The KRETCHMER arrived at Brooklyn Navy Yard on 27 April, only ten days before the war ended in Europe. An extra edition of the Kansas City Star was published on 7 May 1945, announcing in bold headlines, "GERMANY SURRENDERS; EUROPEAN WAR ENDS." The Associated Press story from London brought the long anticipated news, "The greatest war in history ended today with the unconditional surrender of Germany. . . . The end of the European warfare, greatest, bloodiest and costliest war in human history -- it has claimed at least forty million casualties on both sides in killed, wounded and captured -- came after five years eight months and six days of strife that overspread the globe. . . . Joy at the news was tempered only by the realization that the war against Japan remains to be resolved, with many casualties still ahead."
According to the Navy Department History of the KRETCHMER , "Lieutenant Thomas Bulfinch, USNR, relieved command on 21 May 1945. After a yard repair availability ending on 23 May 1945, the KRETCHMER headed for Casco Bay, Maine for some refresher training. However, enroute to that port, she was diverted to Norfolk for transfer to the Pacific for duty, arriving at Virginia on 26 May 1945 (Navy Department History of Kretchmer, p. 21)."
During the month of June 1945, the yeoman and other ratings on the KRETCHMER produced and circulated mimeographed copies of The Mighty "K", the ship's first newspaper. The masthead reads as follows: "Ship's Newspaper of the U.S.S. KRETCHMER (DE 329); Lieut. T. Bulfinch, USNR, Commanding Officer; Lieut. R. G. Wright, USNR, Executive Officer; Chief Editor, M. A. DeChicio, Y1c; Associated Editors, W. A. Peralta, Y2c and E. H. Johler, RDM2c; Officer Adviser, Lt. R. B. Sheridan; Wardroom News, Ens. D. Maxwell; Music & Show Talk, Peralta & Johler; Sports editor, D. Robinson, MOMM2c & DeChicio; Bulletin board, F. P. Hawley, CY, and D. Bohannon, CK; Cartoonist, Johler, RDM2c. In closing this short history of the KRETCHMER'S movements and actions in the Atlantic War, the Chief Editor and Associate Editors of The Mighty "K" listed some of the ports and famous places they had visited or viewed from the ship and the amusing incidents they recalled in the following long extract from the first issue of their newspaper.
The ruins of Pompeii, Isle of Capri, Sorrento, Vesuvius, London, Naples, Rock of Gibraltar, Algiers, Sicily, Bonny Scotland, Ireland, Wales (remember Cardiff), Puerto Rico, Culebra (the island we shelled), Ambrose Light, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, most of England. We've made liberties in the wildest places on earth. Remember the foul tasting water of Curacao, the cameo-selling natives of Naples, the wrong-way driving of London and their up-to-date subways, the "Hatuey" drink of Cuba, the volumptuous, buxon Costa Rican beauties of Colon; the time we were the only navy ship in Greenock, Scotland, and how we rated; the curfew of New York City, the hurricane of September 1944, when we all escaped miraculously with our lives and saved our ship--and despite how tired we were, some of us still made liberty; and the ill-fated sinking of the destroyer Warrington, the loss of lives on this ship in the same hurricane; the memorable night at 36th street, Brooklyn, when all the crew came in tanked to the gills, and the sight of the crew coming up the gangway, if photographed, could have been given the academy award for the comedy of the year; when the ship dragged anchor in a blinding blizzard in the early hours of the morning at Casco Bay, and we had to get underway at General Quarters, the roughest saltiest trip ever logged in a ship's log---(Remember) it took us four days to get to Casco Bay from New York, an ordinary 24-hour trip; the time we were showered with shrapnel in Naples Bay, Italy; pulling into Curacao in total darkness and ramming the docks, and how we left Curacao taking the gangway with us dragging down the starboard side of the ship, and the sight of the two natives cussing us as we left; and how about the time the English pilot mistook a corner of the flying bridge for a urinal, the eye-witness accounts by radio of the sinking of the Destroyer Escort Davis, and the sight of the carrier Franklin laying into port licking her wounds at Brooklyn.
