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Shipping out again - Across the Pacific on the USS Pondera

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USS Pondera APA191
The USS Pondera (APA-191) in San Francisco Bay in late 1945 or 1946
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Naval Historical Center, a donation of
Boatswain's Mate First Class Robert G. Tippins, USN (Retired)

Back in Seattle the remainder of the battalion received the news that their speedier attack transport would be delayed as a result of damage requiring a trip to the drydock. As a result, Lt. Col. Galanti and Battalion S-3 officer Major Cameron Burch would head for Okinawa by air transport so that the majority of their command would not get there ahead of them. The remainder of the 801st would continue to enjoy the attractions of Seattle - those that did not require money, that is, since their pay was out somewhere in the Pacific with the rest of the battalion.

On the morning of 5 August all pass privileges were cancelled and personnel received the familiar order restricting them to their company areas. There followed an overseas physical check-up that caused great amusement to the men "due to its extreme haste and simplicity." At 0915 hours on 6 August the remainder of the 801st rolled out of Fort Lawton for the embarkation pier. A Transportation Corps band played Sentimental Journey as Red Cross volunteers passed out doughnuts and coffee. At 1000 hours the men boarded the attack transport USS Pondera, APA-191. The 801st men had plenty of company. The Pondera, designed to carry 1,500 combat-equipped troops, would be carrying over 2,000 Combat Engineers, infantry, and Eight Air Force personnel, an overloading of 25%. At 1615 hours the Pondera cast off, chasing the distant LSTs.

The enlisted men of the 801st shared compartment four with a group of anti-aircraft artillerymen, a total of 350 bodies stacked in bunks four tiers high, while officers shared staterooms on the main deck. It was an arrangement that was to last for the next 36 days.

At sea the men enjoyed the luxury of fresh water in the latrines for an hour each day, a very crowded hour as the men on the overloaded transports tried to avoid the salt-water showers that were their lot the other 23 hours of the day. During the day the men lined the rails several deep, and by late afternoon many were bringing bedding on deck to stake out out-of-the-way sleeping spots away from the hellish, hot, airless hold.

The large number of men crowding the Pondera strained the capacity of the heads. To help, a wood platform was hung off the stern of the ship. The men crouched on the platform, holding onto a rail. Occasionally the ship would bury her stern in a wave and the men would hang on for their lives as tons of ocean poured over them. No toilet paper was necessary.

Pacific Map
Click the map to see a larger image of the courses of the two groups of the 801st across the Pacific.

Unlike the LSTs, the longer-ranged attack transport skipped Hawaii and struck straight for Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, arriving on 19 August. All the men got ashore once during the two-day stay at Eniwetok, where beer and soda - not cold, but cool - was available in limited quantities. A four-day trip to Ulithi in the Carolines, arriving 25 August, ended with a ten-day stay and several two-hour trips ashore for the men.

Japan's surrender led to high hopes that the Pondera would return to Seattle or put in at Pearl Harbor. It did neither. Instead, after a side trip to Guam on 5 September, they left Ulithi on 7 September for Okinawa, arriving off Naha shortly before noon on 12 September.

Lt. Col. Galanti greeted them with a gruff, "what took you so long?" but partially made up for it by delivering several sacks of mail, the first received in over five weeks. The 801st Engineers were together again, ready to set up camp on the territory of Imperial Japan.

Next: Okinawa >

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