YMS-44 - Headed to Japan
Updated: Jul 3
Even with the end of the war, for the minesweepers, there was still much work to be done. The brave men who served on minesweepers played a crucial role in ending the war and making the seas safe afterwards. During that time, Signalman Jack Whiteman was transferred to another minesweeper, the YMS-44 and was once again underway, headed for Japan. In his book, my brother Tom writes:
1945 brought the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in April, the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August and the official surrender of Japan in September. After that Dad was on his way to Japan. During this year the YMS-346 would be in Okinawa, Japanese and Philippine waters.
On June 18th and 28th and July 19th of 1945, American B-29 bombers laid mines near Kobe, Japan to prevent the Japanese from using their own harbors. After the Japanese surrendered, the Americans had to clean up those mines, and that's where Dad came in.
The war was officially over, but not for Dad. Although the shooting had stopped, Dad's enemy was still there, and heavy, the mines in Kobe Harbor. I remember Dad telling me that when the war ended, they couldn't go home because they had to clean up all the mines that remained. This didn't sit well with the men and they would show their displeasure by pretending that they had imaginary yo-yos. Every time one of the officers would walk by, one of the crew would mimic a man playing with a yo-yo. The Captain didn't find it amusing.
Kobe Harbor was Japan's second largest port and one of the Navy's largest sweep operations in Japanese waters. Sixty fleet units had already swept Osaka bay five weeks earlier, but Kobe Harbor was the primary objective. Dad and the YMS-346 were in a small flotilla of thirty-six YMSs. Lieutenant Commander R.V. Lange, USNR, who headed the operation, gave most of the credit for the swift and accurate sweep to the YMSs.
According to his letters, Jack was transferred from the YMS-346 to the YMS-44 at Pearl Harbor. Although the YMS-346 was one of the thirty-six minesweepers on this mission, Jack was on a different minesweeper, the YMS-44. All were headed for Japan.
10/2/45 - Dear Bess: I'm transferred off today. I am writing this from a barracks here in Pearl Harbor while awaiting reassignment. I don't know what type of ship I'll be reassigned to but I think, and am about sure, it will be another minesweeper. It's a chance I'm taking but my experience in minesweeping will probably confine me to that type of craft. It is hard to get accustomed to being at a receiving station after being on the same ship for 26 months. I miss the fellows already but I'll get over it. I don't know how long I'll be here but I'll enjoy myself while I am here. They have a swimming pool, canteen, beer hall, ball field, basketball, etc. It looks like a pretty nice place. ...Last Saturday we played the YMS-352 softball and beat them in a double header. They had to pay for the beer and cokes we consumed between innings. It poured out during the last inning of the last game. We then played a short game of football in the rain and mud! All we did was skim and slide; we couldn't run. What a sorry sight we were when we returned to the ship.
Notice of Change of Address - USS YMS-44 - postmarked 10/12/45
10/24/45 - Dear Bess: I feel pretty low about not writing in so long. It's been pretty busy since I came aboard here but not that busy. I'll make up for it though. The ship I'm on now is an old type YMS but there is a swell bunch of fellows aboard. I'll only be on here for a few months anyway and then I'll be discharged. According to the Navy point system it will be 41 points Nov. 1st -- 39 points Dec. 1st -- and 38 points Jan. 1st. Right now I only have 36 points. On Jan. 20 I'll have 38 1/4 points so I'll be eligible then for discharge. So --I should be home in the beginning of March at least. ...I wish this ship was headed home but I'm afraid not. We are getting underway tomorrow for Eniwetok and then to Saipan and then to Okinawa. I don't know where we go from there. You don't have to worry Bess, for the war is over and there isn't any danger. Besides, I'll be coming home in a few months - for good. I'll even put up with all those girls -- so you can see how desperate I am to come home. Well! I'll sign off for now Bess, but I'll write while underway and mail it at our next stop. That will be in ten or eleven days. Be good and give my love to all. Love & kisses (boucoup) Jack
11/3/45 Underway - Dear Grace: It seems like a long time since I've written to you. ... Well! Here we are on the beautiful blue Pacific. It looks just like the Atlantic but more of it. There is a lot more water under the surface too. I'll bet you didn't know that. Well, anyhoo, we will be in Eniwetok in two days where this will be mailed from. There isn't much doing on the trip. I'm writing letters or studying or reading, etc., when I'm off watch. The fellows on here are a swell bunch of fellows too. None of them are from around New York like the other ship though. We will probably be in Eniwetok for a day or two and then to Saipan. I don't know how long we will be there. From Saipan we will go to Okinawa and from there ????? There is a cute little puppy aboard ship that is our mascot. His name is "Admiral". He's a lot of fun. He would probably like to chase you too. Just like "Brownie". ....That's all Grace, I can't think of anything new. It is very monotonous out here on this trip.
