MY WAR: My Cruise with ROOSEVELT

Article excerpt

A sailor recalls what it was like to have the President of the United States ride asaVIP passenger on his ship

"Now hear this! Now hear this! This is the Captain speaking. We have been ordered to proceed at maximum speed to Navy Yard, Mare Island, for assignment to a secret mission."

That message came over the internal communication system on the heavy cruiser USS Baltimore (CA-68) one night in June 1944. As it echoed throughout the ship, it brought forth laughter and joy from a crew that had been working hard and fighting hard for nearly a year. It also brought speculation as to what would be the Baltimore's secret mission.

The First Battle of the Philippine Seas had just ended with the destruction of large numbers of Japanese planes and ships. The Baltimore and her crew were happy to head for stateside waters for awhile.

And, head they did. It was a highspeed run from somewhere southwest of Guam to the Golden Gate with a short stop at Pearl Harbor for fuel.

On arrival at Mare Island, the yard crew came aboard and rigged a temporary elevator from the main deck to the first deck. They fixed a place on the starboard side for a special gangway. A couple of cabins were worked on.

Speculation ran high. Everyone had a different reason for the new additions to the Baltimore's superstructure and main deck.

After about a week, the Baltimore left. She cleared the Golden Gate and headed south. That night, the crew listened to a radio speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt coming from Los Angeles. He said nothing that would indicate a US Navy heavy cruiser had been specially rigged at Mare Island for a secret mission. The Baltimore docked the next day at San Diego.

Roosevelt made a speech the next night at San Francisco. Still nothing to indicate what the Baltimore's secret mission would be.

The next day, no one from the crew was allowed ashore. There were some civilians aboard. Some of them looked like undercover agents. At sunset, the Baltimore went dark.

At midnight, she silently got underway. In total darkness, she shipped out of San Diego Harbor and headed west on a zig-zag course.

Sunrise showed her to be far from land accompanied by three destroyers and a submarine-hunting dirigible. There were civilians aboard. The crew speculated, but really didn't know what the heck was going on.

Again, it was the ship's internal communication system that provided the answer - the president of the United States was aboard with a small party. Crew members would do necessary work and proceed as quietly as possible in the performance of their duties. There would be no morning and evening general quarters and no practice drills for fire, torpedo defense, or abandon ship.

Five-days later, the Baltimore arrived at Pearl Harbor. She was saluted by ships large and small as she entered the harbor.

She tied up starboard side and the special gangway that had been rigged at Mare Island was swung over the side. …