Imperiled Rocks
October 3rd to October 31st, 1942

Savo Island is literally a rock; the Hard Places are the surrounding seas.

October 3, 1942, Saturday. Underway with Fomalhaut in Sealark Sound all night. Dawn alert came at 0500 to 0600. With combat air patrol overhead, we moved in to the unloading area with Fomalhaut. Our station was to seaward as anti-submarine screen and anti-aircraft protection. However, air defense requires sea room to maneuver. When enemy aircraft appear, the ship has to move rapidly to deep water, and then bend on some speed.

I had just gotten off watch at 1145 when Red Alert came from Guadalcanal Signal Station. The incoming enemy air were horizontal bombers, so they were not after ships, and couldn’t hit one except by chance. The raid was on the airstrip, Henderson Field. Our fighter cover intercepted directly overhead, and we picked up a Lt. Frazier, USMC, who had parachuted from his damaged plane. He was fished out of the water unhurt, or at least walking.

I had the second dogwatch 6 to 8, but we went to battle stations at seven until midnight. During the evening, as the twilight made visibility against the jungle background misleading, Grayson joined the protective screen. Seems we lost Fomalhaut. She had gotten underway and stood down-channel without escort or the knowledge of her protectors. She was missing until located visually five miles down-channel.

October 4, Sunday. Patrolling Sealark Sound. We went to general quarters at 0230 until 0700. We kept to the south end of the sound with our supply ship. It was common practice to go south fifty or so miles during the night, and time the return to be at the unloading point (Lunga Point) at daylight. During the night, ship sightings and exchange of recognition signals keep the watch on their toes.

During the day, I slept on deck despite the heat; I had a sandwich instead of a meal. Just waiting for tropical acclimatization to set in. After two or three weeks, I can feel the change in my body, accepting the difference. Ninety degrees begins to feel like eighty; one hundred degrees is only uncomfortable if you understand the principle of refrigeration and wear enough clothing to hold the perspiration. After a short period, your body prefers less and lighter food.

Went on watch at 1600 and with the combination of watch and battle stations, was in the plant until 2300.

October 5, at sea screening Fomalhaut in company with Grayson, steering southeasterly. Dawn alert at 0515 to 0615. Grayson, joined now by Gwin, left formation to conduct sonar search ahead. Our radar went out during dawn alert and some technicians began to sweat over the problem.

We held torpedo control drill and test fired all guns.

I had the first dogwatch, 1600 to 1800.

October 6, at sea screening Fomalhaut enroute to Nouméa, New Caledonia.

October 7, Wednesday, at sea. On the midwatch until 0400.
Dawn alert 5 to 6. No sleep. Battle problem at 0930. We test-fired with starshell ammunition based upon a report that there was a high percentage of duds. Yes, indeed! Sixty starshell projectiles failed to ignite. We held a drill covering destruction of confidential books and correspondence. In the afternoon, AA machine guns were tested.

October 8, Thursday, at sea. I had the midwatch, and stayed up for the dawn alert from 5 to 6. We entered the channel to Dumbea Bay, New Caledonia. ComSoPac authorized 12 hours availability, so we worked all day on No. 3 boiler to get the leaks squared away. Late in the evening, on the chance that I’d get all night in, I wrote some letters and one to Miss Beatty, a teacher I admired at Bryant Jr. High School.

October 9, Friday, at anchor Dumbea Bay, New Caledonia. Up at 0400. Underway at 0500 to fuel ship from USS Tappahannock. We have been assigned to Task Group 62.6, OTC in McCawley. My all-night-in was shortened by four hours.

1430 Underway ahead of the heavy vessels, accompanied by Sterett to make a sound search to seaward. We were followed by the troop transports McCawley and Zeilin, destroyers Trever, Hopkins, Zane, Hovey, Southard, Gwin. Before I went on watch at 2000 we had changed course to north of northwest—going back to Cactus, Guadalcanal.

October 10, Saturday, at sea, steaming as before on base course 305° True in company with vessels of TG 62.6. I was up for dawn alert and got no sleep before the 0800 to 1200 watch. I missed noon chow in favor of sleep, so I crapped out on deck until general quarters for exercises at 1400.

The transports have the 164th Infantry, U.S. Army, embarked.

We tested the main battery during the day. On watch 20 to 2400.

October 11, Sunday, at sea. Steaming as before in company with vessels of TG 62.6. Dawn alert 05 to 0600. During the forenoon, we encountered destroyers Hopkins, Zane and Trever, who joined the screen, Hopkins screen commander. We passed TG 17.8, Washington, Atlanta, Walke and Benham. In the afternoon, Gwin joined the screen.

October 12, Monday, at sea steaming as before in company with vessels of TG 62.6. At 0550 went to dawn alert for one hour. Captain gave a talk over the 21MC: attack disposition and all that jazz. Had the 08 to 1200 watch and the second dogwatch, in the rack at nine for two hours sleep.

October 13, 1942, Tuesday, at sea steaming as before in company with vessels of TG 62.6. The 164th Infantry embarked in the transports was our primary mission—a safe delivery to Guadalcanal. Proceeded into Indispensable Strait during the midwatch and at 0300 entered Lengo Channel with all hands at general quarters, for we didn’t know whose ships were in the sound. At 0510, the transports proceeded to unloading stations; screening destroyers took up screening stations on a 3-mile arc. Hovey and Southard were sent to look for survivors of the surface action of the night before [the Battle of Cape Esperance], north of Savo Island.

After a surface action, several hundred men are in the water. Our survivors may float among the enemy survivors or the reverse. Calling out to a life-jacked survivor in the dark can be hazardous.

The morning of the 13th of October, I noted the phenomenon of how long a Japanese flat hat floats. They were visible for days after a surface action. Our white hats soak up water, and then are gone.

At 1140 got advance warning of impending air raid, and went to general quarters. We hear a lot about the Aussie coastwatchers who give us these early warnings. They are hidden in the jungles of the island chain all the way up to Rabaul with good radio equipment and lots of guts. Jap bases are so situated that surface or air forces pass one or more of those islands when they raid southward. I often wondered, when advance warnings were received, why the enemy did not make a hull-down seaward detour on a raiding foray. The coastwatcher warnings gave us time, and considering our weaknesses, indispensable time.

At 1315, the planes came over from a bearing 315° True, 22 horizontal bombers. All ships firing at maximum range, they stayed high because the target was Henderson Field. We fired 44 rounds of 5-inch in just about 3 minutes. 1330 Secured from general quarters. 1350 Another Red Alert, all ships and all hands to general quarters. Five minutes later radar and visual, we sighted 14 two-motored bombers, distance 10 miles. All ships opened fire. One plane was shot down, but no one could claim it with all the black puffs of AA bursts. The U.S. Army got the standard introduction to Cactus.

At 1830 when the transports had unloaded, a field piece opened fire on them from the area of Santa Cruz Point [Point Cruz]. The enemy must have spent the whole day muscling that piece up close enough to fire. Shell bursts were very close to the transports. We went to general quarters and opened fire on the area. Gwin and Sterett joined in, firing on the same target. The gun went silent—dead or discouraged.

At 2000, the transports were clear of the beach. The TG column preceded by minesweeper destroyers passed through Lengo Channel southward. We went to general quarters during the passage and stayed at GQ: Jap air activity all around, dropping flares and keeping track of the ships. This may have meant they had forces in position to intercept, or merely an effort to make us believe that.

Southard and Hovey and had picked up about 100 Jap survivors above Savo Island. Our own men were picked up earlier by small craft. The sound carried a lot of debris today in addition to Jap flathats. When a ship is blown apart, there are lots of things in it that float. When I left the plant about midnight to get some sleep, I could hear the rolling thunder of gunfire to the northward and the flashes of light from gun muzzles, out of sync due to the 25-mile distance . . . Had we been close enough the flying projectiles would have been visible, arcing through their parabolic course. I was too tired to watch, and hit the sack somewhat numb.

October 14, at sea, steaming as before in position astern of the units proceeding southward through Indispensable Straight. On watch 04 to 0800, dawn alert came during the watch and cost nothing extra.

At 0900 we were ordered to join a task unit and to return to Guadalcanal in their support. We rendezvoused at sea with Bellatrix and Alchiba—each towing a PAB barge—Jamestown (a tender), fleet tug Vireo and destroyer Meredith. The PAB barges were loaded with barrels of aviation gasoline and 500 Ib. bombs in cradles. This the cheapest and slowest way to resupply—is it the best we can do?

From 1600 to 1845 we steamed north at 10 knots toward Cactus, speed limited by the barges. Then orders came to reverse course due to concentrated enemy activity at Guadalcanal’s Sealark Sound.

