll and a fifty-foot fall to the far end could kill you. Could it get any worse? ???Oh yes it could and it did!
The fire alarm went off and we could see billowing smoke rising from the hangar deck!
I suppose people act differently when confronted with imminent death and I've heard it said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. I'm inclined to believe this is so and know for a positive fact that there were no atheists in that passageway on that terrible day. Everyone prayed, some out loud and on their knees, others like me, silently. Strangely, I felt a little embarrassed to see my shipmates on their knees and hear their loud exhortations and prayers. It unnerved me, but I too made God many ridiculous promises. I won't say that I lied because at that moment I would have said and done anything and meant it sincerely, if only he would pull my chestnuts out of the fire one more time. He did, but regretfully I haven't kept any of those very unfeigned promises. Was it fate or God? I don't know, but I do know, I'm here and I'd like to think it was the latter.
"Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since weve no place to go, let it blow, let it blow, let it blow. It doesn't show signs of stopping, and I brought some bombs for popping... "Now it's time to say good night. Gee, I hate to go out in this storm, but dear God if you hold me tight, all the way home I'll be warm."1
Luckily, the smoke was only smoke without fire or sparks. One of the planes smashed into and broke an exhaust pipe that came up from the engine room.
We didn't capsize because we were carrying so many heavy bombs; some weighed a ton each, and were stored in bomb magazines deep in the ship's bilge. We were very well ballasted. This saved all of our lives. When the sun came up the next day it was all over. The wind died to nothing, only these monstrous swells remained but without wind posed no danger. Looking at this unusual sea was a sight to behold. It was great to be alive. No one was killed or even got seasick. There were a few broken bones, but that was all. Only one of our destroyer escorts was visible and stayed with us on this 500-mile typhoon controlled journey. Its entire superstructure was missing and looked like a ship under construction.2
The Big A's luck was still holding out.
"To illustrate my last remark, Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark. What did they do just when everything looked so dark?"
"Tell your troubles to J-E-E-E-SUS, the Chaplain's gone ashore".
Because we were fresh out of airplanes and the ship needed repairs, including problems with a buckled Flight Deck and a ripped Hangar Deck, we went back to Hawaii for this work and to ready ourselves for Iwo Jima two months later.
My navy experience only lasted three years, but in those years lie a lifetime of compacted episodes still available for instant retrieval, the sum of which may also help explain who and what I am. Reliving these experiences is teaching me something else, that is, there are many occurrences in life that carve a groove so deep in your psyche, they can never be forgotten. "Amazing", spake Mr. Spock!
Bombs are suspended from shackles in an aircraft's bomb bay. The release mechanism on these shackles is controlled by an electric solenoid that is activated by a pickle switch on the pilot's joy-stick (that sounds dirty.) We had lots of maintenance problems with these shackles due to sticky solenoids. When the pilot pressed the pickle something was supposed to happen, like a bomb falling and blowing hell out of something. The pilot also had the option of dropping his load on safe, this meant the arming wire would drop with the bomb and the bomb would not explode upon contact, enabling him to jettison his load without a big bang. At least that's what it said in the book.
The bombs had two screw-in fuses, one in the nose and the other in the tail. When the shackle retained the arming wire as the bomb was released the impeller was free to turn and aligned the firing pin with the detonator and by so doing made a big boom a sure thing at the exact instant of the bomb's sudden stop. Do you get the picture? It caused the firing pin to do serious damage to the detonator and you can guess what happens next. The safe option kept the fuse's impeller from turning, keeping the firing pin and detonator misaligned, then instead of hearing a big boom you were supposed to only hear a big clunk.
One day I was sitting in the cockpit of one of our TBM's [torpedo plane] and a couple of my mates were below in the bomb bay trying to fix a sticky solenoid, a daily occurrence. I was bored stiff, they weren't getting anywhere. All I had to do was press the pickle when they asked me to and they weren't doing that very often. It was b-o-o-o-ring!
There is another very important switch in the cockpit, this one so important that it has a cover over it that is held down by safety wire. This is so the pilot or anyone else doesn't bump it accidentally. It controls some high explosives that have been placed inside all of the radio and other sensitive equipment, especially the IFF gear [Identification, Friend or Foe]. If the enemy had this secret radio mumbo jumbo they could sneak up on us, as we would think they were one of ours. Are you beginning to grasp this scenario? I hate to say this but I knew exactly what this switch was, and what it did when it was thrown.
My only defense was that on that particular day my mind had taken a holiday and definitely was not aboard the USS Anzio, it certainly wasn't with me in the cockpit. My psychiatrist would have suggested a guilty by reason of insanity plea at my court marshal. I removed the safety wire and uncovered the switch. Then I took my left index finger and tried to see how close I could get to it without actually touching it. BANG!! Everything was blown to smithereens accompanied by smoke and broken glass. Even though this was directly below my ass and behind my back I didn't get hurt because a half-inch thick sheet of steel armor plate protected me. The only personal damage was that I lost my hearing for a few hours.
The honorable thing to do would be to plead Mea Culpa and take it like a man, but not this coward. I was out of there in a flash and disappeared into thin air. My mates never squealed on me and I got away with it. This brand new quarter million dollar plane, a lot of money then, was pushed over the side when it was determined it couldn't be fixed and was just in the way. What a fuck up!
Now that you know something about how bombs were suspended and dropped from airplanes, I'd like to tell you a little about how a new kind of weapon was invented.
