T/4, Coxswain, Co. C, 543rd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, 3rd Engineer Special Brigade, USA
Enlistment at Fort Mac Arthur, San Pedro Ca. 8/8/1942
I had seen an article in the paper that they were forming a special unit, that would operate landing craft and other boats in the army. They were looking for people who had experience in the operation of small boats. The headquarters of the Army Amphibian Engineers was at Camp Edwards Mass. I ask Ed. Grant, Art Tillesen and Darr Smith to write recommendations for me and I was accepted. At Ft. MacArthur I met Joe Ayres who was the only other man that enlisted in the Amphibs. Joe was from Long Beach also and lived about 6 blocks from where I had been raised. We got on a train and went all the way to Camp Edwards together. Aug. 20, 1942 Camp Edwards Mass. We were put in a training group for 3 to 4 weeks. All the people in the platoon were Amphibs. Some would be shore Engineers, some would go to Mechanic schools, some to boat maintenance schools, and I was sent to Higgins Boat Operators School in New Orleans La. Here we saw our first Landing craft. They were an unusual boat 36′ long they were designed for a very different task than regular boats. These boats had to get on the beach and then get off again. They had Gray Marine Engines (GMC) Diesel. Some early boats had Hall Scott Gas engines, As newer boats came out they all had Diesel. I think because diesel was much safer. The types of boats were LCPL, Landing Craft Personnel, Lighter. LCVP Landing, Craft, Vehicle, Personnel. The instructors were all outstanding boatmen. The story was that they Had all been Rum Runners Bringing Rum from Cuba. Our courses covered engines, maintenance, dead reckoning navigation, anchoring, and all types of operation of the boats, and night operations. We lived in tents in a park that fronted on Lake Pontchartrain. We were there about 3 weeks. We felt we were some thing special. Another story was that Higgins built boats for the rum runners and the Revenue People, One year the runners had the fastest boats the next the Revenue would get a faster boat. It made a good story anyway.
Another type of boat that we had was LCPR Landing Craft Personal Ramp, This boat had a narrow ramp in the bow, with machine gun turrets on each side. This boat was later discontinued because of they couldn’t get the troops out quick enough. It had such a narrow passage to exit. The LCVP and The LCM6 are still used today.
Oct. & Nov. 1942
Camp Candoit a satellite camp of Camp Edwards near the small town of Catuit, Strange name. Only in those days, satellite was not even thought of. We moved into 6 man tents. I had met the men, I would be bunking with at Higgens. They were Newt Borden Bill Branch, who I have kept contact with all these years, until we lost Bill 2 years ago. There was a man by the name of Ranney, and another by the name of Shepard. It was wonderful how we met and became close comrades. Newt is a New Englander from Mass. Bill was southern man. Bill said one time that his Daddy would turn over in his grave if he knew his best friend was a damn yankee. I have always marveled how the north and south have come as close as they have, when the civil war tore them so far apart. Bill later became a platoon Sgt and Newt run a Gun Boat.
While at Camp Candoit I was put on Guard Duty one day in a boat yard in Osterville. This boat yard had shops and while walking my post, I noticed some engines set up on stands. These engines looked strange the spark plugs were all tied together with metal straps. It took a while but found that they were BUDA diesel engines, what I thought was spark plugs were heater glow plugs for starting the diesel engine. I had never seen one before.
While at Candoit we received our first weapons The M-1 Garand. They were full of cosmoline (a heavy grease). We used boiling water to get them clean. It was here I learned something that would shape my life. One morning there was a notice on the board that all units would start learning to signal with flags, there would be a limited number of flag sets available the rest of the people would be obliged to IMPROVISE. This IMPROVISION has been the story of my life. Word came down that we were going on detached duty. We boarded trains and went Norfolk Va, There we were issued 50′ LCM Landing Craft Mechanized, and told we were to take them to Florida. This trip was to be quite an adventure, through the inter-coastal water way. Through the Carolina’s, Georgia, and across Florida to the gulf coast and up the coast to Carrabelle. Our destination was Camp Gordon Johnson, Where our Eng Boat & Shore Regt. would learning more about the craft that would be our masters for the next 3 years or so.
There were three of us on each “M’ boat a coxswain, engineer, and a seaman. I was the engineer on the boat I was crew on. There was about 20 or 30 boats I really don’t remember. We kind of followed the leader, there was a command boat that led us also a maintenance boat in case of breakdown. They issued us “C” rations and I recall some other rations. We would stop at fuel docks and fill the tanks also get oil and grease. Food was a problem as the boats got scattered out along the water way. There was no cabin, just a tarp over the cargo well. We had cots on the cargo decks. Not the best accommodations but just a taste of what was to come when we got overseas. We were at New Brunswick Georgia Thanksgiving Day. I went into a small dock side Cafe and had a rather lonesome dinner. We would rotate with the operation of the boat. The reason the boats were being taken to Florida was the rest of the company was being transported by train. They had no “M” boats at Camp Gordon Johnson so we were ferrying them south for the winter. The 2nd Brigade had moved on to Ft. Ord to make room for us. They had also been in training longer and were needed in Australia and New Guinea. We didn’t know this at the time. We continued down the coast of Florida to where the Water way turns and goes west across the state. We crossed Lake Okachobe to the gulf side of Fla. and then up the coast. I remember we stopped at Tarpon Springs, a Greek sponge fishing port. We were out of cigarettes and I only had about 50 cents. I found a bag of OUR ADVERTISER roll your own there must have been 5 lb. in the bag with papers. This had to last until we got to Carrabelle. When I got to Carrabelle I was pretty well worn out, I think I had the Flu. The First Sgt. Mayberry, sure treated me good. He let me rest up a few days to get to feeling better. Newt Borden says a book could be written on that trip.
At Camp Gordon Johnson We lived in Barracks that were frame construction, with tar paper and batts on the side. It was cold at night and the water tower had great ice icicles that seemed to be 2 or 3 feet long.
