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Story ID:9214
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:SanFrancisco California usa
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By Fred Wickert

I commented on a story of a cruise by Clifford Von Latta. He spoke at length on all the different meals full of goodies and calories on the cruise and some of the hot entertainment on the cruise as well. The average passenger on the cruise gained six pounds on the trip. In my comment I compared a cruise I once had on a troop ship and how different it was from his cruise. He suggested that I write the story of that trip and put it on Ourecho, so here I am, writing the story. Thanks Cliff, for the idea.

It was in March of 1954 and the Korean War was raging. We were gathered at Parks Air Force Base in California and were waiting for the word as to when we were to depart on our voyage across the pacific. We were given countless lectures about not writing home or calling home with any information should we learn anything about how or when we were going. The enemy had eyes and ears everywhere and we were reminded that loose lips sink ships. We were advised if the enemy ever found out they might sink the ship with all on board.

When the day came, they told us to pack up and wait for the trucks. The trucks arrived at the barracks and drove us to the harbor in San Francisco. We got off the trucks and stood in line on the docks. Ladies from the Red Cross brought us donuts. We were given two per man. Unfortunately there was no coffee with which to w ash them down with. I think some of the men ahead of us had coffee but they ran out before it was our turn.

Suddenly there was a small commotion. A few newspapers were being passed around. There on the front page were big headlines announcing U>S>S> Mann Departs for Korea with 5500 souls aboard. The top half of the page was a photo of the ship and underneath the photo was the full story. It listed how many officers, civilians, female military personnel, officers wives and children and how many enlisted men were going to be on the ship, plus the number of crew members and the itinerary as to what the time and date of departure and what route we were taking, and how long the trip was supposed to take. They were telling the world everything there was to know. It was far more than any of us knew, and they had lectured us so heavily to be careful not to reveal anything if we should find out. We were not pleased.

Eventually we all came aboard the ship. We learned that the ship was the property of the U.S. Army and the sailors, the ship’s crew were on loan from the Navy. There were a few Army and
Marine officers aboard but most of us were actually Air Force personnel.

We were assigned to our sleeping quarters. They were below deck. No windows or port holes. Our quarters were actually in a cargo hold. We were in the second hold back from the bow. The crew told us the first one was loaded with trucks. We were stacked five men high. The bunks were nothing but a frame made of three quarter inch galvanized pipe with canvas stretched over it. They were attached to a pole at each end that was bolted to the floor and the ceiling with a hinged device. The front corners were attached to a chain. When we all got out of bed they could be folded back toward the pipes they were attached to and hooked out of the way, giving more room for sweeping and mopping of the floors.

The first three days out we rode ground swells and most of the people on board, including crew members got sick. After three days out from port the water got smooth and the sickness of most got under control for a couple of days.

We were supposed to take eight days to reach Yokahama Harbor in Japan. We were going the Northern route which was supposed to be shorter and would take less fuel. There was a small problem. We began to run in to ice bergs. The Captain had heard of the Titanic and so he changed course for the Southern route which kept us at sea for three extra days.

During our voyage, we were not allowed out of the hold at night. During the days there were some areas of the deck which we we were allowed on as we pleased. Many of the men lounged around on the fore deck playing cards, shooting dice or just telling jokes and stories. I and a few friends spent a lot of time both fore and aft to see what we could see. We were looking for whales but
never saw any. We often watched with interst how the sailors did their laundry. They tied long ropes to a bag of laundry and threw it overboard off the fan tail of the ship. The ropes stretched out full length and the ship dragged the clothes in the water behind it. After a half hour or so, they came back, reeled in the ropes, took their laundry bags off the ropes and headed for the tub sinks where they rinsed the salt off in clear water and then hung them in the breeze on the deck to dry.

