Duty Calls - Home Front to Boot Camp
I had waited all week for Sunday December 7, 1941!
The Chicago Bears would be playing a big game today and I couldn't wait
to tune the radio in for the football game. Little did I know as I sat
next to the radio on the Mair family farm in Clinton, Wisconsin that
today would mark the beginning of events that would take me to the far
reaches of the South Pacific!
"The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!" The radio announcer interrupted the Bears football
broadcast near 2 P.M. My brothers had gone out to the woods across the
field from the farmhouse to rabbit hunt with some of the neighbor boys.
I raced across the frozen field as quickly as my 17 year old legs could
carry me to tell my brothers. "The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor,
in Hawaii!" I blurted, out of breath. We all were stunned by the
news! My brothers teased me from that day forward nicknaming me "Paul
Revere." We quickly headed for the farmhouse spending the day listening
for more news on the radio about the Pearl Harbor attack. I will never
forget my the look of concern on my Mother's face as she realized the
implications that this would soon have for the Mair family. Of the four
brothers, three of us would soon be overseas fighting a war that had
up until now only involved countries in Europe. A conflict that would
span the globe would become a reality!
On December 8, 1941, I sat with my other classmates
in my junior class in the Clinton High School assembly hall. A radio
was brought in so we could listen to President Roosevelt address Congress
and the nation. President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on
the Empire of Japan and her Allies opening with the statement, "A
date which will live in Infamy!" The local folks never talked much
about the war in Europe. It seemed so far away! This was different!
Japan attacked us! The mood shifted overnight. Our country was at war!
My friends and I talked about our plans after graduation from High School
but that would be in two years. Perhaps the war would be over!
Wartime production began to gear up by 1943. Rationing of meat, sugar,
gasoline and tires had become a normal part of family lives. I graduated
from Clinton High School, Clinton, Wisconsin with 25 other members of
the "Class of '43." Some of my classmates had already decided
to work on their family farms as the rest of us pondered military service.
I began working on a section crew with the railroad in Avalon , Wisconsin
during the summer of 1943. I had yet to receive a notice from the local
Draft Board immediately following high school graduation though I was
classified 1A after registering. I attempted to enlist in the Navy during
the summer of 1943. The Draft Board was drawing numbers for volunteers
and I was passed over at this time for military service. The quota for
volunteers had been met. I underwent surgery to have my appendix removed
in August 1943. I went to work on the family farm in the fall fully
realizing that military service would soon be calling!
All enlistments went through the local Draft Board
during the war years. I received my notice for induction in mid December
1943. I could request a branch of the military but we all knew that
if your request was denied due to limits, you were headed for the Army
and likely infantry duty. I certainly couldn't see myself marching knee
deep in mud! I decided to request the Navy. My request was granted!
I became a member of the U.S. Navy on January 10, 1944 as I was sworn
in at the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Induction Center. A dozen other men from
south central Wisconsin were sworn in with me. We reported to the Armory
in Janesville, Wisconsin on January 17 and promptly boarded a train
for Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, Illinois. We arrived
at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in the late afternoon. My service
identification number 959-02-42 was assigned. We were issued bedding
consisting of a pillow and blanket. Our fatigues were issued the next
day as we were assigned to Recruit Company 138. Our Company Commander
was F. X. Myers. We had approximately 100 seaman recruits in our company.
Immunization shots, classroom lectures, and close order drill soon became
a way of life for the next 7 weeks as we learned the basics of military
life. My fellow recruits and I laughed as we discussed the fact that
we would all make an effort to "forget" as much of this military
indoctrination as possible immediately following Boot Camp! Illinois
is cold in January so we were spared from the "grinder" (Parade
Field) for much of the time. We did march and practice close order drill,
weather permitting. Classroom lectures gave us a good idea as to what
we were getting into. We had a Chief Petty Officer that was our Drill
Instructor. Recruits assumed the role of leadership positions within
the company. Our recruit company commander's name was Myers. Myers and
the other recruit officers ran our daily schedule as laid out by the
Chief Petty Officer. Our company was made up of several men from Janesville,
Milwaukee and other small towns in south central Wisconsin. We also
had several recruits from Ohio in Company 138. Great Lakes Naval Training
Center was a busy place in early 1944 as the Navy urgently needed crews
for the ships rapidly being built in the nation's shipyards.
Graduation from recruit training at Great Lakes was
a simple ceremony. We graduated in early March 1944 looking forward
to a one week leave! "Lets get the hell outa here and go home for
a week" was the sentiments expressed by all of us. Shipboard assignments
were the last thing on our minds!
I enjoyed a week home on the family farm and reported
back to the "Outgoing Unit" at Great Lakes. I began a trend
that seemed to plague me for the rest of my military career. I was sent
as a "single" transfer to the Newport , Rhode Island Naval
Training Base. As the years went by in the Navy, I never did transfer
with a unit or group but always as a "single" transfer. My
aptitude tests at Great Lakes found that I had good mechanical ability
and I completed Boot Camp rated as a Fireman 2nd Class rather then Seaman
Recruit. (I retired from Parker Pen Co. after a 30 year career
as a Toolmaker in 1987) Newport, R.I. was the Pre-Commissioning Base
for crews to receive advanced training prior to putting new ships into
Commission. I was processed out of the outgoing unit at Great Lakes
naval Training Center on March 25, 1944. I boarded a train for Newport,
Rhode Island and was processed in at the Newport facility on April 2,
"Assign me to any ship but a Tanker!" I adamantly
proclaimed to my fellow sailors as we anxiously awaited word of our
ship assignment. I soon learned that the Navy
was bound determined to do things the "Navy way" as I learned
that I was assigned to a new fleet oiler being completed in Baltimore,
Maryland called the USS Mississinewa (AO-59). I was scheduled to go to Boilermaker's School in Philadelphia
to receive my training for Engine Room duty aboard the Mississinewa.
Fate was soon to intervene for the first of many times that prevented
me from receiving the training necessary for my Fireman's duties. My
first two weeks at Newport found me assigned to a class for deck training!
Here I was, a Fireman 2nd Class sitting in lectures for deckhands? I
finally went down to the Exec's office and said "Hey! There's something
wrong here! Why am I assigned to deck hand training?" Before this
situation would be straightened out, fate would have me elsewhere! The
Navy isn't perfect. They make mistakes regardless of what they say!
April 1944 found the Mississinewa crew members on the
Firing Range at Newport in freezing weather. It was cold! I returned
from the Firing Range knowing that I finally had the first opportunity
for a weekend off. I had an Aunt and Uncle that lived in New Jersey
so I caught a train headed for New Jersey. I developed a fever during
my visit that seemed to get worse with every passing hour. I was absolutely
miserable. I took the train back to the Base at Newport and went to
the Division Officer. He promptly sent me to Sick Bay. I spent the next
month in the base hospital with Scarlet Fever! This was much of the
month of April and early May 1944. I missed all my Boilermaker schooling
that was to take place in Philadelphia. "I went aboard ship a real
greenhorn! I mean green!" I soon learned what the term "on
the job training" meant.
