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USS Teak (AN-35)

Net Tender Stories

Written by Glenn Paulson USS Anaqua (AN-40)

Story #20 Volume IX USS Teak AN-35 During WWII in Philippine's


In early 1945 the Teak was working in Manila Bay clearing all the wreckage the battle for Manila had created before the Japanese finally retreating from the city. Hundreds of sunken ships were scattered around the Bay including a few Japanese warships.

Manila Bay is a large bay about twenty eight miles across from Corregidor Island, at its entrance, to the city of Manila. The city has a Pier 5, said to be the largest pier in the Orient, where ships of the world could tie up right by the city. Because the water of the bay can become very rough at times a long break wall surrounding a large area of water by Pier 5 called the, Inner Harbor, had been constructed. The Japanese blocked all entrances to this harbor with sunken ships, piled with small boats, chains and other wreckage in an attempt to make it difficult for Americans ships to get into the Inner Harbor and use Pier 5. The pier had been blown up in two places and had sunken freighters with wreckage piled on top of them tied up alongside.

A Japanese Cruiser and several Destroyers were sunk up to their weather decks inside the harbor sitting straight up with their anchors chains still out in the water, they must have been caught by the American Carrier planes before they could pull up anchor and get to deeper water or had been bombed earlier and came to the Inner Harbor for repairs and were unable to get underway. The Japanese had taken some of the warship's guns ashore and somehow tried to use them against the Americans as they were retaking the city. Some of the Japanese military, that were unable to get away when the Americans finally retook Manila, hid in the sunken warships hoping no one would find them and were still there as the Teak went about clearing the wreckage from the harbor.

Filipinos paddled out in their small boats and scavenged whatever they could find on the surface of these sunken ships and when they ran across a hiding Japanese they would immediately hang him somewhere on the ship. The crew saw a number of Japanese bodies hanging from various spots on these warships as the Teak maneuvered around cleaning up the Inner Harbor.

In March of 1945 while the Teak was working fairly close to shore a small wooden boat with a Filipino at each end and a small, oil covered, miserable looking Japanese prisoner, with his hands tied behind his back, pulled up alongside the Teak. It was only about ten feet from the weather deck to the water so we could clearly see the terrible shape the skinny little guy in the middle was in and he couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds. His clothes were so beat up and oily it was impossible to tell which branch of the Japanese military he might have been in. The Filipinos wanted us to take the prisoner off their hands. There was no provision for holding prisoners aboard the Teak and I'm sure the captain wouldn't have taken him even if there was. The Filipinos were told to wait until the ship could contact the Army in Manila to come and take him. The prisoner looked so miserable and as much as the Filipinos hated the Japanese for what they had done to their country these two must have felt sorry for this woebegone looking little guy when they found him hiding in one of the warships and didn't have the heart to hang him.

After a short wait a small army truck with three MP's pulled up and stopped near where the Teak was working. The Filipinos pushed away from the ship and paddled their small boat the short distance to shore and handed over their prisoner to the army. The little guy could hardly walk so two MPs carried him to their truck and place him at the back end sitting with his feet hanging down. One of the MPs eased the prisoner back so he was now lying on his back with his feet still hanging down as the army truck drove off.

Some of the sunken ships in the bay were American that evidently couldn't get away in 1942 when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Whenever a sunken Japanese ship about the same size as the Teak was completely raised it was usually tied up alongside the ship for a short time before being taken out to deeper water, out of the way of navigation, and sunk again. It was easy access for the crew to climb aboard and do a little investigating. Life aboard a Japanese ship didn't seem to be much different than aboard an American ship. The Officers had cabins, desks, lockers, closets and a private eating area. The enlisted men had large crew's quarters with three bunks high hanging from stanchions, a tiny locker and a large mess hall. Practically all of the weapons found on these ships were American and were now somewhat rusty, burned and not in very good condition and must have been taken by the Japanese when they finally took over the Philippines in 1942, Some of the Japanese weapons found were bayonets, knives and other odds and ends and they too were in terrible condition. Wooden parts on everything recovered were badly burned. Most of the weapons taken as souvenirs by the crew were eventually, by official army directive, turned over to the army and were then supposedly this junk was given to the Filipino Army. If true, I can imagine what the Filipinos must have thought of us. A few of the crew somehow managed to hang on to their souvenirs as it was felt that turning them over to the army, the souvenirs were just changing hands.

