This is the saga of George Rocek, MoMMIc, USN, one of the survivors of the sinking of USS SCULP/N (SS-191). It was published in Polaris magazine in December I 979. This classic tale is reprinted here with permission of the current Editor of Polaris.
On the night of 18 November 1943, SCULPIN made a radar contact on a fast convoy and made an end around at full power. Submerging on the enemy track for a dawn attack, SCULPIN began what promised to be a successful approach. However, she was detected in the attack phase and the convoy zigged toward, forcing her deep. There was no depth charge attack at this time. About an hour later, the submarine surfaced to begin another end around, but immediately dove again, having surfaced 6,000 yards from a destroyer, which was lagging the convoy. Depth charging started as soon as SCULPIN dove again.
The Japanese destroyer, YOKOHAMA, dropped eighteen 600-pound charges on her first run directly over SCULPIN. Initial damage included a crack in one of the after-engine room’s exhaust valves, damage to the shallow and deep depth gauges and pressure gauges around the diving station, broken lights and valves backed off their seats although they had been set with wrenches. Rocek recalls water gushing in on the forward starboard side at the engine coolers. He pulled himself up to that point and saw the seawater spraying out between the pipe flanges from hull to coolers.
“It jarred holy hell out of us!”
The second string of explosives knocked the lighting system out and worsened existing leaks; oxygen was in short supply, the temperatures inside the submarine rose catastrophically. All this time the air is getting worse, the heat is terrific and still he doesn’t let up on us. Once we could hear his screws going right over us.
It was like a message from heaven when “sound” reported a rain squall off to starboard. SCULPIN headed for the protection provided by the high noise level of the rainstorm. After running in the squall for about 25 minutes, it appeared as if SCULPIN had shaken the destroyer.
At this time the captain decided to risk noise by pumping water from the after engine room to the forward torpedo room, in order to give the boat a better trim and to reduce the speed required to maintain depth. This would help conserve the batteries. However, neither the drain nor the trim pump would take suction. Captain Connaway then relieved Lieutenant Brown, the Engineering Officer, from the diving station, so that he could report the damage throughout the boat.
“Upon inspection,” Brown reported, “I found the after engine room had flooded to such an extent I believed it unwise to attempt to place a bubble in No. 4 Main Ballast Tank, which would have aided the trim considerably. The flow of water forward might short the main motor leads. We decided to bail the water forward to another compartment until we could trim the ship without endangering the main motors.”
“While a bucket brigade was being run by exhausted men in temperatures well over one hundred degrees, the temporary diving officer broached the ship. However, no one could be blamed for this as the depth gauge was stuck at 170 feet and the pressure gauges around the diving station were all flooded out.”
“When SCULPIN stuck her nose up, the destroyer saw it and came over again, dropping another string of depth charges which tore the radio transmitter from the bulkhead and smashed the receiver, popped light bulbs and severely damaged outboard vents in both torpedo rooms.” SCULPIN momentarily lost depth control and was down over 500 feet before regaining control. The steering mechanism had been damaged to such an extent that it was next to impossible for exhausted, heat-stricken men to operate the wheel by hand.
“At this time our evasion tactics were about at a standstill. The heat was terrific. However, in spite of the seriousness of the situation, it was decided to hold out for at least one more string which was received at about 12:30PM. At this time the forward and aft torpedo rooms reported cracks around the torpedo tubes. The sound heads were driven up into the boat, shearing the holding down clamps. Thus we were now without ears. It required about I 70 turns to maintain depth. The battery was about exhausted and it was six hours until sundown, so Captain Connaway decided to surface and fight it out with the destroyer.” “Connaway had been so calm, resourceful persevering during these five hours of severe depth charges that it was hard for the crew to realize that the situation was as serious as it was. Connaway explained to Captain J. Cromwell (Wolfpack Commander, who was on board SCULPIN) that he did not think SCULPIN could take another string of depth charges and he owed his crew the chance to fight it out on the surface. If all, finally, was lost, they could abandon ship with an even chance of survival.
“Make sure SCULPIN is scuttled in case we lose this one-sided engagement.” Connaway calmly instructed Brown, as he started up the conning tower.
“The next thing we know,” recalled Baker, the fireman, “the word is passed through the intercom phones, ‘Standby to Battle Surface!’ Up to the surface we go, the hatch is open and we dash out on deck quickly to man the deck guns and have it out with him once and for all.”
