Part 3: Homeward Bound from Hong Kong to Charleston, 1946
Part three of the Kretchmer history begins on 24 January 1946, the day after Lieutenant Thomas Bulfinch, USNR, was relieved of command by Lieutenant Commander Harry J. Kelly, USN. It ends on 20 September 1946, when our ship was decommissioned and placed in the 16th Reserve fleet based at Green Cove, Springs, Florida. Between 22 February and 29 March 1946, the Kretchmer made mail runs between Hong Kong, Amoy and Shanghai, China, and back to Hong Kong. During the last trip the ship received orders to return to the United States via the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, Mediterranean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean.
The homeward-bound voyage began at 1215 on 1 April 1946, when the first ship in Escort Division 50 weighed anchor. All five ships in the division, namely: USS THOMAS J. GARY (DE 326), USS BRISTER (DE 327), USS FINCH (DE 328), USS Kretchmer (DE 329), and USS KOINER (DE 331) had raised their red, white and blue "homeward bound" pennants which represented one foot for each officer and man aboard ship and extended from the mast to the fantail. Bill Peralta wrote in his diary,
Bum-boats are exhibiting a display of fireworks around each of the DEs and their occupants are all shouting a last good-bye to the five ships that have been in and out of their harbor since December 13, 1945. . . . All hands have fallen into division Parade in the uniform of the day which is a complete white uniform. As each man-o-war is passed, American or British, passing honors are rendered. To some of us, a cold sensation momentarily runs up and down our spine. The ships pull out of the harbor in numerical order past the familiar Hong Kong waterfront.
Upon reaching the open seas the pennant was taken down, to be flown upon entry and departure at each port visited on the homeward voyage. Discipline was relaxed the remainder of the day and after dark the movie, "Murder, My Sweet" was shown.
On April 5th, the day the Kretchmer crossed the line, all Polliwogs had to put on their clothes backwards. As Peralta described the ceremony, At precisely 1400, a starshell was fired from the 3" gun and the ""Jolly Roger" was raised (skull and cross bones flag) and the ceremonies commenced. The Polliwogs heard King Neptune and the Royal Party piped aboard. We all crowded to the port side of the ship and were led through the door like cattle. The first thing that was done was to hand in your summons. . . . You wait in line until your name is called. When you appear before the judge, he reads to you the charges and you are to plead guilty or not guilty. While all this is going on, the "Devil" is poking you with a pitchfork that is equipped with a battery of 69 volts. You're to stand still while this is going on or else you do a jig before Her Royal Highness, the Queen. After you plead, the judge reads you the punishment. He said that I looked hungry and that I should get something to eat from the Royal Baby. Usually, they get the fattest Shellback on the ship and dress him up in diapers. I will try to describe what I had to do when I got before the Royal Baby. First of all, I fell to my knees and was offered something to eat by the Baby. The food, which later turned out to be a concoction of chili and peanut butter was piled into a bed pan. It didn't leave much to the imagination as to what it represented and it was really sickening if you had a weak stomach. The baby fed it to me with a spoon and then told me to chew it. After a few seconds of jaw exercise, I was given a hunk of soap and told to chew this also; it was a relief when I finally spit it out.
Other escapades consisted of requiring every Polliwog to push a small potato across the deck with his nose, being "swatted on the fanny from all sides," and crawling through a long canvas tube filled with garbage from the noon meal. After the initiation, all five ships stopped dead in the water for an hour to permit all hands to go swimming. The small boats were lowered and manned to keep guard around the swimming area because of fear of sharks.
The Kretchmer and other ships in the division arrived at Singapore on Sunday, 6 April 1946. One liberty group that saw the sights of the city consisted of Jim Pauley, Y3c, Bob Haddox, Rm3c, Jack Higginson, RdM1c, Bob Gabriel, RM2c, Carl Keisler, RM3c, and Bill Peralta, Y2c. They stopped on a busy street to watch a little boy who had a pet python snake that he calmly wore around his neck. He played an instrument resembling a flute while his cobra spiraled out of a basket. After taking photographs of the snake charmer, the group hailed a cab to visit the Botanical Gardens a few miles from the heart of the city. They ate at the Union Jack club, searched for trinkets or souvenirs, met a palmist and had their palms read, visited Raffles Hotel and other points of interest before returning to the ship.
At 1045 on 8 April the Kretchmer with the other ships in the division weighed anchor and departed Singapore headed for Colombo, Ceylon. Nearly two hours later we rounded the Malay Peninsula and headed for the Straits of Malacca, the narrow body of water which separates Malaya from Sumatra. According to Peralta, "These straits gained world-wide attention, when in late January 1942, American bombers wiped out a Jap convoy." On 9 April, at about 0130, rain fell without warning. "The fantail was like a mad-house," wrote Peralta. Sailors who were sleeping on deck ran about "half-asleep, half-naked gathering up their mattresses and blankets and heading for the compartments below. At reveille this morning, 0600, it was still raining. We are now in the Malacca Straits."
Escort Division 50 sailed west some 1500 miles from the Straits of Malacca across the Bay of Bengal to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. During the long voyage the radiomen on the Kretchmer started a newspaper called "Marking Time" to keep the crew informed of the latest news--both foreign and Stateside. Officers and men saw several movies, including "Appointment in Berlin" with a "Bugs Bunny" short, and "Doughboys in Ireland" with Kenny Baker. An earring fad swept the ship with sailors piercing their ear lobes, running around with pieces of string hanging from their ears waiting for the wound to heal so they could put a Hong Kong earring in its place. Peralta's diary for 10 April remarks: This seems like a very long trip from Singapore to Colombo even though we have been underway a little over three days. As we get closer to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, I get more and more anxious to get it over with and hope that the time will pass fast enough so I can get started on my way to San Francisco. It doesn't really seem like we are on our way home. Just like another long trip. Of late, most of the conversation has been of the States and home and what will be done when we get our discharges. I never was really homesick until I found myself actually on the way home.
On 11 April Captain Kelly held an inspection in the afternoon but it lasted only an hour or two because of the heat below decks. He inspected the topside compartments the following day which went off very well although a few fellows needed haircuts. The yeomen had taken the precaution of using DDT to kill the cockroaches prior to the inspection of the ship's office.
Before the inspection on the morning of 12 April, Captain Kelly presented Don Haberman, Seaman First Class, with a Letter of Commendation from the Commander of the Seventh Fleet for the rescue of three men from the Philippine Sea in December, 1945. Haberman and other swimmers from the Kretchmer had rescued the crew of a TBF plane that crashed off the bow of the USS SIBONEY. Captain Bulfinch had written a letter recommending Haberman for the award and the announcement came by radio.
On the morning of 13 April the ships of Escort Division 50 fell into column order, again displaying their homeward bound pennants as they sailed into the harbor at Colombo, Ceylon. Lying close to the southeast coast of India, Ceylon is a large island which had a population of 6.7 million in 1946. It was first visited by the Portuguese in 1505. They built a fort and in time gained the trade and shipping monopoly of the island which had previously been held by Moslem rulers. In 1602 Dutch traders arrived and in 1638 a Dutch expedition destroyed the Portuguese forts and came to dominate the island's trade. Then in 1762 British forces invaded the island and became its master until 1947. Gunners Mate Maning wrote, "The beauty of the island of Ceylon and the richness of its soil have given it the travel-agency name, "Pearl of the Orient". . . . The tropical vegetation is lush and the jungle thick. . . . The men and women dress much alike, with skirts and combs in their long hair. Buddhism has been the prevailing religion since 300 B.C., with the Hindu and Mohammedan faiths next. In the north ruined cities have been discovered that seem to indicate a splendid ancient civilization."
Palm Sunday, 14 April, found the ships in the division nearly deserted as men left in church parties and on excursion. Several of the Kretchmer men hired "an old fashioned open air Buick." They found Colombo to be a very clean city. They had a pleasant ride along a road lined with coconut palm, passing "the Royal Palace, some of the colleges, some newspaper offices and other buildings." They stopped at the Budda's Temple, and upon entering were "stunned momentarily by the color and beauty" that greeted their eyes. Later they visited the zoo, rode tame elephants, saw a giant turtle 250 years old, ate at a Chinese restaurant, saw a movie, and ended the tour at the Grand Hotel. They made it to the dock shortly before liberty expired at midnight.
At sea again on the afternoon of the 15th, the Kretchmer and its sister ships were on their way to Aden, the third leg of the trip home. The following day when they were approaching the Arabian sea, the men experienced one of the hottest days of the generally hot trip in tropical waters. On the 17th, the ships engaged in tactical maneuvers, while the men of the Kretchmer went to General Quarters to go through some drills. On the 18th and 19th, likewise, they went to General Quarters with more drills and tactical maneuvers. The next day the ships passed the island of Socotra near the Horn of Africa which was highly visible and entered the Gulf of Aden.
Easter was on 21 April 1946. Peralta was up at 0600 to see a beautiful sunrise. He remarked that this was his third Easter away from home; on the two previous ones he had been in Trinidad and England. At the all-faiths service on the fantail, Captain Kelly delivered the following Easter message:
EASTER - Our first Easter in peace in four years - brings to all of our minds the memories of glorious Easter Days we have spent at home with our families in the past.