11/27/45 JAPAN - Dear Bess: Well! Here I am in Japan. Four months ago if someone had said I'd be in Japan today, I'd have said he was crazy. Our orders were changed just before we left Saipan and I couldn't get a letter off. We were supposed to go to Okinawa originally but the orders were changed at the last minute. We were originally supposed to go to Sasebo, Japan but three days out from Saipan they were changed again to Wakayama, Japan. That's where I am now. We just pulled in today. Wakayama is just a little way from Osaka, in case you want to look for it on the map. I don't know what the score is yet. I sure hope they give us liberty so I can look the place over. After I get a little used to the place, I'll tell you more about it. The first day and a half of the trip we were caught in a pretty bad storm but after it blew itself out, the weather was pretty nice. Yesterday evening we sighted a floating mine and sent a YMS to destroy it. They sank it with gunfire.
The captain said he would try to get me off here on January 1st. It seems that a man overseas can be put ashore for transportation home three weeks before he is eligible for discharge, in order for him to be discharged the same day a man serving in the States is discharged. That means I'll be home toward the end of January or the beginning of February. I can hardly wait for this month to pass. ...It was pretty windy and rough as we approached the place and wet too. It's a bit of a relief to have the anchor out and look forward to a good night's sleep. It's cold here in Japan and we are all wearing sweaters and heavy jackets and heavy underwear. I always thought Japan was a warm country. Br-r-r- ....It's late now and time to get some sleep, We tossed around too much to sleep last night so I'll make up for it tonight. I hope there is mail here for it has been some time since I've received any --hope there's liberty too. We'll probably have to change our dollars into yen.
11/29/45 "Thanksgiving Day" Wakayama Japan, - Dear Bess: Well! We have been here two days now and we have received some information as to our duties. Our bunch of YMS are to be here from four to six months sweeping the area around Kobe and Osaka. This is one end of the Inland Sea. It seems that the mining of the waters around Osaka and Kobe by our
B-29s were very effective. The people in this great city were starving because there was no way to get food to them. There was no railroads for they were all blasted to kingdom come. The Japs can't sweep our fancy mines and so - no matter how many times they swept channels - food-laden ships would steam up it and "BOOM", down she'd go. All Japan was lied up this way.
Here is some bad news. There are no replacements available here. Our captain read a notice to us pertaining to all minesweepers in this area (JAPAN -UNDER FIFTH FLEET). All men necessary to the operation of the ship in sweeping duties are to be held aboard for 90 days after they are eligible for discharge until further notice. This pertains to the minesweepers only and it seems like a dirty trick to me but there is nothing I or the skipper can do. There are several men aboard eligible now, including the skipper, and now they are stuck. There is still a chance that I can get off if I can have my striker step into my place but I'll have to find out more dope on it. I sure hope they change that. Gee! They wait until we get way out here to tell us that. If we had known that before we left Saipan, the skipper would have gotten replacements there. Oh well! Everything happens to me.
I haven't been on liberty yet but will go over tomorrow. Some of the fellows went over today and came back with some small souvenirs. It seems the people don't bother us at all and are very polite. They seem more interested in selling us stuff than in disliking us. It's a pity watching them on the rocks along the shore fishing and freezing with the little clothes they have. But you can't pity them when you think of all the trouble they have caused. The place is littered with Jap fishing boats. I guess that's about the only food they have. There are a lot of those typical Jap houses and ornaments but most of the houses in the city are like shacks.
