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article number 704
article date 02-15-2018
copyright 2018 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (Book) - Part 5: Prepare and Embark on a Long Trip: General MacArthur Escapes the Philippines
by W. L. White

EDITOR’S NOTE: As 4 or more [sailors] tell their story, the author switches between them, sometimes abruptly as needed. This editor repeats text regarding who is about to talk, before the switch, in the hope that it makes for an easier read.

* * *

said Kelly

. . . General MacArthur wanted to take a ride on one of our boats with Bulkeley.

"We felt honored, but I couldn’t just understand why the General would choose a time like this for a pleasure trip. Still, orders were orders, and even the air force got theirs—or rather what was left of it, which was exactly four decrepit P-40’s patched together from the pieces of many others.

“This proud American air force guaranteed us air superiority over that area of the bay while the General was out on the water. The area was only four square miles, and the time only half an hour—about all the superiority this pathetic air force was able to guarantee.

"While the General was having his ride I was worried—suppose something had come up which might upset our dash to China? I could see the men didn’t understand it either, and were starting to speculate and gossip.

“But the General explained everything when he returned from the ride, by officially presenting Bulkeley with the order decorating him with the D.S.C. We’d known about it for weeks, but this, it seemed, was the official presentation. He also congratulated the men on the fine work they had done, and handed each a package of cigarettes.

"It wasn’t until that night that Bulkeley told me all this had been camouflage. For that morning the General had called him in and told him of the new plan.

"China was out for us, all right. Because Washington had made MacArthur Commander in Chief for all the Pacific and ordered him to leave.

"A submarine had been suggested, but MacArthur had said Bulkeley was the only commanding officer he knew in whom he had complete confidence—he was sailing with Buck. But he’d wanted to make a trial run first, and so added the little ceremony to allay the suspicions of the men. Because we were leaving Bataan in absolute secrecy and very soon.

“Of course to us this meant that the China trip—our last hope of seeing America and escaping death or a Japanese prison—was gone forever. Now the MTB’s were like the rest here in the islands—the expendables who fight on without hope to the end. So far as we knew, we would now finish up the war in the southern islands, when the Japs got around to mopping up the last American resistance there.

“And yet I was curiously glad. Mostly, I think, it was because of Peggy. I wasn’t guilty any more. Now we both had our duty to do here in the Philippines.

"Of course I would never see her again—her job was here in Corregidor, and mine would be down in the southern islands. But our end would be the same.

"We were both expendable now. I wasn’t running out on her and I felt a lot better.

“The minute we knew we were to leave Bataan soon,” continued Kelly after a pause, “we got to work on the four boats. We knew the trip would be tough, and the boats were old now. The engines had had double the number of hours’ service without their customary thorough overhaul and retuning, so they were making half their original speed.

“We planned to scrape the bottoms and overhaul their struts, but this was done for only three. My boat’s turn was last, and meanwhile it was used for patrol.

“Overhauling those motors without any replacement parts was a terrible job. For instance. Any tank-town garage which overhauls a flivver back in the States always replaces the gaskets with new ones. Only we didn’t have any. Or any sealing compound. So those old gaskets had to be carefully removed, handled as gently as though they were precious lace, and laid back in place when the motors were reassembled.

A crane barge lowers a new Packard engine into PT 242 at a Pacific base. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part IV - Southwest Pacific - Conquest of New Guinea. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part IV - Southwest Pacific - Conquest of New Guinea.

“How much gas could we carry? We experimented—put down planks on those 3/8-inch plywood decks to strengthen them, and finally decided we could take a chance on piling twenty of those fifty-gallon drums on each boat.

“Naturally the crews got curious about all these preparations. Since we knew so much about what the Japanese were doing across the bay, we assumed their means for finding out about us were equally good.

Anyway, Bulkeley and I had decided that there is only one way of keeping a valuable secret during a war: don’t tell it yourself.

“But we had to tell the men something. So we said maybe, after we had exhausted all our gas here on Bataan, we would head down for Cebu in the southern islands. Cebu, where there was plenty of food and more torpedoes, and where they had the most beautiful and languorous girls in the islands, and plenty of gasoline.

“We painted it as a golden spot. Only Bulkeley and I knew that when we got to Cebu we would be doomed—there was no gasoline there and only a little in Mindanao. We could never hope to get to Australia.

