[ USS CHENANGO ]  A Personal Account of WWII Out to Sea
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  Out to Sea ...
(Journal 8 of 14)

This is about my life on an aircraft carrier during World War Two, over 5 decades ago.

The Carrier that would be my home, was a civilian too. She was laid out under the watchful eye of the U. S. Navy to be used by the U.S. Navy if needed. Her early days were as a tanker. One of the largest tankers in the world. There were four of them, all named after rivers. Sangamon (the flag ship), Santee, Swanee, and the Chenango, after a river in New York State. The name Chenango is an Indian word that means "BIG BULL". My new home would be the Chenango. I did not know how lucky I was to get her. She had seen duty in the Atlantic ferrying planes. Her large flight deck, and huge capacity for holding oil kept her busy. For many reasons she would carry the nickname "LUCKY LADY", through out the war. She was the only Escort Carrier that would escape any damage from enemy hands.


I remember the day that I first saw Chenango. She was in San Francisco California tied to a dock. A long gangway led from the dock to her well deck. I saluted the colors, and the officer of the deck, and slowly climbed the long ramp to the top. I recall how proud I felt. I had requested a ship, and overseas duty. I was going on a ship that had seen service in the Atlantic theater, and had accredited itself well in the Pacific theater. This was more than I had hoped for. I was one happy teenager.

The first thing I remembered was the smell of oil, it seemed like it was everywhere. I was told "you get used to that,"and I did in a very short time. I was assigned to the "S"division. In my civilian days I had worked for Allis Chalmers, a large tractor company in West Allis, Wisconsin. I worked in the department that filled orders for tractor parts. The "S"division stood for supply, and eventually I would be an aviation store keeper. I settled in to life on board ship quickly, but I will always remember leaving San Francisco bay. We went under the bay bridge, and I watched till it disappeared from view. We were off for the Islands of the Pacific. Would we reach Japan? That trail would take some very interesting, and dangerous turns.

As I have said my main duty was to the "S" Division, and learning what I would need to be a good aviation store keeper. I was known as a striker. That was a person that was striking for a petty officer rating. (An apprentice) I was also given some other duties as well. I had to stand a two hour "duty watch" every day, and was assigned to a "general quarters" station as well. The duty watch was on the bridge. How lucky could I get? Only a few people were allowed on the "BRIDGE". The Bridge, was where everything happened. I would see the captain every day, here all of the news, watch the planes take off and land. I was enjoying all of it. Through the next twenty months, I would meet and work with some of the finest men, and to see things that are difficult to talk about even now. I came on board a teenager, I would grow up fast.

My duty watch was as a "J A" talker. I was linked to the eyes and ears of the ship. My bridge connection was to the sky lookouts, surface lookouts, and to our radar communications. I would report to the captain or the officer of the deck if and bogies (enemy planes), or skunks (enemy ships) were spotted. Anything that was seen. I once got a sighting of a whale. The spotting of mines seemed like a daily occurrence. I was told that "it was a good thing that they only come out during the day". It was a joke, but I was not laughing. When it got dark, the sky and surface lookouts would leave. We had only the radar com for protection It was scary, however like so many other things I did get used to it.

My general quarters station was not to my liking. It was on one of two gun mounts on the aft part of the ship. I was assigned to the port gun. The gun was a five inch mount. It had a gun crew, so we all had to work as a team. All instructions were from the gunnery officer. Ear protection was a must. That puppy could really bark. I was called "THE HOT SHELL MAN." I would roam behind the breech of the gun, and catch the HOT shell that would come out at an enormous speed. They did give me protection in the way of asbestos gloves. I would catch, or stop the shell casing, and throw it down one of the chutes along the turret walls. This would keep other people from getting burned. All in all I did feel part of the team, so I settled in to the roll. I would spend many hours in that gun turret. The Japanese had a way of getting close enough to be picked up on our screens, and stay out for hours. Obviously, They knew we would not secure from General Quarters as long as BOGIES, OR SKUNK were present. There were many sleepless nights doing this. On these occasions, I had wished they would attack so we could destroy them, and get some sleep.

Things went rather routine for a while, I was getting in to the way things were and for the most part, I had no real complaints. Than some of the older guys started spreading scuttlebutt around. (Stories) They said that "they felt this way before Guam, and Wake Island battles." I too felt something was about to happen The talks on the bridge were taken down to the ready rooms. What did it mean?

Sometime in February of 1945 The Okinawa campaign was launched. Our planes left early in the morning, and softened the island. Others ran cover for the ground landings. It was the start of what would be one of the hardest fought battles of the war. Chenango would fly it's planes, and fight off any suicide attempts. This was my first major battle, and It was all that I had expected, and more. We were only 360 miles from mainland Japan. Now, we were hitting back, and on Japan soil. They would fight to the last to hold it. It was easy for the suicide planes to make the trip, and they did with regularity. This would be a long ninety days in all. I can still remember that after the island of Okinawa was secured, we were allowed to take liberty on the beach. We had taken beer and sandwiches, and were playing catch when all of a sudden gun shots from one of the caves . No one was hit, but we ate a lot of sand that day, and it did spoil the party. I remember leaving for Chenango and looking back because we heard the noise. We could see flame throwers firing in the caves. That was my last view of Okinawa beach.  

