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Ed Shumer

1949-1952: My Time Onboard the USS COLLETT

1949-1952: My Time Onboard the USS COLLETT

by Ed Shumer in March 2010

 

The USS COLLETT (DD-730) and her sister ships were in San Diego in March and early April 1949.  At that time I was a crew member of the USS HELENA (CA-75).  On a late Sunday afternoon at the end of March I heard a message over the loudspeaker: "Anyone wishing to transfer to the Destroyer division report to the officer on duty."  Only a few sailors reported with me about the transfer.  He took our names but we were told nothing else that day.  On Monday after the noon meal about 60 sailors reported to the officer on duty with seabags packed and ready to receive our orders.  This was the first time I ever heard the name “Collett.”

 

Around the end of April 1949, Destroyer Division 91 left San Diego for the Far East, but we did not always stay together.  The USS MANSFIELD (DD-728) was the flagship with the Commodore aboard, and generally was with the USS SWENSON (DD-729), while COLLETT was generally with the USS DE HAVEN (DD-727).

 

The four ships arrived in Pearl Harbor together and we stayed three or four days.  After we were underway, COLLETT and DE HAVEN stopped at Guam.  Our next stop was Olongapo, P.I.  This was at a time when Red China was rattling sabers about Taiwan.  We also went into Hong Kong and sailed north along the coast of China, but always in international waters.  After about half of this tour of duty, we stopped in Okinawa, and later stopped in Japan.  Upon returning to the states we stayed in or around San Diego for about a month or so.  It was during this time that my brother Don reported aboard.  I didn't get to take my leave until after COLLETT entered the shipyard at Vallejo, California, in late October 1949.  The overhaul lasted about three months.

 

After the shakedown trial in February 1950, we left the San Francisco area and returned to San Diego, our new base of operation.  We would do some gunnery training during the week at San Clemente and then back to San Diego on the weekends.  It was always in or around San Clemente for gunnery practice.  In late April, COLLETT and her sister ships got underway to go back to the Far East.

 

We were in Yokosuka when the Korean War broke out in late June 1950.  It didn't take long before the North Koreans had taken most of the South Korean territory.  At that time there were not many U.S. warships in the Far East.  But then we got the word that ships were on their way.  Our main task was getting supplies into Pusan.  Any ship, boat, or barge that could haul supplies was used; our job was to protect the supplies.  Soon, the USS BOXER (CV-21), USS TOLEDO (CA-133), and others were there to help the Navy expand their operations.   With the help of the TOLEDO, we targeted areas along the coastline in late July and early August 1950.   Bridges, railroads, and supply yards were often attacked to disrupt supplies going south.

 

The towns of Pohang, Yongdok, Sanechok, Songin, and Iwon are not as well-known as Inchon or Wonsan, but nevertheless they were in the war zone and were attacked often.

 

After a month or so in the war zone we would go back to either Sasebo or Yokosuka, Japan, for a few days to relax.  Liberty was always port and starboard.  By mid-September we knew something big was about to happen because many ships were gathering outside of Inchon harbor.  As we sailed past TOLEDO into the harbor with COLLETT in the lead, Wolmi Do was the focus of every ship.  The island was fortified to the hilt and surrounded by lots of mines in the water.  With COLLETT in the assigned position we were at 2,000 yards on the inside point.

 

When our guns ceased firing, the word was that nothing was left our magazines but a few star shells.  Now our damage control crew had a chance to focus on the damage to our ship.  And we had some, enough to keep us hopping.  I believe this was the hardest I ever worked in the Navy. 

 

Some of us focused on the engine rooms, while others had their hands full in the Stewards quarters below the mess decks.  Oil was pouring out of a fuel tank and saltwater was pouring in where a shell had penetrated below the waterline.  The crew’s head, forward of the mess decks, took a hit, but the most damaging hit could have been the one that came through the windbreak port-side.  It went between the oxygen bottles, through the watertight door and into the wardroom.  The shell broke apart but did not explode.  My brother Don said a Chief Petty Officer picked up pieces of the shell and threw them overboard; an action for which the Petty Officer was awarded the Bronze Star.