“But then there were the two correspondents—Clark Lee and Nat Floyd of the ’New York Times,’ and also Colonel Wong. They knew about the Chinese trip because the Admiral had authorized them to go with us. So we told them, yes, we were still going to China, but we didn’t know when—maybe not for a long time—and advised them if they had any other chance to get out, by all means to take it.

"Meanwhile we kept on the boats all that landing-gear equipment we had assembled for the China trip—so if any hint of it had leaked out to the crew, they would think it was still on.

“Meanwhile MacArthur had told Bulkeley that Bataan would fall shortly, and Corregidor would go soon after—if it didn’t get help from the States immediately. No help was being sent. Apparently it couldn’t be gotten to us. Then the Japs could mop up the southern Philippines.

“It was a grim picture for us. But here was our last big job. MacArthur was the brains of the organization—the only general who could take that territory back. The whole allied defense depended on getting him to Australia.

“Bulkeley was reporting to him every other day, but MacArthur refused to set a date for leaving—he wanted to stay as long as he could. At this time the boys on Bataan were back in their strongest positions—also their last-ditch defense line—and the Japs had had about all they wanted monkeying with this line, and were waiting for reinforcements.

"But when news came that their General Yamashita was on his way with many transports, bragging he would capture MacArthur within a month, our departure date was set for March 15.

“But to keep the men occupied and also to keep our secret, we went right on with plans for developing our shore base at Sisiman Cove. We installed a good cook’s galley, fixed up the mess hall, screened in everything, as though we hoped to live there for months.

“We even took all our clothes off the boats and moved them into the nipa huts ashore.

On the fourth of March there came a nice break for me. Peggy got me word that she had been transferred to Little Baguio hospital on Bataan, relieving one of the girls who had been working too long under fire, and I got the idea of inviting her down to our base for chow and to spend the evening. Dr. Nelson, who had been looking after my hand, was also on Little Baguio, and I invited him and his girl friend, too.

“You should have seen my ship perk up when I told them. The skipper was going to bring a girl aboard! They had the ship all spit and polish, ready for the big event. My cook, Reynolds, and the Filipino mess boy were tickled pink. They were going to show the army!

“You see the week before I’d gone over to Little Baguio—I’d had only breakfast and arrived on foot late in the afternoon for my dressing, to spend the night and walk back. But they told me, regretfully of course, of a new ruling: rations were tightening—they were down to dried fish, plain rice, and one slice of bread—so absolutely no visitors could get food at the hospital.

"So I went to bed supperless, got up, watched them eat breakfast—they said how sorry they were they couldn’t offer me any—hiked back all those miles over the hills, and at nine o’clock, sitting at our own mess table, ate seventeen hot cakes as fast as Reynolds could turn them out of the pan.

H. M. Garothorp, Bkr2c, bakes bread in ovens improvised from empty oil drums at Torokina PT base. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part III - Guadalcanal and Beyond - The Solomons Campaign.

“Now their one idea was to show the army what real navy hospitality can be. It’s true Peggy brought the coffee—we were out of that—but they rustled the rest. It started off with fruit cocktail, then a real pot roast of fresh meat with brown gravy, and in this a whole can of mushrooms, which they’d been hoarding for some big occasion. Then rice and canned peas and beans, a delicious apple pie, and then coffee like only we can make it in the navy.

"There was never such a dinner. Then we sat and talked, while the little waves lapped along the cove.

“I told Peggy I wanted to see her again, and soon. She said they were keeping her very busy, but she might get a night off on the fifteenth or before. There was no way I could call her, so she said she’d get to the signal-corps field telephone and ring me up about six o’clock on the eleventh, when we could make a definite date.

“I asked her if she couldn’t make it sooner, and she said of course she wanted to, but didn’t see how she possibly could. I wanted to tell her why I wanted it sooner.

"Then I stopped myself. Because in a war you don’t tell anybody. Not anybody. And if they have any sense, and Peggy had plenty, they understand this and don’t want to be told.

“So instead we talked about the war, and how they were low on quinine now—just had enough to give the worst malaria cases a light slug which would last only a short time—and how tired the soldiers were, how uncertain everything looked.

“‘It’s uncertain for us in the navy, too,’ I said. ‘One of these days even I am liable to disappear, without telling you good-by.’

“We were silent for a minute, and then she said, sure, she realized that—she always had known it might happen. But there was no use talking about it before it came—talking didn’t make anything easier. But if I did have to leave suddenly, without telling her good-by, where would I go?

