- A BRIEF MEMOIR -
-David Rodney Rehmeyer-
In school year 1939 war was obviously imminent-a buddy and I checked and the U.S. Navy was recruiting warm bodies. We accepted their offer. I was ordered to the USS Wichita in November 1940 and thence to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, for a concentrated indoctrination and courses of instruction, commissioned Ensign, USNR, and ordered to Cape May, NJ. My best buddy, Dusty Rhoades (from Tarkio, MO) and I spent the summer serving aboard the USS Eagle 56 and a division of converted wooden hull minesweepers. German U-boats, surface navy and Luftwaffe were damaging British naval units, which were coming to the U.S. shipyard in Philadelphia (and other yards) for repairs. The Cape May effort was to clear the approaches to Delaware Bay (and Philadelphia) of contact, acoustic, and magnetic mines laid by U-boats offshore.
1944 continued uneventfully. We had a memorable summer of 1941-Cape May, the beach, Sommers Point. September 1941-summer crowds gone, war rumbles seem closer-marriage set for February 1942. Pearl Harbor-if I'm to be there it'll have to be before February…like January! Bud and Louise Wilton had that first Saturday in January scheduled for their wedding, so make ours Monday the 5th-my birthday was the 6th…such a lovely birthday present! Then, along with 22 other shiny Ensigns, I'd been ordered to Brooklyn Armory, 52nd Street & 1st Avenue, awaiting orders to armed guard duty aboard U.S. Flag merchant ships.
We may have been in our Brooklyn apartment two or three days when my orders arrived sending me to New Orleans for further assignment to a merchant ship loading there, bound for ports somewhere. My friend Bob Laughton, my new bride, and I departed Washington National Airport and arrived New Orleans on January 17, 1942.
Bob Laughton and I reported for duty. The officer in charge told us there were two ships loading and asked which one of us wanted duty in which ship. With absolutely no basis for a choice-we flipped a coin-Bob won and chose the Edward L. Doheny. I got the other one-SS Nishmaha. Doheny, Bob's choice, turned out to be a tanker carrying crude oil up the East Coast to a New Jersey refinery. At that time, German U-boats were sitting on the Continental Shelf torpedoing ships at night silhouetted against lights on shore. When I got back to the U.S., I learned that Bob's ship had been torpedoed and sunk-he had a nervous breakdown. So much for winning the coin toss!
Meanwhile, the Nishmaha and I and my gun crew tootled on down through the Caribbean and south Atlantic, steaming along at ten knots hoping we wouldn't be spotted by German raiders or U-boats. We weren't-or anyway, if they did spot us, they probably thought we weren't worth a torpedo. Then a brief stop at Trinidad to top off fuel tanks and get the latest information on locations of German activity in the south Atlantic. Interesting tidbit…Almost 200 miles offshore, the effluence of the mighty Amazon River visibly muddied the otherwise azure South Atlantic water. Very striking phenomenon.
In any case, after thirty days at sea, a landfall at Capetown. What a magnificent sight-Table Mountain and then the bustling harbor and the very cosmopolitan city itself. The people we met were quite cordial-lots of Brits there-seeming delighted we were finally in the war. We discharged cargo, then headed up the east coast to Port Elizabeth, Beira, and Larenco Marques and another Portuguese port whose name I've forgotten. Portuguese ports forbade wearing U.S. uniforms ashore.
A ships crew seaman complained of abdominal pain and high fever. Nishmaha's captain, a first mate and I counseled on the matter and agreed it most likely was appendicitis, which required medical attention ASAP. So we broke radio silence to arrange entry at Mozambique, our nearest port, to put the man ashore for treatment and care.
Departing there, we proceeded around the Cape of Good Hope and north along the west coast of South Africa to a port named Swakupmund at Walvis Bay. This territory was formerly a German colony, rich in deposits of manganese ore, a critical element in processing iron ore into steel. A rinkydink railroad brought the ore from the mines in the interior and we were almost a week loading. The Brits simply took over the colony at the beginning of hostilities in Europe and ran things as they pleased. The name Walvis Bay (in German) means whalefish bay-a lingering reminder of the whaling industry. Locals told us the bay was a regular breeding spot for whales and ashore were the plants for rendering the blubber into oil for lubricants, lamps and other uses.
