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.
Ice, Solid Gold
There were two enemies in the South Pacific; the Japs and the heat. Those of us lucky enough to be in the ice machines were popular people. Although our storage locker wasn’t that large, we always kept a few “broken” pieces of ice for an emergency. Late at night, the man on watch often heard a knock on our watertight door. It would be someone who needed the ice to keep their still going. At one time, we knew of four or five active booze makers in operation. It was a “you scratch my back” and a favor would be given in return. We had a number of unusual treats; cake, cookies, cigarettes, etc. Once I had a chance to go down to the garbage grinder for a “jolt”. Well, they had distilled Vaseline hair tonic, and it tasted like castor oil— Phew!
Whenever we heard the bugle call for mail, it determined if it was one of those days that were either great or “otherwise”. As the names were called, it always got tense when it got down to the last name. My folks had the local paper sent to me, and when it came, it came in multiples. I passed those hometown papers around the ship like a lending library. Some of the guys wrote to local girls back home and got a reply. Once I got a wool turtle neck sweater to keep me warm from the Red Cross in Syracuse, NY. If you had a box, it always seemed to arrive dilapidated. My folks sent a box of various Christmas treats, and it had been broken into, and all I got was a can of salty kippered herring. We always shared cookies and candy with our shipmates, so anything that got through didn’t last long.
The USS Randolph Attacked at Ulithi
One pleasant afternoon after evening chow, I went to the fantail to sit and write a letter to the folk at home. There was some activity in the atoll that afternoon. A large carrier, the USS Randolph (one of the Essex class) had anchored about a half mile from us, and planes were taking off and landing at regular intervals. I saw a formation of six planes pass the USS Yosemite and head for the Randolph. All of a sudden, there was a tremendous explosion on the Randolph. I could see that the deck of the carrier was afire. General Quarters were sounded everywhere so I had to leave for my battle station. Later I heard that a Jap plane had followed the US formation in and hit the carrier with a large bomb. The marine gun crews were not alert because they never expected the Jap to come in. They said the plane got away and went back to Yap.
Many of the crew had special services they could render on the side for extra money. Several crew members gave emergency haircuts just before inspection with their own tools they had aboard. One fellow had been a watchmaker and would work on your watch for a fee. Others were very skillful and made watchbands and bracelets. I had my own strange activity. I could copy tattoos so the fellows could show the girlfriend back home what he had on his body. I had fine-grain stationary and made it almost transparent with a hair tonic. Then placing it over the tattoo, I got a perfect impression. Then I transferred it and shaded or colored it on a piece of white paper. The ship censorship committee never did seem to object. One officer once told me I was quite the artist. I also wrote a number of letters for guys who just couldn’t find the right words.
The Phantom Strikes Again and Again
One of the topics of conversation on the Yosemite was the activity of the so-called “Phantom”. Nobody ever saw him or had any idea who he was. One of his favorite jokes was to find a good place to take a crap and let some unwary person find it by stepping on it. We heard he was most active in Officers Country. Another thing we heard concerning the Phantom was that he had a sharp knife. Some seamen slept in the hammocks that had to be raised high enough so a person could walk under them. Some said they used to sway out over the rail of the ship on a stormy night. The Phantom would quietly reach up and cut one end of the hammock cord, and the occupant would come sliding out on the deck like a pea in a pod.