Memory #1

Mrs. Richard Edwards e-mail dated 11/16/02: 

It was my second morning onboard the USS Hemminger, and I was on the flying bridge learning the Quartermaster's duties. I looked down and running towards me, the entire length of the ship, was a Sailor. When he reached the bridge he said, "There's a dead man in the chain locker!" The chain locker is an area in the bow of the ship where the anchor chain is stored. I was flabbergasted! I knew I might have to encounter some unpleasantness at some point in my naval career, but not so soon. 

Just three months ago I had been racing Model A Fords in Grayville, Illinois, and now I had to investigate the death of a man! Who was it? Was it an accident or murder? "Let's notify the Officer on Deck," I said. We approached the officer just as he was taking his first sip of morning coffee. We explained the situation. The whole thing was a practical joke. 

Afterwards, I began plotting how I could get back at him. 

When World War II began my brothers, Howard and Amos, were in the CCC. They immediately joined the army. The CCC was a great help to poor folks like us, and it helped rebuild this country after the depression. 

Three days after my seventeenth birthday, I enlisted in the Navy. After boot camp, I took a train to the San Diego Sonar School. It was the first time in my life I had seen a palm tree. It was the first time I had ever seen a zillion white uniforms. 

Andy Olsen was my buddy during Sonar School. We got into a pillow fight in the barracks one night and the next thing you know, the whole gang was flailing away. The Officer of the Deck was called and Andy and I got to jog around the Parade Grounds for a while. 

Andy invited me to spend the weekend with his folks in Covina Park, California. They were a fine old Swedish family. Andy had a beautiful sister named Marie. Marie and I went to the movies with Andy and his girl. We had a grand time. 

Every week Andy and I would study in Sonar School, and then some times on the weekends we would take the train to visit his family. I always looked forward to the weekends. 

Andy and I graduated from Sonar School in May. Our families were so proud! 

The Navy is famous for rumors and every weekend I would tell my friends, "I think we're shipping out this week." And then the next weekend we would still be in port. 

Andy's name and my name were together on the Assignment List, so I thought we would wind up on the same ship, but the cut was made between our names and we had to part ways. He went to one destroyer and I was assigned to the Hemminger. 

One of my duties on board ship included firing a 20mm anti-aircraft gun. One day, in San Diego Bay, an airplane flew over pulling a white target sleeve with a black bull's eye on it. All of the gunners were strapped into their seats waiting for orders. The Captain came on the horn and said he wanted us to fire short bursts only. I waited until I had the target in my sites and then squeezed the trigger. Something on the gun snapped! I released the trigger, but my gun continued to fire. The gunner's mate came running over trying to find the malfunction, but still the gun continued to fire! People were yelling and pointing. By this time, the gunner's mate was frantic! Everyone on deck had stopped what they were doing and were looking at me! Finally, by the grace of God, the gun ran out of ammunition. 

The Captain came running over, spouting obscenities, and wanting names of all parties involved. We tried to explain to the Captain that there had been a malfunction and that I wasn't deliberately disobeying orders. And that's how I got the nickname "Short Burst". Yep, "Short Burst Johnson," they called me. 

The Hemminger was a brand new ship. Every piece of equipment on that ship was new and had to be tested by us, the shakedown crew. The bunks were three high with lockers underneath. The lockers were 30"x30"x20" and everything we owned was stored in them. As I recall, there was always room to spare in mine. 

The Navy requires a ship to obtain a maximum speed. The only way to find out if she can obtain that speed is to run Emergency Flank over a measured course. We were really flying! It took 46 days to find out that every piece of equipment on the ship was okay or, if it wasn't, to fix it. 

One of the first lessons you learn in the Navy is to duck your head and step high as you go through the compartments. There were lots of peeled heads and barked shins those first few days. Any compartment can be shut off and made watertight.

A typical dinner menu was: 

Tough "Shoe Leather" Steak 

Mashed dehydrated potatoes 

Steak gravy with dehydrated onions 

Dehydrated carrots 

Dehydrated cabbage 

Dessert: Apple pie with dehydrated apples 

Drink: Turpentine Coffee or dehydrated water. 

All kidding aside, I thought the food was pretty good. There was a coffee pot at every duty station and the cooks would bring out sandwiches in between meals. As the saying goes, "The gravy's in the Navy." 

