A STORY OF WAR EXPERIENCES
by JESSE E. RAMELLA
I'll start with 5/17/42. I was on the MS CHALLENGER around the southern tip of Africa in the Caribbean. About 3:55 a.m. as I was in my quarters brushing my teeth, we heard this terrible crash, as a torpedo hit the starboard side of our ship and I started to go up the ladder and another one hit and I fell back down the ladder. One of my buddies was in his bunk there. He had been sunburned real bad and I tried to get him up and kept begging him to get up and finally I almost had to drag him out of the bunk. I got him up and started him up to the deck and he didn't even grab a life jacket so he started up the stairs without one. Someone finally gave him a life jacket and we all managed to get into lifeboats. After so much carrying on and so much havoc being raised on the ship, you can't begin to imagine some of the things that happened. Our stern was blown almost completely off, our ammunition magazine was totally destroyed. My gun that I was supposed to man, the side yoke was standing straight up on it, so I couldn't get to my gun. So I managed to get in the lifeboat and away from the ship before she finally sank. In 35 minutes she went down. So here I am out there in a lifeboat with 22 other guys and 35 men in another boat. We caught a life raft that had been released and we hooked that onto our boat and on that life raft was a man who had broken his back when the explosion had blown him away from the ship. We managed to get him on the life raft so he could lay flat on his back. The agony that he was suffering was terrible. But I must say that during those 12 or 13 hours I spent in the lifeboat I don't remember a thing that happened. I somehow feel that the Lord blocked out of my mind some of the things. I know I saw a submarine and I heard things going on but I donít remember exactly what happened there. I guess old age has taken care of part of that.
As we drifted around out there and waited for something to happen, we knew that we had gotten our message off in an SOS and planes had flown over and had recognized us. Around 5:00 p.m., maybe, this Coast Guard cutter came along side of us and we all managed to climb up ladders and managed to pull the guy with the broken back up onboard ship and on a cot. Not having a shirt or even shoes on all day, I was sunburned real bad and so they took me into sickbay and covered me with tannic acid, which was what they used those days for sunburn.
I didn't know what was going on at home in the meantime but when I finally got to go back home, my mother wanted to know where I was on the morning of 5/17/42. I asked her what time and she told me, and it was at the very time I was in this situation, that my mother had been awakened out of a sleep and she knew something terrible must be happening. So she got out of bed and on her knees and prayed that the Lord would protect me, guide me and keep me. I never realized the power of prayer until then. She prayed for me and I'm sure that had a lot with my being spared.
Anyway, they took us into this Coast Guard cutter and took us to Trinidad and we stayed there for three or four days before we finally got our uniforms. Then they put us on an aircraft carrier, the Ranger, and brought us back to the United States. After a 13-day survivors leave, we were put on another ship and we were allowed to go back to our Naval Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn, NY.
Then they put me on another ship, the SS JEFFERSON DAVIS. I spent 14 months sailing around the world. We went from New York to Trinidad and then Capetown, South Africa, then to the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Iran and Arabia. There we stayed about four weeks, which is the hottest part of the world I ever been in. We went from there to Bombay, India, where I saw things that I never dreamed of ever seeing. While we were in Bombay we took on a load of iron ore. The workers wore very little but loincloths and they worked like slaves, they worked so hard, for one rupee a day, which was equal to 33 cents. I can't imagine anyone working for only that much money but it seemed like they always had wads of money they were playing games with. I had a real good experience while aboard the ship. From there we went down to Columbo, Ceylon, and took on a load of tea. From there we took off to New Zealand, which was a beautiful place, and we were there about 10 weeks. I really enjoyed that time in New Zealand. After the 10 weeks we started back, across the Pacific Ocean, and we ended up in Chile and South America, and there we spent some good times. We came back through the Panama Canal, which I had never been through before, and we came back to New York.
In all of these travels and the many things I saw and did, I can't begin to tell because some of it's not even worth repeating, but I will say I enjoyed my time in the Navy. I enjoyed doing some of the things I did, but some of the hard experiences, air raids, torpedoes and things like that, laying all those things aside, I enjoyed my time in the US Navy.
I would like to add a footnote to this whole story. My chances of dying or getting killed were three times during this thing were such:
I thank God that on all three occasions there where I could have lost my life, He was with me and protected me. I was not a Christian. I knew about God and had worshiped, but I never really felt like I was a Christian. So I thank God for that experience.
If there's anything else to add to it, I don't know what it would be, because some things are not worth talking about and some things I do not wish to repeat. So, I hope this helps a lot.
Thank you and God bless you.
Jesse E. Ramella