October 15, steaming as before in company with vessels of TU 62.4.5, base course 140° True, speed 9.5 knots. On watch 04 to 0800. Battle stations frequently in the forenoon. We received a dispatch from ComSoPac to resound our fuel tanks for an accurate fuel report, emphasized. The service tanks being always in use, their level changed rapidly. I put in the exact time of that sounding. I never learned whether we had more or less fuel than Meredith, but ComSoPac made the assignments based upon the fuel report.

The Task Unit was being shadowed by long-range floatplanes, and that meant we were considered an important target. If split, the enemy would have to find both, but that was only a small dilemma.

Bellatrix transferred a barge to Vireo. Since we have the air-search radar, we advise the OTC in Bellatrix. We went to battle stations at 1000 and stayed there. With all the scouting aircraft watching us out-of-range, we expected attack at any time. One of these scouts, a floatplane of long range, tried to sneak in and he just missed with a small bomb. He got away because we missed too. A friendly transport passing over failed to show his IFF; we threw five rounds at him until he woke up.

The OTC ordered Alchiba to cast off her barge tow, to be picked up later (if it can be found afloat).

For a hundred miles’ radius, reports were coming in of enemy air activity. Nicholas was the principal air and submarine defense of the tiny task unit, and the scout planes sat up there out-of-range passing our location along to the attack elements.

At 1630 a lookout spotted five Jap dive bombers coming in from directly ahead. Two dove on each transport; the fifth chose Nicholas . . . He missed, and we missed. His bomb hit the water 100 feet abeam while we were in a high-speed, tight turn. Unlike me with a blower wheel handhold, the firemen were staggered off their feet when the bomb blast shook the ship.

We secured from general quarters after sunset, having spent the whole day on battle stations. Someone has to take his regular watch now, but not lucky me . . . I’ve got four hours off.

October 16, at sea, steaming as before on base course 150° True (away from Cactus) in company with the remaining vessels of TU 62. 4.5, consisting of Bellatrix (OTC), Alchiba, Jamestown and Nicholas as escort.

I had the midwatch that moonless night and we were boosting the standby boiler, ready for instant use. We had surface ships on radar 8 miles astern of us—astern because upon contact we had turned away from them. A caution came down from the bridge to be especially careful of lights or noise. This was the moment for Joe Smith to be telling a long story, forgetting the fire under the boosting boiler. The safeties lifted with what I thought to be the loudest noise I ever heard. I doused the fires before he could turn around. We all then waited, frozen, for the crash of gunfire at a plume of steam that marked a target an easy 16,000 yard range. When 10 minutes passed, we then had to worry about the Old Man—he never fired on us either.

Dawn alert kept me up until 0600. Then I slept until noon.

We went to battle stations at 12 to run down a submarine contact. Back on watch at 1200 to 1600, and used that time to do some preventive maintenance, which took three hours after my watch.

Word came down that Meredith and Seminole* had been sunk a few miles away by overwhelming numbers of dive bombers. I don’t know why we were selected by only five planes—if it was divergence or distance. And I remembered that fuel report!

I slept a full four hours before the midwatch.

October 17, at sea, steaming as before in company with vessels of TU 62.4.5. After my midwatch, I stayed up to read until dawn alert. We passed and exchanged recognition signals with USS Macdonough before passing into the harbor at Espiritu Santo.

We got an urgent message to fuel from Lackawanna. USS Manley came alongside to fuel also. I didn’t see Clyde Hynes. We then towed Ballard from alongside Curtiss and began to furnish vital power services because she had received a 5-inch shell hit in her engine room. That blasted everything.

We took on ammunition from a barge . . . Got orders to get underway and attack unidentified vessel reported 18 miles to seaward.

Cancelled. Mistake in recognition signals.

October 18, at anchor Espiritu Santo Island, French and British Oceana. We towed Ballard back alongside Curtiss.

The word came down that Admiral Halsey has relieved Admiral Ghormley as ComSoPacFor.

We went swimming in the afternoon from the ship. I don’t think Admiral Halsey had anything to do with that. It was nice!

Late in the afternoon we were posted to the sound listening station at the harbor entrance, sonarmen on the job.

After working hours I wrote letters, a couple to friends in Bath, one of whom was Nellie. I asked her to find the incredible 14-year-old girl in Bath who had read Plutarch and Machiavelli. Could she write like she talked? I wanted to know. She had come to my booth in the Lobster Claw Restaurant, and she told me that she wanted to talk to someone who understood what she wanted to talk about, having overheard another conversation.