We had red beans for breakfast on Friday. I always thought that was odd, but it was an old Navy tradition. 

Our destroyer's main mission was to hunt and destroy submarines. For practice, the Navy would send a sub out into San Francisco Bay and it would try to sneak up on us. We would try to simulate sinking the sub. If we were on target, the sub would send up a giant bubble. This game went on around the clock. 

At first, the ship would go out into the bay in the morning and come back at night. You say to yourself, "This isn't so bad." Every day we would go a little bit farther out into the bay, but never under the Golden Gate Bridge. And then one day they sent us down to Oakland to the Ordinance Station. That's when we knew something big was about to happen. Ammunitions are one of the last things you load on a ship before heading off to war and Oakland was the place to get them.

August 11, 1944 we went out into the San Francisco Bay, farther and farther. The strange thing was we just kept going. I got this funny feeling in my stomach. I watched as the Golden Gate Bridge faded into the distance. After awhile I couldn't see any land at all, only water. Everywhere I looked, all I could see was the salty gray waves of the Pacific. 

There are two things I have to mention about the Pacific Ocean: there are creatures in it that no one knows about; and it is BIG beyond imagination. 

One of the most exciting times aboard ship is getting underway, two hundred men working in harmony. The Captain came over the loudspeaker and announced, "All departments and department heads: prepare the ship for sea! Now hear this, Special Sea Detail, man your stations. Bridge to Pilot House." The reply came from the Pilot House, "Engine Room and Pilot House standing by to answer all bells!" We were always on the move, going somewhere. Some ships sat in one place for months, but not us. 

"I know we're going to Siska in the Aleutian Islands," I thought. I've seen the parkas, fur boots, and those long gloves in the compartment by the galley. Here is an old Navy song: 

"For ne'er can sailor salty be Until he sails the Bering Sea, And views Alaska's dreary shore And fills himself with Arctic lore. Columbus and Balboa too, With Nelson form a salty crew, But they are fresh to you and me- They never sailed the Bering Sea. So when you boast of fiercest gale, That ever ocean you did sail You can not salty sailor be Until you cruise the Bering Sea." 

After we were underway, the Captain opened up our orders and informed us that we were escorting the SS American Press, SS Santa Isabel, and the SS Cape Romaine to Hawaii. They were hauling war supplies. 

I was the youngest man on board ship, but there was this one guy who said he was eighteen, but looked and acted thirteen. One night while on watch, he fell asleep. Now that was a pretty serious offense. It might cost the lives of every man on that ship if you were asleep at the wrong time. So he was thrown in the Brig for ten days. Now the Brig was close to the galley and everyone would pass that way at one time or another. There was a big door with iron bars in it and as you passed by you could see this pathetic little kid sitting there eating his bread and drinking his water. That's all the rations he was given for ten days, bread and water. So the guys started bringing him food on the sly, and slipping it to him between the bars. That kid ate like a king for ten days and got out of doing his duty to boot! After that, we all watched out for him to make sure he didn't fall asleep while on watch. 

I learned how to steer a ship by practicing on the Yippy boats off of the California coast. The steering was all done manually. When I turned the wheel it pulled a rope that was attached to the rudder. The wheel was at least six feet tall and if I tried to turn into a wave, it would toss me right off of my feet. The Hemminger, on the other hand, had power steering, so it was a snap to steer. I liked steering and thought I was pretty good at it. 

At 0210 one morning I was at the helm in the middle of the Pacific and the temperature was so hot that I wished they had sent us to the Aleutian Islands. Mr. McNelly was on the Flying Bridge and he yells at the top of his lungs, "Who's on the helm and what course are you steering?" He was trying to startle me so that I might forget the course I was on or even my name. 

I was at the helm when we sailed into Pearl Harbor August 17, 1944. The Harbor opening is very narrow; you can practically reach out and touch both sides. The water is very calm. The Captain was on the flying bridge and he would say, "Steady as she goes." I would respond, "Steady as she goes." 

When we first stopped in port, I had a rolling gait. It's called "sea legs". When I would sit down, the buildings seemed to move all around me. It takes three days to get your "sea legs" back once you've returned to the ship. 