Reporting Aboard USS Mississinewa AO-59
I got out of the base hospital just a couple of days
before our crew boarded a troop train on May 17, 1944 to travel to Baltimore
to put the ship in Commission. We traveled all night including through
the city of Philadelphia where a couple of the guys "jumped the
train" to have a little R&R. I couldn't believe it. They found
themselves in a lot of trouble when they finally reported aboard ship
the next day in Norfolk, VA. They pulled the troop train right up to
the dock where I got my first look at my new home for the next six months.
The fleet oiler Mississinewa looked big to me. Having grown up on a
farm in southern Wisconsin, a fishing boat was about the only floating
vessel I was familiar with. I hoisted my sea bag and headed up the gangplank
with the rest of the crew.
Commissioning Ceremonies were scheduled for 1430 (2:30
P. M.) I really didn't feel very well as we stood on the deck in Dress
White's. Was I still weak from Scarlet Fever? Admiral Felix Gygax presided
over the Commissioning. Miss Margaret Pence was the sponsor for AO-59.
Captain Philip Beck assumed command. The Ceremony was not very long.
We had work to do loading stores. We went to the crews quarters and
changed into dungarees. I felt feverish and quite ill but continued
to load spare parts for my Engineering Division. I awoke with a significant
fever the next morning and decided to report to Sick Bay.
"Chicken Pox?" I asked the ship's Doctor
incredulously? "How could that be?"
"Where were you the last few days in Newport?" The Doctor
I had to think back to my last few days at Newport
and then it dawned on me as to how I caught the chicken pox! I was in
the Recovery Ward just after getting out of the Isolation Ward at the
base hospital in Newport. I was walking by a room in the hospital and
spotted this guy that I knew was assigned to the Mississinewa so I stopped
for a chat.
"What are you in here for?" I asked as I began to leave.
"Doc thinks I have the Chicken Pox!" was the reply.
I never gave it a thought as I left the room and was
released from Recovery a couple of days later.
Newport Naval Base was loaded with diseases that many of us never had
in childhood. I had the misfortune to contract Scarlet fever and the
Chicken Pox in the space of two months. I spent most of the USS Mississinewa's
Shakedown Cruise on Chesapeake Bay in the Sick Bay! I reported for duty
on June 3, 1944 for the first time since entering Sick bay. We had shipyard
workers on board with us when we took off from the Navy Yard at Bethlehem
Sparrows (where the ship was built) bound for Norfolk just across the
Bay. The civilian workers indoctrinated the crew and trained us on the
various equipment. The engine room and Fireroom crew received special
attention from the dockyard workers to make sure that everything worked
I still had not received any training for my role
in the Engine Room. The Engineering Officer assigned me the position
of Phone Man connected by phone to the bridge. My rating was Fireman
2nd Class, which I received after completing aptitude tests at Great
Lakes Naval Training Center. Prop revolution changes were sent by phone
to me as I stood between the steam turbines in front of the throttle
panel. There was a counter gauge that showed the total number of revolutions
on each shaft. The Watch Section consisted of six crew members. Engineering
Officer, Chief Petty Officer, two throttle men, a man in the pump room
, an oiler (lubed machinery and watched gauges) and me on the phones.
The two throttlemen stood just ahead of me on my left and right and
controlled the amount of steam sent to the turbines with a big wheel
in front of them. Once I took an RPM change from the bridge over the
phone, I would tell the throttlemen "up one (RPM) or down one"
etc. They would change the amount of steam using the gauges on the panel
in front of them to give the needed RPM change. An experienced throttleman
would not even look at the steam gauge but would know exactly how much
motion of their large steam throttle wheel was needed for the RPM adjustment.
Each throttleman would control the steam for one turbine on my left
or right. Our RPM changes were the same for each screw (prop) connected
to the turbines most of the time unless we were in a hard turn when
it was necessary to have different revolutions on each screw. That was
unusual as RPM was typically consistent on each shaft. My best friend,
Alexander Day was a throttleman on my watch. He was regular navy, 1st
Class Machinists Mate, and about 35 years old. Alexander knew I was
pretty green performing Engine Room duty so he was always willing to
offer helpful advice whenever I needed it. The temperature in the South
Pacific can only be described as hot! It was well in excess of 100 degrees
in the Engineering compartment. We all tried to stand under blowers
that would circulate air from topside down to us. It was really miserable
if you weren't under a blower in the Engine Room! The Steering Engine
Room was the lowest part of the ship. A crew member had to descend down
a long ladder through a small hatch to reach his watch station. Only
one man was assigned to this lonely watch. I thought that I had a miserable
watch station in the hot Engine Room spaces but the poor fellow down
in Steering certainly was less fortunate then me! Lt. jg William Atkinson
was the Assistant Engineering Officer for my watch which was the First
Section Watch, Ensign William Brown, who we referred to as a 90 day
wonder, due to his brief Officer training, was the other Assistant Engineering
Officer assigned to Second Section Watch. Chief Warrant Officer George
Douning was the assistant to the Engineering Officer. The Engineering
Officer was Lt. Ernest Gilbert.
Lt. Atkinson was the Engineering Officer for my watch.
We had three Officer's, one on each shift plus the Chief Engineer. While
on duty, everything was all business! The Officer's treated us well
and everyone got along really well. We all stood watch four hours, 4
on and 8 off. Sounds like you're off for 4 hours but you're just off
watch for 4 hours. We seemed to work all the time! The four hours after
coming off watch, many of us from the Engineering Division were up on
the tow line during fueling operations. The days we were fueling at
sea, which was pretty often, I spent working on the bow tow line, not
really towing the ship, all we're doing is trying to control the in
and out motion between our tanker and the ship we're refueling. This
helps keep both ships on course, parallel during refueling operations.
The bow tow line that we used as a guide during refueling operations
was always manned by the 4th Division Engineering crew coming off watch.
There would be a group of us on the port side tow line and another group
on the starboard side towline. This included everyone in the compartment
who wasn't assigned to other duties that day. Our towline group would
be made up of sailors from the Engine Room, Fire Room, Pump Room and
Steering. A small line would be shot over from the ship alongside which
in turn hauled over a large hawser. The distance between ships would
vary from collision distance to a maximum of 50 feet. I remember most
of the ships as being very close while I worked on the bow towline during
refueling. All the deck hands, were busy on fueling operations, handling
lines to the other ships.
Our Engine Room crew would often spend the four hours
before going on watch handling cargo on the Cargo Deck. While refueling
other ships at sea, we often took on their expended brass from their
gunnery crews. We would handle drums of lube oil, mail, provisions,
welding supplies etc.
Cargo handling was usually done only during refueling operations before
we went on Watch. Captain Beck or the Officer on the Bridge would always
ask for ice cream if we were refueling a carrier! Early in the war,
tankers would sometimes transfer ammunition to ships at sea during fueling
operations. Ammunition ships were readily available by the time the
Mississinewa was in the Pacific Theater so we never had to handle live
ammunition as part of our cargo duties. The Bo'sns chair was used to
transfer men between ships. The chair would swing out over the water
as the ships plowed through the water at 10-12 knots. I remember watching
the transfer of survivors from the light cruiser Houston by Bo'sns chair.
They came aboard the Mississinewa from the light cruiser USS Santa Fe.
