Mother Nature At Her Worst

Frank E. Perrella, English, Hartwick College, 1948


On October ninth, 1945, the repair ship, the U.S.S. Mona Island,ARG-9, attached to the third fleet, was riding at anchor in Buckner Bay, Okinawa. I was a seaman assigned to the deck division of this ship. On this date I experienced a strong battle with one of nature's strongest forces. It is not hard to remember the great typhoon that had its origin in the South China Sea, and swept the entire western Pacific. I can recall even the most trivial happenings.

It was shortly after the war ended and the men were making the ship ready for the return voyage to the States. The ship was receiving a new coat of paint to replace the dull dark gray used during the war. The liberty boats and landing crafts on board were also being made ready. The engine room gang was down in the hold checking the boilers and water system throughout the ship. Oil tenders were alongside filling the tanks, forcing the ship to seek its own water level. In the mid st of all this activity our crew was in excellent spirits because we knew we were to be sailing home within the next month.

In the evening at chow time, one could hear various men tell what they intended to do when they reached hone. Each one was going to d o something different, but all agreed that a rest would be the first thing. For the past several days the sun had been strong. The nights were calm and cool. I do not believe that I can remember a time at sea when everything seemed so peaceful. Now when I read about the calm before the storm, I certainly remember the days we were preparing to go home.

Recently we had been receiving warnings that typhoons were coming our way, Several reports proved to be true but these typhoons were only mild ones. When the last warning came, we laughed it off as a joke. That very night the typhoon came. It was the worst typhoon to hit the Pacific in the Past fifty years.

It was shortly past midnight when the Boatswain came down to the second division sleeping quarters and to ld us to dress. He reported that a strong wind was coming up and that the Skipper wanted us to batten down all hatches and secure for heavy seas. Reluctantly with our eyes half\_ closed, we pulled on our clothing and stumbled topside to the deck. Everything seemed pitch black; giving us a very queer feeling. Automatically we divided into groups and began laboring over the tasks that we had done many times before. Everyone was rather quiet}{\f1\lang1033 }{\lang1033 but one could hear the Lord's name taken in vain many times. After the lights were turned on, some of the Men began to tell jokes about having to leave a peaceful sleep. Following the work, which lasted about two hours, we went forward to the mess hall for some hot coffee. At this time we began to think seriously about the c o ming typhoon. It began to rain and we could feel the ship pulling on the anchor. Two radio men came into the mess hall and we asked them what weather reports were coming through. They told us that a typhoon had hit the Philippines and that it was gaining force while traveling north on its way to our anchorage. For the next few hours we sat idly in the mess hall trying to catch a few winks of sleep. We knew we would not be allowed to go back to our racks.

Suddenly the storm broke with full fury, its mighty winds lashing the Pacific. the Captain, realizing that it would be hard to see another ship in the blinding rain, stationed look_ out watches around the ship. He also had us prepare to go to sea if it became necessary. Back on deck it was only a matter of mi nutes before we were drenched with rain. Suddenly the ship gave a mighty lurch, sending most of us sprawling to the deck. When we gained our footing an order come over the loud\_ speaker ordering us forward to the anchor which had just broken loose. slowly w e made our way forward. Reaching midships we felt the engines begin to turn over. Despite the terrific rythmatic beating of the screw, the ship failed to move forward. At the bow we attempted to lower the port anchor. The ship was still bucking the waves w hen we slid into a deep trough. Looking upward we caught a quick glimpse of the crest of the next wave before it struck the ship. In less than a second we were engulfed in a mountain of water. A thousand things passed through my mind during what seemed to be an eternity but was actually a few seconds. I struggled frantically to hold on the anchor grates to keep from being swept away. The picture of home and of drowning while at sea were the center of my thoughts. As the bow of the ship surged upward we found ourselves clinging to every available thing. That was when I first began to admire Lieutenant Axtell.

