From the Desk of YNC David W Ronk, USNR(RET) 18 JULY 1999
Starting in the summer of 1940 - The President of the United States, Franklin D Roosevelt, proclaimed that all males turning 18 must register for service. And must perform at least a year of active duty in one of the military branches. Having turned 18 in May - and knew that the ”ax was about to fall” - I had the opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve, local Electronics Division. Along with this opportunity was a guarantee of Radioman School and then complete on year of active duty with the Navy.
So - I enlisted on 12 October 1940, along with a friend of mine who we had been very close for the proceeding five-six years. I will refer to him as George in this writing as he will be mention in the future. Active duty was schedule for June of 1941, in the meantime, I had quit school and was schedule for boot camp at Receiving Station, San Francisco, Goat Island.
Goat Island needs an explanation. At the time I went to boot camp, the only access was by motor whaleboat from either Oakland or San Francisco. Today, that island is known as Treasure Island. It also anchors the two spans of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. Also the site of the San Francisco Worlds Fair. Have been in and out of there many times since boot camp. It is now easy accessible by auto and bus.
After boot camp, return to inactive duty, and spent most of the spring of 1941 working with my Dad in on construction. The last job was at Camp Roberts, near San Miguel/San Luis Obispo, California. This Army Installation was being built for the buildup of the Armed Forces as decreed by FDR; the President.
Then on 3 June 1941 I reported for active duty at the 12th Naval District, San Francisco, for transportation to Radio and Signalmen School, Los Angles, California. Bye the way, that site, buildings, no longer exists. It is the LA Dodgers Baseball Field. My buddy, George, met me at San Francisco Receiving Station and we went to Los Angles for our first Navy duty together.
28 July 1941 - Was advanced from Apprentice Seaman to Seaman Second Class (S2c). Along with a group of about fifteen classmates, was transferred to Receiving Station, San Diego, California for assignment to General Detail. Radioman School and I parted company because I failed to copy code at the required 13 wpm; best I could do was 11 wpm. Heart Break. Buddy George, stayed with the school, and graduated. I met up with him a few years later during a refueling at sea operation. His ship, a destroyer came along side for fueling and I managed to get word to him, and he came to the main deck so we could yell at each other for the remainder of the refueling operation. His ship, the USS BALCH(DD363). .
On 5 September 1941 was transferred from Receiving Station, San Diego, California to Receiving station San Francisco for further transportation to USS BRIDGE (AF1), for temporary duty and instruction as winch man and ultimate assignment to HARRIS detail.
Note: HARRIS detail denotes the fact that HARRIS was not yet commissioned, and designated a United States Ship (USS).
Transferred to R/S San Francisco, California - 5 September 1941
So; now a S2c, and transferred to sea duty for the first time. Yep! To learn how to be a sailor and run steam winches. You have seen loading and unloading operations of ships along piers where equipment, cargo nets, etc., are transferred back and forth from dock to holds, or vice verses. Well, it is quite a “knack” to coordinate the two winches to lift, transport, and drop your cargo where you want it. Requires both hands to coordinate the action of the winches. That was the reason for the temporary duty under. HARRIS had two cargo holds forward, and two aft. Plus the landing boats that were loaded ondeck, both forward and aft.
Records indicate I was transferred on the 5th of September and reported in San Francisco on the 8th. All of the shipmates that had flunked the radio code test were in this group. But I believe we traveled individually.
The BRIDGE was soon underway for Honolulu. This was an old Navy ship, and the only refrigerated ship the Navy had at the time. Its decks were covered with hardwood and my only experience with “Holly Stoning the deck”. This is a operation that not too many wartime sailors had experience with. But I am getting ahead of myself. Clearing the Golden Gate the first action was General Quarters, and I was assigned the ammunition handling detail. Moving ammunition from the forward hold, down three decks to the gun mount on the main deck. This detail was unforgettable, smell, cannot describe, and the motion of the ship raising and falling to the off shore swells leaving the Bay, some of the crew got sea sick. Came close myself, but overcame the feeling. Settling down for this trip to Honolulu, at 5 knots, towing a barge loaded with steel pipe and construction equipment. The USS BRIDGE had a full deck load of sacked potatoes. Was quite an experience for the first time at sea? Twice in the fourteen days to Honolulu we encountered Japanese ships, went to General Quarters during the passing. Arriving at Honolulu and unloading the ship is where the training in driving winches came in. We returned to San Francisco, with a short turn-around at Honolulu. Arriving back there on 21 October and transferred to the USS NECHES, an oil tanker, for transportation to Seattle to report to the HARRIS. Detail, Naval Base, Bremerton, Washington; and on 1 November 1941 reported for duty.
