In the Beginning
Back in the early days of '44-the 18th of May, to be exact-a group of some forty-odd men were extracted from the receiving unit at the Amphibious Training Base at Little Creek, Virginia. We were a sad-looking bunch, weren't we? Most of us stalwart youths hadn't even rid ourselves and our gear of the smell of hoot camp cleanliness and moth balls.
In the process of bringing ourselves into A.T.B. from every part of the country, from the sunshine of California to the beans of Boston, we had managed to become pretty well bewildered, and when we were finally drafted into division 518, unit 17, we were completely confused.
In spite of the fact that the braid did their best to drive us mad in Virginia, we came through with flying colors. Even the three or four hour inspections on Saturday that were held in the heat of 100 degrees in the shade didn't daunt our typical red-blooded courage. It was sort of trying, though, when we found that there was no shade to be had. But even then, we were a determined crew. Even when two of the hunch were overcome by sunstroke, we wouldn't give up and go home even though that thought was uppermost in our minds some times. We're not saying that it was every day; just those with twenty-four hours in them.
The training program was very efficient, in a Naval sort of way. All the engineers went to gunnery school; the seamen, to radio school, and the ship's control mob could usually be found in their well-worn racks.
There were the usual harassing days when we had to run the obstacle course. And once in a while we were called upon to display a generous amount of close order drill. Aside from the fact that most of us had two left feet, we didn't think we did badly.
Life at Little Creek didn't last long, however, as we were soon to pull out for Charleston, South Carolina. Before we shoved off, we were due for the customary two-week cruise aboard the LSM-129. After the completion of our first sad cruise, and we were safe on terra firma once more, the ruling class there was kind enough to give each of us a 71-hour pass before shoving off for Charleston. But that was soon over, and we boarded the cattle cars for South Carolina, and our ship.
Our mission to Charleston was to commission a ship that was to serve as home for us for quite some time. A side view of it from a distance looked slightly like a carrier, and from above it might have been an open box. The Navy called it a Landing Ship, Medium. We had a few names for it, too.
To all the crew who were there at the time, I believe Charleston holds a distinct place in the history of the ship, not only because that was the birthplace of the ship, but also because we worked together as a team for the first time, and got to know each other better than we had before. We learned just how much we could trust each other, which served to nullify any unneeded caution which might have come later.
We weren't at all dissatisfied with the living accommodations at Charleston; the best of chow, the best of barracks, the best of weather, and the rec hall down the street wasn't bad, either.
The commissioning party was one big event that was really worth remembering. We thought everyone enjoyed himself, even if the beer and food did run short.
Like every other place where liberty is granted, it's worth mentioning here for that reason. It still wasn't like home, naturally. Probably if we had been able to have seen the future, we would have appreciated it more than we did.
Back at the Navy Yard, we were getting some last minute schooling: this time the engineers went to motor machinists' school; the gunners, to gunnery school; it's too had there wasn't a cooks' and bakers' school there.
Around the 7th of August, the civilians at the Yard were giving the first coat of paint to the noble craft. The 157 seemed to look pretty sharp after that. We didn't admit it, but it was a fact that we were the proudest guys in the United States Navy. We could hardly wait to get to sea aboard our own ship. That's how we felt then.
The next day, August 8, 1944, was one not to be forgotten. It was a day which was cherished by some, and loathed by others. At 1345, the ensign, jack, and commissioning pennant were raised, and the ship officially became the United States Ship LSM 157.
But then, as befalls all good Navy men sooner or later, we become subject to duty as ship's company. That was most regrettable, as was soon to be discovered. Although the Navy Yard was so obliging as to prepare the ship for our comfort, they neglected to go as far as to place aboard the spare parts and supplies. Consequently, the newly-formed ship's company of the 157 labored slaved, and in every way gave their all, for long hours into the night, merely to accomplish the task of bringing these items aboard.
Our ship was now ready for duty, with an able crew and an able leader.
The Battle of the Chesapeake
Or August 9th, we were preparing for a shakedown cruise off Parris Island, South Carolina. in making these preparations, we had to fuel and ballast the ship, and other sundry items too numerous to mention, which held us up for a day. At this time, a most regrettable occurrence happened: the skipper came down with pneumonia (so he claimed), and was transferred. So we lost our able leader, and became subject to the orders and whims of another officer and gentleman, Lieutenant Thomas V. Craycroft, under whom we were to serve for a period of some fifteen months. With the exception of losing one of the ship's screws, and one engine running wild, that was about all that befell us at Charleston.
We left Charleston on Tuesday, August 17th, and made our way north to Little Creek once more, to report for duty. That trip, three days in length, fully acquainted us with the bounding main, the waters off Cape Hatteras being the most bounding of the mains in that vicinity. Cape Hatteras had no use for us, and the feeling was quite mutual.
