Transit to the Crucible
August 23rd to October 2nd, 1942

August 23, underway at 0615. Barton and Meade preceded Washington out the channel past Ambrose Light and Nicholas followed in position No. 3. We left two crewmen behind, Needham and Carpenter’s Mate First Class Norris.

Studied all morning, irregular French verbs. I learn them and forget them at about the same rate. When and if the learning rate overcomes the forgetting rate, something will shatter. I do a have page of conjugations, then insert my diary entries in half-baked French. My old red dictionary may or may not hold out.

The sea is choppy and the spindrift has wetted the main deck and up to the communications platform on 01 level. Young sailors are showing the effects. We exercised the AA batteries anyway. I had the 8 to 12 watch, and since we have qualified all our underway watch petty officers, we are now watch-in-three, that is to say, four hours on and eight hours off, Condition of Readiness III.

Our course is 170° True, east-of-south, speed 20 knots, very certainly Panama and points west like Pacific Fleet.

August 24th, at sea. Panama announced as our destination. We are exhorted to conserve fuel, since five days at sea with any kind of action would deplete all ships. Tune the fires but no haze on the stack.

August 25th and 26th, zigzagging on base course 170° True, speed 20 knots. We have had numerous sound contacts, and one lookout reported a torpedo track during the night. We had planes overhead for air cover while we transited Mona Passage in narrow waters. Speeded up to 24 knots upon sighting Mona Island and changed course to 234° True, west-southwest.

August 27th, at sea enroute Panama. When I have the 4 to 8 watch, working hours commence at 8 until 4; there is no respite in the working hours, then you go back on watch at 4. That makes a full day of 16 hours.

Quartermaster First Moynihan and I agreed to take watches together when time permitted—he with me in the plant, I with him on the bridge. It worked for awhile, but when sleep became hard to get the plan slowed to a stop. In 1939 I had bought a BOWDITCH and a DUTTON, but had never gotten to use them in practice navigation I slept topside in the clean air until time to go on watch at 2330.

August 28th, at sea. Stayed up after getting off watch at 4 because dawn general quarters would be sounded at 5. During the dawn GQ Barton dropped depth charges over a Meade sound contact. At 0730 we sighted air cover sent out by Commander Panama Sea Frontier. One of the planes found something to bomb in the water. Meade was sent to look it over and she depth-charged an oil slick. Nothing more floated up.

During the morning watch we arrived in Colon, Panama, transited the Canal and moored at Pier 16, Balboa, Canal Zone at 0830. Fueled ship until midnight.

A dispatch went out to Admiral Nimitz, all the Task Group ships reporting for duty.

It turned out to be a big day, for Captain Brown was promoted to Commander, USN (T).

August 29th, moored Pier 16, Balboa, C.Z. Telephoned brother Bill at his Army outfit, then went to see Lieutenant Hill for authorization to visit him at his unit a couple of miles away.

“Absolutely not! We don’t want anyone to know we are here!” A task force of six warships were moored or anchored in the stream, and my presence ashore in the Canal Zone would give it all away. Whatever was behind the refusal, it had little of value. But I shouldn’t have asked. Now, to spring myself was the sea-going equivalent of a felony—a direct disobedience of an order.

I went topside and leaned to the lifeline alongside Old Settler, telling him what had just happened. “Hell, that’s no problem,” he said. He went forward toward the Exec’s cabin.

He was back in five minutes and went to the OD: “Working party, technical stores,” he reported. He waved me toward the brow and started across; I high-signed the quarterdeck and followed.

As we went to the Basel gate he explained: “I told Hill that I needed a petty officer for technical stores. He told me to take anyone I needed and that’s you. Unless you learn to lie a little—maybe a lot—you never get anything done.”

