From the memoirs of Lt. Commander Norman Harris, U.S.S. Cumberland Sound; written for his children. A number of photos on this site were provided by the Estate of Norman C. Harris and are identified as such in the captions.
VI. THE WORLD WAR II YEARS (SHORE DUTY)
My initial Navy orders authorized a complete set of uniforms, (blues, whites, and khakis), a thorough physical exam, and rail transportation to South Bend, Indiana for “90-Day Wonder School”. I and several other younger faculty had to leave our teaching positions three months before the end of the 1941-42 school year, but the older faculty pitched in and took on the classes that those of us who were being called up had to leave. We were promised our jobs back if we returned at the end of the war.
OCS (or 90-Day Wonder School) at Notre Dame was a heady, but not always pleasant experience. Up at 5:00 A.M., breakfast at 6:00, double-time (i.e., run) a half mile to the stadium athletic field, maneuvers, exercises, marching practice, etc. all morning, then double-time back to the barracks for chow at noon. There was always emphasis on whom to salute and when, and on military etiquette in general. Afternoons were for study in a wide variety of fields relative to the Naval Service, such as ship propulsion, navigation, gunnery, signaling, fleet dispositions, strategy and tactics at sea, etc.
I enjoyed these afternoon study sessions since most of the topics were of interest to me as a physicist. I also welcomed the rest from the four hours of tough physical activity. Those of us who were somewhat older (I was 31 at the time) found it pretty difficult to keep up in a physical training program designed for 18 and 20-year-olds.
The 90 days came to a close and all of us “Wonders”, that is those who survived (many “washed out” either for physical or scholastic reasons) had our commissions confirmed, drew our pay, and awaited orders to our first duty station. As soon as I saw my orders, (to the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island), I phoned Mother and we agreed that she would leave her job at the end of the spring term and join in me Newport. Our lives as Navy Officer and Navy Wife had begun.
Mother arrived in South Bend in early July and we rode the New York Central (then a super passenger train) to New York; then the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad to Newport. We (and friends we met) found a huge old summer house in Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay, and we all moved in for our stay at Newport. Daily commute to the Torpedo Station was by Narragansett Ferry.
My work during this tour of duty was with a team set up to improve the detonation fuses on the Fleet’s torpedoes. Many of them (early in the war) made on-target runs, but did not detonate. The research and development work was intensely interesting, since it involved physics and engineering principles at every juncture. We also worked on some preliminary designs for a new acoustic homing torpedo, one that would home in on an enemy submarine, guided by the underwater noises it made while underway. The project was codenamed “Fido”.
There was quite an active social life among all the Navy personnel in Newport. Admirals and Captains threw parties and receptions nearly every weekend and our contingent from Conanicut Island ferried over to many of them – the men resplendent in their summer “white”, the ladies dressed to the nines.
We had a wedding in the old house that summer – I gave the bride away and Mother did most of the planning. We kept in touch with this couple for over forty years. He (Bob Gulmon) stayed in the Navy after the War, went into submarine service, and made Captain, and skippered a submarine out of Pearl Harbor Sub Base for several years.
That summer (1942) the Japanese were invading the Aleutians with considerable success and there was some fear that they would attack Alaska and/or even the West Coast. As a matter of face, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Santa Barbara that year and bombarded some oil rigs and tanks located on the present site of the Sandpiper Golf Club. With that threat in mind, many of us new officers were shifted to West Coast assignments. My orders sent me to Naval Air Station Seattle in October as Torpedo Officer and Asst. to Gunnery Officer. So, we boarded a transcontinental train again, with enough days’ leave enroute to stop off and visit parents in Southern California, get our car (which Aunt Beryle had been using) and drive to Seattle. There, when I reported for duty, I was put in charge of the Aircraft Torpedo shop and supervised loading these weapons on planes that were making anti-submarine searches offshore in the Pacific.
