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The Troopship

Voyages of USNS General Patrick

                                                                                                                                                           Jim Buck, August 2011

 

Sometime during the summer of 2010, in a maritime facility in Brownsville, Texas the dismantling and recycling process began on United States Naval Ship (USNS) General Edwin D. Patrick. This once proud troopship with its sleek lines and great speed-over-water had been consigned to the scrap heap, its days of glory long gone.

 

The Patrick, which first entered operational service in March 1945, had been one of two WWII-era troopships moored in the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California, just north of San Francisco. The other ship was USNS General John Pope. The Patrick received her transfer to Suisun Bay in September 1968 following years of distinguished service, mostly in the Pacific Theater, during WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There she remained, floating idly among her sisters, offering no resistance to the scourges of sun, wind, rain and sea for nearly 42 years. The recall to service never came. Instead, in the spring of 2010, the maritime grim reaper cast a tow line to the Patrick’s bow, gently moving her to the open sea, this time for her final voyage.

 

Several decades ago, the General Patrick and I had an intimate connection for about 16 days. Only long afterwards did I realize I was on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Back then my thoughts were mostly on the family and friends I had left behind in Philadelphia. Like many servicemen today, I joined the army out of high school as a way of making my way in the world, making a very modest salary while learning a trade, getting free meals and lodging—the proverbial three hots and a cot. And wow, they even gave us nice clothes to wear so we’d all look alike. In the years that followed that time in the service, I often thought about those days aboard the Patrick, thought about what happened to her and what seas she might now be sailing…

 

There I was on a chilly, overcast day in early 1962, a 19 year-old U.S. Army Private First Class staring out into the broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean, apprehensive, wondering what the Fates had in store. It was Thursday, March 8, 1962 as I stood on the deck of troopship USNS General Edwin D. Patrick as it passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on a 6,600 mile, 16-day voyage to Korea. The Patrick headed west following the late afternoon sun as perhaps 1,500 of us filled its grey decks and cabins. The 608 foot long, 75 foot wide troopship had been built to move lots of men—a capacity to carry more than 5,000 soldiers.[i]

 


1
The 608 foot General Patrick looking her best (From the Patrick’s handbook “The Ship I sailed On”)

Most passengers on the Patrick were of the U.S. Army variety. There were also contingents of GIs from the other services and a number of civilian dependents. On sailing day at the Oakland Army Base, reveille came extra early for the army troops. Hundreds of us had our last breakfast ashore, hoisted our duffle bags on our shoulders and made our way to the waterfront.

 

 

2 Oakland Army Base. Loading stores on the Patrick the day before sailing, March 1962

The dark grey hull of the Patrick loomed large as we filed up the gangway. After dropping the bags in the assigned compartments, most quickly scrambled out on deck for a great sightseeing opportunity. The cruise and the sightseeing were free—well, Uncle Sam was extracting two or three years of our lives to his service. It was our challenge to make the best of it.

 

The army contingent on the ship consisted mostly of infantry troops. Nevertheless, representing the rear echelon intelligence corps (also known to some as Intel weenies) was a small cadre of Army Security Agency soldiers recently graduated from the Ft. Devens, Massachusetts ASA school. This was the self-described “Lucky Seven[ii].” The label reeked of irony, since most on this ship were destined for Korea, a then destitute country on the far side of the world still attempting to recover from the ravages of a brutal three-year war a decade earlier. Officially, the war was still underway, only a truce keeping the sides apart as they stared at each other across the heavily armed DMZ. Even with all that, there was good news on the horizon: The ship would make a short stop at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The mind wandered: palm trees, warm breezes, tropical beaches, grass skirts, Hawaiian girls… Of course, in the real world we were still in the army. We’d probably be required to stay on board, ogling all this from a distance while we shined our shoes and polished our brass.

 

With the help of a couple of tugs, the Patrick slipped from its moorings and steamed west across the bay toward San Francisco. The ship rounded Yerba Buena Island (and Treasure Island) on the south side and passed under the massive grey suspension towers of the Bay Bridge. Fort Mason appeared on our port side and the Patrick eased into one of its piers. There we took on additional fellow travelers before turning about and steaming west again toward the towering orange-red, art deco expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

 

 

3 Passing Yerba Buena Island in SF Bay. L-R: Ray Jarnigan, Gary Ramser, Jim Buck, Ed Sisson; March 1962

As the Patrick slipped its moorings at Fort Mason, a small army band stood on the pier, the drums and brass instruments providing a rousing farewell. I don’t remember the specific tunes but I’m sure some John Philip Sousa classics were in the air.

 

 

4 The Band moves into position at the Fort Mason pier; March 1962



5
San Francisco skyline with Telegraph Hill to the left and the Fort Mason piers to the right; March 1962


6
Passing the hills of Marin on the north side of the bay; March 1962



7
Looking down on the Patrick from the Golden Gate Bridge (From the Patrick’s handbook “The Ship I sailed On”)


8
Leaving San Francisco and the Golden Gate behind

Settling In

 

Life aboard the Patrick quickly got down to business as all these hundreds of temporary hands were assigned specific duties for the duration of the voyage. This process had a two-fold objective, to ensure essential services for those on board and to provide a modicum of required duty to keep the troops occupied and out of trouble for at least some of the time. As for the “Lucky Seven,” two lived up to the moniker by getting jobs as writers/editors on the ship’s paper, while Private Buck and the other four were placed on twice-daily guard duty, essentially a fire watch. And so I spent my duty-time cruising the sleeping quarters for fires every morning and afternoon at 0200-0400 and 1400-1600, respectively.

 

The ship’s accommodations were sparse but adequate. After all, several hundred of those aboard were seasoned professionals in the art of war, newly graduated from basic training, advanced infantry fighting, and other tough schools such as army intelligence. On second thought, disregard that last part about army intelligence. Those of us in intelligence rarely went near a foxhole and weren’t often trusted with live ammunition. Nevertheless, we would rough it out with the best, at least that’s what we told our wives. 

