On the 20th day alone at sea. A preview from the forthcoming book Lost in the Pacific:
“At 1100, I spotted three Navy Catalina flying boats approaching me. Two passed within half a mile, but failed to see me. The third passed directly overhead and saw the sea marker dye I had spread on the water. He dropped a smoke bomb to mark my position, called the other planes back, and all three circled the raft. The waves and swells were ten feet high. It would have been a rough sea for any craft, let alone a flying boat.
Two of the planes lowered their retractable wing floats and made an attempt to land. Both pilots decided, upon closer observation of the waves, not to risk "setting down" on such a choppy sea. About that time I drifted into a rail squall and the rescue planes lost sight of me completely. The third pilot, Lt. Hamblin, was a little more venturesome than the other. Although he could not see me, he decided that, if one of them did not land on the water in that vicinity, they would probably never find me again. He dropped his depth charges and about 900 gallons of gasoline (I'll bet that breaks your heart) to lighten the plane and made a power-stall landing on the water. His starboard wing float hit a swell as he was landing and started to spin the plane to that side. Hamblin proved to be the master of the situation. Quick as a cat, he hit the throttle on the starboard engine, and kicked the rudder and stick to port.
The lumbering Catalina straightened out and dropped into the sea. A wave broke over her and smashed the port gun blister and filled the after compartment with water. The plane remained afloat, however, and the crew bailed out the water as Hamblin taxied into the rail squall where I had disappeared. After taxiing about two miles, they found me, gorging myself on the last of the rations that had been dropped to me on August first.
Despite the Catalina's precarious position on a heavy sea in enemy waters, I for one was in the lap of luxury. I stretched out on a dry bunk, pulled a warm blanket over me, drank some fresh water, and smoked a cigarette while I waited for O. Braun, one of the crewmen, to fix me something to eat. Practically the entire crew was seasick, and Braun was no exception. Nevertheless, he fixed me two tumblers of grapefruit juice, a couple of cups of coffee, two big steaks, and a large dish of peas.
The sea was so rough that Hamblin decided not to risk a take-off at that time. He asked me if the water ever got any smoother out there, but I couldn't offer him much encouragement. Although the waves were running at least ten feet high, it was the smoothest sea that I had observed since July fourteenth.
We stayed on the water all that afternoon and all that night. The plane weathercocked into the wind, and the swells constantly hit the wing floats from the side. The Catalina creaked and groaned like an old haunted house. The waves engulfed the bow of the plane and broke against the hull. It was a tribute to our aircraft engineers that such a light structure as the hull of an airplane managed to withstand the merciless pounding of a heavy, angry sea.
I was indescribably grateful for companionship; and the courageous crewmen kept up a continual conversation with me, despite their seasickness.
At dawn of August fourth, the navigator reported that we were 100 miles due south of the enemy air base at Kahili on Bougainville. The waves were still ten feet high, but Hamblin decided to attempt a take-off nevertheless. He reasoned that, if we stayed on the water, the plane would break up in the heavy sea. And the possibility of Jap strafing was always a threat. He felt that he has a 50-50 chance of getting the plane airborne. If the take-off failed, we would all be in the water that much sooner.
The take-off was successful! The cumbersome plane bounced off the tops of one swell and spanked onto another, knocking some rivets out of the hull. It bounced into the air about ten knots slower than it should have been to be airborne, but again Hamblin's skill saved our lives. No one but an expert pilot could have held that plane in the air without spinning. Hamblin was an expert, and we remained airborne.
Copyright 2013 L. Douglas Keeney
From the forthcoming book Lost in the Pacific.