Camp Gordon Johnson Dec. 1942 Through April 1943;
Our training here covered all the shore things like, Close order drill, Machine Gun, Obstacle Course, Crawling under machine gun fire with tracers at night, that was quite a thrill. Rifle Range, and boat training
I got a chance to go HOME to California. We had no idea when we would go over seas or where. I requested a furlough and received a 7 day furlough and a 3 day pass to go all the way to California. I took the bus from Tallahassee Fl. to New Orleans La. then the train to L. A. Four days each way and Two days at home. Quite a trip but I felt it was worth it.
In April the 2nd Brigade left Fort Ord for the South West Pacific this created an opening at Ft. Ord so the 3rd Brigade moved to California by train. As I recall we had pullman cars, with two to a bunk.. Meals were prepared in Baggage Cars by our cooks. Quite a trip.
We arrived at Fort Ord East Garrison April 22, 1943. (note in Feb. of 1997 Elger and Wilma Anderson, with Lorraine and I. Found the Barracks #1951, Steve Johnson had a reference to it in his journal We have pictures of Elger and I standing in the Co. street)
At Ft. Ord we did all sorts of training Including An overnight to Sana Cruz. We got our first boating experience of boating in the Pacific Ocean. Beach landings, Boat maintenance, Dead reckoning Navigation, and boat operation. There were also long distance runs from Monteray to Los Angles San Pedro. This was all a learning process of things to come. July 31st 1943 Colliers Mag. had a feature article “Shore To Shore Invaders” If we had seen the article we would have got a better picture of what our mission was. I didn’t make the run to L. A. I was on a 3 day pass and was home in Long Beach when they were in San Pedro and went to the harbor and visited with them. They were very wet and bedraggled. It was a very rough voyage about 400 miles in the open sea, including going around Point Concepiton which has been the graveyard of many ships.. The LCVPs they were using had been decked over with canvas to protect the crew sleeping area. I think there were 3 – LCVPs and one LCPL these landing craft were only 36 feet long. To this day I believe it was quit a feat.
As part of our training we would do night problems on Monteray Bay using RPM speed curver to Figure our speed and the compass for our courses. The problems were to locate a bouy in the harbor and beaches to land on, even in the fog. I would hate to have to do it now. These programs went on during the summer of 1943.
We found out much later that we were just killing time until transportation became available to the South Pacific. The Transport we were scheduled for had been sunk in the Guadalcanal. area. So a lot of things had to be had to be rescheduled.
One the things that was part of our training took us. in to the Mojave Desert. In Oct. 1943 we were ordered to load into trucks with our fieldgear and we headed south. We spent the first night in Bakersfield. I figured that we would stay there in the fair grounds. I committed a sin I called my folks in Long Beach, and Suggested that they visit our friends the Closen’s. And doggone if they weren’t waiting at the entrance to the grounds when we got there. we had a nice visit. We set up pup tents (Shelter Halfs) on the grass for the night. The next day we went south and east over the Tehachapi Pass and dropped down into the High Desert of the great Mojave Desert.. Then on to Victorville and about 50 miles to LEACH LAKE, a dry lake about 30 miles from Death Valley. We again set up our shelterhalfs and made camp, our purpose was to fire Ack Ack machine guns at targets that were being towed by air planes. We soon learned that we were to get along on one ( 1 ) canteen of water a day. We were lucky it was winter an the heat was not a problem. We also learned that we would be required to shave every day. this could have been a problem except for the old improvision. We got an extra cup of coffee in the morning and shaved with warm coffee.
Leach Lake is in what is now Fort Erwin the large desert training base in the Mojave Desert. Darby Larson spent several years at Ft.. Irwin as a Tank Mechanic in the mid 1990s Small world. 56 years later. Darby is Flo and Stan’s Grand son, and Becky and Phil’s son.
Our training started the next day the targets were pulled across the firing line. We used water cooled 30 cal. and water cooled 50 cal. I don’t know if we ever hit any thing. It was all very interesting. We were there about a week and were a pretty dirty gritty bunch. When we go the word that we would be leaving the next day we wanted to get cleaned up, but no water except our canteens. Again the improvision came into play. The water cooled machine each had about 5 gal of water in their cooling tanks, and it was warm from the firing of the guns, the water also had a lot of oil in it. We also knew that no ordnance man wouldn’t let the guns be fired with out replacing the water. So that night we went to the firing line and put some of the water in our helmets and had “good” wash with oily warm water. The next day we loaded up, and returned to Ft Ord, by way of Bakersfield.
Our Company was made up of three boat platoons and headquarters platoon, about 300 people. Each Boat Platoon had 15 LCM’s. I was in Headquarters Platoon. In Headquarters one squad was communications and operations another squad ran the office, including the quartermaster (supply) and another were the cooks. I was in operations, which ran the Control & service boats of the Company.
We had a unusual thing that took place while at Ft. Ord, The company commander thought we should have a vacation. At least the closest thing we would get while in the army. Big Sur is about 30 miles south of the Fort and there is a State Park there. One day we all loaded up on trucks and went to the park for a week. We made one over night hike up in in the mountains of course with our weapons and field gear, really a nice outing. Other days we would go down to the beach and fire rifle grenades and mortars. Always there were swims either at the beach or learning what to do for man over board, in a pool or pond in the park.
Knowing that we were going overseas the Mess Sgt. ,Sgt. Crumb, who had been in WW-1 knew what the problems with getting rations (food) overseas. He was going to make sure he was going to take every thing to eat that he could. Every field stove that was crated was stuffed full of canned goods. Every create that had any room in it for any thing was stuffed with any thing he thought we would need. After all his plans to take care of us, at the last moment before we left the medical dept. said he was to old, they not let him go over with his people. Sgt Pugh was the new mess Sgt. who did a very good job with what he had.
