ABOARD THE U.S.S. MARATHON (APA 200)
(Torpedoed) Sunday Morning 1:30 a.m., 22 July 1945
ABOARD THE U.S.S. MARATHON (APA 200)
(Torpedoed) Sunday Morning 1:30, 22 July 1945
At 9:30 Saturday night, July 21, 1945, the lights on board this transport went out and nearly five hundred men turned into their bunks to fall asleep peacefully, happy in the knowledge of another week’s work just finished and knowing that tomorrow was Sunday. Yea, Sunday! The brightest day of the entire week! Tomorrow they would follow a Holiday routine, could relax just a little and forget the monotony of the work of the week just passed. They could spend their time leisurely playing cards or reading books. And there would be church services. Tomorrow, any man who wished could attend the regular Sunday morning church services to worship his God! Yes, tomorrow would be a day of leisure and relaxation and every man could forget his cares and be himself for a few hours - so five hundred men slept peacefully on.
At 1:30 A.M., Sunday morning, July 22, 1945, the man who had the control watch on the open bridge was drowsing sleepily with his gaze fixed on the canopy covering No. 2 hatch on which several men lay sleeping in the cool night air. Suddenly, as he watched, that entire hold literally exploded in his face. The canopy collapsed like a burst balloon; water and debris were flung many feet in the air. The man was jarred to a half-standing position and immediately dived to the deck to escape the falling debris. Thirty seconds later he rose to his feet and all bedlam was breaking loose on the decks below him.
With the terrific explosion the whole ship was shaken from forecastle to fantail and the tremor which passed through her immediately following the explosion was like the shuddering of a mortally wounded animal. Throughout the ship, men who were so abruptly awakened grabbed the clothes nearest to them and rushed topside to ascertain the cause of the explosion. Upon arriving topside these men immediately realized the danger their ship was in and in a matter of seconds, everywhere on deck, men were dragging out lengths of firehose in anticipation of fires that might break out. Others were already moving debris and searching for men who may have been caught beneath the wreckage. At this time there was one thought: men’s lives and the very existence of the vessel were imperiled and not a moment was to be lost if the ship was to be saved.
Within an incredibly short time the Unit Commander, aboard this ship, had originated messages to be sent out to other ships in this vicinity ordering them to the assistance of this vessel. The Commanding Officer immediately took charge and directed operation toward saving the ship, which was already listing badly. He was aided no end by the excellent assistance of the Executive Officer and the Navigator.
For many anxious minutes the fate of the ship hinged upon the ability of the First Lieutenant and the men in his charge to ascertain the cause, location and extent of the damage. It can well be said that it was upon the shoulders of these men of the Construction and Repair gang that the saving of the ship depended, these men who faced that responsibility and turned to their work in this emergency without losing a minute of time, facing an acute shortage of personnel because it was this department that suffered heavies in casualties.
When at last it was known that the ship was saved, there were heard relieved remarks from many men. This was the old ship that no one loved. Many were the men who wished for a different kind of duty. Yes, she was unwanted by many - but that tragic night when she was ripped and torn by an explosion, and her bow was settling dangerously low in the water, she stood out with all the majestic symbols of a home. And to these men, who at last realized their true feelings toward her, it was as though home was being taken from them. And now that the ship was saved it was as though they had beaten off some evil that threatened to deprive them of her existence, and in the triumph of saving her from doom some of the tension that prevailed before was lifted.
Though salvage work and the drainage of compartments was being carried on with all expediency, and the crew was working day and night by shifts, the men who had been trapped in the berthing compartment below could not be reached for a period of nearly thirty-six hours. When at last the rescue parties could get to the compartment they found such a wreckage of bunks, beams, and stanchions that they could remove only the bodies that were closest to the compartment entrance. As the quarters were drained lower the rescue parties found more men. Some of them apparently were unhurt by the explosion, but died from drowning when he compartment flooded. There were other bodies that were so disfigured that they were unidentifiable. In some instances bodies were found that had been blown in half by the concussion. The bodies of some men that were known to have died in the blast were never found.
On that night fate was playing hide and seek with many men. Had the explosion taken place fifteen minutes later, the man who saw it from the control bridge, having been relieved from his watch, would have been in the trapped compartment sleeping. One man complained that he had been given the wrong watch and should not have to stand it so he was granted permission to leave his station. He was in the compartment sleeping a few minutes later when the explosion occurred. Two men who were actually sleeping in the compartment awakened a few minutes before the explosion and found reason to leave. One of the two became too warm and went topside into the cool air and was there an hour later when the accident took place. The other man awakened with the desire for a cup of coffee and went to the galley after it. After drinking his coffee, he was persuaded to join a card game I the mess hall. Fifteen minutes later his bunk was blown to smithereens by the blast. There were scores of such stories; all of them cannot be told, but those who survived the blast were thankful for their own safety. Had the circumstances varied but little, the casualties may have been much heavier.