Often times, if the harbor was busy the ship would tie up to a buoy outside of the harbor. When the anchor was lowered, the chain would go banging out on both sides. Jesse Duree was a sailor with great skill at tying up the ship to buoys. He would go over the side and balance on the buoy while tying the ship up. 

Jesse also would pilot the ship's boat when anyone needed to be transported. In rough weather, the ship's boat was hard to launch and hard to get it back on board, but Jesse was very good at it. 

Sailors will spend days planning on how to get into trouble, but not fifteen seconds on how to get out of it. We had enough fuel to run for a long time, but food was a different matter. We would start out eating ice cream at the beginning of our cruise and, as rations dwindled, we'd end up eating crackers. 

One day this big ole barge pulled up alongside us with food stores. The whole crew helped unload that barge. I was in the front down below and they were sending down cases of food. Everything came in gallon cans and the cans were numbered instead of labeled. Only the cooks knew for sure what was in those cans. 

It's odd how sometimes when you haven't tasted a certain food for a while you tend to crave it. My mouth was watering for some grapefruit. As the cans of food came down the chute, I started noticing some cans that, when I shook them, felt like they might possibly be grapefruit. So every 7th or 8th can went AWOL. After unloading the ship, we had three cans, but we didn't know what was inside of them. We needed a place to store our ill-gotten gain. 

Down in the bowels of the ship is the Lower Sound Room. You can get to it by removing the steel plate on the lower deck, and then there is a space under it, but no one goes down there unless ordered to. That's where we hid our treasure. 

That night I crept down to the bottom of the ship and brought a can and can opener topside. There were many sailors in on this larceny and we all had our hearts set on grapefruit. But when we opened the can, it was cooked tomatoes! All day long we had anticipated grapefruit. We could practically taste it, and now here we were stuck with cold cooked tomatoes! We each ate a few and drank a little juice and then wondered what to do next. 

The Navy is very strict about stealing. Fortunately, miles and miles of water surrounded us. We brought the rest of the cans topside and tossed them overboard. 

One of my best friends on board was Smith. I would get strapped into my chair ready to fire the 20mm gun and Smith would be right above me with his gun. The guns would swivel from right to left depending on where you aimed them and whenever Smith would fire over my head, the concussion from his gun would almost knock me down. Every time we went on liberty I would say to him, "Smith, when your gun is over my head just keep turning." But he never paid any attention to me. I think he enjoyed aggravating me. 

Many times, while we were in port, the Captain would let us swim. Our ability to swim might save our lives at some point, so it was important for us to get used to being in the water. A man was stationed on the flying bridge with a rifle and we would go overboard for a welcome swim. Once, a baby octopus found his way to me. When he wrapped his little tentacles around my finger he could really hang on! 

Anyway, we would swim in the warm Pacific Ocean until a shark was spotted. The Sailor on the bridge would shoot it and our swim time would be over. 

Our Captain, Captain Bodler was under tremendous pressure. He was from the Merchant Marines. The Navy looks down on the Merchant Marines. This guy had been at sea forever but he hadn't graduated from Annapolis, and he had never been on a steel ship before. Sometimes he would go to Captains' meetings and speak his mind. Often, that's not the best thing to do. He was always volunteering our ship for little missions here and there. The crew didn't appreciate that. 

One day he talked to the Captain of the Talbot. Together they came up with a great scenario. What if all communication was shut down and there were no flagmen to signal another ship? Could you drop an envelope on the deck of a passing ship? They decided to try and find out. The Captain was on the flying bridge. Seaman 1st Class Tartleton, that lucky fellow, was chosen to throw the message from our ship to the Talbot. 

Now a ship is hard to maneuver at slow speeds so we were going at flank speed to come alongside the Talbot. Tartleton ran up the main deck on the port side with an envelope in his hand, leaned over and threw that envelope onto the deck of the other ship. The Captain ordered, "Left full rudder!" He meant to say, "Right full rudder," but it was too late. The Hemminger banged into the Talbot and began dragging down the side of the ship, tearing the railing off. Only fleetness of foot saved Tartleton from a certain death. 

There was a hole in our ship that the welders had to patch up. Captain Bodler sent this message to the Captain of the Talbot: "Needless to say, I apologize for bumping into you." 

Because of this and another incident involving the Hemminger and contact with a dock, Captain Bodler turned over his command to Captain Foster on April 23, 1945. Because Captain Bodler was a strong swimmer, he was reassigned to the Navy Seals. 

