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Mr. Erickson served in the Navy from I 940,just after graduating from high school in Kentucky, until his enlistment was up in July of I 946. He made five war patrols and, as a Chief Pharmacist Mate, was an independent duty corpsman in WHALE. After the war he went to college and worked in the aerospace industry for 40 years. He is now retired and lives in New Jersey.

Happy the man who like Ulysses made a wonderful journey or like the one who carried off the Fleece and then returned home, full of experience and good sense, to live his remaining years among his family. Joachim Du Be/lay (1522-1560)

On January 4, 1945 I had been overseas for over two years. Now on this date I was aboard USS WHALE (SS239) and we were steaming towards the beautiful Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay. Throughout my time overseas it seemed to everybody that the tenacity of the people of Japan would make it a long war. The most optimistic said that at least three more years might be needed to defeat the Japanese, assuming that the Allies had to invade the homeland, the Islands of the Empire of Japan. Based on that assumption most of the people that I knew came up with the motto .. Golden Gate in ’48”, meaning that we were all pretty well convinced that we would steam under the Golden Gate in 1948 when we all predicted the War would be over. Our ship, USS WHALE had to undergo a major shipyard overhaul, so we were lucky enough to be coming back to the States before 1948. But even those of us who had five or more patrol runs on WHALE would get a new construction boat and steam back out of the Golden Gate to resume our war with the Empire of Japan. That was a dreary thought to most of us, because on the last two patrol runs we had made, we did believe that the Japanese Merchant Fleet was pretty well decimated. We in the US Submarine Force figured that we would probably spend the rest of the War doing life guard duty. The Air Corps was so successful that seemed now to be the main thrust of the war. Well, I figured at least on life guard duty we were doing a good service and it was relatively safe, so we would probably survive the war. Today, three years before 1948, we were steaming towards the most beautiful city in the world -San Francisco. We fortunate few intended to enjoy this sojourn as long as we could.

[Today] as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, I was at my docking station on the bridge phones. We had just been cleared by the Coast Guard to enter San Francisco Bay. Commander J. B. Grady, our Captain, said to the Duty Officer, “Mr. Alford, as soon as we get to the entrance to the Bay, just before we go under the Bridge please announce that all hands not on landing watch may come topside as we enter the Bay. Please open all deck hatches and proceed at your will.” “Aye, Aye, Sir” answered Mr. Alford. He then proceeded to make the Captain’s announcement over the intercom. Almost immediately the two aft and one forward deck hatches opened and all hands not on duty streamed up on the deck, eager to see the beautiful panarama of the city of San Francisco unfold as we went under the great Golden Gate Bridge. As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, a loud cheer went up from the members of the crew who were topside. It was the thrill of a lifetime for most of us. As we proceeded under the bridge, we could see the beautiful white buildings of San Francisco on the starboard side of the ship and the lovely greenery of Marin County on the port side. Then Alcatraz Island came into view and further down the Bay the beautiful Bay Bridges came into sight. There was much shipping on the Bay that morning. As we passed each ship, the deck crews came to attention and saluted us. It was a thrilling feeling to experience this once in a lifetime happening. We were to dock at Pier 42 in the Hunters Point Shipyard. We were to stay there overnite and then proceed to Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California, a distance of about 30 miles to Upper San Francisco Bay.

We steamed past Alcatraz Island, proceeded on under the Bay Bridges, past the Embarcadero and China Basin and into Hunters Point and Pier 42. Captain Grady made a good docking in one pass. As the Skipper eased alongside the Pier a great cheer went up from all the workers on the Pier. There were many vendors on the Pier to greet us. I have always treasured that moment. It was a hero’s welcome. None of us felt much like a hero, but it was a moment to savor for all of us aboard WHALE.

We tied up to Pier 42 and Mr. Alford announced there would be liberty for all hands, except the few needed to stand watch aboard the ship for security reasons. All hands were allowed to go out on the pier and sample the vendors wares. We all went out on the pier and got a drink of the Nectar of the Gods. Something that none of us had had for months -fresh milk! That is all that the vendors had and it sold out in an hour or so. What a treat! I was on the liberty list so I got dressed up to go ashore in the beautiful City of San Francisco.

I went with a group of my shipmates. We took a taxi to China Town. One of the well known restaurants in China town was noted for its floor shows -featuring beautiful Chinese Maids. We had a great Chinese Dinner and enjoyed a magnificent floor show. The Chinese Dancers were indeed beautiful -it was the most beauty that many of us had seen for several years. After the show we all headed for the Mark Hopkins Hotel to enjoy a cocktail or two at the Top of the Mark, a world famous watering hole in San Francisco. Most of our Officers were at the Top of the Mark when we got there. We enjoyed the cocktail hour together.