 

 

9 Troop quarters (From the Patrick’s handbook “The Ship I sailed On”)

On the Patrick, our bunks were stacked four-high, down both sides of each passenger bay. The second and third bunks in the stack were the most desirable and the first to go when the boarding started. Duffel bags were placed on the deck alongside, and each soldier had access to one small locker. Changing uniforms too often was not a good idea since it meant constantly rooting around and rearranging your total worldly possessions, all of which were in that bag. The ship’s interior did have a peculiar smell but I don’t think we can pin it exclusively to the dressing and washing habits of the guests. As a note, when visiting other large U.S. Navy ships many years later, each time as I toured the ships’ interiors, I was struck by this very same peculiar aroma or mustiness in the air, formed perhaps by an amalgamation of the fumes from diesel oil, cleaning compounds, food preparation, and the sweat and bodily functions of those on board. The battleship USS Wilmington, moored as a floating museum at Wilmington, NC for many years, had that very same essence as I descended into its interior in the summer of 1976—immediately evoking those days aboard the Patrick.  

 

The Galley



10
Chow Time on the Patrick (From the Patrick’s handbook “The Ship I sailed On”)


11
The dining room for the troops (From the Patrick’s handbook “The Ship I sailed On”)

It’s difficult to remember much about the actual food dished-up to soldiers aboard the Patrick but it must have closely resembled the same fare available at any mess hall on an army post. That would be manna from heaven for some but continued suffering for others. One major change for those aboard was the introduction of powdered milk and eggs. We wouldn’t see another fresh version of those until thirteen months later.

 

Troops received the usual three meals a day in the mess hall—oops, make that the “galley”—but were grouped into specific meal times to minimize congestion. Troops not lucky enough to be working on the ship’s newspaper assisted the cooks, served food and washed pots and pans (chores commonly called KP—kitchen police). Of course some may have considered these positive positions since there was always potential close access to extra food. Then again, those extra vittles were often an impediment amid high seas as they sloshed around in the stomach while the ship lurched from port to starboard, bow to stern, port to starboard…

 

Some thought the key to avoiding seasickness was not to think about rich foods such as greasy pork chops, chicken frying in deep fat, etc. Others preferred the active approach of eating dry food such as crackers to keep the stomach from getting unsettled. I guess the hypothesis for those intellectuals following this line was that the crackers absorbed excess water in the stomach, thereby preventing the water from mimicking the wave action of the ocean outside the porthole, and keeping faces from turning green. We ate lots of saltines.

 

Night Watch

 

Guard duty in our particular 150-man compartment did not involve a lot of technical know-how, just a skill at staying awake during the shift. We were there to report trouble and be alert for any chance of fire. Smoking below decks was not allowed except in authorized areas. A fire at sea, with so many lives at risk, was perhaps the number one potential disaster that might befall any ship such as this. Afternoon duty was usually a piece of cake as most soldiers would leave the sleeping bay as soon as possible for the fresh air on deck. Nevertheless, there were days of cold or rainy weather when staying bunk-side had no alternative.

 

Nighttime guard duty at 2 AM was also easy because few if any people were out and about, but, at the same time, it was challenging just because there were so few distractions. The guard needed to be 100% alert at all times. On one occasion during that early morning shift, a soldier in a third-level bunk woke up and casually lit a cigarette while lying back on his pillow. I had just passed through and was in the back of the bay. It was the telltale clink of his zippo lighter that caught my ear. By the time I got there, an aroused bunkmate across the aisle had already given him a shout. The offending soldier moaned in complaint, blew a cloud of smoke in the air, but quickly extinguished the butt. And the Patrick sailed on, logging no fiery losses at sea.

 

Admittedly, nighttime guard duty could be boring; and so, to keep alert I’d use that time to write home to Philadelphia and my wife of three months. Of course, with no post office at sea, these letters had to be set aside until the Patrick reached port. So I’d make my periodic rounds amidst the bunks of snoring, coughing and sleep-talking troops, looking for fire hazards. With safety well in hand, I’d pause for a few minutes, taking a seat on the ladder (stairway). There I’d take out paper and pencil and begin writing a few lines…Hello Honey, it’s 2:30 in the morning and all is quiet on the Patrick. I’m on guard duty again and the ship is doing quite a bit of rolling… And so it went, night after night as the Patrick plowed on through the sea.

 

Yes, guard duty on the graveyard shift. Nothing’s supposed to happen…so they say. One night while standing watch I attempted to write a letter but Father Neptune had other ideas. The Patrick had been underway from Hawaii, steaming west toward the Korean Peninsula, the Hawaiian Islands now lying four days and about 1,500 miles to our stern. During the night the weather began turning nasty. At oh-dark-thirty, all was quiet in the bay and I could see nothing but blackness out the porthole. The modest rise and fall of the ocean, as evidenced by vertical movements of the ship, was now giving way to ever larger swells. Within an hour the Patrick was fully enveloped in a massive storm, at least it seemed so from my perspective. From the sound of crashing waves, the ship’s hull was taking a mighty beating. A lot was happening on the other side of those steel plates. I held fast to the ladder and hoped for the best.

 

That night brought on my second bout of seasickness, the first having been on one of the calm first couple of days out of San Francisco. Luckily, this time I had my emergency kit with me, a plain brown paper bag. There was another hour to go before I could awake my relief to take over. This was not pretty. As if the howling winds, heavy rain and continuously crashing waves were not enough, the Patrick was riding out the storm on an ocean of rhythmic high peaks and deep troughs. After the ship rapidly descended into the trough at the back end of one wave, the Patrick would begin a slow, steady rise up the forward edge of the next, all the time taking a pounding from the elements. As it reached the crest and the wave passed under, there was a sense that the entire forward section of the ship was out of the water. In the next instant the bottom would seemingly fall out and the ship would come crashing down like an out of control elevator skipping several floors, the ship’s flat bottom hitting the trough between the waves with a tremendous thud. And then the cycle would repeat.