The editors of The Mighty "K" end their recollections by saying, "These are all memories that will live forever in our minds. Lets hope we can reminiscence about the Pacific Theater one of these days. (M.A. DeChico, W.A. Peralta and E.H. Johler, eds., "The Mighty "K" , Vol. 1 (June 1945, p. 9)
REFERENCES FOR PART 1
- Asmar, Henry. "Notes kept while on the Kretchmer," 3 July 1944 to 1 September 1944; 3 December 1944 to 29 May 1945.
- DeChicio, M.A., W.A. Peralta and E.H. Johler, eds., June 1945. The Mighty "K", Vol. 1, No. 1.
- Dookan, Isaac, 1985. The United States in the Caribbean . London.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: A new Survey of Universal Knowledge , 1955. Chicago.
- Fodor, Eugene, Ed., 1961. Fodor's Guide to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda. New York.
- Hyde, Henry, Soundman, First class, Letter to author about repair of Sonar.
- Kansas City Star, 1945, May 7.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot, 1956. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: Vol. X. The Atlantic Battle Won., May 1943-May 1945. Boston.
- Navy Department, Washington D.C., June 1955. History of the USS Kretchmer (DE329).
- Outhwaite, Leonard, 1957. The Atlantic: A History of an Ocean . New York.
- Pratt, Fletcher, 1944. The Navy's War. New York.
- Quigley, Joe, Seaman First Class, conversation with author at Ship's reunion at Las Vegas, Nevada, 6 & 7 November, 1990.
- Stafford, Edward P., 1984. Little Ship, Big War: The Saga of DE 343. New York.
- Webb, Ted, Letter to the author of 7 January 1991.
Kiirun, Formosa - 5&6 September, 1945
Japanese Engine Clearing the Tracks
Our "Prisoners of War" Arriving at the Dock
Helping the POW'S Off the Train
Some Needed "Extra" Help
THE USS Kretchmer Destroyer Escort Docked in Kiirun, Formosa, To Take Off Liberated Prisoners Of War. Results of Allied Bombings are Evident on Ware -
Kiirun, Formosa - 5&6 September, 1945
Loading Aboard the Kretchmer
Kiirun, Formosa - 5&6 September, 1945
Waiting their Turn
Getting a Haircut
British Soliers Captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore were victims of a starvation diet for many months, here they tie into a square meal
The Kretchmer and the other ships in our Task Group received international acclaim for the rescue of the prisoners of war. The Kansas City Star carried the Associated Press story with the dateline "Guam, Sept 7 (Friday)." It was headed, 'FREE IN Formosa. Seventh Fleet Liberates 1,200 allied Prisoners, Including 89 who were on Death March." The article said, in part, that
One thousand two hundred Allied prisoners of war--including eighty-nine who underwent the death march on Bataan--were liberated Wednesday and Thursday from Formosa by the U.S. Seventh fleet, the navy announced today.
Others liberated included British veterans who survived the evacuation of Dunkerque only to be caught in defeat at Singapore and undergo the horrors of Japanese imprisonment.
Virtually every liberee had been forced to labor under sickening conditions. Many bore pitiful scars of beatings at the hands of Japanese soldiers.
The rescue began at dawn Wednesday (Tuesday U.S. time) when Rear Admiral Dixwell Ketcham, from his flagship, the escort carrier Block Island, sent planes in parade formation over the battered island, at one time among Japan's most heavily fortified and secret bases.
Messages were dropped to the Japanese commander to send harbor pilots out to meet the destroyer-escorts T.J. Gary and Kretchmer, under Commander G.H. Johnson, which were standing off Port Kiirun.
As the ships entered the port--filled with hulks of destroyed shipping--they were covered by air patrols from the carriers Block Island and Santee.
The article goes on to say that a few days previous to the evacuation, a single U.S. Avenger plane landed at an airport in Formosa with two Marine officers. The senior officer learned of the locations and critical needs of the prisoners of war and more than 10,00 pounds of supplies were dropped in the camps. A Japanese railroad train was commandeered by the Marine officer and the prisoners "piled joyously on the train" which took them to the harbor at Kiirun. "Men who were mere walking skeletons had been forced to work from dawn to dusk in copper mines and on tea and rice plantations" and dozens had died of malnutrition.
