Thursday, January 14, 2010

The first long letter, while still en route to Japan

Two days after writing the brief V-Mail letter, while still aboard the U.S.S. Mayo, Major Gillham wrote a much longer letter to his wife in California describing the events leading up to embarkation and the voyage thus far.

25 Oct 1945
U.S.S. Adm. H.T. Mayo
Approx. 39 degrees N - 170 degrees E

Dearest Darling,

There is so much that I want to say to you and tell you about, that I am sure I will write about some of them twice, and omit others. As I have said before, when I write something in my diary I feel like I have written it to you. I have written several V-mail letters to you and the children, but I imagine all the mail from the ship will get off at the same time. Let me know which you get first. I also sent the children a fancy certificate about crossing the date line. I hear that V-mail may be discontinued soon, so you might also keep one of them as a souvenir.

It is now a week since I left you standing at the depot in Monterey with Martha in your arms. I can still see you all there waving good-bye. I am very proud of my fine family and sweet, pretty wife. I am sure that, come what may, we will have a lot of fun living.

I will now back up and try to bring you up to date and answer as many of the questions that may be in your mind as I can think of.

The trip to San Francisco was normal. We were on day coaches, but they were clean and not overcrowded. Several of the officers, including Captain Staunton, had their wives on the same train, and after a little arguing they were able to get them back to sit with them. I had a seat to myself, but doubled up with another officer, so Capt. & Mrs. Staunton could have a seat together. I sat by a Capt. Aiden who had been on the staff at Charlottesville, until recently. He is a very nice fellow and I still see a good deal of him aboard. I was surprised that the train went through a number of tunnels on the San Francisco peninsula before getting to the terminal. At the terminal our cars were switched off and taken down the street to about opposite Alcatraz and just below Telegraph Hill -- Pier 45.

We got off the train, were given cakes and coffee by the Red Cross, were pushed around by some Transportation Corps WACS, picked up our hand baggage, were given our stateroom number and went right up the gang plank without any delay. I was about the 4th or 5th aboard, and I got my Valopac up the gang plank without any trouble. In fact I think I was traveling lighter than most. It was about 1300 when we went aboard, and of course we couldn't get off any more after that. We were right opposite many of San Francisco's famous seafood eating places, but all we could do was look at the signs.

They gave us ham sandwiches about 1430 and that helped. Since then we have dined sumptuously -- steak three times and turkey once so far, but always good. Baked beans and brown bread at lunch today.

To get back to the chronology, that first afternoon I spent prowling around the ship and watching the rest of the troops come aboard. They loaded the last of the cargo -- electric fans for the Philippines, where I understand the ship will go after it disgorges us at Yokohama. (It is really much more fun to write without censorship, isn't it?) My cabin is forward on the port side of the main deck. It would normally have port holes but this ship was built without them.

There are eight of us in the room. (There were nine, but one Lt. Cmdr. went to join his WAC wife as I wrote you.) We have three triple-deckers, we each have a small locker, we have two wash basins, and a table that seats four. We have all our baggage in there with us, too. It is about size of Emily's and Monty's room. There is forced draft ventilation, it is only a few steps to the forward open deck, and just down the corridor the other way to the head and showers (fresh water!) They have a big plant aboard for converting sea water to fresh water. They also carry food for 5,000 men for 45 days. So I should do a little better than Capt. Bligh on his voyage after the mutiny on the Bounty. The book is entitled "Men against the Sea," and I have just finished reading it.

When the troops come aboard, an officer at the gang plank with the passenger list calls his last name and the soldier answers with his first name and middle initial and passes up the gang plank. -- Was just interrupted by another "Abandon Ship" drill. We surely should have that down pat if we should ever have to do it.

About 2100 two tugs nosed us out into the bay and turned us, and we got underway under our own power. It was foggy and fog horns were blaring as we went under the Golden Gate Bridge. It soon dissolved in the fog and the ship started heaving with the ground swells. I then went below and took a couple of sea sick pills. I think they helped, for although I was a little sick the next morning, I haven't missed a meal yet and have had a stupendous appetite all the time.

When I opened my diary that night to make an entry, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a sweet coded line written there.

Did you get the letter I wrote on shipboard that afternoon? The troop mail was closed, but I gave it to one of the ship's crew that had a letter of his own he was going to mail.

This ship is a new Navy transport commissioned last April and operated by the Coast Guard. It has made one trip around the world and this is its last trip in the service as it has been bought by the Matson Line for conversion to a luxury liner after this trip. It is 620 ft. long, draws 22 ft. and carries enough oil for a trip around the world without refueling.

