August 14 to August 29, 1944
Monday, August 14, 1944
Itâ€™s always a problem, sweetheart to know what to write here to be smuggled in when I get back, and what to send to you now as a letter. I want, of course to tell you as much as I can as soon as I can, but I donâ€™t want to write pages of descriptions and have the censor tear them out. Of course some things, like telling you just where we are and what weâ€™re loading I know I have to put in my personal account. And others such as the story of the shoes and slippers I know cannot be censored. But many events are so in between. For instance the boat drill we had Saturday. But let me tell you all about Saturday:
Weâ€™d been full loaded except for troops since about Wednesday, but apparently they didnâ€™t need the dock space, so we just sat there. Saturday morning, however, we were awakened from our slumber at 8:30 to â€œstand by fore and aft.â€ Soon we were cast off, and slowly we made our way around a point of land to the harbour at Mers-El-Kebar just a couple of miles from Oran. Something like New York and Brooklyn. We finally were made fast there, gangplank and all about 10 minutes of 11. And promptly at 11 we had a fire and boat drill. First thereâ€™s the continuous ringing of the general alarm for not less than 10 seconds. With that we all race for our life-jackets and then to our fire station. Mineâ€™s at the #2 Fire Main. We run the hose off its supports, turn on the water, and let it squirt over the side. As soon as all hoses are in action the skipper sounds the abandon ship signalâ€”7 short and 1 long. We drop our hoses and race for our boat stations. Mine is to stand by the forward falls of number 4 lifeboat. Then, usually, a muster is taken and weâ€™re dismissed, after securing our hoses.
However, Saturday our boat was lowered. They asked for volunteersâ€”2 deck, 2 engine, and 4 navy to take it out. Bill and I were the suckers from the deck department. First we had to swing the boats out. At sea in war time theyâ€™re always carried out, but since we were in port they were swung in out of the way. Next they lowered it while Bill and I got in the boat and checked the automatic plug, etc. Hitting, at long last, the water we kicked loose the falls and held on to man ropes. At sea the others would come down the cargo nets but theyâ€™re a hell of a lot of work to roll back up, so we didnâ€™t bother with them.
Finally we were all in the boat, so with the 2nd mate as coxswain we shoved off. And one thing us Sheepshead boys know is how to row. We shifted Bill into stroke position as the original stroke was making a mess of things. And I noticed Bill and I were the only ones to feather our oars. Of course in the harbour it didnâ€™t matter, but in a rough sea thatâ€™s pretty important.
We rowed out a bit and then back. Fortunately they lead the falls to the winch so we didnâ€™t have to pull the boat up by hand. And about 12:15 the boat was all secured again and we gratefully ate our chow.
Thatâ€™s what a boat drill is. Now let me gripe a bit.
The purpose of a drill is to give practice in oneâ€™s duties. In the case of a fire and boat drill it is extremely important, since in an emergency a few seconds may be the difference between life and death. Also, a thorough knowledge of oneâ€™s duties is important because itâ€™s very easy to lose oneâ€™s head, and the antidote is to know exactly what one is supposed to do.
Naturally at sea we canâ€™t actually lower the boats. But we donâ€™t even pretend to. We just assemble beside the boat while the mate musters us. Each person has a duty. But we get not the slightest practice in that duty. As a result there is no assurance that we even know what that duty is. The man whoâ€™s supposed to release the bridle and cargo net should be right by the pelican hood which releases them with a hammer or pipe or heel of his shoe to kick it loose. The men at the falls should release the pin which holds the reel of line and take the first couple of turns off the bit. The man who checks this plug should be in the boat doing it. And so on. If someone with a job doesnâ€™t show up right away the mate should detail someone else to do it.
And this boat drill in port was just a farce. We were meeting a legal requirement and that was all. Two men of the 11 in the deck department went in the boat. And probably it will be the same 2 next time. 8 men of a total crew of 70-odd. There was no attempt at speed. Hereâ€™s my idea of how it should be done.
Preferably at anchor so that all 4 boats could be used, but if at a pier the two boats free should both take part. The boats should all be secured in sea position ahead of time. Then when the alarm sounded the entire ship should be abandoned in the shortest possible interval of time. Everyone should be in a lifeboat and they should race to get away from the ship. All right, so it would be a lot more work. So what? It would mean something. The one we had was almost a complete waste of time. If weâ€™re not going to do it right, why do it at all?
To continue with the affairs of Saturday: I ate a hearty lunch, showered, and lay on my sack to read. Just as I was dozing off to sleep (I often â€œreadâ€ that way of an afternoon) the bosun came in and wanted me to work overtime loading army supplies. I didnâ€™t feel quite so bad when I found out it came under the classification of stevedore work and paid $3.00 an hour. But we really worked! I told you about moving flour sacks the day before. Well, at least those sacks were whole. The first thing we did Saturday was to clear out half a dozen sacks of buggy flour. That is, there were half a dozen sacks and there was a lot flour, but the two were often of divergent minds regarding their course of action. Have you ever stood shin-deep in flourâ€”ordinary white all-purpose flourâ€”and moved it with a shovel? No, of course you havenâ€™t. But I have.
However, the task was done eventually. Next job was the real work. A large truck load of boxes and bags of food had been lowered into the hold and we had to move it all to the proper storage room some hundred feet away. It wasnâ€™t far, but it was awkward navigation. Each box weighed 50â€“60 pounds and they were countless. I donâ€™t know how many trips I made. But I did make more than anyone else. My feeling was that if we were getting 3 bucks an hour we should exert ourselves for it. I knew better than to try and expound that theory to anyone else, but I did plug right along myself. It was kind of fun seeing how many times I could pass people. No one ever passed me.
But we were all glad that there were only a couple of boxes left as the chow bell rang. After a long leisurely meal in about 20 minutes the bosun and I went out on deck to straighten up the mess of the flour. It was just like cleaning your doorstep after a heavy snowstorm!
When I finally went to bed at midnight my overtime sheet would look something like this:
|6:30â€“8:00 AM||1Â½ hours at||0.90 per hour equals||1.35||casting off mooring lines|
|.90||penalty hour for breakfast|
|2:00â€“5:00 PM||3||3.00||9.00||loading army stores|
|5:15â€“6:15 PM||1||0.90||.90||cleaning deck|
|.90||penalty hour for dinner|
|8 PMâ€“midnight||4||0.90||3.60||watch in port Saturday afternoon|
|8 AMâ€“noon||4 (regular watch)||11.00||Approximate daily pay in Mediterranean|
|13Â½ hours worked Saturday||$27.65||Earned Saturday|
Not bad for a mere Ordinary Seaman, eh? If I did the same every day Iâ€™d be rich.
Had an interesting experience the other day when in swimming. There were quite a bunch of us sunning ourselves on a rock and a few in the water. A few had suits, a few were in their underwear, but most of us were in the costume originally furnished us by nature. The sea was calm and cool and the sun was hot. It was very peaceful.
