The following stories were sent to me by Joe Swann, a plankowner who served aboard the USS Wintle. Hopefully there are many more to come!
Recollections from life aboard the USS Wintle
By Joe Swann
For me, it began on the morning of March 20, 1943, the morning of my seventeenth birthday. I suppose it was typical of many young men during this period. The war was on and everyone wanted to join the service. I enlisted in the US Navy on this date and this began my journey to become a member of the USS Wintle, DE 25. When I was given my physical I thought I was going to have a problem. It was for my hearing test. The Chief had me stand facing the wall. He had an old style wind up alarm clock that gave off a fairly loud ticking sound. He went to the opposite wall about 15í from me and told me to let him know when I heard it ticking. Gradually, he walked toward me. He kept on walking and nearly had the clock touching my ear before I heard the ticking. I knew the test was not going well. I asked him if this would disqualify me? He said, Oh no! "Youíll be fine." The moral of this situation was, If you were a warm body and breathing, you were acceptable and you were going into the service.
I was told to come back in nine days to start Boot Training. On March 29 I reported as told. My father took off work to see me off. It was sad parting for both of us. I was sent to Bainbridge Naval Training Station, Md. After completion of my training, I was given nine days of leave and told to report back to Bainbridge. A few days after reporting back I was shipped to NOB, Norfolk, Va. It was here where a large number of the crew was being formed to be assigned to the Wintle. We did not learn about our new assignment until later.
An interesting character was in our barracks. I think he was from Detroit, Mi. His nickname was either, "Whitey or Lefty?" He was very streetwise. Everyone from other parts of the base seemed to know him. Food, magazines other articles were dropped off to him on various occasions and he was regarded by the rest of us as someone special. It was rumored that he had been in this barracks for quite some time and always missed being shipped out in a draft. He would go on liberty, it seemed, whenever he chose to do so! He was a very unique guy. He was in the barracks when we got there and he was there when we left. For all I know, he may still be there! Could he have been Naval Intelligence?
After a few weeks we got orders that we were going to California. We were put on the Norfolk Western Railroad train and headed west. When we got to Cincinnati, Ohio two of our group headed for the hills. They were caught about four months later and put in the brig. However, they took off again after getting out of the brig. Their actions had a reaction for the rest of us. We were restricted to the train for the remainder of the trip to California. Nevertheless, it was a great trip for me. Every thing that I was seeing fascinated me. This was not a troop train per se. The train porters prepared our bunks each night and morning. We ate in the dinning car with white linen tablecloths and silver coffeepots. Served by the dinning car attendants. We stopped for a short time in McCook, Nebraska. They met every troop train that came through the station. There was a television show made about what they did for the people in the service. It was a memorable moment for me. I think every lady in that town came running down the street to greet our train. They had small gifts that they were giving out to all of us on the train. One young lady took a liking to, Jake Jacobís! I think Jake was thinking about leaving our company to keep hers. The train finally had to leave and Jake was still with us. And, heís still with us. When we were crossing near the Great Salt Lake some of the "Boys" thought they were already crossing the ocean. Little did they know how much ocean they were about to cross.
Finally, we arrived in California. We were transferred to buses and taken to Mare Island, Calif. On the days to follow we got to know the Wintle. She was a sorry mess at this time. Loose gear, hoses, welding touches, no rigging, a real mess. We were put to work putting her in Commission. It took a little while, but we finally got her in shape. We were given Liberty and would go over to Vallejo for a couple of hours in the early evenings. We would take a small civilian operated boat over and back. There was always a rush to catch the boat, sailors running down the pier before the boat left. Marine guards were stationed on the piers to keep order. On some occasions there was friction between some of the sailors and Marines. I donít have it verified, but, it was rumored that one of the Marines accidentally fell overboard during one of these times of friction? No one from the Wintle had anything to do with this situation, as far as I know? It was good duty at Mare Is. putting the ship into Commission. It is now getting time for our Shake Down Cruise.
I think this is good time to conclude this session. In my next report to you Iíll tell you what happened on that cruise and something about seasickness.
Next stop San Diego.
