by Willie Lagarde
It was May 1944 when word was passed we were going back to Pearl Harbor. We had been out since January operating out of Majuro atoll. In the five months since we left we had secured the Marshall islands, raided Truk for the first time and hit several other Jap bases including Saipan where the Japs put up more resistance than they did at Truk, at least for our group. We had crossed the equator and become “shellbacks.,” and gone to Espirito Santo to change out some defective 5" projectile fuses. The projectiles were exploding as soon as they came out of the muzzles killing men on some of our ships. Sabotage was suspected or so we were told.
Some men were referring to PH as the “promised land." Others (including me), were not enthused because in our opinion, Honolulu wasn’t a good liberty town. Not at all.
We had to be off the streets at 6PM unless we had a special, almost impossible to come by overnight liberty pass. Most Hawaiian girls treated sailors with contempt and in retrospect they couldn’t be blamed too much because they were being hit on constantly by men starved for female companionship coming in from long sea deployment. More than once I thought if these haughty girls were back in the states very few of them would get a second glance.
Short time female companionship could be had for two dollars if a sailor was willing to wait in a line that spilled out onto the street. The two dollar bill may have been the most common piece of currency circulating in wartime Honolulu. It’s the only place I ever saw it and if you had bills in your wallet almost surely at least one of them was a two dollar bill. Coincidence, who can say.
Just prior to our docking and drawing of the torpedo net around us, word was passed that anyone interested could sign up for a few days stay at a rest camp at Nanakuli some miles up the coast on Oahu. I signed up and later we were taken by launch from Ford Island to the Oahu mainland where we boarded a narrow gauge passenger train bound for Nanakuli.
After a slow ride through cane fields and along the coast we arrived there and were taken to the camp.
We were assigned to several small dormitory like buildings. The camp was a pleasant interlude from the confined rigors of battle cruising. The Navy had gone to considerable lengths to provide us with good food and just about any type of recreation you could think of except the one thing that would have interested teenaged sailors the most, girls. We knew they did what they could, didn’t expect anything and appreciated what they did provide.
The camp was very close to the beach and other than climbing some hills behind the camp we spent most of our time out there. Someone discovered that holding a wet mattress cover open, running down the beach, scooping air and then quickly tying up the end it would hold the air for a long time and could be used for flotation.
As I was floating on my back thinking about good times at the beach back home, a flight of several SBD’s flew over. When one of them started diving he appeared to be coming straight at me. I looked toward the beach and discovered I had drifted out a couple of hundred yards or more, much further than I thought I was or wanted to be. The other planes were peeling off, all coming right at me. I thought maybe they had seen the white mattress cover and were using it as some sort of target. I was hoping they saw me and if not they didn’t have any dummy ordnance to drop or wouldn’t decide to pop off a couple of rounds. I really believe at that moment I was as scared as I had been at any time since going aboard Yorktown.
Maybe one of those pilots could see I was getting into a dangerous situation and was trying to warn me. I’ll never know, but had they not dove like they did no telling how much further I would have gone out and possibly wound up as shark food. As they were diving I began struggling against some kind of current or tidal action to get back to the beach. Fortunately the mattress cover was still holding enough air to keep me out of a panic situation. I’m not sure if any of the other men noticed my plight which made me think of the buddy system we used as kids. I wouldn’t need it at Nanakuli, I had my fill of the beach and the ocean.
Coming back to Ford island in the launch, the vantage point gave me a view of Yorktown I hadn’t remembered seeing before. She was not only pretty, but a state of the art, premier ship of the line. She was my home and a part of her was mine. Just a few cubit feet of space perhaps, but that space was mine. Was I proud? You bet.