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Dad - In His Words

Letters From Dad
East Fairfax Rd.
Elementary School
Roxboro Jr. High
Early Friendships
Early Vacations
High School
Amherst 1st Year
Jobs '40--'43
In the Navy
USS Drew APA 162
Amherst '46-'49
Tom's Biography
Fran Kimball
Hiram Hardesty

Drew sailed from San Pedro, Calif., 10 December 1944 with passengers for Seattle where she loaded cargo, departing on the 18th for Honolulu. She sailed from Pearl Harbor 8 January 1945 to deliver cargo Guam and Ulithi during her passage to Leyte where she arrived 10 February. After training and rehearsal landings, she sailed 21 March for the invasion of Okinawa, and on 26 March began landing her troops Kerama Retto and other small islands off Okinawa.

The USS Drew had never been to sea. It was commissioned in San Diego and was named after a county in Arkansas (I believe) whose citizens had donated the money for her construction. APA stands for Assault Personnel Attack and once we reached a battle zone it would be our task to take Marines or Soldiers to a debarkation point, take them to the invasion spot in our small landing craft which were hanging on the side of our ship. Except for some officers and some chief petty officers I would guess that everyone else was getting on a ship for the first time. I had arrived at San Diego after a two or three day train ride across the country. My Dad had taken me to the station since my mother was too upset to come along. Dad was never a demonstrative man but he, of course, was very concerned about the future. But when I left all he could do was shake my hand and say “good luck”. I knew no one else on the train but as servicemen do we all got acquainted real fast and had a good time on the trip. People were assigned to different locations although a lot went right through to San Diego.

Contrary to recent wars when we pulled into a station there were hundreds of people on the platform waving at us and telling us “to go get em” and as we pulled our there was always a great cheer. I had never been on a ship so this was a new experience for me. I boarded, met the chief Pharmacist Mate and was directed to the bunk room where (I picked out my bunk. The bunks were four deep and very little room between them. I think I ended up with the third from the bottom. We were shown our quarters and given a tour of the ship. We had liberty each night for two or three nights when we were told we were leaving. We found that our first leg was from S.D. to Seattle where we would load up and take on Marines and Soldiers. The trip to Seattle was rather calm but many men got very seasick so we in the sickbay were busy. For some reason (I had no trouble as was the case throughout all our months at sea. For some reason we went then to San Francisco for one day and then left for sea sailing under the golden gate bridge. Doing this gives you the real troublesome feeling in your stomach. As we watched the bridge disappear behind us we knew that we were leaving the good old USA and who knew when we would be back.

There were about twenty pharmacist mates on board, twelve assigned to the ship and 8 assigned to what was called the beach party., Once we reached an invasion spot it was their duty to go ashore after the initial landing, set up a first aid station and temporarily patch up the casualties until they could transport them to our ship where we would then take further care of them. When we had no casualties our duty was very pleasant. We had to stand our watch but very seldom since there were so many of us so we had time to sunbathe learn to play bridge and poker or to read. I never cared for poker but I did learn to play bridge and pinochle. I have forgotten pinochle but of course play bridge to this day... We did have training everyday and a number of calls to battle stations so we could learn the procedure when there was a real attack. We never knew whether the battle station call was real or not until after we had gotten to our position. If it wasn’t done fast enough it was repeated until it was right.

Our first stop was Hawaii which took about 6-7days. We stayed there a few days so we all got to see the islands which we had heard so much about. Honolulu was a Navy town. There were thousand of sailors there most of the time and the bars and dance halls were crowded all the time. I remember being so disappointed in Waikiki Beach. I had seen many pictures of it but when we got to it the beach was very small and the only large hotel on the beach was the Royal Hawaiian. When Dave and John and our wives went back there in 1981 the beach was huge and there were dozens of hotels all up and down the beach.

Surprisingly we were ordered back to the States to obtain more men and supplies and we docked in San Francisco harbor. We were there for a few weeks during which time I was able to visit with my Aunt Laura (my mother’s sister) and Uncle Chick who had moved to the west coast. I t was nice that I could visit with them because Laura died soon after the war and I never saw her again. Back to Hawaii eventually.

We next went to Guam for a short visit and then headed to a small group of islands known as Ulithi and specifically on island named Mog-Mog. Here we were given liberty and a few hours off the ship. Mog-Mog had no one living on it and everyone on the ship was given two cans of warm beer and were allowed to go swimming and play baseball on the island. At this point we joined a huge armada of ships of all kinds from Carriers, Battleships, and cruisers. While waiting here we heard the report of President Roosevelt’s death and I remember everyone saying ‘who’s this guy Truman who is the new president?’

We set sail the first part of April 1945 and headed north. It is hard to describe the sight of this huge armada as we headed for Okinawa. Just before we reached Ulithi we had stopped at the Philippine Islands and it was there I had an appendicitis attack. I was operated on just before we left and told not to move for a number of days. Once we got in battle I was needed so got up and helped.

