Pacific Islands

(February 1, 1957 - March 28 , 1957)

By Wayne Dorough & A Few Shipmates

On leaving Auckland we headed north, past Australia, past the Solomon Island, New Guinea and New Ireland and continued on to Manus Island. Why Manus, I don’t have the slightest idea other than we had some small Navy facility there. The damn Island sits almost smack dab on the equator and hotter than heck day and night.

But at least the evenings offered a little reprieve and a beautiful sky, clear enough it seemed to almost see the entire universe. At times we could also see the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) with its the rippling curtain of ghostly green light. It was a beautiful sight late at night.

Standing by the guardrail in the dark of the night, looking out to sea, made it difficult not to think about the girls at home and the ones left behind in New Zealand. It was depressing enough when I wrote my final letter to my newly found New Zealand girlfriend a couple of days earlier, but standing there thinking about that and the seven letters I received from my stateside girlfriend in the final mail call before leaving New Zealand made looking forward to the next five months seem like an eternity.

It was nearly impossible to write while at sea, what with duty details of four hours on and four hours off. And it was certainly impossible to do much of anything below deck in the sleeping quarters because the lights had to be off so that the guys could get their sleep in between duty details

A small signal shack attached to the back of the Pilot House solved that problem to a limited extent! It was a signalman's private haven, a virtual paradise! Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little! But only a wee-bit! It wasn’t much, just a little 4x4 room, but big enough for a couple of guys to stand in when the weather was bad or a place to study signal books and occasionally get a letter written. In all likelihood it was constructed as an afterthought after the ship was built. I mention it here because it had a light bulb (always red at night) and a wall electric socket.

That little electric socket is what made the place so special! Besides enabling us a place to make coffee it also made it possible for us to use a hotplate. I don’t know how or when the hotplate came about, it was there before I arrived and I’m sure it wasn’t regulation and probably wasn't supposed to be there, but it was.

We made some of the best, fried cheese sandwiches late at night one could imagine. A half stick of sizzling butter for french-frying two slices of bread with cheese in between, heated until the cheese melted and the toast was golden brown -- was a pure delight; Nothing tastier!

Being in the signal gang gave us something the cooks wanted and they had something we wanted. So we made sure we stayed good friends with those folks! We wanted coffee, bread, cheese and butter. They wanted messages sent to friends on other ships. Those late night cheese sandwiches and the fact that us signalman had access to the ship's only sewing machine made us good friends with a lot of folks aboard.

I wonder how many uniforms I tailored aboard the Spangler? The guys liked bell-bottom trousers and tight jerseys so the sewing machine came in handy! Just about everyone aboard ship had something someone else wanted, so we were always bartering something.

February 5, 2005 - In my letter to my girlfriend that evening (who later became my wife and has put up with me over all these years), I wrote, "Gee, but it's hot here! I never thought it possible anywhere in the world to get this hot. But what gets me is there are hotter days to come and we were still a day or two from the equator). I said Joe Mitchell was at it again, "he wants to go over and get plastered while we're at Manus Island. And we're going to be there overnight. Frankly I doubt we will go over and have one beer much less get drunk. But the thought of a few cool beers does help a little in this heat..."

I added, "One of the ships steaming along with us lost steering control this afternoon and almost ran into us. Damn near caused me to have a heart attack. Ha! Yep, if she would have come a few yards closer, I think this old ship's number would have been up."

As scheduled we made our overnight stop at Manus Island and Joe got his beer. In fact we all drank more than our fair share. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I remember so little about Manus. About all I can recall for sure is going back to the ship. As a Quartermaster/ Signalman my delightful task while ashore that night was to signal the ship when it was time for the ship’s boat to come pick us up. By then I could barely see the ship much less send an intelligent signal, but somehow or another I managed to get a message across Because someone aboard ship "guessed" what I was trying to do and sent the boat after us. The guys in the photo below on the left are (l to r) are: Moore, Kuntz, Obarski, Archey, Johnson, and Lalicker. Andin the photo on the second photo is Joe Mitchell, sitting with cap on back of head, and Lalicker on far left with open shirt, Kuntz and Obarski next to the SP.

