When a recruit company finished training, they had a company picture taken. The photo shop was by the CPO Mess (the present commissary). It was a concession working under the Navy Exchange. This is where I first met Eunice. Mr. Waterman, the owner, introduced us. I had about 10 dates with Eunice and we eloped to Yuma, AZ to get married on May 1, 1942. I borrowed another chief’s car but on the way out an old-time Chief Quarter-master spotted a bottle of booze in the back, which was forbidden on base. I had to see the commanding officer. Fortunately, his name was Kelly. I told him the circumstances and he let me off to go pick up Eunice and head for Yuma. When we got to the border, the Army wasn’t going to let me into Arizona as a number of servicemen had been deserting. After much explanation and having his sergeant go along to see, we checked into a hotel. However, I had to report at 6AM the next morning! We stayed at the San Carlos Hotel, had civil wedding at Gretna Green’s. When we arrived back, we rented the upstairs apartment at corner of Cohasset and Ocean Front.
A week later, I got orders to report to Annapolis for 50 days officer training and commissioned as an ensign in the Ton Hamilton Naval Aviation Cadet physical training program. A good number of us original “Tunneyfishers” went to that program. I sent for Eunice and she flew, arriving about when I finished the 30 day wonder program. Eunice stayed at Mrs. Ellison’s home just outside the gate at Annapolis. Mrs. Ellison was the widow of the first Naval Aviator, Lt. Ellison. They had a daughter who really use to boss the midshipman around when they were invited to the Ellison home for tea. Tommy came down. He was a boatswain mate third class the Coast Guard, operating a patrol boat in lower bay of NYC.
We went to NYC and stayed at my parents place on 45th Avenue, as I had some delay before having to report to Naval Air Training Facility at Lake Ponchatrain, just outside New Orleans. It was hot and miserable there. I was in charge of physical and military training of cadets going through basic flight training. When we first arrived at New Orleans, thanks to my father’s connections, we stayed at the Roosevelt for a few days until we found a small house on Lapeyrouse St. It had giant cockroaches, especially in the basement. At the waterfront restaurants on the lake, we would purchase a giant platter of shrimp for a $1.00. You would have to peal the shrimp, and make your own sauce from a large selection of supplied condiments. While at New Orleans, I was ordered to Naval Hospital at Pensacola for treatment of cystitis. A Navy nurse inserted a catheter in my pecker so they could work on the cystitis. While I was at the air facility, the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox came down to look into the reason why so many cadets washed out of flight training. Apparently, it turned out that the regular Navy flight instructors were telling the cadets they were muscle-bound and would never learn to fly. Knox cleaned house and got in new instructors. The reason for the intensive physical program was the fact that our flyers didn’t have much stamina to survive in a jungle, or afloat at sea for any length of time.
I got itchy to go to sea; I felt I wasn’t doing my part in the war effort. I applied for sea duty, and I got orders in October to report to the Gulf Sea Frontier Headquarters in Miami for further orders. Before I went there, I had to go to the Naval Hospital at Pensacola as I had cystitis. HQ ordered me to an YP that patrolled along the Florida coast from Fort Lauderdale up to Stuart Inlet, back and forth looking for U-boats. It had some depth charges and a 20mm gun. I got real seasick on the first patrol.
Eunice and I had a small apartment in what use to be Thomas’ Cottages. There were several other military couples living there, one was Ralph and Gretchen Underzuper. He was a Coast Artillery Captain and had the battery guarding the entrance to Port Everglades. The Sea Train ships operated from there taking near a 100 freight train cars to Havana and back. Later in ’43, these ships were used to carry the tanks that saved the British in their battle in the deserts against Rommel in North Africa. The ships under heavy escort ran the gauntlet in the Mediterranean to reach Suez.
The Navy Section Base from which my YP operated was in Port Everglades just opposite the Sea Train piers. Eunice use to see the YP go by once in awhile when she was on the beach. Our place was only a block in from the beach. Everyone used rationing books during the war. I still have one, however with all the stamps gone. I had my mother and Ellen down for a month or so during the winter. Should mention here that when Eunice and I first went to NYC to stay at my folks home (place upstairs was empty at time) my mother had all the O’Connell relatives over for dinner to give Eunice the once over. She made it with flying colors. She got along real well with my parents and learned a lot from my mother over the years we were in that area.
