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CVEs and Atolls

by Willie Lagarde

I can’t tell you too much about the CVE’s because we never operated with them. They were too slow and I believe most were  used to transport aircraft although some were used as combat carriers and suffered heavy damage and sinkings in the Pacific battles.  I do know this much, their crews were proud of their ships and have reunions today just as we do.

I fully expected to be assigned to a CVE and would have been satisfied had it happened.

When my name was called out on the draft I thought the yeoman was being a smart ass. I understood him to answer “New York Special” when we asked where we were going.

Most Navy ships and stations in WW2 existed to support the fast carrier strike force. We knew that and confess to feeling a trace of condescension when we came in contact with some of the support ships. We could sometimes sense a bit of resentment on the part of those crews. It didn’t bother us, we had our jobs to do and they had theirs. Almost all of our crew had brothers or boyhood friends serving on these ships as well as all other branches of the military.

While we may have sometimes felt a tinge of condescension we also had a respect and admiration for other ships that kept us humble. I felt privileged to be in the same force with USS Enterprise.

In the war from the beginning, she had been battered, bloodied and was the sole survivor of her class, but there she was, a proud old girl still ready to fight and sailing out with us (or us with her) to hit the Japs. I had read about her exploits before I joined the Navy. Also South Dakota, Washington and numerous other cruisers and destroyers who fought in some of the bloody surface battles early in the war and are now a part of our task force. I felt honored to be with them.

We considered shore duty on one of the recently captured islands the worst possible assignment. The threat of transfer to an island was often used to keep us in line. This usually meant exile until the end of the war. However, like any other duty there were advantages here. These men often had access to fleet stores and provisions as well as beer and sometimes liquor. They quickly devised ways to supply themselves with any food or drink they wanted and were able to use supply boats for sport and recreation.

The atolls that we operated from, Majuro, Eniwetok and Ulithi all looked the same. A circle of small coral islands enclosing a lagoon fifteen to twenty miles in diameter with water depths suitable for anchoring. They were not visible from twenty or so miles at sea. There were palm trees on those islands that hadn’t been bombarded by our ships prior to the invasion. Those that had were desolate and completely denuded of foliage.

The water in the lagoons was absolutely clear and when the surface was smooth it was sometimes possible to see the bottom. To enter the lagoon from the open sea it was necessary to find an opening in the coral reef surrounding the atoll. I don’t know if this opening was natural or blasted and dredged.
Whenever we were in a lagoon we usually had a major portion of the fleet with us. If you had a relative or friend on another ship you were allowed to visit and spend the day with him.

Darken ship regulations were relaxed and we could leave the hangar deck curtains up at night for movies and other activities and to smoke on the weather decks. This was important to our crew because the dangers of smoking were not fully known and the vast majority of our crew were smokers.

Our band of ten or twelve musicians set up nightly on the hangar deck and played the popular music of the era. They really sounded good and brought to mind all the good times past.

We were also allowed to swim off the side of the ship but only at special designated times when a couple of our marines with rifles on the gallery deck acted as shark watch and one of our whale boats was in the water. The beautiful blue water in the lagoons was very tempting but it was so hard climbing back on the ship after tiring out swimming many of us passed on the opportunity.

Beer parties were sometimes offered on one the islands that had been set up for recreation but you were only given two cans of hot beer. Some may disagree with me but the long ride in an crowded LCT or other type landing craft and spending the day in the sun on hot sand wasn’t enjoyable. I only went once in Majuro and once to Mog Mog in Ulithi. We didn’t blame the Navy, they did what they could and we appreciated their efforts.

There was always mail waiting for us when we anchored in these lagoons and we looked forward to it but also waiting were many tons of ammunition and provisions to be loaded aboard. You can guess who had this chore.

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