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The following stories are written by Robert (Bob) Madge, ex Radioman on USS TEAK AN-35. Bob and also Milt (Moose) Meehan. ex Radar Operator on Teak, have written several stories about their ship and shared some of them with us
Teak was one of the 20 East Coast Net Tenders. She went into service in May 1942 at Camden, New Jersey. After about 6 months duty at the Panama Canal she sailed to San Francisco for duty there before her long voyage to the South Pacific. Teak was a very busy ship during World War II doing a variety of work assignments other then performing Net Duties. Her many assignments around New Guinea and the Philippines included escorting an ex private yacht from Milne Bay to Hollandia, trips towing a barge with gasoline and repair docks to a PT base, laying detection buoys, then to the Philippines, often on General Quarters while shells could be heard whizzing overhead and Kamikaze suicide planes diving into our ships. While here Teak laid and monitored sonar buoys, salvaged vessels in Manila harbor and served as a diving platform recovering sunken treasure off the island of Corregidor.
Bob did not tell us but we know he is a talented cartoon artist He and Moose have a lot in common. They are both from California. They both like to write stories. They both had duty on the upper deck off the ship. Bob in the radio room and Moose on the bridge.
So now lets go back to WWII, board Teak, climb the ladder to the bridge, walk out on either wing and place ourselves in Bobís stories which will be sent in two parts,
The many different assignments the USS Teak AN-35 experienced during World War II presented unique and unexpected situations for the crew almost every day especially during the invasion of the Philippines. Hereís a little more about one of the Teakís assignments during the invasion.
Across the entrance to Leyte Gulf near Homohon Island the Teak had placed a number of under water sonar buoys and along with radio contact aboard ship were capable of detecting different types of ships, especially submarines, by the sound they made going through the water. The Teak was at anchor close to Homohon Island and in a location that could observe any planes flying into and out of the Gulf during the day and the Japanese aircraft coming down from Luzon in their early morning and late evening raids on the Invasion Fleet.
There were two extra radiomen to handle the sonar buoy radio watches and at first the crew couldnít get enough of taking turns listening to the ships going by. It wasnít a PING like our regular sound gear but the actual sounds, screws turning, drive shafts turning and any other clanging sound the crew might make. I believe every member of the Teakís crew made their way to the radio shack to take a turn listening. .
After several days at this station near Homohon Island , some of the crew began to mention that they had noticed something shimmering from the bottom of the water fairly close to the ship that looked like it might be metallic. I donít know how deep the water was around the ship but deep and murky enough to even get a glimpse of the mysterious objects glimmer. After several days of guessing about what ever it might be some began to wonder if it could be a threat to the ship and should the ship be moved to another location ..
Spending his growing up years on Southern Californiaís Muscle Beach, Radar Man Moose Meehan, having brought his flippers and face mask with him, finally stepped forward and volunteered to dive down as close as he could to try and identify whatever that strange object might be.
Everyone watched as he put on his equipment, climbed over the side, lowered himself into the water, pulled his face mask over his eyes, put his head under water and with a few kicks descended into the murky water toward whatever it was down there. I donít know how long the Moose could hold his breath but it seemed like everyone watching was holding theirs for the longest time while he was down there before he finally tuned and started his ascent to the surface. Quite a number of the crew were at the railing watching and hoping that he had discovered what it was and put an end to their guessing and wondering. Breaking the surface of the water he removed his face mask, took a deep breath, looked up at the crew and said, ďItís the Teakís anchor.Ē (Note: This fiasco reminds me of the old TV series ďMcHales Navy)
During the war all navy ships and planes had a code book containing one letter challenges and responses that changed every day. When a navy ship challenged an unknown plane by signal light with the one letter code of the day the plane was supposed to respond by signal light with the appropriate one letter code or be shot down. The Teak had to challenge all single planes flying in itís area.
One day in late October or early November 1944 an American Dakota two engine transport flew close by the Teak, must have been headed for Talcoban and itís crude little airfield near the water. Signalman Red Stephens broke out the twelve inch signal light on the bridge wing and flashed the appropriate code letter for the day at the plane and was ignored as it flew by unconcerned. I believe the Teak didnít fire at it because of all the white stars on itís fuselage. If it was headed for the airfield it had to pass by a large American Fleet, comprised of many major war ships recently returned from combat Shortly after it flew by we heard sounds of all kinds of big guns firing in the distance as the plane must have been approaching the fleet. Within a short time the Dakota came roaring back, engines wide open , it seemed to be a blur as it passed by and as close to the water as possible heading out to sea.. Canít imagine how it escaped being shot down. Code signal or not, I had hoped those guys in the plane now realized itís not wise to approach a looking for trouble American Fleet during war.
About a week later a Navy PBY two engine flying boat was seen casually flying several feet off the water. Signalman Stephens flashed the code letter challenge at the plane and was ignored. The Teak didnít fire because of the white stars and the obvious shape of the plane. We continued watching the PBY as it flew several miles toward Tacloban and then unexpectedly landed in the water,. The tide was going out at a pretty good clip and bringing the plane back to the Teak. It took a little while until the PBY was passing the Teak and when Stephens contacted it by signal light asking if it needed help, he was once again ignored. Finally about a half mile out to sea and heading for a long slow trip to California a small signal light from the PBY flashed for help.
The Teakís little whaleboat was sent to bring that big PBY to the ship. It took several hours of tough pulling so much weight against an outgoing tide to make the trip. When the plane was finally tied to the stern of the Teak the pilot came aboard and a message was sent by radio to the Tacloban Airfield, miles away, for help. The Teakís crew invited the PBYís crew to come aboard for coffee and something to eat, but for some reason they declined and decided to stay aboard their bouncing aircraft in a tough outgoing tide. The plane was tied fairly close to the Teak and every time someone from the Teak tried to make conversation with someone on the plane they didnít seem interested.,
It took hours for the crash boat from Tacloban to make the trip to Homohon Island and finally repair whatever was wrong with the plane. Without too much to say the crash boat and headed back to Tacloban. The plane was untied, drifted a little ways out from the Teak, cranked up the engines, taxied for a short distance then took off for Tacloban. I hope the pilot said, ďThank you for saving our bacon,Ē to our captain because there was practically no other conversation between the two crew throughout the entire episode. . Iíve often wondered if the pilot ever explained to anyone on the Teak why the PBY never responded with the appropriate code letter to the Teakís challenge.
The Teak seemed to have trouble with airplanes, the good guys ignored it and the bad guys tried to drop bombs and strafe it.
The final experience of the last few days the Teak spent off the Homohon Island assignment happened aboard ship to the crew. Things had quieted down and the crewís life came close to being monotonous as everything became the same.. The ship never moved, watches never varied and everything seemed to never change.
There hadnít been anything exciting or different happening for weeks until one of the crew went to Chief Pharmacist Phillips complaining that recently his gums had been hurting much more than usual. Phillips took a look at the guyís gums and told him they were too red and tender and it didnít look good. Phillips wasnít sure what the problem might be but decided to have the guy keep a coffee mug, chow tray, knife, fork and spoon in his locker for his personal use and not to mix them in with the rest of the crews eating equipment, just in case the gum problem might be contagious. The separate utensils procedure didnít seem to be working as within a short time several others began to complain about the same gum problem.
Phillips notified the captain who immediately radioed into Tacloban about the gum situation. The captain must have contacted the right people and said the right things as within a few days another ship came out and relieved the Teak from its sonar buoy duty and was told to report to Tacloban and get its men with gum problems to a hospital ship. Once relieved, the trip to Tacloban was quick and the men with sore gums were immediately taken to a nearby hospital ship. It didnít take the doctor on the hospital ship very long to diagnose the gum problem as Scurvy. This was probably what Phillips had originally thought when he had advised the first guy to keep and use only one set of eating utensils. I believe the last recorded case of Scurvy was on the HMS Bounty.
The last time the Teak had visited a supply ship to replenish its supply of fresh food, especially citrus fruit, was months ago somewhere off the north coast of New Guinea. Always busy doing different assignments, the invasion of the Philippines, the daily Japanese plane attacks and being so long on the Homohon Island assignment evidently resulted in being too busy to think about food. Apparently for some reason it never occurred to anyone on the ship that their diet would ever be a problem. During those months the cooks had been using whatever they had available to feed the crew, like constant variations of canned beef meals and we all know what that stuff on toast is called in the navy.
The gum problem didnít take long to clear up once the Teak was able to get to a supply ship for fresh food, especially oranges. The Teak took on crates of oranges as the crew couldnít get enough fresh fruit. Citrus fruit quickly solved the Scurvy problem, The food situation was probably why the crew was beginning to feel a little melancholy about the sameness of life on the Homohon Island assignment in the first place.
The Teak was back among the Invasion Fleet again with nothing to do but get the crewís health back to where it should be. Not only fresh food from a supply ship but fresh water from a tanker plus port and starboard liberty for a few hours on an island out in Leyte Gulf somewhere and so tiny it didnít have a name. Itís highest point was a few feet above the water. They gave us two theater tickets that could be exchanged for two cans of beer or a carton of cigarettes once we got to the island. They even sent balls and bats with us if we wanted to play a game of baseball. The island had only a few trees and we had to take turns sitting in their skimpy shade. Liberty for each section only lasted several hours but because of having no liberty for months it was great for the crew to get together this way even for such a short time.
The next assignment took the Teak to Manila on the big island of Luzon.
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