Feb. 10, 1957 - The Spangler arrived at Guam where she spent six weeks, not in port much but in conducting a surveillance of the Bonin, Eastern Caroline and Marianas Islands including four days retrieving weather balloons launched from Guam. We no sooner arrived in Guam and we had to head out again . Of the twenty islands in the Bonin and Caroline Islands group, only ten have any appreciable size. Some were nothing more than large volcanic mountain outcroppings, Nearly all of the islands, however, were large enough to hide a fishing boat in one embayment or another. The Spangler's responsibility was to circle each island looking for Japanese fishing boats operating within restricted waters. We were told that the Japanese had used fishing boats under guise to gain a foothold on the islands before the war and the U.S. was not about to permit that to happen again. So this practice was prohibited following the war until the islands were released from American Administration back to the Japanese in 1968.

ChiChi was the largest of the Bonin Islands. We had a lot of fun over that one! Chichi is slang for breast in Japanese. The older salts on the ship told us that the Japanese sent young ladies to be trained in the Geisha art of satisfying men. And of course they embellished on this a slight bit. I wrote my girlfriend jokingly saying how pretty Japanese women were on Chichi Jima Island and that they had been sent there to be educated the ways of manors and love. But I added she need not worry, we were only going to stop for about 2-hours. Mostly what I recall from seeing Chichi, was not pretty women, but high bluffs areas with massive numbers of tunnel openings used by the Japan for gun emplacements.

We didn't come across a lot of fishing boats in restricted areas, but did find a few. When we did we pointed out five-inchers in their direction and escorted them to Guam or someplace where they could be taken into custody.

Some where along the trip (I keep thinking it was someplace near New Guina, since the islanders were so dark in complexion), we stopped for a few hours to refuel at a British or Australian fuel depot. This gave most of the crew an opportunity to leave the ship for a while and wonder around in a nearby village. The islanders weren't just dark complexioned, they were "black!" When they learned our ship was coming into port they hurded all their younger women and children into the hills until we departed. So the only folks we got to see were the men, some really older women and teenage boys. The sailors at the depot said that's the way it always is, the islanders had a taboo against oputsiders seeing their women and children.

Again, for us guys on the Spangler it was another cultural experience. We had read about people living in grass huts and people that once were headhunters, but this was our first time to see their environment. The teenage boys could shimmy up a coconut tree faster than we could run on flat ground. They liked to do it to show off and we liked the coconuts!

We were still heading north on the 4th, so while standing watch and feeling a little lonely I wrote Pat and said, "This is one of those nights when a guy would give anything to be with his girl instead of just sitting here trying to find the words to tell some special girl just how much he really misses her. On this signal watch that I'm standing now, from 8 o'clock to midnight, things get pretty quite. About all there is to do is write you a letter or just sit and think. ..I've always heard the old saying 'Absences makes the heart grow fonder?' Well, if that's true I should be one really sick boy by the time we get to the states. Because I'm really getting a good start at it now!"

I added that "it is so hot there that I was about to suffocate. At least when we get into port I can always go swimming to cool off. I continued on to say that the other day six of us had to land on one of the islands in a rubber life raft. That was some fun! Tthe darn raft almost sank twice because of waves tossing it about. The reason we went to the Island was to check on the islander's living conditions, health and etc." These are small inhabited islands in which the only means of transportation there is by small boat, in our case a rubber life raft. & I don't recall how many islands the Spangler visited like that one but there were several. Most of them, in addition to the islanders, had a small missionary settlement.

Art Arsenault, our senior Quartermaster, typically went on these trip to provide visual communication but yielded and permitted me this time to in his place. The small boat crew would normally consist of a boatsman to operate the outboard motor, the ship's Chaplain, a medic, one or two of the officers, and likely someone out of our Mechanics Division or Radio group in case some equipment on the Island needed repairing.

On the day I made my visit, we were forced to climb out of the life raft about a hundred yards from the beach and wade in the remainder of the way, struggling past some coral reef, fighting the surf and tugging or carrying the boat. The Chief on the Island and a Missionary Priest greeted us as we stepped ashore. And within a few minutes we were treated with coconuts drinks, just coconuts with the tops removed so that we could drink the juice. That was a nice!

Gee, but did those Islanders ever give us a going over. They would stand there staring at you without blinking for what seemed like an eternity! I tried out-staring one, but I didn't do so well. The islander women were nude from the waist up, so us young guys did some staring ourselves or glancing, anyway. we didn't want to be rude, but for me it was a whole new cultural experience.

March 22, 1957- The Spangler was relieved from Island Surveillance by the USS Wilson DE-414 on the 21st. We were finally on our way to Japan, departing the following morning. All any of us could think about, I'm sure, was how nice it was going to be get away from that hot weather for a changer. We still had 1532 mile to go, so it would be two or more days before we could get to some cooler air. The letter I dropped in the ship's mailbox the following day (the 23rd) after getting underway was date-stamped the 30th, giving a good indicator of how long it took to get a letter mailed when we were at sea.

