Saturday, October 9, 1943
THE STARS AND STRIPES WEEKLY
How Four Cheated Death In Ocean Tomb
By F.R. Kent Jr.
There was a terrific explosion. The American warship covering the landing of the first units of the 5th Army in the Gulf of Salerno, lurched to port like a wounded animal., and four young sailors down in the Emergency Radio Compartment, No. 3, found themselves in utter darkness with all communications dead.
They didn't know what had happened. As they fumbled around for flashlights and clothes, they thought of a number of very unpleasant things. They considered, for example, that their compartment was below the waterline; that the ship, alerted against air attacks, was in Condition Affirm, meaning that there were about a half-dozen dogged-down hatches sealing them from the comparative safety of topside.
They were to find out, bit by bit, just how precarious their position was during the 60 hours which were to elapse before they saw the light of day again. At the moment, under the leadership of R.J. Garmy RM 1-c, Canton, Ohio, they took stock of the situation. With Garmy were Joseph Costa, RM 3-c, Fall River, Mass; Charles J. Clark, Jr., Seaman 2-c,, Covington, Ohio, and James H. Lowes, S 2-c, of Niagara Falls, N.Y.
General quarters had sounded at 0935 and the men took their stations in the sealed compartment far below decks. At 0944 a heavy bomb struck the forward part of the ship, causing considerable damage and heavy casualties to personnel. To the men sweltering in Radio 3 it brought a thunderous concussion and darkness; then a rush of air and water.
"We knew we were trapped," said Garmy, "and we stood around two or three minutes trying to size it up. We sure wished we had an escape hatch."
They didn't know it then, but if there had been an escape hatch they would all have been dead ducks. The forward part of the ship had been flooded and there was five feet of oil and water on the deck of the Marine Compartment over their heads. There was an escape hatch in the overhead of the Evaporator Compartment to the port of Radio 3. Two men stationed ther tried to use it. Later rescue parties found one man lying on the deck on leg trailing back into the hatch. The body of the other was in the compartment, indicating he ahd tried to boost hais comrade through the hatch.
The battle phone circuits of Radio 3 were dead, so Garmy tried to attract attention by beating on the bulkheads and ventilators with a wrench, without avail. Then he tried the phones again.
Yelling at the top of his voice, he finally got a weak reply from the signal bridge, reported the condition in Radio 3, and asked instructions.
"Some time later, possibly ten minutes, they came back sayin our division officer said to get out.. We told the signal bridge, sort of jokingly, because we knew we were caught, to ask Mr. Gores (Liet. Guido R. Gores) how?"
"I told the boys what the dope was," Garmy contunued, "and we sort of took a vote on trying to break out into the outer compartment. We didn't know the Marine Compartment was flooded."
It was decided that Clark would be first to try an escape with a half-inch line tied around his waist, with which to pull the others out if he made it. Then, by trying various circuits without results, they knew that a number of compartments around them were flooded. They found the door of their compartment, which opened outward, was held shut by terrific pressure and was becoming convex.
When they had been told to get out of Radio 3, the men thought it meant Abandon Ship, but now, after long minutes of struggling to contact the signal bridge again, they were told to hold on, that Lieut. Comdr. Thomas H. Dubois, acting first lieutenant of the ship, was coming to get them out. At this point, also, Richard E. Greenamyer, RM 1-c, in Main Radio, overheard the messages and plugged into an emergency circuit without waiting for instructions. Communications were reestablished with Radio 3. This was about an hour after the ship had been hit.
While awaiting the rescue party, the men cleared an area where they thought an attempt would be made to burn a way to them. They also got a fire extinguisher in readiness.
Through the emergency circuit they finally learned, too, that a bomb had hit the ship and that the wounded had been transferred to a hospital ship.
Damage Control tried to get compressed air to the men in Radio 3, but the fumes that accompanied the ir gave the men headaches, so they turned it off. "I made everybody keep low on the deck," said Garmy. "The fellows wanted to talk, but I made them keep from moving around. We had two cots and one of us took a cot and two lay down on the other one. The fourth sat on a chair. I found we had about five bars of candy.
