10 November, 2011

10 November 1944

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
10 November, 1944       1910

Dearest darling Wilma –

Well – after chasing around another day, here I am free for awhile and trying to relax by writing you, dear. It seems as if I’ve been jumping around quite a bit the past 36 hours or so, but I haven’t really traveled very far at all. I was again at A battery today and once more I didn’t get going until fairly late in the a.m. due to sick call and civilian patients. The latter are really keeping me busy, dear, and I’m seeing everything from impetigo and eczema to streptococcic sore throats and the hives. It’s welcome, for a change, too – and I’m beginning to feel like a doctor once again. But it’s odd how the minute you start practicing – so soon do you start doing night work. Last night I got into bed a little after 2100, listened to a program and a half and then started to drop off to sleep when someone began to ‘bang’ at the door, and sure enough it was a call for me. My first reaction is “the hell with them,” but dammit – I weaken right away. So – I dressed and went out and what a lousy night it was! I saw a woman who had had a severe chill and with no apparent cause; temp and pulse were normal and yet she didn’t look quite right. By the time I was through asking her questions, examining her and then getting some medicine for her – it was just after midnite, darling. Now – see what you’re in for? And I don’t even get paid for it, either – although my patients have given me all the butter and eggs I can possible eat. My ‘mother and baby’ – by the way – are doing fine and today I saw my name as the delivering doctor – on a German Birth Certificate. The boy will be named – you guessed it dear – Fritz.

I got one letter from Lawrence, today, the only letter I received. He wrote me all about his set-up and it sounded really good. I wish it could be longer than 7 weeks. I just happened to realize that a good friend of mine – a former 438th officer – and now a Capt in the Medical Administrative Corps – is at that hospital and I must write Lawrence to look him up. You were right in remarking in one of your letters that Law is a hard person to know; he is that; – but when you know him, you can’t help liking him because he’s as straightforward and honest as they come. As for the similarity in voice and manner between us, I don’t know. Off hand I’d say he’s more of a gentleman than I am.

So if we were married, dear, you’d know how to track me down, eh? I guess there’s no sense then in trying to dodge you, darling. You’d only track me down anyway; I surrender dear! I was glad to read also that you find my stationery clean, sweetheart. It’s sometimes so darned dark here that I can’t see what a sheet of paper looks like when I’ve written on it; I’ve never noticed the ‘grayness’ of your paper, though. And I’m glad to read that your mind is thinking along the right lines, too, e.g. thinking and planning where those English prints would go on a wall. I got 3 swell prints, unframed, in France; I don’t remember whether I ever told you about them or not, darling. I’ve got them in a portfolio and never found a suitable way of sending them home. They’re not very much, anyway, merely a souvenir from Carentan. There are two small outdoor scenes and one – the Cathedral at Rouen – as I remember it; I’ll try to hold onto them.

Well, Sweetheart, I’ll stop now, write home and also write Lawrence. Then I have to censor some mail and check a few records in preparation for tomorrow’s reports. So again, dear, accept my deepest and sincerest love, be well, give my regards to the folks and continue to be as sweet as you are. For now, so long – and remember – my love is

Yours for always


about the Explosion of the USS Mount Hood

Ammunition Ship USS Mount Hood (AE-11) was the lead ship of her class of ammunition ships for the United States Navy in World War II. Originally named Marco Polo, she was a cargo ship built under Maritime Commission contract. She was renamed Mount Hood on 10 November 1943, the first ship named after Mount Hood, a volcano in the Cascade Range in Oregon. Exactly one year after being renamed she was gone.

Launched on 28 November 1943, she was commissioned on 1 July 1944, with Harold A. Turner in command. Following an abbreviated fitting out and shakedown period in the Chesapeake Bay area, ammunition ship Mount Hood reported for duty on 5 August 1944. Assigned to carry her vital cargoes to the Pacific, she put into Norfolk, where her holds were loaded. On 21 August, she departed for the Panama Canal, transited that system of locks and lakes on the 27th, and continued on, independently, toward what would be her ultimate destination, Manus, the largest island in the Admiralty Islands, Papua, New Guinea. She arrived in Seeadler Harbor, 22 September, and commenced dispensing ammunition and explosives to ships preparing for the Philippine offensive.

