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  by Miles W. Gale  
  If anyone had told me that at the age of 32, I and some 2,100 other troopers would be traveling from the Northeast to Southwest on the bounding main for a month on a ship – no way – especially, on a ship that had been assembled in a month or two, labeled “Liberty Ships”.  But in mid-May of 1944, our 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was aboard the Liberty Ship, “SS Sea Pike”, somewhere in the Pacific with destination unknown.  The voyage ended at Oro Bay, New Guinea, about 28 days later.  
  Music – When we staggered up the gangplank of the Sea Pike at Pittsburg, California, loaded down with all our gear and field equipment, the American Red Cross gave each of us a ditty bag.  It was like the extra straw.  This ditty bag contained toothpaste, toothbrush, cigarettes and gum.  Also, as an added bonus for those musically bent, we all received either a harmonica or an ocarina.  The two thousand non-musical paratroopers with sweet potatoes and mouth organs all practicing at one time was sheer torture.  Mercifully, after one day, the ship’s captain placed a one-hour limit on the music practice.  After the third day, any loose or unattached instruments were tossed overboard.  Bergland’s Regimental Band provided popular music for the rest of the voyage.  Below decks it was hot, humid and crowded with lots of soldier company bunking around, only separated by a few feet.  Bunks were 12 tiers high from floor to ceiling and each tier was so tight for space that the guy in the bunk above was about ten inches over your nose.  Our days were filled with activities, so all sleeping was done at night and some of the best musical snoring I   
  ever heard took place.  
  Food – Shipboard food was so bad that nobody asked for seconds.  The two meals a day were just enough to keep one’s skin and bones separated, but barely.  Most of us subsisted on the chocolate bars we brought along just in case we met some nubile girls along the way.  We envied the Merchant Marine crew and Navy Gunners, who ate regular meals and big snacks of meat sandwiches between meals.  Submarine alerts were too frequent, to be true, as the Sea Pike zig-zagged and worsened sea sickness cases, onion soup!  While on board we were given tasks to do, namely, cleaning up the ship, hosing down the decks, dumping garbage off the fantail at night, K.P., life-boat drills, etc.  A few classes were conducted on seamanship and many on navigation.  Celestial patterns were explained and the North Star was important in our night viewing.  Much better then looking for moss on tree trunks to determine North.  Recreation took place with boxing matches, band music and a few movies – Old movies.  The movie screen was suspended amid-ship and we viewed on both sides of the screen.  The lucky guys who had the projector at their backs saw the images and printing as normal.  The backside of the screen had  
  things (you guess it) reversed.  The ship lights were blacked out at night and the crew worked under dim red lights.  Day by day, time dragged slowly.  New fatigue uniforms were dragged from the stern on long lines to launder and also to soften for the torrid tropics ahead.  
  Sky, The Southern Cross – The best sleeping spots were on deck with a musette bag for a pillow.  At the first light of dawn, on the command “Clean sweep – Fore and aft”, the decks were watered down with fire hoses and sleeping paratroopers would wake up in a rive of salt water.  A lot of vulgar language was directed at the crew, who seemed delighted in their job.  Lying on deck at night afforded us lots of time to reminisce about the past.  With no landmarks in sight were lost.  The familiar Dippers and North Star were in view, but they gradually changed position and faded from sight.  So like the ancient mariners and now to infantry soldiers, the most important set of stars was the Southern Cross, or Cruz.  Actually, the Southern Cross is a constellation of four bright stars shaped like a cross with the staff pointing South.  
  Water – Nights were very pleasant.  We encountered no storms, rains or heavy seas.  The breeze was normally soft and warm.  A few dolphins, white and steely blue, joined us at San Francisco and played around the ship’s bow to our final destination.  We landlubbers spent hours at night marveling at the changing colors of the ocean, especially the Bioluminescence.  Its source is the many forms of marine life having luminescent qualities.  These forms, which function close to the surface, become part of the bow-wake and during the night, the luminescence is visible from the ship.  To me, the lighting effects seemed to be large banks of lights, under the surface, that were switched on and off.  When a dolphin or flying fish hit the water surface, a tiny spark of light would flash.  In the moonlight the ship’s wake would shimmer like a river of liquid silver.  
  King Neptune – On crossing the Equator the ship’s crew, a scruffy lot of fat, out-of-shape sailors, acted as King Neptune and his Court.  Pollywogs is the label meted out to anyone who never crossed the Equator.  At the Equator, Neptune and other Shellbacks initiated all Pollywogs into the Neptune Society.  Since we had a large complement on board, a random group of officers and noncommissioned officers were selected to go through the ceremony for everyone.  Non-participants watched the proceedings from the decks, rigging and bridge.  To King Neptune, Pollywogs are the lowest form of sea life and we were Pollywogs.  The unfortunate novitiates were blindfolded and branded with mustard, catsup, doused with fuel oil and had eggs crushed on their heads.  The Royal Barber tried to cut hair, but we were crew cut already, so haircutting was abandoned.  The Royal Executioner had a canoe paddle, which was applied, to rears when action slowed down.  When the ceremony ended after a few hours, the ship’s crew broke out fire hoses and tried to water down the audience.  In seconds we captured the hoses and doused the ship’s crew, putting them to rout with boos, hisses and laughter.  The 511th PIR ruled at the end and now we  
  were all Shellbacks, entitled to all rights and privileges of Neptune’s Domain.  
  Chance Meeting – The ship’s course was plotted carefully, so we would never see any land or ships in the 28 day cruise, except: One fine morning when we awoke and saw a sleek destroyer next us to us.  The ships never stopped sailing, but when were about 100 feet apart, hose lines were exchanged and the Sea Pike refueled the destroyer.  We lined the rails watching the proceedings and the sailors looked us over and we looked the sailors over.  Lots of cit-chat was exchanged with laughter.  The refueling took a couple of hours and as the refueling was proceeding, one of our 511th troopers on the Sea Pike spotted his sailor brother on the destroyer.  They hadn’t seen each other for several years.  It was a happy a happy reunion for them.  A line was passed between the two ships and the brothers their latest letters from home to each other.  T-shirts and candy bars came over from the destroyer crew.  When the refueling was finished, the lines and hoses were withdrawn back into their respective ship.  The destroyer took off like a scared rabbit and was out of sight in an hour.  Our meeting lasted only a few hours and then we were back to seeing  
  nothing but the sky and ocean.  The most beautiful and stirring thing that I remember of this voyage was the red, white and blue, of our flag, fluttering at the mast of the destroyer during our “chance meeting.”  It made me very proud.  
  About the author:  Miles served in H-511th PIR from 1943-1947.  He served in the Leyte and Luzon campaigns being wounded on three occasions.  Miles currently live in Sun City, California.  
  Editor’s Note:  On May 8, 1944, the 511th PIR departed from Pittsburg, CA on the SS Sea Pike that had been disguised as a "Straight Leg" infantry unit.  The ship had been built by the Western Pipe and Steel Corp. and launched in Feb. 1943.  The ship was 492 feet long, with a beam of 70 feet.  She drew 29 feet of water and her steam engines pushed her at 17 knots. On May 28, 1944 the Regiment arrived at Oro Bay, New Guinea.  
  Courtesy of “WINDS ALOFT” Quarterly publication of the 511th PIR Association