by Willie Lagarde
Lutchie Wieland and Paul Rowan were two neighborhood friends I had known since grammar school. Both were a year older than me and when they joined the Navy in late 1942 I began putting pressure on my mother to sign for me although I was still only sixteen. Finally in December 1942 after I convinced her I would be fighting somewhere before the war was over, she signed for me and I was off to San Diego. What appealed to me, other than I had always liked the Navy, was if your ship was still afloat at the end of the day you had a bunk to sleep in. I hadn’t figured on the heat and probably didn’t sleep in that bunk more than ten percent of the time I was at sea.
Paul and Lutchie went to boot camp in Great Lakes and following Fire Control school both were assigned to destroyers. Paul was killed aboard USS Abner Read in Aleutian waters sometime in August 1943. Lutchie had been assigned to USS Dale and was somewhere in the Pacific. We exchanged letters but of course he could never say where he was nor could I.
Dale was an older destroyer and I never saw any of her class operating with any fast carrier group we were in. I don’t know why because she had the speed and then some. Almost all of the destroyers operating with us were Fletchers. She was in the first class of destroyers built after the four pipers of WW1 design and was considered old but was actually in commission less than ten years at the time.
It was in August 1944 and I was on my first morning gun watch after hearing the great news we were going to the states. I got the binoculars to see who was with us. I couldn’t believe my eyes, DD 353 is one of our three escorts.
The four ships stopped in Pearl Harbor where we left off our air group and planes and among other thing took a lot of fresh food aboard. Our daily fare improved immediately.
Before leaving PH we took aboard as many ambulatory wounded men as we could provide for.
At an evening meal one of these men asked if I would cut his meat for him. I looked at his hands and saw he only had a thumb and part of a finger on one of them. He told me he had been hit as he stepped out of the landing craft and was returned to the transport in the same boat. "My war lasted one minute", he said as he was headed home for further treatment and discharge.
We were somewhat disappointed to see the battleship New Mexico join our group for the last leg of the long trip home. She was slow and we were concerned she would delay our arrival in the promised land by a day or more. Probably didn’t happen but we were just anxious.
We led our little force of five ships into Puget sound and many small boats risked being swamped by our bow wave trying to get close to us as we went by.gh
My first order of business when we got to Bremerton was to go look for Lutchie. When I went aboard Dale he was leaving to come look for me. More good luck, our leaves started the same day so we would take the long (sitting up) train ride together.
What was left of the old gang back home threw a party for us. Not many guys were still around but all the gals were there. Guys, who needed them.
It was my first visit home in twenty months and of my twenty day (and only) leave, eleven days were spent on trains. I came back alone but met a Yorktown sailor named Schmuck in Chicago who rode with me to Seattle. We met a couple a girls on the train and partied all the way on that leg of the trip.After returning aboard Yorktown, myself and two other shipmates decided since we were soon heading back into the war (this was made clear on our leave papers) with no idea when we would be coming back, if ever, we were not staying aboard while we were still in the states, liberty or not. There was no meaningful work for us and why waste these last few days in the only place on earth we cared to be, the USA.
After we were AOL three days and not wanting to miss the ship, we went aboard and turned ourselves in.
Shortly thereafter when we were leaving, but still in Puget Sound, I was first in line of many PAL’s in front of Capt. Thomas Combs our new skipper. Mast was held on the bridge and I guess because he was anxious to get it over with he let us off with "Restriction to the Ship" until we left U.S.
We didn’t know at the time we were stopping in the San Francisco bay area before heading back out.
(Details of Oakland AWOL venture in "Last Night Ashore".
End of story, not quite. Many months later in the Ryukyus area I heard a PA system announcement "stand by to receive the destroyer Dale to transfer fleet mail."I’m wondering where the hell did she come from. We hadn’t seen or heard of her since leaving the states.
When Dale came up on our port quarter to pass the mail over I stood up on the gun so Lutchie would have a better chance to find me. I spotted him right away by their fire control director, looking for me. He finally saw me and all we could do was wave but it was like an unexpected touch of home. They pulled away and I wouldn’t see him again until I was out of the Navy and he was aboard USS Spokane with still some time to serve on his six year enlistment.
In Sept 1947 I was now in the Merchant Marine returning from a Far Eastern trip when he came home on leave. The old gang, almost back to prewar numbers, though some were now married, threw another party for Lutchie and I. Through a blind date for that party I met my future wife, tying the knot in 1949.
Lutchie’s dead now as are many of that "old gang of mine" but I still can drive through the old neighborhood and see where we passed many happy days as kids before the war.
How did the old song go? "Memories, dreams of long ago".
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