By Al Schreiber




I recently learned that WO William Bybel, USCG (ret) crossed the bar. Seeing his name brought back the flood of memories I have of serving with him on the USS RICKETTS DE254, 1943- 1944.

Bill was a Chief MoMM and my supervisor. I was a Fireman 1c. MoMM was Motor Machinist Mate the forerunner to Engineman and later Machinery Technician. A Firemen 1c was equal to a Coxswain (BM3), except that we wore a red stripe on our sleeve at the shoulder. (That way we could not give any "lip" to the right arm rate.)

When the RICKETTS came out of the builder's yard, she had the wrong composition of copper pipe in her salt water systems. I spent my first convoy "cruise" to North Africa and the Med, crawling around hot and cold oil and water pipes in the bilges. The SW piping developed numerous small holes that spewed sea water everywhere.. The cure was to equip oneself with a screwdriver, brass screws, and baling wire to plug the leaks.

Chief Bybel stood on the deck plates with a flashlight directing me to the various leaks around the operating engines, and rolling ship. I was a skinny 18 year old from the mid- west and swore to myself that someday I would be a Chief, directing some skinny fireman around the bilges.

I give Chief Bill Bybel the credit for training me in my craft and inspiring me to get ahead.

Chief Bybel was a brave man who risked his life in the North Atlantic to save survivors from the SS Murphresboro and the SS El Coston. On the night of February 25, 1944 the two merchant ships, one a gasoline tanker, the other an ammunition ship collided. The RICKETTS went to the rescue of the survivors who abandoned ship(s). Some were in the frigid water, others were in lifeboats. The ship was rolling violently, exposing her bilge keel as she labored. A lifeboat came alongside and the bilge keel crashed down on the gunwale, capsizing the boat. The survivors were plunged into the sea. The men were burned and covered with oil, barely able to move from the icy water. Chief Bybel, and others climbed down the cargo net slung over the side. They grasped the lifejacket collars, hair, arms, anything to pull the men to safety. Some badly burned.

As the ship rolled, the rescuers on the net were alternately plunged into the sea, then raised high into the air. The Captain, LCDR Glenn Rollins, was trying to keep headway into the heavy sea, but also trying to keep the floating survivors from the propellers. He also had to be aware that a marauding submarine might espy the wallowing DE with its Signalling lights on!

There were 33 men pulled from the clutches of the frigid sea that night to see another day. The next morning both ships were still afloat. The fire on the tanker had gone out and the RICKETTS sent over a boarding party to retrieve the seamen's gear.

A cat was found alive and well. She was brought back to the ship. The cat, not liking sea duty, went AWOL when we arrived in Londonderry, North Ireland.

For this heroic action by Bill Bybel and others, they received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. He also was promoted to Warrant Officer and transferred, I knew not where. We have never met since, but I will always remember him. May he rest in peace


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