As we left we could see big signs lighted up on each side of the bay saying "Welcome Home -- Well Done."

The first day out was clear and cool and good sailing. That night there was a beautiful full moon over the water. Many of the passengers were sea sick for the first two or three days. About the third day out we ran into a regular gale and the ship pitched heavily. Today we have come out into fair weather again.

There is such a hot political argument over Russia going on in here now that I will have to stop for a while.

26 Oct -- Took a "Cook's tour" of the ship today and learned a few more interesting things about her. It takes a ton of potatoes for one meal. They bake 1-1/2 tons of bread every day.

The thing that impressed me most was the deep indigo blue color of the Pacific. The foam in the ship's wake looks like bluing and you feel that you could dip your pen in the water and write with it.

We sighted one or two ships nearby every day. Outside of the first day out, the weather has been generally cloudy. As we went north on a great circle course it became colder and stormier. About the third day out we were in a regular gale and the big waves were two or three hundred feet from crest to crest. We were leading right into them and this made the ship pitch badly. The bow would go clear under at times. In our room it felt like you were riding up and down in an elevator all the time. When a big wave would break over the bow, the ship would shiver all over. Then she would creak and groan and dive down the far side of the wave. -- And this is a ship over 600 ft. long! After we turned south, the weather has gotten milder and milder until tonight is right balmy with a light rain. The albatrosses that follow us don't seem to mind the cold or the gales at all. They sail right into the teeth of the strongest wind without ever flapping a wing.

One of my roommates is a Maj. Chun, a native full-blooded Hawaiian. He is of the native royalty on his mother's side. He is a very unaffected and likeable fellow and I have become very fond of him. He is as happy and carefree and unrestrained as a child. Yet he is very intelligent and has an excellent education. He has seen a lot of action in this war. Once a Jap shot at him from only twelve feet, but missed. He has been on several of Bishop Univ's anthropological expeditions all over the south seas which were conducted by the author of that book on the subject that I read at Bryant's.

There are generally a good many poker games going on aboard, but I haven't gotten in any of them yet. I am sorry to say that I haven't studied much Japanese either. I haven't felt like doing any heavy concentrating. I sleep about 10 or 12 hours a day and eat like I was starved.

27 Oct. -- Went through the engine room today with the chief engineer. It was very interesting. The ship cost about $13,000,000. The stills can make 100,000 gals. of fresh water per day. It carries enough fuel to go 1-1/2 times around the world without refueling.

The weather is now much warmer now that we are near 30 degrees N Lat. and the days are longer. We have had showers off and on all day.

We are approaching the end of the voyage and I may not have a chance to write much more in this letter. We are due to land Monday [October 29] sometime. I don't know what we have in store for the future but it will be interesting to see how it works out.

In all this chaotic world there is one sure and certain thing in my life. It is you, my darling, and my love for you. I got my one big break when I married you, and if I never get another break I am still amply rewarded. This trip may be an interesting interlude, but I shall constantly look forward to the time when we can be together again.

I will send you my permanent APO just as soon as possible. Use it in preference to this temporary one as soon as you get it. Let me know all about how you and the children are getting along. If you ever have to get an emergency message to me quickly, I believe that the Red Cross is the best bet.

28 Oct -- We are due to land tomorrow, and the mail will soon be closed for mailing aboard, so I must wind this up. It has been very rough today with the ship running parallel to the waves instead of across them. This has caused a heavy roll. Spray goes clear over the whole ship at times, but it has been fun since nobody is sick now. At mess the chair you are sitting in will slide clear across the floor if you don't hold on to something. I have taken a few pictures and hope they turn out good. I managed to get in most of them as you asked.

Write often. I will live from one of your letters to the next. Tell Emily and Monty I think of them often and love them very much. Give Martha a kiss for me. And remember that above all I love you.



The book Men Against the Sea is the second in a trilogy written by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall giving a fictionalized account of the mutiny on the Bounty, which occurred on April 28, 1789.  The book was originally published in 1933.  The first book was titled Mutiny on the Bounty and the third Pitcairn's Island.

Below are some photographs of Pier 45 today.  The pier is now in the middle of the Fisherman's Wharf tourist district and is the home of the submarine U.S.S. Pampanito, shown in the top picture.  Coit Tower, atop Telegraph Hill, can be seen in the far background.  The second picture is a view of Pier 45 looking toward the bay, with the island of Alcatraz visible in the background to the right.  The third photo is a map of the northeastern portion of the San Francisco peninsula, with a black arrow illustrating the location of Pier 45.

Here is a photo of the "fancy certificate about crossing the date line" that he talks about in the first paragraph.  If you click on the photo, you can see a much larger image: