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Task Group       Operations Date
TG 22.7   Dep Mayport, FL for Guantanamo Bay 20 Jan
    Arrv Guantanamo Bay (for training) 23 Jan
    Dep Guantanamo Bay for Norfolk, VA 07 Feb
    Arr Norfolk (for repairs and alterations) 11 Feb
Units: USS Guadalcanal, VC-19, USS Pillsbury, USS Chatelain, USS Pope, USS Flaherty, USS Neunzer, USS Frederick C. Davis, Escort Division 4 embarked Pillsbury
Training activities, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, swimming, 28 January 1945
Homer Remembered
        We were about 200 miles off the Florida coast. It was night and we were underway for Jacksonville. Alone in the ship’s compartment, it was hot and noisy. I could hear the DE’s engines rumbling away and there seemed to be a lot of vibration. In the dim overhead light the metal stretcher containing the sheet-wrapped body was visible, sitting on the deck where the DE sailors had placed it. We had transferred over in a whaleboat from the carrier late that afternoon, and the Pope men had lifted us aboard when we came alongside. I had never been on a DE before, although I had spent hours watching them from the carrier’s catwalks.
        The DE sailors had carried the stretcher to this compartment and silently departed; everyone seemed a little taken aback by this whole affair and not quite sure what to say under the circumstances. I had no idea where on the ship they had put us. We would not get into Jacksonville until morning and it was going to be a long night. Settling down in a chair, I tried to sleep but sleep wouldn’t come. Incidents in the past, which without conscious effort had stored themselves away, began to return in a flood of remembrance.
        His name was Norbert Jerome Homer but on the ship he was “Homer”. I had first met him back in Astoria when we came aboard to commission Guadalcanal. He was a jolly, burly bear of a man in his early 20’s, not tall, heavy set and thick shouldered, strong as a bull, and he liked to laugh and joke a lot. Although clean-shaven, he had a heavy black stubble, which shadowed his face and always seemed on the verge of overpowering his razor. He never seemed to get seasick and he always had a smile on his face. He was good company.
        Our leading petty officer Tolley had assigned us to the #1 Arresting Gear station. Most of the landings were made on the first four wires and that kept us busy. We liked it there. We had been together on this station at every flight quarters for about a year and a half. Our bunks were right alongside each other in the AG shack and we had learned how to hit the deck running in the middle of the night and get on station before really waking up.
        More than once we had had to duck to avoid a plane landing on top of us in the catwalk. One time we emerged from our hidey-hole to find a wayward TBM’s tailhook had smashed through the railing around the station where we stood and bent the control levers all out of shape. We had learned to keep a clipping room door open so we had a place to dive into in a hurry.
        During night operations, waiting for a flight to return, we passed the time watching the sea and the stars and talking and we became close friends. He was engaged to a girl back home and they planned to get married when he returned. Mail call was not a success unless he got a letter from her - and she never missed. Now it was too late.
        As I sat thinking about these things, an incident came to mind that always reminds me of Homer. On one of our trips into Guantanamo Bay, the crew went ashore for some training in landing exercises conducted by the Marines. They had us scrambling down cargo nets hung over the side of the ship, put us through a gas chamber full of tear gas where we had to remove the mask, and took us out on the rifle and pistol range. We were doing bayonet drill and a lot of other drills we never really understood the need for at the time. Later we learned we were training for the invasion of Japan in which the CVE’s would play a big role; a role in which the CVEs would be more of a landing ship than aircraft carrier.
        Part of this training was a swimming pool exercise. I don’t remember how many laps we had to swim non-stop, but it was a lot. If you didn’t make it the first time you had to go back and keep at it until you could do the full course. Homer and I did it together. He was in the lane next to me and we dove in and started stroking away. He was a powerful swimmer and gradually the distance between us began to open up. I made the mistake of trying to keep up with him instead of keeping to my own pace. He finished when I still had a lap to go and I was in trouble. My arms had turned to lead and I was having trouble keeping my head above water, gasping and choking on mouthfuls of water. He had climbed out of the pool and was now walking along the side keeping pace with me. Whenever I began to show signs of stopping, he would shout some encouragement, “Come on Don – damn it, …you can do it”, and I would struggle to eke out a couple more strokes.