“The day was a pretty one, with white caps coming over the decks. At first when we went out on deck we couldn’t see the destroyer. Then one of the men spotted it on the starboard side … right against the sun. He was about 3,000 yards off. Immediately we went to our stations on the gun and began to fire at him. We got off the first shot, which went over him. The second fell short. In the meantime, he had begun to fire at us with machine guns and his 5-inch-70. All we had was a 3-inch-50. One of his shots hit us in the main induction, another went directly through the coming tower and came out the port side, killing a number of men inside, and also some men who were out on deck, hiding from the gunfire. Men were being killed from the machine gun fire as they were coming out of the hatches. We had a fine crew … the guys really showed the guts they had. A.B. Guillot, Fireman first class, from Louisiana, was on the 50-caliber gun. The Japs made a direct hit on his gun and wounded him severely. I still remember how he looked with blood streaming from great rips in his chest, passing ammunition to the 3-inch gun until he fell over the side. J. Q. Harper, Torpedo-man third class, stuck at his 20mm gun until the very end.”
The odds were uneven. SCULPIN Jost her captain in the surface battle. The Executive Officer, Lieutenant J. Nallen, was killed at his station in the conning tower. Lieutenant Joe Defress was killed commanding the fire of his 3-inch gun. Brown, who had been at his station in the control room, succeeded to command of the dying SCULPIN.
Though badly shaken by the continual bombardment, he rallied to his new duties since it was apparent that the destroyer now had their range. It was feared that a shell on the next salvo might damage the hydraulic system, rendering it impossible to operate the main vents, which Brown planned to use in the scuttling operation. Thus he decided it was unwise to postpone the scuttling of the SCULPIN.
With reluctance, Brown approached Cromwell, still a study in poise, to advise him of his decision to scuttle.
“I informed Commodore Cromwell, who was in the control room, of my intentions. He told me to go ahead and he said he could not go with us because he was afraid that the information he possessed might be injurious to his shipmates at sea if the Japanese made him reveal it by torture. I then rang up, ‘Emergency speed’ and passed the word, ‘Abandon Ship’, and sent Chief Hemphill forward and Chief Haverland aft to pass the word in case the P. A. system was out. When they returned to the control room we waited one minute by the clock, then ordered the vents opened, knowing that it would spell the doom of the submarine in minutes and thereby rob the, Japanese of a valuable war trophy.
The wounded SCULPIN went down like a great boulder plunging into the sea, “in a whirlpool of white foam”, carrying with it Captain Cromwell and others to the sands and coral of the South Pacific.
Chief Machinist’s Mate H. E. Hemphill later reported that while he was forward passing the word to abandon ship, he encountered Ensign Max Fielder in the wardroom playing cards and talking with one of the crewmen, E. Apostol. “We do not choose to go with you,” Fielder replied to Hemphill’s entreaties that he hurry. “We prefer death to capture by the Japanese.”
There was not time to argue with them. In spite of the order to abandon ship, many others apparently could not believe that the SCULPIN was lost; that she could not do other than surface and return victoriously home. Instead, a number of the faithful submariners, almost like automatons, were last seen at their normal duty stations.
In nine hours of blasting by YOKOHAMA, SCULPIN had been rocked by an estimated 52 heavy depth charges. But for the survivors, their hell had just begun.
As Rocek reports, “On reaching topside, I saw one man bloody and dead. I started running for the sail and looked to see where the can was, which was on my side. I started through the doghouse to the portside when a direct hit was made. I was momentarily stunned and numb all over. After seeing I was intact, I jumped over the side, once in the water, I watched SCULPIN submerge in a normal manner. Pete Gabrunas was manning the hydraulic manifold and on scuttling the boat, he and others were unable to escape due to the wreckage in the conn. I could feel explosions, apparently from the batteries.”
The wet, oil-begrimed survivors were hauled aboard YOKO-HAMA. One was tossed back into the sea after his captors decided he was too badly wounded to live. Another, bleeding, fought free from similar attempts.
Rocek noticed he had numerous amounts of watch-spring shaped metal embedded in his skin and minor shrapnel wounds in both legs, apparently from the direct hit in the conn.
