Pt. 15: After the Shakedown Cruise

Before we present another letter from Red Toon, we want to show a picture that we just discovered from the Toon collection. Meet Ensign Alton W. Swift from Claremont, CAL. He was the Engineering Officer in Leon’s boat group in March  1944. In his previous letter Red had commiserated with Swift: “someone is continually  yelling for & at him…”.

Red sympathized. As followers of this blog will recall, he had been the previous engineering officer. As the man responsible for the performance of Leon’s 26 landing craft, engineering was a key position in the boat group.

Officer-Swift Final

Ensign Alton R. Swift

Ensign Swift does look a bit weary!

Red Toon wrote the following letter while Leon was moored at Pier No. 4, Berth 26, Norfolk Naval Yard for final repairs following her shakedown cruise. We enjoyed Red’s account of several officers’ wives travelling from New York to Norfolk for last-minute leaves with their husbands before Leon put to sea. We believe those wives were Joyce Swift (Ensign Alton Swift) and Betty Smith (Ensign Jimmy Smith). Stories about desperate, last leaves are familiar to all of us who have read Douglass Reeman’s novels about ships and the sea in WWII!

March 9, 1944

Dearest Wife:

What a day this is. I know I’ll be able to call you long before this letter gets in your hands so any news contained herein will be old stuff to you.

We seem to be completely fouled up here aboard ship. We’re a part of ship’s company and we aren’t a part of ship’s company, we don’t know who is our boss from one day to the next. First it’s Joe seems to be in charge, then this fellow Reitze, the debarkation officer I told you about in the previous letter who incidentally seems to have studied the ship to shore manual pretty well the past few days & may turn out all right. He still insists on fouling up our movements but seems to be able to learn through his own mistakes.

Got two letters from you and one from Ticknor. Mail is more an item to me then ever. We’re docked for repairs but won’t be here for long. Joyce and Betty had quite a trip to Norfolk, left New York six in the morning and got to Norfolk at midnight. 18 hrs.!! They had quite a wait then for their husbands. We docked yesterday & will leave again before long. Won’t be here over five days at the most which means they will get together only twice. I’m going to stand watches for Swift here in port so he can get out oftener but will go ashore one night to call you.

We had a nice “excursion” in our ship but had to work pretty hard . She’s pretty fast and very well armed and we tried every maneuver the Captain could think of.  The first day out was the roughest and I came as near getting seasick as I ever have. Got over it though and can stand her slow roll & pitch as well as I can the small boats.

We have a nice library aboard and I have managed to read a few of them. Standing watches underway is a lot of fun. Of course, all of us are very green at it but we’ll catch on in time. The only disagreeable part of it was the weather. It was wet & cold & rough. Remind me to tell you some time where we were. We aren’t to keep diaries or anything but I know I will remember where I have been. Everywhere we go though looks much like the place we left.

We’ve had quite a time here today. Got a lot of supplies, etc., & ran into the usual deal when we got back aboard. No one had made any arrangements for bringing the material aboard so it’s still in the boats.

We had a visitor today. An investigator of these situations aboard these ships. He claims something may be done about the thorn in our side, Mr. Reitze, & maybe too about the spots.  Here’s still hoping.

I’m so glad Janice is acting better now & I know she is the sweetest baby in the world (don’t tell her I said so). She couldn’t be otherwise with the mother she has & I know that more & more every day.

What kind of car does your dad have and where is ours? I’ll write to the State Dept. about the title transfer so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with your license plates.

All my love


We add several postscripts. We’re pretty certain we won’t hear Red describe standing watch as a “lot of fun.” When working four hour shifts, standing watch quickly became tedious, mind-numbing duty.

Also, we are reminded of the organizational challenge of integrating a 141 man boat group (who have been training together for nine months) into a larger ship’s company. I still recall a young boat group sailor, Bill Janega, telling me in 2012 about his dual work assignments aboard ship. Sometimes he had boat duties under the supervision of a boat officer, and other times he had gunnery duties under the gunnery officer. He found it very confusing.

Finally, I have never heard of the term “investigator.” Nevertheless, someone eventually got the boat group personnel assignments straightened out. Deck log entries for later in 1944 list:

Lt. John W. Reitze, Gunnery Officer

Lt. George A. Robinson,  Debarkation Officer

Lt. (jg) Joseph B. McDevitt, Boat Grp. Cmdr. and

Lt. (jg) Francis W. Toon, Asst. Boat Grp. Cmdr.

Picture Credit: Toon Family Collection