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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.20

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 20

 

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific
 


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  We spent several days hunting for trouble. No luck. Then, finally, we set an easterly course for Pearl Harbor. On the way Captain Warder spotted ships. The Wolf prepared to attack—an attack that was to prove one of the most dangerous she ever tried.

  "Seems to be a whole mess of ships," the Skipper said. "This one Maru looks big enough. We'll plunk him ... Wait a minute. Of all things to blunder into! Look what we got this time!"

  We had a pretty good idea down in sound. Maley and I had a number of sets of screws going in our ears.

  "We've got screws all over this damn place," I called to the Skipper.

  "I'm not surprised, Eck," he said, a little ruefully. "We're barged into a floating cannery and her brood of fishing boats."

  Fishing boats! And thick as flies! That was bad. Fishing boats meant deep, heavy nets hanging down; and if our propellers struck a net, we'd have to surface—in the face of gun batteries that could blast us out of the water.

  "Well, see if you can get me a range." Captain Warder's words were easy.

  I tried. There were too many ships.

  "Make ready the bow tubes," came a moment later. "This will be a difficult attack. ..." A few minutes went by ... "Fire one! Damn it, we missed! ... Damn that bastard!"

  We dove deep. On sound I heard the ship and her brood scuttling away. She dropped two depth charges as a parting salute, but they were mild.

  The next day we sighted two more ships, one heading south, one north. They were not alone. Jap bombers roared overhead, and patrol vessels played sentry on either side. The Wolf tried for the ships anyway. They were racing along at twenty-five knots or better. We could not close the range sufficiently to launch an attack. We gave it up, finally, knowing we had not been detected, and pushed on for Pearl.

  We were less than five days out of Pearl when the shout came, "Plane above the port bow!"

  We stood by to dive.

  "We don't have to dive for that baby," came a moment later. "It's a PBY."

  We felt like cheering below. We were in home waters now. We wanted to be topside, and we wanted to be up there badly.

  For many weeks I hadn't seen sunlight or tasted fresh air. I must have looked the way I felt. "Like a dirty turkish towel," was how Maley put it. I knew I had lost weight. My pants hung so loosely. I had to use new holes in my belt to keep them up. But we tried to forget about topside and set to work cleaning up the Wolf. Our cruise had been a real success. Pearl was the nearest to home we had been in two years. We worked and thought of home again. Family photographs suddenly came to light once more. We reread old letters.

  In the mess hall one night I was talking to Rudy Gervais. He was in love with a girl in Connecticut. He had a curious sensation of being far too old for her—suddenly. She was young; he felt old as the hills.

  "The last time I saw her I was just a kid," he complained. "Now I'm not a kid any more. She still is. How are we going to hit it off?"

  "Aw, you're still a kid," I told him. "Don't worry, she'll be more than glad to have you."

  "I don't know," he said. I looked at him. Shave off that beard, and he still would be taken for eighteen.

  The eve of hitting Pearl, some of us below went up on the bridge. A handful of us went up at a time. When I came up, there were three figures standing by the rail. One was Lieutenant Syverson.

  "Good evening, Eck," he said. "Come on up."

  Then we stood there silently. No one spoke. We couldn't see the land. Moonlight shimmered on the water. It was a perfect night. The Wolf left a sparkling phosphorescent trail. It was a damn pretty thing to see. We all breathed deeply, and then, one by one, went below.

  It was November, almost a year since the Jap attack. We had been out at sea nearly twelve months.

  We sat around in a circle in Kelly's Pool Room that night, and we talked about Pearl. It was just 2,200 miles from home. I looked around at the men. We weren't the same men who had left Cavite a year ago. Sully had flicks of gray in his beard. Deep lines were etched in Maley's face. I had lost a lot of weight. Hank Brengelman's Santa Claus face wasn't roly-poly any more. Only Pop Rosario looked the same. He might have been thirty and he might have been fifty.

  We talked about Pearl Harbor. How would she look? I remembered when I first saw it in 1929. There were only nine buildings and a couple of piers.

  Sully exclaimed: "Damn it, Eck, there couldn't have been."

  That started an argument that lasted for hours. Finally, about 2 A.M., I went to bed.

  We had early reveille and were met by a destroyer escort to take us in. The order from the bridge was one we hadn't heard for a long time: "Station the channel watch." We were in Pearl.

  Every few minutes somebody would yell: "Christ Almighty, look at that!" or "Look at those guns!"

  The word finally came, "Secure the radio watch." Then: "If you are in the uniform of the day, come on deck."

  This meant clean dungarees, shorts, shirts, and white hat. I had been prepared for this hours ago. I climbed topside, emerged from the conning tower, and stood transfixed. I was stunned by the sight and sound.

  The Seawolf was slowly gliding into Pearl Harbor. But what a different spectacle than when we had last been here two years ago! It was unbelievable. The sky above us was darkened by huge, sausage-like barrage balloons. The harbor on both sides of us was a staggering scene of destruction, as though a tornado had twisted across it, overturning ships, snapping crane booms like matchsticks, splitting buildings in half. We passed piled-up fragments of planes, their wings jutting out grotesquely; ships splotched with huge holes, keels and hulls of nameless vessels. There was the screeching of moving derricks, the scream of air hammers, a bedlam of engines roaring, machines pounding, men at work.

  The Seawolf moved slowly past a gigantic overturned hulk. Against its immensity, the men swarming over it appeared no larger than ants. Somebody on deck murmured in an awed voice: "The Oklahoma!" and I stared at it. To our right as we moved into dock lay a light cruiser with a damaged superstructure; on the left, we were passing Ford Island. It looked as though a hurricane had wrecked it. Trees were splintered, structures leveled to the ground. Directly ahead of us now was the submarine base. I had never seen so many submarines tied up before. Anti-aircraft guns bristled from every roof overlooking the harbor; sandbags were piled high in front of every building.

  You could be sure of this: history would never record a second surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

  Quite a crowd waited on the dock to welcome us. I saw faces I hadn't seen for months. There were shouts of, "Hello, Skipper, how was the trip?" and "Good hunting, Captain?"

  We tied up. Lieutenant Deragon made an announcement to the crew. "We are now in Pearl Harbor," he said formally. "The Captain expects to fuel up, take on supplies, and leave here the first possible moment. There will be free beer for the entire crew with the exception of the duty section."

  We cheered that.

  Lieutenant Deragon went on: "The beer is at the swimming pool. You men know where that is. You owe a vote of thanks for it to Commander Stephens, executive officer of the submarine base."

  Captain Warder, smartly dressed in a new khaki uniform, as trim a naval officer as ever stepped on a deck, appeared from below.

  Deragon concluded: "Now what we have done on this last patrol and where we have been is no one's business but our own. You men are free now. Go ashore and enjoy yourself. But be ready to leave at half an hour's notice. Now, I think Captain Warder has a few things he'd like to say."

  Captain Warder stepped forward. He was all smiles. "Boys," he said, "this might sound repetitious. The only excuse I make for it is that I am sincere. I am proud of you all. We have made a fine record. We have a wonderful ship. To my way of thinking, we have the best submarine crew in the United States Navy. My thanks goes out to every one of you."

  We stood there listening, and we liked it.

  "I am now on my way to Admiral Nimitz's headquarters," he said. "If we can possibly do it, we will leav
e tomorrow. I know you are eager to get home, and so am I. Now, have a good time. I'll see you all up at the swimming pool."

  We found ice-cold beer at the pool. The crew of the Seawolf relaxed. We lolled about, lying on the grass, taking it easy on the deck chairs, and letting the sun and air get at us. Captain Warder appeared an hour later, sank into a deck chair, and paid his acknowledgments to a glass of cold beer. A few minutes later Commander Stephens joined him.

  Old Pop Mocarsky, who hadn't smiled in a year, marched up and stood in front of the Captain. He turned to the crew.

  "How's the beer, boys?" Old Pop shouted. "O.K.?"

  "O.K.! Pop," we shouted back. Captain Warder rose to his feet, put a hand on Pop's shoulder, and looked at all of us.

  "Pop," he said, "the beer is fine. I'm fine, and you look fine. Today the whole world's fine."

