Yosemite Ship Saga – Blog Article by Dick Wibom, MM2/c

This article originally appeared on our previous USS Yosemite Association website. It’s now republished for your reading pleasure on our new website.

Shaft Alley
The “A” division had to help out in a number of areas while we were at sea. The ice machine crew had to give a hand as needed in what were known as “fill-in positions”. One day while we were at sea, there was a need for a “fill-in” for a location known as “Shaft Alley”. I thought I’d volunteer for the job to get a new experience. If you ever had claustrophobia, you had better not work down in the alley. The location was accessed by a tube-like ladder that was about three decks deep. Once down there, the big drive shaft from the turbine turned with a constant roar. There was barely enough head room to move onto the catwalk to the shaft bearings. Your job was to monitor for excessive heat with your constant companion, a big oil can. What a job! Later while we were in Japan, we had an “old” fellow come aboard who was the last man off the Yorktown. He was stuck in the shaft alley and only escaped when the Destroyers torpedoed the carrier.

Who Gave the Captain’s Dog a Haircut?
One time, when we were at sea doing our usual routine, the orders sounded for quarters. We had been told that the Captain had a little dog that had the run of the ship in certain areas. To make a long story short, someone had taken the dog and given it a haircut. We were told we would have to stand at quarters on the deck till “Hell Freezes Over” unless the barber who gave the trim to the dog came forward. This was all a mystery to us. We also heard if this didn’t work, we might have to get our pea coats from their storage locker and wear them till the culprit surrendered. After several hours of monotony, we were dismissed. We never heard how the dog trimming story ended.

Clear The Deck For Gunnery Practice
One noon, while we were at sea, I decided to stretch out under one of the motor launches to take five winks before going below for duty. As it so happened, an announcement came over the PA to clear the deck because there would be 5″ gunnery practice. Unaware of what was about to happen, I snoozed on until I awoke to a terrific explosion which was the “five-incher” firing right near my resting place. I bounced up off the deck, hitting the keel of the motor launch, and cordite dust appeared everywhere. My first thoughts were that we had been hit. I crept away, trying not to draw attention to my predicament; I couldn’t hear anything, and I thought I was deaf. The last thing I recall was seeing another salvo of star shells head for the horizon. It took weeks to get all my hearing back, but I did survive.

Arrival at Leyte, Philippine Islands
Finally, we made it up to the wide channel between the islands of Leyte and Samar (map). There were a number of ships in the harbor. MacArthur had landed here on Easter Sunday, near the village of Tacloban. We had a change of command. Captain Gibbs relieved Captain Towner, and we had a full dress inspection for the occasion. One of our “A” division fireman had a tailor-made suit of blues from Pearl, and he put them on by mistake. As the inspection party passed, they noticed something unusual about the uniform. Rolling back the cuffs, they saw beautifully embossed dragons. He was ordered to take off his uniform and heave it overboard into the sea. Standing in his underwear, the inspection party left to see if everything else was ship-shape on the “Y”.

Another one of the little extras the ice machine crew had to “fill in” was being a Motor Mac (Motor Machinist Mate). We were given about 20 minutes of instruction on how to run the diesel, acknowledge the whistle and learn the commands. As it was, my number was called to take a liberty party ashore in the motor launch. You sit down in your station, and all the liberty-bound sailors chatter all around you. Officers were usually in the bow. We filled in a full load and headed for the dock at full speed. I couldn’t see where we were going, and my hearing was still not 100% from “gunnery practice”. As we approached the dock, I didn’t hear the slow down or reverse commands, we just went up on the sand beach— people went flying all over. I got sent to sick bay to have my hearing checked. My excuse was all of the noise and confusion. Luckily, nobody got hurt.

On my first liberty ashore at Tacloban, I couldn’t miss the sight of the remains of a burnt-out PBY* near the landing. Then we followed a well-worn trail into the jungle, through little villages where naked kids played and people in the huts just stared at us. We had our beer ration with us and the local native guerrillas, popped out from behind the trees’ buying anything with gold on it; pens as a good example, cigarettes and especially beer. A can of beer would get us $10.00 in US cash. There wasn’t much in Tacloban. I went to the post office to find stamps for my Dad at home. I bought the stamps, had them machine stamped with the word “Victory” on them, and mailed them home from the ship. They had hand stamped the covers that they said they would mail home for $5.00 US. I thought it might be a scam, but some of these covers were delivered in the US and today are worth thousands of dollars each. Mine are worth about $10.00 now.

To read the next episode, click on Yosemite Ship Saga – Part 12