We found a tiny house to rent on the lake front near Lake City. We saw very little of Seattle and its environs, since gasoline was rationed (15 gallons a month) and I had to use most of that commuting to my job at the Naval Air Station. Every fourth night I “drew the duty), being for that period of time, in charge of the Gunnery Department activities and security. This winter of ’42 was a pretty dull one for Mother – it was unusually rainy, cold, and snowy, and we were unable to get out and do things because of the gas rationing. Fuel oil was also rationed and we always ran out a week or more before the new ration tickets were legal. Luckily, there was a big kitchen stove, so we bought wood for it, and it cooked for us and kept us warm.
By spring of ’43, the threat of any West Coast attack had subsided, and also by that time a veritable galaxy of new ships started coming off the ways at East Coast and Gulf Coast shipyards. In April, 1943, orders came for me to report to Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia, the main center on the East Coast for supply and outfitting of all new aircraft carriers joining both Atlantic and Pacific fleets. As a nation, we were really geared up, and by this time our victory at the battle of Midway had the Japanese on the run in the North Pacific.
Mother stayed in Southern California, since Malcolm was almost due to arrive, and there was no housing at that time on the base at Norfolk for married couples. You had to “get on the list” and await your turn.
By this time I had been promoted to full Lieutenant (two bars, two stripes), but was still the Assistant Gunnery Officer, the department head at Norfolk being a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR).
We had a department of some 300 men (and WAVES) to take care of all the ordnance needs of patrol aircraft flying out in the Atlantic on submarine hunts, and (the big job!) supplying all the bombs, torpedoes and other aircraft ordnance to all the aircraft carriers and seaplane tenders that were (almost) daily being put into commission in the East Coast. Norfolk Naval Air Station was also the headquarters command for Com Air Lant, the Admiral in all-over charge of Naval Air Operations in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Night and day, our supply trucks and trailers commuted between the Magazine Area (100 acres of revetments and underground storage) and the ships at the dock – bombs of all sorts and sizes, depth charges, aircraft torpedoes, and ammunition for aircraft machine guns.
Early on, in June, news of Malcolm’s arrival in Long Beach came. Happy Day! Luckily a house was available by that time, in Oakdale Farms, a nice little subdivision of naval housing, near Virginia Beach, VA. It was about five miles from the base, but I had a “Jeep” assigned to me so commuting was no problem. Mother and Malcolm arrived in Washington, D.C. in late June, by transcontinental rail (clickety-clack for 3,000 miles). I got three days’ leave, caught a Navy transport place and met them at Washington’s National Railroad Station. We took a taxi to the Willard Hotel for lunch and (you’ve all heard this before) I had the pleasure of being with my family again – one across the table smiling, and one under the table in his basket making baby noises. Was I proud, as a brand new Dad? Nearly busted the buttons off my uniform!
A little later that summer, one of our bomb trucks slipped a strap, and the bomb dragged along the tarmac, then exploded. Much damage resulted to nearby hangers, parked aircraft and to the runway itself. A high-level investigation was convened and although no single cause of the accident could be determined, the axe had to fall somewhere, and as expected it fell on the Gunnery Department Head, my boss! At the end of the Court of Inquiry, I received a summons from the C.O.’s office – “Report to Captain Shoemaker, on the double!” On being ushered into his office by the Exec (see later note), I was shaking in my boots, and indeed I should have been since his first harsh words were, “Do you think a #!@# Naval Reservist (contemptuously) could run that #!@# Gunnery Department for me?” I could hardly get the words out, “Do you mean me?” He gruffed it out, “I’m talking to you, right?” I replied with a good Navy answer, “Yes, SIR!” Then and there he had his WAVE secretary cut my orders and as a result of a tragic accident I became Gunnery Officer and Department Head of the largest aviation ordnance installation on the East Coast!
Note: The Executive Officer who ushered me into the Skipper’s office, was to re-enter my life nearly 40 years later. The day in 1980 that I was welcomed to membership in the Santa Barbara Men’s Garden Club, who should be presiding at the podium to welcome me as a new member? Yep, you guessed it. What goes around comes around!
I shook up the department, requested and received a few new officers and chief petty officers, and our operation began to run smoothly. That year (1942-43) we must have outfitted 50 major new ships of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets with all their aviation ordnance, plus untold numbers of aircraft flying coastal patrols, and many “packaging units” called “Acorns” (men, material) to be sent to the Western and South Pacific to occupy and operate bases newly seized from the Japanese.