Then suddenly a French youth appeared to warn us that a couple of French Wacs were coming to enjoy the cooling effects of the Mediterranean and would we mind putting on our pants. Minding or not, we did. The extra effort and the loss of a portion of the sunâ€™s rays would be more than compensated by a chance to observe again a woman in a bathing suit. We hoped they would be good looking. They were. There were two of them in their uniforms and they went down the beach a little ways. With her back turned one of them pulled her blouse off and disclosed a very shapely suntanned back. Well, we thought, this is going to prove interestingâ€”all our eyes were as one as she commenced to wiggle out of her skirt. But alas. She did have a bathing suit underneath, and in our excitement we had not observed the thin strap around her neck holding up the front part. However, our disappointment was allayed by the bathing suits being brief and the figures very shapely. They were soon in the water and struck off from shore. It was now a nice problem of judgment as to when it would be safe to doff our pants and cool our fevered brows in the sea. And for one boy who had not scrambled out in time to come out and bask in the sun, the problem was fortunately solved by the girls swimming out of sight beyond a jutting rock. Not, of course, that I was interested, you understand!
The swimming hole is a good one all around. Itâ€™s right off a breakwater and you can dive in from about 5 feet or climb down some iron steps. The water is ideal temperature: refreshing but not too cold. And very clean. Depending on the wind whether itâ€™s smooth or wavy. The above mentioned jutting rock is very interesting. It looks ages old (the whole country does, for that matter). All broken up with hollows and caves and tunnelsâ€”on a small scale, but interesting. I feel very primeval climbing up and down and around it with nothing on but a smile of contentmentâ€”especially when Iâ€™m on the far side and can see nothing but the sea and the sky stretching before me. Sometimes I think of you, Thea. Would you like to be with me there?
Another interesting thing there. Some of the fellows have constructed a large airtight goggle out of a rubber glove and a piece of glass. It fits over oneâ€™s head so that no water could get in your eyes. And it was truly beautiful looking down through the clear water. It felt just like flying to see the bottom so far below and yet so distinct. The rocks and the moss made interesting patterns and the sunlight made it truly magnificent. Of course, I still had to come up for air, but sometimes I almost forgot.
Tuesday, August 15, 1944â€”4 PM Mediterranean timeâ€”10 AM New York time
Well, itâ€™s here. The first invasion was something remote. I was far away and going somewhere else. But now Iâ€™m in Oran, Algeria. Just across the Mediterranean sea is France. Somewhere in France. On board we have gasoline and rations and barbed wire. And French trucks and French tractors and French cannon all ready to be used. And some two hundred French troops.
I wonder what they feel like. We will just be there for a few days. Of course it only takes a few minutes. But if we survive those few days we will be out of it again. The troops, though will be in it for weeks for monthsâ€”perhaps for years. Iâ€™m glad Iâ€™m not in the army. And yet, thereâ€™s also another feeling. A few years ago they were driven fighting from their own country. Now they will be going back to it. I wish my French were better.
Am I afraid? No, Iâ€™m not. I donâ€™t really know what fear is. Iâ€™m not braveâ€”just ignorant. I donâ€™t want to be a heroâ€”nor a coward. I hope that if we get any action it will be on our watch. If I have a duty to do I will probably do itâ€”if I donâ€™t I might get panicky. Although I donâ€™t really think so.
I should write more. I should analyze my feelings so that when I come back I will be able to make a great contribution to science! But I donâ€™t have any feelings. Iâ€™ve just come back from swimming. Part of the time I lay on a rock and sleptâ€”although I knew then the news.
I suppose many people take comfort in religion at a time like this. I take comfort in a lack of it. To me the knowledge that there is no power whoâ€™s personal intervention can save me relieves me from the necessity of worrying. Iâ€™ve done the best I can. From now on itâ€™s in hands other than mine. I know my job. In an emergency I think I can act coolly.
If I die, I die. I hope I wonâ€™t but if I do I wonâ€™t know it. Iâ€™ve done the best I can for you. I hope Iâ€™ve been a good husband to you. Even if I shouldnâ€™t come back I hope you wonâ€™t regret our marriage. I know youâ€™re well enough off financially. Oh, I could probably make some changes. But the relieving truth is that I canâ€™t. No matter how much I think and worry about it I canâ€™t influence the immediate future of either of us. So I can not-worry and settle back and enjoy the excitement. Iâ€™ll keep you up to date on all that happens inside me and outside me. Because I love you dearly, Thea. I assume everything will come out all right, and I want to have it all down to tell you about it. In fact the thing Iâ€™m most concerned about is that if our ship goes down Iâ€™ll probably lose this diary!
Thursday, August 17, 1944
There being nothing in particular to write about todayâ€”at least nothing which is pertinent and permissible â€”I shall tell you more about some of my fellow passengers on this pleasure cruise:
The two ABs on the 12â€“4 watch are both of Scandinavian origin. Axel is a Swede and Paul an Estonian. I suppose they have more complete names but theyâ€™re neither spellable nor pronouncable. Axel is my idea of a typical old sailor. Heâ€™s seen close to 70 years roll by, and I imagine heâ€™s been to sea most of them. Itâ€™s hard to mention a port he hasnâ€™t been to or a country he hasnâ€™t sailed under. He once spent some time in jail for smuggling Chinamen. Heâ€™s fairly tall and must weigh well on the high side of 200. Fat and lazy and set in his ways. But thatâ€™s not the whole picture. Lazy, yes, but when thereâ€™s work to be done heâ€™s right in there doing it. He doesnâ€™t waste motions or look for extra work, but he always does his shareâ€”and willingly. Heâ€™s completely adapted to the life of a ship. You never hear him grumbleâ€”never hear him suggest a change or improvement. In port he usually stays aboardâ€”and makes his overtime standing security watches. About once each trip heâ€™ll go ashore and get drunk. The boys say sometimes that â€œonceâ€ will last a week before someone brings him back. But his one excursion this trip was very harmless. Last trip (they say) he came aboard in Italy after his binge when the Second mate was standing by the gangway. Axel had gotten into some excitement uptown and his face was cut and both eyes black. He lumbered up to the Second and said: â€œIâ€™m one tough Swede. For sixteen dollars Iâ€™ll let you live!â€ History does not record the rest of the incident.
Paul, the other A.B. is a young ladâ€”about my age, but looks younger. Heâ€™s been sailing since a kid. He also is very accustomed to ship board life and makes no complaints. But in port itâ€™s a different story. I believe heâ€™s married and divorcedâ€”Iâ€™m not sure. Anyhow when he goes ashore itâ€™s â€œin search of beer and beautyâ€ but heâ€™ll settle for wine and women. Heâ€™ll come aboard weaving a bit with a big smile for everyone almost every night. And next morning he may not want to get up but by evening heâ€™s ready to start all over again. But thatâ€™s just in port. At sea heâ€™s a hard worker and knows his way around. And all in all while I wouldnâ€™t say he was a close friend, Iâ€™d say he (and Axel too) was one of the most unobjectionable people on the ship.
