... we took two torpedoes
After Radio School at Charleston SC, we had leave, then reported to Brooklyn NY to pick up my first ship, The USS Edward Rutledge (AP52). Funny thing was, she was being converted in Tampa, Florida, comissioned April 18, 1942. The crew waited in Brooklyn while it was being converted.
Really enjoyed the stay in Brooklyn, waiting for my first ship to be ready. Finally we were placed on a bus, then to the train station and we were on our way to Tampa FL. to board the USS Edward Rutledge, a Navy Transport, being converted from a merchant ship.
It was very confusing the day we left. The bus that was supposed to pick us up was late. Men wandered off, visiting others, to the PX, just tired of waiting around. When the bus finally did arrive, it took a long time to get everyone back and loaded on the bus.
We were one happy bunch of young boys heading south to pick up our ship. I had my first drink of whiskey, got drunk and sick as a dog. It was a new experience for me.
We arrived in Tampa, fell in formation, marched to the baggage car and got our seabags as our names were called, boarded another bus and then taken to Eybo City where the ship was tied up. It was freshly painted but still being worked on.I just made it up the gang-plank with my seabag, and we fell in again, had muster(roll-call), taken to our living compartment,assigned a locker,and rigged our hammock. Cables, wires and workmen everywhere. The ship was a mess. Settled, we fell in again and the senior petty officer of each division took over.
Our senior petty officer was Chief Radioman Hageman. The spelling is probably wrong, but it's close. After all, it was 55 years ago. There were thirteen of us; the Chief, one First Class, three Second Class, five Third Class and three Seaman. I was the junior man. The Chief assigned sections. I was in section two. My boss was Radioman Second Class Thompson. He was a big man, about 6'2", 250 lbs, and made life miserable for me. The Chief we only saw occasionally during the day. In those days, a Chief was like God. Chiefs ran the Navy.
The Captain of the Rutledge was M. H. Hutchenson. Thats all I can tell about who the officers were.
The Radio Shack was near the fantail (back of the ship) two decks up. Our Radio Shack was a room maybe 10x12 feet. Equipment and work positions along each wall. The two transmitters were big, 2 ft. deep, 3 ft. wide and 5 ft high. Today they are much smaller. At the three work positions was a typewriter, key to send radio messages, and a metal chair. The receivers were on top of the desk-like position. To the right in a cubicle was the key used to transmit messages, a shelf with paper, and message blanks. Oh yeah, each chair had eye-bolts at the rear of the seat and on the desk with cables to attach to the chairs. This was to be used in rough weather so we could remain in position. We made good use of the hold-downs now and then when we got underway. And no, I never did get sea sick!
Thompson was a rough task master. When we had the watch, he had me and the two third class copying code the whole watch. I was as good as the third class, but after a couple of weeks, he let them do other things in the shack. If we got a message to the ship, one replaced me and I became messenger. This meant I had to take the message to the Captain, Executive Officer (XO) and all other officers Thompson had designated to see it. It wasn't fair, but that's the way it is. Junior people catch it from all angles.
At first most of the messages we received were in "plain language". You could read them. Gradually everything was encrypted. They were taken to the coding officer who had a machine to break them, change back to plain language. After all, we were at war.
When we were not on watch, we were instructed in rigging antennas, range finding, and a variety of things. Our watches were for 4 hours. Midnight to 4am, 4am to 8am, 8am to noon, Noon to 4pm, 4pm to 8pm and 8pm to Midnight. Reveille went at 6am, and no one was allowed in his hammock after 6:30am. Life was rough, but you soon got used to it.
I don't remember all the details, but one day Thompson told me to do something and since I was not on watch, I told him no, and went about whatever I was doing. A while later one of the seamen found me, told me to report to the Radio Shack, "On the double".
When I got to the shack, Thompson was waiting and said the Chief wanted to see me. I followed him to the Chief's Quarters. Thompson took his hat off and told me to do the same, and he knocked, opened the door and we went inside. Several chiefs were at the table talking and drinking coffee. It got silent when we entered.
Chief Hageman looked at me, asked me my name. I told him. He said something like Seaman Ross, just who in hell did I think I was, refusing to do something Thompson had told me to do. I said he had asked me, not ordered me. The Chief, and the other Chiefs laughed. He informed me that if "ANY" person senior to me asked me to do something, I would do it. If I were told to jump over the side, I would do it, Then I could question why he had asked me to do it. Silence - He then asked if I understood what he was saying? I was scared to death, could hardly speak. Ok, he said, give me your I.D. card. He took it and said he would also hold my liberty card for a week, and I was not to leave the ship for any reason.
