THE STORY OF A WORLD WAR II FRIGATE
USS SANDUSKY PF-54
By Vice Adm. Thomas R. Sargent, III
Vice Admiral Sargent, a retired Coast Guard flag officer and World War II veteran, graciously provided the Coast Guard Historian's Office with two important publications. They are his first-person accounts of his experiences during World War II while serving as the executive officer and then commanding officer of the USS PC-469 at the height of the battle of the Atlantic and as the "skipper" of the frigate USS Sandusky (PF-54) which served in the Pacific.
"The Story of a World War II Frigate" is a story about a type of ship that is little known today. The frigates were mass-produced escort vessels that were designed during a time when, in the Atlantic, U-boats were sinking freighters, tankers, and warships faster than the Allies could replace them. The Coast Guard, under an agreement with the Navy, manned a total of 75 of these warships. They began entering service in late 1943, a time that saw the U-boat threat abate and the frigates were therefore assigned to other duties, including service throughout the Pacific Theatre. VADM Sargent's account provides the reader with a close-in story that brings the service of one of these frigates to life. Read on and find out what it was like to sail in a new type of warship, command a dedicated but incredibly young crew, prepare for action against the Japanese--including fighting off kamikazes--survive without sleep for days on end, and even live through an assault by one of the crewmen. This is history as one person lived it--and it is an important addition to the Coast Guard's history.
Thank you Admiral!
Vice Admiral Thomas R. Sargent III, USCG (Ret.) graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1938 and served a good portion of his long and distinguished career at sea aboard the cutters Modoc as a line officer and her assistant engineer, Duane (WPG-33) as her chief engineering officer, and Bibb (WPG-31) as her executive officer. He commanded Winnebago (WPG-40) as well as the Navy warships USS PC-469, serving first as her executive officer, and USS Sandusky (PF-54) during World War II. His shore assignments include the Coast Guard Academy as Maintenance Officer, service as the Chief, Civil Engineering Section of the 11th and then the 9th Coast Guard districts; Chief, Civil Engineering Division at Coast Guard Headquarters, where he supervised the development and construction of the LORAN station chain in Thailand and Vietnam; and as Chief, Operations Division of the 11th Coast Guard District. He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral on 1 July 1967 and served as the Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District and then as the Chief of Staff of the Coast Guard at Coast Guard Headquarters. He was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral on 26 May 1970 and served as the Assistant Commandant (the title of that office was changed to Vice Commandant on 2 October 1972) and he retired on 1 July 1974. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star with combat "V" device.
The Coast Guard-manned frigate USS Brownsville (PF-10), a sister ship of USS Sandusky (PF-54), one of the 75 frigates manned by Coast Guard crews during World War II.
The Coast Guard manned and operated about seventy of these rather unusual ships during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans - they were unusual in that they had two firerooms generating steam for two large triple-expansion steam engines with all machinery, such a force-draft blowers, anchor engines and steering engines, all of them being single cylinder steam engines - the only variation was the two turbine-driven generators furnishing electric power for ships utilities!! The ships were twin screw with twin rudders making them extremely easy to handle provided you allowed for the high bow, the low stern and the vagaries of the wind. With those characteristics, the ships were dry forward and wet aft, but, in spite of that I loved to handle and maneuver my ship. The USS Sandusky (PF-54) was reasonably fast - rated at 22 knots. She was quite well armed with three three-inch guns, two twin-mount 40 mm. machine guns eight .50 caliber machine guns, two depth -charge racks, four K-guns, and mouse-traps forward. We had both surface and air search radar, a well-equipped CIC [Combat Information Center] and the best communication equipment including TBS [Talk Between Ships--a low frequency radio system that allowed ships to communicate by voice]. With twelve officers in the wardroom and an enlisted complement of 196 we were well manned.
I had been on the USCGC Duane (WPG-33) as engineer officer for less than one year when I was transferred in December 1943 to a command course at St. Augustine, Florida and later to SCTC [Submarine Chaser Training Center] in Miami, Florida, to another Command Course. At the termination of the latter course, the Coast Guard students sailed for five days on a Navy DE [Destroyer Escort--another mass-produced escort vessel] for final indoctrination. Commander (later Rear Admiral) George Knudsen was supposed to be the CO [Commanding Officer] and I was the Exec[utive Officer or "XO"] of this DE and, during the battle exercise, George was "killed". I had to step over the "body" in order to take command - we eventually abandoned ship. That evening at dinner in the wardroom, George announced to all that I had been waiting for his demise so that I could have his precedence number and that I probably would not have taken his remains back to the States. My reply was "Thank you, Sir, for the promotion vacancy but I really would have taken you back to the US because you have such a delightful wife." RADM George Knudsen was devoted Coast Guard officer and a wonderful shipmate.
