March 1945

This photo was taken of me in the Russell Islands March 1944. I sent it home in a letter to my mother dated 3/27/1945 (see below). As quartermaster I sent messages by Morse Code to other vessels. I was also skilled in semaphore.

March 1, 1945 – Thursday.  Moored to Buoy, Renard Sound, Russell Islands, Solomon Islands.  Well here we are again, tied up waiting.  We did get to move today … TO ANOTHER BUOY!  A liberty party went ashore for the night and returned just before 10pm.  On Friday after lunch we exercised at General Quarters and then carried out a Collision Drill.  Saturday continued the same.  We had a captain’s inspection that lasted just over an hour. Sunday we remained tied to our Buoy.

March 5-6, 1945 – Monday-Tuesday.  My friend, Cecil Cooper, fell ill today and was dispatched from the ship to the Base Dispensary for medical treatment.  He returned within the hour having been treated and released. Later in the day a diver came aboard from LCRB #2 to conduct an inspection of our starboard propeller.  On Tuesday we mustered the crew after breakfast.  We have remained moored to our buoy now for nearly a week but finally today we were able to beach the ship at LCRB#2.  LCI(L)327 pulled in along our starboard side and YT316 came along our port side.  At YT is a harbor tug boat.  A group of metal smiths came aboard and worked for a most of the day.  We also took on water and brought provisions aboard.

March 7-8, 1945 – Wednesday – Thursday.  We remain docked at LCRB#2.  No remarks.

March 9, 1945 – Friday. We took on fresh water supplies today, 1587 gallons, and then retracted from the beach in order to test our pitch control adjustment. The maneuvers took about an hour and we came back and anchored in Russell Sound.

March 10, 1945 – MALARIA STRIKES.  Over the past few days I have become so ill that I finally was detached from the ship and ordered to report to the dispensary for medical treatment.  Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. Once in the body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells.  The effects of malaria include fever, headache, and vomiting, and usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs.  This is a horrible illness and one I won’t soon forget.

Dale Kirkham reports to the dispensary for treatment of malaria

March 12, 1946 – On Monday the crew was mustered to quarters and we moved from our anchorage over to a mooring next to the old oil barge Y013 where we tied off starboard side.  The ship was assisted by one LCM. An LCM is a Landing Craft Mechanized or small boat that lands troops like the one shown here in the the European Edition of Yank Magazine, June 1944.

Looking down on an LCM from the conning tower

Later the GSK (General Store Keeper) came aboard followed by the radio repair man who worked on the radio. Tuesday the ship moved again. This time from its mooring along side oil barge YO13 to the the pontoon Dock where we tied our starboard side. Wednesday plumbers came aboard to make repairs to the exhaust system then Thursday they took the ship out for a speed test. Friday we remained moored at port.

March 17, 1945 – Saturday.  I’m back aboard ship, having spent a week in the hospital.  They ran some blood tests on me.  I had a fever and I lost some weight, not being able to eat or drink without vomiting.  I do heal quickly, however, and was up and about by the end of the week.  The hospital is just a big tent, really. I’m glad I got back to the ship.  We took on 11 native passengers for transport to the Santa Isabel Island.  We sailed at 6:45pm.

This is a typical field hospital similar to the one I stayed in on Russell Islands

March 18-24, 1945 – Sunday-Saturday. SANTA ISABEL ISLAND.  This is the first trip that our ship has made to the beautiful island of Santa Isabel.  On Sunday the ship pulled out of Renard Sound, Russell Island, just after mid night, passed Oumala Island at 1:32 am and arrived in Sepi Villiage by dawn. After leaving Sepi the ship stopped at Cockatoo, and beached for the night at Kaernga.