Upon our arrival at the training base at Little Creek, we went on active duty as a training ship, which was soon to prove an undesirable task. The crew, being very green at this particular trade, found it very difficult to put up with the saltiness of the crews aboard as trainees. Although many training crews were much more on the ball than we had been when we were in the
same position, we considered ourselves quite the old salts. We found it very distressing to he confronted by our equals. For the benefit of those who had the good fortune of not being aboard during the period of our training duty, the following is a synopsis of a typical two-week cruise. We would pull into the pier at the base to disembark the trained crew, and to take on supplies and a new crew. After running aground in the channel a few times, we finally would send out a request for a pilot and a tug. After a few snappy turns in the channel, we would head for pier 13, striking piers 12, 15, and 19, in that order. We eventually would succeed in tying up, though perhaps with the fantail facing the beach. Nevertheless, technically, we would be tied up.
We received the new crew and would shove off, usually accomplishing the feat of sinking a few VPs or tearing up a few fishing nets, with our usual resourcefulness and ingenuity. When we arrived at the anchorage, we would all breathe a sigh of relief when the order was given to drop the hook, and be able to rest up for a few hours.
The next morning at the crack of dawn, we would get underway to demonstrate to the trainees the proper method of tying up, towing, and anchoring. After damaging a few other LSMs, we would usually decide that it would he the best thing for all concerned to adjourn for the day. The next morning they would decide to have us show the new gang the proper way to beach an LSM, so we would roll up our sleeves, knock on wood, hope for the best, and expect the usual. We would leave the bay, and head north along the Atlantic Coast to Thompson area, where we would demonstrate our vast knowledge of beaching an LSM.
To begin with, condition "I-M" would he set, and we would head for the beach. The order to drop the stern anchor would be given about 500 yards from the beach, despite the fact that we only had about 250 yards of cable. Undaunted, we'd pull in the anchor, circle about, and try it again. With both engines at all ahead flank, we'd make the beach this time. We'd get permission to remain on the beach for a few hours for a swimming party. After we were through swimming, we'd see that the tide had gone out, and the ship was left high and dry, stranded until the tide came in again. But, still determined, we'd make another attempt to beach again the next day. Again we'd head towards the beach. But it would soon he apparent that the current had caused our fantail to swing around, so that we were beached parallel to the shore. This was not the proven method of beaching LSMs. After a few unsuccessful. attempts by ourselves, we'd finally have to summon another LSM to pull us off the beach.
From the Thompson area, we would proceed up the coast of Delaware Bay, through the Delaware Canal, into the Northern Chesapeake Bay, then down to Little Creek, one training cruise completed, only to find that another green crew awaited us.
Along the middle of October, a few rates began appearing. There was no end to the amount of rate-happiness aboard the old tub. But in spite of those few rates, there were still a few unhappy strikers. Most of the fellas were making too little cash to meet the liberty requirements of Norfolk, Virginia. The Norva proved to be a place where one could easily rid himself of a $20 bill now and then. That was when they gave overnight liberty. Another popular haunt of the crew was the "Red Rooster". The place was a little hard on the eyes and jawbones, as well as the pocketbook.
Along in September, by some strange quirk of fate, the Navy forgot itself, and gave out a few leaves. At the time a good portion of the crew were on leave, a hurricane came up the East Coast, and the 157, along with other landing craft, was forced up towards the northern Chesapeake. A few of the fellas had it kind of tough for a while when it came to watch standing. Aside from that, the battle of Chesapeake was fairly mild. It was a great day for all of us when we took our last training crew out, and we disembarked them on the 27th of December, 1944. This ended our tour of duty at Little Creek.
Who Wants Sea Duty?
The first of 1945 was spent getting ready for sea: a twin 40-mm was mounted on the bow; the ship got another coat of paint; leaves were given in return for the workout the fellas had had reconditioning the ship; and everybody was getting all the liberty possible; and last, we were all eager to get to sea, since no one could transfer anyhow though God knows they tried. While some of the fellas were still on leave, the newspapers carried an extra saying that a pier at the Norfolk Navy Yard had burned, along with an LSM. But no such luck; it wasn't the 157, and the fellas had to go back anyway. We shoved off for Rhode Island on the 6th of February, past Delaware Bay, Long Island, and into Naragansett Bay, where we tied up to a pier in Davisville, R. I., the next day. The crew enjoyed liberty there, as usual, and about four days later we shoved off for Florida, with 500 tons of steel pontoons.