Our fighter planes, being smaller, didn't have the range of larger bomb carrying planes. Their only weapons consisted of 50 caliber machine guns, two in each wing. To extend their flying range they were equipped with extra gasoline tanks which were hung from shackles underneath the wings, similar to the way bombs were held in place. The pilot would use this fuel first and then jettison these tanks for the return trip. This was a brilliant development and worked perfectly until someone got an ever better idea. These wing tanks look like bombs, could they be converted into bombs, that is, bombs made out of 100-octane aviation fuel?
They already were hanging from a bomb shackle and were going to be dropped anyway. Why not add a little naphtha, stir like hell, and then watch the gasoline turn to jello? Now put a bomb fuse where the gas fill-cap was and you have a little fighter plane that not only shoots bullets and rockets but also can start a big barbecue anywhere it wants. When this tank hits the ground it will throw burning jello in all directions and will stick to and burn hell out of everything in it's path. This new weapon was called NAPALM. I stirred and made lots of this witch's brew.
One batch never made it to the destination for which it was intended as it seemed to be controlled by Murphys Law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong). Since our aircraft were often launched by catapult and as you know involves a standing start to flying speed in just a few seconds. This procedure puts beaucoup stress on the aircraft and in one instance the plane left the ship sans its napalm filled gas tank and more importantly the arming wire still attached to the shackle under the wing indicating the possibility of a huge bonfire on the forward edge of the flight deck. Our CPO (Chief Petty Officer) Roy Gibson was standing in the Catwalk next to the Catapult and jumped on deck and quickly defused the bomb then chucked the smoldering fuse over the side before it could go off. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps. Medal for this act of bravery.
Now a story about an old weapon, in fact it was obsolete by the time the war started. It consisted of a large tank, shaped like a bomb, and suspended like a bomb from shackles in the bomb bays of our TBM's. These tanks contained an acid mixture named chlorosulphurictrioxide acid, or something very close to that. The purpose was to enable our aircraft to lay down a smoke screen across the water permitting a whole fleet of ships to hide inside. The advent of radar obviated this device as a useful defensive weapon, but we kept it anyway.
We practiced loading them from time to time, as there was always the chance we would need them. One handicap was that these tanks had to be bled regularly, due to temperature changes causing a pressure build-up and preventing the possibility of an accidental explosion. In fact these little babies were so touchy and dangerous that we didn't dare store them inside the ship. Instead, they were strapped to the outside of the hull and accessed through a sponson in the side of the ship.
I had another friend on board in addition to J.D., his name was Paul White and he was from White Plains, New York. We often worked together when bleeding these tanks. The navy was his nemesis, he never should have joined. He belonged in another place at a different time. His first problem was that he never got over seasickness. I can't remember seeing him when he was feeling well and content. He even had the misfortune to get himself a dose of the Clap, Gonorrhea to be more precise. This happened when we were stationed in Monterey, California. He was sent to the Balboa Naval Hospital and was there for several months before we went to sea. I visited him there and vividly remember him lying in bed with his pajama bottoms soaked with pus. One day the doctors approached and told him they had a new drug which had only been tried on a few. They said it would cure him but didn't know what reaction may take place at some future time. They asked him to sign a document stating that he didn't hold the Navy responsible for what may happen later. He did. He was immediately cured. The medicine was called PENICILLIN.
But back to the story and further proof that some lives are loaded with misfortune. One day we were bleeding these tanks and someone neglected to put neutralizing baking soda in the water buckets that were always handy in case this nasty potion was spilled. Plain water will cause it to explode. It did and my friend lost the sight of both eyes. He lay in sickbay for weeks before we had an opportunity to transfer him to another ship and home. I visited him in sickbay during evening hours and can still see his burnt eyes covered with salve. I hope he recovered his eyesight and is still alive. The war was a real bummer for Paul.
Casualties in wartime were only partly due to enemy action with the probability of an equal portion due to accidents or just plain stupidity as cited previously in my own case. During my three years aboard the USS Coral Sea/Anzio we lost many aircraft and personnel due to the accident and stupidity category. Here is an example. Because someone neglected to remove the hot round from the chamber of a 50 Caliber gun on a returning flight the gun was accidentally fired while parked on the Hangar Deck. With its wings folded the projectiles went straight down and through the steel deck above the Sick Bay. The three sailors lying there now had more legitimate reasons for their illness as all were hit by shrapnel. They also penetrated the Sick Bay deck and ended up passing through the Chaplins office and the ships library, finally resting in its books.
One of the most important operations of the Pacific war was the taking of the island of Iwo Jima. Most of us have seen photographs of the raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi as well as the bronze statue depicting this event that stands near The Mall in Washington DC. This little island, 5 miles long and 2 miles wide, was important because taking it would give us a base only 750 miles from Tokyo. The Japs had 21,000 soldiers there and it was heavily fortified. The U.S. Marine Corps had the obligation of taking it and they used over 60,000 marines and one month to get the job done. When it was over they had lost 20,000 either killed, wounded, or missing. It was the biggest and most tragic battle in their history.
Our part in this operation was the same as always, that is, doing anti-submarine patrols one day and bombing, strafing and rocket attacks the next. The marines landed on February 19, 1945 and 2400 of them were killed on the first day. After that all hell broke loose and it seemed we were under constant air attack, especially by the Kamikaze. The Japanese must have known they were finished but were determined not to go out without a fight even though suicidal in concept.
On my 19th birthday, February 21, 1945 they launched one of their biggest suicide attacks of the war with more than 50 planes. The Kamikazes were a great offensive weapon because they were based in their own homeland and they had twice the range of an ordinary flight for the simple reason that they were on a one-way trip. We had no effective defense against this kind of warfare.