We had completed the work to make the ship ready. Lt. Comdr. Leonard Bailey had reported for duty to take command of the Wintle. On July 10, 1943, the Commissioning Ceremonies were about to take place. We were ordered to fall out for inspection in our dress blues. I was in the First Deck Div. at this time and we were in formation on the bow. There were some ranking officers, apparently from the Mare Island Naval Base in attendance. The official ceremonies were conducted placing the USS. Wintle, DE 25 into the service of the US. Navy. I did not observe anything special that was performed to note this occasion. Perhaps, the shipís officers attended a formal function later?
After the conclusion, the shipís crew went back to their normal routine.
It was probably a few days later when we got underway. We sailed down to San Francisco proper and tied up at Pier #41 or 43, close to downtown. We could walk to Market St. We enjoyed liberty a couple times while moored here. Some of us went to a tavern on Market St. Now that we were "Salty Sailors" we had to act the part. I was seventeen at the time and the others were probably about the same age. I think they would have served us, but, I elected to have a coke. Just being there was the only statement I wanted to make at this time. San Francisco was a Wonderland to me. I had seen it in newsreels at the movies, never dreaming, that I would in a short period of time, actually visit there.
I think it was at this time that the left and sailed up the bay to an ammunition base. It possibly could have been Port Chicago. If so, this port had a terrible accidental explosion later in the war, killing over 300 people. This was either in 1944 or 45. Personnel assigned to loading ammunition refused to continue to work there and were Court Martialled. Their case is still being reviewed for a pardon. We completed loading ammunition from a barge that was anchored out in the stream. We were ready to go to sea.
In all probability we did not sail immediately. However, we would be sailing shortly thereafter.
The day we sailed for the Shakedown Cruise was a bit overcast. As we sailed down San Francisco Bay I was eager to be in a position to see the Golden Gate Bridge as we passed under it. As we approached the bridge the water began to get a little choppy. I was on my sea watch station, the #2, 3" 50 gun. This was an excellent position to view the whole scene in a panoramic sweep. I could clearly see the bridge as we were approaching. What a view, what a sight! However, at this time I was experiencing a strange sensation. The ship was rolling, the clouds were scudding, the Golden Gate Bridge appeared to be swaying and I was getting seasick. I was miserable. I did not upchuck; I just had that terrible sick feeling. Finally, we cleared the bridge and the harbor and were heading for San Diego. It didnít get any better as we sailed south off the California Coast. We had large ground swells all the way down. I remember being in the Head. Sick and miserable, saying to myself, "How did I get myself into this?" I had no answer, but I knew that there was no way that I was getting out of this situation in the very near future.
Naturally, I had absolutely no desire to go near the Crewís Mess, nor did I want any chow. However, I would need something to eat. At some time earlier, we were permitted to buy extra candy at the shipís store. I had bought a box of Milky Way bars. I think it was 24 bars in the carton. I think I was averaging about 50 knots to a bar! That was the only thing that I could keep down and I survived on them sailing to San Diego.
As we arrived at San Diego it was a beautiful sight. The waters calmed, the harbor was a sight to behold! We slowly sailed to our mooring station and proceeded to tie-up to a buoy. The ship was again steady and I was feeling normal, without that terrible feeling in my stomach. I was a born again, Sailor!
That evening as the sun was going down, I stood at the railing looking over at San Diego. The land gently rose upwards, dotted with homes, lights were coming on and it was a spectacular sight to see.
We stayed in port for a couple of days before starting our Shake Down at sea, off the coast. We were granted liberty in the evening. Going ashore was just like it was at the movies. We were taken ashore in the liberty boat. It let us off at a low pier right at the foot of the main drag, Broadway. There were stores, arcades, bright lights and thousands of sailors! Yet, to me, this was California and it was as advertised fantastic!
After a few more days we set sail to start our Shake Down Maneuvers. This took about two weeks to complete. It consisted of constant drills, night and day. Personnel learning their assigned duties. Firing and testing the weapons and getting seasick. Again, I had that uneasy feeling and it wasnít from being in love. But, I got through it. I never missed standing my watches or performing my assigned duties. We concluded our maneuvers and returned to San Diego. Stayed for a short period, then returned to San Francisco.
It is now September and we are preparing to sail for Pearl Harbor with a convoy. This will be our first official assignment in the war.
I will stop here and give you a rest. Next time Iíll report on our first visit to an enchanted land.