The next Saturday, she came over to Nellie’s and borrowed my Beard’s American Government and Politics. In two days she had read it and could remember what she had read. The tiny baby-face talked like Will Durant . . . I wondered how her teachers fared.

But she never wrote to me, and I regret it.

October 19, Monday. Anchored as before in Segond Channel, Western, on sound listening duty.

The Old Settler met me at the rail carrying a CPO coffee cup; since he issued the stores he just took privileges. I had to warp my conscience by stealing . . . His eyes crinkled, and he said, “I knew that shooting down all them cocoanuts on Guadalcanal would make Tojo mad.” He wagged his head as though someone had failed to ask his advice. “For a while there, I thought he was going to make us come back and pick ’em up!”

Around noon the atmosphere went electric. Even without a spoken word, momentous news creates its own energy. If it is hurry, risky—where else?

We got underway at 1230 to go alongside USS Kopara. The captain called on ComDesRon 12 in Aaron Ward. At 1600 we sortied with Jamestown and Kopara. The urgent cargo was torpedoes and miscellaneous supplies for Guadalcanal. Passed and exchanged recognition signals with USS Fletcher, another new 2100-ton destroyer just arrived.

I stood the 20 to 2400 watch, and then started a new book, Jubal Troop.

October 20, 1942, at sea, steaming as before in company with vessels of TU 62.4.7. Dawn alert came at 0530 for an hour. General quarters for exercises were held 1300 to 1400.

Today my ear fungus infection became inflamed, and I began to run a fever. I had been treating it with an alcohol swab since ‘37 after catching the infection in the old channel of the Panama Canal, in swimming. Itzin offered to take my watch, which was very generous for it would give him eight hours straight. I declined.

We made radar contact with and challenged Task Force 64. They were proceeding in the opposite direction.

October 21, 1942, at sea, steaming as before on base course 304° True at formation speed of 10 knots. Dawn alert came at 0445 to 0545. We held drills all day. Abandon ship drill was gone over very carefully. Sailors have a lot of different survival concepts, but Rooney, torpedoman first class, had the most elaborate. He had constructed a sheet-copper box with grips to fit a gunbelt. The box was soldered closed. His knife and .45 automatic were in watertight covers. On the left of his gunbelt was a canteen with enough air space to remain buoyant. He would tell no one what was in the copper box, but it was weighty. There was some admiration and a lot of heavy jokes about his gear. “That box looks just like a fish lure, and sharks are fish!”

1730 Made a landfall, sighting San Cristobal Island at 18 miles. We can expect a lot of time at battle stations from here on. We made a few radar contacts, but all showed IFF, the electronic Identification-Friend-or-Foe.

Collectively and individually the sailors acquired survivor instincts by whatever means they could. Senses got tuned into anything that would provide a head-start on fate. He was always watching for clues: a glance toward the sun lest the lookout was laggard for a moment, then a glance at the rotating air-search antenna, Sail Charlie.

When the Sail Charlie antenna stopped rotating to back up and focus, every puckering string topside took a tuck, conversation ceased and eyes watched it anxiously; then followed along the angle of its train for a visual check. The moment of stop and focus was an anxious moment, relieved only by a return to normal rotation.

October 22, 1942, steaming as before with vessels of TU 62.4.7.

At 0100 started up Indispensable Strait headed for Sealark Sound. All hands at general quarters to enter Sealark Sound.

Jamestown proceeded to Tulagi; Kopara went to the unloading area off Lunga Point. We patrolled at a speed consistent with sonar search and prepared for air defense. Three Marine officers came aboard with directions from the Commanding General to bombard some enemy positions to the west of the Marine lines. So we made four firing runs, east and west, at the Japanese breakfast time; we fired over 1000 rounds into their positions. The Marines left the ship at 1030.

Shortly after, shellfire was spotted impacting in the unloading area, so Kopara got underway to get out of range. We were about to take the enemy battery under fire when we got a message from the Signal Station of impending air attack. 1130 Went to battle stations and got ready for high speed. 1230 Enemy planes overhead. 1314 Opened fire on enemy plane passing parallel at 7000 yards. 1322 Three dive bombers dove on us; we were in high speed S-curve as they released the bombs. Two bombs hit the water close aboard, about 50 yards. 1345 All clear came from the Signal Station. We got unconfirmed credit for one plane shot down, having cost the tax payer 74 5-inch rounds and a lot more 1.1” and 20 mm ammo. At 1420 Jap shore batteries opened fire again on Kopara. We moved in and bombarded the area of the enemy battery with 200 rounds of 5-inch. Gunfire coming out of the jungle is hard to pinpoint as to exact location. They didn’t fire again. We secured from battle stations at 1530.

