Chapter 25

One night we lay at anchor off Ominada and there was a bad groundswell.  My bunk was athwartships so I got the maximum benefit of it.  Now the ship was rising and falling, at the same time it was rocking left and right and the bow was rising and falling if you can imagine anything moving about all three axis at the same time.  After all the bad storms in the Atlantic and off Cape Hatteras and never once getting seasick I really made up for it this night.


One of the more interesting stops was Hong Kong China.  We put in there for fuel and supplies.  We walked down narrow busy streets lined with merchandise hanging from store fronts.  Ducks picked and cleaned hung in the sun and looking not the least bit appetizing to this sailor.  I entered a few shops where I purchased a piece of jade for a dinner ring, a pair of jade earrings to match set in silver mounts, a hand carved Buddha in redwood, a platter with chopsticks and a silk Kimono complete with a large colorful dragon on the back.


You do not accept the initial price given by the merchant but haggle until you can get him no lower.  Then the figuring is done on an Abacus board which is the fore runner of the modern computer.  These merchants were so adept with it that your eyes couldn’t follow the little beads flying up and down.


The rate of exchange varies not only from day to day but can change by the hour with the movement of ships in the harbor.  The banks and currency exchanges have runners who keep them posted on shipping.  Ships come in and the rate goes in their favor, ships leave and the rate goes in favor of the buyer as it is all due to the amount of money in circulation.  I saved a Chinese paper with ads in it for coffee, $800 a cup, ice cream, $500 a dip and they had more than one type of currency, one of which was the CNC notes.  Chinese National Currency.


These people were very adept at manufacturing things of trash such as jewelry out of tin cans and were constantly tugging at you to buy their items.  I did look at some diamonds which I understood could be real bargains, if you knew diamonds but I had no knowledge in this area leaving it to others to invest in the commodity.


As evening approached you could see the homeless scurrying to find shelter.  One of the favorite spots were the basement window wells along the sidewalks.


As in other Chinese seaports and river cities an entire family of up to three generations would live on a small junk or sampan and supplement their diet by shrimping.


I was not too disappointed when informed that I was going to the large tender, U.S.S. ST GEORGE and assigned to VPB27 which was a squadron of PBM Mariners.


VPB27 was assigned to the task of flying mail, parts, and personnel around China, Japan, Philippines and wherever else needed.  The St. George had the capability to bring the large seaplanes aboard for scraping and repainting the hull, patching hulls and other maintenance.  Engine repair was usually done on the water by means of stands affixed to the wings for the mechanics to work from.


My first morning aboard the ship I sat at mess with the rest of the chiefs and a messcook came to me and asked, “how do you want you eggs chief?”  I hadn’t dreamed of real eggs and I told him over easy.  They looked a lot better than they tasted as they were cold storage eggs.


We did eat quite well on the planes as we had a small galley just beneath the flight deck and we took turns fixing meals.  We had an electric hot pot for heating soup and vegetables and an electric range for other cooking.  I had a picture of myself frying steak at 10,000 feet.  We had bunks in the rear for use when we were off duty if they didn’t contain too much cargo.


We made a flight into Shanghai and landing on the Huangpo river that went through the city was a bit touchy as there was a very rapid tidal current flowing either in or out all the time.  Upon landing and anchoring we learned that we were scheduled for a turn around that same afternoon.  We had expected to at least go ashore to take in the sights and this was needless to say quite a disappointment.  We had a little pow pow and one of the mechs went out on the starboard wing with a ball peen hammer and lo and behold, he found a cracked exhaust stack on that engine.  Now normally this is a job we could take care of next morning and be on our way, but this happened to be one stack that was not in stock on the U.S.S. Pine Island which was the repair ship tied up to the pier at the Kai Ping coal wharf.


Well, then we should have another day while waiting for the part to be flown in.  We did make a liberty and heard of a little cafe way out on the outskirts that was run by an old retired chief.  We got a rickshaw and went out in the afternoon passing by a soccer field where we watched the seven foot tall Sikhs playing soccer. We arrived at the little cafe and sat around there visiting with the owner and snacking until dinner time.  The evening meal consisted of steak, salad, and french fries, which we had been snacking on all afternoon for the price of one dollar.  Well he did have a low overhead what with USN on  all the silverware, GI waste baskets and even the chairs looked familiar.  We visited until after dark and had noticed faces at the window in the door.  Upon leaving we discovered that the narrow street was full of faces.  You had to elbow your way through and finding one lad who spoke English a bit we were offered a look into their home.  These were high density apartment houses and the one he showed us had one small room for three generations.


On the way back we decided to stay on the Pine Island for the night and go back to the plane in the morning having left a couple of men to guard the plane.


The next morning we discovered the Huangpo river had many uses.  It was the thoroughfare for junks bringing produce to market from little canals entering the river much the same as roads in our country.  It was also the city sewer with even dead bodies being disposed of by pushing them into the river.  There was a sampan tied to the pier and I was told that the first family to arrive at a ships berthing claimed that ship and in payment for chipping paint along the water line, a job detested by sailors, they were permitted to go through the ship’s garbage.  I watched as they separated the carrots and peas which had been mixed on purpose by the cooks, into two separate piles.  One old grandmother took a couple slices of bread that had been thrown on top of the garbage can and had been dampened by coffee and swished them in the river, then lay them up on the deck of the sampan to dry.


We called for the launch to go back to the plane and took out a load of groceries, steak, eggs and a few other things.  Upon starting the auxiliary generator referred to as the PUTT PUTT.  It gave out some strange noises and promptly died.  Now we had no electricity for the galley and sent a message to the Pine Island asking for sandwiches and coffee.  They, knowing of the supplies we had carried out ignored us completely.  Finally in the evening, we got the putt putt going again and happily, as without it, no heat for the bow heater and the temperature was dropping.


Wouldn’t you know the bow heater didn’t want to start and while we were working on it (it was operated by gasoline) we heard a bump on the side of the hull.  It turned out to be a black market operator drifting down the river at night with his wares trying to avoid the police in the darkness.  I leaned out the window on the flight deck and got a pair of handmade brown leather boots for a 30 cent carton of cigarettes just before the bow heater let go a blast with a flash of flame just over his head.  He and his boat left hastily with each going in a different direction.  At least we now had heat.


Repairs were made the next day and we were off to Sasebo which was quite a sight with at least 7 Jap ships beached in the circular bay, three small carriers alone.  We lay at anchor here for a couple of days and then it was on to Manila where we went ashore for overnight.  In the morning we proceeded under orders back to Oahu to be based at Kaneohe Bay which was familiar territory.  We did have one layover in Johnson Island which from the air resembles an aircraft carrier.  It is quite small and the barracks I spent the night in allowed me to hear the surf on both sides of the island.  The sea gulls, or as the sailors called them, gooney birds, held a 99 year lease on the island.  They were a hazard to aircraft taking off from the runway but our water takeoffs weren’t hampered by them.


Back in Kaneohe we were assigned a large hangar allowing us to get our large seaplanes inside for regularly scheduled inspections.  No more standing on a small platform suspended over the water doing engine repair or changes.  We were back into real dormitories again with good mess facilities and even a ships service, canteen and movie theater.


Copyright ©2004-2007 Lynn R. Forshee.  All rights reserved.