EASTER - A day that has been made into a festive occasion by once again asserting our faith in Christianity by celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
I would like to remind all of you of the first words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when returning to them. These word: "Peace be unto you," have a deep meaning to me. We all wish, quite naturally, that we could be with our families on this Easter Day, but certainly the pride we can take in having contributed in some measure to the peace our families can enjoy is some recompense.
I take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you Happy Easter.
H. J. Kelly
After the services, a holiday routine went into effect and the men enjoyed a dinner consisting of turkey and the usual trimmings.
Aden in 1946 was a British seaport, naval base, and territory on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. In Roman times and later it was the chief entrepot of trade between Europe and Asia. Over the centuries it was held by the Romans, Turks and the British who annexed it to India in 1839. Its importance waned in the sixteenth century when the sea trade to India and Indonesia shifted to the route around South Africa, but the opening of the Suez canal in 1869 gave it new life. The ships in our group arrived at the port of Aden on 22 April, chiefly to take on fuel and supplies. Liberty parties went ashore in two sections to see the sights, including King Solomon's Wells, camel caravans, and the almost endless desert where, according to Peralta, there were many thieves, cut-throats, and lions.
Our group of ships entered the Red Sea on the afternoon of 23 April. The day was hot and the men got under the salt water hose to cool off. The movie that night was "True to Life" with Dick Powell, Mary Martin and Franchet Tone. On the following day Peralta remarked, "This is real hot country out here, what with Egypt on one side of us and Arabia on the other."
He worked in the ship's office until midnight, went down to the galley and ate a big bowl of chocolate ice cream, fooled around the radio shack twisting dials, and hit the sack shortly after 0100.
From Aden to Suez, which is the southern terminus of the canal by the same name, the distance is approximately 1,300 miles. After three days of extreme heat when it was almost unbearable below deck and the men went under the salt water hose by day and slept on the fantail at night, the wind changed quite suddenly on the 26th, the temperature moderated, and the seas got rougher.
The Kretchmer and the other ships in Escort division 50 entered the Gulf of Suez at midnight on the 26th and pulled into Suez the following day to lay over until the 27th to enter the canal. The Suez Canal is an artificial waterway about 100 miles long. It connects Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea with Suez on the Gulf of Suez and Red Sea. From ancient times various plans were drawn up to connect the two seas with a canal with but meager success. Overwhelming success finally came in the years from 1856 to 1859, when a combination of factors, such as international cooperation in forming a joint stock company to raise capital and steam-powered earth moving equipment made such a project feasible under the able leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French Consul General at Alexandria, Egypt. De Lesseps' dream ended in triumph when the Suez Canal was formally opened on 17 November 1869.
At 1830 on 27 April 1946, the Kretchmer got underway and proceeded toward the Suez Canal. A pilot was taken aboard for the all-night trip which began about 1500 on the 27th. Unlike the Panama Canal, that at Suez has no locks and we cruised along at fifteen knots. Peralta wrote that "the canal is so narrow that you can throw a rock from one country to the other without even having the rock land in the water." Our transit of the Canal ended about 0600 on the 28th, when we arrived at Port Said. This city was built after the construction of the Suez Canal as a stopping point for vessels bound to and coming from the Canal. During our short stay there the liberty parties were pestered by natives who tried to sell them "everything from jewelry down to 'genuine' French post cards." Liberty expired at 1700 aboard ship and at 1810 the Kretchmer and her sister ships departed Port Said and sailed for Alexandria, Egypt.
Charlie Manning drew upon the Navy's Department's Pocket guide to Egypt for his History of the Kretchmer . Here are a few extracts concerning that most ancient of civilizations:
Egypt belongs to antiquity. There are records of people living there 10,000 years ago. About 5000 BC conquerors swept up from the Red Sea. The first king, or Pharaoh who ruled about 3000 BC, was named Menes. King Tukankhamen, whose tomb was discovered a few years ago, came 1560 years later. Their religion led the people to place importance on preservation of the body after death. Hence mummies and the pyramids. Shortly before the birth of Christ, the golden days of Egyptian world leadership began to fade; Rome had her day as a warlike power. Thereafter, Egypt passed under many rulers, among them the Romans, then the Persians, the Arabs, the Turks, the French, and the Turks again. In 1914 the the British established a protectorate in order to guard the Suez Canal against the Turks. After the war, in 1922, the British returned Egypt to the status of independent state. There are 350,000 square miles of land in Egypt; 337,664 of which are desert. Water is life in Egypt. There is no dry farming and millions of people are concerned with rainfall and irrigation ditches, getting water to the land. Egypt's 12,000 square miles of arable land lie in the Nile Valley and the delta below Cairo. There are about 16,000,000 people living in Egypt and 12,000,000 of them wring a living from the land. The prominent religion is Islam, the Moslem religion as preached by Mohammed. After his death, Islam spread rapidly over Asia Minor, Egypt, Turkey, India, and parts of Africa. In these lands are seen the mosques, or temples, with their minarets or towers.
