Among family and friends, I confess to being something of an anachronism in that I have never had a modern “cruise ship” experience although living in an age which lays claim to 100-thousand-ton ocean-going behemoths featuring opulent dining rooms presided over by world-class chefs, inviting promenade decks overlooking swimming pools, work-out gyms and even art galleries, and carrying up to 5000 passengers enjoying the vibration-free ride delivered by electric thrusters and wave stabilizers. But I am not without ocean-going experience, albeit in an earlier time and of a more primal nature.
The USNS General William F. Hase (pronounced HOZ , and named for a WWI Artillery officer),
was a Squier-class Naval Transport built by Kaiser Steel Company in Vancouver, Washington, and launched in the middle of WWII. Like a pantheon of so-called “Liberty” and “Victory” ships cranked out to meet the exigent needs of wartime America, it probably was designed for an expected sea life of five years. Its operational history reads like a road map of the greatest war ever fought on planet Earth, with ports of call with names like Pearl Harbor, Admiralty Islands, Eniwetok, Melbourne, New Guinea, Freemantle and Manila, then on to Calcutta, Ceylon, the Suez and the beaches of France and finally Japan, ferrying fresh troops to war and the weary and wounded back home.
It has been famously-noted that the United States generally ends up fighting its wars with equipment and technology left over from the previous one; Korea comes quickly to mind as an epic example. Every piece of personal gear, from .30 carbines and Garands, helmets and liners, mess kits and canteens to worn-out Willys Jeeps and (indestructible) Dodge Weapons Carriers went with us; and we all made the trip on the same old troop ships our older brothers (and many of us) had thrown up on a few years earlier.
It was all a matter of numbers. When your number was posted on the bulletin board at Camp Stoneman, you gathered your gear and rode the madly- rocking military ferry out to whichever ship was listed for your number. Mine turned out to be ship No.146, the single-stack, single-screw, world-weary General W.F. Hase – affectionately known as “The Hase Hot Rod”. About half the size of her sister transports the General Miegs and the General Pope, the Hase was well-known for its rough ride. The “weather gods” were in perfect alignment, and we sailed under the Golden Gate directly into the first Pacific storm of the season. (When I saw the ship’s captain toss a “good luck” silver dollar into the sea, I should have suspected what was coming!)
It was my luck to be assigned to the lowest, most forward compartment of the ship, and in the top-most of the six-bunk high berths, just outside the overflowing hatch leading to the forward “head”. Whenever we climbed to the top of a wave, everything in our compartment broke loose, and each time we descended, the screw came out of the sea, and the sound of its cavitation shook the bulkheads around us. Almost everyone aboard was sick the first two days and the rest of us were smart enough to fake it in order to escape clean-up duties. A week later, we were hit by a full-blown Typhoon which I was able to enjoy from a protective life-boat cover in the open bow, and which added several days of extra travel to what turned out to be a seventeen-day crossing to Yokohoma.
My shipmates were a mix of many service branches, so friendships were rare and fleeting. I sat in on training sessions for B-26 Marauder attack bomber crews for the heck of it, and spent hours sharing a deck shelter with an Airborne officer who like myself, devoted hours to spit-shining our respective jump boots (his brown, mine black). Food was surprisingly good, once one got used to eating while standing up and dealing with metal trays which wanted to slide with every pitch of the deck. The ship published a daily newspaper (a copy of which I have in front of me as I write), and kept us up to date with war and home-front news. We even had a brief ceremony on deck when we crossed the International Date line, and somewhere in my belongings, I still have the certificate, complete with dragon escutcheon.
At the time, no one gave much thought to enjoying the ride, because most of us knew we were going to war; a prospect which did not so much invite relaxation as introspection. I was eighteen, and not thinking about “luxury cruises”, but now, 60 years later, I can close my eyes and remember every little vibration of that proud old Troop ship that carried us into the unknown, and I can think about how many of those guys never got to make the return trip.
The General W.F. Hase, wearing Korean War markings and the hull number 146. A veteran of WWII, the Hase and her sister ships ferried 5 million troops and 54 million tons of supplies in support of the U.S. in the Korean War. The Hase made 19 round trips, winning four battle stars. She had a second life as a civilian transport before being scrapped in Taiwan in 1985.