You mentioned difficulty in docking. Well, here is another story that you may want. It may have something to do with switching from Manila Hemp to a wire rope line.
Treasure Island located in the middle of San Francisco Bay is a case in point. It is where the Oakland and San Francisco portions of the bridge meet. We tied up there on several occasions, it is a very difficult place to moor. There is a very strong current that flows in this bay. (Alcatraz Island is just NW of Treasure Island.) To compensate for this, a ship must keep a lot of forward power on to overcome this current. The current may be as much as 7 or 8 knots. When we came in here, there was a friendly contest among those of us handling the lines. Which crew would get its line over first? I was assigned to the #2 line. This was the second line from the bow. It was important that you got your line over quickly and secured, before the ship would drift off. If you missed on the first try and had to back off, then the Captain would have to come about again for another approach. This is poor seamanship and reflected badly upon him. What reflects badly upon a captain, also reflects badly upon his crew. It was tricky ship handling to accomplish docking without a mishap, Treasure Island required teamwork among all those involved to dock successfully.
Often, when you got your line over first and were the only line holding the ship to the pier, it could be dangerous. There was a tremendous strain on a shipís line under these conditions. The line strain is so great that the line will get smaller in diameter as it stretches. The bridge would yell down to hold the line! Depending on the situation, orders would be, Hold what you have, let out slack, or snub off slowly. This allowed the bridge to make necessary adjustments to maneuver the ship into the pier. There were many times when you felt for sure that the line was ready to part. If it did it, the line could come back with enough force to severely injure those handling the line. Perhaps sever a limb.
So, as I said, tying up at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay can be a very difficult operation. However, I canít remember anytime when the Wintle didnít make it on the first try? On the other hand, maybe I donít want to admit that we didnít.
So, thatís my story and Iím sticking with it!
(Ed -- Hereís a comment by another crew member about the at Treasure Island docking issues:
It was at Treasure Island that the skipper got his first test in boat handling. There always seemed to be an off shore wind that made it tough to dock. After several attempts he rammed the dock hard enough to put a notch in it. He then parted several manila lines trying to warp in the stern. We ended up being given wire lines after that, and they were tough on line handlers. It was a bit embarrassing to say the least. )
USS Wintle's First Visit to Pearl Harbor.
It was in late September 1943 and we were leaving San Francisco with a small convoy in route to Pearl Harbor. It was 22 months after a date that has changed the course of history for the United States. Of course that date was Dec. 7, 1941.
As we left the coast of the United States, as I remember, the weather was overcast. I have no recollection of what ship (s) we were escorting. I do remember that it took quite a few days to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. Pearl Harbor is approximately 2400 miles from San Francisco. If we averaged 12 knots then it would take a little over 8 days to cover this distance. That is, providing there are no unforeseen delays in route. It may have possibly taken a day or two more? Obviously, we were not flying the friendly skies.
Finally, we arrived. As we approached the mouth of the Pearl River, the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands greeted us. The weather had changed to spectacular! Bright sun, the clear blue sky, white puffy clouds and a dramatic change in the color of the sea. We were sailing through a deep blue colored ocean, but, when we were a mile or two off the coast, the water changed to a pale, very light delicate green. It was as if someone had added a dye to the water, to create this unusual effect, except, this was not man made.
We sailed into the entrance and started up the Pearl River. The river is not exceptionally wide. You can see the land on both sides as you go up river. I do not know the distance from the entrance to the anchorage inside of Pearl Harbor. However, I would guess that it would be several miles? It is difficult recall after so many years. But, it did seem to take quite a while to reach the inner part of the harbor.
During a short stay we had the opportunity to go on liberty into Honolulu. A Navy bus would transport us into town. In route we passed a tall, made pineapple, probably made of wood or steel, a symbol of the Dole Pineapple Company. It appeared to be about 40' in height. It was quite a sight to someone with little or no exposure to the Wonders of the World.
However, there would be other wonders that would be more startling, after we got into Honolulu. We observed long lines of service personnel lined up leading into a hotel. We had no idea what this was about? However, we did learn that this was a bordello! I think there was several downtown. The Army operated them. Army medical personnel daily inspected the girls. I think this was the major industry on the island. Business was thriving to say the least.
