S.S. Jose Marti Memories by Bob Williams, 3680 Marshall St., Wheat Ridge, Co. 80033 Do I remember? YOU BET I DO!! It was a sweltering day under a blazing sun, in mid-summer of 1943. We, the Armed Guard, were about to take a spanking new Liberty, the "S.S. JOSE MARTI" on her "MAIDEN VOYAGE." We looked like a stream of refugees fleeing an advancing army and we could hardly make it up the gangway. Why? Because we were laden down like donkeys; everything we owned was heaped on our aching backs, only to be told by our future and glorious leader, Ensign Henry H. Sayles, an unseasoned "ROOKIE" like ourselves -- "YOU WON'T need that stuff; we'll send it back to Brooklyn." A squeaky voice piped up, "How about if we carry it back? .... NO! NO!! Mister Olesky, we'll send it back." "Mister Morenz will be in charge of deck work, Mister Ward and Shiflet will set the gunnery and lookout watches, and you, Mister Allen, do you think you could find time to lead the calisthenics for all hands at eight bells -- mornings and evening?" "I think so, Sir." "YOU THINK SO? .... I mean, Yes, Sir!" It wasn't a joke then but now I am able to look back with great humor. Sparks Bob Williams said, "Oh why Lord, did you have to introduce us to the unconquerable Cape Hatteras on our first night out? I'm so glad you didn't heed my plea, instead, you let me live." That was the solitary time I surrendered to the indescribable Mai de Mer. It was far from the wildest and roughest night we battled through but it was the smelliest for I was not alone in my misery. We encountered heavy weather many times. Often the bow watch had to be secured when the angry sea came clawing and frothing at the bridge in search of an unwary seaman or unfettered gear. Like I stated before, it wasn't funny then but it sure makes fabulous memories now. Convoy, "Ships, ships, ships, I never saw so many ships", Aycoth said to me. There were Tankers, Libertys, and Freighters of all sizes, each maneuvering for their alloted spaces, proudly flying the colors of their native !and. There is the light blue stripes of Greece, I see Panama, United Kingdom and a myriad of flags and blazing banners whipping about in the stiff breeze, flags from countries and exotic lands perhaps you had dreamed of visiting someday. "Signal lights," Harbolovic informed Goidschmidt, "relay important coded convoy information, or, flick out some greetings or salutations between fellow captains or former shipmates. Radio silence is strictly enforced." Our flagman DeMar and Downing await tensely the go ahead signal from the convoy commodore and there it is - EXECUTE - and we are under way. Captain Jolsen receives the sealed envelope that will reveal orders of destination and zig zag courses. "What happens if we zig instead of zagging," Bussing asks. "KABOOM, that's what" quips Nate Day - "Ships don't have breaks you know." We have a blimp overhead for spotting submarines. American destroyers and DEs are scanning the skies and sweeping the sea around us. Our minds are boggled. How could we know we would not be setting on dry land again for 53 days? This is one day I'll never forget. I arrived topside and the forward deck was covered with polliwogs; some even had names like Hendrix, Cartier, Zimmerman and there seated upon a makeshift throne was a giant of a man with a long stringy beard, clad in nothing but a skimpy loin cloth. Atop his head was a gold-colored crown and held high aloft in his left hand, as in the myths of old, was a 3-pronged spear, entangled in mossy seaweed and dribbling salt water. "KING NEPTUNE" flashed in my mind. The ship, in a doldrum, was setting fast on zero latitude. This was a special day, a day when all hands, from the Master down to the mascot dog or cat, who had never crossed the equator before must, without exception, pass through the initiation of baptism, by being dunked into the sea and emerging as a loyal subject in the realm of Neptune, God and Sea. Luckily, we had a swimming pool and most of us were wearing our shorts, at least to begin with. After new style haircuts, and gooey crude oil being rubbed into all the hairy parts of our person, we scrambled through the hot flogging oven, were spun around blindfolded until our heads whirled, then prodded to walk the plank, Kerplunk!! Into the pool! Where at last we became full fledged Shellbacks - members of the King Neptune Society and free to roam the seven seas. Oh sure, there were a few scary and even life-threatening times, like when we almost sank the entire convoy and our first air-raid while sitting like dead ducks right across from the Rock, which supposedly represented utmost safety. Let's save those events for another day. I like to remember the good times. Say, sleeping on the deck under a million brightly glowing stars in that unbelievable black expanse, then having to scramble for cover as an ambitious squall sweeps down upon us from nowhere, then vanishes as fast. Or reading a book on the fantail solely from the luminosity of the phosphorus in our mile long wake. How about a nerve racking sea as smooth as glass and you think, Gee, I wish something would happen, a gale, a torpedo wake, a "GQ" blast, or oh, anything, but you wish in vain. One day the torpedo nets snagged a monstrous sea turtle and yep, the cook made turtle soup. Yuck!! Strategic Suez Canal, bum boats seeking Bak-Sheesh or trading liquor strong enough to blind a man for a few cigarettes. Rickshaws in Durbin, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christmas in Rio, easing up the Amazon. Best of all, I fancied sitting on the hatch cover approaching a brand new port, thoughts miles away and I'm riding those wonderful ground swells!! Oh! Boy!! Pinch me, I think I'm dreaming. I tried to name the whole damned crew -- I've saved til last the best for you,-- Brucato, Cannon, Endres, three --March, Hamrick, Norris, Glenn Dorsey---That's S.S. JOSE MARTI's crew -- I sure would like to hear from you.
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