So brother Bill, Settler and me practiced lying, there in the Base Canteen, inspired by good draft beer. We were working because “work” has a physical definition: something to do with foot-pounds x time, and I was trying to remember the formula enough to explain it. Settler said that the steins contained 8 ounces. “Those are liquid ounces,” Bill said. “Exec don’t know the difference . . . Gotta count the stein weight, boutta round, and your chin is about two feet from the table...” Settler had his notebook out, scratching numbers.

“I can drink faster if we need more work,” I suggested.

“Hardest-working, fuckin’ working party I’ve ever had,” Settler sang out to the room.

We got back to the ship in time for noon chow, then I showed Bill around the ship. There were quite a few other visitors, too, notwithstanding the Exec’s secrecy. We talked until the special sea detail was called. Washington was standing out. Bill shoved off across Barton which was nested inboard of Nicholas. (Barton had ten more weeks to live.)

We got underway and stood down the channel and took No. 1 station ahead of Washington. We went to general quarters for the sortie. As soon as we cleared the coastal islands, the base course set was great-circle for Southwest Pacific.

August 30 to September 2nd when we crossed the equator, was drill and watch standing, with dawn and sunset battle stations lest we be surprised in the half-light. There was a general lair of routine operations as we drilled and performed ship’s work. The drills were better executed, but I observed no trepidation toward what the near future held. We fueled from Washington once in the morning while the weather was acting up with a wind force 3. Apparently our boots have lost their motion sickness because a day like this one a month ago was smelly.

We expected to cross the Equator on September 2nd, but there was no certainty that we’d have a crossing-the-line ceremony. We had made no preparation inasmuch as our destination had been secret. There was no time to make costumes, which is part of the fun. But the OTC relented, and the Task Group proceeded to initiate the pollywogs. The ships log entry: “1300 This vessel was visited by Davy Jones, who was followed by King Neptune and His Court. Commenced Crossing-The-Line ceremony and celebration.”

For the whole afternoon we inflicted humble demeanor on our pollywogs. The punishment consisted of salt water hosing, fuel oil shampoo and whatever supplies could be found. I had saved some silver nitrate for one wise-ass, but he had so many shellback enemies that the hosing kept washing off my ministrations.

Our base course today, 254 True, speed 18 knots.

At sea, Thursday, September 3, 1942. It was announced that we would report to Commander South Pacific Forces, Admiral Ghormley, which the geography itself had already announced.

All afternoon were repetitive general drills, twice to battle stations for an exercise timed from the moment the alarm sounded until “manned-and-ready” from all stations is received on the bridge, The compartments are too hot to sleep below, so a shady spot is hard to come by. A little gust of wind generates sounds of pleasure all around the hot decks.

A dopster, near to the communication Gang: We have lost five destroyers since the Solomons Campaign began three weeks ago.

2020 Meade reported main engine problem. The force slowed to 12 knots. Meade reported all O.K., and we speeded up again to 18 knots.

At sea, September 6th, Sunday. Steaming in company with ships of Task Group 2.12, base course 254° True, speed 18 knots. In the forenoon watch we held a battle problem, and the O Division held a creeping barrage practice, which is supposed to be effective against torpedo planes, raising splashes that the plane cannot fly through.

At sea, September 7, 1942, Time Zone plus-9. Steaming as be- fore in company with TG 2.12, base course 254° True, speed 18 knots. Destroyers fueled from Washington in the morning watch. We had drills and battle problems all day. The only light element was Fireman Joe Smith’s tales of life in the U. S. Army. Having no one with similar experience on board, Joe could exaggerate and he did, sweepingly! I will get off watch at 8 p.m., having been down in the plant since 3:30 a.m. One ball-buster of a day. Started reading African Queen.

September 8th and 9th, at sea in company with vessels of TG 2.12, base course 262° True, speed 19 knots. Both days were identical, drills and work in the plant on preventive maintenance. At sunset on the 9th, Washington got a radar contact; when Barton investigated there was nothing there.