A couple weeks out of Swakupmund we were approached by (I think) the USS San Juan-our newest and best anti-aircraft cruiser. She fairly bristled with twin 5-inch 38 caliber AA guns, lots of 40MM quad mounts, and many 20MM singles. They were on patrol searching for U-boats and raiders. How we wished they would stay with us to the Chesapeake Bay-but 'twas not to be. We watched them disappear over the horizon, and we had another couple of weeks of solitude to landfall at Virginia capes.
About 4:00 a.m. of the day we made landfall at Hampton Roads, I was on the wing of the bridge talking with the third mate, who was officer of the deck. The night was totally dark-no moon, plenty of stars, sea glassy calm. All of a sudden there were phosphorescent streaks in the water heading straight for the bow of Nishmaha. Panicsville! The brain said-all the way to South Africa and back and now we're gonna get it…practically in sight of land. But wait…simma down, folks…nothing but a gaggle of porpoises enjoying themselves!
I think we spent about a week in Baltimore while stevedores shoveled manganese ore into buckets, off-loaded onto freight cars for delivery to steel mills ashore. We rented a room on St. Paul Street, near Fred and Jean Mays. Fred was a classmate and good friend from midshipman school. His ship just happened to have arrived in Baltimore at the same time. Of course, brother George and Marie were living in Baltimore, so it was a happy homecoming. Of yes-almost forgot to mention-my bride came to Baltimore-how could I have forgotten!
Nishmaha was ordered to New York and other destinations. We were routed up the Chesapeake, through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal (a really neat trip), down the Delaware Bay to Cape May and thence to New York Harbor, making that run in daylight because U-boats were quite busy knocking off our ships that had to make that leg at night. We were relieved and happy to have a blimp and aircraft patrolling overhead.
Checked into armed guard receiving station (52nd St. & First Ave., Brooklyn), relieved of command of armed guard unit aboard SS Nishmaha and reassigned as C.O. of armed guard unit aboard SS Exchange, a brand new C-3 freighter, 10,000 tons displacement (I think), brand new turbine power plant with cruising speed 20+ knots. That cruising speed virtually eliminated fear of U-boats, whose surface speed was about 15 knots, submerged about 8-10 knots. Alleluia! Done died and gone to heaven!
By this time, August '42, we (U.S.) were running convoys of troops and war materials to U.K. (England). Convoys consisted of a hundred or more merchant ships flying U.S., British and other free world nations' flags with overall top speed of about 8-10 knots. So, with zigzagging and the speed of the slowest of the slow, an advance of 200 miles per day was about the best a convoy could do. Shepherding and protecting these outrageously cumbersome, yet frightfully essential groups of burdened bottoms, fell to the U.S. Navy for the first half of the crossing and the British Navy for the final half. Scout planes and bombers accompanied convoys as far out as possible from both ends. The German Navy had built and trained their U-boat fleet into an awesome force and systematically decimated our convoys to the point that there was great uncertainty as to whether we would ever be able to get enough men and equipment into theater to mount not only defense but, more important, offense against the Axis.
S.S. Exchange, loaded to the plimsoll with spare parts, food and other critical items, dispatched to Liverpool, U.K., traveling singly, at best sustainable speed, armed with two 3"-50 dual purpose guns, one on the bow, the other on the stern, and four 50 caliber machine guns mounted on the bridge deck…zigzagging during daylight hours and straight course at night.
Easy trip…good weather, beautiful ship, Liverpool a shambles. Light bombing at night-none in daylight. Got a lift to an RAF airfield out in the countryside. Got close up to Spitfires and better than that-about an hour flight in a Beaufighter, which is (was) a twin engine night fighter. The pilot flew us down over Blackpool (U.K.'s Atlantic City), then out over the Channel and back. What a way to fight a war!
Back to U.S. was uneventful. The ship was tender, or empty; meant we rode high out of the water and suffered lots of rock and roll. But weather was fine and we were homeward bound.
Back in New York, we loaded a complete B-25 squadron machine/repair shop with spare parts and (I think) 15 B-25's. (B-25's were the type bombers Jimmy Doolittle and his guys flew.) The planes (fuselages) were deck loaded all wrapped in airtight and waterproof wrappings. Wings and other stuff were in the cargo holds along with forty thousand cases of beer! Ruperts (of Brooklyn), as I recall.