He jumped up and asked if anyone had been washed over\- board. Looking at each other it seemed that everyone was there. Going to the capstan he gave t he order to drop the port anchor. He seemed unaffected by what had happened. We then worked hastily to drop the port anchor, but no sooner did it hit the water and disappear when the chain gave way. It was now hopeless to think of staying in the harbor. T he waves tossed the ship about like a cork. Quickly we went to special sea details.

More trouble followed. We were pushed against the anchor chain of another ship which broke our screw and rudder. Although I had been in service only a short time, I felt the same anxiety about getting home as these men with long service records. We were now at the mercy of Mother Nature and she seemed to be very angry. By now I imagined it to be noontime. I could feel a very large cavity in my stomach. That taught me a lesso n to eat heartily at every meal while in the Navy because one can never tell what might come up before the next meal.

Another great shock hit the ship as we were huddled near the gun turret aft. It was a converted destroyer that, not being able to see us rammed our bow. Fearing that we might have lost someone overboard, the Captain ordered a quick check of all personnel. Collision quarters were sounded and preparations for abandon ship were made. In boot camp I had been given only an hours training for abandoning ship. Now I would have to learn by experience. With the order to make preparations for abandoning ship came a feeling of uneasiness. We knew a lone person did not stand much chance for survival. Up to this point the men of the deck division had not given much thought to getting life jackets. Now we started to search for them. Many were found to be unfit for use. Actually no one was to blame, for since the end of the war there was no need for life jackets. Luckily enough, some good ones had been put away and they were now brought out for our use.

Under these conditions we struck the U.S.S. Terror, a huge repair ship, nearly three times our size. There was a mad dash to the starboard side as our portside swung into her. The collision came with full impact. No one was injured as we were prepared for it. As the "Terror" pulled away I stopped to take a long look at our ship. I still could not believe that we were afloat. The damage was not extensive enough to sink us. Completely out of control, our shi p washed up on some reefs. Striking the reefs the ship trembled like a \par }\pard \widctlpar\tx2040\tx8124\tqr\tx9038\adjustright {\lang1033 leaf on a windy day. As quickly as possible, we checked our damage. We found that the bottom of the hull was ripped open and that water was entering all our lower oil tanks. Everything below decks was damaged including our lighting system. By this time it was dark; luckily enough,, our batteries for the emergency lights still worked.

The firing of guns and the sound of men's cries brought our attention to the port quarter. Our spot light s searched the black water. To our amazement, our fantail lay over the aft end of a flounderd patrol craft. At the patrol crafts superstructure was a group of men waving at us. Their ship was breaking up in the reefs and one could easily tell that in a sh ort time it would fall completly apart. Lieutenant Axtell quickly took charge in getting a breeches\_bouy rigged up to bring the crafts men aboard our ship. Pulling each man up involved extreme caution for the line could easily break.

When their Captain, who was the last man to leave the ship, came aboard, he walked down the row of men who had been pulling on the lines and thanked each one of us personally. As he went by I looked at my watch and found the tine to be one o'clock in the morning.

We were now given permission to go below to the mess hall which we had left previously twenty\_ four hours before. The coffee and sandwiches which had been prepared tasted salty because of the water in our mouths.

Going topside a short time later we had to stay on watch i n our dripping wet clothing (which we didn't mind anymore). Towards morning the typhoon gradually died away. That afternoon the ocean was back to a natural calm. With the calm came a much needed rest which put an end to what seemed a horrible nightmare.

When we awoke the following day the air was clear but the sight which greeted our eyes was anything but pleasant. All around our ship could be seen the wreckage of other battered ships. Their empty ghost\_ like features only added to the unnatural scene caused by the strength of the typhoon. Okinawa had seemed weird and unholy when I first arrived. It now gave me the feeling of being within the realm of the dead. Off on the horizon the smoke of the returning warships could be seen. Supply ships fully loaded we re also steaming in, carrying the supplies needed by the men on shore.

Three weeks later we were being towed into Apra Harbor, Guam. The Mona Island was to go in dry dock for a complete overhauling. At this time orders cane for the transfer of men to other ships who needed then. It was with much regret that I carried my seabag off the Mona Island to a new ship. This ship was to be the Thomas J. Gary, DE 326


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