By LT Allison M. Levy
Originally printed in PCSA Newsletter, Issue Number 34, Oct.-Dec., 1996 .
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
We had just spent a few hectic days in Leyte Gulf when the best CO I ever served under, informed me of our new orders concerning the rescue mission. He asked me if I wanted to take the midnight watch and stated that he would be glad to do so. By that time, serving together, he did not issue me orders. I informed him, in jest, but also meaning what I said, "Captain, you are too old! I don't think that you have hit the sack in three days. I'm younger. Go get a good night's sleep, I'll take care of it."
We smiled. He gave me a friendly pat and went below.
Because of our senior (and most capable) CO we were in charge of a small task force consisting of us, and I believe six LCIs. I'm sorry that I do not remember who was on the flying bridge with me, or who was at the helm, or the names of any of the men who were awake at that time. I wish that I could.
Flares were spotted off our port side. It appeared to me, and others, that they were being fired in the order of Red, White and Green. True or false, I know that I very definitely decided that was the order of the flares, and immediately assumed that they had to originate from some of the survivors that we were looking for. I and others checked our charts and noticed that they were coming from near an island that was being held by the enemy. I also knew that the Japs were supposed to have 8-inch guns on that island. Our 3-inch would be no match for their weapons.
I sent one of the men down to wake the Captain and inform him of our sightings. He sent word back to continue the search and watch the flares. About 10 minutes later I sent my second report to Captain Baxter and requested that we leave the other ships and investigate the flares. That second request, and 10 minutes later my third request, were denied. The next 5 minutes took about 10 years for me to reach my decision. I notified the radioman on duty to inform the other vessels that they should not follow us but continue the prescribed search pattern. After that message was acknowledged by all vessels, I gave the order for "All Ahead Flank" and when maximum speed was reached, "Left Full Rudder." Whoever was at the helm asked me to repeat the order. My answer was, "You heard me correctly, Left Full Rudder." The helmsman obliged.
The maneuver threw the skipper and probably half the crew out of their bunks. Captain Baxter came topside on the double, mad as hell, and informed me that I had disobeyed his order. I replied, I realized that and he could reprimand me later. I also told him that the other ships were continuing on their designated course.
He ordered me to get back to the original course. I asked him to please watch the flares for awhile and then repeat that order. He then ordered the helmsman to return to the previous course. I informed the skipper and the helmsman that I had not been properly relieved of the deck and that I would not accept Captain Baxter's order to relieve me for another 15 minutes so that his eyes could become adjusted to the total darkness.
Needless to say, within that period of time, the skipper's eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he became fully awake, and was just as convinced as I that the flares were from our men. Now, I am definitely not trying to take any special credit. Captain Baxter was in charge and was the best CO that anyone could ask for. I had spent that aforementioned 10 years trying to decide how tired Captain Baxter was and how much rest he had missed. After all, he was an old man ... he was in his forties.
As the survivors were covered with oil and many of them had their heads recently shaved when crossing the equator for the first time, the skipper and I were concerned when we first sighted someone in the water. In trying to be sure, Captain Baxter yelled "Who won the last world series?" Even though I don't remember which team it was, I do remember that the man in the water gave the correct reply and finished it in a true American way ...
he said "Now get me out of the water, you S-O-B!" The skipper and I both laughed, the rest of the story is history.