A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT THE SINKING OF THE USS HORNET
Rev. Robert Lee Consolvo
Rev. Robert Lee Consolvo’s first hand account of the sinking of the USS HORNET. Beginning at the Aviation Machinist’s Mate School in Norfolk, his story takes us to San Francisco via the Panama Canal, and then on towards Tokyo, where the USS HORNET was sunk.
I enlisted in the Navy on July 1, 1941 – five months and one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – and was sent to Norfolk Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia for a 12-week period of training and indoctrination or, as the Navy calls it, “boot camp.” In boot camp, recruits are informed of the various ratings and specialized skills needed for the operation and maintenance of the Navy’s many ships and stations. Some ratings require additional training at special schools. I selected and was accepted at the Aviation Machinist’s Mate School, thinking that instruction in the operation and maintenance of aircraft parts, instruments, and engines would provide me with a good foundation for a later application to flight school. Aviation Machinist’s Mate School was located at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, adjacent to and on the same property as the Naval Operations Base. I was a student in this school and at home on Sunday liberty when the announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was made. It was good to be at home with family at that time. On Monday morning, our Commanding Officer assembled the students in the auditorium and we got a lecture that included such comments as “This is it” and “We are depending on you.” I looked at myself and some of the other mixed up characters around me and thought, “He’s leaning on a lot of mighty weak reeds.”
Our class graduated at the end of December 1941, and several of my classmates and I were assigned to VF-8, a newly organized squadron of fighter planes composed of F4F Grumman Wildcats. Since the squadron was stationed in Norfolk, my buddies and I simply moved from the school to much better barracks a few blocks away. We learned that the squadron was to operate from the newly commissioned carrier USS HORNET (CV-8). We later learned that, at the time, HORNET was at sea with two of the Army’s B-25 medium bombers to determine if these large planes could safely take off from the decks of a carrier. It was found that they could, and, four months later, on April 18, 1942, Lieutenant Colonel James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle led 16 of these planes, which took off from the deck of HORNET to bomb Tokyo and several other targets.
While at the Naval Station during January and part of February 1942, we got the planes ready every morning for their training flight, and serviced and secured them upon their return. The planes were powered by a gasoline-fed radial engine mounted in the nose. It was a very cold winter. Each morning, canvas covers were placed over the engines, and hot air was blown in from a portable heater to warm the oil and engine parts before starting. HORNET returned to Norfolk, and preparations were made to move the squadron to the ship.
A Navy squadron, whether composed of fighting planes, scouting planes, bombing planes, torpedo planes, or others, is an independent entity. Each unit has a Commander, Executive Officer, Personnel Officer, and so forth. When ordered to transfer from a shore-based assignment to a carrier, the entire group (pilots, mechanics, and other support personnel) moved from their quarters on the base to quarters provided on the carrier. Service equipment and maintenance shops for the planes were available at both places.
We packed our gear and boarded the ship. The planes were taxied from the Air Station through the streets of the base to the pier and hoisted aboard with the ship’s crane. Normally, the ship goes to sea and the planes fly out and land aboard. I am not sure why it was done by crane this time, and some may have flown out and landed aboard. Regardless, we left Norfolk on March 3, 1942, and proceeded south through the Windward Passage — the open ocean space between the eastern tip of Cuba and Haiti — en route to California via the Panama Canal. Our passage through the canal on such a massive ship was an extremely exciting experience. The canal is 51 miles long from its entrance on the Atlantic to its exit on the Pacific and is a real engineering marvel. From the Atlantic, ships proceed 7 miles inland at ocean level to Lake Gatum, which was formed by damming the Chaores River. Since the lake is 85 feet above sea level, ships must be lifted to its surface before proceeding. No small task, it was like picking a ship off the street and putting it on the roof of an eight — or nine-story building. Three huge locks do the job. Each lock is 1,000 feet long and 110 feet wide. They are arranged like stair steps and each opens into the other. The ship enters the lower lock at sea level. A massive watertight door behind the ship at the end of the lock is closed, and water flowing into the lock raises the ship to the level of the next lock and so on to the level of the lake. Similar locks on the Pacific side lower the ship back down to sea level.
HORNET was a big ship, and it seemed to me she literally filled the locks herself. Her flight deck was 4 feet wider than the 110-foot width of the locks. However, the height of the deck above the water level was greater than the height of the sidewalls of the locks from water level, so there was a flight deck hangover. I have never forgotten standing on the flight deck watching the water flowing into the locks to lift that big ship straight up like an elevator. We moved on to the Pacific side, where three similar locks lowered the ship to ocean level. We then proceeded to San Diego, California. This was my first visit to the state, and I still remember the warm days and cool nights.