Now the big day arrived we were going to go over seas. Dec 17 1943 we moved out of Ft. Ord to Camp Stoneman, across the bay from San Francisco. We were there about 2 weeks and on Jan. 5 1944 we boarded the SS Avalon a steamer that in it’s former life had carried thousands of passengers from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island, about 25 miles off the coast from Los Angeles. Camp Stoneman is located across the San Francisco bay and up the Sacramento River. As I recall we came down the river at night and boarded the New Amsterdam at a wharf. There were over 5000, there could have 10,000 or more I have forgotten troops on board. There were Aussies, and New Zealanders (The Rats of Tobruk, North Africa) Our stateroom was the theater, about 400 men with canvas bunks 7 high. I spotted a ventilator, and a light by one of the top bunks and started climbing. I knew I would be spending a lot of time reading and the vent would cool with fresh air. There were so many people on board that they only fed 2 meals a day. You got out of a meal and got into another line for the next. I recall the best thing they had to eat was a very large whole wheat roll then there was always rice, sometimes a large knockwurst, always tea. The ship was Dutch and the crew were East Indian. Time was spent in chow line playing cards, or the Aussies and Anzac’s had a 2 -up game going. This was a game of flipping 2 Aussie Floren coins (about the size of a half dollar) and betting on odd or even. The winner would give a tip of about 25% to the people that run the game. On 1/12/ 44 we crossed the international date line.
1/23/44 The ship arrived in New Zealand we cruised up a large passage way through the islands to Aukland. This was interesting we docked and some of the New Zealander’s from Tobruk got off, and other troops got on. Then all 10,000 of the troops filed off on one gangway in single file and on the wharf we received a ICE CREAM BAR. Then we filed back on board. We not only set foot in New Zealand ,we got an ICE CREAM BAR. Oh boy what a day. The ship then left the dock and we sailed into the Sun Set.
1/25/44 The New Amsterdam arrived in Sydney Harbor, The Manley Bridge, which connects Sydney proper with Manley. Looks today just like it did then except to day the Opera House is where a large drydock was then.
Left Sydney 2/6/44
Arrived Milne Bay 2/12/44 New Guinea
At Milne Bay we took over a ship yard. It was rather primitive when we got there. An area had to be cleared then tents set up. We used lumber that the sectionalized LCM’s came in to make floors for our tents to get us out of the mud & bugs. The food was pretty much “C” rations at first. When the mess cooks got things going there was a lot of Spam dryed eggs etc. We were able to go to a Aussie P/X & buy canned fruit (very good). We dug a hole under the floor to keep the fruit cool. I think we existed on the fruit. At least it helped out. Milne was what you would call a rear area with out any developments while we were there. As it turned out this was okay since we were soon so busy learning to do the ship yard tasks that we didn’t have much time to spare.
We found a bit about our mission, We would assemble LCMs. These M- Boats had been built by Higgins Boat works in New Orleans, Cut into sections, put into packing cases and shipped to Milne Bay on the South eastern end of New Guinea Is Which is north of Australia. When we got there, they had 3 assembly ways set up. The cargo ships would off load the sections, these would be trucked to an area close to the plant, Unloaded, uncrated, and picked up by a crane, and set on the assembly line.
A little background. In Cairns Aust. the 2nd brigade had assembled 901 LCVP for the Australians, the US Navy & the 2nd & 3rd Brigades. The need was for LCMs. Liberty Ships could only carry 2 or 3 LCMs deck loaded. A plan was worked out to sectionalize the LCM into some say 3 sections, as I recall it was 9 sections for shipping. So they could bring a lot more LCMs in one ship load. The 411 Base Shop unit moved to Milne Bay New Guinea. They started setting up the assembly plant with the 5211 base unit, but found they didn’t have enough people to do the job. So the 3rd Brigade (us ) were added to form a complete work force. Schools were set up for fitters & welders training people while the plant was being finished. The 563rd joined them in Oct. 43.
We worked 3 shifts at the assembly yard on three ways. The first month 21 LCMs were assembled in Dec. In Jan. 44, 90 LCMs were built. In Feb 120, and no less than 150 per month from March through June of 1944.
My First Boat, the “C” Boat that I had in Monteray Cal. was issued to me. The “C” boat ws a coverted 50 Foot long Navy liberty boat. It had been decked over with accodations for 4 with a chart table & a small galley with Coleman 1 burner gas stoves. It had also been given a flying bridge.
I was ecstatic, I had my own boat. The weather was fine so went to the Co. Area for the night. The next morning when I went to move aboard, all that was showing was about 2′ of the forepeak. IT HAD SUNK. I was devastated. Whoever had done the conversion of her had goofed up big time. When she was hauled out by the “A” frame (a large Tractor controlled crane) we found when the cockpit floor (sole) had been put in a drain pipe that was meant to drain the cockpit had been turned down and not connected. So every time a little water splashed against the side of the boat a little water would enter the ship, soon the boat was low enough in the water that it ran in and sunk the boat.
We pulled the boat on shore and pumped what we could. Then I drilled a hole in the bottom, to let the water drain out. Then painted the Bottom, With Cape Cod Trippel Copper Coat. ( Ed. Grant would have been happy, because that was the paint we used on the Flyaway 11) The engine had to be replaced, and while on shore, I painted the bottom and the freeboard (sides). I stayed aboard even though it couldn’t sink again. I slung a jungle Hammock in the cockpit. We had alot of rain, kept the hole in the bow so the boat didn’t fill up again.
Our task in March, April, And May 1944. I would call us sea going truckers. We were on the move constantly. The coast of New Guinea was our highway and the charts were our road maps. The convoys of 3 or 4 up to 15 or 20 -LCMs would haul cargos of people, vehicles, and any supplies that an Army would need to exist and operate with. These convoys would travel up to 1000 miles.
LCMs were 50′ and 56′ long
14′ beam or wide
Weight 24 Tons
Cargo Maximum-30 Tons
Ramp Loading- refered to as Tank Lighter
Fuel Capacity 450 Gal. In two tanks
Lubricating oil 20 Gal. SAE 30
5 gal SAE 50
Fresh Water 80 Gal. in 16 -5 gal GI Cans
50 Caliber ammunition- 1590 rounds, For the Two 50 Cal. Machine Guns. The the Fuel used was. 8 miles per gallon, at about 8 miles per hour.
Loading out for Mindoro P. I. Jan. 22, 1945Mindoro P. I. the conversion of the LCS to The J Boat. & Prep For the Landing at Zamboanga, Mindanao. The landing at Zamboanga, Basalan Is. Trips to Cotobato, Parang.
March 10, 1945 Our first combat landing.