“‘Almost anywhere,’ I said, trying to sound vague and careless. I don’t know whether it fooled her or not. But she was smart and may have guessed that either I really didn’t know, or if I had orders, I should not talk about them. Anyway, after that we both sat looking out over the water in the dusk, and it was a long time before I could look at her or she looked at me.”

“We were measuring out our gas drop by drop now. Our boats can use only the best 100 octane airplane grade—the same the P-40’s needed. To save it I would tie my boat up to the buoy at the entrance to the mine field. A Diesel-powered launch would patrol, and only if they saw anything worth chasing would they signal us to go out and run it down. Also, MacArthur said absolutely no more offensive raids for the MTB’s—he couldn’t risk the boats or spare the gasoline.

“On March 10 Bulkeley made his usual trip to see MacArthur; this time he brought along all his plans and charts for the trip. The General went over and approved them, and also told Admiral Rockwell and his chief of staff that they were going along, which was the first they had known of the trip—they had thought we were going to China.

"There was also an ominous bit of news—some big Jap formation was reported coming down the west coast of Luzon in our direction. If it was true, it could only be the convoy bringing General Yamashita and his reinforcements. General MacArthur told Bulkeley we might be leaving very soon, and to come back the next day.

“That would be the eleventh of March. Bulkeley went over early in the morning and returned to us at noon. He called in not only me but the other officers, Akers, Cox, and Schumacher, and for the first time showed them copies of our secret orders and the charts he had worked out for our route.

"Bulkeley made the point that we should all keep together, but if one broke down, the rest would go on, leaving it to make its way the best it could.

“If we met the enemy, we were to avoid them if possible. But if they gave chase and were gaining on us so that an attack was necessary, the 41 boat, in which he would carry the General, his wife, and his son, would turn and run, and my boat, since I was second in command, would lead the attack to give the others time to escape.

“It was an unusual situation for Bulkeley to be in. Always he had gone along on every fight and led the way, but now it couldn’t be that way.

“The last thing he told us was that we were leaving that very night. He left us hard at work on last-minute preparations but would return soon to complete his own.

“Even then we didn’t tell the men what we were up to or where we were going, but they got their orders to dump that landing-force equipment, to load all spare parts on the boats, move the crew’s mess gear back into the ship’s galley, and pile the decks with drums of gas.

PT advance base at Brunei Bay, Borneo. The terrain was low and swampy, so most of the men lived in tents on the dock. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part VIII - Southwest Pacific - Return to the Philippines.

“And while we were doing it, who should walk in but Nat Floyd of the ’New York Times,’ exactly the last guy in the world we wanted to see. Sure, we liked him.

"He said he’d been up to the lines with the army, and then on a hunch, no particular reason, thought he’d drop in on us to see if we had any news. Then he kind of glanced around. What were those planks on the deck for? And all that gasoline on the wharf? Somehow the place looked a little torn up. When did we think we’d get off for China? Not for quite a while? Oh, he just asked for no particular reason, maybe because it almost looked like we were packing up—and so on.

"I tried every way in the world to get rid of him before Bulkeley got back, but it was no use; he stuck like glue.

“Then Bulkeley and I went into a huddle. Here Nat was. And bound to get suspicious of the activity. After we’d gone, the story would be almost sure to get out.

“‘He’s a pretty nice guy,’ I said. ‘Don’t suppose we could take him with us, do you?’

“‘Well,’ said Bulkeley, ‘I’ve got to go along now. But if Nat should happen to stow away in the lazaret, and we didn’t find him until we were out to sea, why then the story certainly wouldn’t get out, would it?’

“And do you know, that’s just what happened.

"But in the meantime there were other things on my mind. Mostly it was how I was going to get hold of Peggy. There was no telephone at the hospital. She’d said she would phone me sometime between six and seven o’clock today about that date of ours on the fifteenth.

“But there was a lot of traffic over that signal-corps field telephone, and she might not get to use it until almost seven. And I was due to pick up my passengers and be gone forever by 6:30 tonight.

"And I’d never get to say how much I liked her and what a swell, brave kid she was, and good-by. But about seven the phone at this end would ring, and some wise-guy sergeant would answer, and tell her, no, Kelly doesn’t live here any more—they’ve pulled out, I guess, but would anybody else do, toots?

“So I sat down and tried to write it in a letter, which I could leave at Corregidor on our way out, and which she would get when she got back from duty in the lines, and then at least would understand.