The HARRIS detail was quartered at Bremerton, as the ship was not livable when we got there. This group was the first of the crew to report. One officer also reported that day, he was a Lieutenant and at the time was the senior commissioned officer. Mustering the newly assemble crew one of the first mornings, he asked if anyone knew how to type. And - Yep! I raised my hand, and that was the start of my yeoman duties. That officer went from First Lieutenant, to Executive Officer, and then to Captain of the USS HARRIS all during the time I served in her.
Duties these few weeks prior actually reporting onboard HARRIS, I performed muster reports, plan-of-the-day, received records and accounts of new reporting crewmembers.
Made a couple of daytime trips to Todd Seattle Dry-docks to board HARRIS. What a bustle of activity, shipyard workers, welding cables, stores being loaded. Quarters were being painted and in general just a couple of weeks before completion of refitting.
HARRIS is Commissioned 5 November 1941
Around the 1st of November all the new crew assembled in Bremerton, Washington had been transferred to HARRIS. Yard workers were cleaning up the ship; sleeping and eating spaces were completed. Organization of ship, divisions for personnel, and assignments were in order.
I was first assigned to the First Lieutenants Office. Cataloging and filing all the ships plans. Setting up work orders and maintenance records. Assigned as JV Phone talker in Damage Control Central. Duties under General Quarter’s conditions. I was the mouth-piece for the First Lieutenant.
USS HARRIS was placed in full commission status on 5 November 1941. Captain O.M. Forster was the Command Officer, and A.M. van Eaton the Executive Officer. We soon under went a short sea trial in Puget Sound and returned to Todd Seattle Docks for provisions and topping off of fuel. Departing for San Diego, California on what might be called or Maiden Run or Shakedown cruise. In transit down the Coast training was top priority. Firing of the ships newly installed armament was crucial. In firing the 5.38" mounted on the stern proved that USS HARRIS could not withstand the cannons forces. Breaking all lights in lower deck in the stern portion of the ship. Rupturing the power and mechanical units of the after steering system. Steering was lost and we had to go under a manual steering condition. An exercise that was needed for the new crew but not really planned for.
Arriving San Diego: First on the repair lists was to remove the 5.38"cannon and replace it with a quad mount 40MM cannon system. This work was done at the Destroyer Base. We then moved to Broadway Pier, downtown San Diego, to load cars and household effects for military families being transferred to Hawaii.
On the 6th underway for the degaussing range off San Diego Silver Strand Beach to test the ships system of ability to repel magnetic mines. This operation was to steam a oblong course of about eight miles - back and forth. All day and night. Never finished the full test.
Morning of 7 December 1941 - General Quarters, prepare to return to port. Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Back to Broadway Pier, Off loaded all cars, household effects and embarked Destroyer Repair Units I and II, along with all their repair materials and crew.
Underway that evening for Pearl. We were the first stateside convoy to arrive. Steaming up the harbor, what a site. Still smolder fires could be seen. We had to be assisted by tugs to navigate the channel due to sunken ships.
Three fast voyages then between San Diego and Pearl Harbor with personnel and supplies ending in January 1942.
USS HARRIS then began its training with amphibious force troops. Practice landings along San Diego’ Sliver Strand Beaches. On 13 April 1942, trained and ready, set sail for Pago Pago, Samoa with troops of the Seventh Defense fleet Marine Force embarked.
HARRIS Mission just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 was the transport of military families and their cars, household effects, to Honolulu. This was considered a “Shakedown Cruise”. We had been tied up to Broadway Pier, downtown San Diego, CA. Loading was finished on the 6th and dependents were due to board on Monday morning. We were underway that afternoon to spend the night on the degaussing range off the Silver Strand is just off the coast. This operation was to test the ship ability to repel magnetic mines. The test required HARRIS to steam back and forth on a fixed course, and I am guessing of about eight to ten miles. Then, General Quarters was sounded early morning on the 7th. The Captain “Passed the Word”. Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the President and made the declaration of war. Back to Broadway Pier. Off loading of cars and personal effects just loaded, the day before. Dockhands could not get the off loaded cars and personal effects out of the way fast enough. What a mess with the military repair units and their equipment arriving at the same time.
