"In the Western Pacific - So now I'm a DE sailor. Full-fledged one. Drenched from head to foot with salt water. Sleep with leg crooked around your rack so you won't fall out. Put wet bread under your dinner tray to keep it from sliding. Even got my Jesus shoes ordered.
And you don't know what a DE sailor is? You don't know the DE Navy? Better not let one of them hear you say that. They're 50,000 strong out here. And they pride themselves on their rough life at sea. So better be careful.
A DE, my friends, is a Destroyer Escort. It's a ship, long and narrow and sleek, along the lines of a destroyer. But it's much smaller. It's a baby destroyer. It's the American version of a British corvette.
It is the answer to the problems of colossal amounts of convoying; amounts so huge that we simply hadn't the time to build full-fledged destroyers to escort them all. The DE was the result. It is a wartime product, and it has done very valiantly.
They are rough and tumble little ships. Their after decks are laden with depth charges. They can turn in half the space of a destroyer. Their forward guns can seldom be used because waves are breaking over them.
They roll and they plunge. They buck and they twist. They shudder and they fall through space. Their sailors say they should have flight pay and sub pay both - they're in the air half the time, under the water the other half. Their men are accustomed to being wet and thinking nothing of it.
I came back from the northern waters on a DE. When a wave comes over and you get soaked a sailor laughs and says, "Now you're a DE sailor," it makes you feel kind of proud. And I did not get seasick! I better have my stomach examined.
My ship formed part of the escort of a tiny convoy returning to a southern base island for more planes and supplies, to be hurried back north to the battle.
We mothered ships that were big and slow. We were tiny in comparison. We ran way out ahead, and to the side. We and DE's like us formed the "screen" and there was nothing bigger than us in it. We felt like strutting.
We felt like the little boy of the plains left at home for the first time to protect his mother from the Indians - the only man on the place.
A DE carries more than 150 men and a dozen officers. That's small enough so that those who serve on her know personally almost everybody else. Sailors always seem to be proud of their DE. So proud that they often get in a fight with crews from other DE's if they go ashore together.
At some of our island anchorages, the Navy has set up recreation islands where men in from sea can go ashore for a few hours and play ball and drink a few cans of beer. It's really a pitiful excuse for shore leave, but it's all there can be. Well, on these recreation islands they never let the crew of a big carrier go ashore alongside the crew of another one, for invariably they fight.
It seems that they were tied up against another DE at some anchorage. They let parts of the crew of both DE's go ashore to one of those recreational islands. The usual fight got started over there. They fought all afternoon ashore, then they fought each other in the small boats as they were coming back, and when they got back aboard their respective ships they continued fighting, reaching across the rails to smack each other, just like pirates of old. The boys howl with laughter when they tell about it. Since then, no two DE's of this same division, ever go ashore together. That certainly could be called "pride in your ship," couldn't it?
I'm glad this method of rivalry had been watered down before I came aboard. For I don't suppose there's anybody in the DE Navy small enough for me to fight with any distinction either to myself or to my ship.
In the Western Pacific, the boys on a DE are very friendly, and glad to have you aboard, for it's seldom they have a visitor.
I've spent three days aboard two different DE's. Both had been out here quite awhile, but neither had had very much contact with the enemy.
Their life is mainly one of constant vigil, while plowing back and forth over the Pacific Ocean herding convoys of men and planes and supplies.
They had been out for 15 months and true they talk a lot of wanting to go home but they didn't seem as sorry for themselves as the other boys.
My DE got credit for helping sink two subs. They just got credit for an assist. It burns them up, for it was they who discovered the subs.
The boys say "We dig 'em up, and then they order some other DE to sink them. Our skipper got so mad about it he threatened to have "USS PROSTITUTION" painted on the stack."
Since there isn't much enemy action to talk about, the boys talk mostly about the storms they've been through. For when you've been through a storm on a DE, you've been somewhere.
The boys toss off angles of rolling that are incredible. They tell of times when the ships rolled all the way from 65 to 85 degrees, which is lying flat on the side. In a typhoon, the boys say "All you can do is put on your Jesus shoes and hope". In other words, be prepared to walk on water.
There are little things all over the ship to indicate how rough she is. Fiber rugs are fastened to the steel decks of cabins with scotch tape, so they won't slide. Ash trays are stuck to the walls with scotch tape. There are hand railings the entire length of the narrow decks. (My ship never had a man washed overboard).
The boys have trouble airing their bedding on deck, even on the bright war days, for there is almost always some spray coming over the side.
When you're talking to a DE sailor on deck, you'll notice his eyes unconsciously following and judging the waves, to sense when one is big enough to come over.
It gets so rough they can't cook onboard. The boys in the bakeshop say that during bad storms, the bread dough all runs to one end of the pans, and the loaves come out only half as long as usual, and all jammed up at one end. So now they keep three days supply on bread baked ahead, thus outwitting the storms.
The sailors, and officers too, love to tell you about the time they got the wormy flour. They'd been out a long time, and were running low. So they got some flour from a tanker. Apparently the tanker had been out for a long time too, for the flour had millions of weevils in it. They didn't discover this till they started eating the bread. For days after that, you'd always hold a piece of bread up to the light before eating it.
My crew really was the best-natured bunch I've run into in a long time. They enjoyed telling stories on themselves. Even about seasickness.
There are still a good many who get seasick in the most violent weather. There have been men and officers with chronic seasickness who finally had to be transferred. The boys say that when a new officer reports, they wait outside the wardroom door to see him come shooting out from his first meal when it gets rough.
And speaking of meals, we ate well on my DE, but the boys laughed and said "We wish you'd stay here permanently, the chow has been twice as good since you came aboard."