After arrival in Miami, we were ordered to appear before a Navy Board to determine our fitness to command. I had just been promoted to Lieutenant Commander and had one uniform striped but was introduced at Lieutenant Sargent - this caused quite a stir. At the end of the interview, I was astounded to learn that I had been certified for command and, the next day, I received orders to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to start assembling a crew to man a Navy frigate. After one month, I received orders to proceed to New Orleans, Louisiana, to meet the rest of the crew and to await the arrival of the Sandusky and to place it in commission. Lieutenant (later Captain) Benjamin M. Chiswell was to be my executive officer and he had assembled to rest of the crew in New Orleans. On 18 April 1944, with one Captain (later Rear Admiral) William Scammel as the commissioning officer, we placed the Sandusky in commission.
Just prior to commissioning (photo, above), Mr. Charles Gamble, the superintendent of the outfitting shipyard, asked if we could move the ship forward about 100 yards. Although there might have been a few risks involved, Ben and I decided that, if we could not move that ship one hundred yards, we were in deep trouble. All went well except I discovered that only three officers and only four enlisted men had been to sea!!! A great majority were reserves.
On 20 April, we sailed for Pilot Town and the Gulf for training and solidification of our organization with the usual pilot on board - the crew and the ship worked well and Ben Chiswell and I were satisfied. We anchored overnight in Pilot Town and, in the morning, another pilot arrived but I rejected his services due to his inebriated state and another was provided. We sailed for the Gulf and for two days ran through every training exercise in the book until we were happy with the results. By that time most of the seasick cases had recovered!!
We were ordered to Pilot Town for a hearing on our inebriated pilot and then released to sail for Bermuda for shakedown with COTLANT [Commanding Officer Training, Atlantic]. We rendezvoused with a Navy DE [destroyer escort] who was very unhappy taking orders from the SOP [senior officer present] - a Coast Guard officer. I set a speed of advance of 15 knots which was too slow from him, but to me was a good sonar speed. In view of our problems, I released him to proceed independently.
The officers of the Sandusky
We arrived in Bermuda during a violent windstorm and told to moor alongside of a French DE. I requested permission to anchor until the wind moderated but was ordered to moor alongside forthwith - which we did - taking down his railings from the bridge forward - the ships did not match with our bow flare clearing his deck by five feet! I apologized in my best fractured French!! The next day, things got worse - Dr. [Lieutenant Howard L.] Holley [USPHS], the ship's doctor, was transferred to the hospital with a spot on his lung, the chief engineer was confined to his bunk with a serious bone bruise on his ankle and a few of the crew came down with the mumps - we were quarantined!!! Since I never had the mumps, I confined myself to the emergency cabin and ate my meals on the bridge. However, the ship continued participating in all exercises with the other ships and we completed shakedown. I received my fitness report from Rear Admiral Rivera, COCTLANT, which stated, "The performance of this officer reflects no credit or discredit on the Naval service." I immediately checked with the other CO's and discovered they had received the exact same wording - what a morale builder!!! We sailed for the Philadelphia Navy Yard for post shakedown overhaul and further outfitting.
Upon arrival at the Navy Yard, we were ordered to moor to a pier in the mooring basin. We took on a Navy CPO [chief petty officer] as our pilot, and, when he realized where we were to moor, he wanted no part of handling the ship. With the CPO beside me we entered a very narrow channel, sailed under a lift bridge and immediately had to make a 90 degree change of course to starboard and then we were ordered to back into our mooring with fifty feet of the ship hanging over the end of the pier. This is where I appreciated the wonderful handling qualities of the frigates. The crew was outstanding in their line handling resulting in a perfect mooring!!
