Crossing the Pacific and Atlantic- Fire Sinks the Wakefield

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Marshall Ralph Doak Chief Pharmacist's Mate United States Navy

Crossing the Pacific and Atlantic-
We went to Norfolk and took aboard about 5,000 Marines from 151 Division. We started down south not knowing where we were going. We went through the canal zone and into the Pacific. This was a case of one ship carrying 5,000 Marines, but we had enough speed that we could out race a submarine on the surface. With all the zigzagging they figured we didn't need an escort. Plus, they were short on them. We made the trip to Wellington, New Zealand, with the First Marine Division who. made the invasion of Guadalcanal. We never got to Australia, but we got to New Zealand and this is where we left the troops. This was a wonderful area with wonderful people. There was steak and eggs for breakfast. We were there about 10-12 days before we made the long return trip from New Zealand back to the states. We went back through the canal zone again.

When we went though this time the crew was hit with a food infection and everyone on the lines had to go to the bathroom. The heads were full of people with diarrhea. We made it through and into the Atlantic and eventually to New York

Back and Forth Across the Atlantic In New York we boarded toops for an Atlantic crossing. We were part of about a 40 ship convoy. This was the largest troop convoy of WW II. We had carriers and destroyers and whatever. We were involved with German submarine packs. We made it through and got to Belfast, Ireland. No one was allowed ashore because Ireland was neutral and Germany had a consulate in Belfast and knew everything that was going on. None of us left but this is where we made our first stop. Then from Belfast, we went to Glasgow, Scotland. We were there about four or five days and we let the troops disembark at Glasgow. We worried about buzz bombs and so forth, but everyone who went overnight in Glasgow got bed bugs. We eventually took 1,500 civilian workers on board who had built air bases in Iceland and were going back to the states. They'd been paid off so they had money, a fortune of money on them. We left the British Isles and headed south in the Atlantic back toward the states. There was a lot of gambling. People were even cutting cards for $20 or more. I did take a chance playing poker. I started out with a couple hundred dollars and I ended up with money everywhere. I must have had $8,000 to $9,000 that I'd won. I went back to the sick bay and never counted it. I just kept stuffing it into my locker and I said to myself that I was gonna leave it there. Then it wasn't long, like two or three hours, I decided that maybe I outta go try it again and it wasn't long till I'd lost it all. That taught me a lesson.

The Fire Aboard the Wakefield

When we were about two days out of New York there was a fairly calm sea. We had 10- 12 ships with a lot of destroyers and Walter Cronkite was on the Mt. Vernon at the time. We caught on fire. I was the first one to grab a first aid kit and I went forward up to my station at the forward gun mount. There was not too much wind, but most of the smoke was heading towards the stern. All the compartments on this luxury liner were made out of wood and so it spread very fast. I had my first aid kit but at no time did I have to treat anyone. I was comfortably sitting on an ammunition locker. They were abandoning ship off the stem and I was up there for several hours all by myself. It wasn't long before Captain Bradbury made his way up somehow and said, "What in the hell are you doing here?" I said, "I don't know, seems like the best place to be with all the smoke going aft:' He said, "I've passed the word to abandon ship." I said, "Well, I didn't hear it." And he said, "Well, I'm getting off and would recommend you get off too." He went down the ladder and I thought well, if he's getting off maybe I better get off too. I couldn't go to my locker because the fire was started right near sick bay. I had nothing on me. A destroyer, the USS Mayo, came along side while I was on a landing ladder and I jumped over to it and it didn't bother me too much. They gave me a blanket and they had probably a couple hundred survivors off the Wakefield. One funny story came out later on. Walter Cronkite said there was a cat on board the Wakefield and even it was saved. I can guarantee you that the cat was not saved. A cat was never a wanted item on board a ship. A dog yes, but not a cat.

Survivor with a Surprise That first night on board the destroyer I slept on top side on the deck and I used my first aid kit as a pillow. I also had one of the new CO-2 cartridge life belts. All the destroyer personnel had these K-Pak, these big cumbersome things. At some point during the night somebody had lifted me up and unsnapped my pneumatic life belt and stole it. I must have been that tired because I never knew they had done it. Sometime during the day I decided to take a look in my fIrst aid kit. I didn't have much to do, so I opened it up and looked in there and couldn't believe what 1 saw. The only thing in that fIrst aid kit was solid narcotics: codeine and morphine. It could only have come from the narcotic locker in the surgical suite, and there were only two or three people who had the combination to the safe. This was a big puzzlement to me. Why would one first aid kit have all these narcotics in it? The only reason could have been that somebody had planned to get off the ship with all these narcotics as they were definitely worth a lot of money. They never figured that somebody else would be there first and take this particular first aid kit. There I am on board this destroyer lookin' at all these narcotics. Should I dump them in the ocean or what? I decided to go to the Captain. I went up on the bridge of the destroyer and I talked to the Captain. I said, "Captain, I've got a little problem here. I don't know why, but somehow I got a first aid kit here filled with nothing but narcotics and this is the first time I've opened it." He just waived his hands and said, "I want no part of this. That's your problem, you take care of it yourself." He would not accept the narcotics or recommend anything. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking someone had stolen these from the safe and set the fire to get off the ship with them and sell them. I had a pretty good idea who it was too. No one wanted to listen. I probably should have just dumped them over the side, but I had now exposed myself to the fact that I had them. If I didn't have them all of the sudden, I've got another problem.

I continued to sleep on top side and use the first aid kit as a pillow. I woke in the morning and I still had them. We reached New York City and I had no identification, so they took me to Ellis Island. Now I'm like an immigrant for the first time. I had to go through Ellis Island to be identified with nothing but a bag full of narcotics. I asked to see the commanding officer at Ellis Island. I was given permission and went before him to explain my dilemma. Here I stood in my lucky rag-tag dungarees, and I looked like hell standing with a bag full of narcotics. The Commanding Officer looked at me and waived his arms just like the Captain of the destroyer and said he wanted no part of it.

He said, "That's your baby and you handle it." Here I was and it seemed everyone was givin' me permission to keep all of these narcotics. I decided to call the Medical Supply Depot in Brooklyn, New York and try to explain this. I'm sure they thought they had a nut on their hands as I tried to explain this over the phone. They were in disbelief, so I finally asked if they would please send a car for me to Ellis Island to let me come over, explain, and show what I had. So they did and at least something favorable had finally happened. They sent a car and I went to the Medical Supply Depot still wearing the old dungarees with only a bag full of narcotics. I explained the whole story to them and that nobody wanted any part of it. Whoever I talked to said, "OK, we'll take them. I don't know if it'll do any good to inventory them because we don't know what you started with." I thought they should have had an investigation but nobody paid attention to it. It was like it happened, so what?? So I returned to Ellis Island and sat there for three or four more days in myoid dungarees. I was finally sent to Pier 92 in New York City.

Pier 92

I arrived there needing clean clothes and a shave. As soon as I reported aboard, I got put on report for being out of uniform. I was a survivor, but I wasn't treated as such as nobody would listen. Finally I went to the Chief Master at Arms and said, "Something's got to happen here. I need some clothes and I can't move anywhere without being put on report. I know that you've got a tough commanding officer." He said, "Well, we don't have pay records for you." I said, "There all gone as I've lost my ship." Eventually they gave me a complete new outfit. I was there for a couple of weeks around the time of the World Series. One thing you learn in the Navy is to never volunteer for anything. But I said to myself that I had to get out of there and off the base, so they lined us up and asked for volunteers and I raised my hand. It turned out I'd volunteered for shore patrol at the World Series in New York with the Yankees.