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One Who Survived

June 2024
25min read

Day after day, the sun, the sea, and the sharks cut down the men who clung to the “doughnut” raft: Seaman Heyn’s Story from the Naval Archives

Of all the men who have gone down to the sea in ships, none has clung to life with more tenacity, or lived to tell a more graphic story, than Allen Clifton Heyn, gunner’s mate second class, one of the ten survivors of more than seven hundred men aboard the U.S. light cruiser Juneau. AMERICAN HERITAGE is indebted to the Navy Department, and to the director of naval history, Rear Admiral John B. Heffernan, USN (Ret.), for this transcript of a recorded wartime interview between Heyn and a naval interrogator. Save for a few cuts to remove repetition or digressions, and for a few slight alterations in wording in the interests of clarity, nothing has been changed. This is a tale which loses nothing from the elementary English of the teller.

Heyn was a seaman aboard the Juneau when she took part in the complicated series of night and day actions which are lumped together as the Battle of Guadalcanal, from November 12 through 15, 1942. In this decisive struggle for the Solomon Islands, American surface and air forces succeeded in reinforcing their ground troops on Guadalcanal while largely preventing the Japanese from doing the same thing. But victory was accomplished at a terrific cost, littering the floor of the narrow seas between Guadalcanal, Savo, and Florida Islands with so many sunken U.S. ships that the Navy christened those waters “Ironbottom Sound.”

The Juneau fought in the cruiser night surface action of Friday, November 13. A U.S. force of five cruisers and eight destroyers under Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan was steaming northwest toward a larger Japanese bombardment group coming directly at them between Savo and Guadalcanal, hoping to shell our troops and airfield ashore. The American advantage of surprise was lost before fire opened at 0145, and both forces were soon intermingled in a bloody melee. Heyn’s story starts as, in the black of the midwatch, the Juneau finds herself picking her way across a hopeless checkerboard of mingled friendly and enemy ships.




Heyn, you were on the Juneau in the Guadalcanal action, that was 13 November 1942, wasn’t it?




What was your battle station?





I was on the 1.1 on the fantail. [A light gun at the stern.]




What did you see of the action that night?


We were in a column of ships and we went in, in between these Japanese ships, and we got word down from the bridge to stand by, that they would challenge the enemy. And it wasn’t but a few minutes when everything just broke loose, flames and shots and gunfire all over. And they sent word all around to all the minor batteries like 1.1’s and 20 millimeters [antiaircraft machine guns] not to fire because the tracers would give away our positions.

So, we held our fire until the enemy knew where we were and the star shells [fired to illuminate or silhouette an enemy at night] lit us all up. Then we started firing and you could see the Jap ships so close that you’d think you could almost throw something and hit them. So we just fired our smaller guns right into the topsides [superstructures] of their ships, trying to knock off some of the guns on their decks. That went on quite a while and the ship maneuvered around a lot. It would turn sharply and the water would splash all over where I was, in the fantail. A lot of small bullets hit around me. I don’t know what caliber they were but you could see shrapnel laying all over the deck. And they sent word to take cover.

I don’t know whether they knew there was a fish [torpedo] coming or what, but all at once a fish hit. It must have hit up forward because it just seemed like the fish jumped out of the water.∗∗ It struck the forward fireroom. (Samuel Eliot Morison, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II , Vol. V.) And when it did, all of us fellows that were on the main deck, it stunned us like and knocked us down. The propellers didn’t seem to turn for a few minutes. Sounded like they were jammed or something. The ship wouldn’t steer, just seemed to skid through the water like. I don’t know whether it was a Jap cruiser or what it was, but it was on the other side of us and it just seemed like we were going to run right into it and ram it, but we didn’t though.

They got control of the ship from the after battle station or something. And they pulled around just in time. Just then I saw another ship right after us in our wake. It must have been a Jap tin can [destroyer] because it was coming right at us. Our after guns fired on it and some other ships fired on it and it just blew up, just a bunch of oil and flame. There wasn’t nothing left. And that was that.