A few days later, we were informed we would be assigned to the Pacific Fleet; consequently, we received a new air search radar. Also, at this time, the Sandusky was made part of ESCORT DIVISION 33 consisting of the USS Charlottesville (PF-53), Machias (PF-25), Allentown (PF-52) and, of course, Sandusky. William F. Cass was CO of the PF-53, Robert T. Alexander was CO of the PF25, Garland W. Collins was CO of the flagship PF-52 with John Ryssy as Division Commodore and I had the junior ship - Sandusky. While in the Navy Yard, the Chief Engineer, Lieutenant. T. H. Macown, deserted and was picked up by the Shore Patrol somewhere in New Jersey. I preferred charges against him; he was transferred and Lieutenant (junior grade) B. A. Church was assigned to relieve him - it was an outstanding change. After completing outfitting, we sailed for Staten Island, New York, on July 31, 1944.
We got underway from the Philadelphia Navy Yard at 0800 and for the next 15 days we made various convoys to Norfolk interspersed with gunnery and ASW [anti-submarine warfare] practice, finally arriving at Staten Island on 16 August. Here I discovered that being the junior ship had its drawbacks. The other three ships took on docking pilots but none was available for the Sandusky so, with wind and a nasty current, we made a dramatic mooring outboard of the flagship and we were given a rousing "well done" by the pilots and CAPT Ryssy. I still insist that the frigates were as good a handling ship as I have ever maneuvered. It was here that I received a new doctor - Lieutenant Samuel A Jaffe, U.S. Public Health Service.
Sandusky's mascot, Soogee-a "beagle of doubtful heritage."
On 18 August at 0630 we departed Staten Island and rendezvoused with six British transports loaded with U.S Army and Navy personnel - destination somewhere in the western Pacific Ocean. On 20 August off Cape Hatteras I got a sonar contact and, after making a couple of runs and dropping two patterns of depth charges with no results, I returned to the convoy. The next day, we were diverted to Charleston, South Carolina, to dodge a hurricane and then departed on 22 August arriving at the Canal Zone on 27 August.
On 28 August, we departed Colon and passed through the Panama Canal which, in itself, is an adventure particularly when you meet a tanker going through the Cut - I could have touched the ship as we passed!! We docked in Balboa and remained overnight and here is where I had some difficulties personnel-wise. My first problem was with a fireman named Bernard Schmidt who had been so seasick that he had to be removed from watch and placed on the "Binnacle List" so I had orders cut to transfer him to the Naval Hospital. Immediately after that Dr. Jaffe came to the cabin stating that he had been seasick to the point that he now had a hernia and would be unable to continue on the ship. When I stated that I had seen him in the wardroom pantry making sandwiches and drinking coffee, he became offensive. He told me "I did not start this war and I don't want to fight in it". I immediately called the Coxswain of the Watch, told him to help Dr. Jaffe pack and escort him to the pier. It was then I realized that I had no authority to throw anyone off the ship without orders so I went to see the Commodore, CAPT John Ryssy, and apprised of the circumstances. He sent for Dr. Jaffe, asked him whether he had told me that he did not want to fight any war and, when he answered in the affirmative, Captain Ryssy had orders cut for the Doctor to proceed to the Naval Hospital for a hernia operation and then to be returned to the US!!!! At least I was vindicated - but I had no doctor.
(In 1994, I was contacted by Bernard Schmidt and his son. It seems that Mr. Schmidt believed that doctors has experimented on him and, as a result, he was completely incapacitated for duty. I finally wrote a long dissertation refuting all the allegations based on my memory of the occasion and the ship's log. Mr. Schmidt wanted to be awarded some kind of medal for service in the Atlantic that he did not warrant.)
On 29 August, we sailed escorting only four ships - two were left in Panama due to some crew problems. The convoy now was routine and we had many drills to keep the crew sharp and ready for anything we may encounter. However, on Saturday, 2 September, we crossed the equator and had a major celebration. I was the only "Shellback" on the ship so I used my authority to appoint Ben Chiswell and the Chief Quartermaster as honorary "Shellbacks to carry out the celebrations. The entire crew had no hair!!! And we had a great time!
LCDR Sargent on the bridge of Sandusky
On 14 September, we pulled into Bora Bora, Society Islands for fuel and fresh food. Here again, we were the last ship to enter the very narrow harbor entrance and, of course, had no pilot but all things worked out well and we tied up to one of the transports. I had dinner in the wardroom of the transport and, on the Sandusky, we served coffee to all the U. S. sergeants - they almost depleted our supply!! On 15 September, we moved over to a pier and, unfortunately, two of the crew went ashore with a few native girls (liberty was not allowed). After some searching, they were found, brought back to the ship where I placed them in irons and confined them to the brig on bread and water. I then apologized to the Governor and to the American Consul. The next day, 17 September, we sailed and headed west.