“I had just finished it about 2:30 and put it in my pocket when they came paging me for a telephone call on that signal-corps phone. It was Peggy—her duty hours had been changed, and she was afraid if she waited until seven to call I might be out on patrol, and she might miss me.

"She just wanted to tell me she’d been able to fix everything for our date on the fifteenth, and was that date all right with me, could I make it?

“‘No,’ I said. The phone was on the wall in the Philippine army shack, and the shack was crowded with soldiers—in addition to all the guys probably listening in on the line.

“Well, she said, maybe she could change it for the sixteenth, if that would be better for me.

“‘It wouldn’t be any better,’ I said. ‘Nothing would be any better.’

““Well,’ she said, and she sounded a little mad, ‘what is this, anyway?’

“‘I guess it’s good-by, Peggy,’ I said.

“Then there was a long silence, and when she spoke again I almost thought it was someone else, her voice was so changed. ‘Where are you going?’ she asked, very low. ‘Can you tell me?’

“‘No,’ I said.

“‘Can you tell me if you’re coming back?’

“‘No,’ I said. ‘I can’t tell you that.’

“‘Then I guess it’s really good-by,’ she said, and her voice sounded flat and a long way off. ‘But it’s been awfully nice, hasn’t it?’

“‘Listen, Peggy, I’ve written you a letter—’ only just then I heard the connection break. It seemed a couple of generals wanted to talk to each other. It was quite a while before I got it back again, and they told me she had waited fifteen minutes and had then gone. I’ve always hoped what the generals had to say to each other was important.

“Of course we weren’t engaged. I didn’t have a picture of her. In fact, the only thing I had was a few lines she’d scribbled on a piece of paper a few weeks before. We’d been idly talking about how we hoped to get out of the islands and agreed, half in joke, that whichever of us got out first would write the family of the other one of those reassuring letters about how wonderful life was on Bataan and how well and happy the other one had looked.

“So, half in joke, she’d scratched the address of her married sister in San Francisco on the back of an old envelope. This I still had, and I intended to write her, and send it out by the plane which took MacArthur, telling her what a swell girl her kid sister was—with more spunk in her little finger than half the men on the island.”

Lt. John A. Mapp’s PT 376 approaches Corregidor on February 16, 1945, to rescue paratroopers who overshot the top of the island and were taken under enemy sniper fire. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part VIII - Southwest Pacific - Return to the Philippines.

said Bulkeley

“Kelly’s boat was right on time,” said Bulkeley. “We in the 41 boat picked up our passengers at Corregidor and met him and the other two boats at the turning light just outside the mine field at seven o’clock to the minute.

"We had twenty passenger in all in our four boats. With me in the 41 boat were General and Mrs. MacArthur, their little boy, and his nurse and a few generals. Kelly in the 34 boat had, to start with, Admiral Rockwell, two colonels, and an army aviation captain.

"When one of the other boats later broke down, Kelly picked up a few more generals.

“But rank made no difference. Washington had ordered MacArthur to bring out the most valuable of his men, and so they were all specialists—there was even a staff sergeant, who was a technician, along with us, while thirty-odd generals were left behind on Bataan.

“We started out single file, my boat as flagship setting the pace for the other three. First we went fifty miles straight out to sea in the deepening twilight. We’d hoped to get out unnoticed, but suddenly we saw a light glimmer and glow on one of the Japanese-held islands. It was a signal fire—warning to the mainland that they’d seen us pass.

If they had seen it on Luzon, that meant trouble for us—maybe bombers at dawn, maybe destroyers later on in the day. By eleven o’clock we made out the outline of Apo Island against the stars (there was no moon) and checked our navigation, which we were doing entirely by compass and chart.

"MacArthur and General Sutherland were pleased with the way it was going.”

said Kelly

“I can’t say that Admiral Rockwell was,” said Kelly—”maybe because he knew more about the sea than the generals did. I hadn’t wanted to worry him, so I hadn’t mentioned the fact that ours was the only one of the four boats which hadn’t been overhauled, and was so full of carbon that we couldn’t make much speed until the carbon was burned out.

“As you know, we’d intended to make a good speed, but I found my boat wouldn’t quite do it. Pretty soon we were lagging fifty yards behind, then, after a while, two hundred. The Admiral didn’t mention this for some time. But finally he said:

“‘Don’t you think we’re getting a little far apart?’

