The Prize is Won
December 1st, 1943 through January 13th, 1944

December 1, 1943, Wednesday, steaming with vessels of Task Group 50.1 supporting offensive operations in the Marshall and .Gilbert Islands.

Up for the dawn alert at 0530 to 0630, then on watch 08 to 1200. Battle stations for drill two hours in the forenoon.

We went alongside the new Yorktown in the afternoon to fuel. They offered us some ice cream and some idiot on the bridge demurred. They had to insist.

On watch 20 to midnight. One dish of ice cream at the evening meal.

December 2, 1943, Thursday, steaming with vessels of Task Group 50.1, supporting offensive operations in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.

Up for the dawn alert 0545 to 0645. On watch again at 0800 to 1200.

We had a field day cleanup in the plant, then inspection. Lt. Reidler was the inspecting officer, consequently reason prevailed.

General quarters for drill in the afternoon.

Casualties have been announced: for the Tarawa landing. We were supporting the air operations; the gunfire support ships were close in. We seldom saw a landfall.

On watch 20 to 2400.

December 3, 1943, Friday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 50.1 supporting offensive operations in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.

Dawn alert came at 0545 to 0630. On watch 08 to 1200.

Kwajalein and Wotje were given out as the two targets for the landing force.

We got a message that we will have Stateside Availability after these operations are completed! After so many false alarms you want to back up a step and look again.

Drills for two hours in the afternoon, then on the second dogwatch, 18 to 2000.

Showered and to bed, tired.

December 4, 1943, Saturday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 50.1 supporting offensive operations in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.

On watch 04 to 0800.

The communicators say that our planes sank two major Jap ships at about 150 miles from us. We heard nothing about it on the tactical net.

General quarters sounded at 1200. Torpedo planes got through the air defenses and into the formation at 1240. There was a torpedo attack on Lexington.

Our lookouts spotted four torpedo planes coming in low on the port bow, and were headed toward either San Francisco or Yorktown. Three ships fired on them and splashed two. One got away, but as the fourth tried to follow still carrying his torpedo, Nicholas opened fire getting him and his torpedo in the fourth salvo.

It was our lookouts who identified the planes and gave the warning. Both radars missed them entirely.

At 1630 we picked up a man who had fallen overboard from Yorktown. Whetham was the lucky guy’s name. Lucky even to be visible in these rough seas and to be picked up.

General quarters sounded at 1915; we remained at battle stations until 2030. GQ sounded again at 2100 until 2240.

Another attack came at 2320, during which Lexington got a torpedo that slowed her down. Bogies continued to come in. It’s their best chance due to the moonlight. We have night fighters up as interceptors; their homing on high targets is heard on the tactical net.

December 5, 1943, Sunday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 50.1 on offensive operations in Marshall and Gilbert Islands. All ships at battle stations under air attack.

0210 Secured from battle stations. I slept an hour and a half, then back on watch until 0800.

At 0600, Yorktown had a plane crash close aboard; we looked but couldn’t find a survivor.

A well-known carrier fighter pilot was missing after last night’s night-fighter interceptions, Lieutenant Commander O’Hare.

Went to bed after the watch, and as always after a long period of wakefulness there is a certain tenseness that makes it hard to relax and to sleep. This was no exception. When I did sleep it was profound. A dream of an air attack woke me. It was so real with the machine gun batteries hammering that I woke up trying to run. If one controlled his dreams I’d be a subject for close scrutiny at least.

We half-masted colors three times today for burial services on other ships of the Force.

Read awhile, then back on watch, 16 to 2000.

It came through the JV phones from the bridge: course change! To Hawaii!

December 6, 1943, Monday, steaming with vessels of Task Group 50.1, enroute Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.

On watch 04 to 0800.

Studied in the forenoon; read the required history plus all the other chapters.

In the afternoon we came alongside Yorktown for fuel; while alongside we returned Whetham back to his ship via the highline.

On watch first dogwatch, 16 to 1800. After the evening meal read and slept in anticipation of the midwatch.

A copy of the radio press gave news of the conference between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Teheran.

December 7, 1943, Tuesday, (second anniversary duly noted!) Steaming with vessels of Task Group 50.1 enroute to Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.

Had the midwatch, and waited up for the dawn alert one hour. Since morning quarters are scheduled in undress blues, I had to stay up to get the blues and shoes ready. Now that it is official, all hands are getting ready for San Francisco.

Got two hours sleep in the forenoon. Then we started planning for the navy yard. The after fireroom loaned me two men to even-up the workforce. On watch 12 to 1600.

After the evening meal I read and slept before the midwatch.

December 8, 1943, Wednesday, steaming with vessels of Task Group 50.1 enroute to Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.

