March 1, 1943, steaming as before with vessels of Task Force 68, Wichita OTC. We are keeping clear of the search radius of enemy air in order to effect surprise.
Drills and work filled the whole day.
March 2, 1943, steaming as before with vessels of Task Force 68. I got off watch at midnight and read until 0200. Too much rain to sleep topside, so I read and sweated, then slept and sweated in my bunk.
After the forenoon watch we got to work on a leaking economizer. We had to shift boilers to work on it, and that made it hot work. I had some spare nipples, and when these were changed the boiler held water pressure at acceptable limits. Took six hours to do it.
A bombardment had been scheduled for tonight, but was postponed. The weather has apparently socked it in.
March 3, 1943, Wednesday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Force 68.
We refueled from Cleveland in the forenoon. I stood two watches, morning and evening. There was nothing broken down, so we are taking in the slack.
March 4, 1943, Thursday, at sea in company with vessels of Task Force 68.
In the forenoon we stood in to Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo and fueled alongside USS Sabine. We took on stores from boats and immediately put to sea again with vessels of Task Force 68; we are steering back toward the arena.
While we were alongside the tanker I bade goodbye and good luck to Sonarman Petty who has gotten assigned to Naval Academy Prep. School.
March 5, 1943, Friday. Steaming as before with vessels of Task Force 68. Passed through Lengo Channel into Sealark Sound between Guadalcanal and Tulagi. We stayed at general quarters while passing through the sound, and continued up the “Slot” toward Munda.
At two minutes before midnight we went to battle stations.
March 6, 1943, Saturday. Steaming at general quarters with Task Group 68.3 on bombardment mission (heavy vessels remained in deep water): Nicholas, Fletcher, O’Bannon and Radford. We opened fire at the apex of the turn and fired for ten minutes in salvos. The squadron retired at high speed back south through the “Slot.” We expended 470 rounds of 5-inch projectiles. At daylight we secured from battle stations.
At 0830 we entered Purvis Bay at Tulagi and fueled from Erskine Phelps, then moved to anchor in Berth 82, Tulagi Harbor.
I crapped out under No. 1 gun after having been on battle station 12 hours, and the fueling period afterward.
1330 Condition Red over Guadalcanal, but the planes didn’t come near us. I got some sleep between 1600 to 1730, before my watch started. We went to battle stations again 1830 to 1930.
March 7, 1943, Sunday, steaming in company with Task Force 68. Had the midwatch worked on a leaking steam line. It was a flange, and possibly another result from the February 1st stampede to full power. Whatever, the erosion is filed out and the flange is refaced and polished. With a new high pressure gasket it’s as good as new.
Except for the dawn alert of one hour, slept the morning watch.
The communicators say that Denver and Conway caught a bomb hit during the night Friday. The way the snoopers drop small bombs they were bound to get lucky. The shellfire during bombardment comes close, too.
Off watch until 2330, for I have the mid.
March 8, Monday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Force 68, base course 110° True. After the midwatch I slept on deck through some intermittent rains. It was moonless, so air harassment was not likely.
I remembered again and puzzled over the De Haven survivor who was lying near to Old Settler on deck, February 1st. He had talked cheerfully and animatedly with us, then for reasons known only to himself, he began to cry like a child. I had had no idea of the extent of his wounds, but there was nothing like a twisted limb . . .
March 9, 1943, Tuesday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Force 68.
In the morning watch we entered Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo. The Force took turns fueling alongside SS Flagship. The double-damned old hose broke while in the Nicholas fuel trunk. We had a nasty mess to clean up.
We moored in the stream alongside Radford and Aaron Ward. When USS Pyro’s sides were clear we went alongside to replenish ammunition until midnight.
No. 1 boiler needed attention so I had a gang on it until ten p.m.
March 10, 1943, Wednesday. We moved from Pyro to nest alongside Radford. We worked all day in the plant, then got a shot at a recreation party.
The shore-based people at Santos had cleared the ball diamonds from the jungle. We were issued two beer tickets (as a ration); we bought the tickets. I sat on a tree stump and enjoyed the beer, clutching both bottles lest some desperate sailor commit an offense against his conscience in favor of his stomach.
Back at the ship we had a bad movie, but somehow I saw it through.
March 11, 1943, Thursday. At anchor Espiritu Santo. Worked all day on preventive maintenance of pumps and boilers. We got harbor defense patrol, so we got underway at 1830 to protect the entrance.
Lavender brought me a letter from Furman Fox’s widow. He knew her; I had never met her. A line in her letter, “ . . . so soon after he left!” came the incomplete telegram. She wanted to hear it from someone she knew or someone she trusted. Would I write it for him? He would sign it.
