[Excerpted from U. S. Coast Guard Magazine, printed during WWII.]
Bombs Are Reveille
By Eric S. Wessborg
Aboard a Coast Guard-manned supply ship somewhere in the Southwest Pacific.
The alarm bell surges at the edge of your consciousness like heavy surf on a far-off beach. You dig into your sheet, twisting your body in a spasm of awakening. You can still feel the damp sweat beneath you, for the night has been hot and humid. The bell keeps up its strident clamor and you grope for your shoes in the dark. The fan has been shut off at the first alert, and the cabin is already hot and stuffy.
All this has taken but a few seconds. You are so conditioned to the situation that your reactions are automatic. Nevertheless, your first word is a cuss word; a word you mean with all your heart and soul, with all the hate and anger within you.
In the black passage outside, dim shapes are scurrying to their battle stations. You join them, almost dropping your shirt in your haste, grabbing your helmet from the deck as you go. Like the rest, your mind is trying to find an answer for your ship being here, doing this particular duty. You’re tired of being a target, but you shrug mental shoulders and your mind repeats the time-word clique: “This is war!” It doesn’t seem to help the situation.
We are lying in “Hell’s Corner,” and the boys are bone-tired of it all. There have been eight raids or alerts in the past 24 hours, and the humor wears off very quickly. You don’t like being a target, nobody does, and some of the men are definitely becoming “bomb leary.” Yet, your ship must lie here, lit up like a Christmas tree, until her cargo is discharged.
NO TIME LOST
By this time, you are up the ladder and at your battle-station on the big gun aft, still buttoning your pants. As second powderman, you pull open the locker doors, help twist the covers off the water-proof canisters. You remember the gunnery officer’s words, “Whatever you do, keep your hand over that primer. If you’re hit and drop a charge, we’ll all go up!” The situation doesn’t appeal to you, but you remember the Navy gunner decorated, posthumously, for remembering this law in his dying moments. You cross your fingers!
The motors driving the gun whine softly as its muzzle searches the sky. The “Bugs Bunny” painted on its breech seems grotesque in the half light. The sky is a solid mass of clouds, the decks still wet with recent rain. Off towards the airfield, you can see the red blossom of bomb explosions, the crimson stars of bursting ack-ack. The men are tense, just as they are in the opening moments of any raid. They say the same things, use the same cuss words.
This is a lucky ship. You believe that, sincerely, as do the rest of the men. You hope it holds up. You think of “Sewing Machine Charlie” at Guadalcanal, and his counterpart here. Some of the boys call him “Near-Sighted Ned,” for his aim is always off. His negative effect on moral is high, though. He, or they you’re not quite sure have the habit of sneaking in, dropping a load, and running like hell for home. Only last week one ship was hit and two men killed by the same tactics. You echo everyone’s unspoken though: “Someday that . . . may get lucky!”
You’re tired of being a target, especially when there’s no chance to shoot back. Yesterday, a bomb dropped about two hundred yards from the ship, sprinkling her plates with shrapnel. Everyone ran like hell for their battle-stations, and the sirens started screaming long after the raider had fled. The day before, two sticks of bombs mysteriously dropped from the blue and exploded about a half-mile away. You remember your last trip here, the long and furious attack on the airfield and shore installations. The first bomb that night, again coming without warning, exploded so close to the ship that most of the men were knocked down and the awning ripped by shrapnel.
Meanwhile, the raid died away. Silver searchlights, like huge fingers of a blind giant, still fumble amid the clouds. Most of the men are sitting or lying on the deck near their stations. The gunnery officer, as always, is erect, alert, though the “all clear” can be but a few seconds away.
The boys have confidence in him, for he knows his job and says little.
The pointer and trainer are good, too, and you wish they could find a target. On an alert yesterday afternoon, the gunnery officer let you look through the long, gleaming barrel of the gun. There, in the exact center of the circle was a plane. He seemed to be poised in mid-air, yet the gun was following him in his flight. Unfortunately he was one of ours, and the boys were only sighting on him for practice.
Suddenly a whistles cries in the darkness and you hear the ever-welcome “Secure.” You suddenly realize that you are wet, that you have on but one sock, that your shirt is mis-buttoned. You think of your “sack” waiting down below two hours rest before reveille. Silently you help close the canisters, swing the locker doors to. Thoughts still nibble at your brain like a timid mouse at cheese. You know they’ll be coming back, perhaps in an hour for this is “Hell’s Corner."
Eric S. Wessborg, CBM, was a Coast Guard Combat Correspondent.
Bombs Are Reville By Eric C. Wessborg - This article is about a second powderman's thoughts on a merchant ship carrying a Coast Guard gun crew during WWII. Exerpted from a WWII issue of the Coast Guard Magazine.
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