213 THIRD VOYAGE
Our stay in San Francisco was marked by a series of events that the peoples of the world had waited many years to see, the United States loosed the terror of the Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan reluctantly surrendered and the MOUNTRAIL had a party. History's tomes will completely discuss the first two happenings, but for fear that they will overlook the third we will discuss it with a few well chosen superlatives. On the night of August 14th all the officers and men, except a skeleton watch, began congregating in the Masonic Temple in San Francisco. Our dates appeared on time and the dancing and beer drinking began. Outside we could hear the howling mobs tearing up the city in a victory celebration. Inside we were enjoying the esthetic satisfaction derived from a fine show of interpretive dancing by as comely a line of buxom blondes and redheads as could be found. Between their abbreviated costumes, our long beers, and the good fellowship of the officers and men relaxing together after a rigorous voyage the evening couldn't have been better.
We wearily returned the next morning to the General Engineering and Drydock Corporation's Alameda yard where the ship was undergoing a general overhaul. On the 21st we steamed across the bay to a San Francisco Army dock, took aboard a full load of troops and that same afternoon headed out to sea. We were again headed on what was now to us the boring voyage to Eniwetok. On the 29th we crossed the 180th Meridian and then a few days later stopped at Eniwetok, from there to Ulithi, thence to the Philippines, through the San Bernardino Straits, and on the morning of September 11th we came to anchor at the port of Batangas, Luzon. Here we debarked the units of the 86th Infantry Division that we had been carrying aboard, and then took a look at the city. It is a small mountain-encircled port about 70 miles south of Manila. It was here that General MacArthur made a bloodless landing during his encirclement of the Philippine capital. The harbor has a few scarred masts of Jap ships sticking out of the water and the beach was strewn with our and our recent enemy's landing craft. The town itself had been torn by bombs and fire and presented a pitiful sight. The inhabitants had little to sell to the souvenir hunters except the inevitable wooden shoes and hemp table cloths that were to be found everywhere in the islands.
A few days later we sailed back through the dangerous Straits and anchored the following afternoon in San Pedro Bay, Leyte. Here we took on fuel and waited for orders. We received word on the 18th to go to Abuyog about forty miles down the coast to pick up a company of troops and thence to Cebu city on the Island of Cebu and prepare for an operation. We spent the night of September 19th anchored off the village of Abuyog and the next afternoon left for Cebu. We steamed all night through narrow channels studded with pinnacles of coral and rock, arriving at our destination the following morning.
Cebu is the second largest city in the Philippines and before the war was the center from which hundreds of shiploads of hemp and sugar were sent to every nation in the world. The Japanese realizing its value commercially and also coveting its protected harbor made it an Army and Navy Operating Base second only to Manila in size and importance.
During our softening up raids prior to the Philippine Invasion, carrier task forces had made this Island city and harbor the focal point for murderous attacks by air. They blasted the waterfront area and any shipping found in the bay until the muddy bottom was covered with dozens of rusting hulls.
We had a pleasant surprise at Cebu when we found we were going to load a Battalion of our old friends, the 77th Division. Our destination was to be the City of Hakodate on the Island of Hokkaido, Japan. We moved shop from the outer harbor alongside a dock and commenced loading. All hands again were given a chance to go ashore and as usual no one refused the opportunity.
We found the city similar to all others we had seen in the Philippines. Everywhere was an all prevailing rancid sweet smell that is peculiar to the islands. We discovered that its source was rancid coconut oil which is used for everything from cooking to hair pomade. The inevitable wooden shoes and hemp tablecloths were again for sale at the usual inflated prices. It was a pitiful sight to see ragged underfed natives with pockets bulging with money and nothing for them to spend it on.
Those of us who had an opportunity to take trips along the coastal plain upon which the city is built, saw some of the most beautiful country in the world. Mountain streams came babbling out of the mountains and jungles and emptied into the muddy inland sea. Slow moving water buffalo, up to their bellies in yellow mud, pulled primitive plows through rice paddies. The only evidence of war was the bridges which had been destroyed by the retreating Japanese, who were now impounded inside a barbed wire stockade a few miles out of town. We were told that they made no attempt to escape because the Filippinos still were prone to indulge themselves in their time honored custom of decapitating their enemies.
Our boat crews held a series of rehearsals for the loadings which were to be made just as if we were going in upon a defended beach. Then on the 26th of September we got underway in company with-Transport Squadron THIRTEEN and the following morning stopped briefly off Abuyog heading North later in the afternoon. As we progressed north ward we received word of a typhoon in our path so we changed course and steamed eastward in an attempt to skirt the storm. We pitched and rolled through froth-covered seas that often broke over our bow but successfully avoided the full fury of this storm that finally expended its destruction on Okinawa. Again we changed course and continued our travels Northward.