I believe I forgot to tell you about the fight the other night. I told about the one between Poncho and the Navy boy, didnâ€™t I? A few nights later Poncho and Chico, the Deck Engineer, got involved in one. As near as I can pick up the pieces it started over a card game. Poncho is always trying to get in the big game where $40 pots are not unknown with a mere 50 cents capital. Naturally some of the boys donâ€™t like it. I donâ€™t know just how it got started, but Chico chased Poncho down in the engine room and started to pound his head against the iron grating. And Poncho pulled a knife on him and gave him a cut across the end of his nose. Fortunately the affair was then broken up as the captain appeared with his revolver. He put the handcuffs on Poncho and led them both up to his stateroom. Just what happened there is unknown. Chico was heard to say, quite calmly, that the captain had better lock at least one of them up because he was going to kill Poncho if he got a chance. Ponchoâ€™s English usually becomes incoherent whenever his emotions are involved. He was probably swearing a blue streak in Spanish. But somehow matters were settled. Both appeared at breakfast the next day and itâ€™s now a week since and both are alive. Never a dull moment!
Iâ€™d better tell you about the 4â€“8 watch in this section, since if Iâ€™m to do them justice the censor might not pass it. First letâ€™s take Steve. Heâ€™s 21 years old, but seems much older in many ways. Heâ€™s grown a very full beard on the trip. When he works he works pretty hard, and he knows about all an AB should. But heâ€™s almost impossible to talk to. His idea of a conversation is to state a â€œfactâ€ and if anyone else ventures an opinion to restate the same fact louder and more forcibly. Itâ€™s absolutely impossible for me to imagine him beginning a statement with â€œI thinkâ€¦â€ or â€œit seems to meâ€¦â€ When it comes to the subject of sex heâ€™s actually insane. In the first place itâ€™s about all he talks about. And the experiences he relates make it difficult to believe heâ€™s only 21â€”he must have started when he was 8. When we hit port heâ€™ll go to a house if he has to, but heâ€™d rather go off with some 12 year old girl. Les went to Oran with him onceâ€”and only once. Every girl they passedâ€”from 10 to 40â€”Steve tried to make. Or to get Les to make for him, since Les speaks a little French. Once when they passed a woman nursing her baby (they do that on the street sometimes) Steve had to stop and walk back and forth ogling at her breast. Believe it or not, heâ€™s married. He convinced a girl she was pregnant by him, although it turned out later she wasnâ€™t. Why he got married, I donâ€™t know. His wife was in Norfolk while we were loading, and he spent about half his nights with her and half with another girl. And when we get back to the states heâ€™s planning to spy on his wife for a week to see if sheâ€™s being unfaithful to him before he tells her heâ€™s home.
Fortunately heâ€™s far from typical. Duke, the other AB may be almost as bad in some of his actions, but heâ€™s not nearly so revolting. His language is filled with anatomical references not found in books on medicine, but he does it more naturally. Duke seems to swear by instinctâ€”Steve takes a conscious morbid pleasure in it. Duke also is married. To a mere girl. The marriage was annulled by her parents but Duke and his wife refuse to recognize the fact. Itâ€™s very complicated. But Duke seems more run by his mother-in-law than by his wife. His conversation is made more interesting by frequent references to his â€œold man.â€ Whether the subject is women or ships or anything in between, Dukeâ€™s old man is an expert and an authority. Heâ€™d put Paul Bunyan to shame any day.
And last but not least on the 4â€“8 is Jack, the ordinary. Sleepy Jack is his monikerâ€”derived from the obvious. Weâ€™ve been to sea 10 weeks nowâ€”and he still doesnâ€™t remember to call the next watch. Usually itâ€™s because he lay down somewhere and went to sleep. His clothes are full of holes caused by cigarettes falling out of his hand when he goes to sleep. And heâ€™s not overly intelligent. This is his 3rd trip to sea, but I know more about a ship than he does. But in spite of it all heâ€™s quite a likable chap. Heâ€™s always willing to help or to stand a watch or anything. And heâ€™s strong as a horse. But the way he talks! Especially when he gets excited. The words tumble out so fast and confused that only a mind reader could tell what he was talking about.
And all three of them live in the same focsle!
Let me quote you what Holmes says about a cigar: â€œâ€¦that fusiform, spiral wound bundle of chopped atoms and miscellaneous incombustibles, the cigar, so called of the shopsâ€”which to â€˜drawâ€™ asks the suction power of a nursling infant Hercules, and to relish, the leathery palate of an old Silenus.â€ But in spite of what he says one of my pleasantest memories aboard ship is when right after supper on a not-too-hot day I can prop myself up in my bunk and light a cigar while I read a good book.
I am getting somewhat of a feeling for luxure. I believe it is â€œAdmirationâ€ cigars which advertise â€œgood to the last inchâ€ with clinical looking diagrams showing which inch is the last. I forget what kind the purser finally provided us with, but they are not Admirations. In fact there is a noticeable deterioration of flavor at the very end. At first, my penny-pinching soal made me suffer through to the very end although I did not enjoy the last bit and it partially spoiled the pleasure of the greater part which preceded. But now with a noble gesture (such as a king might use when he empties his drink and tosses the glass against the fire place) when I taste the first bitter flavor of the endâ€”away goes the butt.
Did you ever read Anthony Adverse? There is a passage in that somewhere (I believe itâ€™s when he first goes to America, but Iâ€™m not at all sure) about a cigar. I donâ€™t remember any of the words, but the spirit was the exact opposite of Mr. Holmesâ€™ quotation. I read it as a tender high school student, but I believe it was at that time that I made up my mind to give smoking a fair trial when I felt old enough. I wonder what Hervy Allen would think if I were to write and tell him!
I remember well the first time I smoked a pipe. (The very first time was when I was in 3rd grade and another boy and I crumpled a cigar into our bubble pipesâ€”I remember the incident, but not the effects.) It was towards the end of my freshman year at college. One evening I borrowed another fellowâ€™s pipe, smoked it twice, and decided I liked it. Next afternoon I went to Finlayâ€™sâ€”no, it was Erbaughâ€™sâ€”and bought myself a dollar and a half pipe and some Union Leader tobacco. Shortly after that came Memorial day, when I took a 6-day weekend and hitchhiked home. I remember that the first time I â€œcasuallyâ€ took out my pipe and started to puff it elicited very little reaction. At the time I was a bit disappointed, but I now realize the wisdom of my parents. By just taking it for granted they let me know that I was old enough to do as I wanted in the matterâ€”but it was nothing to be either proud or ashamed of.
That was when Dad still smoked. Iâ€™m glad he did. I think every parent should indulge naturally in a few vices. If a child sees his own parents do it with no sign of feeling guilty or proudâ€”but just doing it for the pleasure involvedâ€”he can much better adopt a similar attitude himself. And I think that such an attitude is very important whether one indulges or not. Of course when Dad gave up smoking later it contained valuable lessons too. In the first place the fact that he found it a bit difficult to give up was a warning to me never to let it get the best of me. And you know how I have tried, and I believe successfully to do that. And secondly it helped prove that my Dad could do something even if it was difficult.
But one more thought before I drop the subject. Whatever you do with my pipes, darling, donâ€™t drop them in salt water. I made the mistake of going swimming with my corncob in my pocket once. I thought nothing of it at the timeâ€”the pipe needed a good cleaning. But when I next smoked it, alas. The water had evaporated, but the saltâ€¦! There is nothing worse than the unwelcome taste of salt. Once, years ago, I put some in my coffee instead of sugar. I only took one swallow, but the sensation upset my digestion for days. And at one of the ports we were at here I had some beer that tasted strongly of saltâ€”it was a long time before even the best glass of beer would not bring back choking memories of the worst.