The Manila Times of September 12, 1945 carried an article that the men of the Kretchmer read with great pride and joy. The headline reads, "Rescue of Formosa POWs Results in Navy Citation," and the first two paragraphs read as follows:
For being the first Allied units to enter the heavily mined waters of northern Formosa which was effected at Kiirun on September 5 "under difficult circumstances" and, on top of it, for successfully evacuating 1,200 Allied prisoners of war from Formosa, the commanders and men of the U.S.S. Kretchmer and U.S.S. Gary, two destroyer escorts, as well as the destroyers (escorts) Finch and Brister and the transports (escort carriers) Santee and Block Island have been cited by Rear Admiral D. Ketcham, of the United States Navy. This was made public in Manila this morning.
The two leading destroyer escorts missed being sunk by a matter of yards from mine fields that they miraculously passed between on their way to the docks.
The citation reads:
"For evacuating prisoners of war from Formosa you were nothing short of sensational. To every officer and man in your ships is due resounding applause for shoving your noses into Kiirun before the occupation without thought of self in a most worthy cause. The handling of passengers and their care, like everything else in the operation, was done in the American way, and there is not better.
"I pass to you the message of the Commander of the Seventh Fleet: "Prompt and determined action in the Formosa evacuation under difficult circumstances was a magnificent performance and a God-send to our prisoners. Well done. Signed Kincaid!' (Admiral Thomas Kincaid).
The author of this history wrote an account of the prisoner of war rescue to his parents, which account was printed in The Emporia Gazette his home town newspaper in Kansas, as follows:
Lt. Richard B. Sheridan, son of Mr. and Mrs. Bert Sheridan, 902 Topeka (street), Communications Officer on the destroyer escort (USS Kretchmer) on the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific more than two years, helped remove American prisoners of war from Formosa recently. In a letter dated September 8 (1945) he wrote:
"We headed north from Leyte and ran into a typhoon. We circled around about three days trying to dodge it and avoided the most violent area but it wasn't much worse than the Atlantic hurricane we were in last winter. After the storm cleared, our orders were changed and we were ordered into Formosa. No Allied occupation forces had been there and we went in to take out the prisoners of war. The Island had been under Japanese control since 1895 and, although Allied planes had bombed some of the principal cities, we didn't know what to expect. "While most of the ships in our group stayed outside the harbor, another ship and ours steamed in. We had air coverage and on the way in the planes sighted several mines. Japanese harbor pilots led us into the harbor which was littered with sunken Japanese ships. The town was a shambles. Japanese flags were still flying from the forts and Japanese soldiers lined the dock. The Captain (Lieutenant Thomas Bulfinch) said that ours was the first U.S. warship to go into the harbor since Commodore Perry went in 1853.
Prisoners tell Grim Stories.
"A delegation of Jap and prison officers met us and late in the afternoon the arrangements were made and the prisoners of war brought in a train to the ships. The first evening we took off about 150 prisoners and transferred them at sea to larger ships in our group. The next morning four of our escorts went in and we took out the remaining prisoners, evacuating altogether more than 1,100 men."
"The prisoners of war had some grim stories to tell. Most of them were English and Scotch, with a few Americans, Australians, Dutch and French. Most of them had been captured at the fall of Singapore in February, 1942. A few of the Americans had been captured at Bataan and an Army doctor had made the 'death march.'"
"They were wasted away, physically, to skin and bones, having subsisted on rice, tea and edible weeds for the past years. Many of the men were brought aboard on stretchers--too weak to walk. Beriberi and rickets in advanced stages had made shells out of them, although a few appeared to be quite healthy. When the prisoners of war came down the dock to board the ship, our crew lined the rail and gave them a cheer, and they returned it. They crowded each other to get on the ship and every man, no matter how weak and tottering, had a broad smile on his face as he came aboard."
"They had dreamed of bread and butter and jam and I believe they enjoyed that more then the chicken and ice cream we fed them. Some of our boys, after watching the prisoners of war eat, came around and said they were sorry for griping about the chow in the past and swore they never would in the future."