Moving “C” Co. from Zamboanga Mindenao to Aboyog Leyte staged for landing in Japan. Took Boat crews to Batangus near Manila
Loading out for The Occupation of Japan. Amori Japan, Duties The cold, The Point system, Saying goodbye to Co. C. Taking the train to Yokahoma for shipment to the U. S. Debarking Fort Lewis washington. Taking the train from Fort Lewis to Fort McArthur, Arriving Home. Discharge. Starting a new life
March, Through, December, 1944 And January 1945
New Guinea, New Britain, & The Netherlands East Indies
Some of Co. C were working in the assembly plant others were giving shake down runs to the new boats. Our section made ranges on Islands to swing the compasses, the regular 8″ liquid compass plus the Magnasigne electric compass that the boats carried, and compensate them. The Magnasigne compass was set on a pyramid brackets over the con on LCM’s. My understanding was it was to help counter the Magnetic attraction of all the metal of the boat & cargo. A normal liquid compass was subject to a lot of local magnetism or local attraction. It had a sending unit on the top and a receiving indicator in the con of the boat.
We also set up ranges on the shore a nautical Mile apart so speed curves could be made. This was done by Timing the run between the range markers every 100 RPM so we would know the speed of the boat. This run was made in each direction so an average speed could be put on a graph called a speed curve. This gave us an aid to our dead reckoning, point to point navigation.
As boat crews received their boats, convoys from the boat platoons would be formed. They would load 15 to 20 tons of cargo including several passengers. At this time the crews and passengers had no protection from the weather. The well deck was the only place to Wrap up in a shelter half (half of a Pup tent) and try to stay out of the weather. Later on tarps were found, and still later Dog houses were built over the cargo well using stretchers for bunks, the length of the shelter being the length of the stretcher. There would be 4 litters where they would live cook & eat. Also sun and rain protection was made over the cockpit con area.
There where 4 men in a M-boat crew; Coxwain, Engineer. & 2 seaman. They would all relieve each other on the long runs around the round the clock.
These first trips (convoys) were from Milne Bay to Finschafen a distance of over 400 miles there was not enough fuel in the tanks to go that far. Drums of fuel were lashed on the stern usually from 4 to 6 -55gal drums. At some points along the coast the service Co. (I never did understand how Supplies, Fuel, & Parts would be at these places the logistics of this is something else) had fuel barges where we could refuel. The run from Milne Bay to Finschafen took about 50 hr. running time. Most runs were about 16 hr.
On these long runs sometimes we would run into rough weather. On such occasions, it was not unusual for us to pull into a cove for protection if there was a cove. If not we road it out. Sometimes some of the M-boats were thrown on the beach & left high and dry. These boats sometimes had to wait for maybe a week for another boat to come by & pull them off. Also on our runs, any areas that were not safe were bypassed to seaward.
Food, Jungle rations were issued also 10 in 1 and “C’ rations. At one time they put the cooks and a field kitchen on one of the boats and at meal time a boat would pull along side the chow boat and they would dish up your mess kit, and then pull away and another would get theirs. When feeding from a chow boat there would be two meals a day. I would like to say a little about the “C” rations. To start with I think the ‘C” rations were left over from WW-1, they seemed to be only beans and stew, not that tasty no matter what you did to them. Eleanore Roosevelt made a trip through the south west pacific, enough troops complained about rations, that she was able to get them improved. There was a rice& chicken, a ham & beans. And a rice pudding as I remember. We had small one burner Colman type gasoline stoves which we used to cook, or heat the food. Some of the men were fisherman, like Joe Ayers He always had a troll line out. I remember several times going aboard Joe’s boat, & Jarman, his seaman, would be frying barracuda very tasty. Fresh food was unheard of. At times later in the war we were issued canned food.
On one of the convoys to Finschhafen I developed a cyst at the base of my spine, It would not heal [in the tropics nothing heals by its self] so they put me in the hospital and removed the cyst I think, I was in for about one month. I played Sing Sing solitaire, Paula had taught it to me. When I was released I had to find a way back to my outfit it could have been about 8 or 10 miles. So went out on the road to hitch hike the first truck was a big wrecker so I brough my thumb down thinking he would not stop. He did stop and said Hi Oliver, it was a man named Bob Brothers who had gone to Jr. High with me. I haven’t seen him since, Small world. I was real lucky to find Co, “C’ and go back aboard the “C” boat.
This was a period that we were running convoys between Milne Bay & Finschhafen On the “C”Boat, we were a control boat for convoys and would take officers from one point to another, or haul mail, pay, & co. officers who were checking on our far flung detachments. We being a sea going trucking outfit were used to haul cargo to outposts, haul patrols. up & down the coast and to other islands. Also the “M” boats were used to unload cargo ships. These people were working around the clock.. Later the boat crews from some of the platoons would be flown to places were they were needed and run a shift on other Company’s or Regiments boats. This detached service could be for a month or so.
In June One boat Platoon was detached to work with the Aussies and Army units on New Britain. On June 11th a convoy of “M” boats went from Finschafen to Cape Gloucester on New Britain about 13 hr run. I had had my 23rd birthday on the 9th. The next day we the convoy continued on to Arawe New Britain Another 13 hr run. Lt. Skidmore was looking the area over as he would be in charge of the Second Platoon and there move to New Britain. This would be a three month tour. The first mention of the Fourth Brigade that I can find where Co. “C” has made contact with them was Sept. 10, 1944 at Remganini. The “Lucky Lady” M4C18 Was relieved by two boats of the 4th Brigade and took on a passenger a platoon Sgt from the 4th, and disembarked him at Arawe on Sept. 13th. In reading Steve Johnson’s log, they had very rough duty as far as the monsoon season, the beaches and food and supplies.
We the “C” boat returned to Finschafen. There we continued with the convoys, I had one loop run that was 1000 miles a week. We would haul Px supplies, Pay, Company Officers, Chaplains, and what ever.
September& October 1944
In Sept. we made several convoys to Milne Bay To pick up more new boats. A number of boat crews were taken in LCMs to ferry back new boats the 400 miles to Finschafen, to replace the boats that been damaged or worn beyond repair. Another reason for the new boats the new “M” boats were 6′ longer. This 6′ gave them a better balance and better fuel economy, and a little better speed. Plus more cargo space.