 

Many soldiers aroused from their sleep during this action just lay in their bunks, riding it out, holding onto the rails and their stomachs. The storm continued into the daylight hours but at a reduced level. My buddies at the ship’s paper told me later that, according to the bridge, the ship had passed through a massive 300-mile wide storm. Well, there you go, just a storm. Imagine if it had been a hurricane or cyclone. Perhaps being in the army, a ground-pounder on terra firma, was not such a bad idea. Meanwhile, here we were, America’s finest—trained to run up and down hills—floating up and down in the middle of the world’s biggest ocean.

 

Time in a Rowboat

 

 

12 Topside in good weather (From the Patrick’s handbook “The Ship I sailed On”)

The real challenge of our voyage was to while away the hours without knowing they were passing by, keeping occupied, reading books, writing letters, playing cards, taking a nap, staring at the ocean. While the Patrick steamed across the ocean at 19 knots, Father Time dallied along in a rowboat.

 

When the weather was agreeable most people headed topside. There were no deck chairs, hot tubs or shuffleboard facilities but there was plenty of open deck space. Reading a book or playing cards on the deck was much preferable to the cramped, musty, dimly lit quarters below. These same open decks were off-limits at nighttime and during inclement weather since there might be no one to sound the alarm if a soldier should go overboard, voluntarily or not. I remember opening a gangway hatch one evening, just for a nighttime view of the ocean. As I swung open the hatch, the wind was howling and there was nothing on the other side but total blackness. It was like the outside of the ship had totally disappeared into the night—a bit too inhibiting for this fighting man. That’s as close as I got to venturing outside our safe little overcrowded cocoon at night. But up on deck, if the sun was shining, it could be comfortable even on a cool day, particularly if a spot could be found under one of the exhaust vents. These vents, shaped like an overturned “J,” circulated warm air from the interior to the surface. The aromas were not all that bad, so I assume we were not sitting under vents with a direct connection to the head (ship’s toilet).

 

If a few of us “Lucky Sevens” were topside together, it usually meant playing cards or even singing a few songs a capella while trying not to embarrass ourselves. I became an expert at two-handed solitaire and learned to play just about every poker game invented. Staring at the ocean also absorbed lots of time. Chances are you’d see nothing but the wide expanse of open water, no islands, no ships—just the deep blue sea stretching out to meet the sky. But in closer to the ship, the water took on a beautiful pale, ice blue shade where the Patrick’s bow sliced through. This was also true in back (aft), where the ship’s stern left a stream of churned-up, bubbling water in its wake.

 

 

13 The setting sun off the Patrick's starboard side; March 1962

As the Patrick steamed closer to Hawaii it was not uncommon to spot a school of whales or the occasional dorsal fin of a shark. Small flying fish were active continuously near the bow keeping pace with our ship. They’d be seen popping out of the water parallel to the ship, flapping their fins wildly in the air as if desperately trying to keep up with us, before diving back into the deep.

 

Landfall in Hawaii

 

A couple of days out from San Francisco word came down that we’d be arriving in Pearl Harbor in the early morning hours of our fifth day at sea. All troops would receive six hours of liberty. A bus tour of the island, for a nominal fee, would also be arranged for those interested. A large number of soldiers, including five of the Army Security Agency’s finest, decided the tour was the thing to do.

 

Early on Tuesday, March 13, 1962 the General Patrick approached the Island of Oahu from the east, keeping the Island of Molokai off the port side. The morning sun had just peeked over the horizon as the Patrick rounded Diamond Head and slowly cruised past the famous beaches and luxury hotels of Honolulu.

 

 

14 The Patrick sailing right to left past Honolulu beaches en route to Pearl Harbor; March 1962

Soldiers crowded the starboard rails to catch a glimpse of Waikiki as it slipped by. Although the sky was overcast, the early sun was fighting its way through the clouds and over the mountains as we stared across at hotels, palm trees and beaches. But alas, the distant beaches looked empty. Perhaps it was too early for hula girls. Nonetheless, the troops were excited and all smiles. This was going to be a nice day.

 

 

15 Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery, Honolulu; March 1962



16
Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery; March 1962. L-R: Gary Ramser, Jack Sebring, Ed Sisson, Jim Buck, Ray Jarnigan

 

It wasn’t long before the General Patrick pulled up to its berth in Pearl Harbor and hundreds of restless GIs filed down the gangway, happy to make contact with Mother Earth once more.

 

Since we’d be amongst the civilian population, all of us were required to wear a dress uniform, and we had a choice between dress greens and khakis. The weather was warm for the more formal greens but many chose to wear them. Actually, when it came to retrieving rolled up clothes from the duffle bag, the number of wrinkles in the material determined the uniform more so than the weather. But as long as the observer kept his distance, we still looked good.

 

 

17 King Kamehameha; March 1962. L-R: Ray Jarnigan, Jack Sebring, Gary Ramser, Jim Buck, Ed Sisson

The bus tour took us into Honolulu where we saw King Kamehameha’s statue and visited the Iolani Palace, once the official residence of Hawaii’s king and queen. Also on the agenda was a visit to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific—the Punchbowl—the final resting place for vets of WWI, WWII and Korea. From there the tour went up into the Ko’olau Mountains to catch a great view of the windward side of Oahu from Pali Point. But oddly enough, the highlight of our tour occurred when it ended. That was when the bus returned to the Honolulu waterfront where anyone who wished could be dropped off at Waikiki. The five ASA comrades took this option.

 

At Waikiki the beach and surf called out to us. When we found that bathing suits could be rented for 50 cents, all resistance faded. One of the other guys, John Sebring, also rented a surfboard for a dollar more. What a bargain! The added expense of surfboard lessons was beyond anyone’s budget so John and I were on our own. Even the tame surf of Waikiki posed a significant challenge. But I met it head on, literally in most cases, and managed to stay up on the board and guide my craft toward the shore. The fact that my upright stance on the board usually lasted no more than two seconds is completely irrelevant.