I remember seeing 3 aircraft carriers burning at the same time, including the USS Saratoga, the largest ship in the navy. She was hit 4 times and then announced over the radio that she was retiring at 23 knots. The joke here was that the little CVE's such as the Big A could only go half that fast when everything was working perfectly. A Japanese Jill that exploded as it skidded across the flight deck and throwing flames in every direction hit the USS Lunga Point, a ship like ours. But the worst on this great birthday celebration was when 2 suicide planes hit the USS Bismarck Sea, another CVE. This caused her torpedoes and ammunition to explode. She was only a thousand yards off our starboard beam and the explosions and fire lit up our ship as if it was broad daylight.
They ordered the crew to abandon ship at about 1900 hours and the ship turned over and sank shortly thereafter.1 Again the Big A didn't receive a scratch and suppose that was as good a birthday present as I could hope to receive. I was scared out of my wits and forgot my birthday. So now I request you to sing a little ditty.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Neal, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU".
Whenever our radar picked up bogeys, we immediately went to battle stations after general quarters was sounded. This was a constant event during these operations and took place throughout the day and night, sometimes 5 or 6 times. I remember once when I didn't shut my eyes for three straight days. You could fall asleep standing up and sometimes did.
Sleep at the best of times, was not to curl up on a king-sized Beauty Rest mattress between clean white sheets with a cozy blanket to protect you from chill, all this while resting your sweet little head on a down-stuffed pillow. Normal sleep took place in a large compartment approximately 50 feet square. The problem was that there were four hundred other people in there with you. We were stacked in there like cord wood five bunks high and only a foot or two between. We lay on a pad covered with a flash proof cover so the bedding wouldn't burn in a fire. The ventilation consisted of a few fans to circulate the foul air emanating from the orifices of our companions. Because this bedding wouldn't absorb moisture we would awake nearly afloat in our own sweat. All this promoted heat rash, ringworm and boils. We learned to live with these miserable conditions for months at a time. I still carry their scars.
Sleep at the worst of times was to lay down on a steel deck and remove one shoe to use as a pillow, this while waiting for someone to kick you awake and order you to your battle station.
During these dreadful periods when we were waiting for the Japanese to attack, it was important to make the ship as safe as possible, therefore we would de-gas and dis-arm the planes on the hangar deck. We knew that any explosion and subsequent concussion would take place there. This because a bomb or suicide plane hitting the flight deck would go completely through. The hangar deck was just a huge room, therefore all the poor souls who happened to be there would suddenly be history. This was one place no one wanted to be and yet some had to go down and do the fuel and bomb thing. The lucky ones would stay topside, all bundled up and protected by their kapok life jackets, anxious to be blown or leap over the side at the crucial moment.
I've met a lot of people in my lifetime but can only think of one person that I hated with enough intensity to kill. This prick's name was Rob Stilson. He was a couple years older and therefore able to dominate. To make matters worse, this bastard was my boss. He had the rating of Aviation Ordnanceman First Class, whereas I had no rating or authority whatsoever. Furthermore, he was a Texan and I was from California. Texans and Californians didn't care much for each other, there was always a small internal war brewing between these two groups. This was part of the reason he wasn't a friend, another being he once overheard me describing a Texan as an Okie with shoes. The main reason though, went far deeper and will now tell you why.
The Aviation Ordnance group, of which I was part, was charged to keep safe and secure all of the most dangerous weapons, including small weapons such as handguns, their ammunition, detonators, fuses, hand grenades, flares, and just anything that could be used wrongly if some of it fell into the wrong hands. Then many group or personal feuds could be settled quickly. We had the keys to these lockers and our watches were continuous for 24 hours to keep these places secure. We were the only ones on the ship who were authorized to wear a side arm when on watch, this being the standard military issue 45 cal. automatic. Even the ship's policeman, called the Master at Arms, was not armed. The person who had the ordnance watch at any given time was the only person aboard ship authorized to carry a loaded firearm. Needless to say, the mere sight of this weapon strapped to the hip of the one person authorized to carry it also carried a heap of authority.
In many ways a ship is like a prison, especially if you are confined in it for long periods of time. This was our situation and often went months without setting foot on dry land. No women, no sex, but we thought about it continuously, and there were many jokes about the danger of dropping the soap while in the showers. Sometimes it wasn't a joke and one late night while I was making my rounds I opened the door to the ordnance workroom and surprised the hell out of the three people who were locked inside. One was Rob Stilson and another huge, strong dimwitted jerk we called Big Okie. Once I saw this big bastard run up a flight of stairs carrying a 100-pound bomb under each arm because they needed them quickly up on the flight deck. The third was a young very tender looking boy for which many of these weirdoes had the hots. He unfortunately was born with very smooth skin, almost like a girl; with hardly a hair anywhere and to make matters worse he had nipples that were large and protruded a little more than usual. To the sickos he was prime meat.
When I walked in they had him half undressed and were just about to do the dirty on him. There was a lot of fast movement and after I looked around he asked if he could go with me when I left. I said yes and the two of us left together.
I don't need to tell you that I made two mortal enemies that night which caused problems for months. To make matters worse they were envious as the young boy became friendly and it seemed that wherever I was, he was there too. He was only grateful for my having saved his ass, literally.
Now, the prick Rob Stilson made sure I was on every "shit detail" that was devised. I was always ordered to the hangar deck when the Kamikazes were on the way. To me this was a death sentence and in my seething hatred of him would dream of ways to reciprocate if I had an opportunity. Fortunately for me and him, I never did. To this day I still see that fat bastard, surrounded by other Okie and Texas toadies, squeezing the pus out of the pimples on his face and shoulders as he ordered me to some shit detail. It took years to overcome my dislike of Texans in general even though my mother whom I loved dearly was born in that grand state. If Rob Stilson is still alive and we met I would no longer long to meld out the ultimate penalty, but it would be extremely satisfying to walk right up and punch him hard in his big fat mouth.