It would take 10-15 minutes or so to transfer one person from the Santa
Fe to our ship. Needless to say, it took a while to move all the Houston
sailors to us. We frequently had pilots report aboard the Mississinewa
at Manus so we could transfer them at sea via the Bo'sns chair when
we were scheduled to fuel their assigned carrier. We would transfer
passengers to other ships often. Cargo handling, Watch and refueling
operations added up to a 12-16 hour day! I read the Mississinewa's Deck
Logs 50 years later and almost got combat fatigue just reading about
the length of time spent with fueling operations at sea! We worked hard!
We started before sun up preparing for the days fueling, and toiled
I was assigned to Mess Duty after leaving Sick bay on June 3 and soon
found that I had one of the best duty stations on board. I at least
had regular sleeping hours! We had six of us on Mess Duty at one time.
I peeled a lot of potatoes, served chow and cleaned up the Mess Hall
after a meal. Navy chow was rather boring but it was a balanced diet.
The cooks seemed to come up with something unusual every once in a while.
I never had tasted peach or pear pie until I was on board the Mississinewa!
Canned goods made up the bulk of our ship's food stores. Much of the
ships stores were stored forward and this meant regular trips once a
week hauling stores back to the Galley Store Room in the after part
of the ship for those of us on Mess Duty. Our meals consisted of a lot
of navy beans, mashed potatoes, fresh bread, canned vegetables, and
Australian beef. The beef that came from Australia was served on board
Navy ships in the South Pacific and had a grey color and the consistency
of shoe leather! I always longed for good Wisconsin beef! Mess Duty
started before breakfast and continued until after dinner. There would
always be a couple of hours where we wouldn't have anything to do while
assigned to Mess Duty.
While on Mess Duty, my General Quarters station
was an Oerlikon 20mm anti-aircraft gun. I was the trunion operator that
operated a handwheel to control the elevation of the 20mm. I had quite
a surprise in store for me on June 4th when we had target practice for
the first time. Our 20mm was near the big aft 5" mount. The 5"
gun was fired for the first time and left me dazed and with a great
deal of pain in the left ear. "You're supposed to have earplugs!"
the gun crew told me. I didn't report to my General Quarters station
again while on Mess Duty without earplugs!
I spent my last day in port at Norfolk, VA. helping
load ammunition, mail and provisions. Scuttlebutt was flying during
the time we had spent in Drydock between June 6 and the 15th. Some of
the guys thought we were headed to Europe to participate in the follow
up operations to support the D-Day landings at Normandy that had taken
place on our first day in Drydock. Most of the crew sensed that we were
headed for the South Pacific soon. "We're just a little cog in
a big wheel!" I used to say. I knew I was going to get along fine
if I practiced the traditions of the Service. "Keep your eyes and
ears open, your mouth shut, and don't volunteer for anything!"
Our last day in the United States was June 17,
1944. We were at Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmith, Virginia and had just
removed the Mississinewa out of drydock the previous day after receiving
our final hull inspection. We spent the entire day taking on ammunition,
provisions, water and our last mail that we would receive for some time.
We had thirty men report aboard as passengers. The men would be transported
by our ship to Pearl Harbor and Eniewtok Atoll in the Marshall Islands
for eventual transfer to other ships. We took on 100,086 gallons of
fuel oil, 2383 bbls, in preparation for departure. All hands knew that
we were headed for the Pacific Theater. We would steam to Aruba, Netherland
West Indies to take on a load of fuel oil, diesel oil and 100 octane
aviation gasoline. Aruba is located on the northeastern coast of South
America. It is a popular vacation spot now with beautiful white sand
beaches and plenty of sunshine. My Aruba "vacation" in 1944
consisted of an overnight stay at the Utilities Oil Dock while we took
on fuel and cargo. Our arrival was on June 23 and we departed for the
Panama Canal late in the afternoon on June 24. We had a sub contact
scare right after we left Aruba for the Panama Canal. The USS Strauss,
our escort, did not maintain contact with the suspected sub so we continued
our journey to the Canal Zone.
Our trip through the locks of the Panama Canal was
quite fascinating! The water level change from the Atlantic side of
the locks to the Pacific side was 85 feet. I remember picking leaves
off the trees as we passed through the Canal. The USS Mississinewa had
a beam of 85 feet and the Panama canal was 110 feet wide! It didn't
look very wide when I realized that the Captain only had a little over
12 feet on either side of the ship as he maneuvered it through the locks.
On June 27, the ship cast off steaming independently
without escort for Pearl Harbor. To this day, I still can't believe
we sailed from the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor without an escort! We
were out on the high seas all alone. We would have been easy pickings
for a Japanese sub patrolling the area looking for ships headed for
The Mississinewa continued it's independent journey
to Pearl Harbor as our routine of drills and training became part of
daily shipboard life. There was little to do for recreation. The Mess
hall became a regular casino at night. Crap games, poker games etc.
We would be able to see a movie once in awhile. The screen would be
up on the bridge and the movie projector on the cargo deck. The crew
would find a spot to stand or sit on the deck, catwalks, winches etc.
The movies were always black and white films that were a few years old.
We would sometimes see the same movie 2-3 days in a row! We didn't mind
as it really broke up the routine
Arrival at Pearl Harbor Territory of Hawaii
We arrived at Pearl Harbor just before noon on July
10, 1944. My first impression of the Hawaiian Islands was the mixture
of blue and green colors of the sea as we moved from blue deep water
to the entrance to Pearl Harbor. It was a colorful sight! We moved further
into the harbor and it looked as though the Captain was going to anchor
us next to Ford Island in the center of the harbor on the eastern shoreline
of Ford Island. I looked for signs of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,
December 7, 1941 and really could not identify anything out of the ordinary
except for the sunken battleship Arizona. Her superstructure had been
removed by salvage crews by this time and only a little bit of the ship
showed above the waterline. The other battleships sunk on December 7
had been raised and salvaged in the previous two and a half years since
the Japanese surprise attack. We pulled into berth F-4 on the south
end of battleship row a few hundred yards south of the bow of the sunken
USS Arizona. The next four days we spent shifting cargo to different
tanks on board, took on fresh water from the dock at Gasoline Pier and
unloaded diesel oil. We also loaded several drums of lube oil. I spent
a good part of my time when not on mess cooking duty helping load the
55 gallon drums of lube oil. We spent part of the time tied up alongside
the oiler USS Tomahawk. I really wanted to get to see Honolulu and finally
had a chance to get off the ship for a few hours to sightsee. It felt
good to feel land under my feet after being at sea for well over a month.
Honolulu was like a military base! Navy, Army and Marine Corps personnel
were everywhere. I saw the famous pink Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki
Beach. The Navy had taken over the hotel after the war started. Submarine crews and other Navy personal used it as a rest and recreation center
between tours in the South Pacific. I distinctly remember the steam
train everyone called the Pineapple Express. I could hear the steam
whistle at night on board ship. Hawaii was interesting for me being
a Wisconsin farm boy. This was really different then back home.