 

 

18 Waikiki and Diamond Head; March 1962. L-R: Jim, Ed, Ray, Jack, Gary

Our group spent about an hour enjoying the warm Pacific waters of Waikiki—quite a change from the cool and foreboding Pacific of San Francisco. We next strolled down Waikiki’s main beachfront avenue looking in the shops and searching for a reasonable place to eat a late lunch. It was here that I had my first-ever Mai Tai tropical cocktail—not exactly legal for a 19-year-old but I got a wink and a nod from our server. The uniform definitely helped. From here we boarded a local bus that delivered us to an area close to Pearl Harbor. My memory fades here; however, I do recall that, while walking back to the Patrick, we stopped in a supermarket and could not resist the mounds of pineapples. In a grand show of Hawaiian hospitality, the produce manager took the pineapple we had selected and carved it up for us. As the five of us continued our walk to the Patrick, these golden yellow chunks of island fruit left us with a sweet taste for the 50th state.

 

Steaming West

 

By the time most GIs straggled out on deck the next morning, the General Patrick had resumed its westerly course and Oahu was far behind. Life on our floating barracks once again settled into the routines necessary to get hundreds of soldiers safely across several thousand miles of deep blue sea. On that first day outward bound from Hawaii, escort services were provided by occasional schools of whales and dolphins. While lounging on the forward deck that first afternoon, reading from one of many paperbacks being passed around, I looked up just in time to see a mysterious island appear off to our starboard side. I say mysterious because it appeared seemingly out of nowhere about two or three miles away. It loomed foreboding and uninhabited, with sheer, dark brown, rocky cliffs, perhaps 150 to 200 feet high, rising sharply out of the sea. It’s difficult to estimate the length of the island. Maybe it was a half mile to a mile long as we steamed by. The island may have been one of the outlying crags in the Hawaiian chain. It didn’t stay in view for very long but it made an impression. I wondered how many captains had also been surprised in days gone by when those cliffs suddenly appeared out of a dense fog or when they gradually took shape dead ahead in the dark of a moonless night, like an iceberg in the path of the Titanic.  

 

The General Patrick had another ten days of sailing before its next port call on March 24th, this time in the wintry climes of Inchon Harbor, South Korea. The challenge for the GI passenger was to keep boredom and seasickness to a minimum. As long as good weather prevailed, there was always the opportunity to stroll around topside or lie on deck in the sun. No lounge chairs were provided, nor any chairs at all for that matter. There was a ship’s store where small items could be purchased, such as tooth paste, shaving cream and the like. With the lack of federal and state taxes, cigarettes were a dollar a carton and nearly everyone smoked. But the ship’s store had no large picture windows for gazing nor shopping aisles for sauntering along, just a walk-up window where money changed hands.

 

If seasickness became too intense, the Patrick had a medical clinic that could provide some relief, although the sea was not going away. One of the other large compartments functioned as recreation room, serving up movies and sometimes even live entertainment. The room also doubled as a chapel on Sundays. As for the necessities of life on the Patrick, such as showers and toilets, these were adequate, although not suitable for lingering. Troops spent most of their free time in the forward section of the ship, particularly when on deck, since access amidships and aft was not authorized, the passageways being roped off.

 

The forward head (“bathroom” for landlubbers) below decks was interesting because this compartment was situated exactly on the bow of the ship. When nature made a calling which required a person to sit down, the soldier would make his way to this compartment. Inside this room measuring perhaps 15 feet wide by 25 feet long, ran two rows of commodes, perhaps six on each side facing each other across a center aisle. There were no doors, no partitions. Your business was your neighbor’s business also. The two rows occupied a raised platform and a channel of perhaps four inches deep ran down the center. During the big storm the Patrick encountered on its fourth day out of Hawaii, I recalling sitting in this area, minding my own business, so to speak. The ship was in heavy seas, all the more accentuated because I was in the very front compartment. As the Patrick’s bow dipped steeply down, a stream of water filled with floating paper and other debris would rush down that 4-inch channel toward the bow. To avoid getting shoes and feet soaked, those sitting would lift their feet, letting the water and debris pass under. As the bow started back up, the channel water would reverse course, once-again necessitating the lifting of the feet. And so it went on those stormy moments in the head…

 

While sitting in the forward head, attempting to ignore fellow naturalists, one might read a book or daydream, perhaps contemplating the ship’s bow just a few feet away. On the other side of those steel plates, where port and starboard sides meet, the Patrick was crashing through wave after wave, day and night, in its unrelenting forward progress. All that water, thousands of feet deep. A sobering thought for a person who gets anxious in water that’s barely over his head…best to shift the mind elsewhere.

 

A Chill in the Air

 

The General Patrick crossed the international dateline at 180° longitude in the early evening hours of March 16th, three days and about 1,200 miles out from Hawaii. The early evening of the 16th immediately became the early evening of the 17th.  The Patrick was a floating time machine instantly propelling us into the future. Twenty-four hours of our lives—lost in the blink of an eye. Of course, we’d gain this back when we returned a year later. But for now, the future was ours. In celebration of this accomplishment, each person on board was issued an elaborate certificate verifying to all the world that the 180th meridian had been crossed. What an honor.

 

 

19 Crossing the Dateline; March 1962. A certificate of achievement

As the Patrick steamed west and gradually north, cooler and wetter weather became the norm. Time spent topside decreased from hours to minutes, unless a spot could be found under one of the exhaust outlets on deck. This is when it became convenient to have friends in unique places. Back in the beginning of the “cruise” when work assignments were being handed out, two of our group of seven were chosen to work on the ship’s newspaper. Because of their journalism and typing skills, and probably the ability to spin a good yarn, Ray and Ernie were selected as editor and assistant editor, respectively, for the daily edition of the news of the day. As for the remaining five, we had our watchman chores to accomplish. Nevertheless, on those days when the wind howled and rain pummeled the Patrick’s deck, it became convenient for us to visit the newsroom to assist our buddies in their editorial tasks.  This meant access to coffee, actual chairs to sit in and an opportunity to develop the literary side of our intelligence training.  And let’s face it, some of us teenagers were sorely lacking in development.