Underway on the evening of 7 December 1941, in convoy, do not recall the number of transports or escort vessels. But two other APA/AK’s were also at the downtown San Diego Piers that day loading for transit with us. Am thinking that probably five/six transports/cargo ships and a couple of destroyers formed this first convoy. I seem to recall that several other vessels joined our convoy a day or so at sea; probably from San Pedro and/or San Francisco. Transit was under full war time battle conditions, steaming zigzag courses with battle condition “General Quarters” set early morning at day break to sunrise, and then again at sunset to dark, and condition was modified at other times.
Transit time was probably four and a half days as we arrived off Pearl Harbor mid morning; movement to the pier was slow and vigilant. We had to be pushed and pulled between the burning ships in the channel. Maneuvering around and between the sunken battleships was not an easy task for a ship the size of the HARRIS, or the tugs that were assisting in the transit.
For a young sailor of 19 ½ years of age it was a awaking to manhood.
My battle station, and sea detail station was with the Captain on the bridge. With sound-powered phone system and helmet on my head and the engine-room telegraph handles at my hands; used to pass orders from the Harbor Pilot and Captain to the ships operational personnel. I had a topside view of the carnage and it was frightful.
Docking in Pearl Harbor we immediately began off-loading the men and equipment of Destroyer Repair Units we had onboard. Personnel of the repair units consisted of Welders, Carpenters, Pipe fitters, firemen, Electricians, all experts in their fields of repairing and damage control of ships of the Navy.
Their equipment consisted of welding machines, pipe and fittings, nuts and bolts, valves of many sizes, and shoring materials. Pipe threading machines, pumps, trucks, trailers, shoring materials, miles of welding cables - Just everything a mobile repair unit would need to replace and repair major war inflected damage to a vessel
Wartime operations begin
The voyage to Pago Pago was uneventful. Did however cross the Equator for the first time and became a “Qualified Shell back”. Troops onboard were for the reinforcements of Guadacanal. Unloading was detained, and we were held in Pago Pago harbor for a number of days awaiting the outcome of the Coral Sea Battle. Pago Pago Harbor is unique, sailing into the harbor it looks like you will sail directly into the mountains, but all at once a slight turn, and you enter between high cliffs, through a very narrow passage, and another turn the ship enters the harbor. Looking astern it is difficult to see your way back to the open sea. During our stay there we were granted a little liberty. A few of us took a hike with some natives to the next valley inland. Quite an experience. No civilization as I knew it here.
My duties in HARRIS were changed shortly after the 7 December attack on Pearl. Was assigned to the Ships Office as a Yeoman Striker. General Quarters station and Underway detail was JV talker on the bridge. Not only did I pass the Captains Orders through out the ship via JV Sound Powered Headphones, but also ran the enunciators, the manual control to the engine room for ships speed, and engine direction. These units located in the bridge house itself, and also on the Port and Starboard wings of the bridge. My tasks were to stay close to the Captain and relay his orders. Might add here, this assignment stayed with me for the duration of my assignment in HARRIS. Not once did HARRIS get underway, come into port, or go to General Quarters that I was not on the Bridge with the Captain.
Records indicate that I completed Navy Training Course for Y3c on 2 January 1942, for Y2c on 18 May 1942. On 1 March 1942 was advanced to Yeoman Third Class. But back to ship movements.
29 May 1942 we sailed in convey moving troops to Uvea, Wallis Islands arriving on 31 May. Were there three days unloading troops and cargo that made up the defense forces for the New Caledonia Area. Landings on the beaches were difficult due to tide changes and steep beaches
This operation completed on 4 June 1942
Back to the West Coast of the United States and training amphibious force troops in shipboard operations of debarking using landing nets to enter landing craft alongside. Training operation carried out in the Monterey Bay area. Note: My Aunt lives in Monterey and the executive
Officer arranged for me to ride the mail boat ashore for a visit. NO liberty was permitted in these few days of operations in the bay. Embarking and debarking of troops for these training operations were conducted at the docks at San Francisco, California. Liberty was granted for the few days we were in San Francisco.
Moving to San Diego; preparations were made for movement to the East Coast, and on 22 August 1942 sailed in company with Transport Division Six en route through the Panama Canal for Norfolk, Virginia. Movement through the canal was experience to be remembered. Liberty was granted, but cannot recall if on the West Coast or East Coast side of the canal. But I will tell you: Rum and Coke was only a dime. What a bunch of drunken sailors.
