CHAPTER TWO

OUR FIRST TASTE OF THE PACIFIC

We remained in dry dock through September 5th. The last of the leave parties were staggering back to the ship while the remainder of the crew continued to take advantage of generous liberties. Then came a period of test runs and various operations in which the ship was made ready for sea.

Alas and alack! On September 8 we took departure from the fair city of Boston and set course for the “Rebel Country,” namely Norfolk, Virginia. But any thoughts of imposing upon that SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY were soon dispelled when, with the Bunker Hill, Erben, and the Kimberly, we were shortly en route to the Panama Canal Zone. The usual gunnery exercises were conducted and in typical fashion, the Abbot knocked down her share (and more), of the target sleeves.

The Panama Canal is referred to by most sailors as the DITCH, and to most of us it was something we had studied about in school. Few had ever seen it except in pictures. When at 0920 on September 16th we commenced transit of the canal, all hands except those unfortunates on watch below deck, lined the rails to drink in the sights such as they were. A few soldiers (on duty) and one (homely) nurse were on hand to wish us God speed.

Map of Gatun, Panama

We entered the Gatun Locks at 0938, cleared at 1100. On the Pacific side, the Pedro Miguel Locks were cleared in 24 minutes, Miraflores Locks in 36 minutes. We learned that we were to put in at Balboa with good prospects of a liberty in that gay city of Panama. Many are the, untold tales of our short stay with our southern, neighbors; but CBM T. D. WESTBROOK can verify the fact that Boston is not the only city with a Coconut Grove. And through no fault of his own, Ray (Broadway) Raphael was found out of bounds with his fighting gear on. The S.P.’s were about to run him in when to the rescue comes our own Ens. W. J. Spikes. A substantial dent was made in the alcohol supply and the souvenir hounds did right well for themselves.

September 18, we took departure from Balboa and entered the Blue Pacific. Best scuttlebutt was that we would next put in at San Diego and the eastcoast sailors (old salts and stuff) began anticipating a few short ones in the land of (liquid) sunshine.

En route and during flight operations, one of the Bunker Hill’s Hellcats was seen to crash into the sea by our ever alert look-outs, namely Federow and Welch. According to a message received from the Commanding Officer of the Bunker Hill, only the vigilance of our look-outs saved the life of the pilot. It was our first rescue and we received the very familiar “WELL DONE!”

Finally, we tied up at Broadway Pier, San Diego, Calif., and in his haste to double up and secure, the Skipper had to back ’er down full to prevent carrying away half of the pier with the consequent parting of one manila line. Not mentioning any names but the Exec and Comm Officer were among those practically at the gangway in “liberty canvas” before the brow was on the dock. However, the first sight to meet the approval of all hands (except Woosley, the congenial mail clerk) was the seventeen bags of mail awaiting us on the pier. What with a liberty or so, morale was 4.0 when two days later we again got underway with the Bunker Hill, Erben and the Kimberly for Pearl Harbor and the war.

The Bunker was loaded to the gunnels (figuratively speaking) with B-25’s, and so a straight course, was set, speed 30 knots. The 2,400 mile trip proved uneventful and we arrived at Pearl Harbor, where the hull of the old Utah and the Oklahoma and the guns of the Arizona could still be seen protruding above the surface of the water. Maybe for a moment all hands were aware of the fact that we were at war and our loss in lives and ships at this scene must be avenged. The Engineering Department had received a “Well Done” from the Bunker Hill, for the high speed. run out from the coast, and we steamed into the Navy Yard with hardly more than sludge in our fuel tanks.

Ah, beautiful Hawaii, the land of scenic beauty, grass skirts, and tropical romance. But where and how? Liberty expired on the dock at 1830. The first grass skirts were seen in a curio shop marked $4.75. The Hula girls were working for the Yankee-Dolla’, posing with the Macs and G.I. Joes for snapshots. Service men? We thought Norfolk was infested with them. The over-all situation was a bit disappointing. But a sailor will ever make out in any port, and it didn’t take long for the boys to become familiar with the HOT SPOTS around town. Some fun at Waikiki Beach, a souzing afternoon at the Breakers, and numerous other sources for new adventure. Too, there were new and different souvenirs for the Gal back home.