In San Diego, there were a number of pilots just out of flight school, and HORNET spent about three weeks at sea to qualify them for carrier landings. A first time carrier landing is not easy, and is a tense time for a new man. At school, a student’s first time solo landing is on a nice long, stationary runway. There is a large margin for error. On a carrier, however, there really is no runway. As the pilot approaches the ship, he eyes his landing spot on deck, but it is moving away from him at 20 to 30 knots, depending on the strength of the wind. If the sea is rough, the deck is also bouncing up and down. When near San Diego, though, there is some leeway. The ship’s planes routinely on deck are kept ashore, leaving the entire deck clear.
I remember one morning watching about five of the fighters make a bad landing, slide over the side, and hit the water. They seemed to have come in at the wrong angle, or caught the wire wrong, or not caught the wire at all. As a plane hit the water and began to sink, the pilot climbed from the cockpit onto the wing, inflated his rubber life jacket, and waited for the following destroyer to move in and pick him up. One plane slid across the deck and dropped over the side, but did not go into the water. Her wheels caught on the catwalk running along the deck about 4 feet down. She just hung there. The pilot climbed out and was helped back aboard. Since the plane could not be pulled back aboard, we simply pushed her into the sea.
From San Diego, we sailed up the coast to San Francisco. Entering San Francisco Bay from the ocean on a clear day is another of the world’s great sights. From a distance, the strait that separates the bay from the ocean appears to be a valley-like passageway between high hills or a low coastal mountain. As one gets closer, the magnificent suspension bridge that spans the opening becomes clearer. It is a memorable sight indeed. In 1846, the American explorer, John Charles Fremont, looked down on the strait from the hills above and called it “The Golden Gate.”
We moored to a pier at the Alameda Naval Air Station on the Oakland side of the bay. On our first night there, my buddies and I got liberty and took a streetcar over the double-deck bridge connecting Oakland to Frisco. We spent the evening exploring the traditional sailor haunts of that great city. It was all very interesting, and a good time was had by all.
In the morning, 16 of the Army’s B-25 Mitchell bombers (twin engine medium bombers) taxied onto the pier and each was hoisted to the flight deck by the ship’s own crane. Watching the pilots and plane crews come aboard attired in their Army outfits and carrying all that Army gear was something quite new to us. The next day, April 2, 1942, we got underway and passed again under the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.
Throughout the day and into the evening there was a lot of speculation as to why all those Army planes and soldiers were going to sea on a Navy carrier. We talked to the soldiers and learned that the 70 officers and 130 enlisted men on board were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle. All had volunteered for a special mission, but had not been told the nature of the mission. We concluded that the group was being ferried to Honolulu or some other Pacific island base. The mystery was soon cleared up. We were just a little way out to sea when our skipper, Captain Marc A. Mitscher, came on the intercom and announced: “Our destination is Tokyo. We are going to attack Tokyo.”
Later, in his action report, the skipper said, “Cheers from every section of the ship greeted the announcement.” After the cheering subsided, in a quieter, more reflective mood, I thought, just four months ago on a quiet Sunday morning, 183 Japanese planes came to Pearl Harbor from out of nowhere and in 1 hour and 10 minutes put four battleships on the bottom and damaged four other battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and several smaller craft. Along with other targets, they hit both Hickam and Wheeler airfields, destroying 188 aircraft and damaging 159 others. They did all that, and now the powers that be have ordered us to take this little old handful of Army planes, that may not even make it off the flight deck, into the back yard and just about up to the doorstep of these fabulous fliers. They are not going to like it, and, with their track record of dealing with U. S. capital ships ... Lord have mercy on us. I joined the Navy thinking that I could be of a little help and to deal with a few personal problems. I did not anticipate this type of program.