We took aboard 12 walking patients for transfer to a rear base hospital. To me, a walking patient is suspect. He can confuse the doctors but he cannot fool a shipmate. His selfish choice is not to bear any burden—it is contemptible anytime, more so in war.

Underway, and I noted that we were leading Kopara southward in Sealark Sound. Toward Santos is like toward home.

October 23, 1942, at sea, steaming as before this vessel screening ahead of Kopara. I had the 04 to 0800 watch, which included dawn alert.

A few days back I did something foolish. Having to repair a superheater thermometer-well leak, I got impatient with the rate of cooling to remove the steam pressure. The thermometer was located behind a steam line expansion bend and had to be reached from above like a street manhole, and similarly confined. What’s 1½ pounds of steam pressure? It filled the space I occupied instantly. The hand burn was enough to change the skin color but not enough to peel. Instant learning for a slow mind!

When it is contemplated that the watch is surrounded with 600 pounds-per-square-inch of high-temperature steam that is released by any kind of a hit, even a pistol round ... . That makes me exceedingly nervous, enough so I’ll have to work on my mental attitude again.

General quarters at 1015, but they were five friendlies. They forgot until we scrambled to air defense and were training guns on them.

On watch 16 to 2000. Showered and hit the sack.

Learned from Chief Pharmacist’s Mate Dunn that the walking patients that we are transferring to base have the new bug-out malady, “battle fatigue.” I asked him because I had some tough talkers among them.

October 24, 1942, at sea, steaming as before in company with Kopara on course 176° True, speed 11.5 knots. 0450 Dawn alert, but I was already on watch.

We held old fashioned “field day” throughout the ship. We don’t get any cleaning done in the disputed area due to full time on watches of one kind or another.

Off watch, took down my irregular French verbs and contested with my memory.

We transferred our “battle fatigues” to Kopara. Safely back home they will be in full sway, and will tell it like it never was.

In the afternoon we received a dispatch from Admiral Halsey to free Kopara and join Task Force 64, which is already at sea. TF 64 is an offensive fighting force, rather than escort duty. Now there is lots of speculation and scuttlebutt, none from the right source: the decoding room.

October 25, 1942, steaming as before singly, proceeding to a rendezvous with TF 64. Went to dawn alert at 0515 to 0600. 0700 Sighted ships of TF 64 bearing 010 True, was directed to take station astern.

I was sleeping when the alarm sounded Fire & Rescue. We had collided with Washington while delivering guard mail. Some minor damage—minor means not having to go back for repairs.

The force is being shadowed by planes, all enemy, which keep us in sight and know our course and purpose, no doubt. We went to general quarters while the lead destroyers tried to bring down a snooper aircraft. We could see the black puffs but no fiery hit.

I overheard Ensign Mitchell say that we would sandbag the enemy bombardment group tonight. Then what are their float-plane scouts doing? Busted radios?

We had circled southwest of Guadalcanal and were approaching Cape Esperance from the south, timed to pass between Savo Island and Cape Esperance at the mid-point of darkness. If their bombardment of Henderson Field and the Marine lines was scheduled we would hit them with surprise. What I had seen and heard excluded surprise.

I was on Condition II watch until 1600. When I came topside, there was an overcast and a moderate breeze. It was like a cooling, cleansing shower. The mental atmosphere was different, faces were drawn and contemplative. I forgot myself in observation. A machinist’s mate caught my arm as I walked aft. (He had been in Bath on the fitting-out detail, and he had made some belligerent statements: “I came back in the Navy to fight, not to go to school!) He now looked earnestly into my eyes, “How much more do they think we can take?” Well, measured against history, we can and will take a lot more.

Nothing had really happened yet. This night seemed to have the elements that separated fortitude from bluster. The sailors gathered in small groups or alone. I watched Eddy, our special case, who was alone; his recent behavior had gotten more and more withdrawn. He looked at the eastern horizon and his face seemed to thin and sag as I watched. Sitting on a bitt was a big boy whose hefty voice conveyed his certainty on any subject. This dangerous stuff was not for him, it seemed: “I’ll get off this ship, just watch me!” (His method: he quit eating. The Doc transferred Eddy and his starving shipmate in the same boat two weeks later.)