We pulled into Key West on the 17th of February, and found that it was a pretty good liberty town. Two or three of the more frequented places were the Havana-Madrid, Craig's Bar, and Duffy's Tavern. One of the boys of ship's control was quite surprised one day when he found out the skipper could speak French, too. Fishing was quite good in the waters off Key West, so the wherry was quite in demand. At least three of the crew will have memories of one day when the wherry was wanted, and couldn't be found. But this duty couldn't last forever, so the 21st of February found us standing out of Key West, en route to Coco Solo, Canal Zone.
Except for some of the boys suffering from loss of appetite, among other things, en route from Key West to Panama, the trip was uneventful. For you who are interested in dates, we sighted Panama on the 26th of February.
Liberty in Colon was spent, for the most part, indulging in extra-curricular activities in the vicinity of Cash Street. The gang was pleasantly surprised when they found many of their favorite brands of stimulants. But the next day found us accompanying other small craft through the canal, which took six or eight hours.
March 1st was the day we left Panama for the land of eternal sunshine California. More about that later! On the way, the water was as calm as class, and the fellas would go up on the how and watch the porpoises, who would jump out of the water to watch the swabbies. Almost rammed a curious whale, too.
We had beautiful weather most of the way from Panama. We headed towards San Diego, but were told to go to San Francisco instead. Shortly after leaving San Diego, the sky darkened, the lightning flashed, the wind blew, the rain poured down, the seas rose ... yes, men: we had arrived in California waters. We sailed underneath the red-leaded Golden Gate Bridge on March 16th, and we wondered if Chicago had good weather . . . San Francisco certainly didn't We stopped off the Embarcadero of Frisco to pick up a pilot, and went to Stockton, on the San Joaquin River.
In Stockton, on our off-duty hours, the Southern Cafe saw a lot of us,, on our on-duty hours, the same thing was true. The "33" Club resembled the famous Stork Club of New York City in certain respects-they both sold beer. Other entertainment consisted of jitterbugging at the Trianon, the local dancing academy. The one outstanding point which the single fellas enjoyed in Stockton was that the girls outnumbered the boys about five to one. The fellas took advantage of the odds, and the girls took advantage of cur hard-earned money "Lymans" was the restaurant at which the liberty parties, both gangway and fantail, patronized, with our favorite shipmate and his bobby-sox girl friend paying the check.
One of our officers at one time had his life dangerously threatened by a rugged 200 pound welder, and from that time on didn't interfere with any of the yard employees. Eventually, repairs were completed, along with a few new installations, and we let go our lines from the Stockton pier amid wild and boisterous cheers from our faithful followers on shore. We headed down river towards San Francisco, where we stayed for a period of seven days. Everyone had liberty except the three unfortunate radiomen, who had to stand watches continuously, and for those three liberty fiends, it was like dying a million deaths. Oakland, across the bay from Frisco, was our next stop, where we went into drydock, much to the satisfaction of the fellas who were more than tired of riding the liberty boat.
But the day finally came when we had to bid farewell to the States. All who weren't on watch were topside, taking a last look at the City by the Golden Gate, and its famous bridges. The date was Friday, April 6, 1945, and it was going to he quite a while before all the fellas would see the States again.
Overseas at Last
When we left San Francisco, we, naturally expected to see action, and no one knew if any of us would get hack in the same condition as we left, or if there would be some of us who wouldn't come back at all. We were, as it turned out, darned lucky. At any rate, more so than many other ships Although we had many a good scare, we never were hit and suffered no casualties from enemy action. But there were three reasons why we were going West: we were eager and patriotic; we all wanted to help win the war; and we had no choice about the whole thing.
We were all looking forward to seeing those beautiful islands of the Pacific', with their cool tropical trade winds, the beautiful dancing natives, the soft music of steel guitars under a warm moonlit sky, and the usual travel bureau Word.
So we sighted Diamond Head on April 14th, and one look was enough. Don't believe any travel bureau! By this time, naturally, all the salts aboard the ship were putting wings on their white hats. But due to the eagerness of the shore patrol beavers in Honolulu, a few made the mistake of not squaring their hats or so the Mast book says. It didn't take much to break us of that habit, though. We shoved off from Pearl Harbor on April 22nd, bound for a small place called Eniwetok.
When Columbus said the world was not flat, it's a cinch he never saw Eniwetok. When the fellas wanted their laundry done, they just had to wait for high tide, and it's washed, whether it needed it or not. About the only thing we found to interest us there was the beer garden at the fleet landing, which wasn't exactly cold. We were only there two days, though, and left for Guam on the 6th of May.
Because we arrived outside Apra Harbor a few minutes after the deadline, entrance permission was not granted, and we were compelled to circle the island until the next morning. We didn't unload the pontoons at Guam as we were originally scheduled to, but were ordered to move up to Saipan, which was an overnight trip.