The doctor saw me carrying a stretcher and really reamed me out but there was nothing he could do about it; Just before Easter we arrived at the island group called Ie Shima which the US decided it must take before the principle invasion. Some of the ships were diverted here for this purpose. It was the first time I had been involved in an actual battle and the noise of the guns and planes attacking the island was unbelievable. Ie Shima was a small island and was taken without too much trouble although it was on this island the Ernie Pyle was killed. Ernie Pyle was a newspaper writer who was very popular with the troops. He wrote about them and sent many heartfelt stories home to the states. He insisted on being on shore with the troops and during an air attack he was killed. A very popular man who was really missed by the fighting men. On Saturday night before Easter all ships were in place for the invasion of Okinawa.

It’s funny how after 58 years you can’t remember the entire operation you went through during the invasion. I remember the tremendous bombardment that took place prior to our landing troops and the hundreds of airplanes flying over the island trying to soften up the Jap defense. Our troops were taken off our boat in small landing craft and we then returned to our battle stations to await any casualties sent to us by our beach party which consisted of a number of corpsmen from the ship that went ashore after the initial Invasion.

Our biggest fear was the Kamikaze fighters who were attacking all the ships in the harbor. For that reason we left the harbor each night and went out to sea so as to make the target harder to find. We would then come back to the harbor during the day to pick up casualties. I obviously don’t remember all the wounded but I do remember the bravery of many of the men. One man came in with both feet blown off and as he was carried in he was smiling and saying he was much luckier than some of his buddies. Another came in after having his leg run over by a tank. His leg needed amputation and I participated in the operation taking the leg down to the boiler when it was off. This man died after the operation. He appeared to be fine, smoking a cigarette and talking when suddenly he died. I had the experience of attending the autopsy and saw how the blood clot had completely collapsed his lungs. There were so many more and we treated them the best we could and then took them to a hospital ship in the area before coming back for more.

One day while we were there we moved over to a destroyer that had been hit by Kamikaze planes. It was a disaster. The entire bridge was gone and all officers appeared to have disappeared. The plane had hit both the bridge and the side of the ship killing all the corpsmen on the ship. WE were transferred to the ship (The O’Brien) to find as many wounded we could to bring them aboard our ship. Those that were hurt were burned for the most part, some severely and we carefully transferred them back to our ship. I just mention one of the men I took care of. His entire face was burned and his eyes were burned shut. The doctor gave me some lotion and told me to gently wipe the burn from his face. I will never forget as I wiped the burn from his eyes when the suddenly popped open and he cried “I can see, I can see”. Many died during our stay at Okinawa and we had daily burials at sea. After ten days or so the army and marines had the situation well enough at hand that we filled our boat with casualties and set sail for Hawaii.

From there we took troops to the south pacific as replacements and it was during this trip that we crossed the equator and went through the initiation which turned those of us who were “pollywogs” into “shellbacks’.

The initiation was an experience. We were all standing on deck and on the bridge four shellbacks walked up to the center one dressed as King Neptune, another as the Queen, another as the royal baby and I believe on other. Each of us had to walk in front of these people, bow to the King and Queen and kiss the royal baby’s belly which had been covered with grease. We then went back down to the deck and were greeted by the royal devil that carried a pitchfork which was charged and he prodded us to the next station which gave us quite jolt. We then went to the royal barber who cut most of our hair off. One story which is amusing: One of the young ensigns on the ship complained to the Captain that he should not have his hair cut. The captain then told the royal barber to cut every strand of hair off the officer which gave many people a great laugh.

We then went to the royal doctor who laid us on a mess hall table and ran a charged knife over our bodies and since the table had metal on it the initial reaction was to grab the sides which gave you even a greater shock. The royal dentist came next and he proceeded to spray alum into our mouths which of course puckered you up quite a bit. We next got in line and were told to crawl through a canvas tunnel while shellbacks hit you with clubs made of canvas and paper. At the end of the tunnel a sailor was shooting a fire hose into the tunnel which you had to fight against. When you were through the tunnel you were taken to a slide from one deck to another and slid down into a large vat of greasy water. When you came up for air someone shouted “What are you? For a week before when this question was asked you answered “I ‘m a *#** pollywog”.

When you gave this answered this time you were shoved back under the greasy water until you finally figured out that you were now a shellback. I have a picture of myself as I came out of the tank and I am completely black. At that time we simply took off our clothes, threw them overboard and the changed to other clothes. There were so many soldiers on board who were pollywogs that after you were dressed you could come up and participate in the hazing as you were now a shellback.

