USS Bataan Family and Friends Day

[Travel]

27th June 2001

[The official image of the
USS Bataan]

Several Saturdays ago, I rose at 4:00am, got rained on all day, yet still managed to have a great day. It was a day trip to the USS Bataan with Debbie. Anne was invited, and was eager to go, but her knee said it couldn't go. She had done the splits down the stairs a few days earlier and badly hurt her knee. Right up to the last minute, she kept saying "I can go, I can go" and then the night before, she said 'I don't think I can go."

Debbie's husband, Joe, is in the Navy and serves on the USS Bataan. The Bataan was having a Friend and Family Day, and Debbie was the family and I was the friend. There were three of us, as Debbie brought along another friend, Chris. The plan was that we would be taken out to the Bataan, have lunch and then the Bataan would come back into port. And that's essentially what happened, except it was complicated by the tag end of the rainstorms that flooded parts of the USA.

Yes, I got out of bed at 4:00am. Despite going to bed at about midnight, I rose at 4 and got ready. I looked at my backpack and my jacket and thought it wasn't worth it, so I left with camera and hat and light summer clothes. Hey, it's summer. I drove to Debbie's, then we went and picked up Chris, and then Debbie drove us to Norfolk pier and we waited in line for a bus to take us to the outward bound craft. We were each handed a form to sign. It explained that today was going to be very physical, and we had to be able and active. Signing it probably signed away our right to sue the Navy if we slipped and fell down a 100 foot ladder. That was the first indication that Anne's knee could not have withstood this trip. She was home in bed, warm and dry and sleeping.

The waiting line was separated. Puking in this line, non-puking in that line. The puking line got Dramamine. I was brave and headed for the non-puking line. After doing sea-trials in an oil tanker off the coast of Korea in a typhoon and not experiencing any sea-sickness, I thought I would be right.

We waited in line and were gently rained upon. Two buses arrived, and were promptly filled by guests of the captain and other high officers. The buses drove away and promptly got lost, while we were rained upon some more. Three quarters of an hour later, a bus appeared again and took away more captain's guests. How many bloody guests does the captain need? And why was an entire Scout troop there as his guest? They filled the bus and it drove away and we were gently rained upon some more. I was carrying my two-way pager, a test device for the new project. I type messages with my thumbs, and they appear as emails at Anne's computer. So I kept her informed as to the state of the line and the rain. After an hour and a half, the buses arrived back and we finally got to board and were driven away. On board, we had to sign a muster sheet. Name and age and who we were visiting on the Bataan. I had no idea that Debbie's age was 83, and Chris did not look 56. I told the truth. Our guide on the bus was a young boy with a Brooklyn accent. This appeared to be a novelty for the southerners on board and they teased him for the whole trip. He was a really nice guy and I quite liked the accent.

We arrived at a Navy installation somewhere and were shown our amphibious landing craft. This was to take to us out to the Bataan. But there was a delay. I suspect that all the delays were to give the Dramamine the chance to take effect. We spent a few brief minutes inside a building abusing the bathroom amenities, and then we waited outside. Being gently rained upon. We waited about a half hour and then we were given a life vest and told to put it around our waists. There were a few of us gentlemen who expanded the straps as far as they could go, and instead of being able to get it around our waists, we were hard pressed to get it around one thigh. These Navy boys are so slim and trim. We waited another hour, being rained upon, and the rain was not so gentle now. I paged Anne every time something happened. "Duck flew past", "Someone lit a cigarette", "Gust of wind", and finally, "Hurray, we are moving." We boarded the amphibious landing craft. This meant we walked onto the the thing and stood up. In the rain. This was not the trip for Anne. It was standing only. In the rain. We pulled out and headed for the open sea. [We board the landing craft]

[Leaving port]

The trip took 2 hours. When we had left the bay and were out at sea, the waves got higher and the craft wallowed from side to side. The Dramamine got a very good work out. I think a few people puked, but most of us huddled into ourselves and stayed quiet and kept our breakfasts down. The rain got heavier. The seas started to smack over the front of the craft and come down and wet people pretty thoroughly. I was leaning over the back, looking behind, enjoying the sights. My back got soaked, and eventually I was soaked completely through. I was told later that I had a smile on my face the whole trip. I was enjoying myself, despite the rain and the cold, but I can't remember smiling. Some people had umbrellas, but the waves got under the umbrellas. Some had raincoats. Most were like me and were in light summer clothes. We were soaked and cold. I wasn't in the mood for taking photos, but Chris was game enough to subject his camera to the rain, so he supplied an amazing set of photos of our landing.

Eventually, we spotted a ship appearing through the rain, and cheered. Bugger. A tanker of some sort. And then, at long last, the USS Bataan appeared through the rain.

[We spot the Bataan]

It took a while to get close enough to make sure that it really was the Bataan. It was. Our hopes arose, and we started to believe that we might be warm and dry very soon.

[It is the Bataan]

We did a slow and lazy circle around it. Then came back. Then they announced a 40 minute wait before we could board. There was a near mutiny at this announcement, so they sped things up a bit.

The USS Bataan is a WASP Class multipurpose amphibious assault ship. This means that it usually has Harrier jump jets on the top flight deck, big gaping holes in the side for all sorts of things, and the back opens up so amphibious landing craft like we happened to be on can drive right up inside the ship, dock, disgorge passengers and drive away. Them's not the right nautical terms for it, but you get the idea. We waited for the craft that was before us, and it drove in and emptied and came out and went away. While we waited, I listened to a phone conversation with a woman in front of me. Her husband was obviously on the Bataan, and had phoned her. He had expected her on an earlier craft and was phoning to see where she was. "Where am I? I'm on the boat outside. How am I? I'm soaked and I'm cold and when I get onboard, I want a towel and a hair drier and a xxxxing massage. Can I see the stern? What the xxxx is the stern? You're in the Navy, I'm not. I can see the back of the boat. Is that what you mean?" I had to laugh. Our craft revved up and headed for the Bataan.

[Finally we're coming in]

It was a slow process. They aimed our landing craft at the back and we slowly came in. Look at the huddle of folks on our landing craft. Some sensible folks had raincoats and umbrellas, but that didn't keep them completely dry. We were all anxious to be onboard the Bataan.

[Getting closer]

It was very exciting. That entrance bay looked pretty small, and our craft looked pretty large. The closer we got, the larger that entrance bay looked and the larger the Bataan looked. That ship is huge.

[Getting even closer]

We're coming in, and we can see lights inside the Bataan.

[The Bataan looms over us]

We're going in!!! There were guys above the landing bay, waving to us.

[We're going in]

The sea was rough, there wasn't much clearance, but they got us in with no problems at all, and we squelched off the craft and onto the Bataan. Until this point, I didn't want to use my camera as it was just too wet. Once the landing craft got inside the Bataan, I pulled the camera out and started clicking. I was still on the landing craft and we were crowded up and edging forward to get off it when I took this photo.

[Coming off the landing
craft]

Debbie and I have just come off the landing craft and are standing there like two drowned rats, wondering where to go next. [Two drowned rats]

Inside the ship, it was huge. So much open space. We walked forward and then up a huge ramp, and there were the friends and family waiting for us. Joe, Debbie's husband, met us there. We were like drowned rats, soaked to the skin.

Joe dragged us off to the Chief's Mess and then got towels and we dried the bare skin and didn't worry too much about the soaking clothes. Had coffee and shivered and started to warm up.

[A drowned Debbie is
  reunited with Joe]

We huddled for warmth, and we steamed and dried off a little bit. Then we joined the Steel Beach Picnic. There's a huge area inside the ship with big holes in the side. They had barbecues set up in one of the holes,a nd they were cooking up a storm for us. 800 people were expected to visit, but the rain and the flooding had kept a lot of people away, so only 300 turned up. Which meant all the more food for us hardy souls who had braved the rain. There were vast quantities of food. And the quality? These sailors eat very well. I heaped up with protein. Great slabs of meat. Hot dogs, hamburger patties, giant pork ribs, a slab of fried chicken. I needed meat. We went back to the Chief's Mess and I ate it all. Then I started to warm up and felt a lot better.

[The Steel Beach Picnic area]

Once we were fed, and were a bit drier, and much warmer, Joe took us on a tour of the ship. By this time, the rear entrance had been closed and the water had all been pumped out. Joe took us back down to where we had entered the Bataan. This photo shows the rear entrance of the ship, where our landing craft had come in. It's really gloomy inside, so much so that the dismal gloom of outside appears to be ever so bright.

[The landing bay]

We walked around the area and I marvelled at the size of it all. Tons of room for little things like tractors and cars and vans, all of which were spread out in this area.

[Side of the landing bay]

We went to one of the holes cut in the side of the ship and peered out. Not much to see out in the rain, but we were just below a normal sort of landing craft, maybe a lifeboat, and it had the ship's name on it so I photographed that. Look at the dismal rain behind it. Look at the runnels of water pouring off the boat. We were shooed away from here fairly quickly as it was too close to the edge and they didn't want guests falling overboard. [Lifeboat]

In the middle of this area, they had laid down the "carpet" with the Bataan's crest on it, and arranged 3 plaques nearby, detailing the history of the ship. I've put the photos of the plaques at the very end. Debbie and Joe posed for me. Compare the colour of Debbie's pants in this photo to the previous photo of her. She's obviously dried off a fair bit. I was drier and warmer, but still a bit damp. [Debbie and Joe with plaques]

Joe took us out to one side so we could the join the nicotine addicts for a short while. It was rainy and a bit miserable but I've lost any amazement I once had at the extents that addicts will go to. This photo shows the side of the ship, and some large bulbous thing in the rain.

