Memories of the long crossing on a troop ship

From Bill Moore

A view of soldiers passing time on the ship.

Debarkation, Oct. 16, 1953

Bill Moore served in the Air Force in Korea from 1952 to 1953. He is now 83 years old.

I enlisted in the United State Air Force in Toledo on April 2, 1952. I took my basic training in Texas and was schooled in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At age 18, I took my first ocean cruise. This was on a troopship (USS Gen. Meigs ) across the Pacific Ocean to Yokohama, Japan, and ultimately to Korea. In 2006, I took my second cruise, through the inland passages to Alaska. There was no comparison between these two voyages. The following is what I remember about my first cruise:

The cruise began in October 1952. I will never forget it. My experience on water, up to that point in my life, was paddling a canoe at Schoonover Lake as a young kid. That was fun, and part of a normal summer in Lima. The Pacific Ocean, though, posed some issues I never expected. First, we had over 2,100 souls on board the ship and it often seemed that we were shoulder to shoulder, especially when out on the main deck. We had little to do or keep busy during those 12 days of the voyage.

I believe the area in which we slept was on the third deck below. I do remember that we were all squeezed in like sardines. Our bunks were stretched canvas, and there was about 3 feet between my bunk and one directly above me. A rather tight fit for all. I was about 6 feet tall, but at the time probably weighed only about 140 pounds. A skinny kid, but that was good for fitting into the bunk space. I can only imagine that some of the bigger guys did not sleep well during our voyage. Scattered about the areas between the rows of bunks were big 40 gallon barf barrels strategically placed so they could be quickly and easily found.

Although I do not remember any real bad weather during our 12 days at sea, there was a lot of normal movement of the ship. To some degree, the ship always seemed to move up and down (front to back) and also from side to side. I guess this is normal movement made by a large ship. Many of the troops on board became sea sick, some even for most of the trip. I myself never actually got sick, but I can say that I never really felt normal for most of the trip. I knew in a heartbeat that the Navy was not for me!

When on the main deck you could look up to the right and see nothing but water, then look quickly to the left and see nothing but blue sky, with the horizon nowhere in sight. I believe that a sailor would call this the ship moving through the swells. I also learned not to stand near the side rails of the ship downwind of a sick soldier. That was definitely a no no.

I had started smoking cigarettes about a year or so before entering the military. Most of us dumb kids did that in those days. One of my worst memories of life on board this ship was the very heavy greasy smell that always lingered when below deck. This was especially true in the area where we ate. This smell and cigarette smoke did not combine very well. On the main deck it was no issue, as there was always a lot of wind blowing from front to rear of the ship. As a 19 year old, and only smoking for about a year, it was a great opportunity to give up the weed. However, I was a very slow learner, and it took me another 20 years to wake up and do so.

As I remember, the food was what you might have expected on a troop ship. I have always heard that the Navy ate well when out to sea, but that was not so true of a troopship. At least, that is my memory. I think we did have a variety of foods, and I remember the coffee was good. It sorta helped to settle one’s stomach, too. I do remember that they always tried to move the troops along, as there were many mouths to feed. I can remember that I ate small amounts as I was always eager to get out and escape that greasy smell. At times we would skip a meal and stay on the main deck where it was usually cool and breezy. During daylight hours many of the guys napped on deck, played cards or read just to pass the time away. We did have some movies on the main deck in the evenings at dusk.

The ships personnel (Navy) pretty much kept to themselves. I am sure each one had a job to do and little time to hob-nob with the troops. On the Meigs, they had a good part of the fantail roped off, and it was there that the Navy had to themselves. I believe they also had their own, and hopefully much superior to ours, sleeping and eating areas. At any rate, they all seemed to do their jobs and finally got all 2,000 of us to Japan safe and sound.

About one year later, I returned from Korea to the USA, on the ship USS Gen. Mitchell. I can remember that the voyage home was pretty much like the trip over, but for one great exception. We were heading home to the good old US of A. We passed under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Harbor on Oct. 16, 1952 — 63 years ago. Wow, memories.

A view of soldiers passing time on the ship. view of soldiers passing time on the ship.
Debarkation, Oct. 16, 1953, Oct. 16, 1953

From Bill Moore

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