Carriers do not put out to sea to do battle alone. We were accompanied by two cruisers (USS NORTHAMPTON [CA-26] and USS SALT LAKE CITY [CA-25]), four destroyers, and a fleet oiler (USS SABINE [AO-25J]). Such a group is designated a “task force” and given a number. We were Task Force 16.2. The ships steam in formation with the carrier at the center, the cruisers close by, and the destroyers a little farther out to provide a screen for the others. This arrangement is not carved in stone and will vary according to circumstances. Ten days out of Frisco, on April 12, 1942, Task Force 16.1 out of Honolulu joined us. Task Force 16.1 was composed of the carrier USS ENTERPRISE (the “Big E” [CV-6]), two cruisers (USS NASHVILLE [CL-43] and USS VINCENNES [CA-44]), four destroyers, and a fleet oiler (USS CIMARRON [AO-22J]). Both groups were under the overall command of Admiral William B. Halsey of the Big E. The two groups took station relative to one another and steamed west for Tokyo.
Our skipper, Marc A. Mitscher, later made Admiral and was in overall command of a task force involved in the famous ‘Turkey Shoot” and then in the battles at Leyte Gulf. The skipper of the Big E, Captain George D. Murray, was also promoted to Admiral after the attack on Tokyo. His flag was aboard HORNET as Commander of Task Force 16 when the ship was attacked (October 26, 1942) and sunk (October 27, 1942). Since at one point going to and from my battle station required passing through “flag country,” the area where the admiral operates, I saw him fairly frequently. After the morning attack, and as the ship lay dead in the water, he and his staff were lowered to a destroyer alongside and his flag was transferred to the cruiser USS PENSACOLA (CA-24). The order for all hands to abandon ship came later in the afternoon following a second attack.
October 26, 1942, the day HORNET was attacked, began pretty much like all the others. We were roused out at about 04:30, and, in what seemed like a matter of minutes, the eerie sound of the clag horn was followed by the shrill call of the boatswain’s whistle and the announcement of “General Quarters! General Quarters! All Hands! Man your battle stations!” Everyone hurried to whatever battle station he may have been assigned. At sea, in wartime, dawn and dusk are dangerous times. Submarines like to attack when it is light enough for them to see, but not light enough for them to be seen. Their upped periscopes and running torpedoes are not easily detected in semi-darkness. We were always at stations at sunrise and sunset. One of my most vivid memories of duty aboard HORNET in the South Pacific is the experience of seeing the beauty of the sunrise and sunset day after day.
On that particular morning, sunrise was at 05:30. My battle station was as loader on a 20mm anti-aircraft gun. A battery of five of these guns in a row, 4 or 5 feet apart, was mounted on the catwalk about midway between the island and the forward end of the flight deck. When standing on the catwalk, the edge of the flight deck hit at about chest level. Since we were forward of the take-off point, we watched each of the eight fighters of the combat air patrol rev up and begin their 400-foot roll down the deck and lift off with the blue flames belching from their exhaust against the pre-dawn darkness of the morning sky. These fellows remained above and in the general vicinity of the task force, ready to strike out at any intruder. While on station, we learned 16 scouting planes from the Big E were airborne on a search and strike mission. Using the carrier as a hub of a wheel, they fanned out on each of the spokes covering the area in which the enemy force is thought to be located. The remaining planes aboard the Big E and all the planes aboard HORNET, other than the Combat Air Patrol, remained aboard ready to be launched as the primary attack group when the position of the enemy became known.
Shortly after sunrise, we secured from battle stations and went below for breakfast. I still remember the dark, dingy look of the mess hall. In previous fires on other ships that had been attacked, it was learned that the paint on the bulkhead and the linoleum on the deck would ignite or smolder under the intense heat of an explosion or fire, making not only that compartment, but also the adjoining compartments, uninhabitable. So, paint had been chipped from the bulkheads and the linoleum removed from the deck. The cold, bare steel of the bulkheads and deck was depressing. Tension was extremely high. We knew from the sightings reported the prior day in the afternoon that the two fleets were within striking distance of one another. Admiral Kincaid had considered launching an attack then, but the late hour would require the pilots to return and land in the dark. The planes did not have radar, and those not lost on the attack might get lost trying to find the ship. The plan was considered too risky and was called off. Then, it was just a matter of watching and waiting for reports from the scouting planes that were launched earlier.
It was not long in coming. At 07:30, a Japanese flotilla, consisting of two battleships, a heavy cruiser, and seven destroyers, was sighted and reported at a distance of 200 miles. There were no carriers in this group. General Quarters was sounded and we went back to battle stations. An order from the bridge routinely sounded following the call to battle stations, ‘All department heads make your readiness for battle reports to the bridge,” always impressed me. Today it sounded particularly ominous. One of the fellows on hearing this remarked, “I hope we are ready, ‘cause I think today is going to be the day.” How right he was. Before the day was over, 135 men would be dead, others severely wounded, and the ship herself on the way to the bottom.
