by Willie Lagarde
When Yorktown entered our Leyte anchorage in June 1945 most of us hadn’t set foot on land since Oct 1944 when we unloaded our cargo of army vehicles in Pearl Harbor. Some of us did walk on the hot sand and coral of Mog Mog but that hardly qualifies as land. Most of the shade on the island was on the officers end and two cans of hot beer was no incentive to even think of returning after one visit. We hadn’t seen a female in almost nine months. Some of those female sailors would have been welcome back then to soothe the hormones.
Relaxing on the fantail after an evening meal we noticed some soldiers moseying around in a duck (DUKW) looking us over. What a sight we must have been for them. Elements of the most powerful naval force ever assembled. Proud yes, how could you not be. Our country had risen from humiliation at the hands of the Jap criminals who committed unspeakable atrocities on our men after they surrendered in these same islands. During the infamous "Bataan death march" they cruelly bayoneted those who fell as well as those who tried to help their fallen buddies. Now it’s payback time and we are part of this magnificent, unstoppable fleet poised to deliver the coup de grace. Some of our people would still have to die but the outcome isn’t in doubt and their days are numbered.
We motioned to the soldiers to come aboard (via fantail Jacobs ladder) for chow and took all of them, including a lieutenant down to the mess deck.
Later, the lieutenant agreed to give us one way passage ashore if it was "alright for us to leave". It probably wasn’t but nobody said so specifically and we weren’t going to ask. "Sure it’s alright Lieutenant, we’re off duty."
It was a long way in and he put us ashore where there was still some wreckage of war strewn about the shore and beyond.
We did manage to find some booze but only caught a glimpse of a few women.
None of the navy service boats were willing to take us out to the ship because it was "too far out." It was too far to swim and being stranded on Leyte was not an option. Before desperation set in and after deciding against stealing a boat we went to the army supply base. Sometime after daybreak we finally located a sergeant who was willing to take us out if we could supply him with some white tee (scivvy) shirts. For some reason all those soldiers prized white tee shirts.
As we were backing away from the dock a colonel drove up in a jeep and called us back in. Fearing the worst, we were relieved to learn he only wanted the boat (an LCM) to bring three USO women out to a transport anchored in the bay. On this boat as on all the army boats we saw, the two man crew had built a shelter over the after part of the cargo well and were living aboard.
We waited for him to get the women and then were delighted to have three pretty American girls all to ourselves to chat with for over an hour in the snug little shelter after being starved for female companionship for so long. Any woman from home, whether USO or Hollywood performer was always hovered over by the officers. Enlisted men could never get near them.
The soldiers had to look for the transport among thirty or more auxiliary ships of all descriptions. The search for the ship was hampered by a driving tropical rain storm but we finally located it after one of the girls said, "I think it has two smoke stacks". As we were helping the women onto the gangway one of them put a little peck on McDonald’s cheek. I thought he was going to pass out.
Pulling away from the gangway we noticed the sergeant didn’t head for the fleet anchorage but rather started back to his base. He said he had already been gone too long . We wheedled and cajoled until he finally agreed to take us to Yorktown. I think he realized we had him outnumbered and we were going to our ship with or without him in command.
We didn’t dare press our luck by having him bring us to the gangway but decided to pass under the stern and let us we grab onto the Jacobs ladders hanging there. He had to make two passes to get us all aboard. We told him to wait while we got some scivvy shirts but he took off without them.
Our division BM, seeing the five of us coming aboard, asked where the hell we had been. We told him we went ashore, got drunk and spent some time with three beautiful girls from home. He said we were full of shit, didn’t believe any of it and let it go at that. The man who was our real boss and held the power of life or death over us, let us slide.
Thanks for the experience Lieutenant (whoever you are) and a special thanks to you Sarge for saving our asses, even if we had to put pressure on you to do it.
If I remember correctly you told us the next stop for you and your group was a beachhead somewhere on the Jap home islands. Glad there was a change in plans.
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