[Raining on the satellite cover]

Finally, Joe led us up to the flight deck, via the morgue. The flight deck is a huge open area. I think they normally have Harrier jump jets and helicopters up here, but for our visit there were none. Probably so we couldn't interfere with them, or more probably so we could get a better view.

[The flight deck]

Off to the side, the tanker was still there. We could still dimly see it through the rain.

[Flight deck with tanker in
background]

The Bataan started up, and we all headed back to shore. Joe showed us over a little more of the ship, and then we sat in front of one of the big side entrances and watched the view. I dozed off for a few minutes, and woke up to find Chris capering in front of me, pulling faces while I was asleep. I stayed awake after that. By then, I was starting to feel warm and maybe even a little dry.

[Looking through the hole in
the ship]

It took about an hour to come back to port. We passed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel end again. The tunnel is alleged to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It's a 17.6 mile two-lane tunnel. The Bridge part goes way out, and then the highway dips under the water becomes the tunnel. This is the point that the highway goes beneath the waves.

[Chesapeake Bay Bridge becomes
the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel]

When we got near the end of the journey, we passed a moored ship that was similar to the Bataan. In the photo, you can see the back flap that gets lowered and lets the landing craft in. And you can see the big holes in the side of the ship. [Rear view of similar ship]

The Bataan came into port and finished the last few hundred yards with the help of a couple of busy little tugs. There were two, the Wendy Moran and the Karen Moran. Later, when we were walking back to the car, I saw a small fleet of these tugs, all with Moran as their last name.

[The Wendy Moran tug]

It took a while for the ship to dock and be tied up. It took the dockers a few attempts to get the gangplank picked up correctly, but finally they managed it, and there was a mass exodus. Families and friends and crew were leaving.

Then we had to walk a few miles back to the car, in the gentle rain again. It had been a great day. I had spent hours and hours being rained on, and all day being soggy and damp, but it was a wonderful day. I had so much fun.

Ship Notes

[Travel]

27th June 2001

The USS Bataan was named for the defense of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines in the Second World War. The American and Filipino troops held out against the Japanese for months. The "Battling Bastards of Bataan" defended the peninsula until 9th April 1942. This was followed by the Bataan Death March, a 65 mile forced march of the survivors to Manila, several weeks in a POW camp and then a trip in the "Hell Ships". Tens of thousands died.

The Plaques

I had hoped that the photos of the plaques would be readable, but sadly they aren't. I've included the photos here anyway and tried to transcribe the writing. I have missed a few words on the first plaque. Perhaps someone could let me know what they are.

"The Battling Bastards of Bataan - No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam"

"This bronze is a gift to the officers and crew of the USS Bataan (LHD 5) from the "Battling Bastards of Bataan", an organization of survivors from the battle for Bataan, 02 January - 09 April 1942, the subsequent "Bataan Death March", the "Hell Ships" and Japanese prisoner of war camps. It is to serve as a reminder that the precepts of courage ... have not and will not become outmoded.

Remember always, keep the faith in our country.

The Battling Bastards of Bataan

20th September 1997"

[The blue plaque]

"This ship, the Bataan (LHD 5) is dedicated to those valiant American and Philippine forces that, at the beginning of World War II, fought a gallant five month battle defending the Philippine Islands against the well equipped and adequately supplied Imperial Japanese forces.

The defenders were ultimately forced to surrender, not for lack of courage, valor not the inclination to continue. Their defeat was directly attributable to America's failure to initially provide them the essential equipment and supplies required to accomplish their assigned mission, along with the nation's inability to reinforce and resupply the besieged defenders during their five month period of combat.

This awesome vessel with its potential destructive capabilities and highly trained, disciplined crew is America's commitment to its military forces, that never again shall such forces be placed in harm's way or committed to combat in the defense and preservation of America's principles without the benefit of superior combat equipment.

Let this mighty craft serve as a proclamation to the world that America has the will and ability to address, with force if necessary, any hostile or aggressive conduct that poses a threat to the nation's peace, freedom or vital interests. Let it be further known that it is America's desire that this mighty ship can achieve its intended purpose without firing a single shot in anger.

American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, Inc.
September 20, 1997"

[Without wishing to detract from the sentiments of the statement on the plaque, I should point out that the defense of the Bataan Peninsula did not occur at the start of the Second World War. It occurred at the start of America's involvement in the Second World War, but that was more than 2 years after the start of the Second World War, about a third of the way into the war.]

[The metal plaque]

"The USS Bataan LHD 5 is the second ship named to commemorate the heroic defense of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines in the early days of World War II. The first, the USS Bataan CVL 29, was an Independence class light carrier that was commissioned in November 1943 and earned six battle stars in World War II and seven battle stars during the Korean Conflict.

With pride and best wishes this plaque is presented to the USS Bataan LHD 5 by the USS Bataan CVL 29 Association to honor the tradition and heritage linking two great ships bearing the same proud, distinguished, and memorable name.

Proudly presented this year 1997."

[The brown plaque]