        Finally, with about 10 yds to go, I was all done. I couldn’t even make it to the side of the pool, much less climb out. I thought I would drown right there and it would have been a relief. Homer would have none of it. He began to call me names – I was a yellow belly and a quitter! If I didn’t finish he wasn’t going to let me out of the pool – and then he began to swear at me, calling me every filthy name he could think of. I got mad. I really got mad. I wanted to get to him and beat the hell out of him and the only way I could do that was to finish the laps. In a rage, with the adrenaline pumping, I floundered along, barely making headway. I couldn’t raise my arms anymore and could only manage a feeble sort of “dog paddle”. Drifting along more than swimming, I finally reached the end of the pool. When I touched the wall he reached down and scooped me out. For awhile all I could do was lay there on the concrete pool deck, gasping and coughing up water. And then he began to laugh, …and then we both laughed and laughed some more. It had finally dawned on me what he had been doing. I will always remember that incident and the lesson he taught me.
        Early this morning we had gone to flight quarters to qualify some pilots coming out of NAS Jacksonville. For some reason, which I don’t remember now, Homer was over on the portside catwalk, up on the barriers. Len Thorne was working on #1 station with me. We had qualified pilots all morning and secured from flight quarters for the noon meal. In the afternoon it was back to work again and more qualifications. A Wildcat fighter was spotted back near the aft elevator, engine idling, ready for takeoff. The Deck Officer signaled the pilot to hold his brakes and wind her up. As the engine came up to full power, the Deck Officer’s arm dropped and the signal flag went down. The pilot released his brakes and the Wildcat streaked up the deck gaining speed rapidly. However, the torque of the wide-open engine was causing the fighter to veer off to the left. The pilot couldn’t hold it and the plane cranked around in a 90 degree turn to the left and shot out over the port side catwalk, dipping down toward the ocean 60 feet below as it cleared the deck. We jumped up on the flight deck just in time to see the plane level off a few feet above the surface and then begin to climb out. The pilot had made it but it was a close call.
        Then we noticed people running to the spot where the plane had passed over the catwalk. Something had happened in that takeoff. Incoming planes were waved off and we could see a stretcher arriving on the scene. Someone was hurt. We ran across the deck to find Homer flat on his back in the catwalk. He wasn’t breathing and his face was a dark purple. He was hurt bad. The plane’s wheel had struck him in the head as it passed over. The Pharmacists Mate hurried him below in the stretcher and with planes still in the air we went back to taking them aboard.
        Secured from flight quarters, the AG gang was sitting in the shop waiting for some news on how he was doing. It wasn’t long in coming. A message came down from the bridge. Homer had died and he was to be taken into the beach on one of the DEs. I was told to get into dress blues and report to the hanger deck to be his honor guard. Guadalcanal sat dead in the water as Pope came alongside a few yards away. We loaded Homer’s body into the ship’s whaleboat and pulled away. As we came alongside, the DE sailors lifted the stretcher and with me following along behind, they took it to this compartment where they gently set it on the deck.
        We reached Jacksonville early in the morning. A gray hearse was waiting for us at the dock. The undertaker and his assistants loaded the stretcher in and as they closed the door and drove away, I came to attention and snapped him a salute. He was going home and that was the last time I saw him.
...Don Baker ABM1/c, USS Guadalcanal
Training activities, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, entering gas chamber, 28 January 1945
Landing Signal Officer LT Jennings demonstrating the standard paddles used to wave pilots aboard during daylight recoveries, 7 February 1945
Landing Signal Officer LT Jennings demonstrating use of special landing device for night recoveries aboard USS Guadalcanal, 7 February 1945