| Departure and Early Assignments
We soon departed for the Pacific. We left Norfolk hauling a big barge that we took to Panama and left there. We went through the canal and into the Pacific, and that's where we stayed for a long period of time. Our first duty was to go to San Diego and pick up a dry dock and get underway for Pearl Harbor. Eventually we made it to Pearl Harbor and had duty there for two weeks. We then prepared to tow three barges loaded with bombs, and head for the deep Pacific and our first stop was in the Gilbert Islands at Funafuti. We experienced many air raids and they were always at night. Captain Lee made sure if he could find a provision of beer anywhere he'd find it and get it on board. If we got beer on board we'd take it over to Funafuti and to the airbase and split it with the fighter pilots. They'd take off with the beer and go up to cool it down at 15,000 feet for 30 minutes. Many fighter pilots received much combat air time for cooling beer, but records would show otherwise.
The first island we invaded was Eniwetok. We then invaded and took over Kwajalein. The fleet was there for bombardments. There was nothing unusual and we had normal amounts of casualties. We were involved with the Makin Islands when Carlson's Raiders came in on subs. We were the decoy. That was a fiasco as the Raiders took off at night from the subs and hit the beach. They destroyed most of the garrison on the island. We didn't realize they were so lightly populated with Japanese. Unfortunately we left 10 Marines at Macon inadvertently. Carlson received a lot of criticism amongst his peers. These 10 that we left eventually surrendered to the Japanese and unfortunately they were all beheaded.
The Couple of Kwajalein
I found a couple of people (a man and wife) on the beach at Kwajalein. I was on the beach and found this couple that could speak English, but they were kind of cowering as they had gone through the bombardment and the troops hitting the beach. They'd been prisoners of the Japanese for some time. The Japanese would tie them at night to stakes on the air strip. They would tie one on one end and one on another and our planes would hit the strip to put pot holes in runways and go after the planes. They'd survived all of this. I found them and they were in sad shape, so I took them back to the ship and gave them some clothing and fed them. They were very happy and appreciative. They were probably 35-37 years old and had no personal belongings. They gave me a grass belt that they had made and I've never opened it up. It belongs somewhere in a museum. I still have the grass string around it the way they handed it to me. It was the only thing they had to give as thanks. They gave it to me and I treasure it, but I don't know what do with it. This couple wasn't on the ship very long. I know they were taken to another ship and then to safety.
Fear at Night
There was another time we had to assist a carrier that had been hit by torpedoes at night. We couldn't find anything and we came under Japanese torpedo plane attack. There's nothing worse than a night torpedo plane attack in my opinion. This is because they see your wake in the water. The fluorescent wake of your screws. You leave a trail and they can see where you're going and where you'd been because that phos-flourescent would be out there for a couple three hundred yards. You couldn't tell where they were except when they went over you and you could see the exhaust. That's the only thing you could see. You could hear, but you never knew just where they were. There was so many of them. I was up on top side with a gun crew while this was going on and what happened at night is that the decks are wet. When you've got outgoing gunfire, it's like lightning. You don't know which direction it's coming from, it goes either way. With all your 20 nuns going out, there's a flash and it looks like its comin' right at ya'. It's a scary thing because all the gunfire that's outgoing looks like its incoming. I was standing next to this gun crew and the Arapaho took a sharp turn and knocked me off my feet and down to the main deck. I got hurt but I never put myself on the sick list. The night time air attack is something else.
Another thing of interest about gun crews. I'd be called to a gun crew as someone was down. I'd get to the gun crew and there'd still be firing going on and someone was unconscious. I'd ask what happened because he wasn't hit by shrapnel or anything. How did he fall? Did he go over quick or did he slide down? "We really don't know, but it looked like he slid down," and I said, "Ok." This is something you run into as a fIrst aid man that you don't like to do because people get the wrong opinion. This is a hysterical convulsion. They're trying to escape. They're trying to get out of reality and trying to escape. They don't want to face reality anymore so they actually force themselves into a convulsion and pass out. What do you do at that time is slap them hard across the face on both sides. When you're doin' this you've got other members of the gun crew lookin' at ya' like, "Whatta ya' doin', doc? What the hell, the guy's hurt." This is the treatment. You've got to pull them outta what they're trying to hide from. I always remember back to the Patton movie when he slapped the soldier 'cause he said he was shell shocked. They wouldn't fall down, they'd slide down. This was the key. You must get the patient back to reality quickly or you can lose him mentally. It's a form of self-induced anesthesia, but you must not allow him to go too deep because you will lose him for good.
Getting Rid of the Duldrums
In the lull between invasions, Captain Lee was one that could realize, and I could realize too, when things got to the point where people were quiet on board ship. When they didn't bitch, then you worry. There was potential danger when the crew was quiet and not bitching. When they're bitchin' and complaining, that's good. I remember Captain would call me up and ask me what I thought.I said they're quiet, he'd say, "Ok I'll see if I can find some beer some place. We've got to get them together and have a little blast some place on one of these islands." They'd kind of have a beach party, but it'd turn into a battle. The guys would fight. I'd say, "Captain, no matter how I tell 'em not to swim, they're gonna get in the water and in the coral and get cut up and coral doesn't heal." He'd say, "We've got to do something." So he'd get the beer and they'd have a few hours on the beach. There'd be all kinds of fights and this and that. Pretty soon they'd all be arm and arm saying things like, "You sure got me a good one there," or "You got me here." Then I'd spend the rest of the day suturing people and takin' care of coral cuts and this and that. This would get them out of the doldrums. They were buddies again.