Jose Marti

SS Jose Marti

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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