WWII (1943-46)

“Don’t Stop for Anything” — Mail Run on Tinian

Memory from: Lieutenant (j.g.) William T. Barnhouse

Setting the Scene

Lieutenant (j.g.) William T. Barnhouse recounts the surreal experience of encountering a shopping bazaar on the beach on the island of Tinian while making a shoreside mail run for the KIDD.

The Recollection

One of my funniest World War II experiences happened on Tinian. The WALKER and the KIDD were in the harbor. You called it a “harbor.” It was just shallow water there at Tinian. We had just moved into the anchorage—they told us that we had mail ashore. We could see there was still fighting up on the mountain. We could see the smoke and everything up there. The WALKER said they were gunna send a mail party over to get the mail and we said we’d like to send a party with ’em. So I took two or three enlisted men and when the WALKER came alongside, we got in their boat and went ashore. It wasn’t far. Those little islands all were sugarcane islands. Each one had a sugar mill. They had a small concrete pier approximately 50 yards out in the water. We pulled up alongside this concrete pier. It wasn’t very wide. We climbed ashore—the boat coxswain was going to wait for us. All along this pier, they had little stands built out of scrap wood with canvas covers over ’em that gave them sloping counters. They had guns, carbines, American and Japanese. They had wrist watches and insignias off uniforms. It looked like a great church bazaar. The last thing the Captain told us was “Don’t you stop for anything. We’re subject to leaving this anchorage immediately.

You go straight ashore and get the mail and come straight back.” So we went into the post office and we got our mail and we started back—the post office was just a little old shack built there—and you could see the fighting. We started back and we started looking. You know how young guys will do. Just browsing a little bit and walking. We hadn’t stopped and broken the captain’s orders. We came to this one guy and he had a Japanese rifle. He had a helmet. He had a whole bunch of things. So I bought a helmet and a rifle from him. They were Marines; supposed to be up there fighting. This one guy—he wanted a wrist watch. The guy said, “I don’t have one, but tell me what kind you want. Japanese or American? I’ve got buddies up there in the lines and we’ll get you one if you come back tomorrow.” Finally, we got back to the boat, got in, and started back. We looked up and there was the KIDD, out of the anchorage. The WALKER was underway also, moving out and leaving the boat. Then, they saw us with their binoculars. They made a long circle, came back, but didn’t stop; slowed just enough to hook the whaleboat and lift it aboard. There I was on the WALKER with my three or four man crew and my contraband helmet and rifle, thinking of the captain’s orders “Don’t stop and look.” We got underway. I forget where we were headed. I stayed on the WALKER—and they were not about to stop just to pass an ensign and three enlisted men over—but they wanted the mail. That was the only reason they would consider it. I got to thinking “How am I gunna get this aboard? I could leave it here on the WALKER and not get in any trouble.”

Anybody would have wanted it. I thought, “The only way I can get it aboard is to break the seal on the mail sack and put it in the mail.” We had about four or five different mail sacks. So I broke the seal and I put it down in the mail in one of the sacks. About two or three days later, they decided they wanted the mail and were ready to pass us across. They shoot a line across and then they pull a bigger line and hook on the breaches buoy. The men then haul the lines and take the tension out so they don’t dump you in the water. Well, they decided to take the men first. So the men went across one at a time in the breaches buoy. They then began sending the mail. As the ships moved together, the mail dropped down and hit the deck. The Captain was up there looking over the wing of the bridge. When that bag hit the deck, it went “WHAM! BANG! CRASH!” The Captain looked at me and hollered down, “You know, that’s the heaviest mail I’ve ever heard come aboard.” I took the bag back, got the gun and helmet out of the sack and hid them. Then I like to never have gotten this “gear” ashore. The Navy was watching ships coming into San Francisco. We had come in for an overhaul and anchored in San Francisco Bay, because it was so foggy [that] you couldn’t see anything. As the fog began to thin, you could see the lights of the city. Anybody that had air reservations was being put ashore in a small boat. I had air reservations. When you came in for a shipyard overhaul, you were in the shipyard 60 days. They gave half the crew 30 days’ leave. I got first leave. I packed the rifle and helmet in my gear and took it ashore. Got off on that dock where nobody ever checked us. That night, we went up to the Fairmount Hotel and spent the night in the ballroom.

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