“That night,” reported Baker, as the destroyer carried the three surviving officers and 38 men of SCULPIN toward the island of Truk, we were all left on deck. Our hands and feet tied, with only a piece of tarpaulin stretched over all 41 of us for protection in a hard rainstorm, against a raging sea many of the men were in terrible agony, because of their wounds and were losing blood.”
They had their hands tied and were blindfolded when they were taken off the ship onto Truk and “this is where some of us received our first slugging because we were curious and tried to see from beneath our blindfolds.” The 41 survivors were placed in three eight by seven-foot cells, which included a small outhouse in one comer. They were kept there for 12 days-“a living hell for everyone concerned … at first they wouldn’t feed us or give us any water to drink we were questioned about our sub and other military information. Many of us took some hard beatings.”
H. J. Thomas, a Torpedoman First Class, resorted to the ruses of warding off beatings by giving the Japanese erroneous information. He said, for example that American submarines were refueling at a secret island between the Gilberts and Truk. Their inquisitors produced charts, some of them dating back to the last century, but could find no such island. His buddies solemnly repeated the fable. “The men,” said Thomas, “were subjected to constant questioning, during which they were stimulated by frequent beating with clubs and fists. It appeared that the officers received the worse treatment, with the radar men being next in line.”
Now we continue with Rocek’s story.
We arrived in Truk and were taken to their outdoor prisoner’s compound, an area of about thirty square feet with 3 cells on one side. Each cell had a hole in the floor for a toilet.
Our food rations consisted of one rice ball a day and a few ounces of water. Water was a scarcity on Truk; they relied on rainwater for their supply. We had three wounded men in our cell, so we all took turns standing to allow more room for them. Lieutenant George E. Brown, Jr., tried repeatedly to get medical attention for the wounded men, to no avail. After the fifth or sixth day, their wounds were beginning to smell and finally they were taken to the hospital.
We were let out of our cells twice a day for about I 0 minutes, an event to which we gratefully looked forward. Repeatedly, we were taken out of the compound for questioning, always blind-folded. If you hesitated in answering a question, you received a whack across the rear with a piece of wood larger than a bat. I learned to bide for time by saying I didn’t understand the question. The laps had their own interpreter and he couldn’t speak English too well so I was able to get away with it sometimes.
About the tenth day, they shaved all our hair off and issued us Japanese Navy undress blues to wear and a square, flat, wooden block with Japanese writing on it to wear around our necks. Then the three wounded men returned from the hospital. One man had his hand amputated and the other, his arm. They told us the amputations were done without any anesthetic and they were questioned at the same time.
We were then taken to the shoreline in trucks, blindfolded. Here we were divided into two groups, there were 21 prisoners in my group and 20 in the other, and put aboard two Japanese aircraft carriers. Our group went aboard CHUYO, where we were taken below decks to a small, locked compartment. This group of prisoners included the wounded men.
Death of a Carrier
On board the carrier, CHUYO conditions were bad. Food was available, but very little water, we only received a few ounces a day, per man. The compartment was crowded and the ventilation was practically non-existent.
But this torture was to end in the death of the Jap carrier. At midnight on 31 December 1943, the ship was rocked with a terrific explosion as it was hit with a torpedo from USS SAILFISH (formerly SQUALUS), whose crew had no way of divining that their own countrymen were on board. Submariners themselves, the prisoners cheered the blast even though they knew if the carrier went down they would probably never survive.
A few of us were sitting on deck, and when the torpedo hit, we flew straight up about 2 or 3 feet in the air. We could sense she lost power and smoke filtered into our compartment. We heard various alarms sound off and damage control men running and yelling.
On deck below we could hear the frantic lap crew attempting to shore up the bulkheads with timber, but a heavy sea was running and nullifying the efforts of the damage control party. Soon we heard the bulkhead collapse and water pouring into the compartment below us.
As the water rose to our compartment, we yelled and pounded on the locked hatch. We undogged the hatch but it was locked on the outside and we couldn’t break it open. We then removed the metal pump handle from the head (about 3 feet long) and used it as a pry bar, then we all pushed and pulled and on the second try, the hatch broke open. I don’t think you could do this on an American ship.
