Chapter V

Japanese warships were reported to be infesting the waters around the Philippines, and the Naval Command had decided that no slow auxiliary vessel would have a chance for success in a dash to safer waters. Perhaps there was still a hope for relief to reach the Philippines, in which case the probable heavy loss of life in an attempt to break through would not be justified. The men, in no uncertain terms, expressed their preference for taking any chances at sea, rather than being bottled up, with a land siege in prospect. But orders were orders, and since those in authority did not see fit to assign any great weight to our feelings in the matter, there remained nothing but to make the best of a bad situation and settle down to help make it a good siege while it lasted.

Some sort of protected living quarters ashore were a necessity if the night workers were to get any rest. This problem was partly solved by taking over a large storage tunnel just completed, and building in bunks, office space, hospital accommodations, a radio and telephone communication center, and makeshift field kitchens for cooking our two meals a day. More than a hundred of the men not having repair duties lived underground there with reasonable comfort, at least after the water dripping from bare rocks overhead had been trapped and piped to a shower spray, so that baths might at least be voluntary.

Many of the repair force slept during the day in this shelter, but most of them scorned the dank air, and preferred to take their chances in the wide open spaces in the nearby hills, where they learned to sleep under the shade of tropical trees, leaving a lookout to warn them in time to roll into a fox hole whenever a bomber looked threatening.

By no means were all of our men were in the night-owl group. Machine guns on every hilltop were manned by alert sailors with itchy trigger fingers, just living for the day when one of the dirty yellow so-and-sos would venture low enough to give them one good crack at him. This didn't happen often, but those that did forget themselves must have thought they had stirred up a hornet's nest, and not all of them lived to tell the tale.

Another watchful group took station under the shelter of the quarry's crushed rock storage tanks, were they were near enough to make a dash to their beloved ship in case she were hit again, to do what they could to save her.

Finally, there were the lookouts and signal stations on the hilltops with telephone wires reaching throughout the whole system, to spot marauding planes while still far away, and warn their shipmates of impending danger. These men, with little protection for themselves, kept their binoculars coolly trained on the bombers, describing the picture to more sheltered friends. Few will ever forget those quiet voices over the earphones, "They are heading directly over us -- their bomb-bay doors are open -- don't believe they dropped bombs this time -- no, here they come -- looks like they will hit beyond us" -- (more drowned out by a shattering roar) -- then, "lousy shooting, missed us a quarter-mile -- must have had their third team in there."

Anyone who had stood in the open when those deadly missiles are rushing down toward him, and has heard the ominous hiss which announces their near approach, will appreciate the iron control of a man who can keep up a blow-by-blow account when his next breath may be his last.


Capt. Sackett's History