Another pair was leaning on the life line gazing at the foaming wake. I overheard, “You know, it’s been three months since I’ve had a Coke!” It occurred to me then that not everyone thinks of girls all the time.

The sky lowered and darkened, but there was no squall line. A heavy, grey swell ran parallel to our line of march, and the dark shapes of Task Force 64 rolled to the swell and sped toward the blackened eastern horizon: Washington, San Francisco, Helena, Atlanta, Laffey, Walke, Fletcher, Benham, Lansdowne, Lardner, Buchanan, McCalla, Aaron Ward and Nicholas.

At 1730 the Force was ordered to battle stations by the OTC. Ships’ dispositions changed from circular to columns. We were assigned to No. 5 position in the van column, for we had ten torpedoes and a half-reload. (Should there be a torpedo attack, our turnaway would be about 50 seconds after their searchlights came on—but I didn’t know that then.)

The forward fireroom battle watch was cleaning burners and double-checking Condition Able valves, door and hatch closures when Captain Brown’s voice came on the 21MC speakers.

It was a self-conscious talk. He listed weapons and vessels we might face. His talk was a form of being up-front on the issue. I would have preferred, as we did six months later, to have been listening to the tactical radio net. But while Brown was aboard, we were in-the-dark as to everything that was happening.

Washington and the cruisers launched spotter aircraft at 2100. We waited, incommunicado. The 21MC was silent. I hung on my blower throttles waiting for signs of impending battle. Nothing was conveyed until midnight ...

The bridge rang up Flank Speed, and we complied with roaring fires and howling machinery.

I knew what the speed was for. We raced through the strait between Savo and Cape Esperance: speed is the way into action, or escape. I watched the clock for a clue, and when we made a high-speed turn at twenty-minutes-into-the-run, and no guns fired, my guesses had too many ifs to follow. Then I gripped the aluminum blowers handwheel and waited.

In the historical record, Task Force 64 stormed into Sealark Sound and found no enemy vessels, then sped northward in The Slot for two hours and saw nothing but the shadowing float planes on the air-search radar.

October 26, Monday, steaming as before in battle formation with vessels of TF 64; the ship is at general quarters. At 0330 we secured from general quarters. I got into the sack and stayed until noon. When I staggered toward the washroom the sign said there would be no water until the distilling plant was repaired. We have more water more regularly than all the four-pipers, which makes me uncritical.

We fueled underway from San Francisco. I saw old friends and shipmates manning the fueling stations of San Francisco and others hanging over the life lines. I had left San Francisco in January ‘38, five years back. I asked the Oil King, Bories, if “Shakey” Morris was still the ship’s tailor. “He’s long-gone... We’ve got a new tailor that’s never seen a horse race.”

« « «

In the thirties we used to gather in Borie’s oil shack where the fuel and water were continuously monitored and tested, and we’d drink coffee and tell sea stories. One night the subject was Shakey Morris, who made extra money as the ship’s tailor but lost it on the ponies. He didn’t drink yet but his skills, despite his shaking hands, were something to watch, especially when he was using his razor-sharp knife to open a seam or de-stripe a dress jumper for restriping.

“The guy works like a musician; he tunes the jumper collar to the shake of his right hand, pull, shake-and-cut, a sewing machine in reverse!”

The other Morris spoke up—Clair Morris, a short, pugnacious fireman who loved to put me into fisticuff contests with total strangers:

“Shakey’s the only man I ever saw can thread a sewing machine while it’s running!”

« « «

October 27, Tuesday, steaming as before in company with vessels of Task Force 64 on base course 135° True, speed 18 knots. The Force is divided into two columns within sight of each other.

I had the midwatch. Just about relief time some torpedo tracks were sighted, aimed at Washington. So we went to general quarters and a sound search and found nothing.

I stayed up until dawn alert at 0500. Another torpedo track was seen passing astern of Washington. The sea is up and life lines have been rigged fore and aft to aid in holding on to the pitching and rolling ship. Topside traffic has been prohibited except to relieve the watch.

Women seem very far away.

October 28, Wednesday, steaming as before in company with vessels of TF 64 on base course 155° True, speed 18 knots. OTC is in San Francisco. Ships were ordered to return to base due to submarine concentration where we had intended to fuel from fleet tankers.

General quarters for battle problems during the afternoon.