After consulting together, I wrote it with the tone we agreed upon. He took it to the wardroom to have it censored for mailing.
When he returned he said it had been criticized as too business-like. “Well, all the critic had to do was unlimber his pen and replace it,” I told him.
Lavender smiled his little smile.
March 12, 1943, Friday. On patrol in the approaches to Segond Channel. We were relieved on station. We entered the harbor and fueled alongside Neosho, then moored alongside Radford and Aaron Ward.
Exercised at battle stations from 2200 to 2300, fired illumination exercises. We still have dud starshells.
March 13, 1943, Saturday, steaming company with vessels of Task Force 18, composed of Honolulu, St. Louis and Nashville and screened by DesRon 21 of seven destroyers, our largest assembly of the Squadron so far. We have always been scattered on differing assignments.
The Task Force number keeps changing between 68 and 18, or 67 and 17.
I had the morning watch, then napped and read until 1600, a whole day of loafing, which I can handle without a belly-ache.
March 14, 1943, Sunday, steaming in company with Task Force 67.
At noon Task Group 67.6 was detached, consisting of Nicholas, OTC, Radford, Strong and Taylor. We are going to bombard Munda again. Since we are now expected, the heavy vessels are not to be risked.
Exercised at battle stations.
I had the first dogwatch, then a shower and to the sack. Up at 2330 for the midwatch.
March 15, 1943, Monday. Steaming on base course 230° True with Task Group 67.6.
At 0800 entered Lengo Channel. At 1000 we entered Tulagi Harbor and went alongside XYO 144, Erskine M. Phelps for fuel.
Underway at 1645 for Munda, up the “Slot” again. The ship’s company must be hunkering down for there is less moaning. We left Savo Island behind at 1900, then speeded up to 27 knots (perhaps) to fool the snooper aircraft about arrival time, the only surprise we can effect.
2130 Sighted New Georgia Island, distant 25 miles.
I slept on deck until 2330.
March 16, 1943, Tuesday. Steaming in company with DesRon 21 as Task Group 18.6 (changed again from 67). We went to battle stations at 0030 with full boiler power.
0200 We commenced firing at Japanese positions on Vila Plantation, Kolombangara Island. 0208 Ceased firing, 492 rounds expended of 5-inch projectiles.
At 0215 we went to full power. Aircraft began to follow us. A flare dropped to starboard quarter at 0430 and another at 0433. We waited for the bombs, but they were either not dropped or didn’t explode in contact with the water.
By 0600 we were back within range of friendly air and in daylight. We secured from battle stations upon reaching Sealark Sound.
A very few weeks ago Sealark was hostile and disputed territory. This morning it could have been called home, with fuel, stores and air support close by. Let’s continue to say relatively home; events have a way of reversing.
Lavender relieved me at 0730 and I crapped out on the communications platform. Good Ol’ Lavender, never late to relieve!
Back on watch at noon to 1600. We rejoined Task Force 18, Honolulu, Nashville and St. Louis, which adds gun power for our air defense.
March 17, 1943, Wednesday, steaming in company with Task Force 18.
I had the midwatch and after watch worked on my sheath knife again with a fine file. Materials to make handles or sheaths have long been used up. A sporting goods manufacturer could sell his entire knife production of a year during one day in SoPac. It is a scary thought to get shipwrecked without a weapon of some kind. Yet it happens every day. The survivors, if they survived long enough to report, have the same story that a weapon is needed. Aviators and Marines are issued knives and pistols.
Tried to sleep topside but a hard rain soaked me; I went below and soaked myself in sweat.
The task force fueled at sea from USS Kankakee. She brought mail. Book-of-the-Month Club sent me You Can’t Go Home Again—Wolfe.
Back on watch, 20 to 2400.
There were two comedians on my regular steaming watch, Levitsky and Zurawski. The former stood check watches on the gratings above. Zurawski was superheater fireman directly below him. They had an ongoing routine of “jedge” and the culprit-petitioner. But this evening, Zurawski intercepted his friend before he climbed the ladder to the checks. He pulled Levitsky’s head down, bent the ears back and forth as though to test for flexibility. He stood off as though getting a profile, both sides. “Sport,” he announced, “you’ve got short wings like a P-38!”
March 18, 1943, Steaming as before with vessels of Task Force 18.
From the dopesters’ talk we are about to ambush an enemy reinforcing convoy if there is no harassing aircraft with moonlight or flares to work with. We stood off Kolombangara Island at 100 miles and waited; we were all night at Condition II Mike.
March 19, 1943, steaming in company with vessels of Task Force 18. I had the midwatch and stayed up for dawn alert.
We came under fighter cover at dawn. I slept on deck until we arrived in Tulagi Channel at 0900 to fuel from Erskine Phelps.
