Sailors Letting Off Steam
The men on the Campbell spent sixteen months at sea with crushing boredom in between wartime activities, practice drills, writing letters back home, and smoking cigarettes. They had to be especially creative with finding things to do — there wasn’t much for enjoyment except an occasional movie when @ portside.
Ulithi, Top Secret Base for Naval and Air Support
In Fall of 1944, the Japanese abandoned Ulithi, a chain of islands 3,700 miles west of Hawaii and 1,500 miles south of Japan. The Navy moved in and relocated Ulithi’s inhabitants to another island. Afterward, they built a secret military base in the Pacific Ocean for US planes and ships.
Located in a deep lagoon protected by coral reefs, the Ulithi islands could hide up to 700 ships and planes when they came in for repair, refueling, and re-supply. Twenty miles long and half as wide, Ulithi boasted:
- landing strips
- floating drydocks
- self-propelled fuel barges
- Quonset hut offices
- machine shops
- a hospital
- a chapel
- a theater
A Gob’s Playground on Mog Mog
One of the islands on Ulithi, Mog Mog, was turned into a recreation site for weary gobs (nickname given to a sailor who wore a white tee shirt while working on deck).
Each day, as many as 15,000 air and naval crew swarmed onto the island to play on the sixty acres of beaches.
Landing craft full of crewmen headed for Mog Mog Island (Photo courtesy of Dale G. Potts)
Baseball game on the beach at Mog Mog
Crew engaged in the four B’s: Bathing, Baseball, Boxing, and Beer Drinking but only from 1 – 6 PM. After that, crowded boats ferried the crewmen back to their duty stations.
Enlisted men could buy three beers for twenty-five cents. One sailor reported he didn’t care for warm beer so sold his coupons for “a buck apiece.” In 2018 dollars, he paid $1.15 per beer and sold each for $13.70. A tidy profit.
Military men lounged under coconut palm tress at several crude refreshment stands on Mog Mog.
Above, members of the USS Nevada entertain sailors with their improvised band.
Rank and Privilege
The former Mog Mog chief, named King Ueg, had a comfortable hut with tables and chairs. Admirals could go and relax in his former “palace.”
Officers and enlisted men socialized at separate places according to their ranks. On the opposite side of the island, officers could drink as much beer as they wanted and sip scotch or bourbon from 3- 6 PM, twenty cents a shot @ Crowley’s Tavern.
Navy nurses were the only females allowed on Mog Mog, and they could circulate freely and converse with ensigns to admirals, but not associate with enlisted men.
Fun Onboard the Campbell
The Campbell had liberty on Ulithi three times: Dec 1944, Feb 1945, and Jun 1945. How sailors were supposed to find enjoyment and relaxation in between their visits to Mog Mog is an interesting question.
When the Campbell was at anchor, they’d sometimes issue a “swim call.” First, they launched depth charges to clear the area of sharks. Discharge from the swim side of the ship would then be secured — no sewage or debris would get dumped on the swimmers. The off-duty crew swam as the on-duty folks stood watch.
While all crew in the Navy had to know how to swim, there were different classifications of ability. A man who swam very well was considered advanced and expected to help others in a water emergency. During these swim calls, the proficient swimmers were told to teach the poor swimmers. The problem was that sailors who couldn’t swim well were reluctant to go into deep water. It was not unheard of for the officers to simply toss someone who needed more practice off the deck next to an advanced swimmer. Officers would laugh and yell — if the floundering swimmers had to be rescued they’d have latrine or KP duty for the rest of the war. Ha, ha. . .
A good game of checkers was another pastime, but during rough seas the pieces shifted on and off the board, A couple of guys made ship-worthy checkers by fabricating a metal board with threaded recesses in it. Into the recesses fit bolts. It required lightly screwing and unscrewing the bolts to move, but the checker pieces stayed put while the ship rocked and rolled. Pieces were crowned by adding a nut to the bolt or, later, using a longer bolt. The whole rig was painted to replicate the light/dark of a regular checkers set. Waterproof and no more searching the floor for missing pieces. Game on!
There was also boxing either on board ship or during shore leaves. According to a sailor on the Campbell, guys from his ship and another ship set up a match. He boxed a couple of matches and finally was paired against a guy who was in a higher weight class and had arms “like a windmill.”
This sailor lost the match and suffered fractured ribs and pneumonia. He ended up in the hospital. The doctors decided to prescribe the new wonder drug, penicillin, to treat him. But it triggered a wicked allergic response. He survived the episode and went on to lead a long and healthy life.
*While not specific to the Campbell, there is archived video from the same era in 1945 showing the Marine’s first heavyweight championship boxing match on Okinawa.