The 1st and
2nd platoons were sent aboard the USS Custer as the advance party for the
battalion. How lucky can you get? This was unbelievable. We had expected
to wait several more days before loading.
The “Custer” was a Navy
transport, an APA, or attack transport. We had never ridden a Navy
transport. We did ride the Army transport, USAT Sea Cat from Brisbane to
Oro Bay. We enjoyed the trip on the Sea Cat, but the best was yet to come.
The Custer was all Navy-crewed and a first class ship. We went out on LCM’s,
or LCVP’s. I do not remember which. The sea was rough and we had to grab
the Jacob’s ladder at the top of the board pitch. We went out in the
morning, and the rest of the company followed that afternoon. One of our men
fainted when the remainder of the company was loading and had to be pulled
up the Jacob’s ladder. The ship’s doctor diagnosed his problem as
exhaustion and huger.
USS Custer (APA-40), a Bayfield Class Attack
That evening the food was excellent, and they kept
insisting we eat more. The food was always excellent. Being on this ship
was like being in an R&R center. The ship was built to carry a certain
number of troops, and that is how many we had. Everyone had a bunk to sleep
in. The ship carried LCVP’s stacked like saucers on the deck. They were
loaded and unloaded by the booms. The troops climbed the Jacob’s Ladders
made of rope and dropped into the waiting craft. This sounds easy, but when
the small craft is bobbing up and down in the heaving seas it can be
difficult to time your leap either loading or unloading. When loading of
course you leap for the ladder at the top of the swell. When unloading you
leap into the craft at the bottom of the swell.