I got some dizzy spells today. A hangover is discounted, and the next closest thing is that Regular Navy disease, cat fever.
The Task Force turned back northwest up the “Slot” again. I stayed on deck, sleeping in the life raft cradle until a rain squall drove me below. The life raft cradle looked too lumpy for sleeping, but one afternoon as I contemplated its appearance from the bridge, the floats looked like roller bearings. After dark I tried it out. With minor adjustments the body fitted in between the rollers like a rotor shaft. For the next six months it was a secret and private pad topside.
I was informed seriously by a shipmate, who had heard it from a “good source,” our last bombardment had killed 500 enemy troops.
Even if feasible, the enemy couldn’t have gotten the count yet on a lot of direct foxhole hits. That kind of wild-eyed hopeful guesses were like the journalistic clichés that began in 1940—virtually everything was already won, hour-by-hour for three years. Another virtual, 95% short was virtually 100% according to many reporters.
Makes a man want to scissor virtual out of his dictionary.
March 20, 1943, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6 consisting of Honolulu, screened by Nicholas, Radford, Strong and Taylor.
Entered Tulagi in the forenoon and fueled from Erskine Phelps.
At 1530, OTC ordered all ships to sea, patrolled Sealark Sound getting frequent radar contacts on planes. Condition Red over Guadalcanal kept us at battle stations.
Later in the day we cleared Sealark Sound, steering for Santos southeastward. We exercised at battle stations, on battle problems throughout the day so there was no sleep at all. I took the 20 to 2400, and was too tired to spend any time on the bridge.
March 21, 1943, Sunday. Steering on base course 124° True in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6.
I had the morning watch. We received a dispatch from Halsey with a “well done.” Well done is the highest acceptable praise in the Navy.
I felt sick again and slept the morning, laying down my book. On watch 16 to 2000, showered (and was showered by the elements). Had to leave topside sleeping space again.
We rather liked our new medical officer, Doc Ramsey. He loved to talk and he liked sea stories, being a frequent participant in the sessions on the foc’sle. Sharkshit Scott told him that he had heard of a prescription to abstain from coffee, tea, butter and bread.
“Yeah, I’ve got a long list for malingerers.”
“And that remedy for constipation . . .?”
“Keep eating—he’ll either shit or burst!”
March 22, 1943, Monday, steaming as before on base course 140° True, speed 21 knots with vessels of Task Group 18.6.
We received mail, and I got several letters and books.
March 23, 1943, Tuesday. Anchored in Berth Dog 11, Espiritu Santo in 33 fathoms of water.
Worked on pumps, and had a crew in the fresh water wing tanks, scrubbing out residual slime and touching up rust spots. We knocked off work at 8 p.m., showered and hit the sack.
March 24, 1943, Wednesday, anchored in Berth Dog 11, Espiritu Santo. USS Maury stood in and anchored at 1030.
We worked all day in No. 2 boiler, cleaning firesides. Four men continued working in the wing tanks. No recreation trip to the “athletic field.” I went to bed slow motion. My troops aren’t smiling at all.
March 25, 1943, Thursday, anchored as before. USS Strong got underway at 0610. McCalla and SS Del Brazil stood in and anchored.
1155 Radford moored alongside to starboard. Completed work on No. 2 boiler about noon, and my gang and I went to the Recreation Area with two legal beer tickets each. I negotiated some more. Old friends of Bath in O’Bannon, Strong and Chevalier were already ashore. We relived the launching parties of all four ships that we had held in the Sedgwick Hotel in Bath. We had a splendid time telling sea stories, playing a little ball and drinking up the beer allowance.
Back to the ship in time for chow. I joined a card game that I should have passed up.
McCalla left the nest and reanchored 100 yards from us.
March 26, Friday. Anchored as before. We got ready duty in harbor defense.
Yesterday’s beer didn’t help my illness, whatever it is. I felt terrible.
0700 got underway to go alongside Tappahannock to fuel. Underway after fueling to moor at buoy #16 on Task Charlie, Harbor Defense, i.e., sound ranging.
USS George Clymer and USS Humphreys stood out at 1400.
I had the ready-to-steam watch 12 to 1600, and discovered some tube leaks in No. 2 boiler. We organized a round-the-clock working detail to repair them. As you cannot trust tube rolling to amateurs, the muscle power had to come from Lavender, Bauer and myself.
At midnight I showered and hit the sack, tired.
Then, having earned it, I had a lovely dream about an unattainable lady that I eventually attained. The lesson is, you have got to keep dreaming and keep trying.
March 27, 1943, Saturday. Moored to buoy #45, Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo, on standby watch for instant sortie; main engines are jacking over, ready to spin.
