I seem to always be busy doing busy work
and never seem to find time to get around to the important stuff like what
life aboard the Noxubee was like. About time to saddle up and get off a
few words again.
I keep reading the remberances of the other later crewmen and I
frequently wonder what rust bucket they served aboard. My some 55 year old
memories of the Noxubee just do not fit the same ship some of those guys
are talking about.
Perhaps I had better explain a little of that. Just to make sure that
some of the later crewmen don't get their feathers ruffled.
First off - 1942 - the Navy saw fit to send me wading ashore into the
mosquito and Jap infested palm and lime jungles of Guadalcanal. Any ship
in the Navy - even the oldest most worn out tub is better living aboard
that the mud and heat and rain of the jungle.
So after introducing me into jungle life with the screeching parrots
and banzi howling Japs the Navy next saw fit to invent a totally new kind
of torture machine which was labeled "LCI". Now LCI's came in
just about one size, but in all sorts of configurations. They hauled 180
combat loaded Marines into all sorts of hostile beaches. Some had many
guns of all sorts of calibers mounted like spines on a porcupine all over
any available deck space. Others had rocket launchers welded to every
available deck space. And some had just about any innovative gear that
fertile Navy Brass minds could dream up and we - the crews, frequently
improvised additional weaponry and operational methods.
They were 153 feet long, 22 feet wide, and were built by welding a
whole flock of sardine cans together - straight sides, absolutely flat
bottom, and all exterior and interior spaces were crammed with any thing
and everything which some brain (Or lack of ti) could dream up that might
possibly make life for the Japanese more miserable. (To say nothing of the
lack of comfort of the crew.
Depending on the more or less intended use of the individual vessel
crew strength ranged from 25 to 60 or more. Compared to crew spaces on
LARGE ships like the Noxubee we were very cramped even on the ships with a
small crew of 25. The ships with 60 or more almost had to sleep in shifts.
Fresh water - we were totally dependant on shore facilities or large
vessels with excess water making capacity to top off our very limited
water tanks. The whole hull from the lower deck to the bottom was nothing
except a whole bunch of rather small tanks. To extend the range of the
vessels (Which were originally intended for short hauls from large
transports into a beach head but quickly started traveling all over the
world on their own bottoms) most tanks were used for fuel leaving a lot to
be desired for fresh water. That was completely restricted to potable uses
- drinking (From the one scuttlebutt on the ship) and galley use for
cooking and making about the most undrinkable coffee in the world
All personal sanitation water was COLD salt water. Showers, tooth
brushing shaving, clothes washing,or whatever. Salt water soap was a must
- even though it was about as useless as those little red spots on the
belly of a boar hog. Flush toilets - HA HA HA. Along the outer bulkhead of
the crews head was a metal trough with some slabs of wood across it. Salt
water ran continuously through the trough and over the side. One shower
stall for the whole crew and one for the officers. One lavatory as well.
Thirty of forty guys all getting ready to go ashore on liberty (A very
rare happenstance) with one small wash bowl and one small mirror.
Some of the early models had no mess hall as such. The main deck house
contained a small galley - and regardless of weather or sea conditions the
crew squatted on deck with a tray of food (At least we called it food) and
tried to get down as much as possible before a wave washing over the well
deck cleaned your tray for you. The ship I was on was a later model and we
did have a mess hall with four tables for the crew. What luxury. The
problem there was that if the sea was at all rough you had to lock your
legs around a table leg (If fortunate enough to get a seat on the table
end where there was a leg,) hang onto your tray with one hand, and try to
eat with the other. Of course that left the coffee ,mug unattended so many
cups got smashed against the bulkhead at the far end of the table.
From the bridge looking forward or aft - when she came off of a wave
you could see the bow or stern waving through an arc of several feet and
when that flat bottom hit the trough of the wave you were in pretty good
physical shape if you could keep your knees from buckling and slamming you
on to the deck.
Going up or down ladders was a thrill though. Going up - just reach as
high as possible and get a firm grip on the hand rail - let the ship drop
out from under you and land with your feet on the upper deck. Going down
was just the reverse. Just step off and let the ship come up under
you.Sleeping was good exercise. Lie flat on your back, get a firm grip on
the side rails of the pipe berth, and hang on while your body rose off the
bunk and slammed back down. Food! Like one fellow who served on LCI 3 -
one of the very earliest most primitive boats in the South Pacific in late
'42 - the cook (So called) should have been keel hauled for sabotage. Of
course all he had to work with was the supplies furnished him and the very
limited facilities plus his diploma from truck driver's school.
We rode our little gem through two typhoons in the far western Pacific
in 1945 - sailed her from Portland Oregon to San Diego to Hawaii to
Guadacanal to Okinawa, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and China. The crowning
cruise was 54 days at sea from Chingwangtao, China to San Diego. We had a
convoy of six little beasts. When we pulled into San Diego our ship - the
convoy command, was towing all of the five other ships - out of fuel and
broke down. Just as we reached the docks at the San Diego Sub Base our
engines all quit. Out of fuel. We were also out of fresh water, food
supplies, and patience. We chandled and bunkered, a few days of liberty in
San Diego, then through the Panama Canal to New Orleans thence Houston for
decommissioning after 23 months of coaxing that little jewel to stay alive
and bring us home.