Underway from the Panama Canal and North in convoy with Transport Division SIX steaming a zigzag course HARRIS and group arrive off Hampton Roads, and in executing a fleet order to form single file for entry in the traffic channel - the ALGORAB, a cargo ship, miss read the order, turned the wrong way, and rammed HARRIS, port side, just abaft the bridge. HARRIS received severe damage and we had to proceed to Norfolk Navy Yard for temporary repairs. Temporary repairs made, we steamed to Baltimore, MD, and were dry-docked in a floating dry dock for repairs. Many of the crew was given leave, and some went to the West Coast. Time was too short for me to take leave to the West Coast. I did take a few days and went to New York for a few days and another trip of a few days and visited Washington, D.C.
1 October 1942 was advanced in rating to Y2c. Duties now; full time in the ships’ office, but underway, and battle station remained the same; with the Captain on the Bridge. Routine administration of a ships office is preparing all transfer orders for personnel, receiving records and reporting all new arrivals. Preparation of sailing lists of actual onboard personnel at sailing. Advancement in ratings, courts martial, leave, liberty, plan-of-day and publishing daily news received while at sea from the Radiomen. These duties shared by the three of us assigned. The Chief Yeoman, Captains’ Writer had his desks and files in a small compartment attached to this office.
The Captains’ Writer, YNC Robert W Lide, USN. A man I will never forget. He had been recalled to active duty after full retirement of 30 years. Sailed with the Great White Fleet in his early years. Could not touch-type, but used two fingers. Amazing to watch. He was my mentor, and was the one that tutored me. Chief Lide never went on liberty, unless in San Diego, where his home was. His recreation was all night poker games in the Chiefs’ Quarters. He taught all the Chiefs how to loose their money.
New York City, spent a couple days on liberty, saw the sites, took in the normal recreational facilities that any Sailor would in a new city. I did not care much for New York. Too big, to many people, and too dirty. Washington, D.C. was about the same. But also noted D.C. had more free and eligible women in the nightclubs.
Repairs completed on 14 October 1942 and we sailed to Norfolk, loaded amphibious assault troops in preparation for the first assault at Safi, French Morocco. We missed out on all the troop training that the task force conducted while we were in dry dock. But we loaded and joined the task forces with Captain Philips, USN, Commander Transport Division SEVEN, and his Flag in HARRIS. We then trained for a very short period; 19th through 23rd, and on that day sailed for Safi in a massive convey Mid Atlantic and during darkness General Quarters sounded many times.
Destroyers would dart in and out of the massed ships, dropping depth charges, as German submarines seemed to be traveling with us. A day out of Morocco the convoy split, half going north to Casablanca. Arriving at our transport debarkation area at 0030 on 8 November 1942 we prepared and sent our first troops over the side at 0500.
During the late afternoon a German Messerschmidt with Spanish colors on the tail assembly, circled the transports, then headed inland. Later a similar plane flew directly over us at a very low altitude and fired upon us. No damage was inflicted.
We were the first ship to unload our troops and supplies. Our boats then were sent to other transports to assist in their unloading. We departed Safi shortly after that and arrived at Norfolk where we received voyage repairs. Departed on the 5th of December; loaded with troops for San Diego, arriving on the 17th. HARRIS remained in San Diego training amphibious force troops in landings along the Southern California Coast. Departed San Diego area in April arriving San Franciso on the 20th.
HARRIS loaded combat elements of the Seventh Infantry Division and sailed for the Alaskan Area on the 24th. We arrived at Cold Bay Alaska on the 30th. In transit to Cold Bay we anchored out of Kitichan, Alaska, the Captain granted liberty to 1/4 of the crew, provided landing boats for the liberty party. Kitiachan was some miles from our anchorage. Liberty was up at a designated time, on the docks at Kitichan. Whow! What a happy bunch of sailors, but that did not last long. Somehow, a fight erupted; sailors grabbed fish from dockside fishing boats and started throwing, hitting and in general causing all kinds of hell. When the party finally returned to HARRIS; these guys were smelly, dirty, drunk and had a visit with the Captain at “Captains Mast”
After arriving in Cold Bay on the 30th we continued on to Attu for amphibious landings scheduled for that day. Adverse weather conditions postponed the landings a number of times. Then on 11 May we arrived in the transport area and commenced off loading troops in very cold and foggy weather. We met with no opposition and on the 12th moved to inner transport area of Massacre Bay to expedite unloading.
