Pt. 13: Call To Duty

After only a month of advanced amphibious training at Ft. Pierce, the commanding officer of the Amphibious Training Base sent a troop movement order to Joe McDevitt. If you have never seen a US Navy troop order circa 1943, the cover letter  of that important document reads as follows:

UNITED STATES ATLANTIC FLEET

AMPHIBIOUS FORCES

US NAVAL AMPHIBIOUS TRAINING BASE

FORT PIERCE, FLORIDA

FR25-6/P16-4/00/MM                                                                                   15 February, 1944

Serial: 485

RESTRICTED

 

From:           Commanding Officer

To:                Lt. (jg) Joseph B. MCDEVITT, D-V(G), USNR

Subject:       Orders – Troop Movement

    1.               The following are hereby detached from their present duty with the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base, Fort Pierce, Florida and any other such duties which may have been assigned them, and when directed, Lt. (jg) Joseph B. MCDEVITT USNR will take charge of Twenty-Five (25) Four (4) man boat crews and Two (2) Five (5) man boat crews and Fifteen (15) other Enlisted Personnel and proceed immediately with Ensign Orville W. Terry (Asst. Commander), Ensign Francis W. Toon (Asst. Commander),  Ensign Charles R. Reeves, Ensign Harry W. Stauffacher, Ensign James O. Smith jr., Ensign Willard W. Trask, Ensign Merle H. Tigerman, Ensign Leon S. Eckman, Ensign Paul S. Kemner, Ensign Jesse Schwartz, Ensign Samuel W. Seidel, Ensign Alton R. Swift to New York Navy Yard. Upon arrival you will report to the Commandant New York Navy Yard for further transfer to the USS LEON, in whatever port she may be, for duty.

2.              This is a troop movement and the Disbursing Officer, U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base, Fort Pierce, Florida is hereby authorized and directed to furnish the necessary transportation , subsistence and baggage transfers for the proper execution of these orders.

3.               The Disbursing Officer is hereby authorized and directed to close out the pay accounts of the men in your charge and deliver them to the Personnel Office.

4.               The records and accounts of the men in your charge are handed you herewith for safe delivery to their new Commanding Officer.

5.               These orders are of a restricted nature and should not be divulged to any unauthorized persons.

C. GULBRANSON

Attached to these orders was a complete listing of the 125 enlisted personnel who would operate and maintain 26 landing craft, including twenty-four LCVPs and two LCMs. We used that list earlier to help identify some of the sailors pictured in the Irwin Goldstein family collection (see blog posts dated March 7, March 16, and June 3, 2017.) We will try to identify more of those young heroes in future posts.

The list of fifteen officers named above will also be used in forthcoming stories to help identify officers and share pictures from the more recent Toon Family album.

If you recognize pictures or names of any of these young men, please contact us!

One final note. On precisely the same date that these orders were sent to Joe McDevitt in Florida (February 15, 1944), personnel at New York’s naval shipyard snapped the official file photo of the ship that would be home for McDevitt’s boat group for two years. She was a brand spanking new attack transport: USS LEON APA 48.

Leon Shipyard Picture

Notice to Amphibious Forces, United States Pacific Fleet: Reinforcement is on the way.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Pt. 12 Advanced Amphibious Training at Ft. Pierce, FL

In late December 1943 Red Toon’s division of 144 sailors and 20 officers transferred from Little Creek, VA, to Ft. Pierce, FL, for advanced amphibious training. It was intensive work. Whereas at Little Creek they had trained on boat maintenance & operations and on forming up & maneuvering in the calm, protected waters of the Chesapeake Bay, at Ft. Pierce they operated in the rough and tumble waters of the Atlantic Ocean…strong tides and currents. Day in and day out, in good weather and in bad, they were on the water. The navy was training them like their lives depended on it.

We have no letters from Red written from Ft. Pierce. The Toon family confirmed for us that Norma and Janice had travelled to Florida and stayed off-base with Red in civilian housing. What a great visit that must have been for Red with Norma and his first daughter!

During my research of the training at Ft. Pierce, I had read several accounts of two  exercises that might be considered the signature drills there. They focused on perhaps the most difficult aspects of the boat crews’ job in the assaults to come: embarkation—loading marines and soldiers from the ship to the boats— and debarkation—unloading the troops from the boats to the ship.

Let’s start with embarkation. Using mock structures built along the Florida beaches, I had read that sailors (a hypothetical assault force) climbed up stairs and lined a (hypothetical) gunwale, a “ship’s” rail. Each boat then approached and its crew made fast to the ship. The troops then climbed over the gunwale, down the 40 ft. nets to the water and into the boats. When all the troops were safely aboard, the crew pushed off to join the nearby formation of loaded boats. The objective was to load the entire boat group as quickly as possible.

Imagine my excitement when I recently discovered a painting (gouache on paper) of this very embarkation drill at Ft. Pierce. It is a marvelous portrayal by artist Carlos Lopez located at the Navy Historical and Heritage Command (NHHC) web site.

Invasion Tapestry NHHC Carlos lopez

Embarkation: Invasion Tapestry by Carlos Lopez, 1943

Note that all personnel in this exercise, including those climbing down the nets, are wearing life jackets. Sooner than the sailors knew, the troops climbing over the gunwale would be marines in full combat gear with no life jackets; they would be descending the ropes in the barest light amidst the most hellacious preassault bombardment that anyone had ever experienced; the ship would be rocking as they climbed; and the boats below would likely be rising and falling 3-4 ft. in the waters of the Pacific. Heaven help the boat crew who lost a man overboard!

Another NHHC Lopez painting (oil on canvas) portrays the debarkation of “troops” aboard a different mock up.

Concrete Ship Side by Carlos Lopez

Concrete Ship Side by Carlos Lopez, 1943

 

This mock up simulates a “ship”  with davits…a device for lowering & raising boats  to & from the water. The LCVP in foreground is coming alongside the ship and—when made fast—will be hoisted aboard, while the other craft offshore stir high waves to add realism to the drill.

These drills were hard work, but the training turned out to be unexpectedly short. The boat group arrived in early January and had trained for only a month when the call to duty arrived. There was an operation in the works out in the Pacific; it would be the biggest assault yet. The fleet needed every available attack transport and crew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Stories From the Pacific

I have been busy and—regrettably—away from this blog for several months; but we have not been idle!

Last month we shared the story of the making of All Came Home with members of The World War II Book Club at The Villages, FL. What a focused and engaged group of historians! They understand that we save history one story at a time. We had a fun time.

In January we visited for a second time with the patrons of the R. H. Johnson Library in Sun City West, AZ. I told the short story of the amphibious assault against Saipan in June of 1944. It was my Dad’s first operation in the Pacific, and the first also for most of his fellow crewmen aboard Leon APA 48. They would all eventually serve in four more assaults before the war ended. One reviewer of All Came Home remarked,  “I am amazed at how any one individual could have survived so many horrific battles…Saipan alone should have been more than any man could take.”

Throughout the past two months I have also been studying and organizing a new treasure trove of research discovered and shared by the Toon family. If you have been following this blog, you’ll recall the previous eleven stories here were based on a first batch of letters written by Lt. j.g. Red Toon, my Dad’s Assistant Boat Group Commander aboard Leon. The Toons have discovered another collection of letters and pictures. These are a researcher’s dream. They answer many of the questions that I sought unsuccessfully to resolve prior to writing All Came Home.

So, coming up next:

Pt. 12: Advanced Amphibious Training: Ft. Pierce FL