About 20 minutes after the sighting of the battleship group, scout planes on another vector found another task force with one fleet and one light carrier and their accompanying cruisers and destroyers. Unfortunately, their scouts had sighted us first and their planes were being launched and heading our way. This was it! HORNET headed into the wind. A strike group of 29 planes was launched at 08:30, and a second group of 25 planes was launched at 09:15. The eight fighters of the Combat Air Patrol landed, refueled, and took off again to resume their stations above the task force. As I watched each plane from my station on the catwalk roll down the deck and take to the air, I could not help but remember watching the same thing from the same deck at the Battle of Midway. I especially remember the 30 men in the 15 planes of Torpedo Squadron Eight take off, but only one man, Ensign George Gay, returned. Other men in other planes died, too. I wondered if this would be a repeat performance.
Everything was as ready as it could be on the ship. Everyone was at his assigned battle station. Carbon dioxide gas had been pumped into the fuel lines to neutralize any lingering fumes, and the damage control crews in the various parts of the ship had their gear broken out and ready. In addition to the regular infirmary, four emergency first aid stations had been set up on the hangar deck with doctors and corpsmen standing by. Hundreds of other things had been done in accordance with the predetermined plan to prepare the ship for battle. The two heavy cruisers (USS PENSACOLA and USS NORTHAMPTON), the anti-aircraft cruisers (USS SAN DIEGO [CL-53] and USS JUNEAU [CL-52J]), and our six destroyers were steaming on their assigned screening stations in the formation.
The pilots and crews of the Japanese planes approaching our ship were not the hastily trained youngsters sent out two years later to kamikaze our invasion fleets at Leyte Gulf and Okinawa. This was early in the war. These men were highly trained and highly motivated professionals. They remembered that just a little over six months earlier, the Emperor and all of Japan was highly embarrassed when sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers flew from the decks of HORNET and bombed Tokyo. They also remembered that just four months ago, at Midway Island, four of their carriers were sunk, and they lost all of the planes and most of the pilots and crews. HORNET was there, too, and they were coming in to get her. (Special Note: Later, we learned that there were four carriers out there, two fleet and two smaller carriers, each with their accompanying cruisers and destroyers. We had two, HORNET and the Big E.)
The morning shortly after take-off, our attack group on the way to the target passed the incoming Japanese group and reported, “Two groups of bogies (enemy planes) are headed our way.” In passing, neither group broke formation. They were out to sink carriers, not to destroy each other. As the fighter planes of the Combat Air Patrol moved out to intercept them, an order came from the bridge, “Stand by to defend the ship against an air attack. All personnel not directly involved in the defense of the ship, take cover.”
On deck, sailors’ eyes nervously searched the skies. Shouts of, “There they are! Here they come!” evoked another order from the bridge, “Maintain silence about the decks.” The silence was short lived, however. With the planes in range, the larger, long-range guns opened fire and peppered the sky with puffs of black smoke from exploding shells. Then, our guns and all the other guns aboard HORNET, two heavy cruisers, two anti-aircraft cruisers, and the seven screening destroyers that could bear blasted away. It’s hard to see how even a little bird flying through all that flack could survive, but survive some did.
This was a highly technical and highly coordinated attack. They approached the ship in two groups. As the dive-bombers (VALs) came in at about 12,000 feet to position themselves over the ship for their dives, the torpedo planes (KATEs) dropped down to almost water level for their torpedo runs.
The leader of the 15 dive-bombers was hit on the way down and did not pull out of his dive. When his plane hit the stack, one of his three bombs detonated and spewed burning gasoline and parts of the plane itself onto the signal bridge killing 7 of the 27 signalmen and severely injuring others. One of the injured twin Martin boys rushed into the arms of his flaming brother and they died together in a final embrace. The second bomb detonated on contact with the flight deck. The other was a dud. The plane’s engine penetrated the flight deck, pouring hot oil and gasoline into Bombing Eight’s ready room below. The men on standby in the room beat a hasty retreat.
Other hits were scored. A delayed action bomb struck the flight deck at the centerline, penetrated to the third deck, and blew up in the forward messing compartment. Many men of a damage control party and medical personnel at an emergency first aid station in the compartment were killed or injured. Another hit the flight deck just aft of the island. The explosion tore an 11 foot hole in the flight deck and killed a number of Marines manning an anti-aircraft at that point. Several near-misses exploded on contact with the ocean, sending a cascade of green water high into the air.