We are still rerolling tubes in No. 2 boiler. I took this downtime to repolish the disks and seats of the safeties. During this process a tiny half-inch safety valve actuator got lost. The captain had to be notified, and there were a lot of excited questions and worry before it was found. The closest new spindle was 1000 miles.
If all the recrimination energy generated had been put to work looking for the spindle, the worry would have been avoided.
The rains continued all afternoon and into the night; sleep topside is out. I have the watch again, 20 to 2400. So maybe after midnight.
March 28, 1943, Sunday. Moored to Buoy #45, Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo. The ship is still on Task Charlie of Harbor Defense. In the forenoon we moved to our anchorage. YO 20 came alongside to fuel us. Being fueled at anchorage is a service a destroyer could get used to, and fine linen and crystal goblets . . .
On watch with No. 1 boiler steaming, and we continued rerolling tubes in No. 2. The rerolling was finished at 1730 and we refilled the boiler for hydrostatic test. A good test is 900 pounds-per-square-inch of cold water pressure and it must hold for 12 hours with less than 5% loss of pressure. So we wait.
March 29, 1943, Monday, anchored in Berth Dog 24, Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo.
Several men were detached to return Stateside. Among them were key people, Chiefs Omarah and Moore, which leaves a vacancy for Nick Carter to make chief, but there is no first class yeoman to replace Moore. A good man is coming along though, in McCord.
We received a draft also, my share was Fireman Second Edelbrock.
We got underway at 0830 under a brand-new designator: ComSoPac-Force is now Third Fleet. Our new Task Group will remain TG 18.6, Honolulu (CTG 18.6) Nicholas (ComDesRon 21) Strong (ComDesDiv 41), Radford and Jenkins.
Gunnery exercises and battle problems all afternoon.
A quick read of the base course means we are headed again for Guadalcanal, Sealark Sound and the “Slot.”
March 30, 1943, at sea in company with vessels of TG 18.6, base course 300° True, west of northwest.
Beginning today, I have swung a deal to spend half my watch in the forward engine room, varying from main throttle to the auxiliaries. In turn I’ll be training a first-class machinist’s mate on boilers. All the Navy specialties are too narrow, and in con- sequence boring. In submarines everyone qualifies on every station, and that begets quality performance. Time on the bridge is scarce due to a need to sleep.
The mail delivered me a copy of Mein Kampf to replace the one I left behind on Omaha.
During 1942 and 1943 the stories never ceased about the “House of Horrors” on Front Street, Bath, Maine. The first time a story was told it was only embellished for dramatic purpose, and on the second telling events got reconstructed; then the characters got changed. But that is only the normal predisposition of a sea story, given time. And it follows the ancient sea-going dictum: never fuck-up a story just to tell the truth.
The owner of the “House of Horrors” had created a barracks-like accommodation on the third and fourth floor of his commercial building. There was a common washroom-toilet arrangement on the third floor: a row of washbasins, a row of commodes with half-doors and four shower stalls with curtains. The bedrooms were of different sizes and priced to privacy, two-man rooms cost more per bed than the 4-man or 8-man rooms.
Jab Bauer, Ira Allen and Walter Raul lived in a four-man room. Norris arrived and shelled out extra money for a two-man room. We learned why when his wife came to town, for she moved in with him, into the notorious “House of Horrors.”
That event stunned the residents and others of the town, for this notorious two-decker barracks was communal living like unto a warship, nakedness, noise, lies and horseplay. The presence of Mrs. Norris dampened the spirits on both decks of the infamous address. Fist fights and noise diminished. Guys wore pants to the shower . . . decorum almost got started.
One Wednesday a gunner’s mate was missing at muster in the Thibeau House in the Shipyard. Chief Boatswain’s Mate Omarah went looking for him where he lived. There were no such niceties as locked doors to Bull Omarah; he expected to find his man asleep, but all the beds were made up. Thence to the head and washroom. Aha! A pair of feet visible under the door of a toilet stall.
Omarah positioned himself carefully and reached under the door for a pair of ankles and pulled.
Half-naked in the middle of the room was a form clearly not of a gunner’s mate, but a very female Mrs. Norris.
At morning quarters on Thursday Old Settler spoke up before the ship’s company: “Chief, my question is, how do you say ‘Sorry about that, Mrs. Norris,’ in one word or less?
March 31, 1943, Wednesday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6 on base course 280° True, speed 18 knots. On watch 04 to 0800. I got some sleep in the forenoon, but the battle problems and target practice on towed targets by the cruiser aircraft took all afternoon.
On watch 16 to 2000; then to the engine room until 2200.
We hear on the scuttlebutt circuit that we are going up the “Slot” to bombard some more.
2310 Made a radar landfall on Florida Island.