We held hands and let one man try to find the way to topside. It was dark and the air was full of smoke. Through smoking compartments we tried to reach the main deck. Frenzied Jap damage control men ignored us and we finally reached topside, which by now was covered with smoke. A small compartment yielded life jackets, which were quickly donned. Further along we found the galley, which was hastily looted of food and particularly bottled soft drinks. This is where we finally filled up on liquids to quench our parched throats.
Beyond the galley we found a ladder leading to the flight deck and here, frantic Japs were passing timber for life rafts by means of a human chain. On the flight deck they were lashing the poles together to make rafts. I saw only one 12-foot boat in the water with three high ranking officers in it. A Jap officer pulled us out of the line and escorted us to the flight deck where we were stripped of our life jackets and they started to tie us. In the confusion, however, only eight men were tied and the others quickly freed them. There were many life jackets in the compartment below, why they didn’t use them, I’ll never know. Only about a third of the Japs had life jackets on.
An internal explosion rocked the ship and the Japs began passing out stores of beer, candy, canned goods and rice with even the prisoners coming in for a share.
Despite the explosions, the carrier remained afloat. But high winds, mist and huge swells made good submarine weather and the prisoners waited for the submarine to close in for the kill. SAIL-FISH made its second strike despite the protective Jap destroyer. A violent explosion shattered the carrier, a column of smoke billowed up on the port side and within minutes the ship started down with a heavy port list.
Japanese crewmen and American prisoners together crowded to the starboard side, including Jap officers with their long swords stuck between their life jackets and overcoats. In the melee, the prisoners were separated.
Dinty Moore, (Chief Signalman) and myself were holding on to a collapsible searchlight on the flight deck, about thirty feet off the starboard side. As the carrier was going down, about a hundred feet from the water, I yelled to Dinty, “Let’s go” and I slide down the flight deck into the sea. The suction was so great that I could not break surface after going under. I then believe an air pocket pushed me closer to the surface, for I could see light and I made one more attempt and broke surface near a raft. I swam over to it and hung on for dear life. I never did see Dinty Moore again. Already on the raft were an officer and a messboy from the SCULPIN.
Fearful of stopping because of the lurking submarine, the Japanese destroyer circled the rafts for about five hours before they finally made a run to pick up the survivors. She came by with one Jacob’s ladder and a number of lines trailing over the side.
When you grabbed the lines and the ship rolled, you slid right back into the sea. Your best chance was one Jacob’s ladder. One time I grabbed the ladder while the other two men grabbed the lines. A Jap officer stepped and crawled over me, forcing me under. I was very weak by now, but luckily a huge swell pushed me onto the Jacob’s ladder again. I threw my arm through the ladder and latched onto my wrist with the other hand. They pulled the ladder and me both topside. The other SCULPIN men were not able to pull themselves up and the Japs jabbed at them with poles trying to knock them off the lines.
That was the last time I ever saw any of my shipmates from the carrier CHUVO.
Aboard the Jap Destroyer
Apparently, being dressed in their undress blues, the Japs must have thought at first, I was one of their sailors. They hauled me and the ladder up and left me lying on deck. I was just too weak to move. Then four sailors picked me up and carried me to the fantail. I was sure they were going to throw me overboard, but then they must have been ordered to return me amidships, and I was put in their laundry compartment. They did not tic me up or even close the hatch. Later that afternoon, I felt the turbines wind up and the ship picked up speed.
I was left alone in the compartment and as night came on, I began to get very cold and started shaking badly. There was a metal tub or tank that was filled with water in the compartment, the water felt warm, so I climbed in the tub and sat down, with only my head above water. I stayed there for the rest of the night.
The next day I received numerous visits by a Jap chief who did a lot of talking and then slugged the hell out of me and then left. Every hour or two later he would return and do the same thing over again. He also mentioned Tokyo, Doolittle, and gave me the cutthroat sign.
One young Japanese sailor came and he managed to motion that he worked in the engine room. I managed to convey to him that 1 did the same kind of work. About a half an hour later he came back and gave me a hard cracker and motioned me not to say anything. It took me a long time to eat the cracker because I couldn’t work up any saliva.
The next morning we arrived in Yokohama. I was never given any food or water on that ship except the one cracker.