While the dive-bombers were attacking, 12 torpedo bombers, in line abreast, came in from the starboard side flying so low that many had to hop over our screen to avoid hitting the destroyers. One torpedo, followed immediately by another, hit the ship just below our gun platform. The power of these explosions was so great it felt like the ship had been jerked out of the water and dropped. A third torpedo detonated in our wake, and, since we were in a hard right turn, the rudder was jammed in that position. A surviving KATE flew over the bow, made a U-turn, came back, and crashed into the ship. Its flaming fuselage landed under the forward elevator. The heat from the fire detonated the ammunition in his machine guns and peppered the area with a spray of bullets, killing two men.
The torpedoes that blasted holes in the side of the ship did the most damage. The engine room was flooded and we lost all power. The ship lay dead in the water. Without power, there was no pressure at the fire mains to fight the numerous fires that raged throughout the ship. Small, portable ‘hand-billies” were used, and, when the gas in these ran out, an old fashioned bucket brigade was formed to draw water from the ocean. Several destroyers came alongside to help fight the fires and to provide some power. With the fires under control, they took aboard the severely wounded and some nonessential personnel.
Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, three attempts were made to get a towline to the cruiser NORTHAMPTON in an effort to tow the ship out of the area. On the first attempt, a 1 ¼-inch steel cable from the cruiser was successfully secured to HORNET, but, before towing could begin, a Japanese VAL appeared and the cruiser dropped the cable to move out and protect herself. The cable was secured again, but the strain of the tow was too much and the cable parted. On the third try, a 2-inch greased steel cable stowed in a well at the aft end of HORNET’s hangar deck was laboriously dragged forward and secured to NORTHAMPTON.
The cruiser took a strain. The line held and we began to move slowly through the water. It was a marvelous feeling. With a little more luck, the boilers themselves might be brought back on the line and the ship put underway. The good feeling did not last long. In about an hour, the word came again, “Prepare to defend the ship against an air attack.” Six torpedo planes came in, flew through our anti-aircraft fire, and scored two hits. One blew a hole in the starboard side, flooding the aft engine room with tons of water. We could literally feel the ship sinking a little lower in the water. The other passed under the bow and detonated on the port side.
Following the torpedo attack, five dive-bombers scored several extremely close near-misses. The power of these explosions was unbelievable. The ship, even though dead in the water, began to shake violently, like someone having a seizure. With tons of water flowing through the holes blasted in her side, the ship began to sink lower and lower.
The order to abandon ship was given, but the lack of power for the public announcement system caused some confusion at our station. This was cleared up when one of the accompanying destroyers with a megaphone announced, “On HORNET, abandon ship! On HORNET, abandon ship!” When we started to leave, our gunnery officer said, “We can’t leave yet. Those land-based Army Planes are still up there dropping bombs. We’ve got to get them.” I was in the ammunition room just under the edge of the flight deck loading 20mm shells into the canister used on the guns. I finished a canister and passed it out to the gun crew, but no one was there. They had all gone.
I climbed on the flight deck, and, to this day, I do not remember seeing anyone on it. In retrospect, I realize that the others had gone down to the hangar deck on the ladders and were abandoning ship from the lower level. This is what I should have done. The ship was listing so much that crossing the deck to the high side was like walking up a hill. I had a feeling that she was going to roll over. At the edge of the high side, I looked down and saw what must have been half of the crew floating in their life jackets, clothed in pants and shirts. Instructions for abandoning ship had emphasized keeping your clothes on when going overboard, since your light, exposed skin would attract sharks. I thought of the sharks, but realized that without a life jacket I could not stay afloat very long with my clothes on and knew they had to come off.
A short distance away, I saw one of the destroyers in our accompanying group had “hoved to” (nautical for standing still), and I knew that I had to get overboard and get over there. I looked around and saw a long rope attached to a 5-gallon bucket that had been used earlier in the day to bring up water from the ocean by the bucket brigade formed to fight the fires on deck.
I removed the bucket, lowered the rope over the side, and tied it to one of the levers on the catwalk used to raise and lower the “catch an airplane wire” that crossed the flight deck. After checking to see that my knot was secure, I stood up and began to undress. I pulled the blouse-like flash jacket over my head and shoulders and removed my shirt. This done, I sat on the deck to take off my shoes and vividly remember my thoughts while doing so. If I swim for the destroyer and she gets underway before I get there, I will be stranded in the open ocean. The fellows in life jackets will be much closer to HORNET. If I’m stranded, I wonder how long I can stay afloat.
Flashback thoughts to my boyhood days swimming near home with my brothers and friends in the Elizabeth River were reassuring. I won all of our contests of racing and floating, and I was acknowledged by the others to be the best swimmer. I remembered, too, a contest held in the late 1930’s in the swimming pool in Norfolk City Park. A legless man called “Corky” entered the pool to beat the record for staying afloat longer than anyone else. His 72-hour stay in the water did, indeed, break the record. I thought if he could do it to win a contest, I could do it to stay alive. As I removed the second shoe and placed it by the other, a really odd thought popped up. I had recently read about the attack by Japanese aircraft on the British battleship, PRINCE OF WALES, in the battle for Singapore. Historically, PRINCE OF WALES was the first battleship underway and in action to be sunk by aircraft. In the account, an English officer in abandoning ship had removed his shoes and placed them neatly at the edge of the deck before going over the side, as though placing them in the hallway of a first class hotel to be picked up by a porter, shined, and returned. Remembering this, I placed the second shoe neatly by the first and cannot remember ever having been so meticulous either before or since.
These flighty thoughts over, I stood up, removed my trousers, and clad only in my under shorts, eased over the edge of the flight deck to the catwalk. After climbing over the outer rail, I stood on the edge of the catwalk, took a firm grip on the rope, and began my descent to the ocean. It felt like sliding to the ground from the roof of a five-story building on a rope the size of the cotton rope clothesline in your mother’s back yard. About halfway down, my weight moved the lever to which I had tied the rope from the “up” to the “down” position, and I experienced a sheer drop of some 4 or 5 feet. It was a scary moment, but everything held, and I slid on.
In the water, I eased away from the ship and began a traditional crawl stroke toward the destroyer, praying that she would still be there when I arrived. On the way, I swam past a number of men floating in their life jackets waiting to be picked up. I did not stop to chat. The South Pacific is not a swimming pool. Long, high waves rolled parallel to one another with the peak of each some distance from the other. I had to swim directly into the face of these oncoming swells. It was not easy. It was similar to walking the wrong way on a treadmill, fast just to stay in place and faster than that to move ahead. As each wave approached, I went all out not only to gain some distance, but also to keep from being swept back toward HORNET. At its peak, each wave just seemed to roll out from under me, and I found myself in the trough. The trough was calmer and gave me a chance to catch my breath and to prepare for the next oncoming wave. After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the destroyer. Two sailors were at the edge of the starboard deck, about mid-ships, waiting to take me aboard. I was there alone. The others in life jackets or on rafts were rather immobile, and were huddled much closer to the sinking HORNET.
The men on deck did not throw me a rope, nor was there one hanging over the side. If so, I do not remember it. I do remember the fellows lying on their bellies on deck and reaching down to grab my outstretched hand. We tried several times and missed each other. The oncoming swells put the ship in a roll, and the edge of the deck that had been close to the water was lifted into the air. The ship’s water line, and not the edge of the deck, was right in my face. I had to back off a bit. I finally got the hang of it. When the ship rolled toward me, putting the edge of the deck closer to the water, I moved in fast and grabbed the hand of one of the men. Another fellow grabbed my other hand, and together they pulled me aboard.
Once on the destroyer, I was told to go to the crew’s mess hall, which I did. The deck was about half covered with men who had been previously picked up. Others kept coming. The mess hall was soon so crowded that one could not cross the deck without stepping on bodies. A destroyer is not a carrier, and, with her pitching and rolling in the fairly rough seas, I became seasick and worked my way on deck for some fresh air. The Japanese land-based bombers kept coming to administer the coup de grace to HORNET. It was fascinating to watch our anti-aircraft gunners fire away in an effort to bring them down.
I soon felt better and decided to go back to the mess hall. It was not possible to get in. The men must have been stacked two deep everywhere. So, I spent the rest of the night sleeping on the steel deck, and what a miserable night it was. The spot I picked was over the engine room, so the deck itself was warm. A light, cold drizzle fell most of the night, and my body against the warm deck was quite comfortable. However, most of me was exposed to the weather and stayed wet and cold, so I had to keep turning.
The next day, we pulled alongside the cruiser PENSACOLA, and, as the ships steamed parallel to one another, many of us were transferred from the destroyer by means of a highline. Eventually, PENSACOLA took us to Noumea in New Caledonia.