Arriving at Saipan on the 12th of May, it turned out to be one of the highlights of our voyage. As soon as possible, we were granted shore liberty. Heedless of the 700-odd diehards still at large on the island, we, the crew of the 157, stormed into the hills in search of souvenirs. Some were content with observing caves and pillboxes from a distance, while others weren't happy until they'd explored the very depth of every cave possible. Our esteemed steward's mate almost broke the record for cross-country running when someone took a shot at him one day. But the curiosity of most of the gang was broken one day when they came upon a cave where a squad of Nips had been given the treatment. The sublime aroma was enough reason to keep us a good distance from all caves after that.
Our ball club became active again at Saipan. Those who didn't go ashore to hunt for souvenirs usually drank beer or played ball.
We had wonderful small boat service at Saipan. If you were lucky, you could go ashore, and just have time to make it back to the ship, all in one day.
While at anchor there, we all had quite a surprise when Lieut. Fleming came aboard. It had been at least eight months since we had last seen him at Charleston, S. C. We all got a big charge out of talking over old times, then we accepted his invitation to see a movie on his LST that night.
With the 29th of May rolling around, we became part of a convoy which was heading for Okinawa. After we got a few days out of Saipan, we got word that a typhoon was on its way from the Philippines. After almost qualifying for submarine pay for a few days, we found ourselves about sixty miles off the coast of Luzon.
After the blow subsided and we had a chance to find out where we were, we once again headed for Okinawa. Of course, we looked a little out of place sailing along in the middle of Task Force 31, of Bill Halsey's Third Fleet, which surrounded us on all sides. The typhoon had blown us into the middle of their formation. We escorted the carriers and battlewagons into Okinawa, where we left them to go on to Japan without us, and sailed into Nakagusuku Wan, which was later renamed Buckner Bay.
Our Okinawa Campaign
We arrived at Okinawa on the 8th of June with our valuable load of pontoons, and finally found someone who would take them off our hands. We were ordered to go alongside the U.S.S. Appanoose (AK-226) for offloading. All hands turned to, taking the chains and turnbuckles off, and, in general, working like mad. We had almost completed, when the radioman told the O.D. that there was a typhoon warning broadcast, which we were to find out later came pretty frequently around that neck of the woods. There we were, with most of the chains off, and now we had to put them all on again. just at that time, the radio shack reported that the area was at "flash red, control yellow", and we all went flying to general quarters.
We didn't have to wait very long before we saw our first Jap plane. It was a divebomber of the "Val" class, and a pretty good target for us sharpshooters. He came in with all the fine and noble intentions of bombing the U.S.S. Lindenwald (LSD-6). But his aim wasn't the best, so the bomb fell about 500 yards off their bow. At the same time, every ship in the bay was throwing everything but the galley range at the Nip, and consequently our Banzai buddy didn't live long after his dive. After he splashed, we finally rid ourselves of those pontoons, which had been aboard for the last five months.
As we look back on the days at Okinawa, we cannot forget the night of the 22nd of June, when the island was secured and the LSM-213 was hit by a suicide plane about one thousand yards off our stern. Then there was the time the Coxswain's Handbook was thrown aboard from the pontoon barge. Another time was when the G.Q. buzzer was getting quite a workout off Chimu Wan beach, and the crew was called to muster at 1000 on the tank deck in white hats, when a Jap... Zeke" was circling the bay. Its pilot was probably gazing down at us, and sharing our opinion of the Navy. So we dashed to our battle stations, as the "Zeke" changed its course from an LCS, and started for us. It was about this time we got the order from the conn, "Don't fire ... he may not see us!" Our gunners naturally ignored this, and were tossing hot lead and language at the plane. We had a little help from a Marine Corsair as it cut across the Jap, and set him afire with a short burst. The Son of Heaven pulled out and splashed off our fantail.
The following days saw us at the usual and inevitable General Quarters, and about this time the sack hounds had those Fred Allen bags under their eyes. We usually carried cargo between Naha and le Shima or Nago Wan, or buzz around to Buckner Bay, where all the fleet ships would gaze upon us with envy as we passed by, showing off our twin 40. At* Nago Wan we found the water pretty good for swimming, which helped pass the time.
August 15th was a happy day for everyone at Okinawa, and quite possibly everywhere but in Japan. The hostilities were over, and we assumed we'd be heading Stateside soon after that. But we were soon to learn different.
The ship was at le Shima when the two white "Bettys" landed from Japan, with the Japanese surrender delegates en route to Manila. Some of the crew saw them land, but the rest of the gang were just too tired to be interested.
