Chapter 4

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

We stood out from Casco Bay to escort freighters to England along with light cruisers Philadelphia and Savanna and battleship New Mexico, along with nine destroyers, clearing the Portland lightship at about 1630 and we were on our way through the German U Boat sightings, but at the same time we were picking up strong radio signals which had to be from subs nearby.  We were constantly changing course, our speed not above the slowest ship in the convoy which was about 11 knots, at times 5 knots when one dropped back for repairs.  A westbound convoy didn’t fare so well to the south of us and ran into the U Boat pack.  On one of the runs returning south we ran into a gale with such rough seas that we were taking water over the bow and the forward flight deck was shaking off water.  We actually had the heavy degaussing cables (anti mine protection welded to the steel hull) torn loose in places, the 2 expansion joints on YORKTOWN were stretching out and sliding back, some welds in the deck eyes in the superstructure on the hangar deck were ripping out at the corners.  One of the destroyers lost part of her bridge and the cruiser lost a plane off the catapult mount.

 

Now this was my first taste of rough weather, and I was surprised to find that I was not the least bit sea sick, but I’ll tell you there just wasn’t anyone topside to tell it to, the bunks were full below.  I was taking a can of trash forward to the incinerator when I met a seaman in a hurry with a single purpose in mind, seeing the trash can he grabbed it and promptly tossed up every thing except his socks.  On the morning of December 3, the YORKTOWN began transferring the air group ashore in Norfolk NAS and that involves a lot of work as everything is off loaded.  The “Y” was overdue for boiler rebricking and other modifications to ordinance and her Radar.  I went ashore into our old dorm and on the night of 6 December,  I took liberty envying the men who were to have the first leave.  I recall buying a trumpet in a pawn shop.  Oh yes, on the way into Norfolk by trolley there was an obnoxious Limey sailor from I believe the Illustrious, a British carrier and he has a head start on the others, must have found some grog on the ship.  Soon he was getting noisy and finally asked one of our men “When are you men going to add that extra stripe to your uniforms?”  Someone asked him, what stripe, he said, the yellow one down the back.  He almost got decked but some sailor jumped in and said that we should be more hospitable to our British counterparts, with a wink.  Well, they took him in and bought drinks as fast as he could down them.  Finally when he was nearly out they took him to a tattoo shop and had the American flag with the words “GOD BLESS AMERICA” tattooed across his chest and put him back on the next trolley back to the ship.

 

I slept in late and read a bit, then layed down in my bunk with the trumpet slid under it for safe keeping.  I was awakened by someone running through the dorm shouting.  The Japs have attacked Pearl Harbor.  We immediately started reloading our gear aboard ship, I didn’t have time to pick up my civilian clothes in the locker in town.  All or mostly all of the work scheduled for the “Y” was either not done or some work was done at sea.  Most of our planes didn’t get loaded by crane but were flown out and taken aboard at sea.  With 42 spares loaded into the overhead of the hangar deck.  In passing through the waters off Florida we had another sub scare, then one bright afternoon there was the word passed over the speakers, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE IN THE INCINERATOR.  Well, this was an old navy joke, of course there is a fire in the incinerator.  But it was followed up by “This is no s—“.  Well, as a result of this fire, guess where Johnny Kasselman and I stored our hammock and bedding, you got it, in the incinerator.  I managed to get by the hose crew just long enough to salvage one blanket.  These things were stored in an enclosure outside the main incinerator chamber but the door blew open and the fire escaped into the outer compartment.  The rest of this cruise Johnny and I shared my one blanket stretched out single thickness on the steel deck just beneath our lockers on the port bulkhead opposite the bakery.  What a way to wake up with the smell of fresh bread in your nostrils and the cooks always took pity on the two of us and provided a cup of hot coffee to go along with the roll.

 

Lovely balmy days with fairly calm seas down to Panama.  Prior to our arrival in Panama we discovered that we had 30 too many men who had been sleeping on boxes of spare parts and any other thing that would provide a spot up off the steel hangar deck.  They seemed quite bewildered and it was determined that they had not even found the mess deck since leaving Norfolk.  Muster was made to find out exactly who and how many extras we had.  Jocko Clark the exec. came down and faced them demanding an explanation.  When asked, the first man said he was told to get aboard at Norfolk, the same for the next three, then Jocko said, “who told you to get on board” the reply was, “you did sir” and this was echoed by the next three men.

 

It seems they were from boot camp and in their leisure time they had been watching the final loading of the ship for departure.  Jocko Clark came down the pier and told them not to just stand there, get aboard and bear a hand with the work, thinking they were Yorktown seamen.  It would have been interesting to be at staff office in boot camp and hear the report, 30 men AWOL sir.  They were off loaded at Panama and sent back to Norfolk to finish their training.

 

We reached San Cristobal 21 Dec. in Mid PM.  We entered Gatun locks and Cleared Miraflores locks 8 hrs. later.  We tied up at Balboa pier and started working through the night taking aboard stores and aviation gasoline and fuel for the ship.

 

In preparation for passage through the Canal all of the identification was removed from the ship.  Large steel letters cut from the stern naming it YORKTOWN and replaced with “ENTERPRISE”, all the launches aboard were repainted with Enterprise and everyone was advised not to let it slip that it was the “Y”.  On the trip east from the Pacific she was passed through as the Enterprise also and the Japs were known to have agents in Panama.  No liberty was granted so as to insure that word did not leak out.  As the captain of the ship went over the quarter deck for a meeting with officers ashore the Boatswain of the watch stepped into his little cubbyhole and spoke into the mike as he had done on numerous occasions before, and out over all the speakers, “YORKTOWN DEPARTING” whereupon Capt. Buckmaster did a double take and granted liberty.

 

Johnny came back beaming from liberty that night to tell me that he had finally made use of the Spanish he was in the process of learning from his book.  “DOS CERVESAS” and the bar tender gave him two beers.

 

I had always imagined the canal as one continuous narrow waterway but it turned out to be a series of lakes tied together by the canal and a series of locks, Miraflores, Gatun, etc. and we were pulled through the locks by little electric engines on rails.  We pulled away from the dock at 0800 on the 22nd and 30 minutes out we had a sub scare and I don’t know how many whales they sank with all the depth charges they dropped.  We had our Christmas dinner at sea on the 25th.  Dec. 30, one day before my birthday we tied up at North Island, San Diego.  It seemed nice to be in familiar territory again.  I looked over my old dorm, and a view of the San Diego skyline.  Lt. Commander Murr Arnold told Capt. Buckmaster that he was surprised that we were going to Samoa as he assumed our destination was Pearl.  Buckmaster said, “how did you know we are going to Samoa, it was supposed to be a closely guarded secret” to which Arnold replied, “those crates on the Broadway pier downtown say to Samoa via Yorktown”.

 

We had also taken aboard a “re-enlistee” Chief Quartermaster Pelletier who had been retired and pulled strings to get back on the Yorktown.  He reported to the captain and was asked if he had picked up all the necessary charts.  His response was, yes sir, all except for the south pacific to which the Captain replied, good grief man, that’s where we are going.

 

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