Later in the war, they were closed down. My understanding is that the President's wife, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt paid a visit to Honolulu in 1944. She may have had complaints about these Houses of Ill Repute. Some said, that the girls were making so much money and that they were able to purchase prime beachfront property. The local ruling faction did not approve of having them as neighbors. I'm sure that some of the girls may have succeeded in buying some of that property. It would be interesting to check the pedigree of some of the folks living in stately homes along the beach in Waikiki? For whatever the reason, after the closings, the lines disappeared outside of these once, very popular establishments.
I had the opportunity to go out to Waikiki Beach on one occasion. You could not go onto the beach itself, they had large chunks of coral spread over it to prevent anyone from using it. There were one-story wooden buildings along the beach with thatched roofs. Bars selling drinks were very crowded. There was a limit of two drinks to a customer and then the customer had to leave. Honolulu and Waikiki Beach was still a quaint place in those days. It must have been really terrific before the war. But, liberty in a Sailors Town is nothing more than a lot of walking, looking and hoping that you might be lucky enough to meet a girl. It doesn't happen too often, if ever. When there are very few girls and far too many eligible guys the odds are very slim. But, hope is eternal.
The damage that occurred on Dec. 7, 1941 was mostly cleaned up by now. Oil was still on the water of the harbor, as it is today, still seeping up. We had to wear undress whites in Pearl Harbor. I was assigned to the motor whaleboat as the Bow Hook. Wearing whites was a problem. Often you would have water splash on you and the oil in the water would stain your uniform. You were not permitted to continue to wear this uniform with these stains. We had to buy any uniform that had to be replaced, it was a dilemma for us trying to keep those whites clean. One time we went into the Pearl River at a narrow spot while a large ship was traveling in the same area. It was a feeling that we would be sandwiched between it and the bank of the river. Although there was enough room, it was just the immense size of the ship and the narrow confines of the river that produced this illusion. We had heard that the USS. Oklahoma was being moved at this time to salvage her. I did not see her during my time in port nor on later visits to Pearl Harbor.
Finally, it was time to leave Pearl and return to the states with another convoy. We returned to San Francisco, picked up another convoy and headed right back to Pearl Harbor. After this trip, we did not return to the state, s until the end of the war. We spent about 22 months overseas. We never went to any port that we saw a civilian. We did see some Army Nurses when we were at Guam in Nov. of 1944. Some of our officers brought them aboard after meeting them ashore. Although we could not get close look at them, some of the guys improvised and got out binoculars so they could get a better view of them. Strange conditions make humans act in strange ways. On the other hand, it may be very human to react this way under these situations?
Well, here we are again at the end of another segment of our journey aboard the Wintle. The next cruise we take will be to the Fiji Islands. A couple of events happened down there that may be of interest to you -- at least I hope so.
The Mustache Gang
There are many stories about the colorful Chief Boatswain Mate, Milliard A. McCarl. You could recognize him by has trademark long twisted mustache, and a large wad of bills in his dungaree shirt pocket. One time a plot was hatched to snip off just one side of his meticulously groomed mustache! The reason for this devious plan was generated by the fact that he slept on the Crew's Chow Table.
The weather was very hot in the South Pacific. Apparently, it was even more so in the Chief's sleeping quarters. He would come out and sleep in his underwear on the chow table. This was quite irritating to some of the crew.
A plan was devised to teach him a lesson. I donít even recall if it was successful. I only heard about it from one of the conspirators. And even at this late date, I will not reveal the name of the doers of this dastardly plot.
The Chief liked to roll the dice. I went on Beach Parties with him on numerous occasions. He trusted me and I would rack in his winnings from the pot and keep track of it for him, while he concentrated on the game. (Chief, if you read this, let me assure you, I never took a penny.) He was a very big man and I don't think anyone would do anything to get on his bad side.
For that reason "The Mustache Gang," acted in complete secrecy, and the secret of their identity will stay one.
(Ed Ė The Sea Stories section mentions the Chief as the person carried back onto the ship passed out drunk in a cargo net)
I would like tell you of our trip to the Fiji's in Oct. 1943.