But all was not a life of gaiety. There followed a period of training — virtually another shake-down. On October 17th, the Abbot got underway in company with a carrier group to conduct training operations. At 0210, on the morning of the 18th, the Abbot was directed to leave screening station and take plane guard station for night flight operations. And at 0224, we collided with the Cowpens. Approximately thirty feet of our bow was twisted to a 70 degree right angle. Repair parties immediately went into action, as well as all hands who could be of assistance.

Bulkheads were shored to prevent further damage, water was pumped into the sea from the lower compartments, and through tireless effort, the forward part of the ship was secured to the maximum of watertight integrity.

Unfortunately, three of our shipmates were killed, others injured. The Cowpens suffered only minor injuries. Thankful that our casualties were not more and with heavy hearts, we commenced the slow journey back to Pearl. The Coghlan circled us, screening against possible attack from subs. Our best speed under existing circumstances was three to five knots until we reached calmer waters. The Cowpens made port under her own power.

Back in the Yard, all ammo, torpedoes, depth charges, and fuel oil were transferred from the ship. Shortly thereafter the Abbot was towed into Number One dry-dock, and the yard workmen began dismantling her for alterations and repairs.

Those men who had been injured in the collision were transferred to the Aiea Naval Hospital for treatment. Other men were temporarily transferred to the various service schools. The remainder of the crew were moved to barracks in Aiea Heights. Each morning the duty section was hauled to the ship and returned to Aiea in the late afternoon.

Life was rather dull; softball, basketball, football, swimming, movies every night, and generous liberty. The mail was coming in every day; and being that time of the year, our Xmas packages were arriving in good shape. Yes, war is hell! (So we had heard it said). But the yard workmen did not do all of the work, and all hands put in some long hours turning to aboard the ship.

The Xmas season was at hand, and this was an excellent opportunity to buy presents for the folks back home. Honolulu merchants made a substantial profit from purchases of the Abbot crew alone.

Arrangements were made whereby many of the crew enjoyed an overnight liberty at the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel. In peace time only celebrities and the well-to-do could afford the $25 to $75 fee per day at the Royal Hawaiian, but the Navy took over and turned it into a recuperation center for service men — fee: just two-bits a day.

But all good things must end; and in due time, the ship was again seaworthy and the ammo, torpedoes, etc., were returned aboard. The crew settled down once more to the old grind as we began what we considered our fourth shakedown cruise. While operating with the transports near Maui Island, the Abbot and Hale were suddenly ordered to return to Pearl. The next day, December 21, we got underway in company with the Erben, Hale, Bullard, and the Chauncey for Funafuti.

We set our course to the southwest and learned that soon we would be “crossing the line.” Of the entire crew, only some 20-odd men were shellbacks and some of these had rather doubtful credentials.

Subpoena

Stern Neptune, mantled in a green wave
Was talking to Mrs. Jones’ boy Dave.
We’re going to have trouble, Dave, he said.
The Abbot approaches — she’s now dead ahead.

They broke her out of her dry-dock bed.
Advance reports from my messenger, Pisces.
Point to a serious and shameful crisis
Aside from the tadpoles and shellbacks trusty,
There’s a bastard breed not the least bit crusty.
They’re salty enough, I will allow
But who the hell ain’t — these days, anyhow.
With two million men in the Navy now.
It’s a privilege high — no honor is greater,
To honestly boast that you’ve crossed the equator.
It’s an honor, by God, to be reserved
To my loyal subjects, justly deserved.

What’s your advice on the matter, Dave?
Saturn said — and his face was grave.
Davey Jones pondered a little while —
Then there came to his face a malignant smile.
To Neptune he said, let’s do it this way:
The bona-fide shellbacks should still have their way,
But that bastard breed of which you spoke —
Shackle the frauds to their own damned yoke.

