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5.Espirito Santo & Shellbacks

by Willie Lagarde

It was sometime in early March 1944 when defective fuses began detonating 5" projectiles as soon as they cleared the gun barrel. This premature explosion would usually kill the entire gun crew. After several men were killed on other ships a check of our inventory of projectiles revealed most of ours were in that particular lot.

Sabotage was suspected and it was one of two cases I remember being discussed during the time I was aboard Yorktown. The other was when striking material was found inside match boxes next to match heads.

I don’t know if this is the only reason we were going to Espirito Santo in New Hebrides but that is where we changed out all the fuses in our 5" projectiles.
On the way down we would cross the equator and since conditions permitted, we had Shellback initiations. Some of us were concerned about the mayhem and punishment in store for us until we realized this was the first time the ship would cross the equator and we had very few shellbacks aboard. There wasn’t a hell of a lot they could do to all of us polliwogs.

They elected their king Neptune, Royal Baby, Royal Scribe, Davey Jones etc. and then had their meeting to decide and plan what all they would do to us. By the time it was my turn to crawl through the target sleeve and get whacked the shellbacks were arm weary. I know they had to be thinking, “I’ll be glad when this shit is over with.”

It was mostly fun and games for the “in group” or movers and shakers of the crew which included the third deck clique members. More on this group in another story. It was the only initiation we ever had and I never initiated any one.

Several of us were on a working party ashore to help set up the assembly line and stalls where the fuse replacement took place and to move the projectiles in and out of the area. We were all glad for the opportunity to go ashore and as I recall the job took two or more days to complete.
There was a garrison of ANZAC troops stationed on the island and it was in their area we did the work.

Some of the New Zealand soldiers invited us to eat with them if we didn’t mind, “greens and bully beef that’s all we get up here.” We found out at the meal that bully beef was corned beef.

We reciprocated by bringing some of them aboard for a meal and if they were impressed with our food they didn’t say so. They were impressed by our 40 MM guns especially after we started the motors and demonstrated the ability to control them remotely with the mark 51 director.

The highlight of our stay was a USO show put on by Ray Milland and several starlets from Hollywood. These starlets didn’t need any talent and if they had any nobody paid attention to it. They were just good to look at.

The show was held in an open air theater of sorts with a stage and benches to seat several hundred men.

In attendance was one of our crewmen who was “goosey”. If anyone poked a finger anywhere on his body he reacted almost convulsively and shouted “what the f...”

During a skit performed by Milland and a couple of the women someone goosed the man and he hollered, “What the f...”. The show stopped dead. It took a while for Ray and the women to regain their composure and continue. Later some of the women came aboard and were wined and dined in the officers ward room.

Probably only three stripes and above were invited to that event.

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