"The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas, the prairie sky is wide and high, deep in the heart of Texas, the sage in bloom is like perfume, deep in the heart of Texas. Reminds me of the one I love, deep in the heart of Texas."
I hated like that song then, but now Ive mellowed and think its a pretty nice tune.
The final and most disastrous naval operation of the War was the invasion and taking of the island of Okinawa in April 1945. This little spot in the pacific lies halfway between Formosa, now named Taiwan, and Japan. 100,000 Japanese soldiers plus 500,000 civilians defended it. We hit the beaches with 172,000 marines and soldiers plus 115,000 technical and logistical personnel.
To make matters worse, we got word that our Commander in Chief, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage at his vacation home in Warm Springs, Georgia. This was bad news to all as he was held in very high esteem and had been President as far back as most of us could remember. Vice President Harry S. Truman would succeed him. Harry who? "Hairy Ass" Truman that's who! It was only natural for us to call him that, especially as the letter "S" where his middle name should be, didn't stand for anything and was only the letter S.
The Japanese surprised us and put up very little resistance to our initial landings, they had other and more devious things in mind. That's right - the Divine Wind.
Their main interest was to blow hell out of the US Navy because they knew we would have to supply and back up this huge invasion force in order to keep things rolling smoothly. That is precisely what we did and put more than 1200 ships into the act. The Big A was one of them. Our duties were the same as always, bomb and strafe one day and anti-submarine patrol the next.
The Japanese also knew they were doomed and threw their biggest Kamikaze attack at these 1200 ships. On their first try during this 11-week battle we lost 6 ships plus 2 ammunition ships. By the time it was all over we had lost 34 vessels plus 368 damaged. The most tragic part was that more than 5000 sailors died and an equal number wounded. Based on the number of ships involved, 1 in 4 American sailors became a casualty. This naval battle was the most costly in men and ships since the beginning of our country. The Kamikazes were after us every day, they would come in at sunset when visibility was poor and these fanatic fools would gladly give up their lives for the Emperor. Honest to God it was a bitch of a time, but the Big A again came through without a scratch. What an unbelievable lucky ship we were.
The Japanese paid a huge price too, suicide planes were not the only weapon they sent to Okinawa. These crazy bastards also sent suicide ships including the worlds largest battleship, the Yamato. This monster had 18-inch guns, ours only had 16-inch. It was loaded to the hilt with ammunition, little food, and to make room for more ammo, not enough fuel to get home. Like the Kamikazes, they were on a one-way mission, indicating their final state of desperation. After the carrier-based planes finished pumping bombs and torpedoes into her, so many that the count was lost, she decided to roll over and sink. There were only 300 or so survivors out of a crew of nearly 3000.
Is it of any wonder why others and I who saw and remember the fanaticism of the Japanese are still suspicious of their motives during these final years of the 20th century? They have a long way to go to earn the total respect of those in my age group. Even today when their apology for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor is still missing, they do business in an unorthodox manner with questionable business practices and ethics. The Kamikazes were also unorthodox and went beyond the sane rules of war. I contend that their commercial business practices bare similar patterns. They'll do anything to sell to you but, conversely, everything to keep you from selling to them, that is, only those items they desperately need and can't produce themselves.
Take it from an old sailor who was there, watch them closely and if you must deal with them, then apply the foreign policy of Teddy Roosevelt, "Walk quietly, but carry a big stick!" That big stick represents our military, however recent left wing government actions have emasculated it to a pitiful state. There will always be rouge nations that would like to a take whack at us. This includes Islamic religious fanatics who simply hate our guts. This long bearded group considers us Infidels, were beyond redemption and in their holy book, The Koran, Allah tells them we must be converted or eliminated, but thats another problem yet to be faced.
Our government, which often does not represent the best interest of the American people, frequently sells out to the Japanese lobbyist. They are pushovers for anyone with bucks, that's the "American Way", remember the Golden Rule, whoever has the gold rules, and they have lots of that, OURS. It is strange now to look back and realize that the country which made them cry "Uncle" is now a debtor nation and commercially subservient to the two that lost the war. Between the two, I hold Germany and the German people in higher esteem this is no doubt because I spent 11 years working in their country during the 1970s and got to know them well. They would be well advised, however, to watch their backs because the Japanese will control their economy and give them the shaft too, if given the opportunity. These people haven't changed yet and in my opinion, may never change. I hope Im wrong.
To give you another idea how lucky we were, there was a small group of islands 20 miles from Okinawa where we put together a makeshift anchorage. It was called Kerama Retto. All ships had to anchor there from time to time to take on ammunition and other supplies. It was damned dangerous, as we were sitting ducks. Many ships were hit, burned and sunk while anchored there. The Japs attacked every evening and never missed a day; they dived at the USS Anzio too, but always missed and crashed harmlessly in the ocean. Fortunately for us these pilots had either poor eyesight or drank too much Saki. I know that if I had been one of those pilots, I would have had a bottle stashed away somewhere in that cockpit.
Each time we went in we took on ammunition as a first priority and, if there was time, food because we had to be out before sundown. I was always privileged to spend this time aboard ammunition ships collecting bombs, rockets and other essential war things. So guess what happened! We ran out of food.
Navy chow is usually good and ample, but at this time it was getting less and less and worse and worse. Powdered milk on your corn flakes is normal, even though not what you would choose. Evaporated milk is worse and nothing or just plain water is definitely the pits. The only good thing about this time was that we ran out of red-eyed 2-year-old eggs and J.D. and his cohorts didn't have anything left to cook.