I believe it was on the morning of 19 September when the starboard bridge wing lookout shouted that a round object was dead ahead. I was on the bridge and immediately recognized it as a mine, ordered left full rudder and hoped and prayed that our degaussing system was working properly and that we would miss it at a safe distance. We did but the convoy commodore ordered the Sandusky back into position and, when I apprised him of the mine and requested permission to go back and explode it by gunfire, it was summarily refused. I just hope no other ship was sunk because of it.
On 21 September we crossed the International Date Line and lost one day. A few days later the Charlottesville took our mail and two of the transports into the New Hebrides, I believe. The rest of us continued on toward New Guinea. On 28 September we picked up a submarine contact, went to General Quarters and dropped a 13-charge depth charge pattern, lost the contact abruptly but continued to search until dusk, at which time we resumed our station in the convoy escort. We thought it was strange that the contact disappeared so very fast - I'm not sure whether it was a sub but it sure was a good contact. On 30 September we arrive in Hollandia, New Guinea, and tied up to a repair ship for some necessary voyage repairs and then was assigned an anchorage. I sent Frank Gibbons ashore to find some small stores clothes for the crew and possibly some khakis for the officers. He had no luck but came back with a load of jungle greens - pants and shirts - which were great for everyone. As time went on, we all gravitated to jungle green uniforms when underway - and they washed well in salt water!!
Firing a hedgehog ASW mortar
aboard USCGC Westwind in 1944
On 14 October we weighed anchor and headed for Moratai arriving there on 15 October. We got little rest and immediately went off Halmahera which is just south of Moratai and was "home" for about some 60,000 Japanese. It was reported that a submarine is still in the inner harbor and we were ordered to keep it trapped and, if possible, sink it. There was plenty of action from our aircraft on Moratai and we assisted the crews of some US PT boats who did sporadic raiding along the shore. On 20 October, we got an excellent contact with our sonar; fired our hedgehogs but no results. Sonar indicated that the contact headed for the reefs of the inner harbor. We patrolled the area for two hours with no further contacts we were relieved and refueled in Moratai. From 23 to 30October, we continued our ping and, one day, we received a blinker message from shore (in English) that we were a little late for our turn. Since we had a bearing on the light, I requested permission to fire a few 3-inch rounds to teach them manners but, unfortunately, it was refused.
In Moratai for fuel, we were tied up in tandem to a tanker with the Sandusky alongside the tanker with the Machias outboard of us. After fueling, I contacted CDR Alexander and suggested we unmoor and anchor elsewhere in the harbor. (I had been in Casa Blanca on the Duane under similar circumstances and we had to depart in a great hurry). CDR Alexander refused even though the tanker had ammo and gasoline as additional cargo!! I was so concerned that I ordered steam to be kept on both boilers and that we be ready to get underway at a moment's notice. This proved prudent because, just before dawn, Japanese Zeros came across our stern to bomb the airstrip. Three were hit and we claimed one. Gunner's Mate Don Gray had the ready gun and I am sure his prompt action and the 40-mm did the trick. I immediately called CDR Alexander and told him I was ready to depart. He said he did not have steam up so I said we were ready to go and I would take him with me -- which we did.
We proceeded to an anchorage, I let him anchor and then we went to anchor a short distance away. The Allentown and the Sandusky were ordered to proceed to a location north of Moratai to search for a submarine reported in that area. Shortly after arriving on station, the pharmacist mate informed me that we had a seaman with appendicitis. We, of course, had no doctor so I asked Allentown to lend me her doctor. We executed a difficult transfer at sea and, with the assistance of Lieutenant Jim Houlihan and all the pharmacist mates, the appendix was removed and the doctor returned to his ship. Three days later, the patient was on deck ready to assume his duties!!!! This was a particularly difficult undertaking in that we had to secure all vents to the sick bay and sail a course that would keep the ship steady. I believe Jim Houlihan's main job was to wipe the brow of the doctor. We stayed at General Quarters during the entire operation!!