September 10th, at sea with vessels of TG 2.12 on base course 262° True, speed 19 knots. I had the midwatch, after dawn alert from 5 to 6, showered and slept until general quarters for drill in the forenoon watch. We drilled all day. Torpedo attacks were simulated; five-inch gun fire fuse settings were tested by observing the bursts compared to, the intended altitude setting.

I reflected a lot this day, and recalled that I had expected and even anticipated that the transition from peacetime to the reality of wartime would have some shocks. There were 0 shocks, perhaps because I had mentally bridged the gap long ago or that it was the same experience that regulars undergo—war is practiced so much that there is no change. That would be the ideal drill.

But the Atlantic Fleet experience was the transition; that “Neutrality Patrol” was a contradictory euphemism—before the president announced that we would “shoot on sight” we had already had such instructions. Now, the only difference was better ship and weapons.

I remembered seeing a Japanese training vessel moored at Broadway Pier, San Diego in 1936, that I watched from the deck of San Francisco fifty yards away. Because of the prevailing public temper, the faces I Iooked at knew, and I knew, that it wouldn’t be long.

I had been for intervention . . . Now we had a good, new ship, and are doing what we should be doing.

At sea, September 11. Steaming in company with ships of T.G. 2.12, consisting of Washington (OTC), Nicholas, Meade and Barton.

Held drills and battle problems all day. I held plant drills during the battle problems. What-would-you-do-if? Some practices in thwarting disaster, because in emergencies your thoughts are scrambled and unreliable.

Mail closing at midnight. We will make a landfall or we have a ship rendezvous early tomorrow.

A sonar contact at 1710 brought us to battle stations. Tracked it and lost it. Assumed it to be a large fish.

At sea, September 12. Time Zone plus-11. We sent a dispatch to USS Washington to report we have two leaking main feed pumps (the casings). The pumps operate at 850 pounds-per-square-inch and are vital equipment, without which there would be no engines. Conducted drills all day and several battle problems.

September 13, at sea, steaming as before. During forenoon watch, conducted drills and simulated firing on Washington planes. Washington recovered aircraft and the Force changed course to 030° True and stood into the channel leading to Nukualofa, Tongatabu Island.

Upon anchoring, the repair officer of the USS Vestal came over to inspect our pumps. He decided that our repairs were such that a better-equipped tender was needed. We fueled ship from SS Gulf Queen. Ships present: SS Gulf Queen, USS Vestal, Barnett, Hunter Liggett, American Legion, tugs Seminole, Navajo, and a minesweeper, Dash.

Bumboat economics: it was amusing and predictable to watch; we had barely anchored when bumboats in the form of dugouts and other small craft arrived around the ship, especially astern, loaded with tropical fruits and vegetables. Any small coin was good enough for all one could eat—at first. Then for fear of diminishing supplies, the sailors began to bid against each other. I had paid a dime for a cocoanut and three mangoes. While I watched, cocoanuts had gotten to $2 each. So many times: Hilo, Panama, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Liberia—in tropical fruit only. But that is how the world really works.

Today is both September 14th and 13th, for we have crossed the 180th meridian.

September 15, Time Zone minus-12, anchored in Tongatabu Harbor, Tonga Island Group in berth 7 with 60 fathoms of chain the port anchor. Took on stores.

I was up at 6 to eat and work in the plant on urgent repairs. During the day Old Settler went to some of the ships present, and we talked to others on the stores working parties, all of whom confirmed the loss of the three heavy cruisers, Astoria, Quincy and Vincennes. That is 6% of our prewar Scouting Force! It is difficult to accept or account for. San Diego, a 5-inch gun cruiser, was sent back for repairs to battle damage. All the auxiliary vessels in Tongatabu have their sickbays filled with battle casualties.