The brilliant military planners knew this was going to happen so we had a large supply of army K-Rations. Therefore, for each meal we were given a little waterproof package, one for breakfast and one for lunch and one for dinner. In the beginning it was better than what we had been getting. One of the little packages even had some Velveeta type of cheese in it. Fabulous! But after a few weeks the routine got a little sickening and putting your finger down your throat was a more appealing idea. Breakfast was a little tin of bacon and eggs. Yuk! Yuk! And some little hard biscuits and a couple of pieces of hard candy called Charms. Oh yeah, we also got a few sheets of olive drab toilet paper in the same packet because this is what you were supposed to do after breakfast. It said so right there in my Blue Jacket's Manual.
Even though the law said you had to be 18 years old to buy cigarettes the navy let us do it anyway. Because a package of 20 only cost 5 cents or 50 cents per carton we all became habitual smokers. So what happened next? Yes, that's right and it was worse than running out of food. For a while we had a supply of Bull Durham. My father would have been right at home, you know, the tobacco in the little cloth bag and papers without any stickum. Did you ever try to roll your own on a windy deck with tobacco that was dry as confetti? The facts were that there wasn't much time for smoking anyway and when working on ammunition ships, it was frowned upon, and you didn't have to be told not to smoke.
These ammunition ships were the first targets of the Kamikazes. I was beginning to wonder why I joined the navy in the first place. I wouldn't have had to register for the draft until I was 18 and with a little luck could still be home eating Mom's cooking. Hell, my only incentive was to wear a sailor's uniform to help meet girls and at this point hadn't even seen one in six months and that was in Hawaii where they were a very rare commodity and when available, surrounded by officers. In other words if you got within a hundred yards of one you could consider yourself lucky. You Sucker!
"Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition and well all stay free Praise the Lord were on a mighty mission, Praise the Lord, were aint a goin fishing. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition and we'll all stay free. Oh, the Sky Pilot said it, you got to give em credit"
"Yeah, right, sure, whatever you say Lieutenant."
After the Okinawa operation was finished we again joined Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet that was busily taking the war to the Japanese homeland. We provided anti-submarine work for them during the months of June and July and sank two Jap submarines during that period. Another fun time was when Halsey asked us, wrong word, commanded us to act as decoys for his Task Force 38, part of the Third Fleet, also including his Flagship, as they sailed south in complete radio silence to replenish fuel and supplies. To pull off this trick we took aboard his radio people and sent fake messages pretending to be the complete Task Force while they were gone.
We were only a few hundred miles from Japan when my fellow Washington High School classmate PFC Richard Nelson tapped out a radio message that was delivered to President Truman. It was from the B-29 Enola Gay advising that they had successfully dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima at 8:15 am August 6, 1945. Fat Boy was dropped on Nagasaki 3 days later, we were ecstatic. We didn't know what an atomic bomb was, but they told us it had the power of the sun, we knew it must be awesome and were thankful for it.
Even though the war ended shortly thereafter, our work and patrols continued for many months after we dropped those two big war ending bombs. We couldn't be sure all Japanese submarines had gotten the word and because we knew there were a lot of fanatics in their military, we didn't dare drop our guard. It was business as usual even after they surrendered.
In recent years I have heard many people blame our government for the ultimate demonstration of man's inhumanity toward man by ordering the atomic bombing of Japan. Some seem to have forgotten that the Germans were working hard to develop atomic weapons and were close to success. They, or the Japanese wouldn't have hesitated for the blink of an eye to bring us to our knees by doing the same to us if they had the opportunity.
"Give em hell Harry" made this correct and very humanitarian decision and millions of people, Japanese and American owe their lives to him because of it. It took Little Boy only 43 seconds to fall from Enola Gay and an instant later 72,000 souls were incinerated, with many more to die later. Fat Boy killed 24,000 when it was dropped. This was a great bargain and enabled us to end the war at the mere cost of only 100,000 or so lives. Such a good deal, and for both sides too.
Before Hiroshima they were massing a million-man army to protect their homeland. Can you imagine the deaths on both sides had an invasion taken place, especially so when most of those fanatic people would have fallen on their swords before surrendering. Remember, the word "surrender" was not in their vocabulary.
God Bless the Atomic Bomb!
In Europe we did not hesitate to perform terrorist bombings of civilian populations, the Germans had their V1 and V2 rocket planes and we retaliated with massive carpet bombings. Both sides not only went after military targets but civilians and whoever and whatever was inside the others borders. Today, after 60 years of intellectual growth, it is believed that civilian targets is so very very unfair and a definite no no. The old adage says, "All is fair in love and war" and in this case neither side obeyed the rules 100%, but between both and in both hemispheres, I believe we were the most humane. The Japanese, given the power, would have done the same or worse. Don't forget, those people started it and to this day have not apologized for it.
When it was decided to place an exhibit of the Enola Gay in the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum, a group of peace activists wanted it only if they could revise history and show the USA as a pack of imperialistic warmongers. The exhibit was to contain a film and tape of the crew's comments concerning this historic event.
Rick Nelson was to be the lead off speaker.
Here is another interesting sidelight. Some time ago the US Postal Service planned to issue a series of stamps that depicted important events during World War II. The final stamp in this series was to be a picture of a mushroom cloud with a caption stating the atomic bomb hastened the end of the war. Now, this is a true statement and represents an extremely important event in world history, but how did the Japanese take it once they got wind of it? Badly, very badly. In fact they raised so much hell President Clinton cancelled the stamp and put one of President Truman signing an end of war document in its place. What could you expect from a draft dodger who not only doesn't understand what this just war was about, but his lack of historical knowledge made him think Japan's surrender was signed on an American aircraft carrier? "Mr. President, it was signed on the battleship Missouri!"
