"NOW HEAR THIS"
Subject: My First Ship
Published: June 1997
By: Gene Chamberlain
. . . I came aboard the Savannah while she was in Pearl in the fall of 1940. My first ship. There were some 800 “boot” sailors fresh out of Great Lakes who came over on the SANTA FE, I thing, to “replenish” the fleet then at anchor – berthed was more like it at Pearl. We were “told off” to various ships. Some men in line next to me went to the Arizona or the Chicago
The SAVANNAH was nested with three other cruisers, the Brooklyn and the Nashville. All were rigged with awnings.
Eventually I was assigned to the F Division, along with Cotton Linsay(?), Tabby Smith (Walter F Smith), Leo Pelko and Dick Caughlin. Tubby and I are still in touch by phone and mail. He recently turned 80 – I’m 77.
I took my turn as mess cook – head captain – and messenger for the deck watch officer. The best job I had – aside from routine fire control maintenance – was as the “talker” for the Exec when on special sea detail. I helped take the ship in and out of many interesting ports. It was a pleasure to watch how some of the very skilled officers navigated the ship through often tight quarters.
The Savannah was detached from the Pacific Fleet in May of 1941. I did a tour of duty at the fire control school in Mare Island and returned to the ship in April of 1941 and journeyed with her to Boston arriving in June of that year.
This port of call brought me to Hingham, then to visit a cousin. In the course of this “liberty” I was fortunate to meet Helen Howard. Now in the course of time – we celebrated our 50th anniversary in this community. This event in 1995 took us to Bermuda. It was great to recall the ship’s presence in the harbor at Hamilton.
During that time – fall of ’41 – I qualified as a first class range finder on the USS Ranger. I was on special sea detail when the ship came through the submarine nets – the seas were running high – we rolled heavily – the mess decks, set up I think for Thanksgiving meal, over swept us. I could hear the crash of crockery on my head phones. A number of the crew were cut up by broken plates and flying cutlery. A real mess. After we anchored the meal was set out again.
I have two small mementoes from the Savannah – a picture of Helen that I framed with aluminum from the ship – plus a teakwood heart carved from chips taken as the wood was stripped from the main deck while we were in Philly.
After the invasion of North Africa, the Navy in its wisdom, assigned me to the USS Biloxi, then being built at Newport News. This ship took me back to the Pacific for the next three years. Eventually I was shipped back to the States at Newport, RI, and the crew of the USS Portsmouth.