On 3 November, we received orders to proceed independently to Palau and the next day arrived in Babelthaup and, after fueling, we received orders to escort a seaplane tender to Leyte Gulf, Philippines Islands. We departed on 5 November and arrived in Leyte Gulf on the 7th with no contacts or aircraft sightings. However, en route, we discovered that we had no charts of the Philippine Islands; so, as we approached the Gulf, I messaged our charge, "We have no charts, please point us in the general direction of the anchorage and we will get you in safely." All went well and we were ordered to anchor off the Tulosa airstrip and act as plane guard and anti-aircraft protection. It was not a cushy job - no sleep due to eight or more air raids so we stayed at General Quarters stations for the entire night and fired our three inch AA's [anti-aircraft] and our 40 mm at every passing aircraft. An amazing amount of flack hit the deck and yet no one was injured - but I received a dent in my helmet and I had ringing in my ears for a few days.
On 8 November all commanding officers were called to the flag ship, USS Mount Olympus (AGC-8; above), for a conference with Vice Admiral D. E. Barbey, USN. We were informed that a Japanese fleet was coming through the San Bernadino Straits heading for Leyte and that, if the fleet were able to enter, we would lose all that we had gained. He stated that he would leave strategy to us and when he gave the command to sail, the escorts would get underway and engage the fleet to the best of their ability. It was not a pleasant prospect. Back on the Sandusky, I gathered the officers in the wardroom and stated our plan of attack was to be as follows -- we would be at general quarters immediately after getting underway; we would proceed at full speed and, upon detecting the fleet on radar, we would zig-zag. As we approached, we would fire any guns that were in range aiming at the decks and bridge. If we survived, I would pick out one ship, run as close as possible and drop depth charges set at 50 feet with the machine guns concentrating on the bridge. As we reached the stern, K-gun personnel would try to put the depth charges as close to the screws and rudder as possible. If we survived that, we would pick out another target of opportunity. I asked if anyone had any other or better suggestions but no one responded except LT Houlihan who said, "I guess it is OK if we call them nasty names as we go by." I said it would relieve the tension and I would join in. We shook hands and the officers departed to inform the crew.
During the night, we were notified that some baby carriers had been sunk and their aircraft would be landing at the airstrip. We were ordered to turn on our masthead lights and I turned on a couple of searchlight to illuminate the airstrip a little. They came in, one after another, in various stages of damage. We could see men on the airstrip run to those who landed, pull the pilot from the aircraft, and move the plane to one side. If it were damaged, they bull-dozed it into the water. It seemed like hours, but it only lasted one hour and we received the "all clear." Later on we were informed that the Japanese fleet had turned around and that combat services were not required !!! You can well imagine the sighs of relief - coupled with the realization that we would live to fight again - morale was at a new high! Nevertheless, it was a sleepless night because of the number of air raids so the crew slept at their battle stations - I just sat in my chair on the bridge and kept my eyes on the incoming aircraft. Remarkably, again we had no one hit by the tremendous amount of flack hitting the ship.
On 9 November 1944, we departed with a convoy for Hollandia. A fair number were Navy ships that had received battle damage. From the condition of the ships, it was apparent that kamakazi attacks were vicious. The trip was uneventful and we arrived on 16 November and received some greatly anticipated mail. On 19 November we were ordered back to Leyte via Moratai to pick up mail - it wasn't there. However upon arriving at Leyte on 23 November, eighteen bags of mail came aboard - it was well received by the crew!!
For the next six days, we were the plane guard off the airstrip and endured 53 air raids; several Japanese aircraft were downed and a few ships were bombed. On the bridge, the lookouts would yell "aircraft starboard (port)" and we would pass the word "action starboard (port)" and the batteries would open up. Shell casings got so abundant in the gun tubs that Damage Control had to send men on deck to dump them overboard. On 29 November we were ordered to fuel and take on ammunition from a tanker and to depart as soon as possible for the entrance to the gulf for "ping patrol." I was handling the ship and had just reduced speed to one-third when the propellers hit some obstruction. We moored to the tanker and LT Houlihan went over the side to inspect the props. He found that we had slightly hit what appeared to be a "rhino ferry" which had been sunk the night before. Two blades of each propeller were bent about three inches. After fueling and stowing our ammunition, I tested the ship at various speeds and all appeared satisfactory. I made a report to the Commander, Philippine Sea Frontier, who stated that "such are the exigencies of war" and to "forget it."