Let us not, said Davey, be deferential
To the psuedo-shellback without a credential.
These phoneys who claim to be crusty, and ain’t,
Are the boys whose fantails we ought to paint.
Let the pollywogs check with the good ship’s log,
Determine who’s crusty and who’s pollywog.
Let the shellbacks heckle each low pollywog.
Let the pollywogs heckle this hermaphrodite frog.

So spake Davey Jones and closed his case.
A broad smile came to King Neptune’s face.
So be it — said Neptune, I’ll leave it to you.
Pass the word on to the Abbot’s crew.
And we might see approaching my throne,
Other heads shorn than the Pollywogs own.

Neptune Card

One pollywog, Chrysler, FC2c, feeling a bit skeptical of the validity of the claims of some of the shellbacks to possession of that honorable title, composed the previous lyrical protest which admirably expressed his views and those of many another pollywog.

But these few shellbacks began making elaborate plans for the punishment of and final acceptance of the lowly pollywogs into the Royal Domain of His Royal Majesty King Neptune Rex. Stocks were made, and many unfortunate pollywogs were lead about the decks, helpless to defend themselves against the stinging blows of water-soaked, canvas shillalahs which were being delivered by fellow-pollywogs on orders from the honorable shellbacks. Crooners who were far from Crosby’s or Sinatras were made to serenade their shipmates. Every conceivable act of embarrassment and mortification was forced upon the helpless pollywogs. The pollywog watch wore a combination of uniforms befitting the characters in Orson Welles’ “Men from Mars.” Though the day was rather warm the OOD wore a fur-lined coat. Dress blues, bathing trunks, John L. Sullivan, leggings, so’westers, neckerchiefs, jerseys, and other non-appropriate clothing were donned by the slimy pollywogs. And strange as it may seem, the Skipper, Commander Marshal E. Dornin, USN, was himself a lowly pollywog. His tall slender frame presented quite an unusual spectacle decked out in bathing trunks, so’wester, neckerchief, shoes without socks, and that famous Dornin stogie.

Well, we did cross the line and contrary to scuttlebutt, there was no bump. It was December 25. The Jolly Roger was broken at the truck and ceremonies were begun. Here follows the entry made in the log by W. R. Baranger, Lt., USNR, who was Officer of the Deck:

0905, His Royal Majesty King Neptunus Rex, his long, white gown, flowing in the morning winds, with his blushing bride by his side, wearing a lowcut white, chiffon evening gown, and his Royal Party, consisting of the Royal Navigator, the Royal Chaplain, the Royal Barber, the Royal High Judge, the Royal Doctor, the Royal Dentist, the Royal Baby, the Royal Undertaker, the Royal Jester and the ever faithful Davey Jones were welcomed on board amid the salaams of the huge cargo of filthy, slimly, lowly pollywogs by the Senior Shellback, Lieut. Comdr. J. S. C. Gabbert, U. S. Navy. The Royal King lost no time in acclaiming his displeasure, not only because of the huge cargo of the lowly pollywogs but also because his Royal Domain was disturbed on Christmas Day. Upon his arrival, he commenced immediately to dish out the royal works to the lowly offenders.”

The following is part of the watch list and standing orders for all pollywog lookouts as printed in the Dabbler press as of 24 December 1943:

Pollywog Ensign Merryman will stand watches on the searchlight platform. The uniform prescribed is foul weather gear, binoculars and helmet. He will be guided by the following orders:

“Search the horizon from beam to beam,
Keep the searchlight platform clean,
Be respectful to Davey Jones,
Or else you’ll have broken bones.

“Pollywog Ensign Benoit will stand the Davey Jones fisherman watch at the starboard chains. The uniform will be dungaree trousers rolled above the knees, without shirt, so’wester, lantern and net. He will be guided by the following orders:

“With lighted lantern and baited net,
Six flying fishes you will get,
For Davey Jones’ morning repast,
Failing this, you’ll breathe your last.

“The starboard bow lookout will be manned by Pollywog Ensign Magill. The uniform will be sweat shirt, bathing trunks and diving apparatus. You will be assisted by the port bow lookout who is also a lowly, slimy, filthy pollywog. The starboard bow lookout will be guided by the following orders:

“Pump hard and fast, little wog,
Don’t stop even though you may be fogged,
And when you feel you no longer can bear,
Well, when you stop pumping — no more air!”

