SMALL BOYS PROVIDING FERRY SERVICE


One of the duties that befell us and other destroyers from time to time was to transfer senior admirals from one ship to another for conferences at sea. It seemed that we frequently would be a member of a task group that contained both the fleet and task force commanders and for whatever reasons, they found face‑to‑face conferences frequently necessary. Always the junior admiral would be transferred to visit the senior fleet commander.

Only a couple of weeks after the disastrous typhoon in December of 1944 which took down three of our fellow destroyers, we were called upon to transport Vice‑Admiral John S. McCain from his task force 38th flagship (the HANCOCK) to confer with Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey aboard his flagship, the battleship NEW JERSEY.

Admirals were transported from ship to ship by a breeches buoy which consisted of a canvas bag with two legholes and an iron ring at the top about chest high which was suspended from a pulley by two short ropes. The pulley ran on a hawser run between the bigger ship and our ship, and after the transportee was nestled into the canvas bag, five or so seamen working on board each ship would pull or slack off the hawser to keep the occupant in the buoy above water as the ships rolled and tossed between each other.

Unforgettable was the occasion we brought Admiral McCain on board. When he arrived on deck with his bulky kapok life vest snuggle around him, the ever‑present Lewicki protectively asked, "Admiral, can I take your life jacket?"

The wizened old admiral slapped Lewicki's hand away and retorted: "Not while I'm on board a destroyer."

Of course that was not a very comforting thought for those of us who were permanent guests of the destroyer, but we all felt compassionate toward the admiral because he appeared to us then as a terribly old man who probably wasn't long for this world. It should be noted that the day after the war in the Pacific ended, dear old Admiral McCain died of natural causes.

McCain's son also became an admiral and his grandson, John S. McCain III, was a Vietnam War hero who withstood six years of imprisonment by North Vietnam, then came back to be elected a United States senator.

Underhill recalls that at least one occasion in a breeches buoy assignment, we dunked an admiral in the sea. "He came aboard sopping wet up to his armpits," Undy remembers, but instead of chewing out the skipper for poor ship handling, the admiral "climbed up to the bridge with a big grin on his face and said the dip in the ocean was refreshing." He managed to keep his briefcase and all his papers dry by holding them over his head, he said after coming on the Potter.

--by Bill Minor--