The Eyewitness Account by "Cap'n" D.D. Haverley
And...The Story of a Father Lost and a Heritage Found
Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 15:11:43 EST
Subject: Mt. Hood Explosion
Per your request, what follows are my (still vivid) recollections of the Mt.
Hood explosion. If you feel that they are fitting as a "memorial" to the men of the Hood, do feel free to use them. In particular, the reference to the Chaplain's demand, in my recounting, may lend a bit of "closure" to anyone
personally and emotionally connected to this sad happening; especially if this small fact was unknown to them. /s/ Cap'n Dee
THE MT. HOOD TRAGEDY, an Eye-witness Accounting.
On the evening of November 9, 1944 a contingent of 30 recent Torpedoman graduates arrived at Manus Harbor, scheduled to be put ashore the following morning at the recieving station, and to be re-assigned later where needed. I was one of the 30, (later to be known for months as the "Dirty 30", another story unrelated to the Mt. Hood explosion.) Early the morning of the 10th., our sea bags were packed and we were ready for small craft transfer to shore.
What I describe next is my vivid personal recollection of that day, and, a number of days that followed.
I was coming up the ladder from below decks when a tremendous blast threw me against the bulkhead and partially down the ladder...my first thought was that we had been hit by a torpedo. Got topside in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, just in time to see the initial smoke and flame of the Hood's explosion. I was mesmerized by what I saw next...the column of smoke rose straight up, and "mushroomed" at the top... a complete preview of how the A-bomb looked a year later. Within one or two minutes a terrific wave rocked the ship.
As I watched the mushroom cloud, I became instantly aware of large and small objects falling from the sky, landing in the water, some very close to us. I can not speak for the thoughts of the skipper of our ship, but suspect that he felt that the harbor was under attack, wanted to get the hell out of there, and wanted to dump us 30 Torpedo men ASAP...we were ferried to shore at once.
About the time we got to shore, the first small craft with casualties started to come in...do not recall if it was raining, but do recall that there was "red mud" everywhere. The utter chaos was a scene from hell. Initially I thought that because the 30 of us were "ammo savvy", that was the reason we were immediately pressed into service...the reality was, that here were 30 strong backs that were badly needed. As the various types of small craft arrived at the beach for the next few hours, it was our job to carry the individual metal
"litters" up from the beach, to a growing line of ambulances. Each litter held a body, or parts of a body...as we got near the first ambulance, a corpsman checked each litter, quickly determining the ones that held a "live" body...those were taken to the next waiting ambulance. The corpsman would say "he's dead, over there" or "in the ambulance". Those that were dead or
contained only body parts, were laid out three abreast, and soon piles were made with three litters laid crosswise, and three high.
After a few hours in the tropic heat, someone initially decreed that a bulldozer should dig a deep and long trench for burial purposes, basically one big "mass grave", and the bull dozing began. It was at this point a Chaplain (I do not know his name or denomination) stepped in, and with God-given fury , he stopped the concept of a mass grave and demanded INDIVIDUAL graves for each and every body. He prevailed, and, there were a number of Japanese prisoners of war on the island who were forced to dig the individual graves. All I could think when I heard that, was "GREAT ! HOW APPROPRIATE !"
One of the speculations of what caused the explosion at that time, was that it had been "Washing Machine Charlie", a lone Japanese plane that had been making intermittent low flights over the island for some time and had been reported seen that day. I have absolutely no personal knowledge of exactly what caused the explosion, but have read several theories since and have no opinion on the matter.
What happened next, any man that has ever served on an AE will relate to. The "Dirty 30" remained on Manus for two weeks, before moving on to Guadacanal, MTB 9 on Stirling Island, New Georgia, Hollandia, and, finally to Guiuan, Samar. But before we left Manus, we were assigned to load another ammo ship...(it may have been an AE, I really don't recall; but...I only too well recall what happened next, right on the heels of the Hood tragedy.)
A couple miles up the coast on Manus, there was a very large ammo dump that had to be transported to the Phillipines. Enter the "ammo savvy(?) Dirty 30"; we were detailed to load that ship, working in three ten man crews around the clock, 8 hours on & 8 hours off. The 8 hours on were ALL work; the 8 hours off included transport time to & from the ammo ship, eating & sleeping. The main ammo that I recall was 5" shells, packed two to a wooden crate, each crate weighing about 108 pounds.
As we would board the ship, all matches, cigarette
lighters, metal belt buckles, and anything else metal was confiscated from us, and returned when we left ship. At night we worked in semi-darkness, and when the break came to eat four hours later, we were given sandwiches. The bread baked at Manus was loaded with weevils, which we could pick out during daylight hours...at night we were so damn tired and hungry that no one bothered to go to that trouble in the darkness. We would joke, "more meat in the sandwich"....
Personel on shore would load large numbers of these crates into a huge cargo net, the ship's boom would then swing the cargo net over the deck, gently lower it, we would open the net, and individually carry crate after crate into the holds. One week straight this went on. About the third or fourth night that my crew of 10 was unloading the net, one load swung high over the
deck...and the rope to the cargo net broke. We all watched as those crates were falling to the steel deck of the ship, every man could only think Mt. Hood and say a silent goodbye. They crashed to the deck with a horrible sound.
But the only explosion was in a few skivvies. After that, the rest of the war went easy.
And one final personal "ammo" note. In late 1946 I was assigned to DE 219, the J.D. Blackwood; shortly thereafter our sister ship blew up at dock in New London. We were told to immediately deep six our ENTIRE ammo locker, as "old & rotten" ammo was the cause of the New London explosion. We sailed to blue water off Cape Hatteras, lined all the ladders with mattresses, formed a human chain, and every last item from the ammo hold went swimming...with no problem.
But, one crew member in that human chain was thinking of the Mt. Hood the entire time....
D.D. (Cap'n Dee) Haverley
During my four years USN duty I was a torpedoman and a bos'n... the Cap'n Dee was "self-appointed" and was my trade name as an owner/manager of two American plan resorts in Northern Minnesota until my retirement 20 years ago. (Just to keep the record straight !!) Had a couple other interesting experiences while on Manus, if anyone is interested, drop me an E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Another Story of a Sailor Lost and a Heritage Found:
Dear Mr. Freeman
My dad was on the USS Mount Hood when it exploded (I was 3 years old at the time). My mom received the usual telegrams and form letters regarding what happened. Around March 1945 she received a letter from Lt. Lester Wallace who was the senior surviving officer from the Mount Hood. He and several others (including Archie Trader that is noted in your Web page articles) had gone ashore to take care of the ship's business when the explosion occurred. Lt. Wallace's letter meant so very much to my mom and later to me. It was a letter from a real person that had been there. Mom said many times over the years that she would so like to meet "that kind Lt. Wallace" that had written her about my dad.
I have searched for Lt. Wallace for many many years. Through your Web Page and the Mount Hood story, I found Archie Trader's name and tried to contact him last year (2000). He had died about 2 months earlier. I thought that would likely be the end of my search.
Early this year (2001) more Internet searches led me to the AE Sailor's Association where I found a Mount Hood entry with a service date of 1944 (there have been two USS Mount Hoods). It was Grover Clingman (one of the survivors) who, as it turns out, had been the mail clerk. The last letter we received from my dad was dated the day before the explosion so it is likely that his letter was in Clingman's mail bag that morning. I found Grover's phone number from the Internet and called and talked with him. It was a very special phone call for me! During that conversation, Grover (now 86 years old) asked why didn't I call Lester Wallace. I told him that I had been trying to find Lester Wallace for at least 45 years. He said that I should call him, he lives in Pensacola.
Well, I called Lt. Wallace ... what a thrill for me! We had a long and enjoyable conversation. My wife and I met Lester and his dear wife Mildred at their summer home in the North Carolina mountains on June 23, 2001. We plan to visit with them again in Pensacola this winter. He is 85 years old and doing very well. Sorry to say that my mom didn't live to meet that "kind Lt. Wallace". He is truly a kind person.
Thank you so very much for your information on the USS Mount Hood. The photos and photo links provided on your site are the first I knew that such photos existed. There was one photo of the explosion in a newspaper clipping that my mom had but has been lost along the way.
Thank you again. I would certainly be interested in any additional information that you might get in the future on the USS Mount Hood.
Lucien (Luke) Talley
105 Tidwell Drive
Huntsville, Alabama 35806