We arrived at Alexandria, which is named for its ancient conqueror, Alexander the Great, on the morning of the 29th and anchored in the harbor. Bill Peralta and his friends were elated to learn that their applications for 48-hour passes to go to Cairo had been approved. "We will get to stay at a hotel, have our meals, take a tour of the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Cairo Museum, etc. It will cost each of us $17 for the trip in addition to any other money we may want to spend'" he wrote. They made a short tour of Alexandria the day before leaving for Cairo, visiting the bazaar, shopping district, Hotel Cecil, and the Alexandria Palace of King Farouk of Egypt where they were shown the room where Roosevelt and Churchill had met in 1943.
On the morning of 1 May, Jack Higginson, Bob Grabriel and Bill Peralta boarded a train at Alexandria that resembled a cattle car. They sat on wooden seats that were crowded with working-class people. Peralta said he awakened from a nap to discover "a huge bare breast practically in my face. The lady decided that it was time to feed her baby so she started nursing the kid. No one else was concerned." Arriving in Cairo, they found they were booked into "some pig sty called the 'George House'." It was a dirty place so they went to another hotel for dinner. They went to three different mosques and marveled at their beauty. After that they visited the bazaar to buy some gifts and souvenirs and then went back to the hotel. The second day they took a bus tour of the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Cairo Museum. They took photos of each other sitting on camels with the Sphinx in the background. Two members of the party climbed to the top of the largest pyramid. Then they visited the Cairo Museum filled with artifacts from the tombs of ancient kings and queens, including mummy cases of solid gold, ornate jewelry and statues. After walking around the city for awhile, they saw the movie, "Wonder Man," with Danny Kaye, and had dinner. Returning to the hotel they were confronted with vendors who were "so thick that the guys were hitting them with whips and blackjacks that they had bought." After a second night's stay at the George House, they boarded a train to Alexandria and got back to the ship around 0200 on 3 May. Peralta concluded that it was a very good liberty.
Naples was the next port of call on the itinerary of the Kretchmer and her sister ships, a distance of approximately 2,000 miles. Departing Alexandria at 1005 on 3 May, the seas were rough and the weather cool. Our ship took water over the bow and sometimes over the fantail. The following day the sea calmed down a little and it was less chilly. Greece was to starboard on the 4th and the next day Italy was to starboard and Sicily to port. About 2000 on the 5th we passed through the narrowest part of the Straits of Messina, where Italy and Sicily almost touch. On the 6th, the Isle of Capri was on our port side and Naples just ahead. Peralta said he could see Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii in the distance. Since we had previously made two voyages to Naples, Peralta and others who had been on the Kretchmer since its commissioning or shortly after had now made the complete trip around the world.
On 6 May 1946, we dropped anchor in the Bay of Naples. Men on the liberty party found that Naples had changed a lot since they were there two years earlier. "The streets have been cleared of practically all the debris from the bombed buildings. You can notice that parts of the city are being rebuilt. . . . The main item they want is still cigarettes. This is better than money any place. It is unlawful to sell them, but they do it just the same." Naval authorities in Naples had made arrangements for an overnight trip to the Isle of Capri for the ships in our group, with a quota of 25 assigned to the Kretchmer. Peralta who was included in the quota wrote the following description of Capri:
The trip to Capri takes about two hours from the mainland. There were jeeps waiting for us and they took us to our hotel. As we went up the mountains, the beauty of Capri began to take shape. It was out of this world. Up, up, up, we went until we came to the small village of Capri. It was surprising to find a little city atop the mount . . . restaurants, bars, hotels, etc. Further down the hill, we came to our hotel. It was a very clean place and the rooms were extra special. Some of the men crashed a party at "a sort of speakeasy where you had to knock on the door and say that "Inigi sent you." They sang and had some drinks before the place closed. Then they marched up to the hotel, singing at the top of their voices, finally turning in at 0300. "Watta night and what a good time!" exclaimed Peralta.
Marseilles, our next stop on the way home, is the chief seaport of France and of the Mediterranean. It had a population of 814,679 in 1936. It was probably a Phoenician settlement before it became a Greek colony about 600 B.C. In the nineteenth century the prosperity of the city was enhanced by the French conquest of Algeria and the opening of the Suez Canal. Marseilles is the leading port city of the Levant trade and the French gate to the Far East. From the port numerous shipping lines radiated to many countries and carried on extensive trade and passenger traffic.
Departing Naples about 0300 on 9 May, the Kretchmer and her sister ships had by the following afternoon reached the Straits of Bonifacio, with the Island of Corsica - the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte - to our starboard and the Island of Sardinia to our port. At 0800 on the 10th we arrived at Marseilles. It was difficult to enter the confined area of the old port, but by careful maneuvering our ship was turned around and backed up to the dock, practically touching the sidewalk. The five ships in our group were tied up side by side.
Prior to leaving Naples we received a dispatch from the Commander of Naval Forces, Mediterranean Area, asking us if we could furnish a marching unit for the Victory Parade at Marseilles to be held on the 12th. Early in the morning of the 12th our men crowded on the fantail to see the parade celebrating the victory ending World War II in Europe.
L-R: DE-326, DE-329, DE-328, DE-331, DE-327, Tied up at Marseille, France
V.E. Day Parade on 12 May 1946
As described by Bill Peralta,
We had the best places in the city to see the parade, for every unit was to pass by the reviewing stand which is directly in front of the ship. Our boys from the five ships lined up about 0830. The other countries such as: France, Britain and Russia were represented. There were three bands, thousands of marchers, floats, etc. Before the parade started, gold braid by the dozen filled the reviewing stands. A group of civilians whom I imagine were veterans were presented with ribbons and medals and the traditional kiss on both cheeks. The bands played the national anthems of France, Britain, America and Russia in that order. It sure sent chills up and down your spine. The U.S. Army was represented but it looked as though the Navy had more marchers. As they passed the ships, we all let out with a big yell. Considering the fact that they only had a few hours drill the preceding day, I would say that they marched very well. The parade lasted about one-and-a-half hours. The boys marched up the main street about a mile and were cheered all along the way.
At 1330 the Kretchmer and her sister ships held open house for the Army and Merchant Marine. Later in the afternoon permission was granted by the Captain to bring French girl friends aboard, much to everyone's surprise. By evening the ship was nearly deserted as the men and their girl friends continued to celebrate at the Special Service club, night clubs restaurants, etc. The following morning local newspapers carried photographs of the ships of Escort Division 50 and their marching units in the parade.
In his diary entry of 14 May 1946, Peralta wrote, "Well, today we shove off from Marseilles. The ships will pull out in the reverse order of their seniority. Crowds of people have lined the street waving last minute good-byes." A number of our men were given permission to go out on the street to say good-bye to the girls and different people they had met. Some of our men were taking pictures of the crowd. People on the dock waved as each ship pulled out and the sailors waved back. Peralta said that Marseilles was the best port we had yet visited.
The bliss of our sojourn at Marseilles quickly turned to misery as soon as the Kretchmer left the harbor, for we encountered the roughest weather since the typhoon at Okinawa the previous October. "We rolled 45 to 50 degrees now and then. Everything was upset. All over the compartments everything was loose. Chow was all over the decks, dishes were broken, pots rattled, and men got sick. The BRISTER lost her whaleboat over the side."
By next morning the seas had calmed down considerably and they got calmer as the hours went by. We sailed down the coast of Spain, passing the islands of Majorca and Ibiza in the Balearic group. At 1730 the ships in our group passed zero longitude, or Greenwich, and we were now in the Western longitude for the first time in almost a year.
The movie on the night of the 15th was "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" with Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur.
On 16 May, Bill Peralta, with his precise records of times, dates and places, noted, "This afternoon at 1400, we will sail through the Straits of Gibraltar and enter the Atlantic Ocean one week less than a year since we left it in 1945." He went on to say that the meat situation on board was now acute, and that 100 pounds of meat was used at each meal. Fresh onions had run out the previous week and the cooks were using dehydrated ones which were "not so bad." Two hours later -- at 1600 -- the men on the Kretchmer could see two continents -- Europe to our starboard and Africa to our port. About 1630 we sailed around the Rock of Gibraltar and into the anchorage for a stay of four hours to pick up charts for the remainder of the voyage home.
Leaving the anchorage at Gibraltar at 2030 on 16 May 1946, the Kretchmer began her fifteenth Atlantic crossing with calm seas and for entertainment that night the movie, "Murder, He Says." Lieutenant Jim Bryson, the Executive Officer and former Engineering Officer of our ship, told Peralta on 17 May, "Tomorrow we will pull into Madeira for three days and there would be overnight liberty." Peralta wrote that he was looking forward to his last fling of foreign liberty for a long time. By this time the chow was getting pretty bad and a lot of complaints from the crew could be heard.
