THE SHIP'S POOL
In early June 1943, the 40th Bomb Group was on a troop transport ship sailing from the Panama Canal Zone to an unknown destination in the States. Since we entered the Pacific from Panama, and were sailing northwest, our port must be on the west coast of the US. Several Navigators used their sextants and maps to track the ship's path and speed. When our ship passed abeam San Diego, a pool was formed with the winning entry based on the exact minute the center of the ship's upper deck passed under the center of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. It would cost one dollar for each minute selected. Many officers and enlisted men paid for more than one entry, making the pot grow to more than $5,000 by the time the pool was closed.
The Group Navigator devised a method using three Navigators to call out the exact minute of the winning entry. One Navigator would lie on his back and sight upward through a sextant he held directly above the center of the upper deck. When he observed the center of the bridge pass exactly through the center of the sextant's field of view, he would call out a signal to two other Navigators standing nearby whose hack watches were synchronized with official time. These Navigators would observe the time showing on their watches, and announce the winning minute. The procedure was approved by common consent.
The pool was closed when the ship was far down the California coast so that the winning day, hour, and minute would be anyone's guess. A name drawing selected the three Navigators to satisfy those who thought there might be collusion within the timing team.
It was past midnight when our ship approached the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Fog was very thick and visibility was poor. Fog horns sounded constantly. A crowd gathered on deck to watch for the bridge, and since we had been in the tropics for a long time, we possessed only summer khaki uniforms. The damp, penetrating cold air soon had all of us shivering, but we were determined to be present when the winning entry was announced. Our ship moved slowly into the channel. We watched; we waited; we shivered.
Since the stars were not visible, a pessimist wondered if the bridge would be visible when we passed beneath it. That prompted another person to compute the visibility by stepping off the distance between two people standing at max range and still visible to each other. He figured the visibility to be 400 feet. One fellow who had lived in the Bay area said we would be O.K., since the deck of the ship would be less the 300 feet beneath the bridge.
Shortly after 2:00 A.M., dim red lights appeared above and forward of the ship's bow. We were approaching the bridge. The Navigator timing team got into position -- one prone on the deck with his sextant at the ready, and two standing nearby with their hack watches fully wound and ticking. A few minutes later, we could see the dim outline of the bridge as we passed beneath it. Suddenly, the prone Navigator gave the hack signal. The other Navigators checked their watches and called out, "2:13 A.M." The winner of the pool was none other than our beloved Group Chaplain, Father Bartholomew Adler.
Someone remarked that the windfall would not be squandered on riotous living in San Francisco bars. The good Padre, thinking of his fellow man, visited the Gumps Department Store during shore leave in San Francisco, and invested his winnings in a library for the Group. Everyone agreed -- the ship's pool served a good purpose.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *