Recollections of a member of the Santee's Ship's Company in 1945, by Ray Schultz
It was a sunny day, as I recall, there was no storm in sight, and the seas were relatively calm. We had just finished furnishing air cover for mine sweeping operations in the East China Sea. Rumors were that we were now heading for the Japanese mainland to furnish air support for the big invasion. Many things were happening and there is a period of no exact recollections of time for me. The new rumor was that Japan was going to surrender now after suffering the atomic bombs.
Now the USS SANTEE, CVE-29 and the USS BLOCK ISLAND, both Aircraft Carriers, with supporting ships, were in the vicinity of Northern Formosa. We were ordered to the North coast of Formosa to evacuate POWs. So the latest rumor proved to be true and the surrender was slated to take place the next day.
As we neared land, the two ships launched every plane that was fit to fly as a show of force. Technically, we were still at war and some Japanese units may not have received the word that hostilities had ceased. For that reason, I, for one was somewhat apprehensive, later, when we dropped anchor. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel for a Japanese submarine! We organized a landing party. Our pilots reported seeing Japanese pilots in their craft, engines warmed up, and poised to take off. Our pilots made mock strafing runs on the air field and elsewhere but not a shot was fired. By the time we had recovered our first wave, the crew had cut open some new auxiliary gas tanks and stuffed them with some clothing, cigarettes and other goodies. These were dropped at or near the prison compound at Taihoku, some miles inland from the harbor.
The POWs were not informed as to what was actually going on but most of them suspected something as the guards’ attitudes had changed. Some of them ransacked the guards’ quarters, I was told, and at least one of the men carried with him a brand new pair of hob nailed boots. They were put on a train to Kiirun, also called Keelung.
Our landing party was now ashore and the POWs had reached the harbor town. Now a Japanese Harbor Pilot came out to guide the Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts past the submarine nets and the transfer began. Several trips were made between the docks and the bigger ships. It lasted until after dark. Now was the first time we had lights on that could be seen by other ships.
A platform was rigged on the starboard side of our ship where the men’s hair was all cut off. Their clothing was bundled and tagged. It was thoroughly fumigated and returned to them later. Each man was given a good disinfecting wash down and shower, then given a big towel, sandals and clothing. They were directed to the hangar deck where we had set up hundreds of cots. All aircraft were now secured on the flight deck. This was an extremely emotional time for these men and I’m sure they held this moment dear to their hearts forever. I don’t recall seeing a single man put on his dungarees. Beri beri had caused their legs to swell more than twice their normal size and all looked very emaciated. I might add here that navy dungarees are very full cut. Several of the evacuees came aboard on stretchers and the worst cases were left in camp. Medics were flown in to stabilize them so they could be moved, later.
Somewhere between 11:00 P. M. and midnight the cooks prepared chicken soup for all. We then weighed anchor and got underway for Manila. What a jubilant bunch of fellows these were. In the morning the evacuee’s chow line went right into the galley where each man chose the style of fried eggs he wanted right off the griddle! I didn’t see what took place but I wonder how many went back for seconds and thirds!
When ever I found time, I would chit chat with the guys as they told of their experiences. Many of them worked in a copper mine, carrying ore out in baskets. When one of them died, after fashioning a coffin out of bamboo, maybe, their guards would put a half an orange on the coffin before burial. It was some sort of superstition or religion that the Japanese had. This was the source of a tiny bit of vitamins for the prisoners. They usually didn’t refer to their captors as soldiers, guards, or even Japs. Their favorite words for them were "those bloody bah-stads." They talked of some guards, to show their superiority, would smash the arch of ones foot with his rifle butt. One man had an instrument which must have once been a guitar. The guards had smashed it but he had managed to salvage all but the sounding board. He had fashioned one from some thin pieces of wood similar to that of a cigar box. He strummed it and got a tune out of it. He sang some of their old songs that he knew from the time before his capture. Others joined him in song. Their favorite entertainer was Gracie Fields.
As I sat chatting with one of the fellows, he said he liked the American cigarettes alright, but he missed the "English Ovals." Some time earlier we had met with units of the Royal Navy and I had occasion to buy some "English Ovals." I had intended to bring them home as an oddity but I quickly changed my mind. I told him to stay right there and I would be right back. I went down to my locker and returned with a pack of "English Ovals!" I can’t describe his joyfulness and laughter.
On the first or second day out we put on a "smoker." A piano was put on the forward elevator which was raised about a foot as a stage. Our orchestra entertained everyone and several of the evacuees joined in with the entertaining. A really good time was had by all.
While standing a watch on the bridge, I recall seeing an English officer, presumably Navy, dressed in an ill fitting blue uniform. He was the guest of the Officer Of The Deck and looked quite emaciated to me. I don’t know how far radar had evolved at the time of his capture but he seemed very interested in it. There was a radar repeater on the bridge. Our radar was quite primitive but it worked. He was amazed at what it showed and what we could do with it.
After Manila we proceeded to Tokyo Bay.
Ray Schultz, USS Santee, CVE 29
Written December 15, 2000.