We didn’t know what the long range plans for Co. C were but something was taking place, There was a lot of action taking place north and east of us, in the Netherlands East Indies. New Guinea at that time was Australian and Dutch. The southern part was pretty secure at this time[the Australian] the northern part [Dutch] still had a lot of Japanese. We figured this would be our next area of operation.
I might go into some of the innovations these boat crews made on there boats. To make life easier, more comfortable, and safer. “M” boats have very small deck area, space is taken up by the machine guns, the fuel drums, ground tackle (anchor, chain, rope, and mooring lines) some burned holes into the engine rooms so these could be stored below, clearing deck space. Some savaged port holes from wrecks and installed them in the engine room for better ventilation and light. I got a hold of a set of very large set of batteries and installed them and a charging system. A boat is no place for a dead battery. you can’t push a boat to start it. We had one set of batteries for starting and one for lights and radios. Another thing we did was find a crashed Japanese Airplane and salvage radio parts and make dimmers for our compass light. It is surprising how bright a small light can get at night, it can blind you.
November And December 1944
Biak Netherlands East Indies
The powers that be decided that Co. “C” would move north to Biak. A large Island about 800 miles up the coast of New Guinea in the Dutch East Indies. This was bypassing large sections of coast line that was still in the hands of the Japanese. We made this run mostly at night, in runs of 12 to 18 hours, and staying well off shore out of range of shore positions. This trip took over 100hr. running time in a time period of 8 days. We arrived at Biak on the 12th day of November in a convoy of about 20 “M” boats.
Biak is now in what is called Indonesia, It is a large island. Our area was between the large air strip and the beach, there was a large reef several hundred yards off shore. This gave us a protected anchorage. I being in Headquarters platoon was able to stay aboard the “C” boat, where most of the “M” boat crews went ashore to build the Co. area. The coxswains of the “M” boats would stay aboard. Each day at meal time a boat would would make the rounds and pick up the people on board and take to shore for a picnic on the beach, In other words the mess hall would send down to the beach the food and we would fill our mess kits, pass the time of day and the water taxi would return us to our boats. The same taxi would take us to the beach for showers or what ever. We had a pretty good set up for water on shore, one man a truck driver had 6×6 with a large pontoon (like used in pier construction) for a water tank. He would locate a source of water and take care of our needs. The co. area would have two of these pontoons on a framework high enough to supply the showers and camp needs. The tank truck would load his tank with water then pump it up to the shower tank. a pretty neat setup. While at Biak I road with him to his source of water, It was a spring that came of a rock face wall, It must have been 15 or 20 ft. across and 6 or 8 Ft high quite artisan well. It was the only water I had while over seas that did not have chlorine.
The “C” with it’s crew, I was coxswain, Joe Howard, (who was so young we called him JR. ) was engineer, Charles K. Stadelman was seaman. Charlie was about 38 years old, so he was an old man. We had a real good crew and seemed to get along very well. When we were on convoy’s A radioman would come aboard. Usually It was Waymon E Brewer a very good man with a wonderful sense of humor. This short story that took place while loading out for the P. I.. One morning at about 02:00 we were loading out a large convoy of APA’s &AKA’s things had quieted down and there were no transmissions on the radio. Waymon said I think I’ll wake up the troops, & said into the mike “DO YOU HAVE THE BURNING DESIRE TO BECOME A MOTHER” The whole net work became alive it took about a half an hour before it settled down to normal.
We The “C” boat made several trips to Hollandia about 250 miles to pick up some boats. One time we brought back several armored 45′ boats that were similar to the Picket boats but were all steel. Wow were they hot down below, I’m glad we didn’t have to keep them. Another Island we made 2 trips to, was Japen. (the spelling is right) It was about 100 miles and a very pretty place. There was some sort of Dutch Official who lived there who the officers needed to see. The day before we made one trip we got a ration of beer, Some say it was green other said it was me being a nondrinker, anyway I got sick. Oh it was terrible I was so sick, in the morning I was still sick. I took the boat out through the reef and called Joe to take over I think I spent most of the day in the sack. Joe Ayers was a man that was from Long Beach Ca. we had lived several blocks from each other, though had never met. Joe made with his boat, these trips to Japen Island. We went hunting on one trip but didn’t see any thing to shoot.
At the end of the first year at Biak the “C’ boat was leaking and was pretty rotten. I was given a LCS (Landing Craft Support) 36′ spoon bow. This boat had steel armor on all exposed surfaces including the flying bridge, There were Machine gun mounts plus rocket launchers racks on each side of the con. This boat was rebuilt to fit our needs when we got to Mendoro P.I. and became the company “J” boat which I then had for the rest of the war.
Mindoro And The Landing At Zamboanga
On February 5, 1945 Company “C” sailed from Biak in the Netherlands East Indies in a large Naval convoy. Destination Leyte, and Mindoro in the Philippine Islands. The “J” boat was put aboard the SS Warren. There was no room on deck so we were hung in a large sling and attached to the rail of the ship at deck height. Once you got used to being there it was OK, as long as there were no sleep walkers. We had understood that we had loaded for a landing some place in the P. I., but when we arrived at Leyte for instructions on Feb. 6th, It was No Go. The Convoy was directed to Mindoro Island where we arrived on Feb. 8th. The war seemed to be moving fast. Mindoro was a staging area for a future landing, which we didn’t know where.
We Put the “J” boat on the beach and started a major revamp of the boat. All the steel armor on the sides and con was removed. Chester Williams who in his other life had worked for one of the large yacht builders did the job. He built a fore cabin that had four bunks, a chart table, and a table for cooking. He built a flying bridge, in all a very neat job that worked out very well for our work. We didn’t know what to use for windows, again improvision. The word was passed to the “M”boats if they were unloading any thing we could use to help our project. Joe Ayers brought in a packing case that had two Jeep windshields, which meant 4 pieces of glass. These worked out perfect for the fore part of the cabin and each side.