 

The Patrick Press’s News of the World was published every day while the ship was underway. Generally, it consisted of four mimeographed pages of information printed front and back on two 8” by 13” sheets of paper. The editor and his assistant, with a little help from their friends, selected news items from commercial wire services, including significant events from around the world, financial developments and a synopsis of the day’s sports results at home.  Today, it seems prescient to read over some of those international news items concerning President Kennedy, Khrushchev, Cuba and others while the world at that time was on a relentless, unknowing march toward such momentous events as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam in the not too distant future. 

 

The back page of the newspaper contained a Master’s Report giving statistics such as the ship’s position, average speed, and distance to arrival.  One of the other troopers, not of our little group, served as the paper’s artist, using the back page to display a map of our course and a hand-drawn cartoon relating to a soldier’s life aboard the Patrick.

 

 

 


20
Front page of the Patrick's daily news; March 1962

On one of those rainy days in the newsroom, my melancholy mood inspired me to write a few lines of silly poetry for the ship’s paper:

Across the land and ocean wide,

Beyond the sea and o’er the tide,

My lover stands and waits for me,

For homeward bound I’ll one day be.

A soldier gone and left his home,

The wide, wide world I wanted to roam.

Well, I’ve traveled far and traveled near,

In search of things which were not clear.

I’ve discovered now my destiny,

I know now where I long to be.

Back there at home with my loving wife,

And there to spend my troubled life.

                                       ---JB

 

 

The newspaper boys became experts at running the ship’s mimeograph machine, a skill that has undoubtedly deteriorated over time, as has the use of the mimeograph itself. A likeness of that same mimeograph has probably resided in the Smithsonian for decades now.

 

And so it went. We busied ourselves in shipboard routines, staying occupied as best we could. And the Patrick steamed on. In the wee morning hours of Saturday, March 24th the ship churned through the waters of the Yellow Sea, well on its way up South Korea’s west coast, our destination being the port of Inchon and the end of the line. There were overcast skies and a definite chill in the air. The featureless open ocean was long gone as the Patrick weaved its way among rocky islands. To some of us landlubbers leaning on the railings taking it all in, the course through these islands seemed a bit treacherous, but then, what does an army troop know about such things?

 

 


21
Route of the Patrick; March 1962

This last day as pseudo-sailors began with ship-wide reveille at 4:30 AM, more than enough time to turn in bed linens and re-pack our gear. After another powdered egg breakfast, troops shouldered their duffle bags and reported on deck by 7:30 AM. Around 9:00 AM the Patrick eased into Inchon harbor and weighed anchor some distance from shore. Arrival time was important at Inchon, since the tides could vary by 30 feet. A vessel of this size could not pull up to a pier since, when the tide ebbed, the ship would find itself high and dry on the mud flats. The unloading process began soon after arrival as utility landing craft (LCU) came out to ferry the troops ashore.

 

By late morning the troops, once again on terra firma, were being loading onto the backs of 2 ½ ton trucks (deuce-and-a-halves) for the short trip to the local replacement center. The biggest surprise for us was the eight inches of snow on the ground. The Patrick had taken us from the temperate climate of the San Francisco Bay to the lovely warm Hawaiian beaches. It then brought us back to army-reality by rudely plunking us down on the wintry shores of this foreign land. What an adventure.  

 

As we climbed aboard those deuce-and-a-halves, each soldier received a bag containing two doughnuts. It didn’t matter how fresh they were; they sure tasted good. A steak dinner awaited us on arrival at the replacement center, quite an upgrade from the plebeian fare of the past two weeks. Our army tour in Korea had begun. The Lucky Seven were assigned to the 508th USASA Group at Yong Dong Po, a suburb of Seoul and their home for the next 12 months.

 

On being ferried ashore at Inchon on that Saturday morning, I looked back at the grey hull of the General Patrick sitting at anchor out there in the harbor. In its 118th voyage the Patrick had taken us across those thousands of miles of ocean, through calm waters and stormy seas, and we were none the worse for wear. But I wasted little time in reminiscing. The thoughts of this 19-year-old were mostly about family and friends back home and what lay ahead on these distant shores. The army was enmeshed in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies the Chinese and North Koreans. And with the demilitarized zone only 25 miles from Seoul, the Cold War in Korea was always very warm and always a very serious business.

 

 

22 508th USASA Group, Yong Dong Po, Korea; circa 1962


23 Jim Buck at 508th USASA Group, Korea; circa October 1962

By the time I left Korea 12 months later, most troops were traveling back to the states in aircraft of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). And so it was for me—travelling to Travis Air Force Base in California by way of Tokyo in a four-engine, turbo-prop Constellation. As for the General Patrick, it would shortly be involved in its last significant action, transporting high numbers of troops to Vietnam.

 

Forty-Five Years Later

 

When the General Patrick arrived at Inchon on that March morning in 1962, there must have been very few soldiers who did not welcome the return to solid ground. Nevertheless, over the years I’d recall that sailing adventure and wonder what fate had in store for the old General. Was it still serving its country? Was it even still afloat?

 

As for me, 45 years later, in June of 2007, I was still doing work for the defense department—but this time as a contract employee in the San Francisco Bay area of California. There in the break room, sitting down to lunch, I unfolded the day’s newspaper I had brought from home. Holy mackerel! (I have a Catholic background) Can you believe it? I gazed at a front page story about the Suisun Bay Mothball Fleet, featuring an examination of the most dilapidated ship in the entire group, the troopship General Edwin D. Patrick. According to the Contra Costa Times article, the Patrick had been in the reserve fleet there in Suisun Bay for nearly 40 years, waiting in vain for another chance to serve her country. The recall never came. And here I was, living in the San Francisco Bay area for nearly 12 years, occasionally pondering the status of the Patrick as I’d cross the Golden Gate Bridge or visit the former Oakland Army Base. And unbeknownst to me, all this time the Patrick floated in limbo with its aging buddies, barely 25 miles northeast of San Francisco.

