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.

On To Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands
The time had finally come for the Yosemite to join the fleet as it advanced across the Pacific. Heading southwest toward the equator, we arrived in Eniwetok as part of a small convoy. There wasn’t much on the Atoll which consisted of 30 small islands of sand and coral. Eniwetok Island is two miles long and one-quarter of a mile wide. Earlier, the big guns from our battlewagons and cruisers had almost leveled the island before the 22nd Marines and elements of the 106th Infantry captured Eniwetok Atoll in a swift amphibious operation that lasted less than five days from the landing in February of 1944.

The radio blared the announcement, “On the rock at Eniwetok”. It was so hot that we often took our sack and slept on deck. We were only there for five days, but liberty did allow us all to go ashore. It seems that a lot of the crew had made little crap tables and intended to open them for dice games. I never could figure out where they got the wood and felt. Some of the crew thought they might find some sea shells and made Plexiglas-bottomed buckets to use to look in the shallow water.

Eaten By Ants
The liberty boats were filled, and we had everyday dungarees and work shirts as the day’s uniform. Each of us got a chit for a couple of cans of beer. Once on the atoll, it was evident that it was hotter than hell there. Somebody left the picnic tables on the beach; under them, it was packed with sailors trying to find shade. You could smell the odor of burnt flesh and sand as we heard the Marines had to burn out the last Japs from underground sand caves. Bulldozers from the Seabees covered them up.

I had found one curved old slab of a palm tree and relaxed in the cradle of it with my beer when I experienced what felt like a surge of needles going into my back. I threw my beer in the air and sprawled on the sand. Some of the onlookers thought I was having a fit, but I was being attacked by flesh-eating “Piss Ants” and suffered over 220 bites from what was most likely a variety of the fire ant. The medics on the ship cleaned me up with alcohol, but it took me a month to heal.

Ulithi In The Caroline Islands
We left Eniwetok without an escort which was risky business. The Yosemite wasn’t exactly the greyhound of the seas, so we hoped that a rogue Jap sub would not see us and triangulate our exact position for a kill. We dyed our white hats blue and had special lookouts to keep the ship dark at night. The Japs had a big base at Truk, which we bypassed. There was a small island, Yap, that was said to have underground hangers and a couple of planes. During the day, the normal maintenance routine went on. One day we heard that a seaman on the fantail fell overboard. They said the Captain turned around and went back to pick him up. I never found out if this was true or not, I only knew it was scuttlebutt. Finally, we arrived at Ulithi (2nd link, 3rd link), and the net tenders opened the gate to the harbor. We were glad we made it okay from the Marshalls.

Once we got our berth inside the rim of the Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Island (map), we found plenty to do to keep the tin cans coming and going from the front lines. There was an endless parade of damaged ships and heroic crews alongside. For instance, the USS Powell came alongside with most of a Jap plane embedded near her bridge. I was part of the special working party who went aboard and had to literally cut the plane up in little pieces. I still have a small portion of the wing tip. It has the date of March 25th marked on it. Some people thought it had a female pilot, but we couldn’t find evidence of anything because the fuselage was burned so badly that it was unidentifiable.

To read the next episode, click on Yosemite Ship Saga – Part 8