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Missing Lifeboat
Richard D. Neill

I shipped out as ordinary seaman on board the liberty ship SS Owen
Wister from the port of New York. The date was April 3, 1944.

We made convoy and sailing about seven knots, crossed the ever-stormy
North Atlantic Ocean. It was always a great relief to pull into port
after a long voyage at sea. However, there would be no shore leave this
trip. There would be no mail either. After reaching the British Isles
the convoy split up. We journeyed up to a tiny cove in the highlands of
Scotland. After a day or two we were off to another cove only to anchor
and again with no shore leave.

We continued to move about from place to place. No information, no
mail, no shore leave. The ordeal was beginning to tell on the crew.
Tempers became short and easily flared.
Finally the ship came to rest between the Isle Of Wright and South
Hampton, England. We set there. Swinging on anchor with hundreds of
other ships. Overhead the Germans were shooting rockets across the
English Channel. We could see them bursting on the British shore.

Cabin fever was reaching a high temperature mark. Some crewmembers got
the notion to take the ships lifeboat, go to London and have a ball. The
idea quickly took hold. It would be easy. The lifeboats were already
swung out on their davits. It was just a matter of lowering the boat
into the sea.
Eighteen of us clambered aboard the lifeboat and headed for shore. Due
to the fog and swinging on anchor the navigator of this mutinous crew
pulled a "Wrong way Corrigan" and we all winded up in a little town on
the Isle of Wright instead of the mainland.

It did not matter. We all scrambled ashore completely shattering the
tranquility of this staid little village. We took over the only pub in
town. The townsfolk retreated to a safe distance to observe the antics
of these strange crazy Americans.
After letting off a lot of pent up steam and with the little village
having nothing else to offer it was decided that we would all return to
the ship. It was now dark and finding our ship amongst the hundreds of
ships at anchor turned out to be a real challenge.

Drifting down past the first line of ships Lady Luck was with us.
We spied our ship. The navy gun crew on watch lowered the Jacob's
ladder. We secured the lifeboat and climbed on board and hit the sack.
Early in the morning we were all called out on deck. This would be the
second muster in two days. The first muster was to ascertain as to who
was missing. Charges were already drawn up for the missing and we were
each issued a copy. The U.S. Coast Guard would process the charges when
we returned to the States. The muster gave the captain an opportunity to
give us a long harangue on discipline and that we endangered ourselves
by taking the lifeboat through a mined area.

A few days later on June 6, 1944 the invasion of Normandy began. We
pulled into Cherbourg, France. At first we anchored out in the harbor
and unloaded in what they called "Ducks". Vehicles that traveled on
land and sea. When the Army Engineers finished repairing a dock,
We pulled into the dock and unloaded tanks and trucks. With the ship
unloaded we raced back to the U.S.A. In the view of Lady Liberty we
dropped anchor in the port of New York, June 12, 1944.
As was the custom, a member of the navy gun crew went ashore for the
mail. The following morning the ship pulled along side of the dock.
The navy guy was there with a sack of mail. Also among the people on
the dock was a group of U.S. Coast Guardsmen. We all knew who they were after.

However, a strange thing happened. After the gangplank was lowered to
the dock the navy man started to board the ship with the sack of mail.
The captain, standing on the bridge deck, for some unknown reason
pointed a pistol at the navy man and ordered him not to board the ship.
A navy gunner standing near by rushed the captain, striking him with one
blow that flattened him out on deck. The Coast Guardsmen rushed on
board, handcuffed the captain and took him ashore. This episode caused
so much distraction that our own fling with the lifeboat was forgotten about.

That evening we were granted shore leave. We went up town and got
carried away with our celebration. Some offended person called the cops
and we were all hauled away to jail. Being members of the National
Maritime Union we were treated as enemies. The National Maritime Union
was the revolutionary Union that united the white and black seamen
together into a powerful Union. The establishment declared our Union communist.

The cops walked us up and down the cellblock banging us into the bars.
Using all of their choice expressions, calling us "Reds from Red
Square", "Disciples from Moscow", "and Red Herron from the Red Sea".
Finally about 2:AM they took us to night court at Foley Square. We were
fined $2.00 for disturbing the peace and released.
Walking out of the courtroom I was approached by two FBI agents. They
accused me of being a draft-dodger because I was not registered for the
draft. I explained that I left the States at age 17. While out of the
country I turned 18. I had just returned to the States that very day.
I was ordered to register and to report to their office the first thing
in the morning with the registration card. (Or Else).
Two days later on June 14, 1944 we were on our way back to France with
another load of tanks and army trucks.

More short stories

Off to Sea by Richard D Neill

Thank you, dearest Richard, for sharing stories of your life
and also special moments of the history with me.



Music: B flat Minor by Laurie McDonald

Music: Copyright Laurie McDonald All Rights Reserved 2003
Story: Copyright Richard D Neill All Rights Reserved 2003