On the night of October 4th we entered the narrow Tsugaru Straits between the Jap Islands of Honshu and Hokkaido and the following dawn found us in the outer harbor of Hakodate. Our boats were manned and lowered, formed up in waves and proceeded to line of departure. From our vantage point the waterfront appeared deserted, in fact the entire city showed nothing but a few lazy spirals of smoke to show that anyone was there. We received the dispatch order and our landing craft roared into a small boat basin where we discharged the fully armed troops we carried. Here we saw our first Japs. Working parties of stevedores were lined up on the docks ready to assist in the unloading of cargo. You could not characterize these Japs as having any unity of expression or emotion, some were laughing and pointing at everything they saw, some were definitely sullen, while most just stood impassively observing our every move. They were being directed by dapper but sullen Japanese police each in a black uniform with a short decorative but very businesslike dagger at his belt as his badge of authority.
The ship was speedily unloaded and then all hands were given a chance to visit the city with the strict provision that there be no buying or trading and no contacts with the civilians. Higher authority wanted us to enter as conquerors not souvenir hunters. We found the city modern in many ways with street cars, paved streets, department stores and wide boulevards but primitive in many other respects with all the sewage from its teeming slums and beautiful residential sections running down ditches at the side of every street. We saw a great many demobilized Japanese soldiers in the streets and most of the men and boys were wearing some kind of a uniform. Women ran as soon as they saw us the first day we were there. A day later they did not run but hurried about their business watching us suspiciously out of the corners of their eyes. Hakodate abounded with religious shrines.
We visited Buddhist Temples, an Orthodox Greek Church, a small Catholic Church, and numerous Shinto Shrines. Our sightseeing was over on the 6th of October when we sailed across the narrow straits, anchored overnight off the city of Aornori on Northern Honshu and then left the following day for Guam in the Mariannas.
Five days later we dropped the hook in Apra Harbor which is the only harbor for this nerve center of the Pacific. Recreation activities were numerous but the Island had so many thousands of soldiers, sailors and Marines on shore that our stay was rather dull. Because of necessity, everything we did was regimented and planned and we had no chance for individual excursions. We did however see the huge B-29 bases from where our Superforts left in the last year of the war to destroy Tokyo and the major cities of the Nipponese empire. While we were here numerous Japanese warcraft put into the harbor to pick up supplies or to carry their prisoners back to their homeland. Again we began taking aboard a new load of troops, this time units of the 6th Marine Division. The day before our departure we had a big beer party and then without regrets set sail for China,
We passed close to Kerama Retto, continued through the South China Sea, entered the Yellow Sea and on October 28th arrived at the North China port of Tsingtao. This city at one time was owned by the Germans who developed its fine harbor, dock facilities, and made of it a modern city for the Orient. During the First World War the Japanese had driven the Germans out and left themselves only to return during the China incident. From the harbor the city appears to be much more modern than it really is. All the roofs are of red tile and the imposing buildings in the business district appear to be new and clean. When we got a closer look at the city we found it not quite so pure. As they had been in Japan our noses were assailed by a variety of odors the minute we set foot on shore, with the smell of long dead fish being the most predominant. The streets were crowded with thousands of rickshaws each human beast of burden clamoring for our trade.
The sidewalks were a milling throng of peddlers, beggars, business people, Chinese soldiers and our own sailors and Marines. Every few steps there were bars and restaurants clamoring for us to taste their poisonous concoctions. White Russians, people without a country, were numerous in the city and their establishments were cleaner and a little more modern than the average Chinese Bistro. The shops were overflowing with goods for sale most of it being cheap Japanese wares with which the recently defeated Nips had flooded every occupied country. The exchange rate for currency when we arrived was three thousand Chinese dollars for one American, however, in a few days it was four thousand to one. Compared to the succession of barren spots we had visited before Tsingtao was a paradise, and we were thrilled when we learned that we were to load our ship with men eligible for discharge and return to the United States via Shanghai. Loaded with souvenirs we prepared to get underway for Central China on the afternoon of November 2nd, but just as we were pulling in our anchor we had a change of orders sending us to Manila.
Griping with the change in orders but happy to be headed homeward we set sail and five uneventful days later arrived in Manila only staying overnight. On the 8th we left the harbor and began a non stop trip home. On the 16th of November we celebrated the first anniversary of our commissioning. During that year's time we had travelled a total distance of 61,289 sea miles.
The days seemed to be endless on our voyage back and we begrudged every minute of it, but finally on the 24th of November we sailed, many of us for the last time, under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the beloved waters of San Francisco Bay.
Liberty commenced at 1600.