Japan's failure to apologize clearly shows they are in a state of denial about the war, that they were wrong to start it, that they lost it, and committed thousands of unspeakable atrocities during it. It also explains why most young Japanese know little about the war, as little is taught about it in their schools. Our schools also give scant attention to this subject and explain why so many of our young believe the dropping of the bomb was immoral. But if you were alive and participated in the war, you know differently, it was a lifesaver. Can you also imagine the furor after spending billions to develop the bomb and then knowing its use would end the war and save millions of lives, then not to use it! Why, President Truman would have been impeached and probably hung as well. As usual the history revisionists are on the job and working hard to revise truth and fact.
I'll say it another time, "God Bless the Atomic Bomb". It saved all our collective asses then and later enabled a Cold War to stay COLD.
After both sides, on the battleship Missouri, had signed the Unconditional Surrender Document, General MacArthur said, "Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed".
If I could put this story on CD-ROM, it's at this point I would ask the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic", but it's OK to just hum it to yourself if you like.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
Like all politicians and generals who pontificate, those proceedings were not over and because of the nature of our species may not soon be. The making of war continues to be a favorite pastime throughout the world with no end in sight. We have not given God an opportunity to preserve peace always. The crew on the Big A didn't know this and as far as we were concerned MacArthur's words were gospel. In actuality, it was exactly like Yogi Bera said, " It's never over until it's over". In our case we only thought it was over because it was over. The important point was that the heat was finally off and for the next 7 months started to enjoy our navy careers for the first time.
What do you do with an aircraft carrier that no longer has a need for planes and bombs? Why, you convert it into a troopship of course, and then use it to bring the boys home. The Big A had thousands of bunks installed on the hangar deck and we became a floating hotel. This hotel had only the barest of creature comforts however, and I felt sorry for the poor dogface soldiers who hardly had room to lie down and often unable to find room at a rail from which to vomit. This reminds me of the "40 and 8 club" which was organized after World War I. This name was to remind the American people about their soldiers, we called them doughboys then, these, our citizens we sent to France to be transported to the front lines in rail cars. These cars could accommodate 8 mules or 40 soldiers, this denoting the relative value of both animal classes.
Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there that the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming, the drums rum-tumming everywhere. So prepare, say a prayer, send the word, send the word to beware well be over, were coming over and we wont come back til its over, over there.
Ill bet they werent singing that song when they were riding to the trenches in those dirty French boxcars.
We went to several interesting places, the first was to Inchon, Korea and I was astonished to find out the Yellow Sea is really yellow. For years we sailed in deep blue water, which sometimes was green in the tropics and shallow areas, but yellow as far as you can see, that was very strange. The yellow color is due to the muddy rivers that empty into it such as the Yalu and Yangtze, Asia's longest.
By far the most unusual and strange place we visited was when they lined us up and gave us cholera shots and then sailed up the Yangtze and Wang Poo rivers to Shanghai. We arrived in November 1945 and stayed quite a while, so had an opportunity to see it well. I hate to say this but an awful lot of Chinese girls got screwed while the Big A was there. Didn't we have fun? Yes, if a short arm inspection was held then the "Penis Machinists" - slang for Pharmacist Mate - would have been in seventh heaven. Because penicillin was now available, the gonorrhea epidemic, better known by its more endearing term, "The Clap", was quickly quelled. After all, a couple million units of that moldy stuff in your fat butt was a piece of cake. It was nothing like the shot they told us we would get in boot camp. This was the one in the left ball and with a square needle too! Yikes!
"Do your balls hang low, can you swing them to and fro, can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow, can you throw them over your shoulder like a Continental soldier, do your balls hang low?"
J.D. Swartz and I had some great liberties together. Once we visited a Chinese nightclub and as we walked through the door, the management as usual, immediately proffered a bevy of young girls on us. My God, the filthy things we said to these girls, but what the hell, we were just a couple of lucky to be alive sailors, bubbling over with testosterone, topped up with a little piss and vinegar. We were out to have a good time and didn't know we were male chauvinist pigs. Besides, they couldn't understand a single word anyway.
J.D., with his most engaging smile and nodding his head up and down, was asking one of the girls if she would drink milk from his foreskin, she was nodding her head up and down too and saying the Chinese equivalent of Yes! Yes! Yes! On the other hand she could have been saying, "You certainly have a way with words, you sweet talking son of a bitch". OK, so it was crude, but we were suffering from heaps of booze and at the time was funny.
The rats that were running across the molding above the stage mesmerized me. They were the size of alley cats. Whatever our fascination it worked for the Chinese management because they weren't thinking of either. They had one thing on their minds, they wanted our money and guess what, they got it. They got it all. The lost money wasn't so devastating, it was that they got my wallet with my Navy ID too. To loose your ID was a real no no. I got back aboard ship by pretending to be staggering drunk, this was easy to do because I was, and didn't have to show my ID to the OD.
Show me the way to go home, Im tired and I wanna go to bed, I had a little drink about an hour ago and it went right to my Cerebella. Wherever I may roam, on land or sea or foam, you can always hear me singing this song. Show me the way to go home.
An interesting end to this story is that many years later after I had been separated from the Service, I received a small package, minus a return address, postmarked Washington, DC. When I opened it I was surprised to find my stolen wallet, without a letter of explanation. The money was gone but my Navy ID was there along with my California Driver's License and Social Security Card and a few photographs. This left me with a nagging curiosity as to how my wallet was recovered, where it had been, and who sent it to me after all those years.