 

24 Suisun Bay Mothball Fleet in May 2009 from the gun port of a B-24 Liberator bomber

 

In 2007 over 70 ships of various shapes and sizes lay at anchor in Suisun Bay. The ships were set side by side in rows that could exceed a dozen vessels. From a distance they formed an impressive armada of naval might. Up close, it was clear for most of them that their service days were over, their glory days a distant past. Nevertheless, some were in relatively good condition, like the Battleship USS Iowa, only recently added to the reserve fleet. While others, like USNS General Patrick and a similar troopship tied up alongside, USNS General Pope, were in extremely poor condition. It’s obvious some vessels received at least token maintenance, while others, again like the Patrick and Pope, resembled dead bodies with no chance of resuscitation—left to wither away. It was the appalling condition of this assortment of older vessels, their aging hulks looming lifeless and forlorn, which earned the flotilla its nickname, the “Ghost Fleet.” 

 

A San Francisco Chronicle article of June 30, 2007 discussed the status of the aging fleet and had this to say about the Patrick and Pope: “Now they are floating derelicts. The teak decks, laid over steel, are rotten; gray paint, laced with lead and mercury, is flaking off in huge hunks. The cargo booms are drooping, and the steel ladders are red with rust; there appears to be rust under the rust.”  According to an AP wire story of July 6, 2007, the Patrick was in particularly bad shape: “The wooden deck has turned black with rot and grass grows through the cracks. Sea birds roost where soldiers once waited anxiously to go to war, and peeling paint exposes vast expanses of rust from bow to stern.”

 

The General Patrick had joined the reserve fleet in Suisun Bay in 1968 following 23 years of active duty. It was built in Alameda, California, entering service in the spring of 1945 and originally commissioned USS Admiral C. F. Hughes. She saw service in WWII, mostly in the Pacific theater. After the war, the vessel was turned over to the Army and renamed as U.S. Army Transportation Service (USTS) ship General Edwin D. Patrick. In 1950 the Navy reacquired the vessel as a U.S. Naval Ship but kept its army name. The Patrick saw extensive service in the Pacific supporting the wars in Korea and Vietnam and also aiding the replenishment of forces during peacetime.

 

Over the last half dozen or more years there has been considerable clamor and concern expressed by environmentalists, marine biologists, and others about the damage the decaying ships of the Mothball Fleet were causing to the waters of the bay and the resultant detrimental effects on marine life. Every year these ships deteriorated further, shedding hundreds of pounds of toxic paint flakes into the water. The Maritime administration had long ago determined that ships like the Patrick had outlived their usefulness and must be dismantled and recycled. Once the disagreements were resolved over how to proceed without further polluting the environment the ships could be scheduled for the 5,000 mile sail to the ship breakers in Texas.

 

After reading that Contra Costa Times article in June of 2007 I periodically launched my own internet searches for information on the Patrick. Over the years I learned there were many websites with details on the Mothball Fleet. Sites contained pictures of the vessels, their histories and articles and comments by those who took the ships to sea. [iii] Google Maps could be used to get an interesting, relatively close-up satellite view of the fleet from space. Two websites offer surprising interior views of the Patrick, pictures that showed it to be in a disheveled state but not nearly as decrepit as the Patrick’s fading and rusting exterior would suggest. [iv]   

 

On Memorial Day of May 25, 2009 I was quite unexpectedly presented with another view of the Mothball Fleet and the General Patrick. While attending an airshow at Livermore Municipal Airport, California, I opted to take a ride aboard a WWII-era 4-engine bomber, the B-24 Liberator—the only one of its type still flying. While the ride itself was fantastic, there was an added surprise. During the half hour flight the aircraft flew at low altitude, perhaps 2,000-3,000 feet, over the beautiful, dry, golden brown hills bordering the bay area. Looking out the bomber’s left side gun port I was unsure of exactly where we were until the aircraft turned left over Suisun Bay. There below and dead ahead (no pun intended) was the Ghost Fleet—row upon row of vessels passed under us. Our course had all the aspects of a bombing run on naval targets, without the shooting and explosions, of course. And there, in its place in line; where it had been for decades, was the General Patrick. What luck! I had gotten to see the old General in person.

 

25 The B-24 Liberator takes off from Livermore, May 2009




26
The B-24 pilots have the fleet in sight
; May 2009


27
The Ghost Fleet below. From the waist gun port of a B-24; May 2009

The following weekend a friend and I took a maritime excursion out on the bay for a close-up view of the Mothball Fleet. I had only recently discovered that, for a nominal fee, I could join a small party boat that cruised around the fleet for a couple of hours one weekend a month. A docent on board provided a running narrative on the identity and history of some of the vessels as we passed by. Regulations prohibited getting too close or boarding any of the ships. Even so, it was exciting to get so close to the General Patrick after all these years. I couldn’t be absolutely certain which vessel was the Patrick, because the ships do occasionally get moved about but I had a good idea and I guessed correctly. It helps to have a good camera with a telephoto lens. Also, a photo editing and enhancing program was of great assistance in bringing out the names of the vessels; names that had faded considerably over the years.

 


 28 Mothball Fleet tour vessel; May 2009

 

 29 Battleship USS Iowa-one of the few combatants in the Mothball Fleet; May 2009

 

 


30
Stern of Patrick (4th ship from right), laid up beside Gen. Pope (3rd from right); May 2009

 

 

31 Stern of Patrick and bow of Gen. Pope; May 2009

 

 

32 Enhancing the image draws out the Patrick name and reveals extent of rust; May 2009

Our little tour boat was not authorized to sail up and down the rows of vessels, but instead was left to sail around the circumference of the fleet. We approached the fleet from the south side, offering a good look at the massive battleship USS Iowa at the end of its row and then, a couple of rows up, the stern of the Patrick, approximately in the middle of its row. As we sailed past the Patrick’s row, I was able to turn myself around and get a good view of the Patrick’s bow and the General Pope’s stern.