LTs Chiswell, Houlihan, and LCDR Sargent aboard Sandusky
During our ping patrol and while on the bridge looking toward the islands, I noticed an aircraft flying low over the land and that a destroyer on the inner ping patrol was approaching the island. I immediately picked up the TBS, called him and warned him of a bogie approaching over land. He acknowledged but, unfortunately, almost immediately the aircraft dived into the No. 1 gun resulting in a terrific explosion - it was a devastating sight. The CO survived and sent his thanks for the warning - I was extremely upset and I apologized for the lateness of my warning but he did say it helped.
On 3 December, our Division 33, escorted another convoy to Hollandia and arrived back in Leyte on 18 December after transporting 24 Navy communications personnel and 400 bags of mail for the Army. On my birthday, 20 December, we took on board 29 Navy enlisted men and one officer from and LST which had been damaged in the Mindoro invasion. The CO was detained in Leyte pending investigation surrounding the circumstances of the actions of the crew during and after the engagement. I informed the officer that he was responsible for his crew and that he should be sure they obeyed the orders of all those senior to them while on the ship and that they would comply with my ship's organization. They were to stay below decks during General Quarters and remain on the mess deck. Within the convoy was a Navy Fletcher class destroyer that had been hit by two kamikazes. The damage was astounding and, amazingly, the commanding officer has survived but most of the officers and many men had been killed. The ship had the appearance of a flush decker destroyer from the bridge aft yet the survivors were determined to get the ship back to the states!!
The trip to Hollandia was uneventful except for one incident with the LST survivors. During one Saturday morning inspection, Lieutenant Chiswell and I with the inspection party approached No. 1 gun tub and found members of the LST crew gambling. When "attention" was ordered by the Chief Yeoman, one of the members stated that they were "Navy" and were not subject to Coast Guard orders. I placed them on report and ordered them to the mess deck- they complied - and I them sent for the LST officer. We had quite a discussion about military discipline and justice and the fighting of wars in general resulting in a report being written covering the circumstances which would be transmitted to the Navy Command. I could not help comparing the attitude of this group of Navy men with those of the Navy destroyer mentioned earlier.
We arrived in Hollandia on 26 December after observing Christmas crossing the equator for the seventh time!! The canned turkey was a pretty good substitute for the real stuff and all the Sandusky officers had their picture taken in whites!!! We took on fuel and supplies and departed with a 52 ship convoy consisting of LST's, transports, freighters - a future invasion force. We were joined by another 34 ships near Moratai making a total of 86. We arrived in Leyte on 7 January 1945 without incident. We sailed again for Hollandia with a small group of ships but the Sandusky was detached on 13 January to pick up 16 ships out of Palau and take them to Leyte.
From 13 January to 22 February 1945, we escorted four convoys to and from Hollandia and various islands. There were few or no air attacks and only a few sonar contacts making it evident that the Philippine invasion was approaching termination. But on 25 February, the division was ordered to Mindoro and then on 27 February we sailed for Subic Bay arriving there on 28 February and dropping off our small convoy. We departed Subic that evening and sailed to Lingayan Gulf where we were immediately assigned ping patrol at the entrance.
We had that patrol from 1 March until 3 March. It was on 2 March when I had a rather disturbing incident. The patrol consisted of four ships, two on each half of the entrance and the patrol was organized so that the entire entrance was covered by sonar at all times. We were approaching the shore when we were informed an air raid was eminent and we went to General Quarters. I was just getting ready to make the turn when I felt a slight prick on my back. I turned around quickly and found one of the firemen had a knife sticking in my lifejacket. It had cut the jacket from back to front and, as I faced him, he yelled that he was going to kill me because I was always ringing the General Alarm. I backed up to the bridge spray shield with the knife on my lifejacket and told my talker, Quartermaster 2/c Donald Wilber, to notify damage control of the situation. I also told him to apprise CIC to be ready to take the conn. In a very few moments Lieutenant [James] Houlihan crept up the ladder to the bridge, nodded to me, raised his arms and brought them down over the deranged man. I backed up and grabbed the knife. The Doctor appeared and gave the poor man a shot and he was transferred to the sick bay. I gained control of the ship and we made our turn on time. Jim Houlihan saved me from probably severe injury and, for that, I am forever grateful. We transferred the fireman to the hospital ship USS Charity the next day. I do not know the man's name but I certainly hope he recovered.