Several more new crew members reported aboard while
we were at Pearl Harbor. We had a complement of 278. We left Pearl Harbor
on July 15 shortly after 3 P.M. for the South Pacific. We were in convoy
PD-21-T with other Navy tankers and escort ships. We maintained a zig-zagging
course to avoid enemy submarines. Our destination was Eniwetok Atoll,
Marshall Islands. The Navy was using the harbor at Eniwetok as a staging
area for fleet operations. Our routine consisted of training and drills,
man overboard, gunnery practice, fire and rescue, collision and abandon
ship. Captain Beck said in his action reports after our ship was sunk
on November 20 that the abandon ship drills really paid off. The ship
only had one safe area to get off on the morning of November 20 and
that was at the fantail. Everyone headed there, not to abandon ship
stations! More on this later! We began our day with General Quarters
just before sunrise which was about 5:30 A.M. We would turn on the ship's
lights at about 6:30 A.M. after securing from General Quarters. We would
have General Quarters again at sunset, about 6:30 P.M. The Japanese
were most likely to attack at dawn and dusk and every ship in the Navy
had this same General Quarters procedure. My General Quarters station
was in the Engine Room. My watch station did not have any bearing on
my General Quarters duty station. Once General Quarters sounded, every
sailor on board headed to their assigned GQ station. In my case, my
General Quarters station happened to be in the Engine Room unless I
was assigned to Mess duty. We would steam at an average speed of 14
knots with the convoy. This was fast enough that a Japanese submarine
would have a difficult time keeping up to try and attack us. We tried
our first fueling at sea exercise with the USS Tomahawk AO-88 on July
18 while enroute to Eniwetok. We stopped zig-zagging and dropped astern
of the convoy and passed a tow line to the Tomahawk. Our towline at
the bow that we used as a guide to keep the ships in position with each
other gave way shortly after our crew manned the refueling at sea stations.
The Captain gave up on the idea of attempting our refueling at sea exercise
and we quickly caught up with the rest of the convoy.
Eniwetok Atoll Marshall Islands
We sighted Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands
early in the morning on Sunday, July 23. We changed course heading northwest
with almost 300 miles to go to reach Eniwetok arriving in the morning
on Monday July 24. Eniwetok is only 21 miles long with the highest point
on the island barely 16' above sea level. The island had been invaded
by our Marines in February of 1944. It was still little more then tree
stumps as all the vegetation had been blown away by the shellfire!
The harbor was crowded with US Navy ships from Admiral Spruance's Fifth
Fleet. Admiral Bill "Bull" Halsey assumed command of the Fifth
Fleet in August, taking over for Admiral Raymond Spruance. The same
group of warships and supporting vessels became the 3rd Fleet. The USS
Mississinewa was assigned to Task Group 30.8 under the command of Captain
Jasper T. Acuff. We anchored in Berth 324 awaiting orders from ComServRon
10 which was the service squadron to which we were attached. We spent
the next two weeks transferring diesel oil, lube oil etc to several
smaller YMS vessels. Two of these claimed that they had received diesel
oil from the Mississinewa contaminated with salt water. Careful inspection
by Captain Beck and other Officer's revealed that this was not the case.
We began to learn at Eniwetok the various tasks needed
to refuel other ships. The seamen that made up the deck hands division
learned how to handle the fuel hoses in the harbor at Eniwetok. We received
orders from ServRon 10 on the T.B.S. (talk between ships) radio on August
8 just before midnight to deliver N.S.F.O. (Naval Standard Fuel Oil)
and AV gas (aviation gasoline) to the escort carrier USS Santee. We
got underway and tied up alongside the Santee and starting fueling her
at 2:45 A.M. August 9. We next delivered fuel oil to the destroyers
USS Craven, USS McCalla, USS Ellet and USS Case completing our first
day of harbor refueling at 6 P.M. Little did I know at the time that
refueling at sea for 12-14 hours was to become routine. We worked hard
in all kinds of weather although hot weather was the norm! August 10
found the Mississinewa delivering fuel to the fleet carriers USS Lexington
(CV16) and USS Bunker Hill (CV17).
I had the only opportunity during the war to get on
board a large fleet aircraft carrier while we were at Eniwetok. We did
not have a chaplain on board the Mississinewa and we were allowed to
go to church services if we were in port. I went aboard one of the fleet
carriers while at Eniwetok for church one Sunday and was just awed by
the size of the carrier! I stood looking at all the Japanese flags painted
on the side of the carrier island where the bridge was located. I hailed
one of the crew members. "Hey, did you guys really shoot down all
those Jap planes?" The carrier was very impressive to this little
old farm boy from Wisconsin!
We refueled the light carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL30)
on August 11 in the harbor at Eniwetok which is as close to future President
George Bush as I ever came. The stern of our ship, the Mississinewa
collided with the port aft gun tub of the San Jacinto. If I ever have
the opportunity to meet former President Bush, I'll have to mention
that we "bumped" into each other in 1944!
The USS San Jacinto CVL-30 was a light carrier that
had on board a pilot named Lt. j.g. George Bush who flew a torpedo bomber,
the TBM Avenger with Air Group 51. (VT-51) George Bush was shot down
on September 2, 1944 by anti-aircraft fire on a raid over Chichi Jima
(near Iwo Jima) George Bush was rescued by the submarine USS Finback
but the two crewmembers of Lt. Bush's Avenger were lost in this incident.
The USS Mississinewa delivered 2,448 bbls. of AV Gas and 8,568 bbls
of fuel oil to the USS San Jacinto during the 8-12 Watch on August 11,
1944. Eniwetok Atoll.
Leaving for Manus
We left Eniwetok Atoll on Sunday morning, August
20, 1944 as a part of Task Unit 30.8.1. Our convoy was led by Captain
Acuff on board the destroyer USS John D.Henley (DD-553), Captain Martin
on board the USS Hall (DD-583) was the Screen Commander protecting our
convoy of fleet oilers and support ships. We assumed a course that would
take us to Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island, Admiralty Islands which was
the US Navy's advanced staging area southwest of Eniwetok.
Our ship arrived at Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island the morning of August
26, 1944. Manus Island had a mountain range and contrasted sharply from
the flat landscape of Eniwetok. The harbor was significantly larger
then Eniwetok's anchorage with the ships widely scattered throughout
the harbor. There were many tankers from our Task Group 30.8 in harbor
with us. The warships of Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet now staged out of
Manus. There were virtually no warships from Task Force 38 in harbor
when we arrived on August 26. They were all at sea.
Shoes seemed to wear out quickly on the deck of a tanker
for some reason and many of us would wear out a pair of shoes every
4-6 weeks! Coming up with a new pair of shoes was sometimes a challenge
depending upon the availability. The quest for new shoes resulted in
the Deck Hands getting into trouble with Captain Beck. Some of the crew
members from the Deck Division had gone ashore when we returned to Seeadler
Harbor, Manus Island after our second trip out to sea for support operations.
The deck hands were part of a work party that had been sent ashore to
load supplies. They went to a Marine Corps Supply Depot and stole new
footwear! They returned aboard sporting hobnail shoes. Captain Beck
observed the deck hands working over the AV Gas tanks from the bridge
shortly after the crew had returned with the work party. The sparks
from the hobnail shoes were quite a sight! "Get below and get those
shoes off now!" roared Captain Beck from the bridge. We all had
a good laugh despite the dangerous situation. Weeks afterward we still
claimed that you could have heard the Captain all the way to Hawaii!
We rarely got off the Mississinewa for recreation but
our crew somehow managed to get into a brawl with sailors from a carrier
during an afternoon of recreation after returning from our second sortie
out of the harbor at Manus. Captain Beck allowed 1/3 of the crew, about
90 of us to go ashore. A makeshift sandlot baseball field was set up
and a beer tent to serve beer at the Recreation area. The sailors from
warships were limited to two beers per person. Crew members from one
of the large fleet carriers had been watching some of our crew at the
beer tent. Several of our crew members loaded up their rain ponchos
with several cans of beer and headed back to the ship making it a point
to show off their good fortune, rubbing it in to the carrier sailors.
