The Boat Trip and Australia
"Don't wait Up, Mum. The Air Corps's here."
Finally the travel orders came for us to board our funny little trains for Calcutta. There we would embark on troop transport ships for the Pacific Ocean and eventually, Tinian. There were two large ships assigned to transport all the people of the 58th Wing who had not flown ahead. The first couple days we were tied up in the Hoopla River (loved that name). It was extremely hot and humid all night and very hard to sleep below decks. We had a choice, stay below in a comfortable bunk and roast or sleep on the uncompromising steel deck. I tried both and found each miserable. Once we were underway, the sea breezes took care of the problem. Because there was the danger of enemy submarines, we were guarded the first few days in the Bay of Bengal by two Destroyer Escorts. What juicy targets our highly trained men would have made. The DE's left us after a week and we missed seeing them out front always zigzagging back and forth. The only reasonably safe route took us under the Australian continent. We had regular life boat drills and everybody had a little inflatable belt that you took with you everywhere. Activating a CO2 cartridge would inflate it like a doughnut. At the end of the voyage some people yanked their belt cord to celebrate; a few were surprised that nothing happened! The food was good; the best we had the entire time overseas. The latest movies were often shown in the mess after dinner and at other times we would spread blankets on the tables and play cards all night. There was an excellent shower room and you could take one whenever you wanted. The problem was it was salt water. If you have ever tried it you know how hard it is to get the soap off and you come out feeling scummy. In fairness, I should say that we could get fresh water showers every other day for a short period of time. But the trip was boring; I was never comfortable at sea and looked forward to being on land again.
Three weeks after our trip began the ships anchored at Fremantle, Australia, a U.S. submarine base. For the next two days (I was lucky to have no duty assignments) it was wonderful to return to a civilization as we remembered it. It was their fall season and the weather was pleasantly cool so we wore our winter uniforms ashore. In my opinion, the dark olive green top and pink trousers of the Army Air Corps was the best-looking uniform of all the service branches. The large city of Perth was a short bus trip down the road. There we found a town that must be duplicated in England many times. There were taxis (running on charcoal fuel) for hire. Electric streetcars ran past busy shops and stores. The local folks spoke our language and looked just like the families and friends we had left behind. It seemed like a paradise compared to Calcutta. In one department store, I said, "I would like to buy a metal razor, please." The clerk replied, "Sorry sir, so would I." I believed that cigarettes might be good for bartering and had brought a few cartons with me but there was no shortage so they were useless for trade. Pubs (bars) stood on every corner but their hours were extremely limited, probably due to a mix of restrictions and lack of supplies.
After the stores and offices closed for the day, groups of young women appeared on the sidewalks and public places chatting together and they were obviously in no hurry to go home. It was clear the news had been passed around that a boatload of soldiers was in town. Something of a novelty because most of the U.S. service men they had seen until now were in the navy. They were just as lonesome as we were. Their men were far away and they were hungry for companionship. So it wasn’t hard to find a date for an evening of dining and dancing. If you were lucky the young lady might volunteer to take the next day off and be your guide for a tour of the city’s local attractions and even invite you home. The holiday ended abruptly and then we were back at sea continuing our voyage. There were stories of two or three soldiers that never made it back to the ship and we left them "Down Under."
Three uneventful weeks later we arrived at our destination, the island of Tinian. We sensed the tremendous activity going on immediately. For one thing, cargo ships were unloading supplies onto docks everywhere you looked. That first evening we were still on board our transport ships at dinner when we heard the familiar sound of B-29's taking off. Most of us hurried up on deck to watch. One by one they circled overhead and then headed out alone over the sea into the sunset. We suddenly realized the vacation was over and our war was about to begin all over.