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Stories of the USS San Juan and Her Crew

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Crew member Bill Brown (deceased) use to tell a story about shipmate Red Harper:
  We were under attack from Jap Kamikazes, the sky seemed full of them and all guns were blazing.  When it was all over, Red shot down 3 Sea gulls, tore up one movie screen.
From: Coxswain Red Harper:
  I had to stand shaft alley watch on Magic Carpet run. I said to myself if anything happens while I am down here I don't have a chance of getting out of here. You can bet I was glad when that watch was over. I had a work party of new seamen in Tokyo and one was over the side, I looked down he was asleep, I pulled on line about a foot to wake him up he fell into the drink. It scared me but Boats Stanley never said a word except he should not have been asleep and let you catch him.

Red Harper

From: SM1c George La May
Ace Hager
  After many refuelings at sea it was acknowledged that one man and one only knew what he was doing when it came time to get a line across to the tanker. The Executive officer would get on the horn and let out the call - "Gunner Hager report to the bow". Hager would show up with his shotgun, hook up a line with a lead weight on it and shoot the line across the bow of the tanker where it would be retrieved by the oilers crew. This day however the wind was blowing a gale and even Hager was having trouble. The Exec was riding his tail and as I watched with a long glass from the signal bridge I saw Hager stare at the tanker and I knew he was mad. All of a sudden there was a letup in the wind and Hager fired the line across to the tanker. The only problem was that he hit the bulkhead separating the ships dinning room from the outside air. Needless to say there was a rather large hole where the lead and line went through the bulkhead. The Exec blew his top and screamed at Hager!!!! "I told you to get the line over not sink the g-----m tanker".

Needless to say, Hager has been hearing that story with many variations for years.

From: SM1c George La May:
  After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima the San Juan made arrangements to meet up with the British aircraft carrier Victorious. (We had never seen sight of her all war long). At the time I was performing a duty for some of the crew. I was aging some very fine alcohol in the after flagbag on the port side of the signal bridge. The alcohol was the sediment of the fruits that came in wide top glass gallon containers. To the sediment yeast was added, holes punched in the lids and a pennant type flag was tied to the jug and the jug allowed to swing and sway until we figured it was time to sample. The pennant flag in this case was the British pennant which was to be displayed whenever we met up with a British ship and meant that all communications were to be in international code (Morse). Not ever seeing a British ship while at sea under battle conditions we had no reason to think the pennant would be used.

  Were we ever wrong!!!!! Out of the blue comes the Victorious and the British pennant is raised to the dip position awaiting the British answering pennant. I was at the console that led to the actual signal bridge when I spotted the gallon of hootch. I quickly got on the horn and very quietly said get rid of the bottle. The answer I received was--what bottle?? Someone looked up and saw the bottle and the pennant was quickly hauled down!! No one in battle 1 noticed a thing. That was the last bottle brewed in the flag bags!!!!

This incident was just before entering Tokyo bay!!

From: Don Graeff
A considerable period of time
A good part of the south Pacific
  Given the length of time between drinks, several of us more adventuresome sailors found various ways to alleviate that problem. One of my associates in Sick Bay (no aka) was humanitarian enough to ensure I, and my alcoholic buddies, had access to an ample supply of 190 proof alcohol, used only for non-medicinal purposes, of course. Needless to say, our cocktail parties ended up not only in oblivion, but rather late evenings. We took the precaution of sleeping at our battle stations on our life preservers so that we wouldn't screw up the chinese
fire drill we had every morning at GQ. We got coke from the gedunk stand and fruit juices from bakery. There is little doubt that we spent a fair amount of time in things not even concerning the war in the middle of the south pacific. War in lala land, but we had a good time.
From: John J. Herman, son of San Juan crewman Elwood N. Herman

A story related to me by my father, Fm/1c Elwood N. Herman.

My father was bunking in the deep six and his bunk and several of his shipmates was near a freezer area. While they were loading several turkeys into the freezer, several were puloined from the storage area. These then spirited to the boiler rooms were my father had his duty station. By placing them between the firebricks and the outer casing the cooking had begun. A Delicious aroma soon filled the boiler room and the men were anticipating their feast. As fate would have it a LT. jg. happened by and was questioning the aroma. The shipmates had their feast but I'm not sure how they accommodated the LT. Perhaps he shared in. If anyone is familiar with this story maybe they can fill in the blanks.