I had the midwatch, then dawn alert 0600 to 0700. Just had time to eat, shower, then get to quarters in dress blues!

We had a payday, not so exciting.

On watch 12 to 1600. I had a headache and slept it off after the watch.

December 9, 1943, Thursday, steaming with vessels of Task Group 50.1 enroute to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

On the midwatch to 0400, dawn alert after the watch to 0700. Slept until 0830, then spent two hours in study until quarters for muster at 1100.

At 1201 we got a radar landfall on the Island of Oahu.

On watch 12 to 1600. We screened the force for two hours while the heavy vessels entered the channel to Pearl Harbor.

Then we entered up-channel toward Ford Island, then right toward the East Lochs. We stood in two ranks of undress whites facing outboard to render passing honors to the ships we passed.

ComDesRon 21 received a message from CinCPac Nimitz addressed: Veterans of The Slot.

I stood awed by the number of visible warships moored and anchored in the channel where we passed, and the masts, stacks and silhouettes across the Island on the destroyer base side. The Harbor was full of new, unfamiliar warships, among them the wide stacks of carriers, at least ten. I saw a destroyer number in the six-hundreds!

The numbers that I stood and contemplated would have been too wild to accept last month.

We anchored in our assigned berth, and at 1630 Commander Robert T.S. Keith reported aboard. He will succeed Andrew J. Hill as commanding officer.

December 10, 1943, Friday, anchored in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.

Worked all morning in the plant on preliminaries to the Navy Yard, Mare Island, and the ship’s overhaul.

The change of command ceremony took place after 1400.

Andy Hill had something to impart, a message from a Mr. Burdue of Bath, Maine, who said he had held regular prayers for DesRon 21 and Nicholas. And, he announced that Nicholas and Radford had been awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, specifically for the First Battle of Kula Gulf.

Each man got one “beer-bottle-cap” along with a sheet of complicated rules about wearing that ribbon.

Commander Keith read his orders and assumed command.

We exercised at general quarters for the new skipper.

At 1630 Underway for San Francisco, California, Nicholas, La Vallette, Jenkins, Taylor, Fletcher and Radford. (DesRon 21 less O’Bannon, already there for battle damage). Only two boilers on the line!!

December 11, 1943, Saturday, steaming with vessels of DesRon 21 enroute San Francisco.

I awoke at 0500 and wondered why there was no dawn alert.

Worked all day in the plant to get as much work done as possible before the yard period. There is to be only 30 days to do it all, and since there will be !half the ship’s company on leave the work load will be heavy.

I have been promised a transfer to new construction destroyers (where a vacancy might be found) when we finish the yard availability. In exchange I will not go on leave, but will conduct the overhaul for the division and break-in a draft of 30 new men.

I am now off the watch list to get more work done. I’ve chosen seven firemen for the first leave party on merit. These good men will be needed for the two-week finish up period.

A one-hundred-dollar anchor pool has been started.

December 12, 1943, Sunday, steaming with vessels of DesRon 21 enroute to San Francisco.

At quarters this morning our agitation to hold an election, pro or con, for the painting on of war trophies was ended: we voted. I didn’t see any hands raised in Engineering “for” painted-on trophies. After a count of the men on watch, it was declared that eighty percent was against trophies of the painted variety.

Without a watch to stand I had the evening after dinner to study.

December 13, 1943, Monday, steaming with vessels of DesRon 21 enroute San Francisco.

Up at 0500 and studied USAFI assignments.

Continued work on No. 2 boiler, which we’ll clean on both the fire- and watersides.

When I showered before dinner I also scrubbed my dress blues. A nice easy evening followed with reading and a short session in the bingo game. I never could win at bingo.

December 14, 1943, Tuesday, steaming with vessels of DesRon 21 enroute to San Francisco.

Up at 0400 and studied until breakfast. Got off a lesson exam to USAFI, that is, into the censor’s box.

Worked in the plant all day. Early morning for me is the best time for thinking; some coffee and some paper and things come together.

This afternoon Eirehart and Gubernick almost came to blows quarreling over $20. I couldn’t interfere for laughing.

Got to the pad at 2100 to read and to sleep.

December 15, 1943, Wednesday, steaming with vessels of DesRon 21 enroute San Francisco.

Up at 0600, shaved and dressed in undress blues instead of dungarees. The once-routine is now exceedingly strange, wearing blues . . .

We arrived in the bay having passed through the swept channel at 0800. We moored briefly near the Presidio for agriculture and customs inspection. I studied the shoreline and the hills for changes and saw none. I had been here last in September 1937 when Gordon Helmick and I were paid off at the Goat Hill Naval Receiving Station.