16 May through 10 June we operated from various ports in the Adak-Dutch Harbor area transporting troops and naval personnel.
Command Officer HARRIS was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal by Commander North Pacific force for our part in the assault and occupation of Attu.
Back to San Diego in June for voyage repairs and sailed to San Francisco on 3 July 1943.
HARRIS was a busy ship. In Port San Francisco, California - 3 July 1943
Reflecting - HARRIS commissioned 5 November 1941
Bremerton/ Seattle, WA to San Diego
San Diego to Pearl Harbor December 1941;
Two more fast trips between San Diego - Pearl Harbor; ending January 1942
San Diego to Pago Pago, Samoa April 1942
Pago Pago, Samoa to Uvea, Wallis Island May 1942
Back to San Francisco; June 1942
San Francisco to San Diego Amphibious Training Troops; July 1942
San Diego to Norfolk, Virginia 22 August 1942
Norfolk to Baltimore Shipyards 24th Aug
Back to Norfolk 14 October 1942
Norfolk to Safi, French Morocco 23 October 1942
Back to Norfolk; 13 November 1942
Norfolk to San Diego 5-17 December 42 (1st year Commissioned)
San Diego to San Francisco - Training Amphibious Troops; Jan-Feb-Mar
San Francisco, Cold Bay, Alaska 24 April 1943
Cold Bay, Alaska to Attu Landings 30 April 1943
Attu to Adak-Dutch Harbor Alaska transporting troops 16 May through 10 June 1943
Back to San Diego - then to San Francisco on 3 July 1943
That is a lot of underway time in a year and half. - Now on with the story - - Time in ports indicated above were not, actually, we underway on short training exercises along the coasts, underway early a.m. back in port afternoons.
San Francisco, loading combat troops for training exercises. Training conducted in Monterey Bay. Then on 29th July sailed for Kuluk Bay, Adak Island, Alaska. Proceeding on the 15th of August landed troops on Kiska Island, we met no opposition. Unloading was completed on the 20th and we returned to San Francisco, arriving on the last of August. Believe it was on this trip that HARRIS encountered and sever North Pacific Storm. Very high seas and winds. We took one roll to the Port that maximized the roll indicator. Remember being knocked to the deck and looking out from the Main Deck saw the seas entering the main deck. Scary to say. Was really the only time that I felt concern for our safety. The ship was quickly headed into the storm and seas were taken head on. Getting out of the sea trough, where the great rolls accrue is a problem that is not easily controlled.
1 September 1943 advanced in rating to YN1 and in charge of the Ships’ Office.
Back in San Francisco we loaded Army troops and miscellaneous supplies and were underway for Wellington, New Zealand. Crossed the Equator on 16th September arriving on 30 September after a two-day stop in Neumea, New Caledonia. Troops and cargo was immediately unloaded.
30 September 1943 - Wellington, New Zealand.
Pause for reflection:-
Mention was made to crossing the Equator on 16th September. This was the second crossing for most of the crew. My first crossing, and first for HARRIS was during the month of April 1942. HARRIS made its’ first crossing of the 180TH Meridian “Realm of the Golden Dragon” on the 22nd of September 1943. Crossing the equator put the “Polliwog “ (St timer) through a disgusting ceremony. Running the gauntlet of shellbacks (that’s’ what you are after you first cross) with all kinds of punishment. Mainly swats with anything handy. Crawling through a long canvas tube strewn with garbage, and shoved along with swats; then, on exiting washed down with salt-water fire hoses. We had huge heavyset man with a large stomach, and belly button was filled with ketchup and mustered. Polliwog was told to kiss the belly, and if they refused. Their face was pushed into it. This ceremony lasted most of the forenoon. Crossing the 180th and into the Realm of the Golden Dragon is very similar, but when we crossed the 180th the first time, war time battle conditions were such that the Captain did not want to put the ship in such a relaxed condition. Those that successfully completed the ceremony were given a Shell back Certificate, signed by the Captain, and entree was made in there official service record. Same procedure for the Golden Dragon Certificate, but Captain made note that formal initiation ceremony was not conducted due to wartime battle conditions.
My shipboard duties: Normal underway. Assigned to the Supply Division to have a place in the chain of command, I had a locker, bunk, and bath facilities in that divisions space. However, neither the Supply Division Officer nor his petty officers had ANY command authority over me. I was directly under the Executive Officer. Slept in the Office, the XO’s Desk and my desk were adjacent to each other, lengthwise. My bunk was a mattress that I kept rolled up under the desk during working hours and at night, rolled out on the desks. I normally ate at the head of the “early chow line”, those that had to relieve the watch.