After we delivered our troops and supplies in New Guinea we again headed north and I believe we anchored again at the Island of Ulithi where we stayed for few days being allowed to go on shore once or twice, given two scans of beer, and told to have fun. AS I think I mentioned there is absolutely nothing on the island so we played baseball or just sat under a tree and drank beer enjoying the feeling o being on land again. We then headed back to Hawaii where we stayed a while. You must realize that the Pacific is a large ocean so it took a long while to get from place to place. In fact I believe we were told that The Drew traveled some 26,000 miles from the time we left San Diego to the end of the war. After Hawaii we returned to the States and anchored in Seattle where we were given a weeks leave.

“Bones” Hubbell and I went down to Portland and spent the time there. It was a great liberty town and we had a great time. It was around this time that the first Atomic Bomb was dropped. I had called my folks who were in Canada when we got back from Portland and Mother said the next time you are home I am coming out to see you. I told her the next time I came home it probably would be for good because of the “bomb” She said” what bomb”. They had not heard of it at Cedar Croft so they had to go to the Mag to find out.

We left Seattle the next day fully loaded and I am sure assigned to the fleet that was to invade Japan. While on this trip the second bomb was dropped and the war ended.

All of us though we’d be sent home in a short time but my situation turned out differently. I was taken off the ship, assigned to the first Marines and told I would be going to the island of Truk which we had bypassed on the way to Japan. So I changed uniforms, got on a ship and landed on Truk where for the next two and I2 months I trained for an invasion. We probably all knew it wasn’t going to be a real invasion since everyone was very casual about the activities. We did however practice landing on shore and running on the beaches of Guam to simulate an invasion. On November 1st we set off for Truk and an expected it was not a real invasion. Any of us who had been in on a real invasion knew immediately so because there was no prelanding bombings or shelling.

We ran ashore and were greeted by hundreds of Japanese running onto the beach asking for cigarettes

. . Just by chance the ship had a store full of moldy Raleigh cigarettes we all bought and gave to the Japs. They must not have had a smoke in sometime or else Japanese cigarettes are terrible because they all bowed, thanked us and were very grateful.

My stay on Truk lasted until May 1st, 1946. As pharmacist mates we were assigned the duty of cleaning up the island. The Japs were bad housekeepers and there were no latrines and the water supply was undrinkable. For the next two or three months we built latrines and worked on the water supply. During this time we had Jap workers and I have many pictures of myself herding some Japes holding a gun. If I had had to use it I wouldn’t have know what to do. The latrines were simple but curing the water supply took some time. A huge container was constructed 0on top of a large hill with a pipe running down to a reservoir, which filled, from a stream on the island, which was not clean. We worked to clean the stream, treated the water in the reservoir and then pumped it up the hill to the large tank. This in turn had many arms going down hill to water faucets or drinking bags. The bags were for drinking but they were again constantly treated with chemicals to make sure the water was safe. Taking care of the water was a continuing thing but once the system was established we turned to other activities.

The natives on the island had a variety of diseases all of which the Japs had ignored. These included leprosy, Elephantiasis and Yaws. Yaws was the easiest to cure. The symptoms of yaws was the rotting away of fingers, toes and sores over the body. We had antibiotics that stopped the spread of the disease although it did not revive the lost parts. This was contagious but once under control it caused no great damage. For the other two diseases we had to move the victims to another island in the atoll.

The pharmacist mates inspected the villagers and those who were ill were assigned a boat and taken to another island, one for each disease. We went along on the boats and settled the natives in their new location. There were many trips and it took quite a while. Leprosy is like Yaws but more serious and Elephantiasis causes the limbs to swell a great deal to the point where they cannot move about. One interesting little ditty about the natives: In order to make money the ladies from the villages would come into our camp to do our washing. They were accompanied by a man named George who was their boss, who did nothing but stand around and joke with all of us. We paid the girls 10cents a day for their work and George took a nickel of it. The women were topless but very unattractive. One young girl however was rather cute. Her name was Mitzigo (?) and she was the favorite of the group. Not that you’d want to but no one touched these girls. Not only were you afraid of disease but the Marines had very heavy penalties for anyone who touched a Native or went into their village. I don’t remember anyone violating this rule but I am sure some of the Marines were foolhardy to do so.

By May 1st I had accumulated enough points to be discharged and I was sent back to Guam for processing. This took some time so I worked at the hospital on Guam until my orders came through. Once received, I was lucky enough to get a cargo flight to Hawaii and another to the states. I was then sent to Great Lakes where my Navy career started to receive my “ruptured duck” the emblem given to all dischargees.

Before going home I visited Mr. And Mrs. Argo, Caryl’s parents who really took a shine to me. Caryl had taken up with some young man who Mr. Argo didn’t like and he asked me to try and break up their relationship. I wasn’t successful and took the train for home. Caryl was a very fine girl who I have not seen of course since May 1946 and I often wonder what happened to her. I arrived in Cleveland on May 31, 1946 and remember walking up the stairs from the train to see my family waiting at the top. I had not seen them since December 1944 so the reunion was very exciting. So my naval career was over after 2 years and 5 months which except for a few weeks was actually very interesting and enjoyable.