In the book, Little Ship, Big War, Commander Stafford writes: "Ship handling is the most public demonstration possible of a naval officer's professional competence and, rightly or wrongly, his reputation and that of his command are affected in direct proportion to his demonstrated ability. There is no hiding poor ship handling, especially in harbor. Nor can any amount of modesty disguise or diminish its opposite. The Captain is high up on his bridge, as prominent as a bronze statue in a park; he has to be because he must have an unobstructed view in all directions. His every order as he handles his ship is relayed and repeated. The entire operation is performed in full view of -as a minimum-the whole deck force of his own ship, usually the deck force of one other ship as well, and often those of several others. Success or failure and degrees of both are as apparent to even the dullest observer as the success or failure of a driver parallel-parking at a curb. There is the ship. There is the dock, or the other ship. There is the water in between. The ship either closes that water gap and comes alongside smoothly, expeditiously and with a minimum of shouted orders, jingling bells and swirling currents at the stern-or it doesn't. A crew will forgive their Captain a multitude of sins, be he only a sharp ship handler. But if he is not, be he ever so wise, kind, lenient and even brilliant in all other aspects of his profession, he will have an uphill battle to maintain the morale of his men." 

Captain Foster was an Annapolis man. He liked to work hard and play hard. He was well liked by all hands.

 *********************************************************** The three airmen paddled their bright yellow raft alongside our ship. I reached down to help the Pilot aboard. He was cussing something fierce because this was the second time they had wound up in the "drink". But what burned him into my memory forever was his baby face. When I grabbed his hand it was soft as butter. He was no field hand. Whenever a pilot would crash, they would put him in another plane as soon as possible so he wouldn't be afraid to fly. 

Sailors, in general, are very superstitious. I used to tie my shoes very tight and put extra cotton in my ears. I thought this would keep me safe. One morning I woke up and couldn't hear out of my left ear. I didn't tell anyone because I was afraid I would be transferred. You get 1/3 more pay for sea duty and when you're young you want to be out at sea. Finally, I had no choice but to go to sickbay. We didn't have a doctor on board, just a First Class Corpsman. You guessed it! He pulled a bale of cotton out of my ear and I could hear again! 

Ed Kelly liked to sit on the fantail of the ship when the seas were calm, and stare up at the millions of stars. He would wonder how long the war would last and when we could go home. 

Some of the guys were given watches from their parents that had belonged to their grandfathers. After six months at sea the timepieces were corroded. 

We were way out to sea when one of the crew had appendicitis. Our sickbay had limited equipment and medicine. There was a carrier in the area that had a doctor. We strung a cable between our ship and the carrier. We had to keep the line taut. We put the man in a harness and he transferred from our ship to the carrier-a very risky undertaking. 

Three months later we saw a little ship on the horizon. It got closer and finally we were able to see it was the mail ship bringing mail and supplies. There was a half sack of mail with water stains, ice cream (a real treat), and the sailor who had been transferred to the carrier earlier. 

I learned of my brother, Howard's death when a letter I had written to him on February 16, 1945 was returned to me with "deceased" scribbled across the envelope. He was the very best of our family. Everyone loved him. 

When we were in port and had time, we would put scaffolding on the side of the ship and paint. One day we put a paint crew over the side on a plank secured with rigging. We looked out and said, "Where's our paint crew?" They had lowered themselves down in the water and had floated off. The Captain had a fit and demanded to know what happened. They said they were so busy painting they didn't realize they were floating away. 

At Okinawa, Andy Olsen's ship was sent on picket duty to intercept Kamikaze planes from Japan. We pulled into the harbor at Okinawa and the first thing I saw was this Destroyer with the whole bow blown off. The ship was in between two other ships for support. That's when I learned that my buddy, Andy had been killed. They never found his body. He was a good Swedish boy. He was hale and hearty and the apple of his Mom's eye.

The most frightening time at sea was when we went to Kerramo Retto to pick up ammunition. We went aboard this huge cargo ship that was crammed full of explosives. I was just standing there looking at these big bombs when the air raid siren sounded. We were sitting there like ducks in a pond. The little smoke screen boats came dashing out and lit their smoke pots to obscure us. The Marine planes chased the Japs away. 

