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The personal experience and account of
William McClendon R/Admiral
(Landing Signal Officer)

Part 1:  Up to the time we abandoned ship.

Reveille must have been about 0400 or so because I was up and on the flight deck ready to launch the first launch of the morning. At that time I was both the Landing Signal Officer and the Flight Deck/V-1 Division Officer.

Our first launch consisting of probably 8 fighters (FM-2&'s) and 4 TBM&'s went off at 0600, slightly pre-dawn as I recall. As soon as the launch was over I ambled on down to the squadron ready room for a cup of coffee and to shoot the breeze with the few pilots who were there. There was a squadron duty officer and at least one fighter pilot and one TBM pilot, maybe more, who had been manning spare aircraft in case one of the other planes had been & "downed" by its pilot. So I sat there minding my own business when the squawk box erupted with a message from Elmo Waring in AirPlot. I'll never forget his words - "Hey, ready room, the whole Japanese fleet is right behind us". My reaction was to say "Yeah, and I have three feet". So I finished my coffee, then strolled up to the flight deck, dropped down in the catwalk just forward of the island (starboard side), where I met Elmo coming from with in the ship. I said "what is this bull ---about the Japanese fleet?", and Elmo said, "this is no drill, they are really there". I don't know when I first spotted some ship masts over the horizon, but it couldn't have been long after meeting up with Elmo.

Since my duty station was on the flight deck and it was clear that we had a rather big problem, I began to make sure we were ready to launch more aircraft, like everything we could get off the ship. By now GQ had been sounded; pilots were in the ready room getting suited up and getting caught up on what little we knew about the tactical situation, but no doubt everyone knew we were going to launch everything we could. I think we got most of the planes in the air in fairly short order, like maybe no more than 30 minutes after the Japanese fleet was sighted.

My only clear memory is sending Ensign Dillard off in an FM-2 which had just had an engine change and the engine had not been run-in yet. Tough s---! Dillard went off anyway. The airplane was OK and he survived.

We did have one TBM with a full bomb load or torpedo (there had been some effort to change the loading on the few TBM's still aboard. They had been loaded with 4 - a500# bombs for close aid support missions) sitting on the catapult with Hank Pysdrowski in the cockpitm but we were running down wind to open from the Japanese and there wasn't enough wind over the deck for a safe launch. The Air Boss, Buster Borries, ordered Hank out of the plane and we catapulted it without crew, just to remove it from the flight deck.

At some point, I saw what appeared to be the nose cone of a shell which had landed on deck and told my leading chief to get rid of it. Can't remember his name but I'm pretty sure that he attempted to lift it with his bare hands and got burned. How bad I don't know, but he was not otherwise injured. Oddly enough, there was no visible damage to the flight deck that I can recall. Seems like all the shells hit us below the flight deck level.

All this while, I'm taking what cover I can behind the island while trying to also see what was going on and where I might be needed. I don't remember ever hearing the order to abandon ship but I did know when we lost the first ship's engine and then saw us go dead in the water. Seeing other people go overboard and sensing that we were in big, make that BIG trouble I went over the side too. Ropes had been dropped hand over hand. Still had my "bogey bonnet" hard-hat on. Hank was next above me on the rope and about halfway down he slipped or fell and knocked us both into the water - maybe a drop of twenty feet or so. Only slightly stunned I pulled off my hard hat, which was shipping water and, began to paddle towards the stern of the ship to get clear. I can't recall if I inflated my aviators life jacket at this time or later.

End of Part 1

Part 2: In the water until rescued.

After abandoning ship I floated/paddled aft to get away from the ship before it sank. I'm reasonably certain that some 20 - 30 minutes later (maybe not that long) when I was no more than 500-1000 yards astern I saw the dear old GB roll over and head for the bottom.

I never saw any explosions (there may have been none), nor any other unusual occurrence. On looking around I observed many others in the water and most were within hailing distance. I do not recall at all how I ended up with a group except it would be natural to seek out fellow survivors. The group I eventually wound up with consisted of perhaps as many as 25-30 (I can't be at all certain about the number). We had one of the floater life rafts from the ship, the kind that were oval shaped and probably meant to hold 10-12 people under ordinary circumstances. We had one one-man aviators life raft in which we put a young enlisted man from V-1 Division who had his foot badly damaged. We didn't want him in the water attracting unwelcome guests.