One day an “M” boat came in with word that a Liberty ship was on a reef and had been abandoned. So we, as always looking for any thing we could use on our projects, thought this seemed to be a good thing. About 20 people climbed aboard the “M” boat, and went to the Liberty Ship. As I recall there was a jacobs ladder we climbed to get aboard. Three of the 5 cargo holds had ether been hit with bombs or torpedoes, we didn’t know which. We went aboard looking for anything we could further the war effort with, or that would make life easier. We didn’t think the ship would ever sail again. Lumber was found in the holds and put over the side, along with other things of use, into the “M” boat. Some one went up to the bridge and set off a smoke flair, and it wasn’t long before a launch with the Captain came along side. It all boiled down to the fact that the Captain said they would need all the things we had removed as they planned to repair and refloat the ship. All was returned. Now for the rest of the story, In 1998 I was reading the history of the 2nd EB&SR and mention is made that there Maint. Co. of the 562nd had repaired two Liberty ships that had been hit by torpedoes and refloated them. The one we had boarded was the JUAN DE FUCA. I checked the data base on the web and the Juan De Fuca was hull #1747. The 562nd had welded large steel plates over the holes and she sailed again.
While the “J” boat was being converted, Newt Borden’s “M” boat was being converted into a Gunboat. The Cargo well was decked over a 40MM gun was mounted with rocket launchers on each side plus additional 50 cal machine guns. We called her “Borden’s Baby Battle Ship”
Borden’s Baby Battleship
These revamps were completed about the time we got the word to get ready for big landing. For us it was big for it would be our first and we would be supplying the landing craft.
After loading the APAs and the AKAs we loaded a number of LCMs on a LSD (landing ship dock). This is a ship that can flood ballast tanks and lower itself in the water, then lower a ramp and boats can drive right in to the submerged dock. I was told an LST could be dry docked in her well. There was room for 14 “M” boats plus The “J” boat and the Picket boat (45′ boat like a cabin cruiser. This boat was used for control work and the C. O. s boat. I don’t recall how many Company boats were transported, there could have been another LSD. The LSD we were on Was #14 The Rushmore.
We were told we would be making our first landing a Zamboanga on the Island of Mindinao. We left Mindoro on the 8th of March, with a number of Naval Ships including LSTs, LCIs, LSMs, APA, Destroyers and a Cruiser.
March 10, 1945, J-Day 04:00 Zamboanga. The day started with the LSD submerged its self and lowered the stern ramp and all the boats started there engines and worked there way out of the ship. Then to rendezvous in large circles to wait there turn to proceed to the beach, as there wave was called. I myself feel the one thing that set the mood for me was the shelling from the cruiser and the destroyers from sea, and the B-24 Liberators flying bombing runs over the coconut plantations on the beach. I have never before or since been surrounded by so much noise and terror. We were off shore about 2 or 3 miles the whole beach was exploding. The waves of landing craft began to move toward the beach in rows, each wave with the troops and equipment that would be needed in the right order. Just before the first wave hit the beach the shelling and bombing stopped. The boats were able to beach, unload, and retract. They returned to load another cargo to take it to the beach.
I didn’t have to go ashore and I don’t know how I would have reacted. I just know I am very thankful I didn’t have to be tested. That night we layed at anchor off the beach, I will admit that I would rather have been someplace else. The night passed and the next day we were able to move into the port of Zambonga. (it was not a bar on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood). Zambo had a wonderful T shaped pier that we were able to tie too. We all tied up and felt really good about coming through the first 2 days in one piece. In the late afternoon we heard a plane the engine was running very rough and it was firing a machine gun. We had heard of “Washing Machine Charley” I know where the name came from. That it sounded like a broken machine of some sort. Anyway he was over and gone before we could do anything about him. The plane went over the Hondo River and crashed in the swamp. Later that night word was passed that all the boat crews would be going out on perimeter as a counter attack was possible. So a few were left to guard the boats, an the rest of the crews were put on watch in a coconut plantation. It was a very long night and again we were lucky it didn’ happen.
The main unit we landed was the 41st Division.
We had made the landing at Zamboanga on the 10th of March 1945. There were many units involved in the shore actions throughout Mindinao. I can only tell about things that I knew about. The Basilan Strait that was off Zamboanga had about a 4 or 5 knot current, later I will talk about that.
Basilan Island set about 20 miles off of Zamboanga this was to be our next landing. The day before, the 15th of March the “M” boats were loading at I believe it was called Yellow Beach. In checking the Inter-net I find it is a Park today. The normal route was to bear out to sea a little to be clear a coral reef. One “M” boat was late so it cut across the reef there was ample depth, but then a tragic thing happened. I Believe this is what happened. The metal of the bow released a magnetic mine, the explosion struck the stern of the boat, killing five men. The two men that were on the ramp guiding them through the coral were blown clear and landed in the water. They are alive today.
Those that were KIA
1st Lt. Russell T. Holland
T/5 Edward C. Swaggerty
T/4 Rollo C, Heidrich
Pfc. Henry B. Cummins
Sgt. Wayne A. Sorge
T/4 Joseph S. Cotton
T/5 Robert S, Motter
About 5years ago Cpl. Swaggerty’s daughter was trying to find out the details of his death. She had been a young girl of 8 or 9 at the time of his death, her mother was not able to get any Info from the War Dept. other than a brief statement. She contacted an organization called Orphans of World War 2. This lady has a data base that seems to be endless. She located our outfit, and the fact that a reunion had been held that year in Rock Island Ill. She called Joe Cotton who had been the Host ( with his wife Helen) And Joe told her the next reunion would be in Norfolk Va. and Bill Jonns would be the host. She lived very close to Norfolk so she brought her mother and husband two different nights to our reunion. The men of Co. “C” were able to tell her what had happened so long ago. When I got home I looked through my things and found an aerial photo of Zamboanga the showed where the “M” boat had got hit. I sent it to her, she said she would frame it. She also said it was a closer for her. Now it’s a small world (the rest of the story) The lady didn’t know when she talked to Joe Cotton that he had been on the ramp of that “M” boat that her dad was on. Her next door neighbor was a boyhood friend of the Cotton’s son, really a small world.
The 16th of March the landing at Basilan was made, 1st the 2nd platoon were the boats involved, including the gun boat. After the landing was in progress we on the “J” boat got a blinker signal from a Destroyer Escort to come along side. We did and the Capt. Wanted to know if we could contact the Army units on the island, he needed somebody on shore to act as fire control for his big guns. Waymon Brewer, our radio man was able to relay this information throughout the day. When the Navy no longer needed us, the Capt. ask if there was any food we needed, “Wow” Nobody had ever ask that. Well we ask them if they could spare some bread, he said sure and would you like some ICE CREAM? So the passed down a couple of # 10 tins of ice cream (gallons). The funny thing was that it had been so long since we had, had any thing like that, we found it took very little fill us it was so rich.