I was assigned to shore patrol duty while in China and would do patrols with an Indian Sek who wore a big turban on his head. He was a tough bastard and didn't take crap from anyone, if someone did a baddie he melded out punishment then and there by whacking the daylights out of them. His job was to take care of the Chinese interest and I would take care of the American military interest. One of the places we patrolled was a short street called Blood Alley. It was given this attractive name because someone was killed there most every night. I never experienced problems of that dimension while on duty there.
China was a mess. The Japanese had only been gone a few months and the people were in bad shape. Shanghai's population was only 4 million in 1945, but all 4 million were crammed into a very small space. Most of the people were poor and had little to eat. The sampans would tie up by our ships fantail so they could scoop up the garbage we threw into this muddy river.
One morning I saw a Chinese woman have a baby, totally on her own, she was in the stern of a small open sampan and two Chinese men were in the bow smoking cigarettes and not paying attention. She washed this newborn baby in the dirty river afterwards.
We would see bodies floating down this same river most everyday. The authorities had strict rules and those that lived on boats were not allowed ashore, there wasn't room in town for both land and boat people. Many of the land people slept on the streets or sidewalks and a dump truck would come by daily to pick up the bodies of those who didn't wake up in the morning.
When we went anywhere, we went via rickshaw. These little two wheeled carts were everywhere and the traffic police controlled their traffic as we do automobiles. When a rickshaw driver violated the rules a policeman would take his seat cushion away. This was very bad news as it meant no one would ride in a rickshaw without a soft seat and the driver then lost his livelihood and perhaps his dinner as well. The sad part was that we were always followed by Chinese carrying little children who would beg for money as the rickshaw coolies padded barefoot down the road.
Everyone knows China is not what one might consider under populated and it wasn't 50 years ago either. There was a surfeit of people then as now, therefore no shortage of labor. Once I saw them scrape and paint a small steel bridge and they did it in one day. They put hundreds of people to work. Each one had a little space only a few feet wide and that was his territory. When each had finished his little spot, Voila! The job was done. Now, how can you beat that?
When we were in China in late 1945, the Chinese Nationalist Party ran the government. Chiang Kai-shek was in charge. To young American sailors he had a very strange name, so we changed it a little and re-named him. He was then known as "Chancre Jack". I remember a huge portrait of him painted on the side of a building in downtown Shanghai. This however, did not last long as the Communist Party, controlled by Mao Tse-tung, was hard at work to run him and his cronies out of town. In fact they did exactly that and he fled to Taiwan before the end of the decade. China was then closed to Westerners and they then became buddy-buddy with the Russians. We were a few of the last Americans to see the strange sights inside that very strange land for over 20 years.
At this time we were saying good-bye to a good many of our shipmates. When we signed up to join the Navy our enlistment period was for the duration of the war plus 6 months. After the war ended all of the services came out with a point system to determine how soon you were eligible for discharge. Wouldn't you know it; the Navy system did not take into consideration how much battle action you had experienced as did the army. If it had, we would have received our walking papers on the first day. Our ship took part in 10 major engagements or battles. This entitled us to wear two silver stars on our campaign ribbons, each representing five battles. In the Navy's case the main criteria for discharge was marital and dependent status, as well as the person's age. In other words if you were young, unmarried, without dependents, you were the last to go. That's where J.D. and I fit in, so we spent the full 6 months after the cessation of hostilities in our navy uniforms. This wasn't a problem for us because we were having fun for the first time and were visiting places we had never been.
After we left Shanghai we sailed to Seattle and delivered a war trophy, this was a large four engine Japanese flying boat. What it was for we never knew, but suspect Boeing wanted to have a look at it. We arrived in December just before Christmas. By this time the ship changed drastically. Most of our armaments had been off-loaded and the crew was reduced to the barest minimum necessary to sail her. We had made our last journey to the Western Pacific.
We docked at Bremerton and were given a 1-week leave over the holidays. Many of us decided not to go home because there wasn't enough time and opted to visit Vancouver, BC instead. It was winter and cold with plenty of snow and somehow different than the USA. Even though the people talked with only a slightly different accent, there was one noticeable difference; there were hundreds of spare girls, girls, girls. For some reason the Canadian servicemen were still out there somewhere, they definitely were not in Vancouver. We had a terribly good time and it couldn't have happened to a nicer, more deserving bunch of guys.
In January we started our final journey on the Big A, stopping at the Alameda Naval Air Station near San Francisco and North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego. We were en route to Norfolk, Virginia via the Panama Canal. The Big A was scheduled for decommissioning.
In order to fit inside the locks at Panama, it was necessary to cut away our 40 mm anti-aircraft gun turrets on both the port and starboard sides. Strangely, I hated to see that happen. We felt naked as jaybirds because now we were totally defenseless.
After arriving there we spent several weeks unloading and stripping away everything of value and at the same time the crew was getting smaller as they gathered enough points to go home.
Finally it was over and done, the Big A was ready to be put in mothballs, this to be done by civilian shipyard workers.
The few of us who were left were put on a Southern Pacific train appropriately named "The Sunset Limited" and dispatched back from whence we came.
"Gonna take a Sentimental Journey, gonna set my heart at ease, gonna take a Sentimental Journey to renew old memories. Got my bag, got my reservation, spent each dime I could afford. Like a child in wild anticipation, long to hear that all aboard. Seven, that's the time we leave at seven, I'll be waitin up for heaven, countin every mile of railroad track that takes me back, never thought my heart could be so yearning, why did I decide to roam? Gotta take that Sentimental Journey, Sentimental Journey home".
