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We were slated to make the Luzon Landing in the Philippines, but while loading tanks in Manus, we got stuck on the beach (Christmas Day) and couldn't get off with our load. We tried to back free for two days and two nights. Tanks were unloaded, and still we couldn't get off. I'll never forget the second night with a Navy sea-going tug pulling on our stern-anchor cable, two LCMs (one on each side) pulling as hard as they could, and a SeaBee with a bulldozer pushing on our bow ramp. Meanwhile our LSM group had sailed off to the Luzon operation without us. When we finally broke loose, we were sent to Hollandia to pick up a largely merchant-ship convoy heading for Leyte. On the way up, I saw the first helicopter I'd ever seen, carried by one of the bigger ships and sent up to scout for subs. Because we were the smallest and most maneuverable ship in the convoy, we were designated to rescue the helicopter pilot in case he fell into the drink--he didn't! We spent a while in Leyte and Samar, where we adopted two monkeys and a few parrots, and then got up to Lingayen Gulf, but we arrived AFTER the main assault. As we rounded Luzon's San Fernando Point, in the South China Sea, to sail into Lingayen Gulf, we were at our farthest point from home, 8,600 statute = 7,500 nautical miles from my hometown of Philadelphia as the crow flies, and all that distance at a speed of just 11 knots! Our battle star and Combat Action Ribbon were for Okinawa, where we led in the first wave of real ships after six waves of amphibious tractors, small boats, etc.
After we unloaded our cargo of Sherman tanks with their Army crews, we spent four days at Okinawa beached high and dry on the reef, loaded stem to stern with ammunition (talk about a Long Slow Target!). Army trucks kept coming aboard, unloading us little by little, but the stress on our ship's frame took its toll. Our main beams were warped, and leaks developed, some from outside, some from compartment to compartment. Our fresh water tasted of diesel oil. They found a job for us that even a 'broken' ship could perform: for many nights we 'made smoke' to hide the battleship U.S.S. Texas out at nearby Kerama Retto, until our smoke generator burned up. Soon we found ourselves in a "ship hospital"--a floating drydock--at Saipan, where we were patched up, but declared hors de combat, unfit for any more strenuous duty. We spent some time at Tinian, where I met a "fly guy" at the Officers Club, who offered me a ride in a B-29. We flew to Guam and back, and I manned the controls briefly. (I'd like to say it was the Enola Gay, but I have no recollection of any name.) Then a "fun trip" for our ship. We were sent to the Solomon Islands to bring back some earth-moving equipment. What a thrill to view Guadalcanal on the distant horizon and to see "Bull" Halsey's famous "Kill Japs!" sign on a hillside at Tulagi. By the time we got back to Guam , the war was almost over, and we were sent back to Pearl. At sea, when we heard of the surrender offer, we shot off signal rockets, sounded our horn, and flew our largest flag! All that remained for us was to ferry 120 Navy personnel back to Long Beach, where a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter, the first jet plane we'd ever seen, flew over us in salute! At long last, the war was OVER!
Submitted by Raymond A. Biswanger, Jr. Ph.D., LT. USN Ret.
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