This incident will be engraved upon the memory of every man of this crew for the rest of his life, especially those men who were in the trapped compartment but managed to get out. It was they who heard the screams of the helpless and the moans of the dying. To one who has not actually experienced the horror of an incident like this, this story probably sounds fantastic and is likely unfathomable to the average person. Those who realize its horribleness will be touched by this story for a time; but, as time passes, they will forget it. Many people will forget, but not these men who saw their shipmates prepared for burial. They shall always remember!
The explosion took place near number two hold and it was here and in an adjoining crew living compartment that the sickening horror of this accident was centered. Before the initial confusion immediately following the blast subsided, the first casualties were taken to the sick bay on stretchers. There were a few instances where men on the open decks heard muffled screams for help from men who were trapped in their flooding compartment below. There were men who immediately answered those calls for help and without regard for their personal safety, went below to the flooded compartment and risked their own lives to help wounded men to safety. It is to those men that the highest praise goes. They did a job that cannot be surpassed in act or courage anywhere. But there were all too many men whom they could not remove to safety, and the stories they told of this “death compartment” were enough to shake the emotions of the most sturdy men on board.
Gone now were the thoughts of a peaceful Sunday. The stunned expression on the face of every men was a story in itself of the bewilderment that gripped everyone in its clutches. The state of incredulity with which men regarded this incident portrayed the indescribable confusion that clouded each man’s thoughts. Just a few hours ago they had talked with these men about home, their wives and sweethearts, about what they would do after the war. Their thoughts had dwelt together on a sunny lawn, the rustling leaves of a spreading shade tree, a blooming flower garden, made brighter still by the beaming smiles of a wife and children who waited for them at home. Yes, they had all hoped together for a peaceful Sunday - one that would mark the end of the war and find them together in happiness, reunited with all that is dear to them, their homes, families, and friends.
And now there seemed to be turmoil everywhere! The true significance of war had been thrust upon those living. Every man was working in frenzied haste as though trying to save himself and his ship from some groping evil that sought death and destruction. Only those men below slept quietly - and for those men who were so blissfully relieved of the cognizance of the turmoil about them, there would never be an awakening.
The watertight integrity of the ship held and with two Repair Tugs along side the ship to assist in salvage operations, the hard task of pumping the water from the many filled compartments began. It was slow and tedious work, interrupted many times in the following nights by air-raid warnings, but still the work continued. As the hours dragged along the casualty list grew longer. For many hours it was not known exactly how many men were trapped in the living compartment below. Men worked under a terrific strain with added tension because they knew that trapped below was a buddy who was hopelessly lost. With these thoughts, an atmosphere of gloomy solitude developed and in the days to follow this vessel was as a ghost ship and the men were haunted with vivid memories of their deceased shipmates.
The cause of the explosion is evident. One more Japanese torpedo had found its mark, and true the suffering it caused in both personnel and damage was great! But not great enough to break the very aggressive spirit of any man aboard this ship. Japan is beaten beyond doubt! Sometimes it is hard to understand why she hangs on; but yet, like the thrashing tentacles of a giant octopus in its death throes, she still lashes out in blind fury and lets her blows fall where they may. It seems like a hopeless attempt on the part of Japan, but many men have learned that still, at any time, she may lash out with an unexpected blow and if it strikes - it can be destructive! May no one else, at home or on the battle fronts, ever be deceived by the apparent nearness of her inevitable defeat!
It was in the early afternoon on the island of Okinawa, on a hillside covered with grass and wild shrubbery. The Chaplain stood facing west where the China Sea rolled away like a smooth floor of glass. To his left lay the bodies prepared for burial of the men who had given their lives in the cause of freedom. Facing the Chaplain was a group of men who formed the burial party of their friends and had come to pay their last respects to them. Behind these men, in well-kept lots, was the cemetery where neat rows of simple, white-painted crosses marked the graves of the heroes of other battles. It was there that these shipmates were to be put away. There were lumps in many throats as the Chaplain officiated in a simple burial ceremony and committed the bodies to the ground. There, their friends left them to be buried with the honor that only those who live their life for freedom may be buried.
From these dead there arises a challenge to all free peoples. At this time, when victory seemed so near, will these men be forgotten? Will their contributions to the cause of freedom be cast aside and trampled amidst the speculation of decisive battles to be won in the future? No, they must not be forgotten least their faith and the honor of all free people be broken! Now, only by accomplishing the cause for which they died, with sincere gratitude for their sacrifice, may their faith be kept. Their challenge is one of faith; may it be accepted by all free peoples in the same spirit that it was issued by those men who have died for peace.
(A transcript found in the WWII memorabilia of Frank T. Correia) - later sent in a copy of a Newspaper article by John Mohney