As we entered the port, I saw many of their merchant and naval ships that were heavily damaged. After tying up, along comes that same chief again with three men and about 50 feet of rope. They tied and blindfolded me so I couldn’t even move. A few hours later another chief, larger than the average Jap, came in and untied me and loosened my blindfold so I could sec downward. He then tied my wrists together and Jed me with the loose end to the gangway where I had to put on a pair of go-aheads. I was put in a small craft and rode for about 15 minutes. I now began to realize I was the only SCULPIN crewmember from the carrier CHUYO to survive. After reaching shore, I was led through a part of the city. I could see the women’s shoes and bottoms of their kimonos. I felt a little funny at first, because the seat of my uniform was tom out from sliding down the carrier flight deck. We arrived at a railroad station and sat down on a bench. I heard the chief talking to a woman and after a few moments, he removed my blindfold apparently she wanted to see my face. She was a doll and dressed stateside with a short skirt and high heel shoes. He replaced my blindfold and a short time later we boarded a train. The train was very crowded so we had to stand for about an hour or two. After getting off the train, he insisted I run. I could see the road, which was narrow and stony. I pointed to his shoes, the rocks and my go-aheads, which kept foiling off. He understood, but then motioned he wanted to get me there (Camp Ofuna) in time for eating, which we did.
On arriving at Ofuna, I was turned over to a stateside-dressed Jap, who spoke perfect English. Most of their Jap intelligence interrogators spoke good English and were educated in the States. He asked where the rest of the men were and when I told him about the carrier being sunk he became very irritated.”
They had moved most of the GRENADIER crew out to make room for us. The Jap Commander ofOfuna could not speak English and refused to believe a Jap carrier got sunk, but could never understand what happened to the other men.
It was at this camp that I was reunited with the remainder of the SCULPIN crew, who had sailed on the other carrier. We believed we would become registered prisoners of war, but were sadly mistaken … it was a secret questioning and intimidation camp run by the Japanese Navy for nothing else but to pump or beat military information out of the prisoners. It was mainly comprised of aviation and submarine POW’s only, except for a few civilians.
One man was designated to a cell and no talking allowed. Every week or two, you were questioned by a different interrogator. They then would compare notes to see if you lied on certain questions. We all had made up fake stories on Truk and memorized them. I believe most of us said it was our first patrol. My story was that I spent a year each at New London, San Diego and Pearl, and the sinking was my first patrol.
If you were sitting outside on the bench and had your eyes closed, periodically the guard would silently stand in front of you and put his bayonet close to your eyes. Since no talking was allowed, we had leg pressure warnings, to let you be aware of the s.o.b. This was not a work camp. Every Saturday was bath day and shave. We were shaved by their barber, or butcher.
Most of the wounds I received in my lower legs were not healing. The Japs had no medication to speak of, you had to wash your own bandages. The medication I received looked and smelled like fish oil. I remembered my father’s advice to urinate on wounds. So I had Ricketts, MM le, urinate on my legs. After a period of time, all wounds healed except one, which was near my left leg shinbone.
The SCULPJN’s only surviving officer, Brown, was kept in solitary confinement when not being interrogated, put on reduced rations, given frequent beatings, and threatened with death if he refused to answer questions. He divulged only information, which was contained in Jane’s Fighting Ships, to which he was allowed free access. He was able to convince his tormentors that, being the engineering officer, he knew nothing concerning matters of policy, fleet organization, plans or logistics.
The Copper Mines of Ashio
In January 1944. a small group of about twenty men from SCULPIN, GRENADIER and S-44 were transferred to Oman. It was the Japanese Army POW Headquarters in To/..-yo. We spent a few days there and then transferred to Ashio, a copper mining camp. north of Tokyo. In the copper mines, with the back-breaking hours and noxious sulfur fumes, the Americans nonetheless bore up better than the other prisoners who were constantly collapsing. The death rate among the falter was appalling. The Navy men resorted to every ruse in the hook, and invented a few besides. They hid out behind the steam boilers and took full advantage of air raid alarms to dive into storehouses. out of which they would steal all sorts of plunder, from rice to clothing.
The mine was located in a huge mountain, the POW camp on a smaller mountain, separated by a stream. A bridge about five feet wide connected both sides and the only means of bringing in supplies was on a two-wheeled cart.
The camp comprised of two oblong barracks, two tiers on each side with lice infested straw for bedding. At the rear end of the barracks was the head, outdoors type. During the winter months, the fresh water lines would freeze up, therefore, no baths for months.