We had completed several trips back and forth between San Francisco and
Pearl Harbor. We were in Pearl when we received orders to escort a small convoy to the Fiji Islands, which is located about 2800 miles south of Hawaii. I don't know how others felt, but I had a feeling that this trip was a very lonely one. We did not see any other ships on this journey, nor any land that I recall. We had been told that we were passing near various islands -- Johnson, Howland and possibly Phoenix. We were never in sight of these places, I suppose we could have been hundreds of miles from them. The Pacific Ocean is a vast body of water and I am speaking in relative terms. A trip of this distance, with all conditions being favorable, would probably take 10 or 11 days. I don't recall any bad weather, just the feeling of our little group of ships being so alone. All I could think at the time was "whereís the rest of the US Navy?" I suppose I felt that way because I was still a Greenhorn at the time. Trips at sea can be long and lonely. Even when we finally arrived in the Fiji's, the feeling remained the same. We anchored in a remote open body of water. Over on the land there was no sight of habitation. We saw no towns or villages, just the green jungle.
I am not certain if the following occurred on this visit, or on a later trip to this area. We had been granted liberty to go ashore for a beach party. The beach that we went to was deserted, except for our small group. There were no facilities there, just the beach and jungle. We swam for a while. Then we began to explore, walking down along the beach. We came to a swift running stream that emptied into the lagoon. We tried to cross it, but the water was too swift for a crossing. It was about this time that someone suggested that we go up onto the nearby hillside. We decided that we might find a pineapple field. Fresh pineapples sounded very inviting at the time. It would be something new for us to experience.
We had walked quite distance, when we came upon a small US Army encampment. As we approached, a sentry who was on duty challenged us. He wanted to know who we were, where we were from and what were we doing in this area. We answered his questions, but that didnít satisfy him. He called for an officer. The officer asked us basically the same questions. We asked if we could have some water to drink. We had become very thirsty by this time, after all that walking in the hills He denied our request. He was very leery of us, not sure just who we were, and why we were up in this remote area. Eventually he ordered us to leave and return back to where we had come from. We left and never did get any water to drink. I'm sure that the officer had a logical reason for his suspicions. However, we were not too happy with it.
On our trip back to the ship, we eventually did come across a pineapple field! We picked a fairly large number of the fruit. We ate some, but quickly realized that they were so ripe that the sweetness of them was overwhelming. We took the rest of them back to the ship. Some of the guys on the ship ate too much of it and got slightly ill. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
The ship did not remain in the Fiji's for too long. We returned to Pearl Harbor for another convoy after a short stay. We had a quick turn around and again were sailing back to the Fiji's. Each trip was like the first one, lonely.
It was also during this period that we made runs to the Ellice Islands located north of the Fiji's. I have another story of an incident that occurred here.
This occurred sometime in October-early November 1943, in the Ellice
Islands. We were anchored in an open harbor. It was a cloudy day; overcast and it looked like a storm was imminent. There was a fairly strong wind blowing. The ship was rolling even at anchor.
I was walking aft on the starboard side when I heard people yelling on the fantail. I rushed there to find out what was happening and saw a man in the water about 100' from the ship. He was trying to stay afloat, but was having difficulty. The waves were about 3-4 foot high. He had swallowed some seawater and this was making him sick. It didnít look like he was going to make it.
What had happened was that somehow the 26' motor whaleboat, which had been tied up to the stern of the ship, had broken loose. Coxswain Brain Bridgers dove overboard to retrieve it. However, the wind was pushing the whaleboat away faster than Brian could swim. When he realized that he could not catch up with the boat he tried to return to the ship. But with the wind, the tide and high waves this became impossible to do. Several of us ran to get a life preserver and line. But when we tried to detach the life preserver from the bulkhead we found it was so tightly secured that it wouldnít budge. The life ring had probably been installed there by the shipyard workers when the ship was built, and had never been detached since then.
When we finally returned to the fantail with the life preserver and line, Bridgers had already been rescued. I am not certain how this was accomplished. However, I had heard that Albert K. Stanaitis (Later a B/M 2C) played an important part in the rescue. I can't remember that there was too much talk later, about this incident among the crew. Sometimes that happened. Incidents occurred and were either quickly forgotten or rarely discussed later. At least that was my experience.
When we attend our reunions we talk about, "Our old sea stories." Yet, I can't ever remember this incident being discussed? Perhaps, someone may read this and shed more light on how Coxswain, Brian Bridgers was finally rescued? It would be very interesting to learn more about the role that Al Stanaitis played!