Madeira is the name given to both the principal island and a group of islands which belong to Portugal. They are about 360 miles from Morocco in North Africa and have an area of 314 square miles. The islands are volcanic in origin and the highest mountain rises to 6,056 feet. In 1940 the group of islands had a population of 250,124. At one time cane sugar was the staple commodity grown and refined for export; in the seventeenth century Madeira wine became the staple, and owing to England's special relationship with Portugal, it was consumed on all English ships and by English colonist overseas.
Our group of ships arrived at Fuchal, the capitol of Madeira about 1430 on the 18th. As viewed from our ship, the island looked very beautiful with practically all of its houses scattered around the hills and mountain tops; every house that was visible was covered with a red roof. Men on liberty the same day found the streets were all of cobblestones and very slippery. A guide took a group to one of the famous Madeira wineries and they were shown how wine was made and given samples to drink. From the winery they went to a place that had "cheap drinks and dancing." Later they learned that it was a house of ill-repute, "in other words, a whore house." Returning to the ship they found the compartments very noisy, "a lot of fellows had a little too much to drink and they were yelling and turning the lights on and off till about 0100."
On the 20th the same group walked up a hill to a hotel in search of baggage stickers. Then they took a hike up the mountain, taking almost two hours and a half to get to the top, but being rewarded with mountain water to quench their thirst and a nice view of the harbor and city. About 1900 they returned to the ship with a Portuguese sailor they had befriended and gave him a carton of cigarettes and some chewing gum. When they took him to the gangway to say good-bye, Peralta thought he was going to kiss them.
L-R: DE-326, DE-329, DE-328 Tied up to Pier in Funchal, Madeira - 18 May 1946
On the morning of the 21st, as soon as the boatswain yelled "Anchors Aweigh," the Kretchmer and other ships in the group were on their way out of Madeira and on to the States. The ocean was smooth, the afternoon sun warm and Peralta took a sun-bath as he had on previous occasions. The movie that night was "You can't Take It With You" with Jimmy Stewart. From the main deck on the afternoon of 22 May, the men could see giant sea turtles and also a whale. One amusing incident that day was the order issued by the Executive Officer to turn in all wine purchased in Madeira.
”Boy, I'll bet he was surprised to see all those bottles come pouring in (wrote Peralta). You see, there is a law that says it is against all Navy regulations to bring liquor aboard a ship. The mess hall was stacked with wine bottles. Fortunately, no questions were asked but I'll bet a lot of officer's faces were red when they found all the wine. Probably couldn't understand how all of it was brought aboard. I've seen fellows sneak them aboard over the fantail; by tossing it from the boat as if they were footballs and several other ways.
The same day Peralta wrote that he was worried about transportation to his home when we arrived at Charleston, having heard on the radio of a railroad strike in the States.
Work piled up in the ship's office in preparation for arrival in the States. On the 23rd Peralta noted that the Captain had signed all the transfer orders for the enlisted men.
When we arrive in Charleston, we will have to unload all our ammunition before entering the ship yard. The Escort Commander has sent a message on to the yard requesting instructions as to the debarking of all eligible personnel for separation. The paperwork was not so burdensome that it kept the yeomen from seeing the movie, "The Hurricane," with Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall. The following day Peralta started on the officers' orders. He predicted that "the first few days in Charleston will be a mad house as far as the (ship's) office is concerned. Monthly reports, transfers, and all that sort of stuff." The same day the ship received a dispatch that two British ships had sent a distress signal somewhere above Bermuda. "At present," wrote Peralta, "three ships: the FINCH, GARY and ourselves are spread out all over the ocean on a hunt for these ships. According to the position given us, we should run into them Saturday or Sunday morning. Our speed is now 19 knots in a fortunately calm sea."
On the morning of 25 May, the sea was calm and the temperature warmer than it had been. Listening to the radio, Peralta heard that the government would take over from the strikers and run the railroads. The movie that night was a comedy called "Guest Wife" with Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche. The following morning a message was received canceling our diversion to Bermuda since the two British ships had solved their problems. That was one piece of good news; another was the settlement of the railroad strike. "Things were beginning to happen around the ship now," he wrote. "Everyone is packing. My souvenirs are all packed and I will start packing my clothes tomorrow." One of the ship's officers, a Mr. Hale, was said to have completed the ship's history and Peralta began working on it.
The Kretchmer and her sister ships passed above Bermuda on 27 May. "The big day is just two days away now and the anxiety of the crew is very noticeable now. Even some of the officers have a grin on their pusses," wrote Peralta. The office had come to life with last minute letters and reports to be turned out before our arrival. Peralta had worked until midnight the previous night "pounding out the ship's history which will be sent in to Washington and a copy given to each member of the crew. Most of it is dry reading but it accounts for the movement of the ship from her day of commission to the 29th of this month when she enters the yard in preparation for decommissioning." Rough seas and wet paint again prevented the showing of a movie.