On watch 20 to 2400. I swapped my Fireman Joe Smith to Hiadukewitch for his Fireman Jim Sheehan. What a bargain! Sheehan is an old navyman returned for the war, and he talks politics way over Duke’s head, which drives him nuts. Jim Sheehan just loves to talk, and he is competent.

October 29th, Thursday, steaming as before in company with Washington and Lansdowne, speed 20 knots. Stood both 8 to 12 watches and went to bed without a bath, again. Our distilling plant was a relatively dependable modern system as compared to the four-piper destroyers and cruisers. In Nicholas we had fresh water showers—note the plural (four) for three-hundred men. In Omaha there were two for five hundred fifty men, plus five spigots with which fill your bathing and scrub bucket. Some water-saving genius ordered spigots plugged with a lead slug and drilled out with a 1/8” hole to limit the water flow. I don’t know how that was supposed to save water. as it took three times as long for a bucket to fill up the day’s water allowance. Time to reflect and feel guilty? That was no obstacle to the engineers...

« « «

A scrub bucket in a four-piper washroom was heated by holding it under a ¼-inch branch steam line. Opening the steam valve on the line would provide boiling water, if it was desired, in seconds. That branch line originated in the engine room 150 feet away; the key to our practiced water caper was the ship’s service steam-root-valve located in the aft engine room.

One night Ralph Auten, Nels Granzella and a couple of other larcenous characters with us planned to bathe and scrub clothes after taps when all the spigots were padlocked, but the washroom was unencumbered by fifty other naked bodies. Forty minutes ahead of time I called the engine room, Horse Pablos was on watch:

“Close the root valve, Horse!”


We brought our own buckets, and borrowed others. We were scrubbing skivvies in the legal water drawn from the master-at-arms earlier in the day, confident that when through we’d have a leisurely bucket bath with lots of rinse water on call. When the root valve was reopened we’d have all the fresh condensate from the whole steam line.

Redheaded Seaman Sam French- entered the washroom carrying a brimming bucket, announcing that he’d saved his water ration for two days so he could have enough just once. “Stick around, Sam, I’ll show you how to always have enough just because you belong to The Squad.”

“No un-legals for me,” Sam said. “When my court-martial fine is paid off I’m gonna buy me some new dress blues and some new white hats, and I’m gonna look only at uptown-flatpeter . . . just like Joe Mot.”

I was watching Sam’s happy gabble in the mirror while I sloshed and scrubbed on a skivvy shirt. Sam fitted his brimming bucket to the steam line for scalding. The steam pipe, by now cooled off, was in a vacuum.

“Wait, Sam!” I hollered.

Too late. There was a whoosh, then a kissing, sucking noise as Sam’s bucket emptied up into the pipes running overhead. Sam’s eyes followed where the pipe went through and beyond the bulkhead. His face paled, his eyes were pained, grief-stricken. His mouth shaped a brave grin while his heart cried out:

“They gives it to you then they takes it away . . . T\the scientific sons-of-bitches!”

« « «

October 30, Friday, steaming as before in company with USS Washington and Lansdowne, proceeding towards White Poppy (Nouméa).

Moored alongside USS Argonne (repair ship and Admiral Halsey’s flagship) in the forenoon watch.

Various ships of Task Force 61 were standing in from an engagement with Jap Forces off Santa Cruz Islands. One that came alongside Argonne was the 5-inch cruiser, San Juan, I knew that Stevens, a first class from Omaha was on board, so I went over to visit. He showed me a dud-bomb hit they had received from a dive bomber. The ship had been heeled over in a high-speed turn, the bomb pierced the shaft alley through the outer hull without exploding.

The thought occurred to me that our current concern was technical, now as before, about the bomb, and in Omaha it most likely would have been the twenty-year-old Westinghouse air compressor. A different ocean, a different problem—all part of the drill. You do what you are paid to do without soaring bullshit.

Worked on No. 3 boiler until nine-thirty that night.

October 31, Saturday. Moored as before to starboard side of USS Argonne in inner harbor, Great Roads, Nouméa, N.C.


Loaded 5-inch ammunition delivered from USS Lassen. I worked in the plant until after midnight. While going aft to sleep I ran into a crap game. After a little while with my diminished wad, I got it back up to $150. <

* Vireo, not Seminole, was in company with Meredith and was initially abandoned but not sunk. Seminole, with Grayson, rescued 63 survivors three days later.