The bottom of the raft was just a series of narrow plankings which offered little if any support. What we did was put some people inside the raft but basically in the water while others, including myself, hung on to the outside of the raft. With my aviators Mae West I had little need for extra buoyancy so I was holding on just to keep together.Buster Borries was in my group and we pretty much rode things out side by side.

He and I had one of the life raft paddles and we used it like this. We put the handle under the raft then pulled one of the ropes attached to the raft (why they were there I don't know) out away from the raft and under the shaft of the paddle/oar. We then took turns with one sitting on the  blade of the oar and the other straddling the one sitting on the blade and facing each other. This is how we kept warm during the night and also prevented either of us from drifting away. I know I dozed from time to time and still recall the strange noise I heard, I think on the second night. This strange noise turned out to be Buster SNORING in my arms. Talk about relaxed!! The following comments are not necessarily in chronological order but are imbedded in my memory. One officer in our group kept swimming away, saying he saw land. Al Beisang, our assistant navigator, and an excellent swimmer, went after him twice, but on the third occasion Al just didn't have the strength to make another rescue attempt. I should remember the other officer's name but can't.

I recall having one of the biscuit cans which were in the raft as emergency rations. I kept dipping the can into the water and emptying it much as a child might do when playing in a sand pile. However, at no time was I tempted to drink any sea water. I remained in control of myself throughout the time in the water, although after the first day I probably became a bit dazed. I never had any doubt about being rescued. I knew we would be. Either the first day or second day I tied my handkerchief around my forehead to reduce the effect of the sun on my head. When we finally were rescued it was thought at first that I had a head injury because my handkerchief was still on my head. Not so. No injury. Fact is, my only injury was a few salt water sores which cleared up with medication in about a week or less.

At one time during the night I felt a good size fish brush against my legs. I think I got a glimpse enough to place his size at something like 5 or 6 feet. Don't know if it was a shark or other fish, but this was the only time that I know of that any of us grouped together saw or felt a fish. I seem to recall that someone in our group fired off a flare or 2, maybe more, early in the morning of our rescue.  Around 0400 a small vessel came near us and identified itself as ours!! Along with others, I swam toward the ship, not far away, and was helped aboard.

As you may arecall, we had absolutely no drinking water while in the water. The life rafts were virtually totally without any sustenance at all - water or food. (I had kept the biscuit can in opes of catching some rainfall). So the first thing I wanted was water. Some later time after daybreak I recall sitting on the main deck with an entire can of Kadota figs in my hand. How I got that I don't know and I asked no questions but commenced eating the figs. Nothing ever tasted so good in my whole life!! Lots of liquid and lots of easily digested food. I never like Kadota figs before that, but since then they have been a prized favorite of mine.

I recall nothing of the transit into Leyte harbor where we were first transferred to an LST, which had more room. I slipped into the bottom bunk of a 4-tiered bunk and alternately dozed and wakened for water. I think it was on the LST where I was provided with a pair of shoes.

After about a day, maybe two, we were transferred to a hospital ship. We were treated splendidly. About all I recall, however, is that we were entitled to 2 beers a day. Since some of my V-1 Division  troops were aboard and they didn't drink beer I got an extra ration or two from them. I can also recall how clean the wooden main deck was; scrubbed daily as in olden times. John Holland and I played lots of checkers lying on the deck and drinking beer. I repeat that I had no injuries, just suffering from exposure/immersion in salt water.

From Leyte the hospital ship sailed for Hollandia about two days later where we were transferred to an Army hospital. Having no place else to go I was ensconced in the hospital, just resting and trying to eat mutton and a very unsavory butter substitute. Ugh!!

About three days went by and I heard somehow that the Gambier Bay survivors were being embarked in the Lurline for return to the States. Sure 'nuf, GB survivors were there, including Dick Ballinger, and I check in. Being hungry also, I asked about food and was sent to the galley where there was tons of wonderful food left from lunch. I put away a healthy portion and was ready for whatever came next.

I roomed with George Bisbee and 2 others on the way home, the trip being lightened by a fairly regular bridge game with George and I taking on Buzz Borries and a CDR Kentburger, who had one of the DD's sunk. They had booze - George and I didn't. So George and I saw to it that they won each day so we would continue to be invited back for bridge and refreshments. Rest of the trip home was uneventful.





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