"Ensign Jackson, need I remind you your duty hours end at
five o'clock, not four o'clock," Captain Riddick, Commanding Officer of
the U.S. Naval Hospital in
"Of course, sir. I'll tell the Admiral."
This response startled him, particularly after I explained the reason for my early departures. I'd been meeting Admiral James, Commandant of the Sixth Naval District, for a game of golf.
With a certain amount of throat clearing, Captain Riddick said, "I understand, and your office is operating quite satisfactorily."
Admiral James and I continued our golfing.
The pleasure of living SOB (south of
The CACAPON was a fleet oiler -- a big, fast tanker designed to fuel the fleet at sea while underway. Our fighting ships could not operate in distant waters without constant fuel replenishment. When the CACAPON's supply of oil and gasoline was exhausted, it returned, with destroyer escort, to the atoll of Ulithi far in the western Pacific where a steady stream of merchant tankers from stateside refilled the cargo tanks.
The CACAPON had a problem. The Captain, formerly in the merchant marine, was an unusually difficult man. A succession of strange incidents finally brought about his forced retirement from the Navy; but, in the meantime, he was the problem.
Some incidents were not serious. He'd lost his hat at the officer's club ashore and was convinced it had been stolen. He assigned, on a rotating basis, the CACAPON's officers to cloak room duty where we were to sit during the club's opening hours to find who "stole" his hat. This duty was not too bad, although a bit demeaning. Of course, we spent the time in the bar and not the cloak room.
V-8 Vegetable Juice was his favorite, but he complained bitterly
he couldn't get it in the larger tins. As Supply Officer, this was my fault. I
suggested he write the Supply Officer in Command,
Still on the subject of food, he was convinced someone onboard was trying to poison him. The Executive Officer was assigned the duty of first tasting his meals.
I love dogs. One of the officers onboard had served as naval gunnery officer on the Captain's ship when he was in the merchant marine. A sailor had brought a puppy onboard. This was not a serious offense, but our delightful Captain had the puppy thrown overboard.
Although many months later, I got even. I had learned to bark like a dog; and when we were at sea in the blacked-out ship, I'd sneak up an outside ladder to beneath a porthole in the Captain's stateroom. I'd bark like mad and then hurry back to my quarters.
The Executive Officer's stateroom was next to mine, and I could
hear his side of his conversations. The Captain would call him reporting there
was a dog onboard. The Executive Officer was ordered to find it, but I could
hear him say, "Yes, Captain, but we searched the ship just ten days ago.
We found no dog. Yes, sir, I'll do it again." Then there would be pounding
on my door. "Goddamn it,
These incidents were really not serious. In fact, some were amusing; but the Captain did make a professional mistake that probably brought about his discharge.
The CACAPON was among a group of tankers along with heavy
destroyer escort heading for the
At a briefing prior to the sailing, our Captain stated to the others that his ship should not be included. Its top speed of only fourteen knots was not nearly fast enough. Nonetheless, the CACAPON was included.
We'd been underway for not more than an hour when the tanker directly ahead of us went on TBS (talk between ships) and announced for the entire fleet to hear that we should slow down. His ship was making sixteen knots, and we were overtaking him.
When we returned to Ulithi after this mission, our Captain was relieved of duty and discharged from the Navy.
Then the CACAPON took a one hundred and eighty degree turn. Our new skipper was the antithesis of the man he replaced. He was brave, considerate and anxious to pursue the war.
Our first mission under his command was in support of our
As we approached the island, the Captain sent a message to unit command requesting permission to sail close to shore and bombard with the five-inch gun we had on our stem. Permission was, of course, denied. Who'd ever heard of a tanker lining up with battleships to lob shells on an enemy beachhead?
At night, when at anchor, Japanese in small boats loaded with explosives were a threat. If one were to ram into the CACAPON, we might have blown sky high.
The Captain had an idea. While sailors on watch rimmed the ship, they were really powerless to stop an approaching boat. He felt if they carried hand grenades, the problem would be solved. I took a dim view. I was concerned that a sailor wasn't trained to handle a grenade. He would be as big a threat to our survival as the Japanese boat.
I was ordered to go ashore and bring back grenades. I had mixed emotions but also felt any day not exposed to possible kamikaze attack while fueling the pickets was a day gained. In a small boat with two sailors, I headed ashore. Not wanting to be mistaken for a Japanese boat, we avoided getting close to any ship as we sang songs in English.