The Teak was asked to go outside the Inner Harbor in to the bay and dive on a Chinese ship that had been sunk and was setting on the bottom at approximately a sixty degree angle with about a fifth of its hull and superstructure still above water. The Teak went in bow first between the Chinese ship's superstructure and mast to send divers down. The divers must have known where they could find what they were looking for as within the first day stacks of wet paper currency from a number of different countries, none from the U.S. began to come up with the divers. This stuff had been underwater for at least three years and was falling apart slimy wet and all stuck together in many bundles of about four inches thick. As soon as it was exposed to the air and sun light a terrible smell began fill the air. Someone must have thought it was a good idea to try to pry the bundles of paper money apart and place what individual pieces remained all over the forecastle of the Teak to dry out in the sunshine. I believe it was when the forecastle began to smell like the Okefenokee Swamp that Captain Hollett and the army big shots began to feel it wasn't worth the effort for what little was gained as the paper money was falling apart before it could be saved. Even if it could be saved they weren't sure if it still had any monetary value. At this point I believe everybody concerned threw in the towel on this operation. For the Teak this assignment only lasted a few days before the ship went back to the more important job of clearing the Inner Harbor and whatever happened to the Chinese ship and its soggy, decomposing paper money, I'll never know.

Manila was a modern and beautiful city and before the war its population was even bigger than San Francisco's. When the Japanese were invading the Philippines in 1942 MacArthur declared Manila an Open City then retreated to Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island. Since an Open City loosely means "We will not defend it, it's yours, don't destroy it," Manila must have been in fairly good shape when the Japanese took over in 1942.

When the Americans returned in 1944 the Japanese didn't declare Manila an open city and fought from building to building, consequently the artillery from both sides completely destroyed what was once a modern city. There wasn't anything left untouched, buildings, streets, piers, even the bridges across the Pasig River, everything was blown apart.

In late March of 1945 Manila had been secured with no possible threat from the Japanese military and for the first time since back in early 1944 the crew was given permission to go on day time liberty. Six of us had heard about a prison camp in Manila located at the University of Santa Tomas where the Japanese held American prisoners during the war and set out to see if we could find it. As we walked through the city Filipinos were everywhere trying to get their lives back together again and since they spoke English as well as their own language asking for directions was not a problem.

We finally found Santa Tomas with its high Wrought Iron Fence surrounding it and soon found the main gate and were allowed in. A little girl named, Helen, about six or seven years old, ran up and grabbed my hand and didn't let go throughout our entire visit until towards the end she had to decide it was either my hand or ice cream. We were the first U.S. Navy the prisoners had seen since being taken prisoner in 1942.

Not knowing if we were even going to find Santa Tomas when leaving the Teak and not thinking about the possibility of children being among the prisoners we only had the dungarees we were wearing and nothing for the children we eventually found there, so I put my white navy hat on her head, which was much too big for her, but she seemed to love it, had it on the entire time we were there and was still wearing it the last time I saw her. Helen took me to meet her mother and grandmother where they lived inside the University. It was what use to be a class room that had lines stretched across the room in both directions with blankets hanging down that divided the room into about ten to twelve foot squares, one for each family with a mattress on the floor, some personal belongings and not much else. Helen's mother said her husband used to be an editor on one of the local newspapers in Manila but hadn't seen him since 1942 and hoped he had been taken to another prisoner of war camp.

Most of the prisoners were very old or very young with no young to middle aged men at all. The old were very thin, looking like they hadn't been given enough to eat for quite awhile, although the children didn't look under nourished as the older ones must have been giving them most of whatever food the Japanese gave them. Helen's mother told me the Japanese guards were mean and became meaner when American planes were in the area and were punished if they were caught looking up at the planes as they flew over the University. At first when an American rescue squad had rushed to Santa Tomas, when the fighting for Manila began, there was a little problem with the Japanese guards holding some of the prisoners but eventually the Americans convinced the guards to surrender.

While we were talking an announcement came over the intercom for all children to report to the commissary for ice cream. Helen didn't want to go but after some convincing finally let go of my hand and went with the rest of the kids for ice cream. It was getting late in the afternoon and we still had the walk back to the ship and while Helen was having ice cream it seemed like a good time to go before she got back and got a hold on my hand again. I told her mother I would try to get back to see them as soon as I could but it never turned out that way. It didn't take long to find my navy buddies and head back to the Teak.