Borden’s Baby Battleship
J Boat, Aomori, Japan, 1945
We started an other phase or work here in Zamboanga. Some of the “M” boats worked south to Jolo and Tawi Tawi towards Borneo. Others were taking patrols up and down the coasts, and picking up cargos of lumber. Copra, and rubber from plantation.
Others went to Cotaboto and the Davao river. Austin Potter was on one of the Gun Boats. He and the crew spent as I recall a couple of months up The Davao River be hind the Japanese lines. Quite a stressful time I gathered from talking with Austin. He said it was one of those things he still didn’t want to talk about. He told me that in 1997.
One day a Liberty ship came in to Zamboanga to tie up to the pier. The current was so strong that they couldn’t get it with the side they wanted to the dock, and needed to turn it around. They called on several “M”s to act as tugs and with a great deal of effort they did it. Another time a APA command ship stood off the pier and I had to take some brass to her. I pulled up to the gang way and let the passengers off and found that I had to keep the engine turning over for about 5 Knots just to stay even. On another day Joe Ayers and I took a sailing Vinta (Out rigger) For a sail not paying real attention as to where we were going. Just sailing before the wind, going like you can’t say what, and we thought (if we had thought we wouldn’t have been there) we had better come about, well we did and WE CAPSIZED in the Basilan Strait in a 5 knot current going toward Borneo. We were in the water wondering what to do other than just hold on. Some Moro’s in their own outrigger came by and slipped into the water and as slick as anything turned the boat right side up and bailed it, not putting up the sails pointed to the shore and with out saying a word, we knew what to do. These Moro’s are about as wild a looking race as I have ever seen, with the large borong (Bolo Knives) they look about as mean as any body could. The gave us some bananas and coconuts and again pointed to the shore again. We paddled and went back to Zamboanga hugging the shore. the current was much weaker, in shore. Quite a day we felt very lucky.
We must have made at least 6 trips to Cotobato, about a 18 hr. run each way. We had a boat platoon there doing un loading and taking patrols in to the area. I remember we would tie up to the pier and Filipino’s would come out an take orders for fried chicken. For a very small amount of money or trading material we would get a large basket full. They used coconut oil to fry it and it was out of this world, at least we thought so at the time.
I found that my brother Darr was stationed on Leyte in the P. I. He was in the Air Force a Staff. Sgt in something to do with Crypto work, (code work) he located where I was, and was able to fly down to visit me. He made at least one run on the “J” boat to Basilan Island. I would save my beer ration for him. How lucky can you get to meet your brother 10, 000 miles from home. We saw each other I think it was 3 times at Zambo. an a couple of times later in the year when we moved up to Leyte.
An interesting thing happened one morning at Zambonga, the “J” boats claim to fame. We were sleeping in one morning, I was in the after bunk the rest of the crew were in the fore cabin. A Naval officer stuck his head into the cabin, he had all sorts of scrambled eggs on his hat. I have no idea what rank he was. He first remarks were “GET THIS BUCKET CLEANED UP NOW, YOUR GOING TO PICK UP GEN. MAC ARTHER”. We picked up the floor boards in the cabin sole an put every thing that wasn’t tied down, including the coffee pot. I don’t think it we over 2 min. and we were under way. The officer explained that “The General” was on a cruiser off shore and we would be bringing him ashore. Wow. We got out to the cruiser, put the officer aboard and were waved off. The next thing we knew a pretty little Chris/Craft with 5 stars every place you could have put them pulled up to the gangway and “The General”went aboard. Now the funny thing happened. As the “Chris/Craft pulled away, two PT boats took up, one on each side they came barreling up at a high rate of speed, if they had not throttled back when they did they would have swamped that cute little Chris/Craft, as it was “The General” sure got bounced around. We were then called in to the gangway and told to take some Bird Col. to the beach. Such is life.
I have a notation in my log that Darr made run to the PT base on Basalin Island. on July 4th 1945.
We got word that the whole “C” Company would be making a move soon. This would be one of our largest and though not quite as far as the move to Biak. There would be 40 LCMs, 4 gun boats, 2 “J” boats and one crash boat. This trip would last 10 days, including about 80 hours running and the average “M” boat would use about 700 gal. of fuel. To day I again marvel at the logistics of the way we did things. Just think 300 people would average about 7 per boat, there was rations, fuel, water, oil, grease, medics, and many other things. There seemed be no end to what was needed and yet it was there. I have done some figuring the move to Layte required about 700 gal. of fuel per boat, that is close to 28, 000 gal. total or about 500 drums. The maintenance people would need any number of parts, from injectors to pumps. There was no AAA to take care of any problems you might have.
We left Zamboanga on July 13th in the afternoon with all of the above mentioned boats. About the second day out We found that this was to large of a convoy to control properly, so it was divided in two groups. Things worked out much better. We worked our way north following the coast of Mindenao and stopping in harbors or bays to transfer fuel and rest, or spend the day. We did most of our traveling at night, for security reasons. All the places we stopped were very interesting, very tropical the people were very friendly. There was always trading to be done for fruit, chickens, other foods. They seemed to want soap, this was funny to us. We had some Australian Palm-olive bar soap that I think was made with mutton fat and would really not lather very well.. We wanted to trade with it. They had been under the Japanese occupation for three years and had nothing that you could call store bought. So we thought we could get rid of that wonderful Palm-Olive soap when they saw what we had they said “No NO Cashmere- Cashmere Bouquet” We got a kick out of that. In New Guinea we thought nothing of offering our cigar butts to the natives, they were always were glad to get them. Now a very interesting thing was taking place. Here we were the American solders who had most every thing we needed, had spent over a year in New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies. Those people we had come in contact with had been 2 years out of the stone age had nothing, had never had any thing and wouldn’t know what to do with it if you gave it to them. Now we were meeting people who for the most part were educated could very well be land owners. These people were just poor, and had nothing because of the war. I remember offering a Filipino a cigar butt, I will never forget his reaction. He said in very good english ” you must think we are trash to want such a thing in other times I could buy and sell you” Boy was that a wake up call that we were in a different culture. I told him I was sorry, and I will never forget. Upon reaching the northern coast of Mindenao we followed the coast west until we could make a run north to Layte, we arrived at Abuog Layte on the 21st of July. My log showed a total of 85 hr. running time from Zamboanga, about 700 miles.