Our main job as a destroyer was to find and destroy submarines. Over the loudspeaker we would hear, "Battle Stations, Battle Stations, this is not a drill!" We would drop whatever we were doing. If we were in bed, we would jump out and run to our stations. (I always had a fear of being caught in the shower in an emergency.) While we were engaged in an operation near Okinawa some time around May 15, 1945, we attacked repeatedly a Japanese submarine with a result which has been assessed as indicating a "probably damaged" sub. The whole time we were headed straight for the sub, the fore guns would be firing down into the water to try and do as much damage as possible. 

Sometimes, the Japanese would save their garbage, oil, and dead bodies, and while we were attacking, they would send this out the torpedo chutes to make us think we had made a direct hit. 

August 8, 1945 we were in a Hunter Killer operation when President Harry S. Truman announced the unconditional surrender of Japan in accordance with the terms and conditions agreed upon in the Potsdam Proclamation. Ship's position was 19 degrees 51' North, 134 degrees 23' East. Arrived at Guam August 17, 1945. 

Normally at night we ran with only a red light showing from the top of the mast. When you opened an outside door on the ship the light inside would automatically go off to prevent the enemy from seeing your ship in the dark. Once the war was over and we were stateside bound we ran at night with our lights on. It made us very nervous because we were used to running in the dark. It left us feeling very vulnerable. 

You can tell a lot about the ship by the way the deck feels. A high tremble and a zigzag course equals danger. A medium tremble and a straight-ahead course means everything is okay. No tremble plus silence means get topside quick! And so it was on that hot day in the Pacific that the engines stopped and we looked at each other wondering what was going on. 

When you cross the International Date Line, King Neptune comes aboard to make sure everyone is seaworthy. As we neared the International Date Line, King Neptune was piped aboard with his royal entourage including King Neptune's wife, Davy Jones, and the Royal Barber. The Ensign flag was lowered and the Jolly Roger flag was hoisted up the halyard to let all know that a hazing was taking place. 

Sailors who have crossed the date line before are called "shellbacks". Sailors who have never crossed are referred to as "pollywogs". The shellbacks are in charge of hazing the pollywogs. Even officers who had never crossed were required to participate as pollywogs. 

We were lined up and as we went through the door we were beat with wet canvas straps until we gave our name, rank, and serial number. The one thing a Sailor never forgets is his serial number. 

Then we were met by shellbacks with water pistols only they had filled their guns with vinegar and who knows what else. After this we were given haircuts. The Royal Barber shaved a big "E" for Ervin on my head. Others got Mohawks and a variety of embarrassing haircuts. 

King Neptune had a big harpoon for his scepter. At the end of the ceremonies the King announced that the crew was shipshape and he was proud that we had sailed across his domain. 

We always looked forward to Liberty. When we would go to an island, the Navy would clear out all of the natives, especially the women. Sometimes the natives would make Saki out of fermented coconuts or potatoes and try to sell it to the G.I.s. 

Section Three from the Hemminger was having R & R on Eniwetok when we met up with the nicest bunch of Marines you ever could imagine. Generally Sailors and Marines are mortal enemies, but this day we began to socialize with them. First we traded hats, then shirts, and then pants! 

As the sun was setting, we returned to the ship dressed as Marines! The Captain was not amused! We had to pay for the lost uniforms. 

One form of relaxation was reading. Ted Lansdon's wife sent him an assortment of old READER'S DIGEST magazines to help pass the time on board ship. Ted read and reread all the magazines and then asked Harold 'Scotty' Lamoreaux if he would like to read them. 'Scotty' said he would sure appreciate some new reading material. 

As 'Scotty' sat down and began to read the stories, he noticed personal notes and observations penciled in the margins of quite a few places. After reading some of the notes, it became obvious that Ted's wife was recalling certain things she and Ted had done in the past. Some of the notes were of an extremely personal nature and pertained to some of their more romantic escapades. 

The next time 'Scotty' saw Ted, he casually asked him, as though he knew all about it, certain things that had happened. Ted looked so surprised and asked 'Scotty' how on earth he knew about that. 'Scotty' laughed and said, "why, don't you remember when that happened, Ted? I knew all about that." Poor Ted couldn't figure it out. And of course, every chance he got, 'Scotty' played the same trick covering different subjects that were commented on in the margins of the READER'S DIGEST Magazines. Ted was about to go out of his mind wondering how 'Scotty' knew all of these most personal things. 

