On December 14, 1943, the YMS-346, along with her sister ships, YMS-347, 348, 349, 350, 351 and 352, started their journey overseas, destination England. The following are excerpts from the First Anniversary document written by Yeoman Meyer H. Leavitt and letters written by Seaman Jack Whiteman about their journey. The image above is an original drawing of the ship by Jack Whiteman.
Yeoman Leavitt: On December 13, 1943, our Executive Officer, Mr. King, was transferred to the hospital and was ultimately lost to the ship. No words can adequately express how sorry we all were and we felt in losing Mr. King, for Mr. King was in the full sense of the word, a gentleman and a Naval Officer. Ensign Louis G. Dougherty was sent to replace Mr. King, with Mr. Tomson taking over the duties of Executive Officer and Mr. Dougherty handling the Gunnery Department. There were also several personnel changes such as. transfers, receipt of new men and deserving men advanced in rating.
On December 14, 1943, with a full crew aboard and an overcast sky overhead, we, along with the Y.M.S. 347, 348, 349, 350, 351 and 352 cast off and started on our long rumored trip. To many of us we were just going overseas, but several of us knew our destination was England. It was a long and tedious trip which lasted nearly three full weeks. Several of the new-comers were quite sea-sick the first few days, especially our cook, Madison, who was unable to prepare chow for us for over a week. A five dollar wager was lost by Murphy to Kelly, Kelly picking the time we would leave the Continental limits of the United States. We were still challenging the ocean December 25, Christmas Day, a day when our thoughts were of home - our wives - our girl friends - our children - and all of our loved ones. We had no Christmas tree nor any presents, but our hearts and souls were filled with the Christmas spirit. A Christmas dinner was prepared by Madison which, although minus the "goodies" that mom would have served, was enjoyed by all. Later in the evening and which lasted 'til early dawn, a group of us descended to the aft compartment and displayed openly some of the Christmas feelings that were hidden inside, Christmas carols were sung until the wee hours of the morning and a can of pineapple juice was passed around, each taking a swig, visualizing a quart of Schenlys or some such other delicacy. There were lumps in our throats and a tear in our eyes as we finally wished one another a Merry Christmas, and dozed off to slumber.
1/7/44 - Dear Bess: This is the first chance I have to write to you and I can't think of anything to say that won't be censored. So I'll have to make it short. The first part of our trip was pretty rough and rainy. We took quite a beating for a while. It was pretty smooth sailing after that though. My thoughts were constantly with you throughout Christmas and I must admit I was homesick for a while. I hope you did not worry too much about me and spoil your Christmas. I'm in good hands, so don't. Write me and let me know how Christmas was at home. I'll write again but not for a while yet for reasons I can't state.
Yeoman Leavitt: December 27 while cruising along peacefully, a most joyous report was recorded from the flying bridge, "Land sighted dead ahead". Eyes were strained and sure enough in the distant horizon could be seen familiar slopes, verifying the lookout's report. Joy reigned among the officers and crew and several seamen could be seen jumping up and down yelling, "Land, Land". Hour after hour we could see the land get plainer and plainer, and finally after six hours of eye-straining, we pulled into port. This was not England as many of us at first thought, but rather it was Horta, Fayal Island, Azores, a small island with a population of about fifteen thousand inhabitants. Incidentally, we were the first American Sailors to set foot on that soil. Here could be seen soldiers and sailors of many Allied Nations, who were not too friendly. The civilian populace were more or less on the poverty side. Shabbily dressed women could be seen scurrying hither and yon with large parcels balanced on their heads. The children were practically bare-footed and very ill-fed and the houses were small bungalows and not any too clean. However, in the center of the island, stood an ancient but beautiful church which most of us had the pleasure of passing through. Our stay in Horta lasted three days with many, many humorous and interesting events occurring, which unfortunately cannot be recorded. Suffice to say, there was plenty of wine, women and song to bolster our morals one hundred per cent.
My brother Tom remembers my Dad (Jack) telling him a story about something that happened to him while they were in Horta. It was the time Jack learned the Spanish word "Amigo". He said he and a shipmate were passing all the ships that were docked. One ship had a young sailor clutching his rifle and keeping watch. The young sailor called out to Jack "Amigo?" Jack did not understand a word of Spanish and he ignored him. The sailor called out again, "Amigo?" Again Jack did not answer. Finally the sailor pointed his gun right at him and very sternly asked again. "Amigo?" This time Jack grabbed his buddy and asked "What does he want from me?" His buddy said, "Amigo! Amigo! He just wants to know if you're his friend". Jack responded, "His friend? For God's sakes, tell him I'm his bosom buddy, just get that rifle out of my face!"
Next: YMS-346 Arrives in England, January 5, 1944