The enclosed bills are both 10 sen (2/3 cents each bill). Ten sen make one yen and 15 yen make 1 American dollar. It seems the first words a sailor learns in a foreign language are the wrong ones. The little Japanese I do know are navigation terms found on the charts such as rivers, island, etc. It is such a fouled up language that it is practically impossible to learn any of it.
Today is Thanksgiving and we had the traditional turkey dinner, It was very good and enjoyed by all. The twentieth of this month was my third anniversary in the Navy, I now rate the good conduct medal. That means I rate the European, the American, and the Pacific Theatre ribbons and the good conduct. Four ribbons in all, Gorsh!
[These are the 4 ribbons mentioned above: The one on the bottom left is the victory medal which was added after Jack wrote this letter.]
12/4/45 Wakayama, Japan - Dear Bess: It's been almost a month now since I've received any mail. None of the YMS in our bunch have received any since we left Saipan. We should be getting some soon though, I hope, I hope, I hope.
Well! We received notice that the points have gone down a little more. Thirty eight points Dec. 1st and thirty seven points Dec. 15th. I will have 37 1/2 on Dec. 20th. Since I am overseas, I am eligible for transportation home now. The only trouble is that all men on minesweepers are "frozen" for 90 days after they are eligible. That means I am stuck until March. However, news came that a whole ship-load of replacements are on the way and maybe it won't be too long. If I was any place else but here, I'd be put ashore for transportation home tomorrow but --- just a bad break. I really can't complain because I had five months right there in New York (home) and not many fellows ever had a break like that. So ---no complaining.
Well! I made a liberty the other day and saw a little bit of Japan. What strange people they are. They act like there never was a war. They sell us their wares with big toothy smiles and laugh at everything we try to say. I enjoy bickering with them over a sale. I say "too much" and they jabber back "no too much, no too much". After a little haggling the price comes down and the sale is made. Silk goods are plentiful and easy to get. We trade cigarettes for silk goods and such. The Japs give us from twenty to thirty yen ($1.33 to $1.67) a pack. We are searched when we leave the liberty boat ashore, for it is forbidden to sell or trade cigarettes to the people. We put a pack in each shoe under the arch of the foot and though they are a little crushed from walking on them, the Japs still buy them. The fellows that went over today said they are making them take their shoes off now, to be searched. We will have to figure out another method now.
It's pretty cold in Japan right now and the people are cold. They have no warm clothing. I guess they deserve it. Most of the houses are in bad shape but some of them look nice. They all have the same funny-shaped roof. It's a wonder the people don't catch pneumonia, running around in those sandals that they wear. The wooden sandals make a racket when they walk. The fellows are making fudge right now and it sure smells good. My mouth is watering now. M-m-m-m-m.
The whole crew is on pins and needles waiting for mail. I still don't know if Deanie is home yet or not. I imagine he is. I hope we get mail soon so I can answer them and find out what is going on at home.
Here's a few coins. Add them to the collection I have, if I still have one.
We are to get Japanese rifles tomorrow. One for each man of the crew. They are souvenirs given to us by the Navy for being in Japan. I guess I'll bring it home. I never bothered getting a German rifle though I could easily have obtained one. I wasn't really interested in those types of souvenirs.
I don't know whatever happened to the Japanese rifle Jack mentioned in this letter. But this detailed drawing of a rifle was found among Dad's drawings. When I found it, I framed it not knowing what it was or the story behind it, until I read this letter and compared it to Japanese rifles used in WWII. None of my siblings remember seeing this rifle in our house, so I can only assume Dad got rid of it for our sake but made the drawing for his own. As far as other souvenirs, my brother Tom remembers playing with Dad's two semaphore flags when he was a child. He also remembers a small green float no bigger than a man's fist that may have had a small rope attached to it. He remembers Dad telling him that was a souvenir from the war.
Next: A Sailor Goes Home and the YMS-346 is Decommissioned