Shortly after the Nips officially surrendered, we loaded up with 300 tons of supplies and took them to Nago Wan for further transfer to the prison camps in Japan, where Allied prisoners of war had been held. We also made frequent trips to the Kerama Retto group with cargoes of rice and fish for the Allied Military Government there. On the first trip to the Kerama Retto group, the island of Aka was still held by some die-hard Japanese, but the second time we were there it had surrendered to a picket boat.
The Occupation of Tientsin
On the 18th of September, we received orders to go to Unten Ko on Okinawa to load some equipment of the Pioneer Battalion of the First Marine Division. After waiting about seven days, we made ready for sea to participate in the Allied occupation of North China, Tientsin in particular. We were in the 7th Fleet, under the command of Admiral Barby. The occupation was jointly headed by him and Marine Lt. General Rockney, who was in command of the First Marine Division, the original outfit which had been the spearhead at Guadalcanal in the summer of 1942.
Taku was reached on the 30th of September, and the LSM and LCI groups tied up to the piers at Tangku that night, to wait for daybreak the next morning. At first light the next day we proceeded up the Hai Ho to Tientsin, about thirty-six miles from the mouth of the river. We felt like conquering heroes, being among the first Allied ships to enter China since the end of 1941. The flags were waving . . . the Gooks were all down at the riverbank yelling like a bunch of blood-thirsty Comanches as they watched the naval might of their fighting Allies pass in review ... and at Koku, about halfway up the river, there was even a brass band. When we reached Tientsin and tied up, the entire Chinese population apparently had turned out to give us a hearty welcome. They gave us presents of apples and vodka; it was the first time we ever got high on apples. News correspondents were taking pictures, and a picture of this famous vessel appeared in LIFE magazine, November 12th issue, page 112. The first night the Marines and swabbies were restricted to the ships until the next morning. There were quite a few deck courts and captain's masts given out that next morning for the fantail liberty taken the night before.
On the second day at Tientsin, the commander of the LSM group thought of a faster method of unloading the equipment ashore. Our brilliant old man volunteered the use of the 157 to be the guinea pig in the experiment. The idea was to beach, open the bow doors, let down the ramp, and let the equipment roll ashore. The current in the river was too strong, and the bow kept slipping off the bank. That was all the commander had to see to be convinced that the idea was impractical. But the skipper suggested we put lines ashore to try to counteract the current. Result: (1) all lines parted; (2) the stern anchor fouled up, (3) we collided with an LSM moored across the river; (4) the ship was completely out of control for a short time. There was at least one thing that could always be said for our ship: there never was a dull moment. We tied up to a pontoon the next day and unloaded in the conventional manner.
On October 13th we set sail for Okinawa, just missing the worst typhoon in ten years in that locality. Arriving at Okinawa, we received orders to proceed to Nago Wan to pick up Marines and vehicles for another trip to Tientsin.
It was in November that sad event took place aboard the 157. Lt. Craycroft was promoted to Lt. Commander, and subsequently transferred from command of the ship. Lt. (j.g.) J. V. Bruning relieved him, but to be truthful, it wasn't the same. Ah, yes, it was a sad farewell.
We began traveling again on the 13th of December. We loaded provisions and mail at the naval anchorage at Taku to deliver to the U.S.S. Kinzer (APD-91) and the LST-754, the naval units based at Chinwangtao, only about eight miles south of the Great Wall of China, near the border of Manchuria. We offloaded the supplies at Chinwangtao and shoved off for Taku the evening of the 15th, and reached the anchorage the next morning.
On December l7th we had to play tug to an LCT. LCT-1003 had been damaged from the heavy seas and winds the night before, during which time the wind force was about fifty knots, and four VPs had broken loose from ships in the anchorage. It was really fouled up: the anchor winch didn't work; it only had one engine in operation, and was flooding fast. After sighting it, it took us six hours to get it tied up, and we only lost our 2,000 lb. stern anchor and beat up our bow doors and hull.
For about two weeks, the 489 and ourselves were the only LSMs in the Taku area, the others having left for Jinsen, Korea, about the 11th of December. A few more came in just before Christmas, and the LSM-349 was appointed LSM type commander for the Tientsin-Taku area.
Christmas Eve was spent by the ship while anchored off Taku. It wasn't exactly Iike those which were usually spent at home with those near to us. Hardly any of us had ever experienced anything like it before, and we all hoped-and still hope-that we'll never have to spend one like it again. It was just like any other day until the usual evening movie, which, by the way, was "In Old Oklahoma", with John Wayne, Martha Scott, and Albert Kekker. Ship's Service furnished free beer, cokes, and Hershey and Nestle candy bars. We had a Stateside Christmas tree which was decorated with beer cans, coke bottles, candy wrappers, and empty cigarette packages by the end of the movies.
Christmas Day found the crew sitting down to a meal which, as far as food was concerned, was practically all that could be asked for. There were a few ambitious flurries of snow, which sort of made it a white Christmas. But it was naturally nothing like home. A radio dispatch to all the ships which was sent by SOPA Admin on Christmas Eve is quoted: "Hearty Christmas greetings to all officers and men in the anchorage area. Santa Claus cannot be contacted on any known channel but we hope for best," Thus ended Christmas.
We docked in the U.S.S. Tortuga (LSD-26) on the morning of the 26th to have the damage caused during the LCT incident repaired. It was the first, hut not the last, time we had been in an LSD. It sort of seemed like boot camp again, when some parts of the ship were secured. Repairs were effected and we pulled out on the 28th.
New Year's Eve found us still at Taku, and firing the .45, and pyrotechnics; this was officially permitted. Unofficially, the harbor radio circuit was having a- general bull session again. New Year's Day saw us speeding up the Hai Ho to Tientsin, where the sea wolves went out on the prowl once more.
We were making liberty runs to Tientsin pretty often after the first of the year. The liberty parties got on our nerves, but the feeling was probably mutual. LSMs were never made for making a five-hour trip in 30 or 35 degree weather carrying 200-300 fellas topside with any comfort. But the officers gave us the most trouble. On the first of two liberty runs from the Kula Gulf (CVE-108), the radio shack seemed to have all the gold braid in the fleet, from a captain down. Or other runs, they'd take over one of the crew's compartments as if they owned the place, while the enlisted men had to remain in the passageways, if not outside on the well deck. And it was more than once that some of the officers in the liberty parties would sack in on some of the crew's racks, as if they owned the ship. This is just one example of the superior attitude some of the officers in the Navy have.
January saw several of the old crew heading home, after the Bureau of Personnel began breathing down the skipper's neck with a dispatch or two. Replacements of several rates was almost impossible. Lt. (j.g.) T. D. Brenner took over command of the ship in January for about a month, then Lt. (j.g.) R. T. McLoughlin relieved him.
We became fouled up once more the 9th of February in Tientsin, when we tried to return to the anchorage at Taku with a liberty party, Somehow a spar buoy, complete with concrete anchor and chain, had fouled around the ship's port screw, thus making it impossible to navigate the river safely. So we suffered the humiliation of being towed down the Hai He by an insignificant Chinese tugboat. Hardison became temporary ship's company aboard the tug, signaling various directions from the tug to the conn by semaphore, until we tied up at Tangku a few hours later. The next day we reached the anchorage, where a Navy tug, ATR-39, assisted us in docking in the U.S.S. Casa Grande (LSD-13), where the buoy was removed, and the damaged screw replaced with a spare. We undocked about noon on the 13th of February, ready to make another run to Tientsin.
We went to Chinwangtao again on the 21st of February. When we arrived the next day, we saw the Kinzer was flying three ensigns. We were puzzled until we found it was Washington's Birthday, and they had dressed ship. We departed for Taku about 2200 that night, and reached the anchorage the next morning about
When we first arrived there, the prices were very low and very reasonable. The rate of exchange was about $1700 F.R.B. to $1 U.S. A darn good meal could be had for 20c, and all kinds of souvenirs were very cheap.
The gang usually dropped into the "Little Club", ''Casino", or "St. Anna's" to pass away the night dancing, and having a good time. None of us will forget the two Red Cross clubs, the Liberty Lounge, and the Amerine Club, which made us feel a little at home. The femmes in Tientsin were pretty good dancers, once they got the Word on Stateside dances. And you may remember the Armed Forces Radio Station XBOR, with many of the programs we liked in the States . . . and the two programs "five for Gyrenes", which was monopolized with requests the last few months there, and "The Beachcomber", who'd open with "The Three Suns" recording of "Twilight Time", and then come in with "Hello there, this is the beachcomber ...nippy along the dunes tonight! "
Just before we left Tientsin, liberty was sad. The rate of exchange had risen to $9,000 F.R.B. to $1 U.S. Federal Reserve currency, by the way, was one-fifth the value of C.N.C., or Chinese National Currency. We found later that F.R.B. wasn't used farther south in Shanghai. Then too, the First Marine Division was getting replacements just out of the States, and putting them on M.P. duty in Tientsin. They were doing their best to try and make life, and liberty, miserable for the swabbies there. But fun was there for those who knew where to find it, which was the majority of the crew.
We Head South
We were tied up to the dock in Tientsin when we received orders to go to Shanghai for duty, along with LSMs 373, 375, 390, 470, and 484. The six-ship convoy left Taku the 4th of March, and reached Shanghai about three days later. We were then told that we were to make the first large-scale UNRRA run to Hankow, about 590 miles up the Yangtze River. Four LCIs and an LSM had. made the run about a month before, and charted the channels.
The six LSMs left Shanghai on the 12th of March, with LCIs 195 and 234. The trip was written up with photographs in all the Shanghai papers. We'd he underway during the day, then anchor during the night. The task unit had brouqht along two VPs and an LCM, but lost one VP two days out of Shanghai. Then we saw yellow opium poppy fields here and there, and about forty miles upriver from Nanking was where the gunboat Panay was sunk in December, 1937 by Japanese planes.
Hankow was a city which had been bombed by the Army Air Forces, and looked it. Liberty wasn't worth talking about. We were there for five days, when the 157 beached and took on vehicles of the Chinese 71st and 94th Nationalist Armies, for transportation to Shanghai. Coming back down the river, we stopped at Anking, and some of the fellas went ashore to see the tall pagoda which was claimed to be one of the oldest in China. Then a day or two later we anchored off Nanking, and managed to get liberty there. There were only a hundred or so GIs there, and surprisingly enough, the enlisted men's club was quite good, and with Stateside stuff, too. While we were there, some of the crew went to see the Sun Yat Sen memorial, a very impressive place on Purple Mountain, where the first president of China is buried.
The unofficial Word was around when we got back to Shanghai that all the ships which made the Hankow run would be sent hack to Florida for decommissioning, to arrive there before the first of June. But soon after we pulled into Shanghai on the 31st of March, we got the Word. It was true for lour Of the LSMs. The LSM-470 was modified, and sent up the Yangtze as far as Chungking to determine if landing craft could safely navigate that far. And we received encoded orders to transfer the 157 to the Chinese Navy at Tsingtao.
Six of the high-point men were transferred from the 157 to the LSM-390 in return for six new replacements. The skipper had released several other fellas to the Orvetta (IX-157) to await transportation home, in return for eight replacements. Now only four of the crew who had put the ship in commission were left, and even the fellas who had only been aboard for five or six months seemed like old timers now, with almost half the old crew leaving almost at the same time. A few days later the 390, with LSMs 373, 375, 484, 485, and 486, pulled out of Shanghai bound for Guam, and points east. No one cared about Guam, but it were those points east which bothered the fellas who were staying in China. We watched those homeward-bound pennants disappear down the Hwangpoo into the fog, and then went down on the well deck, and calmly proceeded to beat out our brains against the bulkhead.
We spent the rest of the time at Shanghai painting parts of the ship, and having minor repairs made, at the same time watching more guys with their points up leave for the States. On the 25th of April we finally left Shanghai with the LSM-457, bound for Tsingtao.
About 0600 on the morning of the 26th, when we were about half-way between Shanghai and Tsingtao, the radioman on watch picked up the LSMs which had pulled out of Shanghai a few weeks before. The LSM-375 came in for a while, and said they were about twenty hours out of Guam. They were still on their way to the States; at any rate, closer to them than we were.
After a pretty smooth trip, we came into the outer harbor of Tsingtao about 1700 on the evening of the 26th, and the next day reported to the Commander Chinese Training Detachment for duty. We then learned that we were to train crews of the Chinese Navy in LSM handling and operation before turning the ship over to them. Hardly any of us suspected the lowly trick being pulled on us. We were soon to get the Word on the training program, as it was seriously called.
Training the Gooks
Have you ever tried to teach a Gook anything? Believe me, it is an experience never to he forgotten, no matter how hard one tries. If some of you have ever considered the thought that the United States Navy was all fouled up, and nothing could possibly he worse, you're due for the Word. We don't even come close. Without a doubt the swabbies of the Chinese Navy are the first-class foul-ups on the face of this earth. Why, no one knows, unless it's because they're all regulars.
In all fairness, I think a few possible reasons should he mentioned which might account for this outlook towards them. First, we doubted if the Chinese ever saw some of the equipment we had on the ship before they came aboard, such as Diesel engines, gyrocompasses, radio, radar, and other stuff. If they had any training at all, it was very basic. Second, the fact that we didn't speak Chinese, and they didn't speak English, caused us to have a hard time trying to teach them anything. There were a few Chinese interpreters, but they only seemed to understand a basic English dialect, and it was out of tile question trying to do any more than to teach them how to operate the equipment.
After a few days at Tsingtao, we tied up at the Chinese Naval Training Center, where we received a Gook crew of about fifty enlisted men, and five officers.