Destination-Ishmelia, a village near the midpoint of the Suez Canal. The B-25 outfit was stationed there as Rommel and forces were knocking on the door at Alexandria. Somewhat touch and go. I was able to catch a ride-along in a B-25 out over the desert. What an airplane!
Before the Suez, we made a courtesy call in Aden, Arabia. It's at the entrance to the Red Sea. The captain and I called at the U.S. Embassy while the ship took on fuel. Side note-The Naval Attaché was a Lt.JG named Jim Poole. He wore whites uniform with shorts…vedy British, y'know. Later, when we commissioned the Spangler, DE696, Jim reported aboard as my assistant gunnery officer. Jim was from some town in Texas. (Aden, you recall, was the port where our destroyer Cole was bombed in the late 1990's. I don't recall the name of the country now-then it was Arabia.)
Homeward bound, we called in Capetown, one of my favorite cities, and loaded cargo for U.S. I don't remember what. Anyway, we received an "all ships" notice-German raiders (merchant ships equipped with heavy armament) were on the loose and prowl in the South Atlantic and we were to be routed around Cape Horn-through the Straits of Magellan, and up the west coast of South America.
Westward ho-we went. Into the harbor of Punta Arenas, South America's southernmost city. Weather was atrocious, so we anchored and went ashore-courtesy call. We were "shook up" by a Liberty ship (one mass produced by Kaiser and other shipyards) lying in the harbor, beached, with a broken back. She had attempted to run the Strait and the seas were so bad her back broke and the crew was able to keep her afloat long enough to get back into the harbor and run her up on the beach and abandon her.
Our trip through the Straits was not one likely to be taken by choice. We were taking green water over the bow and the forward gun tub. A couple of hours out of Punta the ready-service locker on the forward gun platform broke loose and was smashing and rolling around the mount. The ready locker held 100 rounds of 3"-50 caliber ammo. If one unstable round detonated from the pounding, the other 99 would sympathy detonate. Captain Jacobsen reduced speed to just hold our head into the wind and seas. I had to go forward and up into the gun tub and throw, one by one, the ammo over the side. Then, with a rising bow, threw over the locker itself. I could not send one of my guys forward to do that.
A couple hours later, we broke out of the Straits into open Pacific and heaved great sighs of relief. We cranked on turns to 21 knots and motored on up the west coast of South America. In proper time, arrived at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. Your geography will show that the Pacific to Atlantic side of the canal actually runs East to West. We transited the Canal-very interesting-but no problems. Through the Gulf of Mexico, around the friendly straits of Florida and up the coast to New York.
Unloaded cargo, then took on new cargo destined for U.K., port of Liverpool. Weather was good; we cruised alone at 21 knots and six days later tied up to the devastated dock in Liverpool. What a mess! The Germans did a job on the city. We were blacked out at night-the air raids were relatively light. Guess the Bosche knew we were there and didn't like their damn bombings!
Anyway, back to New York…running alone feeling pretty good, especially when, about 200 miles out from New York, we welcomed B-24's on patrol looking for U-boats. Nice feeling…night and day.
Hot damn! So long merchant ships…back to Navy. Orders to SCTC (Sub Chaser Training Center), Miami. ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) training for a new class of sub fighters-DE (Destroyer Escort)-smaller than line destroyers but equipped with current ASW detection and sinking subs.
Followed here a series of schools, practices, and hands-on training for ASW duty in USS Spangler, DE696. Plank owner commissioning and fitting out business in New Orleans. Climaxing all that, we steamed down the Mississippi through the heart of New Orleans on New Year's Eve 1943. What a bummer.
USS Spangler reported for shakedown in Bermuda. Lots of practice exercises working with friendly subs and B-26-towed targets for anti-aircraft target practice. Finally pronounced fit and ready for combat duty in the southwest Pacific, we made a high speed run (at 21 knots) from Bermuda to Boston. The Boston Navy Yard gave us an availability to fine tune our engines and power plant and our ordnance, three 3"-50 caliber main battery, our triple torpedo tubes, our 1.1 caliber quad mount anti-aircraft guns, and 20mm pea shooters. Over my desk is a picture of Spangler in Boston Yard, morning after our run from Bermuda. I had the morning watch, 0400-0800. We had to slow to 15 knots because of nasty weather but continued to take green water, not spray, over the flying bridge where we stood watch. There was no cold weather gear aboard-we were SOPAC destined-and it was cold, but really cold. It took the yard most of the day to de-ice us using yard steam hoses.
Good-byes were sad. We knew this tour would be at least a year-and it was. My bride headed back to York, Pa. and Spangler and I "southed" it down the East coast, around Florida, across the Gulf of Mexico, transit the Panama Canal (this time from West to East, remember?), down to Galapagos to top off fuel tanks. Ashore and signing the visitors book, I was only a day or so after "Her Majesty" Eleanor Roosevelt passed that way.
Anyway, on to Pearl Harbor to take on fuel-then the really long haul to Guadalcanal. We arrived in a pitch-black night, not a sign of a light anywhere. We were assigned an anchorage, which we located on a chart. Had to thread our way through other already anchored ships by our radar. Through the night, Washing Machine Charlie made his calls. It was a Jap plane, from Rabaul (up the slot), a very important Jap base about 75 miles away. The plane was a two engine light bomber. The pilot (deliberately) didn't synchronize his engines so they kept up a pulsing/beating sound, guaranteed to keep troops ashore and us awake wondering if he would drop bombs or not.
Spangler was dispatched to Espiritu Santo to have the ship degaussed. This, you recall, meant neutralizing the ship's magnetic signature so we were not vulnerable to magnetic mines. It was a quick trip-no liberty ashore. Back up to Canal for assignment, patrolling the slot from whence came Japanese ships, barges, and subs trying desperately to re-supply their forces ashore. We teamed up with PT guys (shades of JFK) and black cats (PBY Catalina patrol bombers) painted pitch black to be invisible at night. One day at the Club I met up with John Crandall, a (sort of) friend from York we ran around with. John was flying a cat and one night circled over us to check our wake which is quite luminous in those waters. We heard him on TBS radio (talk between ships) telling a buddy in another cat that he had our wake and wondered whether he should send us a small message to keep us on our toes. He didn't.
As a side from Davids story, it's of interest to note that the first picture David saw of Dana, his new daughter, was a slide projected on the fantail of the Spangler just before the evening movie.
As Guadalcanal was secured, we were assigned to cover several minor island landings by our Marines. These were small detachments of Japanese on small islands isolated and cut off from re-supplies.
More and more, the major U.S. effort was staging for the Philippines and we were assigned to escort single merchant ships carrying supplies of all sorts to various islands used for storing and assembling troops and materiel. Very dull duty but I guess, important.
We didn't participate in Philippines, but in this period I ran into best buddy Dusty Rhoades. He too was gun boss in a DE (whose name and number I forgot long ago). It was in Eniwitok, an island where the Navy allowed us tired bored warriors to have a couple days' R&R. Dusty's right leg was weakened from a bout with polio when he was quite young. Only a constant program of exercise prevented the leg from deteriorating-so there was Dusty involved in a "fight to the finish" softball game. It was a happy reunion.
It was also in this period I ran into another good friend, Howie O'Neal from LaGrange, Georgia. Howie was skipper of an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) and when we anchored nearby, he sent his ship's motorboat to bring me aboard his LST for dinner and sea stories.
Finally, Spangler was detached from what had seemed like a lifetime of escort duty and ordered north to join a task force of three other DE's from our division. We were a hunter-killer group consisting of a baby aircraft carrier and the four DE's. The Japanese had set up a picket line of their few remaining "I" boat subs whose assignment was to guard the track the Jap high command believed our fleet would take, heading for their home islands. We had fed them false information indicating that we were planning to send an invasion force to strike their homeland. They swallowed that line and set up the picket line of submarines to intercept our supposed fleet, to do as much damage as possible but, more important, to allow as much time as possible to organize and prepare as much defense as they had to defend their islands.
Having broken their codes, we had quite a bit of good information on the size, disposition, and mission of their picket line. It consisted of about twelve of their large "I" boats…very big subs…spaced out about 50-100 miles apart on a line they hoped would cover the supposed line of advance of our supposed strike force.