Workday started right after breakfast, around 7 a.m. and secured after I had prepared the “Newspaper” for the day. Around mid-night. News was gathered by the radiomen via Morse code, copied by typewriter, those rough pages were delivered to me to correct, cut stencils, and print. My time was spent in the office except for bath, food, and toilet trips.
Daily routine was service record maintenance, court martial, advancement in ratings and correspondence that the XO had prepared in rough, to be typed in proper format, etc., for his signature.
The Plan of the Day was also another of my responsibilities. XO put out in rough, and stencils had to be cut, mimeographed, and distributed to Officers, Divisions Officers and Petty Officers. I had two yeomen under my direction to keep this office functioning.
At times, weather permitting and calm seas, I would go to the Forcastle (fo’c’sle) in mid-afternoon. Just sit in the sun, reflecting and watching the sea. If in convoy, watch the other ships in view. Changing courses, coming into position on new headings and then in a few minutes, do it all over again. My duties “Sea Detail” and “General Quarters” follow:
My Duties: Sea Details, Getting Underway, and Entering Port
A special condition is set throughout the ship for getting underway and entering port. All departments have set assignments. Special Sea Detail does not involve all the crew. Just those trained in that function. My assignment was on the Bridge, with the Captain, Pilot, or Exec who ever had the Conn. for the operation. Thirty minutes before these evolutions, the detail is set, some engine room and boiler room functions require longer time for preparations, such as lighting off the boilers. Engine room normally roll the engines very slowly about time the detail is set to ensure they come up to proper temperature before they are needed. Proper dress is required before reporting to your sea detail station; you normally would be ready and properly dressed to report when the word is passed. “ Now hear this, set special sea detail”. I report to the Bridge, put on the sound powered earphones with mike. Reporting, departments’ readiness for getting underway, or coming into port. All reports received are report directly to the Captain, or Senior Navy on the Bridge, not the Pilot. All deck orders; “single up all lines”, “cast off all lines, or lines 1 and 2", engines “Back 1/3, or ahead port, or starboard”. I relayed to the engine room by engine room order telegraph, engine speeds ordered. Or coming into port, all engine commands, ahead standard, stop, back 1/3, etc done by engine room telegraph. Deck orders, put out line 1, take in line 2, double up all lines, these orders passed by sound powered phones. My tasks on the bridge ended when the Captain left the bridge, and watch was shifted to the Quarterdeck. Or in reverse, if getting underway.
If leave and liberty was to be granted on arrival all leave papers had to be prepared prior to entering port and in the hands of the Division Officers who made distribution to those who were authorized leave. Preparation of leave papers were a function of my office. Also, if personnel were being transferred their orders and papers had to be prepared before arrival in port.
Some variations to normal “Set Sea Detail” “Standby for fueling at Sea” requires a different set of personnel. Normally I was not used, a special phone talker, from the engineering department, was connected to receiving ship to verbally conduct the fuel transfer. I believe it was on the voyage to Wellington, New Zealand that the USS BALCH (DD363) came alongside and I had the opportunity to see, and holler across to my friend GEORGE.
Duties - “GENERAL QUARTERS”
I believe that most everyone has seen movies of ships going to general quarters. This evolution is the prepare for battle, collision, or any other extreme emergency that might befall the ship. My first reaction was to proceed to the Bridge, where I had Life jacket and Battle helmet (required attire) stored. Put them on; along with the sound powered phone system. Report immediately to the Captain of ships departments readiness for “General Quarters” or any problems directed to him from Department Heads. At this time the Captain would also pass any word to “all” or to direct Department Heads his comments, questions, or information they might need for the pending situation. Word is also passed by the “Boatswain Mate’ of the Watch” as directed by the Captain, of the pending condition, what to specially prepare for, and what action the ship will take. Under air attack special alerts the Gunnery Department and personnel.
Under water sea attack alerts the Navigation, Engineering and Communication Department personnel to prepare for torpedo attack and rapid course and speed changes.
HARRIS main battle condition was in launching of landing craft, and the off loading of Amphibious Force Troops. HARRIS carried four large landing craft called Tank Lighters, large enough to carry Combat Tanks. These craft would come along side one at a time and the cargo handling equipment would lower - over the side; these tanks for transport ashore.
