learned the biggest lesson of my life in March,
1945. I learned it under 276 feet of water off
the coast of Indo-China. I was one of
eighty-eight men aboard the submarine Baya S.S.
318. We had discovered by radar that a small
Japanese convoy was coming our way. As daybreak
approached, we submerged to attack. I saw
through the periscope a Japanese destroyer escort, a
tanker, and a mine layer. We fired three
torpedoes at the destroyer escort, but missed.
Something went haywire in the mechanics of each
torpedo. The destroyer, not knowing that she had
been attacked, continued on.
We were getting ready to attack the last ship, the
mine layer, when suddenly she turned and came directly
at us. (A Japanese plane had spotted us under
sixty feet of water and had radioed our position to
the mine layer.) We went down to 150 feet, to
avoid detection, and rigged for a depth charge.
We put extra bolts on the hatches; and, in order to
make our sub absolutely silent, we turned off the
fans, the cooling system, and all electrical gear.
Three minutes later, all hell broke loose. Six
depth charges exploded all around us and pushed us
down to the ocean floor--a depth of 276 feet. We
were terrified. To be attacked in less than a
thousand feet of water is dangerous--less than five
hundred is almost always fatal.
And we were
being attacked in a trifle more than half of five
hundred feet of water--just about knee-deep, as far as
safety was concerned.
fifteen hours, that Japanese mine layer kept dropping
depth charges. If a depth charge explodes within
seventeen feet of a sub, the concussion will blow a
hole in it. Scores of those depth charges
exploded within fifty feet of us. We were
ordered "to secure"--to lie quietly in our
bunks and remain calm. I was so terrified I
could hardly breathe. "This is death,"
I kept saying to myself over and over.
"This is death!. . . . This is death!"
With the fans and cooling system turned off, the air
inside the sub was over a hundred degrees; but I was
so chilled with fear that I put on a sweater and a
fur-lined jacket; and I still trembled with
cold. My teeth chattered. I broke out in a
cold, clammy sweat.
The attack continued for fifteen hours. Then
ceased suddenly. Apparently the Japanese mine
layer had exhausted its supply of depth charges, and
steamed away. Those fifteen hours of attack
seemed like fifteen million years. All my life
passed before me in review. I remembered all the
bad things I had done, all the little absurd things I
had worried about. I had been a bank clerk
before I joined the Navy. I had worried about
the long hours, the poor pay, the poor prospects of
advancement. I had worried because I couldn't
own my own home, couldn't buy a new car, couldn't buy
my wife nice clothes. How I had hated my old
boss, who was always nagging and scolding! I
remembered how I would come home at night sore and
grouchy and quarrel with my wife over trifles. I
had worried about a scar on my forehead--a nasty cut
from an auto accident.
How big all those worries seemed years ago! But
how absurd they seemed when depth charges were
threatening to blow me to kingdom come. I
promised myself then and there that if I ever saw the
sun and the stars again, I would never, never worry
again. Never! Never!!
Never!!! I learned more about the art of
living in those fifteen terrible hours in that
submarine than I had learned by studying books for
four years in Syracuse University.