I suddenly realize I'm spending more time on this experience than I should so-highlight of the affair. I had the midwatch one night (after nearly a full day of the four of us DE's pinging on the sub) when suddenly the sub porpoised right in the center of our formation. His conning tower and hangar structure looked huge and slid beneath the surface in a matter of seconds. It all happened so quickly we (the 4 DE's) didn't even have time to get off a shot or change course to ram him. Later that morning, three DE's each made an attack on the sub, firing hedgehogs. The HH is an "ahead thrown" explosive depth charge. The charges detonated only if one or more actually struck the sub. Conventional depth charges detonate at pre-set depths and make it difficult to maintain target contact. Anyway, we were the third attack. Fred Rowe, our anti-submarine warfare officer, was running the attack. We missed-same as the two earlier DE's. Commander Hamilton Haines, our task force commander stationed aboard Spangler, picked up the TBS (talk between ships) radio and called (heard by all ships), "Oh hell, England, go get him". England (I forget her number) turned and made her attack. Bingo-one charge detonated and the other 23 sympathetically detonated, too. (Their fuses were configured to do that, thereby killing the target). The exploding pattern of charges ruptured the sub's hull and the oil slick, air bubbles and debris that surfaced signaled the end of the Japanese I-boat. That was the fifth kill credited to our task force.
In October I was detached from Spangler, grabbed an 18-day ride in USS Winham Bay, a jeep aircraft carrier, to the West Coast. Took a month leave, then back to California to amphibious training and finally assignment to an assault transport, USS Garrard. Nancy and I drove from York to California in our '41 Buick convertible…no small thing, what with rationing of gasoline and all sorts of things.
We commissioned Garrard (APA 84), shook down and headed to SoPac (South Pacific), where we spent a lot of time repositioning Marines from back islands up closer to current operations. All this boring stuff culminated with landings at Okinawa; with that operation came Japanese kamikazes. Daytimes, our destroyers and anti-aircraft cruisers took the brunt of the crazy "K"s. Nights we anchored close in to the beaches and made smoke, hoping Nip targets would be stuff more interesting than a lowly transport buried under clouds of blue smoke.
As Okinawa wound down, plans for invasion of the Japanese home islands began circulating and we steamed out to join the main fleet gathering for the assault. I had the watch the morning we made contact. As we approached, our radar screen developed blips until it looked like the worst case of measles you can imagine. Probably the greatest assembly of naval power that has ever been seen and/or ever will be seen again. The kamikazes undertook a killing frenzy!
My recollection of precise dates is rather vague. The first "A" bomb sent the message but it took the second to really get the attention of their guys who could make and announce their decision to quit. We were greatly relieved-so were the marines aboard Garrard. So instead of the horrors we'd all anticipated, plans changed and Garrard was second ship in column as our naval force steamed up Tokyo Bay. Absolutely eerie! We could see ashore the mini subs, AA gun emplacements, and airfields full of kamikazes-all sorts of greetings prepared for our landing in force had it not been for the "A" bomb tranquilizers.
LTJG Rehymer is 2nd from left in back row.
We steamed on up to Yokusoka Navy Yard and landed our contingent of Marines.
And, speaking of eerie…here was this huge navy yard-nearly as big as our Norfolk facility-and not one Japanese to be seen! Scary. The next day my exec, Ray Dillman, a lawyer (and Mormon), got hold of a Jeep and four of us made the drive to Tokyo. Absolutely unreal…mile after mile of devastation. Here and there a wall or two of solid concrete standing with nothing around or in it. The emperor's palace was interesting. We enjoyed seeing the huge fat gold carp in the moat surrounding the grounds.
A day or two later, we were sent north to a town named Sendai, site of a Japanese POW camp housing British, Canadian and Australian prisoners. The unconditional surrender freed them, of course, and our job was to take them from the beach to our (USN) hospital ship anchored offshore for processing and subsequent repatriation. We were accompanied by an Australian Destroyer and a convoy of four minesweepers. The sweepers cleared the way through a number of mine fields, detonating the individual ones as they surfaced. The POW's were in relatively good shape. They told us the guards indicated to them that they knew the war was over and for the final two or three months, food and treatment were vastly improved.
Our anchorage prior to departing for Sendai was about 500 yards from the battleship Missouri, where surrender ceremonies were held. A day or two prior to the actual signing, Japanese officials were busy traveling to and from "MO" in preparation for the ceremony. Ours was a grandstand seat…we were ordered underway for Sendai the day before at four o'clock in the afternoon. Wouldn't you know. We were treated, however, to the scene of Japanese in top hats and formal attire making arrangements. Que lastima!
War is mostly waiting and waiting-and if you see a line forming-get in it-who knows what's up ahead!