Yeoman Meyer H. Leavitt gives the following account of the Commission Ceremony for the YMS-346 in a document he wrote commemorating the First Anniversary of the ship. Excerpts from the Anniversary document and letters written by Seaman John P. Whiteman, describe the ceremony and the weeks that followed.
Yeoman Leavitt: The sun was shining brightly, not a cloud was over head, and the sky was a pretty blue-hue, when on Wednesday, August 20, 1943 at ten o'clock in the morning a group of officers and enlisted men stood at attention while the National Anthem was being played, and they were still standing at attention at eleven o'clock when Commander J.L. Robertson, U.S.N. turned the sturdy vessel, known as the Y.M.S. 346, over to our Captain, Lieutenant John W. Wilke, Jr. We could still hear the faint strains of the National Anthem ringing in our ears as the command, "Turn to men", was given. To most of us this was the beginning of a new era, a new phase in our young lives. We were going to sea. True, we did have several men who have been out to sea before, who have seen the bloody remnants of war, and who, as we sailors say, "knew the score." To them, we who were to feel the first sensations of the sea, extend our sincerest thanks, for the tolerance, understanding, and the willingness to help in any way possible in showing and explaining the "Navy way of doing things."
8/21/43 - Dear Bessie: As yet I have not gone to sea. I will be here in the states for a few months yet. We will be pulling out of Jacksonville in a week or two though. Yesterday our ship was commissioned into the United States Navy. It was a very impressive ceremony and it made me feel important. The crew had to stand at attention while the captain of the base came aboard. He read a lot of Navy instructions to us, you know.... Article 6, section 3, so on ....and so on.....Then he made a personal speech to us telling us how he looks forward to our being an outstanding crew and ship. (That we will...of course). Then we all saluted the flag as it was raised for the first time on our ship amid the strains of "The Star Spangled Banner". Not one person moved a muscle during this. Not even the civilians present. The captain then turned the ship with his felicitations, over to our skipper. Then the chief yelled out "Post the watch" and the ceremony was over. If you saw the picture "Stand By For Action", you'll know just what took place. We will be here in Jacksonville for a while then we have to go to Mayport, FL and load on ammunition. I'm almost sure we are to go up to Virginia to practice sweeping . Our quarters are swell. The quarters are amidships (middle of the ship). We have white wooden lockers with three shelves and two neat drawers in it. The bunks are three high and I'm in the middle one on the starboard side (right side facing bow) of the ship. We have a swell ship's radio that can pick up the regular broadcast even when we are away from the states. Our galley (kitchen) is swell too. We have all modern equipment aboard.....and a good cook. ....We have a small crew Bessie, and I'm not kidding. They are like a bunch of overgrown kids at times. Some of them had their wives at the commissioning and we were introduced to them. ...P.S. How do you like my stationery? That will be Seaman First Class in a couple of months.
Yeoman Leavitt: The next few days were busy ones for all hands. The Engineering Forces were busily engaged in the engine rooms, looking over the engines, testing this and testing that, so that our engines would be in an operative condition at all times. Chief Boatswain Mate, Walling and Boatswain Mate Crooks had their hands full in showing the seaman the routine of good seamanship; the Electricians were in the gyro room, learning of the intricate mechanisms that they were destined to keep in good order; the Gunners , with gleams in their eyes, were pawing over their guns, a 3"/50 cal. and two 20mm cal., wondering when their first opportunity would present itself as that they could fire these guns. Our Pharmacist Mate, Murphy, was kept busy assorting his supplies of pills and medicines and getting ready for any emergency that might arise. The bridge gang, which included the quartermaster, signalman, yeoman and soundmen, was full of activity, getting the necessary reports written up, correcting charts, getting the logs up to date, and inspecting the new gadgets, many of which were new to them. The officers too, were busy, getting the ship in ship-shape condition so that this, the Y.M.S. 346 would be a taut ship, and a credit to the United States Navy.
On August 25, 1943, we left Jacksonville and set sail for Mayport, FL. This was a short cruise with nothing of importance encountered. Once arriving in Mayport, we went through three weary days, the ship going through what every newly commissioned vessel must do before joining the fleet; that is running the degaussing range, which is quite monotonous.