“Home life” was pleasant at Oakdale Farms. Frequent social activity, parties, etc. And little Malcolm was a joy, as he grew and learned to love his “horsey-back rides”.
In addition to my duties as Gunnery Officer, as head of one of the five departments on that Station, I drew the “Command Duty” every fifth night. This involved being the temporary active duty “Commander” of the base and its operations for that particular night. Of course, the CO was aboard the base most nights and if he was gone, the Executive Officer was aboard. But as Commander Duty Officer you were not supposed to bother them with any routine stuff. On nights when I had the duty, I would strap on the duty belt, my Navy Colt automatic, requisition my Jeep and driver, usually a Chief Petty Officer, and begin my rounds at 5:00 p.m. Supervising all work in progress, checking security at the gates and at the docks, checking potentially dangerous situations such as fires and accidents were all part of this job. The Station was my “baby” until 6:00 a.m. the next day. Luckily, during all my nights as CDO, nothing serious or tragic ever happened. Actually, the biggest crises would occur when ships of the Fleet, which had been out on long tours of duty at sea, came in for R&R or for refitting and fresh supplies. After long weeks at sea with no social life (and no liquor aboard ship) the ships’ officers hit the beach with alacrity and headed en masse for the Breezy Point Officers’ Club, a classy watering hole. Admiral and Captains would throw parties, and of course, some of these would threaten to get out of hand.
Captain Shoemaker had a standing order that the Club had to close at midnight, no matter who was there or what kind of party was in progress. One of my Command Duty Officer assignments was to close down the Officers Club at midnight – no exceptions!
As you can imagine, I took a lot of flack on this. Most nights, however, after reading the Skipper’s standing order (which, among other things, called for a letter of reprimand to go in the “jacket” or service record of anyone that I would cite as refusing to leave), after a round of grousing, everybody would leave peaceably.
One night in particular, however, the Admiral in command of the Mediterranean Fleet (whose ships were in port after a six-month deployment) steadfastly refused to leave with his party. I flicked the lights on and off, read him my orders two or three times, emphasized Captain Shoemaker’s strict orders, and politely asked him to gather up his party and leave. He exploded, “Old Shoemaker? Who does he think he is, ordering me around? We’ll stay till dawn if we want to! Bartender, another round for the whole table.” I ordered the bartender not to serve them and went to the “red phone” for emergencies and called Captain Shoemaker direct. I explained the situation in detail with names and rank of the partying group. His reply, “Put Admiral (can’t remember his name now) on the phone.” I could hear the Admiral’s end of the conversation. It went something like this: “Shoemaker, what goes on here? Get this (obscenity) Lieutenant off my back! We’ve been out for six months and we’re going to party until dawn!” Then he was very quiet for a minute or so, slammed down the receiver and returned to his party saying, “O.K., we have to clear out.” They left mad as hell! Whatever Shoemaker said to them I’ll never know, but he must have put it in no uncertain terms. After all, regardless of rank, the Commanding Officer of any ship or station sets the operational orders for his command, and the fact that he was outranked by the Admiral made no difference whatever. Generally, I admired Captain Shoemaker, and that cinched it. He backed me up by “reading out” an Admiral who was giving me a hard time – “No (obscenity) Lieutenant is going to tell me what to do.”
Later on, in 1944, Shoemaker was ordered as CO of the Franklin (a big carrier). She was under his command when hit my Kamikazes and badly damaged in the battle of Leyte Gulf, preliminary to the U.S. recapture of the Philippines.
So, 1943 wore on and so did early 1944 – busy as a bird dog at NAS Norfolk. I enjoyed the work, the social life for the family was good, housing was good, but there was always the yen to go to sea. In March ’44 I put in a request through the Executive Officer and Captain Shoemaker for orders to sea duty, preferably on a seaplane tender (AV). I had been aboard many of these ships in connection with supplying their ordnance, and they just seemed to be the right ship for me.
In (late) April, orders came through detaching me from NAS Norfolk and ordering me to report as Gunnery Officer of the USS Cumberland Sound (AV-17) then fitting out at the Todd Pacific Shipyard in Tacoma, Washington. (Two weeks leave en route).
Pack up again (we had bought a 1939 Olds coupe in the meantime) and off across the country to California. Mother and Malcolm got settled in a little house in Whittier. They kept the car, and I caught a Navy transport plane to Sea Tac airport near Tacoma. On or about May 15, I reported to Captain Grant as the Gunnery Officer of his new ship. We had a few more weeks of fitting out, then commissioning, then speed trials, and crew training runs in Puget Sound. We took our real shakedown cruise on the way to San Diego, where our squadrons of PBM-5’s were waiting for us.
Mother came down from Whittier for a brief good-bye (at the U.S. Grant Hotel), and reported that little Mal was doing fine. This was a sad parting, but in the course of time, all turned out well, and I had my wish – real Navy sea duty for nearly 1½ years.
VII. WAR IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC (SEA DUTY)
The Cumberland Sound (the “Cuke”) departed San Diego for Pearl Harbor in late July, 1944, and zigzagged on a planned submarine-evasion course all the way. Our squadrons of PBM-5’s (huge seaplanes that used bays and harbors as their “airports”) flew out and joined us in Hilo Bay a couple of weeks later, for extended training before our departure for Kwajalein, Atoll. At that time, U.S. forces still had a huge operating base in the Truk Islands and airfields on Palau, Woliae, Yap, and other Western Pacific Islands.
We departed Hilo for Kwajalein, our squadrons following, and we operated there for a couple of months on anti-submarine patrols. The “Cuke” performed the seaplane tender function of total support to our squadrons (two, of eighteen planes each). The places themselves ranged daily over thousands of miles of the South Pacific Ocean, using the latest sub-hunting gear, and dropping depth charges on any contacts. Zones where our own subs were operating were known, of course, and they avoided those areas.
The PBM squadron crews lived aboard the ship, and we supplied their every need – food, medical needs, gas and oil for planes, bombs and depth charges and machine gun ammo, command and communications services, and aircraft maintenance and repair. The huge planes could be hoisted aboard our seaplane deck by a monstrous crane on our starboard stern. The deck could accommodate two planes at one time. Almost any maintenance job, short of a complete rebuilding of the airplane, could be done by our aircraft shop.
The squadrons were under a separate commander – the Air Officer – who, along with our Captain, headed up our operations as directed from Commander, Pacific Theater (Admiral Nimitz) in Pearl Harbor. Depending on where we were operating and at what stage of the War, we were at times a unit in the Third Fleet (Admiral Halsey) and at other times in the Sixth Fleet (Admiral Mitscher). (Mitscher always wore a blue baseball cal when in the War Theater, and it became almost a uniform item for other officers at those times when we were designated as Sixth Fleet. I still have my “Marc Mitscher” cap).
After a couple of months at Kwajalein, we moved to Eniwetok, and carried on with the same type of operations. Early in 1945, we moved our operations to Ulithi Atoll in the Carolines, which by this time was becoming a major U.S. Fleet Base. Here we were only a few hundred miles from Truk (still a huge Japanese base) and Yap and Woliae, where the enemy had fully-operating air fields. Our ships in Ulithi were well within range of these bases and continual air raids (in both directions) were SOP (standard operating procedure).
Our mission was now enlarged to include supply and transport, in addition to submarine patrol. Also, U.S. submarines were operating in the waters north and west of Ulithi, so extreme care as to allowable bombing zones had to be exercised. Our big planes would fly down to Australia or to Guam and bring back critical supplies, or transport key personnel, or wounded personnel.
The Japanese planes that attacked our fleet at Ulithi were of two types – (1) night fighters and bombers coming in at high altitude (usually from Woliae) for surveillance, and on clear moonlit nights to drop bombs (we gave them the code-name “Woliae Willy”.); and (2) Kamikazes, any old crate that would carry a bomb and hold together for a one-way daylight flight at low altitude – skipping the waves, hoping to avoid our radar. Over the months at Ulithi our fleet sustained very little damage from “Woliae Willy” night attacks, but several ships were badly damaged by Kamikazes, the worst damage being done when one slipped in about 10:00 a.m. one day, and slammed into the USS Bunker Hill (a big aircraft carrier) blowing up the after flight deck and most of the hangar deck. She was about 1000 yards off our stern to starboard. We and all the other ships in that corner of the lagoon were banging away at the plane. It was hit several times, (probably by our guns, as well as those of nearby ships), and was trailing smoke fire and fragments, but managed to stay airborne long enough to crash on the carrier’s hangar deck. Loss of life aboard the ship was heavy. Two of my friends from Notre Dame OCS were killed. Bunker Hill had to limp back to Pearl for repairs, and didn’t rejoin the Fleet until very late in the war.