He told Thompson to keep me busy and dismissed us. Thompson made me clean the shack every day. I washed walls, scrubbed the deck, dusted the equipment. I learned that whenever I was asked to do something, I did it. I hated Thomson and tried to be put on another watch, without success. Eventually he eased up on me, kinda took a liking to me, taught me a lot.
One day they told us at quarters that bunks were going to be installed to replace the hammocks. As the compartments were worked in, we were sent to a rundown building on the pier. Fortunately, we only spent a week in the dump. It was really nice to sleep in a real bed though, even though there were four in each group, one above the other. Fortunately for me, we had spare bunks and I got to sleep in the second one up. Before we departed six more radioman strikers came aboard. I was no longer the junior man in the Radio gang.
Our transmitters, as I said, were big. When we sent messages, using morse code, sparks would fly. One day when sending traffic, not paying attention, I reached for the key and accidentally touched the points and got burned. Thompson relieved me and sent me to sick bay. Gave me hell when I came back. Not really chewing me out, like before, just reminding me to be careful.
After the workmen had removed most of their wires, tools, etc, a train pulled alongside the ship. It was loaded with big slabs of stone. We later learned they were tombstones, grave markers. They began loading them into the holes for ballast for the ship. Lots of wild scuttlebutt (tall tales) began circulating. It was said one of the men loading the slings, saw his name on one of the tombstones. His date of birth and final line, Died: which was blank. He let out a yell "I won't go aboard that ship again. It's an omen." He refused to come aboard, and the exec heard about it. He got the man transferred. How true this is, I don't know, but it did appear in a magazine called "Our Navy". I have the article in my files. The ship became known as "Tombstone Eddie" when the word got around.
During our stay in Tampa, I learned to drink beer. One night at a bar in Eybo City, a couple of guys began giving me a hard time. Being small, (little, really) I tried to leave the bar. They held me, began pushing me around between them. I saw Thompson enter the saloon and next thing I knew, he had pulled one of the guys from me, knocked him to the floor and hit the other, and they took off. I thanked him and started to leave, but he pulled me to the bar, and we sat drinking together. He had taken me under his wing, and I learned to be a sailor, going on liberty with him.
Finally the ship was completed, troops loaded and we were off to join a convoy heading for Europe. Several ships were lost during the crossing, but the Rutledge managed to make it. We unloaded our troops at Fadiella, Morocco in North Africa just in time.
Click here:The USS Edward Rutledge (AP-52) ended up taking two torpedoes and the ship sank. Two other ships, USS Hugh L. Scott AP43 and USS Tasker H. Bliss AP42 were sunk within minutes of each other by German sub U130.
Click here: Ship's boats picked up the crew and transferred us to a larger landing craft, which deposited us on the beach. Someone passed out brandy, and we all enjoyed being alive. The radio gang managed to get together and wandered around. Prior to the invasion, leaflets in a couple of languages with a message from President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower were dropped asking the population to cooperate with the troops. We were lucky enough to find these leaflets. A copy of mine is below.
After a couple of days we were taken to Casablanca, Morocco, boarded another transport and taken back to the States. We were issued a new seabag (our uniforms), a set of orders and 30 days leave, then sent on our way. My orders were to the USS Hudson (DD475) at Boston MA. I headed to Atlanta,GA to visit my grandmother.
Visited all my old friends, and went by the Atlanta Journal where I had worked a few years earlier. Some of the workers remembered me, and listened to my tale. Next thing I knew I was taken to a reporter who Click here to read: wrote a story on my ship being sunk.
I was talked into visiting a school near Atlanta to give a talk. I had a ball and was a hero to everyone I knew. I didn't feel like a hero, but enjoyed all the attention. The girls loved the uniform, and I really had the time of my life.
My uncle rented a car for me, and this was like living in a dream. I spent two weeks in Atlanta visiting all my old friends, then went to Albany where my step-mother and 4 brothers still lived. My ex-girl-friend worked in a bank and I managed to go in and talk to her. Albany had seen the story in the Atlanta Journal, and I was still the hero. No, she didn't agree to meet me after work, but I tried. The two weeks flew by and I was on my way to Boston.