I joked in it that it would probably be so darn cold in Japan, that I'd wind up wishing I was back in Guam. I added that we were suppose to be in Japan, in one port or another for about eleven days then head south to the Philippine Island. Said "I sure wish this darn tin can would stay in one place for a little while!" Said I was curious to see if Yokosuka had changed any, but frankly I doubted it and doubted it ever would. "Because all there have there is beer, whiskey and wild, wild women...So I guess the ships crew will really have a ball. In fact I know they will. Because, remember, I've been there before.

March 24, 1957 - My letter on the 24th (this one didn’t get date stamped until April 2nd) mentioned that I was just sitting there not doing much of anything other than wondering if this ship would ever get into port. "Guess you have either saw it in the paper or heard about it over the radio about this plane that crashed off the coast of Japan Thursday afternoon...We're one of the ships searching for survivors. So far, no luck, except that some of the other ships found two life rafts, two life jackets and about thirty minutes ago, one of the ships found a pillow from the plane which was still dry on the inside...Frankly I don't think we're going to have any chance of finding any one, Because the sea sure is rough outside, the waves are about 35 feet high, and the wind is around 30 to 40 miles per hour." I said there were 67 passengers on the plane, most women and kids, so guessed we would be searching two or more days until all hope is given up.

I added, "Yep, this little tin can is sure rocking and rolling today, last night we were taking 30 degree rolls. If we keep that up, it won't be two long before we’ll be walking around on the ceiling instead of the floor (deck)."

Why would a ships galley serve "chili" on a stormy day? I would love for someone to explain that one to me! Of all the times to serve chili, in the middle of a storm certainly shouldn’t be one of them! We had chili everywhere; on the tables, on the deck, on the ceiling. That’s right! Chili was dripping off the ceiling! Our tables had aluminum edges that extended around the full length of the table, but at the ends were raised about ¾-inch to keep food from sliding off when the ship rolled. Well, on a couple of those 30-degree rolls a few bowls of chili slid down the table, hit the edge, went flying to the wall and exploded like a bomb, sprayed chili all over the place including the ceiling. Then as the ship rolled in the opposite direction, the chili clung to and moved along the ceiling in the direction of the roll. What a mess!

I have one final story to tell before leaving this Islands trip. I'm not sure exactly when or where it took place but it was at one of those small islands in the Bonin or Eastern Caroline Islands group.

Joe Mitchell had been bugging me for days that we should go ashore on our next stop and get plastered (I'll leave him anonymous for the moment, but he'll know who he is and some of his other buddies will know too. And, of course he will say it was the other way around on who was bugging whom). Anyway, the ship, after a week of four on and four off duty-details finally pulls into this bay of a small island and anchors. There wasn't much there other than a small Seabee station. Those of the crew not on duty were given a few hours ashore. Likely none of us had much money since we had been at sea so long and not paid recently, so we were a little short on cash and definitely short on time.

We made our way over to the EM Club (little more than a quonset hut), walk up to the bar and, with a quirky grin on our face, commence in telling the bartender that "we don't have much money; we don't have much time; but we won't to get plastered!" He said, "I've got just the thing!" Then he rattled off some weird drink name and began to mix this concoction. We asked what it was and he said, "It's a double shot of IW Harper sitting in a screwdriver. Make sure down both at the same time to get the full effect!" We paid him, grinned at each, then swallowed the drinks in one big gulp!

The next thing I know I'm waking up in the after-steering room, with grease from the bolt imprints on the back of my white jersey from the hatch leading to the next lower level. I was sore as heck and had a terrific headache! And...I was totally confused on where I was or how I got there. If the hatch was open and I stepped into it, or if I climbed down part way and fell, I'll never know.

I climb the ladder up to the top deck and headed forward to the Operations Division sleeping compartment. As I reached the stairwell to the bridge area I see my buddy coming down. The right, topside of his head was wrapped in bandages. I asked, "What the hell happened to you?" He said, "I don't know!" I responded, "What do you mean you don't knw! He came back with "I don't have the slightest idea!"

We learned later from Gene Lund that I had passed out in the EM Club and that my friend fell flat of his face in the latrine, slid across the floor and cut his head on an exposed floor bolt holding a toilet in place.

Gene claims it was he that took Joe to the hospital and back aboard ship and was half drunk himself while doing it.

Joe by the way, still has a scar down the left side of his forehead, and that's 50-years later!

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