I mentioned the lack of any damage from the high-flying night bombers. They were, however, a constant nuisance, necessitating going to “General Quarters” two or three times some nights and banging away at any target that showed up on radar. I recall that we “rigged for movies” on the seaplane deck eight different times to see Rita Hayworth in “Cover Girl”, before we saw it entirely without a call to G.Q.
General Quarters (G.Q.) was sounded on the Klaxon horns throughout the ship. At G.Q., every person aboard reported “on the double” to his pre-assigned G.Q. station – at the guns, in the engine room, on the Bridge, in the sick bay (hospital), at the lookout stations, etc. Under non-G.Q. conditions my Gunnery Division consisted of about sixty men, some non-rated seamen, but most of them in special ratings related to guns, fire control systems, and ammunition. At G.Q., however, manning the ship’s guns required about two hundred and fifty men, and during G.Q. all of these were “my crew”, their actions controlled by orders (through “talkers”) from my Gun Control G.Q. station. However, once enemy planes became visible, each battery could engage any target in its sector without specific orders from Control. Every gun mount aboard ship had automatic cut-outs in its tracking mechanism to prevent firing into any part of the ship itself, or, in the direction of any of our ships anchored nearby.
The Cumberland Sound’s armament was limited to anti-aircraft weapons and intended mainly for close-in defense of the ship itself. We did, however, have two 5-inch/18’s mounted in turrets fore and aft, which were capable of engaging enemy planes at distances up to 6000 yards (more than three miles), after we were fitted with late-model radars and supplied with “influence-fused” ammunition for them in late 1944.
Our close-in defensive armament featured four Quad-mount, 40mm “Bofors” batteries, two on each side, fore and aft, firing four projectiles at a time, semi-automatic fire, but hand-loaded by gun crew, with “clips” of four shells at a time. These were radar-directed, each with its own director and director operator. At central control I and my assistant “gun boss” would keep the chief gunner’s mate at each of these batteries advised (through interim “talkers”) of the total situation and direct them to start tracking on specific incoming targets. When the target came within range and was trackable by the battery’s own director, this director took over and it was fire at will.
Complimenting these very effective weapons were sixteen-20-mm automatic-fire machine guns, eight on each side. These had no directors and were manually aimed by gunners trained in innumerable practice firing exercises at towed sleeves and drone airplanes to be able to “lead” an attacking aircraft by visual contact. They were alerted, as above, by a “talker” and told to open fire when a target was judged to be in range, which for them was about 1500 yards.
The 40-mm clips and 20-mm drums were loaded with a tracer projectile every fourth round, so the gun director (40-mm) or gunner (20-mm) could see where the rounds were going with respect to the target’s movement and make corrections in aiming as needed.
Finally, there was our battery of twenty 50-caliber machine guns, ten on each side of the seaplane deck, mounted on the deck stanchions, for extreme, in-close, last minute defensive against dive bombers and Kamikazes that might get through the outer barrage. These guns were fed by ordinary ammunition belts as seen in war movies. Their effective range was only about 800 yards.
Due to the nature of our assignments, the Cumberland Sound was not often in situations requiring all-out use of these armaments. Of all the times we went on alert and at General Quarters, there were only perhaps twenty instances (mostly at Ulithi Atoll, and four times at Okinawa) where we actually opened fire and blasted away. Did we get any hits? Difficult to say, since we were in company with other ships that also were firing. Enemy planes were knocked down (some got through too, as above noted), but whether it was by our projectiles or by others was always uncertain in the confused milieu of battle.
