|THE USS Wakefield AP 21 was commissioned In the spring of 1941, and I was transferred to to it. It was a troop transport ship which was being commissioned in Brooklyn Navy Yard. There was a period of time of about two months at the yard before we were finally commissioned in June, 1941. Then we did practice landings in the Atlantic with Marines and Army and landing craft. Our ship's compliment was all Coast Guard and we were the only Navy. The Navy was the medical department. The Commanding Officer on the Wakefield was Coast Guard and all the crew was Coast Guard. We had a lot of surf men that manned landing craft. It was a little complicated because the Coast Guard utilized public health hospitals and they couldn't use the Naval Hospitals. That made it complicated, but it worked out.
Later on in October we were ordered to depart and complete censorship was invoked. We did not know what was happening. At that time there were a lot of things going on in Europe. The British had withdrawn from Dunkirk and sunk the Bismark. The French had surrendered uand were now controlled by the VC French and Germans. The British were losing in North Africa. They couldn't run ships through the Mediterranean Sea because of German air power. About three days after leaving the East coast we ended up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Under cover of darkness, the British troop ships came in and they started to come aboard our ships. We were all a little bewildered and wondered what the heck was going on. It seemed we were no longer neutral if we were going to be handling English troops. At this point politically in the United States there were isolationists, chief among them Senator Wheeler and Charles Lindbergh. They wanted the US to remain neutral. But when we saw the British troops come on board, the 18th Division, we knew that whatever we were involved in, we would never be back to the states until we were at war. When the war was over, they had a difficult time finding anything or anyone in the Pentagon that knew anything about Task Force 14. The Chicago Tribune announced it on March 15, 1953 in the headlines. We put to sea with these 20,000 troops and 18 ships. We had the Ranger, two heavy cruisers the Vincennes and the Quincy, eight destroyers, five to six troops ships, the Wakefield, our sister ship the Mt. Vernon, the luxury liner the West Point, the Orizaba, and the Dickinson. We were also issued secret orders to engage the German warships. I have a copy of these orders. These secret orders authorized the U. S. Navy to initiate war with Germany months before Pearl Harbor.
I didn't know the code number on the convoy until l953. It was WS-124 (Later changed to Task Force 14), and it was very secret. Under cover of darkness and complete censorship we left Halifax with this 18 ship entourage. We made submarine contacts all the way and we didn't hesitate to drop depth charges. This was in November of 1941. When we reached the Caribbean Sea, why, the destroyers had to reload on depth charges. A lot of interesting things were happening. We stood to eat on board our ship. We didn't sit down to eat as the troops and enlisted personnel had to stand to eat. When the British troops came on board they found sugar and butter at the tables. They found that they got fresh fruit at breakfast. These are things they hadn't received in four years and most of these troops were people that had come from Dunkirk. There was quite a mix. There were Cockneys, there were Irish, Scots, and a lot of different dialects. It was very interesting. They couldn't get over the quality of the food they were served, and they'd put the sugar in their pockets. Within two weeks, however, they were bitchin' just like the rest of the American crew. It became normal, it was a typical reaction. I made many friends amongst the British troops. The thing we would see frequently would be a group of Englishmen around one of our southern sailors with a real southern drawl. We had a Pharmacist's Mate by the name of Robert Owen Kincaid, and he was from Mississippi and he spoke with a real slow drawl. The English would be around him just laughing. They weren't making fun of him, they were just enjoying his conversation. They'd never heard anyone speak that slow. Of course there'd be the groups of Americans around the Cockney Englishmen. You could hardly understand him. Everyone got along fine.
Royal Baby's Belly
Button One experience that happened was when we got to the Equator. We had to be initiated. Almost everyone on board was a pollywog, the British too. The initiation was a lot of fun with the exception to the southerners on board our ship. We had a big black ship's cook with a big pot belly and he became the royal baby and everybody had to kiss the royal baby's belly button. The southerners said there was no damn way they were going to do this, to put it politely. They were compelled. Even the captain hadn't gone across the equator, and even he had to kiss the royal baby belly button. All the English troops, and by force all the southern sailors, had to kiss it too. It was a lot of fun. There was a lot of dissension and club-swinging. It was quite a day.