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North Atlantic Patrol


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Between the North Atlantic and Pearl Harbor

Victory at Midway

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North Atlantic Patrol

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Calm a few minutes ago, a wind of hurricane force laden with snow from the mountain tops, rushes down on the wildly leaping waters of the fjord. Battened down in the elaborate little cabin of the barge, we cast loose the fastenings of the canvas flaps for fear we might capsize and be trapped. Make the smashing gangway by a standing broad jump. Soaked to the skin. Assigned to a bunk in young officer's cabin, I change to dry gear. A Marine salutes smartly at my cabin door: "Admiral wishes you to dine at six twenty-seven, Sir. It's up and down tie, Sir." Snowy white cloth, the sparkle of table silver and the gold braid of twelve high ranking officers, music from a Navy band, and I, straight from the mud and darkness of the huts, am dazzled.

Having come out in destroyer duty, I ask permission to return in a merchant ship, that I may know the sheep as well as the shepherds. The big jovial Admiral roars: "If that's what you want, I've just unloaded a ship. She goes in convoy tomorrow, as empty as a miser's heart, and you will have a lively run!" "Aye, aye, Sir!"

Hare and Hounds

The fifth day at sea. Twenty-three empty ships. We try to hold our station in the reeling columns at the ridiculous speed of six knots. We are a powerful ship, and having left our million rations of frozen meat in Iceland, this reduced speed makes our empty hull labor tremendously, but we must stay with the slowest. To starboard another big American ship rolls over till we see the seacocks on her bottom, and back till we look down her smokestacks. I see our protecting destroyers zigzagging about and I have nostalgia for them. We are quite accustomed to the rocket's white flare, as a signal of subs, and we learn that there are fifty between Reykjavik and Cape Race! Our affection for our destroyers is unbounded, as we have but one anti-aircraft machine gun aboard.

There is dirty weather knocking about. The barometer this morning dropped from 29.87 to 28.64 -- seventy-three points in six hours! At one o'clock the glass stands at 28.00, and it's every ship for herself. We sweep the mountainous seas with our glasses. There is not a ship in sight. There are a number aboard who like me, have never seen seas running fifty feet. In the midst of all this fury, a routine message is decoded from the air, ordering us to go back and rejoin the scattered convoy far astern. Alone and unprotected in the trough of these rolling hills, we make the precarious turn and go back towards Iceland! At two-thirty P.M. the loud speaker blares through the hollow vessel: "All hands darken ship -- All hands darken ship!" For the wild northern night has crashed upon us. Later my mess boy appears at my door. "Dinner is served, Sir." We sit holding on to the table racks, discussing the comparative merits of electric versus air-driven torpedoes. A shocking smash forward, the big ship staggers, china and glass fly in the air, the lights flicker out, and half the mess goes sliding down the wardrooms! We are hit! -- but after a tense moment the lights come on, the engine throb resumes, and we know it was a sea and not a Nazi! The discussion goes merrily on.

As regular as dawn the next two days, a brand new storm engulfs us. The shrieking air is full of messages. Subs are here and there all about us. The five destroyers have herded ten of the convoy together and are proceeding at two knots. They are blown far astern us, so we and the other isolated ships get permission to run for it - like a hare encircled by hounds, we dodge for home.

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The Meeting of the President of the United States
and Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain

scale sketch for proposed mural in U.S. Naval Academy

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U.S. Ships Entering Reykjavik
scale sketch for proposed mural in U.S. Naval Academy

November 20th, 1941
Thanksgiving Day

A few minutes past midnight, zigzagging at eighteen knots through thick and extremely foul weather, we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of a fishing fleet and have to switch on our running lights. Clear of them and rushing on, the radio tells us we have just passed a sub less than twenty-five miles to the north and are ranging past four more, the nearest close to the south of us. In the late morning, the weather windy and bright, we see a floating mine dead ahead. There is no time to swing the ship for fear that it will hit our stern, so it bobs past us forty feet from our side. This is indeed a day of Thanksgiving, for that mine carried twice the wallop of a torpedo!

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Red Island, Newfoundland


Feeling my way through the big public spaces and past what passengers call the main stairway, I hear its loud complaining and see it ghostly and empty in the dim blue battle light. Here once played an orchestra under the soft southern nights, when the ship was a blaze of light and the sea so gentle that the whirr of electric fans was audible. Through the screened windows spilled the lights making the ship a hundred bright stars. I run uphill and cling to the cold handle, twist it, and the heavy door on the down-roll flings open, pulling me into the freezing blackness. Now, the great unseen din of the north Atlantic, the dull explosions of the immense, invisible seas. A dark form brushes past me, but I know not whether he is officer or man. Presently I can walk, for vaguely I sense the swing of the sky, judge the quivering plunge of the ship. Eerie are the long decks of the liner, where once lounged the lazy tourists in long rows of deck chairs; where sat the expectant, brightly colored movie actors, shadowed by the solicitous stewards with tall strong drinks. Fat in my life jacket, I stagger about, a dim ghost on an empty ship, barely discerning the weird white shuffleboard markings on the wet and reeling decks. Out there in the howling gale, lurk silent men, deep below the thunderous surface. Sensitive, mechanical ears listen for our noisy coming.

November 25th, 1941

Blinded by the bright sunlight and excited by the brilliant colors in foam and water, we see broad on our starboard bow the gay red lightship with the magic word "CHESAPEAKE" in large white letters on her side. The loud speaker blares: "All hands.turn in life jackets! All hands turn in life Jackets!"

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Between the North Atlantic and Pearl Harbor>