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Here is the third and last installment of Grandpa Larry's World War I reminiscence. He called it "Under Sealed Orders" and the words that follow are all his. (Not too bad for a man with a sixth grade education!)
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There weren’t many rumors going around on this crossing. All had a pretty good idea where we were going and that was to England, which proved to be correct. We arrived at the Devonport Naval Base where our guests departed. We were there several days and I went on liberty to nearby Plymouth and later took a rip to London. We had to coal ship while there and it turned out to be quite a chore. In the States, we always coaled ship under good, modern conditions, but there we had to coal by wheelbarrow. It took the crew 36 hours straight.
When we finished, we cleaned up and were preparing to go home. Tied up at a dock nearby were two American destroyers. They were at the Devonport Base for minor repairs, I suppose, and this day they were preparing to leave to go back on patrol. One of them, as I well remember, bore the historic name of John Paul Jones. This vessel sent a request to the Huntington for a replacement draft of eight men, as they were undermanned for one reason or an other. The draft was to be on a voluntary basis. It just happened that for some time I had had it in the back of my mind that I would like to get destroyer duty, but the opportunity had never presented itself. Now here it was.
I went back to the ship (inaudible), such things were handled there and put my name in for the transfer. A while later, the bosun’s pipe sounded the call with the names of the men on the draft to pack their bags and hammocks and stand by for the transfer. My name was among them. My friends thought that I must be somewhat off my rocker to volunteer for duty with the tin can fleet, as the destroyers at that time were called. You see, the destroyers are expendable. I don’t know – maybe that was the reason I wanted that duty. They were much smaller in those days than the big powerful ones of World War II and the present time. They were just a heartily-armed tin cans. A rack on the stern loaded with ash cans (depth charges) from three tube torpedo launchers, deck-based, two on each side of the ship, each tube with a warhead torpedo at ready, and a strong battery of three-inch guns, plus speed. Speed was their best defense, otherwise a rifle bullet could blow them out of the water (not literally speaking, of course.) After a while, the word was passed for the men on the John Paul Jones draft to lay aft on the quarterdeck with bag and hammock.
We lined up and were given envelopes which held our transfer papers. Then it was the old service system of “hurry up and wait.” We discussed the transfer and reckoned that soon we would be heading for the ever turbulent North Sea. Then a yeoman came from the ship (inaudible) office and spoke to the Officer of the Deck. Soon he came over to me and took my transfer envelope, saying that I was instructed to return to my Division with bag and hammock. I was highly disappointed but there was nothing I could do. I wondered if I was unqualified, but I was conceited enough to reject that idea. The other seven men of the draft were dismissed and shouldering their bags and hammocks. I watched them walk down the gangplank to oblivion.
I took some good-natured kidding that night from some of my friends about my short period of service with the tin can fleet. The next morning the report came in: the John Paul Jones had no more than reached the open sea when she took a German torpedo and went down with heavy casualties. I never heard whether any of our seven men survived or not. I must admit that it sure shook me up. That was a close one. I never learned who gave the order or why my transfer was canceled, but there is one thing I know and that is that somebody high up there did not want me to be on the John Paul Jones.
My Note: Grandpa lived another eighty years after that incident!
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He was begotten in the galley and born under a gun. Every hair was a rope yarn, every finger a fish-hook, every tooth a marline-spike, and his blood right good Stockholm tar.
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