On 5 Jan 1944, 13 of us radar guys were trucked to the LeJeune train depot to be shipped out with about 1,300 other guys although we were kept separate from them.
They started climbing aboard the troop cattle cars and we were ordered into the lone Pullman car on the end of the train. The 13 of us had the whole Pullman car to ourselves with an MP to guard against any of the other troops entering our car. What a way to go.
On one side of the car, we kept our bunks done all the time and on the other side we had our seats and tables. Occasionally we would sneak into the cattle cars to see how the other guys were doing. Unimaginable contrast.
It took us five days to cross the country via the southern route to San Diego, where the 1,300 guys we're destined. Our car was unhooked and put onto a civilian train to Frisco.
We were sent to casual company on 11 Jan 1944, on Treasure Island in Frisco Bay. Treasure Island had been built for a World’s Fair some years prior. While there we had no duties and had only to show up each morning at 6 a.m. for roll-call.
Each day we had fantastic liberty in Frisco. I was still only 17 years old but the bartenders didn’t bother to check us marines. The seabees complained because they were checked and we weren’t.
On 22 Jan 1944, 23 of us were taken to LaJolla and put aboard the destroyer USS Williamson, which had been a World War I coal-burning four-stacker then converted to an oil-pumping two-stacker.
It was nothing like a modern destroyer. Its gunwales consisted of pipes and chains. I was assigned to the aft crew quarters, under the aft head, which was under a 5-inch gun platform.
Exit from there was up a starboard ladder that led to a hatch that opened outward to the starboard gunwale. When the ship was rolling to starboard, the hatch acted like a scoop or funnel, and seawater poured down the ladder.
The next day we headed past Alcatraz to the Frisco Navy Yard. Two tugs came out to berth the ship but the skipper, who acted like Captain Queeg, refused the assistance and said he could berth his ship unaided.
We broadsided the corner of a dry dock so hard that the midship plates opened up and water started coming in. Down below we had to get our rifles and seabags up out of the water. Pumps were turned on and the ship tied up alongside six other destroyers.
Great. Now we get a few more days of liberty in Frisco.
Actually, we got one more night of liberty and had to cross six other “cans” to get there and back. Coming back with too much beer in us was tough.
On 25 Jan 1944, we left Frisco under the Golden Gate Bridge. I sat on the fantail to watch "the States" slowly sink beneath the horizon at about 5 p.m. We were assigned to submarine watch. I volunteered to take the watch on the highest part of the ship, where there was a 50-caliber machine-gun on which I could brace myself.
A fierce storm had come up and I could see the entire bow go under water and the spray would come up over me. We could not have seen a submarine if it had come up alongside us.
I got off my second watch about 5:30 a.m. It was still black and stormy as hell. I had no sooner blown up my two-tube life belt and hit the sack then there was a terrific explosion and the stern lifted out of the water and dropped back again. The general quarters klaxon sounded and a swabbie ran past me shouting, "We caught a fish!" meaning we’d been torpedoed.
Almost immediately there was a second explosion and the ship lifted again.
"STANDBY TO ABANDON SHIP
STANDBY TO ABANDON SHIP
ALL HANDS ON DECK TO ABANDON SHIP"
We fought our way up the ladder where the water is rushing down and onto the black deck. The sergeant musters us for a quick roll-call before we go into the black, stormy sea with only our life belts. I’m scared as hell and thinking I’m only 17 years old. Just before we go over the side, the skipper announces, "SECURE THE SHIP. SECURE THE SHIP."
We didn’t have to go over the side after all. Two depth charges had rolled off the racks and blew up almost on the surface of the water.
For the rest of the trip the decks were coated with fuel oil that was being pushed up by sea water and there was a fire in the propeller shaft.
On 30 Jan 1944, we arrived at Pearl Harbor. I stood on deck and marveled at the beauty as we passed Diamond Head and Honolulu. As we sailed past Pearl Harbor, the ship abruptly made a 180-degree turn to port.
All of a sudden the 5-inch gun fired and I was unknowingly standing under its muzzle. I’m told all ships fire their guns before entering the harbor.
I couldn’t see or hear, and I was black from head to toe.
Welcome to Pearl Harbor.
F.E. "Jim" DeVine
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