The base needed someone to take charge of a 60′ Alden schooner that was to be used for coast patrol. I volunteered as I had some sail experience from my younger days. It was named “KIKI”. My crew was a seaman and fireman first class and myself. We went on 5 day patrols. I had to teach them how to handle sails, work the voice radio, etc. It was tiring duty as the few times I could grab a catnap I would be called for something or other. When a good northerly blew down the Florida Straits, I would hole up in the lee of a breakwater, by harbors along the coast. Nothing exciting occurred except avoiding tankers running independently.
After a few months of that, I got orders to take a 50′ crash boat down to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean. We picked it up in Miami, joined a small convoy escorted by a Canadian sub chaser. I had to go in at LaFe on the western tip of Cuba and get fuel from a base we had there. They gave me aviation gas, which apparently was too much for the engine I had. We ran into the tail end of a hurricane. The engine quit, and the sub chaser took us in tow. Seas were mountainous, and we ran before the seas. The strain was too much, as we would surge a few hundred feet on the tow hawser then fetch up. It finally caused the stem of the crash boat to pull away along with the Sampson post and we began to take on water. All that night my 2-man crew and I bailed water trying to stay afloat. By dawn, we were pooped, and the boat sank. The crewmembers were not good swimmers, so I tied us all together to prevent separation. After two to three hours in the water, a small freighter rescued us. The convoy lost its position, as we had been socked in for a few days. They radioed Grand Cayman, which sent out a PBY that located us the next day, and gave us a steer to the island. It was a British possession, which we got the use of under the Lend-Lease program when Roosevelt gave them 50 WW l destroyers for our use of some of their islands to set up anti-submarine patrol bases. I can remember the swarms of mosquitoes on that island!
I flew back to Key West in a PBY and got Navy transportation up to Miami. I received orders to take charge of a 125′ wooden trading schooner the ICAROS. It had a 12-man crew, plus two ensigns besides me. We carried 200 tons of cargo; spare plane engines, ammunition, and high-octane aviation gas in drums, spare parts and chow for the outlying bases in the Bahamas and Caribbean waters. The ICAROS drew 16 feet when loaded.
Just before the ICAROS orders, I was sent on temporary duty on a 70′ ketch out of Port Everglades. The Navy had many ocean going auxiliary sailboats, some were 125′ “Bluenose Schooner” types. We use to leave Port Everglades, six boats on average, bend on every inch of sale and race across Florida Straits to Great Isaac Light House, where we anchored inside the reef for the night. We would have a great gathering there. Next morning we all went our separate ways on assigned patrols, covering various passages and islands of the Bahamas looking for subs and to see if Germans were caching supplies on any of the islands, as a great number of them were uninhabited.-
After several runs, each of about 10 days duration, to bases in the Bahamas, Caribbean area, (Neuvitas, Gaybarien both east of Havana on the Old Bahama Passage), and the Isle of Pines off the south coast, I recommended that the ICAROS be surveyed, as there was extensive rot in timbers and planking. In addition, in a seaway the masts would show a 5-degree angle between them, looking from aft. This was due to ship yawing in heavy seas. In addition, when we hit head seas, the masts would whip forward quit a bit. The Navy inspected the ship and agreed. Later on my mother sent me a clipping, which I have in my scrapbook, wherein the ICAROS that, after being sold to a Caribbean trading company, foundered in a hurricane, ran aground and lost several crew.
The ICAROS history is unique. Built in l867 in Greece as a Mediterranean packet, and then sold to the Germans who used it as a pilot vessel in the North Sea. At outbreak of WW I it became a training vessel for the German Navy. After the war, it ended up back in Greece as a packet. The Great Depression caused it to be laid up in the port of Piraeus. In 1939, the General Manager of General Motors, Mr. Sorenson, purchased it. He hired an American crew to go over and sail it back to Miami. While fitting out for the trans-Atlantic crossing at Gibraltar, the engineer sold the big diesel engine. He jumped ship while the Captain, probably drunk, was ashore. A gasoline engine, Chrysler marine type was installed, but due to high RPM, it had to have a six to one reduction gear installed. They finally arrived in Miami, went to a boat yard and had it converted into a yacht at great expense. It took a year to convert the boat from a brig to a topsail schooner rig. Old man Sorenson only used it a few times before Pearl Harbor occurred. The Navy requisitioned it, tore out most of the yacht’s accommodations, painted over mahogany paneling, and converted it into a packet. The Navy gave Sorenson about $25,000 for it. He claimed he had put $250,000 into it!
