The Patterson had been built in 1937, and
at 1500 tons was smaller than the contemporary destroyers of 2200 tons. But it was also
much faster, at 37 knots, had longer range, was more heavily armed, and had numerous
amenities in accomodation that the new war-constructed ships lacked. It carried a
complement of about 35 officers and 300 men. Everybody had a specific job, a watch station
where he spent 8 hours a day, and a General Quarters station when the whole ship was on
Practically all of us were Reserve, not
Regular Navy. The Captain was Lieutenant Commander Heath Angelo, who had been an
investment broker in San Francisco, and was recruited because of his experience as a
yachtsman. He had just recently replaced a well-liked predecessor, who in a premonition of
"Mr. Roberts" had been promoted to a higher command and gotten killed.
My assignment was Assistant CIC Officer.
CIC stands for Combat Information Center. It was a room about 10' square just below the
bridge, staffed if I recall by an officer and 3 enlisted. They operated an "air
search" (the big rectangular screen at the masthead), "sea search" (smaller
solid antenna, lower) radar, but not sonar, which was in another room. The sea search
horizontal display was used for station-keeping while steaming a zigzag course in a tight
screen formation. Another display was the Dead Reckoning Tracker (DRT) which processed the
ship's speed and heading to trace a course on a horizontal map display. One crew member
was the "talker" (via sound-powered phone) to advise the bridge of recommended
I spent my watch periods there, and it was
my General Quarters station as well. On watch, I supervised 4 or 5 crewmen who manned the
radar and sonar scopes, kept an open voiceline to the bridge, and so forth.
Position-keeping and target status was maintained on a big edge-lighted plexiglass panel.
Most of the sailors were bucking for
promotion and higher pay. To do that they had to study correspondence courses and take
exams, and I tutored them in such niceties as navigation and station-keeping. The
Executive Officer found out about that and ordered me to stop; it seemed that the ship's
allotment of enlisted men was determined by rank, and by allowing any individual to
advance, we risked losing him to another ship. The men of course didn't object to that,
but the Captain wanted to retain his team.
A somewhat unpleasant side duty was
censoring the enlisted mens' letters to home. Like fighting men everywhere, we were
forbidden to tell people at home where we were or what we were doing, or to keep a diary
about it. Possibly I was more conscientious than necessary about the latter, but anyhow I
refrained, and now must depend on memory for this story. The sailors weren't so inhibited,
and often made crude attempts to elude the censorship. One wrote his wife to "please
send Chewing Guam" (even though gum was in plentiful supply at the ship's store), so
I razored out the offending word. This provoked an angry complaint from the recipient,
which got back to the ship, and I had to explain why I had done the cutting, and had
discarded the evidence in a misguided attempt to keep the writer out of trouble.
Another tedious job was decoding radio
messages. All the communications to the fleet were broadcast in simple Morse code, but
with letters substituted so it looked like gibberish. Our radiomen would listen to this
stuff for hours, typing it letter for letter. Then, because only a commissioned officer
could decode, I had to sit for hours at the keyboard of a special machine and, if
everything worked, English would come out.
When we visited Guam, the island was
wholly occupied by various U.S. military units, of which a Naval supply base was one. We
could routinely replenish our supply of lettuce and potatoes, which were carried in
ventilated bins on deck so they would last longer. We used to joke that when weevils got
in the flour, the cooks started baking raisin bread.
Officers and crew were permitted shore
leave, and it was OK to hitchhike around the island. I was picked up once by a friendly
Commander in a jeep, who started asking me how I liked the service and how things were on
the ship. I was chattering away when I glanced at his collar insignia again and saw it was
not a leaf but a star! what embarrassment! He must have thought I was an exceptionally
brash young Ensign.
Our uniforms, by the way, were gray, as
ordered by Adm. King. Those officers who had joined before about 1943 hated that, calling
it the "bus-driver" or the "mailman" outfit, and stubbornly treasured
their khaki uniforms. It also was common practice, whenever in a small boat, to drag your
cap in the sea, so that it would look "salty"and not reveal by its newness that
you were too.
When I was commissioned, I got an
allowance to buy specified uniform items, work grays and cap, shoes, dress
"blues" (really black), dress whites for formal occasions, and (optional for
$40) a saber, scabbard, and "sword knot" to hang it on. I didn't pop for the
sword, but had to carry all the other stuff around the Pacific on the ship. When I got
home, my unused white shoes were green and moldy. The white tunic-style uniform was
worthless, but the black serge made a high-quality civilian suit. Ditto the raincoat,
which is actually a quality topcoat with a removable flannel liner. I wore it, with its
dashing wide lapels and cloth belt, on winter business trips to the East for the next 40
years, and it still hangs in the closet.
While I was aboard, in the Pacific, we saw
action only a few times. Mostly we steamed back and forth as part of a screen formation
for a "jeep" carrier, whose planes took off daily to fight over Okinawa. Due to
the abiding fear of submarine attack, the course for launching planes was kept as short as
possible. Any F4F which failed for any reason to get off properly was unceremoniously
dumped in the sea, pilot and all, to free the catapult for the next in line. Then the
nearest destroyer in the screen had to rush over and rescue the pilot, who could be traded
to his mother ship for 10 gallons of ice cream.
Our formation was attacked by Japanese
aircraft very rarely, I think only once or twice. We assumed they were kamikaze attempts
to crash on the carrier deck and disable it, so our ship was not really the target. We and
all the others would blast away with everything we had, trying to destroy the diving enemy
before he hit the carrier. In the excitement I was out on deck, screaming and cheering
like a football fan. The danger to the carrier, with its load of aviation fuel and ammo,
was real enough, and I have some grim snapshots of successful attacks, taken from the
Patterson before I joined it.
We were also well equipped for anti-sub
warfare, although we didn't get to do any, and mines. The floating mines were a constant
worry. They would drift for thousands of miles, and could be encountered anywhere. They
were metal balls, about 3 feet in diameter, which if touched could blow a ship like ours
apart. One fine afternoon the formation spotted one, and we were detached to dispose of
it. The weather was calm, and we circled slowly at a range of about a quarter mile. For 15
minutes we blasted away with everything but the 5-inch guns, to no avail, while we
received sarcastic comment from the admiral on his carrier. Even the .45-cal pistols were
broken out (at 500 yards?!). Finally, as if by accident, the mine was hit and went up with
a satisfying "whoom!".
During our tour on the Pacific, Japan
surrendered. After a brief visit to the devastated town of Manila (where our Filipino
steward was quietly permitted to go AWOL) we received word that the Patterson was to be
decommissioned and returned to the States for salvage. Each ship had a long, skinny
Commission Pennant that was a foot in length for each crew member. We hoisted ours in Apra
Harbor, and I was sent out in the whaleboat with the Speed-Graphic to take souvenir
photos. I spent several hours in the darkroom, making 350 or so prints for distribution to
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