 


33
The bow of the Patrick and the stern of Gen. Pope; May 2009

 

34 The bow, bridge and dual smoke stacks of the Patrick; May 2009

This view of the Patrick’s forward section shows some of the considerable rust along the waterline and on the upper section of the bridge. Also, some of the rusting lifeboats have been moved to the forward deck and turned upside down so as not to accumulate rain water. These would normally be affixed to davits amidships. The entire exterior has faded from medium grey to an almost chalky white. The smokestacks in particular are totally faded. These were once a medium grey, topped with bands of yellow and black (see Figure 2). Seeing the Patrick in this condition evoked a feeling of sadness that the old lady should be left to wither away at anchor; her usefulness and value to the nation only the stuff of memories. Still, these feelings conflicted with an excitement that I had finally located the Patrick, learned its fate and got this close.

 

 35 Enhanced image of the bow confirms the ship's identity; May 2009


From the various press, TV and radio reports I had seen, I knew the General Patrick, because of her condition, would be amongst the first of the Mothball Fleet to make the trip to the maritime gallows. Even so, I had no inside knowledge of just when this would occur. I had fantasized about being on the Golden Gate Bridge, looking down as the Patrick passed under on her final cruise—decades after standing on her deck, looking up to see the Golden Gate slip by overhead. But alas, I got sidetracked and never did take any positive steps to learn when the executioner might call.

 

Occasionally, on flights back east to visit relatives, I’d grab a port-side window seat and take pictures of the fleet as the plane flew overhead, hoping to get a good view of the fleet and the Patrick. But even with a good telephoto lens, getting identifying detail was not possible from thirty thousand feet—with the exception of USS Iowa, whose size dwarfed other vessels around her. In photos of September 2010 I could make out the rows of ships but not enough to identify specific vessels. In April of the following year I attempted to get some lower level views of the fleet from the north shore of Suisun Bay at Benicia. While the fleet was fairly close, it was difficult to see much beyond the first one or two ships in each row since I was viewing the fleet from near sea level. So, in September 2010 and April 2011 I was not able to firmly identify the Patrick amongst the Suisun flotilla. The Patrick had been there for over 40 years, like a permanent resident. Surely it was still a resident of the bay, perhaps just out of sight.

 

The fruitless attempt to get Patrick photos from the Benicia shoreline in April 2011 piqued my curiosity and I mounted another internet search to gather whatever current information there might be about her status. That’s when I ran across Peter Knego’s article of May 7, 2010 “Pursuing the U.S.N.S. General Edwin D. Patrick” appearing on the Maritime Matters website.[v]  When I read Peter’s excellent article, I was shocked to learn the Patrick had slipped its moorings in the Mothball Fleet on April 15, 2010 and had been pushed and pulled to the BAE shipyard in San Francisco. There the Patrick entered a dry dock for hull inspection, scraping and cleaning before being towed the 5,000 miles to the ship breakers (recycler’s) in Brownsville, Texas.  The Patrick spent a couple of weeks at the BAE facility shedding all those accumulated barnacles and loose paint. Peter Knego then chronicled the movement of the Patrick out of the BAE shipyard and its exit from the San Francisco Bay in the late morning hours of May 3, 2010. From the shoreline, Peter snapped pictures of the Patrick under tow from the shipyard. He then raced through San Francisco traffic, photographing the faded lady from various viewpoints until she finally passed out into the Pacific.

 

 36 Patrick on north side of SF Bay on April 15, 2010. Mt Tam in background (Photo by CAPT. Jack C. Goldthorpe, USCG (Ret.)[vi]

 


37
Patrick turns to port and heads for BAE shipyard on April 15, 2010 (Photo by CAPT. Jack C. Goldthorpe, USCG (Ret.) [vii]

In Figures 36 and 37 the Patrick can be seen on April 15, 2010 in the San Francisco Bay in the vicinity of Angel Island. In Figure 37 the vessel has been placed on a southeasterly heading and is proceeding toward the Bay Bridge and the BAE shipyard beyond. The faint outline of the gold-domed Palace of Fine Arts can be seen on the San Francisco shore off the Patrick’s bow. Unlike the final towing of the Patrick to Texas, these tugs are pushing and pulling the ship across the bay. During the trip to Texas, the Patrick would be towed by the nose, so to speak. Its two anchor chains would be connected and a tow line fastened to them. In Figures 36 and 37 the port side anchor chain can be seen hanging loosely, the anchors having been removed prior to towing.

 

 

38 Patrick in BAE dry dock after hull cleaning; late April 2010 (Photo courtesy of Peter Knego) [viii]

 


39
Stern view of Patrick in BAE dry dock after cleaning; late April 2010 (Photo courtesy of Peter Knego) [ix]

 

40 Patrick's twin screws, in BAE dry dock; late April 2010 (Photo courtesy of Peter Knego)[x]


In Figures 38-40 the Patrick sits high and dry in the BAE dry dock. The hull has been prepped and she’s about ready for the sea once more. Note the anchor chains hanging from the vessel’s bow. A variable length tow line will be attached to these and connected to an ocean-going tug. The tow line can vary up to several hundred feet. For a perspective of the Patrick’s size, see the person walking in the dry dock to the left of the hull in Figure 40.