Then we were in column again and I could see a Jap battleship, because it was awfully big and it was firing right at us. It seemed like everyone was giving it to us, you know. There was a big flash, and the salvos would hit the water on one side of the ship and splash all over and then they would hit on the other side. They didn’t have it [the range] just right. Then something hit up forward. I don’t know what it was because it hit again and the ship shook all over.

The ship seemed to be out of control kinda and someone says, they passed the word around to cut some of the life rafts loose. There were four or five of these doughnut rafts stacked on top of each other on the main deck aft and they were secured, so two or three guys from the battle station where I was went up and cut them loose with a knife and come back.

You could see ships around us, Japanese ships, and we were still firing at them. And I don’t know how it was but then the electrical power on the 5-inch [gun] mounts got out of whack, the juice was cut on them or something happened to the connections somewhere and they had to train them by hand. [Without electric power, such guns could be moved in the horizontal plane only very slowly, making aim very difficult.]

After that things started to quiet down a little. We got out of position and didn’t see any more ships around us. The forward part of the ship seemed to be way down in the water and the fantail way up high. And we couldn’t make very good speed. You could hear the things cracking underneath there—the propeller shafts and the rudder. They were bent or something.

We got off away from the rest of them. You could still see them firing. It looked just like the Jap ships were shooting at each other, that they didn’t know that we weren’t there. And they just kept firing and firing and we kept getting a little further away and they passed the word all over the ship to be sure to not have any lights or anything and to keep real quiet because we were going to try to get out of sight of the enemy somehow. We cruised around there, right next to the shore.

It was beginning to get daylight by then and we got out in the open sea again. The radars and things didn’t work very good; they were all shot from the explosion. Then the lookouts picked up ships ahead. They signaled recognition signals and we found out then it was some of our own task force.

It was the San Francisco, the Helena, the Buchanan, and I don’t know the name of the other can. The Portland or the Atlanta wasn’t there, they’d been hit already and they were still in Guadalcanal. And we got together and it seemed like they were deciding what to do because we kept circling around off San Cristobal Island, just kept making a big circle.∗∗ Heyn is slightly in error concerning the destroyers, which were Fletcher, Sterett , and O’Bannon. Buchanan was not among them. This wounded force was retiring toward the New Hebrides for repairs; San Francisco , particularly, was full of wounded men; both her flag officer (Admiral Callaghan) and her captain were dead. The “circling around” mentioned may be that occasioned by anti-submarine attacks being delivered by the escorting destroyers. (Morison, op. cit.)

The San Francisco sent over word to our ship asking for a doctor and some pharmacist’s mates to come over and aid them. We only had two small motor launches on the davits and they were all torn away. So they [ San Francisco ] sent a boat over, and a doctor and I don’t know how many pharmacist’s mates got in. After they got there, we were always having alerts. There were planes flying around. We were still at our battle stations and didn’t know for sure what planes they were. They’d come in and then we’d find out they were our own and then they’d have submarine contacts and we’d go on Alert One.

Then it was kinda quiet and it was sort of a lull for a few minutes, and everybody was kinda talking and breathing a little easy—everybody was pretty well shook up from the night before. I remember I was just relieving another man on my gun on the phones. We took turns every once in a while so it would be easier. It was pretty hard on your ears and everything and I took over one phone. I was putting them on while he was taking the other ones off.

And I said to him, “Are you all ready?” And he didn’t say anything, he just looked at me, kinda with his mouth open. I didn’t know what it was, somebody was passing the word over the phone or what. It just seemed like everybody was just standing there and then an explosion. A torpedo struck or something. It struck about midship because the whole thing just blew up and it threw me against a gun mount and I had one of these steel helmets on and when I came to, everything was all torn apart and there was oil coming down the air and I thought it was rain but it was just the oil from the feed-tanks or something. The tanks had blew up in the air.

