Buoy Tender Tows a Battleship
C. William Bailey
Coast Guard buoy tender was asked to do many different jobs for the Navy in WW
Two, and I have a poignant memory of the Spanish-American War battleship Oregon
in 1944 when she was serving her country as a dynamite barge in Guam.
I was the Executive Officer of the buoy tender TUPELO working for Navy Service Squadron Four, known as “The Harbor Stretchers,” when we were ordered to pick up tow of the USS Oregon and put her into an isolated cover inside the reef at the south end of Guam.
had previously blasted a channel through the reef to accept her draft and had
planted a mooring buoy. When the time for us to put her into this lonely area
(her cargo was 1500 tons of 40% gelatin dynamite), the admiral decided to come
aboard to watch the maneuver.
was a tight place to put a ship into, so we made up with TUPELO towing on
a hawser at short stay with a Navy net tender astern of Oregon to hold
her back and help steer. As XO in charge of making sure all went well, I decided
to post self on the Oregon. We put a stern line out to the mooring buoy
as we passed, and soon the time came for dropping Oregon’s anchor. This
was not an ordinary anchoring—there was no machinery left on board to get the
anchor back once dropped.
mooring area did not allow for the ship to swing on a mooring buoy, thus the
anchor had to be dropped at just the right time and with the right scope of
chain. Who better than the officer-in-charge who designed the operation to do
it? thought I.
swung the maul to trip the pelican hook . . . and missed! I swung mightily again
and, yes! . . . missed again! Just then a loud, strident admiral’s voice came
over the loudspeaker, “Tell that officer to drop the damned maul and let a
Bosun’s Mate do it.”
to say I did not appear at the mess table where the captain and the admiral
later celebrated the accomplishment of the day. Oregon was now resting
quietly in her berth with her deadly cargo. We didn’t know then that we were
going to be on close speaking terms with that cargo later on.
few weeks later we got orders to load 250 tons of dynamite to take to the
Peleliu Islands to use in the invasion. That was one convoy where we had no
problem watching out for other ships—no one would come anywhere near us.
we arrived in the atoll, there was an old Japanese mooring buoy being used by a
lone merchant ship. The water was too deep to conveniently anchor, so I put TUPELO
alongside the ship to ask permission to tie up alongside while we offloaded. It
was after normal working hours and the Chief Mate apologetically said the men
would not take our lines as the ship couldn’t pay overtime. They were waiting
for our cargo ashore and these ship people on 100% wartime bonus wages would not
I asked the mate to send for the shop steward, who shortly came strolling out on
deck. Our bridge wing was just about at the level of their main deck, the sea
was calm, and I had us laying right alongside. The shop steward mouthed off
about what a lousy ship this was and they paid no overtime, ad nauseum.
I looked like a pirate with my beard as I drew my government issue .45 and
zeroed in on his ugly face and gave him an ultimatum: “Take my mooring lines
or I shall mistake you for a Jap!” There was no further discussion and we soon
were off-loaded and on our way back to Guam.
next episode with Oregon was months later when our captain decided to
have an entire village aboard the now empty barge for a movie. Unfortunately, a
boy fell through a hatch and was killed. He was a Boy Scout, so we sent a rifle
squad ashore for the military funeral they had requested, and I played Taps from
high up on a hill above the cemetery.
never saw the Oregon again.
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