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One Who Survived
SEAMAN HEYN’S STORY FROM THE NAVAL ARCHIVES OF WORLD WAR II
June 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 4
Well, anyway, after we were separated from the rest we thought maybe we’d better stick together again. We could just see the others once in a while at a distance on the horizon. They’d be on top of a wave and we would too, and we’d see them. Well, we tried to get back to them but we never could and we didn’t know what to do.‡‡ Of these others, six were later rescued by another Catalina. (Morison, op. cit. )
We tried to paddle and we found it wasn’t doing no good so we decided just to lay there and hope that someone would find us.
Airplanes did fly over and some of them would come down close to us and some of them wouldn’t and after a while some of the fellows were getting very delirious and, if a few waved at a plane that went by, they’d get mad at you, say you were crazy for doing it, and not to pay any attention to the planes. They didn’t want to save us and they were going to leave us there. Well, I always thought that probably there was still battles going on and they couldn’t send a ship out there and if we just hung on, sometime somebody would come and get us.
They knew we were there, I knew that, so when they could send a ship they’d come. Some of the guys was kinda disappointed and pretty low in mind so they sorta gave up. There’s one fellow, he was a gunner’s mate from the Juneau, second class. Well, he kept swallowing salt water all the time and he’d let his head fall down in the water and swallow it and he’d begin to get very dopey and dreary. He couldn’t help himself at all so I held him up. I held him in my arms, his head above the water as much as I could, and I held him that way all afternoon. Towards night he got stiff and I told the other fellows.
I said, “Well, how about holding him a while? I can’t hold him, I’ve got all to do to hold myself.” And they said they wouldn’t do it, they were arguing and fighting among themselves a lot. And I said, “I felt his heart and his wrists and I couldn’t feel any beating.” I figured he was dead and I said to them, “Well, I’m going to let him go.”
And George Sullivan, the oldest brother of the Sullivans, he said to me, “You can’t do that,” he said. “It’s against all regulations of the Navy. You can’t bury a man at sea without having official orders from some captain or the Navy Department or something like that.” And I knew he was delirious and there was something wrong with him and all, but they wouldn’t let me let him go.
I said to them, “Well, you hold him,” and they wouldn’t hold him. So it went on that way for a little while. His legs were hanging down in the water a little way below mine when a shark bit his leg, bit his leg right off below the knee. He didn’t move or say anything. That was enough for me. I figured, well, I’m going to drop him. There isn’t any sense holding a dead man. So we took his dog tag off, this one fellow did, and said a prayer for him and let him float away.
At night it was so cold for the fellows who didn’t have no clothes, we’d try to huddle them among us to keep them warm under the water. The sharks kept getting worse in the daytime, and you could see them around us all the time. We’d kick them with our feet and splash the water and they’d keep away. But at night you’d get drowsy and you’d kinda fall asleep and you wouldn’t see them coming. As night went on they’d come and they’d grab a guy every once in a while and bite him. And once they did, they wouldn’t eat him altogether, they’d just take a piece of him and go away and then they’d come back and get him and drag him away and drown him. He’d scream and holler and everything but there wasn’t anything we could do to help.
I had a small knife, about a four-inch blade on it, and we were handing that around to each other every once in a while, borrowing it. Some guy would want to cut a piece of line or something to try to tie this doughnut together because the water and the weather kept wearing it apart and the canvas around the sides had been tearing off and it was coming apart. And we thought maybe, if it come apart, well, then we wouldn’t have nothing to hold on, so then we were trying to secure it together all the time.
All the time we were in the water up to about our shoulders. We couldn’t get up on it because there were too many of us and it was too small for all to sit on. At night one of the fellows, he would all the time swim away. And he’d say he was going away and we’d drag him back and he’d go away again. And finally a shark got him about fifty yards away and that’s the last we seen of him.
And then the fellows got kind of ideas that the ship was sunk under us, sitting on the bottom. You could swim down there at night and get something to eat and all them kinda things, and I was beginning to believe them. Then one night they said we were carrying ammunition from one of the forward mounts back aft and, I don’t know, they said they could see a light down there and this one fellow kept saying, “If it’s down there what are we staying up here for, let’s go down there and get something to eat then.” So I said, “You show me the way down there.” So he dives under water and I went after him and I never did find nothing down there, no hatch or anything like he said was there. And then I got my sense again and I knew what I was doing and I didn’t believe him any more.