 

It took about 12 hours to get the tank hole plugged to keep the oil from leaking out and to get a temporary plug in place to keep the salt water at bay.  COLLETT was never blessed with a lot of supplies so we used what we had to make do.  We worked in five different locations with 12 men so that COLLETT could make it back to Japan.  I believe about 20 men were awarded Purple Hearts for wounds in the Inchon action. 

 

The shipyard in Yokosuka did some permanent repairs to make the ship seaworthy.  With that done and the crew rested, it was back to the war zone on the north side of Korea.  It was back to doing every kind of duty you could think of and then some: screening for carriers, spotting for battleships, picking up downed pilots, and destroying trains and track, buildings, bridges, and supply yards.  I know our longest period at sea in the war zone was 58 days.  The food supply would get mighty low and we would run out of some things.  We would also go weeks without getting mail.  Hearing from home was what everyone looked forward to.  Anyway, November 1950 finally came and we were released from duty which meant we could return to the States.

 

We were slated to go into the yards in Long Beach for repairs but rerouted to the Puget Sound shipyards in Bremerton, Washington, just after the new year began in 1951.  Everyone complained about the weather being cold and rainy, wishing we were in California.  I, myself, was one of the complainers until I met a girl who later became my wife.  (But that is another story.)

 

COLLETT went through a major overhaul in Bremerton, taking around four months.  With the ship back in top form it was time to return to San Diego in the first part of May 1951.  So again we began the same cycle of operation all over: gunnery practice during the week at San Clemente then back to San Diego for the weekend.  About the middle of June we got underway bound for Japan.  We again stopped at Pearl Harbor for a few days of liberty.

 

After getting out to sea for a day of so, my brother Don had an appendicitis attack with a temperature of 103 degrees.  A short time later the doctor was transported from MANSFIELD to check him over; he determined that the appendix would have to be removed.  The ship sat until the operation was complete, but the surgery didn’t go well.  Upon arriving at Midway Island, Don was transferred to the hospital.  At Midway we refueled and got underway for Japan. 

 

We arrived at Sasebo around mid July 1951.  After a short rest period it was back to the war zone patrolling both sides of Korea, but we spent most of our time on the north side because that was where most of the action was.  It was always the same, long periods at sea doing what destroyers do best: screening for carriers, spotting for battleships or cruisers, picking up downed pilots and patrolling along the coast line for enemy activity. 

 

Wonsan was a dangerous place.  The waters around Wonsan were full of mines and the shore battery fire was heavy.  When we didn’t have one of the big boys on the outside of us, Captain Madley would keep COLLETT just out of gun range; otherwise we would see waterspouts all around us.

 

We would still get low on food and mail was spotty at best, but when the mail did arrive we would get several mail bags at a time.

 

Winter started early and it was cold and the wind would howl. The ocean always had rolling waves with a heavy chop.  You had to experience it to understand it.

 

Well, time does march on, and by the end of January we were on our way home at last. We arrived back in San Diego on February 18, 1952.  Since it was after the 15th, we had money in our pockets.  Leave would start on the day after we arrived in port.  There were other things returning meant to me, my Truman year was over; I would not be making any more trips across the pond, and my service was drawing to a close.  The year 1952 was going to be a great year for me.

 

Now I had found this young woman to share my life with, and she was meeting me in San Diego.  She was allowed aboard as soon as we had the ship tied up and secured.  My leave was one of the greatest times, because we were married with my family present.  After returning to San Diego, we couldn’t find a place to live within our budget, so she returned home waiting for my exit from the Navy.  Some of the men transferred to shore duty, especially the leading petty officers who I have always thought were the backbone of the Navy. 

 

Nothing much took place onboard except a few trips up to San Clemente to keep the gunnery crew sharp.  It wasn’t long before June 1952 rolled around and my time was just a matter of days.  Oh, the Division Officer and the Chief thought I should ship over and talked to me daily, trying to get me to do so.  But I was not buying what they were selling.

 

Finally, June 11, 1952 came and just after 12:00 P.M., we went through the separation pep talk by the base officers, saw the pay master, and then I received my discharge papers.  It was over.  I left San Diego late that afternoon, but have been back a number of times.