Finally, it got to the point where some of the crew asked 'Scotty' what he was he doing to poor Ted. The guy didn't know whether he was coming or going. So 'Scotty' took pity on his shipmate and told him about the personal notes in the READER'S DIGEST margins. He then gave the magazines back to Ted and told him not to loan them out to anyone else unless he wanted a good ribbing from the rest of the crew. 

Years later, 'Scotty' was living in Rawlings, Wyoming and working for the Union Pacific railroad when he received a visitor. It was Ted Lansdon passing through and he had his wife in the car. She insisted they stop so she could meet the man who knew all about their most personal moments! It turns out, she thought it was a hilarious joke on her husband. They all had a good laugh, reminiscing about old times. 

On October 5, 1945 we picked up a blip on the radar. We thought it was the periscope of a submarine so we prepared to go to Battle Stations. There is concrete in the bow of the ship plus the anchor chain, so the idea is to ram the sub and tear the devil out of it. On closer investigation it was discovered the "blip" was the mast of a sailboat. My diary entry for that date reads: "1530 Sighted sailboat-think her to be in distress. Proceeding to investigate while AKA's go on ahead. Picked up four survivors, three men and one woman. Woman suffering from shock and exposure. Out here four days." It was a fishing boat blown out to sea. We brought them on board. They were kept separate from the crew in case they had any tropical diseases. If one man gets sick on the ship, everyone gets sick. One of our officers gave up his quarters so that the woman could have privacy. These four Filipinos had been without any food or water for several days. They were fed a little and nursed back to health. We took them with us to our next destination. 

One special treat on board ship was movie night. We would rig a sheet from the mast and project the film onto that. October 5, 1945 the movie was "Return of the Vampire." It gave us something to talk about and think about for weeks. 

My diary entry for October 6, 1945 reads: "0830 Arrived at San Pedro Bay, Leyte. Took up a collection for the native survivors this morning totaling some $120. The ship's carpenters, seamen, and other personnel have turned to on the (survivors') boat to make it seaworthy again, building her back better than she ever was. Sometimes I'm almost proud of this lash up. . ." 

At the next port of call they were transferred to another ship that was going past their island. 

Once, when we were around the Philippine Islands, we were sailing over a huge school of fish. The carpenters put together some sort of fishing nets and we lowered them over the side of the ship and caught our supper. The fish tasted really good but later that night every single man on board became sick. Buckets were in short supply, the heads were full, and we were lined up on the rail, we were so sick. After that, we never went fishing again. 

October 16, 1945 we received orders to return to Uncle Sugar Able (USA). I wrote in my diary: "1130 Anchors Aweigh, hauled down the anchor ball. Hoisted the Homeward Bound Pennant to the main truck flying over the fantail. Underway to Saipan, Mariannas. It appears our orders have been altered slightly. Also, flying the "What the Hell" flag." This was a flag that was thrown together by some of the crew. It was a kind of "in-your-face" flag for all the crews of other ships that weren't homeward bound yet. 

November 3, 1945, we picked up a distress call from the pilot of a C54 asking about the condition of the ocean. This was not good. It meant he was planning on a crash landing and was checking to see how much trouble the passengers would have once they hit the water. We radioed back and told him there were "moderate swells and it was a calm night." We offered to turn on all of our lights to make it easier for him to land. The pilot thought that he might be able to make it to his destination. 

My diary entry reads: "At 0730 this date C54 Skymaster crashed 110 miles and 40 degrees to the Northward of our course: east by northeast with twenty-seven passengers aboard. Picked up message ordering us to change course-proceed to investigate. Arrived 1600 at wreckage. Approximately twelve ships in area with aircraft B24's--B25's overhead directing search-lowered boat-slight swell. Wreckage and bodies floating everywhere. Not a pretty sight, but death never is. One body floats down our starboard side-the ship rolls-he goes under the keel and disappears to port. Boat picked up four bodies, three men and one woman-also mail bags, hats, seat cushions, life rafts, life belts, small parachutes for rafts, two pair shoes, and other odds and ends. Total of survivors and dead picked up for the day-seven survivors, eight dead." We sent our Pharmacist's Mate, T.E. Winkler, to pronounce death and/or render all possible assistance. The woman passenger was a big surprise. 