And there was smoke and there was fellows laying all around there and parts of their gun shields torn apart and the fantail where I was was sticking almost straight up in the air. It was so slippery that you couldn’t walk up it and the guys that was still able to climb over the side couldn’t walk up. They were crawling over the side and holding on the lifeline trying to pull themselves further aft and jump over. And they were jumping over and bumping into each other.

It was still so smoky and all, you couldn’t quite see, and I was still hazy and I knew I had to get up and get off of there. I was afraid the suction would pull me down. When I went to get up, I felt this pain in my foot and I couldn’t get my foot loose from the shield or something, it fell down on top of my right foot across the instep of it and I couldn’t get loose. It was only a few seconds, and the water was closing in around the ship and there was just this little bit of it left. And I knew that I had to get off but I couldn’t and there was a lot of kapok life jackets laying around deck.

I grabbed one of them in my arms and held it. I didn’t even put it on and the water closed in around the ship and we went down. And I gave up, I just thought that there wasn’t a chance at all, everything just run through my head. And you could see all objects in the water, all the fellows and everything and after we were under the surface I don’t know how far but the sheet of iron or whatever it was, it was released and my foot came loose and then the buoyancy from the life jacket brought me back to the surface.

It was like a big whirlpool. There was oil very thick on the water, it was at least two inches thick—seemed that way, anyway—and there was all kinds of blueprints and drawings of the ship floating around. And then there was roll after roll of tissue paper and that’s about all there was on top. I couldn’t see anybody. I thought, gee, am I the only one here? My head was very hazy and I didn’t think a thing about the other ships. I put the life jacket on when I came to the top, and I paddled around the water.

I don’t know how long, it wasn’t too long, when this doughnut life raft just popped right up in front of me. I don’t know where it came from, it just seemed to come up there. I grabbed it and held on and then I heard a man cry. I looked around and it was this boatswain’s mate second class. His name, I can’t quite remember his name. If I could see it, I’d recognize it. He was in the post office on the ship and he was crying for help. I went over to help him.

He said he couldn’t swim and he had his whole leg torn off, blew off. I helped him on the doughnut raft and then gradually one by one some more stragglers would come and we’d all get on.

Then we began to think about the other ships. When we were thinking about them, you could just see masts going over the horizon and it just seemed like they never scouted the area, they just kept right on going and we thought, well, they know we’re here, they’ll surely pick us up. So we all hung on this doughnut raft. There was so many of us that it was sinking way in the water, and there wasn’t much room.

Everybody was kinda scared at first. Some of them couldn’t swim, they were afraid they’d loose their grip and drown. So it went on that way and then these B-17 Flying Fortresses flew over the area. They just skimmed the water and they’d wave to us.∗∗ The Helena , whose captain was now senior surviving officer present, asked a Flying Fort to signal Comsopac that Juneau had been torpedoed and that survivors were in the water, but this message did not get through. Admiral Halsey later relieved the captain of his command for abandoning these survivors (Morison, op. cit. ). It can be argued that it was too hazardous to stop in these waters at the moment, especially for wounded ships, but lifeboats and rafts could have been dropped. Many much more hazardous rescues have been performed under threat of submarine attack.

Towards evening, the water was very calm and then it rained. You couldn’t see anything at all and every couple of minutes someone would say, well, there’s a ship and they were just thinking they saw it, it wasn’t there at all. And the rain stopped, and there were other doughnuts nearby and we paddled and tried to get each other together.

Well, by nightfall we were about three doughnuts together [the doughnut is a large circular float supporting a rope net, accommodating a good many partially submerged men]. It just lays on the water and you try to lay on top of it. Well, there was a lot of fellows on them. I should say there was about 140 of us when we all got together. Some of them were in very bad shape. Their arms and legs were torn off. And one of them, I could see myself his skull. You could see the red part inside where his head had been split open, you might say torn open in places. They were all crying together and very down in the dumps and wondering if anybody was ever going to pick them up. And they thought, well, at least tomorrow there will be somebody out here.

