U s s seawolf submarine.., p.21
U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 21
"Why, he's the pilot," somebody said.
A pilot? We resented that. Our Skipper managed to bring us through all sorts of hell without a pilot, didn't he? He could bring the Wolf in here with his eyes closed. In a few minutes we got under way again. The air was full of planes now. It seemed strange to stand on deck and not hear the order, "Take her down." Subconsciously we expected to be strafed any minute. We proceeded up that bay, and now it seemed the entire water front was celebrating our arrival. Whistles were blowing, flags were flying, and overhead the planes were dipping in salute.
For us? I couldn't get it. None of us on deck could. Why, the Wolf, so far as the man on the street was concerned, was a ghost. She was a submarine that had been commissioned one December day, before the war, and then vanished, except for a brief note here and there. All anyone knew was that the Seawolf had done herself proud. How did that Navy announcement read? ... "a cruise that would go down as one of the epic stories of submarine warfare"?
Then we woke up. A battered cruiser was coming into harbor at the same time. We stared at her. Somebody said, "Hell, that's who they're welcoming, not us." We felt a little silly, and a little hurt, too. Didn't anyone know we were coming in, too?
At first we didn't recognize the Navy Yard. It seemed expanded to four times its size. We steamed past all sizes and shapes of ships we'd never seen before. We stared at one ship that was the craziest-looking vessel we'd ever seen.
"What's that, a garbage lighter?" someone asked.
"It's a scow," somebody else said.
Then the word was passed along: "It's one of those invasion barges." We were mortified to think we didn't know what an invasion barge looked like.
"Don't you guys know there's a war on?" someone cracked.
The Wolf finally neared the sub dock. She glided in. We were home.
Now Deragon stepped out in front of the crew. "Boys," he said, "I'm working to get leave parties arranged. All rate thirty days' furlough. We expect to be here from two and a half to three months. Half of the crew goes first, then the other half." He stopped. "The rest of the time," he said, "we'll work like fools getting the Wolf back to sea."
I was frantic to get to a phone to call Marjorie. She hadn't heard from me since our last stop in Australia more than two months before. Finally I was able to dash across the gangplank and touch the earth of the States again. I got on my knees and kissed the ground. I thought I was alone in the darkness, but a woman saw me and giggled.
I ran a half-mile to the barracks and didn't stop until I came to a telephone booth. Half the Wolf’s duty section was there.
They were all supposed to be on board; but, like me, they couldn't wait to get in touch with their families.
I went over to the Navy Yard canteen and got $10 worth of change, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Then I sat in line for the telephone. Nobody said a word. I was fourth. I went into the booth. It was hot and smelled of cigarette smoke. I plunked my money on the board under the phone.
"Get me Chicago," I told the long-distance operator.
"I'm sorry," her cool voice came back. "You will have to wait six hours."
"Six hours! Why?"
"There are important calls going on," she said.
"They can't be any more important than mine," I said. "I want to tell my wife I'm alive and back in the States."
She said: "Sorry, sir, but that is classified as a personal call."
I slammed the receiver down, picked up my money, and walked out. The others had the same experience. I walked away almost ready to bawl. Here I hadn't been home in two years. I hadn't heard my wife's voice in all that time. I hadn't seen my youngster. I was terribly homesick. Halfway back to the boat I decided to send Marjorie a wire. I turned on my heel and sent the wire from the same telephone booth.
Arrived West Coast port safely. Looks like I'm staying awhile.
Grab an extra pair of pants and Spike, catch first train for
'Frisco. All love, Mel.
The next morning we went about town, and we were really introduced to a new United States. We stood and stared at lady welders, lady truck drivers, and wondered what in hell had happened to the country.
That afternoon a committee of the crew went out and bought a wrist watch and some luggage as a gift for the Skipper before we moved off the Seawolf.
When it came time for me to open my locker and take my personal belongings on shore, I knew I was saying good-by to the Wolf. It had been more than just a steel structure to me. I'd lived and died a thousand times on this ship. Men whom I admired more than any others I know, had lived and worked with me on this ship. I knew every bulkhead, every odor. She held no secrets from me. I walked through her before I took off my stuff, letting my mind wander over all the Wolf had done: the evacuations of men and matériel; the High Command, the aviators, ammunition, depth charges, Christmas Island—a thousand places, a thousand thrills.
After dinner the word went through the ship, "All hands on the barge."
Captain Warder came over the gangway. We stiffened to attention. He was wearing all his decorations, but he looked unhappy.
"Boys," he began, "you know it is a custom in submarines when the Captain is relieved for him to make a little farewell speech. It is something every skipper dreads. Well, I've come to say good-by. I have new orders. I am to be relieved. I'll be back out there before any of you. There is no use going into details about what I think of you."
He stopped. We saw tears rolling down his cheeks, and some of us were beginning to sniffle, too. "Sincerely, I have been very fortunate," he continued. "Here, I believe, is the best submarine crew ever gathered together. I know the man who is taking this ship out, and although many of you are leaving the Wolf, I want those of you who are remaining aboard to give him the same unswerving loyalty that you have given me. He is a good man, and he knows his submarines. Now I'm going to shake hands with every one of you and say, 'Good luck and a pleasant cruise.'"
There was a lump in my throat. My eyes smarted. I knew if I stayed there much longer I would start bawling. Then Sousa stepped out.
"Captain," he said, "we hate to see you go. Speaking for the men and myself, we have been very fortunate, too, having you for a captain. As you know, it is also a custom in submarines when a captain is being relieved and the crew does not like to see him go, to give him some token of their feelings. We would like to present you with this watch, which we had engraved coming from us, your crew, and this luggage which we thought you might need."
"Thank you," said Captain Warder, and his voice trembled.
"Thank you all, boys."
We lined up and shook hands. When he came to me, he said:
"Good-by, Eckberg, and good luck."
I managed to choke out, "Good-by, Captain, I hope I can serve with you again some day."
He gripped my hand hard. "Nothing would please me more, Eckberg," he said.
He was escorted to the gangplank by Lieutenant Deragon.
They shook hands, then Captain Warder slapped his executive officer's shoulder, turned, and waved to us. He walked over the gangplank to the dock and was gone.
He had brought his ship and his men safely home.
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