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Memories of Ross DeWitt, '46  - '47

I went on board about the 1st of June in 1946 after attending sub school in New London.   I was placed in the radio gang for some unknown reason since I had no schooling in radio.   I was there for a short time when they sent John Booth and I back to sonar school in San Diego at Point Loma.   Booth was a gunner's mate so he went back to that group and I back to the radio group as a sonarman striker when we returned to the Bergall.  

Shortly after that (a couple months) the Bergall went into dry dock at Pearl Harbor and the crew lived on a barge.   I know we were in that state of condition during the Christmas season of 1946.  

While in dry dock, some of the guys had a crab net on which they put a brick soaked in diesel oil which seemed to have an attraction for the crabs off the side of the barge. They had one in the galley one night when I came back from liberty and they were going to cook it-I watched! As a little green horn mid western boy who had never seen a crab prepared I almost went into shock when they had this kettle of water boiling and then dropped this live crab into it. I swear it screamed when it hit the water. I didn't eat any of it nor have I had it over one time since. I always envision that poor crabs demise when it was dropped in the water..

I was standing top side watch, one night, on the boat in dry dock. We had a rather long gang plank going from ship to shore and I was on the ship side end of it when one of our friends came home with one or more sarsaparillas than he could tolerate. He started over the gangway to visit me and all the sudden he flipped over the railing. I had momentarily glanced away and upon looking back at him he had a death hold on the railing but on the outside not the safe side. A couple of other guys and I got him back onto the safe side of the gang plank again. My heart was in my mouth. If he had not gotten a grip on the railing he would have been a goner- a drop of about fifty or sixty feet onto the cement base of the dry dock. (There is one chance out of three guys that Arlie Brood was the guy hanging on the wrong side of the gangway. That was 55 years ago).

We were still in dry dock over Christmas that year. Again, as an Iowa boy, Christmas meant cold snowy weather. We were playing volley ball in our bathing suits. One more step in maturing for the farm boy.

Upon completion of the overhaul we made a test run with some of the civilian engineers aboard.   They took the boat down to approximately 650 feet, which as I understand was almost maxed out as far as depth.   I know the water was squirting through every hull penetration such as the sound heads and others.   I was quite wide-eyed but thought to myself, "They are in here, too, so it must be ok.", but I was relieved when we blew the tanks and came to respectable depths.  

On one of our maneuvers one day they practiced depth charges with so called "dummy cans".   I thought, as the insulation flaked off of the bulkhead, If THESE are dummies, I'm glad I wasn't there for a few rounds of the real McCoys.   A few of us who played football for the Sub Base were transferred from the Bergall to the Blackfin (SS-322) for a couple of weeks when the Bergall went to sea.   On the Black Fin, I remember doing a day run with about a dozen midshipmen from the states on board.   We made the start of a dive with the main induction hatch open.   We didn't take on much water as the error was discovered instantaneously and corrected before the water was able to get to the batteries.    There was a lot of commotion and I recall a very irate chief and probably others.   This would have been in early 1947.   When the Bergall returned to Pearl we were transferred back to her.

In the spring of 1947 the Bergall made a patrol up to the Bering Sea.   We left Pearl for an Atoll (I believe it was Johnson Atoll) for a 'cruise by' look and headed north.   I don't think we stopped.   As we traveled north we encountered quite heavy weather, the boat made about a 42 degree roll which pitched a few items to the deck.   I remember the top side lookouts reporting they felt they could have reached out and touched the water.   It also got quite cool in the forward torpedo room where my bunk was located directly between the bulkhead and the forward outriggers hydraulic mechanism, which always seemed to keep my sack cover well oiled.   It was such that you wiggled yourself into and out of the sack, no sitting up in a hurry after the first time of fracturing one's skull.  

As we maneuvered around the Bering Sea there were areas where radio contact was lost.   One of the officers had an idea that if the antenna wires were washed with fresh water it would improve the communications network.   As I was the lowest striker in the radio shack, guess who was assigned to the task?   I appeared on the bridge with a bucket of water and was promptly asked by the officer of the deck what in the world I thought I was going to do.   It was very rough topside, ice was forming on the cables.   After I told him the story, he took my bucket and tossed the water overboard and said, "There, they are washed.", and sent me below.   I was forever grateful.   Nothing more was ever said about that.   We spent all Good Friday submerged in this area.   I don't recall the number of hours but carbon dioxide absorber was spread around the boat to absorb  the CO2 buildup.    Also, a cigarette would not stay lit unless continuously drawn on.

The islands that I remember visiting were Attu, Adak, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor.   We approached within a couple mile of the Pribilof islands, the world sea lion sanctuary.   The day was calm enough that a few of us were on the deck training the five incher on the islands using the binoculars, as a tourist would do.   I was an Iowa farm boy and instantly recognized the aroma coming from the island for what it was (sea lion manure).   Captain Kimmel allowed us to go on deck and drop a fish line over the side for several hours one day.   We didn't catch anything but we caught cod and flounders while fishing off the boat when it was moored to the dock on one of our stops.   I was studying to be a qualified submariner on this jaunt.  

One night while going over the boat with a mentor we requested and received permission to use the fathometer and discovered that we had only about six fathoms of water beneath us when we thought we had much more.   The officer of the deck was alerted and we went into an "all back" mode quite fast.   In visiting with the chief quartermaster the next day this shoal was not on the map.   He explained it as a phenomena which occurs frequently due to earth quakes in that region.   He interred it on to the charts as "Bergall Shoals".   I don't know if it became official or not.  

Another event occurred that I have not heard anything about since that time was the dive under the ice cap of the Bering Sea.   I was under the impression we went about two miles under the cap.   I have never read an official announcement of it.   As I was on radar while surfaced and sonar when under water I had a seat where the action took place.   I was also on radio watch at times, but I wasn't too sharp there.

From the Aleutian chain we went down to the Seattle area, Puget Sound and into Lake Washington where we participated in a Naval Day celebration by making a dive in this fresh water lake.   We stayed about a week before heading back to Pearl Harbor.

I became qualified on that trip and achieved the rate of sonarman third class a couple months later.   At that time, I was told that I was the only rated sub sonarman in the Pacific Fleet.   Because of this and the fact that our sonar was really giving us good readings on an exercise one day when the Chief of the Sub Base was with us, I was asked if I would like to transfer to the first sub going to Little America.   I declined because it would require another enlistment.

I remember Smokey and had a few pictures with him but they went the way of memorabilia.   I enjoyed all of my shipmates - couldn't have been a nicer group.   I would have stayed in for 20 or 30 years but I had planned on a different career since grade school and left to pursue that.

I read in Smokey's memories regarding the Japanese rifle and bayonet that he was allowed to bring back from Sasebo... I was with him when he got it and I got one too. I made a floor lamp out of mine that still stands in my den.

People I have wondered about but have never heard of since include Chief RM R. E. Curtik, 1st RM R. L. "Pappy" Gray, Max K. Liggett, D. E. Powell, H. N. Dutton, C. E. Hoosier, T. W. Campbell, I. D. Williams, J. R. Booth, Lt. jg Robert "Navy Bob" Steele, Ensign D. L. Burns, Lt. jg C. S. Bowcock, Jr.,  R. E. Son, E. W. Armer and many others.   When I first boarded in 1946, I think there were only about 48 hands on board because of the rapid discharging of the reserves and the high pointers.

Here's a picture of a shark caught outside Pearl Harbor by some of the crew on a piece of steak.   It was brought along side and then shot by one of the officers prior to getting it on board.   I think Smokey was in the group.   I'm the one holding the fin next to the carcass.   John Booth also has hold of it.

Ross DeWitt

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