The majority of the prisoners (about 125) in Ashia, were Dutch and Javanese, captured in Java. There was a Dutch doctor, a British Army corpsman and a U.S. Army medic. Due to the extreme cold, many of the Javanese died. They were taken into town for cremation. I recall crewmembers of TANG, GRENADIER, S-44 and PERCH being at Ashio. One of our camp cooks was Tony Duva from S-44. Medical aid was no better in Ashia than Ofuna. My wound in the left shinbone area began to get worse and smell. The Army medic (captured in the Philippines) had secreted a few sulfa tablets and used them only in emergencies. He ground one up and sprinkled it on my wound every day, and eventually it healed. A year later I had a small piece of metal work out of my left knee. All enlisted men had to work unless you were ill or on light duty. Those that were not working received only two meals a day, except hospital patients.
The food was the same every day, which was a mixture of 40 percent each of barley and maize or Indian com and 20 percent rice. No salt, sugar, vegetables, oil or meat. Once a month they would butcher old horses for the civilians’ meat supply and some of the bones were given to us. These were boiled for a week to make them soft and then rationed out to the men.
We broke them up and ate what we could. One man had a large piece stuck in his rectum and the corpsman had to use a fork to dislodge it. Most of us had a difficult time in adjusting to the food, having the runs quite often.
The last winter in Ashio, most of the camp was unable lo work due to beri beri. The Japanese doctor in charge of all POW camps came to Ashio to examine us. The examination took place outside the barracks in January. About twelve men at a time had to line up before him. We were naked and told to do six knee bends. From this he designated about 30 men that were to work. The rest were put on light duty. A few weeks later we received some Chinese cabbage, oranges and boxes of baby sharks that were so strong with ammonia odor, you held your nose to be able to eat the soup.
The Japs had their own medic and he designated if you were well enough to work or not. They had a punk-like fuzz which they rolled into a ball about a quarter of an inch in diameter and put this on your skin and lighted it. When it burned into the skin it hurt more and did more harm because of infection. I believe this was their form of acupuncture. Regardless of what you complained of, it seemed these punk balls were placed the farthest from your ailment. For diarrhea we were given charcoal to eat.
We understood the mine was worked out and closed before the war, but reopened due to a copper shortage. The work was hard, dirty, and dangerous. Inside the entrance of the mine, there was a shrine, which we had to bow to on entering and leaving the mine. Considering the earthquake tremors you felt on the inside, we said our own prayers.
You were issued a small hand hoe, scoop and a large sledgehammer. You had to break up the large rocks small enough to lift. You were always leery of the overhead, which occasionally would shed rocks.
One day, about five of us were sitting down taking a break and felt sand drifting down from above. We scattered quickly, but one man had his leg broken by a huge rock that fell from the overhead. We had carbide lamps for light, which we were permitted to take back to camp. On occasion, we were in a position to steal a little grain and used these lamps to cook it.
We learned to be able sometimes to arrange some flat rocks in the copper cars to make it appear full. After months of getting away with this, they caught on, and they would tap the side of the car, if it sounded hollow, they dumped the car over and made us refill it.
After a year of filling cars, some of us were drillers. We used an air drill with drill bits of various lengths, about 3 to 5 feet long. After drilling the holes, packed them with dynamite sticks, but we were never allowed to ignite them. Occasionally when we spotted an air drill used by the Japs, and no one was in sight, we would pour the carbide dust into the air supply. The drill would work for a short time and then was put out of commission.
Some of the Koreans who worked in the mine treated us well, sometimes giving us part of their food.
Occasionally a newspaper would be stolen by the prisoners working the night shift. We had an Australian in camp that could read and speak Japanese, and he would write down the condensed war information, which was passed throughout the camp.
Two of us had the personal satisfaction of ripping off a Red Cross food package from the Jap C.O.’s room. Being on light duty for a few days, I noticed the package while washing windows in the Jap headquarters. On returning back to work in the mine, I acquired twine and a spike. In one of our outhouse stalls, I drove the spike under the deck opening to one side. We took the package late one night, ate our fill, wrapped same with twine and hung it on the spike. Every night we ate our fill. About four days later, all barracks had to be vacated and the guards ransacked the whole camp. If any submarine POWs remember that day, it was the package they were searching for.