The search was continued through the 4th and 5th. My diary entry for November 5, 1945 reads: "Continuing search. No more bodies have been found. 1330 Departing area. Leaving the Roberts DE749 to continue search-----" 

Marie, my sweetheart, and I corresponded all during the war. One day for mail call I received a letter from her. She told me that she was sorry, but she was engaged to another man, a Marine. Of course, it was a shock, but we had never really been that close. 

The ship's newsletter from November 10, 1945 mentions 92 Marines that were taken aboard for transport to the U.S.. Cots were set up on the inside decks for them. 

We went through a tropical storm near Okinawa. We battened down the hatches. The ship would tilt as much as forty degrees. There are water and fuel tanks on both sides of the ship. The ship is balanced by moving water and fuel from one side of the ship to the other to even it out. No one was allowed on deck because they would be washed overboard. It was difficult to walk. They don't call these ships "bouncing buckets" for nothing. The cooks couldn't use the stoves, so we had to eat sandwiches. 

When you're in a storm at sea, you should always keep the ship pointed into the waves to prevent the ship from getting in irons. That's where a ship is down in the trough between waves, broadside to the wind, and is at the mercy of the storm. 

There is no sense echo-ranging in a typhoon, because sound gear will not work and submarines cannot operate. The sound of the wind throughout the ship was eerie, and everyone was on edge, except for David Hobbs. 

David M. Hobbs, Boatswain's Mate First Class, was from Petras, Tennessee. He ran away from home as a boy and shipped out to sea in the Merchant Marine. He was a little older than most, in his mid-twenties I'd say. He was thin with a pockmarked face, and he had muscles on his muscles, sort of like Popeye. He knew more about ships and oceans than anyone on board, including the Captain. He was absolutely fearless and he displayed this during the typhoon. 

He could sleep through any storm even when you could hardly keep from being thrown from your bunk. 

When ashore David was apt to come under the baleful eye of the Shore Patrol because he wouldn't start fights, but he would sure finish them. These infractions had to be addressed and the Captain would bust him down to Second Class or something, but not for long because they were always relying on him to solve problems. 

There's a right way, a wrong way, and the Navy way. 

One time I had a severe case of Athlete's Foot and sickbay had no effective remedy. David suggested that I go barefoot and soak my feet in saltwater. It worked. Saltwater is very healing. Small cuts and abrasions heal quickly at sea. 

Saltwater can also be very corrosive. It is an unforgiving element. The guns had to be lathered in grease. The instruments of navigation and such had to be constantly cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned. 

When you go through the Panama Canal, the Captain steps aside and the canal pilot takes over the ship. It was an experience I'll never forget. Payday was waiting on the other side, but when we docked, the Captain wouldn't pay us. "You'll go into port, get drunk, pass out, and someone will steal your shoes. You're not getting paid today," he said. 

So, we went into port anyway. We pooled our money together and spent every last cent. That night we walked down a sandy path back to the ship. Jake Welch got thirsty for coconut milk, and decided to climb a coconut tree. We all told him not to do it. He was almost to the top of the tree when he fell and broke his leg. That was the end of his Navy career. 

Our ship had a ten thousand gallon fresh water tank and evaporators to make fresh water out of salt water. Sometimes it was so hot the evaporators couldn't keep up with the demand, so fresh water was used only for drinking and cooking. Have you ever taken a saltwater shower? 

In Coco Solo, Panama, on the eastern side, it rains every ten minutes. You can set your watch by it. So I took a bucket and a bar of soap up to the Flying Bridge. I removed my clothes and I waited. When the downpour started, I quickly soaped up. Then the rain stopped. I waited another ten minutes and when the second downpour came, I rinsed off. After the rain stopped, I put my clothes back on, and carried my bucket and soap below to be stored. 

With the war over, we went back to our families in places like Beaver Falls, Turtle Creek, Grayville, Hawkeye, and Peachland. We prayed that we would never have to take up arms again. 

As I grow older, I realize that there are things that need to be said. But, more and more I find that there are things that should not be said. This tale of the sea was told to remind us all of the blood and sacrifice that was made to ensure our freedom as Americans. 

God bless us all!

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This page was last updated on 02/14/08  

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