On the fourteenth day, my orders arrived; I shipped out on the SS Evangeline. We were told the small troop ship had been a banana boat before the war, bringing produce from Central America and South America to the States. Just recently I learned the truth: after she was built in 1927, the Evangeline operated the Boston to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia service for the Eastern Steamship Lines until World War II, when she was requisitioned by the US Government and sent to the Pacific theater.
The Evangeline had been converted to haul troops. Below decks our bunks were stacked four deep. I had a top bunk which was the best, especially when those below you became sea sick! It was stifling hot down there, and a lot of us just slept on a hatch cover on deck. We could not take showers because there was just enough water for consumption and none for bathing.
The ship had a Merchant Marine crew with a Coast Guard gun crew to man the cannon on the fantail and the anti-aircraft 50 caliber machine guns. These were mounted in “gun tubs” on either side of the ship. As we first started our “cruise” we would run under the gun tubs for cover when it rained-which was every afternoon. After about a week, we would just continue to lie around or sit on the hatch cover and enjoy the rain. We probably needed to be washed off; it took us 45 days to get to the Philippines, and that is a long time to go without a bath!
The Skipper kept telling everyone to wear his life jacket, but it was so hot most of us did not. One hot afternoon we were lying out on the hatch cover, and one of the life rafts, which was sitting on two rails pointed to the sea and tied to the gun tub, broke loose. The sea was calm and just like glass. Well, down it slid, just like it was supposed to do in an emergency. BUT, when it hit the water it did not slow down. It sank to the bottom while we were watching it. Funny, after that, everyone aboard ship had his life jackets on all the time. Those life rafts had been painted so many times the cork would not float at all.
Another disconcerting incident occurred about this time. The coast guard crew was doing gun practice with the cannon at the rear of the ship. They would release big balloons, and shoot at them. They kept shooting as the balloon drifted towards the bow of the ship, and all of a sudden a huge crash, and they had shot the paint locker right in two. Of course it set the paint afire, and we had a lot of excitement while the crew put out the fire.
After about six days at sea, we stopped in at Pearl Harbor for repairs. The old Evangeline had sprung a few leaks. While at Pearl, we went ashore each day. We visited Waikiki beach, Diamond Head, the Arizona and finally the Dole pineapple factory. This last one did me in. I loved pineapple, and as we went down the canning line, the guide would spear six or eight slices of pineapple and give us all we wanted. I ate a bunch, but the thing that really did it for me was the water fountain. They had fountains that were pineapple juice. It was a hot day and I drank a lot of juice.
I paid the price, and starting that evening, I was so sick I did not even go ashore the next day. First bananas and now pineapple, will I ever learn?
Photo of troop ship berthing found here.
Photo of the SS Evangeline found here.
Photo of USS Missouri off Diamond Head found here.