As the ship limped along through the night, Lieut. (jg) Clyde H. Toland, junior damage control officer, and Bos'n Ralph H. Habecker worked to get air and food to the trapped men and tried to reassure them their bulkheads would hold.
Said Garmy: "They told us it was perfectly safe and we'd see water coming through the upper corner of the hatch and from the
There was a half a quart of pea soup but it was a day old and spoiled. We didn't have any water because the jug had spilled just before the explosion."
Clark said, "we wanted to play cards, but the pea soup had spilled on the cards and ruined them. We read magazines and just lay there between three-hour watches at the phones.
When there were no sounds of rescue from outside Garmy got on the phones and aked Lieut. (jg) Oscar N. Edmonds, Jr., for "the straight dope." Around 1600 Edmonds came back and told the men that everything possible was being done, that the ship was making for a British-controlled port where she would be dry-docked. He told the men bluntly that they would have to stay in Radio 3 for another day or so.So the men sweated it out with Costa, the only married man of the four, worried about his wife who is due to have a baby. Clark forgot his own major troubles in worrying about the girl he expects to marry when he gets home.
antenna insulators in the bulkhead between us and the Evaporator Compartmant."
"The dripping water sort of got on our nerves," said Clark, "We rolled up our dungarees and rags and stuffed them against the leaks. The water still came through, but we couldn't hear it splashing."
The men in Radio 3 set about to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Through channels from Main Radio, Garmy hooked up an emergency electric light, and a fan. "We knew a lot of others hadn't a chance like that." Garmy said. "Our shipmates had been telling us about carrying out bodies and what compartments had been flooded and we realized we were pretty lucky to be alive."
Food, however, was still an unsolved problem. Toland, like a terrior searching for a rat hole, tried to find a channel through which he could pass provisions to the men. An air vent betweent the cabin of Comdr. P. D. Lohmann, U.S.N., the executive officer
and Radio 3, finally solved the problem, despite a couple of right angle turns. Through this vent, on a current of stale air, Garmy kited a wad of toilet paper to which was attached some thread. It went up easily. To the end of the thread then was tied a light line and by this means a two-way pull was established.
Down came a rubber hose with water to fill the jug; then came two oranges. The men halved these. Eight apples and four more oranges followed. These the prudent four stored for future emergency. In the morning each recived a sandwich and oranges via the improvised dumbwaiter.
"The sandwiches must have been made in the Captain's cabin," said Garmy. "Nothing as facny as that ever came out of our mess."
Meanwhile arrangements had been made in advance, and when the ship reached port the British already had constructed a coffer dam to be set on the deck of the Marine Compartment above Radio 3. After more delay it was finally fitted into place.
Suddenly a cheery British voice spoke down the vent to Radio 3, "Are you there?" The four said they were very much there. The voice advised them to be ready, as a scuttle was about to be drilled. Garmy replied somewhat pointedly that they had been ready for two and a half days.
There were more complications, but sometime between 1500 and 1600 hours of the third day of confinement, the first hole was drilled through Radio 3's overhead.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking watching those holes come through.," said Lewes, who had spoken least of all during the two and a half days, "and then the vibrations of the chipper got on our nerves."
About 2100 the scuttle was drilled out and the men left Radio 3. It was a tight squeeze. Lowes, youngest and smallest went first, then Costa, then Clark. When Clark went through, Garmy secured the fresh air and exhaust vents, the power plugs, and switchboards. Edmonds, above, jokingly asked him whether he knew the proper signal for securing phones.
"I told him I didn't give a damn. I didn't have to have one," said Garmy.
Soon the men found themselves in the semi-darkness of the Marine Compartment. Radio 3 had been comparatively untouched, but now when they saw their rescuers waist deep in oil and water and the terrible evidences of the explosion, it shocked them.
Captain Robert W. Cary, U.S.N., commander of the ship, received the men in his cabin, shook hands with each and said he was proud to have them as shipmates.
"That made us feel good," said Garmy.
So did a bath - and the drinks of whisky passed out by the ship's surgeon. Garmy noticed that the whiskey was dated 1927.