And that night, it was a very hard night because most of the fellows who were wounded badly were crying and, you know, groaning about their pains and everything. They were all in agony. And in the morning this fellow that I said that had his head open, his hair had turned gray just like as if he was an old man. It had turned gray right over night.

Everybody had so much oil on them, their ears and eyes would burn and the salt water would hurt so much that you couldn’t hardly look around to see if anybody was there. You couldn’t recognize each other unless you knew each other very well before the ship went down, or unless it was somebody that you’d recognize by his voice. So all these rolls of tissue paper were floating around there. If you unrolled them, in the middle they were dry and we’d take that and wipe our eyes out with them and ease the pain a lot and wipe our faces off a little.

Well, we all decided to stick together and try to secure the doughnuts so we wouldn’t drift apart and help the wounded guys as much as we could. Those of us who wasn’t so bad could float around and swim. The oil was so thick it sort of made everybody sick to their stomachs. So we decided to try to get out of the oil. Where the water was clear it didn’t bother you so much, but then we worried because we knew there were sharks in those waters.

This Lieutenant Blodgett, he was gunnery officer, he was a full lieutenant on the Juneau, he took charge of the party and he decided that we ought to try to paddle for land because we could see land when we first went down. And what we done, we secured the doughnuts together, one behind another in a line and the fellows that were able would get up in the forward ones and straddle legs over it [the floats] and paddle. And we done that all that day. We took turns. All that night we done the same thing. And the Lieutenant was supposed to be navigating by the stars in direction of land.

Well, we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere at all because the doughnuts were too clumsy, and on the third day a B-17 Flying Fortress flew over very low and it dropped a rubber life raft. [These inflate and provide a comparatively dry ride.] And we were all deciding what we should do about it—swim out and get it or what—because we were beginning to notice sharks. They were really sand sharks, the big sharks hadn’t come yet. The rubber raft was quite a ways off but it was yellow and you could see it once in a while, as it would come up on top of a wave. So we decided two or three of us ought to paddle over on one of these doughnut rafts and pick it up. So that’s what we done. We took this doughnut and we paddled over. There was a fellow named Hartney, and Fitzgerald, and there was a boy, a Mexican, I don’t know what his name was, but I know he was of Mexican descent.

And we picked up this rubber boat. I’d never seen one before and didn’t know how to do it but it had tubes to blow it up, some kind of, I don’t know what you call it, chemical or something, and we blew it up. One fellow paddled it back to the rest of the party. And we paddled our doughnut back.

In this rubber raft I noticed that there was little containers, I don’t know whether it was water, food or what was in them. We decided a couple of guys ought to go in this raft and paddle it with the oars that came with it and secure it to the doughnuts and try to do like we did before.

When we all got back together we thought we ought to put the worst of the wounded fellows in the rubber raft because they would be free of the water and it would be better for them. They would rest more comfortable there. So, this Lieutenant Wang was hurt very bad. He asked Lieutenant Blodgett if he could go in this rubber raft and Lieutenant Blodgett said yes, he could.

It was towards evening now, and there were three men in this rubber raft. [Instead of taking more wounded men aboard] they hollered back to us that they had decided to go for land, that it would be better that they go for land and send us help. But all these fellows that was on the doughnuts who were very sick and wounded didn’t want that. They wanted to be put in the rubber raft and all stay together. They felt, well, it was much easier there than it was on the doughnut. And why should those three go in that rubber raft and leave us here? It looked like we would just be goners that way, that’s what it looked like. Everybody figured that anyway.

Well, they said they were going anyway, so they unsecured this line and they paddled off. And all these fellows that was hurt bad was hollering for them to come back but they kept going.∗∗ The three made a small island safely, where friendly natives and a European trader nursed them back to life. A Catalina seaplane eventually brought them out. (Morison, op. cit. )

Well, after they went, we tried to get together again. The ones who were wounded that hadn’t died already had narrowed down to about fifty men. The ones of us who were in the best shape, we tried to swim around and help out the other ones. And some of the fellows, there was some planks there, they decided they’d try to swim for land on these planks. Well, they tried to do it and I never did see a couple of them again but this one fellow came back, he found out he couldn’t make it and he came back to our party on this big wooden plank.