We all finally left the Top of the Mark a bit after midnight. We were back on board our boat shortly thereafter. Bob Beavers, a Chief Motor Mechanic (ChMoMM), was the watch Chief that night. He greeted us at the top of the gangplank as we came aboard. As I saluted the colors Bob said to me, “Doc, am I glad to see you. We have had the wildest scene here that you can imagine.” I said, “What do you mean ‘wildest scene?”‘ Beavers said, “Well, as you know the Skipper stayed aboard tonight. At about 2200 he came out of his cabin, went into the Control Room and summoned me. When I got to the Control Room I could see right away that the Skipper was crocked to the gills. He ordered me to take all of the bunks out of the Aft Battery crews quarters, and to lay all of the mattresses on the Aft Battery deck. I said, “Captain, if we do this where will the crew sleep tonight?” He answered, “On the deck.” I asked, “Why are we doing this, Sir?” The Skipper laughed and said, “I’m going to give everybody who can handle it a lesson in Greco-Roman, or is it Roman-Greco wrestling? At any rate it will be wrestling.” He was pretty well gone and did not know what he was saying,” said Bob. I knew that he had been an Intercollegiate Varsity Wrestler at the Naval Academy, at that point though, I thought I should call the Officer of the Day (OOD) Mr. Tarbox. Mr. Tarbox came to the Control Room at Bob Beavers request and tried to talk the Skipper out of this wrestling idea. It was to no avail. We did as the Captain asked and cleared the Aft Battery of all the bunks and put the mattresses on the deck. Mr. Tarbox was only a Lt.Gg) and he was thoroughly intimidated by the Captain. Then Bob added, “Me too!” I said, “Sounds like you guys had a good time tonight. So what happened?” Beavers said, “The Skipper set up shop in the Aft Battery and challenged every man left on the boat to come and wrestle him. He challenged Mr. Tarbox right away. He pinned Tarbox in about I 0 seconds! Then he came after me. I thought I could just push him off, but it didn’t work out that way. He tossed me aside like a sack of flour. He was having a great time and as more of the crew came back aboard from liberty they all joined in. They tried to gang up on the Skipper, but there was not two or three guys who could handle him. But they were all having fun. He didn’t do Greco-Roman’ wrestling-it was free style! Bodies were flying all over the Aft Battery. Mr. Tarbox and I could do nothing so we just hoped that the Skipper would pass out or something.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “Well, apparently everything is under control now. What can I do?” Just then Mr. Tarbox came up and said, “Doc, I think we have it under control. The Captain finally passed out and we got him to his bunk. I’m worried that he may have hurt himself or that he may wake up and go on another wrestling rampage. Can you check him out and maybe give him a shot or something. Something so that he sleeps the rest of the night.” I said, “I’ II check him out He will probably be out till morning, but I will give him a mild sedative to be sure.” We went below to the Forward Battery where the Captain’s Cabin was. The Skipper was on his bunk and out cold. I looked at him and blurted out. “My God, what happened to his face?” Mr. Tarbox said, “When he was tossing everyone around the Aft Battery, he took several falls and he got a ot of floor bums on his face. I didn’t know what to do, but l thought we should put something on his floor bums. l went into the Medical Locker and got out a bottle of Mercurochrome, and I swabbed his floor bums with that, was that okay?” I said, “Yes, but it leaves this terrible yellow color on everything it touches, didn’t you know that? Mr. Tarbox hung his head and said, “Well, I do now,” We all had a good laugh at that. I was still laughing as I examined the Skipper. Tarbox had done a job! The skipper’s face was a sight to behold. His face was yellow all over except for his nose and around his eyes, and a clear spot on his chin. I said to Lt. Tarbox. “This stuff takes awhile to wear off. You are going to have to confess to the skipper what happened. It is my recommendation that you sleep in here with him, and when he awakens and looks in the mirror you will be right here to explain things. And please sir, don’t mention my name, I don’t want any credit for the facial that he got. Blame it on gremlins or what not.

We all had a good laugh at Mr. Tarbox’s expense, but he said, “Okay, I’ll stay here and watch him. The next time you see me though I may be a Seaman.” He then shook his head and said to no-one in particular, “What a strong man he is! He is one tough SOB. I have never faced such a strong man! One thing I know is that he is the unchallenged wrestling champ of the SS239!” I kept laughing as I retired to my bunk in the Chiefs wardroom in the Forward Battery. I had a great nite’s sleep

We were all up at the crack of dawn. The order was given to man our cruising stations for our departure from Hunters Point to Mare Island Shipyard. I took my station on the phones on the Bridge. Mr. Alford, our Executive Officer, was the 000. We were at our stations waiting for the Captain who would con the ship to Mare Island. Finally Captain Grady came up the ladder from the conning tower. He was in his best Khaki uniform and he looked sharp. His yellow Mercuro chromed face was very solemn. He gave the orders to get underway and to cast off all lines and he eased the old SS239 out into San Francisco Bay. We were clear of Pier 42 and underway to Mare Island. The Skipper was all business. Not a hint of what had happened last night. He gave the final orders to the engine room to proceed “All ahead full” and he gave a heading to the Helmsman. He then turned the Con over to a smiling Mr. Alford. As he turned to leave the bridge he looked at me. Our eyes met. His Irish eyes were twinkling. A bit of a sheepish grin came on his beautiful yellow face. And as he went down the ladder he looked at me and gave me a big wink! It was a perfect ending to a great homecoming.

I knew at that moment that I had been honored to serve with Captain J. B. Grady, Class of 1933 at the Naval Academy, Intercollegiate Wrestling Champion; Officer and Gentleman; a great Submarine skipper; and unsung hero; and, of course a Great Irishman!


James T. Allen
CAPT. John F. Fagan, Jr., USN(Ret.)
CAPT Arthur ‘Speed’ Graubart, USN(Ret.)
RADM Frederick Emery Janney
Dr. Richard Rosenblatt
VADM Arnold F. Schade
CDR Thom Warburton, USN(Ret.)
MOMM 1/C (SS) Robert J. Weley, USN(Ret.)
CDR William B. Young

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