Homeward Bound

At last, on June 14 at noon, we got underway being towed by our good friend the Tekesta at the end of 500 yards of cable. Our destination was Saipan and we arrived on June 20 with no problem. We were now 1000 miles away from Okinawa, and very, very happy to be there!

Living aboard a ship that had almost been cut in half, and was being towed, gave rise to some apprehension. What would happen if we were to break in half in a rough sea? So we all moved our gear to the forward crew’s quarters—there was plenty of room for all.

The Newcomb had an emergency diesel generator that was used for power; mostly for lights, pumps, ventilation, and steering. We had no galley as such, but an army field kitchen had been brought aboard and welded to the deck. We had also received a new cook who was used to this arrangement, and it turned out that he could turn out much better food than we had had for many months. He could even make good mashed potatoes from the dried potato powder! So life aboard now was really pretty good. No enemy, not much to do, good food, and homeward bound!

We had very limited fresh water in our tanks, but plenty of salt water. We “washed” our clothes by dragging them behind the ship for a day or so. For amusement we tried fishing for shark. There was a very large reel of wire cable aft on the fantail to be used with a “bathythermograph” for determining water temperature at various levels. Someone put a huge hook on this cable, baited it with a large chunk of meat, and dragged it astern. We never caught any fish, but often when they pulled it in to check the bait the hook would have someone’s clothing on it—clothing that had broken free while being dragged astern!

We spent two weeks at Saipan, probably awaiting a tugboat; the Tekesta was needed back at Okinawa. We departed on July 5 under tow by the Merchant Marine tug S.S. Point Vicente. We, in turn, were towing a large landing craft LCS-119. We were screened by the USS Tisdale. The skipper of the Point Vicente was Danish and spoke very little English so communication was a bit of a problem. The best speed we could make was about 7 knots. After two weeks of this, we let the Tisdale tow the LCS, and our speed increased to about 10 knots!

The two months we spent on our way home were very good for the 75 of us on board. The rest of the crew had been sent directly home and went on leave still somewhat in a state of shock from our many months of action and from being hit. We had many days with little to do except congregate on the flight deck for hours at a time. We organized various “sports” events, often involving baseballs, footballs or medicine balls. Of course our supply of balls was very limited and every so often one would end up in the “drink.” We also did some boxing. And we slept. And we talked. We discussed our recent past and lost shipmates. We discussed our upcoming leaves and fantasized about future activities with the females of the species. And we discussed the war. We all expected to be reassigned to some other ship after our home-leaves, and most likely to be sent back to the Pacific to participate in the invasion of Japan. We all knew what havoc the Kamikazes would wreak, and we didn’t think our chances for long term survival were very good. But by the time we reached San Francisco we were all in pretty good physical and mental health.

August 8th was a big day! Four months and two days after we were hit at Okinawa we arrived “home” in San Francisco! The photo at the top of this page, copied from a newspaper clipping, shows us approaching the dock at the Hunter’s Point navy yard. If you look carefully, you can see a long, narrow flag flying from the mast to the stern guns. This is the “Homeward Bound Pennant” that I made just to occupy some of my time on the trip home.

It took me quite a while, on the ship’s sewing machine, to make the pennant. It was 75 feet long, one foot for each man aboard, and had red, white, and blue stripes; tapering from about 12 inches wide down to 6. Apparently this was an old naval tradition not used very often in wartime. But I had lots of time on that cruise, so why not make one? I never did learn what happened to it.

The officers and men who had come back months before had done a fine job of making arrangements for us. We had been met at sea by folks who paid us all of our back pay and sold us train or plane tickets to go home on leave. And we were met at the dock by our shipmates. So that same evening, Roy Dockray and I, together, boarded a TWA DC-3 for an exciting 24 hour set of short hops from “Frisco” to New York. We had been able to wire our parents about our imminent arrival, so at about 10 pm when we finally arrived in Ridgewood, NJ on the bus from New York, we were met at the station by my dad—and Collie! That night, after a little party at the Dockray house, Collie and I dropped dad off at home and drove off to find a place to “park” and “renew our acquaintance.” I pulled onto a little dirt road where we had gone many months before—but rains had washed out the road—and we got stuck! Not an auspicious beginning! but all ended well.

That leave (31 days plus 10 or more days travel time) was wonderful! The first day Doc and I did our duty by going to Jersey City to visit the parents of Ed Schoenberg who had been killed at Lingayen Gulf while standing close alongside me.

The second day (August 11), Collie’s mom and dad were heading to Cape Cod for a vacation when they heard on the radio that the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and that the end of the war was imminent. Because this might affect his job they returned to Ridgewood to find Collie and me upstairs—quite innocent but embarrassing for me!

That day Collie, Dad, and I drove to the “Point” where we saw the rest of the family and many friends—a great time. We had home cooking and I had Collie beside me—who could ask for more? I recall a few incidents:

  • Collie and me out in my little sailboat when the rudder came off—and I loosed some of the four letter words that were commonplace aboard ship!
    Collie, my little sister Anne and I walking to a store to get ice-cream-cones. I tossed my wallet to Anne to pay for them—she discovered $1200 (about like $10,000 today)—I was flush!
  • Doc and his folks drove down for a day or two; Doc brought his .22 caliber rifle along and we had fun shooting at cans in the water while dressed in our bathing suits . However, there was a Coast Guard patrol boat stationed at the Orient Point dock, and the sailors aboard had some pretty strong comments to make about the two “civilians” shooting in a manor that might be dangerous to the Coast Guard. Doc and I promptly donned our Navy uniforms, complete with our service ribbons, stars, and my Purple Heart, and marched out on the dock. There were no more comments from the Coast Guard! Perhaps childish, but fun!
  • August 14th, VJ Day, the war was over! There was no big celebration at Orient Point, but Collie and I walked out on the dock and talked seriously about the future—now that we were probably assured one.
  • Collie and I drove down to Cape Cod with her dad for a number of days. It was great to see the place she had written so much about. I remember “swimming” in the very cold ocean water. I had just spent over a year and a half in a very warm climate—and I guess my blood must have thinned down because despite my desire to appear very “macho”, I simply couldn’t take it.
    Collie got a kick out of that—much to my chagrin.
  • September 12, back in Ridgewood, late one night I asked Collie to marry me—and she said “Yes”. The next morning I was about to ask her father for approval when he volunteered it!

We had a great day picking out a ring at Tiffanys in New York—riding the Statten Island ferry while it was being adjusted for size—good memories!

The rest of my naval career was anti-climactic. It took about 2 months of tedious work to de-commission the Newcomb (November 20, 1945). However, San Francisco was and is an interesting town and we had many good times there, mostly spent in the various bars and night-clubs. I was still only 20 years old and the legal age for drinking was 21, so I managed to get a bogus ID that showed me to be 21. Fortunately I never was caught with it!

Then I was assigned to a Destroyer Escort the USS Cavaliero where I was the senior Quartermaster. With the war over there was little for us to do, so the Navy, in its wisdom (or lack thereof) had us shuttling back and forth from Los Angeles to San Diego carrying troops!

In early January, 1946, Dad became quite sick and I was able to come home on an emergency leave; taking five days on the train from Los Angeles to New York. By the time I arrived home, he was much better, so I had an unexpectedly good time on leave. I was able to visit Collie at Elmira College for a couple days and to meet all her college friends. And—I was able to travel to Boston to have an interview at MIT relative to becoming a student.

Finally, on January 27, 1946 I was discharged! (continued)