KARAMA RETTO island was a group of small islands just 20 miles from Okinawa. The U.S. captured it prior to the Okinawa invasion. This would be the staging area for the assault. It was a refueling , stores, munitions depot, and was also used for ship repair. The times we were there, I could see numerous amphibian planes, KARAMA RETTO was given the nick name "KAMIKAZE CORNER". Every large ship to venture into the corner, would be game for the suicide bombers. Several carriers were hit and lost. "LUCKY LADY"would be asked to venture into the CORNER three times. Laden with armament to be distributed to her sister ships, and oil and gasoline for refueling ships and aircraft, she would be a sitting duck ripe for the picking. The first time we went in she had been under fire, but was able to get out and back to the task force. The second time she missed getting hit when a NAVY F4U Corsair plane shot the "KAMIKAZE plane" short of our deck.

Again we had escaped the Wrath of the suicide planes. The third time "LUCKY LADY" was really charmed. We had left the task force, and was part of the way to KARAMA RETTO when we were given orders to return. SANGAMON overnight had developed a bow leak and would take our place hopping to get her bow welded while in port. The flag (the Vice Admiral and his staff) were transferred to CHENANGO through this dangerous mission. Late that night we were to learn that Sangamon took a suicide into her flight deck. It literally blew her insides out. The force blew many men out of the ship. Many were rescued. No one could figure how SANGAMON did not sink.  

Ultimately she was towed back to the States. This was one day that I had some unusual feelings, and was disenchanted with this great adventure. So many lives were lost, more were in pain. We on CHENANGO were numb. One other time when one of our fighters had trouble landing did I feel like that. There was a terrible fire. Rockets and ammunition going off in all direction. The rest of the fleet scattered. At the end of that day we stood in a flight deck mangled, and charred, and foam (fire retardant) over our shoes. And then burial at sea. Several of our ship mates had paid the highest price. To this day I can not talk about this moment without getting a strange feeling. It could have been me. Between the mines, the KAMIKAZE suicide flights, and knowing it was not over, My life took on a different prospective. Just getting home became high on my priority list.

When we had some free time, I managed to work out and pursue my hobby as a boxer. A professional boxer had taught me when I was a very young kid. He was dating my older sister. "THANK YOU" to one really nice guy Billy Pierce. What he did for be, changed my life. I fought in some of the inter Carrier smokers, and I felt very good about my self. I also found time to play trombone in the ships dance band. That was a good experience.

I woke up one morning for my early morning watch, and immediately knew something was different. We were used to the four C.V.E's. and some Destroyers , and Destroyer escorts. Images in the dark as far as I could tell fore and aft, port and starboard. As it became light I could see that the hole damn Pacific Fleet had rendezvoused. I could not believe what I was seeing. Battleships Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Battle cruisers Wake, and Guam, first line carriers, We were all steaming for TOKYO. Could this be the end? My hopes were high again, and I was ready for what ever might be. I was in the US Navy, and in the middle of the biggest show of power that the world has ever seen. WE COULD NOT LOSE. For some time we ran with the third fleet under HALSEY. I felt sorry for anything that would get in our way. I have never seen so many dead bodies floating, and masts sticking out of the water. We were near to the end of the war, I knew it.

It was at this time that president Harry Truman decided to end it with the Atom Bomb. We on CHENANGO had never herd of it. We knew nothing about ATOMIC ENERGY, OR RADIATION. CHENANGO was to have one more major roll in the war. (It was to the prisoners we evacuated from that hell) We had orders to remove all of the planes from her decks, and go into NAGASAKI. The war was over, we were to take out the prisoners of war Along with the hospital ship U.S.S. HAVEN. There were cots all over our decks. We had taken people who were prisoners of war through the entire war, and some short term prisoners. There were men from many countries. They had one thing in common. They were free men again. I did get a chance to talk with some of them. I find it difficult to talk about that, even now. And YES I did go on to what was left of NAGASAKI JAPAN. A large truck took who ever wanted to see what an ATOMIC BOMB could do. That too is hard to describe.  

CHENANGO would soon return home. We stopped at Hawaii, and were greeted by a large barge with Hawaiian entertainers. A band was playing, and Hawaiian girls were dancing. All the strange feelings left me, I was going home. I remember the last song from the barge was "CALIFORNIA HERE I COME". We would be going through the Panama Canal. Our orders were to report to Boston where CHENANGO would be decommissioned. When we got to Panama, we found that CHENANGO was too big for the locks. Some hasty measurements, and we were told that if the five inch gun mounts were torched off, she would fit. This was done, and we were on our way home. Out of nowhere, I could not believe it. I was picked to be one of twelve men for "SHORE PATROL DUTY". There was one disadvantage to this. Bal boa, cologne, Panama city, all were stops along the way. I would be on SHORE PATROL not a fun leave. Oh that is another whole story. As we steamed ahead, we were leaving that big bad gun, the one I had spent countless hours tending, behind us. I was happy in the resolve that the big gun would not be needed again. Maybe some Japanese junk dealer would buy it, and it would make it to the States again as a NISSAN car.

We made it to Boston, and I was ready to leave the ship. In route through the cannel, I was contacted by the RED CROSS organization. My sister was in serious health, I was needed at home. I left CHENANGO for the last time. With a tear in my eye, I left her as I first saw her. A lone sailor on the gangway. When I reached the bottom, I turned, saluted the officer of the deck, and then the colors. I turned my back and walked away deep in my thought's. When I first saw her I was a TEEN AGE BOY, I HAD BECOME A MAN.

Next Journal: "Liberty in Hawaii"

Journal 1
Journal 2
Journal 3
Journal 4
Journal 5
Journal 6
Journal 7
Journal 8
Journal 9
Journal 10
Journal 11
Journal 12
Journal 13
Journal 14