The ship was underway again in 45 minutes for Mare Island up the north end of the Bay. We arrived at the Mare Island Ammunition Depot at 1000 and unloaded all our ammunition, then moved to the side of O’Bannon at 1800. O’Bannon’s bow and stem were now repaired from the battle damage, and she was nearly over her overhaul period.

We hooked up to shore services: steam, water, electricity and telephone. Then we shut down the boilers, and set the “cold iron” watch for material security.

For two hours the quarterdeck was a bedlam of sailors checking lout for home in the first leave party, and across the two destroyers, Nicholas and O’Bannon.

The ship’s company not on leave will be quartered in temporary barracks to facilitate the 24-hour yard overhaul work. I went ashore to look at the barracks. They were located 50 yards below the Marine Barracks where I had been quartered in the pre-commissioning detail for San Francisco in ’33 and ’34. A change had occurred, there was now beer in the Marine Canteen. I had two cold ones, then went back to the ship for I had the duty.

The CPO Quarters was deserted; everyone on leave or on liberty. Since we would move off the ship early in the morning, this was my last night to sleep aboard. I had some coffee and a lot of time to reflect while waiting for a YO to come alongside to off-load our remaining fuel.

There would be no shooting . . . That was so pleasant and so strange that my mind kept coming back to it to savor.

Then I tried to examine my career predicament, and there were no options under my control. I could ask the new captain for ideas. For after four months since the last letter requesting in-excess promotion authority, I feared the reply would be too late.

The rigidity of the rule was: the promotion-in-excess authority had no name on it, so the recipient must be on board. In the event I was detached, I would be a serial number in the Navy without credentials or record (for who reads a record?), passing through Receiving Stations (run like a prison as Pier 90, New York, or like a warship, Frazier Barracks, Boston Navy Yard). Some destroyer under construction would find me a curiosity, and probably next-in-age to the captain. Certainly the only first class petty officer in the Navy in this bureaucratic bind.

About nine the 21MC blasted my name: “to the quarterdeck!”

Upon answering the summons I saw a familiar face. The yard representative for our overhaul was Gholson, a contemporary and former shipmate in San Francisco, who had gone to work in the yard upon discharge in ’37. He told me that Morry Geer, another of our gang was still in the yard. Morry and I had gotten tattooed together and had lifted weights together; Morry got two tattoos, and went on weight-lifting to enormous proportions.

Gholson and I got the fuel unloaded into a yard oiler, and I went to my pad for the last time on board.

December 16, 1943, Thursday, moored alongside O’Bannon in Berth 18B, Mare Island Navy Yard.

We moved ashore into barracks, appropriately enough, next to the O’Bannon barracks.

We went to work in the plant. Opened the boilers and sent handhole plates out for machining because of small fissures of steam cuts. The new men from Shoemaker were being distributed to the ship’s departments, but I had no selection because they had already been classified by some bureaucratic process.

At the end of working hours I took a bus to Oakland where I once enjoyed numerous friendships. I made a few taverns, and called a sister in Palo Alto. The Oakland friends had disappeared in seven years. Back to the ship for rest at midnight.

December 17, 1943, Friday, moored alongside O’Bannon in Berth 18B.

Worked in the plant all day. Yard mechanics are swarming over the equipment and doing the more technical overhaul work on pumps, blowers and turbines. I had a fund of recruits from Shoemaker, and there is a teaching process in putting them to productive work. I was learning too. I watched a yard machinist set the turbine nozzles of a forced-draft blower. My method had been cumbersome in comparison, but I had had to invent my method . . .

After working hours I found that I had the gangway watch, which supplants the officer-of-the-deck. It had mostly a security function because we only had workers and cold iron watches on board.

I had time to read and catch up on what had been happening in the Navy for the past 18 months.

In August ‘42 Congress had authorized a $28 per month allowance for men with dependents, proof being at least 50% allotted to that dependent. Well, well . . .

Then I read the long lists of promotions in the ALNAVs of 18 months. It looked like all my contemporaries had been commissioned, and they appeared more than once, for now their advancement was automatic.

I began to have a deep, begrudging pain where I lived. And I couldn’t answer my own question: What had I done wrong?

It wouldn’t go away, even after I worked on it every day...

December 18, 1943, Saturday, moored alongside O’Bannon in berth 18B, Mare Island Navy Yard.

Worked in the plant all day and still on schedule. I have some of the better mechanics packing steam and water valves. At the current rate of the work we can complete packing all the valves.

I went ashore after the evening meal to Vallejo, just across the Mare Island Strait. We used to see lower Georgia Street as a corrupt area. Now it seemed like benign Anytown.

