||Dep Mayport, FL for
||Arrv Guantanamo Bay
||Dep Guantanamo Bay for
||Arr Norfolk (for repairs
USS Guadalcanal, VC-19, USS Pillsbury, USS Chatelain, USS
Pope, USS Flaherty, USS Neunzer, USS Frederick C. Davis, Escort
Division 4 embarked Pillsbury
activities, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, swimming, 28 January 1945
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
ABM1/c, USS Guadalcanal
activities, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, entering gas chamber, 28 January
Signal Officer LT Jennings demonstrating the standard paddles
used to wave pilots aboard during daylight recoveries, 7 February
Signal Officer LT Jennings demonstrating use of special landing
device for night recoveries aboard USS Guadalcanal, 7 February