It was about eight o'clock in the morning when we hit the beach. It would be a long day, for our ship wasn't to return to anchorage for almost ten hours. I made a less than conscientious search for grenades and wasn't disappointed when I was unable to find any.
A Navy officer wandering around the beach would draw attention. An Army lieutenant asked me what in hell was I doing there. I told him, and he laughed. "You won't find any grenades here. Come with me." He motioned I should join him in his jeep.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
He answered, "To the front; but we probably won't find any there, either."
It was a fascinating day. While the officer said we'd be going to
the front, this really wasn't accurate. The fighting from the beach to inland
was really informal as well as deadly. It seemed disorganized to me, but I
guess the Army knew what it was doing. We did capture
With the sound of artillery fire growing louder, I asked the lieutenant how much further we were going. "This should do it," he said. "Let's check with those soldiers over there." He pointed to a group of eight or ten having a conversation. "Maybe they've got some grenades to give away."
It was here I heard something I'll never forget. In the years following the war, the cruelty of the Japanese military was widely discussed. This was different. It was from our side.
As we approached, we heard one of the soldiers say, "I hope I don't have to be with that damned forward group again tonight. Last night was tough."
"Tougher than most?" another asked.
"You bet your ass," he said. "I was bunkered down behind a small hill. From the other side, some little Japanese kid was crying. He kept it up, and it bugged me. So, I tossed a grenade over the rise. That shut the little bastard up."
I didn't ask him if he had any more grenades.
When I returned to the ship, I reported the failure of my mission to the Captain. He didn't seem disappointed. He'd probably given his idea some further thought.
The next morning we were fueling the radar pickets off the west
From dead astern, a kamikaze was rapidly closing in. The destroyers were blasting away, but it continued to get closer. Anti-aircraft fire finally caught up with it, and it exploded in a tremendous ball of flame. Everyone cheered including me, but later I had second thoughts. A young Japanese was piloting a suicide mission for his country. His was the ultimate loyalty to his Emperor. I was cheering when he died. On the other hand?
As Supply Officer, the bridge was not my territory; but the Captain allowed me access. I appreciated this and particularly enjoyed being there early in the morning.
We had left
The duty officer had to make a quick decision. It was too late to alter course. With a ship of this size, a turn is a protracted sliding action and not abrupt. A turning ship would expose its broad side and virtually guarantee an explosive collision.
A ship creates a wall of water it pushes ahead of it that, hopefully, might divert the mine to one side. I watched in fascinated horror as the ship bore down on it. As it got closer, it was hidden by the bow. Seconds later, the lookout pointed to port. I rushed to the left wing of the bridge and watched with fingers crossed as the mine appeared from under the flare of the bow and bobbed along the ship's side, kept from striking it by the protective band of water that moves with a ship. I lost sight again as it disappeared under the stem. I held my breath. There was no explosion, and it was now in the ship's wake. A destroyer escort, advised by TBS, left its screening post and, at flank speed, closed down on the mine to explode it by gunfire.
I said to an open-mouthed, wide-eyed sailor standing next to me, "Well, thank God, that's one that didn't get away. Do you ever wonder what happens after dark? Those babies are on 24-hour duty."
Turnaround time in Ulithi was brief -- twenty-four to thirty-six hours and sometimes less. The bright spot was the opportunity to take a small boat to a tiny island for a different replenishment. 'Mog-Mog, the Enchanted Isle of the Pacific' offered liquid refreshment.
"Hello, Harry," a college friend serving on another ship called out as I approached the bar. He said he'd been listening to armed forces radio and heard the song, "One Meat Ball" being dedicated to me by my fond crew.
At that time, it was a popular tune suggesting meals served were something less than adequate. Rather than filet mignon, the gallery, which was my responsibility, was serving one meat ball. Obviously, this was a humorous jibe; but I'd get even. For the next meal, two meat balls would be served.
The ENOLA GAY dropped an atomic bomb on
I was in the wardroom when I first heard of the bomb that struck
All hands were elated and not surprised when Emperor Hirohito suggested the war stop. With "Operation White
Horse," the invasion of Kyushu, scheduled next, all realized that both
Americans and Japanese casualties would by far exceed the losses in
The CACAPON was less than one hundred miles east of
My ship entered
I had always thought of looters as the scum of the earth, but now
I was one of them. With the war over and awaiting orders to return to the