Except for the occasional raids, like at Ulithi, life was slow and measured. I had time for “R. and R.”. Played baseball on Mog Mog (the recreation island), (still have one of the balls we used), toured other islands, where natives lived, snorkeled in the blue lagoons, played lots of poker, and still had time to enroll in and complete several Armed Forces college-level correspondence courses in engineering, thermodynamics, and refrigeration/air conditioning. The Cumberland Sound had a state-of-the-art steam turbine and reduction gear propulsion system which fascinated me. Also, we had a huge refrigeration plant capacity since we fed not only our ship’s crew of about three hundred, but also all the squadron personnel – thirty-six PBM-5’s, each with a crew of eight.
Thermodynamics had been my specialized field of study for my Master’s Degree at Cal, and I especially was interested in refrigeration and air conditioning. These correspondence courses were the forerunner to much work (and writing) that I did after returning to civilian life.
VIII. MOVING NORTH
After Saipan was fairly well secured (in early 1945), we moved the “Cuke’s” operations there, performing our usual anti-submarine (ASW) activities, with transport (by our planes) of medical supplies, wounded critical materials, etc. This type of operation became a pattern, as U.S. Navy and Marine forces took back Palau, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Ie-Shima, and Okinawa. The usual modus operandi was for our ship (and also other seaplane tenders) to arrive at a newly-seized island or battle zone several days after initial landings, where a seadrome could be set up in a protected bay and more-or-less normal air operations could be initiated. Anti-sub patrols were still an important function, but in this final island-hopping drive to Japan, our PBM squadrons’ transport-and-supply function was probably the more important. Bringing in critical supplies, flying out wounded, availability of our sick bay for wounded, and also of the ship’s food, showers, and recreation facilities for tired, hungry, sick or wounded marines and soldiers – all these were important functions. Many other seaplane tenders and submarine tenders and, of course, hospital ships, were also involved with these duties.
This island-hopping-north phase took several months and the spring of 1945 wore on. President Roosevelt died; Iwo Jima came and went – a horror in itself in a horrible war; then Okinawa, equal in its ferocity and carnage.
As usual, we came to Okinawa a week or two after it was reasonably “secure”, and set up the seadrome. Some units of the fleet were already there and in the weeks of June and July scores of the ships from the Third and Sixth fleets arrived and “dropped the hook”, or tied up at damaged docks in Buckner Bay. We began massing and training for the final assault on Japan. Our air forces moved in, and Navy Sea Bees repaired all the runways; Marine and Army divisions moved up and started rehearsing for the expected invasion. We and other seaplane tenders kept our squadrons busy hunting down the last few Japanese submarines which, of course, were deployed between Okinawa and Japan. Kamikaze air raids against our forces occurred almost nightly, but by that time our radars and our influence-fused AA ammunition were so reliable that we could pick up (on radar) and knock down enemy planes at great distances. Also picket destroyers were stationed north of Okinawa along the flight path from Japan, to engage enemy planes long before they arrived near our Okinawa staging area, and give us early warning.
Nevertheless, some Japanese places got through – all shot up, but still airborne and still carrying a bomb on a one-way suicide mission. The bombs were not dropped; the plane and bomb just rammed right into whatever ship was picked as a target. Night after night we got the alert, went to G.Q., made smoke screens and manned all the AA guns. Luckily, the “Cuke” was never hit, but one of our sister AV’s was, and the battleship Pennsylvania had her entire bow blown off just about 500 yards from our mooring.
To regress again, when we were in Saipan, the Skipper had sent me over to the ammo depot on Tinian (a sister island of Saipan) to round up a couple dozen aircraft machine guns (.50 caliber) to mount at intervals around the seaplane deck to increase our fire power against close-in Kamikaze attacks. On Tinian, which was at that time the main forward base for the U.S. Army Air Force, I got my first look at a B-29 Flying Fortress. What an airplane! Little did I know that during those very weeks they were practicing loading and making runs with a “dummy” of the A-bomb. The real thing would not arrive until sometime in late July, 1945.
From Saipan, in June and July, the Air Force was systematically destroying Tokyo, Yokohama, and other Japanese cities by saturated high-altitude bombing. Rumors of possible peace feelers were being circulated, but the Kamikazes kept coming and aerial surveillance showed that the Japanese were fortifying beaches, employing artillery and making every preparation against the invasion which they knew was coming.