Well, the sea began to get rough again. In the daytime the sun was very hot and I found out that the fellows who took their shirts off, or the ones that had them torn off by the explosion, their backs, their skin had all burned. They were in agony. And the ones of us who kept our clothes on were in the best shape because of the oil in the clothes. That protected us. At night it was very cold, you’d have to keep under the water to keep yourself warm. In the daytime the oil in the clothes would keep that sun off you, wouldn’t penetrate your body so much.

But then on the fourth day the sea was very rough, the doughnuts began to separate. There were about twelve on mine. There was a gunner’s mate second, his name was—it’s so long ago, I’m forgetting the names of all these fellows—well anyway, there was him, there was a boatswain’s mate and myself and this George Sullivan, he was gunner’s mate second. I think he was the oldest brother of the Sullivans, he was on the raft with me.†† All five of these famous brothers were lost on the Juneau or in the water afterward; a destroyer, The Sullivans, was later named for this family that gave so much. There was several others, there was a Polish fellow from somewhere in Pennsylvania. I remember him talking about he was a coal miner before the war. And then there was a fellow from Tennessee.

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.

The fifth day was coming up then. There were only two or three guys gone but things were getting pretty bad. The guys were fighting among themselves. If you bumped into one of them, he’d get mad and holler at you. And they did talk a lot about home and what they were going to do, and a lot of them said if they could get on an island, they’d stay there, they’d never go back to the Navy. They didn’t want to see it no more. And they were mad that they were left out there in the water. It wasn’t fair they should be left like thatl The ships went off and didn’t pick them up.

Well, this day the water was calm and it was very hot. And the fellows that didn’t have shirts on, the sun burned them something awful. It burned their skin all out, and their back, it was just like as if you shaved them with a razor or something, all raw and some of them just decided they weren’t going to try any more. They said they’d rather drown themselves than suffer like that. So that night after dark George Sullivan said he was going to take a bath. And he took off all his clothes and got away from the doughnut a little way and the white of his body must have flashed and showed up more because a shark came and grabbed him and that was the end of him. I never seen him again.

It went on that way, and that night they got two other guys, too. And towards morning, it was rough again and the waves were high and heavy. We were getting very hungry and it started drizzling rain. A sea gull flew around and it landed on our doughnut. We grabbed at him, and we missed. Then he come back and that time we caught him and wrung his neck. There was about three or four of us, I don’t remember for sure, and we ate the sea gull. There wasn’t much of it. We just floated in the water and talked together and the sharks kept bothering us all the time. We’d keep beating them off and try to keep away from them, and planes flew over all the time again. But they didn’t pay any attention to us.

Well, another night went on and the next day, this gunner’s mate second, his name was Stewart, he said that there was a hospital ship there and we were going to go over to it. There was three of us, him, me and another fellow, and he said that we should swim over to it and leave the doughnut. We didn’t know whether to or not. You hated to leave it there because you knew if you got out in the water, you were gone. So he dove in the water and swam off and he just kept swimming out over the water and he wouldn’t turn around. You could see the sharks going after him and he swam and kicked and swam. And he hollered to us to come and get him with the raft, to paddle towards him but he kept swimming the other way. We paddled towards him and finally he got tired. He turned around and came towards us and he got back before the sharks got him.

But that night it got cold again. He had thrown all his clothes away and he didn’t have a thing and he wanted me to give him my clothes. But I said no, there’s no sense to that. And he said, “Well, then I’m going down to the ship and get a clean suit. I got a lot of them in my locker.” He also said, “I got a case of peaches in my gun mount.”

He was really thinking the ship was down there. I wouldn’t let him go because I knew if he dove down into the water that something would happen to him. So I kept talking him out of it. And I kept him in between us to keep him warm. Well, that night he decided he wouldn’t stand it no more. He just swam away and the sharks got him.

