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Thursday, January 19, 2012

part II, Following my step-father's footstep.

How proud I am to see my step father standing there on deck of the ship the Boschfontein. I asked him so many times, how was it to be on the ship during war time. I always got the same answer: "It was sometimes very dangerous, but luck has been on our side." and that's all he would tell me.
I know now that it had been far more dangerous then he let me believe it.Thirty three merchant ships were lost at sea in World War II every week, Torpedoes hurled by Japanese submarines or bombed from the air by Japanese airplanes.It's hard to believe that all I was able to get out of my step dad was a shrug of his shoulder, and he would stare in the distance.I knew that his thoughts were on the ship, back at sea. I would not get a word out of him. It must have been too painful.Just like my Mom he too liked to forget about that miserable war, with so many deaths and so much suffering. What a senseless thing "WAR". How horrible to have these memories, and they had to live with these for the rest of their lives.So many of his merchant comrades were lost at sea.
So many came home wounded, not only physical, many suffered mental issues after the war.These were the Merchant men, they remained unheard, they brought the Cargo through. The time has come to pay our debt, by Remembrance, Recognition and respect!A tribute to unknown heroes.They were sea men strong and true.Some of whose lifeboats never reached the shore.A sea mans grave is all they got.Yet children lost fathers and mothers lost sons and no mention of heroism was ever told to their next of kin.I wonder is this some kind of a mistake?Where are the monuments for these merchant men who lost their life.

eye witness report.
This report I read ,it was written on April 8, 2011,

During WWII, my unit, the 232 General Hospital shipped out of Seattle Washington in early Feb, 1944. I was nineteen years old when we embarked on the Boschfontein. The word on the ship was that we had 1500 souls on board. Maybe this was passengers and crew.

The troop holds had bunks stacked 6-bunks high. Early in the cruise it was estimated that two thirds of the passengers were sea-sick. Copious amounts of vomit ran across the floors of the hold as the ship rolled.

We sailed to Pearl Harbor where we laid over for three days and then departed for Eniwetok(he wrote Eno-we-talk atol.)We laid at anchor for two days. While there we had a storm that caused another ship to drag anchor resulting in the Boschfontein and the other ship becoming entangled and slamming into each other in the heavy seas. One of the ships had an Army Duck on board which was dropped over the side between the ships. In the ensuing hours, the Duck was destroyed and crushed flat between the two ships. Finally the storm abated and the crews were able to separate the two ships.

Then we went on to Saipan.From Saipan we sailed for Iwo Jima. Soon after departing Saipan, we had a submarine alert about 2200. The Captain cut our engines off and we drifted for several hours. We were told to be very quiet-and especially careful not to drop anything to the deck. A few hours later, our Destroyer escort, gave the "All Clear" and we steam on towards Iwo Jima.

Upon arrival at Iwo Jima, my unit was off loaded with cargo nets into a LST just offshore. This was about the 1st or 2nd week of March.

We left the Boschfontein off Iwo Jima and made our way to the Island only to be turned away by automatic weapons fire just off the beach. The LST crew withdrew out of small arms range and waited for darkness.

That night about 2300, in a driving rain, the LST moved back in to the island and we waded off the ramp into waist deep water and were told to take cover in the first shell hold we could find on the Island. Local security was established. The first thing I could see in the early morning light was a Japanese soldier that had been cut nearly in half by machine gun fire.

The Boschfontein had departed during the night.

This was written by Harold Hickman.
I spent 45 or so days aboard that ship (the MS. Boschfontein)

I was a medic in the 232 General Hospital. Left Seattle, in convoy aboard the BOSCHFONTEIN one morning; no convoy the following morning. Why? I was told that this Dutch vessel with a Javanese ( Dutch crew) crew could outrun a submarine. Found ourselves docked in Honolulu I know not how many days later.
Took off for URIK, the code name for wherever we were bound with the convoy.Lost it again. Same story, we are fast. Were accompanied by a Navy Destroyer Escort to where we did not know. North one day, South the next. We roamed the Pacific for over 40 days.

Voila! One morning there we were. We saw a Volcano created looking piece of earth standing out among the waters.

The sleeping quarters were so close that the bunk above me when occupied came within 3 inches of my head. I spent almost every night sleeping on deck in a corner.

I have a lot more to tell. If anyone is interested, please contact me at But Hurry, I am 87 and although in excellent health, it is getting late.

Gerald Abelson T5 232nd General Hospital, Iwo Jima laboratory Technician, specialty, CATEGORY # 858, autopsies.

Never physically HANDLED a weapon IN MY LIFE until two minutes before we went over the side of the ship the Boschfontein, via the rope ladder. After all, we were MEDICS........says here, small print, bottom page.

A little more about the 232nd General Hospital.