1710 Underway to clear the harbor. Took screening station No. 1 on Washington. Course is 283° True.

September 16, Wednesday. Steaming at 19 knots in company with ships of TG 2.12. Exercised as target for other ships; drilled all day. I had the 4 to 8 watch so that dawn alert cost me nothing. Yesterday’s mail brought me two books from Book-of-The- Month-Club, Not for the Meek and Tale of Two Cities.

We left the formation about noon, steering southwest. We have an availability alongside the repair ship Whitney to repair the main feed pumps.

September 17, Time Zone, minus-12. Proceeding singly to Nouméa, New Caledonia. We exercised the machine gun batteries in the morning. In the afternoon there was a lecture on the Geneva Convention, name, rank and serial number.

Hunter Island sighted bearing 170° True, distance 18 miles. Changed time zone to minus-11.

September 18, at sea steaming singly enroute Nouméa, New Caledonia. Up at 0330 to take the morning watch. During the watch we passed USS Kankakee Arctic, escorted by USS Walke.

At 1200 anchored in berth 42, Nouméa Bay. The Captain called upon Commander SoPacForce in USS Argonne. I could see ol’ Sway-back-Maru, USS Salt Lake City, where in Max Hanger is iron-fisting reluctant sailors as he once did in the San Francisco, with me among them. Will try to go over to see him. Salt Lake City, Helena and Lansdowne are loaded with survivors from USS Wasp. That carrier will be hard to replace, another jolt!

At 1550 we went alongside Kankakee for fuel and after fueling, we moved alongside Whitney. Nested alongside Whitney with us were: USS Stringham, Manley, McKean and Laffey. Another old shipmate, Clyde Hynes, had been on the Manley. Manley was a four-piper destroyer in Squadron Forty-Tare in the Mediterranean; now she was converted to APD wearing jungle camouflage paint, designated as a fast troop transport. Two boilers had been removed to provide bunking space, though she could still exceed 20 knots.

No watch tonight. All night in!

September 19, moored alongside USS Whitney. Three of the four main feed pumps need welding repairs to their leaking casings. We had drills in the morning and a lot of work laid out. In late afternoon I crossed the moored ships to Manley. I found Clyde Hynes lying on a canvas cot alongside the after deckhouse. “Don’ t mind me,” he said. “I’m going to stay right here in the shade.” He was shook up and said so. He had been in the initial assault landing at Guadalcanal and Tulagi. They had stayed up there four weeks or so, mooring fore and aft under jungle overhang by day, and ferrying troops and supplies by night. Jap air ranged freely all day, he said, and at night their ships blasted anything that moved. I had to persuade him to come look at our first-class equipment. He came but he didn’t have any of the spirit I knew in him before—his comments were feeble. In the San Francisco he had been energetic and tough. We had met frequently on the French Riviera during ’38 and ’39, and in Norfolk afterward. He had changed. It was like hearing a whimper from Jack Dempsey.

My dental bridge fell out today. It had lasted just over a year—some bridge! Can’t imagine where I’ll get another, since I don’t have twelve years service, the requirement for dental prosthesis. Old Settler told me that it was easy to gum-it for three years.

September 20th, moored in Nouméa. Since it was Sunday we only worked until noon. I got ashore with a recreation party to play touch football on Ile Nous. We played a little ball, yet near the athletic field was a farm adorned by two very pretty girls. I got close enough, across a wire fence, to use my meager French. A hopeless suit coupled with unquenchable desire, anything could happen. Well,

Shofstall tagged along, a good guy but very grabby. “Tell her this, tell her that . . .” I was getting smiles and I didn’t want to tell her anything except poetry.

“Qu’est qu’il a dit?”

It was unplanned, also inspirational and a dirty-Irish-trick of which I am still proud:

“II n’est pas” (pause) “...respectueux...”

Her fury backed him up a couple of yards. “What the hell did you tell her?”

“Just what you said.”

“Screwy broads!” He stomped off.

I had an intoxicating half-hour, and the stuff of dreams.