  After the party a group of us looked in at the ship's service store. There we saw the first American girl we'd seen in nearly two years. She was standing behind the counter, sorting handkerchiefs, and she was small and blonde, and pretty. She came up to wait on us. We stared at her. A red flush crept into her cheeks.

  "What are you men looking at?" she said finally, trying to fight off a smile. "Do you want to buy something or not?"

  We realized then that we must have looked pretty odd, with our beards, our cut-off dungarees, wearing no socks, and staring at her like high-school kids.

  Sousa said, "Now, honey, you ought to feel honored. Got any socks?"

  She had some, and we all solemnly bought ourselves one pair each.

  We were like housewives on a shopping tour, going from counter to counter, looking at things, feeling them, smelling them.

  Yet the ship was on our minds. We felt a little lost away from her. And all at once we got stage fright. We felt conspicuous. We wanted to get away from the lights and people's eyes, and down inside the Wolf again where lights were low and the faces around us, before and behind us, were the faces we knew. We hurried back. On the way we passed an officer. We had taken about four steps when he called out:

  "Just a minute, sailors!"

  We turned and stared at him.

  "You failed to salute," he said.

  For the first time in months we realized we were back in the Navy. We hadn't saluted an officer for a long, long time. Someone mumbled, "Sorry, sir," and we saluted and hurried on.

  The Wolf was fueling up at the dock. Supplies were coming aboard. The entire crew was there. We had liberty, no one had called us back, and yet none of us felt comfortable more than a hundred yards away from the Wolf. We were going home. We weren't taking any chances.

  Most of us sat up on deck that night and talked about home. I hit the sack early in the morning. Some of the others stayed topside and talked all through the night. I didn't sleep well. I was so accustomed to pitching and rolling that the lack of motion disturbed me.

  At 4 p.m. the next afternoon the cry echoed: "All hands to quarters."

  Sousa mustered the crew in three minutes flat. Not a man was missing.

  "Stations for getting under way!" the order came.

  I turned for a last look at Pearl Harbor, then I climbed down into the ship. The lines were pulled in; the sharp rat-tat-tat of our engines echoed across the harbor; we were escorted out by a destroyer; and after darkness fell, we set a straight course for San Francisco. We were heading home.

  CHAPTER XI

  The Wolf Comes Home

  THE LAST trip of the Wolf was a rollicking one. Card games were in full swing in Kelly's Pool Room, and bull sessions went on at all hours. The Skipper dropped into the radio shack the second night.

  "Eckberg, you're due for a little rest in the States," he said. "To insure that rest, is there any school you'd like to attend?"

  I thought that over. If I knew anything, it was physics, and physics and electronics were becoming more and more important. Whole new worlds were opening up.

  "I'd like to brush up on radio, sir," I said.

  He nodded. "Good!" he said. "Radio it is."

  In much the same fashion Captain Warder made the rounds of all the old-timers, telling them they were due for a rest. The word had gone around that he was due for another war assignment. It would take him off the Wolf.

  The trip was routine, but cold. As we came farther north, we began to freeze. We'd been in tropical waters for a long time. We'd lived in a pair of shorts and little else for months. Bit by bit we began to pile covering on us. Pretty soon I was wearing an old leather jacket, and under that two sweatshirts, then a dungaree shirt, and then an undershirt. In my bunk I shivered under two woolen blankets. Loaiza was muttering constantly about the "frigid" weather, lamenting in Spanish, "I can't stand it another minute."

  We were about halfway home when we began discussing our perennial question, what were we going to do our first night home. I knew what I'd do. First I'd telephone Marjorie. I'd talk to Spike over the telephone. He might even be able to say, "Hello, Pop." I'd get a kick out of that. Then I'd drop over and surprise my brother Roy in his barroom.

