Sea Duty

After spending four luxurious weeks at St. Albans Naval Hospital, with many other boots, who also had taken ill at Sampson, I was deemed cured and was given a one way ticket to , you guessed it Sampson. I thought they were trying to get me a second time, as they didn't kill me the first time.


I reported to an (OGU) unit (outgoing unit for assignment.) I spent about a week looking at the bulletin board, and then the big day arrived and I was being sent to California for sea duty. The troop train took seven days and was sidetracked for everything including a milk train. When we arrived at California at two PM, it was very cold. we were lined up outside the train for a short arm inspection. Trucks took us to our barracks, but without our sea bags that had our blankets and clothes. 


That night I slept under a mattress for warmth. Our barracks consisted of large aircraft crates, with a potbelly stove in the corner and a bag of coal. There were six of us to a crate.


One morning an officer told us to pack up our gear, and that we would leave the next morning. We were taken to a dock in San Diego and boarded the USS St, Louis a heavy cruiser for the first leg of our journey. The St. Louis was an old ship with teak decks. Our compartment was very hot so some of us took our mattress ,went topside and slept under the gun turrets to keep cool. We were awakened by a sense of floating as indeed we were. Every morning the deck crew hoses down the teak decks and then holystones them to keep them almost white. We were almost washed overboard. After that we endured the heat below. 


Our first port of call was Hawaii. We were met by trucks that took us to a camp in the mountains called Aieda. No one I have talked to has ever heard of this camp. We spent about a week there and one morning an officer told us to pack our gear and we were off again.


We boarded the USS Munda a baby flattop. She was used as a troop ship and carried no planes. They had bunks about six or seven high. We spent about a week on the Munda until we got to Kwajalein atoll. There we transferred to a houseboat to await who knows what.


One morning we went on deck and saw five DE's with their whaleboats coming to the houseboat. we got our gear together and waited to hear our names called to go to our ship at last. Everyone left the houseboat but me, they had lost my papers. After a few agonizing hours they found them and I was on my way to the Douglas H. Howard, DE 138.


Once onboard I was asked what I would like to do I thought electrician sounded good so I asked for that and reported to engineering. We were given a tour of the ship and assigned a bunk. The head was most interesting. It consisted of a long trough with sea water run through it and two slats to sit on. One did not sit and read as the ship rolled and pitched the way DE's are noted for. One redeeming factor was some times you didn't need toilet paper, which was in short supply. 


It was 1945 near the end of the war and we were short handed, so non rated men like myself had to stand watches alone. One evening after I stood my watch,12-4am, I signed the log and switched the fire and flushing pumps as I was told to do, and went to bed. 


The poor fellow who relieved me woke me and asked me to come back to the engine room as something strange was happening. I took one look and saw the water was up to the deck plates. I ran to the Petty Officer of the watch and the rest is a comedy of errors. None of the pumps worked so we ended up sealing off the engine room. 


What the Japs and Germans couldn't do I damn near did, sink the Howard. Verification of this incident is in an e-mail I received from Paul Cantrell which I have included at the end of this true story.


In 1945 president Harry Truman ended segregation in the armed forces. The officers mess cooks were all colored and slept in the forward part of the ship and took showers from 12-4am.Half the ship was southern boys and half Yankees. When the colored mess cooks showed up at our quarters a lot of the southern boys moved out. I was happy as some of those rednecks didn't smell to good. One night after my 12-4am watch I went to take a shower as we had permission to take off hours showers. 


My taking a shower with the colored mess cooks almost caused a riot, the officers came running with guns drawn.


We returned to Pearl Harbor to get a new generator and then through the Panama Canal to Green Cove Springs Fla. to decommission the Howard. I then went to Lido beach N.Y. for my discharge.


Irv Messinger


note from the webmaster:

Apparently Irv knows how skeptical I am of Navy stories, so he also forwarded an email from one of his shipmates...

Irv is quite a character...his sons are both friends-and much like their Dad...

Hi Irv;


Do I ever remember that incident! I was Petty Officer of the watch. You woke me up and told me it was flooding. We then woke up the chief. What a mess. The submersible pumps were wired wrong and would not work. 


By the time we got it stopped it was chest high over the lower deck plate. What caused it was a procedure we used for pumping out the bilges. The bilge pumps had a check valve to prevent sea water from siphoning back through the pump. We used to take that out when we pumped the bilges because they would get plugged up and the pumps wouldn't work.


However, someone forgot to put the check valve back in after emptying the bilges. Typical of the Navy Brass I think they tried to pin it on David Nudd. But, he didn't know anything about the pumps. He was  a pretty nice guy, but, I didn't think so at the time. I thought he was a ninety day blunder.


Great to hear from you.


Paul Cantrell