Back to ship in time for chow. Clyde Hynes came aboard after chow to talk about old friends in Squadron Forty Tare. I had gotten the second tour in Lisbon that he had missed.

Lisbon had been a rats-nest of international intrigue and refugees. There were some astonishing links and loyalties. Our stay was during the Battle of Britain air action, and the London daily papers arrived on schedule, reporting high morale and battle successes. The refugees from London (foreigners getting out) disagreed. “England cannot last!”

People on the street wore national emblems of identification or sympathy. The street hawkers sold the emblems in colored enamel lapel buttons: a red-circled Swastika, the British Union Jack, the French Tricolor (je t’aime inscribed across the folds), the Portuguese Galleon, and most countries in or out of the war. I bought a ten-piece set for historical purposes.

Nite clubs refused to play any patriotic songs of whatever source. A barroom brawl would have been something more than a barroom brawl. We were ashore in Lisbon or Cascais regularly, and we were regularly proselytized by Germans who offered us extraordinary exchange rates on Portuguese escudos with lectures on the reasonableness of their cause and the hopelessness of resistance.

When the U.S. merchant vessels arrived to embark our nationals who had fled the Continent, it was American merchant seamen who took up the German currency deals and propaganda.

That was an astonishing revelation to me, for I could see no common interest for merchant seamen with the Nazis. My guess then was that the German-American Bund had done the organizing.

September 21st through 23rd, alongside Whitney, while the feed pumps were being welded; we cleaned boilers and performed other mechanical chores. One evening in blackjack I ran my assets up to $162 from $15. Can I hang on to this pot? Not likely, time will grind it down.

We moved away from Whitney’s side the afternoon of the 23rd. Sailing orders came during the night and I was called to light-off the plant.

One of my firemen related a story he had heard on a ship alongside the Whitney, that they had found a man’s head in their condenser. Some scary and wild stories if one can hold still to listen—the condenser strainer won’t pass a radish.

Underway at 8 for Base Roses (when we get there I will know what is Base Roses). We are escorting USS Kanawha, a tanker that I first saw moored in the Mare Island channel of San Francisco Bay. She was then a holdover from World War I.

We exchanged recognition signals with USS Stack on another escort task. At 2100 we got a radar contact on a large vessel passing on the opposite course. We tracked, but couldn’t leave our primary responsibility, our tanker. It was such a bright night that the horizon was visible—now that is a tropical moon!

September 25, 1942, at sea steaming as before escorting USS Kanawha on base course 045° True (northeast). We made radar contact with a plane at 28 miles and tracked it with main battery and the Fox Dog radar. At noon we exchanged recognition signals with USS Wharton escorted by Conyngham. We have had general quarters most of the day. Scuttlebutt has our destination to the Solomons, the tanker carrying aviation gasoline.

September 26, Saturday, at sea. Steaming as before as escort for USS Kanawha on base course 350° True, speed 11.5 knots. We are moving almost due north. Held main and torpedo battery drill at 1 a.m. Landfall at 0600. At 0915 passed through torpedo net and anchored in the natural harbor of Base Button (Espiritu Santo) New Hebrides, French and British Oceana.

A recreation party was organized, and I got ashore to walk around a bit on a tiny island in the bay. Some work is going on to clear the jungle for a recreation field. On the other side of the island was a beautiful half-moon of a beach. There was not even a foot print. I saw a lot of pristine beaches like that in the next three years through binoculars . . . I picked up some green hardwood with the expectation of converting it to a knife handle.

San Francisco was present, anchored in the stream. Some changes were visible in her silhouette, mostly weapon additions in AA machine guns. A visit at this time is out of the question because the rumor mill has us moving immediately. There were other cruisers of the Old Pac Fleet that I recognized. There was a time when any of the ships could be distinguished from the others of their class by a minor variation in silhouette, the location of the whistle or an antenna. All the major vessels were in the Pacific, so we saw them often.