The Southern Pacific Railroad's route was and still travels across the southern part of the USA, the Deep South and the desert southwest. In those times the railroad tracks denoted who lived on either side. We saw lots of shanty houses where Negroes lived and watched
them shuffle down dirt roads or working in the fields. When we saw an old enough female, we would shout "Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?" Some would just look back and stare, some would give us the finger and others had a friendly wave. We laughed.
"Walking with my baby, she's got red big feet, she's long, lean and lanky and ain't had nothin' to eat, but she's my baby and I love her just the same, crazy about that woman cause Caldonia is her name. Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?"
This song was sung and made famous by the late Louis Jordan, a very talented black man.
In those days we had music and songs with lyrics that were kind of goofy, but it was miles ahead of the perverted lyrics kids hear today. I'm talking about the songs which discuss killing, rape, torture and drugs, they call this music gangster rap and I know this is hard to believe, but there are people who defend it and claim it has artistic value. B-U-U-LL SHIT! Companies like Time-Warner feed this kind of garbage to our young, for a profit of course. It's easy to be a pessimist about the future, when people who should know better choose to grab the money and run. Whats happened to morality and ethics in business? Did it ever exist? Of course it did. But today, well.
It took 7 full days to cross the country and at each stop along the way a few would get off and say good-bye, knowing there was little likelihood we would meet again. Finally, we arrived in Los Angeles with only Californians left. Another birthday for me, February 21, 1946, Im now twenty years old. We were immediately sent to the Naval Separation Center at Terminal Island in San Pedro to be processed for discharge. We were there two days and were then given our Discharge Certificate. It said we had completed our tour of duty and did it in an honorable fashion. A little golden eagle was sewn to our uniforms that indicated we were no longer under military control and were only wearing the uniform because we had nothing else. We called the emblem a Ruptured Duck.
The last thing I remember of my navy days was when I found myself alone on the street hitchhiking home. Our little house was located in a quiet, peaceful, middle-class neighborhood, in later years to become notorious as riot prone South Central Los Angeles.
It was February 24, 1946, I had been twenty years old for three days, still too young to drink and too young to vote, but not too young to go to war and die for a cause I didnt fully understand. I was alive though and thankful for it. This I completely understood.
As soon as I got home I took off my uniform and never put it on again.
Sometime ago I was inquiring about my ship on a Computer Bulletin Board. A man in Norfolk, Va. told me he had records showing the Big A was broken up and sold for scrap on November 24, 1959. Damn! My hope now was that she didnt go to Japan as some other navy vessels did. I found out later that she was scrapped at Hamburg, Germany that same year.1
In 1965 I bought a brand new Volkswagen. Gee, I loved that car. Do you suppose it was a blood relative of my old ship? Had I known, Id never have sold it. Conversely, what happened to the ships scrapped in Japan? Did they come back as Toyotas and Hondas? Im sure they did. Does this mean that no-one wins a war and that the victor could be and often is the LOSER? Crazy idea, but its possible. Is war just another way of spreading the wealth around? Thats not the plan, but it seems to work that way. Its beginning to make sense now.
Years later another American carrier was scheduled for the scrap heap. This was the USS Hornet This fine old ship is more than twice the size of the Big A, and had a valorous career in WW2. Many former sailors and friends of the Hornet couldnt allow that to happen. They raised money and signed petitions to prevent this dreadful event. They were successful and it was saved. Now restored, it sits as a Naval Museum at the former site of the Alameda Naval Air Station in Alameda, Ca. She is berthed at one of the same piers we had used.
Whenever I take friends or family aboard to have a look I suffer some nostalgia as many memories return. As I stand on the Hornets windy Flight Deck I hear the roar of piston driven engines and see the propellers spinning only a few inches from the tail of the plane in front. I see myself dressed in bright red with a cloth helmet buckled tightly under my chin. There I am, darting between planes, to make sure all the bombs would bomb, the rockets would rocket and the guns would gun at the precise instant they were told.
The tour guide tells all that the Hornet took part in 7 battles and about its other important missions such as the return of the Apollo Astronauts. While this is going on Im thinking the Big A took part in 10 battles and that we had a pretty valorous career too. We were out there a year before the Hornet was commissioned. I dont bring this up to mitigate the Hornets achievements; they were outstanding and speak for themselves, it was a great ship and had a glorious record. All who sailed in her should be proud. Its only that there are few people alive today who remember the Big A and what she did. I do, because to me she was something very special and played a major role in my early life. She took me to the absolute brink and then brought me safely back. Therefore, I'll never forget you USS CORAL SEA/ANZIO.
Is that all there is? Is that all there is to a war?
1 An official website of the United States Navy, http://history.navy.mil/branches/cve.htm, shows the USS Liscome Bay CVE 56 as being lost to enemy action on November 24, 1943. Their records indicate that lives lost totaled 646 including the Captain and a Rear Admiral. 272 were rescued. Japanese submarine I-l75 did this dirty work.
1 When we sang this song we changed it a little. The line that starts with, Just give me one chance we altered, to get in your pants. A little dirty humor kept us sane.
1 Notice that I changed the words a little.
2 The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2005 Edition cites 1944, Dec. 17-18 3 U.S. Third Fleet Destroyers sank during typhoon in Philippines Sea; 790. [The number 790 indicates the number of lives lost.]
1 Website http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/carriers/cve95.htm, reveals that the USS Bismarck Sea sank in 90 minutes with a loss of 318 men.
1 Website http://www.hazegray.org/navhist/carriers/usesc2.htm indicates that the USS Anzio was stricken for disposal 1 March 1959, sold 24 Nov. 1959 and scrapped at Hamburg, Germany.