George A Bane Autobiography, Part 5

Update: The whole autobiography is now collected in one place in a variety of formats (as a web page, a PDF, and a printed book).

Read Part One Here
Read Part Two Here
Read Part Three Here
Read Part Four Here

I boarded the Union Pacific train for San Francisco. It began to dawn on me that I was getting a heck of a long way from Neshoba County, Miss.

Even though the remainder of the trip was uneventful, I enjoyed it very much, especially crossing the western states that were covered with a heavy blanket of snow. The old steam choo choo traveled gracefully through the western plains and mountains. I will always look back on this train ride with fond memories, and one of the exciting events of my army days.

We arrived in San Fransisco after dark, and had to ride a ferry boat across the bay to the city proper. I located the Army reception center and the officer in charge. He put me on a tug boat and sent me to Angel Island on which Fort Mason is located. I was bunked in a long transit barrack sitting right on a rock bluff on the water edge. The Post Commander didn't seem to know any more than I did about what I was supposed to do. Believe me, by this time I was getting a bad case of the RA's.

If my memory serves me right, on the third day after arriving at Fort Mason, we were all issued passes to go into town. I was so afraid I would miss out on something, I didn't go. The barrack was completely deserted, because everyone except me had enough gumption to go into the Historical City of San Francisco and hang one on.

I was laying in my bunk reading a porno magazine (back in those days, that meant anything concerning a little sneaky smooching episode.) Well, any ole how, from the looks of the defenders of democracy when they got off the boat from the fair city of San Francisco, I am glad I stayed in my bunk and improved my worldly knowledge with the magazine I read. Right in the middle of a most interesting paragraph in my magazine, I head some yahoo yelling my name. I reluctantly put my educational material down, and answered him with a great big HO. The caller was a First Lt. and just happened to be my future Commanding Officer. He was the radio officer at WVR in Atlanta, and he and I handled quite a bit of traffic when he was pinch hitting for one of his operators.

He told me all he could about out mission. He gave me a sheet of paper with the names of the men that made up our team. He had found three, counting me, and I went to the office, borrowed a typewriter and made a bunch of copies and started hunting.

When I found one of our people, I gave him a copy and told him to get busy.

By nightfall, we had them all rounded up. We started rounding up our gear to sail for ports unknown, the rumor was that it would be somewhere in the South Pacific.

Before daylight on January 12, 1942, we all fell out and took our shots. We all with the exception of the CO (he didn't pass the physical) boarded a tug boat that took us across the bay. We came within a short distance from Alcatraz Prison on our way over.

As soon as we landed, a truck picked us up and took us to the docks. It was a cold and damp morning, and I thought I would freeze. It took us until noon to board ship. We stood in line, moving up a little at a time until four thousand men was aboard the SS President Coolidge.

On January the 12th, 1042, we sailed in convoy with the President Taft, Mariposa Catoomba and the US Navy Destroyer PH. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to sea. It was almost dark before we could no longer rest our eyes on the good ole USA.

The President Coolidge was known as the Queen of the Pacific before she was converted into a troop ship. In fact, the war paint was hardly dry when we left San Francisco. Her life as a troopship was very limited. Soon after delivering us safely to Australia (her maiden voyage as a troop carrier), she hit a mine off one of the Pacific Islands, and the Capt. intently grounded her with approximately 4000 men aboard. One man was lost, and he died of a heart attack.

I know know what route we took, but it was not a direct sea lane to Melbourne, Aust. The first land we sighted was the coral reefs off the coast of New Zealand. About six am on January 12th, all hell broke loose. Every body grabbed their life preservers and hit the deck. About a mile ahead of us was a flotilla of destroyers and battleships. We had a powerful 3 inch gun mounted in the bow, and no doubt a brave gun crew. After they figured out which end of the shield went first, they loaded up, and with nerves of iron, they focused their steely eyes on the approaching enemy fleet and prepared to give battle. The ships turned out to be the Australian Navy sent out to welcome us and escort us into the harbor.

We touched bottom on our way in. We had several tugs that has us in tow, and without any farther incidents, we tied up at our berth about dark. The Salvation Army and Lord knows how many people turned out to give us a rousing welcome with plenty of coffee and doughnuts for us underfed GIs.

The next morning we went a little way outside of downtown Melbourne, to an area that was used by the Australian Army at various times. We were issued passes into town, and I fell in love with the Australian people, as well as the country. If we went in a pub, in just a few minutes there would be enough drinks in front of us to make WC Fields drunk.

Melbourne is a beautiful city. I enjoyed sight seeing and the shops. The restaurants served good food, and boy, the waitresses were something else. It didn't take us long to learn not to ask one for a napkin, though. Instead, you ask for a sanitary cloth, otherwise you might get your face slapped. A napkin over there is a personal female item.

I was sent back to the ship, along with others, to check our equipment as it was being unloaded from the holds of the ship, to be reloaded on another boat. It was a sop if there was one. All we had to do was watch everything that came out of the holds marked Team C Task Force X4502 and have it all put together in one place. Everything that came off had to be reloaded on another boat that was to take us to Java.

We stayed on the ship during this equipment transfer, and this made life a lot easier as far as eats and quarters were concerned. The docks were located at the foot of Main Street in Melbourne, and this made life worth living, because we were free to go anywhere we wanted to when off duty. We didn't fail to take advantage of this privilege, either. But all good things must come to an end sooner or later.

On the twelveth of February, Nineteen and Forty-two, we set sail on the Duntroon, an Australian registered ship. She was a fair old bucket, but not in the same ball park as the shops that brought us from the States, however, she turned out to be a seaworthy old gal after all. I can't say much in favor of the food. The refrigeration system went haywire, and all the mutton and other perishables went bad. I have never touched mutton in any form since. There seemed to be an ample supply of Australia's version of Wheaties and powdered milk. I haven't eaten many Wheaties since then either.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, they had some Cadburys chocolate bars and gumdrops aboard. I loaded up on these, and it made me dog sick.

Well, so much for the chow, we survived and that's what counts. Our course took us around the great Australian Blight and to the very interesting and hospitable city of Perth. We arrived on the 18th of February, 1942. We were joined here by the old aircraft carrier Langley. She had a few old biplanes, unsing catapults to launch them with. I looked around for a sopwith camel, but didn't see one. She was in the Phillippines during the Japanese attack and was pretty well shot up. They have been at sea since Pearl Harbor and was almost completely out of supplies, including clothing. We put some of those sailor boys in GI khakis and they were really glad to get them.

We had a freighter, The Seawitch, with us loaded with P40s still in crates. They unloaded the freighter and started assembling them on the flight deck of the Langley, and tying them down wingtip to wingtip, ready to go into action as soon as we arrived in Java. The stevedores went on strike about halfway through this operation (bless their pea picking hearts) and that delayed our departure some good little bit. If they had not gone on strike, I probably would not be writing this now. The Japanese swarmed into our landing area about the time we would have been tying up in Java. The stevedores went back to work, and they got the P40s assembled and tied down ready to go into combat. We departed from Perth February 22, 1942, on our merry way to Java. I mean merry literally. If the Japs had picked this time to torpedo us, we would have gone down by the haunting strains of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" echoing off the masthead.

Two of our more talented members bought a fiddle and geetar plus an ample stock of joy juice in Perth, and after imbibing a goodly amount, the proceeded to serenade a deck with that most statetriotic song, the Yellow Rose of Texas. Our musicians may have hit a few wrong notes, but it sure helped us to forget what the Aussey Patrol Pilots told us at the pubs in Perth. They said the sea lanes from Perth to Java were swarming with Japanese submarines, and we wouldn't get a hundred miles out. Very encouraging, indeed.

We lost our Naval escort, the Destroyer Phoenix. She took off like a ruptured duck to join in on a little fracas latter known as the Battle of the Java Sea.

Soon after the Phoenix left us, we were joined by an old rusty freighter with all kinds of laundry hanging out on deck. When we found out this old seow would be our escort from then on, we had our laugh of the day. A day or so later we sighted smoke over the horizon. We were in for a big surprise, because both sides of our escort dropped, and good-size guns appeared on both sides. She must of had plenty horse power, because she took off at a speed I never your have imagined she could come close to. This was the first and only disguised gunship I ever saw.

One night, a stateside radio program was being broadcast over the ship's PA system, when it was interrupted to bring us some sage words from our Commander in Chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt. After his little pep talk, he made the statement that we now have troops on the Indian Ocean. We could certainly verify that, but it didn't make us all that happy for him to be telling Emperor Hirohito and his minions where to find us.

Somewhere along here, our skipper and other officers got word about the approaching encounter between the British, American, and the Japanese Navy. Evidently they decided it would be unwise for us to join in with them. Because we high-tailed it to Columbo Ceylon. We arrived Columbo Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, on March 7th, 1942.

Near Christmas Island, the Langley and Seawitch were rambed and sunk by the Japanese. They were eighty miles from the Duntroon when we changed course and headed for Ceylon.

We left Columbo March the seventh, 1942. By this time, the rumors were thick as hops. The current one at this time was that our mission had failed, and we were going back to the States. No such luck! We headed into the harbor at Bombay, India on March the Ninth, 1942. We were met by a patrol launch some little distance out from the harbor, some officials came aboard and stayed for a short while and left. We turned around and headed back to sea. Boy the rumors really started flying after this. We arrived in Karachi, India March the Eleventh, 1942.

Soon after the shorelines were made secure, the rails were line with rubber-necking GIs, including me. An open cockpit biplane with All India Airforce written on it bused us with one wing almost level with the rails. The pilot attracted more interest than the airplane. He was wearing a helmet and goggles, but what really drew out attention was the green cloth wrapped around his beard.
(to be continued)

Read Part Six Here
Read Part Seven Here