I have been spending a little time criticizing Sheepshead Bay. I think my major objection to it is in basic attitude. I believe, with all my heart, that the men who serve in the Merchant Marine are the most important part of the shipping industry. And yet they have no representation in the training program which is the Maritime Service. Now I donâ€™t know enough about the origin of the USMS to know how much of the blame for that lies where. Perhaps itâ€™s the unionâ€™s fault. I donâ€™t know. But thatâ€™s not the important thing.
The important thing is, that since the men are not represented in the USMS, the USMS should exist purely as a training school for the Merchant Marine. It does not have any right to try and change the structure of the Merchant Marine.
But that is exactly what is happening. The USMS is run more and more like a military establishment. And yet nothing is less military than the present-day Merchant Marine. In one respect it is. And that is in taking orders. When the captain or mate says to do something you do andâ€”and no questions asked. At the time. But although the captain has absolute authority on ship it is subject to many restrictions. The men have the laws of the U.S. and they have the union agreementâ€”and when the ship gets back to port the captain (and anyone else) is responsible to them, and must make good by them. And the union is not just a far distant authority which may be appealed to on cases of life and death. It is right there before the pay off and ready to argue any questions, big or small. Knowing that, both men and officers consider the union agreement as they go along, and it is necessary to arbitrate very few cases in port. But what training of that sort do the men have at Sheepshead Bay? Not a bit. There they take orders which change from day to day and against which there is no practical redress. And thereâ€™s the emphasis on marching and uniforms and salutes. They donâ€™t play any part at all in the Merchant Marine.
Iâ€™m not saying but what a good argument can be put up for making the Merchant Marine more military. But such an argument should be put up openly and accepted by the man as well as the companies. It should not be forced upon them surreptitiously.
So much for the basic attitude. Now for the specific material covered. The preliminary training is, on the whole, good. The main emphasis is on life-boats, and that is good, in war time. Most of the older sailors never had occasion to abandon ship in peace time and anyhow the job is best done if everyone knows it. Many sailors argue against all that life-boat stuffâ€”but I think itâ€™s well worth the time. And the other preliminary courses, while not inspired, are good: gunnery, first aid, ships terms, gas masks, fire equipment, etc. There should be more emphasis on practical application and less on theory. But thatâ€™s true of almost any course. There are few, if any, teachers alive today who donâ€™t spend too much time on theoretical stuff which is soon forgotten.
But with advanced deck training, Iâ€™d have more complaint. Rope work, steering trainer, cargo hatch, booms and riggingâ€”all good stuff. Itâ€™s used every day. But rules of the road, buoys, signaling, bridge equipment, etc., are not of any use to the ordinary or of little to the A.B. except in passing his exam. Now if I were going to organize a maritime training base Iâ€™d go about it like so:
Iâ€™d keep a preliminary training section about as is. Iâ€™d try to add more information as to the different jobs on ship and the whys and wherefores of each. And Iâ€™d keep the physical fitness courses, but Iâ€™d cut out the marching. But the basic change Iâ€™d make would be to run the entire thing by sea watches. Thereâ€™s one week of introductionâ€”Iâ€™d leave that alone. But for the three weeks of actual classroom work the men would be on watchâ€”probably staying on each watch for one week. Such a system would probably be impractical because of instructors. Theyâ€™d have to work at all different hours. But, after all, defense plants work 24 hours a dayâ€”why not a training station.
Another thingâ€”right from the beginning Iâ€™d encourage a planning of free time. Each man would be on 4 and off 8 twice a day. One of those 8-hour periods should be left for sleep. Of the other one 4 hours should be free time and all miscellaneous activities (shots, clothing issue, work details, etc.) come in the other 4. Thus the day might be as follows for the different watches:
A definite written agreement should be available to everyone which shows just what he must do. A form should be provided for keeping track of â€œovertimeâ€â€”i.e., all work done while not on watch. Some reward should be offered for overtimeâ€”possible the length of the graduation leave. Penalties for misconduct, etc., should take the form of overtime without credit.
Free time is a definite problem aboard ship. Some effort should be made to encourage the wise use of it. If possible numerous cultural classes should be offered on a voluntary basis, with overtime credit given for satisfactory work. Particularly such subjects as literature and art which can be enjoyed in solitude. Foreign languages would be very good. Armed Forces Institute courses should be available to Merchant Marine, and an introduction and explanation of them provided at this point. For those applying for special schools (and for others interested) math courses would be offered in this time.
Work week (or weeks) is probably necessary. As much as possible deck and engine men should have work similar to their departments, but since most of the work needed is in the mess hall it might be necessary to have them work there. This work would have to be done on a daily basis rather than by watches. And the work is a lot more than 8 hours a day. Thatâ€™s all rightâ€”there are days like that aboard ship. But again, overtime should be computed.
Advanced training should go back on watches. Now Iâ€™m qualified to talk only about the deck department. The hour of each 4-hour watch should be spent on the steering trainer. The trainer should be operated 24 hours a day, each man being relieved at the wheel as on ship. That leaves six hours a day for classes. Iâ€™d suggest one hour each of rope work, life-boats, physical training, cargo or boom work, and 2 hours classroom relating to the deck work. If this kept up for 8 weeks men would be better prepared for sea than they are now. Somewhere should be included lookout training and painting. The latter should probably be overtime during the miscellaneous period.
Then would come a stretch on the training ship. This would depend upon shipping needs for its duration. Then back to Sheepshead until shipping out. This time, if any, could be employed in the stuff given now such as signaling, rules, etc. Some classes in these subjects could be offered in the free time period of the regular training for those who were interested.
So that weekends were still observed, the â€œshipâ€ should be docked each Saturday morning and the men allowed to go on liberty when their Saturday morning watch was over and return for their Monday morning watch.
It would be a lot of work to plan out all of the details, and I donâ€™t expect any part of it to ever be put in practice. But it would do a better job of preparing men for sea-duty in the Merchant Marine than the present system does. And, anyhow, thinking about it is a pleasant way to while away the time on watch.
Here is another quote on the subject of cigars. This one from Somerset Maughm: â€œThere are few things better than a good Havana. When I was young and very poor and smoked a cigar only when somebody gave me one, I determined that if ever I had money I would smoke a cigar every dayâ€¦. This is the only resolution of my youth that I have kept. It is the only ambition I have achieved that has never been embittered by disillusionâ€¦that keeps its savor to the very end. But when you have taken the last pull and put down the shapeless stump and watched the final cloud of smoke dwindle blue in the surrounding air it is impossible, if you have a sensitive nature, not to feel a certain melancholy at the thought of all the labor, the care and pains that have goneâ€¦the complicated organization that have been required, to provide you with half an hourâ€™s delight. For this men have sweltered long years under tropical suns and ships have scoured the seven seas.â€
Interesting thoughtâ€”which applies to the enjoyment of any luxury. Or necessity too for that matter. Did you ever hear Holmesâ€™ remark: â€œGive us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with its necessaries?â€ Which has a great deal of truth in itâ€”at least to all of us who have never wanted for the necessities. I think that is the basis of it. We take the necessities so much for granted that our imaginations cannot grasp the loss of them. But luxuries come and go and thus are capable of being missed and desired.