Training our boys was a definite pain in the neck, to put it mildly. There were usually only two results from the first few explanations of anything. The first result was probably the easiest to take, as they didn't try to fool anyone. The Gooks would merely remain with a perpetual blank expression on their face, but this was how most of them appeared anyhow; it didn't mean much. All we had to do, was to calmly spend another half-hour or so repeating what we had just finished. The other method was what really got us down. They'd nod their heads in a definite affirmative answer that belies intelligence we had been attempting to convey to them had gone over with a great big bang, and that they understood us completely. Then they'd take over, going through what you had just raved an hour or so about, and foul up the whole detail in a royal sort of way, which only this particular breed of Oriental can do.
The boys in the middle compartment had a little difficulty along about chow time deciding which gave them the most trouble, finding cockroaches in our chow, or finding Gook officers crowding them out of their chow table, which, by the way, was out of bounds to all the fellas in that compartment at chow down. But we had usually been bothered with cockroaches in our chow, so we were used to them.
Some LSMs and LSTs had already been turned over to either the Chinese Navy, or the UNRRA-CNRRA. The latter group were to be used to transport millions of dollars worth of relief supplies inland to famine -stricken areas.
The City of Tsingtao
As Tsingtao was a German naval base in 1914, many buildings have German names. But this has nothing to do with the story, so let's forget it.
The Red Cross Club was located about a block from the outer harbor, and just across the street from the swank officers' club. But in spite of that fact, a fella could get a pretty good chow at the A.R.C. Club for a quarter. Although rumors were that Stateside liquor was served in the officers' club, most of the enlisted men liked the beer they got at the enlisted men's club for a dime a can. Even if they did like Stateside whiskey better, they drank beer anyhow, as there was nothing they could do to become an ensign. So the enlisted men's club made quite a little money selling beer, potato chips, beer, sandwiches, and beer.
From the harbor, the city of Tsingtao looked clean and very little like a Chinese city, when compared to others we had seen in China. But then we'd go ashore, and the illusion which had been built up from a distance was completely shattered. Naturally, the inhabitants of the city, the countless rickshaws, and the general Gook outlook of the place was bad enough, but it was the wholly "Chinese atmosphere" of the place that tipped us off.
During the whole month of May and the first week in June, everyone was trying to find out just two things: when was the ship to be decommissioned, and if he would be sent home, or remain in China.
We finally got the Word that D-Day would be the 12th of June. As the other question turned out, all the reserves had their orders made out to be transferred to their respective separation centers, whether they had been in six months or two years. This naturally drew a great amount of criticism from most of the high-pointers, who had apparently forgotten that they were once hoots themselves. All the reserves couldn't help but feel for the regulars, who were to remain in China. This was especially true in the case of two fellas who had served on the ship from commissioning to decommissioning, Carl J. Hatley, and George C. Kostrzebski.
On the 10th of July, the entire crew moved off the ship, and onto the LST1050 while the Gooks moved into the 157, to get acquainted with the ship before actually taking over. Some of the crew didn't exactly care for the regulations aboard the 1050: white hats were to be worn topside at all times, reveille was at 0600, which really hit some of the sack rats mighty hard; and only regulation dungarees-were to be worn - no Marine greens or khakis, which some of the crew had picked up here and there.
At last, on June 12th, at 1530, the United States Navy ensign, jack, and commission pennant were lowered from their respective staffs after quite a ceremony. The crew of the 157, along with the crews of LSTs 716 and 717, LSM 457, and LCIs 233, 514, 517, and 631, were compelled to stand in the hot China sun, with the prospective Chinese crews of the ships, while United States Navy officers made brilliant orations on what a bargain the Chinese were getting, and the Chinese Navy officers made speeches about how thankful they were to get such a sturdy craft. We wouldn't disillusion them, though; they'd find out soon enough. After the speeches were done, a Chinese brass band rendered "Auld Lang Syne" and "Anchors Aweigh" to bits.
At this same time, the Gook Communists were causing a little scare around which caused the liberty hours to be reduced to 2000. With a little pull, we managed to get the time extended to 2100 for our decommissioning party. Naturally, it didn't measure up to what could have been thrown if we had -been in the States, but it was a party.
Despite how much grief the sad old tub had caused us, and how definitely SNAFU the ship was at times, we think all the guys who were aboard on that last day were sort of thrown for a loss to realize that they would finally be leaving for good. We all had used it as a place to hang our hat, so to speak, and probably most of us will not forget the ship for some time to come.
So, with simply mentioning the fact that the Chinese ensign, jack, and commission pennant were raised above the ex-U.S.S. LSM-157 at 1600, on 12 June, 1946, officially becoming a part of the Chinese Navy, this book is ended. We sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as we did writing it. Good luck!