The ICAROS loaded out of Miami. When we got to sea, I let the crew wear shorts. We had no radar, but sending a man aloft, while the weather was clear, to the spreaders some 70′ high, did just as well. I use to sit up there myself and could go hand over hand along balk stays between the masts, and slide down halyards. One very interesting base was located at Caibarien, a small coastal city just to the west of the head of the causeway and halfway down the coast from Havana. It was a sugar mill port. The bay was triangular with the outer reef some 15 miles from the port. The mouth was also about 15 miles wide. On the reef was an old concrete tanker from WWI, grounded purposely by the Cubans to store molasses in. (The mosquitoes were terrible due to the molasses. You needed netting everywhere). Our Navy restored the superstructure on the stern on a deal with the Cubans. The Navy leased the after half of the ship and used it to berth floatplane squadron personnel. The floatplanes moored naturally to leeward of the tanker. They patrolled the Bahama Passage.
We had an ammo barge and a fuel barge moored inside the reef in the lee of the tanker. There was a passage through the reef to allow the ICAROS, drawing l6′, to get through and moor on the lee side of the tanker. The aviation personnel would always unload the steaks and ice cream and have a feast, plus a beer party. The next day they would get the important cargo off like ammo, spare engines, parts, etc. They were a motley looking outfit. Some of them had been there a year or more.
We went ashore one time to a dance in the town. The Cubans were very Spanish in their customs. The rumba was the big dance at the time. Whole families were there, Grandparents, children etc, all of them doing the rumba! To ask a girl to dance was considered the equivalent of a marriage proposal! I did learn to rumba. I got a kick out of custom in town square, boys walked around in one direction, girls in opposite to look each other over. The chaperones were there in force to make sure everyone kept moving!
On the run back to Miami, I would cut across Cay Sal Bank and anchor in the lee of one of the islands fringing the bank. We would go ashore and have a cook out and a few beers. On the run south from Miami, I would head across the Straits and enter the Bahama Banks near Gun Cay. I then would head SE across 190 miles of banks where you always saw the bottom but never any land! A little eerie at night with a moon and clouds giving the water ahead different shades, making you think you were going to run aground! Actually, the water was about 4 fathoms on average but one never knew. At the south end of the run, you had to feel your way off the bank by putting a boat over to go ahead and sound for a way to get out into the Old Bahama Passage.
After the survey of the ICAROS (YAG-16), I received orders to take over the YAG 20, a twin-screw diesel powered houseboat type yacht, 120′ in length. It had been converts like the ICAROS to carry cargo to the island bases. I made runs to Great Exuma in the eastern Bahamas, Walker Cay in northern Bahamas, Nassau, Grand Cayman and Neuvitas on the north coast of Cuba east of Havana. During this period, a truck strike jeopardized the Key West Naval Base. I was pulled off the Bahamas/Caribbean runs to haul cargo from Miami to Key West, made three runs a week for two weeks. The Navy was not going to let the truckers blackmail them. The truckers capitulated and I got back to my regular runs. We used Hawk Channel on the run south to Key West, which is just inside the fringing reefs along the straits. We ran night and day. I drew 10′ with the YAG 20 and many times, we were smelling bottom from the way she handled. On the run north we went outside the reefs and rode the Gulf Stream north, picking up a few knots speed over the bottom.
We had a great Motor Machinist Mate about 45 years old, a reserve. He owned a fleet of sport fishing boats at Palm Beach, but volunteered for service. He kept our diesels running like fine watches. There was a Radioman 2/c, who I am certain stole $100 from our mess fund. I had accidentally left the cash box in my cabin went on deck for something and later discovered the money missing. He was in the best position to have done it. Could not prove it, but had him transferred. I had to make up the $100 loss from the mess fund! That was near a month’s pay in those days.
On return runs with empty holds, I let the crew troll for mackerel and kingfish, which they sold at the Miami docks for 25cents per lb. They always had several hundred lbs of fish. I had two Lt’s aboard plus an ensign and myself. I was Lt (jg.) then. I was an Ensign when I had the ICAROS. We had one particularly rough crossing of the Florida Straits with a 60-knot wind from the north bucking the Gulf Stream. We rolled on beams ends. We picked up radio transmissions from a group of DE’s that were trying to figure out where they were. Everyone in my pilothouse was seasick had an old-time boatswain who tossed his cookies. I had enough worries as where the DE’s were and unescorted tankers all running without lights due to wartime. Sure was glad to pick up the radio towers behind Miami!
to be continued…