I really need a 3-dimensional writing page. From each thought I think of several others, and as I can only follow one through at a time, my writing appears more jerky than my thinking. Conversation is the same way, only more so. In writing one person controls all the strings. It may be a hard choice, but at least it is his choice.
I remember once when I first ate dinner with Mother and Dad when they had company. I forget the topic of conversation, but I had some remark I thought pertinent. But before I could say it the conversation was on a different track. I leaned over to Mother and plaintively whispered to her to please bring it back.
See, there I go again. I meant to tell you, having drawn a quotation of his into my letter, that Iâ€™d read some more of Somerset Maughmâ€™s short stories. And they stink. At his best, there is none betterâ€”with the possible exception of Sake. But Maughm is so rarely at his best. None of the 6 stories in First Person Singular is worth the paper itâ€™s written on. My conclusion is as follows: I shall hurriedly pass over any books of his, but I shall turn avidly to any single story presented in a good anthology. Perhaps there should be a government agency which would read all stories and grade them, as they do meats. But then, taste in meats is so much more predictable than taste in books.
I read a pretty phrase in the Readerâ€™s Digest a while back. A soldier writing home to his wife, â€œThe watch you gave me is keeping perfect time. I am very annoyed with it. Doesnâ€™t it know it should hasten over every moment until we are together again?â€
For my watch, as for myself, time does not exist when you are far away. My watch is locked up in the captainâ€™s safe until you can once more persuade it that time does pass by. And my heart is locked up also until you can persuade it that life is worth living again. I can live anywhere with my body and my mind, but my heart lives only in you. The Sanskrit proverb about yesterday being but a dream and tomorrow but a vision, â€œlook well, therefore, to this dayâ€ does not take into account the separation of lovers for whom the present is but a pale distorted image and true reality is found only in the memories of the past and in the hopes of the future.
The pen, though mightier than the sword, is greatly inadequate to express the sentiments of the heart.
Iâ€™ve been on a writing spree. And about time, too. But Iâ€™ve finally found an almost ideal location. In the cab of one of the trucks on deck. Itâ€™s covered and so protected from the â€œheat of the midday sunâ€ but the sides are open and a breeze (but not a wind) usually plays through it. Iâ€™ve discovered a way to prop my folder up on the steering wheel, and the net result is inferior only to an actual chair and desk. I shall be sorry when we unload them.
We have left the coast of Africa and are now sailing north. The time draws closer, but Iâ€™m not afraid.
A bit of fun at the wheel last night. There was a 40 degree turn scheduled for 10:30. When a turn is being made the commodore ship blows his whistle to indicate the fact. But last night he didnâ€™t. About 10:35 we saw the commodore coming at us. Needless to say we made the turn in a hurry. The captain was saying numerous unprintable things about the commodore. The ship on the far side kept going straight ahead until after 11â€”when it was almost out of sight, it decided maybe it should turn also. But this morning all was serene. Each ship in its place and (I imagine) tempers cooled off a little.
Sunday, August 20, 1944
Well, here we are. At anchor 500 yards off the â€œAlpha, Yellowâ€ beach, 15 miles from Toulon. Just waiting, so far. Here are the highlights, such as they are, of the last 24 hours.
8:30 PMâ€”(while I was on wheel). Sighted floating object believed to be mine. Destroyer fired several bullets at it without exploding. We all gave it a wide berth and passed on.
11:00 PMâ€”Passed a couple of hospital ships brilliantly lighted.
8:00 AMâ€”Awoke to see coast of France ahead. We seemed to be at some sort of rendezvous for there were all sorts of cargo, tanker, hospital, transport, and war ships milling about. Low rumble that wasnâ€™t thunder in background. Clear day, but a low haze cut down visibility.
10:00 AMâ€”(me at wheel again) Coming into Alpha harbour. Lots of maneuvering at wheel which was fun. No docks visible on beach. Most ships were anchored in the streamâ€”a few were secured to the wharf by their stern. Third mate observed and made prize remark of campaign: â€œThatâ€™s a hell of a way to make an invasionâ€”ass end to!â€
11:30 AMâ€”Dropped anchor. And how! Ship still had headway. Almost all of anchor chain was out before it could be controlled. A few feet more and weâ€™d have lost it.
12:15 PMâ€”Raised anchor, moved to new position, dropped anchor.
12:45 PMâ€”First alert. Lasted about 5 minutes. No action visible from ship.
1:00 PMâ€”Raised anchor, moved to new position, dropped anchor.
2:00 PMâ€”Second alert. Air battle visible over hills through glasses, but I had no glasses. Again lasted only 5 minutes.
Which brings me alive and well to the present instant.
Iâ€™ve had plenty of sleep on this trip. We didnâ€™t work overtime all week, and I got a 2- or 3-hour nap in most every day, in addition to my regular 7Â½ hours at night. We did work yesterday getting the booms ready to unload, but that was all. Itâ€™s probably just as well, too. Because I understand we have to unload her ourselvesâ€”which means plenty work. And our nightâ€™s sleep will probably not be too sound if alerts keep coming at this rate.
Tuesday, August 22, 1944
Two more days and Iâ€™m still alive. And will continue to be so if events continue as they have. We had a couple of alerts each evening and I understand there was one Sunday night, although I slept right through it. But none of them amounted to anything. Just an unrecognized plane of our own or at worst a German reconnaissance plane. Sometimes we could see gun flashes over the hillâ€”sometimes not.
Hereâ€™s the way an alert works. The shore batteries and warships in the harbour spot an unrecognized plane with radar and run up a flag or blinker signal. The navy lookout on our ship (and I imagine on the other ships in the harbour!) sees the signal and rings our general alarmâ€”one long and a couple of shorts. Then those who have gun stations grab their life jackets and helmets and race to their guns, while the rest of [us] similarly equip ourselves and stand somewhere thatâ€™s outside but protected, ready to run to their fire or boat stations if it should become necessary. I usually stand in the companionway outside our focsle. We donâ€™t all have helmets but there were a few on the ship. Bill and Les have some old ones from the last warâ€”Bill looks something like Sergeant York. Mine is a modern one painted white with a red cross on topâ€”to make me a better target I guess! I feel kind of silly with it on, but if something should land near by it might mean the difference between a sore head and a fractured skull, so I dutifully wear it.
Iâ€™ve changed a lot from the pacifist I was a couple of years ago. I still would have difficulty in taking a human life as such, but I can do a pretty good job forgetting the human element. Last night we saw a reconnaissance plane and could see the shore batteries firing at it, and my only feeling was of excitement and hoping theyâ€™d hit it. But though shots went all around it, it escaped unharmed. I was quite disappointed. Not just because it may have taken pictures that were valuable to the enemy, either. Our side was firing at itâ€”and I was rooting for our side the same way I used to root for the Dodgers. Most perplexingâ€”my own reaction, I mean.
I think itâ€™s the distance that makes it so. If the plane were close enough to see the pilot it would be different. But when itâ€™s so far away itâ€™s just a targetâ€”and targets were made to be hit.
