Forty years ago, Warren Dickerson of Bobtown, now 60 years old, was in the Navy and stationed at Great Lakes, Ill. His family was living in Florida and he decided to surprise his parents with a weekend leave.
It turned out to be a fortuitous visit because Dickerson’s father, a Navy veteran, never spoke of his experiences during World War II.
But on this night in February 1972, the two sat down and talked. What follows is the third installment in a series that recounts that conversation, a conversation Dickerson refers to as The Night at the Kitchen Table.
Dad said that they had just arrived at Ulithi Atoll, when his ship received an order to proceed to Pearl Harbor, ASAP. These orders came from Admiral Halsey, so they got under way immediately. Dad said all of the sailors were in good spirits because they were looking forward to good times at Pearl Harbor.
A couple of weeks later they arrived at Hawaii. As soon as they arrived and tied up to the pier, a group of Marines arrived on the pier. The captain then gave orders that no one was to leave the ship. Dad said that all of the sailors were angry at this development. Marines were lined up along the pier, when trucks loaded with cases of beer started to arrive. It took all night, but they loaded 10,000 cases of beer on the upper deck of the ship.
The next morning the ship departed for the South Pacific. Marines were stationed around the stacked cases of beer to keep the sailors from getting at it. Heavy tarps were used to cover the cases of beer.The crew was disappointed that they did not get a chance to party in Pearl Harbor, but they knew were helping the war effort by taking beer to the islands.
Admiral Halsey believed that the sailors needed to blow off a little steam every now and then, and always wanted a supply of beer available. Dad said that once the ship got under way, the sailors started thinking about ways to get at the beer without being caught by the Marine guards.
As it turned out, there was an escape hatch for the engine room where dad worked, directly underneath where the beer was stored on deck. Dad said that they were able to use jacks and timbers to force open the hatch from below the deck, and get to the beer. The Marines had no idea what was going on. Meanwhile, Dad said that everybody on the ship was coming down to the engine room to have a cold beer. The Marines were not invited. They used a CO2 generator to chill the beer.
After a while a problem developed. They had so many beer bottles that they didn’t know what to do with all of them. They decided that at 2 a.m. they would throw the trash cans that were full of beer bottles overboard.
At that moment there was what sounded like explosions under the ship. The propellers had struck the metal trash cans. The captain ordered general quarters, believing that the ship was under attack. Dad said, ‘nobody knew anything,’ but we had fun.
The anchor incident
When an LST is heading for the beach to make a landing, it is generally at full speed so that they can get a good grip on the beachhead. Then, after they have unloaded the combat tanks, men and equipment, they are much lighter in weight, and can readily back off the beach.
With this information in mind, Dad told me of an invasion that they made at Okinawa. Normally they would land their equipment and supplies as quickly as possible, and then get back out to sea. The longer they stayed on the beach, the greater the risk of being attacked by air. But this time after unloading they were told to stay on the beach. Dad feared that they would be attacked at any moment.
All of a sudden many wounded soldiers started coming toward their ship. At that time they found out that their ship was going to be used as an “ambulance,” to take the wounded soldiers from the beach, out to sea where a hospital ship was waiting. He said that both of their cargo decks were filled with hundreds of injured soldiers. He said it was a scene that you could not describe.
All of the ships sailors were pressed into service to help the medical personnel. He said that every square foot of deck space was filled with injured soldiers. At this exact moment, another LST was making its approach to the beach. Dad said that at the last moment the LST started to turn. It slammed into the side of his ship and their bow anchor penetrated the metal hull of his ship.
As the incoming LST was moving at full speed, the anchor tore open the side of dad’s ship like a can opener. Most of the injured soldiers that were lying on the deck, on the inside of the ship’s hull, were killed or badly injured. Dad said that the sailors on his ship wanted to beat the hell out of the crew on the other LST that caused the accident. They knew they had to get to the hospital ship and that’s what they did. Later they washed the blood off the decks with fire hoses.
Next week: The homecoming