Well, then there was just the two of us left. And it was about, I guess it was about the seventh day or so; that’s what I think it was anyway. We talked a lot that day together and I remember I gave my knife to this Mexican boy. He was trying to secure the raft again on his end. We were at each end with our feet kinda up in the water so we could fight the sharks off better. That night we got kinda sleepy and we dozed off I guess, because a shark grabbed him and tore his leg off below, just jaggedy like. And he complained, he said to me that somebody was stabbing him with a knife. I said how can anybody stab you out here? There’s nobody but us two.

And he swore at me and called me all kinds of names and said I had to get him to a doctor. I guess I was delirious, because I was paddling and paddling in the water there. I didn’t know where I was going, I was just paddling, trying to get him to a doctor. Well, finally he screamed and hollered and he came over to me and I held his arm and then I could see what it was. I knew that he had been bit by a shark and I held him and the shark came up and it just grabbed him underneath and kept eating him from the bottom and pulling on him. Well, I couldn’t hold him anymore. The sharks just pulled him down under the water and he drowned. Well then, that’s all that happened, it seemed like the night would never end.

The next day I just floated around some more and it went on like that for the next couple of days and in the morning of the last day, which was the ninth day, I began to get delirious myself. I see these guys come up out of the water. It looked like to me that they had rifles on their backs and I’d holler to them and they said they were up there on guard duty. They’d come up from each hatch on the ship. Well, I asked them how it was. And they said the ship was all right, you could go down there and get something dry and eat. So I said to them, well, I’ll come over there by you and go down with you. Well, I swam over to them and they just disappeared. I went back. I done that twice. Each time they disappeared when I got there. And then my head got clear and something told me just to hang on a little longer.

And about noontime that day a PBY [Catalina seaplane] flew over and circled around and then it went away again. Well, I gave up. I figured, well, I guess it’s just like all the other planes, they ain’t gonna bother, they figure you ain’t worth while coming for. Or maybe they didn’t know what I was because I was all black. I might have been a Jap for all they knew. A couple of hours later they come back and they flew around me and they dropped smoke bombs all around me.

Well, that built up my hope a lot and I took off my shirt and I waved at them and they waved back at me and then they went off and I could see them way off flying. And I figured, well, they must be guiding the ship to me. And that’s what they were doing because it wasn’t long before I could see the mast of a ship coming over the horizon and it was the U.S.S. Ballard [a destroyer]. They lowered a small boat and came out and picked me up and took me aboard there and that’s about all, for I went on there into sick bay.


What day was this they picked you up, do you remember?


It was the 22nd [November, 1942].


And then they took you where?


They took me into Espiritu Santo.


When you got on the Ballard were you delirious?


Yes, I was.


Suffer from anything else? Shock, of course?


I had very bad headaches in my head where I had been hit on the ship. And I was sick all over and I don’t know, I was sorta wore out.


Broken foot, too?




How long were you in the hospital ashore?


I was in Espiritu Santo for about, I think it was about two weeks. I can’t remember any more. Then I was transferred to the U.S.S. Solace and from there I went to Fiji to an Army hospital and stayed there until I got better. I wasn’t really better but they needed the hospital so bad then that they transferred us out when we were able and I was sent to a naval dispensary there.


How long were you on Fiji?


I think I was there nine months.


Then you went to Australia?


Yes sir. There was a letter came out asking for volunteers for submarines and I volunteered for it and they transferred me down to Australia.


Feel pretty good now again?


Yes, I do.


Think you’re fully recovered?


I think I’m all right.


Good. Having fully recovered, you then asked for and were given submarine service. Is that right?


Yes, that’s right.


And you went out on a war patrol?


Yes sir.


And on that patrol, you’re officially credited with sinking some five ships and damaging four?


That’s correct.


Your preference for future service would be in submarines?


Yes sir, it would.


Back in the same hunting area?


It wouldn’t make any difference as long as it’s out in the Pacific somewhere.












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