A week later I heard all the American prisoners from Santa Tomas had been put on a transport at pier 5 and were going to San Francisco. Helen's grandmother said she had left San Francisco in 1905 for the Philippines, before San Francisco's big earthquake and fire in1906. What an emotional experience she must have gone through going under the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing the changes in the Bay Area.

August 1945 the Teak was on another assignment by Corregidor Island diving for millions of pesos and had returned to the Inner Harbor by the Manila Hotel waiting for the army to pick up a heavy load of recovered pesos. To break up the boredom the ship's voice radio was piped into the Mess Hall so the crew could listen to popular music and the latest news, when news came on telling about the Japanese city of Hiroshima being completely destroyed and thousands of people killed with a single American bomb, it was hard to comprehend, one bomb doing all that damage, it didn't seem possible. A week or so later while the Teak was still waiting for the Army to come and pick up the pesos, word once again came over the radio about another bomb being dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki and this time stating the Japanese wanted to surrender. Every ship in Manila Bay must have been tuned in to the same station as guns of every size started firing all around the bay. During the war all merchant ships were given guns to protect themselves from submarines and now they were using them to celebrate the news of the war ending by shooting into the air. Almost immediately after the guns had started firing a desperate voice on the ships voice radio was heard, almost shouting, for all ships to stop firing their guns, as there was no way of knowing where the shells would come down. The firing didn't stop all at once it took a little while to dwindle down to nothing but everyone was still out of their minds happy about the news.

Months later, the war was over and the Teak, still on the silver peso assignment by Corregidor Island, had returned to Manila's Inner Harbor with another heavy load of pesos waiting for the army to come and pick it up. The usual wait for the army on these trips was about two weeks before they finally came to take the stuff, so the crew was able to get in a few liberties in those two weeks and since the war was over liberty was now from 1600 to 0745 the next morning.

We had noticed a small passenger liner not painted the usual navy gray but regular civilian colors tied up to a pier in the Inner Harbor and wondered what it was doing there. On one of Lt. Bank's trips ashore he found out that the small liner was going around the Pacific with an all men army cast in Irvin Berlin's, "This is the Army," and Banks had gotten permission to take as many of the crew that wanted to go by army truck to Clark Field, about fifty miles north of Manila, to see the show.

The next day an army truck came right down to the Teak to pick us up. I don't know what kind of army truck it was but we sat on benches that ran along each side of an open back. Once outside of Manila the destruction didn't seem to be as bad as in the city and the fifty mile trip was great getting out and seeing the country. Arriving at Clark Field we had about an hour before the production began so we took in the sights of the field. This was the air field the Japanese planes came from to bomb and strafe the American Invasion Fleet at Leyte in 1944 that eventually turned into Kamikaze attacks. Wreckage of many Japanese planes had been push out of the way to the side of the field. We were told that the planes had been cleared of booby traps and were safe so I climbed into a zero that turned out to be a very tight fit, the Japanese pilots must have been little guys. Went into a Japanese four engine bomber, didn't know they had a four engine bomber, and everything was again small and hand cranked.

Time to see the show that everyone thought was great and then back on the army truck for the return trip to the Teak. Along the way there were many Filipinos walking on both sides of the road carrying what looked like their belongings. Halfway back the army driver pulled up alongside the road and asked if it was alright if he picked up a Filipino family walking in the same direction we were going. No problem, we helped the Filipino husband, wife and their two kids, about ten or twelve, with their belongings wrapped in a blanket aboard then the truck pulled out and headed for Manila.

The family was tired and didn't say much at first but after a few attempts at conversation on our part it didn't take long before the husband began telling us about what they had been doing for the last three years. He and other Filipinos had been fighting the Japanese while his wife and kids were living in a cave in the mountains with other Filipino families. They were from Manila and were going back to where they had left off three years ago. When we began to drive into Manila and seeing how terrible the total destruction of the city was the wife began to cry, her husband and kids put their arms around her. The truck finally stopped and the family got off, the last we saw of them they were walking, carrying their belongings, through the devastation of Manila as the truck took off and headed back to the Teak.

The next morning the Teak went back to Corregidor Island to recover more Pesos. There was no way in telling just how long this peso assignment was going to take but now since the war was over the crew was getting anxious to get back to the States and home.

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