During the Fall/Winter of '45, all over the Pacific Theater of Operations, hundreds of thousands of men were anxiously waiting to be transported back to the United States. Many of these men had served for years in far off places like Burma, China and India. Others had survived the great battles in the Philippines and Okinawa and elsewhere in the Central and South Pacific.
The war had been won and the time had come to bring home the men who won it. However, in this effort our sea lift capacity was being strained to its limits. Troop ships of all classes were already plying the seas in this endeavor with little or no turn around time after embarking and debarking our homeward bound servicemen.
To meet the urgent demand for more troop space, the Navy decided to call upon some of its combat ships. Among these ships were many of the Escort Carriers of the Pacific Command.
During the war these little ships again and again took on and successfully accomplished each assignment given to them. Starting with the delivery of replacement planes for the large carriers to convoy and anti-submarine patrol. They went on to provide air support for amphibious landings and to the face the enemy surface and air forces in numerous battles in the Pacific. They suffered severe punishment in engagements against the enemy in the Marianas, Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
When the call went out for the manning of Operation Magic Carpet, as this troop lift exercise was called, these ships and their crews responded once again by showing their adaptability and resourcefulness. In many West Coast shipyards theyoutfitted for the task at hand. Their planes were removed and their Hangar Decks were stripped down and steam cleaned. Multi-level bunks were welded in place and all departments were otherwise prepared to transport and service as many as a 1000 passengers.
Sailing orders were issued to proceed to such far flung destinations as Buckner Bay, Subic Bay, Nagasaki, Shanghai, etc.
One such voyage that is well remembered by me was when my ship USS MAKIN ISLAND CVE-93 was ordered to Shanghai, China.
SHANGHAI! Truly a name that conjures up all the mysteries of the Orient. A port of call that ranks with Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore in the hearts and minds of old salts who sailed the Seas in the Domain of the Golden Dragon.
A few months earlier our aircraft squadron made a strike on Shanghai just a few days before the war ended. To now get the chance to actually visit such a port was an unexpected treat for us young sailors of so many years ago.
We arrived on 7 December 1945 and docked at the China Merchants' Wharf. The job of embarking our passengers quickly commenced. We would be taking home about 1000 men of the 10th Army Air Corps which had been stationed in the interior of China.
My watch section drew the first liberty ashore and during the next couple of days, my shipmates and I saw many strange places, people and things. We saw the Bund, the Cathay Hotel and the Whangpoo River teeming with Junks and small flat bottomed Sampans. At the loading docks of the warehouses, we were amazed to see coolies load monstrous bags of rice on their backs and then trot off to who knows where like the weight of their load was nothing at all.
There was the run down New Garden Bridge which was being refurbished by scores upon scores of Chinese laborers hanging all over it while chipping paint with little ballpeen hammers. Two days later it had a fresh coat of paint and looked like it was brand new.
There were some great sounding names like Bubbling Well Road where the Navy had taken over the old and very famous Shanghai Race Track. It had been converted into an Enlisted Men's Club and in it we enjoyed hamburgers and Stateside beer.
We later had a full dinner at the Seventh Heaven Restaurant in the old Standard Oil Building. There was a waiter standing behind every chair to see to it that you did not strain yourself by having to light your own cigarette or refill your beer glass.
There were dozens of bars like the White Horse and night clubs like the Domino Club in the Old French Quarter of the International Settlement as well as huge dance halls that accommodated hundreds and hundreds of people.
In 1945 Shanghai was populated with about 4,000,000 people. Almost all of them seemed to be on whatever street we happened to be on and almost all of them tried to sell something to us. Herbs and roots to cure every malady known to man. There were some things floating in liquid in glass jars that to this day I do not want to even speculate what they were or what you were expected to do with them.
As I remember it, we felt perfectly safe even in the "back alleys" except that we had to watch out for the dreaded Shore Patrol as we were selling or trading cartons of cigarettes for Kimonos, Japanese swords (cheap imitations to be sure) and embroidered Dragon decorations for the linings of our pea coats and the cuffs of our dress blues.
Practically all the time my liberty group was in Shanghai, we had the guide services of a White Russian young man. As a young boy, he had been stranded in Shanghai as his parents were on vacation in Australia when the Japanese occupied the city. How he survived as a White Occidental in that environment for all those years, I would never fully understand.
We were very grateful for his help. It is well known that a sailor doesn't need any help to get into trouble. Staying out of it is another story but I am pleased to say that most of us took Peter's advice and we passed up couple of places where we could have attracted several kinds of trouble. Foregoing some short term pleasures in Shanghai turned out to be a wise move in the long run.
We were able to get permission to bring Peter aboard our ship before she left port. We loaded him down with soap and other toiletries, some extra clothing and even a few things we commandeered from the galley before saying good bye and wishing him well.
I have often thought of him and wondered if he ever made it safely out of China. I hope he made the great European airlift evacuation in 1948/'49 before the Chinese Communists took over the city.
We put out to sea for the long voyage home on 10 December. Despite a real longing to get home, I watched the China Coast drop below the horizon and felt a pang of regret that I could not have spent more time in Shanghai.
Our 20 day voyage home was pretty uneventful for our ship's crew but for our airmen passengers it was another story. Cramped quarters and long lines were just a part of their problems. We hit some heavy weather during our passage and there were some very sick flyboys aboard. One T/Sgt who was an aerial gunner with 32 missions in his log book told me that he would fly them all over again rather than set foot aboard another miserable ship sailing on another miserable ocean. Frankly, his language was a bit more colorful than that but I am sure that you get the drift.
USS MAKIN ISLAND again celebrated Christmas at sea but we finally did get All Hands and our passengers safely home to Seattle, WA in time to ring in the New Year of that wonderful year of home coming and peace - 1946.
Looking back over 50 years and despite a lot of good times later spent in Manila, Nagoya, Tokyo, etc., I will always fondly remember the sights and sounds of Shanghai during those few fleeting days in December of '45.
----- Gus Youngkrist MAKINGY@aol.com