On 3 March, after transferring our deranged man, Division 33 assembled with a 19-ship convoy with a dramatic departure fighting off four air attacks. On 7 March we arrived in Leyte Gulf and, after fueling, we received orders to sail to Seattle, Washington, departing on 9 March 1945 for Ulithi. We arrived on 12 March, fueled and sailed at 1800 for Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands where we stayed for three days while a convoy was being assembled. The Division 33 departed on 21 March with a fast convoy (20 knots) for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, crossing the International Date Line on 24 March.
We spent a couple of days in Oahu and I had the honor of meeting Admiral [Chester W.] Nimitz for a very short period. All commanding officers made a call on the Admiral - I was ushered in to his office by his aide who introduced me. We shook hands and he said, "Thank you, Captain, for coming here today and congratulations - you lived through it!!" He knew that the war was just about over.
We sailed for Seattle, Washington, on 27 March, and upon arrival, off loaded our ammunition at U. S. Navy Ammunition Station, Bangor, and then tied up at a repair yard in Seattle. This was the end of World War II for me - a month or two later I was transferred to the Reserve Officers School at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Lieutenant Ben Chiswell took command and sailed for Cold Bay, Alaska, where he turned the ship over to the [Soviet] Navy.
There is a sequel to this - in 1957, when I had command of the USCGC Winnebago (WPG-40), we always moored at Yokosuka Naval Base after one leg of our Ocean Station Patrols. Upon arrival on one trip, I noticed a few frigates moored a short distance away. I went to the Operations Office and asked whether they had record of the U. S. names of these ships. The reply was in the affirmative and I discovered that the Sandusky was there with the Japanese name Nire. I went to the ship and asked to go on board. After some discussion, I was allowed to go the bridge and I just stood there and reminisced for a short time, then left the Nire thanking the OD in my best Japanese. I understand that the Nire was finally decommissioned and scrapped. The Sandusky was a wonderful ship with an outstanding crew - to have such a command is one of the greatest rewards for Coast Guard officer.
The crew listing on the commissioning program was the original crew. There were many changes in New York and Philadelphia but, unfortunately, I do not have the names of the personnel who went with the ship to the Pacific. I have been able to find some of them, have had the honor of meeting them and have corresponded with quite a few. Attached is a list of those men.
It has always been astonishing to me that more recognition is not given to the cooks and stewards. With little fresh produce available, they performed wonders with the cans of meat and vegetables and the dried fruit. They served meals during the times of protracted general quarters in between performing as ammo handlers - I salute them with profound thanks.
I believe that I am, at this date (2003), the only surviving officer. Ben Chiswell, my executive officer, an outstanding navigator and a great friend over many years, passed away in 1997. After we both retired, we happened to live within a few blocks from each other and, one morning, his wife, Dorothy, telephoned that Ben had collapsed. I rush over to their house and arrived at the same time as the paramedics. Although I believe he knew I was there, he never recovered consciousness. I made arrangements to have his ashes scattered at sea from a Coast Guard helicopter by his son - I, too, attended. I lost a good friend and this nation lost a real patriot!
Several years ago, I received a telephone call from a CDR, Frank Porcellini, USNR who stated that the seaman who was operated on for appendicitis while the SANDUSKY was on patrol in mid-Pacific Ocean was his father.
I promptly checked the crew list --- and there was the name --- S2c Frank V. Porcellini!!
I contacted the Commander, invited him to dinner and we reminisced about the event. Frank Porcellini was a very valued member of the crew and stayed with the ship until decommissioned.
Frank V. Porcellini, Jr. (Now Captain, USNR) and I have kept in touch over the 6 years since he first called. How small is the world !!!!!
The Patrol Frigate Story ----------------------- David H. Hendrickson (1999)
"The Diary of Ed Baehr" ------------------------- Informal diary of Mr. Edward Baehr
"Diary of Bill Guinn" ----------------------------- Informal notes in the South Pacific
NOTES ON THE PHOTOGRAPHS:
The few pictures that survived have been reproduced. Unfortunately, they are not too clear since time has taken its toll. We had a mascot --it was a beagle of doubtful heritage -- he appeared on the ship while we were tied up at Staten Island, New York. We named him Soogee and he loved the crew. When the general alarm was sounded, Soogee would run down to Damage Control Central and stay there until gunfire ceased. He was a delight to have on board and a great morale builder but, unfortunately, during his first adventure ashore in Seattle, he was struck by a truck and killed. After all those air raids, it was ironic that he should die just before the war ended and while in the USA!
He was buried at sea.