I learned later, the theft was blamed on a group of young secret police trainees that were in camp for a few weeks and left prior to the discovery of the missing package.
Our first indication of the war ending was observed when the day shift was brought back to camp and no one left camp thereafter. A few days later, we fell in for quarters and the Japs began to abide by the Geneva Convention rules concerning POWs. They painted the rooftops with large POW letters and doled out their supplies of clothing, shoes, etc. that we so desperately wanted and needed. The supplies and some food packages were donated by the Canadian Red Cross.
About a week later, some of our carrier planes buzzed the camp in the process of locating all POW camps, as we learned later. A few days after that, one of our four-engine bombers made a food parachute drop about one hundred yards in front of the camp. We really feasted then-day and night.
We then made up a list of the Korean and Japanese mineworkers who had treated us decently. They were brought to camp and we gave them all the supplies of clothing, food, etc. that would be left behind. They all left with tears in their eyes.
A week later, we were escorted to town and boarded a train for Tokyo. The secret police or Kampia, were posted throughout the town and we saw no civilians outside. On arriving at the station, the first person to greet us was a U.S. Army Nurse with cigarettes and candy bars. What a beautiful sight! We were put in a large waiting room and waited for trucks and busses to take us to the wharf where they had a decontamination station set up and hospital ships alongside. We were told if we ate too much we could get ill, but l can’t recall anyone doing so.
Some POWs were flown back to the states. l was sent to USS OZARK. They had more than enough volunteers for mess cooks. You could go through the mess line as often as you wanted until the food ran out. I went through three times, but I know some men went through 5 or 6 times. lt was like putting food in an acid vat. We were still hungry during the night and the commanding officer gave orders to break out the C-rations.
We stopped in Guam for a few weeks for thorough physicals before heading for the states. En route to the states, a few men would lose their senses and had to be taken to sickbay. During the first year, l believe we all had to fight down the sensation of going over the deep end.
We arrived in Frisco and all submarine men were the first to depart. The Submarine Force had individual cars, with an officer assigned, for each man, and they took us to a hotel for a large welcome dinner. We were all impressed and proud to be submariners, and knew that we were not forgotten.
We were then supposed to proceed to the Oakland Naval Hospital, however, that took quite a while, as many unscheduled stops were made along the way.
A month later, some of us were transferred to the Great Lakes Naval Hospital, to be nearer home. Eventually, I was sent back to duty.
Burned, beaten, starved, brutally overworked, forced lo exist with vermin as bed fellows, humiliation their unfailing daily fare, the survivors ofSCULPIN proved to be tough and ready. Twenty-one had entered the prisoner-of-war camps. Twenty-one started home after VJ Day.
Last Minute Recalls
One feeling I experienced when the Jap carrier sunk was one I’ll never forget.
When I was underwater trying to break the suction and reach surface, I could no longer hold my breath and began taking in water. At this point, my whole life flashed before me, even the details that I normally never recalled before. It was an eerie and serene sensation.
I looked upward, saw light and no suction. I believe an air pocket must have pushed me closer to the surface. I made one last effort and broke surface, saw the raft about 20 feet away and made it. The carrier was completely out of sight.
Also, before and during the war, some of us spent a lot of time in the pool at Pearl playing water polo, so were in good physical condition.
In Manila we used to spend our 48s or 72s at a Villa north of town which had 3 sulfur water pools. It was a Spanish type hacienda in the mountain area. It was owned by a German who was married to a Filipino girl and had several children who helped run the place. It was super. On arrival you put your money and valuables in a huge walk in safe behind the bar. From that point on you signed slips for food and drink. When down to your last 2 pesos, you were notified, which was cab fare back to Manila. I’m sure many sub sailors remember this place. The name Casa Del Rio, or similar, comes to mind.
At Ashio there was an American Army man, Jackolone, from St. Louis, and he told me about a beer there called Griesedieck, which I did not believe.
While waiting to enter the Decontamination station, a U.S. sailor asked me if I cared for a beer. I replied that I swore off of booze, but anything stateside was OK now. He brought me 3 bottles of that Griesedieck. I removed one label and on locating Jackolone showed him the same. His reply was, “See, I told you so.”
During the entire capture period the primary thought was only of food. I used to write down some of the weirdest recipes, sounded good then, such as a Milky Way Pie, Hershey Bar Sweet Potatoes, etc.