It was the first Christmas away from home for many of the Abboteers, and it is certainly one never to be forgotten. Every sailor holds fond memories of his crossing of the line and knows there are those among us who carry a slight reminder in the form of a scar, for some of us really took a beating. But all hands survived, and all are now salty shellbacks just waiting for the chance to exact revenge on some less fortunate brother.

For the benefit of those who forgot or otherwise failed to save a copy of the Dabbler’s “Crossing the Line” editions, a few excerpts from same follow:

The Royal Court consisted of:

King Neptune Hyler, W. R. T., CWT, USN
Davey Jones Westbrook, T. D., CBM, USN
Queen Amphitrite Egstad, N. H., CMM, USN
Royal Baby Sutor, S. J., TM3c, USNR
Chaplain Lt. (jg) H. B. Vincent
Royal Judge Allensworth, J. F., WT1c, USNR
Navigator Boatswain Alexander, USN
OOD Lt. W. R. Baranger, USNR
Royal Doctor Lt. Chas. Mrazek (MC)
Ass’t Doctor Karlik, J., RMIc, USNR
Royal Barber Auten, R., CFC, USN; Archy, F., EM2c, USN
Royal Dentist Taylor, D., Ck3c, USN; Hould, J. A., QM1c, USN
Attorney Beason, D., Ens., USN
Jester Eames, F. E., WT2c, USNR
Scribe Hoffman, A. V., Jr., CY, USN
Assistant Wilson, H. C., S1c, USNR; McKenzie, R. J., RM3c.
Undertaker Bodarky, S. N., MM1c, USNR
Painter Johnson, R. E., CMIc, USNR
Devil Johnston, E. W., EM1c, USN
Chief of Police Zimmer, C. E., WT1c, USN
Police Matenzio, D., MMIc, USN; McDonald, S. P., MM1c, USN
Senior Bear Eads, W. A., B1c, USN
Bears Joyce, EM1c; Butler, StM1c; Parish, S1c; Rock, BM2c; Eaton, SM2c; Lt. Miller, and Lt. Tremper.

Price List — Repairs to Pollywogs — First Class Work Done

Results Guaranteed

Come Early — Avoid the Rush — No Waiting

1. One broken leg (bad) $20.00
2. One broken leg (not so bad) 15.45

Each additional leg Refund
3. Bruises cooled and soothed on buttocks, each .40
4. Elsewhere, each .50

Nuts cracked (no extra charge to inspire good fellowship)
5. Splinters removed from ischiorectal region, each hand picked .25

From beneath the fingers or toe nails .41

Otherwise .14
6. Circumstances, straightened, removal of salvage edge, guaranteed to leave nothing superfluous 2.00
7. Broken noses remodeled:

Jack Benny Contur 2.00

Schnozzle Durante 2.00

W. C. Fields (if you furnish your own drinks) 2.00

Any style, our most exclusive .90
8. Shellac removed from hair (Cannot be responsible for change of color) 2.25
9. Cuts, deep, each stitch .12

Extra for each yell .03
Scratches .20
10. Rental of leeches on black eye, overnight .55

Patronize Us — Leap In, Limp Out — Kill ’em or Cure ’em

Entry made in the ship’s log by Lt. K. W. Miller, USN, on the 12-by, December 25, 1943:

1225 His Royal Majesty King Neptunus Rex with his lovely bride, and his Royal Party shifted his flag to the U.S.S. Briny Deep, after having duly tried and sentenced 301 enlisted men and 14 officers.”

The next day at 1000 we crossed the 180th meridian and again there was no bump, which made us members of the Order of the Golden Dragon. There were no ceremonies for this occasion and it is probably just as well, for the “old salts” were in no condition for a repetition of their Christmas ordeal.

At 1628 December 26, we entered Funafuti, Ellice Islands, a God forsaken atoll in the South Pacific. So this was the glorious South Sea Isles?

←Last Chapter Next Chapter→