VIA AIRMAIL FROM RUDOLPH ELIE JR WAR CORR NO 115 (5 August, 1945)
ON BOARD APA-216 (Delayed)-AS we approached the 216 in a tug it bloomed gray and formidable in the squall. Lon, low, sleek; it's deck crowded with landing barges and its superstructure bristling with heavy machine guns, AA batteries and five-inchers, not to mention hordes of busy sailors, it lay unperturbed in the heavy chop while milling about her ladder were dozens of LCVPs, an unmistakable sign of a command conference on board. This was to be, we knew, the command ship of the largest convoy ever to sail from Okinawa. What we didn't know was that it was also to be the slowest and wildest convoy ever formed in these parts. That, like the typhoon, came later.
For a while back on the beach it looked as if we weren't going to make the 216 in time to sail on her. We--that is the seven or eight of us who were booked as passengers---had been rushed perspiring through the ordeal of having our orders endorsed. This consists of about eight men examined about eight copies of a typewritten statement which seems to make sense until you start to think about it later. Mine, for example, was to the effect that I was to report to "a previously designated place," where I was to proceed "as orally assigned" to carry out "my basic assignment." These challenges could not fail to be accepted by the eight men. Where they wanted to know, was my "previously designated place?" Who had assigned me orally, and by what authority? And what, precisely was my “basic assignment?” As of course I didn’t know the answer to any of these queries, nobody ever told me, they all remarked in various colorful ways that this was the most fouled-up deal they’d ever heard of and they’d heard of plenty of them. Where was my copy of SecNav? BuPers? ComServSouWesPac? ComBeerPac?
Finally in an attitude of despair, as if they would accept their fates like men, they typewrote “reported and proceeded this day as directed” on my orders, and we piled into a jeep and banged our way down to the dock to catch the LVCP which was supposed to take have left the dock a half hour before. It hadn’t of course, arrived, and I guess it never did. For about two hours of waiting on a pontoon barge tied up to the dock in the midst of an unutterable confusion of LSTs, LSMs barges, gigs, tanks, tugs, cranes, truck and sailors in bleached out dungarees, we were rescued by Warrant Officer Robert Smith of 83 Oak St, Wakefield.
"You fellows still here?" he said with that, calmness achieved only by a port director in the turmoil of a military port Having been in charge of lend-lease shipping from Boston terminals through the War Department's Little building offices before he came into the Navy, Mr. Smith seemed to think this madhouse was just another day. "Come on, I’ll fix you up."
He went over-to a large Navy Tug tied up nearby. In a minute he was back, "Okay," he said, "he’ll take you out, and I’ll go -with you to see he gets you there."
By that time I had fallen into a conversation with Ens. M.S. Stearns of Kimball Street, Marblehead and MM3/c Arthur O’Leary of Center Street Brockton, both of the LST 826 which was tied up alongside the barge we had been waiting on, and was reluctant to leave because they said the ship was filled with Boston men, but there was the tug waiting (its skipper a little put out, too), and so we shoved off from Okinawa and out into the harbor, making our way through more ships than one could have imagined existing a few years ago.
When we pulled alongside the 216 they lowered a cargo net to haul our gear aboard in, but we had to climb aboard on a net slung overside. And it seems to me of all the hazards of war, from Kamikaze to mortar, from snipers to bombs, that climbing aboard ship whether by rope ladder, Jacob's ladder, cargo net or gangway, is the most worrisome thing of all. You can feel your graying with every step up or down, and you derive no solace whatever from the sight of a sailor running up and down one of the darned things with no hands. Give me an Okinawa cave any day.