December 19, 1943, Sunday, moored alongside O’Bannon in berth 18B, Mare Island Navy Yard.

Marching the men to work and back is trying after a hard day in the boiler firesides. That’s the yard rule, more than three sailors or Marines will march.

I guessed that this is the first time many of these young fellows ever worked on a Sunday. There is much moaning and groaning. When at sea they will lose the moaning energy in getting through the days.

In the evening I went over to the Marine Canteen to have a beer. I saw an ex-San Francisco shipmate and had more than one.

December 20, 1943, Monday, moored alongside O’Bannon in berth 18B, Mare Island Navy Yard.

Worked in the plant all day. We are on schedule if I don’t get a mutiny, because I had to increase the working hours. According to my chart and the daily output, is how the available hours are projected. The work to be done is inflexible; the rate of work has to be sustained or the hours increased.

Our new skipper, Captain Keith, came down to the ship today, and when I could get to him I told him about my promotion problem: I had three years in grade, in wartime, and couldn’t do a thing about it. I asked if he could find a vacancy by telephone. He said he didn’t think a vacancy would go unfilled for even a day. But he knew people on the staff at the Naval District HQ and that he’d get back to me.

The barracks bulletin board had a party invitation to a Berkeley sorority. First I called to ask if they had any USO chaperones. No? The college girls were worth the trip, and the punch kept me lively in spite of the late hour. I was having so much fun that I missed my return bus and had to walk back to Vallejo. My old prewar scruples wouldn’t let me hitch-hike in uniform.

Except a family visit in Palo Alto via bus, that was the end of disposable funds. I had applied for the $28 dependent supplement, but Disbursing said that it would take awhile and to forget any back pay for it. Back to uncle’s benevolence, which was inadequate for an evening ashore.

We mustered at quarters daily, then marched to the ship and worked all day. December 25th was no exception. I stood before two ranks of dungareed sailors and read the names for responses of “here,” “yo” and “present.” Then I started on individual assignments for the day.

An anguished cry came from a boy in the second rank: “We gotta work on Christmas Day!”

“Until the war is over, Son!”

He broke down and sobbed. I looked at him stunned . . . What a protected existence he must have had. There wasn’t anything to be said, and I didn’t try.

The first leave party began returning December 30th; the second leave party departed. I was maintaining a graph of work progress; we could increase or decrease working hours dependent upon the progress chart. Since I wasn’t burning any “candle” ashore, I was probably more efficient. We got back to 8-hour days.

There was one night I could not miss—New Year’s Eve in San Francisco. I raised ten dollars from more than two sources, and got to the city in time for dinner at Camille’s French Restaurant on Hyde at Geary Street. That passed pleasantly, and I went to a hotel on Union Square that had a ballroom. I was aware that my dancing would not captivate any ladies, but in a ballroom is where the ladies were to be found. And who knows, I was wearing a “beer-bottle-cap” of some distinction.

At the hotel bar I encountered a familiar face wearing lieutenant junior grade stripes. We exchanged greetings and some recent history, he was awaiting the completion of a fleet auxiliary vessel. It was not like a reunion, and I read his eyes. The unspoken questions were: did you get a court martial? Or, did you fail some qualification test so badly that . . . ?

And in my frustrated and wounded ego I felt as guilty as though it were true! I couldn’t remain there where he and his friends were partying and probably pitying.

I departed, and went down to lower California Street, a less likely neighborhood for lieutenants. But it was not my day, for there I saw an ex-shipmate, and junior, wearing chief warrant officer stripes. I moved on before he saw me.

Four beers by myself contained no solace. I walked back to the bus station and returned to Mare Island in time to hear the whistles and merrymaking in Vallejo.

January 13, 1944, Thursday, USS Nicholas Barracks, Mare Island, California.

The second leave party is due back tomorrow and my job is finished. A handshake all around with shipmates and plankowners of Nicholas.

After a physical examination to prove once again “fit for sea duty,” I was detached at 1600 with orders to new construction destroyers via Receiving Station, San Francisco, California.

Detachment negated the long-awaited promotion. My CPO uniforms went into storage, and I loaded my bag and hammock into a grey Navy bus that made regular runs between Mare Island and the Receiving Station at Treasure Island, San Francisco.

I reported at 1930.

In that vast hall of milling, noisy transient sailors I reflected upon the themes of the Poet Laureate of soldiers and sailors: there is one prize that is ours to keep—our pride in each other. Washington is where the rules are made on medals and promotion, but they have not the power to award a salute from Task Force EIGHTEEN!

At 0800 the next morning, along with three other bluejackets, I was detailed to pick up trash on the highway under the supervision of a third-class who carried a billyclub.