September 28, anchored as before in Berth D 3 at Base Button. Ships present were cruisers and destroyers of Task Force 64, with USS Curtiss flying the flag of Commander Air South Pacific. Captain Brown visited the DesDiv 22 Commodore, for we will operate with them: USS Grayson, Gwin and Meredith.

In the afternoon we came alongside SS Gulf Bird for fuel.

I lost $40 at blackjack after evening chow . . . There it goes!

September 29, anchored as before. We are assigned to Task Force 64. Captain Brown went to San Francisco for a conference of commanding officers. I worked all day on preventive maintenance.

1630 Underway with Task Force 64: San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Boise, Helena and 8 destroyers. We commenced drills at nightfall.

September 30, 1942, at sea in company with vessels of Task Force 64. I had the midwatch and while on watch finished fashioning my sheath knife. Although the handle is very unsat, the knife will cut paper.

Before I went off watch we had reversed course and returned to Santos. As we entered port we passed Fomalhaut standing out. Our orders were to escort her to Base Cactus—one of the assignments we came to dread: one destroyer escorting resupply to Guadalcanal. When Fomalhaut cleared port we reversed course and took a screening position on her port bow. Scuttlebutt down from the ComShack had Alhena torpedoed on our track for Cactus.

October 1, at sea, steaming as before on base course 300° True (west, northwest), speed 14 knots, acting as antisub screen for USS Fomalhaut. Dawn general quarters is a lot more serious in this area—no laggards at all. At 0745 sighted and challenged two destroyers, they turned out to be DesDiv 22, Grayson and Gwin.

We exercised the main battery on radar control tracking aircraft contacts, all turned out to be friendlies on search missions. In the afternoon during a battle problem we had a transformer burn out due to a voltage surge during a power transfer practice. We have no spares, so we have no Sail George radar.

October 2, at sea, steaming as before in company with USS Fomalhaut, under temporary operational control of Commander Task Force 62. 0500 changed course to enter Lengo Channel, the southern entrance to Sealark Sound, which separates Guadalcanal from Florida Island and Tulagi. We sighted many patrolling aircraft, all friendly. Exchanged recognition signals with the Navy Signal Station on Guadalcanal. We took station to seaward of Fomalhaut when she stood close in to Lunga Point. 0810 Fomalhaut commenced unloading into small boats from the shore. At 1230 a Condition Yellow signal went out over the tactical radio net, and by flag hoists.

We went to battle stations, then Condition Red was declared.

Chief Freeman slid down the vertical ladder to the after fireroom: “Puff-puff, a whole squadron!” He was pale as a man can get while standing; as I couldn’t see myself, it can be assumed my color was the same.

I had been crouched in No. 5 forced-draft blower compartment refitting a hot-running sleeve bearing. The bearing cap had been removed; an out-of-service blower constituted 1/8 of our power. I had to stay with it, so I nervously blued a half-bearing and studied the high spots for scraping. The main battery commenced firing: “BLAM-BLAM-BLAM-BLAM.”

I scraped another spot and a blue bearing chip of babbit came up. Geez, too deep . . . Blue it again and see. The ship heeled over in a high-speed turn.

I blued the bearing half again and exuded mental and physical sweat. I was baffled to see that the bearing surface had widened almost to minimum specifications of 65%. One more time while the ship careened around the sound. I was barely aware of the hot air leaking back through the leaky dampers of the boiler casing. When I climbed out after buttoning up, the fireroom air felt like it was refrigerated.

After securing from general quarters and after testing the bearing, I went to learn about the action from Settler and Moynihan. Settler’s battle station was at the decoding machine; Moynihan’s on the bridge. The raid had been intercepted high and those we had fired on were out-of-range spotters. He we been kept informed, our nerves might have been spared unnecessary strain. Ira Allen said it: “My puckering string could have pinched off a ten-penny nail!”

So that was our relatively benign welcome to Guadalcanal. Benign and Guadalcanal will never be together again.