A fight broke out and carrier sailors "liberated" the beer
from our bragging sailors. The Mississinewa's Sick Bay was well occupied
upon our return from "recreation." I was on shore with our
crew at the time but was some distance away from the brawl. Once it
started, I was not about to get involved! I didn't even drink beer!
The Captain summoned the crew for muster and suggested that next time
they wanted to pick a fight with another crew. "Try and come out
of it in a little better shape!"
Shellbacks & Pollywogs
The Navy loves tradition and what better opportunity
to have a little fun than crossing the equator for the first time. This
is a tradition that dates back a long time. King Neptune performs a
ceremony to initiate all the crew members that have never crossed the
equator while at sea. The Mississinewa crossed the equator on August
24, 1944. Everyone aboard ship that was not on duty watched or participated.
Officers were not exempt from the humiliation dished out by the King
Neptune and his court and the Shellbacks. The Shellbacks are the ones
who have already crossed the equator previously. The Pollywogs are the
ones who haven't. You're a Shellback after you cross the equator and
have gone through King Neptune's ceremony. We crossed the equator between
Eniwetok and Manus. Shipboard routine was anything but boring for a
couple of hours. Most of the ship's crew had never been to sea before
so the Shellbacks had plenty of Pollywogs to make miserable! We went
to see the Royal Doctor, the Royal Dentist, Royal Barber, Royal this
and Royal that! They sure did a good job of making us miserable! The
Royal Barber gave us a haircut. The Shellbacks made it a point to chop
up our hair in the most ridiculous manner that they could! The Royal
Dentist would shoot oil in your mouth! I don't remember what the Royal
Doctor did but I am reasonably certain that the physical received was
unlike any recent medical work I've had done! I remember the last part
of the initiation ceremony. The Shellbacks had a chute, you had to crawl
through, and they had it full of garbage. I remember that! They'd have
leather gizmos swatting you on the rear end as you'd go through the
chute and when you came out the end of the chute, the ceremony was over!
We were now officially Shellbacks! I was given a Certificate that was
in my locker that I wish that I still had. My Shellback certificate
went down with the ship when the Mississinewa was sunk in November.
Sailors love to have a mascot and the Mississinewa
had "Salvo." Salvo was a small terrier dog that someone had
picked up at Pearl Harbor and brought aboard ship before we sailed for
Eniwetok. Salvo ran all over the ship! He was everyone's buddy. Crew
members would be asked by the Officer's how he got aboard. Of, course,
none of the crew knew anything about it! I don't know who named him
"Salvo" but it sounds more like an original idea from a gunners
mate then an Engineering Division crew member! Salvo was on board the
ship the entire time we were in the Pacific. He must have gone down
with the ship as I never did hear about him again after the ship was
lost in November.
Most of the crew members had a tendency to spend their
off duty time with other members of their own Division. The average
age of our crew was about twenty years old. We did have a few fellows
in their 30's that were drafted. Many of the 1st Class enlisted were
regular Navy. The Deck Division had the youngest sailors, many of whom
were just out of High School. We had a Fireman 1st Class by the name
of Jim Hurley in the Engineering compartment with us that was quite
the storyteller. I used to get the biggest kick out of his stories that
he told when we would be off watch. Jim told us all about the crazy
things he used to do back home in Indianapolis before the war. It seems
that one of the favorite activities he liked to participate in was car
theft! He and his buddies would take off to Chicago for the weekend
and steal a car and drive it back to Indiana. They would strip the car
and the vehicle would somehow find it's way to the bottom of a gravel
pit! It seems that he always had a story like this to tell the guys.
He liked being the center of attention and I certainly enjoyed listening
to his stories!
Returning to Manus, the 3rd Fleet staging area, after
an operation offered our crew the opportunity to have our mail from
home catch up to us. The letters would sometimes be several weeks old
but that never mattered. It was news from home! Most of us would write
several letters just before we arrived in port as this was the only
opportunity to send mail home. I received many letters from my Mother
offering news about the Mair family activities at home in Clinton, Wisconsin.
My sister, Margaret, was also very good about sending me letters on
a regular basis. My cousin, Kathleen McCann also wrote on a regular
basis and I was grateful for her letters. I did not receive any mail
from friends and classmates from High School while at sea in the Pacific
but did receive letters from some of them after returning from sea duty
when later assigned to San Diego, California in 1945. Mail call was
always a welcome highlight as any news from home certainly brightened
everyone's day while aboard ship!
Isolation from the rest of the world is the best way
to describe being on a ship at sea during wartime. News came in bits
and pieces from a variety of sources. The least reliable being "scuttlebutt"
or rumors aboard ship. The Mississinewa had a daily ships newspaper
available for all hands that would have Associated Press news reports
and reports about happenings aboard ship. We also had a radio in the
Engineering compartment and would listen to Armed Forces radio and Tokyo
Rose. During the Palau invasion in September 1944, we picked up the
Marine Corps. command frequency and listened to the radio communications
between the various Marine Commands as the First Division known as the
"Old Breed" invaded Peleliu in the Palau Islands.
Ships compartments & Divisions
The crew of the USS Mississinewa was divided into
five divisions. Division One-Deck Hands, Division Two-Deck Hands, Division
Three- Bridge, Division Four-Engineering, Division Five-Yeoman, storekeepers,
Each Division was divided into three Watch Sections:
1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Each Watch Section had an assigned berthing (sleeping
quarters) compartment on board ship. I was in the 4th Division, Engineering,
assigned to the 2nd Section Watch. I was later assigned to the 1st Section
Watch in September after completing Mess duty that had started when
we left Norfolk, Virginia for the Pacific Theater.
The Mississinewa had the after spaces near the stern of the ship arranged
in the same way as all fleet oilers built just before and during World
War II. The after part of the ship was arranged as follows from topside
to keel: Sick Bay, Mess Hall/Galley, Crews Berthing Quarters (2nd Section
slept on the port side , 3rd Section, starboard side.) Engine Room,
and Boiler Room, and the lowest level being the Steering and Bilge spaces.
The Mess Hall/Galley would be on the same deck level as the Cargo deck
when viewing the ship from the exterior. The Crews Berthing Quarters
would be on the same level as the Well deck. I was assigned to the 2nd
Section Berthing Quarters when we left the United States so my locker
with my belongings was located in the berthing area on the port side.
Most of us would sleep outside on the Well Deck as it was usually much
too hot to sleep inside! I set up a cot on the after Well Deck on the
port side and slept there my entire time aboard ship. I was transferred
to the 1st Section after completing my Mess cooking duty in late August
1944. The 1st Section Crews Quarters was located forward just ahead
of the bridge. I never moved my footlocker to the 1st Section Crews
Quarters but continued to sleep in my favorite spot on the port side
after Well Deck. The man who called me to go on watch always knew where
I was sleeping on the after Well Deck so moving to the forward part
of the ship didn't seem necessary. I was sleeping on the after Well
Deck on November 20, 1944 when our ship was struck by a Japanese Kaiten
on the port side forward near the bow. Most of the men who were killed
that day were sleeping in the Crews Quarters forward of the bridge!