On 28 May, the last full day at sea, the Kretchmer pitched and rolled with waves breaking over the bow and sides of the ship. The barometer dropped four points between 0700 and 0800, indicating rough weather was ahead. Good news was received from the Charleston Naval authorities that all men who were going to be separated from the service would leave the ships in our group on Friday morning, the 31st, and travel to their respective separation centers. On 29 May reveille was held at 0530. All hands turned to getting the ship in shape for our entry into the United States. Peralta said that Mr. Bryson had given him the final list of those who would be leaving for discharge Friday morning. "Everything had been pre-arranged by the beach, so I imagine transportation to the receiving stations and separation centers will be waiting for us upon arrival."
As we approached Charleston, South Carolina on 29 May 1946, Bill Peralta wrote a summary account of the Kretchmer and his life aboard her in the following paragraph of his diary:
As I write this last entry into this diary, we are but a few hours away from Charleston. The trip from China has been one of many exciting and educational experiences. My time on board the "K" has been almost two -and-one-half years. I consider this duty to be one of the best that any ship could ask for and one I know many people would envy. During the days of the European war, we were fortunate enough to evade those dangerous sinkings that had been taking a toll of our warships and merchant vessels. All of our convoy trips were without incident and our trips in the Pacific came practically at the close of the war. Not until the war was over did we really begin to do things. The "K" and her four sister ships can claim some sort of distinction of being the first ships of their kind and the first division not only to return home via the Suez Canal but of completing a tour around the entire world. In the next two days about 125 men will be heading for civilian life and among them will be some very good friends. Today ends my naval career at sea and in a week or so, my entire military career. I feel that I have benefited greatly by these almost four years in the service and it is an experience that I will always remember.
Lieutenant Commander Harry J. Kelly, Commanding Officer of the Kretchmer wrote the following farewell message shortly before we arrived at Charleston:
To the officers and men of the USS Kretchmer:
When we arrive in Charleston, the majority of you will be leaving the Kretchmer. In all probability, the hustle and bustle of Navy Yard work in connection with decommissioning will make it impossible for me to say good bye to each and every one of you personally. I regret this very much, and am writing this note in the hope that it will reach all of you.
First of all, let me tell you that I have sincerely enjoyed these months we have had together in Kretchmer. Indeed, I shall always consider it an honor and a privilege to have been in command of such an outstanding group of men. You, and you alone, have made Kretchmer a smart ship; I am proud of it. I am even prouder of you. "Teamwork" has been the keystone of your success. When you return to civilian life I hope you will not forget that word and its full meaning. Without "Teamwork" no family, no village, city, state, indeed no nation, can fully succeed.
Secondly, I want to wish all of you the best of luck in future undertakings, whatever they may be. I trust that civilian life and your futures, will be all that you have hoped for. I believe that the experiences you have had in Kretchmer will always be looked back upon in the future as both valuable and interesting. As you know, the words "well done" have a special significance in the Navy. They are not said to men who have performed only a mediocre job. I take pleasure in saying "well done" to all of you.
Good Luck and God Bless You.
Harry J. Kelly
Lieut. Comdr., U.S.N.
By a directive of March, 1946, the Kretchmer was designated to be placed in the U.S. Atlantic Reserve Fleet, and on 20 September 1946, she was decommissioned and placed in the 16th Reserve Fleet based at Green Cove, Springs, Florida.
THE USS Kretchmer (DE 329) Earned the Following Medals and Awards
American Area Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal
Asiatic Pacific Area Campaign Medal
Navy Unit Citation for rescue of Prisoners of War in Formosa
World War II Victory Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia
China Service Medal
Statistics Compiled 16 june 1955
Overal Length: 306 Ft.
Extreme Beam:36 Ft. 7 in.
Mazimum Draft:12 Ft. 3 in.
Complement: 5 officers, 201 enlisted men
Mazimum Displacement: 1590 tons
Speed: 21.2 knots
Armaent: Three 3'/50 cal. (D.P.);
one quad, two twin 40MM A.A. mounts
Part 4: The Kretchmer as Destroyer Escort Radar (DER 329):
Pt 5 - Ports of Call
Cold War Picket Duty in Atlantic and Vietnam War in Asia 1956-1973
After she had been in mothballs in Florida for a decade, the Kretchmer was recommissioned in September, 1956, with Lieutenant Commander Charles F. Fadeley in command. Before this ceremony took place, the ship had been completely overhauled and fitted with the latest electronic gear and given the new designation of Destroyer Escort Radar (DER 329). Equipped as a radar picket ship in the Cold War, she arrived at Boston on 18 December 1956. The Kretchmer performed duties as a unit of the Atlantic Barrier to provide early warning of an air attack on the United States. She was based at Newport, Rhode Island, from 1957 to 1962. Besides the picket duty, she made cruises to northern Europe in 1958, 1961 and 1962. In August, 1961, she rescued six men from a foundering Icelandic fishing vessel.