At certain times of the day, the men on KP duty brought the garbage cans out from the galley and dumped them overboard behind the ship. All kinds of fish and birds would appear to eat the garbage. It was then we saw shark fins show above the water in the wake of the ship. I never understood where they got so much garbage. We were served hot dogs, two of them, and beans. We had that for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. It was served on metal trays with compartments in them. There were long tables bolted to the floor with benches to sit on. When the water got rough, the benches were strapped to the wall to keep them from flying around and then you stood up to eat. The tray slid across the table with the motion of the ship so you had to hang on to keep from losing it.

On the entire trip we had two meals of fried chicken. All the other meals were hot dogs and beans. I believe we did have rolls or biscuits with that. On the main deck there was a canteen. The canteen sold candy, cigarettes, stationery, playing cards, pens and pencils and saltine crackers. I was always eating saltine crackers. Before I left I asked a friend who was much older than I, but who had been a sailor in his youth on the old sailing ships, what was the best way to keep from getting sea sick. He told me the best way was to keep your stomach full. That is exactly what I tried to do, and I don’t know if that was the reason for it, but I was one of the lucky few who never got sick on the entire trip.

We were restricted while on the ship from certain areas. We were especially denied the upper deck. That is where all the officers and all of the women and children were. They put many of us on guard detail with orders to allow only the crew to go past certain points. In times of rough seas we were not permitted to go on deck at all.

I remember well when it started. I awoke at 2:00 A.M. The ship was doing some unpleasant things. First it was not so bad. The bow of the ship rose upward. Remember, there was only one hold in the bow before us. We were in the next hold. I can’t imagine what it was like in the rear holds. The ship rode the crest of a large wave up high. It suspended there for a moment and the ship shook. Then the bow suddenly pointed downwards and we plunged down, down’ down until we suddenly stopped. Slowly the ship recovered and began to rise up on the crest of another wave. A crew member passing by told us that shaking of the ship when it stopped for a moment after raising high was the ships propeller running free out of the water. He explained as the ship rode up on a wave, when it got to the top the screw was up out of the water and it vibrated the ship. He told us there was nothing to worry about. Oh yeah, easy for him to say that! We finally passed through that storm or whatever it was and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

There was part of the trip where it became cold in the hold of the ship. A few came up with a blanket. Most had none. Once again I lucked out. I was on the top bunk which I shared more or less, with a steam pipe. It was always plenty warm. Consequently I used that pipe to keep me warm. It also came in handy when the ship rolled from side to side. Ohers had to hang on to their bunks to keep from falling out. As for me, I just positioned myself on my side with my shoulder behind the steam pipe. As the ship rolled sideways, I just rolled up against the steam pipe and it held me there. I was able to even go to sleep like that. When I woke up the bad weather was gone and the ship was moving along smoothly.

I was on guard duty one night and did get to see the water after dark. I was fascinated at all the different pretty colors of light that were in the wake of the ship. The water just sparkled with a myriad of colors and light. I asked one of the sailors about it and he explained that it was phosphorous in the water.

I remember one foggy morning seeing many small islands in the water as we passed by, and tiny little boats with sails on them. The sailors told me they were fishing boats and that Japanese fisherman come out fishing in those boats. I was fascinated that anyone could go to sea in such a small boat. They were no bigger than a small row boat. They had no motor, just a sail. Eventually around 11:00 A.M. we arrived at dock side in Yokohama harbor. A small boat had come out while we were going through all those little islands and a man climbed up a rope ladder the crew provided for him. The Captain met him when he climbed over the rail and shook hands with him. The Captain led him to the wheel house of the ship. The small boat that brought him pulled away. The sailors told us this man was a pilot who would guide the ship in to the harbor.

As we arrived at dock side, some of our crew threw large heavy ropes overboard to waiting men on the dock. Those men took those ropes and wrapped them around mushroom looking things of steel that were bolted to the dock, and began pulling the ship close to the dock. Then they tied the ropes to those mushroom looking things after making several turns of the rope around them. That was the end of the only cruise I ever went on.

Unlike Clifford Von Lattas cruise, I am guessing instead of gaining six pounds, most of our passengers probably lost at least five pounds. There was quite a contrast between the two voyages.

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