USS Cowpens during Typhoon Cobra Dec 1944

We left Pearl on our way to Eniwetok and Palau islands, then on to Samar in the Philippines, where we stepped out on dry land again. We got into a typhoon before we got to Palau and lost one of the sea doors. A sea door is down at the water line and is used when you are in port to load men and materials aboard the ship from the dock This was my first experience in a real storm at sea. It started raining in the early afternoon and the sea became rougher and rougher as the hours passed. Finally we could not go on deck because the sea was washing across the ship and the decks were sometimes knee deep in water. The head down below was full of guys being sick and throwing up. I went down to the Officers Mess just to get away. As I went down the companionway I sort of bounced from side to side holding on as best I could. In the mess there was no way any dish or cup could stay on the table even though the sideboards had been pulled up. I ate some finger food, a biscuit I think, and tried to get down a cup of black coffee. There were very few men in the mess and we were all just sort of holding on waiting the storm out. The old Evangeline was pitching and rolling and giving us a really rough ride. Amazingly I was not the least bit seasick. The crew installed a temporary door but it leaked like a sieve. We came into Samar listing about 40 degrees because of the loss of the sea door. All of our gear, except what was in our duffel bags, had been under water for about two weeks. We were issued “A” boxes just like the Marines, and the crew just dumped them on the beach. We went down and broke them open and everything was soggy and mildewed. Our firearms were packed in cosmoline, a sort of rust inhibiting grease which protected them from the water. We took our Carbines and 45 pistols along with all the ammunition and left the rest on the beach. We used the cosmoline to coat the shoulder strap for the carbine and the holster for the 45 and restored the leather like new.

61st NCB, Samar Philippines, 1945. This is why we built on stilts.

I reported in to the 61st Naval Construction Battalion to find out where the 118th was. After a day of checking they said they thought it was at Zamboanga on Mindanao, in the southern Philippines. After a few days, there was a small ship in the harbor, and the chief in the office said it was going to Zamboanga. I got my duffel bag and went down there. The skipper said he was going to Zamboanga and I was welcome to come along, but he was leaving within the hour. So I just got aboard without having time to notify anyone.

We left Samar Island and headed west. I knew Zamboanga was due south, so I inquired where were we headed. They wouldn’t say. The next evening we landed on Palawan Island at Puerto Princesa. After two days we left headed South East and, I felt a little better. At least I was not headed for China.

That night it was absolutely pitch black with no moon and really dark in that, orders were no lights and no smoking. We were plowing through enemy infested waters. About 10 o’clock that night, we were advised that they had a submarine contact. The ship started zigging and zagging. All of a sudden it just stopped dead in the water. We had broken a rudder chain, and there was no way to steer the ship until it was repaired. We were ordered to stand by the life rafts and keep quiet, no talking and, of course, no smoking. We stayed perfectly still for about two hours and then a huge yellow moon started up on the horizon. I heard several whispers of, ”Oh No!” The moon made the sky like daylight and we stood out like a sore thumb. About this same time we got under way again. The Skipper said the contact was either an allied submarine or possibly the enemy thought our little ship was not worth a torpedo.

Two days later we pulled into Zamboanga harbor and I went ashore.

Photo of battleship in typhoon found here.

Photo of 61st NCB found here and see also here.