“‘We’ll close in gradually,’ I said. And I tried to, but finally we were so far behind Bulkeley’s flagship we couldn’t see it with the naked eye.

“‘Damn it,’ said the Admiral. ‘Let’s close up!’

"And he wasn’t giving it just as advice any more. But I was floored as to how to achieve it. I’d been giving her all the throttle I had for the past hour. Then I had an idea.

“I sent a whispered message to the engine room, ordering them to disconnect the throttle, and to push the carburetors up with their hands as far up as they would go. We now had on every possible ounce of power, but the Admiral still wasn’t satisfied.

“‘We’re closing pretty slowly,’ he complained. “Privately, I doubted that we were closing at all, but I only said, ‘No use pushing her too hard, sir.’

“But about five minutes later we really were closing. Bulkeley, noticing we were pretty far behind, had reduced his speed.

"But, with my throttles disconnected, I couldn’t reduce mine, and it took me about a minute to get a message down there telling the engineers to take their hands off the carburetor levers and reconnect them with the controls on the bridge. During this minute we not only gained on Bulkeley’s boat, but overtook it and went roaring madly past.

“In the darkness I could see the Admiral had squared around and was giving me a doubtful look. I could tell he thought he was riding with a madman.

PT 199 carries Adm. Harold R. Stark to Allied invasion beachhead, June 14, 1944. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part VII - The English Channel - D-Day and After.

"I decided he would worry less if I told him the truth—that our maximum speed in this boat was something under forty knots. Any Japanese destroyer could easily make this maximum of ours, as the Admiral very well knew. But all he said was ‘My God!’ very softly to himself.

“It happened that we were just. passing an island. The Admiral glanced over.

“‘How far are we from shore, Kelly?’

“‘About four miles, sir.’

“‘Looks farther than that to me. Take a bow-and-beam bearing.’

“‘Aye, aye, sir,’ I said. But of course I didn’t have any instruments. So, making the 45-degree angle with two fingers, I sighted along them to a point ahead. When we came just abeam of this point, since we knew our own speed, it would give us roughly our distance from shore—very roughly. The Admiral noticed me sighting along my fingers.

“‘Don’t you have a pelorus?’ he said, sharply.

“‘No, sir,’ I said.

"‘H-rn-rn I suppose the flagship has better means?’

“‘No, sir,’ I said. ‘They don’t.’

“‘How in hell do you navigate?’

“‘By guess and by God, sir,’ I said.

“‘My God!’ said the Admiral, and this time he didn’t say it so softly. ‘I hope,’ he added wistfully, ‘that we get there.’

“And then, at four o’clock in the morning, my engines suddenly stopped. I knew the strainers were clogged with wax and rust, and it would take half an hour to clean them, which I explained to the Admiral, who was watching the other three boats disappear over the horizon.

““What time will we get to the rendezvous?’

“I made a fast mental calculation. ‘About 8:30, sir.’

“Dawn, as we both knew, would come at seven, and with it—if the mainland had seen that island signal fire—Japanese planes, looking for us.

“‘That’s an hour and a half later than I like to be out,’ said the Admiral. Our plans, of course, called for running only at night, and laying up by day in the Cuyo Island group, with a general rendezvous in a harbor of one of the central islands for our start at sunset.

“There are thirty or forty islands in the Cuyo group, and just before dawn we began to make out the first ones—tiny mounds on the horizon ahead and around us. The flagship had the only detailed chart of them; all I had was a large-sized map of the Philippines, and on this the Cuyos looked like a cluster of some forty-odd flyspecks.

“When the Admiral asked how in the world we—without navigation instruments or chart—expected to make a proper landfall on the particular flyspeck that we all had selected as rendezvous, I explained we had provided for that; I knew its general location, and from Bulkeley’s chart I had drawn a pencil sketch of this island. But again he was skeptical.

“It was eight o’clock (no planes as yet) before we saw what we thought might be the right one; as we drew nearer, the Admiral agreed that the hills and cove were exactly like my sketch, but when we entered the cove, it was empty. We circled the island—no sign of the other three boats.

“‘My God,’ said the Admiral, ‘what’s happened to the General? We arrive, limping in late, and the others aren’t here! Where can they be?’

Lt. Raymond P. Shafer, USNR, and LT. (jg.) Charles Adams, USNR, approach Corregidor Beach to pick up paratroopers under Japanese sniper fire. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part VIII - Southwest Pacific - Return to the Philippines.
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