In 1944, many of the unmarried men in USS EAGLE 19 (PE-19), about ninety-percent of the ship’s complement, seemed to have death wishes. They wanted to be in the real war. A few, like me who had already been in combat zones, regarded sailing in and out of Key West on a World War I riveted submarine chaser as a form of torture. The Allied landings at Normandy on 6 June 1944 made us more miserable.
Fate finally intervened. If we dropped one more depth charge it would have been too much for the worn out hull of EAGLE 19. A lieutenant commander, officially designated for engineering duty only, surveyed the ship. I perceived him to be at peace regarding the war within the war; per the Regulations of the U.S. Navy he could not be ordered to stand deck watches! Regarding Henry Ford’s creation he reported in effect, “The real war is not that bad that the U.S. Navy needs EAGLE 19.”
The ship was ordered decommissioned and scrapped.
Decommissioning meant opportunity to get an engineer officer’s job in a larger ship somewhere overseas. How naive I was. The section of the Bureau of Personnel in charge of the Navy’s side of the war within the war, issued orders for me to travel to San Diego and there to report for duty to the Commanding Officer of USS EAGLE 32 (PE-32)!
No wonder I stopped in El Paso, where I looked up my cousin’s buck-private husband in Fort Bliss, signed the Border Patrol log for the purpose of certifying that I was responsible for Bill and his buddy, drank Tequilla Sunrises in the Manhattan Club on Juarez’s main drag, saw the sunset before three in the afternoon, and had the inebriated soldiers in my custody lead me back across the border. I knew that the war within the war was going to become far more intense in the Pacific.
“Get ashore! I’ll have no officer who is not qualified to stand deck watches,” exploded my new skipper just two weeks after I reported on board.
I had arrived on 13 March 1945, the Commanding Officer promptly scheduled me for deck watches and I pulled the pin. He had demanded to know if I was refusing an order. I replied, “No sir. I have never been to college and I’m sure that at night I’ll get those little red lights mixed up with those little green lights.”
With no orders to report anywhere else I helped cast off the lines when EAGLE 32 got underway for a one-week operation. In the distance I could see black smoke coming from the Fire Fighter’s School at the Navy Repair Base.
How I got into the School without orders is a story by itself. It suffices to say in this narrative that the legendary Commodore Byron McCandless, the Base Commander, known for micro managing everything, made sure that a certain twenty-one year old lieutenant junior-grade did not go astray. At the end of the one-week course I was told to report, along with the skipper who had given me the boot, to the Squadron Commander’s office. In response to a few questions I confirmed how I was ordered off of EAGLE 32 and then waited outside until the red-faced skipper came out. My routine then became like it was in EAGLE 19, that is, taking care of the machinery spaces, no deck duties, and writing requests for transfer.
In a few months another officer arrived and took command. He apparently didn’t know the rules of war let alone the rules of a war within a war. With no attempt to size up his adversary, he told the other officers that he would get me to stand deck watches. I disobeyed no orders, learned nothing, and thus became a constant source of frustration to the new skipper.
After V-J Day, EAGLE 32 was ordered to San Francisco for decommissioning and scrapping. Only the skipper was eligible to return to civilian life when the commission pennant was hauled down. On that day, 7 December 1945, as he signed the order for me to report to the Commandant of the Twelfth Naval District for further assignment, he said, “If I didn’t have enough points to get out now, I would spend the rest of my naval career getting you court marshaled.”
Twelve-days later I became chief engineer in USS BURLEIGH (APA-95), a troopship and a proper ship bound for Manila.
Twenty-years after that voyage I retired from the U.S. Navy.
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo