Column: Saipan again, why not?
Being so near the ocean did have advantages.
First, the view was overwhelming at times, especially at night or when there was a storm approaching. We also used the sea as our recreation.
Two members of my crew found some wood and canvas and made two kayaks. The day of the launching was a big day; fortunately they both did not sink — as we hoped they would!
Someone built a raft and used an old B-29 propeller as an anchor. This was placed out past the shallow reef in water about 100 feet deep.
Since the coral is as sharp as a razor we had to wear our G.l. shoes; wade out to the 1-foot drop off, then catch the wave just right and swim to the raft. Once on the raft we removed our shoes, tied them to a plank and had our swim.
Returning to the beach was the tricky part; we had to float on our backs, come in feet first and catch a wave just right to land us on the reef. If one should put his hands down to get his balance, as I did on one exit, then he is in trouble. I received hundreds of razor sharp cuts on both palms and all my fingers.
At the first aid station they applied Vaseline and I had to wear soft white cotton gloves for about a week. I learned my lesson that time, but some other fellows were not as fortunate. We saw three of our friends swimming further down the beach where the surf was much higher and when they tried to exit the water, their bodies were bashed against the high coral cliff and they were dead before anyone could reach them.
The Navy was called in to locate the bodies as they were being washed out to sea.
We had a few extra “one man life rafts” so we frequently used these for sun bathing or just riding the waves; but after one of our friends had a little problem we stopped using them. We had just returned from a long mission and this airman decided to go out in his raft and relax. He was so relaxed that he fell asleep and the current and wind had him headed for Hawaii.
It was around dinnertime that he was discovered missing and the old U.S. Navy was called to assist. Around midnight we could hear the sound of deep throbbing engines nearby and heard the sound of shouting voices. We rushed to the edge of the cliff and there sat a Navy D.E. (Destroyer Escort) right at the edge of the reef.
Lights were shining on the path up from the beach and we realized that the Navy had found the airman and some sailors were helping him up the path; he was one lucky person. I was always hoping for a little excitement, but glad I was not the one to drift away in the raft.
One other friend did have an adventure that I was envious of; at least I thought I was. His plane was returning from a mission over southern Japan and they had engine failure, and other problems; so the pilot told the crew to bail out. This airman landed safely in the water, inflated his “Mae West”; and also his life raft.
It was still daylight and he drifted around in a rather calm sea for about two hours when suddenly a periscope popped out of the water about 100 feet away from him. Lucky for him it was a British sub and not one of the many Japanese subs that cruised this same area.
He spent two days on the British sub where they gave him all the good things to eat that were not available on our base; they also gave him a British sailor’s uniform. He was transferred to a U.S. Navy ship, then to one of our aircraft carriers from when he was flown back to Saipan. Some people have all the luck!!
Our area was situated about 200 feet from the water and we had to climb down a 75 foot embankment to reach the beach. Well, I should not call it a beach exactly. There was sand, but most of the beach was coral and coral depressions that would fill with water at high time and empty as the tide receded. Doesn’t sound very inviting, does it?
After a long, tiring flight over Japan I looked forward to being in one of those “nature-built bathtubs”; when the water had been warmed by the sun, I took many a bath that way.
We could never depend on the showers in our area. All they consisted of anyway was a tower with a large steel tank on top and about five or six pipes leading to a wooden platform at ground level. Some days I would walk the two blocks to the shower only to find there was no water.
Of course, this was not bad — what was bad was to start the shower, get all lathered up with soap and then watch the last drop of water trickle out of the pipe. In some ways the fellows that lived next door to the shower stall were fortunate; they could hear the water truck coming then run out and be the first in line.
We were excited as we walked the dusty road to the “Goat Gulch Amphitheater” to see and hear the entertainment promised for that night. The setting is on a hillside with rows of gasoline drums — empty of course — arranged in a fan shape.
My first thought was, “Wow, sitting on those hard drums is going to be a bit uncomfortable.” But, in quick fashion I learned that we would sit on the ground and lean back against the drums. Not bad at all.
The show had the usual dumb jokes and a few dancing girls. The orchestra played some familiar tunes and we even sang along on a few. After about an hour of this the sun was setting right in front of us out over the island of Tinian, 20 miles away. The moon was starting to “climb out” of the Pacific Ocean right in our face. It was breathtaking!
Suddenly a young man walked up to the microphone to sing “Up Above the Moon is Beaming,” a serenade from “The Student Prince.”
Honestly I do not think there was a dry eye in the place. Everyone very quietly rose and exited the hillside and headed for “home.”