Well, enough battle news. Now for our unloading. Monday morning we piddled around. A barge came alongside but we didnâ€™t have any slings. So it went away. Weâ€™d ordered slings from shore, but things were a bit confused and we didnâ€™t seem to stand much chance of getting them. So we went to work and made a couple.
About 3:30 another barge came along and we started work. Or rather â€œtheyâ€ did, since watches arenâ€™t broken for O.S.s and they had enough men without me. By supper time they had a barge load of trucks, and after supper (I worked then, since it was overtime for everybody) we loaded two more. Then about 8 a bunch of army stevedores came aboard and took over. Itâ€™s now 8PM Tuesday and almost all the trucks are gone. I understand weâ€™re going to move to another part of the beach to unload the rest of our cargo, so weâ€™ll probably shift ship sometime at night.
We got an official citation from the army for turning to and unloading priority cargo before the labor battalion showed up. Not that we deserved it, since we got paid plenty for it and it wasnâ€™t very hard work. But it still made me feel kind of goodâ€”although most of the crew said theyâ€™d rather have a glass of beer!
On gangway watch last night I was really kept busy. First I had to get out and plug in two cluster lights for each of the five holds. And then there were barges going and coming all night long whose lines had to be taken aboard or cast off. I really worked, for a change. It was 11:30 before I even had enough time to get a snack to eat.
Wednesday, August 23, 1944
Weâ€™re now at â€œRedâ€ beach in the same harbour. We unloaded all our vehicles at Yellow beach yesterday afternoon, but we didnâ€™t move here until this morning. And we didnâ€™t start unloading until about noon. The army is, apparently, just as lazy as the Merchant Marine, if not more so. It was obvious, even to my inexperienced eye, that there was about 2 hourâ€™s work setting booms and moving dunnage before we could start unloading. But from 8 to 10 they just sat around waiting for the ducks to come along, and when one finally did, then they started to get ready, with the result that the duck went away and, as I said, actual operations started about noon.
â€œDuckâ€ by the way, is not, in this connection, the feathered swimming object which undoubtedly comes first to your mind. It is the unofficial name for those combination land and sea trucks which we saw so many of on our trip. And they really do work.
One will drive right down the beach and into the water. At which point it becomes a boat and comes chugging out alongside the ship. A slingful of cargo is hoisted over the side of the ship and down into the duck. The operation is repeated until the duck has a full loadâ€”usually only two slingfuls. Then slings, cargo, and all are driven off, up on the beach, and on to the proper destination. Of course, where there are docking facilities it is even simpler to unload into a lane truck or railroad car, but where there are no docksâ€”as is customary during an invasionâ€”they really save a terrific amount of time.
The system of handling the vehicles was just as good. They were all loaded originally with full gas tanks. They are taken ashore in these LCT’s, which look like a barge with an engine and quarters at the stern and a ramp which lets down at the bow. They drive right up on the beach and let down their bow, and then the trucks drive off under their own power. Itâ€™s all very interesting and amazing.
Last night was very quiet. Not a single alert. And today has been uneventful except for an occasional land mine going off ashore. At least I assume theyâ€™re land mines and not German long-range artillery, since theyâ€™re few and far between.
I havenâ€™t had a chance to mail my last letter yet, but I filled at least as many pages as will go in a single envelope so I shall start anew. I have finally made myself a writing board out of a thick, smooth piece of cardboard. And the resulting product encouraged me to take pen in hand. Also I have found various sport on deck where I can get desired quantities of shade and breeze. And when weâ€™re in port I go up on the flying bridge to write, since itâ€™s not otherwise used. So from now on you should hear from me in the neighborhood of a blue (Parkerâ€™s â€œQuinkâ€) streak. That is assuming that I have any brilliant ideas which justify the expenditure of time, energy, paper, ink, and stamps. For after all, it would hardly be consistent with the governmentâ€™s conservation program if I were to expend all the above-listed commodities merely to tell you how much I love you. For a sentimental sailor to tell his wonderful wife that sheâ€™s the most beautiful woman in the world, while itâ€™s a perfectly true fact in the present instant, is not, nonetheless, generally considered to be vital to the war effort. When time, energy, etc., are all desperately needed to bring the war to a successful termination who can justify my using vast quantities to tell you that I think of you every day and dream of you every night? What would Mr. Morgenthau say if he knew that instead of buying his war bonds I bought postage stamps to send you letters telling you that knowing youâ€™re waiting for me at home mitigates my miseries and heightens my happinesses? What would the boy scouts think when they so valiantly collect scrap paper to know that I spend paper in telling my wife that to list […] adjectives of what she is and means to me would be to compile an augmented Thesaurus? And so, alas, I must think of the boy scouts and not write to you that youâ€™re sweet and pretty and adorable and beautiful and exciting and cute and wonderful andâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦And so, alas I must think of Mr. Morgenthau and not tell you that if I did not think of you I would spend my time deep in the slough of despond. And so, alas, I must bring the war to a successful termination and not tell you that your image is constantly in my mind. So, alas, I must aid the war effort by not telling you that youâ€™re the most wonderful wife in the whole wide world. And so, alas, I must help conservation by not telling you how much I love you. That is, I shouldnâ€™t. But there comes a time in every manâ€™s life when he says phooey on conservation, to blazes with the war effort, twiddle-twaddle with terminations, a murrain on Morgenthau, and bosh to the boy scoutsâ€”I will tell my wife that she is the entire difference between living and existing, that no cloud is so dark she cannot make it silver and no joy so great she cannot make it greater. But please donâ€™t tell that cute fat scout master in the Saturday Evening Post I wrote you that days are just a time for waiting and nights are good only for sleep until I am with you again. Iâ€™d hate to think of him looking over his glasses and muttering, â€œTch, tch. After all the work we spend collecting scrap paper he used up reams of paper telling his wife sheâ€™s the most beautiful babe in Brooklyn and the hottest hugger at Hunter. And she doesnâ€™t even turn the letters into our scrap drive so that we can see how spicy they get!â€
Friday, August 25, 1944
I am again situated in a cool shady spot on the ship, but with the weather weâ€™ve been having itâ€™s hard to find. We can only mention the weather in general termsâ€”but general or specific, itâ€™s hot!
Remember that talk we had with Dad about honesty? And the justification of it as being something inside youâ€”call it conscience or peace of mind or what-have-you. It really cleared my mind a great deal, and I have been a happier and more honest person since then.
There are very few persons aboard ship, however, who feel the same way I do. Almost every one, for instance, smuggled sheets ashore and sold them. I admit it was quite a temptation. It was very easy to do and they brought $5 in Italy and $15 a piece in Oran. Leaving the smuggling part of it aside (one can put up a fair argument in favor of smuggling on a small scale) itâ€™s still out and out robbery to take shipâ€™s sheets and sell them for oneâ€™s own profit.
And the other day I was really disgusted. We had several bags of soldiersâ€™ equipment in our cargo containing clothes, gas masks, and emergency rations. Some of the crew got wind of it, and appropriated what they wanted. To me, robbery of the government, especially in war time is about as low as you can go. I hate to think of the money I put in war bonds going that way.