An addendum:We were given carbines( are shorter than assault rifles and often lighter) just before going over the side of the Dutch ship, the Boschfontein. We had no training with weapons. We were MEDICS with Red Crosses on our helmets and shoulders. When someone asked about ammunition, we were told that there was none. Guess how many carbines were tossed into the Pacific that day! The red crosses were wonderful bull's eyes. They came off very quickly. When the LST headed for shore, it was pitch dark. We were all down in the hold of the boat feeling as though we were all in a BIG TIN CAN. In truth, there was no fear. We really did not know what was going on. WELL, the LST captain was drunk, so I was told. The tin can headed for shore like a bunch of balls on a pool table. It ran into everything nearby on the water. I felt as though I was going over NIAGARA FALLS in a barrel.
Lots to tell. I can smile now.
More at another time.
This story he wrote on Nov. 8,2011.

He was one of the 232nd General Hospital medics.... on the Boschfontein in February, 1944.on his way to Iwo Jima.
Gerard Abelson.   He is 87 years. 

Thank you so very much much for sharing your stories. I wished my step father would have told me more about these voyages.I guess it was to upsetting for him.He kept silent.He must have seen a lot, during WWII, sailing on the Pacific.

An Australian transport boat was bombed by the Japanese in Port Moresby. A small boat is looking for victims.Port Moresby is the capital city of New Guinea island.On June 28 1944 the Boschfontein was docked in Moresby for three days. It had delivered the goods again.
My step dad once told me that they had docked in Pearl Harbor. This must have been on a voyage in May, 1944. He told me that the harbor was a mess, full of wrecks.All those beautiful ships, all what was left over was pieces of metal.It was a terrible sight, he told me.He got tears in his eyes, telling me this.The only time I ever saw him emotional.

On March 10,1944 the Boschfontein had docked in Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides Islands, again they had delivered "the Goods". He must have seen so much destruction.No wonder he did not liked to be reminded of those years. Just like my mom, he said; "Life must go on".
 A bomb damaged ship in the Harbor of Espiritu Santo.
Espiritu Santo Harbor.
Merchant ship with guns on the front of the ship.The Boschfontein left the Harbor of Espiritu Santo on March 19,1944 and docked four days later in Tutuila harbor. American Samoa.The ship had the third Marine division on board.
Tutuila Harbor

How different it must have looked then. All this beauty and the men on board of these Merchant ship could not enjoy all this beauty. Everywhere they looked there was destruction. Why is mankind doing this?Always the question" Why",Why",Why"?It is said that more seamen perished than in any other branch.
They left Tutuila Harbor on the 25th of March, 1944, and arrived in Pearl Harbor on the 31st of March.
Pearl Harbor. A Japanese fighter plane. Clean up started in Pearl Harbor. 

Back to San Francisco in convoy, arriving in San Francisco on April 8,1944.From San Francisco to Portland, from Portland to Pearl Harbor again. Now it was May 3, 1944, back again to San Francisco where they left with "Goods",on May 28.
This time the "Goods" were the 3rd Emergency Rescue Squadron with an initial cadre of 56 officers and 179 enlisted, on board the ms Boschfontein,en route to Milne Bay where they docked on June 17,1944.

The 3rd ERS (emergency Rescue squadron) pilots began staging to the Southwest Pacific where it was to become part of Gen, MacArthur's 5th Air Force. A 169-man-ground echelon departed the Us on May 28 and experienced a 22 day ocean voyage on the ms Boschfontein, serving as a troop transport to Milne Bay, New Guinea was reached on June 17. The 3rd ERS would lose 23 men in five separate incidents in the next two years. A tragic loss.

Fierce fighting took place in this area when the Japanese Forces landed and were eventually defeated and withdrew from the Bay.

Australian troops at Milne Bay taken a bath.
This was an area of battle in Milne Bay in 1942.

From Milne Bay the ship went to Oro Bay, Papua New Guinea, where they arrived on June 19,1944 and left on June 25,1944.They stayed in this area and went back and forth to Milne Bay. They left from Port Moresby on July 1,1944 to Brisbane, arrival July 5,1944 and left Brisbane on July 10,1944 to San Francisco again where they docked on July 30,1944.
Unbelievable voyages, they stalked death from port to port. They saw the lurking submarines, death followed them all around.But they sailed again and again, to make sure that the troops would receive their "Goods".in every nook and cranny of the Pacific.
These Merchant men must have been very brave. On board there were not many means to fight the enemy. Their ships were not equipped with many guns on deck.They were an easy prey if they were spotted by enemy planes.
Another voyage at sea took them from San Francisco to Milne Bay, from Milne Bay to Oro Bay, from Oro Bay to Langemak Bay. Langemak Bay in Papua New Guinea had an extensive Naval operation in World War II.

Langemak Bay, New Guinea
Papua New Guinea, Langemak Bay 1944

The Boschfontein left Langemak Bay on the same day September 7,1944 in Convoy to Hollandia where they left on September 16,1944 to Manus, where the VMSB-235 squadron-235 boarded the Boschfontein, where they went I have not been able to find out.What happened in between  is a mystery.
 Look at all these young men. No idea what is in stock for them.All these smiling faces.

The Boschfontein movements showed that it left Guadalcanal on October 2,1944 and sailed to San Francisco, where the ship arrived on October 18,1944.The ship stayed in San Francisco till Novemeber 15,1944.

The movements of the ms Boschfontein will continue on my next blog.

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