Houston was my home port - and the Navy insisted that I take 60 days
leave. At the end of that I almost felt like a civilian again.
Then back to Galveston and as I received my orders I saw a shiny brand
new AOG standing out to sea. She was all of eight months old and shiny as
a new penny. The problem was that she was standing out to sea and I would
have to chase her. My orders read "Argentina" as the Officer of
the Day at Treasure Island understood that the ship was headed there.
However when I managed to arrive in Argentina I learned that the ship had
actually gone to Argentina, New Foundland - half way around the world - so
back to the chase. For the next two months I chased her all over the
Atlantic ocean and Eastern seaboard. Finally caught up with her just
before she sailed from Norfolk for Goose Bay Labrador with a load of Av
Gas. That was all we were hauling at the time.
Something strange for a Navy vessel. She was commissioned in October
1945 - the war had been over for two months, and the Navy saved some money
and time in commissioning - there was not a gun showing on the decks of
But for an old seasoned Fleet Marine Corps medic and an independent
duty Corpsman from an LCI that ship was a palace. I actually had a
compartment all my own for a sick bay - including a bunk that was a little
more than a pipe berth. It folded down from the forward bulkhead and
actually had a real mattress. Also - a private head. It was aft below
decks across the passageway from the reefer (Where the Chiefs kept their
supply of beer) So that I could inspect the ship for sanitation, the food
supplies, including the reefers, etc., I had keys to all spaces -
including the Chief's private stash of beer.
Incidentally my medical supplies included a QUART of bonded whiskey
(For medicinal purposed only) Eventually however, that bottle locked in my
little safe was probably several different brands because I managed to
keep the bottle filled for each trip)
Just inside of the sick bay door was a small writing table attached to
the bulkhead - supposedly for logging in patients at sick call. One day
after making an inspection of the contents of the reefer across the
passage way I was sitting at the writing table enjoying a bottle of the
Chief' beer. I heard a key slip into the lock -. Trouble. Mr Bednarz, the
engineering officer also had keys to all spaces and made at least as many
inspections of the ship as I did. It had to be him - and here I sit just
inside the door with a can of beer in my hand (We ,of course, were
steaming along somewhere north of the Artic Circle at the time) I had a
jacket thrown over my shoulders. As the door opened I flipped the beer can
up under my left arm pit and just sat there innocent as a lamb. Of course
Mr. Bednarze could smell beer all over the place - but none evident. He
took a turn around the compartment - looked in, under, and over
I asked. "Can I help you. Are you looking for something?"
"Just checking" he replied.
Finally, apparently satisfied that either his nose was wrong, or I had
beat him again at the game, he started out. I said "I haven't
completed my daily inspection yet so I will go with you."
Eventually we ended up on the weather deck at the side of the after
deck house - just leaning on the rail and talking. I still had the beer
can clasped tightly under my left arm pit under my jacket. It was
practically under his nose. As we leaned there on the rail Mr. Bednarz
glanced up for a moment - I released the can, and just before it hit the
water he saw it. Like a flash he was up the ladder to the boat deck above
- He was sure that he had caught the culprit. Not a thing in sight on the
I just held my ground. When he finally returned, he again rested his
elbows on the rail and just stood there staring at the passing water. He
knew that I had that can all of the time but just couldn't figure out
where or how I dropped it right in front of him.
Hey - we had good chow - and a comfortable mess hall to eat it in.
Comfort is a relative thing. Later, as the ship aged, and crew reported
aboard from larger ships, or from civilian life, or whatever, it must have
seemed cramped and uncomfortable, but looking back at my living conditions
for most of the past five years - it was a paradise and all new and shiny
to boot. lots of room. Good food, and when it moved around in a seaway you
could actually walk around - most of the time. I will admit that there
were times when it took some expert timing to make it across the catwalk
between waves without getting your hair wet.
The one thing that I took some time to get used to was the roll of a
loaded tanker. Most ships roll one way, stop (momentarily (Maybe) then
roll back the other way. An easy motion to accomodate like sitting the
saddle of a trotting horse. But tankers - now that is different. The ship
would roll - as it reached the depth of the roll I would start to roll
back with her, but no. The cargo would then shift and the ship would take
a sudden lurch then start to roll back in the opposite direction. The
first storm she nearly threw me a few times when I would forget the lurch
and start to roll back prematurely. But - like everything about the Navy -
I finally learned to lurch along with the ship. It is going to do what it
is going to do and you just better learn to live in harmony with its
strange and unusual ways of living.
For me and my year aboard, she was a good ship with a good crew. After
five years plus of war time conditions afloat and ashore, she seemed like
a palace And all new.