Leyte, Japan And Home July Through Dec. 1945
Co. ‘C’ 543rd Eng. Boat And Shore Regt.
Abuog Leyte was a smooth beach with a coconut palm lined shore, as with all these places I thought they were pretty.
My log states that on July 25 th the “J” boat was taken out of the water at maint. A new engine was put in, also new cutlass bearing, shaft, and prop. On the 24th of July we had taken her to Tacloban we may have damaged the “J” boat there. I made no note about trouble. She was back in the water on the 9 th of Aug.
Steve Johnson notes in his log of receiving a News Flash on the night of Aug. 10 1945 that Japan had entered into peace negations, and that all small arms were picked up. So ships in the harbor would not be hit in the celebration. The ships cut loose with rockets. About this time there had been a lot of talk about the big one. We were thankful that was not to be. The invasion of Japan, and the odds weren’t that good they expected 50 to 60 % losses. this did not sound good and had always been in the back of our minds. Again the boats were getting tired and we were short some. These boats would be needed for the occupation. On Aug. 27 th we took a number of boat crews about 400 miles north to Batanges to pick up new boats. A “M” boat assembly plant had been set up there like we had worked at Milne Bay in New Guinea. It took about 46 hr running time to get to Batanges in three stages arriving on Aug 28. We were there a total of 4 days on Sept. 2nd was V-J day the war was over but we still had to go to Japan for the occupation.
I found a News paper with headlines “Japs Surrender”The paper was “THE GUERRILLA ” In 1995 I donated this paper to the March Field Museum. This paper was a under ground paper. On the 3rd of Aug. we started back to Abuog the return trip took 43 hr, with only one stop. I guess the convoy commander wanted to get this over with. We got back to Abuog on the 5th of Sept. The next 9 days was spent winterizing the “M” boats. There was a saw mill operated by the Shore Battalion that sawed lumber that was used to make these improvements. In addition all Co. gear had to be prepared to move. Winter would be setting in soon in Japan and we were used to the tropics.
All of our LCM-6s had dog houses over the Cargo well about 7 or 8 Ft. long & the width of the cargo well. these in the tropics were a wood frame with canvas cover, the sides usually rolled up, for ventilation. In these dog houses were 4 hospital litters used for bunks,& some personnel gear. Very light construction so the could be removed for storage when large cargo or a landing was to be made. The winterizing amounted to a much more permanent structure, which was more weather tight, of wood, 2×4 & 2×6 etc, with some ply wood.. I have a picture of a dog house on a M boat in “C” Co. of the 593rd with a window about 2’x2′ with 4 paines of glass ( Click Here to See it ). I other words the winterizing would amount to more weather tight and warmer.
The loading out of the Naval convoy took 4 days in the process we lost the sling over board. This sling was used to lift the “J” boat when she would be deck loaded on the AKA. The Navy came through this real fine idea they used large straps and lifted us up so our deck was even with the ships, and strapped us to the ship. So we road all the way to Japan hanging over the side of the ship.
We left Abuog Sept 17 th and landed in Amori on the northern end of Honshu on the 25th of Sept. as occupation troops.
J Boat, Aomori, Japan, 1945
All the Company gear had to be unloaded and a company area set up on shore. The port had to be reactivated from its war time status. Such things as light houses and navigation lights and beacons.
A story I like to tell about the light houses. One day we were told to take the “J” boat and report to the Beachmaster. When we got there a Lighthouse Keeper and his crew wanted to visit all the lighthouses and put them into operation, we were also told that what ever was needed we should do every thing possible to make sure they were working. After visiting several lighthouses the Keeper came to me and pointed to the light and said something in Japanese and waved his hands. I thought oh boy he needs something and I have no idea what, So we take him to the Beachmaster’s to get an interpreter but none was there. So I took him to the C. O. a full bird Col. & told my story. The Col. found an interpreter. The Interpreter and the Lighthouse Keeper Bowed and spoke for a short time. They both then turned and bowed again the Interpreter then said “The Light Will Burn Tonight”.
According to my log, we only had short trips and these were only in the harbor. Time was spent trying to make the boats warmer it was cold in Amori. The temp. was probably not lower than 40 or 50, but after spending almost 2 years in the tropics it was cold. I heated the “J” boat with a coleman one burner stove with a pot of water on it.
There had been a point system established, earlier to establish the order of return to the U. S. and release from active duty. So many points for each months on active duty. So many points for each month over seas. So many points for each campaign. When these were totaled up I had 72 Points. Some of the men might have had around 100 points, because I didn’ leave the Co. first. About the 15th of Oct. I started through the processing to return to the U. S.
This was another thing about logistics we were all issued new dress uniforms, where did they come from?
The men with 100 points or more went first, then those that were over 38 years old, then 90 points, then over 35 years old and so forth down the line. As the last troops prepared to leave the company, the company area was torn down and as always Policed the area. then boarded a train for Yokahama, and a ship and home. I pretty much followed the plan, with a 2week crossing to the Port Washington area in the state of Washington. A couple of days out of Washington we started to pickup AM radio stations. The first song that I recall hearing was “Drinking Rum And Coco Cola” we had never heard it before, it was the hit at the time.
We debarked at Ft. Lewes and our first meal was a steak dinner and it was served by German POWs.
We later boarded a train to go south to L. A. and Ft Mac Arthur in San Pedro. One highlight was it snowed while we went through the mountains in Oregon. I think it was the first time I had seen snow fall. When we arrived at Ft. Mac Arthur it was early evening, I got a pass. Went out the gate and caught a Pacific Electric Red Car to down town Long Beach. Then walked from American Ave. to Pine Street got on a 4th street bus and out to Termino Ave. walked to 6th street and knock on the back door of 4018 E. 6th Street. My mother answered the door and I was HOME.