  About midnight some of the crew began to drift into the radio room. The shack normally held three men, if they weren't too big, but before long six were in it somehow. How the bull flew! Every man was determined that the rest of the gang had to hear what he was going to do. We were given graphic descriptions, long and detailed. But after a while the men began to drift out. We were all impatient. None of us could stay in one place long. For the first time the Wolf was beginning to cramp us. We were focusing on the world outside, and that world was terribly big. Only Maley and I were left, and idly I brought out our old song book. There it was, little the worse for wear. And there was the song, "Begin the Beguine." The book fell open to the page. I mused over the words. I thought, How many times I’ve opened this old book to that page and these words diverted my mind from things that wouldn't let me relax. "Begin the Beguine," whether I knew the words or not, was an old friend of mine. And pretty soon I was humming it, and Maley joined me, and we were both singing at the top of our lungs. We were happy. Nobody complained, but now and then an alarmed head was stuck in. The Wolf’s crew was relaxed. Not so long ago one peep out of us, and protests rained about our heads. We'd been under tension. Everybody had been living on nerve—all save Captain Warder, I think. Somehow he knew the secret of relaxation.

  In my own case the tension of these last twelve months was to stay with me for a long time after I came home. Marjorie was to be unhappy, Spike afraid to talk to me, because I was so irritable. For weeks after, I'd wake up at two and three in the morning, walk around, smoke half a dozen cigarettes, and try to fall asleep again. For a long time I couldn't sleep more than three hours at a time.

  We were still singing when Lieutenant Deragon poked his head around the corner. We shut up. We must have been pretty loud to bother him. He came into the doorway a minute later, arms akimbo, looked at us, and finally announced:

  "Eckberg, I have listened to you moan and groan that damn thing for about a year now. That in itself is all right, but every time you tackle it, it becomes worse. Now either learn the words or shut up."

  I'd already shut up, so I just grinned at him.

  The Wolf moved on. The night of the fifth day out, I strolled into Kelly's Pool Room. Dishman, Zerk, Swede, and a few other men were in there, with John Street the center of attention. They had been discussing the Wolf’s toll of Jap ships. John was sitting there, chewing on a pencil, a pad of paper in front of him.

  "O.K.," he was saying, "here's the way I figure it."

  I sat in. I'd heard a hell of a lot of those ships go down.

  He was adding the totals. "Comes out to over a dozen ships known sunk, and maybe half a dozen damaged. That's not bad."

  "Not bad!" I said. "Hell, it's wonderful."

  "You want to remember," Dishman put in, "most of these we got were men-of-war. The Wolf did okay. There's nobody got anything to say against her."

  The Wolf came in sight of the Gol
den Gate. The word came down from the bridge and ran through the ship like wildfire. Requests to go topside were flying up to the conning tower. The reply came, "Nobody allowed on the bridge." It seems we had a rendezvous with a ship which was to escort us into the Gate. As soon as we passed the Gate, deck hatches were opened.

  "Let the boys up on deck," said the Skipper, "but pass the word that it is cold up here, and they'd better put on all the clothes they have."

  There was a mad rush to the hatches. We were making good speed, and when I came up, the wind almost took my breath away. And the cold. The wind whistled down the deck with numbing effect. The first thing I saw was the mountainous Golden Gate. It looked somber under a dreary gray sky. I could see the pencil-white line of surf, and in the distance, the outline of familiar sights. My mind was in a whirl. Here was the good old U.S.A.! God, I was glad to see it! I stood there and stared. Here was home. Here was a place I hadn't seen for twenty-five long months. I thought, What in hell ever made the Japs think they could overrun my home? Why, every man, woman, and child would have used clubs to keep them away if they had to. The Japs might have caught us by surprise at Pearl Harbor, but this was home. No Jap would ever dare to try anything here. I don't think I ever had such sense of pride and love for my country as I had on the deck of the Wolf that cold day, cruising slowly over the slate-black waters into port.

  Suddenly we stopped. I thought, What now? In peacetime we could expect to be held up by customs officials and agents of the Department of Agriculture. If one of these inquisitive fellows was coming aboard, I'd gladly volunteer to throw him into the bay. We certainly had no agricultural produce on the Wolf. We didn't have enough fresh fruit to feed an ant.

  A speedboat dashed out to us. A young Navy lieutenant clambered aboard. We must have looked bedraggled and woebegone compared to this pink-cheeked young officer. We were bundled up in sweaters, our underwear was hanging out of our shorts, we were unshaven, our noses were red, our cheeks sunken, and we had six- to nine-inch beards. What was this stranger aboard for?

 
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