USS Kretchmer (DER-329)
Departing Newport on 23 November 1962, the Kretchmer was assigned to picket duty off the southern coast of the United States. During the Cuban missile crisis, she was assigned as a unit of the Quarantine force. For a time she operated as plane guard for the ESSEX (CVE 9) in Key West waters. Two shrimp fishermen were rescued from a disabled fishing vessel that had been fired on by a Cuban "Mig" aircraft.
After returning to Newport, RI, the Kretchmer started a new chapter in her history. On 7 July 1965, she sailed to Guam, Mariana Islands, her new home port. Sailing on to Vietnam, she became a unit of the Market Time Operation off the coast of Vietnam to prevent the shipment of communist arms and supplies to South Vietnam by sea. After a year of patrol duty, the Kretchmer had investigated 17,000 contacts, and boarded over 1,000 small craft. She also provided gunfire support for the Marines and Army on shore. On her last three missions between 1968 and 1969, the Kretchmer not only patrolled the Vietnamese coast but also was active as a unit of the Taiwan Patrol group, steaming the strait between Communist China and Taiwan.
The Kretchmer'S duty in the Far East extended over four-and-one-half years. She then headed back toward the United States and a new home port at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where she arrived in September, 1969. After a short stay, new orders in November of the same year placed her in the Atlantic fleet, her new home port Key West, Florida. Here she operated as a unit of Destroyer Division 601 and Destroyer Squadron 18 as a Sonar School Ship and in a Special Operations Unit.
From Key West the Kretchmer was ordered to Charleston Naval Shipyard for a five- month overhaul and Refresher Training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She participated in highly successful special operations and a five-month deployment in North Europe which reached to the north of the Arctic Circle.
In 1973 the Kretchmer was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 October 1973. The formalities at the decommissioning ceremony at the Naval Station, Key West, Florida, included the arrival of the official party, National Anthem, invocation, remarks by the Commanding Officer, reading of the Decommissioning Directive by the Commanding Officer, retreat, presentation of Colors, securing the watch, acceptance of the ship by the custodian, departure of the crew from the ship, and benediction. The Kretchmer was scrapped in May, 1974.
THE USS Kretchmer (DER 329) Earned the Following Medals
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Cuba)
Vietnam Service Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Medal
National Defense Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal
The author of this history is indebted for information about the USS Kretchmer (DE 329) to Allan Wilson, a member of the crew who attended the first reunion of the ship at Emporia, Kansas in 1988. He gave the author the program of the Decommissioning Ceremony, October 1, 1973, which contains a brief history of the ship after it was equipped with the latest electronic gear. Other information was supplied by Henry Moll and Ronnie Guertermous, also crew members of the DER 329.
References to Parts 2, 3 & 4
Asmar, Henry, "Notes kept while on the Kretchmer," 24 May to 9 August 1945.
Allen, G.C., 1946. A Short Economic History of Modern Japan 1867-1937 . London
Encyclopedia Britannica: A new survey of Universal Knowledge (Chicago, 1955), Vols.12, 17, 23.
Bulfinch, Thomas, War diary of the USS Kretchmer (DE 329) , 21 May to 31 December 1945.
De Chicio, M. A., W. A. Peralta and E. H. Johler, eds., June 1945, The Mighty "K" , Vol. 1, No. 1.
The Emporia Gazette , September ?, 1945,
Faulkner, Harold U., 1949. American Economic History . New York.
Fishel, James D., Letters and enclosures of 22 February and 9 April 1991 to author.
The Kansas City Times , August 15, 1945.
McElrath, Carroll F., Letter of 31 December 1990 to author.
The Manila Times , September 12, 1945.
Manning, Charley, compiler, History of the USS Kretchmer (DE 329)
Morrison, Samuel Eliot, 1951. The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931-1942 . Boston.
Navy Department, Washington, D.C., June 1955. History of the USS Kretchmer (DE 329) .
Oliver, Douglas L., 1961. The Pacific Islands . New York.
Peralta, Bill, The "Homeward Bound" Diary of the USS Kretchmer (DE 329) , 1 April to 29 May 1946.
Peterson, A.D.C., 1951. The Far East: A Social Geography . New York.
Webb, Ted., Letter of 7 January 1991 to author.
Wilson, Alan M., Supplied information on the history of USS Kretchmer (DER 329), the radar picket ship from 1956 to 1973.