On January 3, 1957, Escort Squadron Three, less the USS Currier (DE 700) departed for six months tour in the Western Pacific (WESPAC). As always, the ship made a brief stopover in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to take on fuel and ammunition, arriving there sometime around the 9th.
Please keep in mind as you read this and the following pages, that with about 213 men aboard the Spangler, totalling both officers and enlisted personnel, recollections of events and circumstances from the cruise could vary appreciably depending on the story teller.
The somber mood on seeing the California coastline fading in the distance was likely shared by every member of the crew, but probably none more so than the older guys, or by their wives and families as they watched the Spangler slowly slip out of sight. Six-months away was a long time! Phil Moris said it best in the article he wrote for the Spangler News:
The date 3 Jan 1957 was probably routine for the most people in San Diego as the city enjoyed its morning siesta, but to nearly 700 men, their wives, families, and sweethearts this was not just another routing day, this was the day "Destroyer Escort Squadron Three" departed for the Western Pacific. As the wives, children and sweethearts lingered on the pier, they tried desperately to hold back tears as they clung to those last few parting moments and as you watched you somehow felt like a spy stealing a parting scene meant only for those involved. Suddenly the shrill sound of the ship's whistle reached into the sky and dre3w the curtain on a scene that has been repeated many many times before. The ships pulled out one by one as the Navy Band played "Anchors Aweigh." Once again the pier was empty and appeared as if nothing had ever happened but to the Navy Wife this emptiness meant the beginning of another "Long Long Wait."
Not have this experience have you ever wondered how long 6-months must seem to this Gallant Lady? One can only imagine it. It must often seem like eternity and yet faithfully she continues her long vigil, If it is any compensation she can be proud in knowing that their's is a challenge few women are chosen to make. Like her predecessors who braved the frontier to help her husband brave the hardships of a new kind of life of the wild frontier.
Often you might ask yourself as you see them waiting at the piers and boat landings "what is the ingredients God has put into the characteristics to make this Special King of Woman?" Who is willing to except service connected disappointments? Whatever the answer we their husbands, and country are truly grateful, knowing that she does exist. She is the kind of woman who for many years must sometimes count her worldly possessions in so many often unpacked suitcases. Unlike most woman she must often assume the role of husband, wife, mechanic and many other odd jobs not normally performed by her sex.
And so the cycle is repeated time after time until finally the years pass and the "Long Long Wait" soon comes to an end. Now she can visualize the once empty branches on the tree of sacrifice now bears the fruit of a job well done and she is glad she waited. As she and her husband leave the landing arm in arm for the last time, you our country's citizens know the land we love so dearly had been in good hands for many years. To this unsung hero, your country and we your husbands salute you "Mrs. Navy Wife" for young or old you are truly our greatest soldier!
by Phil Moris GM2, USS Spangler DE-696 Bulldog News, Jan. 1957
We arrived in Pearl Harbor on the 10th and had the opportunity for a little liberty before heading on out to sea again. Some of the guys went into Honolulu, some took in Waikiki Beach and came back burned, and some guys simply lounged around the ship and possibly made a visit to the "Beer Garden" on the Navy Base.
That was the fun part, what was less desireable was what we had to do when it came time to depart. First we had to stop at the W. Loch Naval Magazine to take on ammunition. If you've ever been there you will never forget it! Most of us hated going there and hated what had to be done as much as anything we ever had to do on the Spangler. The W. Loch is one eerie place!
In getting there, the ship had to move inland up an embayment similar to large river channel. Hulks from ships of different sizes line the banks, either from being bombed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or from being blown up while being loaded with ammunition and fuel. Moving through there was reminiscent of navgating through a graveyard!
Trucks transported ammunition to the ship, but a long chain of us sailors using our hands and arms brought it aboard, one shell casing at a time. We stood in two long, single lines a couple of feet apart, facing each other but offset so that a sailor in one line faced the open gap between two sailors in the opposite line. Each sailor took turns cradling a shell casing in their arms and then passing it along the line to the guy diagonally opposite him, who did the same to the guy adjacent to him.
Needless to say, most of us didn't like being there! The sight of those partially sunk ship hulls protruding from the water or partially on the banks put us on edge. And maybe it was meant to do exactly that. It damn well made us extra careful! For sure, none of us was going to drop one of those shells!
We entered the Domain of The Golden Dragon on January 15th. This is when we crossed the 180th Meridian, the International Date Line. Other than an announcement over the loud speaker, and later being presented with a certificate of this grand achievement, little else was sigificant about the event other than the cheer and clapping throughout the ship and huge smiles on the faces of the older crew members. Yes! These were the same older guys with the long faces for the first few days after leaving San Diego.
Albert Arsenault, we called him Art for short, was the senior petty officer in the Quartermaster Group and a horrid person to live and work with from the moment we left the docks in San Diego until the announcement of the 180th Meridian came over the loud speaker. The smile across his face at that moment was a sight to behold. He suddenly became a fun person to be around, a pleasant guy to work for. ... that is, until we crossed the 180th in the opposite direction 6 months later.
So why the change? Well, you have to understand that when leaving San Diego a lot of the crew, especially the older guys, leave behind their loved ones, wives, children, sweethearts and parents. And knowing that they wouldn't see them again for six months is tough to accept and it became tougher with each trip across the Pacific (Phil Moris covered that part of it very well in his writeup). Entering the Domain of the Golden Dragon offered a release to all the tension thats built over the past week and a half in arrving there. It represents the point of no-return! And all of the laughter and jokes that comes along with it helps the crew to finally accept the inevitable.
Okay, so maybe the "real" reasons are a little different! As instance, how about the "traditional belief" that when sailors enter into the Domain of the Golden Dragon they become unsconstrained from those minor hold-backs, like marriages, engagements, parental demands and all that weighty stuff. In other words they are given a temporary six-months relief to do whatever they wish with whomever, whenever ..so long as they don't violate the Commander's regulations, upset the local Shore Patrol or fall into the grasp of police in whatever country they might be visiting. In other words they are now free to visit the bars, clubs and brothels in Japan and other joys of wonderful Western Pacific countries without guilt of concious.
Psychologically another factor might have came into play: many of these were young men thousands of miles from home, subject to no parental restraints, not knowing what tomorrow would hold, whether we would be involved in another world war, or if the ship might sink in a storm, so they took on a care-free, damn the torpedos attitude. Life was to be enjoyed and they meant to enjoy it to it's fullest, every opportunity they got.
Sailing on southwest the Spangler dropped anchor on the January 18th in the lagoon at the Army Kwajalein Atoll, a part of the Marshall Island chain of 34 islands just north of the equator. What an amazing sight! It was certainly one of the more fascinating the crew would see during the six-month cruise. The wreckage of Japanese war ships dotted the lagoon everywhere. The Atoll had served as a large Japanese naval base during the war and came under heavy attack from American war ships, resulting in the loss of about eighteen Japanese ships. Parts of many of them could still be seen protruding out of the water. After the Atoll’s recapture, it became an American base and staging area for the remainder of the war. We remained there long enough for mail call and the crew to wonder along the beach and enjoy the serinity of the island. Water in the lagoon was beautiful blue and clear enough to see several feet below the surface. We envied the few servicemen stationed there and except for the fact they were isolated for months on end, yet many of us would have switched places with them in a blink.
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