Then, in early August, came the Enola Gay and Hiroshima, and a few days later Nagasaki; and the war was essentially over. Hirohito officially capitulated, and V-J day was declared on August 15. Negotiations began, and plans were laid for the official signing. Unconditional surrender was demanded except that the Emperor could remain on the throne under a constitutional monarchy form of government.
In mid-August, our Navy, Marine, and Army units (the Air Force was a part of the Army at that time) began moves to enter Japan to take over. The Third Fleet (with “Bull” Halsey in command) was to constitute the initial Navy occupying force. The 11th Airborne Division was designated for the initial Army-Air Force occupation. I cannot remember which Marine units were sent in with the occupation forces.
The Third Fleet, with Halsey’s flag on the USS Missouri and the “Cuke” in the formation, departed Okinawa and made the run to Tokyo Bay through one of the worst typhoons of the year. Winds of 95-110 knots piled up ocean crests that would hide a battleship only 1500 yards away. We rode it out with only minor damage to a few ships and on the morning of August 28, 1945, 50 years ago today as I write this, our flotilla formed a line and steamed into Tokyo/Yokohama Bay – Missouri leading, with two destroyers off her bows, and the Cumberland Sound seventh in line. Our Skipper (Captain Grant) was on the bridge as was the Exec and all five of us Department Heads (Deck, Gunnery, Engineering, Air, and Operations). It was a great day, and today, as I write, the scene is still crystal clear in my memory.
General MacArthur (“Dugout Doug”) and Admiral Nimitz arrived two days later and the surrender ceremonies were held on the main deck of the U.S.S. Missouri. All ship’s Captains were invited to the ceremony, but with so many V.I.P.’s at hand, we department head officers didn’t get to participate. We watched the ceremony through the long glass on the Quarterdeck, taking turns peacefully as Peace was declared. The greatest war in history was finally over!
IX. Going Home
After several weeks of operations in Japan and a good deal of touring of Yokohama, Tokyo and environs, many of us Reservists’ thoughts turned to going home. Two of the Cuke’s department heads were “regular Navy”, but we three Reservists (Deck, Gunnery, and Operations) put in for immediate release to inactive duty. Release was based on a “point” system (time in Navy, time at sea, rank, and similar measures). All three of us had ample points, but we had to await the arrival of suitable reliefs from the Bureau of Personnel, so it was October before we could be released from duty. The only transportation to San Francisco available at the time was a Liberty Ship. Distasteful as this mode of travel was to Navy men, we took it. What a voyage! – Great Circle Route (going far north – very rough seas the entire passage) took 21 days from Tokyo to the Golden Gate! Believe it or not, the Navigator (if he could be called that) missed his landfall my 50 miles, and arrived off the California Coast, north of the Russian River, so we had to do a quick turn to starboard and act like a coastal steamer until the Golden Gate loomed up in the fog!
It was October 27th. San Francisco gave us a great welcome! Banners all over the place – small boats racing at our side, a band at the dock. I hurried ashore, bought a train ticket to L.A. for early next morning departure, and then the three of us did a little shopping. I got Mother some nice gifts and Malcolm his first book – “The Little Engine That Could”. We three had a few at the St. Francis and the Top of the Mark, and said our good byes. I caught the train early next morning (faster then than now) and arrived L.A. late afternoon. Caught the Big Red Car (Pacific Electric) to Dominguez Station, hooked a cab and went straight to the family I hadn’t seen in more than a year! At my knock, a little boy came, looked at me and turned around to announce, “Mommy, there’s a man at the door!” What a reunion! Joy was a nine letter word – Happiness!
(This is taken from) a reminiscence about the War that my Father wrote. The first part is about becoming an officer and shore duty, the second on being at sea aboard the “Cuke”, and finally coming home. It’s from a short memoir he wrote about his life for me and my siblings. There is interesting technical detail about the ship, the operations, and a few anecdotes. My dad was raised on a farm in California and after the War was a professor at the University of Michigan.
This material is used with permission of the Harris family. It is the property of the estate of Norman Harris and may not be copied or used in any manner without their permission.