The Watch–cont’d 5

The images were like angry wasps flying at them.  Mostly they were merely straight lines against the sky slowing growing larger as they angled down at the convoy.  He could see two of them.  They were the ones flying right at them.  He didn’t even look around for others.  Before he could even adjust to the idea that they were coming at him, personally, the ships in the two rows in front of them opened fire.  The tracers from the 50’s and the 20 millimeters were arcing into the sky like streaking meteors through the heavens.  They were all going to low and behind the planes.  That was always the problem he remembered being taught in training school, not leading the planes enough to make contact with them.  A funny thing to remember at that moment especially since he wasn’t even manning either type of gun but the 5 inch.  He had heard no order to open fire and they were always convoy-wide when given. 

He yelled at the gun crew to swing the gun around for open sight firing, anticipating the order to fire any moment.  He knew that firing like that over the open sight was very unlikely to hit anything but at least the extra shot and shell might spook the planes off course.   They were now with a half a mile he guessed and still coming.   The antiaircraft fire wasn’t diverting them at all so far.  He saw a brief twinkling from both of the planes as they opened up with  their on wing mounted cannon.  The enemy tracers struck one of the ships right in front of them.  Was he scared?  Excited? He couldn’t describe his feelings if he had to.  Now they were within a quarter of a mile and more ships were firing from port and starboard.  The sky was literally filled with color and puffs. It was hard to keep up with the flight of the planes.  Albert hollered –“Are we going to open up?”  He didn’t respond.  But then gave the order to open fire without any orders from the Lieutenant.   He briefly wondered if he would get in much trouble for doing that, they were strictly ordered to never open fire without orders from the bridge.  The thought was interrupted by the roar of the gun as it fired the first round.  The crew was working frantically and another round was fired within seconds it seemed.  He saw at least one bomb drop from the plane on the left at the ship directly in front of them but he never saw it hit.  His eyes became focused on the planes as they fired again with their cannon and now the shells were dancing across the water toward his ship.  They fired another round and the order came from the bridge to open fire at the same time.

Faster than he could think the thought, the enemy shells worked their way up to his gun pit.  Then nothing for a few seconds, milliseconds? A few minutes.  All he could discern was a loud sound.  Like being inside a metal barrel and someone banging on the outside with a hammer.  There was color, lots of color.  Something flew past his eyesight, what?  Had he flinched?  Closed his eyes?  He would never  know for sure.  He was leaning against the gun pit railing when he regained his senses and perspective.   Ridiculously he first checked the gun to see if it was still operational, it was.  Much later he would learn that the plane also released a bomb but it hit on the port quarter in the water.  Luckily it only loosened some bulkhead seams in NO. 2 hole and was repaired before he even knew it happened. Smoke from the barrel was drifting back over them he noticed,so only seconds had passed.  He felt something against his foot and leg and looked down.  It was Tom, the back up loader and man on the elevation control. Albert was saying something.   Moose was moaning and leaning against the far side of the pit and holding his arm.  He noticed that something was sticking out of his arm, it was big and reminded him of the cowboy and Indian movies like an arrow had been shot into his arm.  Tom wasn’t moving and blood was sloshing  under him on the gun pit deck.

He bent down to Tom and turned him over.  His stomach and chest were mostly gone and red, raw meat was exposed along with a lot of white stuff he didn’t recognize.  It reminded him of the -were he had worked one summer.  No breath, nothing.  Tom was dead.  Tom had been standing within two feet of him only seconds ago doing his work and now he was a lump of meat on the deck.  “Let’s move him” he told everyone in the crew.  They lifted him outside of the pit and then he looked to Moose.  It was a splinter of wood about 10 inches long and it had gone right through his forearm.  It was between the bones but blood was spurting.  Albert said we have to get that out.  From the gun tool kit he got a pair of pliers and pulled the splinter out.  It had come from some of the crates they carried on topside.  A shell had hit it and thrown the splinter into the gun pit.  He was the pharmacist mate on board.  He had no formal training for that but he had the highest rank of the enlisted men on board and Navy regs required every  ship to have someone fill that duty so the Lieutenant had given him the medial manual and told him to read it and practice his first aid techniques.   He grabbed the first aid kit and poured sulfur on the wound and then wrapped it in a battle bandage.   Moose collapsed onto the deck and was sitting in his own blood and Tom’s. 

He kept looking at Tom’s body, that was all it was now, a body.  He wanted to cry and praise God at the same time.  He had survived but why had Tom taken the hit?  Should he have told them all to duck under the metal railing as the planes got closer?  Would it have made any difference.  He didn’t really know much about Tom other than he as a quiet guy from Iowa.  He had to make sure the gun was manned and ready no matter the problems.  He reported the death and the wounds to the Lieutenant.  He never knew if the Lieutenant was angry about opening fire without orders.  The Lieutenant said he would send help right away and wanted to know if his crew could continue firing.  He said yes.  Within seconds help arrived and two of the merchant marines who were the back up support for the gun in an emergency.   That scared him and worried him because their training was minimal and they would slow down they rate of fire.  He and Albert could make it  but it would be slower.  As they pulled away Tom’s body and lead Moose below the order came for fire toward the starboard quarter and he readied the gun.

to be cont’d…



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Filed under family, history, military history, War

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