This has been the story of a ship. Not the kind of ship that writes its name in history but a humble ship, one of many, a good ship, OUR ship.
Once she was a mass of raw materials pouring into San Francisco from every corner of the land. The sweat and toil and grime and prayers of a nation laid her keel and gave her form. A terrible urgency throbbed in the nation's pulse. Shattering events were rocking the world. In such a time, the U.S.S. MOUNTRAIL slid down the ways, was fitted out and commissioned. Inert and inanimate, a thing of steel, she lay at the dockside awaiting the stream of life that would be her crew.
Fresh from school, factory, farm and business house, from city and countryside, from penthouse, slum or modest home, from every walk of life, with the drawl of Texas and the twang of New England on their tongues, came the five hundred officers and men who clambered across her decks to become her ship's company.
Full of dewy enthusiasms were these men and officers. A swift transit of boot-camp or indoctrination-school had given us only a dim realization of what lay ahead. If we had nursed any illusions, they vanished with nightfall. Endless months of endless days followed while we perspired and labored, erred and faltered, cursed and were cursed, learned and forgot and learned again. There were brief glorious interludes of shore leave with an aura of Sky-rooms and bubbling cocktails and the scented rustle of silk. But mostly we labored, labored, labored . . . madly, insanely, until we learned to hate the ship and all it represented, almost . . . but not quite.
And then, out of the embers of fatigue and weariness and heartache and homesickness, something new emerged. It shuddered into being and pulsed through the ship. It mingled with the throb of the engines and the sounds of complaint and self-pity. A soul had been born, the soul of OUR fighting ship. It stiffened our backbones, uplifted our hearts, fortified our spirits.
Was there a Utopia aboard ship after that, a "Never Never Land" of honeyed words and sugar-coated phrases?' Oh, no! There were still times when we stewed in our own dismay, faltered in our inadequacies, boiled in a cauldron of mute invective. But it wasn't quite the same.
We had meaning and purpose now. Perhaps we didn't like Joe Jones or Ensign Smirk. But we weren't looking for charm and personality those days. This was no mincing minuet in which we were engaged but a hard, grim war of unprecedented savagery. We liked the feel of Joe Jones and Ensign Smirk at the guns, scanning the skies for the lightning horror that ever threatened. Survival was at stake, our own survival, and it well might hang on the sure eye and steady heart of a shipmate. When the shadow of death looms ever over the horizon, we learn to prize the iron in men, not the glossy finish.
There was joy and laughter too, on the MOUNTRAIL, and an easy fellowship that we so took for granted, we were hardly conscious of it. There were long dreamy periods at sea when work was at a minimum and war seemed so wondrously far away.
One day the MOUNTRAIL will be decommissioned and sent to pasture. We expect that day to come soon. We shall travel, each to his own little world. And what shall we remember of our year on the MOUNTRAIL? Shall it be the late watches, the harsh words, the liberties we didn't get, the dreary nights in boats, the transient joys and trivial triumphs?
No, we shall remember that feeling of calm competency when the order was given to commence operations. We shall remember the cold grey dawn when Kerama Retto first loomed up before our wondering eyes, that calm confidence we shared on the dawn of battle where we had feared to feel fear, the quiet unity and purpose of the entire ship. We shall remember the cool efficiency at the Hagushi Beaches and the quiet conviction of Southeastern Okinawa. We shall remember, of course, the shore leave at Manila, Tsingtao, Cebu, Hakodate, Honolulu, even the beer-brawls at Mog-Mog. Long after the resplendent souvenirs we carried aboard with ecstatic delight have been relegated to the scrap-heap they so richly deserve, the thrill of barter in foreign lands will warm our hearts. And we shall never forget our horrified appreciation of the unwavering fury of our gun crews on April 2nd and our savage exultation when, at last, the menacing kamikaze crashed like screaming meteors into the sea.
These are the things that have become a part of us. Five hundred officers and men poured into our ship the best that was in them. Out of their enthusiasms, disappointments, heartaches, triumphs and fulfillments was distilled an essence that became the soul of the MOUNTRAIL. It flowed into the spirit of every man and gave him strength when he needed strength. Some of us will count it for much and some of us will count it as nothing. Perhaps it will live long in the hearts of the men who trod the MOUNTRAIL'S decks. And then again, it may not. While it lived, it fulfilled a purpose. Perhaps, in a later day, there may again be a need and this chronicle of the MOUNTRAIL may serve to rekindle the flame that burned in our hearts at Leyte and Okinawa.