While this was being done the smaller craft called LCVP’s or Personnel carriers would load troops over the side embarking by “cargo net”. Boats loaded would circle in designated sea area awaiting Beach Commander’s order to land. After troops were disembarked, the ships’ landing boats would return for supplies to be transported to the beaches. Do not recall of one such operation that the HARRIS was able to anchor during this operation, always moving slowly just to stay in designated unloading area. Landing boats, at times would bring wounded back to the ship for medical treatment.
Many, many long hours were spent on the Bridge, night and day, with sandwiches and coffee supplied. A landing operation could last, in a General Quarters situation - forty-eight hours. Only relief was for toilet trips. Captain or Exec who ever had the Conn. in quite times would catch a few minutes of sleep in the Captains’ Chair. There was a couple of stools available to sit on, and at times I would also take a snooze, in a full readiness condition.
Liberty in Wellington, N.Z. was my first in a foreign country. Not like liberty in the States. Lots of liquid refreshments. White Horse Scotch was available; from, I guess “bootleggers” for $1.50 a bottle in the passageways of the King George Hotel. Recall a house party after normal bar hours. This was to be a breakfast type “steak and eggs” a normal breakfast after a “all nighter” The youngster in the home, still in diapers, kept his mother busy with is continual crying. To quite him, she filled his bottle with beer, stuffed it in his mouth. Before long, peace and quite. This child; I would guess to be between two and three years of age. It is quite possible that this could happen in our country, and probably does now. But in 1943, I don’t think so.
We loaded combat troops from the Second Marine Division, reinforced for tests and training in landing on coral beaches during the month of October. These tests were conducted in and around the Fiji Islands. All this in preparation for the combat landings scheduled for the Gilbert Island Operations. Moving to Efate, New Hebrides, Island, drills and training exercises were conducted until 20 November when HARRIS sailed with Task Group 53.1, en route to Tarawa Island. The start of the major Pacific Amphibious Force attacks.
We arrived early morning on the 21st, and immediately came under fire from shore batteries. All rounds missed by at least 150 yards. Battleships lying further out to sea were firing their rounds over the top of us. A sound I will never forget. We could visually see the impacted areas. The first wave of Marine Troops received heavy fire as they approached the beaches. We were unable to disembark troops until the 22nd. Off loading the Marines was interrupted numerous times during this period due to shore battery firings and air attacks.
A number of casualties were brought onboard by our returning landing craft. One landing craft returning had three Japanese Prisoners onboard and when the boat coxswain approach the gangway he asked the officer of the deck what he should do with them. The O.O.D. went down the gangway, entered the landing boat, told the coxswain to head his boat astern, maneuvering past the ship, he ordered the prisoners out of the landing boat and shot them. Some of the more seriously wounded were transferred to the USS SOLACE on the 24th. One shore battery round landed close to the port quarterdeck. A member of the crew in his haste to exit the area hit his head on a hitch handle and put in for a Purple Heart. I understand that they granted him one.
The landing on Tarawa was a very difficult landing, troops and cargo unloading was not completed until 28 November 1943. On 1 December we embarked the Sixth Regiment and Second Marine Division from Tarawa and on 3 December was underway for Pearl Harbor.
Arriving without further incidents on 14 December for minor voyage repairs and dis-embarkment of troops onboard.
On 7 January 1944 commenced amphibious training exercises with the Seventh Infantry Division. This group, and some of the same service men we had brought to Pearl Harbor after the Attu-Kiska operation. They were elated to be back on a ship that they had previously sailed in. Their training was in preparation for the assault on Kwajalein schedule for 1 February 1944
HARRIS sailed from Ulithi Atoll on 25 September enroute to Manus Island. On arrival at Manus HARRIS loaded elements of the First Cavalry Division. Loading commenced on the 7th of October and continued through the 9th. We sailed from Manus on the 12th, with a course set for Leyte Island.
Arriving in Leyte Gulf on the morning of the 19th. Steaming in single file, with destroyer escort. That evening just after dark, solder that had bunked down on the outboard side of one of the nested life rafts on the Starboard side. HARRIS had made a sharp turn to the Starboard, the ship rolled. The soldier lost his balance and rolled into the waters of Leyte Gulf.
