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The personal experience and account of
James Ball

(Air Dept)

On the morning of October 25, 1944, I was awaken by the General Quarters call. We manned our Stations. My station was in Air Plot. We launched planes for Dawn Patrol. This is routine every morning. Air Plot is the Communication center between Ship and Aircraft.

Soon after launching planes I could hear the communications between Pilots and Ship. I heard one Pilot report sighting unidentified ships. This was reported to the Task Unit commander. He thought the pilot had spotted one of our own Task Forces. I don't recall the pilot's name, but he made what we called a dry run on the ships, and was fired on. After being fired upon, all pilots were scrambling, to launch their planes. There were planes to land, be refueled, and rearmed. In all the haste some planes were launched without ammunition, and some without being completely refueled. There was an urgency to get the planes in the air, because by this time the Japanese Ships were getting within range to start firing their salvoes at us.

A short time later our ship came under fire by a Japanese Cruiser. I don't recall the name of the cruiser. As the Salvo's which I could hear coming from my battle station started to fall close to our ship, the Captain could see that the next would hit our ship. He ordered the ship to take a zig -zag course. Then the Japanese gunners would start back the other way. It seemed they were having trouble finding the range. This worked for some time, but finally they found the range and one salvo hit the forward engine room, which stopped us dead in the water. After that we were like a sitting duck, with each salvo hitting the ship, it would shake as if it one would shake a small tree.

I was so scared I was afraid to move. My face felt like it was on fire, my mouth was so dry, there was a drinking fountain just through the Hatchway, but I was afraid to move. I had nothing to eat or drink since I turned in the night before. One shipmate said he was going to the Port Side of the ship, and see what was going on. I told him he had better stay there, but he wouldn't listen.

We were under attack for what seemed like hours, before the Order came to Abandon Ship. I and some of the other personnel had already untied our shoes, and checked out Life Belts, and Life Jackets, so we were ready. During this time some of the Ship's Crew were asking strange questions. For example, what do you want me to do with the Head Phones?

After the order came to abandon ship, all I had to do was go through the Hatchway on the Starboard side of the ship, and I was on the Catwalk where I could go over the side. There were many more ship's personnel out there ready to abandon ship. I can remember one person who panicked, and a couple of his shipmates got hold of him to calm him down. We started taking our turns climbing down the ropes. Seem like someone was sitting on my shoulders as I was climbing down the rope. Some slid down the ropes, and received severe burns on their hands. Some jumped into the water. After I reached the water, I begin swimming toward the ships stern. I was swimming, and as I passed under the Motor Whale Boat, It got hit, and the boat blew apart and the wood material caught on fire, pieces began falling toward me so I dove under water. One of the pieces hit me on my finger, and I got a burn from it. We continued to swim toward the stern, and someone had cut a floating net from the ship, and I believe there was 6 of us that took hold of the net and continued to swim toward the stern.

When we got around the stern, we started to swim faster, because we knew we had to be a safe distance from the ship, or it might suck us under when it sank. It was already listing bad. When we reached what we thought was a safe distance, we climbed on the Floating Net exhausted, and vomiting from all the salt water we had swallowed. All during this time there was explosions on the ship, and pieces of the ships deck boards would come through the air like someone had thrown a spear. Some of these timbers were used by survivors to cling to.

After a short time the Gambier Bay started to list toward the bow, and finally with the stern 90 degrees out of the water, she sank out of sight. What seemed about the same time a Japanese Destroyer passed by ,and what looked like full speed, with the Japanese flag standing straight out from the mast. We were so scared they would strafe the net we were on that we flattened out on the net, as if we were dead. Later in the day we could see a Japanese cruiser drifting in the water.

During the day more survivors would join our net. Some in Rafts, and some hanging onto a piece of wood. There were many wounded with us, those with faces and upper body burns. Some died and after someone would say a few words over their bodies, and they were buried at Sea. While we were drifting at night we could see the Sharks swimming around in the Moonlight. Our fear was they would attack us.

Sometime while drifting, I can't remember where it was the first day or the first night, a shipmate who had a back injury, was unable to keep his head out of water, and drifting in and out of consciousness, would ask me if they were coming along side to pick us up? I kept trying to give him a word of encouragement, and would say, it won't be long. Then his mind would drift, and he would say come on down below, we have cold water, and Ice-cream. Then he would return to unconsciousness. I held his head above water until we were picked up.

In the morning hours of October 27th, we were pick up by a LCI. They came along side of us while it was still dark. They took the most serious wounded on board first, then the rest were taken aboard. I remember I had enough strength to climb up the rope ladder where they could get hold of my hands, then I was helped the rest of the way. I remember standing on my feet and then I collapsed. I don't know how long I was out, but the next thing I remember, someone gave me some black Coffee. During all that time in the water, someone gave me a malted milk tablet, and we didn't have any water.

We were taken to Leyte Gulf, and transferred to a LST. We were under attack while we were in Leyte Gulf. We left Leyte Gulf and traveled by LST back to New Guinea, where we were transferred to the SS Lureline. We left New Guinea, and started home by way of Brisbane Australia. Remember the shipmate I mentioned when we were in the heat of the battle, that I tried to talk out of going to the Port Side of the ship. Well, when I got on board the SS Lureline, I went to the hospital to see who was there that I might know, well there was my shipmate with one of his legs off, and the first thing he said to me was, I should have listened to you.

As I look back to the time of the sinking of the USS Gambier Bay, and all the bad memories of that awful day, I thank my God for guiding me through all of it. Praise him forever.

To Who it may concern; I hope my memories of the sinking of the Gambier Bay will help. They were very difficult to think about, and then put down on paper. At times its to painful to talk about. I hope you can get the picture that I have tried to paint, with what I have put down on paper. James H. Ball




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