By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Surviving two major storms
World War ll was a storm that came upon America unexpectedly on Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked our military forces in Pearl Harbor. Our nation was unprepared for such an event. The next day our president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, declared war upon Japan and asserted that "with an unbounding determination we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God."

This nation pulled together with this determination to rid ourselves of this menace. Our young men interrupted their education and volunteered for military duty and many were drafted into the Army, Navy or Marine Corps. Our civilian population went to work in defense plants, ship yards and other war time industries. Many women did the former jobs of men and worked alongside seasoned workers while some entered the military service. Remember "Rosie the Riveter"? Or The WACs ? Older workmen came out of retirement to aid in the war effort.

In August 1945 I was a crew member aboard a liberty ship built by some of the people mentioned above. About 2,751 of these ships were built and put out to sea. Ours was homeported in San Francisco and laden with war material destined for the Philippines, then a possession of the United States. We had previously been to Fields Landing near Eureka to load finished lumber and telegraph poles "to the gunnels," which meant that it was flush on deck from the holds to the outside of the ship. We returned to San Francisco where the load on deck was finished with jeeps, command cars, trucks and a B-24 airplane. This ship was loaded and sat heavy in the water with a draft of over 27 feet. The time in Fields Landing was good and many of the crew spent the evening hours at the bars in Eureka "getting loaded to the gunnels." Shortly after the final loading "chips," the ship's carpenter built on deck catwalks so the gun crew could get access to the after and forward guns. These catwalks reminded me of the roller coaster at Santa Cruz.

Just a few days after leaving San Francisco our huge bombers had dropped the atomic bomb on Japanese cities. In a few more days Japan surrendered! It was a time of joy and cheer for the war was over. We celebrated aboard the ship with a case of whiskey, which was brought onboard by a cook to sell to the service men overseas for a profit. The bottles were stolen and offered to the entire crew to celebrate the ending of the war. No word came down about this from the captain. I guess he understood merchant seamen and the need to celebrate great news.

We now had cargo for a war zone that no longer existed.

Our first stop was at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands where I had spent many months before at anchor waiting to go into the island of Guam for unloading. The next stop was at the staging area and recreation facility for the Navy, Mog Mog Island, in the Ulithi group in the Caroline Islands.

These were great days with the war over, anchored in a warm peaceful place, enjoying having no more fear of an enemy or black outs at night. The Navy allowed our crew and officers to spend an afternoon on Mog Mog to partake in what went on that island such as playing baseball, walking around the palm trees, drinking some free beer, just getting of the ship and being on land.

Our afternoon changed. All crewmen were ordered back to the ship to prepare it for an approaching storm common to the South Pacific. We worked in haste on deck securing the cargo and "batting down the hatches." Everyone - cooks, radio operators, stewards, engineers and the gun crew - all worked together. This is the rule of the sea and is expected in maritime law. It is safer, however, for a ship to be at sea during a bad storm than try to wait it out in port. With the sun setting we put out to sea northward and into a night and day of complete hell.

We experienced very heavy seas, high wind, heat, warm and heavy rainfall, sea water rolling in 40 foot waves hitting everywhere - in the passageways, in the galley, our rooms and beds. We ate cold food for the ship was rolling and the cooks could not do their job. Sleep was impossible as the ship rolled violently and our beds were wet.

Some of the crew wore their lifejackets at all times. I wondered what good they would do if that ship went down during a storm as no one would ever be found in that ocean.

I remember how the wind howled through the rigging and only added to the horror of that night!

The storm had subsided by sundown the next day, giving us a chance to inspect the damage, which was unbelievable. We lost the airplane and the vehicles, two life rafts, a life boat and the finished lumber and telephone poles were piled up and resembled tee-pees. Heavy logging chains had been broken and lumber went into the ocean. Two of the 20 millimeter forward and after guns were missing and the entire ship was a soggy wet mess. Our food stores were destroyed and our fresh linen wet and damaged by sea water.

Our ship, the William P. McArthur, was one of the early liberty ships built, (August 1942 in Portland), and had a riveted hull which was safer than subsequent vessels with welded hulls, known to split apart during stress. I have always been thankful for that! This ship had been bounced about like a Southern California orange crate and came out of this storm without losing a life.

We continued north to Okinawa, scene of the last major fight of World War ll and anchored offshore for a time before continuing onto Tokyo Bay and Yokohama, Japan. We anchored near where on Sept. 2,1945 the Japanese formally surrendered on the USS Missouri with General Douglas MacArthur in charge. Merchant seamen were allowed a short time ashore and I walked through the devastation and waste of the bombing in that city. All to be seen was the safes in the places of businesses between the mess and destruction.

Our ship sailed onto Inchon, Korea. We enjoyed frequent shore leaves there and bought many Korean postcards, pictures and clothing, some of which I still have. The Koreans unloaded a lot of our cargo but we headed back home with most of it.

Near the end of this voyage the bedroom steward sneaked a look at the report the captain made of the trip. He relayed to me that the captain called us an inexperienced and "poor crew." Perhaps he was correct. We were mostly green young guys with a few older men but we went to sea for our country to do a job that many would not do. Perhaps we didn't live up to his Navy standards as seamen, but we got that ship through back to the good old U.S.A.

We returned to San Francisco in 30 days, using the "great circle route" and thereby reducing the miles.

We delivered some goods at the Naval station at Treasure Island. Our ship was the first merchant ship to ever tie up at Treasure Island.

It was close to Christmas and the crew felt great. We had survived two big storms, World War ll and the physical storm described above!

We won them all! We were going to return to our peacetime lives and enjoy life as it was meant to be!

Bill Noble may be reached via email at