USS Mount Hood

At 08:30, 10 November 1944, a party consisting of the communications officer, Lieutenant Lester H. Wallace, and 17 men left the ship and headed for shore. At 08:55, while walking on the beach, they saw a flash from the harbor, followed by two quick explosions. Scrambling into their boat, they headed back to their ship, only to turn around again shortly thereafter as "There was nothing but debris all around..."

USS Mount Hood Explosion

Mount Hood, anchored in about 35 feet (11 m) of water, had exploded with an estimated 3,800 tons of ordnance material on board including bombs, projectiles, fixed ammunition, rockets, both bodies and motors, smokeless powder, aerial depth bombs, and nose fuses. Torpex-loaded depth bombs were apparently coming aboard. The initial explosion caused flame and smoke to shoot up from amidships to more than masthead height. Within seconds, the bulk of her cargo detonated with a more intense explosion. Mushrooming smoke rose to 7,000 feet (2,100m), obscuring the ship and the surrounding area for a radius of approximately 500 yards (500m). Mount Hood's former position was revealed by a trench in the ocean floor 1,000 feet (300m) long, 200 feet (60m) wide, and 30 to 40 feet (9m to 12m) deep.

The largest remaining piece of the hull was found in the trench and measured no bigger than 16 by 10 feet (5m by 3m). No other remains of Mount Hood were found except fragments of metal which had struck other ships in the harbor and a few tattered pages of a signal notebook found floating in the water several hundred yards away. No human remains were recovered of the 350 men aboard Mount Hood or small boats loading alongside at the time of the explosion. The only survivors from the Mount Hood crew were the junior officer and five enlisted men who had left the ship a short time before the explosion. Two of the crew were being transferred to the base brig for trial by court martial; and the remainder of the party were picking up mail at the base post office. Charges against the prisoners were dropped following the explosion.

USS Mount Hood Cemetery in Manus

The concussion and metal fragments hurled from the ship also caused casualties and damage to ships and small craft within 2,000 yards (1,800m). The repair ship Mindanao, which was broadside-on to the blast, was the most seriously damaged. All personnel topside on Mindanao were killed outright, and dozens of men were killed or wounded below decks as numerous heavy fragments from Mount Hood penetrated the side plating. 82 of Mindanao's crew died. The damage to other vessels required more than 100,000 man-hours to repair, while 22 small boats and landing craft were sunk, destroyed, or damaged beyond repair; 371 sailors were injured from all ships in the harbor. After only a little over four months' service, Mount Hood was struck from the Naval Register on 11 December 1944.

Damage to USS Mindanao after USS Hood exploded

Although some eye-witnesses reported seeing a Japanese sub send a torpedo and some reported seeing a small Japanese plane drop a bomb, the Navy's official report following an investigation into the explosion and the reasons for it pointed to the following unsafe procedures and practices:
(A) That ammunition was being roughly handled in all parts of the ship.
(B) That boosters, fuses and detonators were stowed together in one hold in a manner contrary to regulations covering the transportation of military explosives.
(C) That broken rockets from which some powder was spilled had been stowed in two of the holds.
(D) That safety regulations for the handling of ammunition were not posted in conspicuous places throughout the ship and there was a general lack of instructions to the crew in safety measures.
(E) That pyrotechnics and napalm gel incendiaries were stowed in an open wood and tar-paper hut on deck under hazardous conditions near the hatch to Number Four hold.
(F) That there was evidence that fuzes, detonators and other ammunition were accepted on board which were definitely defective and should have been destroyed or disposed of by dumping in deep water.
(G) That fire hoses were not laid out. There was evidence that fire drills were infrequently held.
(H) That there was a lack of enforcing the prohibition of smoking in small boats alongside the ammunition vessel.
While "(G)" was certainly a breach in procedures, it is unlikely that fire hoses or previous drills could have saved the lives of those on board.

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