Some fellows took a whole bag, which was bad enough. But some just took out what they wanted and then put the bag back, which comes under the heading of sabotage, since those bags may go right to the front and be missing some vital article which is counted on.
Itâ€™s not as though they needed the stuff, either. Thereâ€™s not a merchant-seaman aboard that will have a gross pay off of less than a thousand dollars by the time we get backâ€”and while the Navy wonâ€™t realize as much theyâ€™ll none of them starve.
The thing is, those boys donâ€™t consider it stealing. They consider it perfectly natural and justified to take anything they can get away with from the company or the government, but I doubt if thereâ€™s one of them that would open your locker and take your watch. Even Bill, who is one of the few who feel as I do says, â€œWait until you go into businessâ€”youâ€™ll lose some of your ideals.â€ I sure hope not. But it makes it pretty hard to be an idealist when all your friends feel so much differently about life. As I said I was plenty disgusted at the time, but thereâ€™s no percentage being disgusted with oneâ€™s shipmates. I have to live with them too long. Câ€™est la vie!
Of course another thing that makes honesty difficult is the scarcity of good examples. I imagine most of the officers do the same sort of petty pilfering to pick up an extra hundred dollars. Some may do it on a large scale. Itâ€™s pretty common knowledge that the purser sent home several thousand dollars worth of money orders from Oranâ€”and a purser doesnâ€™t make an awful lot more than I do.
Itâ€™s a funny thing how people work. No one likes the purser. Heâ€™s very un-obliging and begrudges the 2 hours a week he has to spend opening the slop chest, although thatâ€™s about the only work he does all week at sea. Heâ€™s got a big belly and small legs and looks as though heâ€™d sat on his rear end all his life. Anyone would be horrified if you suggested they were like the purser. And yet they use his actions as an excuse for their own transgressions!
Iâ€™ve been doing an incredible amount of reading recently. A great deal has been mysteries, which I wonâ€™t bother you with a list of. Except that I did read A.A. Milneâ€™s The Red House Mystery which is very delightful. I think we have it at Roslyn, but Iâ€™m not sure.
Inspired by The Robe, (which I hope youâ€™ve read by now) I jumped into the New Testament of the Bible. And Iâ€™m quite disappointed. The account of Jesus in The Robe moved me almost to tears, but the Bible itself is just words. Itâ€™s interesting only because itâ€™s well known. Some sections, such as the Sermon on the Mount are beautiful, but even there much of my interest is a cynical comparison with present day morals. And itâ€™s fun to compare the different gospels.
But most of it is so dry. The Old Testament concept of God playing with his (I refuse to capitalize!) puppets, demanding implicit faith and obedience, but being so all powerful that he can dispose of them with any rhyme or reason he cares to. Jesus seems so smug, in the Bible. I am the son of God and I know it and youâ€™d better do as I say or youâ€™ll be condemned to hell-fire. And then thereâ€™s a succession of miraclesâ€”just a bare account and about as interesting as a list of the officers in the Pelopensian Wars!
But Douglas does it so much more skillfully. And the amazing thing is heâ€™s not telling a factual history. The miracles and the resurrection are all there and accepted as possible facts. But itâ€™s all humanized. Jesus becomes an ordinary mortal with the spirit of God in him. He has a deep insight into the nature of things. But you still feel that, at least until the resurrection, heâ€™s a human being and not a god. Even if you accept the miracles.
I think the difference is that The Robe is focused on a non-believer, while the Bible is put forth in a dogmatic believe-it-or-else fashion. Marcellus doesnâ€™t want to believe these things. They are utterly foreign to his nature. And in the process of convincing him the dry account becomes alive. The miracles are no longer a dull listâ€”they become things that happen to real charactersâ€”people you can feel you know. And not only the bare fact of the miracle, but its effect on the personâ€”and on his friends.
Now donâ€™t misunderstand me. Iâ€™m not trying to abolish the Bible in favor of this book of American fiction. If Douglas hadnâ€™t had the event and quotations to draw from the Bible, his work could not have been nearly as beautiful nor convincing. But itâ€™s almost like the difference between a calendar and a diary. Or between an angular skeleton and a beautifully rounded woman. (Like yourself, Thea).
Another good book is Antoine de St. Exuperyâ€™s Night Flight. If nothing else it is a beautiful piece of prose. The descriptions of both events and thoughts shows a masterful command of languageâ€”even after translation.
There is an interesting presentation of the purpose of life in it. The concept of duty as being the prime purpose. Just what this duty is or where it comes from isnâ€™t clear. It seems to be the duty of man to conquer nature. The particular involved in conquering it by air, of course. But a simple story is put in to show the point:
A group of people are building a bridge which will short cut the distance to town. In the process of building it one of the builders is badly injured and his face mutilated for life. The question is, is there a single person involved who would not rather take the long way around than to suffer his neighborâ€™s face to be mutilated?
Put that simply itâ€™s a hard question to answer. Immediately one would say it wasnâ€™t worth it, but has not every construction had similar accidents? You canâ€™t deny this bridge without denying all bridgesâ€”and all roads and houses and everything. I think the answer lies in alternatives. Instead of building the bridge what else might the man have been doing. Fundamentally he might have been sitting home on his rear, or out doing something else equally as dangerous as the bridge. Disregarding the obvious fact that if everyone had sat home on his rear since the beginning of civilization (and I think that fact can be disregarded; the problem is one of the present and futureâ€”not of the past; if we decide at any time that we have gone far enough in material gains we have that right) there would at present be no civilization, I donâ€™t believe that man can individually be happy doing nothing with his body. However, I do not agree that individually man should feel a sense of duty to do those things. Each man should choose for himself the extent to which he wishes to gamble his life for the advancement of mankind.
In fact, to my mind, the material aspect of mankind is already advanced far beyond its other aspects. I donâ€™t like the word â€œduty,â€ but I do sort of feel that everyone should try to make this world a little better place to live in. But â€œbetterâ€ can be interpreted in many different ways. The great need is not for bigger bridges and aeroplanes but for a more satisfactory method of living together. In trying to bring that about a man may not risk his life to any appreciable extent, butâ€”rather I should say he need not risk his death; his life may be risked, if you see my point.
The third literary selection in todayâ€™s program is The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter T. Clark. It was laying around the foclse for a long time and I let it lay, because from its blurbs it looked like a better-than-average westernâ€”and I donâ€™t go for westerns. But itâ€™s far more than that. Itâ€™s the story of a lynching. And more, the story of menâ€™s reactions to the lynching, before, during, and after.
The entire story takes place within a day and a half. From the suspect crime to the eventual discovery of the victimâ€™s innocence. The characters are very skillfully done. The Reverend Osgood and the fat, pompous Judge Tyler, whose arguments on behalf of moderation are so much fuel for excess, because of the ineffectiveness of the arguers. The colored man Sparks, is very sympathetic and well doneâ€”far different from Bones in The Kansan. Daviesâ€”whom I would consider the main characterâ€”his perception of justice and his mixture of strength and weakness. Tetley and his sonâ€”the father a typical well-to-do, hard Westerner, and his son a horrible misfit in the tough society of Nevada in 1870. Art, the narrator, typical of the mobâ€”sensing that it isnâ€™t right, but not having the courage to ally himself with the other side. Itâ€™s a story well worth reading. My life hasnâ€™t been all reading. Thereâ€™s always things to do aboard ship. But so much of it I donâ€™t know if I can write about. And I donâ€™t want, anymore than necessary, to write whole pages and have the censor leave them out. Iâ€™ll have a better idea next trip of what I can tell you and what I canâ€™t.