8/29/43 - Dear Bessie ....Well! Our ship is all set and we are set to go. I'll still be in the States though, so don't worry. We are getting good food aboard the ship. We have a good cook. We have an Electrician Mate that we call "Pop". He is an elderly fellow. The other day he was eating a sandwich and he didn't like it. He went to spit it over the side.......And his teeth went with it. We laughed so hard my side hurt. We are getting him another pair. A couple of days ago another seaman and I were back on the fantail. He was standing on the railing. I bet him a buck he wouldn't jump in. He took off his shirt and shoes and in he went. I didn't actually think he'd jump in that dirty river water. OH Well! Another day, another buck. ...We have all our stuff aboard and am I glad. Boy! What a job loading that stuff on. Talk about heat. I thought I sweated off half my weight but I still weigh 155 lbs. I'm getting browner every day.
Yeoman Leavitt: At 1630, September 12, 1943 we "heaved in" anchor and headed for Charleston, SC. It is on this trip that young boys became men and men became good sailors. Destiny played tricks with us on this voyage. We were out less than three hours, when we ran smack into a hurricane, which was headed for the East Coast, but unfortunately decided to tag along with us. For twenty-four hours, when we should have been enjoying the scenery, we were literally at the sea's mercy. We rolled, rocked, tossed and turned, and on several occasions, up to this day, I cannot figure out why we did not capsize. I can still vividly see Stark layed out on the deck, white as a ghost and Maddocks groaning and glass-eyed, sprawled out on the ready box. The gunnel was crowded with men 'heaving' for all they were worth, and even some of the old "salts" felt a strange ting in their stomachs. We were a sorry lot when we finally dropped anchor in Charleston, the evening of Sept 13, 1943. It didn't take us long to rejuvenate ourselves, what with a hot shower, clean shave, a good hot meal and the thought of liberty on the morrow. We also knew that we could take anything the sea would offer us in the future. That was our acid test and we passed it, not too well maybe, but we passed it.
9/24/43 - Dear Bessie: I hope my long length of time between letters hasn't worried you ... We have been kept pretty busy and I am usually pretty tired at the end of the day. ...Well I've been out on the ocean quite a bit now and I'm beginning to feel like a sailor. I like it and am beginning to get my "sea legs". On one of our trips I became sea sick, as did practically the whole crew. The ocean was very rough that trip and the ship bounced about like a cork. Since we have been out in the war zone I have earned a campaign bar "American Theater".
I would like to tell you all about our ship and it's job in the war but since it is being censored I wouldn't like to be saying the wrong thing and having this letter marked. My duties though consist of standing watches, taking turns on the wheel, seamanship and general work about the ship. We work seven days a week all day. I can't get to church as much as I would like Bess, but you must realize it's necessary.
These are the bars Jack received for his service in the Navy:
American Theater/European-African-Middle Eastern /Asiatic-Pacific
Victory Medal /Good Conduct
10/17/43 - Dear Bessie: ...Well! I've been about since I was stationed in Jacksonville. We had a swell trip from Jacksonville to Charleston, SC in the roughest ocean I've ever seen. That's the time everyone became sea sick. The ship rolled and tossed so much I still wonder why it never turned over. We stayed in Charleston a week testing equipment...good old Charleston. From Charleston we sailed to Norfolk, VA. That trip wasn't so bad and we arrived there a couple of days later. We stayed in Norfolk three weeks where we did a lot of practice in sweeping and gunnery. We have a good gun crew. From Norfolk we sailed to Key West, FL where I am writing this letter from. By the time you get this I'll be on my way or in my home port. It took us quite a while to reach Key West. We left Norfolk Saturday and arrived here Wednesday and were we glad to see solid land again.
10/26/43 - Dear Gracie: ...I am a Seaman First Class now so be sure to write John P. Whiteman S1/c from now on. I get a raise in pay now and it will come in handy. Instead of $54 a month I receive $66, the same as a Corporal in the Army. Added to this is a 20% sea pay which brings it to practically $80 (79.20). I have made out an allotment for $35 a month which starts the first of December. This will save me the trouble of sending home money I never use. It is more useful at home than with me.
Next: From Ship Shakedown to Final Inspection - YMS-346