The ship was in limited general quarters, but immediately went to “man overboard”. HARRIS, in column with other ships of the group could not stop, turn, or execute a rescue. One of the destroyers of the group was ordered to leave assigned steaming positions and try to locate the man. This destroyer later reported via radio that the man had been recovered without harm.
This was a very busy evening and night. HARRIS had rigged paravanes that evening. and during early morning hours, during, hauling in, or recover of the paravanes, a object stuck the Port side of the ship outside #3 hold. It was soon determined that a mine had become entangled in the paravane and was swinging back and forth striking the side of the ship. HARRIS was ordered away from the formation to dislodge the mine. A destroyer was also order to accompany HARRIS in this maneuver. Boatswain RUSSO and the First Division paravane party
Had to physically cut the paravane tow cable from the steam winches and HARRIS backed away from the now floating mine. The destroyer was called upon to fire upon the mine, which it did, the mine was destroyed.
Even with this added delay, HARRIS rejoined her task force, unloaded her troops and equipment so expeditiously that she met her commitments and was again one of the first ships to unload.
HARRIS then got underway for Kessel Passage where we received about 100 survivors from ships lost during the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1945. We transported these survivors to Guam where they were given transportation the West Coast. We loaded personnel of the 77th Division who were embarked for New Caledonia, but en route orders were changed and HARRIS proceeded to Leyte to off load the 77th as reinforcements.
During that stay in the Leyte area, and at anchor. A bright sunny forenoon, and Thanksgiving Day, we came under attack by a number of Japanese Zeros; suicide attempts. One came so close that his ZERO just missed the fore rigging and plunged in the bay on the starboard side of the ship.
My recollection of these events agrees with the ship history section of the Navy Department, except the dates of the air attack described under date of 8 January. This attack took place during the Thanksgiving period of 1944.
Departing the Leyte Area, HARRIS returned to Cape Torokina, Bougainville Island, on 3 December 1944. We were designated flagship of Transport Squadron 13. We loaded elements of the 37th Infantry and on 18 December sailed for the assault landings on Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Island.
After the assault on Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Island, HARRIS returned to Cape Torokina, Bougainville.
During my war career time in HARRIS, I earned the following Battle Stars on the European -African-Middle Easter Area Service Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Area Service Medal
1 - Star North African Occupation - 8-11 November 1942
1 - Star Aleutians Operation - 11-16 May 1943
1 - Star Gilbert Island Operation - 20 NOV-8DEC1943
1 - Star Marshall Island Operation, Operation Occupation of Kwajalein
And Majuro Atolls - 31JAN-8FEB1944
1 - Star Marianas Operation - Capture and Occupation of Saipan
16 - 22 June 1944
1 - Star Western Caroline Islands Operation - Capture and Occupation of
Southern Palau Island - 6SEP-14OCT1944
1 - Star Leyte Operation - Leyte Landings - 13-21 October 1944
Having applied for shore duty in the Spring of 1944, I was given orders on 30 December 1944, and transferred to Navy Receiving Station, Navy Number 3205 for the first available transportation to the nearest Receiving Ship or Station on the West Coast of the United States for assignment by Commander Subordinate Command, Service Force. U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Transportation to the West Coast was via the SS GEORGE S. BOUTWELL, a Liberty Ship, unloaded and high in the water. Transit to San Francisco took 30 days. I checked in Receiving Station on 30 January 1945 for thirty days leave and assignment.
The SS GEORGE S. BOUTWELL had no accommodations for food service to transit person. Being a civilian vessel, we were assigned living quarters in the forward holds. For food we had scrounged “K” Rations, etc., from various Navy ships at anchor that had transferred personnel for return to the States. Other canned goods - cocoa - tea - coffee were available along with crackers. I was one of the lucky ones. The Chief Engineer was months behind on typing his engine room logs. He found me, and most of that thirty days I spent in his cabin typing his logs. He repaid me with delivered meals from his dinning room.
Upon completion of leave, reported back to Receiving Ship, San Francisco, and orders for duty at the Personal Effects distribution Center, naval Supply Depot, Clearfield, Utah were cut. Gas coupons were issued for the three-day trip authorized by private vehicle and I departed San Francisco.
Spending the first night on the road out of Reno, Nevada and in very cold weather departed in the early morning of the 8th of March. Just a few miles out of Reno, near Fernley, Nevada, number one connecting rod started to knock. Stopping at the first garage to have repairs done. Repairs were not complete until mid afternoon on the 9th. Remainder of the trip was uneventful and I reported in to my new duty station on the 10th of March 1945.