In light of Veteran’s Day, I recently did something I’ve been meaning to do for several months. I began an Internet search using my father’s discharge papers from the Navy to attempt to piece together his time of service during WWII. I had come across these papers earlier in the year as I reorganized family papers that I didn’t even realize I had.
But the discharge papers were of particular interest. I had grown up hearing the story of how my father – who enlisted at 32 years old to offer his mechanical skills to his country – had been on a minesweeper in the South Pacific. There were the funny stories – like when they had their final shore leave before heading into battle, and he was determined to take a five-gallon bottle of rum along for the ride (and walked off the pier holding on to it) – and the somber stories, including the minesweeper having a mine detonate beneath them. The latter sent him back to Indianapolis for “survivor’s leave” at which time he dated my mother for 11 days before they got married.
Trust me, we’ve already covered all those quips. But I digress.
Unfortunately, 65 years ago, no one was blogging about their experiences, and in particular no one serving in Task Unit 78.2.9 on YMS 47. And, while there were always the “stories,” I never asked the specifics … or maybe I did and he just went back to the stories. It’s taken a few hours, but I’ve found that they referred to the minesweepers as the “mighty midgets.” And, now I’ve got a better idea of the missions that (according to those discharge papers) resulted in a WWII Victory Ribbon, American Area Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Ribbon/ 2 bronze stars and the Asiatic Pacific Area Ribbon/four bronze stars that were awarded to my father, William N. Snyder. I have never seen these awards; it looks like they were sent to my father about two years after his discharge in 1948. But I did find a copy of a Presidential Unit Citation to Task unit 78.2.9. That unit included the U.S.S. Sentry, U.S.S. Scuffle, U.S.S. Scout and YMS’ (minesweepers) 9, 10, 39, 46, 47, 49, 50, 52, 53, 95, 196, 314, 315, 335, 336, 339, 364, 365, 366, 368 and 392. It reads:
“For extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces at Balikpapan, Borneo, Netherlands East Indies, from June 15, to July 1, 1945. Limited in speed and maneuverability by the drag of their sweeps while being subjected to heavy and determined enemy artillery fire from shore batteries, Task Unit 78.2.9 aggressively conducted sweeping missions in fields sown with Allied magnetic, acoustic and combination mines as well as newly planted Japanese mines. Constantly menaced by mines and concentrated Japanese fire, the officers and men of these vulnerable mine sweepers maintained a high morale; they entered the mine obstructed waters at the objective throughout seventeen days of operation; they manned their stations gallantly during protracted periods of General Quarters: they rendered counter battery fire and aided the support vessels in spotting Japanese positions more clearly visible from their own close range positions; and although suffering serious losses in boats and sweeping gear which necessitated long work hours to prepare the mine sweepers for further operations, they succeeded in meeting the scheduled landing date. By the skill, fortitude and courage of its personnel, Task Unit 78.2.9 was instrumental in preventing damage from mine explosions to the landing ships despite heavy traffic on or following the target date, thereby rendering distinguished service in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Through some intensive “Googling,” I finally found this (http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/chr/chr45-06.html) :
06/28 Thu. United States naval vessels damaged,
Balikpapan area, Borneo:
Motor minesweeper YMS-47, by mine,
01 d. 19’S., 116 d. 55’E.
Motor minesweeper YMS-49, by coastal defense gun,
01 d. 00’S., 117 d. 00’E.
Japanese naval vessel sunk:
Destroyer ENOKI, by mine, Sea of Japan,
35 d. 26’N., 135 d. 44’E.
If you follow that link, you’ll see a harrowing detail of that June 1945 and a mention of “Vice Admiral J.S. McCain,” John McCain’s father. I found a startling line in “The History of the YMS 196 — “One day while sweeping we came upon a minesweeper that had the stern blown completely off. I believe that it was the YMS-47.” Further search allowed me to read a passage from “South Pacific at Seventeen: USS Cofer” by James Richard Snellen. He writes of that Thursday, June 28, 1945: “At 0740 hours, our boat #2 was lowered into the water, 15 miles east of Balikpapan area, Borneo to act as a standby rescue boat. At 1415 hours, the YMS 47 was struck by a mine and sustained severe hull damage with two injured. Boat #4 picked up three casualties and brought them to the Cofer. The YMS-49 took YMS-47 in tow to an anchorage area.” Which must have been a little more dangerous than it sounds when you refer to the above detail of that same YMS-49 being “damaged by costal defense gun.”
I was searching for a picture of the YMS-47 only to find that sometimes words are worth a thousand pictures …
A Plug for a Distinguished Nervuos Cross
Listen, men, I’ve a tale to tell,
of mighty midgets that sail like – well,
with a word to the wise on larger ships,
to forget those small craft transfer slips,
Men don’t live on YMS’s –
they just exist under strains and stresses,
tossed around like a bundle of peas,
inside their ship on the calmest seas,
Did you ever eat on a YMS?
It has been done a times I guess,
but the simplest meals can come to grief,
when we hit the wake of a floating leaf.
An order comes to dog the hatches,
for days on end we all wear patches,
what dire calamity caused all this?
A passing school of playful fish.
Then, at “0 two hundred” all’s secure,
the anchor is deep and sure,
and even when the seas like granite,
she’s taking off for another planet.
The battered life is just one item,
we’ve many more, just let me cite ‘em,
We scrub our whites – they come back black,
our clothes line boys is aft of the stack.
The spacious lockers, I might mention,
are always full and gosh, the tension.
I wish the Navy were more lenient,
four rubber sides would have been convenient.
I’m not through with this little tale,
of little ships and how they sail,
half submarine and aeroplane,
they’re a secret weapon gone insane.
Ah yes, my friend, if big ships bore you,
the YMS is waiting for you,
with loving care, from fore to aft,
the Navy designed them and laughed and laughed.
(Courtesy of Robert Noonan – YMS-176, U.S. Navy Minesweeper – World War II – Pacific Area)
On this Veteran’s Day, I feel like I’ve spent some time with my dad. He was definitely part of that greatest generation who entered a war and came back to a booming economy, had a successful run in business and provided a warm and loving home for his family. He was as quiet as my mother was vociferous. My dad passed away in 1984 at only 72, after 11 years of somewhat precarious survival after a massive heart attack in 1973. He was 47 when I was born. The age of many of my friends’ grandfathers, I never doubted that I was totally adored. Yet he wasn’t out in the backyard throwing a ball with me, nor did we hike or go on family vacations. The happiest times were spent on our back patio where he had mastered the rotisserie and a ham of epic perfection.
When I post this blog, these memories and research will be “out there” in cyberspace for anyone else who has found themselves compelled to “Google” the tales of the “mighty midgets.” And they’ll get a little glimpse of my dad, a “Motor Mac” who went on to live a pretty happy, quiet little life. And today I’m especially grateful to have been a part of it.