 
41 Patrick leaves BAE facility under tow for last voyage; May 3, 2010 (Photo courtesy of Peter Knego)[xi]

 



42
Patrick under tow on course for the Golden Gate Bridge. Bay Bridge is in background; May 3, 2010 (Courtesy of David Walker as posted on Cruisepage.com on May 3, 2010)
[xii]
 

43 Patrick under tow and passing beneath Golden Gate Bridge heading for the Pacific; May 3, 2010 (Photo courtesy of Peter Knego)[xiii]

According to Peter Knego’s article, [xiv] the Patrick slipped out of dry dock on April 29, 2010, almost ready for the final voyage scheduled for May 1st. After a two-day delay caused by bad weather, the ocean-going tug Alexandra can be seen in Figures 41 and 42 on May 3, 2010 pulling the Patrick through the waters of the San Francisco Bay. The Patrick would move at the behest of Alexandra for the next 5,000 miles as the two vessels made their way to the Panama Canal and then Brownsville. In Figure 43 the Patrick glides under the Golden Gate Bridge for the last time as it heads into the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

 

 



44
Route of the tug Alexandra towing the Patrick; May-June 2010



45
Patrick enters Pacific side of Panama Canal on May 27, 2010 (Originally posted on Cruisepage.com by David Walker on May 28, 2010)
[xv]

According to David Walker who’d been tracking the Patrick, the ship arrived at the Pacific end of the canal on May 26, 2010. She got there several days later than expected due to heavy seas and 50 MPH winds during her journey south.  In Figure 45 the Patrick has passed under the Bridge of the Americas on May 27, 2010 and the canal crossing is underway.

 

 


46
Patrick enters the Gatun lock of Panama Canal on May 29, 2010 (Courtesy of a Panama Canal webcam grab by David Walker and posted on Cruisepage.com)
[xvi]

The Patrick moved through the Panama Canal’s Gatun locks on the afternoon of 29 May, according to another canal webcam grab from David Walker. In Figure 46 tugs are pushing and pulling the Patrick through the narrow passage. From here the Patrick and the Alexandra, the little engine that could, made their way into the Atlantic for the final leg of the journey.

 



47
Patrick at Esco Marine recycling facility in Brownsville, Texas, late July 2010 (Courtesy of David Walker as provided by Esco Marine)
[xvii]

 

48 Patrick at Esco Marine recycling facility in Brownsville, Texas, late July, 2010 (Courtesy of David Walker as provided by Esco Marine)[xviii]

The General Patrick arrived at the Esco Marine recycling facility along the southeast Texas coast probably sometime in the first half of June. Figures 47 and 48, acquired by David Walker, courtesy of Esco Marine, show the vessel tied up along the waterfront during the last week of July 2010. These are the last pictures of the Patrick I’ve been able to locate. The dismantling process was not yet fully underway. To dismantle a ship like the Patrick, Esco Marine moves the vessel into a shallow trench perpendicular to the waterway. The trench contains just enough water to float the vessel in. Large ground level cranes are then able to work from both sides as large sections of the ship are removed. Wrecking crews with torches, wrenches and whatever it takes work from the top down at dismantling the ship piece by piece. Eventually, there’s nothing left but the barest section of the hull and keel. When those sections are cut and removed, all traces of the ship are gone. There’s once again just a shallow pool of water in an otherwise empty trench. On January 25, 2011 the scrapping of the Patrick was declared complete.

 

The process of recycling such a vessel is akin to the death of a person whose lifeless body arrives at a hospital or other facility where it is segmented and stripped of useful parts. The remainder eventually makes its way back into the earth from whence we all came. And the earth reprocesses the bits and pieces into new life forms. The body parts of the Patrick, the steel, the copper, the old mimeograph machine, the toilets…all would be reused or ground back into the earth. A person may one day buy a Chinese made vehicle with traces of Patrick steel in its frame. Perhaps the ghost of the Patrick will sail the seas again, its steel embedded in the hull of a gigantic cruise ship.

 

USNS General Edwin D. Patrick, then named the Admiral C. F. Hughes, conducted her first operational service in the spring of 1945. After serving her country with distinction in several campaigns and winning many decorations she was put out to pasture in the Ready Reserve fleet in Suisun Bay, California.  At the age of 65 the Patrick tasted the waves of the Pacific Ocean for the last time. She passed away in Brownsville, Texas in the summer of 2010. The Patrick’s sister ship, USNS General John Pope suffered the same fate not long after. And so it goes. Naval troop ships played an important role in America’s war fighting strategies. But their time has passed. And we remember them well.

 

And so this tale comes to an end. The mystery of the General Patrick has been solved. The grey lady is now part of the past. If she sails today, it is truly as a Ghost Ship. In a way, her life goes on in the pictures, stories and memories of those who roamed her decks. The Patrick is gone but not forgotten.

 

 

 

Endnotes



[i] Specifications:  

(According to NavSource Online (http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/22/22124.htm)
Displacement 9,676 t.(lt), 20,120 t.(fl)
Length 608' 11"
Beam 75' 6"
Draft 26' 6" (lim)
Speed 19 kts.
Complement

Officers - 32

Enlisted - 324

Troop Accommodations

Officers - 67

Enlisted - 5,150
Cargo Capacity 100,000 cu. ft.
Armament

four single 5"/38 dual purpose gun mounts

four 1.1" quad-mount AA gun mounts replaced by four twin 40mm AA gun mounts

sixteen twin 20mm AA gun mounts
Fuel Capacity

NSFO - 25,600 Bbls

Diesel - 350 Bbls

Propulsion

two General Electric turbo-electric engines

four Combustion Engineering D-type boilers, 600psi 840°

Ship's Service Generators

four 500Kw 450V A.C.

four 200Kw 120V/240V D.C.

two propellers, 18,000shp

 

[ii] The so-called “Lucky Seven” were: Gary J. Ramser, John R. Sebring, James J. Buck, Edwin A. Sisson, Raymond E. Jarnigan, Ernist W. Cook, and David R. Gardner

 

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USNS_General_Edwin_D._Patrick_(T-AP-124)/ and  http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/22/22124.htm 
    Also see the NavSource Naval History site at http://www.navsource.org/archives/home.html

 

[vi] http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/22/22124.htm
       Also see the NavSource Naval History site at http://www.navsource.org/archives/home.html

[vii] http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/22/22124.htm
       Also see the NavSource Naval History site at http://www.navsource.org/archives/home.html

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