Saturday, August 26, 1944
I am in a mood of contentment. I have worked and swum and worked up an appetite. I have satisfied said appetite and have reclined on my bunk enjoying the fragrant fumes of a cigar and the relaxation of a good book. And now I am in vicarious communion with the girl I love.
Let me tell you about the swim. There was a strong current so that actual swimming was not feasible. First time I clambered down a line at the bow and drifted lazily back to the ladder amidships. Then we had the great idea. From the outswung life-boats we dropped a line about 15 feet long. Then we would grab hold of the end of said line and swing forth. Filly loo, filly loo. After a few swings we drop to the water some 25 feet below. It was wonderful. Some of the boys tried dives and flips, but I just dropped. Then a long climb up the unsteady shipâ€™s ladder, and repeat. Filly loo, to feel yourself swinging out in great arcs with nothing below but the unbelievable clear water and then to let go and feel yourself encompassed by its cool buoyancy. My hands have blisters and my muscles are tired, but I am happy.
I have a growing sense of self sufficiency. My homemade shorts had reached a point where if a few more threads had parted they would have been kilts. But with my trusty needle and thread I repaired them. It may not be symmetrical, but it holds together and thatâ€™s the important thing. I still havenâ€™t tried to darn socks yet. Which has been unnecessary for the simple reason that I hardly ever wear them. My usual costume consists of the above mentioned shorts and the previously described sandals. Which has the very desirable effect of almost no laundry and I take a shower every day anyhow. You see why I like a warm outdoor existence!
If I never see a barrage balloon again it will be too soon. As you doubtless know most ships in war zones have a small balloon flying from one of their masts to discourage enemy aircraft from flying low. Well, the other day, in port, I had enough to do with one to last me quite a while. About 8:30 in the morning our balloon got too chummy with one from the next ship. The solution was to heave in the cable and keep our balloon closer to home. And we had to act rapidly enough to prevent them from tangling their cables. So we heaved away in a hurry, piling the cable where it fell. Since the cable was very greasy I somewhat resembled a zebra where it accidentally rubbed against my manly chest. We just left the cable there and piled some boards atop it.
But when they started operating the winch it became obvious that something must be done with the mass of tangled cable. So we spent about an hour straightening it out and coiling it on a cleat. Have you ever tried to straighten out a snarled ball of yarn or string? Imagine the same thing only stiff with a mind of its own, and greasy. After that bout I resembled more a black zebra with a few clean spots where it missed.
All was quiet until evening. About 10 PM we noticed a balloon dipping about beside our ship, obviously short of gas. We assumed without thinking that it belonged to another ship and wondered why they did nothing about it. It wasnâ€™t until the third mate came on watch about quarter to twelve that he observed the sad truth that it was our balloon.
Again time was important as the balloon was almost in the sea. So we started to pull it in and eventually due to the wind, we caught hold of the drag line from the balloon itself at the other end of the ship. So we pulled and heaved, with the aid of a boat hook and eventually the balloon came to roost on top of a mast table. It was right next to an outdoor kitchen on deck, and while we werenâ€™t sure the gas was inflammable it behooved us to take no chances, so we deflated it. First, after much difficulty, we opened the regular exit valve. Since that end of the balloon was down and the gas was lighter than air it was necessary to apply pressure. First we heaved a line over the top and pulled it. Then I managed to climb a ways up a shroud and come down atop the balloon. In the process the balloon was punctured and the gas game out more readily! It was a strange feeling. The balloon was full enough to hold me up, but soft enough so I sank almost out of sight. But at long last the inflating process was completed. And we still had the cable to straighten out! Finally at 1 AM I staggered into bed.
As I went on watch next evening I said with relief, â€œThere is no balloon.â€ But how mistaken I was. For no sooner had I said it than a tug pulled alongside with a replacement. So we had to get that up. It wasnâ€™t too big a job, since the balloon was fully inflated, but it helped pass away almost an hour.
And still I wasnâ€™t through. For next morning I had to help dump the deflated carcass of balloon number one over the side of a waiting boat.
As I said, if I never see a barrage balloon again, it will be too soon!
Stories you are to remind me to tell:
The statue in Central Park
The upside down newspaper
The 40-mile march
The Jewish yard-bird
The parrot and the magician
Iâ€™ll probably have forgotten them by the time I get back, but Iâ€™ll try not to. I have to think of something to make me laugh when youâ€™re far away. Oops! That doesnâ€™t sound so good, does it. But you know what I mean, darling.
Tuesday, August 29, 1944
Well, weâ€™re almost back to Oran and Iâ€™m still alive. In fact our invasion was most tame. The nearest thing to action was the reconnaissance plane mentioned beforeâ€”and after that we didnâ€™t even have an alert. Most disappointing, thank goodness. We pull into Oran again sometime tomorrow. After thatâ€¦? Weâ€™ll probably reload and go back to Toulon or Marseilles, but thereâ€™s always the hope that weâ€™ll head back to U.S.
We have a couple of casualties aboard, however. Tex has a bad cold or bronchitis or something. Which means that Les and I have to do a bit more work on our watch. Not but what weâ€™re glad to do it. Tex stood almost the whole watch for both of us one night when we were under the weather.
The bosun is worse off. He fell against a winch last week and broke one of his ribs. So he is flat on his back for some time to come. Weâ€™re all helping to look after him. Heâ€™ll go to the hospital at Oran, of course, but hopes to be able to rejoin the ship. We had a doctor aboard from one of the destroyers yesterday to look at him.
Alone, alone, so very much alone
A sailor on his watch throughout the night:
The moon on highâ€”a crescent soon to fadeâ€”
The stars, these little twinkling points of light;
Black shapes, denoting other lonely ship,
The day, the seaâ€”all things heâ€™s never known;
All things eternalâ€”nothing in this lifeâ€”
Thatâ€™s why the sailor is alone, alone.
Have you ever read The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler? Iâ€™ve just started it, and find it thoroughly delightful. There are no belly-laughs in it, but almost every page is worth a chuckle or two in its delicate satire:
â€œTo parents who wish to lead a quiet life I would say: Tell your children that they are very naughtyâ€”much naughtier than most children. Point to the young people of some acquaintances as models of perfection and impress your own children with a deep sense of their own inferiority. You carry so many more guns than they do that they cannot fight you. This is called moral influence and will enable you to bounce them as much as you pleaseâ€¦â€ And so on. And thatâ€™s just a sample. Itâ€™s available in Pocket Book and would be a worthy addition to our library, I believe.
My pen doesnâ€™t seem to flow as fluently today. And itâ€™s not because I am unhappy. Iâ€™ve been thinking a lot about you and how wonderful it will be when I get home again. And that makes me happy. But somehow I canâ€™t find words to put that feeling down on paper, and my mind is too full of it to write about anything else. Perhaps I shall be more inspired later on. Until then, I love you very dearlyâ€”