DISCOVERY OF AN ENEMY SEAPLANE BASE – Along the route we ran into a scene that startled all of us.  An LCI is not a fighting ship.  We have a few guns, but these are for defense only.  If an LCI ever does come under attack we have little in the way of armament to rebuff an enemy.  This week our mission is not enemy reconaissance.   Rather ours is a mission to ferry native people who have  been displaced or have been otherwise involved with the defense efforts – along with their interesting cargo, that sometimes includes small animals and children – back to their simple villages and the Eden-like existence that they enjoyed before we gates of hell opened up for business in their neighborhood. We weren’t expecting what we stumbled onto today.  As we were running parallel to idilic scenes along the sandy North shores of Santa Isabel Island, studying green patches of tropical growth that fill the nooks and crannies along the way, we spotted what appeared to be a hint of a settlement that was not native in nature.  Instead of hut-like structures lined with little fat bellied children running along the beach or small canoes fishing near the shore, we saw instead what appeared to be a purposely secluded enemy ghost village strung about the neck with a number of floating aircraft tied up and anchored to the shore.  What have we fallen into?

The wings and sides of the small planes were clearly dotted with the familiar blood colored emblem of the rising sun.  Immediately we realized that we had run smack into a Japanese seaplane base apparently with all the planes still in tact.  This area was supposed to be cleared but we sprang to the ready.  We cautiously moved among what looked like an abandoned forward war scene poised to engage at any moment. We jumped to full ready waiting and fearing machine gun strafing or cannon fire to reward our disturbance.  But to the the contrary, not so much as a palm brach wavered along the beach.  These apparition-like metal birds remained fixed in their positions, water from our ship’s wake lapping up against the pontoons beneath them, as if the entire air regiment was somehow away momentarily on a picnic.   We didn’t stick around to find out if there were still sandwiches and fried chicken enough to share.  More than likely the rapid advance of the allies had forced the enemy to suddenly abandon this war asset in exchange for safety. Or perhaps spent fuel supplies forced the slant-eyed pilots to seek hiding in the more remote and less exposed jungle areas in the island’s interior, or perhaps some of our boys had managed to sneak in and  subdue the situation before the airmen could evacuate their seaplane base and flee to the safety of the skies in their winged chariots.  Whatever the reason the untouched encampment simply lay mute and pristine before us in the still waters of the small estuary, and its secret will remain a mystery because we chose to quickly continue our movements down the coast and avoid the risk that our curiosity might somehow stir a reprisal that we would not be able to defend.

Japanese Kawanishi H8K seaplanes lined up along the beach on Kwajalein

On Monday  our ship pulled out of Kaernga beach and moved to Gasufate Village then to Suou Buna beach, eventaully anchoring off Kilokaka Village. On Tuesday the ship left Kilokaka Village in the morning and in the afternoon stopped at Kia Village then Wednesday the ship left Kia and headed down the coast of Santa Isabel Island stopping at Rekata Bay and Boalo Village serving various passage and cargo needs for the natives along the coast. Thursday the ship retracted from Boalo Beach and continued on to Maringe Lagoon, moving natives and gear along the way. Friday the ship pulled away from the beach at Maringe Lagoon, Santa Isabel Island, and proceeded to Hivo Village, then Tannabuli Village, then continued back to Cockatoo where it beached for the night. On Saturday the ship left Cockatoo Village in the afternoon and proceeded to Sepi Village where the native passengers left the ship with their gear, then the ship returned to the Russell Islands.

While we were out I wrote the following letter home.  I down played the malaria a little bit so she wouldn’t worry.

March 25, 1945 – Sunday.  E.R. Legge returned from the Hospital today and rejoined the ship.

March 27, 1945 – Tuesday.  I went ashore again and visited sick bay for a quick check up and then returned to the ship.

I took time to write a letter home again today, just to reassure mother that everything is OK.

Letter Home 3/27/1945

March 28-29, 1945 – Wednesday-Thursday.  Beached at LCRB#2. No remarks.

March 30, 1945 – Friday.  I left the ship again briefly this morning to go back to the hospital again. I returned just before 9am. Nothing else of importance happened the rest of the day.

Back to the hospital

March 31, 1945 – Saturday.  FIRING PRACTICE.  We were able to conduct some firing tests today.  In the afternoon we took the ship out and began with number one gun, firing at intervals.  In all we fired guns 1, 2, and 3, the 20mm guns and both 50 calibers.  After firing practice we returned to the pontoon dock at LCRB #2.