My decision to continue sleeping on the after Well Deck on the port
side undoubtedly saved my life the morning the Mississinewa was sunk!
Combat Support Operations Begin:
Leyte (Philippines) Bonin Islands & Palaus Islands Raids
Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island Admiralty Islands
Refueling at Sea
Refueling a naval fleet at high speed at sea was
a new concept during World War II. By 1944, large fleet oilers like
the Mississinewa were able to refuel other ships at a speed of 10-13
knots. This would allow the combat ships to avoid enemy subs etc, if
the fueling was at a fast pace. It also allowed the combat ships to
remain at sea for long time periods. Our Task Units would refuel ships
from Task Force 38 staying at sea on station for up to 30 days at a
time. The Japanese must have wondered where all the US Navy ships were
coming from as the combat vessels stayed in the combat area continuously
supported by us! We would leave Manus with a Task Unit usually consisting
of six tankers with our escort ships for protection from enemy submarine
or air attack. The junior tankers, those with less time in service,
would be topped off with fuel by the senior tankers that would then
return to the staging area. We would travel in two columns with the
lead tanker as a guide. We would rendezvous with the group of six or
so tankers in a designated rendezvous area and have them consolidate
their oil cargo with us. We would then take their place on station cruising
the general area waiting for the combat ships to steam out from their
combat operation area to meet us. The AV Gas and NSFO (Naval Standard
Fuel Oil) would be brought to the secured staging area by Merchant Marine
tankers then loaded onto the fleet oilers.
We used 6" hoses for the fuel oil transfer for
ships larger then a destroyer. The deck hands would attach 4" hose
to the larger 6" hose to fuel Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts.
We would usually have three lines out to one vessel plus an aviation
gas line if we were fueling an aircraft carrier.
We fueled aircraft carriers, battlewagons, and cruisers on the port
side and destroyers, destroyer escorts and smaller ships on the starboard
side. We'd fuel four destroyers while we're refueling one aircraft carrier.
The Officer of the Deck called the adjusted the speed of the Mississinewa,
having the bridge phone man communicate shaft RPM changes to me in the
Engine Room, if I was on Watch during refueling. I had to log the time
of the change and the counter reading for each RPM change.
The senior Captain, of the largest capital ship that we were refueling
would set the pace for our ship, the Mississinewa and the other ships
we would be refueling at the time. This would often find us fueling
destroyers on the starboard side and a carrier on the port side, of
course the carrier would have the senior Captain so he'd set the pace.
It was up to us to keep up with him and the up to the destroyers to
keep up with us! It never did make sense to me as it would seem that
the tanker should set the pace but it didn't work that way!
Refueling ships at sea in rough weather was very difficult!
The Mississinewa only had about four feet of freeboard when we were
fully loaded. This is the distance from the surface of the deck to the
water. October 8, 1944, we ran into what I certainly thought at the
time to be a Pacific storm called a typhoon. The rough seas found water
cascading over the Well Deck all the time! You couldn't even walk on
the Well deck but had to use the catwalks overhead. It seemed as though
there was more ocean running over the Well Deck then we had under the
keel of the ship! In spite of the fact that the Pacific is a pretty
deep ocean out there!
I remember our attempt to refuel Admiral Halsey's flagship,
the Iowa Class battleship USS New Jersey. Admiral Halsey needed fuel
oil right during the middle of this storm October 8. Admiral Halsey
insisted that he had to have some oil and so we set up all the fuel
lines and rigging so that the New Jersey could tail us, fueling from
the rear. We tried during the storm and he finally gave up on it. I
don't know if the New Jersey received enough fuel to tide them over
or not! Halsey ended up tearing up the rigging on the Mississinewa!
I know that! That refueling operation was kind of a fouled up mess and
we kind of swept it under the rug!
Burial at Sea
I'll never forget the first time I witnessed a burial
at sea. We had our first fatal casualty on board the Mississinewa October
10, 1944. Ed Darcy, S2c, was the victim of a horrible accident. Darcy
was a kid from Hartford, Connecticut. He was found shortly after sunrise
forward under the forecastle badly burned by a broken anchor engine
steam line. A First Class Machinist's Mate made a terrible error when
opening a steam valve. A steam line will fill with water from condensed
steam when the line is not in use. A person has to open a steam line
with caution and crack it open slowly. This allows the initial steam
pressure to convert the water in the line into steam again. The valve
from the anchor engine that was opened that morning was probably opened
too quickly and the steam pressure hit the steam line elbow that blew
out with tremendous force! Darcy died from his steam burns later that
morning. The ship was traveling in formation with other tankers at the
time and Captain Beck ordered all hands not on watch to assemble on
deck for Darcy's burial at sea. It was a sad day for all of us aboard!
We refueled the aircraft carrier USS Wasp, (CV-18)
on October 16, 1944 and received on board 3 sailors that were transferred
on stretchers between the Wasp and the Mississinewa. These sailors had
been wounded in action while aboard the USS Conner. R.E. Ulbrich had
been wounded in the stomach and died aboard our ship October 19th. The
Captain conducted burial services again for a burial at sea only 9 days
after Darcy had died from the steam accident aboard our ship.
Okinawa, Northern Luzon, Formosa Raids
Third Fleet Operations October 1944
The USS Mississinewa spent October at sea as one of
the fleet oilers assigned to Task Group 30.8 and more specifically Task
Unit 30.8.1. Commander J.T. Acuff was in command of the Task Group aboard
the USS John D. Henley, DD-553. Captain Martin was our Screen Commander
aboard the USS Hall, DD-583. Captain Martin had several destroyers,
(DD's) destroyer escorts, (DE's) and escort carriers (CVE's) to protect
our Task Group from submarine and air attack. We seemed to have more
screening ships operating with us then we had previously during the
Palaus invasion in September.
We spent October 1-2 at Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island,
loading to capacity from the merchant tanker S.S. Meacham and the USS
Armadillo. We sailed out of Seeadler on our last sortie from this staging
area on October 2 accompanied by USS Marias (AO-57) and the USS Mantee.
(AO-58) We worked from sun up until sundown for the next three weeks
supporting the combat vessels of Task Force 38 involved in the Philippine
We received aboard passengers, referred to as "casuals"
from the light cruiser USS Houston (CL-81) on October 18. The Houston
had been severely damaged from the results of enemy action. We received
our passengers from the light cruiser Santa Fe. (CL-60) They came aboard
using the Bo'sns chair suspended between our ships. It would take several
minutes for each person to be transferred. I watched part of this transfer
which took the better part of three hours. I never experienced the ride
swinging from the B'osns chair as two ships sailed through the sea only
a short distance apart going at a speed of 10-12 knots. It looked like
something I wouldn't care to do unless absolutely necessary! We received
aboard 196 crew members from the USS Houston that we transported to
Ulithi Atoll. The Houston sailors kept to themselves and our crew did
not seem to have a lot of contact with them. We found ourselves in the
same situation only a month later as our surviving crew members were
taken aboard the USS Wichita after our ship sunk! We consolidated our
cargo with the USS Caliente (AO-53) after taking aboard the USS Houston
passengers and formed a new Task Unit with five other fleet oilers,
creating three columns of two ships each and headed south. Were we headed
back to Manus?
Arrival at Ulithi Atoll Western Caroline Islands
We received word from the Captain as our new Task
Unit formed up that our destination was the recently created forward
staging area at Ulithi Atoll in the Western Caroline Islands. Ulithi
Atoll was ideal for Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet as it had a deep water
anchorage that measured approximately nine miles by twenty one miles
in diameter. The USS Mississinewa arrived at Ulithi Atoll on October
21, 1944. The harbor was the largest that I had seen. There were ships
as far as the eye could see! We anchored alongside the S.S. Mission
Pursima, a merchant tanker and began taking on NSFO fuel. Our mail finally
caught up to us at Ulithi and it was good to get news from home after
being at sea for almost a month. The Houston and Canberra arrived on
October 27 after being towed in after receiving heavy battle damage.
Most of the ships in the harbor at Ulithi blew their whistles in salute!
Admiral Halsey returned with many of the Third Fleet
warships on October 29-30. They were given a rousing welcome from those
ships already in port. It was a sight to see as ships of the Third Fleet
We only went out to refuel ships of Task Force 38 one
more time while at Ulithi. We left near the end of the first week of
November as part of Task Unit 30.8.2. Captain Acuff was again in command
of our Task Group aboard the USS Dewey. We completed our refueling assignments
as part of Task Unit 30.8.2. and returned to Ulithi on November 15,
1944 anchoring in our designated spot marked on the harbor chart as
Berth 131 in Mugai Channel. I was looking forward to getting setting
foot on shore at the recreation center on the Chief's island called
Mog Mog. We were anchored just south of Mog Mog Island in Mugai Channel
which is near the eastern entrance to Ulithi Atoll's deep water anchorage.
I found out that I would have the opportunity to get off the ship for
recreation during the afternoon of November 20th. Little did I know
that I would be getting off the ship earlier then expected on November
20 as flames consumed the Mississinewa from an early morning Japanese
Tragedy at Ulithi Japanese "Suicide"
Sinks the USS Mississinewa AO-59 November 20, 1944
The USS Mississinewa, AO-59, was sunk by a Japanese
Kaiten (Suicide manned torpedo) on November 20, 1944 while anchored
in Berth 131 at Ulithi Atoll, Western Caroline Islands. My six month
tour of duty on board the Mississinewa came to an abrupt end amid explosions,
flaming oil and billowing smoke!
I always slept on a cot on the well deck on the port
side aft about 30 feet from the hatch that entered the 2nd Section berthing
compartment. It was too hot to sleep in the crew compartment where my
locker was located. The well deck usually had a nice breeze so many
of us would sleep outside of the crews quarters if we could. I did not
realize until later that my choice of sleeping location had undoubtedly
saved my life when the Mississinewa was attacked. I had recently been
reassigned to 1st Section had yet to move my locker and gear to the
midships berthing quarters under the bridge. The First Section watch
Officer knew where my cot was located and so I was easily notified when
it was my turn to stand watch. I saw no need to move forward immediately
upon reassignment to 1st Section Watch as I liked my cot location and
I was always close to the engine room compartment to report for watch.
Most of the crew members sleeping in the midships crew's quarters died
on the morning of November 20 from the Japanese attack. Fate had intervened
and spared me!
I was awakened about 5:45 AM on the morning by a violent
explosion forward that shook the ship from bow to stern. The explosion
threw me off the cot and I landed on the well deck with a thud! My view
forward was obscured by the cargo deck over my head but I knew something
terrible had happened! My first thought was that a crew member had been
smoking a cigarette over the forward aviation gasoline storage tanks
and caused a tremendous accident. I did not realize that the explosion
was a result of a Japanese attack! The smoke and flame from the explosion
was quickly covering the ship from the bridge forward. I was clothed
in only my skivvies for sleeping so I immediately headed for the crew's
compartment to get my shoes and trousers out of my locker. The compartment
hatch was only a few feet away and strangely enough, there were no other
crew members in sight. I quickly donned my trousers and started putting
on my shoes. Crew members then started to enter the compartment heading
for the fantail and someone yelled
I headed for the engine room hatch to retrieve my
life preserver. We were required to have our life preserver with us
at all times while on watch. I always left my life preserver on top
of the air duct just inside the engine room hatch when coming off watch
so that I could easily grab it as I climbed down the engine room ladder
for my next watch. "It was gone!" Someone exiting the engine
room after the explosion must have grabbed my life preserver. I headed
back into the port side crew's compartment, climbed the ladder at the
rear of the compartment and reached the poop deck on the fantail. I
looked back towards the bridge and saw the ship enveloped in smoke and
flame from the bridge forward. Droplets of burning oil and debris were
falling on the cargo deck. I looked over the rail and saw that the oil
burning on the water had already made it's way down the length of the
ship on the starboard side and was about to come around the fantail.
The burning oil on the port side of the ship was also quickly making
it's way aft. The ship would soon be encircled in burning oil! A breeze
or perhaps shifting of the ship miraculously kept a 15 foot wide area
of water on the port side of the fantail free from burning oil and this
saved most of the crew as it proved to be the only safe avenue of escape!
I looked down at the water 20' below and saw that
our three work party boats were still tied up on the fantail. Without
hesitation, I jumped into the water and headed for the nearest boat.
I reached to find that the boat crew was already on board. I was one
of the first men to reach the boat. Several men were now in the water
swimming away from the flames heading for us. We began pulling survivors
out of the water as quickly as we could. I pulled Harold Boutiette,
we all called him "Bouttie" (pronounced Bootie) out of the
water as he muttered an exhausted "Thanks!" We later became
better acquainted while returning to the States aboard the USS Wichita.
He credited me with saving his life! All of us helped each other out
and many men were doubtlessly saved that day by taking risks or simply
pulling a sailor into a boat like I did! We were filled to capacity
within minutes and the boat crew headed for the tanker nearest to us
located in the next berth. I don't remember the name of this tanker.
USS Mississinewa survivors were taken aboard the USS Cache AO-67, USS
Pamanset AO-85, USS Lackawanna AO-40, USS Enoree AO-69, and the USS
Mascoma AO-83. Several of these tankers quickly sent out boats to rescue
men from the Mississinewa. The majority of survivors ended up on the
USS Cache, USS Pamanset, and the USS Lackawana.
We climbed up a Jacobs ladder thrown over the side
of the closest tanker and headed up to the deck. I arrived exhausted
but happy to be alive. We didn't say much to each other as we were all
in a state of shock. We all instinctively moved to the fantail. The
last place we wanted to be was on another tanker! If this tanker was
hit too, we all wanted to be on the fantail! Hopefully it would be the
right place to be if we had to get off again!
Only a few minutes, certainly less then 10 minutes,
had gone by since the initial massive explosion. We had about fifteen
men arrive in the boat that I was in. The boat crew headed back to the
Mississinewa and soon returned with another group. We had a total of
30 Mississinewa crew members aboard the tanker within 15 minutes. We
did not have any Officers with us. We were all in a state of shock!
Everything had happened so quickly! We lined up on the fantail and watched
our shipmates continue to abandon ship off the fantail of the AO-59
and swim towards the several boats now in the water that had been sent
by the other tankers around us. We were only a few hundred yards from
the Mississinewa. Small explosions from the ready ammunition continued
to rack the ship as the fire spread aft. Smoke and flame obscured the
ship leaving only the after third of it visible. Shortly after 6 AM,
a second massive explosion erupted from the after part of the Mississinewa.