From: John Logan, son of San Juan crewman Thomas Logan

My father told me this incident:
While steaming in the Pacific the San Juan was zigzagging, in the middle of the night. My father and a buddy from the fire room came above decks onto the fantail to relax a bit and get some fresh air. As they were about to return to their respective duty stations, my father looked out over the shimmering ocean. An iridescent streak in the water caught his eyes. He stood there transfixed as the streak passed not 30 feet behind the stern of the ship and proceeded on its way! A Jap torpedo had just missed the San Juan. He never did tell me if he told anybody about it, as he wasn't supposed to be up there. He also told me that when the San Juan was put into dry-dock on returning to the States, in 1944(?), they found a dent in the hull where another Jap torpedo had hit, but failed to
Dad was a non-smoker when on the San Juan. He would buy up his allotment of cigarettes and save them for the smokers, for when they ran out. The rate of exchange was 2 for every cig borrowed.
Anybody remember him let me know at  

From: Mike Sloan, son of San Juan crewman FC3c Jack Sloan
What: POW Camp Liberation

  My father told a story about the liberation of the camps. As he told it, the war was essentially over, and the atomic bombs had been dropped, but peace had not yet been formally declared. Another enlisted man approached my father and suggested that they volunteer for a shore party that was being put together to liberate one of the camps. Perhaps it was the camp that Pappy Boyington was being held in, but I may have my stories confused.
  In any event, my father went to great lengths explaining to this other guy how he was nuts, that they had survived the war and seen considerable action, and my Dad did not want to be the last person killed by some diehard Japanese.
  However, a short time later, a junior officer with whom my father was friends came to my dad and said the he ( the officer) had been assigned to lead the shore party, and that my dad was "volunteering" to go ashore with him. So my dad returned to the other enlisted man, this time with some story about how this would all be a great adventure. I think the other enlisted man also "volunteered".
  So they did go ashore and liberate the camp. They encountered no opposition, which according to my father was a good thing. As he explained, they were sailors, not Marines, and "if someone had set off a firecracker, we would have shot one another."


From: Leonard Buel Hutchison (brother of shipmate Joseph A. Hutchison)
When: October 1942
Where: Gilbert Islands

MM1c Joseph A. HutchisonMy Brother, Joseph A Hutchison MM1/C, who had been onboard the San Juan since the shakedown cruise of March 1942, was given a 21 day leave while the ship was in Mare Island for overhaul in September 1944. He came home to see his family at Vienna Missouri for the first time since graduating from Boot camp in October 1941.

He related to me while home, about the San Juan sinking two Japanese Patrol vessels during the Gilbert Islands action in October 1942. I do not remember how many Japanese prisoners were taken from these vessels, however I do remember him saying it was the largest number of Japanese prisoners taken in a group, by our armed forces up to that time in the war. Up until that time the fanatical Japanese had fought to death rather than surrender. However with their ships sunk out from under them they were helpless floating around in the ocean and it was just a process of fishing them from the water.

Joe related how fanatical these prisoners really were. When they were put in the ship’s brig, some of them tried to commit suicide by ramming their heads into the bulkheads of the brig. The guards then had to tie some cushioning material around their heads to prevent them from being successful in killing themselves.

Joe said the San Juan delivered these prisoners to the Marines in Espiritu Santo a few days later and was sure that if they tried to commit suicide there, the Marines would oblige them.


From: John Clyde Neal, Jr.
When: Prior to 1944
Where: Somewhere in the Pacific

This particular night I was the phone talker on the bridge during battle stations and a kamikaze plane was coming up between the San Juan and a destroyer. The destroyer opened fire on the Japanese plane. Tracers were coming toward the San Juan and appeared to be aimed right at me. I broke and ran from the port side of the bridge to the passageway to starboard. When the phone cord ran out, I tripped, hit the deck and thought I was shot. I looked around to see who witnessed my cowardly act and realized that I was all alone.


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