The after magazines had exploded! The flames shot 100 feet into the
air and smoke billowed skyward. We could see the Mississinewa was going
down by the bow. By 9 AM , only the stern of the Mississinewa was above
the water. Little was said as we watched the death throes of our ship.
I had been assigned a work detail just before the ship was hit that
I detested. I was scraping paint from a corner of the bulkhead. There
was not a blower that circulated air in this upper corner of the engine
room so it was hot miserable work. Oddly enough, I found my self watching
the Mississinewa sink from the deck of the tanker that I had just boarded
thinking about the fact that I wouldn't have to scrape rust off that
bulkhead in the engine room anymore! More importantly, how many of the
crew managed to escape and survive? The USS Mississinewa AO-59, sank
at 9:28 AM. Several destroyers and destroyer escorts were actively depth
charging the harbor as scuttlebutt now said that we had been attacked
by a Japanese midget sub! How could that be? We had always thought we
were safe while in harbor due to the tight security precautions and
it was a rear area! It seemed impossible to our group of survivors that
the Japanese could have penetrated the harbor! It was a long time before
I learned that the Japanese had sunk the USS Mississinewa with a newly
developed suicide weapon that was a manned torpedo called a "Kaiten".
The shock of the loss of our ship still lingered later
in the day with all of us wondering how many crew members made it off
the ship. The crew of the tanker we were on paid little attention to
us. I don't even recall anyone coming around and asking us if anyone
needed medical attention. We slept on the deck the night of November
20 and all of us began to speculate what was in store for us next. We
hoped that we would get off the tanker we were on and be reunited with
the rest of the crew soon. The next morning, November 21, still left
us wondering when we would get off this ship. We still had on the same
clothes that we had been wearing when pulled out of the water. Mid afternoon
found a boat pulling up alongside and we were told to climb aboard.
We arrived alongside the cruiser USS Witchita CA-45 a short time later.
We were mustered on the fantail were we wrote down our name, rating
and division so that a survivors list could be assembled. I didn't see
any of the Officers. I was glad to see that Alexander Day was OK! I
asked him if he had seen any of the other crew from our watch? He replied
that he thought that many of them had not survived. We began to wonder
if we were the only two survivors from the 1st Section engine room watch.
We later found out that many of the men from my division had survived.
Men were scattered all over Ulithi Harbor on board tankers, an L.C.I.
and the hospital ships USS Solace and USS Samaritan. They arrived all
day on November 21 from other ships. We then began to learn more about
how many crew members we lost. Our ship suffered 3 Officers killed including
Lt. Atkinson from my Engineering Division. Forty seven enlisted men
died. Seventeen Officers and two hundred twenty one enlisted men survived
although 81 crew members were wounded or injured in the attack. I, like
many others, never once had a doubt that I wouldn't come back from the
war! Reality now began to set in. I was fortunate to be among the survivors!
We were issued one change of clothes and learned that
we would be returning to the States for a 30 day survivors leave before
being reassigned to other duty. Stories about the escape of various
crew members circulated. A pilot of a OS2U "Kingfisher" float
plane was an unidentified hero who saved about 20 men who were struggling
to reach safety. He landed his float plane and taxied up to the edge
of the burning oil and threw out a line with a floater on it that men
grabbed as he pulled them clear of the burning oil.
Captain Beck was flown from Ulithi Atoll to Pearl Harbor with an updated
casualty list so he could report about the status of the crew and the
sinking of the USS Mississinewa, AO-59. The Officer's from our ship
were assigned quarters aboard the USS Witchita (CA-45) while the enlisted
survivors slept, played cards and tried to occupy their time in the
open deck spaces under the large triple gun mounts on the aft of the
cruiser. The Witchita was returning to the States after the two port
side screws had been disabled as a result of enemy action. I heard that
the port side screws had been hit by a dud enemy torpedo. That was the
scuttlebutt! The ship was steaming on only the starboard side screws
and took almost a month to reach the West Coast.
The crew of the USS Witchita paid no attention to us
as they went about their duties. I remember that we had paid little
attention to the survivors of the USS Houston when they were on board
the Mississinewa. We kept to ourselves most of the time. I found a pastime
to keep me busy as we steamed for Pearl Harbor enroute to San Pedro.
I spent all of my idle time shining my shoes! Whenever the card games
became boring and I needed to do something with my hands, I was putting
a spit polish on those shoes. By the time we arrived at Terminal Island
Receiving Station in San Pedro, I had a mirror finish on those shoes!
We did spend one day in Pearl Harbor but we were not allowed off ship.
We certainly did not have dress whites to go ashore! We had left Ulithi
Atoll on November 23, and arrived at Terminal Island, San Pedro, California
during the afternoon of December 18. I was anxious to call home! We
were told that we could place one phone call home to let our families
know that we were safe. We were not allowed to talk about the sinking
and were warned about discussing it with anyone! I placed a phone call
home immediately after disembarking from the Wichita and was happy to
hear my Mother's voice as she answered the phone. She was surprised
to hear from me and even more surprised to learn that I would be home
for thirty days leave. I told her that I would be boarding a train soon
and be home in a few days. I did not mention the sinking of the Mississinewa!
A group of us became hungry and headed for a Red Cross facility for
coffee and donuts. Imagine the Red Cross ladies surprise when our scruffy
looking group of sailors crowded into the mess hall area in our ripe,
30 day old dungarees. "We can't serve you looking like that! You'll
have to leave!" Our hosts scolded! Our response to the lady who
asked us to leave was, "Hey lady, this is all we own!" We
really did look awful. I had lost my watch, my Shellback certificate,
and all my clothes when the ship sank. The rest of the crew had no time
to gather belongings either. The Red Cross ladies finally relented and
served us after it was obvious we were not going to come up with dress
white uniforms anytime soon!
We received new uniforms the next day as the crew members
began to fan out in search of train tickets for the ride home. We all
wanted to get home for Christmas. I recall playing poker on the train
all the way from California to Chicago. There was little else to do.
I took a train from Chicago to Janesville, Wisconsin arriving on Christmas
Christmas night 1944 was a very cold -20 degrees! I had just come from
the Pacific where the daily temperatures were over 100 degrees. What
a shock! My discomfort quickly dissipated as my Mother and Father greeted
me at the train station. It was good to be home! My parents had learned
about the sinking of the USS Mississinewa when the Associated Press
had released a story dated December 19, the day after I called home
from San Pedro, that detailed the sinking of the Mississinewa. The headline
was : Navy Tanker Sunk in the Pacific; Navy Pilot Saves 20. Joseph Rosenthal,
the AP photographer, had also taken a photo of the Mississinewa burning
and sinking in Ulithi Harbor. This photo was circulated by the AP and
printed in newspapers all over the country. Joe Rosenthal later took
the most famous photograph of the Pacific War when he immortalized the
flag raising on Iwo Jima. My mother had received many phone calls from
family and friends when they saw the article in the Janesville Gazette
about the Mississinewa sinking to learn if I was alright. I was happy
that I had called home right away upon my arrival December 18, rather
then having my family see the newspaper story and then agonize over
what had happened to me.
Text by John Mair, reproduced with permission. Thank
to son, Mike Mair for coordinating the interview.